Family life is too intimate to be preserved by the spirit of justice. It can be sustained by a spirit of love which goes beyond justice. – Reinhold Niebuhr
Mira grumbled to herself and stared at the instructions again. She kicked the stacked wood and regretted it. “Blast you!” She rubbed her mistreated toe to alleviate the sting. S’ran-to mocked her from where he was propped in the corner. She stood to the left of the main doors, attempting to erect a shrine in the corner of the outer wall and the back wall to the drug storage room.
Entering an otherwise quiet MedLab, Yoshino jumped at the sudden, violent sound. Hesitantly, she called, “Doctor?”
“Perhaps I shouldn’t have sent Mr. Carter off so quickly to cook his gift,” Mira mumbled. She turned around and saw Yoshino’s back. The Ops officer was standing in the door with a large basket in one hand. “Ah! Yoshino!”
Yoshino turned, seeing the pile of wood and idol in the corner, the little Centauri in the middle. “Welcome back, Doctor.”
Mira grinned at her. “Thank you, thank you… I’m relieved to be home.” She winked. “How are you? And little Kuri?”
As if on cue, a furry head poked out of the basket and meowed. “She is mending well, I think,” Yoshino said. “I was hoping perhaps you could confirm that … and tell me if the cast is ready to be removed?”
“Ahhh….so I can.” The doctor turned to Kuri. “Let us see your leg, eh, little one?” Mira gingerly picked the cat up out of the basket and put her on the examining bed. Digging in her pockets for a scanner one-handedly, her other hand holding the cat in place.
Kuri purred a little. “Perhaps I can help you with your … project?” Yoshino offered shyly. “When this is done?”
Mira finally produced a scanner. She grinned at the quiet Ops specialist. “Is it so apparent that I’m a hopeless one for reading instructions?” She chuckled a little. “I believe demons write those things…with peg B goes in hole K and screw 16 goes through peg B in hole L.” She carefully scanned the cat’s leg.
“Wood is not my usual medium, but I might be able to help.”
“I am happy for any help… I was about to burn it all and simply hang S’ran-to on the wall again.” The Centauri absent-mindedly petted Kuri. “This cast is ready to be removed. Would you hold her still while I cut through it?”
“It is a little larger than the usual shrine I’ve built myself, but the principle is the same.” Yoshino took Kuri by the scruff of the neck with one hand and stroked her flank with the other. “Ready when you are.”
Mira dug in her pockets again, this time for her sonic scalpel. After producing it she looked at the scalpel for a moment, considering, then set it aside in favor of a laser one. “I didn’t know that Humans worshiped with shrines as well.” She carefully began cutting through the cast.
“It depends on the culture, the religion.” She shrugged. “That reminds me … I wonder if Darquin will be able to find joss sticks — incense,” she added to explain.
Kuri became upset and started to struggle. “Hush, little one, it’s all right.” The colorful albino woman sang a few quiet notes to calm the cat.
“Ah! Done!” Mira finally broke the cast open a few moments later. She stroked Kuri as well. “Not so bad… it’s all finished now.”
Kuri, released, scrambled to Yoshino’s shoulder. Then she looked around, as if surprised that she’d been able to reach it so easily.
Mira threw away the remnants of the cast. “Now, you will still have to keep her sedate for a week or so. Also, she might have some muscle soreness because she hasn’t used that leg in a while.”
“All right. Thank you, from both of us.” She smiled.
Mira tucked her implements back in her pockets. “Now, then,” she grinned back at Yoshino. “I believe I heard an offer to help?” The doctor turned and grimaced at the shrine kit.
“Of course.” Yoshino picked Kuri off her shoulder and set her on the floor. “Now, don’t get into any trouble,” she admonished the cat. “Do the instructions at least have a picture of what it is supposed to look like at the end?”
“Aaeeee,” she scrabbled thru the papers. “Yes!” Mira handed Yoshino the instructions with the picture on top. “Glad to be rid of it.”
Yoshino looked at the paper, then at the pile of wood. “All right then. I think I understand.”
Mira shook her head. “A better woman than me!”
“I wouldn’t say that … I learned how to put things together by taking them apart. Would you like me to tell you how to put the pieces together?”
“No, no… I will watch you. And help if you need it.” The doctor smiled.
Yoshino nodded. “Very well.” She set to work on the assembly, with an occasional glance to the picture.
Mira sat on the floor to watch Yoshino work, marvelling at how easily the other woman made sense out of the instructions. “So, ‘incense’… this is a thing… not a phrase?”
“Correct. Do you ever burn herbs and scented woods in your shrine?”
“Yes… occasionally… mostly, however, we drink to the Gods. Is that what is ‘incense’?”
