Took less editing than I thought: drunk or sober, I’m a genius. More likely, I’m just really lucky. I hope to find some inspiration to take my story in unexpected ways at tomorrow’s Matsuricon. Nichole will not be invited nor privy to Adam’s & Bakke’s discussion… perhaps she’ll chat with the men, to find out more about what’s coming: the movement of tens of thousands of men, women, and children. They might be loyal Political Police, but everyone gets nervous when their neighborhood changes so dramatically and quickly.
“Everyone’s a conservative on what they think they know best,” and don’t we all think we know our own homes?
If I don’t get divorced, arrested, or dead from alcohol poisoning at the animecon, I hope to post more on Sunday night! Cheerio!
“I’m Nichole Clarke! A guest of the City and a student at Portland State! I’m so happy to meet you!”
In her periphery, she could see Bakke doing yeoman’s work to not smile.
“How rude of me!” Bakke said. “Chieftain Adam? This civilian is temporarily attached to my command. She is, I’ve heard, a grad student in Computer Engineering.”
Bakke turned just slightly.
“Miss Clarke? This is Chieftain Adam of the Boise Clan, a great leader of men of the Nation!”
Letting her pretenses match his, Nichole dropped her hand and bowed so deeply she was nearly bent double. Not even to my Empress… she suppressed the thought.
“Miss… ah… woman! Nichole!” Adam was briefly disoriented but fought to recover himself and his role. “You may rise before me!”
Nichole slowly came up. Her face smiled if her mouth did not.
“Thank you, Chieftain! May I join you great men at table?” she said, making a motion at the crate.
From his face, Nichole could see Adam was fairly sure he was being mocked, but couldn’t pinpoint where.
“I… don’t see why not,” he replied, beginning to sit.
“Won’t your priest be angry?”
He froze in mid-motion at her words. To stand now would show him subordinate to the shaman. He sat.
“He may trouble himself with matters of Steppe and Sky tomorrow. Tonight… I, not he, am here!”
“Well said, Chieftain!” Nichole didn’t move.
“Please, Armando. And you, miss,” he said, waving his left and right at the chairs.
No one spoke for a few moments.
“You are a witch,” Adam charged, getting to the point.
“I am not. I am a person just as you are.” Disingenuous.
“You do not drink? Rumors say you do not eat? You are a witch.” He tried again.
“Both in your culture and mine at home, a woman would never eat or drink without the master’s permission,” Nichole said, letting the smile of her face begin to reach her mouth. Using tones would be far too dangerous. She had never played a game such as this before.
“I desire it,” the horseman allowed.
Bakke waved his right hand to his shoulder. Without a word his man stepped forward with another glass, placed before Nichole. He reached to pour her half of what they had. Nichole raised her glass to Adam. And waited.
“Co-operation,” the horseman managed.
Bakke and Nichole murmured the word in reply. They both tossed their whiskey back, placing the empty glasses onto the crate.
“Shall I bring food for her as well?” Bakke asked. “Or, would you rather throw her into a pond and see if she floats?”
Adam finally allowed himself to laugh. Waving at the bottle for more.
“No, no, Armando! I see I and my people have fallen victim to calumny; likely deliberately put forth from your mayor to scare us!”
Nichole saw Bakke bridle at that. She hoped he could control himself…
“After all, the woman just said she’s not from your City!” Adam continued smoothly as Bakke poured more for the three of them. Again, Nichole got half of what the men did.
“Appearances aside, I was raised in Japan,” Nichole agreed, fully aware this was a three-sided conversation, with none allied to the other. Alone and fearful, she let part of her mind ask her Empress’s anima and the Brunelli’s God to help her.
“From the Jap missile ship?” the Chieftain asked sharply.
“Yes, that was how I came across the sea. With the dissolution of your United States,” she pushed – he, like so many others, looked once a part of their armed forces, “pirates are everywhere in the Pacific. Less so on the northern route, but still there. Only now, with my Empress’s ships escorting freighters to hand off to the few Canadian frigates, is trade possible.”
She rolled her glass back and forth in her hands a moment.
“Trade for the benefit of us all.”
“Such trade means nothing to the Nation!” Adam began to boast. “In the interior – ”
“In months,” she cut over him. His anger was instant and obvious. “You will be in the Centralia Valley. That gives you access to the Columbia River and Puget Sound. Your children will be a part of trans-Pacific trade, even if you, now, are not.”
Looking at his guest’s barely suppressed fury, Bakke wondered if he should signal his men…
He watched Adam take in a huge breath and let it out. Slowly.
“You think so?”
“Yes,” Nichole said evenly, knowing she had him by his posterity.
The horseman gave a nod and tossed back his drink. He stood. They did likewise.
“Armando? I want to talk again in the morning… well, call it noon. About the Umatilla bridge, and after! My clan will be in the van.”
“Of course, Chieftain Adam. May I see you back to your men?”
But after three steps, just at the edge of the candlelight, Adam paused. He turned his head back just a little.
“It was good to meet you, woman. I believe very little of what you said, but I do not believe anymore that you are witch.”
Nichole gave another full bow.
“I appreciate your words, Chieftain.” She gambled and touched her voice. “Your previous leader doubted me. And died.”
Her eyes read his response up and down his back.
Don’t fear me, she thought, that will make them aggressive. Doubt me.
The four men walked away into the dark.