On Pins and Politics

Characters: Yoshino Marina, Dr. Kim Matsumoto

It didn’t take long to see that security was well organized, and their places in that structure as well. Finishing her walk about the grounds, Kim returned toward their duty quarters. It was time she thought about getting into her dress uniform for the ceremony. It was still two hours away, but they would have to be in place sooner than that.

She saw Yoshino ahead of her in the hall, distinct from other human rangers with her mane of white hair. Kim hurried her step to catch up. “Yoshino, you’ve come back to prepare as well?”

Yoshino paused, turning to smile at her friend. “Yes. Things seem well in hand for the moment, so now seemed to be a good time to get prepared for the ceremonies.”

Kim nodded agreement, and then said the first thing that leapt to mind, an idea barely formed, “I wonder if you might do me a favor. I’d like to do something with my hair, but I am not contortionist enough to manage more than the simplest things on my own head, which must be obvious. Would you help me? I would be happy to assist as well.”

She hesitated a moment, clearly a bit surprised, but then her smile returned. “Of course. I’d be glad to. It’s been a long time since I’ve put up my hair in any kind of a formal way, even longer since I’ve done it for anyone else. But between us we should be able to make ourselves look acceptable.”

Kim smiled, more than a little relieved. She started walking again, toward quarters. Unlike aboard the Phoenix, they were neighbors. “It has been a long time. Did you know, I had to take lessons? It just wasn’t something my mother could have taught me.”

“So did I,” Yoshino said. “My mother wasn’t too inclined to teach me much of anything. But growing up in Kyoto, it was possible to learn some of the truly ancient arts. The geisha houses were more than happy to take even casual students, anything to keep the traditions alive.”

“Oh, I’ve never been to see the geisha houses. Really, sometimes I wonder if I’ve the right to call myself Japanese, for as little as I’ve seen of the place.” Kim smiled, to lighten the words. “I learned from a Japanese woman who worked on the same dig for several months. I hadn’t learned much finesse until then. It was more important to know how to take care of your oxygen suit, or work in a vacuum safely.”

“Of course,” Yoshino said. “Doing one’s hair properly hasn’t been a survival skill since the days of Genji Monogatari — and even then, only for the court ladies.” Kim laughed. Yoshino paused, looking at several doors. “Your room is first,” she said. “Shall we work there? I can retrieve my things and come right back.”

“That sounds fine. I could prepare some tea as well.”

“Wonderful. I have not had a chance to get some tea since we made planetfall. I’ll be right back.” She hurried away toward her own quarters.

The water was waiting just shy of a boil, the cups and pot waiting, when Yoshino buzzed at the door. Kim put down her garment bag over the back of a chair and tapped open the door. She knew it was Yoshino there, but she’d since learned to behave as if she didn’t sense as much as she did.

Yoshino entered, her own garment bag in one hand and a small satchel in the other. She managed a brief, friendly bow as the door closed behind her. “They must have made the arrangements for us in a hurry,” she said. “The bed in my room is still a Minbari one.”

“Or the designers are making their preference known. It must go against their nature to do anything else.” Kim waved toward the back chamber where her own Minbari bed was. “Fortunately I’m used to sleeping on a mat. Or at least, that is what I tell myself after having several months of luxury to forget.” She went to the tea service and went through the ritual of preparation, finally filling two cups. “Take any space you like.”

Yoshino took one of the two chairs beside the small table. “It contributes another piece to something interesting,” Yoshino said. “I took the liberty of looking at the roster of our fellow Anla’shok assigned to this detail. They are human, worker and a few warrior caste Minbari. No religious caste at all. And the list was assembled in some haste — as our call from Tuzanor made clear.”

Kim paused in bringing Yoshino her tea. “None? That’s… a little unsettling. I wonder do they exclude themselves, or is this a decision of the Anla’shok?”

“That I couldn’t tell. We shall all have to keep our eyes and ears open. There must be a reason, and it is probably a good idea for us to know what.” Yoshino accepted the cup from Kim, wrapping her pale hands around it.

