Characters: Tomás Darquin, Dr. Kim Matsumoto
Darquin stood at a street corner in what looked like a small Midwestern town, overcast and chilled by impending winter. The place didn’t even have a unirail shuttle. After they’d come down to Earth in one of the shuttles from White Star 21, they ended up hitching a lift from a delivery truck which had just left them there at the corner, in the center of this sleeping town.
Beside Darquin, feeling conspicuous in her uniform, Kim took in the sights and sounds of a place that now seemed alien to her. He was a little more discreet in his study, throwing seemingly idle glances at shop windows to catch reflections of whatever was behind them. “Nothing unusual. Besides us, anyway,” he said with a smile.
Kim laughed quietly. “If someone asks to pose for a picture, I’m leaving,” she quipped. “So, which way now?”
“We’ll have to get a cab or something, I guess.” He pointed out a commscreen booth. “I guess we can look him up. He’d better not have an unlisted address.”
Kim was strangely amused by it. When was the last time it had been so easy? “Your enemies listed A to Z,” she joked.
Darquin chuckled, leading the way to the booth across the street, and pulled up the name on the glowing blue screen. “And I had to get one with a wild name.” He stopped and stared at the listing for Nicholae Pippodemus’ address, which blinked to indicate a hotlink, daring him to use it. “The question is, do I call ahead and make sure he’s there, or do we ambush him?”
Just behind him, Kim leaned on the privacy booth’s frame and looked over his shoulder. “I’d hate to show up to find he’s brought friends… or just left. So I guess I’m saying it’s worth the chance wasting cab fare.”
Darquin snorted, amused as he resigned himself. As he tapped the dial-up icon for a cab service, he said over his shoulder, “So… later on, either we go Dutch or open rations for dinner.”
A few minutes later an automated cab, its generator humming, rolled up to the curb to meet them. With their destination fed into its memory, it carried them out of town and into hills laced in icy grass and bare trees, slowing to a stop at the bottom of a hill in a clearing. Past the hill’s edge, they could see the roof of a log cabin poking out. Wisps of ashen smoke slithered from the chimney, withering into the pale sky. Leaving the autocab to wait for them, they started crunching their way up the hill.
Darquin stood looking over the log cabin in front of them. “I keep expecting Abraham Lincoln to pop out.” He surveyed the woodland around them, mumbling absentmindedly as he let his mind wander in familiar music.
“Psi-Corps rewards them well,” Kim commented. She dropped her shields slightly, to sense any other lives… and then quickly recoiled as she did. The prospect of picking a fight with a trained and experienced telepath was a horror she kept carefully hidden.
Darquin palmed his folded pike. “Ready?”
Kim shook the tension out of her shoulders with minimal success. “Ready as I’m going to be.”
Darquin went to the wooden door, holding his breath as he knocked.
“Someone’s here, at least. I don’t know if it’s him and he’s noticed us,” Kim murmured a moment before the door opened.
Standing at the door, gaunt and nearly grey enough to match the sky, Pippodemus looked like a caricature of Death. “Yes? Good aftern–” He suddenly stopped as he tried to recognize them.
Darquin paused a moment to see if he would. “It’s Tomas. Mr. Pippodemus, I presume?”
A half step behind, Kim stood wary and silent. She had made her own recognition now. The face was older, but the one she had seen through Darquin’s infant memories.
The old man took a step backward, his thin face blank as he realized who this was. “I didn’t recognize you for a second. I’m not used to thinking of you… as a real person. Would you like to come in?”
“Uh, no, thanks all the same. Let’s take a walk,” Darquin said.
Pippodemus smiled widely as he stepped out onto the crunching snow crystals, like a surreal Grim Reaper in a fashionable dark wool sweater. “Awfully cautious.”
“You bet your musket, Daniel Boone.”
Pippodemus cast a sideways glance to Kim as they walk, but did not address her. “So. You wanted this meeting. Where do we start?”
“Gosh, I dunno, you tell me–where did it start?” Darquin said. A surge of bitterness suddenly ran through his voice, ambushing everyone there with an unexpected edginess.
The old man stopped, dropping his playful demeanor. “You know I can’t do that. We… I thought we went through this.”
Darquin fought the urge to roll his eyes, and pursed his lips. “Uh uh. I went through it. You ran and hid.”
Pippodemus slid quickly back to the earlier persona, a smirking incarnation of dread. “Are you sure we should be discussing this in front of… your friend here?” He smiled at Kim.
