Characters: Tomás Darquin, Dr. Kim Matsumoto
Darquin was officially well enough to stand. Since they were Rangers, the medical staff kept their reservations to themselves and watched him limp out of Medlab.
He kept going because the wound in his back would start screaming again and drive him to the floor if he stopped. His talk with Morgan came back to him, but he couldn’t wait for Storm Squadron to return. The Anla’shok code allowed for a passive back-up, but not delays, in a situation like this. And it was one of the few codes he respected.
The word was all over the ship in a way unique to the Rangers. Scuttlebutt had it, but remained courteous and invisible. By the time Darquin hobbled into the next shuttle bound for the Abbai homeworld, nearly everyone on the Phoenix knew he was on his way to carry out mora’dum. The application of terror.
He had gathered intelligence while still bed in Medlab, and his datapad received the data as the supply shuttle left the shuttlebay. He poured over reports and schematics, paying no attention to the firestorm kicked up by the shuttle’s atmospheric entry.
The Drazi criminal Dolak had fallen on hard times since Darquin had gotten himself knifed by his thugs. Darquin had siphoned Dolak’s funds into several accounts in the Abbai homeworld’s network, including local law enforcement intranets. While Darquin was convalescing, Dolak was busy fending off hostile takeovers. By the time Dolak had quelled the would-be successors within his crumbling organization, rival crime bosses had lured away most of his people. The criminal underworld pounced on him and took what they wanted, quickly making a new power balance among the surviving gangs. And Dolak was worse off now than when he first landed on Abbai 4.
Darquin smirked, shaking his head at the info on his datapad. He switched to the blues for the warehouse that served as Dolak’s base of operations, planning his attack.
From her computer console in the ship’s science lab, Kim Matsumoto followed the shuttlebay traffic flow. When she saw the supply shuttle’s callsign blink into existence on her screen, Kim went down to Deck 19 and requisitioned one of the Minbari shuttles for herself.
Maybe she wasn’t as accomplished a pilot as Darquin, but she knew exactly where he was going. While Darquin intended to slip onto the planet (his usual routine) and into the crime boss’s headquarters unseen, she was flying the shuttle Nuthorm straight to the scene.
She was concerned that her landing might attract too much attention, but once she began the landing cycle, the shuttle’s engines were virtually noiseless compared to their Earth Alliance counterparts. Retracting the shuttle’s wings, Kim brought the shuttle down in a vacant lot down the block from the warehouse. When she stepped out and looked around, her folded pike waiting in her fist for trouble, it was as if the shuttle’s engines had stolen every sign of life from the place. Even the air barely stirred.
She moved on to the warehouse, looking for side entrances and power boxes, trying to anticipate Darquin’s plan. Judging from the red emergency lighting and the first comm junction box she found, she was on the right track. He had cut off any chance of warning going out or coming in, and had sent the enemy into the anarchy of his own choosing.
Then she found the bodies. The first few were from different species, but were more alike than different. Long-faced humanoids, some with manes, some hairless, all of them thickly built, all probably from high-gravity planets. The bruises they wore were from efficient blows at strategically chosen locations on their bodies, from a blunt instrument. There were no telltale scents or burns on the walls to suggest weaponsfire, so their assailant had struck before they could react.
The trail of unconscious henchmen that Darquin had left in his wake led Kim across the ground floor. It went up to the higher floors and back down, tracing his efforts to neutralize anyone who could get in the way of his goal, whatever that was.
Again the injuries told the tale, but with a twist. Darquin had begun by striking only where and when he had to in order to take his opponent down. But the further he had gone, the harder he struck. And more often. By the time he worked his way back downstairs, he was simply beating his opposition down. The walls attested that they still weren’t able to respond in time to stop him. He was punishing Dolak’s thugs now.
Her senses sharpened when she heard a distant thud and a grunt. More fighting. Kim sprinted to a doorway that opened on a spacious loading area. From the doorway, she could see the last battle coming to a definitive close.
Grinding his teeth, Darquin was lashing out with his fighting pike, nailing the stomachs of two Yolu at his left and right, slapping down a few others as he spun the pike about for another assault. Hearing the heavy and rapid footfalls behind him, he crouched and pivoted to let one Drazi run into another. He swept his pike through a mountainous bodyguard before launching himself at the bodyguard’s Drazi master.
With a growl, Darquin shoved the Drazi into the tattered wall behind them. “I had enough of you, Dolak. And your punks.”
