Characters: Dr. Kim Matsumoto, Margaret Morgan, Katia Santiago
Kim pulled up the collar of her turtleneck, breathing through the fabric with a sigh of relief. The air was knifingly cold and every gasp of icy air felt like it might freeze in her lungs. She’d forgotten just how bitter the weather on Minbar could get. And this was barely into winter.
Kim glanced at the others through the blowing snow, but there was little to see. She was lucky not to be stumbling over her own feet, much less hope she could get a good look at them, black robed as they all were.
The terrain was no easier to see. They navigated roughly, nearly running into the buildings that marked each turn. Their mission maps said nothing of the broken and abandoned husks of homes and temples they would find. Or that lighting was sparse to nonexistent in the curfew hours of the night. All they knew going in — which was no comfort at all — was that the Warrior Caste now had command of what remained of the city.
They’ve gone mad, Kim thought, with a surge of anger and pain. She’d imagined, of course, how it might be. Measured it against history and logic. But nothing could prepare for the sight. How had it been when the city was taken? Was there blood under the snow where they walked? Worse?
Enough. Kim clamped down on her imagination and her telepathy. The mood of the city was just getting to her. Barriers down to sense any approach left her open to the noise of their thoughts. Anakin had warned her about losing herself in the chaos of others’ minds. She seemed to be learning all the lessons the hard way.
Kim felt before she saw Margaret’s gesture. The tactical officer had found the last turn. They’d been trading the lead back and forth through the trip, one picking up when the other failed. The storm forced a level of cooperation among the three of them that would have come warily in any other situation. They had no choice but to trust Katia… and she, them.
Kim headed warily toward their destination, flexing numbed fingers. Walking closer now, Katia was almost impatient and Margaret outwardly appeared casual, with her hands under her robe for warmth. Kim knew better.
In her head, she went over the passwords and signs, glancing up at the long building that dominated the street. It was something like a guildhouse, but it’s particular specialty was unfathomable to Kim. Except for the White Star ships, she’d had little contact with the Worker Caste in her first and last stay on Minbar. It was an embarrassing gap in her knowledge of them.
Perhaps a fault not so unfamiliar to the other castes as well.
The windows were dark, but she could sense the lives there. A full gathering, she’d wager. The desperation was sharper here, as was the anger. Tension was almost a living thing in the air, and Kim fought its grip. Seemingly at ease, she took the lead, and glanced at Margaret for cover, knowing her a far better shot. Margaret nodded once in acknowledgment.
Katia came last, eye flickering up and down the street. Suddenly she felt Kim’s exertion of her telepathy, about as subtle as fireworks to a trained telepath. Katia tightly clamped down on her own ability, not wanting to feel it. She didn’t even want to remember she had it.
Kim didn’t notice her reaction. She paced toward front entrance, arms loose and open, though the chill wind knifed in. It was in fact a welcome distraction from what else might happen. Robed as a warrior was a fine disguise for the streets, but they were the enemy now to those they were about to contact.
Margaret’s eyes flicked everywhere, one hand visible now and gripped on her weapon. Katia added her eyes to the search, looking nervously for anyone that might be close. But there was only the hissing snow. Kim lifted her hand and touched the door’s chime. There was no hearing the ring or response withing. Katia held her breath and Margaret tightened her grip on her PPG.
The door opened almost beneath Kim’s fingers. A figure wrapped against the cold stood warily in the doorway, paler robes seeming dark from the light silhouetting behind. There was a glimpse of a short, elegant hall behind him.
Kim spoke quietly in Minbari, a formal request for sanctuary from the storm. The only courtesy she failed was to uncover her face to the Minbari’s sight. Katia instinctively straightened, trying to seem normal — a warrior of the city.
The Minbari stepped back, hands clasped in formal greeting and giving way to them. Kim sensed the spike of anxiety, but couldn’t do much about it. They had to play it out. She hesitated a moment, then need won out. Shaping the sending carefully, she mindspoke to Margaret. Ambush. Don’t draw, Kim said as she stepped into the hall.
Behind her Margaret fought instinct, and pain as old neural wounds were aggravated. Ie she thought shortly, trusting Kim was listening for an answer. As if nothing were wrong, she bowed to the figure in passing.
Kim felt the pain and considered an apology, but left it for later. Now it would only cause more pain. She kept her eyes forward and walked deeper into the hall doing her best to pretend she was ignorant of the danger close around them.
Katia came last, feeling something on the edge of her perception, but kept tight control. The door was closed behind her quietly by unseen hands.
And then they saw all of them.
The defenders poured out of hidden recesses, weapons bared. They crowded close and tense, leaving no room to fight. Kim held still as her hood was dragged back roughly, catching a few hairs painfully. There was a quiet murmur as they saw she was human. Then Margaret was next, eyes glittering fierce but not fighting the handling. Katia was unhooded soon after, and followed the other womens’ lead in silence, hoping they knew what they were doing.
Their greeter at the door lifted back his own hood, revealing a middle aged Minbari, a severe set to his face.
“You have lost your crest, Warrior,” he said to Kim in the Warrior’s tongue. The words were an incredible insult… were she a Minbari.
