Standing outside Yoshino’s door, Mira shuffled the box in her arms. Gods this is heavy! she thought, as she managed to activate the chime with the corner of the box.
Yoshino looked away from the small vid screen, wondering who would be looking for her. The past week or so on the Phoenix had been very quiet — everyone aboard knew what their jobs were, and did them quite independent of the Operations officer. “Come in.”
Mira slipped into Yoshino’s quarters. “I’m glad you’re home Yoshino! If I had thought about it I would have linked first to make certain before dragging this hugely heavy thing around.”
Yoshino’s eyes widened as she moved quickly to help the little Centauri. “Doctor? Here, let me help you with that.”
Mira dumped the box on a handily clear surface and grinned up at Yoshino. “All taken care of.”
“What is that, if I may ask?”
“It’s a present from my family for me and for you also. Did I interrupt anything?” Kuri came to rub against Mira. “Hello, Kuri!” The doctor stroked the cat’s back. She was much more comfortable with her erstwhile patient now.
Yoshino looked back toward the screen, an image of two enormous men nearly naked, facing one another in a small ring of earth. “I was just catching up on some video I tapped into, from Earth.” She couldn’t resist a smile. “It has contained some very pleasant surprises.”
Mira peered into the screen as well. “My, my…whatever are they doing?” The doctor watched as the men grappled.
“It is called sumo … the ancient sport of Japan — that’s the region of Earth I come from.” The two contestants separated for a moment, then leapt forward and collided together, struggling to force one another out of the small ring.
Mira laughed as it all became clear. “So, I can see!” Scratching Kuri some more, she grinned at Yoshino. “So, don’t you want to know what they sent us? Gods know, that I’m simply dying from the suspense!”
“Yes, of course.” She murmured a command to shut down the video, then did a slight double take. “They?”
Mira happily started digging in her pockets for a suitable box opening tool. “The Family, of course!”
“Your family? Are they well?”
She pulled out assorted odd items and finally wielded a small metal chisel. “They are ecstatically happy!” The Centauri smiled gratefully at her friend. “Thank you for that.”
Yoshino lowered her head modestly. “It was the least I could do. Too much that is evil goes on in the universe, I can’t let it stand any more.”
Mira applied the chisel to prying open the metal box. It was two molded pieces of metal fitted together in the middle and pounded into place. “Well, I’m simply glad you like me enough to help SO much. Kotimma is greatly worried that you have depleted your funds helping us.”
From a perch atop the box, Kuri supervised the proceedings. Mira muttered, “Danril had a hand in the closing of this box.”
“Don’t worry about the money, I am quite skilled at … finding it when I need it. Your help with the language lessons was very useful.”
Mira grinned. “I’m glad to be useful! Kuri, little drabbitti, I’m not sure you should be right there.” With a loud POP, the box top jumped up and released its hold in the bottom half. Kuri jumped clear with a startled yowl, then walked around and tried to look inside the box. Mira laughed, pulling the top half off. A few packages tumbled out, including a note.
The doctor read aloud from the note. “Mira, my Sister, I am putting this note in to inform you that some of these packages are for your friend and ours, Yoshino. You should take them to her and both of you celebrate! Your Brother Danril.”
Yoshino blinked. “Something for me? That wasn’t necessary.” Kuri was busily inspecting the inside of the box, dislodging packages left and right.
“Nonsense! Let’s see, the packages are labeled.” Mira began making piles. “This is for me…. one for you… another for you… one for both of us… that sloshes….” She laughed again.
Faintly and in only partly mock horror, Yoshino objected, “Oh dear.”
Mira delivered a devilish grin. “Now, now, Yoshino… don’t tell me you’re an abstainer! It’s probably just a little brevari! To help the celebration!” She busily unwrapped the bottle. “Indeed it is! We must drink a toast to the rescuer of my newly reunited family!”
“Ah … well. Since I haven’t been able to find any sake in the longest time, I won’t argue.” Yoshino didn’t add that she knew it was pointless to try and argue with the little Centauri in any event.
Mira simply laughed. She handed her the bottle and started piling Yoshino’s packages beside her. Soon, the low table was clear of everything. The two box halves were nested together and put to the side for collecting the packing papers and wrappings.
The other woman looked at the bottle with curious interest before placing it on the newly cleared table. Kuri apparently decided that the box halves with their interestingly rustling papers were her own personal gift and hopped inside.
Yoshino smiled at her cat. “You have been a bit short on toys of late, haven’t you, little one?” She turned toward Mira. “The gifts really weren’t necessary … but I can think of a few things I’d like to celebrate, and it’s hard to do alone, I admit.”
“Oh?! Then we have all the more reason to celebrate! Tell me! What are your occasions so I can celebrate with you.”
“Well … do Centauri celebrate birthdays?”
“Of course! The important ones mostly! And the children’s, of course.” She grinned. “How old are you now? It is your birthday?”
“It was about two weeks ago … I believe, I have turned thirty-one. Or -two, I can’t remember for certain.”
Mira stared in melodramatic horror. “Can’t remember!! Tsk tsk tsk…we shall have to become one with our inner beings to remedy that,” she decided with a wink. “There is nothing like a good drunken oblivion to jog the memory.”
“I doubt I’ll be able to keep up with you … to say nothing of my condition tomorrow. In any case, there is one other thing I’m even more inclined to celebrate.”
Mira giggled as she unwrapped another package marked “Both” and found two cups. “My brother thinks of everything. And what is that reason?”
Yoshino nodded slightly toward the vidscreen. “I’ve just learned Munenorimaru made ozeki rank at last!” Smiling, she was happy to share the news even knowing that further explanation would be needed.