“Get your hands off me, Ranger!” Despite his bravado, Dolak sighed with relief when he heard the slink of Darquin’s fighting pike being folded away.
Then he stiffened, crying out as the metal of a gun barrel chilled his leathery green temple.
Silent and unseen in Darquin’s wake, Kim took a single step out into the space.
Darquin’s voice became venomous and soft. “Move ‘n’ I solder your eyes to the wall.”
Dolak glanced over his shoulder, seeing another in Ranger garb. “Y-you can’t! Rangers preserve life!”
“I’m pissed now. All bets are off, Sparky.”
Kim didn’t care for the tone of Darquin’s voice, no matter who it was directed at. The music was gone from his thoughts. Teetering violence scratched at her mind. She stepped warily closer.
Dolak cast his eyes around, meeting Kim’s for a moment, seeking out all the help as he could get.
You aren’t thinking clearly, Darquin, Kim thought to herself. With the full command of his wits, he would have known by now she was at his back, close enough to touch with an outstretched pike.
Darquin started a moment, but kept his grip and his PPG on the Drazi. “Hey, Kim,” he greeted her, his voice half shaky with adrenaline. “Didn’t think you sounded heavy enough to be one of Dolak’s boys….”
Kim felt a small measure of relief then. “I should hope not,” she said.
“Maybe I oughta introduce ya,” Darquin says to the Drazi. “This guy here was one of the real ladies’ men around here. Concerned the market.”
“Charmed.” Kim moved into Darquin’s peripheral vision. She had more interest in Darquin than the Drazi.
“And he’s in deep with the syndicate that’s been running Abbai 4 into the ground.” The shrill whine of Darquin’s PPG powering up drowned out the Drazi’s whimpering apology.
“Not exactly your style, is it?” Kim said calmly, even as the sound crawled up her spine.
“I’m getting tired of people like him.” Darquin fixed his eyes on the Drazi’s. “Using everyone, ruining everything. I’m sick of this place, of seeing what worms like you did to it…and I’m sure this place is sick of you, Dolak.” He slid the PPG gun barrel into Dolak’s gaping mouth. “Ready to say bye?”
“While the universe would be better off without him,” Kim said, switching to the Minbari’s religious language, “I’m not ready to say goodbye to you also, Darquin.”
Darquin froze. Hearing someone address him on a personal level, in religious caste Minbari with all its poetic layers, overwhelmed him. He was being spoken to as a person, not as an officer or even a Ranger, with alien words that evoked images of chimes and lyrical commands to outlive darkness. As all that sank in, he began to wonder if that was what his old love tried to tell him in the dream-like state between life and death, of destroying himself before his time. His eyes softened.
As he saw the hope registering on the Drazi’s face, he pushed him against the wall again. “What’re you lookin’ at!” His hostage held up his quivering gloved hands. “Awright awright. Answer some questions and maybe I won’t splash you right here.”
Kim wasn’t quiet ready to relax while the PPG lingered.
Dolak nodded enthusiastically, almost elated, until he realized Darquin was clubbing his leathery temple with the butt of his PPG. As the Drazi fell unconscious, Darquin powered down his gun. “I’ll call for a shuttle. Maybe Carlacci or Singing Wolf can question him on the ship.”
“I have a shuttle back a little ways,” Kim said. “Anything else I can do?”
He holstered his PPG and seemed to freeze. “Sorry you were here for this.”
“I’ve seen worse.” Kim pulled some flexible strips, restraints, from a dispenser clipped to her belt and offered them. “And I’m hardly a review board.”
Darquin took them and quickly slipped them around Dolak’s wrists, watching them congeal as he threaded them shut. “Still…it’s different when you’re by yourself.”
“I intended to keep it that way. I wasn’t about to cross on your mora’dum.”
He nodded, for want of anything to say. He hauled the unconscious Drazi up in a fireman’s carry over his shoulder, wincing from his old wounds. “Better head back to my quarters and crash for a bit. Dr Mira’ll be glad to hear that.”
Kim led him out to the vacant lot –again no sign of anyone else around– silent until they reached the shuttle. She tapped the hatch control for him and stood aside. “Did any of it help?” she finally asked.
“Some, I guess.” Darquin strapped the Drazi into an acceleration chair in the back of the shuttle, then paused. His concerned frown put cracks in his usual daredevil facade. “Wasn’t planning on taking it that far though.”
