Brothers in Arms

Seven days.  What an awful host I am.

This one was a little odd:  I wrote the first few paragraphs about five days ago, then stopped.  RealLife(TM) got a bit busy with the wife and kids getting ready for yet another vacation (without me), but even so, I saw nothing of the story.  So, I waited.

Yesterday, I gave up waiting and went full-on coffee and bourbon.  Wrote all but the meal scene, below.  Just did that now.

This almost seems like a tangent to the plot (I’ve a plot?) but knowing now how “Defiant” ultimately ends – I think – what’s here is germane.  I’ll do better tomorrow.  Promise.

“Defiant” – Episode 30

“Those towers are retarded,” Brunelli spat to his left. “One RPG and they’re gone.”

“Of course,” said the man in the odd camo to his right, escorting them in. It made Gil’s eyes water to try and focus on it. More gray than field gray, but the pattern eluded him. That was probably the point, he thought. “They’re only there to draw fire and have the enemy give his position away.”

“Oh.” Brunelli shut up. Given that feat, Gil was liking these people already.

“Huuuuuhhhh!”

He looked over to Nichole, who was swinging her head from one of the three large buildings before them, to another, and back again. He tried not to smile at the look on her face: that mousy friend of hers sure got it right in her drawings! When Nichole wants something, it’s all over her face. Oops, she was staring right at him.

“What?” She challenged.

“You’re looking lusty again,” he riposted.

For only the slightest moment her eyes gleamed; now that he knew to look for it.

“Oh. You mean about these.” She waved her arm not in the sling. She smiled in a peculiar way. “I thought you meant what you and I are thinking about each other!”

He wanted to follow that on, but between Brunelli and their guide….

“Are you two married?” Their escort asked unexpectedly. “If so, we’ll prepare joint quarters for you.”

“Nope!” Nichole replied with too much cheer. “At least, not….”

She trailed off as she continued to look around. Gil tried to get his jaw off of his horse’s back. She just said what?!?

“We ain’t stayin’ the night,” Brunelli interjected. “Gotta be back at the fort by nightfall.”

“That remains to be decided.” Their guide gestured at the offices attached to the southern end of the central building. “Our Prior would like to speak with all of you. You’ll also find your brother, Anthony, awaiting you, as well.”

As she was playing one-handed, Nichole let their guide assist her dismount. Double-checking that all three horses were tied properly, he muttered ‘God be with you,’ and returned towards the main gate.

A young man in a black robe with a dark gray cord about his waist came out of what would once have been the main business entrance. His sandy hair was cut short and shaved away entirely around the crown of his head. Gil suppressed a laugh: I thought that was only in movies. The fellow, about Gil’s age, bowed to them slightly, turned, and gestured towards the door he’d just come from.

“WTF?” Brunelli growled.

“He’s taken a vow of silence. And, to presume by his dress, is a Benedictine.” Nichole said happily. “Is that right?” She asked while stepping towards him.

The young man smiled gently and nodded as he took a step back. Nichole’s right hand went to her cheek as she looked surprised.

“Oh! I’d guess you’re not allowed to touch a woman; unless, she was in physical or spiritual need! Is that right?”

A slow nod in reply. His slight smile remained.

“How’n the heck did you know that?!” Brunelli demanded. “You look Irish but you never said nothin’ about being Catholic!”

“I’m neither,” she replied easily. “But I am familiar with different types of ascetics around the world; most of their core behaviors are the same, no matter what their faith. A fascinating human trait!”

They proceeded up the few steps and into the building. The atrium was cooler than outside; odd, given it was just shy of winter. And even next to the dams, who had spare power and maintenance for HVAC systems?

“Ah.” Nichole looked back at the novice. “You must keep the Engines cool, so the rest of the building is, merely by convection!”

Both Gil and the monk wondered over her choice of words, but got what she meant, anyway. He nodded and again gestured for them to proceed further in. Down a corridor with several doors on each side, they were almost to a door straight ahead labeled “No Admittance!” when it opened before them. A bald, middle aged man with glasses and in overalls was mopping the sweat off of his forehead – even in the cool air – as he looked up, surprised.

“Here so soon! Welcome, welcome!” He rubbed his slightly greasy right hand against his clothes before he extended it. “I’m Prior Tuchman; guess you’d say I’m in charge here!”

