G’fen had already woken up in the crimson dusk of his quarters when his door chimed. Tianmun, the Security Chief’s second in command, greeted him at the door with the cordial, unassuming smile that played a stark counterpoint to the sharp peaks of her warrior-caste headbone.
“Good morning, G’fen. I come with news that might please you.”
“News that might please me?” G’fen thought. His days of wiping up after the chefs might be over. “Please tell!” G’fen said in a jolly voice.
“Chief Darquin and I have arranged for a brief respite for you.” Her smile broke into a mischievous grin. “He calls it your ‘day off.’ I must go to the Uvew spaceport to observe the populace. Perhaps you could join me.”
“Of course.” G’fen rose from the edge of his bed and followed the Minbari out the door. G’fen hadn’t been off of the ship in months. The two Rangers walked down the corridor.
They took the next shuttle bound for the planet below, the last to board, the first to disembark. Tianmun drew the hood of her Ranger uniform over her head and led them out onto the landing strip. The air was heavy, but breathable. Dense clouds filled the sky like a dull grey sheet stretched over low, simple buildings much like the smaller towns on Narn.
As soon as they left the landstrip, the city of Uvew met them with a carpet of dealers, merchants, booths, and stands. The hustle and bustle reminded G’fen of his patrols through the Zocalo and the busier sections of Downbelow.
With a quick look at the bazaar going on around him, G’fen noticed three aliens had been watching him. One of them was grimacing through a face that looked like squashed fruit, probably a Grome. Another was a pale, long-faced Brakiri in drab robes. Another was from a species he didn’t recognize, a squat blue humanoid with a bulbous nose and a frown that rivaled the Grome.
“I have been given some contacts to meet,” Tianmun said to G’fen. “We should see one of them shortly.”
G’fen nodded. “Tell me again, Tianmun, what exactly is our mission?”
“Gathering intelligence, you could say. Chief Darquin was curious whether there is any talk of wrongdoing, the Anla’shok, and the like. He suspected the general mood of the city might have changed because of the rescue mission last night. He told me to ‘get the feel of the place.’ If you like, you might perhaps strike up a conversation while I make my inquiries.”
“That sounds like a good idea.” G’fen bowed and walked over to a woman working at some kind of food stand. “Greetings, I am G’fen.”
“Ah! Hello, I am Yera! What can I do for you?” Yera flipped open a long case and pulled out a steaming bag of nuts. “Care for some shargno?”
“Um, no thanks. I don’t have any currency with me. So, Yera, this place seems nice. This is my first time here… can you tell me a little bit about it?”
“Oh, I haven’t been here all that long myself. This town has the only spaceport on Rolui. All the off-world merchants come here first for refueling and supplies, so this is where all the deals are made.” Yera grinned. “And most of the action.”
That peaked G’fen’s interest. “Deals…?” G’fen said with a smile. “And where might one go to make deals?”
“Well, there’s usually a couple—” She looked into the crowd, then lowered her voice. “Don’t say I sent you, but Mraklev always seems to know about anything going on. Mraklev, the little blue Niowsta over there. He’ll deny everything if you ask, but it won’t take much to get him going.”
This would be some good information to remember for later. “Thank you for your time,” G’fen said with a bow. “I must return to my partner.”
Yera the merchant saw him off with a nod and a smile. On his way back to Tianmun, a child’s voice emerged beside him from out of the crowd. “Like Anla’shok? I’ll help you, brother! I can help! Ask me!”
A boy was speaking a northeastern dialect of Hal’eth. Speaking in Narn.
G’fen stopped, quite puzzled. “And who might you be?”
The Narn child came forward, standing his ground. “I am Li’Stron, from the Ardun colony. My family left with everyone else when the Centauri came back. I got separated and ended up here. I’ve been trying to get myself home for months. I just need a few more credits.” Catching a look in his fellow Narn’s red eyes, he stiffened. “I’m not looking for handouts either. I earn my way. That’s why I….” He nodded toward Tianmun, who was talking with a spacer several yards away. “If you’re interested in Anla’shok, I got a deal for you.”
“Well, you certainly know how to get someone’s attention, young one.” This was one of the last places he’d expect to see one of his own. “I’m listening.”
