When I began writing what I’d seen, the last little section about what Nichole just proposed to Teresa was nowhere there. Princess? Really? I’m worried that if I follow that, it would turn Defiant into an 120,000 word book. Perhaps I should consider making yet another MachCiv novel? Sheesh. Coming home from the food store today, I was thinking of taking a break from it all and turning the script of a proposed graphic novel – an over-the-top rated X graphic novel – into a little writing exercise. You know: just how Pirate Twins was an 5000 word writing exercise… at over 20k…
Anyway, following on Nichole’s and Teresa’s meeting at the PSU Miller Library, they start talking.
Teresa slowly pulled the chair opposite Nichole back and carefully lowered herself into it.
“Homework?” She managed to ask.
“Not at all!” When her friend flinched she realized she was too loud.
“Professor Vincent sent me his class notes for the remainder of the semester,” she continued in a bit more than a whisper. Whispers were tricky and made her sound inhuman. “I’m just adding what I learned at Somi to make sure you guys are as smart as me!”
“I really don’t think,” Teresa sighed, “that’s ever going to happen.”
Her friend slowly shook her head.
“Never mind. Hey,” she asked, finally looking up into Miss Perfect’s emerald eyes, “it ain’t my business, but since you’re the one throwing the ‘friend’ word around, how does a Celt like you end up working for a cutting edge AI company in Osaka?”
“Um.” Mackenzie’s questions had mostly been about Nichole herself, or her brothers and sisters. It made sense that someone from a political family would take a completely different tack.
“I mean, right now, western Europe is replaying the 6th Century with barbarian migrations,” Teresa said into Nichole’s pause, “so are you a refugee? I know that Japs take all of zero in, but you’re obviously a genius…”
Unlike Mackenzie, if Nichole told the full truth here, it would merely be a matter of time before her father knew. That ran against both what Somi desired and the Empress told her.
“That’s… one way of looking at it,” she prevaricated. “With deregulation and new industries encouraged by Her Majesty, Somi has… taken us in, I’d guess you’d say!”
“Us?” Teresa looked at her sharply. “How many Irish wondergirls are there?”
“I…” She played with the end of her ponytail. “I’m the only one that looks like this. My sister, Caroline, is White, but, well…. Most of my other siblings are Oriental, though.”
“Hmmm.” Teresa seemed to accept that. She started taking some things out of her bag. Nichole was older to suppress her happiness at that. “So that company got permission to take in kids; well, young adults, that had promise? And you all just call each other family?”
“That’s pretty much it!” Nichole let her eyes drop back to Vincent’s notes, not particularly wanting to go further down this path.
“So why are you here? A spy?”
Urk! Just like Gil!
“Heavens, no!” On the paper before her, Nichole wrote the Kanji for ‘what do I say?!’ “Portland seems to be finding its feet, so someone in the government asked one of us to come visit… to see what we can do to help!”
“Oh.” Her friend was making a note with a pen in her left onto a pad while typing something into her laptop with her right. Fortunately, that seemed to be that.
They both carried on in silence for nearly twenty minutes. Teresa excused herself once to return with a large cup of water. Probably for her hangover. She asked Nichole two questions about their research and was quiet for another twenty. She stretched.
“My dad’s been a politician so long as I’ve been alive; he’s an amazing liar.”
Teresa returned to what she was working on, speaking without looking.
“You’re much better at it.”
“Thank you.” I guess.
Nichole continued making notes.
“Need more water; and I gotta pee.” Teresa announced.
“I’ll come with you!”
“Oh.” Had she been misinformed? “I’d been told by my… friends at Somi that American women often went to the bathroom together!”
“Er, well…” Teresa tried to sort out an answer. “That’s usually only true when out partying with guys. Gives us girls a chance to compare notes and make plans. Here…”
She waved her left arm about.
“…at the Library? Not so much.” She paused at the door. “Thanks, though…friend.”
She was gone.
Nichole allowed herself another silly grin. She’d just about finished her work when the other – her newest friend! – returned. She stacked the notes together in a single pile before her and laid her pen precisely in the middle of the top page.
“Finished? Yes.” Nicole replied. “I’ve little else to do this afternoon… would you like to join me for a snack? My treat!”
Nichole watched, fascinated, to see resignation chase desire chase annoyance across Teresa’s face.
“Okay. Sure.” She flipped her laptop closed and stuffed it and her notepad into her bag. Slinging that over her shoulder, she said, “Let’s go!”
