The Long and Winding Road
Characters: Tomás Darquin, Dr. Kim Matsumoto
Flagstaff Arcology, Arizona, Earth
Leaving the autocab docking alcove behind, Darquin led Kim through the arcology, past trees in the road of aquamarine tiles running down the enclosed promenade. Now and then, in an unconscious effort to make himself presentable, Darquin swept his hand over his Anla’shok duster (more practical than the traditional cloak, he thought) as they approached the first row of trees and blooming cacti. “It feels so different… but then I’m different.”
Strangely, Kim couldn’t shake an eerie feeling of familiarity as she followed Darquin. She’d seen some of it, sensed much of it, months ago when she guided him through his own mental landscape. “The whole planet feels strange,” she confessed. “Are you going to be all right?”
He shrugged, taking longer than he preferred to contrive an answer. “Um, well, I think so.”
“I guess that’s got to do.”
Darquin barely heard, looking all around the arcology as an overhead monorail stopped at a station several levels up, near a crystal clear skylight far above the treetops. “They got a new rail car. Heh, and new glass.”
“Place is doing better then.”
Darquin pointed out a door among the rows of glazed abode-style porches flanking the walkways, gardens, and stone sculpture fountains. “I think that’s it.” He stopped at a neighboring tree and smiled widely at a carving in the bark, a musical note. “Yeah, definite.”
Kim smiled, thinking that it was very like him. And wondered…. how had it been after, growing up? She knew him now, and in that distant past she’d seen in his mind, but nothing in the gulf between.
Darquin tapped the doorbell, nodding toward the tree that wore his old carving. “Sad thing is, that was supposed to be a Yellow Submarine.”
Before Kim could comment, the doorbell intercom activated, and a woman’s voice came out. “Yes?”
“Tia Barbara, it’s me. Tomas, I mean. Is this a good time–”
The door locks clicked in rapid-fire sequence and his aunt almost jumped out through the flung door. “Tom!” In an instant she snagged Darquin in a bear hug, leaving his arms dangling in the air as if he’d been caught in a net. “Let me take a look at–” Barbara paused then, surprised at his uniform.
He threw a weak smile over his shoulder at Kim, resigned to his fate, before turning back to his aunt. “It’s okay, I can tell you all about it. Is Tio Ronnie at home?”
“Shh!” She looked back into the apartment. “Yes, he’s here. Careful, he could’ve heard that!”
“He hates it when we call him that,” he said to Kim. “It just stuck.”
By then his aunt was urging them in and Kim didn’t ask. It was like being swept along with a storm. “Come in, come in, come in!”
Aunt Barbara took them in through the small alcove at the door, then an adjoining hallway with small paintings of varying levels of artistic taste. Darquin looked back at Kim, wondering how much she’d recognize from one of the telepathic searches of his mind. He raised a finger to a velvet portrait of a bullfighter, as if drawn to it. “It’s real, all right,” he said with a private grin.
Kim did recognize it — all of it — and looked on with an odd expression. She shook her head and whispered a reply. “This is just a little too strange.”
Barbara showed them into the living room, gesturing to chairs and futons. “Sit, sit. It’s been years since I saw you! And so much has happened.”
Kim perched on a chair, feeling like a ghost observer again in his mind again.
“You guys didn’t get hit by all of Clark’s supporters?” Darquin asked as he took his seat.
His aunt took a corner of the nearest futon. “No, we’re a little town in the middle of nothing, we all know each other. Well, we thought we did… till a couple of locitos starting reporting on people. Then everyone kept their places locked, to be safe.”
“What about the campus?” To Kim, Darquin explained, “My uncle’s a math teacher.”
“Some protests from the kids in college level,” his aunt said, “broke a few things. Lots of arguing in the faculty about what they should be teaching. What was politically correct, all kinds of talk like that.”
“Not surprising,” Kim said, speaking up for the first time.
