Characters: Ryath Oaks, Peter Carlacci
Ryath woke with a start. She had suddenly realized that she was asleep. Cursing, she accessed the ship’s sensors; still in hyperspace and no signal that they were near Centauri Prime. She disconnected and rubbed her face vigorously, trying to force the fog of sleep away. She got up, went into the bathroom and splashed water on her face. Shivering a little from the cold water, she made her way back to her room.
“If we are to pass among Centauri then we will have to look Centauri,” she stated to herself. Opening a cupboard, she rummaged around for a little.
“Ah!” She pulled an old burgundy dress from the bottom of the cupboard. “This will do!” She stood back, holding the dress up against herself. The reflection in the mirror showed that the color suited her well. Returning to the cupboard, she began pulling clothes out and throwing them on the bed. “Where is it?” she kept mumbling. Eventually she stood up, a brightly colored man’s coat held firmly in her fists. “This should fit him!”
Ryath changed into her dress. It made her feel strange, being feminine. The cut of the top was similar to the low cut worn by Centauri women, but the dress was a little long on her. Her mother was taller than Ryath.
She hitched one side of the bottom of the dress under a rope belt. Looking at herself in the mirror she could see that this just might work, but something was wrong. Then she saw it — her hair! Centauri women didn’t have full heads of hair; Centauri men’s was very specifically styled to reflect their social status. This could prove to be a stumbling block with Carlacci! she thought.
She scoured the hair from her head and looked once again in the mirror. Now she saw a Centauri woman of little means; with an old dress too big for her, bare feet, and no tail of hair on her head. She nodded once, satisfied with the outcome.
“Now Mr.Carlacci, it’s your turn!” She gathered up the old bright yellow and orange coat, and grabbed a tub of hair putty from her bathroom. She still didn’t know why Fed had given her hair putty before she left the Mages. He had only told her it was good for the scalp. But she had never tried it because the stench was too horrid.
She made her way to the cargo hold, to wake Peter and give him his disguise.
He awakened as she stepped through the door, and with a roll and twist was sitting up on the cot, feet on the floor, as she reached him. He grinned at her new appearance. “Not bad,” he said. “If you happen to have a needle and thread I could take that hem up for you, might make things a bit easier.”
She looked down at herself and shrugged. “No. I think it works better like this. No one will give me a second glance. Here, try this on.” She handed him the coat, stood back and peered at his hair.
He shrugged as he took the coat. “As long as you don’t trip,” he said, slipping it on and working his arms. “A bit tight across the shoulders, but it should work,” he said. He noticed her look. “If you found a mirror and some Centauri hair goop in that Fibber’s closet of yours, we can fix the hair, too. I ought to end up looking like a low ranking bureaucrat, working too much overtime to get ahead. Exactly what we want.”
She smiled and handed him the pot of hair putty. “This should do. As for a mirror…” She looked about the hold. The only mirror she had on board was in her quarters; and she wasn’t about to let him go wandering around the ship! She saw the smooth metal surface of the cryo tube and pointed to it. “Best I can do. It’s not like I need a lot of mirrors!”
He blinked, surprised. Slipping off the coat, he bent down to massage his calves. She could conjure furniture, including a cot that was genuine enough to give him leg cramps, but she couldn’t conjure a mirror?
Standing up again, he asked, “Can you at least conjure me a bit of light? I don’t want to get myself caught on account of a bad disguise,” he added with a wink.
Immediately a globe of light appeared above his head.
“Once we land, we’ll only have a few minutes to get into the city. I imagine they keep a regular curfew these days, what with the increased numbers of homeless. I’ll get you in the Ministry; when you’re ready say my name, and I’ll come and get you.”
She produced two objects from a hidden pocket in the dress. One was a data crystal, the other looked like a pocket watch, but much smaller.
“What’s all that?” he asked, taking off his jacket and shirt, and draping them across the foot of the cryo-tube next to the coat and pot of hair putty. He pulled a small handkerchief out of his pants pocket and polished a spot on top of the tube, then began finger-combing his dark hair.
“This…” she held up the data crystal. “..will hold twice the average amount of data a regular crystal will. This looks like a small pocket watch.” She held up the thickened silver disk. “But it doesn’t work. I could fix it if we needed it, but for this trip it’ll do as it is. Put it in your pocket, and don’t lose it. If you do, you’ll have no way of communicating with me.”
She placed both items in the pockets of the coat and watched him fix his hair. “Do you have any questions?”
