Sorry for the delay. Wife and family in Houston for her 3-mo post cancer checkup. Bloodwork: clear! CT scan: clear! PET scan: er, let’s talk. No, not bad, per se, just radioisotope uptake around her left eye. Back in November, that tiny little mass that turned out to be lymphoma was taken off her nose. The upper, left side of her nose. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in Machine Civilization, there’s no such thing as coincidences.
Well, they want her back in a another three months to repeat the test. Worrying is pointless, so I hope they’ve a safe drive back, so we can all have a good summer filled with drinking, writing, and lots of sex. In the meantime, speaking of getting backed up, Episode 17 is going to have be broken into at least two parts. There are a slew of new people to be introduced and I think at least one flashback.
One good thing about the delay is that I was able to do some picture and video research of the Kongo/Arleigh Burke destroyer class. I’m a bit more comfortable writing the meet-and-greet for the Portland civilians in the installment after this one. It will be too late before I have the ship sail away, but I even ordered a model kit of DDG-173 off EBay. Research!
“Defiant” – Episode 17 (part 1)
They both looked up the first gangway amidships, towards Kongo. There were more elaborate preparations at the other, just aft, leading to the helicopter deck. Where the local civilians will be later, Nichole thought. That path had more pomp and decoration and whatnot. She imagined the captain would give a very short address, eager to return to his haunts. Well, that was two hours in the future. For now, she’d barely enough time to say goodbye to the crew she’d met on the voyage over. It troubled her to know there were some she could not visit – in CIC, among others – because of her guest. She was older that friendship was not an unalloyed good. She glanced left.
Mackenzie was still shaking; just a little.
“H…how many did you say are on board?” Her voice shook, too.
“Just over three hundred!” Nichole replied with a smile. “Don’t worry! You won’t be meeting them all!” Just . . . most of them, she kept to herself. She gestured for Mackenzie to proceed her up. She was worried she might run away if she came second.
With her friend safely in front, Nichole waved to Sasaki-san, standing next to the two Marines. She’d radioed him earlier in the day, explaining about her rather nervous guest. Just before they stepped onto the ship, she made one last glance at Mackenzie. A smile. She looked fine.
Things had been rather different four hours ago.
Mackenzie sat on the edge of her bed in a faded light blue nightdress. Her hair was yet to be brushed and her eyes regarded Nichole with fear and regret.
“I… I can’t…!” She almost sobbed.
“Of course you can!” Nichole quickly countered. No negative waves! “You’re a beautiful young woman… who’s a little insecure. Let me see what makeup you have!”
She walked into her tiny bathroom, expecting what she’d seen in the rooms of the women she’d known at Somi: chaotic piles of this and that to make themselves prettier.
She saw black eyeliner and clear lip gloss. Not much to work with. What to do? She walked back to the main room, stopping just a foot from her friend.
“Who’s the prettiest girl in this building?” Undertones.
“Erin Wake,” she sputtered out.
“Fifth floor… room two, maybe?” Mackenzie wondered why it seemed that had been pulled out of her.
“Back in a minute!” Nichole left with a smile and a wave.
In the time to herself, Mackenzie wondered why she’d ever agreed to this. Sure, she was fascinated by the ship… but all those people! She looked to her kitchen. Maybe I could swallow something that would make me sick, so I don’t have to go…. There were footsteps coming!
“I’m back! And look who I found!”
A young woman with short, light brown hair framing an open, happy round face with a huge smile and just slightly almond eyes came in behind Nichole. She wore a light pink pull-over dress accentuated by prints of strawberries. Her green choker matched her shoes.
“Hi, there!” She called with a genuine smile. They’d never met, but Mackenzie had always admired her smile. “I’m Erin Wake! Nice to meet you!”
“Me… you… too.” Mackenzie did manage to stand to shake her hand. In her other she saw a travel bag of some kind.
The new girl leaned back for a moment, her hand on her chin, considering. She walked slowly around Mackenzie, muttering quietly. Returning to where she came in, she cast a look to Nichole.
