Characters: Dr. Kim Matsumoto, Klevetati Yoshino
Before the last piece of stone had rattled to a stop on the floor, the science lab doors opened and Kim stalked out. She wasn’t even sure where she was going, but pent rage demanded she do something… anything.
Kim started at the sudden appearance of Yoshino in her path, and they both twisted to avoid a collision. It was enough to shake Kim out of her headlong charge, but not her retreat. After a quick glance Kim mumbled an apology and moved to escape.
“Kim….wait a minute.”
Kim stopped reluctantly, a half-glance over her shoulder.
Yoshino reached up and stroked the spiked fur of Kuri, her white-and-chestnut bobtailed cat. Far more than Yoshino, Kuri had been shaken by the noise, and perched tensely on her keeper’s shoulder.
“May I ask you a question — or perhaps two?” Yoshino asked.
Kim looked forward a moment, deciding with her back to Yoshino, then turned to face her. She couldn’t stalk off on a friend. Not trusting her voice, she simply nodded.
“What was that noise from the lab, just a moment ago?”
So she hadn’t been entirely alone. Kim found the calm words to speak, but a tenseness hummed beneath the surface.
“Just a rock. A geological survey sample.”
Yoshino eyed her friend, weighing just how far to push. She had seen Kim upset before, but not this tension that threatened rage. “A rather … obstreperous sample, from the sound of your shout. Do I have you to thank then, for the new holes in my robe?” She lifted Kuri clear of her shoulder, putting the cat down gently. “Kuri made it to a safe perch in record time.” There was the faintest of smiles, belying any accusation.
Kim’s expression twitched between aggravation and an edgy amusement. Rather than offer an explanation, she shrugged.
Yoshino continued her quiet assessment. “This does bring me to my second question… where are you going in such a hurry?”
“I….” Kim sighed and turned away, beginning to walk. But it wasn’t the charging of moments earlier. “I’ve no bloody idea,” she muttered.
Yoshino fell in step alongside, as Kuri wandered just ahead, sniffing at Kim’s feet. It was enough to keep the science officer’s pace in check, just to keep from tripping.
“Then…..may I come with you?” Yoshino asked.
“If you like.” Kim’s voice lacked enthusiasm, but fell short of hostility at least.
“I think I would….yes.” Yoshino paused, choosing her words. “Kim, I am your friend, just as much as you are mine.”
Kim sighed, looking tired as she stepped into the opening lift. Inside she turned to look at Yoshino. “I know. It’s just….” Her eyes rolled toward the ceiling. “I’d rather hit something that chat right now. That’s not good company.”
Yoshino shrugged. “I am long overdue for a sparring session myself…. I haven’t found a partner since I came aboard.” She paused, watching Kim. “And if I was worried about what kind of company you were, I would have no right to claim I was your friend, now would I?”
Kim snorted softly. “Sometimes I really detest logic.” And yet there was a hint of a dry smile.
“I thought you might say so.”
With an order, the lift rose to deck three. Yoshino picked up Kuri and carried her out when the lift stopped and opened. A sullen shadow, Kim followed.
“I suppose we’ll have to make a slight change of clothes…hmm,” Yoshino considered as she entered the gym. It earned a questioning glance from Kim as they both veered toward the dressing room.
“I … may be letting you in for a bit of a surprise,” Yoshino explained over her shoulder.
“Yoshino, we’re in what used to be Vorlon space, with disappearing ships — or without, I should say correctly. I don’t know how much more strange things can get,” Kim said dryly.
Yoshino laughed softly to herself as she stripped off her outer robe, then pulled the black shirt over her head. “At least this bit of strangeness won’t do anyone any harm.”
For a moment Kim’s sight was blanked by her own clothes, but her eyes widened the moment she glanced over at the other Ranger.
Yoshino was wearing now only a close-fitting halter top and shorts, revealing almost all of her exposed skin to be covered with a massive tapestry of tattoos, in all the brilliant colors achievable of the art. Kim shook her head in amazement.
“No harm, that is, unless I strike you permanently speechless,” Yoshino said with some amusement.
