A Look Back

For the first time in just over two years, I’m on vacation.  Even that’s qualified, as we’re in Houston/Galveston, but the reason we’re here is my wife’s 6 month post cancer-treatment checkup.  Still, better than central Ohio.

Had I been home, I’d be working on “Henge’s Big Day;” I’m not, so I’m not.  I did, however, see a vignette that I alluded to while writing “Defiant.”  Some skinny-dipping at the PSU pool with my main characters.  Was finally able to type it out, today.

This takes place halfway between Act II and Act III.

The four figures moved through the greenspace that split the campus.  Their looks varied as wide as their emotions:  Teresa had a feral grin on her face as she slurped cheap red wine from her paper cup; Joe bore a silly grin, but with a touch of sweat on his brow.  He was on his fourth beer, so no matter, he thought.  Gil wondered for the nth time why things ended up like this, while taking another drink.  “Open container” laws and other such foolishness died with the US, so they cut across the campus with impunity.  After all, it was the students that paid the staff’s salaries now, not the government.  Just the way universities had been five hundred years ago.

Nichole was just ahead of Gil.  A slight smile on her face, her paper cup of beer largely untouched.  She’d only recently changed status from student to ‘teaching assistant,’ so her Japanese upbringing made her wonder if she should be taking a more active role as a senior to the other three:  the look of Teresa was nothing but mischief.  Before they’d left Zom’s, Nike had taken their glasses and brought them paper cups.  His hooded smile seemed to telegraph that he’d some idea that they were off to no good.

It was Friday, halfway through the term.  After class, Teresa had more questions for Nichole as always, and they’d run into Joe making game with some red-head at Zom’s.  Nichole had caught an odd look from Nike, and Gil had wandered in fifteen minutes later.  Definitely something up there, she thought.  When she blinked at the young, blonde homosexual, she thought of Mackenzie.

She never showed.

They’d just ordered their third round when Teresa announced they were leaving.  For where?

 

“Ah, hah!”  Teresa exclaimed, as they came to the Rec Center.  She rummaged in various pockets until producing a key.  “Let’s go!”  She unlocked the door.

“Um.” Nichole began.  “I don’t think that – ”

“’Snot a time to be thinking, Tee Aye Clarke!”  Her classmate snarked at her before another slurp from her cup.  I think she has something else to resent about me, Nichole thought.

Teresa started up the stairs, they washed along in her wake.

“So… what are we…?”  Gil ventured.

“Swimming!”  The lion-maned co-ed yelled, without looking back.

They’d reached the doors to the lockers.

“All our suits and gear are – ” Gil began, but she cut him off.

“No matter!”  She said, waving her right hand.  “Find something used or do without!”

With that, she pulled Nichole into the Women’s locker room.

The two men stood in the hall for just a moment.

“This is going to be so awesome!”  Joe breathed.  He went towards their lockers.

Alone for a moment, Gil considered.  “Look’s like I’m his wingman, today… sheesh!”

 

Nichole had first looked at the one-piece suits, then the two, her hopes dropping.  One was way too big, the other would’ve cut off her circulation, had she any.

“Um?  Friend Teresa?  I can’t find – ”

She came over to Nichole naked, a white towel around her neck.

“What?  A towel?”

“Well, that, too, but a suit…?”  She saw her friend roll her eyes.

“So do without!  You really are an idiot savant, aren’t you?”

Nicole was pretty sure that was not a compliment.  She allowed her eyes to take in the rest of Teresa.

“You a lesbian, too?”  Again, Nichole underestimated how sharp the Mayor’s daughter was.

“Not at all,” Nichole replied, standing from where the suits were.  “I’ve long been interested in the genetics I see in your and your father’s face.  I sought more information.”

Teresa stared, then smiled.

“Ten years ago, the SJW’s would have left nothing of you but the feathers for a remark like that!”  She laughed.  “Now… well, I guess you Orientals have always been honest about race, right?”

Nichole smiled with a touch to Teresa’s shoulder.

“Yeah.  I do really look like a Jap, don’t I?”

After only the smallest moment, both girls laughed at each other for the first time.

“Get yer’ clothes off while I talk.”

Nicole obeyed.

“Mom was Filipino, not Spanish, but Tagalog.  Dad’s father was a Black serviceman on Guam; he married the daughter of a local businessman.  She was half-Chilean, half-Malay.”  She shrugged.  “That makes me the ultimate Pacific Rim mutt, I guess!  Come on!”

Once again Teresa was pulling her.  Out toward the pool.  But!  But, I’m naked!  No towel!  At least Teresa had hers wrapped around her…!

“Hello…!  You guys out yet?”  She called.  No answer.  Supposedly closed, only one light in five was on.  “No worries, you hot-shot foreigner!  Just get into the water before – ”

The door to the Men’s Locker Room opened.  With an ‘eep!’ Nichole calculated then lept the four yards into the pool, disappearing below the surface.