“Yes. Joss sticks are thin pieces of wood with incense on them. I often use the smell to help my meditation … is that what you do, when you drink?”
The doctor watched the stack of wood become a shrine. “I have never been able to see the finished thing in a pile of pieces. My brother Danril used to laugh at me for that. I would get so frustrated with the trying.” She smiled at the memories, then addressed Yoshino’s question.
“Actually… no… Drinking is the way to become one with your inner-self.” She chuckled. “Mainly the purpose is to drink and share the drink with the Gods.”
Yoshino nodded. “I understand. Many people on Earth leave offerings of food and drink for their ancestors at shrines much like this.”
Mira nodded as well. “But we do not leave the drink.”
Yoshino held two pieces of wood together with one hand, waiting for the adhesive she’d just put on them to set. Searching for something to talk about, she asked, “What happened to your brother? I was an only child, myself.”
The doctor’s smile turned a bit sad. “He is back on Homeworld working to earn money to buy my Uncle and his wife from their Master. I suppose I shouldn’t talk of him as though he no longer lives… but he has changed greatly from the boy I grew with.”
Yoshino paused, surprised. “Buy? And this … is legal on your world?”
“Yes.” She rubbed her shaven head, tugging on her braided top-knot. “My family was sold into slavery for being unable to pay the Gift-Debt.” At the blank look, she explained. “In ancient times, the Emperor would ask for things from his subjects. If they choose not to give the thing itself, they pay a Gift-Debt, instead. It is a very old custom that is never used any more… But it was never canceled. Just as slavery has never been canceled. Though most modern Centauri do not approve of Centauri slaves.” She added quietly, “Only Narn ones.”
The other woman shuddered. “I have studied a little of that history, during my training … it reminds me of things my people had done, hundreds of years ago.”
Mira nodded. “My father sent me into hiding when Cartagia asked to have me for a Companion. He expected to only be censured for being unable to control his family. But, then, Cartagia demanded the Gift-Debt and my family could not pay. I did not know what had happened until a year later when I was in medical school on Minbar.”
She continued, only slightly less sadly. “I was able to buy my brother Danril and my two nieces on B5 when I first became a Ranger. But, there are still my Uncle and his wife to buy.”
Yoshino pounded two pieces of wood together with unnecessary violence. It was incredible that a people who were so advanced could be so barbaric. She thought about Mira’s last words a moment, and began to get an idea. “How much?”
Mira shrugged, misunderstanding the question. “Half my savings… I got them cheaply because I claimed they were infected by a disease that made them unsuitable for their master…He was a pomp? No,” she thought hard, searching for the unfamiliar word. “Pimp! Yes… Captain Narsh later helped my with the legal papers.”
Yoshino shuddered again, violently. “Yes … How much for your uncle and his wife?”
The Centauri, distracted by her guilt and grief, didn’t see that shudder. “I believe they are very expensive. Which is why it is taking so long to buy them. My sister is in negotiations with their Master, but I think he is trying to get her to promise personal time to him in exchange for part of the price.
“Kotimma has refused. After all, if a respected Courtesan gave away personal time without the benefit of marriage, then she would no longer be able to demand her usual prices. Not to mention, she doesn’t like Havor. But I think she might change her mind soon. It hurts her most to watch them remain slaves… for she was sold to the same master as my father was and she had to watch him die in that first year.” Her voice trailed off as she became lost in her inner thoughts.
Yoshino said softly, “No, she mustn’t do that.” It was one thing to voluntarily sell one’s companionship. After all, her chosen namesake had become famous in that profession. But to be compelled to do so — whether by coercion or outright force — that, Yoshino couldn’t tolerate.
And she could do something about it. She spoke more loudly as she stood up, “I can help you. If you can teach me the Centauri language and a bit about your homeworld’s computer nets.”
Mira came out of her guilt-tripping and blinked up at Yoshino. “It is a kind offer,” she started slowly. “I would not want to inconvenience you, though.” She began to change her mind, seeing the need in Yoshino’s eyes.
“You would be doing me a great kindness as well, by accepting.”
“But, if you are certain.” She smiled, shyly. “I would be honored to teach you anything I can.” The doctor noticed the shrine, completed. “Thank you for the Shrine!”
Yoshino bowed. “You are welcome. I — ” she broke off, dashing across the room to “rescue” Kuri before she knocked something over. “I’d better take this little one back to my quarters. Then, if you have nothing else to do, I will return.”
Mira laughed. “Of course! I shall just finish decorating this and then I will await you!”
(c) 1999 Jamie Lawson and Mona Hinds. All rights reserved.