“… which is what we was drinking, as we sat about the Korova Milk Bar, trying to make up our raszudoks as to what to do this evening…” ~ A Clockwork Orange.

I’ve been taking caffeine tabs with my boxed wine.  And my beta-blockers.  I’m going to die soon, aren’t I?

Prep-work done with one line into the badlands.  This story is about to go places I can only imagine!  Unlimited Witch Works!

“Specifically,” he continued, closing the file folder before him and leaning back, the chair creaking ominously, “I want you to accompany a detachment of my men upriver. Bakke tells me you’re aware of what they think of you. I want to keep them off-balance.”

That was surprisingly subtle for a so-called Checkist.

“I see.”

“I hope you do, Miss Clarke,” he said while twisting his neck until it cracked and stretching his arms. Nichole was aware his bulk was muscle, not fat, so he must detest sitting for so long.

“After the rain, it looks like we’ll have a nice morning,” she said, standing and gesturing behind her. “May we walk through the park while we talk?”

He heaved himself out of his chair and stepped past her toward the woods.

“Bakke was right about you!”

“And how is that?” She fell in next to him. There was no trail, per se, so they were weaving between the pines.

“In a number of ways, I think, but mostly in that he thinks you’re the most dangerous person in the City.”

He paused to rotate and look down at her.

“Is he right?”

“Group Leader Brown!” Nichole fluttered her eyelids and shyly looked away. “I’m just a little girl from over the sea, visiting your land!”

Brown snorted and resumed his walk.

“Yeah,” he muttered. “He was right.”

They emerged into a clearing. Nichole saw a large pond to their left. She paused next to the man.

“For better or worse,” Brown began, “the Mayor is seeking to ally with the horsemen…”

Nichole feigned ignorance as he continued, telling her of what she already knew: using them to crush the cannibals once and for all. But he went further.

“…a political genius,” he said of the mayor, “but out in the badlands the lack of water was functioning to keep their numbers down. Once in the verdant Centralia Valley, their population will explode.”

He turned around to face the trees they’d come through.

“In this new world we find ourselves in, skin is as much a uniform as clothes.” He glanced left at her. “Bakke said, skin aside, you consider yourself Japanese. I have a wife and young son. I confess myself… at unease with the thought of a militant, homogenous White tribe just a few score miles to my north.”

“Physical power,” Nichole began, “is one thing. You’ve bloodied their noses a few times and crushed them at The Dalles. Physical. They won’t remember the lesson long.”

She turned her head and looked up at him, extending her incisors just before smiling.

“You want a Witch to scare them: mentally and emotionally!” She took great care with her vocal tones.

Brown took a step back, his hands coming up.

“Wha…! What…!”

She closed her mouth into a grin and tilted her head to the left.

“I’m not scary at all! But I will help you!”

She watched as he recovered. He moved back toward the mansion without a word, only sighing some minutes later when seeing that his paperwork had not gone away in his absence. He faced her again.

“I don’t know what ninja-shit you just pulled on me, but if you can do that to them…” he shook his shaved head slowly. “We might just come out of this alive!”

He extended his hand to her. Her hand disappeared in his.

“I’ll send a runner with details. Expect to leave in two days.”

“Of course,” she said with a tiny nod. She made her way to the French doors.

“Bakke will be in charge of this mission,” Brown called.

Nichole gave a tiny wave of her right hand without turning. Of course he is.

“…which is why,” she said to her friends in the AI Lab, “I’ll be gone for awhile. Let’s hope this doesn’t go south like my last trip upriver!”

The three men were very obviously disappointed to lose her skill for at least a week.

Teresa was furious enough to be shaking. She grabbed Nichole’s wrist and pulled her out of the room, into the hall, and then into the women’s bathroom.

“What the hell is my old man – !” she began to yell.

“Shush!” Nichole touched her index finger to Teresa’s lips.

“While I’ve no doubt he will know about it shortly… probably after I leave… this was from Brown, head of the pins.”