One by one he shook their hands. His eyes lingered on Nichole before he came last to Gil.

“In charge of what?” Gil asked. “Your troopers out front look pro. We could have used their help a few nights ago.”

For some reason, Brunelli looked aghast. There was even an odd look in Nichole’s eyes.

“My boy!” The Prior slapped Gil’s left shoulder. “We’re men of peace! We – ”

“Men of peace don’t normally carry AK-74’s with their camo.”

Tuchman shifted his considerable weight as he regarded Gil.

“Actually, they do.” He said, with a hint of a smile. “Do you know what ‘meekness’ means?”

What? Gil thought.

“To be humble; to take whatever comes your way… never fighting back…” He trailed off.

“A typical turn of the century definition by the poorly catechized,” Tuchman counted. “But in the eyes of history and Holy Mother Church, it means ‘power-under-control.’ That’s what you saw out there, and,” he waved back, “that’s what you see in here, too.”

He’d done that so politely that Gil did not take offense. He was also wondering why Nichole was almost bouncing on her toes. Still.

“Still. Why didn’t you help us?”

The Prior sighed.

“I don’t really have the time to take you on a tour of history from the Fourth through the Sixth Centuries, but the Church, and Civilization, has made strange bedfellows before to keep knowledge alive. Come!” He waved for them to follow him back through the door.

Through it, it must have been no more than 50F. It was unreasonably loud; Gil knew not why: the servers, the AC? What? Nichole was up on her toes.

“Treasure!” She shouted. Tuchman nodded.

“Indeed. And we will lift our hands to defend it.” He looked back over his shoulder at Gil. “Against all who would break it. Today, that’s tribe A. A year from now, tribe B. Who can say?”

All of this philosophy had Brunelli at wits end.

“Where’s my brother!?” He blurted out. Tuchman turned and smiled at him.

“Working on some high-capacity transformers. Will you join your brother, and the rest of the koinonia, for evening meal, after Vespers?”

“We… we need to report back.” Brunelli replied blankly.

“Hmmm!” The Prior smiled. “Let’s see about that!”

At his wave, another Brother in black robes came forwards with a radio set.

“Captain Blaine! Why are you not surprised!   No… no of course I wouldn’t presume! Of course, I’ll wait.”

For just a second, the three looked at one another.

“Captain Muller! A pleasure to speak with you! God Bless You!” There was a pause on his part. “Ah. I see your colleague has already made you aware of my request, good!”

The Prior let his gaze wander to his three visitors.

“I was wondering if I could borrow these three of yours for the evening… no, my idea, actually. Sure, sure.” They looked on has he paused to listen. “Very good! Thank you, Captain!”

“Everything’s cleared with your CO,” Tuchman said, handing the radio set back. “If you’d be so kind as to join us for dinner? And, we’ll prepare quarters for you overnight.”

Gil considered that: a hot meal and likely a real bed for the first time in over a week. Hell, yeah. Nichole was already nodding with a silly grin. Brunelli had the rank, so he had to defer to him.

“Fine with us. Corporal?”

“Hots and a cot!” He said, echoing Gil’s thought. “You bet!”

The Prior said a few quiet words to the Brother, who left quickly.

“Let me give you the nickel tour while arrangements are made.” He waved broadly with his left arm. “This facility was built about twenty years ago…”

Gil only half listened as he led them around. Ranks and ranks of huge servers hummed about them. Designed and built to handle information traffic as well as a backup of all data processed for the entire western United States, after the Breakup, it was close to being shut down and broken up for parts when Brother Adamar had his vision. A month ago, he would have snorted aloud at such a statement, now, he just looked at Brunelli. And Nichole.

“We, ah, don’t have official sanction from Rome or Malta for the establishment of the Hospitallers,” the Prior said a bit embarrassed. “However, we’re confident that things will be worked out!”

“Where did you recruit the men?” Brunelli asked.

“With few exceptions,” Tuchman replied with a smile, “they’re Brothers of the Order than were given dispensation to change their vows. Since occupying this facility, about a dozen more have joined us. Ah! Here comes Brother Anthony!”

Gil and Nichole looked behind them to see a larger, slightly older version of Brunelli walking towards them, wearing overalls similar to the Prior. Their Brunelli ran a few steps and they gave each other a great back-slapping bear hug. They immediately started catching up on family matters. Tuchman coughed discreetly.

