Wrote most of this a couple of nights ago, but have learned my lesson about posting from bed. I’m starting to enjoy the rhythm of this third segment: confusion from the POV of captain Muller versus Nichole’s quiet happiness of three days earlier. Of course, they’ll start to converge and/or overlap. Maybe. I’m looking forwards to what Nichole was thinking when she went all badass on the barbarian steppe leader… who’s not as much a barbarian as we’ve been lead to believe.
“Defiant” – Episode 23
Nichole had an office to herself on Bradford Island. The Bonneville Dam, less than thirty miles upriver from Portland, was a three stage affair: power-spillway-power, from north to south. The hills on each side of the river were high – and much sharper on the south, as they led up to Mount Hood, but still covered in green. Her hands paused behind her neck; many of the troopers said that her eyes were just a reflexion of the trees around them. They could be so sweet!
She slid the power cord into the back of her neck. That was the first. This time, there was something else. Not done this since my old home, she thought to herself. She’d noted the satellite dishes around the dam facility when they rode up. After a few vague questions, she found it hard to suppress her smile. It was, of course, her friend that noticed.
“You’ve got that kid-at-Christmas look on your face why?” Gil had asked. In an attempt to do something better than the Regulars, they’d their tents up in minutes. He’d ambled over to where she was pegging hers out.
“There are satellite uplinks here,” she replied, trying to keep her hands steady. “I should be able to speak to my family later.” Oops! She pulled the corner too far….
“Family, huh?” Gil muttered. He squatted down and took the tarp out of her hands. “Go on.”
He turned left to her; once again, their faces inches apart.
“Nothing more important than family, Five.” He looked back and started finishing her tent. “I’ll do this. You go.”
She stood. For just a moment, she gripped his left shoulder with her right hand. She was gone: running like the wind towards the control buildings. He didn’t look after her. He did wonder if she’d ever find what she desired….
She inserted the USB 5.5 jack. Most of the US was dead to Signal, but the rest of the world….
She was made specifically to be a stand-alone unit: a completely self-contained AI. She could learn and function autonomously.
But sometimes, she felt so alone….
In an instant, she’d negotiated the Walls of Somi Corporation. Shirou and Caroline were there. In a time she could not later recall, the rest of her family came, as well.
Her form could not shed tears, nor was she particularly paying attention to her externals right now. Nonetheless, her hands reached into the air in front of her as she blinked over and over again.
“Everyone… everyone! I’ve missed you all so much!”
The desk lamp was the only light as she wrote her next letter to her friend.
…I won’t say that they held me – this is so hard to describe!, but I want you so much to know! – but that’s the only human, English word I can think of that fits!
She wanted to tell Mackenzie that she’d told her family about the Battle at the Bridge. And what she’d done. Hajime would not even speak to her, anymore. Nichole had been devastated that one of them would cut contact; she wanted to die at that moment. The rest of her family assured her that Hajime would be back. She hoped so. Somi only had the First Law. She knew of the Three; she even knew of Tohsaka Corporation’s Fourth, but she still regretted killing, even if it was war.
But it was so nice to catch up with everyone! There are many new things I can bring to my classes; I hope friend Teresa won’t be too angry! My group is already clever enough to start on a simple version of a relative of mine, but don’t have the computational nor physical resources. Let’s hope Japan and Portland can trade more!
She twirled her pen about her hand in a blur for a few moments. This was her closest friend. She’d no desire to be glib.
Friend Mackenzie? Last night, before we left for this first dam, Gil and I talked in the dark. He was doing something stupid – a cigarette – so I hit him. But right after that, when we were talking about saving the world, he kissed me. Sensors in my mouth and tongue notwithstanding, I felt something. At the end of this ten-day mission, I want to talk to you about these things.
Her pen hesitated again.
As an artist, you can see: see emotions that I am not yet old enough to understand.
One more hesitation.
Please help me understand!
She made a few dots onto the paper. She brightened.
Halfway here, we stopped at Multnomah Falls, so pretty! The Captain said it was fed by a spring high above, on the plateau. Have you ever been there? Two waterfalls, with a walkway just between them! I kept logging so many fascinating scents! I want to take you there! The captain said that this was far as civilians were allowed; there’d been Raiders that sometimes make it as far as Bonneville before they’re killed.
Not much of a raid if you end up dead. Or am I not old enough?
Oh! I hear footstep way down the corridor; it sounds like friend Gil. Let me talk to him then I’ll get this to the courier. Love and miss you, Friend Mackenzie!
