Tears, sweat, blood

To cite Arkada of Glass Reflections:  ladies, gentlemen, and others, I present to you the final installment of Act 2.5 of “Defiant.”  Yes, you read that right:  the writing component is complete.  Editing and ret-conning the four parts of this 18-month, 85.5k writing exercise into a proper novel will begin.

And therein lies your chance, you followers of this blog and those that have wandered in via my sole social media presence on Gab.ai:  if you so desire, you can d/l and read the entire story between now and Saturday, for free.  It’s very, very rough, but you’ll get what you pay for. Come Saturday, whenever I wake up, I’ll be pulling the entire ‘free webnovel’ down as I begin to turn it into a commercial novel.  As always, I’ll do the first-pass editing myself.  Second and copyediting – and a cover – are as yet an unknown; after the layabout wife and the Dog With the Golden Nose, it’s all ramen and Taco Bell salsa packets here.  My sole, possible, hard-deadline, is January 26th, when I might have another Creative Writing panel at Ohayocon.  If I do, I’d like to say, “since my last panel, I’ve published two books… what did you do?”  Keeps the snarkers from snarking.

Anyway, there’s just over thirty five hundred fricking words below the fold!  Open a bottle of wine or make a pot of coffee, the one right next to that bottle of bourbon, sit back, and, please, see what I’ve seen… and have fun!

Nichole wondered who she could put together for an interesting late afternoon? Never mind that; she made for home. Not wanting any more attention, she forced herself to walk quickly rather than run.

Mackenzie was just coming out of the stairwell into the lobby as Nicole passed the desk. The young man she only knew as Robert was at the front desk. He smiled and nodded at her. She gave a little wave before almost bumping into her friend.

“Nichole!” For the gray mouse to raise her voice like that was startling.

“Mac-uff!”

Her dorm-friend hugged her tight.

“I… I was so worried!” She leaned back and looked at Nichole from head to foot. “Are you okay?”

“Sure! Bit of activity yesterday, though!”

Mackenzie’s entire body sagged; her hands dropped from her special friend’s shoulders to their fingers, touching.

“I… you…!” Her eyes swam. “I can’t lose anyone else!”

Nichole could read much from her posture, voice, statement. My poor friend!

“I told you I’d be back,” she whispered, taking Mac’s head next to hers. For a timeslice she thought of her sister, Caroline, who, unique among them, spent more time in the webs than she did in her body. “So long as you want, I’ll be with you, okay!”

She nodded her head against Nichole’s.

“Now! Off you go! I need to hurry and change before I’m late to my classes, too!”

They saw one another off with a smile and a wave. Alone now, she raced up the stairs to her room.

Tossing all of her dirty clothes away to the right, she made for the small bathroom. What she could see in the mirror confirmed her suspicion: dust, dirt, mud. She looked awful.

“At least I don’t stink!” Some of the techs at Somi… she was glad no one had the bright idea of sweat glands for her family.

For the fourth time in her young life, she eased into the shower. Only once before here, at the locker room at the pool, and twice before at Somi. After her leak & buoyancy test and her hand-to-hand combat test. Thinking of that…

Thinking of that recalled her to the river crossing. She called down fire: from the marksmen; from the mortarmen. She did that.

Once again, other humans were dead. By her orders.

She lowered her head into her hands and let the cold water rush over her body. She shook at being older this way.

She was unusually quiet at her only morning class. Everyone noticed the unresponsiveness of their ‘I’ve a million questions!’ girl, but no one said anything. John and Sanjay had an odd look in their eyes while she dully explained what she’s just sketched onto the board. Not even Teresa had questions.

“That’s all.” She managed. She might hate herself, but she still took in the silent exchange between these three.

These three humans. When will I kill them?

The young men beat a quick retreat. The Mayor’s daughter paced herself, putting things into her bag. Nichole turned her head a bit to the right, looking at the cloudy gloom of the afternoon.

Sorry, Nike, she thought. I don’t think I should be around –

Teresa had hooked her right arm into Nichole’s left and jerked her towards the door without a word. They continued down the stairs.

“Please…?” Nichole mumbled.

“And ‘thank you!’” Teresa snarked. “Who’s been ramming friendship down everyone’s throat for weeks? You’re about to find out it’s a double-edged sword?”

“What?” Nichole wanted no more killing – !

By Portland definitions, it wasn’t raining, so Nichole’s nemesis didn’t bother with a jacket or umbrella.

