Walkies

It always make my dogs feel better.  Me, too.

A long, dry spell of not-writing.  Day Job has blown and several family issues.  Getting back on track.  This was a productive weekend, even if I’m another US$3000 in the hole.

“Defiant” – VERY likely under another name, my free webnovel, shall be published by Christmas.  Read about how I’m completing it, below the fold.

Nichole stood to Mackenzie’s left, under the shade of some trees in the part that stretched along side the Willamette from the Steel Bridge, where they were, to much further south. A few rays of sunshine poked through the noon cloud-cover. There was a small crowd on the Steel Bridge, leaning over and waving as Kongo passed slowly under it, headed north. And home.

“It’s very pretty,” Mackenzie said softly.

“Yes.”

“Are you… well, going to miss it?”

Nichole understood the double-edged nature of her friend’s question.

“The ship is not aware, so it’s just a place.” She replied. “The people aboard? Yes, I’ll miss them.”

She noted her mousy friend’s small nod out the corner of her eye. The ship’s stern just passed from their view. Nichole faced Mackenzie.

“Shall we go home?”

“Sure.”

They turned southwest, through what was once the old Chinatown district. During the Breakup, any ethnic Chinese with the money decamped to Vancouver and Victoria, in Canada, just as quickly as they could, leaving something of a ghost town within a ghost town in Portland.

Yes, her friends on the ship were gone, but she’d been able to save one of her new ones. After how their morning together had begun, that was a near-run thing.

Nichole could see that her friend was panicking and about to run. It was only that Nichole was between her and the door that kept Mackenzie from moving. Her friend’s eyes spun and her breaths came in short gasps.

“…are you…?!” Tears formed in her eyes.

Nichole thought quickly, trying to think of a way to defuse the situation.

She came up with nothing: this was unlike any situation she’d been in before.

“Friend Mackenzie?” She asked while reaching behind her head with her right hand. She disconnected the power plug and let it fall. Her scared friend’s eyes tracked it down. Nichole used that opening to shift herself from her chair to the foot of her bed.

Mackenzie shifted right, still holding the sheet up as a shield.

Keeping her hands folded in her lap, Nichole tried a little smile.

“I’d hoped I was your friend.”

“Well… you are… it’s just…” Mackenzie swallowed and looked away, her fear at war with her curiosity and her fervent desire to not cause offense. “I… I don’t know what to say!”

Nichole allowed her smile to broaden.

“That we are still friends is a good place to be, don’t you think?”

The gray girl nodded, blinking her tears away.

“Let me walk you back to your room!” Nichole said, standing. “You need that shower I mentioned! After that, I’ll treat you to a light breakfast! You’ll be fine after that!”

“O…okay.”

She slowly lowered her shield. Nichole used that opportunity to extend her hand to help her out of bed. A kind of test, she thought.

Mackenzie’s lifted her hand about few inches, but paused. She looked into Nichole’s emerald eyes. For just a second she let her gaze drop to where that cord lay on the floor. She looked back up and reached for her friend’s hand.

“Thank you,” she said, standing. She tried to not stare at Nichole’s naked body and the red number five on her left shoulder. “But, you really should put something on!”

Nichole was pleased to hear mirth in her voice. She let go Mackenzie and pressed her hands to her cheeks.

“Oh, my! You’re right!” She exclaimed. “What was I thinking?!”

She swept her folded blouse off the top of her pile and slipped into it, closing just one button.

“That’s enough to make it across the hall, I think!”

“Yeah!”

Opening her door, Nichole paused as her friend was just next to her.

“Mackenzie? After breakfast? Can we… go for a walk?” She was cheating a little, pitching her tone. “I’d really like to talk to you about my family.”

“Family?” There’s more than just of her… whatever she was? But… family…. For just a moment, she recalled…

“Sure, Nichole,” she replied. She looked back into the room. “And thank you for taking care of me, yesterday and last night. I… I guess I’ll always need someone like that. See you in bit!”

Nichole watched the door across the hall and heard the bolt scrape into the lock. She recalled what Teresa had said at Zom’s: ‘We all have secrets!’ When she heard the water for the shower, she knew she’d best get ready, too.

She added a skirt to her blouse, which she finished buttoning, and trotted down to the front desk – who was this guy? – to ask about places for breakfast. She returned to her room and put some of the coppers into her purse. Thinking about her limited wardrobe, she added one silver: perhaps some shopping later!

She considered waiting in the hall, but that demonstrated a lack of trust. She forced herself to stillness next to the kitchen table, and waited.

How much do I tell her? I’m not exactly on a secret mission, here. Well, not for Somi, but Her Majesty… so, she’d try to stick to family and not politics…

There was a faint tap at her door. She counted four seconds before opening it.

Her friend was back to ‘gray mouse’ mode, but with a difference: she was wearing the silver clasp in her hair from yesterday. Nichole beamed at her.

“Feeling a little better?”

“A little.”

“Come on!”