Under the water, she saw the rest of the lights come on.  Then go out.  She surfaced.

“…nuh, uh, boys!”  Teresa was saying.  “Allow the girl a little modesty!”

She rolled her hand at Nichole in the pool, laughing.  Unashamedly, she shed her towel and dropped into the pool.

Gil saw Joe wipe at his forehead.  He put a hand onto his shoulder.

“Nothing stupid, Joe.  These…”  How to get this across to his best friend?  “These are  not normal girls.”

“Got it.”  Joe replied.  Then he stepped out of his borrowed Speedo and jumped in.

“The best….”  Gil started, tried again.  “The best outcome of this is being arrested.  Better than killed, I suppose.”  He sat at the pool’s edge, then slid in.

Earlier in the day had been physical therapy for those slightly disabled that had survived the Breakup, so all the lane lines were taken up.  Gil saw that Teresa was diving and surfacing randomly.  Where…?  Ah:  Nichole was treading water in the deep end with Joe homing in her like a torpedo.  No surprise:  they’d been spending quite a bit of time together this past month.  Given how uncomfortable he always was around her after… after what everyone else had taken to calling ‘The Battle at the Bridge,’ and all he’d seen her do there, that was fine.  He’d just taken three strokes at freestyle when someone grabbed his right ankle.

“Where you off to, hot guy?”  Teresa was not letting go.  She might be a jerk, but she’s still a looker, he thought.  He curled back, treading inches from her.

“Nowhere.  Nowhere at all.”  He replied.

 

Joe and Nicole had carefully circled one another, keeping a slight distance.  She was afraid embarrassment might cause an unanticipated shutdown if they touched.

“Guess what your friend did was a bit of a surprise, huh?”  Joe swam slowly on his right side, circling as Nichole did.  “But I’m really happy to be here with you!”  Advance, but carefully:  Joe’d never known someone like her before.

Nichole smiled at him.  Older, and not at all stupid, she wondered if it would happen tonight?

“It was a surprise!  You hu-”  Her left foot brushed his abdomen.  “You guys surprised me, that’s all.  Being naked in baths together is normal in many parts of Japan.  And, I know you’re a gentleman.  So, I’m actually very happy to be here with you!”

She could advance, too.

Joe altered his pattern somewhat; they circled towards shallower waters, opposite where Gil and Teresa were.  Were surprisingly close.  Joe smiled.

“What is it, friend Joe?”

He blinked, coming to rest with his back against the pool wall.  His feet just flat on the bottom.

“Maybe it’s because he keeps insisting he doesn’t need women in his life,” Joe looked over Nichole’s circling shoulder, “that they keep ending up there!”

She rolled, taking in more than Joe could imagine.  A small dive.  She came up, her chest on Joe’s.

“And I ended up here!”  A languid blink.  A shy smile.

Her pert breasts against his chest was such a surprise that he didn’t even note the temperature difference.  Advance.  Hands onto her naked hips, he leaned down to kiss her.

Processors a-fire, Nichole set up limiter after limiter as she forced herself to think as a machine and not the android-human she was made to be:  if she lost control of these thoughts and feelings, it could unmake her mind.  She’d seen the crippled wreckage of earlier Models.

Still, she opened her mouth just a little, hooding her eyes.  She allowed her left hand to touch Joe’s chest.  Her right was in reserve, if things escalated.

From what her ears detected, escalation was the order of the day on the pool’s edge behind them.  She’d no idea why, but friend Teresa was moaning slightly.  Were they…?

Not taking his mouth from hers, Joe murmured, “I love you,” into her mouth.  As she nodded just slightly, a drop of sweat from his forehead fell next to her nose, then rolled into her mouth.

Good a time as any, she thought, very quickly.  She ran a complete biochemical analysis of Joe Kreeft.  Not for a moment did she consider it an ‘invasion of privacy,’ given where their hands and mouths were!  In fact, as Joe lowered his right to reach between her –

*HUMAN AT RISK*

She snapped her head back and pushed Joe just slightly away.

“Stop!  Please!”

 

The natatorium was suddenly, uncomfortably silent.  Physically complicated as they might have been, Gil and Teresa froze and looked across the width of the pool.  Part of the Remnant of the Breakup, they both knew there was no way that Joe was raping Nichole, but what possibly…?

It might have been that Joe was thinking the same thing:  they all did grow up in the SJW-age, after all.  Did he, Joe thought, cross some line that even a White girl raised in Japan wouldn’t cross?

Totally oblivious to the human concerns about her, Nichole took the steps she knew she must.  Quickly.

She uncoiled from Joe and pulled herself out of the water.  She extended her hand to him.

“Please get out.  Now.”

The timbre to her voice was so odd that all three of them did.  With an embarrassed glance at one another, Gil and Teresa slowly walked around to where the others were.