Kim collected her own tea and perched on the arm of a chair. “A protest only, I hope.” Then she shrugged. They couldn’t worry about everything. “Is the tea all right? I get a package of it from Earth any time I can.”

“It is excellent, and thank you,” Yoshino said, between sips. “I have become rather fond of the Huka’s lapono brew, but it is good to have real tea again.”

Kim smiled. “It’s just as well it only keeps for so long, or I would hoard it like a dragon, and enjoy it less. It is even better when there is company.”

Yoshino smiled. “Pleasures are greater when shared, even as pains are less.” She took another sip of tea, and said, “What did you have in mind for your hair?”

“I’m really not sure. It can’t get in the way is all I can say.” Kim set her teacup down, and went to the chair where she’d left her things. She came up with a rolled bundle that was much like would be used for carrying tools, but when rolled out, there were various hair pins, combs and other bits of jewelry. Old ivory and semi-precious stones gleamed in amongst polished woods and metals. Some designs were human, while others were alien, and yet so similar in form. “Some of these I inherited. Others, well, you come across the oddest things in junk sales and digs here and there. You’re welcome to borrow anything you like.”

“We can comb it all out, coil it on top and back of your head, and fasten it in place with some of these,” Yoshino said. “You’ll look like one of the court ladies for certain.”

“That sounds perfect.” Kim smiled and then paused to draw out a trio of long, blunt pins of some unknown material, capped with a short dangle of silverwork that made a soft music when shaken. Their lengths were decorated with an alien flower pattern, in dusky blues and lavender. “I found these at an outpost just beyond Centauri territory, though I don’t think these are of Centauri design at all, especially when you consider how the women wear their hair. They would look beautiful with your coloring.” Then at a thought. “Unless the sound of them would be a concern.”

Yoshino looked at the pins, enchanted. “I don’t think so. Stealth is not really an issue for us, for a change, this time.”

“Good. I think I can come up with a style to use these with.” Kim glanced to the back room. “We might be better off changing before doing our hair. You’re welcome to the back room for privacy. There’s the washroom there. I can change here.”

Yoshino nodded, picking up her garment bag and the satchel and heading into the back room.

For all the complaints in the shuttle, the dress uniform wasn’t a terribly difficult outfit. If nothing else, the Rangers expected utility, even in this. Kim stripped out of her standard clothes, cleaned her face and hands with a washcloth at the sink, and dressed. She sat brushing out her hair while she waited on Yoshino to reemerge.

She came out a few minutes later, hair untied and flowing down her back, the tail ends well below her waist. She had added just a few touches of makeup, but the pale cast of her skin made it almost believable that she had applied the white pancake of a geisha or Kabuki actor. The long sleeves and fairly high neck of the dress uniform hid her tattoo work completely.

Kim smiled. “I will look like your shadow.” She set one of the pillows on the floor for kneeling. “Shall I do yours first?”

Yoshino adjusted her clothes and settled onto the pillow, folding her legs and feet underneath herself. “It’s very kind of you — this was a wonderful idea you had.”

“I was thinking it’s been a while since we’ve gotten together, outside of duty or combat practice, which is a pity.” Kim set another pillow down for herself, and brought the brush and jewelry nearby. She knelt behind Yoshino, and drew all that pale hair together before starting to brush it out.

“It has been, hasn’t it? The last time we just talked was two months ago, before we were sent out to deal with the Centauri. You gave me some good advice then,” she said.

“Did I? I’m glad, if I’ve helped at all.” Kim set down the brush once Yoshino’s hair lay in a smooth fall. She took a moment to collect her wits before exercising her little used skills. Cautious at first, Kim divided Yoshino’s hair in three, sides and center, to create the arrangement there in her mind. “You have so much hair, I’m attempting a little bit of weaving. Mine hasn’t been this long in a while to see it done on myself, so cross your fingers.”

“I have faith in you,” Yoshino said. “You’ll do fine. I’m just glad it isn’t all tangled up for you to have to sort out.”

