Trying to keep some momentum up.  After Mass this morning came home to at least mow the front yard.  Haven’t done that in two years – what are kids for? – and managed to not have a heart attack.  Did some cleaning about he house for fam’s return this week.  While I miss them all, I’m really missing my wife, if you receive my meaning.  Still, have managed to lay down some more words about what leads up to Nichole’s mission to the Nation:  the Huns living in the badlands far east of Portland.  Sneakers gotta sneak.

Not in his special police uniform, he instead wore a charcoal-grey business suit with a tie in the colors of the flag of the City. With a ghost of a wink he turned his attention back to who Nichole presumed were his assigned guests.

“Why are they here?” Mackenzie whispered around a cheese stick, stating her friend’s unstated question.

“There is… no permanent state of war between our peoples,” she began slowly, guessing. “It may be that they desire some kind of détente or peace.”

“Oh! That’d be nice!”

“Have you…” Nichole began her question carefully, “heard anything about this in the course of your part-time job?”

From Nichole’s gentle suggestion, the second time City officials asked her about work, she agreed. Her time was split between helping the accountants at the Port office and the Mayor’s office. In her capacity as ‘First,’ that meant she had a snapshot of both the city’s trade and politics.

“N… no,” Mackenzie stammered. They usually didn’t talk about things like this out in the open. “But I’m never around any of the army stuff…”

“That’s fine, friend!” Nichole lightly touched her hand and looked out toward the river. Typical for Portland, the clouds were increasing. “Just two more classes before you’re finished?”

Nichole nodded as she listened to the girl opposite her. She was also listening to what was going on at what had been their table. Facing away from her and talking low, she could not make out much of the Huns words. Bakke’s and his companion’s were easy.

“…not at all. In fact given the thousands of years of tension between cities and, er,” Nichole could hear in his voice his effort to not insult, “wanderers, my mayor is more than willing to call what has happened between us a… misunderstanding.”

Me being buried under rubble and effectively dead is now a misunderstanding?

The one in the middle was gesturing to the north. She only caught the word “migration” in his lengthy reply. So these were envoys, of a sort? Bakke was smiling.

“Very true, sir! No doubt a few generations after your resettlement in the Centralia valley, along the old Interstate Five corridor, we will be seeing your people sit on our City Council!”

The Hun on the right had a quick reply to that. It must have amused them as they all laughed. At that moment a slightly pale Isabella came with their beers.

“…ole? Nichole?”

“Yes? Sorry!”

Mackenzie held her eyes.

“You were listening to them, not me.”

“Nope!” She leaned forward and poured the rest of her drink into the other’s glass. “I was listening to everyone!”

“Must not have liked it,” her mousy friend said, taking a drink. “You made an odd sound. Something about a fedora?”

“Foederati,” Nichole said, with greater precision. “A very old word describing a very bad idea.”

With no explanation forthcoming, Mackenzie tried again.

“Do… do you want me to keep talking? So you can keep listening?”

“What a dangerous agent I am making!” Nichole smiled.

Mac launched onto a discussion of drawing perspective in manga and graphic novels. She went on about something called the ‘Deonne style’…

“… annibals ain’t gonna like it! Woman! More beer!” The left most one had turned as he spoke, allowing her to hear him better. Their first pints were gone in seconds. If they were the mayor’s guests, they were not shy about seizing the main chance.

The man next to Bakke was about ten years his senior but so far had said little. He blanched a little at the other’s uncouth behavior. Somehow, she noted, Bakke picked up on it.

“Do you speak to your own women that way?” he asked, leaning back to seem unthreatening.

“What?! No! But she is of the city – !”

At that, the left hand of the man in the center came down hard onto the speaker’s shoulder.

“Forgive my comrade. We are men of action and talk such as this… is new for us,” he said, also loud enough for her to hear. The proprietress was coming back with three more pints.

“I am very pleased that we are getting along and learning about one another!” Bakke’s smile seemed genuine, Nichole thought, allowing a glance. He was looking right at her. Another trap.

“In fact, not only is this lovely lady co-owner, here… and thank you, by the way!”

She put down the drinks and quickly moved off.

“But I know a woman,” he continued, “quite nearby, who is a great warrior!”

His point made, he returned his eyes to the envoys.

“I’m told,” he said, taking a drink from his beer, “that your former Chief had a chance to meet her. Before he was killed.”

Nichole could sense the change on the rooftop. Even Mackenzie’s rambling dropped away.

“The witch!” the one on the right hissed. At that all three poured some of their drink onto the floor.

“Your dalliance with the Jap warship was bad enough,” that one continued, “but if your mayor makes common cause with the Evil One and his Witch…!”

“The Mayor,” Bakke said calmly, “carefully takes those steps to protect his City. After all, is that not why you are here today?”

The tension bled away. Bakke waved for more drinks.

“Did… did they just call you…?” Mackenzie’s voice was a broken whisper.

“Yes.” And how very interesting.

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