Characters: Klevetati Yoshino, Dr. Kim Matsumoto
Trust had been found somewhere along the way, so slowly that she could not mark its beginning, but even with that, Kim hesitated. Slowly she sank to her knees in Yoshino’s room, that, for all its alien design, reminded her of her enforced home in Japan. With the quiet resignation she learned there, she settled herself on the cushion Yoshino offered, sitting back on her feet.
Born to a culture that wrapped itself in customs and a rigid frame of behavior, Yoshino did not realize the discomfort she brought with her ingrained rituals. But that did not mean she did not see its presence. As she served the wine in that wordless silence, she saw the emotions which leaked from an averted glance or the tightness of Kim’s shoulders.
There was no invited way to begin the conversation, so Yoshino braced herself for a new round of sparring. The battle of words was not necessarily an easier one.
“You were born on Earth, were you not?” she began. “In Japan?”
Kim shook her head. “I did not see Japan until I moved there after my parents died. It wasn’t my choice.” She sighed, looking down into the cup of wine she swirled idly. “I was not allowed to stay on Mars, for it was too close to the source. I demanded too many answers and asked questions about things that certain people were trying to get the public to forget. Psicorp — as servants or masters, I still can’t say — was deep into the coverup and so it meant my brother. Nathaniel.”
Kim’s lips thinned with rage, and some of it a fresh source, or so it seemed to Yoshino. “As much as he could be called kin, by then,” Kim muttered. “My parents worked for IPX — Interplanetary Expeditions. They were killed on Mars, by the Shadow they were digging up. When… it woke, they were in the way.” Kim swallowed hard, stuttering over the words now. “I don’t know if you heard the rumors of that among the Rangers. Anyway, to make matters worse, it was brutally covered up and we were scattered. Some… were killed. When I wouldn’t cooperate, I was shipped to Tokyo where my father’s family could keep me yoked. And… I just let it happen. To bide my time, I always said.
“But he had me cowed, with his visits and poisonous words. How they could see him as a jewel of the family, I cannot understand.”
“The city is a wonder to see out here, is it not, Kimberly?”
Kim stiffened as gloved hands took her shoulders, and Nathaniel stood behind her with presumed closeness. She would have thrown him from the balcony for daring to, if she could. And damn him, he knew it.
“Our aunt tells me you have taken application for a room at the University’s dormitory. I find it hard to believe you would see it as being an improvement over this. There are no advantages to gain,” Nathan murmured in her ear, the silken words developing a harder edge Kim knew too well.
“Did Rapunzel like her tower any better?” she muttered, dropping the tiny shears on the table before her. In a fit, she might be too tempted to chop the delicate bonsai in two.
Nathan chuckled, but the sound lacked any warmth. He stepped to the edge of the balcony, gazing through the fine meshing that cut the high winds down to a breeze. His black uniform made him seem a crow seeking fresh carrion below.
“Very well, I can see your point,” he said amiably. “I hope you enjoy it at the dormitory. But,” he turned a barbed smile on her, “abandon your illusions that it will gain you any ground in your mad little quest.”
Kim looked away, her jaw so tight her head began to pound with an immediate migraine. Nathan watched her a moment in probing silence, then walked slowly back for the door. He paused with a staged afterthought.
“Oh, and Kimberly? You really should give it up. People have such terrible accidents toying in these matters. Like Doctor Taylor just this past week. I believe you knew her?”
Kim did not hear his exit, or much else for quite some time.
“It went like that for years, and I traded one cage for another going back into IPX. When they could tolerate my attempts no longer, and I was forced to run… I was finally free.
“And it seemed it only improved from there, what with the Rangers finding me, and gaining a safe haven, but now….” Kim stared down into a cup surprisingly empty. “It just keeps coming back. The memories, the fear… It is a war without end, with negligible victories and shifting goals. It is as if I have done nothing but survive. What use have I served?”
“And what we all did to aid the refugees from the Minbari war, that was nothing? And I am sure there were others before I was aboard the Phoenix,” Yoshino pointed out logically.
Kim shrugged unhappily and hunted for any subject that turned the focus from herself. She latched on the simplest, or so she thought.
“And what drove you out of Japan, to this end?”
The reversal caught Yoshino as much off guard as it had done in the gym a few hours earlier, leaving her struggling to regain equilibrium. What she had to tell was unlikely to help Kim feel any better, that she knew; and she herself wasn’t so sure she was ready yet to tell it. She suddenly drained her glass, poured another, and drank off half of that before speaking.
