“Oh my God! We’re Supposed to Start a War!”

Said Prince John to his brothers and Queen Eleanor, around 1185 in Chinon Castle.

I feel the same way.  From my last post, I knew I’d seen enough to move things forward; not all in one day:  my notes point toward about 11k words of story.  But, time to get going!

So why do I have Teresa kissing Nichole outside the Miller Library?  WTF does this have to do with the Cannibal Army storming the Lewis & Clark Bridge?  Where’s the killing?  Where’s the nerve gas?  SRSLY?

If nothing else, I’ve SEEN when the breathless messenger comes rushing into the room where N and the Mayor are having their very guarded conversation, announcing the loss of the bridge to the Enemy.  That’ll get things rolling!  N has some funny, but pointed, things to say about how/why Japan lost the Pacific War, starting with Guadalcanal, and how that impacts His Honor’s response.

Bleeding Jesus, but I need an Editor!

“Anyone else?” Nichole asked.

Teresa had had three questions and Sanjay wanted clarification on the flowchart she’d drawn onto the board. John Smith spoke up.

“You treating us again, to celebrate your first day as TA?”

“No.” Nichole’s response was unequivocal.

“Worth a shot…” he breathed. Teresa laughed soundlessly.

She lingered, making more notes, while the two guys packed up and departed. Nichole was just starting for the door.

“Got a date?” Her friend asked. “That hot guy from awhile ago?”

“I’m meeting someone, yes,” Nichole replied. “But she’s a little skittish.”

“That cute nothing, the one with you on the ship.”

Nichole was surprised how Teresa put that together with very little data.

“Yes, that’s correct.”

“At Zom’s?”

“No.” Nichole considered her internal chronometer. She needed to go. “Some place I’ve not been, just a couple of blocks from the Library.”

“Was headed to the Miller, myself,” Teresa said, standing. “Mind company for the walk?”

“Mmm!”

The morning rain had broken and was now just slatted slate bands across the sky.

“I don’t recall her name,” her friend said. “In fact, at dinner, I don’t recall seeing anything but the top of her head. Was she already drunk? Shit! I sure was!”

“You were?” Nichole had just that part of her friend’s prickly personality. “But, no, Mackenzie wasn’t. By the time we left, a little, I think!”

“That’s right! I was arguing with Dad and didn’t see you leave!”

They passed the Student Rec center.

“Some Marines saw us home, to the Stratford.” Nichole said, recalling that night. “I was a little worried about her, so she slept in my bed.”

“Oh, didn’t know you’re a lesbian,” Teresa said.

What?

“I… I’m not a – ”

“Did you take your clothes off?”

“Yes, but I was – ”

“So, you’re a lesbian.” She stopped and stared at Nichole. “You didn’t molest that poor girl in her sleep, did you?!”

“Noooo!” Nichole almost howled. “I was next to her! In a chair! I didn’t touch – ”

Teresa’s right index finger poked the middle of Nichole’s chest.

“For being such an amazing liar, you really can’t tell when someone’s pulling your leg, can you?”

Teasing her. Nichole thought quickly about the subject. Often malicious, but used between friends for bonding and affection. She was older.

“I’d thought you a mutt,” she tried teasing back, looking down at her hands, “but you play with your prey like a cat!”

“Sorry,” Teresa replied, obviously not, “just how I am!”

“How about you,” she continued, lifting Nichole’s chin with her hand, “and I… take…”

Her voice faded as she gently ran her fingers first across Nichole’s left cheek, then her right.

“You’re so cold!” She said with concern. “I’ve a windbreaker stuffed somewhere in the bottom of my bag…”

She made to swing it about and unzip it, but Nichole stopped her.

“That’s okay; and, thank you, but,” she said, “I’ve always been a little cold-natured. Just how I’m made, I guess!”

“Oh. Okay.”

Resuming their walk, Nichole was glad that one of the earliest things she’d written out of herself was to fake a sigh after an emotional incident. They drew up before the library.

“I’ll be leaving you here,” Teresa said with a small wave. “I wonder if there’s any way in which you’re not too good… for…”

Her voice trailed off. She stared but not stared at something over Nichole’s shoulder, to the southwest. Nichole just began to turn…

“Don’t.” Not urgently; her conversational tone. Nichole corrected back to her friend.

“Imminent danger?” She had to assess the threat.

“N…no.” Teresa returned her eyes to Nichole’s, but obviously was paying attention to her peripheral vision. “I can see the nose of a black Lincoln over there. The only people that use those are my Dad’s goons.”

Goons? That was not in her lexicon.

“Are you in danger, Friend Teresa?”

Hearing someone pronounce capital letters was new to her. Wait: were Miss Perfect’s eyes brighter? No. A trick of the late afternoon light.

“Me? Naah.” She clapped Nichole’s shoulders with her hands, her attention still in the periphery. “I’m at Daddy Dictator’s place every weekend…”

She suddenly hugged Nichole close.

“But you’re new. You’re special!” Teresa whispered into Nichole’s ear. “You got his attention on that boat. They may be after you!”

“’After?’” Nichole had no choice but to whisper.

