Free Ride

Characters: Tomás Darquin, Dr. Kim Matsumoto, Yoshino Marina, Margaret Morgan

“Hold up!” Kim dashed up the steps into the shuttle, before the door could be closed. A garment bag draped over her arm, and a duffle slung over her shoulder.

Yoshino sighed with relief and smiled at them from the back of the passenger aisle, where she had been stowing her own luggage. “This is the place.”

“I got the door!” Darquin called. He was holding the door open with his long Earthforce sea-bag, keeping his packed uniform flat against his chest.

Morgan strode after Kim, loaded down with a couple of bags. Kim shoved the duffle into storage, but kept the garment bag draped over her lap when she found a seat. “I’m relieved I’m not the only one not yet into dress uniform.”

“I barely had time to make sure mine was still in one piece,” Yoshino said.

“You had time to check?” Morgan bared her teeth at Yoshino, amused.

“I know, this is the first I heard of it.” Darquin called toward the cockpit, “Hatch is clear!” Then he shoved his sea bag into an upper storage compartment, launching it with a practiced throw before taking his seat.

“Just what are we doing, anyway?” Kim said. “All I got was orders of where to show up, and with what.”

“Three words,” Darquin said with relish. “Presidential…security…detail.”

Both Kim’s and Yoshino’s eyes widened. Yoshino found words first. “Kannon … I knew they were due to arrive soon, but …”

“Bloody hell…. But us?” Morgan said.

“Well, they need bodies pronto,” Darquin said. “HQ construction is done. And they want to make sure the place is covered.”

Kim couldn’t help thinking about who she planned to visit. “For how long?”

“We’ll be on duty for a couple days, I think,” Darquin said. “The Phoenix is going to be docked for a while, so we’ve got time.”

“That’s fair, I suppose, what with the work needed.”

“President Sheridan doesn’t seem one for long ceremonies,” Yoshino said, “although the Minbari might have other ideas.”

Darquin chuckled. “Yeah, I think that’s why there was a disconnect.”

“That should be an interesting tug-of-war,” Kim said. “Both will be tenacious.”

“If there is an itinerary, though, even the religious caste may have to bend,” Yoshino said.

“Right,” Darquin said. “And there’s been enough heat about them on B5.”

Kim nodded. “And there will be a lot of eyes on what happens.”

“Throughout the Alliance,” Yoshino said, “from here to Earth and back again.”

“I’m still getting used to that,” Darquin said.

“Isn’t very comforting,” Morgan agreed.

“Well, our situation’s changing.” Kim shifted the bag in her arms, trying not to press creases into it. “We’re entering the realm of public opinion. We used to get the media on the digs from time to time.”

“Was that how you got your marksmanship down?” Darquin said. “Keeping the press from stepping on things?”

Kim laughed. “Oh there’s other ways as well. Most of them didn’t like to get dirty. We made sure the distance between dig and landing zone was adequately unpleasant.”

“Well, you don’t need a weapons permit to pack a mudpie,” Darquin said.

“I think we’re going to have to keep an eye on you now,” Kim said.

Ie, especially with our dress browns out of storage,” Morgan said.

Yoshino giggled, from behind a hand.

“Me? I’m gonna be in my Ranger best.” Darquin slumped in his seat. “And I was looking forward to dressing normal….”

“I’m sure we’ll have a couple weeks of that,” Kim reminded him. “The Phoenix didn’t come out of that mess in perfect shape.”

“Several weeks, at the very least,” Yoshino said. “I worked with Jordan-san on the estimates.”

“Whew, no kidding,” Darquin said. “At least there’s time for it. Things have finally started to quiet down.”

Morgan winced. “Ah, don’t say that! Please.”

“Oh damn, you’re right….” Darquin glanced through the nearest viewport, out at the stars and the glowing blue face of Minbar. “Man, everything’s changed.”

“How so?” Yoshino asked, leaning over and craning her neck to look over his shoulder.

“Seriously, I mean everything,” Darquin said. “Earth and Minbar are allies. Everybody knows we’re here. And it’s a big deal.”

“A lot of that’s good, though. Look at how we were living, before this? Some of us anyway,” Kim said.