Kim’s eyes narrowed. “I should say it has more to do with your preferences.”
Darquin nodded, smiling quickly at her. “Yeah, I think you called it.” He sidestepped around the old man to better face him. “I’ll bet he prefers to crush people’s skulls to grit the path too,” he said, entirely serious. “Kim, if he does anything funny… blast a kneecap.”
“Kim… Matsumoto?” Pippodemus grinned slightly as he put the pieces together. “Shall I tell your brother Nathaniel you said hello?”
Darquin gasped, a moment of guilt for leaving Kim vulnerable like that. Kim simply kept silent. After years of it, she recognized the baiting her own brother liked to use on her. She wouldn’t give in again.
Darquin struggled to remember how he took control of the last encounter. “Yeah. Go ahead. Tell him. And when you do, you tell him from me to floor it and go the rest of the way into Hell. She’s not alone in this anymore and we’re not helpless. Rangers protect their own.”
Pippodemus pursed his lips, giving them each a hard appraising look. “You shouldn’t make threats, Tomas… let alone idle ones. Don’t start wars you can’t win, especially against the Psi-Corps.”
“Or the Minbari?” Darquin countered.
A small smile crossed Kim’s face even as Pippodemus’ gaunt face fell. He plainly remembered the Earth-Minbari war many years after the first telepathic meeting, when Darquin had warned him. “There’s a trail from here back to Proxima… should you need the proof of how well we stand,” she added to Darquin’s attack on the telepath’s composure.
“Tomas–listen to reason,” Pippodemus said. “You’re meddling in something that’s best left alone. Buried.”
Darquin stabbed his finger into Pippodemus’ sweater. “You keep soundin’ like you did me a favor, but the truth is you did it for yourself. You threw your rotten conscience a bone.”
“So you’re my conscience now, is that it?” Pippodemus snapped, finally losing his temper.
Darquin stopped then laughed. “You got anything better on hand, boneyard man?”
Kim stiffened as she felt the air almost visibly crackle to her senses. Pippodemus was considering something. She braced to fight. Around them the shrill tapestry of rock music rose from Darquin’s thoughts, jangling against the psionic landscape.
“Let’s get one thing straight.” Darquin kept his voice down, his eyes right into the old man’s. “You wiped my memory and doctored it before I even knew how to walk, left it like that for –what– thirty years. Only it didn’t stay ‘buried.’ It kept coming back as nightmares. Didn’t feel like a favor to me. So either explain the whole damn thing, or stop blowing smoke up my stack, got it?”
“We’re not leaving until then,” Kim interjected quietly.
Pippodemus waited, looking all around. “The Psi-Corps… was after your parents. I tried to protect them, and the rest of you. You were all still very young.”
“Wait… we weren’t telepaths. None of us were,” Darquin protested.
“I know, I know. Your parents were part of a pharmacological think tank, and they found some sensitive data that should’ve stayed in the Psi-Corps. They… decided to make copies, talked about distributing the data.”
Darquin stared, glancing briefly at Kim, incredulous. She just shook her head in equal confusion. “What was it?” he said.
“This is dangerous. The Psi-Corps still doesn’t–”
Darquin cut over Pippodemus’ words loudly. “Okay, that’s it! Maybe we should ask around someplace else… assuming we don’t get the facts from you right now, that is.”
Pippodemus was holding his breath, trying to decide and suddenly blurted it out before he could think. “Dust.”
“They… made Dust?!”
“What…?” Kim began, stunned. “Psi-Corps designed that poison?”
Looking away, Pippodemus crossed his skeletal arms around his chest. “Part of an effort to improve psi abilities.”
“Improve? It rips apart people’s minds, the user and its victims’ alike!” Kim snapped.
“They abandoned the project!” Pippodemus said.
Darquin hissed, “The way you abandoned us.”
“And didn’t try to fix it,” Kim added with a disgusted snort. “Why don’t you have a look down a few streets just about anywhere on Earth or any colony now? There’s the project.”
Darquin let his mind drift through his memory. “You said ‘was’. My parents… Psi-Corps isn’t after them anymore, are they?”
Pippodemus’ voice was harsh in reply. “They found them, Tomas. I told you you should leave it d–”
Darquin tried to form words, glaring at him, willing him to finish the sentence–the one word that had almost come out. Anger gradually faded from Darquin’s eyes, replaced with a horrified understanding. His mouth fell open.
“Just… leave it alone. While you can.”