“If you weren’t my friend, I’d find it a lot easier to come up with the right platitudes.”
He smiled for a moment. Being able to talk with someone who knew him well enough to gloss over the usual bits of social sleight-of-hand was a pleasant change. He had forgotten what that was like. He answered with a shrug. “Got used to having to do so much on my own.”
Kim closed the hatch, but hesitated to go to the pilot’s seat. “You’re good at making it seem like you don’t need anything.” A short lived smile appeared. “I generally thought I was the one who was a little lost.”
He shrugged, glancing into the cockpit. “Y’know, I think –for me–it’s a carryover from the War. ‘Just move on, man, move on.’ No matter what was going on. Should I…?” He aimed a thumb at the pilot’s seat.
“I will.” Kim still didn’t move. “I’m sorry. I should have come by, before… more often.”
“Well…it’s been a hard year.”
“So?” Kim suppressed an urge to do the easy thing, and study the wall, rather than his face. “Not much of a reason.”
“I wasn’t holding it against anyone,” he said gently. He took the co-pilot’s chair and smirked as his memory gave him a reality check. “Not lately, anyway.”
Shaking her head at that, Kim dropped herself into the pilot’s chair. “What happened?”
He stopped to think while in the process of strapping himself in. “Things on the ship…the mission. Sometimes I felt like I fit in down here with all the trouble than I did upstairs. On thePhoenix.” He shook his head at himself. “My knack for acting just fine got me going too, I guess.”
“I don’t know.” Darquin locked his restraints. “Sparky back there has connections to the syndicate. I think once we get some hard info out of him, we can break up their group and get a fast ticket outta this system.”
She raised an eyebrow, somewhere between irritated and amused. “Darquin, I’m not exactly brilliant at helping people, but you’re too bright to miss what I mean and I’m not dim enough to accept the change in subject.”
“That’s just it. Right now, the job’s all I’ve got.” He looked to one side, confronted by his own words. “That’s the problem,” he muttered, surprised.
“What can I do then? Drag you into social situations until something happens? Schedule a few sessions? Hit you?”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa!” He raised a hand, chuckling, to shield himself from the onslaught.
Kim sighed at herself. “You’ve got to give me something.”
“Actually I’m still trying to figure it out myself.”
“I thought I had a pretty good idea what was going on with you, but you gave everyone a hell of a wake up. Sad as the attempts might be, I just don’t think leaving you alone until some more convenient time is the answer. We’ve already been there.” Kim gave a short laugh. “And if you give me a few moments, I could probably come up with a few more great things to say. That you laughed is at least something.”
He conceded instantly with a firm, incessant nod in time with the mile-high nail being hammered home into this thick skull. “Maybe I could use ’em after all.”
“The words or the laughing?” Kim asked, then answered herself. “Probably both.”
“You should have come by to see me some time,” she said, finally able to sort out a little of what she wanted to get across. “I’m not trying to make you guilty. It’s just true.”
“Should’ve, yeah.” He wore a rueful grin. “I’ve been run off my feet. I guess I figured you might be too. Work, research, keeping up with Billy, or–”
“Those are excuses, you know,” she said, smiling slightly. “I don’t recall there being an allotted time for friends.”
“I was actually trying to agree,” he said, tongue in cheek.
“I guess I felt the point needed a little more nailing. I’m willing to back off, though, if you agree to fix it.”
“Okay, but I gotta be honest.” He held his breath for a moment, thinking as he watched the sky rush by. “I’m not sure how to start.”
Kim considered the controls of the shuttle for a time. “I’m not certain either. Except you’re welcome to come by, even if there’s no point to it.”
He nodded half to himself. “Fair deal.”
“I generally quit for the day around eight.” She glanced sidelong at him.
He nodded, absentminded until he caught her meaningful glance. After a double take, he leaned into his chair and looked straight ahead at the approaching shape of the Phoenix. “Twenty-hundred, roger that.”
Kim smiled. “I’m glad I can still be somewhat subtle,” she quipped.
Millennium blues Lived half in one and half in the other They say it's not you anymore Part of me wants to stay in the middle Part of me wants to lose control – Matthew Sweet "Millennium Blues" (c) 1999
Phoenix–“Millennium Blues” © 2001 Alida Saxon & Joe Medina
Babylon 5 TM and © 1998 Warner Bros.