Darquin nodded, grinning. “Yeah…the first time I came to Minbar, I was AWOL and hiding. Practically a lurker.”

Ie, more or less the same. That was a bad time,” Morgan said.

“I was running for my life, though not from the law. I thought I’d never be found on Minbar … though it seems I may have been mistaken about that,” Yoshino said, her expression falling into a frown.

“Well, we’re working on that one,” Darquin smirked.

Kim reached out and touched Yoshino’s arm. “It’ll be all right. Look at it this way: Any of our enemies will see we stand together.”

“Damn straight,” Darquin said. “That’s one plus, pulling this duty.”

Yoshino nodded, smiling at all three of them, though her glance was last and longest at Darquin. “True enough. I must remember there is no longer any need for fear.”

He blushed, grinning. “Marina-chan.”

Kim tucked her hands back in her lap. There were things at the edge of thought she didn’t want to intrude upon. Morgan smiled faintly and glanced away.

“I have also received word from my friend, a telepath,” Yoshino said quickly. “She wants sanctuary on Minbar — Anla’shok Nesaan said she thought the Rangers could help.”

The shuttle bucked while they entered the atmosphere. Kim rocked easily with the shuttle. She was used to far worse growing up, shifting from one dig to the next. “She’s not on the run from Psi Corps, is she?”

“Actually, she is,” Yoshino said. “She had been protected by the yakuza for years, but they have withdrawn their support. She is in Narn space now, I think.”

“Will she get here all right?”

“I’m not sure what Anla’shok Nesaan has in mind, but I am sure she will.”

“Good. Minbar would be good for her. The attitude here is so different.”

As if on cue, the cloud cover parted around the shuttle, giving the occupants a clear view of the crystalline city awaiting below. Yoshino took a long breath. “I never weary of this view.”

“I’ve forgotten what season we shall be walking into,” Kim said. “It looks like the event will have fair weather.”

“Yeah, it’s gonna be perfect for Sheridan and Delenn,” Darquin said. “Fireworks and everything, last I heard.”

Morgan shook her head, but didn’t comment.

“I haven’t seen fireworks in ages,” Kim said.

“Ground control’s gonna be a pain in the ass…,” Darquin said half to himself.

“Not ours to worry about, at least. The assignment’s starting to look like a kindness, doesn’t it?”

Darquin nodded despite himself.

“Traffic will not be our worry, ie,” Meg said, implying there were so many other things they’d have to worry about.

“Come on Meg. Stop being so… Welsh,” Kim teased.

Morgan threw her a mock glare. “I am repressing myself today.”

“Are you certain? I’m having a hard time telling the difference.” Kim was grinning… and kept her limbs well out of reach.

“I won’t be flying this time,” Darquin realized, almost scandalized.

“A pity,” Yoshino said to Darquin. “I heard what happened last time.”

“Well,” Darquin shrugged, “I can’t do it all the time….”

Kim quickly found herself distracted by the changing view. “Look at how many ships there are in the port. I feel sorry for the average traveler.”

“It could be us,” Morgan intoned, her portents deliberate this time, teasing.

“I’m sure you’ll get your suffering later,” Kim returned. “But when our duty’s done, we ought to get out into town. It’s going to be brilliant, don’t you think? Like having a festival.”

“If you like that sort of thing. It is still odd, like… market day on stims or something.”

“Gotta check the list of incoming ships,” Darquin noted to himself.

“Yes,” Yoshino agreed. “I hope we will have time to enjoy the festival part of all this — but we shall have to be vigilant as well.”

“We’ll manage.” Kim laughed then. “How did I end up the voice of optimism in this lot?”

“You feeling all right?” Darquin said.

“I’m starting to wonder.” Kim stretched out her legs, crossing them at the ankles.

“First things first,” Darquin said. “Dump off our stuff, then find our command center and go over the floorplan.”

Kim nodded, sobering up. “Wouldn’t hurt to walk it if we can, as well. Get a feel of the space.”

“They’re gonna love us when we check in,” Darquin said. “Not even on the ground yet–and we’re already on the job.”