Characters: Margaret Morgan
As the Narn family approached the Hayn-gok’s boarding ramp, Morgan realized this would have to be the last of their passengers. The one they had intended to pick up all along was already safely aboard, settled in what had been Kordieh’s cabin, and several other Narn families had already arrived to take advantage of the offer that had been made, of inexpensive transport back to their homes. Kordieh was in the city, purchasing extra supplies to keep their passengers — and themselves — comfortable along the way.
An older male Narn, presumably the head of the family, approached Morgan slowly as the rest waited a few yards behind. He spoke in awkward, struggling Interlac. “Friend with stone sent us,” he began, giving the code that had been arranged. “Room for five?”
“Yes, Grandfather,” she answered in rough Narn. “Come this way, all of you.”
The group moved forward. The belongings they were carrying were meager and worn, but they appeared healthy and well-fed. Morgan and Kordieh had learned that during the war, the Narns of Dra’shu had opened their hearts, homes and fields to their fellow Narn, and somehow had managed to keep a quintupled population safe and well.
The Narn families already in the hold shifted around a bit, making room for the newcomers, but there was no question that the inn was now full. Nothing left to do but wait for Kordieh to return. He was due back any minute.
Two hours later, he still wasn’t there. Looking at the time yet again, Morgan cursed. She went forward to try to call him on the comm. There was no reply. Not even the faint static that signified an open channel — it was as if he had left without carrying a link at all.
She was almost positive he had had one with him, but she double-checked that first. The result of the trace was ominous — Kordieh’s link was not only not aboard the Hayn-gok, it was no longer functioning.
There was no backup – they were alone there. Morgan went to tell the passengers that she would be out for a little while. The Narns took the news philosophically. “We have waited a long time to go home. A little more will do no harm.”
That left only their human passenger, the one they had truly come for. A slightly built Asian woman in her mid-forties, who had introduced herself as Kitsune and had spent the rest of her time sequestered in the cabin that had been Kordieh’s. Morgan took a deep breath, then knocked.
“Please come in.” The door opened to reveal the woman Kitsune, sitting cross-legged on the bunk, which had been wedged into a more human-friendly horizontal. Her hands were folded neatly in her lap, and as Morgan stepped inside, she drew them into her sleeves. “Is there trouble?” she asked.
Morgan only hesitated a moment before being truthful. “There may be. Anla’shok Kordieh has not returned, and he is overdue.”
“That’s not good,” Kitsune said. “Can I help in any way?”
“I do not doubt that you might, but I just wanted to alert you I was going to find him.”
“Thank you,” Kitsune said. “I will wait here. Please take care, and good luck.”
The marketplace in Do’Retal was not as large nor quite as diverse as that in the Huka city of Uvew, but what it lacked in those aspects it more than made up for in number of customers. The place seemed to be packed from one end of the business day to the other, and more than a few of the farmers and crafters who sold there closed up early, their stock gone.
One of these, a Narn leatherworker, was acquainted with Morgan already, having helped put her in touch with the Ranger stationed on Dra’shu, Dan Parnelli. He was standing in his stall, looking around at the few items he had left, as she came by.
Morgan bowed slightly to him. “Good evening.”
He returned the greeting, hands pressed to his chest in Narn fashion. “Is there some way I can help you, Anla’shok? I do not have much left to sell, as you see.”
“I am looking for my companion, the Anla’shok who came with me, Kordieh. He hasn’t returned, and it has been some time.”
The Narn frowned. “I last saw him just a few hours ago. He said you were going to be raising ship as soon as he got back to it. It sounded as if he was planning to go there directly — he was rather loaded down with goods.”
Morgan scowled. “He did not, and I cannot reach him.”
“It is unfortunate, but there are a number of ways one can get into trouble here, if one is unwise, or unwary.”
“Unwise, he would not be, but one can be unwary even a moment.”
