Now that the plot is finally here, it’s time to introduce our antagonist. The Fourth Law didn’t really have one. Echoes and Cursed Hearts had one’s that were also sympathetic. Friend & Ally’s was more off camera than on. This time, it’s going to be different. Yet another new way for me to write!
At 0415 she opened her eyes. The watch had changed fifteen minutes ago. It was a bit more than an hour’s ride back to the university. She did not want to make her departure a scene.
Coiling along her own length she leaned out of the little tent. Young in Osaka she would have said light rain. Now, it was an unimportant mist. She noted Toast on the line with the other horses a dozen yards away, just at the wood’s line. She was also aware of the man at the horses’ far right. He had an odd, triangular device with a small telescope attached. He’d look at the sky, bring it to the horizon and repeat.
He wears the uniform of the political police. I must be cautious.
She stood and went to her horse, who greeted her with a snort. Nichole began brushing her back before prepping the blanket and saddle. Not legally ‘her horse,’ she’d drop her off at the Regular Army depot just by the Official, but empty, Mayor’s Residence. After that, she’d run home and get ready for classes.
“Morning,” the other said. Not too loud for the morning and just enough that a human would have heard him.
“Morning.” She was just a fraction quieter. Come to me if you want to talk!
She watched as he lowered the object and walked over. In the pre-twilight before dawn she could not make out much, but he, like almost all the Pins, was not White. He seemed vaguely Hispanic. His next few words would reveal more.
“You’re up early, hero!” the smile in his voice obvious.
“My name is Nichole, not Hiero.” She kept at her brushing rather than greeting him properly, deliberately creating tension.
“A warship captain? Leader of an amphibious assault? CIC of the battle of The Dalles?” His tone when from smile to smirk. “How are you not a hero?”
What he knows… there is only one other with that full story.
“My apologies.” She dropped the brush into the bucket next to Toast, rubbed her right hand against her light jacket twice and extended it.
“I am Nichole Clarke, a student and guest in your land,” she half-lied. “You are… surprisingly well informed.”
A flat denial would have insulted us both.
“I try to keep my ears, and eyes, open.” He closed the distance between them and raised his hand. “I’m Armando Bakke.”
He was only a tiny fraction taller that she; a human would’ve missed it. She could not guess his eye and hair color in the poor light.
“A pleasure, leftenant Bakke!” She smiled. “I keep mine open, as well!”
“Not wide enough,” he said, letting go. “I’m a captain now.”
She ignored the slight.
“How good, for you! A result of yesterday’s wargame?” She reached down to retrieve her brush.
“All that, plus.”
She expected him to carry on, as young males were wont to. But he seemed content to stand no more than a meter away as she finished brushing her horse. Choosing to ignore him further, she tossed the blanket up, followed by her saddle.
“Need help?” he finally asked.
“Thank you, no. The men of the cavalry have made me older to be a horseman.”
“Really? I’d have called you a beautiful horsewoman!”
Now in twilight, she caught his grin and the look in his eyes. From her reading in the library she was older how such could seduce young women.
“You flatter me.” SLAP! She hit Toast’s belly to tighten the girth. That done, she was onto her back in a fluid movement.
“I must leave now, Captain Bakke,” she began, looking west, into the City and dark. She let her eyes fall to his. She tried playing with her tone. “I’ve much work to do.”
“I just bet you do! Hopefully in class and not with your boyfriend!” He sketched a salute and moved off to the north and his own men’s camp.
He did not react. Not only that, he knows of my personal life along with my martial history.
She made a slight change in her thighs. Toast began to trot to the west.
The Mayor has powerful allies and subordinates. I must make the same.
It was early afternoon when she heard Professor Vincent, her colleague, Erik, sigh, as he stared at his flatscreen.
She spared herself a look from his left, their shoulders touching as she leaned over.
“Annealing error, just there,” she pointed at a line on his screen, returning to her work.
“Are we really so far behind you and your company, Nikky?”
Nichole did not know why only two people in her life used that nickname, but it made her processors silly every time she heard it.
“Are you so far from the dead millions just a score miles in every direxion, Erik?” She tried to soften that. It had been his country, after all. “It is no small thing to make a new world, much less new people in it!”
She glanced at him, please he was able to look back and smile. She watched him rub at his red-mixed-with-white goatee.
“I suppose not.” He returned to his screen. “Give me a few minutes to rewrite this and compile it.”
Nichole continued to type as fast as the old keyboard would allow: about 100 strikes per minute. She looked at the old 3.3 USB port and imagined the ache from the 5.5 in the back of her neck.
I could do so much, so fast!
Her fake sigh subroutine long deleted, she typed on.
“Yeeerrrr!” The older man next to suddenly leaned back and stretched.
“Shall I rub your shoulders, Erik?” Nichole asked as her fingers were still a blur. “Some of the coders at Somi swore by my rubs!”
“Hah. My wife used to – ”
His change was significant enough that her hands froze over the keyboard. Many, but her lover Gil especially, had made her older to never bring up other’s pre-Breakup past.
But it’s uncomfortable with my fingers not moving! Should I type as if nothing happened…?
“You ever see the scifi series from a generation back, called ‘Firefly’?”
Her fingers twitched slightly.
I hate going off topic!
“No. Never really watched much.”
She watched him look out the open window their right.
“One of the stories was that this interplanetary government tried using a drug to make everyone docile; obedient. It made ninety-five percent of the test world stop eating. The other five percent went insanely aggressive and began killing everyone.”
He kept staring out the window.
“Everyone. But their own.”
Nichole was older to wait.
“My wife was in Minneapolis when the Breakup started. Business trip. All she had was credit cards and those weren’t working. Worse, neither were the EBT cards…”
“When she’d called me from the airport – God knows how she made it there – none of the planes were flying and all of them… they were all swarming…!”
He’d lowered his head in some kind of cough. Nichole carefully put her right hand onto his left shoulder.
“The Somalis… by then about twenty percent of the city, were taking everything, killing everyone in their way, led by the ones in the police…!”
He turned, not to Nichole but to his screen.
“She… she was screaming that the food was gone and they were eating people. I – ” He spat bile onto the floor. “I thought that was just scifi… it could never happen here. I’ve voted progressive my whole life, for a diverse, equitable future…”
He started to cry.
His head dropped into his hands.
“They ate my wife!” A breath. “They Ate My Wife!”
“ERIK!” Precise harmonics. He shuddered. “YOU are tired. Go HOME and sleep!”
He was still weeping, but stood and shuffled off and out.
She considered his work on the computer. A few changes and saved.
A good computer engineer. Too bad people such as he wrecked his homeland with their insane beliefs. Her fingers paused, thinking about the barbarism; thinking about her mission.
I must see both my friends in the cavalry and this Bakke person. Again. Soon.
As she stood to go home an image came into her mind: Zom’s.
What now, Nike…? She thought going down the five flights of stairs. It was on her way home, so not a bother to stop in. But how does he do this? Get into my mind?
Perhaps I should talk to him before anyone else, even though he all-but ordered me to go home. All they way home. Why?