Dead Time

An editor would probably tell me to lose this entire post below the fold.  Yet another reason I self-publish.

What will have to be radically reassigned it the last bit of my last post, the part that is first-person Gil.  There’s no way Nichole can ‘remember’ something from someone else; she’d run off at that point.  Still, I was drunk and saw it, so I wrote it down.  I’ll slip it in somewhere.

Which is something else I’m trying very hard to do:  keeping this first-person Nichole.  While my books have (few) good reviews on Amazon, there is particular criticism of how much I flick from character to character.  I realize it is – hopefully becoming was – a bad habit of mine:  as you all know, I ‘see’ these scene and write them down.  Many are from the perspective of other characters.  As in a film or animation, it would all be simple and obvious.  As a book?  My fault entirely.  So, I’m really trying to rein that tendency in and getting into the heads of other characters as few and far between as I can.

It is tough.  Especially once I’m into Part Three, when not just Nichole, but a host of other pivotal players in that Act.  Rhun, Tessmer, Bakke, the Mayor, Teresa, Nike… how can I get this bloodbath done by Halloween?

Nichole transferred a third of what was in the battery into herself. At first light, she slithered out of her tent. Considering the battery in her hand, she put it into her jacket pocket.

Never know when I might need it…

She quickly collapsed her tent and stowed it on Toast’s other saddlebags. After getting water and fodder for the mare, she put on her vest and helmet – tucking her ponytail – and made her way toward Bakke’s command tent. Once there, the corporal informed her that he’d already left. For the horsemen’s encampment. Just next, she saw Jones fiddling with the comm equipment. He had not tore it down, so they were not moving anytime soon.

“Any news? Well, that you can share, sergeant?” she asked.

“Nothing special,” he replied. He wore his headset just forward of his ears. “Higher-ups were a bit rattled with so many horsemen so close…”

He turned a dial and looked up at Nichole.

“The major will get it sorted.”

“I daresay he will,” she agreed, while turning to look southeast. “We are offering them the world. I hope we get value in return.”

“The extermination of the cannibals,” she turned back in time to see his shudder, “is surely worth it!”

Perhaps. The cannibal army was no different than the early years of islam. Eastern Empire or the Sassanids could have nipped them in the bud, but were distracted by their petty squabbles, and later devoured. The Mayor was going to replace an unorganized, fanatical cult with a people that just years after the Breakup organized themselves into a tribal nation.

A militant, tribal nation. She shook her head once. Such politics were beyond her.

“I’m at loose ends right now, Robert,” she said with a small touch of her left hand onto his right shoulder. “How may I help?”

She knew from the ring on his left he was married, but he made no move to brush her off. He looked about.

“We were with General Tessmer, at the south end of the L and C bridge. That doesn’t mean we didn’t heard about what you did in the crossing.” His eyes came back around to hers. “Please walk our perimeter and see if you can find holes.”

He suddenly looked down to his equipment.

“You’ve a child at home, with your wife. You miss them.”

His head came right back up.

“Yes! And you are not helping the swarm of rumors about you when you do that!” he hissed. He waved at his gear.

“Communication is my specialization in the Special Police.” His look grew grim. “You’d best work on yours, Miss Clarke!”

Without acknowledgement, she turned away and made for the perimeter. I have been told this before. She considered her thread of code that drove her to make friends. She considered paring it.

Not yet!

The three machine gunners were trying to improve their position: one filled bags with dirt and stacked them while the other tried to dig down around the gunner’s feet. He knelt before his weapon, eyes out.

“Hey, guys!” she said softly. Another touch for the two digging. Her hand hung in the air next to the armed man.

“Permission to touch?” she asked.

“Mornin’, Nichole.” He spared her a quick smile. She moved her hand over his back for a few seconds.

“I’d like to go out with the pickets. When’s rotation?” she asked.

She was interested that the gunner looked at the sky and not a watch.

“About fifteen minutes,” he replied, rotating the M60 back and forth a bit, in case dust or sand had gotten into the tripod’s mount. “Rather you didn’t.”

“Mister Whatley!” she said with a second’s touch to his dark brown ear, “thank you for your concern!”

She stood, just seeing the pickets way off to her right come back at their two replacements strode out. The ones in front of them would be next.

“But,” she said pulling the Henry from its holster behind her back and twirling about in her hand, in violation of several regulations, “you know what a careful person I am!”

