Unwanted Finds at the Marketplace
Characters: Margaret Morgan, Daanike, Eddie Kriechbaum
Morgan could hardly keep herself from drumming her fingers on the console as they waited for permission to leave. Normally, she wasn’t one to be impatient, but this was a special situation.
Both the red-headed human — Eddie Kriechbaum, normally one of the Starfury pilots but now assigned co-pilot duty for the Earth shuttle –and Daanike, sitting in the first of the passenger seats, were smiling, but kept the expression strictly to themselves.
After what seemed like an eternity, the comm sounded. “Shuttle Macklin, you are cleared for departure,” Yoshino’s voice said. “Good hunting.”
“Thank you,” Morgan said, barely patient, as she maneuvered the shuttle out.
As the shuttle dropped away from the Phoenix and made its sweep around the moon, Daanike said, “I have discovered that in the main spaceport city, there is a large daily marketplace. Many people, both the native Huka and visiting species, have set up their shops there. It would seem the best place to begin our search.”
“If it’s okay for me to know,” Eddie said, “what is it we’re looking for?”
Morgan paused, but then answered – no reason he couldn’t know. “A plant. Aranonn.”
“That’s a Minbari name — we’re looking for a Minbari plant out here?” The pilot sounded genuinely puzzled.
“We are hoping to find it in the markets, Anla’shok Kriechbaum,” Daanike put in. “It is a medicinal plant, that I need. The Shok-na’li has very graciously offered her assistance in helping me locate some.”
“Ie. I was otherwise unoccupied.” Her mouth quirked, appreciating the attempt to preserve her privacy.
“Well, so was I, which is why I’m here now,” Eddie said with a chuckle. “When we land, do you want me to come through the markets with you?”
After a pause, she said, “You are welcome to, if you wish. Real air will be good.”
“Oh, no kidding. I was getting envious of Brenda, pulling escort duty for one of the archaeological digs.” His expression suddenly brightened further, his trademark wide grin coming into view. “Hey, maybe I’ll find something she’d like as a present.”
The comm suddenly came to life, a voice alien yet distinctly feminine sounding across the speaker. “Inbound shuttle, please identify yourself and your destination, for landing clearance.”
“Shuttle Macklin, from the Phoenix, requesting permission to visit your market.”
“Ah, Anla’shok vessel.” There was a brief pause, less time than it took to draw a quick breath. “Clearance granted, the beacon is set. Welcome to Uvew and the Great Marketplace.”
“Thank you, Uvew Control.” Morgan began landing procedures.
When she had completed the cycle, the Macklin was parked neatly next to several other small and medium sized craft, mostly scoutship and small freighter classes, in the midst of a large landing field. As the three Rangers exited the shuttle, two Huka, much of their brown and grey fur hidden by maintenance tech’s coveralls, approached.
“Welcome, Anla’shok,” the first of them said, speaking in excellent Interlac. “Will you need any work done on your ship while you attend the marketplace?”
“Ah. No, I don’t believe so.” She glanced at Eddie. “But thank you for your offer.”
As the two Huka nodded and moved off, Eddie asked quietly, “You want me to stay with the shuttle?”
“I want to trust them, but… Ie. Barring emergencies, you can still walk the market before we have to leave.”
He shrugged. “You got it, Boss.” He turned toward Daanike. “Good luck finding your plant, Doc.” With an easy stride, he turned and headed back up the boarding ramp.
Morgan let Daanike go first, then followed the Minbari into the market.
When they reached the outer edge of the marketplace, Daanike’s eyes were wide in astonishment. It was a large space, partly indoors and partly open to the air. There were booths, stalls, and shopfronts, selling a bewildering variety of merchandise.
A number of different alien species were moving back and forth — humans, Minbari, Narn, Drazi and half a dozen others — but the majority of the buyers and sellers seemed to be the Huka themselves.
“This is remarkable,” Daanike said softly. “I was told the marketplace was … substantial, but I had no idea. Where should we begin?”
“I have no idea. There does not appear to be much organization along category lines.”
“Perhaps there is someone here who could serve as a guide.” Daanike began looking around.
Morgan did the same, then nods to the closest merchant. “She might be able to at least point us in the right direction.”
The small booth was crammed with a variety of power cells — a kaleidoscope of shapes, sizes, and origins, from the looks of the hooks and shelves. The Huka who stood at the counter smiled at them, blinking her large, pumpkin-orange eyes. “Welcome, friends,” she said, speaking in slow but precise Interlac. “How may I help you?”
Morgan bowed. “Greetings. Apologies for disturbing you in your work, but we are new to your great market.”
“Ahhh,” the Huka said, a sound that was part purr and part rapid clicking. “And you need a map, or a guide?”
Morgan glanced at Daanike. “A guide, preferably, but a map would do.”
“That can be arranged. I will summon my younger sister.” The Huka retrieved a small, elegantly sculpted box from beneath her counter and spoke into it, a rapid sequence of the odd purr-click combination of sounds that made up her native language. She replaced the box and smiled again at the Rangers.
“We have no wish to disrupt your business. We will be nearby.” Morgan bowed again.
“As you wish, though it is no trouble.” The Huka returned the bow as the Rangers stepped away and out of the booth.
They watched as a young Huka came trotting up the street, exchanged a few words with the one in the power cell shop, then came briskly up to them. “Greetings, friends,” she said, her broad ears — still outsized for her head — tilted toward them. “My sister says you are in need of a guide to the marketplace.”
“Yes, indeed. We are looking for a plant. An offworld one, in fact.”
The Huka’s ears twitched as she closed her eyes in concentration. Finally she said, “A number of my sisters sell plants — food, ornament, medicine. I do not know which might have offworld plants, but I am willing to show you all my sisters’ shops.”
“Please, if it is no trouble.” Then Morgan added, “The Minbari use it medicinally.”
“This way.” The young Huka trotted off, and the Rangers had to walk quickly to keep up with her. Even so, Morgan noticed Daanike looking about intently, eyes wide in a childlike wonder. “So this is what my grandmother saw, when she went to the sea,” the Minbari murmured softly.
They finally slowed down at the steps of a long, wooden building at the corner of the marketplace square. Several banners floated in the light wind, with pictures and writing in the Huka script. “My sister tends this place,” the young one said. “It is the largest shop of plants in the market.”
Morgan and Daanike followed the young Huka up the short steps and into the building. It was dim, most of the light coming from the cases of plants that lined the walls, and as cool inside as it had been outside.
The Huka called out, as Daanike began looking at the plants collected inside the case nearest the door. Her purring, clicking speech was suddenly silenced, replaced by a sound that needed no translation: a cry of anguish.
Copyright (c) Jamie Lawson & Leslie McBride. All rights reserved.