Oakland

Still messing about with my characters, but, plot-wise, there’s no there-there.

Time, alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine will fix.  Please bear with me.

“Now then,” Nichole watched her roll her shoulders and look toward the door. “How do we get out of here?”

What? The door was…?

Teresa’s eyes moved back to Nichole’s. She sighed.

“If you’re planning on setting up an espionage ring, you’d better go up about four or five flights of stairs and try reading some history and fiction!” Teresa exclaimed. “Dad has his eyes on both of us, for different reasons, sure, but even with his limited resources, either a Pin or an informer is likely around here somewhere!”

Ah.

Nichole walked around the stainless steel table and took her friend’s elbow, guiding her to a darker corner. She pulled open wide, shallow metal drawer.

“I see well in the dark. Does your phone have a light?” Nichole asked.

“Hang on…” as she rummaged. “Here! Oooo! Porn!”

“These are illustrations made in the Tenth Century of a First Century Indian Manuscript,” Nichole noted. “You likely have heard the name: Kama Sutra.”

“Looks like fun! Are there more…?!” She reached toward the drawer.

“No touching! What about Tenth Century didn’t you hear!”

“Oh. Dang.” Teresa pulled her hands back. “But, then, why show me?”

“You’ve now a very strong sexual-emotional memory of your time here with me.” Nichole continued past Teresa’s snort. “If questioned attached to a lie-detector or by a hypnotist, your initial reaxion as to what we were doing here will prove true.”

The light on her friend’s phone went out.

“Well, damn!” came the soft exclamation. “You’re better at this than I’d thought you’d be!”

“Thank – ”

“Do we head up and out together, or have you a few minutes after me, fingering yourself ‘cause I rejected you?”

“F… fi… fing…”

“God! You’re so easy! C’mon, Miss Perfect!”

Up and out the stairs into the twilight, to keep up pretenses Teresa kissed Nichole’s cool cheek and waved as she walked away. Nichole made some Brownian movement, straying this way and that about the square before the Miller Library before setting her face toward home.

I do not detect any observers. Still, they will be trained and I am not. I must be cautious.

Less than ten minutes later she stood in the hallway of the fourth floor of the Stratford. Her room to her right, friend Mackenzie’s to her left.

I was very curt with her, the last time we spoke. I do not think I hurt her feelings, but she is likely the most sensitive person I know…

Knowing it a small invasion of privacy, she took a step to the left and just put her ear against the door.   A faint sound. She increased reception… ah! Pens or inking she would have readily detected. Her friend was painting. She raised her left hand to knock at the door… and hesitated as a subroutine of doubt hooked her mind.

No! She killed the routine and erased the code. She retained the memory, to be older.

Her knuckles rapped on the door twice.

Nothing. Then…

“Yes…?” Softly.

“May I visit you and say good night, my friend?” Nichole asked.

Nothing. Then: “Sure.”

The scrape of a wood chair on a wood floor. The door opened and Nichole took in the complex smells of the paints Mackenzie was using. An easel stood at the invisible transition of the efficiency’s kitchenette to bedroom, turned away from the door.

Mackenzie blinked once, her mouth twitching a little, happy to see her special friend. One of only four in Greater Portland who knew what Nichole was, she was pleased to count one of the most unique people on Earth as a friend.

Seeing the paint on her hands and apron, Nichole rested her palms on her friend’s shoulders and touched her forehead to hers.

“The last time we spoke, I was curt. I wanted to apologize!”

For a moment Mackenzie was lost in those bright emerald eyes: so close!

“That’s… that’s okay.” She shook loose and turned around and took a few steps back into her flat. “Did you… have a good time?”

“Very! In fact, we – ”

She took a step into Mackenzie’s room but immediately noted the tension coming in waves off of her friend.

“- have decided not to talk about it! May I see your new work?”