Teresa immediately calmed down and thought. This is why I will make you monarch here!

“He’s a devious shit, but I think he sometimes sees things better than Dad does…” she watched her mutter. After that, Teresa shook her head.

“Whatever. Just make sure you get back okay!” she said, grabbing Nichole’s shoulders. “I can’t pull this shit off on my own!”

She smiled. Nichole did too.

“Of course!” she stepped into Teresa to hold her.

“Don’t get raped and killed!” Teresa whispered.

“Don’t let them botch the code!” Nichole replied softly.

They both laughed.

“D… days?”

Just later, Mackenzie was on the verge of tears in the hallway between their two rooms.

“Perhaps a week or two… we won’t know until we’re there and assess the situation,” Nichole said, guiding her friend into her flat. “Officially, part of the team is to discuss the transit of the horsemen’s nation from their current location to their new… home.”

Nichole had to take care with what she could and could not tell her friend.

“But why are you there?!”

To scare them.

“Perhaps they wanted a third-person neutral? To observe and adjudicate if necessary?” she ventured.

“Oh,” Mackenzie said, reaching for the cup of juice Nichole set in front of her onto the table.

There was a knock at the door. Nichole moved passed her friend with a wave for her to not get up. She flung the door open and leaned up to kiss her boyfriend.

“One of the things I love about you is how quickly you get to the point,” Gil said with a little smile. “Oh. Evening, Mac!”

She stared at her juice, blushing at the contact between those two.

Nichole guided him in. Putting him at the table with Mackenzie right now could be problematic, so she had him sit on the corner of her bed. That brought a smile.

“Did you know, my love?” she asked. “That the only person to ever sleep in this bed is right behind me?”

“Huh?” Mac asked.

“Geez, Nichole!” Gil groused. “Can you stop just once?”

“Likely not!” she said, circling back to the kitchenette to get her girlfriend a little more juice.

“You… don’t…” Mackenzie began.

“When recharging I sit in the chair you are in now.” She looked over her shoulder with a smile. “The bed is for fun!”

“Okay!” Gil said, standing and coming over to pull a beer from her fridge. “So, besides turning poor Mac bright red, why did you send a message to have me come over?”

He pulled the magnet bottle-opener off the fridge and took the cap off the beer.

“To tell you, last, who I should have told first: I’m going away for a bit.”

The bottle paused just before his mouth. Beer rained onto his shirt.

“What?!” He exclaimed. “Are you going home?!”

Nichole was already in motion, a hand-towel cleaning him up.

“No, silly! Let me tell you…”

He finished what was left of the beer as she finished her explanation.

“So even further than last time?” he asked.

“Yes,” Nichole replied, standing close by him at the sink. It was not lost on her that Mackenzie had turned around to watch them. “Over the Blue Mountains, into the Snake River watershed.”

“With how many?”

“I’m not sure, exactly,” she admitted. “But it is at least a part of E Company of the Special Police.”

The heavy weapons unit, Gil recalled, still not happy with this but powerless to stop it.

“No one from the regulars going along? Reilly?” He took the last drink and set the bottle next to the sink. “Brunelli?”

“No.” She understood his unhappiness and leaned close, putting her arms around him.

“I promise to come back.”

“At any cost?” he not jokingly asked.

“At any cost.”

Her reply scared him. He looked to the girl.

“You’re a witness, Mac! She’s coming back!”

“I’m… that makes me happy,” she muttered.

A look to her empty cup, Mackenzie stood and moved to the door.

“You two… say goodbye properly!” she almost smiled before sneaking out.

“Did she just tell a joke?” Gil asked in amazement.

“Yes,” Nichole replied with a tug toward the bed. “And I’ve the punchline…”


It was four days later. She patted poor Toast’s neck, who seemed disappointed that they weren’t stopping at Fort Reilly, but proceeding on, into the badlands.

“There, there,” Nichole murmured.

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