“If you two would care to continue…?” Nichole smiled; Gil just shrugged. He was suddenly surprised when she took his hand with hers as they walked. He looked to her, but she seemed to think nothing of it. They made their way back towards what seemed to be where they came in.

“We’ve repurposed a couple of the meeting rooms to function as our community dining hall. That’s rather traditional for our Order.” Tuchman told them. Several others, in both black robes and overalls, were making their way towards them. “It’s been quite some time since we’ve had guests, so please forgive any staring.” He concluded with a smile.

Nichole lifted his hand with hers. “We’ll be fine!”

Passing through a steel door into an office hallway, Gil was pleased to be free from the noise. Through another, wood-paneled, door, they came to a large room with long tables. Food was already being set out. A stillness settled over the room as everyone turned to stare. At Nichole.

“Guess you don’t see many girls here,” Gil laughed. To his credit, the Prior laughed along with him.

“On the grounds, that’s certainly correct,” Tuchman said, making his way to one of the tables at the far end. They followed. “But we’re not on some isolated mountain peak; the Brothers help out in town, with the fishing boats on the river, in the farms and vineyards. So, they’re quite used to feminine company. It’s just….”

He trailed off.

“Yes?” Nichole asked, just beating Gil to it.

They watched his back sigh. He turned around to them.

“Right before the horsemen attacked, Brother Adamar announced to us that ‘She is coming: the voice of another world.’” Tuchman shook his head. “Like all prophecies, it has us puzzled! Some thought the ‘she’ was a reference to the horsemen, themselves. But now….”

He stared at Nichole.

“May I meet Brother Adamar?” She asked. “He sounds very interesting!” The Prior nodded.

“Except for whomever’s on guard and maintenance duty, the entire koinonia will be here for dinner.”

“That’s the second time you used that word,” Gil interjected. “What’s it mean?”

“It’s Greek.” Nichole said, letting go of his left hand and gently tapping his forehead. “It’s difficult in English… community comes close, but ‘kindredness’ is almost better, if there is such a word!”

More and more men were coming in. Gil saw John Brunelli with his brother, Anthony, wasn’t it? go to a different table. Family was family.

“Please, guest, here at my right?” The Prior stood at the head of a table and indicated two chairs with a wave. Gil took a step, but stopped. He stepped back and motioned for Nichole to be at the seat of honor. He could see she was about to protest, so he shot her a look. She gave him a great smile and brushed her cheek against his as she stepped past him. Gil pulled his chair out when he suddenly noticed that everyone was still standing. Oops.

From somewhere at the far corner of the room, he heard a stentorian voice intone, “Deus in adjutórium meum inténde.”

“Dómine, ad adjuvándum me festína,” everyone replied. He was shocked that even Nichole did. Why did anything about her surprise him anymore?

“Glória Patri, et Fílio, et Spirítui Sancto.”

“Sicut erat in princípio, et nunc, et semper, et in sǽcula sæculórum. Amen.” Gil noted that Nichole pronounced the words slightly different than the Brothers around them. True: no matter what she was, she was from a foreign country, so I guess that’s to be expected.

Gil stood for what seemed like an hour, but he guessed what maybe about fifteen minutes, listening to the Latin droning on and on… punctuated every now and then by everyone else’s replies. He stared at the fresh bread already on the table. Getting cold. There were big ceramic beakers about every five feet. His nose already told him they held wine, not water. He was fortunate that when his stomach growled, it was during one of everyone’s responses.

Suddenly everyone was moving, taking their seats, he hurried too. Platters of lightly grilled fish were brought in. And set at the far end of their table, dammit, Gil thought. Some of the others were already taking bread and pouring some of the wine into their cups. There was no standard form, Gil noted: glass, plastic, ceramic. I guess they just make do with what they have. These days, who doesn’t? Maybe they’re not that different than the rest of us. He gratefully took a hunk of bread from the man to his right and reached for one of the pitchers.

Whomever had been going on in Latin earlier spoke up.

“Out of courtesy to our guests, this evening we shall forgo the reading from our Rules. Quiet,” he emphasized the word, “conversation is permitted.” Gil heard Nichole say something to the Prior. In Latin. Sheesh.

“<Must we stay in this language?>” She asked. “<I am not that familiar with it!>”

Tuchman chuckled.

