“When it is finished!”
My right brain is no Michelangelo, and my left brain is no Pope Julius II, but that’s how I feel about Act III of ‘Defiant.’ At the expense of my blood pressure, I loaded up on caffiene at the end of my Day Job to hit the ground running once I got home. A quick, small dinner, then more coffee, with bourbon. Wrote what’s below. Next time; next time: the party at Multnomah Falls.
God help me if it’s in more than one part. I just type what I see, tanjit!
“Defiant” – Episode 32
Given that all duties were now paired for safety on their way home, Gil had exactly one time of less than five minutes alone with Nichole as the troop began their ride back to Portland. He did what we could.
“Nichole?” He’d asked, sotto voce. “Is… what you are, and please forgive me if I’m offending you, a secret?”
“What I am?” She put her left index finger up onto her chin as she let her eyes drift skyward. She shook her red-blonde ponytail a little. “You mean, in love with you?”
He suspected she was being deliberately obtuse. The troop’s first sergeant was coming up behind them.
“No,” she said, dropping her finger and smiling at the NCO as he passed them. “But, yes.”
Gil looked around at his window of time for clarification. A minute, maybe.
“So what does that mean?!”
“I am many things, my love,” her soft voice against her cold eyes could be jarring. “One of which is an experiment as to how Model Five fits seamlessly into human society.”
“You almost make that sound sinister,” Gil smiled.
Her left hand made a small gesture.
“Told too many lies, or given the wrong Orders, we will be.”
“Reilly and Clarke! Scout!” Captain Muller called. Gil felt her brush his right hand with her left for a moment before she moved her horse forward next to their chief scout, something she’d volunteered to do. On the first hand, he’d wanted to forbid her to do it; on the second hand, she would have just ignored him. On the gripping hand, she was the most dangerous of everyone in the troop. One of the other changes for the trip back was that everyone was armed; that change really only affected one person, and he noted the Henry in its holster by her right leg.
I really need to talk to her, Gil thought, listening to her laugh as she rode forwards.
With more winter rain they’d just made it back to their camp east of Mosier. In their wet clothes they set up their wet tents under the wet sky by the wet river. Gil idly wondered if that rumor that Texas had survived was true. He grinned. He wondered if there was a militiaman there on a mission complaining about his hot clothes and his hot tent under a hot sky…!
Nichole was gone with the Captain to talk with the locals. Mosier was where the horsemen that’d broken through first encountered the gunboat flotilla. He didn’t even know Portland had a gunboat flotilla! Casualties had been high on both sides, and rumor had it that at least a thousand made it further downriver. Rounding them up was going to be a bother; a bother for the Regulars, Gil hoped. He crawled into his wet tent in his wet clothes and closed his wet eyes. His watch was 0000 to 0400; he’d better be ready for it.
He opened his eyes: someone had just kicked his feet. He froze for a moment, his hand on his sword’s pommel.
“Haven! Get yer ass up!” Brunelli hissed at him. He suppressed a sigh. He just had to draw duty with him, of all people. Out and standing, Gil checked his battle rifle and slung it over his left shoulder.
“Are you effing retarded?” Brunelli asked tactfully. “This is a night combat watch. Weapon in hand, loaded, safety on! Let’s go, stupid militia puke!”
Gil followed. For such a large jerk, the Regular was surprisingly cat-like in his few steps out of the camp. He had to swallow his pride: a bruiser, but a professional soldier nonetheless. He, then Gil, came to a stop at the edge of the old Interstate just before them. Across it, in the half-moon light, Gil saw the little spit of land where Nichole had changed his life.
“John,” Gil gambled on the informality, “thanks for finding and saving Nichole. I owe you everything for that.”
No one moved. The slight patter of rain eased to a drip.
“I hear you’ve made her cry,” he turned rght and set off. “I’ll find you and effing tear you in half!”
Gil nodded, following.
“That’s so nice!” Her voice right behind them. “You guys are the best!”
Brunelli whirled about, but Gil just let his head drop. He heard her few steps to his side.
“Shouldn’t you be… resting?”
“Maybe! But a walk at night with my boyfriend is good, too!”
“Let’s go.” Brunelli moved off. They were only two step behind him. Time passed on their patrol. It was Brunelli who spoke first.
“So you two really did do it, back at that tech place?”
“Oh, no!” Nichole beat Gil to it. “We made a promise to the Prior to be chaste! However, I am looking forward to it!”
Gil looked at her. He knew she could see him in any light. You don’t just go saying things like that!
“Haven? What I said earlier.”
Another silence as they circled right, then right again, headed back towards Mosier Creek.
“Have you ever had a girlfriend, John?” Nichole asked, her usual cheer, but softened for the night. He guffawed.
