Characters: Tomás Darquin, Mira Trassano
Imperial City, Centauri Prime
October 5, 2262 (Earth calendar)
Darkness fell on Centauri Prime’s broken capital city. And hiding deep within a cavern of rubble, while a human and a Centauri child kept vigil, Dib Arscampana stirred.
The human wore Centauri grit and grime over his Earth casual attire, a leather jacket over t-shirt and denim jeans. Beside him lay a battered, sturdy guitar case. His name was Darquin. And like his friend Mira, he didn’t look like a Ranger at all.
Mira had returned just in time, good as her word. For all of her expert skullduggery in the Centauri ruins, she felt more confident in handling patients.
“It’s been a long and tiring day, good sir,” Mira told him, giving his shoulder a pat. “Let us carry you to bed, eh?” She threw a pleading glance at Gaz, his daughter.
Gaz nodded. “Father, time for bed. Come on.”
Her father mumbled agreeably, his limbs and eyes languid, his head wheeling from a concussion. Mira waved Darquin over, raising a finger to her lips. Shrugging off a frown, Darquin slung his guitar case over his back and slipped his hands under Arscampana’s shoulders. Gaz lifted his feet. Together they took her woozy father out of the ruins.
Once outside, amidst the uneven glow and ozone of bomb-blasted streetlamps, Mira led them through the dark streets and alleys. People carrying bodies in the dark was hardly unusual. Local toughs stood in shadows, watching, testing. They took off the moment they heard Mira charge up her gun.
But while Mira led Gaz and Darquin to the river, the stench pounced on them. Mira held a perfumed cloth over her mouth, then tied another over Gaz’s mouth when the girl started to gag. Darquin worked his chin, then his mouth and nose, under his shirt.
By the time they reached the banks of the river, even Gaz’s father woke up enough to complain about the smell. “Whuh…? Gas! They, they’ve come for me! Gazpari, my dear! Where are you?!”
Gaz shouted, muffled through the cloth over her mouth, “I’m right here!” Still carrying his feet, she gave them an angry shake.
Mira rushed back to them. “Please, Master Arscampana, you have been injured. Be calm and let us help you.”
Dib Arscampana raised his arms as if beseeching a sky full of Centauri gods, unwittingly slapping Darquin repeatedly with each melodramatic declaration. “Injured!” Arscampana cried. “Oh, to be wounded by such calamitous– Great Maker, that smell!”
Darquin shot Mira a look, murderous and pleading to hurry the hell up please.
Mira rushed to an upturned boat near the riverbank, relieved it was intact and right where she had left it. Flipping it over, she uncovered a pair of oars. Darquin and little Gaz shoved their fumbling charge into the boat. Gaz climbed in after her father. Mira went in after her. After handing the oars and his guitar case to Mira, Darquin pushed the boat onto the river of traveling filth and tumbled in with the others.
“Everyone, keep your head low.” Mira threw a large, heavy blanket over them. “There. Now we won’t be as noticeable. How is your father, Gaz?”
Instead of the girl, her father answered with a weary groan. “My head. That smell. Oh Great Maker, the gods… they test me.”
“No,” Gaz muttered, “testing me!”
Mira grinned in the dark. “And you, Darquin?”
“Well,” Darquin sighed, “people said I’d get here sooner or later.”
“Really? On Centauri Prime?”
He grimaced at the sloshing against the boat. “Ummmm, in a way.”
Mira needed a moment to get the reference. “Ah.” She peeked out from under her corner of the blanket and used an oar to push at something in the water. “Well… this will take most of the night. Thankfully, people don’t spend time gazing on the water anymore.”
“Unless they hate their eyes,” Gaz muttered. “Or nose.”
Darquin flattened himself over his guitar case. “Sleep might be the best use of our time. I can take the first watch, Mira.”
Mira nodded and wiggled away from the oar to give him room at the prow. “Give me a few hours and I’ll take the second half of the trip. You might need to give a push every now and then.” She gestured to the oar. “Just don’t look too hard at what you are pushing away.”
Darquin managed a snort and a smirk before he settled in, one hand at the oar.
Morning dawned blearily like a drunk. Uneven breaks in the clouds were smearing the early light into royal shades and dull greys.
Darquin woke, blinking hard. The Centauri father and daughter were still sleeping beside him in the boat. But the blanket cover was now on them, no longer held over them. Glancing over his shoulder, Darquin found Mira sitting upright, actually rowing the boat. The river was relatively clean now, with fewer things floating on the waters, mostly objects wrapped in cloth. Mira navigated easily, remembering long lazy summers spent on the waters of her childhood.
She glanced back to see Darquin awake, greeting him with a smile. “We are almost there. Around that bend should be the Crionza boathouse. Then we’ll need to hike about two kilometers to the groundskeeper’s house. You might need to scout ahead to make sure that it is actually abandoned. I’ll stay and guard the Arscampi until you return.”
He dug his modified music player out of his jeans, checking the locations against his map. “Got it. We’ll have to secure that boathouse first. Won’t take long. If we’re lucky, we got a head-start on them.”
“Yes, who knows — perhaps it is our turn to be lucky.”
Darquin only smirked. She’d seen the look before on the Phoenix, in the middle of a crisis, relishing some odd turn of events. This was certainly one.
