Sandbox

Mine, in other words.  I shan’t apologize for the lack of posting, but I don’t mind explaining.  At the end of the last episode, I thinking I knew what I wanted to do for the next sequence of the story.  The issue was, it’s somewhat unorthodox.  So I froze over the weekend before last.  Monday and Tuesday brought busy day-job days of our bi-annual physical inventory.  Friday, we as a family were off to northern Kentucky for a swim-meet.  We’d also be meeting our good friend, and my girls’ Godfather, that we’d not seen in four years (he’d been living in East Asia; back in the ‘States now).  Between the swimming during the day and the drinking at night, there was no time to write.

I was beginning to freak out about that.

I told my wife last night:  I don’t care what you and girls are doing Monday night, unless the house, dogs, or people are on fire, I’m writing.  What with that “less of an asshole” thing that writing grants me, she was fine with that.

Below is Ep 21.  I’ve seen 22 and 23; if I can convince them to order pizza or something for the next two days, these should come out fairly quickly.

“Defiant” – Episode 21

Dear Friend Mackenzie, Nichole wrote onto the page. She’d found writing to be very much fun: in Somi she would just plug herself in and will a report to a printer. When she had to type, some keyboards could not match the pace of her fingers. But with a pen… ah! So interesting! Once a word passed from her mind through her hand onto paper, it was there for good – barring throwing the whole page away. She’d never thought like this before, and reveled in the in the new experience.

It’s my third and last day here at the camp just west of the Sandy River. I’m so much older at so many things! I can now both ride a horse and shoot a rifle and pistol! She smiled a little at the memory. Walk and trot were deceptively easy; in four seconds at canter, I lost my balance and fell! Me! Are you laughing right now? I bet you are! Nothing permanently damaged, though. At their order I was right back on and kept at it for another hour. By then, I think I had the hang of it. The lead scout, Reilly, said I was a natural. Funny, given what you know me to be!

She looked up from the page from just a moment, her smile fading. No, I’ll tell her everything. She looked back down.

Firearms were quite different. I’ve played FPS games before – we always beat everyone! – but this was the first time to hold a weapon in my hand. First, against some bullseye targets with a revolver, I was old enough to let my shots wander a bit. Next, they lent me what’s called a Henry Repeating Rifle. So cute! But… her hand paused for only a moment… they had me aiming at targets of human silhouettes. You already know from our talks what I did at the Battle at the Bridge. This made me remember. It’s not my best memory.

Time to change the subject.

Guess who arrived here this afternoon?! It was friend Gil! It seems that he and five of his militia mates are to accompany the Regulars as a part of their training. I guess he was picked as the university is shut down for six weeks for Christmas break? I’ll have to ask him later. When he and the others first arrived they were… what’s the right English word? Hazed? Teased? You’ll have to tell me, later, by the Regulars. He’d not yet noticed I was there, and I wanted to run over and give him a hug! But even in my first home, I know how important the idea of ‘honor’ is to a guy, so I stayed away. It wasn’t until dinner, just an hour ago, that the Captain introduced me to the militia.

Her hand paused again.

For just a second, I could tell he was happy to see me. But once he knew I was coming along, he frowned and looked away. He, some time ago, and the Captain, just recently, reacted poorly to the idea of women in a combat zone. I’m older as to why, but now there is a separation of some kind between me and my friend. I am saddened by that, friend Mackenzie. We’re only going as far as The Dalles dam; it’s not as if we’re off into bandit country!

She took note of her internal clock.

The post rider will be here in just a moment! Normally, only officers have weekday access to send messages, but the Mayor’s orders were broad enough that I think what I write is covered as well! I shall write to you again at our first stop, tomorrow evening. I hope your art class is going well! I miss you! Your friend, Nichole.

She folded the letter into an envelope as she walked. Dipping her finger into the horse’s water trough, she used the moisture to seal it. Walking quickly to the old Interstate, she heard the galloping of hooves from the East. Sure: there were still phone and data lines along the Columbia, but they couldn’t police every yard of it: you never knew who might be listening.

“Corporal Brunelli?” He turned as she approached, giving her a big, gap-toothed grin. She leaned up and kissed his cheek. She would never forgive herself for permanently damaging him… it was, after all, the Captain she’d wanted to punch. “This is for the dispatch rider! Thank you!”

Dark was falling. She went to the stables and check on her horse, the mare called Toast. She’d not yet been able to find out who it was, nor why they did, to name her that. She’d fodder and water. Nichole took the time to give her a quick brushing. She’d learned from the other troopers that you took care of your horse first, yourself second. She acted accordingly. She patted Toast’s neck and walked towards her tent.

Timing was the critical factor: if she went too long without power, she’d be an inert jumble on the ground. But she didn’t want to be clawing her way into a dam’s powerstation waving her cord about like a flail. Timing. She was at sixty-one percent now. The ride tomorrow to Bonneville should be the easiest stage. And, her letters from the Mayor bought her access to the dams. I am learning patience, she thought. I wish my family could see me now!

She was aware of him just before he moved and spoke.

“Being a TA, then visiting professor, was just too damned boring for you?” Gil said, stepping out of the broken line of trees to her left. He lifted his hand and took a drag off a cigarette. He coughed.

“Since when do you smoke?”

“Since being told we can’t by that officer,” he said, still coughing. My contrarian friend, Nichole thought. She took a step towards him –

He hid his hand with the cigarette behind him.

“We’ve know each other for five months now,” he said without a smile. “You’re getting easy to read.”

“Am I, indeed?” She took another step. He shifted his stance a little.

“Yeah. You’re going to make one of those fast moves of yours and slap my smoke out of my hand.”

“Mmmm.” She tilted her head just slightly. “I would have; but now, I’m older.”

Just as she did with the Captain, she punched up just under his ribs with her left hand. As he windmilled his arms to keep his balance while struggling to breathe, she plucked the cigarette from his right and tossed it to the ground. She stepped on it.

“Y… you…” He struggled for breath. She grabbed him and lowered him to the ground. After a moment’s consideration, she sat between his legs and leaned her head back onto his chest. She waited for his breathing to return to normal.

“Hww… why… did…” He was getting better, but still gulping for air.

“I don’t care if you choose to smoke.” She thought of the permanent smog-banks in the breakrooms of Somi. “But out here, the light and smell is a threat to our horses and the other troopers.”

She tilted her head all the way up to look into his eyes, daring him to kiss her. A lot had gone on in five months.

“You… you’re right.” A deep breath at last. He wrapped his arms around her, just below her chest. “I really don’t want you to get hurt, much less be in danger. Why are you doing this?”

The moment passed. She lowered her head and spoke into the darkness.

“Every single day that Portland remains civilized; every single day that I remain alive, we are fighting against… pushing back….” Her head fell forward a little.

“I do not know the word,” she said very softly.

Gil took his right hand to turn her chin just a little back towards him. Her second kiss.

“Defiant.” He said from his lips to hers. “That’s the word.”

She nodded. She logged the word and its definition.

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