Characters: Dr. Kim Matsumoto, Peter Riordan
The first thing Peter heard that morning was young Penny Lau — Just a child, really, younger than Abby — crying. Weary, he sighed. Probably her food had been stolen in the night, and she’d had the last of it. Maybe the guards had been right, when they had deserted the prison and locked it behind them, that they’d all die here, forgotten. Some already had, though not yet of hunger.
Oh, hell, that couldn’t be true. Someone else had to know they were there, they only had to have faith just a little longer.
Getting up was agony, even though he’d appropriated a real mattress from the vacant guard barracks. He didn’t even remember anymore what it felt like to be without pain. Limping over to the basin, he took a long drink. Water, at least, was plentiful, even if it was just prolonging what seemed inevitable. He slowly washed his face, one-handed, then looked up at himself in the small mirror.
He’d had a life once, and though it hadn’t always been easy, it had been happy. But that was before Nightwatch. His conscience wouldn’t allow him to keep his mouth shut, though it would have been easier, and so he’d ended up here. No record of his arrest, no trial; it would seem he’d just vanished. And no one cared about someone who didn’t exist. He only hoped Abby had missed what had fallen on him, with no one to watch out for her. His mother and grandmother couldn’t help with this.…
A commotion stirred him from staring at the broken face. At the best pace he could muster, he followed the others already in the corridor, down to the common room.
Kim lifted her face to look at the heights of the “correctional institution” and shivered at the pure emotion that had seeped into the very landscape. It was no less than she expected, but worse than anything she truly wished to face. Duty alone quickened her step and she entered past the security, the dark, alien uniform of the Rangers standing out starkly against the rest. Down a dim, narrow corridor, and out into a large gathering area. People were huddled together in groups. They favored Kim and the others with frightened glances, furtively, as if seeing too much would bring punishment.
She rammed her barriers as tightly shut as possible, and sang in her head, anything to block the minds of the corralled people, and especially the one who broke away from the others and was now approaching her.
A limp slowed his pace enough she could get a good look at him, whether she wished to or not. His prison-issue clothes hung off him, and it didn’t look like he’d had much to spare to begin with. As he approached, she could see broken veins in his face, and one hand twisted, gnarled, held close to his body. Though she only felt horror and rage that this had been done, Kim managed to find a smile for him, encouraging.
“Please, what is the news?” He sounded as if he were craving that perhaps more than food.
Relieved it was something she could help, she met his eyes directly. “The war is over.” Then she raised her voice, loud enough to be heard by at least most of the inmates. “Clark is dead, and martial law is being abolished worldwide. We are here to help you back to your families and homes.”
He stared, then tears started, of joy. “Oh, God. We thought you were our new jailers.” He wavered a little on his feet.
“No. I and others uniformed like me are Rangers, of the new Interstellar Alliance. But please, the rest will wait. You… many of you need medical attention.” As if on cue, medics and clerks moved from behind her, out into the group.
Kim didn’t know if her barriers would hold up under it, but she offered the spokesman a helping hand, though her composure was shaky.
He took it with his good one. In spite of his appearance, his grip was still strong. He favored her with a wobbly smile. “Thank you.”
“Welcome.” She swallowed and then braced his arm with her other hand as well and led toward the chairs the inmates had been too defensive to take.
He sat gratefully. After a deep breath, his voice improved. “Your job won’t be easy. When the guards left, they destroyed the records and most of the food. There are true criminals here, and not just us political prisoners,” he warned.
“We know.” She gave him a wry smile. “I’m also a telepath, and that is part of why I’m here. Besides helping those who may have been… too far gone,” she ended quietly, grim.
The man nodded. “The rest of us have done what we could. But the medical supplies are gone too.” Then he looked at her, really, for first time, and smiled a little. “I’ll help, if I can.”
“You’re going to rest,” Kim answered firmly, but with a smile. “There are enough to do this job, finally.”
He wouldn’t back down. “I know near everyone here.”
“You are stubborn, aren’t you…?” She trailed off, realizing she didn’t have a name.
“Peter. And naturally — it’s in the job description. I was… am a reporter.”
Kim chuckled, for the first time since entering the place. “I’m Kim. And you’re going to do it from an armchair for now. Relax while the medic takes care of you, then we’ll get this all sorted out.”
“I’m well enough to start. If I could have a little of that broth I’m smelling?”
She smiled crookedly, then moved away to get a cup from the trays being wheeled in.
Kim slid down into one of the seats next to Peter, exhausted, head booming with a headache. Even light, surface scans exacted their toll, when done dozens upon dozens of times. Hours playing confessor, counselor and interrogator left her wishing desperately for a quiet open space that didn’t stink of fear.
Peter was only doing slightly better. “It’s done now,” he said quietly. “They can all go home.”
She nodded wearily, then looked at him. “I’d have thought you’d be out on the last transport we sent.” He had certainly earned it, and his resolve to stay left her feeling a little shabby for her complaints, however silent.
“I had to make sure everyone else went first.” His mouth quirked, amused by his own actions.
Kim looked across the hall, then shook her head. “All right, now, where can I take you?”
“Ireland, if you please. Near to Dublin.”
That made her blink. “Huh. I’d been meaning to get out that way as it was. All right then. I’ll take you myself.”
“I’d be appreciated.” He was a long moment gathering enough strength to stand. Kim didn’t rush him, glad to keep to his pace as she led him out into the yard. The few minutes sitting had only succeeded in letting her joints to stiffen. She led him outside into the yard. A Minbari shuttle sat on the tarmac, looking out of place.
Peter looked at it curiously, but after the day he’d had he wasn’t about to comment on something so relatively trivial.
Kim caressed a point on the hull and a panel opened, giving her lock access. Smoothly the hatch opened for them, spilling warm air out into the winter night. She hovered close behind him, in case he needed the help. He didn’t, but he acknowledged the offer with a smile.
“Buckle in. We’ll have you home in an hour at most.”
With a long sigh, he sank into the copilot’s chair. “You don’t know how long I’ve waited for this.”
“I don’t, certainly, but I understand the feeling.” She smiled. “All right, Peter. Where to?”
(C) 1999 Alida Saxon and Leslie McBride. All rights reserved.