“Yeah, we got it everywhere,” Darquin added, “even at Babylon 5.”
Barbara gave him a playful slap on the arm. “Tom, you didn’t introduce your friend! Do you… work together?” She looked pointedly at their matching uniforms.
“Yeah, this is Dr Kim Matsumoto. She ran the science lab on the ship we served on before we got here.”
Barbara smiled at Kim and offered her hand. Kim returned the gesture, briefly grasping the woman’s hand. “A pleasure.” She glanced at Darquin. “We’re in what’s generally called the Rangers. If you saw the recent broadcasts….”
A man entered just then, entering from another room, taking off reading glasses. Kim guessed he had to be Ronaldo, Darquin’s uncle. “Hey, Tomatillo! You made it back, huh?” He laughed and, reaching down for a brief and hardy embrace, repeatedly slapped Darquin on the back. “We missed you. You didn’t call or anything!”
Darquin grinned evilly. “Fortunately, so did a lot of other people.”
“Tomatillo?” Kim repeated, lifting her eyebrows at Darquin.
A grin spread across her face as Darquin blushed. Grinning, he mimed a small ball with his thumb and finger. “You ever see those little green tomatoes they make salsas with? That’s what they’re called. My uncle’s revenge for… some other name we used to call him.”
“Ah,” was all Kim said, her amusement clear and bright.
Ronaldo laughed, then sat back to look at Darquin. “I saw on the news… Did you join that new Alliance? The Rangers?”
Darquin looked around as if checking for possible exits. “Um, yeah.”
His uncle threw a glance to his wife before turning back to Tomas. “But… what about Earthforce?”
Darquin inhaled sharply. “I, uh, went AWOL a year ago.” He pressed on, as his aunt and uncle groaned. “Nightwatch showed up at B5 and took over. They were putting me in their sights. I had to run off. That’s when I found out about the Anla’shok. The Rangers.”
“You wanted to be an explorer. What can you do now?” Barbara asked.
Kim replied this time, smiling wryly at their nephew. “With all we’ve been up to?”
Darquin smirked. “You wouldn’t believe where we’ve been.”
“I hardly believe it sometimes,” Kim added.
“These are good people, believe me,” Darquin assured them. “Of all kinds. But uh, there’s something we need to talk about before we do anything else.”
Ronaldo exchanged a wary glance with his wife. Neither of the Rangers missed it either. Kim held her breath.
“It’s about my mom and pop,” Darquin said. “I know what happened. Almost everything.”
Immediately Barbara’s face fell. Ronaldo lowered his head, sighing.
Kim’s attention quickly turned to Darquin, to find him holding his fists to his sides, bracing himself. “I’ve got to ask: Did you know?”
Ronaldo looked up, grim. “Some of it. We knew the government was after them. Your aunt thought maybe it was Psi-Corps.”
“And you guys arranged with my parents to pick me, Lou, and Angelina up?” Darquin looked into their eyes. “In the desert?”
Barbara nodded. “I talked to your mother, and she said it had to do with Psi-Corps. We were afraid they’d come after all of us.”
“They didn’t tell us the whole thing,” Ronaldo added. “We don’t even know where they are. But we put things together and it started looking bad for all of us. We weren’t sure how to protect you kids. Or ourselves.”
Lying or mindwiped too? Kim wondered, opening her barriers. She didn’t actively scan, but she kept a close eye on their reactions, reaching out to feel the intermingling vibrations of truths and their dying echoes from the gulleys in between. She found sincerity, but with an edge of nervousness that bit at their awareness as well as hers.
“Isn’t there something more?” Kim prompted.
Barbara nodded to Kim. “We were desperate, looking for– Ron did some digging and heard that some telepaths try to memorize songs to help block their minds from everyone else. We thought it might help the other way around too.”
“You liked music,” Ronaldo said to Darquin, “so we encouraged you. When you left for Earthforce Academy, we could only hope it was enough to help you out there.”