“Give me a chance. I may tangle it up yet.” Despite that, with borrowing one of Yoshino’s hands to help hold here and there, Kim smiled in satisfaction when it started coming together. A couple minutes later, she twisted and tucked the last tail of hair in, and secured it all with the three pins in a fan arrangement. She withdrew her hands and waited to see if anything would sag or slip from the arrangement of twists and folds.

“This is beautiful,” Yoshino said as she slowly stood and looked at Kim’s work in the mirror. “You have a positive gift, Kim. I don’t know that I can do half so well with yours.”

“I’m sure you will. You’re so precise. I can be a little erratic sometimes, but I’m glad in this case I’ve done well.” She looked at her own work, and the pins with their quiet chiming. “I think you should keep those. They really do suit you.”

“It’s a lovely gift, but I really don’t deserve it.”

“You’re my friend.” Kim shrugged, then smiled. There was mischief there, and stubbornness. “If you don’t accept them now, I will just wait till your birthday, or something appropriate, so why argue?”

“Truly, I’m not worthy of it, but since you insist, I accept, and thank you,” Yoshino said. Her bow sent the chimes jingling again. She smiled. “I wonder what Tom will think of this.”

“It might be obvious on his face, and I would like to see it.”

“I’m sure you’ll get the chance. It will be worth seeing, I think.” Yoshino sighed gently, schooling her mind to calm before her thoughts spun out into the intense memories that might embarrass her friend. That wouldn’t be fair to her. “Tell me, is there anything particular you would like done with your hair?” She gestured toward the pillows on the floor.

Kim shifted herself to kneeling on the first pillow. “I liked your idea. I’m quite willing to submit to your instincts on this, if you are comfortable.” She pulled the array of jewelry within Yoshino’s reach.

Yoshino settled onto the pillow behind Kim, took up the brush and began brushing out Kim’s hair until it was a single shining river of black. She let the back pillow out just a bit at the nape of the neck, then gently twisted and coiled the rest into an elegant topknot, fastening it in place with several of Kim’s remaining pins. “There. You will turn more than a few heads yourself, I should think.”

Kim stood to regard herself in the mirror. The silky elegance of the arrangement complimented rather than competed with the dress uniform. “You did a beautiful job, Yoshino. I’m glad I didn’t cut it as I thought to when I was exploring the ruins on Rolui 4.”

“I envied you that opportunity,” Yoshino said. “Did you find anything?”

“I hadn’t the time to do more than sift the surface, but I found a few things of interest. The little common things that get left behind because they aren’t considered valuable.” Kim rolled up the cloth with the remaining jewelry and tucked it into her pack. She wrestled out a small box at the bottom and set it on the table nearby. “I hadn’t time to decide what I would keep. Only enough time to put them through decontamination procedures. I brought them with me thinking I might sort them, should I find myself bored. I hoard enough of these bits and pieces as it is.”

She opened the box, revealing a mixed collection of objects in varying states of preservation. Some looked to be nothing more than art objects, others may have been tools or even keys to places that no longer had doors. “Some of these trinkets are not local, which makes me believe that Rolui 4 has been in the business of interstellar trade for longer than some might imagine.”

“Interesting,” Yoshino said, looking at the collection of objects. “I had heard that one of the science teams found some kind of underground habitation. I wonder what clues they came across?”

“There was quite a bit of subterranean construction. It wasn’t hasty, either, so that can really mean a lot of things.” Kim collected the teacups and quickly cleaned them, to leave the room in good order before leaving for duty. “You’d probably find a dig trip quite interesting, if you were ever inclined to take one some time.”

“I’d like to,” Yoshino said. “I suppose we’ll have to see how our next duties sort themselves out.”

“I am curious to know how things are going to change for us. This situation is new to the Rangers, perhaps greater than admitting other races to its ranks.”

Yoshino nodded, as she dusted off the pillows, and gathered up her own belongings to stow them away. “The Minbari have so many traditions around the Anla’shok, since they have existed for so long. Yet Entil’zha Sinclair was able to change so much when it was needed. I’m sure Entil’zha Delenn will be able to do the same.”

“You’re likely right. Entil’zha has accomplished so much already.”

“We’d best be on our way — it’s time to see what she and the President have in mind, I think,” Yoshino said with a smile.