Characters: Klevetati Yoshino, Dr. Kim Matsumoto
The Abbai village which was home to the Tributes had no spaceport, nor even a landing strip. Yoshino had to do several broad circles in the Thunderbolt before locating a field about a kilometer from the village proper where she could set down.
“I wouldn’t want to ruin someone’s new crops,” she said as she finally let the fighter settle to earth.
“Definitely,” Kim agreed, watching out the window. She held the package cradled on her lap.
The circling had the advantage, though, of getting the villagers’ attention, and several of them were already on their way toward the Rangers as they climbed out of the fighter. Sephrin himself was clearly visible in the lead.
Kim carefully slung the package over her shoulder and climbed down after Yoshino.
They met the group of Abbai about halfway between the landing spot and the riverbank which marked the edge of the village proper. “Welcome, Anla’shok,” Sephrin said breathlessly.
“Greetings,” Kim returned and smiled, making it clear that there was good news. She swung the package gently around from behind her back, and lifted it in both hands.
“You found them …” A murmur rippled through the Abbai.
She looked aside to Yoshino, including her. “We did, and they appear to be undamaged.”
“Come, we will take you to the shamans,” Sephrin said, gesturing back toward the village.
From the fallow field where they had landed, the Rangers followed the Abbai across a narrow dike bridging more fields where others still labored, finishing the spring’s planting mostly by hand. They set down their tools as Sephrin or his friends called to them, joining the gathering crowd.
They then passed through groves of trees in full blossom. Yoshino paused here a moment, eyes wide with delight. “They’re like the cherry blossoms back home,” she murmured to Kim.
Kim smiled. “They are. It’s been years since I’ve seen it…”
From the groves, they crossed a stone bridge to a large island in the middle of the river. “This is our sacred ground, where the main festivities are held,” Sephrin said, gesturing with a broad sweep of his arm to take in a greensward lined with a ring of large, old trees, that appeared to the humans as a mix of oak and willow.
At the far end, nestled among the trees, was a long, low building of adobe and wood. Several old Abbai, dressed in brilliantly colored robes, were standing there waiting. Word had clearly gone ahead of them.
Kim had been tempted to linger until she saw the waiting shamans, quickly recalling what they were there to do. She picked up her slowed pace.
The eldest of the shamans, a female whose dorsal crest seemed almost white with age, stepped forward, bowing deeply in Minbari style. “Welcome, Anla’shok,” she said, her voice soft but firm. Kim returned the polite greeting, bowing smoothly despite the burden.
“Greetings, shinkan,” Yoshino said, with a deep bow of her own.
“We understand that you have recovered our lost Tributes,” the shaman said, smiling down at a young child who still knelt at her feet, panting.
“Yes, we were fortunate,” Kim said. “I am pleased we are able to help return this to order, for you and your village.” With that, she offered the package to her.
The old Abbai took it easily, and lifted the Tributes out one by one, holding each up high before passing it on to her companions. The crowd around them first gasped, then murmured, and by the time the last sculpture was lifted to the light, they were cheering loudly.
A smile broke across Kim’s face. The emotions that collided with her mental barriers was like a riot, but it was euphoria, not anger or fear that forced its way in.
“We are forever in your debt,” the old shaman said, bowing deeply to the two Rangers. “We would welcome you, and any of your companions, to share our festival with us, four evenings hence.”
“You are welcome, and we are honored by your invitation. We will be sure to convey it to our companions when we return to the Phoenix.”
“It is our pleasure to serve, and it will be an honor to join you,” Yoshino added. “I fear that for the moment, we must return to our ship.”
The old Abbai nodded her understanding, catching Yoshino’s hands in a brief grip. “You will all be blessed,” she said as she reached for Kim’s hand. “You have saved our soul.”
Kim began to feel a bit of embarrassment for the praise. “I am glad we were able to help.”
“We will see you at the festival,” the shaman said, and then gestured to the crowd, trying to clear a path for them to leave. The rejoicing Abbai seemed a little reluctant to let their newfound heroes go, but eventually made way.
Slowly at first, they made their way back towards the ship. Kim let out her breath as the pressure diminished somewhat against her mind.
Yoshino looked at her friend, still smiling. “Are you all right?”
“Oh, fine. That was just… incredible. I’ve never been in a crowd like that. Their joy could make a telepath drunk, I think.”
“You deserve a chance to be happy as well,” she said.
“Oh, I was doing all right before that.” Kim smiled mysteriously, then changed the subject slightly. “It’s incredible we were able to solve it so easily.”
“You found the clue that got us on the path.” Yoshino opened the hatch of the Thunderbolt.
“And you got us into the computers,” Kim added.
Yoshino lowered her head modestly as she began the preflight sequence. “It’s what I know best … just glad I can use it for good,” she said.
“You and me both, in this instance.”
Yoshino fired the Thunderbolt’s engines and lifted off, waiting to go to full burn until she was several hundred meters up. Kim didn’t interrupt during the lift off. She picked up the conversation again, once it was safe to. “We made a pretty good team, don’t you think?” she said cheerfully.
Yoshino’s smile could be seen clearly in the reflection of the canopy. “Yes, I think you’re right,” she said. “And we will have plenty of chances to work together again before we leave this planet, I think. You should see my incoming reports.”
“Oh… this is only the beginning?”
“There is a great deal of evil here,” Yoshino said. “But a great deal of good that the Anla’shok can do.”
“I agree. It seemed overwhelming at first. I’m glad we’ve had such a good start. Good fortune.”
“The Kami are smiling on us,” Yoshino agreed. “There’s the Phoenix. We’ll be home soon.”
“Great.” Kim looked out at the view, then her thoughts were drawn back to the reminder of something curious. “I have the feeling I should know, but would you mind telling me who the Kami are?”
“The divine ones, the spirits of our homeland and our ancestors,” Yoshino said. “I believe they live among the stars as well, and so I can still –” she paused. Her pale face drained of blood, leaving it nearly transparent. “It’s gone.”
For a moment, Kim’s embarrassment at her own ignorance distracted her from her friend’s last words. Then Yoshino’s emotions pushed through, bringing her thoughts back. “What is?”
“The mirror,” Yoshino said. “The soul of the Kami lives through the mirror. You saw it, how I called on her down there. But the mirror’s gone.”
“When did you last have it?”
Yoshino was silent for a few minutes, as she docked the Thunderbolt. As the hatch opened, she finally spoke. “Back on the planet. I put it back in my pocket just before we left that lodging house.”
“It didn’t somehow fall out in the cabin?” Kim glanced down to the footwell hopefully.
Yoshino followed Kim’s look, then looked up again, her face set in anger. “The Llort,” she said. “They bumped me as they left. They picked my pocket.”
Kim groaned softly, remembering it, now that it was pointed out. “I don’t want to believe it… but I think you’re right.”
Copyright (c) 2000 Jamie Lawson and Alida Saxon. All rights reserved.