Characters: Peter Riordan, Dr. Kim Matsumoto
Roads go ever ever on Under cloud and under star, Yet feet that wandering have gone Turn at last to home afar, Eyes that fire and sword have seen And horror in the halls of stone Look at last on meadows green And trees and hills they long have known. – J.R.R. Tolkien, The Road Cycle
It was well past sunset in the United Kingdom when Kim set the Minbari shuttle down. The novelty of her appearance brought a few curious questions from air traffic control, but fortunately on the ground there were few about interested in pursuing the oddity. Even in giddy wake of war, business came first.
“Where can I take you?”
“No, you’ve done enough–”
Kim cut off his protest with a sharp snap of her hand. “I certainly wouldn’t feel like it if I just left you here. Where to?”
He sighed at her stubbornness, but wasn’t really annoyed. “Not too far from here, in the suburbs. I ought to check in with Mum first.” He grinned sheepishly at the admission.
“You’d never live it down if you didn’t,” she added with amusement. “Okay, I’m sure we can catch an autocab.”
The flight had allowed him time to stiffen up, so he was moving slow to get out. All the same, moving reasonably well for his condition. Kim locked down the shuttle and led the way out. With her credit chit she appropriated an autocab beyond the gates.
Peter called out an address as he sat down. Kim watched curiously out the windows as the cab drove through first a light industrial area, then passed into a pleasant neighborhood of tidy little homes. The cab stopped in the heart, and Peter climbed out with renewed vigor. Almost as an afterthought he leaned back in again. “Thank you, Kim.”
She glanced at the house they’d stopped in front of. No lights shone out from the windows. “Welcome. I’ll wait.”
“You don’t have to.” But he left it at that and limped up the drive. Even thought it was letting in the winter air, Kim sat back with a clear view out the still-open door. Spain had made her body forget the season and she hugged her uniform around her.
She wasn’t terribly surprised when his returned a few minutes later, shoulders slumped a little.
“Home, I suppose,” he asked quietly, closing the door behind him.
“Maybe just out for the evening?”
“Maybe.” But it was clear from his tone he didn’t really believe that. He gave another address. Kim was quiet for this trip, the run shorter than the last. Peter looked down the street, anticipating being home.
The autocab stopped at it’s programmed destination.
He didn’t see the vacant lot.
Peter blinked, dumbly, not registering it at first, then he screamed raggedly. Automatic, Kim’s hand went to his shoulder to hold him back. “Abby!” he cried — at least, that’s what Kim thought he said. He slumped down until his head rested on his knees, and sobbed.
Kim looked past him at the empty lot, a home reduced to so much rubble no one had bothered to clear. She squeezed his shoulder, presenting nothing but support, while inside she raged. Wasn’t prison enough?
“She can’t be dead. She can’t be,” he was repeating to himself.
“Then we’ll find her. Who is she? Does she have any friends around she’d go to?”
He shook his head. “I don’t know. I’ve been gone so long….”
“Come on, you’re tired. Let’s get you into a hotel and it can all be fixed in the morning.”
“What if it can’t be?”
She tried to keep her voice level, but his anguish hurt. “Then we deal with it then.” She quietly ordered the cab back to the airport.
Huddled in his seat, he seemed smaller. After all he’d gone through, this came the closest to breaking him. Kim didn’t know what to do but hold on.
“She’s been my life, since her mother died.”
“I’m sorry.” It was hardly the best, but it was the only thing she could think to say.
“You’d only have to apologize if you were Clark.”
She almost didn’t notice when they were finally back to the airport. When she did, she redirected the cab to the front step of one of the nearest hotel. Peter swallowed a few times, trying to collect himself. Kim got out first to help him. She was nearly ready to break down herself, especially when he accepted the help. The strength that had carried him through prison was gone. She put one arm around his waist to support him, leaving the other free to push the front door open when they got there.
The desk clerk looked up as they entered, then grimaced. He wasn’t uncaring, but he’d seen far too many with the same expression recently. His name tag read “Hallowell”.
“A room, please.” She hoped her voice wasn’t too sharp.
The clerk nodded, started typing into the computer. “Anything for the Rangers,” he said, offering an honest sentiment, but Kim was too distracted to be surprised by the growing recognition. Hallowell reached down a particular keycard, but was looking at Peter. Under the apparent circumstances, he made no assumptions on their relationship. Instead, he asked quietly, “Who?”
Peter stirred a little. “M’ daughter,” he answered thickly, even as Kim gave the clerk a “not now” look, worried he’d just make things worse.
Hallowell gestured, trying to reassure. “If I could have a name, I have … friends who might could find her.” His voice was gentle.
Kim gave him a long look, opening her barriers a crack. She trusted herself to be in the right for this invasion. He was mostly open, the only hidden places seeming to be protecting someone or several someones, rather than any ill intent.
Peter was silent a while, as if he hadn’t heard. Eventually: “Abby. Abigail Riordan.”
Blinking, Kim fuzzily wondered if she ought to be remembering something, but was too tired to see what.
Hallowell was scrawling the name down, with his best guess on the spelling. “I’ll do my best.”
“And the room?” Kim was feeling the strain of support Peter’s slack weight.
The clerk was already handing her the keycard. “Room 11, this floor.” He pointed over her shoulder, down one hall.