“I believe I’ve already told you that it involved my killing a man, a member of the clan. What I did, I did in self-defense, and after I told him, the oyabun believed me. At least, enough to allow my left little finger to stand in place of my life, in accordance with our tradition. But as I’ve said, that wasn’t good enough for Sasaki’s friends. They still wanted me dead.”
“But what happened? Why did you have to kill Sasaki?” Kim knew that the world of the yakuza was a violent and brutal one, as intolerant of disloyalty as the Psicorps was. Still, she was hard-pressed to imagine what could have driven the quiet and unassuming Yoshino to such a thing.
Yoshino sighed, bowing to the inevitable. She finished her wine with a long swallow, then began.
“I had already served the clan for many years when the oyabun took in Sasaki, his only nephew. Everyone was enamored of him, no one more than Sasaki himself. Except, it seemed, for me. I thought he was a spoiled child, perpetually drunk with the power and privilege he’d been given his entire life.
“I should have guessed that my avoiding him would make him want me all the more. And so it did, for he pressed his attentions even after I turned him away more than once.
“One night, I came home late, and tired. I don’t remember any more what it was I’d been doing, only that it had left me so exhausted I didn’t even have the energy to go find a bath. And then the bell rang…
“Sasaki had come to the end of his patience.”
“I am the chosen one of the oyabun and you are just a woman,” Sasaki said. “You will favor me as I wish.”
Marina’s eyes blazed. “I am not ‘just a woman,’ and I am not some bar girl you can use and throw aside like yet another of your toys,” she said, her voice cold. “I am a full kobun of this clan and I choose who I will favor, and how. I do not choose you, Sasaki. Go away.”
Without warning, he backhanded her across the face, and she spun and went down. Sasaki laughed, and lashed out at her with the toe of one slippered foot, a carefully gauged move that caught her in the throat, knocking her unconscious.
She regained consciousness in a moment of agonizing clarity, taking in several things at once: Only a few minutes had passed; her kimono had been torn open, and she was pinned to her bed by the weight of Sasaki’s body; and he was now so absorbed in the outrage he was committing that he didn’t realize — or didn’t care — that she had come to.
Pain she felt, and horror, and shame; but above it all she felt rage. And she held onto it, and endured him, until she felt the grip of her wazikashi firm in her fingers, under a corner of the bed. And then she flung the rage outward, whipping the blade from its hiding place with a sharp turn of the wrist that sent the scabbard clattering free, and as Sasaki raised and turned his head at the sound, she brought the blade over and up and back again, hard across his throat.
Her eyes stung as the arterial blood hit her face, and she heaved up and kicked him free of her, sending him tumbling over to lie on his back on the floor. She looked at him, and his eyes, wide with shock, fixed on hers. But before he could speak, he convulsed once, and went limp.
Kim’s eyes closed in horror, shaken out of her private misery and fury by the tale that she heard not just in her ears, but invaded her mind as well. The plum wine that had tasted so sweetly of better days turned sour in her stomach and she swallowed quickly against rising nausea. She set the cup down with with shaky hands.
Yoshino continued her story. “So I took my swords, and my cat, and fled Japan. Fled Earth. I discarded my name, Marina Takezo, and took the name Klevetati, which is from the Croatian ‘to slander.’ It took me a long time, but I at last ended up on Minbar.
“By then, I had come to realize just how … evil …. the clan really was, and all the wrong I’d done.” She paused, looking long and hard at Kim. “Kim? Are you all right?”
Kim let out a shaky breath, trying to find a shred of calm and opened her eyes to confront Yoshino. “Yes, I’m sorry,” she mumbled.
“What’s the matter? You look sick….”
Kim rubbed briefly at her temples, and shook her head apologetically. “Nothing, it’ll pass.”
“It was me, wasn’t it?” She asked the question point blank, not intending to let her friend prevaricate any longer. Especially now, she was tired of a long duel.
Kim’s gaze fixed on the wall. “I’m not very good at blocking some things,” she said with a sigh.
“How long have you been… aware… of your telepathic ability?”
“Not long. It had been suppressed a long time. I’ve gotten some training, but…” She shrugged.
Slowly, the germ of an insight began to dawn on Yoshino. “When I was in the clan, I had a friend who was a telepath,” she began. “Not Psicorp, but employed and protected by the clan.”