“Playing all those old records… you were trying to teach me a defense mechanism?” Darquin said.
“When you were small,” Barbara answered with a nod. “But you responded to it so much.”
Kim smiled faintly. She didn’t for a moment think of her words, and they were out before she could stop them. “So that’s why there’s the constant soundtrack.”
To Kim, Barbara said, “He was hurting so much, we could see it. And the music helped him through it.”
“We figured, ‘Hey, even if this doesn’t work, Tomatillo was happy anyway,’ so what the hell,” Ronaldo said.
Slightly misty-eyed, Darquin chuckled as 30 years of irony kicked in. “Okay… thanks.” He looked away, in search of better words.
“You know, it doesn’t work too badly, for surface scans anyway,” Kim offered. The secret was well and truly out of the bag, so she gave what she could.
Barbara looked quizzically at Kim a moment, then nodded with an understanding, comforting grin.
“You said you knew almost everything else. What did you find, where your parents went?” Ronaldo asked, steering the conversation back.
Darquin was about to speak, biting his lip, then frowned. “No, I don’t know where they are.”
His aunt and uncle visibly drooped, then tried to pick themselves up. Kim didn’t understand why Darquin let the idea of their survival live, but she kept silent.
“Wait, what about Louie and Angie?” Darquin asked.
“They never found out. Luis completely forgot what happened, I think. Angelina was like you, in pain, too young to understand. She couldn’t find a place for it, and went to Mars,” Barbara replied.
Darquin’s jaw dropped. “Mars? But all the bombings and the riots–”
“We don’t know. Haven’t heard from her since you got shipped off to Babylon 5,” Ronaldo said.
“But that’s three years ago!”
“Maybe with the war over, communications will open again,” Kim offered weakly.
Darquin was too distraught to think at first, then nodded to Kim, running his hand over his face. “Yeah, you’re right. B5 sent some people there, and they took some of us with them to help the Resistance. Someone might know.”
A lopsided smile emerged on Kim’s face. “If she’s anything like you, she got in the fight, and it’s not been safe.”
Ronaldo grinned evilly. “Sounds like you met her already.”
“Maybe I can talk Captain Hale into looking for Garibaldi,” Tomas muttered, lost in thought, “if he’s still on Mars.”
“That man is in and out of favor like it’s a revolving door,” Kim said. “But he just might be at the door in this time. After all, he’s part of the chain again… I think.”
“Great, sounds like I got a new batch of homework waiting for me.”
Ronaldo nodded as he followed the conversation. “I was wondering about that. On ISN–”
“ISN hasn’t broadcast anything right for years, until this week,” Kim answered, keeping an edge out of her voice with an effort. Even with the war past, the propaganda still filled her rage.
Darquin nodded. “Everyone, pick an ISN anchor to hit.”
Kim smiled apologetically to Barbara and Ronaldo. “Half the Rangers have personal tragedies they’ve escaped, created by those sorts, and a little vengefulness can’t be helped sometimes. And with the War….”
“Which one?” Darquin said seriously.
“Point.” Kim shook her head and Darquin smiled sheepishly, an expression that she’d come to recognize in his uncle now, even after only a few minutes of conversation.
“There was another one?” Ronaldo asked.
Darquin folded a hand over his forehead. “Long story.”
“It’s rather…. epic. Or mythic? It’d take a few hours,” Kim said with a dry chuckle and sat back to make the attempt.
Weaving the story of the Shadow War took hours and a lot of effort on the part of both Kim and Tom, backtracking many times to explain things; who the First Ones and the Anla’shok were; John Sheridan’s return from Z’ha’dum; the talk of a Third Age; President Santiago’s assassination; how it all fit into the galactic scheme of things. By the time it was all done, the house no longer felt the same for Tom’s aunt and uncle. Either it seemed smaller or the universe felt bigger. Aunt Barbara and Uncle Ronaldo decided they’d better think about it over dinner and invited Kim and Tom to join them.
