I love prologues that are also spoilers. It then is incumbent upon the writer to make the reader forget it until the last few pages. Every new novel of mine must have a personal challenge I’ve never tried before, and this is it.
I’m continuing to get good prototypes in via 99designs.com for the cover of ‘Friend and Ally,’ the first book about Nichole. Entries will be open until Friday. I’ll also have to think of a sub-title for this second book. Reflecting the first, it’ll be “something and something,” but I’ve no idea. I’ve time enough; and worlds.
Below the fold is how the story ends. As David Byrne once asked, “Well? How did I get here?!”
Without a word Nichole walked slowly down the gangway to Ogishima in Tokyo Bay.
I’m home, she thought.
She ignored the controlled chaos all about her as the Singapore-registered bulk freighter unloaded its cargo of gypsum from Mexico-occupied San Diego, timber from Vancouver, Canada, and oil from Valdez, Alaska. She drew the usual complement of stares from the dockworkers. Seeing a passenger on a bulk ship was rare. That the passenger was a young woman with red-blonde hair and light skin was unheard of.
Making her way to dilapidated but recently repaired office building, she let herself in. More stares from the men behind the desks.
“Yes, Miss?” one of them managed.
“I need a taxi, please,” she said in her Kansai dialect. “I need to be at Chiyoda, soonest.”
At the mention of the location of the Imperial Palace no one moved. The man who had spoken glanced over his right shoulder.
“On it, sir,” the other man said, reaching for a phone.
Not a place frequented by cabs, she waited twenty minutes before its arrival. Without a word to the men in the office, she left and got in the back of the small car.
“Hello! Chiyoda Park was it, Miss?” the driver cheerfully asked.
“Yes,” she said quietly. “The Imperial Household Agency. Main entrance. Please.”
Wondering if his fare was either a VIP or crazy, the driver struggled to maintain his cheer.
“Of course, Miss! Please sit back and relax!”
They moved off to the northeast, passing into tunnels and onto bridges of the Metro Express Bayshore Route before turning north toward the city.
The City. She saw the fires in her memory.
Just two kilometers from her destination she looked left at the spire: Togame Tower, its thin form one thousands meters high, capped with the massive crystalline light held aloft by an EM thruster.
I wonder, she mused, if in my absence, someone figured out why those work?
“Miss?” the driver asked, pulling in front of the IH Agency.
“Thank you,” she said, getting out on the right and taking a couple of steps to the driver’s open window. Nichole felt in the handbag over her shoulder. Her only luggage.
The driver was surprised to feel something cold and heavy pressed into his palm. A coin?
“An ounce of pure silver, minted in the US, over a hundred years ago.” She looked over the taxi to the Agency building. “I don’t need it anymore.”
“Th… thank you, Miss!”
She paused only a moment before passing through the middle of the three doors. Nichole approached the older man in the dark gray suit behind the counter.
He watched her steady approach. Frayed hair, torn skirt, dirty blouse. There was something odd about her green eyes. Just a precaution he moved his left hand onto the Security button. He gambled on her language.
“<May I help you, Miss?>” he asked in good English.
“<Yes, please,>” she replied before returning to Japanese. “I must see Her Imperial Majesty.”
He pressed the button.
Aware that something had changed about her Nichole spoke quickly and clearly.
“I am Nichole 5 Clarke,” she noted the arrival of four armed men from a door on her left. “My Imperial Passcode is…”
She rattled off what Togame had told her say whenever Nichole returned to see her. The armed men split, two behind her left and right, just out of reach.
For a human.
Surprised at what sounded like a legitimate Passcode, he read it back to her, making one correction before tapping Enter.
“It’s real?” he breathed in astonishment. Who was this girl? Pushing that aside he read the orders associated with this Passcode.
“Will you allow me, Miss, a moment to summon an escort for you?”
She saw his look over her shoulders. The guards drew off.
A slightly younger man but in the same color suit escorted her out the back of the building and along a gravel path northwest through the woods in the direction of the Palace. He drew to a stop just before it.
“Her Majesty has prior appointments for some time. It will be at least five hours before she can attend to you. There is a small office inside where you may wait…”
“I’d rather not.” Offices were places of politics and occasional explosions for her. She pointed to a shaded bench. “If you’ve no objections, I shall wait there. Please retrieve me and take me to To- Her Majesty when it is her pleasure.”
“That will be fine,” he replied.
She noted the flick of his eyes as he moved off. Sitting, she followed where he had looked. Ah: a security camera trained directly on me. Of course.
She grew still except for the faked rising and falling of her chest.
Once more, after a hundred times already, she tried to think of how she could have done it all better. Once more, she could not.
There was a light touch onto her right shoulder. It was nearly dusk. Again she cursed the Somi coder that made the fake ‘sleep’ routine for whenever she overtasked her processors. Nichole looked up and right, standing and bowing in a blur.
“I’d thought we were friends and past all that,” the Empress, Togame, said, taking Nichole’s hands and lifting her up.
“My apologies, my Emp- er, Togame-chan! I’ve… I’ve…!”
“You look awful, Nichole,” Togame said with concern. “What happened?”
Nichole blinked rapidly.
She watched the Empress’s head fall a little. Then she felt herself being pulled down onto the bench. Togame’s hands never left hers.
“Tell me,” she said, her eyes coming back up to Nichole’s. “Tell me what happened?”