By 1900 hours, the crowd in the Phoenix’s main mess hall had thinned out considerably. As Yoshino entered the room and looked around to see if the others had arrived, she realized it wouldn’t be any trouble finding a table for a private conversation.
Still in uniform, Darquin waved to her from the end of the food line. “Marina-chan! Wanna join me? I was going over there.”
Yoshino smiled widely at him as she went over to pick up a tray, then offered a bow and smile to Margaret Morgan, who had entered the room just behind her. Yoshino suddenly felt a little self-conscious. She had changed from her uniform jacket to a close-fitting, sleeveless black sweater, and added a short necklace of grey beads.
Morgan’s walk of the labyrinth might have helped her as much it had Dunstan, as she was more relaxed than she had been earlier. She returned Yoshino’s smile as she too picked up a tray, pleased, though a bit wistful and envious.
“‘Evening, boss,” Darquin called out to Morgan. “Howzit going?”
“Better than sometimes,” she answered, which was true enough. She snagged a mug of strong black tea and brought her tray to their table.
“Rough day upstairs?”
“Only what you already know about,” Morgan answered, dropping into a chair.
He scooped up a mouthful of klenn-sha. “Sounds like plenty.”
“We should arrive at Rolui in ten hours or so,” Yoshino said as she settled into her seat. “Rafell seems quite confident of his ability to make a pinpoint jump.”
“Been there before?” Darquin asked.
“I have not, only heard stories of them,” Morgan answered.
“Some of ’em are even true,” he said, grinning. “I was there once, with EarthForce. I got to go dirtside once.”
“What was it like?” Morgan asked. “They sound so different than any of the races I have met.”
“Clouds covered up the whole sky. They turned red and gold, not yellow or orange, at the end of the day. I didn’t get to talk to any of the Rolui much. Everyone was restricted to the one spaceport.” He paused. “Huka. That’s their name.”
“Is it true they look like cats?” Yoshino asked. She rolled up a piece each of the ulabon and temshwee from the stew she was eating into her napkin — a treat for her own cat, back in her quarters.
He shrugged. “Maybe if you haven’t seen cats in a long time. They have this half-shell going down the spine.”
“I have heard they in fact are insectoids, in spite of the fur,” Morgan added. Darquin nodded, too busy chewing to concur otherwise.
Yoshino’s eyes widened a bit. “Kitsune would find that fascinating,” she said. “She was a biologist before she took shelter with the clan, I think.”
Morgan nodded. “I find it interesting, and the sciences were… never my best subjects.” She grinned.
“I try to keep up with it,” Darquin added. “Kinda the family business.”
“Ah, well, my family business was geology, more or less. I wanted as far from that is possible.”
Darquin looked around at the ship in general, grinning. “Good job.”
“I want to thank you both for being so willing to help me find Kitsune,” Yoshino said after a minute. “If she knew, I’m sure she would want to thank you also.”
“She will, in a little while,” Darquin said. “Always glad to help.”
“You are ‘our friend,” Morgan added. “We can’t do less.”
“Are you sure that the other Rangers will be willing to help look for her, where we are guessing she’ll make planetfall? I wasn’t sure how willing the ISA is to cross the Psi-Corps, right now.”
A fiendish grin crossed Darquin’s face. “Too late.”
“I doubt there would be many who would mind,” Morgan said, “as the ‘Corps are notorious for their lack of regard for beings’ rights.”
Yoshino lowered her eyes — but reached across the table to cover one of Darquin’s hands with her own. Darquin gave her pale hand a gentle squeeze. Morgan studied her plate, mostly untouched because of their talk, to give them some privacy.
“I was wondering,” Yoshino said, “which of us should send word about Kitsune to Tuzanor — or if we should contact Altair directly?”
“We could spread the word to all our couriers,” Darquin offered.
“If we are lucky, there might even be one available on Rolui,” Yoshino said thoughtfully.
“The Pak’ma’ra should be in the field now,” Darquin said.
“I can’t wait to see how they work out,” Yoshino said. “I was surprised when I heard we were training Pak’ma’ra — but Entil’zha must know what she’s doing.”
“They may be ideal – the ones following your friend may not suspect them,” Morgan pointed out. “What the doctor ordered, as they say.”
“So if we can reach her and get her to Minbar, perhaps Nichols-san can help her settle in,” Yoshino said. “I don’t know if she will want to join the Anla’shok, but I’m sure she will appreciate our help in getting her out of the Psi-Corps’ reach.”
“I would not doubt it,” Morgan said. “And Minbari telepaths are certainly a different type than the PsiCorps.”
“There’s another thing which I am hoping Nichols-san can do,” Yoshino said. “It’s difficult for me to ask, because it could be very dangerous — but it is a threat to the Anla’shok as well, not just to me, I think.”