There was a few moments of silence, as Carlacci concentrated on working his hair into the low ridge suitable for a working class Centauri male. “Plenty,” he said, “but I probably shouldn’t bother asking.”
“Good!” she smiled, watching him and wincing at the terrible smell of the putty.
She received an alert from the Flyer. They had reached Centauri Prime and the Flyer awaited further instructions.
“We are ready to jump to normal space, Peter. Would you like to eat something again?” She started to move to the storage cupboard.
“Thanks, but I’m okay,” he said. “If, maybe, you could spare a little water…” he put his shirt back on, then the “Centauri” coat, leaving his own jacket behind. The Isil’zha at the shoulder gleamed like a promise — or an accusation.
Ryath paused for a moment then continued to the cupboard. She passed her hand over the front of it and it opened. Retrieving a flask of water she turned and walked back to him. The cupboard closed behind her.
As she handed him the flask, she instructed the Flyer to jump to normal space. “Are you ready Peter?”
“I guess I am,” he said, taking the flask and draining it in two long swallows. “Sorry,” he said. “Those mealpacks get awfully dry. So, how long before we’re in?”
“The sun is just beginning to set; and it will take us an hour to get within the city walls. We are, of course, landing a little way from the city. Can’t have any of the regular patrols discovering my ship. We’d never get off the planet!” She smiled and took the flask from him.
“Where will you be, when I’m inside the Information Ministry?” he asked.
She paused in placing the flask back in the cupboard. She had tried to avoid asking herself this question, and now he had brought her to the point of acknowledging that she didn’t really know.
“I will be elsewhere, making sure there is a distraction. Giving you time to search.” She liked that answer. It even sounded as though that was what she had intended all along. Closing the cupboard, she turned to him. He looked quite Centauri in his bright coat and fluffed up hair. “This will work, Peter. You’ll find what you need to know.” her voice was once again soft and almost sorrowful.
He seemed about to say a number of different things, but when he finally spoke, it was simply, “I hope you do as well.”
She smiled, then indicated he should sit. The cot had been replaced with a bench. She moved to sit with him. “So do I. So do I.”
Pausing, figuring the right words for her question, Ryath played with the seam of her dress. Finally she asked “Peter. What will you do if what you find is…..is not pleasant?”
He moved as if to run a hand through his hair, stopping himself at the last moment. “Try to deal with it, I guess,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot of good people die in my time. A few I could even say I loved. It happens, and I have to keep telling myself there’s a reason, even if I can’t understand it. Accept that and move on.” He turned and met her gaze frankly. “Not that it’s ever easy.”
She nodded. “A good attitude to have, if one can keep it.” She sat back. “Tell me about your daughter Peter. How old is she?”
The flyer was making good headway towards the planet. It fed information from its sensors to Ryath, showing her the planetary defenses.
“Sixteen. I assume you already know what she looks like, so I’ll spare showing you her picture. She … she was orphaned by the Earth-Minbari War. I adopted her when she was just a baby.”
She felt his pride in her. “Sixteen. A good age. But that surely isn’t all you have to say about her?”
Ryath knew a bit about her. She was asking for two reasons. Firstly because she was interested in hearing about a ‘normal’ girl’s childhood, and secondly to get Peter to focus on what he had left, if what he found on Centauri Prime was that Mira was dead.
He grinned. “After the War, I worked nav and security aboard civilian ships. Mostly passenger liners. Candace stayed with me. I taught her as best I could — it seems to have been enough. She’s done real well in her studies on Tuzanor.”
He chuckled. “When I heard about the Rangers, I knew that was the place for me. It took more than a little convincing for them to let me join, on account of having Candace with me. I think it was her that talked them into it, as much as me.”
He sighed a little, the smile fading. “Now she’s decided she’s going to follow in her ol’ Pop’s footsteps, and join the Anla’shok as well.”
Ryath smiled. “It must be nice to have someone who looks to you for support and guidance.” Her thoughts drifted to Olyn, so did her eyes.
“I’ll tell you what it is,” he said with a wry chuckle. “It’s damned scary, is what it is, when the person who’s been looking to you grows up, and starts going her own way.” He shook his head. “I’m still trying to get used to that part of being a parent.”
She continued staring at the cryo tube, wondering if Olyn had felt the same about her.
Copyright (c) 2003 Niki Hipwood and Jamie Lawson. All rights reserved.