Characters: Klevetati Yoshino, Dr. Kim Matsumoto

Yoshino entered the docking bay with a long stride, grateful for the opportunity to stretch her legs. She stopped in front of the Abbai transport called Mirrormere. Several Minbari and human techs were working over the surface of the old ship. After two hours aboard, they were still assessing the repairs that would be needed to make her spaceworthy again. An inarticulate murmur of amazement escaped Yoshino’s lips. The fact that the little ship had made it to space at all was nothing short of miraculous.

Her curiosity was growing steadily as she examined the ship further. It had been built well and carefully, that much she could tell, although she guessed that the original construction was over a hundred years old. What could have driven the people aboard to try and fly it now?

Her pondering was broken by a familiar voice, lifting in surprise. “That flew in here?”

Chuckling softly, Yoshino turned to regard her friend with eyes dark-rimmed from fatigue but bright with amusement. “Not exactly. It would have collided with us had we not caught it in the plasma nets and towed it in.”

Kim Matsumoto stepped closer, accepting the invitation to converse. She’d been tied up at the other bay for several hours overseeing aid shipments down to the planet. A lull in the effort had finally given her an opportunity to investigate the ship that was drawing so much attention.

“This is from planetside, right? How it escaped the gravity well is amazing it itself… I wonder what was so important a communication wouldn’t do.”

“I’ve begun to wonder that myself,” Yoshino said with a nod. “I had the crew sent straight to Medlab, but Doctor Trassano should be done with them by now.”

Kim echoed the nod. “Just how are we keeping up with it all? I haven’t been up to the bridge for a while.”

“I think we’re holding our own. I’ve only just gotten away from the bridge myself. Would you care to come with me to Medlab and pick up our guests? Or do you have another assignment already?”

“I was just going to offer a little of my time. The latest batch of supplies for my teams just went down.”

“Good, I’d be very grateful for it. I’m still not much of a diplomat.”

Kim offered her friend a lopsided grin. “I don’t recall being able to declare myself one either. But I will do what I can. I admit, I’m at least curious.”

They collected the Mirrormere’s crew — one male and one female Abbai — from Doctor Trassano, and opted for Kim’s office as the closest place to talk to them. Soon, the pair were sitting in chairs placed near Kim’s desk. Their large eyes showed anxiety but not fear, and to Yoshino, the young male appeared almost defiant as he clutched a large portfolio to his chest.

The female took the lead in speaking. “My name is Merisschaal, and this is my cousin Sephrin. Thank you again for rescuing us.”

Kim glanced at Yoshino, then sat down following them. “Of course.”

Yoshino opted to remain standing. “We have been wondering, though, why you felt it necessary to come personally — especially in a ship as … old … as the one you have. You must have known it was dangerous.”

“Yes,” replied Merisschaal, lifting her peach-colored hands out of her lap and gesturing gently as she spoke. “But there have been so many of our people calling for your help, and our problem is, by comparison, so insignificant –”

“It’s important to us!” Sephrin shouted.

Kim’s eyebrows rose slightly at the outburst. “Though we haven’t the ability to answer them all immediately, we haven’t refused any calls for assistance,” she said calmly.

“My friend is quite right,” Yoshino added. “What has happened? Tell us and we will try to help you.”

Merisschaal answered, but not before throwing a glare at her cousin. He glared back, uncowed. “We come from a small village, somewhat remote even from the rest of our people. We have what we need, and that is enough, but nothing you might call luxuries. Our most special time of the year — our spring festival — is coming soon.”

Sephrin interrupted again, not as loud but just as forcefully. “And the Tributes of Honor have been stolen!”

Kim reached over and plucked up a small artifact from the table, concentrating on it to keep her barriers up. The storm of Sephrin’s emotions threatened to wear holes in her control. “Who would want to do this to you?”

“We do not know,” Merisschaal said. “There have been a number of offworlders who have come to visit us. Most were friendly enough. We believe we know who took the Tributes, but we have no way of locating them. Especially if they have already left the planet.”

Kim reserved comment on that and asked, “Who, then?”

“These,” said Sephrin, pulling a sheet of paper from the portfolio and spreading it out on the desk. A pair of Llort looked up from the page, rendered in charcoal with photographic accuracy.

