Montrose’s Toast

This did not end where I expected.  I knew Teresa would look into what’s going on out east.  A play for the throne?  Wow.  I am now reacting to, not writing, this story.  I must make haste slowly.

Following her Monday class, Nichole asked Teresa if she had a moment to spare. John and Sanjay were out the door before her friend had made up her mind.

“I guess,” Teresa replied. “Why?”

Nichole was staring out the fifth floor window of the Engineering Building. She shook her head once without a verbal reply. Intrigued, Teresa stuffed her tablet into her bag and stood.

It was a cold mist of early spring as they made their way west back into the campus. Her one attempt at conversation blunted, the daughter of the Mayor of Portland kept her peace as she realized their destination: the Miller Library. Through the front doors and to a stairwell down on the right she’d never used before. One, two, three levels underground. A third of the lights were out and she could have sworn she saw a rat scurry past a side door. They stopped before a large metal door with a keypad lock.

“If you’re planning on raping me like you did your grey ghost, you could have at least bought me a drink first!”

There was a *whaang!* as Nichole’s fists slammed into the wall just on either side of her friend’s head.

“Were I planning on raping you there is nothing you could do to stop me,” she rumbled, her face inches from Teresa’s.

“True.” She leaned forward a fraction and licked the tip of Nichole’s nose. “Do it.”

“How is it that you always win these exchanges?”

“An orphan Celt raised in Japan has nothing on a mutt raised in politics!”

Without a word Nichole turned back to the metal door and typed a code. She pushed the handle down and pulled the door open with her left. With her right, she brusquely pulled her friend in with her. No larger than a walk-in closet, the first door closed behind them as they faced an identical door ahead.

“What…?”

“An airlock of a sort,” Nichole answered, typing again and opening the second door. “Things here don’t take well to changes in climate.”

Motion sensors brought some lights on, but it was still mysterious. Nichole beckoned for Teresa to go on ahead. She looked around. Specially sealed drawers and cabinets, but also glass and plastic display cases, under which were illustrated manuscripts that might be hundreds of years… she paused before a papyrus scroll with hieroglyphs… or thousands of years old. She’d no idea of this preserve of history.

“You wanted to show me this?” Not having been one particularly taken with the past, Teresa was still learned enough to respect what she was being shown.

“No.” Simple, direct. “I have taken great care to make sure that this room is free of all monitoring devices. I want to talk to you. About your father.”

Sensing her friend’s mixed reaxion she came up behind her and lightly pinched her butt.

“Surprised?”

“Yeah…” Teresa sighed,“…was hoping for a BDSM three-way with you and Gil.”

Nichole burst into laughter and hugged her friend, knowing she would never best her.

They sat across a brushed stainless steel table that Nichole explained as a reading table. She had already pointed out the gloves used to handle the old works – Nichole used those as her hands were as dirty as anyone else’s – and the filter masks – which she did not.

“No, of course I’m not asking you to spy on your family. That would be hateful!” Nichole exclaimed. “I am asking you to keep an eye and ear out for anything having to do with the barbarians to our east.”

The “our” was not lost on Teresa. She’d a pretty good grasp of just how far in Miss Perfect was in local politics.

“So you, a foreign national, are asking me to spy on my own local government and pass it onto you?”

“Yes.”

“Do you,” Teresa tried again, “have any sense of shame at all?”

Surprised by the oblique nature of the question Nichole was silent longer than normal.

“No.”

Teresa sat back and shook her head.

“Why is suddenly so important? Just because you got caught up in two battles shortly after arriving here – ”

Three, Nichole thought, knowing that her friend was unaware of her involvement with Kongo.

“ – doesn’t mean you have to stay involved in war and politics! God knows I want nothing to do with my Old Man, much less what he’s up to!”

“You are aware the farmers of the Willamette Valley have elected a Governor; a counter-balance to your father?”

“’Counter….?’” She shook her head, confused. “They just want a greater say in how – ”

“That’s what politics are…”

“I’ve TOLD YOU! I don’t care about – !” Teresa stood, her fists on the tabletop.

“…Princess.”

For the nth time, Nichole noted her breathing, blood pressure, eye movements. She will lie again.

“I don’t want – !”

“Liar.”

Nichole stood, too. The tone in her single word stuck her friend like a physical blow.

“There are too many centripetal forces at play: democracy is a lie and too many chafe under your father’s barely veiled dictatorship. Monarchy is the only way out.”

Carefully pitched tone and timbre.

Nichole slowly reached for Teresa’s hands, giving her plenty of time to shy away.

She took them.

“There is no question of your loyalty and respect for your family… and your friends.”

The human’s hands shook, just a little.

“But the world now is not that of two years ago. Two more will be unimaginable. You are my dear friend…”

Their grips tightened.

“… and now you must be my ally!”

Raising her face, the look in her friend’s face was that of another friend of hers; on the other side of the ocean: trapped in a golden cage.

“Do,” Teresa paused to lick her dry lips. “Do you really think we can do it?”

In her peripheral vision, Nichole noted the barely illuminate scrawl on the parchment a few yards past her friend’s left shoulder. Of course. She paraphrased.

“’She either fears her fate too much, or her desserts are small, who dares not put it to the touch, to win or lose it all!’”

A bit more than a minute passed. Their eyes never left one another’s.

“All right,” Teresa said, standing and shaking loose of Nichole. “Let’s do this.”

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