Yoshino Marina walked briskly into the Science Lab, looking for Kim. She found the Chief of Science at her desk, working over the resupply list, several print-outs and notes laying on the desktop.
“Good morning, Kim,” Yoshino said, bowing to her friend. “You look busy.”
Kim flashed a quick smile, then locked her eyes on the screen for just a few moments more. “Actually, I’m about done. I want to make sure I can enjoy some free time while we’re at Minbar. There. What can I do for you?”
“I got a … rather interesting message from Tuzanor last night. Do you remember Miina Awenata? From Engineering?”
“Yes, though I can’t say I knew much about her. Remained on Minbar after our last refit, I’d heard. What’s happened?” Kim asked curiously.
“Apparently she’s taken some new training. She would like to come back to the Phoenix, in Science. Obviously, I had to talk to you first.”
Kim was puzzled. “Science?” One of her most certain memories of the woman was that she was a skilled engineer.
“I can see you’re surprised. So was I. It seems as if she’s trying to make a major change in her life … her attitude seemed rather different, at least in her message.”
“Oh. Well, I don’t mind, if she’s qualified. I could do with some help in here.”
“If you like, I could check up on her records, and talk to her some more once we get to Minbar. She’s certainly very … focused, on whatever she does.”
“That would be fine. I don’t doubt her dedication if she’s a Ranger. And if she’s comfortable with contacting me, by all means…”
“I’ll let her know. It would make the most sense for you to talk directly.” Yoshino smiled. “I don’t suppose there’s anything I can do for you?”
“I’m actually doing quite well, ahead of the game you could say,” Kim smiled. “”I’ve only a few personal calls left to make.”
“I think I am too. Just one or two things left to settle before we arrive. I’ll be looking forward to some leave time.”
“You and I both. We saw a fair bit of Abbai, but I really wish it could have been at another time and in a better situation.”
Yoshino nodded. “Perhaps we’ll be able to go back in a few years. I hope so.” Her eyes looked into the distance, recalling a memory – Kim guessed it must be a pleasant one, from the faint smile on her friend’s face.
“Well. I’d better go. Thank you, Kim. See you planetside.” She smiled and bowed.
Kim stood and returned the gesture, seeing Yoshino out. “See you about.”
True to her words, Kim was finished tidying up her work – and desk – just minutes after Yoshino left. Checking the time, she decided to make her calls from her office vid. With any luck, she’d catch Billy just after shift, before he had reason to go out.
It just took a moment to pull his number from her address book, and a few more to connect to StellarCom. She was fully expecting to see Billy or at least his mailbox, not what came on to the screen then: the AI that provided assistance on the B5 internal network.
“Your call could not be connected. Please restate your desired listing,” it said pleasantly.
Kim hesitated in surprise. “Billy Nichols.”
“I’m sorry. That listing is invalid. What listing?”
Kim’s surprise turned to worry. “William Nichols,” she repeated carefully, giving his proper name. “Security Officer,” she added as an afterthought.
“I’m sorry. That listing is invalid. Would you like the main Security station house?”
“No. Ah… Connect me to Reese Trahern.”
“One moment, please…”
The pause seemed interminable, Kim almost got up and paced her office, then Reece’s face appeared. Meg’s cousin looked like he’d just gotten off shift himself – a very long shift.
Kim let her breath out in relief. “Reece? I hope you remember me. Kim Matsumoto?”
A surprised smile crossed Reece’s face. “Of course I do.” His pleasant expression turned to sudden panic. “What’s wrong? Has something happened to Meg?”
“No, no, she’s fine. I was actually hoping you could help me on something. Is Will- Billy all right? I tried to connect to his number and I couldn’t even get an answering service. Did he get moved to new quarters?” It was the most positive reason Kim could devise, and she held on to it as long as she could.
It wasn’t allowed a very long life. Reece looked away, a terrible liar when it came to people he knew personally. “Oh, ah… He’s not here.”
