Characters: Dr. Robert Stadler, Klevetati Yoshino
Dr. Robert Stadler sat staring at the genetic sequence on the viewscreen. He didn’t particularly like what it was telling him, but no amount of time spent looking at it was going to make it change. He wished that it would; in his exhaustion, he couldn’t think of anything else to do with it.
He heard soft, slow footsteps and turned to see who it might be. A human woman walked into the lab, looking slowly around. Asian, from the shape of her face and eyes–but albino, her white face and pure white hair standing above the dark of her robes like snow on a mountain peak.
She bowed deeply from the waist as she saw him. “Good evening.”
He rose. “Excuse me. I didn’t expect to see anyone in here this late.” He bowed his head slightly, awkwardly trying to return her gesture of respect. “I’m Robert Stadler. I joined the ship at Babylon 5.”
“I hope I am not disturbing you. My name is Klevetati Yoshino…I came aboard at Minbar. I’m….” She hesitated, as if she didn’t want to think about her work. “I’m the Operations officer.”
“I’m the new Science officer.”
She nodded. “May I ask what keeps you in the lab so late? You look quite tired.”
“I wasn’t actually told to be here right now.” Glancing back at the computer screen, he explained, “I just had some ideas I wanted to check out.” He managed a weak smile. “I guess I am tired at that.”
“Ideas regarding…the crisis in Engineering?”
Stadler nodded soberly. “It was a fool’s game from the beginning,” he said.
Yoshino heard the harshness of the tone; stinging like a lash. She flushed brilliantly, her shame made all the more obvious by her albino skin. “I know. And it was my idea as much as anyone’s.”
He felt embarrassed in his turn. Struggling to find something to say, he managed only, “I didn’t know.” He looked at her, wondering how well she had known the dead engineer.
“I….I came here hoping I might find Doctor Matsumoto.” She looked up, past Stadler, and in the distraction, something fell out of her sleeve, clattering onto the deck.
He glanced at it, as Yoshino picked it up and placed it on the desk. A Japanese short sword in a polished wooden scabbard. He was at a complete loss for words.
Yoshino finally broke the silence. “I…. I really shouldn’t have brought that with me,” she said.
“What is it?”
“It is….my wakizashi.”
Desperately trying to lighten the situation, Stadler said, “You weren’t coming here to commit hara kiri, were you?”
Her response, to his further surprise, was completely serious. “No……not quite.” She placed her left hand on the desk, splaying the fingers and showing clearly that the little finger was gone. “I had been thinking to make these match.” She placed her intact right hand on the desk.
He frowned. “I’ve heard of such things. I didn’t know they were still practiced.”
“It was not entirely my choice the first time.” For a long moment, Yoshino thought of how she had given up that finger. Fear, dread, and desperation before; pain and fear during; and more fear and despair afterwards. For the gesture had turned out to be quite useless, and she could never have her whole hand back again.
She sighed, shaking her head to clear her mind. “I think I am being foolish. Perhaps I can help you find a better answer to our problem.”
Relieved, Stadler glanced at the computer screen. “Know anything about genetics?”
“Beyond that which I learned in school, no.”
He looked back at her. “Minbari organic technology is still very new to me. I’ve been studying the genetic structure of the living portions of the ship.” He scowled. “The thing of it is …” — he looked back at the screen — “So far as I can determine, the crewman should still be alive now.”
“I do not know much of genetics, but I have studied the technology that created the Phoenix. And I agree with you.”
He sat back at his station, turning the screen so she could see it. “Look at these sequences here …”
She sighed again. “I can only think that it was a fault in the inorganic portions of the circuitry we were building.” She leaned over Stadler’s shoulder, peering at the screen.
He frowned, thinking. “There simply should not have been such a power surge.” Looking firmly into her eyes, he added, “In fact, the organic part of the ship should have absorbed the surge, even if it were artificially created.”
Half to herself, Yoshino said, “I knew she wouldn’t let anybody die if she could help it…”
“Are you referring to the Chief Engineer?” he asked.
She blushed again, faintly. “Actually, no, I wasn’t…..though what I said is also true of her.”
He noticed something in her tone, but decided to let it pass. He turned back to the screen and asked: “What do you make of this?”
Yoshino studied the screen some more, trying to piece together something with the information it contained, her knowledge of the ship’s structure and her own dim memories of genetic principles. “Again, all I can think is that there was a fault–a short–in the circuitry we jury-rigged. There wasn’t time for the Phoenix herself to intervene when the short caught….Maenier.”
Stadler closed his eyes and rubbed the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger. “That shouldn’t have made a difference,” he said. He looked back at the screen. “Unless there’s something I’m missing.”
“The only other possibility…” She hesitated, not wanting to give voice to a dreadful thought, “is quite inconceivable.”
