Empire’s Agent, pt.8

Nasty outbreak of DayJob, today:  my boss’s dotted-line boss was in for the annual audit.  I did my best to stay invisible.  In that time, I was able to see far beyond what I’ve written here.  But, it was a 10-hour day, so:  rest.

I have to tell this from Arpad’s POV because I didn’t understand just how – even with Ai’s family – how alone Lily is as she approaches thirty years old.  I’m not cutting her parts out, but limiting them for poignancy.

Arpad walked quickly toward Mort’s, hoping he’d something easy for lunch. After his abrupt introduction to Father Ramler, he had encountered a wealth of pertinent information.

 

“How… is it that you think that?” he dissimulated. “I’ve only been here for two days…?”

“Oh! The app that Lily’s friend, Fausta, made!” the priest laughed. “It helps everyone in town keep an eye on Lily and the kids, after that… incident!”

From her dossier, Arpad was aware of the attempt on Lily’s life. Things were unclear about the next six months; it seemed she had left the Texian Republic, but facts were sparse. A potentially related data-point was the revival of the city-state of Knoxville to signal in the world, followed shortly by the town of Huntsville, in what was once the State of Alabama.

“Her ‘app’?” he’d asked.

 

Salted pork was the freshest thing Mort had available. Not knowing what his subject liked, Arpad took a quarter pound – sliced – as well as a large roll of bread, two fist-fulls of lettuce, and some late-season green onions.

“They’re still strong ones!” Mort had laughed, “so no romance on the roof!”

Arpad understood the words but did not fully grasp his meaning. Strong onions precluded kissing, but…

 

By his smartwatch it was twelve-twenty-nine. He entered the hospital’s main civilian entrance and presented himself to the woman at the counter with a polite bow.

“I am Arpad Rigó,” he announced. “I am meeting Lily Barrett for lunch.”

The nameplate was ‘Hariette Smith.’

“Of… of course, Mister Rigó! I’ll let her know you’re here!” Her face made it plain what she wanted from him. “Please take a seat!”

He did. She might be attractive if she lost fifteen kilos, he thought as he took out his mobile.

The whole ‘MCNet’ that it had auto-connected to bothered him. Have to assume the whole thing is compromised.

He looked at news from the Empire. Nothing important.

He opened a simple text editor and typed a question.

Are you reading this?

‘Of course!’ came the immediate response.

Identify, please.

I’m Ai!

One of them.

You’ve been monitoring me?

Certainly! Since you were assigned to look at my family! He read the scroll of text. Why didn’t you just use a search engine at a terminal in your home and ask to talk?

I know nothing of you nor your family, he typed quickly. Had I been better informed, I’d still be home and we’d be –

Look up and right! And smile! She likes you, too!

Startled, he took his eyes from his mobile, recalling to smile just before seeing his subject walk out of the stairwell.

Her smile was genuine. It made him feel slightly dirty. His phone vibrated once in his hand.

He dropped his eyes for an instant.

She changes worlds!

Standing and stuffing his mobile into his left pocket, Arpad extended his right hand to Lily, which she took.

Strong and soft.

“I,” he indicted the bag on the chair next to him with his free left hand, “returned to Mort’s for our lunch! I saw some tables out front…?”

“Nope!” She still had not let go of his hand. “I know a place with a better view!”

Mirroring his gesture with her left, she indicated the elevators.

“Please?” she asked.

“Of course.”

After he turned to retrieve the bag of food with his right, he was surprised to feel her take his left with her right hand. Only Baltic girls were so forward…

Not saying a word she pushed the elevator button and waited. Given his background, he did not need to turn to know that almost every eye behind them was on them.

“You are… surprising popular.” He paused only a moment. “Lily.”

“Mmm!”

With a *ding!* the elevator arrived. They stepped aboard.

“Where are we headed,” he asked?

Her finger paused just before the button to the top floor.

“’Won’t someone tell me? Are we all one?’”

Arpad heard her softly sing. She pushed the button. The door closed.

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