“Blue Face over there was talking to another alien yesterday, about selling an Anla’shok weapon. For 50 credits, I can arrange it so you can talk to him.”
50 credits? Was that all? How could they get their hands on an “Anla’shok weapon.” “I would be grateful if you could do so,” G’fen said to the young Narn.
Li’Stron nodded to him and, smiling, ran over to the blue gnome-like vendor across the crowded square. After just a few words, the vendor started waving his stubby arms at the Narn child, raising his voice. G’fen could make out a few words, mostly orders to go away. Finally the vendor cried out, “Well, is he coming or isn’t he!” Li’Stron beamed and waved G’fen over.
G’fen walked with purpose over the vendor and bowed. “Greetings, I am Anla’shok G’fen–”
“Nice try, friend!” the blue-faced vendor said in a harsh, nasal tone. “There are no Narns in the Anla’shok. Now the boy here says you’re a buyer, so are you buying something or are you just gonna waste my time!” He turned on Li’Stron. “I thought you said he wasn’t a loser!”
Li’Stron sighed and gave G’fen a shrug, awkward but otherwise accustomed to these outbursts. “Come on, Mister Mraklev….”
“Quick and to the point…” G’fen chuckled. “I wish to see the Anla’shok weapon that the boy spoke of.”
“That’s more like it!” Mraklev said. “Now I don’t sell weapons. Someone else has what you want, understand? But I can show you who that person is and what he’s got. Have a look.”
He set a mini-projector cone on the table between them, sitting back when it glowed with a life-like hologram of Mraklev with a human. It was a tan-skinned male in the glamour-free overalls of a dock worker, holding out a small metal tube. The human managed to make it extend with a hard shake, then smiled as he showed off his Minbari fighting pike.
Mraklev quickly squelched the hologram with his stubby blue hand. “Like what you saw, huh? Well, if you’re serious and not just eye-shopping…I can get it for you. Only 3300 credits. They cost twice as much anywhere else. What do you say to that, my friend?”
“I say that you must be joking on the price. I heard that it was much less…” G’fen eyeballed the Narn boy.
“Hey, I make the deals here! Not the brat!” Mraklev turned on the boy. “If you ruin this, I’ll make sure you’re sent out of the system in a crate! Don’t think I won’t! Or can’t!”
Li’Stron glared, speaking to G’fen again in their native tongue. “I said I could get him to talk to you for 50 credits. I did that! Don’t get me in trouble with this mitlop-faced loudmouth!”
“And as for you, my friend,” Mraklev shouted at G’fen, “I gave you a fair price! You’ll be lucky to pay 5000 even if you find another one! Make an offer or taking a flying jump back to Narn!”
G’fen was quite annoyed with the little Narn over the scheme. To Mraklev he said: “Alright, let me talk to my partner with the funds… I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
“Fine, make it quick!” Mraklev called out. “If someone else buys it, it’s not my fault!”
As he left the dealer’s table, G’fen caught a glimpse of Tianmun behind a pillar, a hood still over her head. She pointed toward a door, a signal to meet inside, and departed with a disapproving glance.
G’fen entered the small building and followed Tianmun inside. “I trust that you were listening…,” G’fen began.
“I had no choice.” Her hood fell from her bone crest, revealing the wry smirk on her face. “A Ranger would have been more discreet. And more considerate.”
“I resent your implications… if that little boy knows, then everyone who would care knows. Which is probably no one. That windbag that I’m dealing with isn’t exactly a perfect specimen of discreet, either.”
“That is true,” Tianmun said. “He is the ideal person to whom you should announce your covert allegiance to the Rangers.” She shook her head. The barbed, warrior-caste look of her bone crest took on a new, bitter meaning. “As a witness to your sense of duty, I held hopes for you, G’fen. But you have failed me this day.”
G’fen just gave the Minbari an annoyed look. “Are we proceeding or not?”
“Indeed.” Tianmun peered out into a back street. “This way. We must return to the ship immediately.”
ISA Phoenix–“In The Market” © 2004 Nick Wistner, Joe Medina
Babylon 5 tm and © 2004 Warner Bros.