They walked a few blocks east down Market Street, Nichole following what she’d been told at the Stratford’s front desk. Around Keller Fountain Park (the fountain didn’t work anymore) there were several food stalls. She gestured for her friend to pick one. Picking some fruit-filled crepes with cream, Nichole paid.

“You… aren’t getting any?”

We start here.

“I don’t need to eat, friend Mackenzie,” she replied easily, guiding them to a largely dry bench. “This mechanical body runs on electricity.”

Her two crepes began to shake. She took a bite to steady herself. Nichole decided to advance. She leaned forward and flicked some of the cream from the side of Mackenzie’s cheek onto her finger and into her mouth.

“I can eat a little,” she said with a smile, “but cleaning up later can sometimes be a bother!”

“Oh.” Another bite. “So you’re an… android?”

“Yes! Completely self-aware and a fully stand-alone machine! But…” She looked about conspiratorially, leaning a little forward. She was very happy her friend leaned in, too! “…I’d rather stand with my friends than alone!”

Mackenzie leaned out, laughing out loud for once. A bit of crepe fell out of her mouth.

When she started on her second crepe, Nichole had them amble east and north, towards the river. Mackenzie could guess why. Indeed: coming to Naito Parkway, she spied Kongo’s mast in the distance. But, for now, she was too taken with the new world being opened up before her.

“Not at all!” Nichole had replied to her. “Several of my siblings are quite taken with art! My eldest sister, Hajime, does oil painting! If I can get some time on the PSU satellite links, I’ll try to print some copies for you!”

“That would be nice.” To look at art made by someone who wasn’t human. Mackenzie shuddered slightly in anticipation.

“You okay?” Nichole asked. They walked close to one another under her umbrella; typical for Portland, mostly cloudy had become light rain.

“Yeah.”

By the time they’d drawn next to the warship, it had already cast off and was turning about. Slower, this time, than when Nichole led it into a fight. She stared ahead, aware her friend stared at the ship. They continued their walk north, but were interrupted by a –

<Young Miss!> Nichole heard shouted from the ship. Now she turned to look. Seeing and thinking faster than Mackenzie, she saw word of the two of them ripple from amidships to bow and stern. All sailors and Marines with a spare moment – which they really didn’t have – gave them a wave. It would have been churlish to not wave back.

“They’re very fond of you,” Mackenzie said.

“After last night, they’re fond of you, too!”

Mackenzie shrank from her.

“What… what did I do?!”

Nichole stifled a sigh.

“Nothing, friend, besides being beautiful and making anyone who cast eyes on you want to sweep you off your feet!”

“I… did? They would?”

Nichole sometimes wished humans could be reprogrammed, too.

Three quarters about, the ship’s horn let a huge blast. That was not SOP, so she suspected… again, those on deck facing them raised both arms over their heads. Nichole pushed the umbrella into her friend’s hand and stepped into the light rain.

“Banzai!” She amplified, her voice carrying across the river and beyond as she raised her arms to them. She could see their laughter. Turning to take the umbrella back, she saw Mackenzie had her left hand over her ear.

“Sorry!”

“Are you… is your whole family better than us humans?” She blurted out.

It made Nichole a little sad that her friend chose to highlight their difference.

“No,” she said, casting her eyes down. “We’re just different.”

As they resumed their walk, Mackenzie seemed oblivious that she’d said something that hurt her friend and kept asking questions.

“That?” Nichole pointed up at her left shoulder with her left hand. “I’m a Model Five. Not just the latest version, but deliberately designed to fit seamlessly into your society.”

I didn’t say human, human, she thought a little testily.

“So… you’re the best?”

Nichole clicked her tongue. That was one time too many. She stopped and turned to look at her friend.

“Who’s the best human?” Her tone was flat.

“Err… what?” Mackenzie was suddenly uncomfortable.

“You keep saying ‘better’ or ‘best’!” They’d paused under some trees near the Steel Bridge. “We’re just people!”

Finally making her point, she was surprised when Mackenzie leaned into her with a hug.

“I’m… I’m so sorry!” She sniffled a little. “I’ve been stupid!”

Nichole shifted the umbrella to her left hand so she could hold the back of her friend’s head with her right.

“No… it was me, too,” she spoke into her dark hair.

The rain had stopped. She lowered the umbrella as Kongo slid down the Willamette, going home.

On their walk back to campus, Mackenzie, still curious, asked an open-ended question about her friend’s family. Nichole had responded with a torrent of names and facts that left her confused.

“You family must be huge!” She exclaimed at one point, just a few blocks shy of their residence.

Nichole stopped. They’d both made a mistake.

“Some of those I just told you are dead.”

Mackenzie looked sick. Not again!

“I’m sorry! I’m sorry…!” She cried.

Nichole shushed her.

“Liking someone means wanting to know more about them, right? Sometimes that’s a happy thing…” She allowed her eyes to stray to the West Hills. “And sometimes, not. Friend?”

“Y… yes?”

“Only if you want, but, over this new week, I’d like to know you and your family, better, too!”

She was fascinated by the odd play of emotions about her friend’s face.

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