Stunned, Darquin dropped his folded pike, letting it smack into the snow at his feet.
Kim’s throat tightened and she pushed back at the pressure of emotions against her mind like an ocean wave. She looked between the two of them.
Darquin’s anger started rolling back to the fore. He walked carefully, step by step directly into the old man’s personal space. “You better not be playin’ games. I can tell you like games–”
“You wanted to know; I’ve told you,” Pippodemus said irritably. “Be grateful.”
“How do you convince yourself?” Kim asked him, her voice deceptively calm.
Pippodemus turned to her, deadpan. “It can’t be that different from what you must do out there.”
Darquin hauled back and slammed a fist in Pippodemus’ face. Despite what she was sensing, Kim was started enough not to react until the shockwave of hurt and rage was already over. They watched as Pippodemus lifted a hand from the frosted ground, to shield his bleeding nose.
His fists at his side, shaking as he spoke, Darquin stared down at him. “We have the whole damn galaxy to ourselves now–it belongs to us, even if we don’t deserve it–” Screaming, he pointed up at the stars hidden behind the ashen sky. “–and the best you can do is pretend we’re all out there DYING to play the same stupid games you do?”
“Why wouldn’t he?” Kim said scathingly. “He needs it that way. ‘Because everyone else is doing it’ is one of the oldest excuses.”
Darquin paused, staring at the barren trees as he wiped away the tears freezing in crystals on his face. “Right up there with, ‘Because I care about them,’ I guess.”
Pippodemus cringed, turning his face to the ground. He clawed up handfuls of fallen ice as he tried to form fists.
Her eyes on the Psi-Cop, Kim said, “Somehow I doubt care has been a problem for a long time. Too damned inconvenient.”
“Or too hard.” Darquin turned away and picked up his pike, stiffly brushing ice and moist flecks of dirt off the alien metal.
Speechless, shedding a tear, Pippodemus only watched them start their walk down the drive.
Darquin turned back to the bloodied old man who was picking himself off the ground. “Okay.” He took a sharp breath. “Just… stay out of my way.” To Kim, Darquin said quietly, “Ready when you are.”
Kim nodded a last glance back before starting back along their tracks in the snow.
When they reached the bottom of the hill, they stood near the hood of the waiting autocab, waiting as if for a sense of purpose. The winter wind gave them a nudge, the edges of their Ranger fluttering in response.
“Sorry I dragged you into this,” Darquin said almost lifelessly.
Kim didn’t know what to say, so simply squeezed his shoulder.
“I…I suppose I should be thinking about dinner. But I can’t just this minute.”
“I understand,” Kim said. Her own stomach turned over the encounter. The idea of sitting down in some restaurant as if it was all in a day’s business was repellent. “Are you sure you still want to go on to your aunt and uncle?”
Darquin weakly touched the hand she put his shoulder, trying to acknowledge it. “I think so. Well… maybe not right away.”
Kim nodded then let go. “I…. wish I knew more. I’m sorry.”
“Thanks.” With a bitter snort, little more than a failed chuckle, he added, “I’m glad someone could say it.”
Kim looked away with a grimace and tapped open the door of the autocab. Darquin stepped into the cab and she followed, quietly ordering the cab back into town. “I’ll see it to the end, if you still want me to,” she said quietly.
Darquin finally looked away from the trees traveling past his window. “Unless you need some rest or something. I’m… not worried about it.”
Kim wished she could think the same. There were so many ways new wounds could be made, and family was often very good at finding them. It was a part of her own reasons for not contacting her family. By way of agreeing she said, “We can hire another shuttle in town.”
Darquin replied absentmindedly, “Yeah, we can do that.” Smirking as he woke up out of it, he said, “I, uh, I guess I’m not thinking that far ahead.”
Kim’s mouth quirked up at one corner. “I’ve got to be useful for something.”
Darquin nodded emphatically, smiling for a second. “Oh. Oh yeah. I, I mean, you are.”
Kim found a quiet chuckle to offer, then shifted her glance outside. “So, where is it we’re going next?”
Darquin pondered, finally shrugged. “Onward? No place else to go.”
“Guess not. Arizona it is.”
I met my maker, I made him cry And on my shoulder he asked me why His people won't fly through the storm I said, "Listen up, man, they don't even know you're born – Noel Gallagher, Oasis, "D'You Know What I Mean?"
(c) 1999 Joe R. Medina and Alida Saxon. All rights reserved.