Afterward, while the churning of the dishwasher reverberated in the background, Darquin slipped into the next hallway, then into his old room which was lined with shelves of CDs, boxes of ancient vinyl records, etc. “Whoa….” He looked all around, chuckling at the sight and the new meaning it all had for him. The sounds inside them weren’t only voices of release and inspiration, but an arsenal. He allowed himself a moment of melancholy, absorbing the knowledge. He roused himself from it when he heard the door open.
Kim leaned in through the doorway and glanced around, distracted for a moment at the sight. “It may just take you the week to peel you away,” she said in amazement.
“Hi, Kim.” He nodded to the music collection. “Most of it’s in my head to begin with.”
Kim stepped the rest of the way in and closed the door behind. “True.” Her grin was wry with the memory of all the times she’d heard his soundtrack to life. Then she sobered up quickly. “Actually, I was meaning to ask you something, though, before I go.”
Darquin turned to watch her closely. “Something up?”
Kim didn’t dance around it. “You’ve waited so long… only to leave them believing the story. I don’t understand.”
He turned his ear to the door. Sadness melted the resolve from his face. “I, I don’t think I’m ready for… you know, how they’d take it if I told them about my mom and pop. Especially my uncle. They were pretty close, him and Pop.”
“But it’s been what, thirty years? They must have imagined it’s possible.”
Darquin nodded. “I sure did. But what if it was the thought of my parents coming back that kept my aunt and uncle going, y’know?”
After a long pause Kim said, “I suppose I understand. It’s just… you shouldn’t have to carry around Pippodemus’ or any of their secrets.”
“Not much else I can do,” he grumbled. “The Psi-Corps is just too big to tackle right now. My family’s stuck their neck out as it is. We have to play this real close to the vest till all that can change.”
“It’s still a miserable deal.”
“Yeah, it stinks.” Darquin leaned against the door to his room. “At least now we’re on the winning side.”
Kim was not entirely sure of that sometimes, but she wasn’t about to indulge the thought aloud. “Well… I guess I’d better get going.”
Darquin followed her out into the hall. “Where to now?”
“I’m not sure. Some are helping out locally, getting these so-called criminals back out of Nightwatch hands. I might help there. Or… maybe check out some of my family.”
Darquin smiled, “I could always go with you. You know, return the favor.”
Kim looked at him, surprised. “Aren’t you going to stay here? You haven’t seen them for over three years!”
He sighed, adjusting his weight on the wall, as if trying to resist the gravitational pull of home. “I guess I’m afraid of letting something slip. And it wouldn’t be fair to let you deal with the same kind of thing alone. Besides…” He pointed a thumb at his old room behind them. “…there’s no space in there for me anymore!”
Kim quickly gave up the idea of arguing since she wasn’t sure she had any better argument in favor of staying. “I’m not going near Tokyo. I might as well just shoot myself than see them. It’d certainly heal better.” She shrugged then, wistful. “But… It’d be nice to see my grandparents again. And my uncle. I’m just not sure.” Some of her uncertainty began to show.
“Regardless of that– I’ll be more than happy to guard your back and pass the ammunition.”
That got a small chuckle out of her. “Okay, it’s a deal. And if it works out… you’re welcome to stay. It’s a big old place in Spain.” Just to herself, she thought, That is, if they’re still there.
“Gotcha. Spain, it is.”
Kim turned down the hall and somehow rallied her humor, tossing a comment over her shoulder. “And if you’re good, I won’t blackmail you up on to the back of a horse.”
“Um, someone’ll have to tell me where the thruster controls are.”
Kim grinned. “Just tap your heels… and hold on for dear life.”
She looked down the hall to the living room ahead of them. Time for goodbyes, to childhood innocence as well as to this place….
(c) 1999 Joe R. Medina and Alida Saxon. All rights reserved.