I’ve left plenty of lampshades hanging, time to turn on the lights. Should be no surprises for anyone following along; I don’t like surprising readers… I’d much rather have them get to the end of chapter (or entire book), put it down, and mutter, “never thought of it that way!”
Also: when Teresa stood and said, “mess me up!” I broke out laughing. I’ve no idea where that came from! Hilarious!
The next time she received a message from someone next to her in their AI lab, it came from her right.
‘Our usual place,’ Teresa wrote.
An hour later, as she always did after finishing her work, her mongrel friend stretched her arms over her head and arched her back.
“Off to run the government?” Sanjay asked with a laugh.
“Nope! Need to relieve my… tensions!” was her reply. She stood and ran the fingers of her left hand down the side of Nicole’s face, pausing at her chin to turn her head. “With a little help from a friend!”
Again mortally embarrassed, the Dravidian hunched over, hiding his face behind the monitor.
“I need about two minutes…” Nichole said in reply.
“No problem!” The mayor’s daughter started for the door. “I’ll stop by the bathroom to get ready! See you downstairs!”
She paused in the doorway.
“So to speak!”
“Geez, you two!” John hissed.
“Makes you miss your fiancé more?” Nichole asked with a laugh.
“You’ve no idea!” he leered back at her.
They paused, then both laughed. She stood and made her way down the five flights to the ground floor. The morning’s light rain had broken up into mostly cloudy.
“Think the code will be ready?” Teresa asked while they walked, sticking to business.
“I think,” Nichole said, returning the waves of some students and staff, “that we’ve the foundations to test a robust expert system with heuristic learning. At this point it would be… unwise… to try to wake anyone up. They would likely go insane.”
The mayor’s daughter stumbled slightly.
“In – insane? You’re not bullshitting me again, are you?”
“Nope.” The rain was coming back, hard. Nichole opened her umbrella for the both of them.
“You… you’ve seen that? At Somi?”
“Seen? Just… one.” Nichole dropped her head. “He was sad.”
That provoked an elbow jab from her friend.
“That’s the second time, now!” She exclaimed. “First you said ‘they would’ and now, ‘he.’ Why not just say ‘it’? Hey!”
Nichole had stopped so quickly that Teresa was briefly drenched before she could step back under cover.
“You! That’s so rude!” Nichole amplified. Several other umbrellas turned for a moment.
“Rude? How?” Her friend was not one to easily back down.
“They may not be biologics, but they are still aware; they are still people!”
“You can be touchy about the strangest things! C’mon, we’re almost there.” She turned, waiting to Nichole to start walking.
Nichole reflected on her friend’s words.
It was as if she not only insulted me, but my whole family. My reaxion was automatic; I see now that it was not written into me, but the natural evolution of my mind. Interesting! She made a tag to send this fact home the next time she had access to a satellite comm link.
Teresa held the door open while Nichole collapsed and shook out her umbrella, sliding it into its cover to not leave a slippery trail of water across the library’s lobby.
“What was his name?” Teresa asked as they moved toward the stairwell, her voice a bit more respectable.
“The one, er,” she tried again, “the guy you mentioned, who you said was sad.”
“Oh. Shinji.” She considered the rest of her reply. “By sad I meant his condition. Shinji’s understanding of reality and his ability to… communicate with others…”
She shook her head as they went down stairs.
“How he thought was very strange, both to Somi and my brothers and sisters – ”
“I thought all of you worked for Somi? Why’d you say it that way?”
“Because, as I told you before, we see ourselves as a family… and distinct.”
Nichole was pretty sure she didn’t buy that. She busied herself getting them into the Special Collections room. As she did every time, she would make a sweep to make sure her tell-tales were in place and there were no eavesdropping devices about while Teresa sat and waited at the brushed stainless steel table. After a few minutes, Nichole sat opposite her.
“Getting myself on all those committees, like you suggested, paid off,” Teresa began without taking anything out of her bag. Nichole told her that written evidence could jeopardize her life if discovered. Everything was strictly verbal.
“There’s not been any one thing I can point to, but I understand the overall pattern now,” she continued. “You want the short version or details?”
“Short. But I may have questions.”
“Sure. Very short is this: the City is going to use the Huns as mercenaries to crush the cannibals.”
Nichole leaned back. Didn’t see that coming.
Teresa went on, about how British Columbia had proposed a joint operation against the cannibals. But, with the City’s Regulars only a bit more than a regiment, that would mean calling up both militias… for months if not weeks.
“And not only would that break our fragile economy completely, but the militias themselves, well…”
“Were never designed nor trained to be an offensive force,” Nichole agreed. “But, if this works, aren’t you, well, we, just trading one problem for another?”
“That’s what a guy on the Logistics Committee said, too.” Teresa now reached for her bag, to take out a thermos for something to drink. “But, from the Dams Committee, there was talk about whoever’s leading the Huns now… well, apparently he wants to deal.”
“So the wagons going upriver with the Special Police…?”
“Are weapons, not money.” She drank some coffee. “Not that we have all that much money, anyway!”
Too young to know if this was a good idea or not – after all, Japan was rearmed by the US and a close ally until the American Breakup – she resolved to go to the library’s history section after this meeting.
“I guess it’s dad’s thought that the horsemen are a better devil than cannibals; seems reasonable.”
Nichole recalled part of her talk with John Brunelli: they were reconnoitering the passes over the Cascades into the Centralia Valley. From the basic map in her memory, it was genius: the Huns would split the cannibals in the middle and defeat them piecemeal.
“Whoever came up with this is a dangerously clever man,” Nichole allowed.
“I think, again, rumors, that ‘cause dad’s background was Air Force, he’s left everything to the General,” a drink and pause. “And Group Leader Brown.”
The chief of the Political Police.
“And when does all this take place?” Nichole watched as she put her thermos away.
Nichole didn’t move.
“I…see.” She still didn’t move. “I have much to do.”
“Should I ask?”
Teresa stood and took a few steps from the table.
“Mess me up.”
After their first meeting, her friend had to patiently explain to Nichole that to keep up appearances of their torrid love affair, they could not walk back out in the same prim condition they came in. They took turns messing with each other’s hair and clothes for a minute.
“Yes! Let’s go,” Teresa announced.
“One last question?” Nichole tried.
“Have you heard of an Armando Bakke?”
Teresa’s fist came up next to the snarl on her face.
“Son of a bitch grabbed my ass! A miracle I saw the uniform before I punched him in his fucking face!”
“So, that’s a ‘yes,’” Nichole smiled.
Teresa calmed down.
“Guess so. Don’t know how you know him, but know this: no matter what his rank, he’s Brown’s right-hand man.”
She sighed and gave Nichole’s left shoulder a friendly pat.
“If this… adventure… of ours has a boss monster? It’ll be him.” She made for the door. “Going back to class?”
“Not until the afternoon, to teach. Until then, I’ll be upstairs. After what you just told me, I’ve research to do.”