“Where did you–?” Kim began, then with one last shake of her head, she discarded the question. She draped the last of her outer uniform over the bench, wearing a simple, grey tank top and loose pants. She nudged her shoes under the bench.
“You may want to hang that up, unless you want Kuri to … decorate it for you,” Yoshino said, hanging up her own clothes in example. From a pocket she drew out a band and quickly set to braiding back her pale hair.
Kim looked down at the cat, with a ‘you could make a nice pair of earmuffs’ look, but gave in and did as she was recommended.
Yoshino spoke to fill the silence that had fallen. “My first… real friend was a tattoo artist. When he met me, he saw something of value in my skin. The first person who ever really had.” She tossed her finished braid over her shoulder and looked at Kim. “He was my friend, and I was his canvas. I considered it at least an equal exchange.”
“It’s exquisite work,” Kim said. “Do you still know him?”
“I … lost touch when I left Earth. Perhaps, if I can ever go back….” Yoshino’s voice trailed off.
“Maybe. The fight has finally begun.” Kim suddenly shrugged an stepped toward the doors and out to the sparring area.
Yoshino followed. “I only hope we finish our work here in time to be there at the end of it.”
“You and I both.”
Kim stepped out onto the mats, her movements falling into the old practice. Slowly muscles began to warm, limbering up. Across the mat, Yoshino did the same, easing out a tenseness that was so long there, it had been forgotten.
“I will follow your lead, since I don’t know your art or style,” she said.
“I was never trained to one alone… only the most useful,” Kim’s mouth twitched, perhaps both at the words and the past. “When you have to fend for yourself, it’s utility over art.”
“That sounds like as good a place as any to begin,” Yoshino said with meaning, but Kim still refused to be drawn into talk.
Kim straightened and fell into place at the center of the mat. The last time she’d had a partner… She pushed the memory away.
Yoshino took a place opposite. “Ready whenever you are.”
It began with a formal bow, and then they began to move, a play of feints and cautious estimation.
Yoshino made the first serious strike, lashing out quickly in hopes of prevoking a counter. Kim did, and responded with a strike of her own. Yoshino dodged, but not quite fast enough. Kim had pulled the strike a little, but Yoshino’s shoulder still stung.
“Who needs telepaths?” Yoshino muttered to herself in Japanese. She’d been right; her friend was very angry. Time to see how much further she could be provoked. She threw a wild kick at Kim’s shoulder. Kim twisted out of the way, teeth flashing in a sharp grin, and they circled each other again.
Yoshino waited longer this time, looking for an opening, then made another rush.
Momentum was a powerful thing, but quickly turned on the user with the right counter. Yoshino was warned too late by Kim’s smile as the Doctor suddenly shifted techniques. Kim dropped and struck low. It caught Yoshino off guard and she was taken to the mat, hard.
Kim rolled up and clear, watching to see Yoshino if was all right. Yoshino didn’t pause to catch her breath, but rolled forward and went for a leg sweep to take Kim’s feet out from under. In an instant they were both on the mat, gasping harshly to find lost breath.
Round one; a draw.
Yoshino was up on her feet again a moment before Kim, but that edge slowly slipped away as they engaged again. Swords in hand, Yoshino was a force to be reckoned with, but her fighting skill felt short of Kim’s at weaponless combat.
And Kim knew it. Her attacks became more aggressive, and yet she didn’t move in to the “kill”. She seemed content for just a target, lashing out with pent up frustration and an old rage. Slowly, she’d wear herself down, as she did so often alone, at the practice dummy.
Yoshino did her best to counter, but couldn’t find an opening to end the contest. She was soon forced to resort to simple dodging, absorbing the stinging blows when that failed. But she wouldn’t give in; she could ignore most of the pain and endure the rest, and she wanted Kim to exhaust herself.
Finally she misjudged a dodge, taking a blow square on the nose. She felt a quick rush of warmth down her nostrils, and cried, “Enough!” She turned away quickly, so Kim couldn’t see.
But Kim could sense well enough. Her eyes closed briefly and she paced away in a small circle, angry at herself.
