Characters: Klevetati Yoshino, Dr. Kim Matsumoto, Toni Villiers
Yoshino walked into the Science Labs, carrying a long, narrow bundle tucked under one arm, along with a wooden kendo sword. “Kim?” she said, looking around.
“Over here, Yoshino,” Kim called from some point unseen. “The supply room.”
Yoshino followed her friend’s voice into the room. “Konnichiwa,” she said as she stuck her head through the door. “I’m sorry I’ve been out of touch, but I need your help … somewhat urgently.”
Kim stepped past with a box, and dumped it onto an empty work table before turning back to Yoshino. She was frowning slightly. “You have it of course, but what’s happened?”
“I found the person who created the darts that the Llort were killed for. He says he will answer my questions — on one condition, naturally.”
“Of course,” Kim commented dryly. “What is the condition?”
“He wants to see my swords,” Yoshino said, drawing a deep breath as she pointed toward the bundle.
Kim hesitated a moment before saying, “Please don’t be offended, but I can’t help but sense that the nature of the swords has changed since last time I spoke to you. I’m trying not to see why on my own.”
“I understand,” Yoshino said, nodding slowly. “It’s true. I learned something about them last night. I had …” she drew another deep breath, then said, “a visitor. I have gathered that many people aboard did. And some on the planet directly beneath us.”
“Yes, I did too.” Who it was, or what it was like didn’t show in Kim’s words or expression. “You can just tell me what you learned, if you like. I trust you regardless of the source.”
“That’s very kind of you. I’m sure there will be time to share the whole story later,” Yoshino said, hoping to herself there would be an opportunity to hear Kim’s story as well. She smiled wryly at her own curiosity. “To keep it brief — I now know the swords are far older than we once thought. We believed they were late Edo Period — four hundred years old or so. But in fact …” Yoshino paused, rubbing her bandaged wrist as she composed the words she herself still didn’t quite comprehend, “they are Kamakura Era. Around a thousand years old.” She looked at Kim, trying to see if her friend could understand the significance.
Kim’s eyes widened in amazement. When she could finally speak, she said, “If you were a seller trying to tell me that, I wouldn’t believe you.”
“I told him that he could have told me I was the Empress, and I would have believed it more easily,” Yoshino concurred.
Without a seat around, Kim hopped up to perch on the edge of the work table. “I can’t bring myself to congratulate you, Yoshino. Something like your swords … they are possibly more trouble than they are worth to possess.”
She nodded slowly. “I know. Isamu-sensei told me they were probably why Sasaki’s people tried to have me killed. They are still looking for me.”
“Why does this person down on the planet want to see your swords?”
“Tanaka-san — the weaponsmith — must have learned about their history as well. He’s the only person I know who could verify it.” She leaned against the table, poking idly at Kim’s box. “He must believe it though, risking his life to tell me about the assassins.”
“Do you trust him?”
“To tell me the truth about the swords, yes. For someone like him, to even see a Kamakura blade would be an impossible dream. You just don’t lie about something like that. But for anything else, no.” Her pale lips thinned as she pressed them together. “He wanted to see me alone, but there’s no reason why you can’t be right on the other side of the door. And after …”
She suddenly trailed off and swallowed hard, finding it impossible to continue. By now the whole ship knew what had happened to the Chief of Security the night before. But somehow, she had to set those feelings aside, for another time.
Kim gave her a few moments then called up a small smile. “However I can help, I will.”
Yoshino nodded, struggling to find a smile of her own. “Can you meet Villiers-san and I in the docking bays, in about an hour?”
“I will be there.”
“Thank you.” Yoshino bowed deeply to her friend, and when her face was visible again, it was more relaxed. “I don’t suppose,” she said, pointing to the box, “that I could help you in any way, in the meanwhile?”
Kim almost dismissed the work as tedious, but changed her mind before the words got to her lips. There were worse ways to occupy the time while waiting. “I wouldn’t mind the help.” Kim hopped down and opened the box.
The door at the end of the hallway looked like most of the others in the building — that it had seen many, and far better, days. Its only distinction was a wooden shingle bearing Japanese characters painted in bright red.
“What’s it say?” Toni Villiers asked her companions.
“Ryutaro Tanaka — Souls Polished.” The beginnings of an enigmatic smile showed in Yoshino’s face as she answered.
