Make Believe

Characters: Tomás Darquin

In her message to Darquin, Arenn didn’t use the code word to indicate he was being lured into a trap. Her referral to this new contact seemed legit.

He took precautions all the same. He made the trip down to Abbai 4 and took his old route to the village near the Korvan River, slipping into Arenn’s two-story watering hole.

Smiling, watching the many species of clientele saunter and socialize from table to table, he reminded himself to no longer think of Arenn’s place in those terms. Months ago he had been here discussing the lousy state the Abbai homeworld had been in. Back then it was a watering hole, bare-bones and dimly lit. But an enthusiastic buzz replaced the murmurs of under-the-table dealings. Maybe things were actually getting better for somebody on this planet.

He saddled up to the bar, checking reflections in glasses and bottles to make sure no one was sneaking up on him. An Abbai hostess brought him a mug. As he raised his hand to make her stop and looked up, he found Arenn smiling at him. She glanced at a booth on the other end of the room and patted his hand before moving on to the next customer.

No alarms were going off in his head. He shrugged and, taking the mug with him, headed for the booth. A Centauri woman, her head shaved except for one long bejewelled pony-tail, turned her elfin face and looked over her bare shoulder as he got closer.

“Wow.” He chuckled at himself. “Sorry, I wasn’t expecting–”

“Do I know you?” Ready to keep him at arm’s length, she sat up when she saw his Ranger uniform.

“Nope, I just got here. Tomás Darquin. This seat taken?”

She beamed as she recognized his name. “No, please join me.”

He resisted the instinct to be taken in by that smile and instead slid into the booth. She was putting on the same show he was. “What’s your name?”

“Evina. Evina Menvio of House Cheys,” she added proudly in perfect English.

“Of House–” He threw a glance at the room. “You know Cheys?”

“Very well. I am the mistress of his House. I supervise the business of his House in his stead.”

“Lady Evina.” He gave her a slow, reverent nod. “I didn’t know I was going to be in such… stately company.” When she blushed and smiled with approval, Darquin congratulated himself for sometimes finding the right words. “So you wanted to see me.”

“Not you specifically. That is, I did ask about Rangers. But yours was the only name mentioned.”

He smirked. “That’s okay, I’m used to that.”

She burst into a giggle. “You know what I mean!” He said nothing, letting her get it out of her system in her own time. Then a worried frown replaced her smile. “But I…I do need your help. I have found out about something and I want your help to stop it.”

“Okay, tell me what it is and I’ll do the rest.”

Evina seemed pleased at first, then pouted.

“What. What’s wrong?”

“I thought I’d be able to do something too.”

“Er…let’s start with what the problem is. We can figure the rest from there.”

She nodded enthusiastically and placed her manicured hands on the table. “I overheard Lord Cheys discussing a deal with a Hurr official. His name is Fauld. They negotiated prices for this or that before, gadgets and trinkets, but this–”

“Wait, sorry, just a sec. Gadgets?”

“You know. Electrical things. Computer parts, nothing interesting. Sometimes it was simply a handful of data crystals.”

Darquin nodded. Tech smuggling, data trafficking. “Okay. They usually talked over prices for this stuff. And that changed?”

“Yes.” Evina’s voice became hard. “Fauld came in the other day and wanted my lord to get him some Abbai slaves. Females. He said his old source went out of business and he needed more. And the way he spoke of them…how they had to be trained, that they had to know….”

Darquin steepled his fingers and set his mouth against them. In the misogynistic Hurr culture, female Abbai slaves were highly prized as symbols of virility and influence despite the Interstellar Alliance’s efforts to ban slavery. And now that the Phoenix crew were breaking up their operations, the slave market was reorganizing. The connections were new, but the victims were the same.

“How did Lord Cheys react?”

Her sky-blue eyes misted over. “He said he’d see to it…if Fauld agreed to a retainer’s fee.”

“I’m sorry.” He reached over the table and held her manicured hand. “It’ll be okay. I…guess he said he couldn’t change his mind?”

She dabbed her tears around her eyes and gave him a confused look.

“Y’know, when you talked to him about it.”

“Oh, I couldn’t do that.” She looked over her shoulder and leaned in closer, a sly and wide smile on her face. “If I did,” she whispered, “he would have known I was listening.”

“He…wait, I’m not tracking here. I thought you said you were in charge when he wasn’t around.”

“Oh yes, I give orders to the servants and organize his social functions. He can’t do everything himself obviously!” Evina said.

“So he doesn’t tell you anything about what he’s working on or–”

“No, no. It’s so boring most of the time anyway.”

Darquin nodded slowly, restraining any possible sign of confusion, disbelief, or exasperation. He wasn’t dealing with the hardcore players in the underworld, just one of their groupies. “Does he have any private files?” Seeing her dismayed expression, he quickly added, “For business. Records, documents, things like that.”

“Oh! Yes, in his office. A personal data terminal.”

“Probably encrypted,” Darquin muttered to himself. She nodded. “But no idea what the passcode is?”

“I can find it.”

“Nah, don’t worry about it. I can get into it on my own.”

Evina’s eyes widened with anticipation. “Of course! I can let you in through my bedroom window–”

“Protected by a silver spoon?”

“–and I can show you around the estate!”

“Er, wait a minute.”

She began to gesture as if playing. “So if the guards decide to chase you, you can take the fastest way out while I distract them and send them the wrong way!”

“Hold it!” Darquin grabbed her hands. She gasped and looked at him, confused. “Evina. Listen carefully. Okay?” He waited until she nodded. “You don’t have to do anything else. Don’t get involved.”

“I’m already involved, aren’t I?”

“It’s not a game,” he said, cold and sharp. “You hear the deals getting made, but you don’t see what these people do. If they think someone’s in the way, they go for the kill. They don’t care who. You’re safer out of it.” He let her hands go. “I appreciate what you’re doing. And there are lots of Abbai out there who’ll appreciate it even more. But you don’t have to get killed for it.”

Evina stared. “But Lord Cheys….”

“Okay, think about this.” Darquin rubbed his face, taking his own advice. “How did you become a part of his House?”

“He saw me dancing and liked me.”

“He liked you and took you in?”

“Yes,” she answered, confused.

Darquin held his breath as if about to pull a trigger. “He bought you.”

“He bought my freedom.”

“He bought your slaver’s contract…and gave it to you?”

She hesitated. “No.”

Darquin felt his face burn. He had stripped her of all pretense and was now forced to leave her with only the truth to cling to. “You’re still a slave, Evina,” he said softly.

She gaped in horror.

“Listen. Don’t do anything else. Nothing. Let my people handle it. Understand?” He waited until she took in a deep breath and nodded. “Okay. Now act like I just did something rude and tell me to leave.”

“All right,” she stammered. “Now I want you to leave, thank you very much.”

With a shrug Darquin slid out of the booth and began to walk away, preparing to lose himself in the crowd, when he heard her wish him a good night in the weak inflections of a lost child.

Phoenix–“Make Believe” © 2001 Joseph Medina

Babylon 5 TM and © 2001 Warner Bros.

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