“Please, ask. I have already named you friend.”
“You know where I stand, Marina-chan.” He gave her a wink as he reached for his orcha juice.
Yoshino nodded, adding a smile for Darquin. “It’s a long story — I’ll try to make it brief for now. On the Day of the Dead, I learned that the swords I carry are extremely precious. They are about a thousand years old. I also learned — and confirmed when we were on Abbai –” she rubbed one shoulder absently at the memory — “that there is a Yakuza clan searching for them. They hired an assassin to find me. At the moment he is on Minbar. I believe he is attempting to infiltrate the Anla’shok in order to find me.” She took a deep breath, and followed it with a long draw from a mug of green tea.
Morgan took a moment to process it all, then snorted, an angry sound. “I do not believe this assassin would fool some of the instructors for long, or Billy either. I am sure he would help.”
“I have heard that admissions are a bit more stringent than they used to be,” Yoshino said.
“Even so. Billy has a… a cop’s sixth sense about people.”
“He’ll sniff out the Yakuza in no time, then,” Darquin said. “They like to act tough.”
Morgan nodded. “There are a few Yakuza on Mars, I know. Or ones who wish to be.”
Yoshino nodded. “Kurogiri is not typical Yakuza. But still, he should not be hard for Nichols-san to find.”
“As long as he doesn’t take him on alone, it should be fine,” Darquin said.
“That I cannot control, though I will make the effort. Only… do not tell Kim, ie?”
“Not a word from me.”
“I will not say.” Yoshino paused. “Is it because you don’t want her to worry?”
Morgan nodded. “She believes he is safe on Minbar, after all the dangers he has faced.”
Yoshino bowed her head, saying, “I am all the more grateful to him then.”
“One thing I’m still trying to work out,” Darquin added, “was how this assassin expected to get in range. Stay in the Ranger compound?”
“That was my guess,” Yoshino said with a little nod. “All I know for certain is that he is very patient.” She pulled a wry face. “Probably more patient by far than the New Sakura clan which hired him.”
“And so far, pretty smug. Even for Yakuza.”
“I have a few suspicions of my own about them,” Yoshino added, “but nothing I can prove yet.”
“Such as? If you’d care to share.” Morgan’s mouth quirked. “My ears will stay here, I promise.”
“I believe they were trying to subvert the clan that Kitsune and I belonged to,” Yoshino said, “working through …” she bit her lip, then almost spat out the name. “Working through Sasaki.”
Darquin stroked her arm as he exchanged a glance with Morgan, both concerned.
Yoshino went on after a moment. “When he … got himself killed, the only way for them to get the swords from me was to get me thrown out of the clan. I was luckier than I ever knew to make it off Earth safely.”
Morgan shook her head, angry on Yoshino’s behalf.
“They’re about to get what’s coming to them, believe me,” Darquin said. She nodded, blowing out a deep breath to dissipate the sudden tension.
“Though I do not know all that you have been through, count me in. I do not desert friends, and you are a true one.”
“Thank you. And Nichols-san.” Yoshino turned in her chair to bow from the waist. Darquin moved his glass aside to make sure she had a clear path…and that he still had orcha juice afterward.
“I am sure he will be pleased to help,” Morgan said. “For friendship. And he does not tolerate gangsters, no matter what they call themselves.”
“Actually I’m glad the Yakuza go by that name,” Darquin said. “At least they admit they’re losers.”
“Hai,” Yoshino said with feeling. Agreeing, Morgan nodded.
“Will either of you be up early, to be on the bridge when we arrive at Rolui?” Yoshino asked.
“I plan to be,” Morgan said.
“Same here,” Darquin added.
Yoshino looked at him. “Should we forego the movies for tonight?”
He shrugged. “We could skip the main feature.”
She thought for a moment. “An episode of ‘Kimagure Orange Road‘?”
Glancing at Morgan, he answered Yoshino with a self-conscious grin. “Sure.”
Morgan just smiled. “This is my cue to exit, I believe. Nos da, both of you.”
Yoshino blushed, but rose to bow once more. “Arigato, Margaret. For everything. See you in the morning.”
He was blushing almost in sync with her, anxious to change to subject as he eyed Morgan’s tray. “Er, um, boss, were you gonna…eat that?”
“Don’t be embarrassed, please. Just enjoy yourselves.” She walled off her fruit cup with an open palm. “And this one’s mine.” With that, she slipped away, taking her tray with her.
“Sumimasen,” Yoshino murmured to Darquin with a sheepish look.
He looked back at Yoshino, chuckling despite himself. “Busted.”
Phoenix–“Never Explain” © 2003 Jamie Lawson, Leslie McBride, Joe Medina
Babylon 5 tm and © 2002 Warner Bros.