It was very cloudy, but the morning’s rain had just stopped. Teresa went to one of the cart vendors just by the front door. Bratwursts. Her revulsion was enough to trigger a code she was unaware had been put into her: she shuddered, enough for her companion to notice.
“Problem? You a vegan, or some creep like that?”
“No, I’m from this planet,” Nichole replied, completely misunderstanding. “I’m just not… meat… clean-up…”
She realized she was babbling.
“Oh, these!” She took some dried apples in a baggie with a hand-written label from the side of the man’s cart. “I’ll take these! What do you want, Teresa?”
She ordered a brat with kraut. Taking that, she spooned some mustard out of a jar over both. Nichole was older to first suppress the shudder and recode it out of herself. Those Somi techs and their Easter Eggs…! After she grabbed a bottle of beer, Nichole paid for them both.
All the benches outside were still wet. Without pause, Teresa went back inside and set up on a small table in the Library’s foyer.
“Um, Teresa?” Nicole asked. “I thought food and drink was – ”
“We’re the paying customers, who keep PSU open.” She curtly replied. “Any Admin or clerk that hasn’t learned that hard lesson is long gone.”
“Oh.” She took out an apple slice and nibbled at the end of it. Opposite her, Teresa took a huge bite of her brat. Meat juices and mustard were smeared over her face. Nichole let herself laugh.
“You’re very cute! And so smart!” She chose to push, a little. “For a mutt!”
She was relieved to see the smile in her eyes before it reached her closed lips, still chewing.
“Yeah, I won the gene lottery, I guess!” Teresa said, after swallowing. “My kid brother? Shit, textbook regression to the mean: kid’s too lazy to steal!”
She took a drink of her beer.
“Being the boy, he’s the apple of Dad’s eye, but my old man knows any effort of his to forge a dynasty here is wasted!”
“Dynasty?” Nichole reflected. “He’s a mayor, elected by – ”
“The last real election was before the Breakup,” she again cut in. “Afterwards, the City Council basically gave Dad a dictator’s power by acclamation. He’s been careful to maintain the façade of Mayor, though.”
She took another huge bite. Nichole guessed another nibble of apple was called for.
“So,” Nichole was by coding and culture a monarchist, “why not you? My country is ruled by a woman.”
Teresa began choking so bad that Nichole was already out of her chair and coming around the table. She used her left hand to grab Nichole’s as she was about to Heimlich her.
“S’ok!” She called around what was still in her mouth. She took another drink of beer to wash it down.
“Whew! Sorry!” Teresa shook her head a little. “I forget how spoiled you are; imagine me saying that!”
Nichole returned to her seat. She waited.
“Portland,” Teresa said, “is a city-state. We ward the dams of the river as best we can, living in alliance with the farmers to the south. You know, like we all do, what’s happened across the River…”
“…and, if no one’s told you, we’ve got what are basically Huns over the mountains to the east. We’ve too many bridges and too many mountain passes to even think of being secure. You people…”
She tossed her right hand at Nichole.
“…live on an island with an army and navy. And, if rumors are true,” her eyes never left Nichole’s as she tilted her head back with her bottle of beer, “atomics, too. Putting a woman in charge can’t be that dangerous. Here? I’d be ousted in days.”
She set her beer down.
“You…” Nichole kept her head down, gripping the edge of the table. “You don’t understand anything! The Chinese occupying Korea, our entire right flank open because the implosion of the ‘States…! Togame-chan beset on all sides from those who’d – ”
“Togame-chan?” The surprise in Teresa’s voice was clear. Nichole looked up, but still angry.
“You just –chan’ed your Empress? Exercising your White Privilege, much?”
Nichole’s right hand was an inch off the table, forming into a fist, before she overrode her processors. Damn the Somi coders! She slowly opened her hand and raised it to gently touch Teresa’s cheek.
“Togame-chan is a friend of mine, whom I love. As I do, you.” She let her finger linger on her chin. “You, gaijin, have no idea what she’s been through to seize and hold the Throne!”
She withdrew her touch and sat back. Her eyes green fire.
“I will break the world for her, if that is her command. Not because she is my Empress, but because she is my friend.” She pitched her tones, carefully.
“Were you Princess, here, I would do the same for you.”
Nichole held her eyes. Waiting. Teresa looked away first.
“I… I don’t want anything like that.” She breathed before taking another, smaller, bite.
Nichole watched her chew her food.
“Neither,” she said, “did Togame-chan. Yet…”
She smiled like the sun, slightly tilting her head. She raised both palms up.
“She my Empress! And here I am with you,” Teresa flinched slightly, “my new friend!”