“These were the last of the offworlders to visit us, and the shrine, three days ago,” Merisschaal said. “When the shaman went back in, the Tributes had gone.”

Yoshino turned to Sephrin. “That’s an incredible likeness. You drew it?”

Kim set the artifact she’d been holding down on her desk, out of the way of the drawing, and sat forward to view it more closely as Sephrin answered. “Yes. I am an artist, like my fathers before me. It was my great-grandfather who sculpted the newest of the Tributes.”

“The Tributes are all statues then,” Kim said.

Again, it was Merisschaal who answered. “Yes. Representations of the world around us, that gives us life. Some of them have been used in the ceremonies for over a thousand years.”

Yoshino picked up the drawing. “If I may make a copy of this?” Getting a nod from the Abbai, she took the sheet to a terminal on a nearby desk. “With this to work from, we may be able to locate them.”

“I also have pictures of the Tributes themselves,” Sephrin said, pulling out another sheet and spreading it out on the desk. The drawing depicted half a dozen sculptures, in varying materials, of various natural things — a tree, a waterfall, the moons, birds and animals. The scale of the drawing showed the statues to be about a third of a meter square.

Kim nodded, quiet for a few moments. “They are quite beautiful,” she said. It was the truth, and that alone presented a situation that wasn’t going to make the hunt any easier. More likely, worse.

“They are the heart of our village,” Merisschaal said. “To lose them is like losing our soul. Can you help us?”

Yoshino exchanged the drawing of the Llort for the one of the Tributes as she answered, “I believe we can. Certainly we will try.”

Kim asked, “When is your ceremony to take place?”

“In one week,” Merisschaal said.

“We are having your ship repaired so you may travel home safely,” Yoshino said as she returned the drawings to Sephrin. “You may return there now, if you wish to rest.” At a nod of agreement from the Abbai, she beckoned over one of Kim’s assistants for an escort, and bid them goodbye.

As she watched them leave, Yoshino said, “This will be an … interesting piece of detective work.”

“To put it delicately,” Kim said, folding her arms on her desk. “What is your opinion of it all?”


“Theories, speculation.” She smiled, turning to the screen to look at the scanned drawings of the missing Tributes. “Profit seems likely to me. They would be worth a fair bit.”

“Some of these things do look valuable, even just for the raw materials. Some people collect things of this nature, and don’t care where they come from. Or … it could just be spite. Random cruelty.”

“It is going around,” Kim acknowledged with a nod. “That may be. Stealing from the living is risky. If it had been about money, I would have expect them to clean out the ruins first, where the picking would be noticed too late, if ever.”

“Agreed. But for all we know, that may have already been done. Profit could still be a motive.” Yoshino grimaced, wondering how many other Abbai might share this village’s plight.

Kim sighed. Between them they hadn’t been able to eliminate any of the motives with debate. It would be best then to focus on what she knew. “To cover the possibility of them being sold, there are a few markets we can get watched, should any turn up for sale. Focus on the closest and work out from there. In a way I hope they don’t. Every day in a market makes it more likely that a set will be broken up. You buy what you can afford, and I don’t think many could afford all of them together.”

“It sounds as if you’ve had to do something like this before.”

Kim offered a small shrug. She reached into her desk, picking a data crystal from the rack inside. “The focus was usually toward technology over art, but Interplanetary Expeditions wasn’t above combing the markets for what had been dug up illegally. The methods of finding what you want aren’t particularly different from either side of the fence.”

Yoshino nodded. She couldn’t help but be curious about this new information about her friend’s background, but realized learning more would have to wait for another, more quiet time. “Perhaps you could contact some of these markets, while I circulate this picture of our suspects to the Abbai authorities? We may have better luck covering this from two directions at once.”

“It sounds like a plan. I’ll get right on it.”

“Thank you.” Yoshino levered herself upright from where she’d been leaning against Kim’s desk, and moved toward the door. “If you will forgive me, I believe I’ll send this message from my quarters … and try to get a little sleep while waiting for replies.” She smiled, a bit sheepishly, and bowed deeply.

Kim smiled, standing to offer a bow of her own. “That also sounds like a good plan. You look like you need it.”

“Perhaps so. And best to take it while I can … but please don’t hesitate to call me if you find anything.”

“I promise.”

© 2000 Jamie Lawson and Alida Saxon. All rights reserved.

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