Anything set by firelight is amazingly atavistic. We are the descendants of all those that stayed close to their family and the fire to listen to wondrous stories. Think of it as evolution in action.
Each detachment had two fires burning. The sun had set some hours ago and the cool damp seemed to seep into everyone’s bones. Losing to the Special Police was a blow to the Regular’s morale no matter what Nichole’s theatrics. Accompanied by now-sergeant Brunelli, she made her way through their camp.
She squatted next to a figure who was just using a stick to retrieve his drinking tin from the edge of the fire. He gripped the handle with a piece of cloth.
“It’s so nice to see everyone again, Corporal Reilly,” she said, staring with him into the fire. She no doubt he’d been aware of her approach.
“Wish we could have put on a better show for you, miss,” he replied, taking a drink of his cheap coffee. Cheap, but actual coffee. She knew he was willing to pay for it.
“You were and are a great mentor to me,” she said, leaning a little into him. “And, of course, I owe you my life!”
His head shook a faction, eyes still on the fire.
“That wasn’t me. Hell, it wasn’t John. It was Christ.” He took another drink. “It was a miracle.”
Nichole said nothing. She was much older about Christianity from her time with Nancy. I am not a follower of the Way; yet I have seen such things. Transcendent things…
“Likely, you are right,” she allowed. She changed tack. “Everyone going back upriver soon?”
Another head shake.
“We’ve been crossing and scouting northeast. The Chec – ” He caught himself and continued. “The City police seem to dominate upriver patrols these days.”
“Oh.” She said. But fished for more. “Is that where they’ve been getting combat experience? Like their commander, Bakke?”
She watched as Reilly tossed his last mouthful of coffee from his tin into the fire.
“That arrogant fuck – excuse me, Miss Clarke – that arrogant man will get us all killed.” He stood. “Good evening. It is good to see you again.”
Nichole used his departure to tell a story about what she’d been doing at school to those still about the fire. A few chuckled. Most were solemn.
“We… really… are so honored that you brave men risk so much for our lives of normalcy!”
John coughed politely behind her. She stood and gave a bow and wave to the men. Once she was next to the hulking non-comm she slid what she could of her right arm about him. On duty or not, he immediately returned the embrace.
“Dump the college boy?” he asked, hope in his voice.
“John? Do I have to speak to your mother again?”
“Tch! I was just asking!”
She laughed silently and gave him a squeeze and considered her mission.
“So you all have been scouting across the river?” she tried to keep her voice innocuous. “Toward the old Hanford Nuclear Site?”
He froze in mid-step.
“No!” He hissed. “And even if we were, don’t talk about things like that!”
After a huff of breath, they resumed their tandem walk.
“But…” now she was genuinely curious, “there’s nothing else in that direxion. I’ve an idea from General Tessmer how thinly stretched you all are…”
Another abrupt stop.
“You’ve spoken to the General?!”
Before I met you.
“Uh… yeah. We sorta bumped into one another one night a few months ago.”
Nichole now could tell that he was leading her not just away from the cavalry detachment fires, but as far as possible from the Special Police camp. In utter darkness he finally stopped. Nichole’s ears detected no humans remotely close.
John leaned way down to her left ear.
“The eastern passes into old Seattle. We’ve been ordered to recon them!” was his whisper.
Nichole considered the map in her mind.
Why? The City could barely defend itself… who would need tactical intelligence…
“For the Huns?”
She could tell he shuddered at her inhuman whisper. I can’t get those right!
“Let’s go back.”
His non-denial was her answer.
She’d not planned on spending the night in their camp, but it was too late and thus too dangerous to ride back into the City. A spare tent was found. She would have put it up herself but second detachment was not about to let their mascot and friend do such a thing.
The fires were subsiding, but she was able to see everyone perfectly clearly in the second hour before midnight. She hummed loudly as she walked to the closer of the two slowly subsiding blazes.
“Many of you know that not only am I not from here, but, belying my looks, I was raised in Japan,” she raised her voice just a little. “Before we turn in, except for those on watch!, I wanted to share a song that one of my family taught me. I am – ”
She played a catch in her voice and let her head drop a moment before raising it.
“I am so happy to be your friend!”
She amplified just enough that those at the fringe would have to strain to hear.
<Stop time and see blinking
Futuristic eyes to wake up
Twinkling world little by little…>
In the four minutes to finish her song, she noted unfamiliar faces just at her range of perception. Their uniforms were not those of the cavalry.
Her voice fell silent and she dropped her head. Applause came from all about, but not from those in the darkness.
I am the both the bait and the trap.