“No!” For her usually grey invisible self, it was quite the outburst. “That is… it’s not finished…”

Never before had she an issue showing me a work in progress… so I suspect who might be the subject…

“No worries! You know how much I like your work! In a few weeks, if I can finagle more sat-comm time, I’ll send it back to family!”

Mackenzie turned at that. A month after the engagement with the Huns at The Dalles dam, Nichole had both sent images of Mac’s drawings to her family in Osaka as well as downloading and printing some of Eldest Sister Hajime’s works. Her young human friend had been transfixed to look at the copies of oil paintings made by a non-human.

“You… will?”

“Sure! Several of them really like your stuff!” Nichole smiled. “Maybe we’ll arrange a tour of you and your works in a few years!”

“We?” Mackenzie asked. When it came to her art she could be surprisingly practical.

“Um…” Nichole dissimulated. “Me and a girl I know in the government.”

“Oh.” Her gaze drifted away and over her shoulder.

Time to go!

“I am so glad to see you again, friend! May I make you an omelet in the morning? Nan – er, Mrs. Brunelli says I have become rather adept at them!”

“That… that would be nice.” She half closed her door, but paused. “I am so happy you’re my friend, Nichole.”

The door shut and the bolt was thrown.

“And I that you are mine!” Nichole whispered; her low tone eerie. I do wonder what she is painting!

Nichole let herself into her flat and prepared her body for the night.

 

With thorough knowledge of her friend’s morning routine, Nichole knocked on the door at 0746 with her right hand. Her left was busy.

“’Morning, Ni…” The door opened. After she shower Mackenzie was wearing a collared shirt and panties while she rubbed her eyes after her shower. Eyes that took in the action in her friend’s left hand. “…chole. Come on in.”

Still juggling the two eggs and small block of cheese, Nichole followed her. In quick succession she placed them onto the counter next to the two-burner electric stove. Nichole reached opened the cabinet to the lower right and retrieved the skillet that lived there.

She’d already taken in that the easel was draped with Mac’s smock. Such a secret!

“Please continue getting dressed, friend Mackenzie,” she said, turning the burner’s control to medium-high heat. “I’ll be but a moment!”

They were both older to stop thanking one another for everything, mostly, and just as comfortable in their silences as their conversations.

Nichole poured the egg slurry into the skillet, followed quickly by a little salt and pepper. Unlike Nancy who demanded onions and garlic, her young friend couldn’t seem to palette them. The cheese followed and she waited until just the right moment to fold the omlette over. Twelve seconds later she tossed the pan, flipping breakfast over with her left while killing the power with her right.

Plate, fork, napkin. Mac had already got herself a cup of apple juice, handmade from groves about ten miles west. A long run, even for Nichole, but they had made her older about the cheese factories further west; and the fisheries on the coast, beyond them. Rather than her limited supply of silver, she’d repaid them with information.

The grey ghost sat. Nichole did as well, opposite.

“Thank you.”

“You are welcome!”

Nichole waited until she was about half finished.

“Just one more semester after this?” she asked.

“Yeah,” Mac said, taking a drink. “Hope I can find a job.”

“You already have five art students…” Nichole began.

“I mean for my stup- for my degree: accounting.”

“Of course.” She hated accounting, but had made a promise. “Ship traffic is up twenty-two percent in the last three months. I’m sure you’ll be able – ”

Mackenzie’s head and eyes came up in what was, for her, a stare.

“A couple of days ago, some City guys,” Nichole noted the tiny shiver. Political Police. “Stopped me on my way home and asked if I wanted to work for the Mayor.”

Nichole forced the image Kongo and its guided missiles from her mind. They – he – does this to bring pressure on me!

“Did they, indeed?”

“I…” she took her last bite of egg. “I told them nothing. But I don’t want to.”

Her gaze fell; her voice a whisper.

“Could you… help me?”

Nichole thought quickly and quoted the most dangerous man she knew.

“Leave it to me,” she said calmly. I must preserve this person; my anchor of normalcy.

Mackenzie looked up, blinking.

“Thank you!”

They both stood. Time to get to classes.

 

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