Characters: Tomás Darquin
As Tomas Darquin walked down the street to the local Earthforce recruitment office, he heard the occasional insult laughed out at him from buildings as he passed. Something about a Minbari clown on parade. Darquin ran his fingers through his dark hair to make sure he was presentable, to appease his nerves, walking onward.
A few days ago, Kim had told everyone at her aunt and uncle’s place that she was going to spend her last week’s worth of shore leave at Babylon 5. Darquin thought it made sense at the time. Billy Nichols was still there, he and Kim hit it off really well, and they hadn’t seen each other in months. But when Darquin offered to join her on the shuttle before he had to connect with White Star 23, she begged off quickly but nicely. Something about her reaction felt a little off, but he’d chosen to write it off as part of Kim’s coming out of her shell. After all, she was entitled.
He’d warmly thanked her aunt and uncle for their hospitality and went on his own way, intent on running a few final errands before he left Earth. Yoshino had left a message for him, asking him to get some sticks of incense for her. And he wanted to do a few things for himself. He loaded all his things, gifts, and souvenirs into his shoulder pack and went off to the nearest Earthforce recruiter to take care of the one errand he’d been dreading for some time.
He could’ve put on some regular street clothes. With his Anla’shok training, he could’ve passed completely unseen till he reached the Earthforce building. He had nothing to hide, he decided. He was proud to be a Ranger. He walked onward, through the seas of sunlight and shadow cast by the city.
Once he made it past the gauntlet of negative karma and self-doubt, entering the two-level Earthforce recruitment office, he heard an audible collective gasp throughout the lobby. Every eye was on him, brief, driven by forbidden curiosity.
Darquin sighed, wondering quietly whether he’d turned into a Vorlon overnight, and approached a desk manned by an Earthforce PR rep.
“Ah….” The Earthforce rep, a curly blond woman in a well-pressed suit and a shiny new Earthforce pin at her collar, did her level best to maintain a bubbly, unphased game face, probably mastered in high school cheerleader tryouts. “I’m Stefi LeTourneau, Public Relations and Recruitment, Earthforce. Can I help you?”
“I hope so.” Lacking his usual rebellious cheerfulness, his stomach full of batwings, he offered warm, unimposing cordiality. “Can you, uh, update someone’s military record from here?”
Stefi LeTourneau looked past his shoulder at one of her co-workers, clearly looking for a hint as to what to do, then gave Darquin a blushing smile. “Sure, is it for a relative?”
“No, just me. Tomas Darquin, Lieutenant, Earthforce. Serial number VLB7-329-61225–” It was his turn to blush. If there had been any question whether he’d ever been in Earthforce, his mental dip into his old training had put it to bed.
She smirked and punched in the data into her desk terminal. “Last assigned to… fighter pilot on Babylon 5?”
Darquin frowned in mock dismay. “Oh c’mon, it can’t be that hard to imagine.”
She glared at him and forged ahead. She was through playing nice. “It says here you were absent without leave, charged with treason, then pardoned by Presidential Decree.” She rattled it out in a voice worthy of an executioner.
Darquin nodded in agreement, then threw a shrug and a whimsical what-the-hell grimace at the room in the general. After all, who was he kidding?
“Do you wish to reactivate your commission.”
“No, ma’am, I want to formally resign from Earthforce.” He grinned as he looked down at the Isil’zha pin on the lapel of his Anla’shok duster. “I, uh, got a job someplace else. Is this gonna cost anything?”
The Earthforce recruitment staff did their best to clear his resignation right away — with an alacrity that Darquin hadn’t seen in the bureaucratic branch since the Earth-Minbari war. Darquin had no doubt that they wanted to him gone ASAP. His resignation ruined all hope of an Earthforce holo-vid opportunity. The thought made him grin; he’d have been amazed if news of his appearance there would make it past the lobby.
But he made no trouble. He accepted his updated record on data crystal and a hardcopy, and went on his way.
Thinking he was in the clear, he walked out into the warmth of a noonday sun when he saw a knot of people — sweaty construction workers with soiled cotton shirts, hardhats, and heavy wrenches — forming on the other end of the street. Darquin pursed his lips, annoyed, a cold trickle of sweat behind his ear. He could see where this was going even if he’d been 10 klicks out. But he wasn’t about to take the long way back to the trolley terminal. Or give them the satisfaction. He took a leisurely turn past the gathering passersby stepping out onto the pavement to watch.
Once he was parallel with the construction workers on the other side of the street, they moved with him. Bystanders stayed put. Darquin pretended not to notice, strolling onward, whistling “Me And My Shadow” with apparently casual ease, to see if anyone got the hint. If they wanted a fight, he wanted them to earn it.
And that, they did. They got tired of being led around by the nose and marched into his path, blocking his way as someone was telling them to stop, to go back and finish the job, and leave the guy alone.
Darquin simply held his ground. “You guys need something?”
“Yeah. A good look at what a traitor looks like.”
“The library’s that way,” Darquin said, nodding toward it. “With a little research, I bet you can find the names and faces of the pro-Clark people who fired on civilian targets and murdered defenseless people.” He gave them a moment to burn, then cut them off. “That was easy, glad to help, bye bye–”
A ruddy-faced man stepped into Darquin’s personal space, patting his calloused hand with a wrench big enough to pass for a hammer. “What would you people want with Earthforce anyway?”
“Me? Just went in to resign from Earthforce. Nothing special.”
Redface and a few of his cohorts nodded slowly, greasy faces bobbing like overworked pistons, in an effort to look sagacious. “Can’t serve two masters, huh?” Redface muttered. “Got that right, anyway.”
“Unlike you, I serve everyone,” Darquin said darkly.
“I’m a vegetarian.” That got a round of laughter from many people, some of the construction workers, a few of the business folk a few meters away.
“Must wear on your conscience, eating your relatives like that.”
From the glassy stare in Redface’s eyes, Darquin could tell that the man’s fuse had just run out. As if letting someone pass, Darquin immediately sidestepped out of the arc of Redface’s wrench as it swooped into the space where the Ranger had been. Redface had thrown himself into the blow. Darquin grabbed the guy’s meaty wrists with both hands and yanked. Redface found himself dragging through space behind his wrench and landing on his knees. He quickly recovered and swung at Darquin’s legs, once, twice, again and again, growling with rage more each time.
Darquin started chanting, half-singing with each hop. “I’m a pretty little Dutch girl, as pretty as can be, all the boys in the neighborhood, are crazy over me!” Spectators further down the street were bubbling with muted, self-conscious laughter. Redface and his sympathizers simply watched, dumbfounded. His face was truly red now, blushing, his thunder stolen by a master thief.
Darquin landed for good and made a quick glance over the crowd. No more tension there. Nobody, not even Redface, was moving. Darquin was free to go, so off he went. He had an appointment to board the next shuttle to White Star 23, and had every intention to have a hot dog with the works before he hit space. It was going to be a long time before he’d see another.
Earthforce or Anla’shok, some things never changed.
Phoenix–“(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding” (C) 1999 Joe Medina
Babylon 5 ™ and (C) 1998 Warner Bros.