Despite his absorption in the data, he caught her last words. “Which is?”
“That Maenier himself created the short. But that’s madness.”
Stadler looked carefully at her, assessing. “Might he have had reason to do so?”
“I did not know him. But I can’t imagine that he would.”
Frowning, Stadler said, “I’m too new to the Phoenix to make any judgments, but there is yet another possibility.”
“That it was deliberate, but not Maenier himself who caused it.” He paused. “Treachery can often be found in your own bosom.”
Yoshino was caught short, surprised at the vehemence in his tone. She heard something in it — an echo, perhaps? Very softly, she said, “I know that all too well, Doctor Stadler.”
He sat silently, realizing that his was not the only unspoken pain on the Phoenix.
Yoshino sighed, knowing she had to let all that was unspoken pass, and address the immediate problem that the whole ship faced. “I suppose it could be. So many of us distrust one particular person…..it would be all too easy to jump to that conclusion.” She studied Stadler’s face for a moment, reading the exhaustion and pain of far more than one sleepless night. She made a decision.
Stepping directly behind Stadler, she reached out to touch his shoulders with her fingertips. He flinched at the unexpected contact. “What are you doing?”
“I’m not going to hurt you,” she reassured him. Pressing a little harder, she explained, “I’m practicing my shiatsu massage on you, and it feels as if you need it.”
He was still very tense, but allowed her to proceed.
“I’m beginning to realize that we are all so on edge here…..we have been trying so hard to make things happen that we are not letting them happen. If that makes any sense,” she said. She continued to work on his shoulders, working her way up to the neck as the knotted muscles slowly began to loosen.
“I know exactly what you mean. The whole ship is spooked over an enemy we know nothing about. We don’t even know what to expect.” Gradually, he relaxed into the massage. “Ummmh … that feels wonderful … Where did you learn to do this?”
She smiled. “Back….in Japan.”
He allowed himself a slight smile of his own. “You might just put me to sleep.”
“I thought perhaps if you relaxed a little, you might get a fresh perspective on all this genetic data. And sleep…..that might be better still.”
“I think I know the person you were speaking of, the one who’s not trusted …” He turned to look at her. “You’re speaking of one of the top officers on the ship, correct?”
She released his shoulders and took a half step back. “Yes.”
Casting his eyes at the computer screen, he said, “You see my difficulty …”
He looked at her pointedly. “Suppose I did uncover something. Whom could I trust?”
She considered. “Doctor Matsumoto. Captain Hale. And …. you can trust me.”
“Apparently, I already have,” he said with a smile.
She blushed and turned away slightly. After a moment, still not looking directly at him, she added, “I think you could also trust the Chief Engineer, and Darquin.”
“Of the people you’ve mentioned, I’ve only actually met Matsumoto.”
“I know her best. You can trust her without question.” Another thought struck her, and she began to turn back toward Stadler. “One other thing….has anyone consulted the Phoenix herself about this?”
“Yes. The analysis from the AI suggested that our plan was workable. Perhaps it knows what went wrong.”
Stadler shook his head. “The data I retrieved from Engineering indicates that the information was run through the AI, but no solution was found.”
Yoshino lowered her head in dismay. It had been her last real hope that Stadler might be wrong. “If that’s the case, some form of …. sabotage …. may be our only answer. I think we should talk to the Chief Engineer. Whoever did this–if that’s what happened–would have to know a lot about the Phoenix.”
Nodding in agreement, he said, “I’ll defer to your judgment on whom to trust. But, Yoshino …” He looked deeply into her eyes, finally trusting what he saw there. “If there is a traitor on board, I won’t mind if we don’t have to go through channels to deal with him.”
She returned the gaze evenly, not disturbed by the threat. “We are Anla’shok. We must look out for one another. But if someone has turned against us, I am prepared to deal with whoever it is. By whatever means necessary.”
Their eyes remained locked for a moment. Finally, Stadler nodded again. An understanding had been reached.
“I believe you should show the Chief Engineer what you’ve found,” Yoshino repeated thoughtfully. “At best, she may see something you’ve missed. At worst…” She sighed. She still didn’t want to accept it. “At worst, she may be able to confirm your suspicions.”
“I’ll do it.” He smiled. “But in the morning.”
“I think that would be very wise.”
Stadler rose. “Right now, I’m going to bed.” He rolled his head around. “That really helped. Thank you.”
Yoshino picked up the wakizashi, discreetly tucking it back into her sleeve. “Thank you, Doctor Stadler.”
He glanced at Yoshino’s hand, at the missing digit, suddenly feeling a wave of compassion. “Shall I walk you back to your quarters?”
“I….I think I would like that.”
He escorted her from the lab, feeling more than a little strange. He had intended to remain aloof from the crew, to allow no one past his rage; but somehow, without quite realizing it, he had made a friend.