She accepted it with a brief nod. “Come on, Peter. Time to rest,” she coaxed. He allowed her to lead, trying his best not to lean on her, but he had nothing left. Neither noticed the desk clerk watching them until they turned the corner.
Door closing behind them with quiet finality, Kim managed to get Peter into one of the room’s beds. She eased him down, and nearly toppled over herself in leaning down to get his legs. Why’re you doing this to yourself? she thought, holding still until the lightheadedness passed.
“You care,” he mumbled, as if he’d heard.
She blinked, looked down at him. “Someone’s got to.” She straightened, stepped back. Finding the chair, she collapsed into it.
Peter started to curl onto his side, but passed out partway over. Kim sighed, not sure what was keeping her going. She tried to find her balance again. I sure hope we can find — She stopped suddenly, still. Riordan. Peter Riordan. Oh, hell… The name she’d heard some days before from Billy, a hesitantly offered wish list of people he hoped to reach on Earth, jumped sharply out of memory.
That fueled her consciousness all of a few useless minutes. She’d done all she could as it stood. Her head bowed, exhausted. She wasn’t sure if she fell into a real trance or just flat passed out.
A quiet sound disturbed the peace in the dark room. The door handle jiggled. Sitting up in the chair, Kim’s sleep lightened – the sounds weren’t right, and past years had trained her to react.
Well-oiled, the door swung open, nearly silent. Someone stepped in and closed it behind them.
The last click did it. Kim woke with a start and was on her feet in a moment. A metallic hiss followed. A tall, lanky girl had been looking at Peter but with the movement, her eyes flicked to the Ranger, and she crouched a little, ready to defend herself, but tears were in her eyes.
“Who,” Kim demanded, her voice rough from the weight of sleep.
“Abby,” was the soft answer.
Kim considered her a long moment, then her thumb moved on the pike and it snapped back into the small cylinder. The girl looked at Peter again. “Is he…?”
“He needs rest, and really some time at a hospital, but he’ll recover.” Her aggravation was quickly lost, under the circumstances.
“There’d been no word. I was afraid….” Her throat closed, and she couldn’t finish.
She was younger than Kim first estimated, calling up a sad smile. She hadn’t been much older when another war thrust her down different paths. “Wake him, then. I think he’d sleep better for knowing you are alive, and safe.”
Abby looked at him again. “I can’t,” she whispered finally. She moved to sit on the floor beside his bed.
Kim sighed, eased back down in the chair. In contrast to Abby, she felt twice her age.
“I don’t know who you are, but thank you.”
“Welcome.” Kim probably should leave them alone, but she was torn which way to go. There was still Billy’s errand, sad as much of the news would be both ways.
Abby leaned her head on the mattress, not quite touching him. “I’ve been with the local cell, so anything I can do…. I have Dad back.” She gave Kim a watery smile with the simple explanation.
Kim glanced at the side table, saw a courtesy pad and pen there. She reached and took them into her lap to scrawl a note, then handed it over. “I think everything’s done, but this could you give this to him when he wakes up? You’ve both got family beyond Earth that’s looking for you.”
She took it, but didn’t read it. “I’ll do it.” Then she remembered something, from the previous life, before the war. “It wouldn’t be Cousin Billy, now would it?”
Kim was standing, intending to leave, and nodded. “That’s the one. You’ve known of him?”
“For a while. Dad found his sister first, but…” She didn’t finish the thought.
And didn’t have to. “Good reason,” Kim muttered under her breath.
For the first time, a grin flashed. “Exactly. Put Dad off a but, but he’d just decided to try again when…. Dammit, what did they do to him?” Her voice rose sharply, teetering. Peter stirred a little, then stilled again.
“Attacked his body…but not his mind,” Kim tried to reassure. “He was as stubborn as you’ve known, I imagine.”
“He’s the gentlest man I know. I can’t bear… Don’t give me the names of who did this,” Abby warned.
“I think you’d have to wait in line if any sane person knew who,” she pointed out. “Anyway, I’ll leave you two be then.”
“At least, can I have your name?”
Kim gave a small laugh at her own oversight. “Kim Matsumoto.”
“Thank you, Kim Matsumoto,” Abby repeated formally. “I won’t forget.”
With a slight bow, Kim turned to leave.
When she thought she wasn’t seen, Abby turned her head, let out the sob she’d been holding in. One last glance backwards, then Kim closed the door for their privacy. It was a slow walk down the hall to the front desk.
Hallowell was still on duty. He glanced up and actually smiled. “Your own room, Ranger?”
“Regrettably, no, but I’m paying the room tab.” She held out her credit chit, itching to be gone. She wouldn’t say, but she didn’t feel safe alone on Earth. The very real specter of Psicorp loomed a little larger in her exhaustion and isolation.
Instead of taking it, Hallowell tucked his hands behind his back, refusing. Kim lifted her eyebrows at him, confused.
“No charge to a Ranger. Or one of our own returned.”
With a faint smile, she gave in, giving a small salute with the chit.
“Call you a cab? Or escort you somewhere? There are still loyalists about.” He grimaced at too fresh a memory.
Kim glanced back. “I’m just heading out to the airfield. They’d be surprised if they tried. Thank you, though.”
He nodded — he’d suspected as much. “Godspeed, then.”
(C) 1999 Alida Saxon and Leslie McBride. All rights reserved.