Kim dropped her hand and dared to look at Yoshino, her glance questioning where this was going.
“One of the things that she told me was that being a telepath could be more than just reading minds. She had a very strong — empathic — part of her talent. She could pick up on the moods of all the people around her.”
Kim nodded. “Constantly. It takes a lot to block.”
“Perhaps…..you aren’t blocking it as well as you think.” The voice was gentle, a suggestion.
Kim looked long at Yoshino, not seeing everything just for hearing it. “I know I’m not blocking the voices very well, but–”
“I’m not talking about the voices now,” Yoshino said, leaning forward a bit to emphasize the point. “I’m talking about the emotions. Those things which we say without a voice, without words.”
Kim shook hear head, but it was an uncertain, tired gesture. “I would know…”
Yoshino pressed on, certain now. “Then tell me this — all that you have told me about what the Psicorp and your brother did to you, how much did it bother you before we began this mission? I don’t recall it driving you to rage like this.”
Kim opened and closed her mouth, unable to find words to disprove and she was too confused to agree. With a jerk she stood to pace. Part of it was just the very idea that was terrifying; out of control.
“Kitsune always told me that her way of dealing with it was not to block the feelings, but learn to tell which were hers and which belonged outside,” she began.
“She spent a very great deal of her time on meditation and archery — which in Japan are pretty much the same thing,” she observed with a slightly wry smile.
Kim stopped and leaned on the wall, mouth twitching in an attempted smile.
“When I use my swords, it is a meditation for me…..do you use your fighting skills for meditation, or just as a release of the rage?” Yoshino asked.
“I… both.” Kim looked down at her clasped hands. “It’s been a while.” She sounded almost as if she we apologizing to someone.
“Perhaps it would help. It’s either that, or spend a lot more time with my cat,” she said, standing.
Something close to a real smile crept up. “Somehow I think Kuri would disagree with my company.”
“It depends on how much you would be willing to play with her,” said Yoshino, going over to the low table near her bed and pulling out a bottle of ink, writing brush, paper … and a peacock feather. “Here.” She handed the last to Kim. “Try it.”
“Yoshino…” She accepted it, but with a shake of her head.
“Cats are the most Zen beings there are,” she said, kneeling in front of the desk and beginning to write, brush flashing up and down the page, forming neat columns.
Kim looked at Kuri, the peacock feather twisting in her fingers. The cat’s green eyes flashed as she crouched, her pom-pom of a tail wiggling in anticipation of a pounce. Kim’s eyes widened and she crouched as well, just to keep from becoming a human climbing post.
“Whatever they do, they give themselves to it completely,” Yoshino said, even as Kuri leaped, clasping the bright tip of the feather in her front paws and pulling it down.
A startled laugh escaped as she almost let go of the long feather in surprise.
Kim almost didn’t notice when Yoshino finished her writing and came toward her, blowing gently on the paper to dry the ink. Kuri had just barely begun to flag, despite her endless series of capering leaps after the long feather. “This is something I think you might find useful,” Yoshino said. “Sometime, I will need to get a new copy of The Book of Five Rings – but at least I know Musashi’s principles of Heiho by heart. Here they are.”
With the acceptance, the feather was passed back now with the same reluctance as it had been taken. Kim opened her mouth to speak, but an urgent beeping interupted the pause, and then Captain Hale’s voice followed it. “Yoshino, report to the bridge immediately. Your second will brief you on the situation.” Hale closed the line immediately, leaving Yoshino and Kim to look at each other.
“Well, there is your summons, and I am sure mine will come in a moment,” Kim said, folding the parchment and tucking it inside her uniform.
“No doubt,” she said. “We have work to do.” She slipped back into her outer robe, pausing a moment to look at the sigil of the Anla’shok. “Now that we have looked into the dark places within, perhaps it will be a little easier to look into the dark places beyond.”
She scooped Kuri up, gave her a quick scratch behind the ears, then let her leap gracefully to the floor as she and Kim turned toward the door.
Yoshino turned to part ways in the hall, but Kim caught her arm before she advanced a step.
“Thank you, for it all. And… I’m sorry,” Kim said quietly.
Yoshino merely smiled. “You have nothing to be sorry for.”
Copyright (c) 1998 Jamie Lawson and Alida Saxon. All rights reserved.