Teresa shuddered at the inhuman sound in her ear.

“Not like that! Dad’s a Dem, but not a rapist like a Clinton! He’ll just want information!”

She leaned back slightly, still holding her shoulders. What an odd look on her fac –

Teresa kissed Nichole on the lips.

She had no idea what to do!

“Mmm! Definitely cool!” Her daring friend said, wiping her mouth. “That should confuse the hell out of whomever’s watching! See ya’!”

She turned away and walked into the library, jauntily waving her right hand.

“See… you.” Nichole raised her right as well. She let it come back and touch her lips.

A girl kissed me. How odd.

She turned left and walked quickly to the hole-in-the-wall that Mackenzie had told her about.

After a few minutes, she stared up at a sign that proclaimed ‘Cheap Noodles’ in poor katakana. Perhaps someone here spoke Japanese! Pushing open the door, her eyelids dropped to shield against the complex flickering of dying fluorescent bulbs. She hoped no one prone to epilepsy ever came here…

“Welcome! Sit anywhere!” A Central American called from behind the counter at the far end of the little restaurant. It couldn’t be more than four meters wide – oh! Mackenzie was at a table just ahead, facing away. She’d made a hesitant turn at Nichole’s entrance. A little wave.

Time to play, a little, Nichole thought.

There was only one other customer there, right at the door, so Nichole walked forward and placed her left hand onto her friend’s shoulder. No shudder. Good! As she turned to sit opposite Mackenzie at the little table, her hand followed her arm down, ending with her gently holding her right.

She was very pleased Mackenzie held her, too.

“Thank you for inviting me to dinner! Is this place one of your favorites?”

“Yeah.” She reached for the small, laminated menus to her left as she let go of Nichole with her right. Skin so cool!

“It’s really cheap, and they’ve big portions!” She was almost excited. “You’d think all the Accounting students would like something like this… but…”

A shrug.

“So how’d you discover it?” Nicole considered the menu with disdain: soups with noodles. She had an idea.

“But, before you answer that: does this place allow take-away?”

“Allow what?”

“Oh, I meant to say ‘left-overs.’”

“Oh. Yeah. I think half of my fridge is from here.” She looked up Nichole. “Oh. You’re not eating anything, then? I thought… maybe…”

“I,” Nichole began, “am going to order whatever I want. And, I’m going to try it. After that, I’m taking the rest back to Stratford House, to give to a friend.”

Playful, she thought.

“Someday, that friend will have an exercise bike hooked up to a dynamo.” Nichole slid her hands to let her knuckles just touch Mackenzie’s. “I look forward to that meal she makes for me!”

Mousy was not stupid. Mackenzie laughed as quietly as she could, almost doubled-over at one point, her head just off the table.

“What’ll you two have?” The young man behind the counter yelled at them.

Mackenzie had got a large, traditional bowl of ramen. When Nichole suggested she crack a raw egg over the top, she’d recoiled in horror.

“Won’t I get sick?!”

Nichole had responded by putting her index finger into the soup.

“Not if you add it in the next forty-five seconds.” She turned around and yelled. “Egg, please!”

Perhaps as a joke, the cook tossed it too them. In a single, smooth motion, Nichole caught it, broke it on the side of Mackenzie’s bowl, and winged the two empty shells back at him.

Nichole picked up her chopsticks and slurped up a mouthful of her Cantonese Ma Goering noodle soup. Hmmm.

“You don’t like it?” Mackenzie asked.

“It’s not so much a question of ‘like’ when it comes to food…” Her friend laughed again as another unknown subroutine made Nichole tilt her head to the right. “I can analyze the components, but taste is subjective upon experience…”

“And that’s something I really don’t have.”

“I guess, for inviting you out, I owe you some bleach?” Mackenzie allowed herself a smile.

“Only if you insist I buy you toilet paper!”

Her smile fell, but quickly returned.

The bell over the door jingled at the only other customer, the young man by the door, left. The cook came out from behind his haunt and picked up the bowl and wiped down the table. Passing the two young women, he asked, “You two need sumthin’?”

Nichole looked to her friend, who shook her head.

“We’re fine, thank you!” He moved off.

“Dang it…” Mackenzie was having trouble getting the last of her soup out, now that all the noodles were gone.

“Just pick the bowl up and drink the rest,” Nichole prompted.

“But… but that’s… kinda…”

“There’s no one else here, and if you don’t take care of yourself, I shall be very cross!”

Nichole sat up stiffly and spread her arms wide.

“You,” she said, pitching her voice dangerously, “do not want to see me cross!”

Having just picked up her bowl, it made a sharp *crack* when it fell the inch back onto the table. Mackenzie closed in onto herself in fear.

“I… I’m sorry!”

Too much; too soon.

Faster than she understood, Nichole was next to her, holding her head and apologizing. She was just playing, she said. She didn’t mean it, she said. Please forgive her, she asked.

Mackenzie nodded her tearful face into her friend’s shirt. Nichole stood to get two to-go bowls and paid their dinner. When Mackenzie reached for her purse, Nichole stopped her with a glance.