“Not at all! And to judge by your friend’s face these past few minutes, I’d hate to exclude him from the conversation!”

“I think,” she said, first turning to look right into Gil’s eyes, then back to the Prior, “that he’s more than a friend!”

Gil froze and stared at her. Again, she just says things like that to others. Sometimes, she so different! Is it being from Japan? From not being…

The monk to his right tapped his shoulder, holding the platter with his other hand.

“Fish?”

“Thank you,” Gil replied in the same low tone as the others. He took three pieces and moved it left to Nichole, who turned back to him.

Smiling, she looked to the platter, then up to his eyes. She gave a small tilt of her head. Gil leaned further, passing the plate to Tuchman.

“Not hungry, Miss Clarke?” He asked, taking the platter from Gil with a thankful nod.

“Perhaps later.”

“Of course.” He took some fish. “I get the distinct impression, Miss Clarke, that you are not from around these parts?”

Gil tossed his entire cup of wine back and reached for the beaker. Dude, you’ve no idea.

 

An hour later, Gil was stuffed in a way he’d not been in years. Just wine, bread, and fish, but they did not begrudge any of it. Why was there so much left over?  Most of the others had already excused themselves. At another table he saw the Brunelli’s talking animatedly about something. There was only one Brother left at their table: dark hair and a beard, but the top of his head shaved in that weird way. He’d a broad, Slavic face, but even in profile, sad, careworn eyes. Gil noted he moved slowly, deliberately. He certainly didn’t look that old, maybe forty, so perhaps he’d been injured at some point.

“Brother Adamar,” Tuchman raised his voice slightly. “Please, come meet our guests!”

Gil saw Adamar lower his fork, then stand. Gil expected him to shuffle, but instead watched him stride along the table. He and Nichole stood. Gil held out his hand and introduced himself. Nichole kept her arm at her side. Why?

“Nichole 5 Clarke.” She said in an odd tone, Gil thought. And, her ‘full’ name, too.

“Adamar.” The other said, his voice deep but soft. “You are the voice of another world.”

She gave a pleasant smile.

“Like you, I am of this world.”

He shook his head once.

“You and your family – and cousins you’ve not yet seen – are remaking Creation.”

And what in the heck did that mean, Gil thought? He was further surprised that Nichole said nothing for several seconds. He’d never seen her at a loss for words, before.

“Is not… co-creation… open to all of God’s children?” She finally said.

Completely lost, Gil drank more wine.

Adamar lowered his head.

“Thanks be to God for this meeting,” he said. “Thanks be to God.”

He took two steps back before he turned and departed.

“Like I said before,” Tuchman said with a small smile, “hard to know what a prophet is saying.” He stood. “This way, please.”

They left the main building for the one to the north. Outside, there was just enough light to make out the outlines of structures and people.

“Your corporal will be staying with his brother this evening,” the Prior noted while they walked. “You, two, will have guest quarters, here.” He nodded at the building ahead. They started up the stairs. Inside, they were down another corridor with several doors along each side.

“I won’t insult you by posting a guard,” he continued, “but I hope you will not insult us with, ah, indiscrete behavior?” He indicated the two doors to his left and right.

Gil drew himself up.

“Certainly not! Good ni-“ He began.

“May I kiss him goodnight?” Nichole asked. There was a play of a smile about the Prior’s mouth.

“Sounds alright to me. I can wait-”

However, before he could move away, Nichole was on tip-toes, her mouth pressed to Gil’s. Her eyes were hooded, but there was a faint emerald light beneath them. He closed his eyes and moved his arms around her as he bent down just slightly. When he realized she’d no interest in stopping, he leaned up and away from her.

“Night, Nichole.” He opened his door and passed through it. For a moment, he leaned against the wall. The wine and her lips set emotions raging within him; who she was, what she was, what he was thinking… and feeling.

Shuffling forwards, he came to the edge of a small bed. He collapsed in it.

In the hall, the Prior just watched as she slowly moved her right index finger over her lips, a look of wonder in her face. Ah, love! He thought.

“Miss Clarke?”

“Hmmm?”

“The Mayor of the City has spoken to me about… several things. If you are not too tired, may I ask you a few questions?”

She lowered her hand and look at him.

“Of course!”

He indicated back down the hall to the outside with his right.

“Please.”

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