Is forbidden to steal towels, please. If you are not person to do such is please not to read notice.
– Sign in a Tokyo hotel
Yoshino looked around the dim, dank chamber, even up to the roof for a moment, as if in prayer. “There must be something we can use to track them.”
Kim gingerly folded the tattered tapestry into a rough bundle. It would never grace a wall again, but it didn’t feel right to leave it behind in the filth. “There isn’t any computer in here. There probably isn’t even running water.” Her nose wrinkled with disgust.
“No …” Yoshino agreed, but let her voice trail off as an idea struck. “But they did have a public-access terminal in the lobby.” Slipping the glowstick back into her boot, she headed for the door. Kim didn’t spare a last glance for the room, turning quickly to follow.
The lobby was deserted, save for the near-senseless clerk at the desk. Yoshino looked at the terminal in one corner. It was, like everything else in the place, worn and dirty, but it appeared functional. Yoshino turned to Kim. “I … I don’t suppose you happened to bring a canteen with you?”
“If you mean to clean it, I think it’s going to take far more than water.” All the same, Kim reached into one of her inner pockets and withdrew a canteen.
“Not … exactly.” Yoshino accepted the water, using a little to rinse off her hands, and then mouth. Then she pulled a small mirror from one pocket and set it on a corner of the data terminal. She then bowed toward it, clapped her hands together loudly, repeating the motion before finally sitting at the terminal and flexing her fingers. “We can use all the help we can get,” she said as she logged into the system.
Kim watched curiously, questions gathering. It was only to keep from distracting Yoshino that she held them for later.
The Ops officer murmured half to herself as she worked. “Uplink to the ‘Phoenix, pull down my password crackers … though I don’t think these guys would be all that imaginative. Main planetary comm system –” then she turned to Kim with dismay. “We have a small problem.”
Kim let her barriers slide a little, guarding their back more out of habit than need. Her head turned to look closer at the screen. “What is it?”
“We don’t know their names!”
Kim looked back at the front desk and just grimaced, her discarded idea clear on her face. “What about shipping companies, transportation? With all they have, they’d need help.”
“Right, let me see.” Yoshino turned back to the screen, her fingers moving even faster.
“Incredible,” Kim murmured. The data moved faster than she could follow.
“The Kami is being kind, most of this is in Interlac,” Yoshino murmured ”
“Anything to pursue?”
“Let me see … a fair number of Llort have come through the port recently, so that’s not much …. wait. A Llort transport vessel’s in right now. Passengers and cargo … maybe there are messages to and from that ship I can find …” Another burst of data flashed across the screen, settling to a single page of messages as Yoshino said, “There. Got it. Two Llort, message sent –” a broad smile flashed across her face — “from this very terminal, this morning. They want to ship a small package back to their homeworld.”
“You’re good.” Kim grinned. “When does it ship out?”
“Tonight … about four hours from now,” Yoshino said, blushing a little, as if she wished to decline taking any credit. “I’ve got the main customs port for Abbai up now.
“That’s… pretty soon. Does it say where the Llort are staying?”
“No, but I know exactly where the transport ship is docked. We should be able to intercept them.”
“That’s good enough for me.”
Yoshino shut down the terminal, and bowed once more toward the mirror before picking it up and putting it back in her pocket. “Should we go directly there?”
Kim nodded. “I don’t want to count on them taking their time. We need to get to them before the tributes are on the ship. If they get offworld, it’ll take us days to get them back again. The tributes will be too late for the ceremonies.”
“I suppose this is my chance to test my skill at sub-orbital flight,” Yoshino said as the two of them left the dingy rooming house and headed back toward the main docking bays.
A quick journey took them across a third of Abbai, to land at the Qbru’kiwis City spaceport, and some quick talking to port controllers got them a space very close to the Llort ship. For something that was ostensibly a transport, it bore a striking resemblance to a battlewagon, its blocky surface covered with armor and numerous gun emplacements.
They moved quickly through the crowds toward the main cargo desk, and as they reached it, looking for their quarry, Yoshino said softly, “Kim?”
Kim unfolded the pictures from her pocket to refresh her memory. “Yes?”
“Is this … an adventure?”
Something in the way it was asked kept Kim from laughing. “I think it’s safe to say so.” Her eyes suddenly caught on something beyond Yoshino’s shoulder. “And there is the prize.”
Yoshino followed Kim’s gaze, her hand instinctively going to the blade at her waist, then backing off. There was no need for armed threat yet, and if all went well, that need would never come. “I’ll watch for you,” she said softly.
Kim nodded and slipped smoothly through the crowd on an intercept course. She wouldn’t look directly at them again until her feet were planted firmly in their way.
They stopped, looking at her with dark eyes from beneath heavy brows. They roughly matched Kim in height, with large, wedge shaped heads covered in brownish-grey scales. “You … Anla’shok,” one said, speaking in rough Interlac.
“Yes,” she responded in the same, keeping it brief, for their understanding. “We have business.”
“Business? We do not know you.”
“I know you, and what you have taken. The Tributes.” To make it perfectly clear, she held up the sketches still in her hands, speaking with authority. Absurdly, she felt like spurs and a cowboy hat would have completed the scene she made. Surrender, you varmints.
he Llort looked at one another, small lipless mouths slightly open. They looked at the picture, then at Kim. “You speak for the ….” he paused, as if searching for a word, “shamans, then? They sent you here?”
“Yes. You will surrender the Tributes now.”
They exchanged another look, before one of them unslung a large, leather-like pack from his back and offered it to her. “All there. Look if you wish.”
Cradling it in one arm, she opened it with the other, peeking in. The light glinted off the six golden sculptures within.
“All there, right?” one of the Llort said. “We go now.”
It was all so civil, Kim caught herself about to thank them. “Go, then, and do not take again from here. We have enough to do.” Her eyes found Yoshino and nodded, inviting her forward.
One of the Llort seemed about to say something, but was silenced by his companion, and the two quickly departed, shouldering their way past Yoshino as she came forward. She wore a bemused expression. “That really was all it took,” she said, not quite able to believe it.
“It seems so.” A little laugh escaped, breaking Kim’s sober expression. She couldn’t contain it any longer. “I hardly knew what to say after that. By rights they should get more than a talking to…”
“I suppose so,” Yoshino agreed. “At least the Abbai authorities are aware of them now, and will be on watch. It won’t be so easy for them to get away with this next time.”
“You’re right.” Kim carefully closed the pack again. “Now let’s get these back where they belong. It’s been a long while since I’ve carried something so valuable. It makes me nervous.”
“I know what you mean,” Yoshino said as they hurried back toward the fighter.
Copyright (c) 2000 Jamie Lawson and Alida Saxon. All rights reserved.