Mahogany

Characters: Ryath Oaks, Peter Carlacci

Peter Carlacci looked at his watch. Several hours had passed since Ryath had locked him in the cargo hold of her ship, which was still within the Phoenix’s docking bays. He’d given the place a thorough examination — the technology here was easily on a par with the Minbari’s, and apparently a bit higher in some respects. Almost on a par with the Vorlons, he thought.

Sighing, he sat down to rest with his back against the cryo-tube that occupied one corner of the otherwise empty hold. It was dimly lit, and there wasn’t much in the way of creature comforts. Then he shrugged, letting his head drop back to rest against the tube as well. He’d put up with a lot worse, both before and since joining the Rangers.

And at least the neighbors were bound to be quiet.

In the Flyer’s small cockpit, the comm unit abruptly came to life. “Technomage Flyer, you are cleared for departure at your discretion,” came the soft, female voice. “Good luck.”

Ryath steered the Flyer out and away from the Phoenix. She projected the image her ship’s sensors were giving her of the Phoenix getting smaller down to the cargo hold for Carlacci to see.

That was too easy, she thought. If she didn’t know better, she would think she was doing exactly what was expected of her. She still didn’t understand why Captain Hale would just allow her to leave with her best pilot on board. Still, it’s not like I haven’t been used before, and I’m not exactly defenseless! she smirked to herself.

She instructed the Flyer to alert her when they reached Centauri Prime, and if any other contacts were made on the journey. Using the Flyer’s best speed, and navigating off the beacons, the trip would take a scant twelve hours.

Ryath was feeling relatively happy with herself. The Tech seemed content. The constant itching and need for action had gone. In fact, she had started to miss the feeling.

Ryath checked in on Carlacci. In her mind’s eye she saw him sitting leaning against the Cryo tube containing Olyn. For a moment it looked like he was sleeping. Ryath knew she had to talk to him. She made her way to the hold.

He opened his eyes and smoothly got to his feet as she entered. Ryath could see a small silver medal on a long chain hanging from around his neck, and another flash of silver from something pinned to the inside of his jacket, as he pulled it straight and looked at her.

“Well, good evening,” he said. “I see we’re on our way.”

“Good evening Peter,” she replied, indicating that he should sit. He looked around for a chair, then saw one across the hold that wasn’t there before. He moved to it and sat.

“Yes. We are on our way; and should be there in about twelve hours. Just enough time for us to chat. Get to know each other, and to discuss how we are to proceed on Centauri Prime.” She sat next to him, but didn’t twist to look at him. Her sensors were recording every change in his body — they had already picked up a brief surge of adrenaline, apparently triggered by her quote of their ETA.

“Firstly, what is the meaning of that medal that hangs from your neck?” She continued to stare straight ahead, showing no real interest or emotion.

Play it cool, Carlacci, play it cool, he thought. This was shaping up as a delicate duel, with Ryath trying to use her abilities to throw him off stride. And it was working, he thought. Hell, anybody who could get from the edge of Minbari space to Centauri Prime in twelve hours — He cut off the thought abruptly. The trick, he thought, was not to let it get to him, to take it all as perfectly normal.

Which would be no problem at all, until she made the chair disappear and dumped him right on his backside.

“This?” he asked, lifting the medal up so that she could see it — however she might be looking. It depicted a winged figure with a sword and shield, with one foot on the throat of some kind of demonic beast. “Saint Michael the Archangel. I’m actually a fairly religious guy, I guess. Not that I go evangelizing or anything. Anyway, my parents gave me this when I started my career.”

She had heard of Saint Michael; he was mentioned in one of the books her Mother had sent with Olyn when she left, but she had tried to forget about her family and had never really read it.

Nodding as though she already knew, “And that badge? Another gift from Earth?” She knew what it was, having seen it several times when Peter had been within the range of one of her probes and his jacket had slipped open. Now she was trying to make him feel more comfortable, maybe even get him to relax enough to explain why he didn’t want to use Ranger methods to find out about his lady.

He couldn’t help the grin of pride. “Before I joined the Anla’shok, I was already a Ranger. That’s the badge of the Texas Rangers — one of the oldest organized law enforcement groups in western North America. I keep it now to remember where I came from.”

She smiled, his pride rubbing off on her. “And where are you going, Peter? Is that not the question you ask yourself?”

She finally turned and faced him. “We are headed to a planet that holds great danger for us both, but this is not the answer to that question. We will both suffer greatly if you do not know where you are going!”

She left it at that, waiting for him to think carefully over what she meant. She loved being cryptic, loved the mental pain it inflicted. The answer she sought was simple, it always is. He is going after the one thing he can’t have, the one person who will be just out of reach to him. His love.

Ryath felt a sudden affinity for this proud Texas Ranger; and regretted what must come.

He looked back at her, his dark brown eyes clear and wide. It didn’t take him long to answer her question, and it wasn’t quite what she was expecting.

“I’m looking for the truth, Ryath. I haven’t got any deep, dark secrets. Don’t like ’em much.” He lifted a hand, as if to forestall something he imagined she would say. “I know it’s dangerous where we’re going. For me, and you, but a lot more for her. And I know the truth we find might not be the one I want the most.