“I’ve how much time?”
Nichole told her. Erin flinched slightly.
“Let’s get started!”
They made her shower. Her new fashion consultant handed her what shampoo and the two conditioners she should use. Stepping out of the shower, she was horrified to see them both looking at her.
“<Nothing romantic today, right?>” Erin asked Nichole. On the short walk from the fifth floor to the fourth, having already seen the genetic markers in her, Erin answered Nichole – in Japanese – that yes, her grandparents on her mother’s side had been Nisei.
“<Better not be.>” Nichole replied. The captain would hang whomever tried from the rigging. Erin looked relieved.
“<Good; I can focus on her face and hair.> You towel off; Nichole will brush your hair while I start on your face.”
“What’s wrong with my face?!” Mackenzie cried. Erin sighed.
“Nothing. It’s a pretty face,” she looked up and smiled. “We’re just going to make it prettier! Oh, what?!”
Mackenzie shook her head as she wiped at the moisture in the corner of her eyes. Big Brother!
“It’s… nothing. Let me get dry!”
While she toweled off, Erin took a quick look into her closet. Is she a professional mourner, she wondered? No time…. Play to her strengths, she thought. She pulled out the shortest, blackest dress and the tallest, blackest boots. Yep: let’s bet it all on the head. She tossed the clothes onto the bed and had Mackenzie, now wrapped in the towel she’d been using, sit in one of the two chairs around the table.
“Nichole? Start brushing; keep at it until I say.” Erin sat directly opposite her and opened her bag like a surgeon’s kit. She rummaged a bit, then turned to Mackenzie.
“Close your eyes.”
Mackenzie was later never quite sure how much time passed. At Erin’s orders, Nichole’s brushing had turned into a series of complicated pulling and tugging on her hair. Erin, it felt, did surprisingly little to her face, but did what she did with great deliberateness. Her eyes and lips still tickled from her ministrations. There was a pause. Unbidden, she opened her eyes.
“Stand up, please.” Erin asked. She did. Erin made a look to Nichole who swept the towel off her. With an ‘eeeek!’ she tried to cover everything at once.
“Stop that!” She froze; she stood still, as hunched over as she could.
“Nikky, help me get her dress on. Careful around her face.”
“Hai!” Facing the opposite direction, Mackenzie didn’t see the grin and flash in the eyes of her friend. A nickname! No one has ever called me by a nickname!
Slowly, carefully, they got the dress over her head. Erin took a few small pins to take it up in three places. Once again, she slowly walked around her. She nodded.
“It’ll work.” She looked to Nichole. “<Let me know how things turn out, okay?>”
“<Of course! And, thank you so much! If there’s ever anything I can do…?>”
“Can you make Nike straight?” She asked, dropping to English.
“Nothing, nothing! This was a lot of fun; let do it again sometimes! See ya’!” She let herself out.
“Is… is this really okay?” Nichole turned back to Mackenzie who’d not moved.
“You’re beautiful, friend!”
As she stepped from the gangway onto the ship, Mackenzie did as she was told: she turned to the ship’s colors and bowed. She raised herself and held her right hand out to the young officer.
“Permission to come aboard?” She asked in a whisper.
Sasaki couldn’t move or speak. Sleek, shiny black hair, as if she was from home, but the light cream skin on her forearms and legs…. One tight braid hung down the right side of her face, the rest of her hair lightly pulled back behind her, kept off the left side of her face by a silver clasp. And what a face! Eyes to lose oneself in, and her upper eyelids the same color as the lips in her bow of a mouth: the faintest purple, as the first quickening of darkness. Then short, hard lines only half an inch out on the two outside corners of her eyes: style both classic and iconoclastic.
He wanted to propose on the spot. But duty is as heavy as a mountain.
“Please welcome aboard Kongo! Miss!” He said in what he hoped was his best English. He nodded his head to her. “<If there is anything you wish->”
“…please ask me,” Nichole finished translating for him. She smiled at them both.
Good job, newest friend Erin!