Empire’s Agent, pt.12

Busy morning about the house; was in the process of installing a new fluorescent ballast in the garage when there was a spark – oh, yeah:  should probably turn the breaker off.  Obviously Someone wants me to write more stories or I’d have been struck dead just then.  All together now:

“there are no such things as coincidences!”

Below the fold the story did not, honestly, go where I thought it would.  I was very surprised that they made such an emotional connexion when I’d been expecting a physical one.  That’s, obviously, still a very real possibility in their next few hours, but… I wonder…

The devil on my left shoulder whispers “kill him!  horribly!  tragically!” Not today, Will D.!

In other RealWorld(TM) news, the final version of the Second Edition of The Fourth Law is being reviewed for release into the wild without a radiocollar.  I hope to post an Amazon link no later than Wednesday.  If you want to save 30% and get a personalized, signed copy, let me know in the comments or via writer [at] 3-arstudios DOT com.

The sole door, on the left, at the top of the stairs, was unlocked. Half-carrying Lily in, Arpad felt her left arm move as the lights came on.

Windows to his left looked out onto the rest of the orphanage. Well, they normally would. In the center of the room was a desk with three flatscreens facing the windows. Ahead and right was a tiny kitchenette and at his immediate right a door to her bedroom.

A long roll of thunder and another shudder from her.

“Let’s get you to your hot shower – ”

“No!” yelled a young woman from the screens. Curious, Arpad moved Lily with him to see…

A larger version of the dated animation of the girl that had briefly been on his phone. You’d think with the computational power of an AI, they’d render themselves a little better!

“What was that?” he asked.

“Don’t shower during – ”

The afterimage in his retinas was purple but his reaxion to the explosion of the lightning bolt just outside was automatic: he was on the floor with Lily under him.

Oh, he realized, not artillery or an IED.

“…heavy…!” a tiny voice under him complained.

He sat up. The room and the screens were totally dark.

Power failure.

I wonder what the machine was trying to tell us?

He shifted slightly and made a learned guess as to where her shoulders were and raised her.

“Sorry. Training,” he said into the dark. Every few seconds more lightning would briefly illuminate her face. He watched her eyes harden.

“Eh the power’s uf, ah nud to…” she sniffled hugely, “need to check on the kids!”

There was a creak from the stairs. They both turned to see Lanning there with a kerosene lamp in each hand.

“No you-uns won’t!” She walked in and reached over Arpad’s head to set one on the table. “Geht her to bed, mister Reegoo; thars a comforter in the top of her closet.”

“Bed? Wouldn’t a hot shower…?” he began but trailed off seeing her head shake.

“Good way t’ get ‘lectocuted in a storm, mister Reegoo.”

That’s what the AI had been trying to say.

“But…!” Lily tried.

“You get a cold, bronchitis, pneumonia! What about our kids then, Lily!?”

When she yells her accent drops.

“Yes’m…” he saw her proud head go down in defeat.

“Good!” Triumphant, Lanning turned about.

“Once I’ve seen to Lily, I’ll stay and help.” He spoke up. “If you-all will have me!”

He saw the Director’s back shake at his dialect attempt.

“That’s right Christian of you, mister Reegoo! If you-uns can make the distance, I’ll be ‘cross in the dinin’ hall!”

“’Make the distance’!” Lily heard his mutter as he once again picked her up without so much as a breath. “Let’s see her forced march from Narva to Saint Petersburg in winter!”

“Lily?”

“Mmm?!”

“Can you get the lantern?”

“Sure!” She reached out and held high with her left as they… they…

Into my bedroom! This is the most romantic thing ever! She thought in abject fear.

“Lily!”

“Eeep!”

“You’ve got to get your wet clothes off now!”

“I’ll… I’ll be fine – ”

“Stupid!” He set her down abruptly, obviously angry. He jerked the lantern out of her hand. Turning it down, he placed it onto her dresser.

“I’m getting towels; if you’re still dressed in five seconds I’m cutting the clothes off of you.”

His voice was low, quiet, and controlled. Her mind was filled with memories of Fausta and Orloff: people that found violence… useful.

In one motion her scrub top and undershirt were off. A tug at the drawstring of pants – and with only the tiniest hesitation as she saw his silhouette come out of the bathroom – they and her panties were down.

“Dry your top,” he shoved one towel into her hands. He knelt and worked from her hips down to her feet. She couldn’t tell anymore what she was shivering from.

“Finished?” he barked from somewhere around her right knee.

“Y… yeah…”

She was flat on her back in her twin bed, but atop her blanket… she heard him open her closet. With a *whoosh!* her down comforter settled onto her. Without a word he tucked it tightly about her. Lily never knew that disappointment felt like an angina attack.

Suddenly, all was still. The rumblings went on outside. She could just make out his outline next to her bed.

“Why are you helping me? Just to get at my friends?”

“You need something warm in you…”

“WHAT did you just say…!”

“Do you have the makings for tea or coffee in your kitchenette?” he finished. “What?”

“N- nothing. Yeah, coffee would be nice…”

Her bedroom was suddenly dark as he’d left with the lantern. She heard the systematic opening and closing of cabinets and drawers followed by the running of a little water. Her shakes were less and the ache in her chest… well… it wasn’t gone. It just seemed to have moved. Down.

“Lily?”

“Ack!” How had he knelt next to her bed without her hearing?! “Yes, Arpad?”

“Your friend, Ai, is correct: I could have never left an office in Vienna and talked to your friends all I wanted.”

She felt… his fingers?… wander through her hair. She shuddered again.

“You are correct: my masters wanted to know more about you. What makes them, the machines, fascinated with you?”

His fingers wandered down onto the right side of her face.

“Arpad…” she whispered.

“But to answer your question? I’m helping you because I like you.”

Her lips, warm. An unfamiliar sensation… almost half a decade since her last kiss…

“…pad…” she murmured. A faint bell from the other room announced the coffee. It was ignored.

“…comforter is heavy…!”

He moved it aside, surprised once her arms were free she instantly wrapped them around his neck and pulled him down. Her cheeks were wet?

“Lily…?”

“Stay with me!”

He briefly recalled his promise to Lanning, but if she’s ready to go…

“Stay…!” now she was crying. “… stay with me!”

This was not going where he thought. He lifted his face from hers just a little.

“Lily? Have you…?”

In a flicker of lightning he saw her head shake, tears flung left and right.

I’m not taking a virgin; not like this.

“Lily? The storm’s letting up.” He eased a little away from her, surprised how much he wanted her. “Let me check with Mrs. Lanning and your kids – ”

“Come back!” Odd she didn’t tell me not to go…

He kissed her again and tucked her in warm.

“I will.”

At her bedroom door he could just make out her whisper.

“Why does everyone leave me?”

Arpad froze. In his mind’s eye he saw himself on the streets of the Pest side of Budapest. A punk who made his Grandmother’s life miserable.

Why did my parents leave me?

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