“Souls polished? What does that mean?”
“It means we’ve come to the right place. I can explain more on the way back, if you like.” Yoshino shrugged, loosening the straps that held her bundled swords to her back. “Did you want to wait here, with Kim?”
Villiers’ brows pulled together, barely visible under thick auburn bangs. “Actually, the way this place is laid out, I think I can cover both of you better from outside,” she said. She looked straight at Yoshino and said, “Just keep one eye on the front door when you’re in there, and be ready to yell for us. We can handle the rest.”
“I’ll see you outside, then.” Yoshino finished unslinging the package and tucked it under her arm. “Thank you again, Villiers-san.”
“Don’t mention it,” the other Ranger said, her features momentarily taking on a grim cast. “After last night, nobody’s going anyplace without backup.” She tightened her grip on her folded pike as if to emphasize the point, then smiled. “And hey, call me Toni, okay?” Without waiting for an answer, she turned and headed back down the hallway, the only sound the swirling of fabric in her brown and black cloak.
Kim looked after her a moment, then turned to Yoshino. “I’ll be here,” she said simply, slipping into a shadowed niche out of view of anyone looking through the door.
Yoshino turned and knocked. The door opened just enough to reveal the wizened features of Tanaka, who peered out at her from deeply sunken eyes. “Come in, quickly,” he said softly, opening the door a fraction wider.
Yoshino slipped inside, looking around the small room. Save for a few plastic cases and electronic scanners piled onto one of several workbenches, she could have been stepping half a millennium back in time.
“I brought the swords as you asked,” Yoshino said, trying to keep the same tone of puzzlement in her tone that she’d had the day before. She didn’t want to give anything away. Tanaka glanced quickly over his shoulder, then at the bundle Yoshino held out to him. He took it as one might take a newborn baby, and carried it to his workbench, his eyes never leaving it.
Yoshino, however, was following the path Tanaka’s nervous look had taken. She could see nothing but a shadowy stretch of wall, marred by cracked plaster. She breathed rapidly through her nose, wishing she had Kuri’s sense of scent. Something definitely wasn’t right here.
The link on Kim’s hand vibrated, and she lifted it to her mouth, speaking as softly as she could. “Matsumoto. Go.”
“Villiers. I need you to check your sensor pack. I’m getting some odd readings from that room — something is giving off a lot more energy than it ought to be.”
“Something else also concerns me,” Kim replied. “I am sensing three people in that room.”
Yoshino’s attention was drawn back to the workbench by a gasp from Tanaka. He had finished unwrapping the bundle, and was gently drawing one of the swords. “They told me the truth,” he murmured.
“Who told you? What truth?” Yoshino asked.
He didn’t answer, didn’t even appear to have heard. Moving as if in a hypnotic trance, he gently took the longer blade apart, freeing the pommel and guard from the blade. The tang was thick with black oxidation, a little of which he scraped free and put into one of the electronic scanners. As it hummed almost inaudibly, he finally looked up at Yoshino.
“These are without doubt Kamakura Era blades. I can’t see a signature on the long sword, and I doubt if I’ll be able to on the shorter one — I don’t dare clean them down to the metal. But the metal itself — ” he looked down at the scanner, which beeped softly. “The metal itself is a thousand years old.”
“Who told you about these?” Yoshino asked, as Tanaka disassembled the shorter blade.
“Shonichi of the Osaka New Sakura Clan,” he answered without looking at her. “I told him I thought I had a lead on the swords. He’s waiting for me to report back.”
“Shonichi …” Yoshino’s white face went ashen grey. “Where is he?”
“Babylon 5,” murmured Tanaka as the scanner beeped again. “This is a twin to the long sword. Made by the same hand, at the same time.” He looked up, straight into Yoshino’s eyes. “You possess a priceless treasure, Yoshino Klevetati. I pray you live long enough to enjoy it.”
Something in his eyes steadied her. He feared for her — and yet, she had less reason to fear now than before. She was not alone. She had to remember that — she was Anla-shok now, and would never be alone.
And with that, she was reminded of her other reason for being here. “You told me,” she said, “that if I showed you the swords, you would tell me who you made the darts for.”
Copyright (c) 2001 Jamie Lawson and Alida Saxon. All rights reserved.