Empire’s Agent, baker’s dozen

I’ve uploaded the final re-edit for T4L.  The preliminary re-edit of Echoes of Family Lost is due in next week.  After I give my poor copy-editor a week off she’ll be back into “The Saga of Nichole5: Part 1 – ‘Friend & Ally.'”  That will have me essentially re-publishing and publishing three novels in three months.

To quote the smartest person on my planet, Dorina, “That’s SOOOO cool!”

On the first hand, I am not thrilled where this has ended.  On the second hand, this is just a temporary pause!  At 11k words, it would be a real pleasure to turn this into a canonical MC novel where, as a romance, no one dies.

[sit down, Will!]

On the gripping hand, I’ve much work to be done with the re-edit of EoFL and SN5-1 right on its heels.  As I’ve pointed out, I can no longer not write, so I wonder… what’s next?

Arpad set the lantern next to the coffeemaker. He’d found one mug earlier and poured it about half full. Gold lettering about the base caught his eye. Leaning next to the light he read ‘Are you enjoying the time of EVE?’ No clue.

Leaving the lantern he paused just in the doorway to her bedroom. Her breathing was already regular. Good. Cat-like, he placed the mug onto the little table just over the head of her bed. Making sure the bedroom lights were off when power returned he left the door just ajar.   He took his damp suit coat from the computer table and squished into it. Lantern in-hand he closed the door to Lily’s flat. Only then did he allow himself a sigh.

Combat is so much more simple…

Down the stairs he paused after opening the outside door. The lightning and thunder seemed mostly a mile or so to the southwest. Rather than a torrent, this was just rain.

There were only a few faint lights from the building to the right: the dorm for the kids. Straight ahead there were will-o’-the-wisps moving inside the dining hall. He trotted across.

From training and experience, he rapped twice on the doorframe before letting himself in. Getting shot by mistake was always stupid. Stepping in he raised the lantern to make sure his face was illuminated.

“… likely no pow’r ‘till mo’nin, so…” Lanning was talking.

“Prince Rigó!” some girl shouted from the dark to his right.

“No, no!” he smiled and shook his head, light still up. “Just mister!”

“Awww…!”

The orphanage Director turned about.

“Lily?”

“Asleep under the comforter, Mrs. Lanning.”

“Good! Ah-ve got the girls makin’ sammiches,” she brought her lantern as she walked to him and, taking left shoulder, led him in the direxion of the chapel, “but I’d like you to take the boys on an adventure…”

 

Two ranks of three. One before them.

Arpad considered his little army.

“Your Director tells me there are pensioners and some with infants in the immediate vicinity!” His voice was clipped and direct. He recalled the first briefing he made in a shanty in Kiev.

“Pensioners?” the one in front asked. Erik.

“Retired.”

“Sir!”

Rigó looked at him: himself ten years ago. Let me change your world, boy.

“Power should be on no later than morning; we’re checking the immediate neighborhood to see if anyone needs help! Rankers! Look to your left and right!”

The two ranks of three boys did. Why was Karl, an orphan, so fat?

“For this mission never let them out of your sight! Failures will be shot!”

Arpad didn’t have that authority, technically, but then neither did his officer in Tallinn, either. It made for a good speech.

“Erik!”

After what he’d just said, his coeval was losing his color.

“Sir.” Now it was a whisper.

“You get further than three meters from me and I cut your throat. What I tell you, you tell them, and it gets done then. Clear?”

“Sir!” Quiet, but stronger. I owe you my new life, Laszlo…

“Follow me!”

 

Out into the rain – that was slowly ending – they covered the immediate blocks in their first sweep, snot-nosed Erik taking notes from everyone that needed anything as they did. Thinking they were finished…

“Once more!” Arpad called. “Second round of blocks out!”

The whines and grumbles were universal.

“You ladies thought to live forever!?” he shouted. “This is your home!”

He started off. They followed.

At 0401 he took the notepad from a weaving Erik and handed it to Carol Lanning.

“No emergencies. The woman in 316 South Tenth will need Lantus insulin no later than 1200.” He looked over her shoulder, up at Lily’s flat. “I’d summon her, but – ”

“Let ‘er lie, mister Reegoo.” She was obviously tired, too.

He spun and yelled.

“Troop!”

Exhausted children, the boys jerked to attention. They need a father-figure.

“Erik!”

The troublemaker shuddered.

“Sir?” he managed.

Arpad had his shoulders.

“Well done, lad.”

The young man tore out of his grasp, running into the darkness. I know why; I did the same when it came to me.

“Troop! Excellent work! Dismissed!”

Six shoulders dropped.

“Except for you, Karl!”

The other five staggered off. The slightly overweight Karl looked as if he was about to cry. Arpad knelt before him and put his hand onto the teen’s shoulders.

“I need you to protect Miss Lily.”

Blinking, he raised his eyes to Arpad’s

“Sir?”

“I promised to spend the rest of what remains of the night with her. I need an honorable chaperone.”

“Oh.” Arpad watched understanding dawn. “Oh!”

“You run get a blanket and pillow; it’s her couch for you! I’ll make do on her floor! But!” Karl paused before running to the dorm. “Be quiet on your way in!”

“Sir!” he preemptively whispered.

Office. Stairs. Room. Bedroom.

I didn’t know she snores. Not bad, but still…

Arpad returned to the kitchenette and splashed water onto his face and drank some from his cupped hands.

“Sir?” A whisper from door.

He looked up and pointed at the small couch.

“Your place is there. For the record, for what remains of this night, her bedroom door is wide open. Questions or comments, trooper?”

“One, sir.”

That surprised him enough to turn at the bedroom’s doorframe.

“Yes?”

“Comment.”

“Please.”

“I was in love with Miss Barrett.”

“Were you, Karl?”

“Yes.”

“And now?”

“I… may still be. But I know it won’t work.”

A pause.

“You’re a good man, Karl. I’d fight beside you.”

“Thank you, sir.”

Another pause. Arpad turned, wondering where on the floor was the least uncomfortable.

“Do you love her?” Karl asked.

Love.

Her.

He didn’t move.

“I… think… so.”

He ducked his head down and left.

“Will you give her to me, trooper?”

Time passed.

“Take care of her.” He heard the boy’s voice break.

This is so outside my assignment!

“On my life, Trooper Karl.” For a moment he recalled that time, alone, in the cathedral, yelling at God. “’I am so; live or die, I am so.’”

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