Under Wrap

At Bowling Green State University in NW Ohio for eldest daughter’s last swim meet of the season.  Wrote the first half of this a couple of days ago.  Shifting about on my butt-pad on the bleachers in the natatorium, I’d a few hours to see the rest.  And well into, if not all of Ep30, as well.  There’s one more idea I plan to unveil, then I hope to get everyone that belongs there back to Portland.

Two days ago, while typing the first bit of this episode, my wife was catching up to Ep 28.  It was late in the evening, and getting dark outside, both of us on the couch.  After awhile, she sighed.  I looked up and right to see where she was; ah, she’d just finished.  She turned to me with an odd look on her face.

“About how many words is this?”

“I think Part Three is about 16,000…”

“No.  I mean the whole thing, up until this.”  She gestured at what she’d been reading on her screen.

“Ummm.  I’d guess maybe 36-38 thousand words?”

“Thirty eight thousands words, and just now we have a kiss with feeling behind it.  Just WTF kind of ‘romance story’ is this?!”

“Uhhh…?  A really slowly paced  one?”

“Defiant” – Episode 29

It was the afternoon of the next day Gil had seen Nichole go into the fort’s offices – for her debriefing with the two Captains – so he’d made sure to pace his repair work that he’d be able to see when she came back out; hopefully, right around the end of his 4-hour work rotation.   She’d wanted to do it immediately after she’d been found in the rubble, but he’d been able to convince her that, if she desired to maintain her role as a human, then she had to spend time at the aid station in the fort.

Which had been problematic, in and of itself. Their corpsman, Jenkins, was now in on the secret. The darkness had concealed the damage that told of what she was from the troop as they rushed her back that night, elated she was not dead, but under electric light in the little infirmary, there was no avoiding the matter. Gil had tried, though.

He’d placed her onto a gurney and under a sheet and pulled the curtains around them just a moment before the corpsman came in.

“Keep quiet and let me try – ” He’d begun.

“To please stay out of the way,” Jenkins finished for him, passing through the off-white lab curtains. “Buried under a building was bad enough: couldn’t you guys have called me over there? You’re lucky you didn’t break her spine! Now: you go, and I’ll – ”

“Gil stays.” That timbre in her voice again. Gil watched Jenkins freeze and jerkily nod.

“Alright.” The corpsman agreed. “Forgive me, miss, but I’ll be examining you, now. He reached to draw back the sheet.

“Wait…!” But Gil was too late.

“Good Lord, with fractures like this you should be screaming… in…” His eyes lingered on the torn skin of her left arm. And the lack of blood. And the black mesh material beneath.

Jenkins swallowed hard.

“I… I can’t help you if I don’t know what you are.”

Gil stared at him. That was an amazing recovery. Nichole abruptly sat up, letting her left arm flop.

“I am Nichole 5 Clarke, a self-aware android of the Somi Corporation of Osaka, Japan!”  Chipper as ever, he thought. “I was sent to Portland by my Empress to help all of you!” She smiled hard enough to let her eyes scrunch shut as she tilted her head just to the left.

“I seem to have gotten into a bit of a scrape!  I’d really like you to please help me, too!” She held out her right hand to Jenkins. Who gently took it. He nodded at her.

“My… pleasure… Miss Clarke.” She saw humor in his eyes. “My best work is with humans and horses; please let me know how I fix, er, heal you.”

Gil suppressed a sigh as they started talking animatedly about her repair. She doesn’t just make friends, she makes followers. Dear God, he thought, his skepticism in tatters after watching the literal miracle of Brunelli finding her, please let her really be on our side!

Gil saw Nichole finally emerge from the offices just shy of two hours later. He’d been finished for half an hour, but chose to help one of the Regulars so he could stay out in the courtyard. The trooper was grateful for the assistance, but by his smirk, Gil knew he knew why he was there. Seeing Nichole as well, he heard the Regular mutter, ‘there goes my help.’

“Uh, I need – ” The other man waved him off.

“I need it too, kid!” He grinned at Gil. “Off ya’ go!”

As Gil walked towards Nichole, he looked at what she and Jenkins had cooked up: all arms and legs wrapped in bandages. An articulated splint around her right knee and her left arm in a sling. And all of it for show, he thought. The others would expect her to show some kind of injury after what she’d been through, and ‘I’ve always been a quick healer!’ wouldn’t cut it. The small tear of her skin on her leg that Gil hadn’t noticed, along with the gash in her arm would have to wait until she was back in her flat at the University for repair, so those bandages would stay on. She’d announced she’d be losing the sling when it was time to ride back home.