“More girls than I remember! But, a girlfriend?” A pause. “Women are good for a poke, but until I can find one that can measure up to my mother, they’re not worth the trouble!”
Typical Italian, Gil thought.
“Your mother must be an amazing woman!” Nichole said. “May I meet her some day?”
Gil wanted to slap his hand over her mouth. After the die-off in the Breakup you never asked about someone else’s family! Too late!
“I’d… I’d like that.” Brunelli said with what for him was softness. “She’s a small place up in the West Hills now that Dad’s gone. You’re….”
Gil heard the sigh.
“You were the only person I’ve ever met that I thought might come close.” He stopped and turned left to Gil. “In half. I’m not kidding. You got that?”
“Yes, Corporal.” He won’t just beat the shit out of me; he will literally kill me if I somehow upset the most powerful girl on Earth. He felt a trickle of cold sweat roll down his spine.
“Gil!” Nichole squeezed his hand. “You’re acting shocky! Are you alright?”
Brunelli stood stock-still, staring. Gil faced Nichole.
“My love? If you’re ever upset at something I’ve done, well, I can be pretty clueless, so let me know at once, okay?”
Gil let his eyes slide left to Brunelli’s form. With a noncommittal grunt, he moved out. They followed. More time passed as they moved slowly back to the north. Brunelli stopped and twisted his left arm about.
“Dammit! Can’t see what time it is!” He complained. “I guess I could use a little light – ”
“It’s 0354,” Nichole said. “Let’s go meet our relief!”
“Huh. Then you’re back to Haven’s tent? Try not to make too much noise, the men are tired.”
Gil was about to say something sharp, but her hand was out of his, with the index finger of her left hand across his lips, in an instant.
“John, I was… raised… in Japan, where relations between men and women are very different than what they are in the West. And,” a pause, “I’ve noticed that post-Breakup America is different, too. Casual sex is a mark of a degenerate, decadent culture. That’s not what I’ve seen here; that’s not what I want to see here.”
No one spoke.
“Kinda cuts into my fun,” the Corporal said.
“I’m aware. Perhaps…” She mused. “Perhaps you’d be happier in love, rather than just inside, with a woman?”
The three stood silently as they heard their relief come out from the camp. Brunelli countered the password and walked away.
“Did I say too much?” She looked up to his gray eyes. “I’m older that sometimes you think I do.”
“It’s true I cringe at some of the things you ask…” He shook his head. “I know nothing what you learned about America, but things… things are so different now! Even in an oasis like Portland, everyone has lost someone! We… we try not to tear each other’s scabs off.”
Nichole thought of her friends, and what stories she’d heard from them. Even as clever as she was, she’d not noticed the thread of loss that connected them all.
“You make me older.” She whispered. “I’ll be better, now.”
They held one another.
“You…” Another whisper from her face against his chest. “You… too?”
You just can’t stop, can you, beloved? Sheesh.
The troop made an early start: 0500. As tired as they were, they were going home, and after the battle at Fort Reilly, the Regulars would have three days leave with their friends and families. Whenever possible, the Captain had them on the south side off of the highway, where they could canter.
They’d surprised the post riders a half-dozen miles west of Hood River. Nichole had two flimsies; she read the first one and passed it onto Gil. She forced herself to read friend Mackenzie’s slowly. Heh! Nichole had never in her short life been ‘in trouble’ before! She wondered what it would entail? Would she be deported? She looked left to her boyfriend. He’d better come with me if I am!
Gil read the one line on the paper. First, he smiled. Unexpectedly, he shivered. He looked towards Nichole to see that look again. What is she thinking?!
He handed the paper back. It’d contained one line: “I’ll fix everything! XXXOOO ~Nike~”
What… what have I done?
Looking forward, the Captain had finished his messages, and said nothing. Gil had the horrible feeling that he did not know what was coming. This will upset the men trying to get home, and get me…. He tapped his horse’s flanks to move up.
“Stop.” Unable to control his actions, he reined to a quick halt. His horse tossed his head in disapproval. I’m going to need to find out how she does that, he thought. She again glared at him, then pointed. “Let’s move out, militiaman.”
There was a chuckle from those immediately around them. Gil saw the sergeant glance back for a moment, but keep on.
“Will you take the time to trust me?” She asked.
He was just opening his mouth to automatically reply, ‘of course –‘ but it would have been just that: an automatic reply.
‘Will you take the time…?’
Eyes forward, he nodded, secure that she’d see it. He thought. Their meeting. The Battle at the Bridge. Swimming and school. Her and Joe. The Hell they just came through.
He looked just right. She returned his look.
“With my life.”
She nodded. She grinned to show her teeth. He didn’t recall her canine’s being quite so long. Like swinging her hips back at the Fort, was being in love… physically changing her. How?
“This is going to be fun!”
Gil tried not to shudder. That look, again.