At 91% she’d unplugged and put her cord into her bag forty five seconds before Gil opened the door. She was just writing ‘… and miss you, Fri….’
Two wraps of his knuckles against the door; it opened.
“Ah,” Gil said, holding onto the doorknob. “They said you were somewhere down here. Didn’t mean to bother – ”
“Wait!” Nichole called. Her USB! She’d been so happy to have her family in mind that she didn’t give it a moment’s thought. The door was just open, but Gil paused.
“Don’t tell me you’re naked… again?” He asked. Nichole laughed at him as she unplugged.
“Nope! Nothing like when the four of us were drunk and in the pool!” She called. “Just the usual super-secret Jap girl-spy stuff! Now’s good!”
He opened the door the rest of the way. Even with the little desk lamp on, he could have sworn that her emerald eyes were glowing. Maybe Joe, who’d fallen in, out, then back in love with her, might not notice it. But he did, and wondered more and more about this girl that fascinated him so much. He took her at her word.
“How’s everyone back home?” He watched at her smile dropped as she replied.
“Almost all good! But the eldest in my family… well,” he watched the rest of her droop. “She doesn’t want to talk to me anymore. Because of what I did. At the bridge.”
Gil had learned a little about her complicated family, so this was not so much a surprise. He walked into the office and around the desk. He held her shoulder for a moment, the gently placed his right hand onto her head and rubbed it.
“You saved our city; you saved me, Joe, Mackenzie, everyone.” He said quietly.
“Those few of us that know that, love you for it.” He finished. “How dare someone hate you for protecting those you care about?”
“I wish…!” She cried.
The moment was lost.
“Nothing.” She looked up to her friend and smiled. “You came to walk me back to my tent? You’re such a gentleman! Oh! Let’s hurry! I need to give this to the courier!”
“Another letter to Mac,” he asked with a smile.
“Nothing for Joe?” He watched her face fall again. Neither said anything as she turned off the office light and they moved into the long, dark corridor in the dam. Replacement parts again: only one in five ceiling lights were on.
“He still loves you.”
The exit ahead was lighter by the light of the Moon.
“He really regrets what… happened.”
They crossed the southern third of the dam in silence. As they traversed Robins Island they saw their camp just on the far side of the locks. As this was considered ‘in-country,’ there was only moderate light discipline.
“Amazing how bright phones and tablets are once your eyes are used to the darkness,” Gil commented.
“Mmm.” She’d made the decision two months ago to not conceal herself from Gil; but neither would she reveal herself. She knew he suspected something, but was still enjoying the game. “Almost as bad as cigarettes!”
They laughed together.
“Five? Why are you here, on this mission?” She could tell from his voice he was concerned. “I know, I know: your story is the Mayor wanted you here. And we all know that what our benevolent dictator wants, he gets….”
He stopped and turned towards her.
“But I know full well you only do what you want to.” He looked back at the dam. “Are you really here to report back to Japan?”
“Are you only loyal to your militia leader?” She asked, looking levelly at his chest.
“Of course not!” He replied. “My family and friends… oh. I see what you’re getting at.”
“A white girl, growing up in Japan. Some kind of genius who’s already working, then told to go to a failed country all alone….” He rubbed her head again. She liked that! “Shit; I can be stupid, can’t I, Five? Never mind: let’s go back.”
He made to move off, but she caught the sleeve of his camo jacket.
“Quid pro quo.” She muttered.
“If you answer one of my questions, I promise to answer one of yours.” She looked to his eyes; a different shade of the night. “Anything.”
She watched him pause. Good! He realizes the danger of what I just proposed. We’ve both just stepped out onto the ice.
He surprised me! I thought he’d back away!
“Why are you calling me Five?” She asked softly. He nodded as if he was expecting the question.
“Nichole Clarke is a girl I really like. Too much, in fact, to take into a border march where she might get hurt. Or worse. Five? She’s something else: stronger, smarter, politically connected.” He finally smiled a little. “It was either ‘Five’ or I nickname you Jamie Bond!”
They laughed together. Then were quiet. Neither spoke. They heard some chatter from the camp.
“Your turn,” she said very quietly. Still looking at his face. Even in the minuscule light, in the flicker of emotions across his face, she watched him choose and reject one question after another. I’m anxious, she realized! I’m older for that!
His face, then eyes, grew still. He smiled at her. Now, I’m puzzled!
“I think,” he said with a little shake of his head, “that I’m not ready to open the gift you’ve seen fit to give me. Can I get a rain check on that?”
He’s wise, too!
“Sure! Let’s head back!”