“We,” she said, helping her friend to her feet, “are both very young at being friends. I, am very young in your world. I shall do what I can, and you, you!”

She was a little confused by that, but understood the sincerity in which it was offered.

Mackenzie knew she had always relied on another. That was not ever going to change.

“Yes, my friend.” She didn’t know how to pronounce the capital letters. “It’s getting dark; let’s go home!”

Nichole had the two bowls balanced on her left hand, with her right arm entwined with her friend’s left, as they stepped out of the little eatery. It was only that preventing her from leaping straight up five stories, to the top of the opposite building, to safety.

“Miss Clarke?”

A mixed-race young man about twenty five stepped towards them from across the street. There was another behind him. With a machine pistol.

Mixed race. The Mayor. Tribalism.

“Yes?” She replied politely, her processors at full as to save Mackenzie first and herself, second. For now: words.

The man in front of her took one more step. Were her hands free, she could have killed him in a blur.

“Apologies for disturbing your evening.” He said without meaning it. “The Mayor would like to speak with you. Now.”

He made a slight gesture to his right. Another black Lincoln. Or the same one. Didn’t matter.

Sensing Mackenzie’s panic onset, she tightened her right arm.

“I am more than happy, as a Japanese Subject of Her Imperial Majesty, to speak with your Mayor now, or at any time!” Vocal harmonics. “Yet, my dear friend has homework, and must return to her room…”

Vocal drop and harden.

“…first!”

The man in front of her went limp. She saw the armed one’s hands fall. Got you!

“Please,” she changed the scale again, “bring your car to the Stratford in fifteen minutes…”

The two nodded.

“… to please your Mayor! Yes?”

“Yes!” The one before her called. The armed one just nodded.

Nichole pulled Mackenzie and walked quickly to the east.

“What… who are they?” She asked, once they were out of sight.

Who’s listening now?!

“Loyal men of this city’s Mayor,” she replied, seeing their home just ahead and to the left. “Being a foreign national, it seems he wants to talk to me. That’s fine! That’s why I’m here!”

Up the steps of the Stratford porch, Nichole handed the leftovers to her friend. Mackenzie took them, but looked at her friend under the yellow light.

“I… I know, now, you’re a lot more than what you seem,” she took a swallow and a breath, “but I’m so happy you’re here for me!”

She glanced left, seeing the overly large car crawl up.

“You… you’re not… going to leave… me?”

“<Friend>,” Nichole brushed her lips to Mackenzie’s cheek, “so long as you want, I shall never leave you!”

She turned.

“Tomodachi!” Mackenzie shouted, echoing what she heard.

“Very good! Friend!”

Mackenzie watched her walk to the car and get into the back. The one that held the door looked up to glare at her. She didn’t care. She was not afraid.

She had the best friend in the world.

 

The driver, the one with the machine pistol, said nothing. The other got in the back seat, to her right. Fortunately, the car was large; she did not want a threat touching her.

“Again, we apologize…” The one to her right began to lie.

“Not at all.” She cut him off. “Character is what you are in the dark; I look forward to speaking more with His Honor.”

“You… you’ve already met?”

Was their organization so slipshod?

“Of course!” Rub their faces in it. “A few nights ago, aboard Kongo.”

She turned to look at the young man.

“I was seated directly across from him.”

He turned to look forward. It was obvious he’d been told to say more, but was undermined by their organizational failure.

“We are not going to the Mayor’s Mansion at Laurelhurst?”

The driver guffawed.

“That,” the once to her right said, “is where His Honor conducts business. Until we can get the rest of the surrounding buildings cleared away, it’s far to… unsettled… for overnight stays.”

“Ah.”

They drove northwest into the hills. There was just enough light for her to compare their location to the maps she’d seen prior to her departure.

“The West Hills are, I’m sure, more defendable?”

The man next to her was about to speak when the driver made a great, fake cough.

That’s a ‘yes,’ she thought.

Main road led to secondary road let to private road. They were no longer on a map in her mind, but she logged their position, nonetheless. Streetlights gave way to 55-gallon drums with fires in them, each surrounded by teams of four to five armed men.

“Legio Praetoria,” she said.

“Miss?”

The car pulled to a stop. She suppressed her smile and shook her head once.

She followed the young man along a cobblestone pathway to a surprisingly small red brick house. It appeared built in the late 19th Century and was no more than 3000 square feet. Only one wan light hung over the main door.

Her escort opened the door for her, but did not follow her in.

She stood in the foyer. Remarkably bare. With nothing to see, she opened her hearing to its fullest.

The parlor, to her left.

The door opened. The man from across the table aboard Kongo.

The Mayor of Portland.

Dictator, in all but name.

His suit jacket was off, but his gray vest remained. He walked to where she stood. An interesting reversal of etiquette, she thought. She took his raised hand.

“Miss Clarke! Thank you for coming on such short notice! I hope my men,” he waved with his left hand at the door, “did not offend?”

“They came close,” she said with a smile and only the very lightest tone. Not since Her Majesty had she been in such a predicament, and this one did not want to be her friend. “But I am very pleased to be able to speak with you…”

She bowed completely without releasing his hand.

“… Master of the City of Portland.”

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