Yoshino turned back, tilting her head back and pinching her nose closed with one hand. Her voice was slightly distorted as she spoke. “Don’t start it all over again, Kim. I have a very high pain threshold, but not that high….” She forced out a laugh.
Kim dragged a hand over damp hair. “Sorry,” she said and sighed.
“I knew you were angry about something, so I made a decision. Ready to talk now?” Yoshino experimentally loosened the pinch on her nose, then clamped it down again. Wryly, to herself, she said, “Though I might have misjudged my stamina a bit….”
Kim stood silent a moment, then started toward the locker room. “Why don’t we deal with that first.” As her voice dropped, so did the language shift, to one Yoshino could only guess was alien to humans.
Yoshino didn’t ask, following. “Yes…. I hope I don’t end up having to deal with Doctor Trassano over this… she’d never forgive me.”
Kim snorted. “Forgive you? What about me?” Inside, she pulled open one of the cabinets for the emergency kit.
Yoshino sat, tilting head back again. “She’d tell me I was a fool for going on after I was already tired. And she’d be right.”
Kim’s argument died wearily and she focused on finding the anti-inflammatories. “The cold pack should do the trick. I don’t think there’s any serious damage,” Yoshino said, stroking Kuri with her free hand. The cat twitched warily with every clattering sound. “I’m all right, little one,” Yoshino murmured.
Kim found what Yoshino needed, then retreated to sit on the opposite bench. Stretching her long legs out into the aisle, she leaned against the wall with eyes closed. Her attention wasn’t drawn back until she felt paws on her thigh.
Kim looked down at the cat, and absently reached to caress its sleek fur. “I haven’t anything,” she murmured, but Kuri just headbumped Kim’s hand, purring loudly.
“She’s just happy to be out of our quarters,” Yoshino said. “She gets bored, and when she is bored, she is dangerous. I’ve only been able to do the most basic… damage control.” Yoshino considered her chances a moment then said, “But it should be sufficient if you’d like to go back to my quarters to talk.”
“Persistent.” There was no telling if Kim was talking to the cat or Yoshino. “I suppose so.”
Yoshino loosened the pinch on her nose, but kept the coldpack in place. “I found one additional….inducement. Something I got on Babylon 5, and had forgotten about.”
Kim shifted to rise, nudging Kuri clear. “Oh?”
Yoshino’s voice fell to conspiratorial levels. “A liter of plum wine.”
Kim shook her head. “I’ve not had that in…” Her voice trailed off then came back sharp, “a long time.” She turned away to get her clothes.
To the cat Yoshino murmured, “Come on, Kuri, let her be for a minute.” Louder, she asked Kim, “Something to do with Japan… that is one of the things that makes you angry, isn’t it?”
“With people. The dead…”
The sentence finished only in Kim’s mind, but Yoshino could see the anger. She waited for Kim to voice it, and when she didn’t Yoshino stood and looked Kim in the eyes. “Tell me.”
Kim’s jaw clenched. “The wrong people die.”
Not always. But I can tell her about that later, Yoshino thought. Aloud, she asked gently, “What happened?”
“What keeps happening, down through the years. But always I wait. Bide my time… it’s not a life!”
“No….no, it isn’t,” Yoshino agreed, uncertain as to exactly what Kim was talking about. Nothing for it but to keep drawing her out. “Are you ready to become new, then?”
“New?” Kim tugged on the last of her clothes with jerky movements. “My time here has just a succession of blows with nothing accomplished but keeping my feet. What is there to gain?”
“I thought about it while crawling around in the belly of the White Star 24. That I needed to become new. Throw away my old mood and start everything afresh, and thus find a way to win. It isn’t my idea. Look.” Yoshino turned her back and displayed the tapestry thereon, pointing to the samurai figure. “Musashi said it.”
Kim scrubbed her hand over her face. “And how?”
Yoshino smiled wearily as she began to dress. “I think you’ve already started. You’ve allowed yourself to feel all the anger over it. Now, come tell me about it so you don’t have to carry the weight of it any more. Or at least, not all alone.”
Copyright (c) 1998 Jamie Lawson and Alida Saxon. All rights reserved.