Another real life conversation:  ‘following this story in reverse order is hard!’  I’m paraphrasing, but I get the point.  After hunting tomorrow AM (at the supermarket), I’m going to try to create a sidebar link or something that makes it easier to follow “Defiant.”

But keep this in mind!  The purpose of this blog is not to announce the release of new books, but to keep me writing!  If I hit a wall on “Defiant,” I might just switch to “Hot Rod” or something else entirely.  I love what I see right now, but time will tell how far it goes.

Now, back to the rooftop, when Mackenzie asks an innocuous question.

“Defiant” – Episode 9
    Nichole saw the guys order another round of ale.  The eastern sky was just darkening:  the city curfew would go into effect in about one hundred minutes.  Gil smiled at another of Joe’s too-loud stories… “cried like a baby when he fell off the bridge!  ‘I can’t swim!’  Are you kidding me?!  In Portland?!  Hah!”  Mackenzie’s face was a study in focus:  sketch-change pencil-sketch… she’s almost as fast as some of my older family, she thought.  Even so, they’d best wrap up soon to head home.
    “Yes, friend?”
    “What’s Japan like?”
    Erk.  It’s not as if I really got around much.  She thinks me her age.
    “Japan is a wonderful land of mountains, valleys, and coastal plains.  We’ve four seasons, and a sublime climate that—friend, why are you laughing?”  Nichole asked.
    Mackenzie shook without making a sound, her right hand still poised over the sketchbook.
    “You… you sounded just like a tourist brochure!”  She quietly gasped for breath.  “I meant you!  What do you feel Japan’s like?”
    I am nowhere near as sophisticated as the techs at Somi thought I am.  I’m older now.
    “Let me tell you a story…!”  She began.
    The crowd for the morning Shinkansen from Osaka to Tokyo was everything she’d been told to expect.  There were many hundreds there, both for this and the following train.  With a rush of air, its sleek form passed just meters in front of her.  Ha-kun and Tomoe-sensei stood to her left and right, respectively.  Tomoe stared straight ahead and easily adjusted her reading glasses.  Ha-kun couldn’t help but look at her.
    “<We’re boarding now.  We’ve reserved seats, so there’s no reason to be concerned!>”  He was always concerned that she would be.
    “<It will all be alright!  Ah!  The doors are opening!  So exciting!>”  Both of her handlers let her go first, to gauge her reaxions.
    <This is—ah!>”  Dozens pushed into the car behind her, unbalancing her.  Nichole grabbed a seatback to steady herself.
    “<How rude!>”  She muttered, quietly.  She looked up to identify their seats.
    Good, Tomoe thought.  An unexpected physical assault, and it’s fine with it.  Somi was walking a very thin line between the hard-coding of Laws like Tohsaka Corporation, and the very dangerous, free-wheeling approach of Neuroi Company in Hokkaido….  The machine was waving at them.
    “<Here!  Here are our seats!>”  She happily cried.
    She remembered all of the trip north perfectly, of course.  So much new construction!  The economy was freer than it’d been in generations!  Nichole knew that many government ministers and chiefs of the great zaibatsus had been… encouraged… to either retire or move on… via seppuku… now that the Empress was taking their country in ways both very traditional and very strange.  A complete reform of the tax and regulatory code; but the Oath of Obedience to the Throne.  A Code of Liberty; but the re-establishment of the Kempeitai.  Nichole was too young to understand it all.  However, she knew what her answer must have been when Tomoe-sensei came to her three days ago.
    “<The Empress wishes to see you.>”
    “<Incorrect.  Please try again.>”
    Nichole looked up and let her right index finger touch her chin.  It bothered Tomoe to no end that they did not program that into her.  Where did it come from?!
    “<I obey.>”
    “<Very good.  Let me explain to you what will happen…>”
    There was another crush of people at the Tokyo station, both getting on and off.  Making their way to the street, there were two long, black cars to take them to the palace.  Nichole was sad.  She’d wanted to visit Akihabara first.  Even so, the ride through the city had her face pressed to the window, taking it all in.  So many people!  So many friends to make!
    Several checkpoints saw them into the palace grounds.  She could tell that sensei and Ha-kun were both nervous.  All she felt was excitement.
    She’d never had the better of humans, before.  She tried very hard not to smile.
    “<Hello, there!>”  A pleasant young woman’s voice called from behind them.  Turning, sensei and Ha-kun bent low.  Nichole just looked at the nice lady in her early thirties in an elegant yukata come towards them.  To gasps all around, she took Nichole’s hands.
    “<You must be Nii-kol!”>  She said, not quite getting the sound right.  It now occurred to Nichole who this woman was.  She bowed as best she could, what with her hands being held.
    “<Your Majesty!>”
    She tugged on Nichole’s hands. 
    “<Come on!  Finally!  I get to talk to someone as isolated as I am!>”  Her Majesty said with a smile.  <Let’s have some tea!>”
    “And that’s what we did,” Nichole said, wrapping up her little story, although obscuring what she knew Tomoe-sensei thought of her.  She laughed quietly to herself, then looked up.
    Everyone still on the roof, in the dimming light, was looking at her, hanging on every word.
    “Ah…er….”  She looked this way and that, then gave a huge grin.  “To be continued?  Yeah!”

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