A mixture of confusion and frustrated lust, Joe took her left with his right.  It surprised him how easily he was out and standing.

Nichole did not let go of his hand.

“Friend Joe?  I might have this wrong, but in American English:  I love you, as well!  I’m sorry we couldn’t… couldn’t…”  She waved her right hand at the pool.  “But I fear for your health!”

She heard Gil and Teresa just behind her.

Joe was slowly recovering his bearings.  It’s okay!  She said she loved me!  Yes!  She simply doesn’t want to sleep with me while I’ve this little fever; well, shit!  Who could blame her!  After the Breakup, with north of 100 million dead in the ‘States, picking a bed partner was not like it used to be.  I’d never take a sick girl, either!

“Hey, hey, hey!”  Joe smiled, his voice loud; he saw the looks on the two behind Nichole that she could not.   “I won’t lie and say we’ve all the time in the world, but you and me…”

He trailed off, confused.  Nichole was shaking her head just a tiny bit.

“May…” She asked very softly, “may I take an action to check your health?”

Joe caught the intake of breath from Gil.  He’d no idea what that meant.

“Sure, Nichole!”  He hugged her, but she never let go of his right hand.  When they’d separated, he was surprised to see her eyes.  No… that was just his low-grade fever.  Human eyes don’t flash emerald.

“Thank you, friend Joe,” Nichole said quietly.  Her upper incisors extended five millimeters.  She lifted his right forearm and bit, deeply.

“What the Hell!”  Teresa yelled from just behind her.  Joe was too surprised and shocked to feel pain.

Her incisors were just to get to blood; she was no vampire.  Nichole lowered his arm and twisted around the two punctures.  When she licked the blood into her mouth, Teresa made an odd sound and ran towards the locker room.  She lifted Joe’s arm, her hand now tight across the wounds.

“Gil,” she said, “our friend will need compression bandages, now.”

Gil was running before he knew why.

Nichole was suddenly aware that they were naked.

“And bring a towel for Joe!”  She shouted as Gil left.

For the both of you, he mentally retorted.

Still holding his bleeding forearm, Nichole waved wanly.

“Shall we sit, friend Joe?”

 

There was no sign of Teresa.  Gil returned with three towels; did they have that many spares on the guy’s side? Nichole grumbled to herself.  Once across each of their laps, one over her shoulders, just barely not covering her breasts.  Her analysis of Joe’s blood was complete; she could be modest later.  Gil was using what looked like duct tape and a washrag on Joe’s forearm.

If she lied to this human, he will die.

“We must see a second opinion, but I think you have stage III lymphoma, friend Joe.”

No one moved.

“I’ve seen you do some shit, Nichole,” Gil said, a bit heatedly, “but this performance theater is not remotely funny.”

“Not meant to be.  We will have my diagnosis confirmed within twenty-four hours.  If correct, we’ll begin treatment immediately after.”

Joe was looking shocky.  Gil spoke.

“What treatment is that?  I know you’re new to Portland, but we’ve no chemo drugs left, and the radiation techs do it by more guesswork than experience!”

From shocky, she watched Joe’s eyes grow still as he heard his death sentence read out to him.  The door from the Women’s Locker Room creaked open.  A little bit green around the gills, Teresa looked across the pool and gave Nichole a thumbs-up.

Of course, Nichole thought.

“Friend Teresa!”  She pitched her voice to carry.  “While I was introduced to your father aboard Kongo, I must speak to him again, first thing in the morning!”  She would conceal nothing, well, almost nothing from her friends.  “I must have satellite comm access, to my homeland!”

She reached out to just touch Joe’s face.  His hollow eyes rose to hers.  She leaned forwards to kiss his cheek.

“If my diagnosis is correct, I am sending my friend to Japan for treatment!”

 

Nichole walked down the steps from the Mayor’s Office.   Just two hours ago, walking up them, she thought of her leverage:  gunboats.  Train a navy, and be a Friend and Ally of Her Majesty’s Empire.  Friend Teresa will enjoy this story of quantum computing!

“Well?”  Teresa said.  She held her scooter’s handles.  Gil was next to his dirt bike; Joe, between them.  Nichole moved to gently hold Teresa.

“I gave your father something.  He allowed me something in return.”  Gil wanted to swat her when she was oblique.  “In ten days a freighter from Taiwan arrives.  It will stop at Yokohama on its return voyage.”

She released Teresa and took Joe’s hands.

“You will be on that freighter,” she continued.  “One of my… friends… at Court…”

She couldn’t help her silly smile.

“… assures me that you shall receive the best medical attention the Empire can provide!”

She couldn’t take it anymore.  Processors!

Her arms flew about Joe’s neck.

“I love you, friend!”

Joe hugged her right back, conscious of Gil’s and Teresa’s hands on his back.

And more conscious of the word she said.

‘Friend.’

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