“Indeed.” The Narn picked up several of his remaining goods and tossed them into a box before saying more. Finally, he came close to Morgan and spoke in an undertone. “One of the ways involves some of my own people, I’m sad to say. It would be best if someone not a Narn helped you, if this is what happened to your friend.”
“A direction would be enough, thank you.”
“Anla’shok Parnelli is on the other side of the planet just now, but… ” The Narn thought for several moments, then said, “Near the northwest entrance to the marketplace is the shop of Kylinn, a Minbari. She should be able to help you without fear.”
“Thank you,” Morgan said, meaning it.
The Narn stepped back and bowed over his fists again. “Good fortune, Anla’shok. To you and your friend.”
“And you.” She turned and hurried off then.
The crowds were slowly starting to thin out, and so it didn’t take too long before she reached a small, self-contained building with faceted crystal windows and neat plantings around its front doors. A sign lettered in several languages read, “Genuine Minbari Crystal and Glass by Kylinn.” Morgan stopped and took a deep breath before opening the door and stepping in.
Delicate chimes rang as the door opened, leading the way into a shop space with a counter and wall at the back. Crystalwork ranging from jewelry and beads to a large chandelier lined the walls, covered shelves, and hung from the ceiling. Pieces on display caught light from carefully placed lamps and flung it in rainbow fragments across the room. Soft music was playing, and the shopkeeper, a Minbari who, Morgan guessed, was middle-aged worker caste, stood up from behind the counter in response to the chimes.
Morgan made sure to not bump any crystal as she bowed in greeting. The Minbari bowed in return, her eyes widening as she recognized the jeweled Isil’zha on Morgan’s coat. “How may I serve you, Anla’shok?” she asked in her native language.
“I am in need of assistance, if you can,” Morgan answered in the same. “I came here with another Anla’shok for a … parcel. He has disappeared.”
“I would be honored to assist, but what can I do?”
Morgan explained what the Narn had said, without naming him.
The Minbari’s eyes widened slightly, then she said, “One moment.” She quickly moved past Morgan to lock the shop door and turn off the music and most of the lights. Returning to the counter, she opened a door behind it, and gestured Morgan through.
Morgan stepped that way immediately. The area beyond was a mix of living space and workshop. The Minbari closed the door behind them and then said, “Your informant is cautious … and also wise. I can at the very least give you information. My name is Kylinn.”
“Thank you. Anla’shok Morgan.”
“It is an unfortunate fact that there are several groups of Narn here in the city who have chosen to prey upon their fellows to enrich themselves. One such works in the marketplace, extorting payment from the merchants in order to continue in business … unmolested.”
Morgan made a quiet rumble, but didn’t interrupt.
“I managed to convince them to leave me alone.” Kylinn smiled. “But still I watch them. What business did the Anla’shok have here, that one of them might have run afoul of such parasites?”
“Getting someone to safety. But my companion was getting some supplies when he disappeared – it might not have had much to do with our prime mission.”
“Was it a Narn? One of the criminal organizations believes the transport of refugees offworld is within its purview, and has been known to guard the privilege rather jealously.”
“There are refugees involved, yes.”
“Then it is possible he could have run into this gang. This could be trouble, especially if — is your companion human or Minbari?”
“Then it is possible he could have been mistaken for a Centauri, which would make his position very uncomfortable indeed. Some of these gangs make that mistake all too easily.”
Morgan rubbed at her face then. She didn’t need to be picturing that.
“If we work quickly, we should be able to find him,” Kylinn said. “I do not know where this group might be found … but I do know someone who should.”
Kylinn turned and unlocked a small safe near the door to the shop area, removing a belt from which hung a sheathed knife and a very small holster, from which a pistol grip protruded. She buckled the belt on under her tunic, closed the safe door with a foot, and picked up a heavy walking stick from where it was propped by the back door. “Come,” she said. “We will find your friend together.”
“I can’t ask you to do that,” Morgan answered, surprised.
“There is no need to ask. It is my pleasure to serve — particularly the Anla’shok.”
Morgan had to hesitate over that, but then nodded.