The Second Bridge, pt.7

Going from Dayjob to this is once again exhausting me.  I really would like to see this story to its close, but I might need to go quiet and rest for a day or two.  We’ll see.  Thanks for everyone’s tacit encouragement.

After finishing their derailed dinner, Fausta asked if they had two-phase power.

“This just seems rude, somehow,” Leslie said as they walked in the darkness to the shed that housed his little machine shop. Twenty feet away the motion sensor picked them up and turned on the floodlights.

“This form is at a bit over thirty percent,” Fausta replied. “While I do not anticipate any threat, I shall have to return to the Labs and do what has been asked of me, there.”

“What?” Leslie asked.

“By whom?” was Gary’s question.

She chose to ignore them both, waiting patiently while Leslie unlocked the door. Going in first – wild animals had been known to make their way in – he reached right and flicked on the lights. He pointed left where the heavier machines were.

Noting the conduits she walked to a column and waved for Gary.

“Assist, please?”

“Of course what do – oh!”

He was surprised to see her reach down and pull her pretty dress up and off over her head.

“First, please put this where it won’t get dirty.”

“Of course.”

Neither Gary nor his father registered any prurient interest in Fausta’s naked form: from her neck to just below her elbows and knees her composite armored scales glittered dully in the shop’s wan light.

For people constrained by the Four Laws this form of hers is walking contradiction, Leslie thought.

“And here, please.” Fausta waved her right hand behind her back, where a human’s kidney would be.

“Yes?” Gary asked.

“Pull that area of armor up.”

After an initial tug, he realized it was Velcroed into place. Moving the flap aside he took out a two-phase plug from her back.

Before his father could speak to an extension cord, she hopped up and sat upon a work table. Unbidden, Gary plugged her in.

“Yeee!” escaped her mouth.

“I’m sorry. Did I startle you?” he asked.

“A bit! I was not fully in Charge Mode. No worries, Gary!”

The door banged open.

“Hey, guys! I finished the dishes with Mo – what pervy thing are you doing to Fausta, Gary!” his sister demanded.

He ignored her as Fausta reached over to ruffle his hair. He watched as his father moved a taller wooden three-legged stool over. He sat.

“While very happy to see you again, it is, after all, your family always going on about the ‘no coincidences’ thing,” Leslie began. “You, us, and the new reactor? Even one of our top project managers, Phil Chinon, has been unusually closed-mouthed of late.”

While he talked he watched his daughter pull herself up next to Fausta. Faustina poked at her here and there; tried lifting a couple of the scales. Their guest seemed to mind not at all.

“A special project of Dorina’s and Henge’s,” she tried. Fausta knew her family was not subtle and she least of all.

“That tells me nothing.”

“That’s why they told me to say that. Oops.”

Faustina burst out laughing.

In that outburst he caught the subtle motion of her hands.

“It’s been a big day, kids! And, with our guest we know we’ll have a bigger one tomorrow!” Leslie announced. “Off you two go!”

“Awww!” his daughter complained. “I just – ”

He watched her head come around to lock eyes with her older brother. Leslie was fully aware of what his children could do.

Gary was making for the door as Faustina slid off the workbench. She turned to give Fausta a hug.

“See you in the morning, godmother!” She paused for just a moment in the doorway. “With Mom off-limits to Dad, don’t let him get pervy when you’re naked!”

“You!” Leslie scooped and tossed a block of wood. It hit the now-closed door.

“Amazing how those two think alike,” he barely heard from Fausta.

“What’s that?”

She shook her head.

“I shall conceal nothing I know from you; you have been a part of me. However,” he could have sworn her array glittered slightly, “you might be more comfortable in ignorance.”

Leslie considered that. As an NCO in the 16th Cavalry and later as a Pioneer and tech in Knoxville’s Society, he understood full well there were times when it was better to not know…

“Will this affect my family?”

“Yes.”

“Who?”

“Gary.”

That was that.

“Tell me, as best you can.”

 

Afterward, they sat in silence for another half-hour. Saying she was at ninety percent he watched as she first disconnected herself then slipped back into her dress. She gave another short, sharp bow.

One warrior to another.

They were almost back to the house.

“Our guest room is a little cluttered right now, but – ”

“Thank you, Leslie. You know such niceties are wasted on me!” She pointed up. “May I spend the night on your roof?”

“What? Why?”

“To be older about the sights, sounds, smells of this place!” Her array again. “Any good soldier, from ranker to commander, should know the lay of the land!”

“Of course, Fausta.”

“Kah, kah!”

There was a thud where she landed above him. With a wave to her he went into his home.

 

Bathroom. Teeth. Bed.

“What was the thump?” Callie asked from next to him in the dark.

“Our guard-dragon is curled up atop our house!” Leslie laughed quietly.

“But, the guest room!”

He put his arm across her before she could get up.

“I already offered. She wanted the roof.”

“Oh.” Callie relaxed. “Find out why she’s here?”

Leslie rolled onto his back and stared at the ceiling.

“Yes.”

“That was not a happy ‘yes.’”

“They,” he took deep breath, “Fausta’s family, is going to try something with Chise.”

He used the nickname that Callie had christened the non-functioning, tiny fusion reactor.

“What?”

“She…” His voice caught. “She dumbed it down for my puny human mind…”

“Yes?” She raised herself up on her elbow.

“I… I’m a soldier. A technician. I don’t begin to understand…” He shook his head. “I just think there are some things best left alone.”

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