They heard boots behind them. Private First Class Errogan and a young man she did not know waited until they saw the pickets rise from the tall grass and failed crops about one hundred meters out. Those two stepped forward and paused when Nichole fell in behind them.

“Miss?” Errogan asked. Turkic and White, he was an outlier in the Special Police.

“I’m coming with you.”

In his eyes, resignation won out over confusion. He turned without a word. They walked in silence to the where the white wooden stake was hammered into the ground. Errogan waved his man ten meters to the left. He walked five right and squatted down. Nichole did next to him.

“We face southwest, where the parched land drops a bit into the tiny Umatilla River,” she said from just behind his left.

“If the tents are to our front, why not attack our rear?” Errogan lifted his rifle and made a small correxion to his sights. “That’s what the major told us.”

“I was thinking of checking with each picket – ” she just began. His look was incredulous.

“You’ll be shot.”

“Oh.”

Time passed. She lowered her knees and placed her hand onto her thighs.

“How did you come into the Special Police?” she asked.

Most of the next two hours were spent in silence. Nichole was older at her tactical mistake in going to their outer-most perimeter. She would try again once back inside their lines.

“It’s time,” the man said.

She was also surprised at their internal clocks. She had never suspected that humans could be so accurate. More research at the Miller, once home.

She stood right after he did. A look back saw their replacements. They’d taken less that ten steps before they heard a horse’s snort from behind them.

Nichole was first onto the ground, pulling her Henry and spinning about as she fell. Her eyes faster than humans, she saw the four horsemen come up out of the Umatilla’s gully before dropping below the two to three foot wild grasses.

“Four riders!” she subvocalized to Errogan, an arm’s reach to her right.

No signal. No flags. No flares. They had to assume that the truce held and they were not at war.

No one moved.

“If there are three on this side, they must be the most useless!” she heard the mocking laugh of a horseman.

Nichole longed to shoot the reins out of his hand, but unlike the Lewis & Clark, she held no command.

She heard their relief stand some seventy meters back.

“Hey! Yous be carfal out der!” he called in an inner-city accent. “We’s just laid down sum’ mah-zzz!”

On her second translation pass, she got: mines. A clever lie!

The protest of the horses was immediate as the four pulled at their reins.

“What the hell…?” the first shouted.

“Lahk you’un’s said,” he and his second walked forward. “Dis is da weak side! Gots to be careful!”

Nichole heard a flurry of scatological words as the four horsemen rode off. She and the other two rose from their poor concealment. The one who spoke came directly to Nichole.

“Silly place for a woman to be, Miss Clarke,” the Black man in his early twenties said in perfect Broadcast English. “I’m Corporal Williams; also senior at PSU’s College of Engineering. Sorry we’ve never had the chance to meet until now.”

“Corporal. That was very clever of you – ”

“Didn’t think a Black man had it in him – ?”

“To use their own preconceived notions against them. What school are you in?”

Just as back in the labs at Somi, human cleverness was no defense against speed of thought.

“Ah, er, mechanical engineering…” While he struggled to marshal his thoughts, she drove through them.

“My beloved is finishing his Masters in that! With much hands-on work in machine shops! He’s already helping to rebuild this world!”

She gave a great smile, a tiny head tilt, and held out her hands to him.

“How are you saving this world?” came from her mouth, as sweetly as she could manner without tearing up his nervous system.

Against his better judgment, both of his hands came up to hold hers. This was something friends did; not soldiers. He jerked his back down.

“For… for now, I defend the City…” he tried to begin.

“Heroic! Noble!” She pulled her hands back and clasped them under her chin, observing his ‘textbook’ reaxion.

“If free of bureaucrats, you engineers can remake this world in less than a generation! I hope to stay long enough to see it!” she cried.

“Th… thank…” She watched him shake his head as he began to come back to himself. “I think, Miss Clarke, you might want to be back behind the lines.”

She could have done it in one. Instead, she took two short steps forward to him. Inches separated them. She looked up.

“Thank you! I shall!” she said with a wave left and right.

Not understanding the subtle change in command, Errogan and his second followed her back.

There was motion and sound at their southeast perimeter, which faced the horsemen’s camp. She created a negative pressure and recognized the smell of Bakke’s horse. As she walked, she knew she could not be too deferential – he knew too much – but just enough to try to finally figure out what was coming next.

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