Mira had been busily pouring out brevari. Lifting her glass, she toasted, “A toast then! To congratulate Munenenoriii for making Ozeki! Valtoo!” She downed her portion like a trooper and then leaned forward. In a stage whisper, she asked, “What did I just toast to?”
Yoshino was sipping a bit of the brevari and smiling in appreciation. “Please, sit and I can explain.” She gestured to a chair.
Mira sat down. Then, she stood back up and took off her robe with its bulging pockets as Yoshino spoke. “In sumo, there is a ranking system, and ozeki is the second highest rank possible. There are only a very few ozeki at any one time. And no one thought Munenorimaru would ever succeed so much — except perhaps me, and himself.” Yoshino smiled again.
“AAHHHH!! Than that was your friend on the video!” She refilled her glass. “A toast then to an individual well-endowed with all the important things! Valtoo!”
“Well….” Yoshino was still working on her first glass, a bit behind already. She hoped Mira wouldn’t notice. “Not quite a friend perhaps, we only met once.” She forced down a chuckle at the last remark. “What kind of sports do you have on Centauri?”
“Oh?” Mira filed Yoshino’s interest in the man away for later thought. “Well, there’s always the sparring. And then, there’s the Court.”
“Sparring?” Yoshino reached over and refilled her glass.
Mira nodded. “We mostly have individual sports. Gambling and sparring and such. Very few group sports. The sparring is done with special swords, in an ancient style. It is a society that is very close-knit, for the men and all about honor and such.” She delivered an irreverent wink. “A great deal of spoo and nonsense as well.”
“Ah yes. That I do understand.” Looking down at the packages marked for her, Yoshino’s curiosity began to overcome politeness. “Do you have any idea what all this is?”
Mira giggled. “I’m not telling! You have to open them to see!”
Yoshino opened the packages one by one, revealing a rich Centauri-styled gown, its attendant pieces, and even a pair of soft leather slippers. Her eyes went wider at each piece. “I’ve never seen anything so beautiful.” She was almost whispering. “This can’t be for me.”
“Of course they are for you!” Mira laughed. “Look at the back! It certainly isn’t for me!”
Yoshino held the dress up, showing the neckline that plunged deep and the back that was nonexistent, remembering Mira’s explanation of why Centauri women wouldn’t usually wear something like this. “This … it must have been difficult to design.”
Mira simply chuckled. “I’m certain Kotimma must have helped. She loves this sort of thing. I did tell you that my Uncle and Aunt were tailors, yes? They made it for you.” She reached into the dress and revealed the hand-embroidered tag.
“I don’t know yet how to thank them …. Where in the world am I ever going to wear this?”
“You don’t need to thank them. They are thanking you for their freedom.” Mira continued to find her friend’s sheer dumb-foundedness amusing. “To a party, of course! Now you won’t have to borrow. We shall have to plan a party for when the Phoenix gets out of dry-dock.”
“Agreed. The rest of the crew should be back in about three weeks, and we will be ready to depart for our next mission a week after that.”
Looking up from digging through her own packages, Mira prompted, “You should go try it on! To see if it fits!”
Yoshino looked startled. “I … very well.” She gathered together the pieces and stepped into the sleeping alcove.
Mira grinned and proceeded to unwrap her own packages. She balled the wrappings up and tossed them into the empty box, much to Kuri’s delight. Soon Mira was surrounded by a great deal of food, as well as some lovely pieces of jewelry.
Yoshino stepped out of the alcove, wearing the gown that fit perfectly. “You must have sent them my measurements from your medical scans.”
Mira laughed and clapped. “You look wonderful!!” She refilled both glasses. “A toast to my wonderful Aunt and Uncle and their ability to understand medical statistics! Valtoo!”
With a face and neck colored deep red, Yoshino bowed her head. “It is very kind of you.” She took her glass and drank.
Mira noted Yoshino’s reaction to the compliment and decided the woman didn’t receive enough of them. She started winding her small knot of hair into a twist with a string of beads designed for doing just that. “Nonsense! It is the least of what we can do! Seeing how perfectly lovely you look in their creation will gladden my Aunt’s and Uncle’s hearts. I shall have to capture an image of you at the party for them and run the risk of getting crushed by the stampeding men rushing to your side.” She winked. “So, who is Murinenorium,” she slurred just a little as she mangled the man’s name, “that you follow his movements after meeting just once?” The string of beads twisted in her hair were attached to a net of them that draped gracefully over the rest of the head.
“I have followed sumo for many years … Munenorimaru was one of those rikishi who would not be corrupted by offers of money to play matches falsely. I — secretly at the time — greatly admired him for that.” Looking at the hair ornament, Yoshino complimented, “That is beautiful.”
Mira grinned. “Thank you… Kotimma sends it. In hopes I’ll net a lover no doubt!” She laughed at the sheer idea. “Then, of course, the rest send all this food. They must think I’m starving to death! So, you follow Munenorimaru as an admirer of the sport? Or of him?” She winked.
Yoshino blushed. “Perhaps both, a little.”
“That’s wonderful!” The doctor refilled both glasses. “Valtoo! To admiration!”
“To kindness and gratitude.” Yoshino sipped her brevari.
Mira unwrapped the last package that, instead of more food, turned out to be a holo-cube full of recent images of the family and a small stack of miniature paintings. “Ah HAH! The Family!” The Centauri grinned and shared the images along with embarrassingly funny stories about each of her family members.
Yoshino listened, feeling for a little while the loss of her birth-family, then of the clan. She reminded herself that some of this happiness was thanks to her, and finally allowed herself to laugh at the tales.
As she did, she realized she’d been given a new family in the Anla’shok, and now it appeared that Mira’s family was going to adopt her as well. It was enough.
(c) Copyright 1999 Jamie Lawson and Mona Hinds. All rights reserved.