And, when was that to be?  Gil wondered. He maintained his composure as she took his left hand with her right, her head just down, but glancing up at him under her brows.

“When will you kiss me again?” She asked very quietly, her voice husky with emotion.

His composure started to fail. She lifted her head and pretended to look at her wrist for the time.

“I want to go on a little treasure hunt!” She said with a smile, closing with him. “Come along?”

“Sounds fun!” Brunelli yelled from just behind him. As grateful as Gil felt towards him, he wanted to take a swing at the corporal just now.

“My newest hero!” Nichole cried, stepping around Gil, but not letting go of his hand. She lightly bumped her forehead onto Brunelli’s chest.

“Let’s get our horses!” Nichole said.

Gil reckoned there were still three hours of daylight left as they rode out of the fort, headed not far to the northwest edge of the town to the Goodle Information Center. Brunelli was as his wont, armed to the teeth, and, this time, actually had some useful information.

“My brother’s a monk, there!”

“A what?” Gil asked, his mount next to Nichole’s. Brunelli was just ahead of them on his massive horse.

“There was a Catholic monastery between Hood

River and The Dallas. During the Breakup, one of the Brothers had a vision about preserving and defending knowledge.” He continued. “Since, without pay, most of the techs had abandoned the Information Center, they moved in to protect it!”

“Protect what?”

“Knowledge! Treasure!” Nichole tittered, so giddy. “There are acres and acres of servers there! Think of it as a backup of the sum total of human knowledge!”

Oh…kay.

“So what’s that to you? Given, well,” he waved at her, “that you… you know….”

She looked ahead at their unexpected third. Gil saw her slightly tilt her head. He’d learned that she was going to say something oblique.

“My family and I… always wish to know more.”

He sighed. One on one hand, Nichole was one of the most endearing girls he’d known in his life. When she was on the defensive, it was like negotiating with SkyNet.

Passing back through town along the old interstate next to the river, they waved at some of the townspeople moving rubble and working on reconstruction. There had been, fortunately, very little damage to The Dallas, as the fort and guardhouse on the dam had been the enemy’s center of focus. What little history Gil knew highlighted that their opponent knew at least the same: defeat the army first, then the land is yours.

“Hey, Corporal!” She trotted forwards and leaned over to her with her right to touch his left shoulder, then let her hand slide down his back. Sure was touchy-feely for a machine….

She swung her head back to look coldly at Gil for a moment. Her smile returned as she turned back to Brunelli.

She can read minds?! His back was suddenly cold with sweat.

“What does your brother do at the Information Center?” She finished.

Brunelli’s face became in exercise in concentration as he endeavored to corral and marshal what facts he had.

“Before their move, he helped make wine and brandy. Oh! Being a monk, lots of prayers and shit like that!”

Gil’s view of organized religion was returning to normal, even after what the corporal did for them.

“When Brother Adamar had his vision, and they moved to the ‘Center, my brother also went back to being an electrician, like he was when he was in the Air Force. Oh, yeah: when it’s ‘battle stations,’ or whatever the eff they call it, I think he’s part of one of the crew-served automatic weapons.” They were close enough now for him to point at one of the towers inside two rings of razor wire.

“Automatic weapons?” Gil asked, his voice scornful. “What’n the hell types of monks are these?”

“Those.” Nichole reined Toast to a halt and pointed to a tree-shadowed area to their left, just by an animal shelter.

“I don’t see – ” Gil began.

“The lass has keen eyes.”  A hard, man’s voice.

Brunelli’s pistol was out and pointed faster than Gil could see. But at what? Oh. An oddly patterned camouflaged figure with an AK-74 stood up slowly from behind a tumbleweed no larger than two feet round. What the hell?

“We are Knights Hospitallers. John Brunelli?”

The corporal nodded, chagrined at what he saw as a civilian, even if it was her, getting the drop on him.

“Your brother said he looks forward to seeing you again.” He took a few steps, pausing to lean against a tree and look down his sights at the road behind them. “You all go on ahead. God bless you and keep you.”

“Thank you!” Nichole called loud enough to make the man flinch.

Knights…what? Gil wondered, following the others towards the facility’s main gate. He’d never seen anything like that man’s camouflage. And: monks at a tech center? Ah. There were two more, opening the gate. They said nothing, gesturing them to continue on in.

Gil noted their eyes were fixed on Nichole.

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