“Where is he then? Did he get transferred?”
“No. We’ve, ah… had some trouble here.”
Trouble on B5 too often lead to people in Medlab… to the recovery beds or in the morgue, depending on how bad it was. Billy’s job was right on the front lines as a security officer. “Please, can we not do twenty questions?” Anxiety made Kim’s voice sharp.
“I’m sorry,” Reece said, immediately contrite, “I don’t know where he went, but he left on his own, before he attracted attention to himself. He was fine last time I saw him.”
Kim scoured her mind, trying to think of what trouble he could have attracted. Something followed him from Mars? Someone he tried to help on Babylon 5? It could be any number of things, and she had no idea which direction to pursue.
Reece was silent, hesitant, while she thought. He couldn’t keep from offering her something, even if it was an open line. “He said he would contact you, at his first opportunity,” he said quietly.
Kim forced herself to breathe and accept it. Billy wasn’t a fool. He could take care of himself. “Thanks Reece. I’m sorry to grill you – I just didn’t hear anything was wrong, and since you’re on staff-” Kim didn’t acknowledge aloud the more personal connections, trying to undo any possible trouble she might have brought to him. If Billy had reason to run, Reece would have been questioned as it was, being a close friend. He didn’t need a second questioning if someone was snooping on the conversation.
Apparently, though, Reece was growing into some of his cousins bad habits, stubbornly refusing to hide. “No worries – Billy might as well be family,” he said with a shy smile. “I wish I could say more, but it’s an open line.”
“Are you doing all right? How’s Elora?”
“Tired,” he answered in order, smiling wryly, “Elora’s… still adjusting. Some days are better than others.””
“Is there anything I can do or send? We’re getting into Minbari tomorrow.” It didn’t hurt to find a way to mark her location, if help was needed.
“I can’t think of anything. Meg will buy presents while there, I’m sure.”
“Undoubtedly. Well.” Kim paused, collecting herself. “I’m going to try not to worry. Knowing Billy he’s probably helping someone out with a problem. And it’s not like he isn’t capable.”
“He is. He probably just got stuck on a slow boat to… wherever.” Reece’s grin was faint, but at least was there.
Kim pulled up a smile to answer. “All right, I’d better go. Take care of yourself, and say ‘hi’ to Elora for me, if she remembers me.”
“I will – she doesn’t forget anything.” Reece’s smile became tinged with sadness.
“Good-bye, Kim. Clear skies.”
Kim closed the connection. With nothing better to do about it, and nothing left to busy herself with short of irritating her staff, she headed for the mess hall in a distracted state.
Margret Morgan was nearly run over at the doorway, quite surprised to find Kim was the offending body. “Kim?”
Kim had startled herself as much. A telepath, she wasn’t the sort to miss a person – approaching people with their bursts of thought and intention, were as noisy in her head as a triggered proximity alarm. “Oh, sorry, Meg.”
“Is there a problem?”
Kim hesitated for a long moment, fluctuating between asking for advice and sparing Meg her worry. Kim might be romantically involved with Billy, but the man had been Meg’s friend far longer than she’d known either of them, combined. “I think so,” she finally replied, “I just don’t know for sure either way.”
Meg frowned. “Do you want to talk about it?”
Kim nodded then, and stepped inside to get out of the traffic. She stalled a couple minutes while went to the counter and poured herself something hot to drink. Meg grabbed a table for them, and waited.
Kim sat down.
“Well?” Meg demanded, rude from concern.
Kim studied her mug of tea. When the words finally came, they were all in a rush. “Billy isn’t on Babylon 5 any more. He left and Reece doesn’t know why – likely for his own safety. And I’ve heard nothing at all.”
Kim looked up, and shared with Meg an identical expression of confusion… and worry.
Copyright (c) 2002 Jamie Lawson, Leslie McBride and Alida Saxon. All rights reserved.