Mira eased the boat around the bed, guiding it closer to the river bank as they approached the dock. Both of them stared intently at the boathouse. When the boat butted up against the dock, Darquin hopped out with the mooring rope. Then he was out of sight.
Mira secured the boat and waited for the signal from Darquin, watching Gaz and her father sleep. The boathouse would be safer, but she still felt bad about waking them. She prepared a tranquilizer, just in case. “Gaz, darling, it’s time to move. Help me with your father. We need to get him into that boathouse.”
The child grumbled back to consciousness. Her father barely stirred. Mira planted her fingertips on the man’s neck, feeling a pulse, then lifted one eyelid with her thumb. She smiled at his sleepy, grumbling attempts to slap her hands away.
“Good,” Mira said. “Considering the strains on his body and his age, your father is doing well.”
“My age?” Dib Arscampana fumbled with a loose oar. “Good woman, my age is an asset! Experience! Wisdom–”
Gaz clamped her hand over his mouth. “Fugitives now! Quiet?”
Mira was resisting a chuckle when she felt her comlink vibrate. “We have the all-clear. Come.”
She led Gaz and her father through the boathouse. On the other side, a concrete stairway took them up where the shoreline met grassland and a thin layer of ash, a constant companion even weeks after the fall of Centauri Prime.
Mira stopped when she saw Darquin’s footprints in the dusty grass, shocked despite herself. His stealth had seemed preternatural until then. And he wouldn’t have been reckless enough to leave them behind — unless he wanted to be followed.
Mira motioned for her charges to stay put just inside the rear doorway while she took the opportunity to destroy all traces of their passage from the river. She hid the boat, dusting ash and debris into any footprints left behind, and secured the boathouse door. She approached the Arscampanas unseen and smiled to find Gaz tidying her father up. In her fashion.
“…can’t sound-proof that big letto you call a face. We’re in trouble, papa. So quiet.”
“As you say, my harsh blossom.”
“Save it.” Gaz swatted dust from his shoulders a little harder than necessary. Then she helped him with his ornate sleeves. “Now flick the cuffs. Good. And when that lady comes back, remember what I–”
Clearing her throat to get their attention, Mira grabbed fistfuls of ash lying at her feet. “Come, we’ll obscure our tracks as we go. Do as I do.”
Even with their help, hiding their tracks was slow going. Mira double-checked the paths behind and ahead of them again and again. They stopped at the edge of the hedge maze, now overgrown jungle. Between them and the main house lay an unkempt meadow. “We’ll wait here for my friend to give the signal.”
Dib straightened his coat as if posing for a portrait. “Aren’t you being overly paranoid, woman?” Gaz stiffened and glowered at him, but he held his ground. “Honestly. There is no one — anywhere around us.”
“Now, Master Arscampana,” Mira said, “you know it’s not paranoia if they really are trying to kill you.” She flashed him her best smile and wink. “I am much comforted by your bravery, good sir. A fine example for the rest of us. But we really should wait for my companion’s decision on whether it is safe to proceed. Surely, you wouldn’t expect a woman to decide such a thing on her own?”
Gaz fumed at her father. “Quiet, I said.”
“It was a fair question.”
“You don’t get to breathe anymore….”
A buzz from Mira’s comlink caught everyone short. Looking ahead, she noticed a flicker of movement from the main house, Darquin waving from the front door. Relieved, Mira took her two charges by the hand and corralled them through the tall grass, heading straight for the main house. Darquin kept watch from the canopied porch with a small pair of binoculars that she didn’t know he had.
Waving them through, he followed them inside and shut the door behind them. Dust spiralled and sparkled in the sunlight coming through tattered curtains on arabesque windows.
“Hey, welcome,” Darquin said, short of breath. “Might wanna check again. But the whole place looks empty. The way behind you. It looks clear too… unless someone’s using major camo.”
Mira nodded and glanced out the windows herself. Her reply was quiet and nearly drowned out by the Arscampanas’ comments on the house. “Hopefully, we aren’t that important. I hid the boat and covered our tracks. But you are no doubt better at that than I am. I’ll search the house again and get our friends settled. How long do you think we should remain here?”
“A few days. Got a plan.” Darquin dragged his guitar case out and popped it open. “If someone’s looking for us, they’ll expect us at spaceports and landing strips. So we use that.” He pulled a battered comlink out of his case. “Bought this on my first day here.”
Gaz sniffed. “It’s junk.”
“That’s the point,” Darquin chuckled. “It’s our decoy. All it has to do is wake up and shout, ‘they went thataway.’ It’s programmed to wake up and ping the big Imperial spaceport later tonight. We wrap it in plastic and dump it into the river.”
“So even if our pursuers trace the signal,” Mira said, “that comlink would be hours away, further down the river — assuming it functions. But how would we know?”
“The comm-screens in this house are in good shape,” Darquin said. “If we can get power, we can hack into the city network and see if the coast is clear.” His Centauri companions gave him a confused look. “Whether the bad guys have stopped looking for us.”
ISA Phoenix–“Whose Wing Are You Under?” (c) 2012 Jamie Lawson, Mona Hinds, Joe Medina
Babylon 5: TM and (c) 2012 Warner Bros Entertainment