“C’mon,” another tug, “and answer my questions.”

Huh?

“Some shit went down, up north, on the river, right?”

“Um.” No one had told her to classify this information; she would be prudent. “Yeah.”

“You got caught up in it, again?”

“Yeah.”

“If it’s the army, then my Dad’s involved.”

A pause.

“Yeah.”

They passed the Union/Admin building.

“Something bad happened.” A statement, not a question.

Nichole stopped so fast and firmly that Teresa nearly fell over. She was shocked when Miss Genius sank to her knees. She followed her down.

“I… I told men… to kill others… humans…”

What? Teresa thought.

“I am older that war is not murder… but… I… I…”

To Teresa’s complete surprise, she watched her TA’s head loll forward as her body sagged left into hers. She passed out? She was suddenly angry.

“You son of bitch,” she hissed about her father, “what have you done to my…”

She paused, then moved her arm from Nichole’s, placing it across her shoulders.

“To my friend, you awful old man!”

Minutes passed. Teresa was just a little concerned that Nichole was even breathing. There’d been several passerby’s, asking if they needed help. So far, she’d shook her head at them, but was beginning to wonder –

Nichole’s head came up. She seemed to shake a little. Teresa watched her track right and back to the left. To her eyes.

Teresa bit her lower lip. Nichole’s eyes were glowing!

“Uh. What happened?” She asked, dully.

“I think, friend,” she gave a little squeeze, “you just had a little too much excitement recently and needed a rest!”

“Rest. Sleep.” This time, Nichole didn’t panic. This was something deep in her, a routine she could not even see, to come to terms with things far, far beyond her thoughts and experiences. Someday, she thought wryly, I shall find who coded this and thank them! She faked a deep breath and stood, pulling Teresa up with her.

“Were you taking me home, friend?”

“Actually, I was taking you to the bar,” she let the corners of her mouth turn up, just a little, “friend!”

“Good! I am expected! And, I think, so are you!”

They crossed the greensward and walked north on Park Avenue. Just as they drew up to Zom’s, Nichole noted her two friends coming from her right, from the pool.

“Joe! Gil!” She waved. She and Teresa waited for the two young men. She was pleased that Joe could smile again.

“Hey, Nichole, how’s things?” Joe put hand onto her waist since her shoulders were occupied. “You okay after… everything?”

She gave a thin smile and blinked a lot.

“I guess.”

With a single nod, his hand held her just a little tighter.

“You two headed home?” Gil asked, ever practical, and not particularly fond of Teresa.

“Nope!” His bête noir replied. “Drinks! If we’re lucky, will be waking up with stories to tell in the morning!”

Nichole noted that her stance changed just slightly as she talked to the two; she leaned back on her right leg and rotated her left outward just a little.

Wait. Were they all having sex… tonight?

“Lovely!” Nike called from the deck of his place. “Your table’s already ready! Group tab, this time?”

 

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. 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 campus with impunity.

Nichole was just ahead of Gil. A slight smile on her face, her paper cup of one of Nike’s odd mixed drinks largely untouched. 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 no good.

It was [Friday?], and almost through the term, on the heels of another battle, when they got together. Nichole was now too old to use the word ‘coincidence.’

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, TA Clarke!” Her classmate growled at her before another slurp from her cup.

Teresa started up the stairs, they came 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. “Looks as if 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. I sought more information.”

Teresa stared, smiled.

“You’ve heard that story! 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 leapt 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. 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….” He started, tried again. “The best outcome of this is being arrested. Better than killed, I suppose.” He sat at the pool’s edge, 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 attractive, 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 met 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 were 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 and rolled into her mouth.

Good a time as any, she thought, 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, 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 *urp!* sound and ran towards the locker room. She lifted Joe’s arm, her hand now tight across the wounds.

“Gil,” she said with tones, “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 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 man, he will die.

“We must seek a second opinion, but I think you have stage II 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. There are no such things as coincidences.

“Friend Teresa!” She pitched her voice to carry. “While I was introduced to your father aboard Kongo, and had a rather truncated talk with him just a few days ago, I must speak to him again, first thing in the morning!” She would conceal nothing, well, almost nothing from her friends. “And, 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: make gunboats. Train a navy. Be a Friend and Ally of Her Majesty’s Empire: make Portland the new Athenian hegemony, based on the former US’s west coast…! Friend Teresa will enjoy this story!

“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 five days a freighter from Taiwan arrives, coming north from Occupied San Diego, on its way home. 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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