Kim answered in kind. “And have you remade your own?”
Something that might have been a smile was hinted at in his expression. Kim gestured carefully to her robe, “If we may…?”
The Minbari nodded, and the container in Kim’s hand was taken away. She eased open the robe and her Ranger pin glittered in the hall light. Grave now, she clearly spoke the code. It was an antique greeting, from the days of warring clans.
There was a short silence, and Margaret watched the Minbari closely. They had not yet taken her weapon from her, if it came to that….
But then he spoke, returning the greeting. Almost imperceptibly he sighed. “Welcome. I am Silienn.” Still grave, but honestly hospitable, he bowed properly to the three of them. As that as the sign, the majority of the crowd retreated, but for a small honor guard.
Silienn waved an arm in invitation and led the way. Kim and Margaret followed, listening close as he spoke. Katia let out her breath, not realizing she was holding it, and followed the others into the Resistance’s heart.
“We have been hiding many here, those who would be known instantly as a threat to the Warrior Caste, and those who have become threats by their actions,” Silienn said, pacing through the bustle of the main room. “With those numbers swelling, and few chances to slip out to safer areas…. It has been very difficult to keep our presence unremarked.” It was a gentle way to comment on the threat of extermination. They had members of all the Castes in the resistance. The Religious would die as the enemy, the Workers for their resistance and Warriors for their betrayal of their own.
Silienn was Worker Caste, and a Minbari of considerable accomplishment before the war. Far away, the Capital was burning and he was in exile for a fight he could see no peaceful end to. The sight of places he’d put his hands to going up in ash had made new, deep lines in his face.
The activity had risen to an almost frantic pace around them. With the Rangers here, and the storm as cover, it was their best chance and perhaps last to do all they must. Their resources were wearing desperately thin.
“Have you brought any supplies?” Silienn asked.
They had already given over what they carried with them. Margaret answered his question about the rest. “We do, aboard our shuttle,” she said, and listed the medical and relief supplies with her usual care to detail.
“Good,” Silienn answers, a little tension easing away. “We will send a greater number with you to guard the way and retrieve the supplies.” He frowned, considering the gathering. “But you will have to split into two groups. So many…. You can’t parade down the streets like some Temple procession.”
“Even two groups will be noticeable leaving,” Margaret said with concern, counting heads. “The secrecy of this place will be breached.”
Silienn actually smiled. “Do not be concerned about that. You will not be leaving by the street.”
Kim gasped, unable to suppress it as they stepping into the underground. Only a Minbari could turn even tunneling into an art. Kim sensed the spark of satisfaction in the Minbari beside her. Worker Caste, he has good reason to take pride in the work. He and his ancestors had made Minbar what it was. In turn, it was not hard to wonder at their disgust and rage at what was happening.
The tunnel, the ceiling low enough Kim could press her palms to it, stretched off into the distance, Silienn explained in a low voice how once, centuries ago, the Minbari that immigrated from the warmer equatorial territories were forced by weather to take deep refuge in the winter months. Even further south or far north, trees were known to split and stones burst if the winter was harsh enough. Below the frost line they could be safe from the worst storms, their goods protected from damage.
As the centuries passed, the tunnels and rooms were perfected, carved from necessity to beauty. The walls were carved, the power and lighting that came in later centuries woven carefully into the whole. Modern technology allowed them to live above ground exclusively now, but the tunnels were still there and the Worker Caste did not forget.
“The Warrior and Religious Castes forget much,” Silienn said, as if he were the telepath. A few in their numbers shifted protestingly — members of those castes — but did not speak up. It was nothing but the truth.
For his own part, it was the last Silienn said on the matter. He began leading the ragged group through the tunnels. Margaret and Kim walked behind him and Katia behind them, hearing their murmured conference. Katia suppressed her irritability at being apart from it.
“You are certain, Cyfeilles?” Margaret asked.
“Best that way. I take Katia and a half dozen ahead. Nothing extra. Katia is best for getting the shuttle going again, and we’ll get those supplies out of there before you arrive with the others,” Kim said, running over the plan. “Yours will be the slower group, with the wounded, so they are going to need the warriors and that aim of yours. My shot isn’t worth a damn and I doubt Katia’s is any better.”
Silienn took them down a winding path, possibly on purpose to leave the way vague in their minds. Finally he stopped, at huge junction that radiated passages like the spokes of a wheel.
“This is where we part. Adenier will lead your party,” Silienn said to Margaret. To Kim and Katia he said, “Nadienn will lead your party out. Valen watch over you all.”
There was a moment of chatter, goodbyes being said among the Minbari. Kim pulled up a smile and spoke in English to Margaret. “Don’t get yourself shot, eh? I’m not going to be there to drag you along this time.”
In spite of the situation, the tactical officer grinned briefly.
Kim nodded and turned to Katia with a neutral glance. Katia returned it.
“Well, it looks like just us for now,” Katia said quietly.
Kim nodded briskly, and followed Nadienn down tunnel without comment, a half dozen other Minbari peeling away from the group with them. Katia sighed and followed.