“But so be it. There’s only two women in the world that mean enough to me, that I can’t quit until I know where they stand. What’s going on. Their fate, if you want to be melodramatic — which you seem to,” he added with a wry smile. “Mira’s one.”

She returned his smile. “Yes, Peter. I understand.” Her smile slipped and she stood without looking at him. “But at some point you may have to choose between them. Then the truth makes no difference.”

She would have waited for his response but decided she didn’t want to know what he would do if he was ever forced to choose. “Peter. Once we are on Centauri Prime, we must travel to the heart of the Emperors city. We need to gain access to the Ministry of Information.” She turned to him once more and knelt down in front of him. “I cannot gain access to the Ministry’s records from outside. I will leave you there to look within the data for any record of her. You must be quick!”

“Getting information, getting in and out of places quick — that’s what I’m trained for,” he said.

Nodding, she stood. “Good! Then we are ready. I will come to you when we are nearing Centauri Prime.” Ryath turned and found herself staring down into the cryo tube. Tentatively she reached out and touched it, becoming wrapped up in thoughts of how she had reached this point, and what had happened to Olyn.

She forgot Carlacci was behind her, until he spoke quietly, asking, “Who’s in there?”

Ryath startled a little. “Here? Oh! No one,” she said firmly, even though it was obvious the tube was occupied. She turned to face him, moving as though she were trying to hide the cryo tube behind her. Eventually she gave up and just stepped aside, sighing.

“He was my teacher. My mentor; like a father to me.” She didn’t tell him everything. She wanted to, but didn’t think he could understand; and too many Rangers already had a hand in her future. Adding another would just complicate things further.

He bowed his head in tribute, first toward the tube and then to her. “I’m sorry.” He looked them both over for a moment. “Your reason for going to Centauri Prime?”

She looked into his eyes, trying to read his thoughts behind them. Giving up, she replied, “One of them.”

Ryath straightened her back, making herself seem taller than she was. “Peter. I will leave you on the planet if you ask it of me. And I will leave you there if you draw attention to yourself!” Her voice was soft but warning.

She suddenly felt a flare of anger from him, that would have been perceptible even without telepathy or the tech. “I thought we’d come to an understanding a minute ago,” he said, keeping his voice steady and calm, with effort. “If you think I’m that incompetent, why did you even bother bringing me along?”

She stared at him, confused for a moment by the suddenness and strength of his emotion. “If we find nothing there, or worse, we find her but are unable to help, then what was the reason for going? If you get caught, it’s even worse because then she’ll worry about you. At the moment she believes you safe on board the Phoenix.”

Ryath tried to impress upon him the seriousness of their situation. She dropped the hint about him getting caught, hoping he picked it up. If she were ever caught, not that it was likely, she would be handed over to the Drakh and then flayed. She had no doubts about her fate should she slip up.

She relaxed, letting her shoulders fall forward slightly. “Peter.” she said gently. “I only mean that you will need all your training, and maybe something more.”

He was silent for a moment, as if processing what she had said. “I’ve been in this game a long time, Ryath,” he said at last, sounding almost sad. “I’ve been where I’m not supposed to, and had a lot of people wanting to kill me because of it. I scouted Abbai before the Phoenix went there. I was up against a bastard who packed a mace — used it to kill my contact and damn near me, too. A Minbari warrior caste with his headbone smashed in is not pretty. And I’m sure something just as ugly waits for us if we screw up. I never thought otherwise. I’ll give it everything I have, trust me.

“And the reason for going — the reason for going is to try. If we succeed, then we’ve got plenty of cause to celebrate. If we make it out with nothing but our lives, then we’ll know that it was something bigger than us. But we’ll know we tried, and that’s the point.”

She smiled, an indication that she knew he would do his best and then some. “Have you any questions, or shall we just get on with it?”

“Just one, and you’re more than welcome to laugh at me. Do technomages eat?”

Ryath laughed a little, more out of embarrassment. “Yes…we do! But maybe not as often as most beings.” She turned and headed towards the door, opening a panel just to the left of it. A light shone from within. Ryath searched a little then turned and walked back to Peter, two small packages in her hands. The panel closed silently behind her.

“Here,” she said, holding the packages out to him.

He looked them over with a slightly wry expression. One looked similar to the old Earthforce ready to eat meals; the other resembled something that would be served on a commercial space flight from Mars. Neither looked very appetising. “You know, I think I’ve been spoiled by Rashid’s cooking,” he said. “Ah well. This, a short nap, I’ll be good to go when we get to Centauri Prime.”

“I will leave you to rest. There are still a few things I need to do before we get there.” She turned and left the hold, the door closing and locking behind her.

He turned toward the place where the chair had been, to find it had been replaced by a small cot. “Good enough,” he murmured.

Ryath went to her quarters. The wand/staff leaning against the wall reminded her of Dunstan, and the guilt returned. “When I get back….when I get back,” she whispered. Sitting on her bed, she ran through how she was going to get Peter into the Ministry, and then….

She really didn’t know why she was going. She had a nagging feeling that she needed to. Yes, she knew that the Mages who attacked Olyn was more than likely connected to the Centauri somehow, even if the Centauri didn’t know it. She spent the next moments thinking about how she would find them.


Copyright (c) 2003 Niki Hipwood and Jamie Lawson. All rights reserved.