No, that’s not a pun on my given name. Just where we’re headed. A solid, two days work below the fold. My boss has been gone for two days – a working vacation, as I call it – so I do not arrive home exhausted and shocky. Here’s some theology, politics, and conversation. With a few surprise reveals. I think after a couple of thousand word this weekend, I’ll be finished with Part 2 and ready to wrap everything up in 3.
On Sunday, September 16th, the missus & I will be seeing Gary Numan in Columbus, Ohio. I hear he plays “Down in the Park” in this tour. How very appropriate.
Outside, they walked north from the first building to the third. Nichole was vaguely aware of the prior’s agitation but was more interested in rearranging mosaics of possible futures. Up the stoop ahead of her, he held the door. She walked to the second door on the left and waited.
“It’s unlocked,” he said, reaching past her to swing it open and watch her enter. “Will you need one of us to wake you?”
“Not at all. Thank you.” She was already eying the power and signal ports to her left and right. She was aware he was still in the door and turned.
“I do not know what you are making of brother Adamar’s words,” he began, “but I beg you: please carefully how you act upon them!”
“Of course.” She tried smiling.
He began to close the door, but paused.
“I recall from our late-night talk you are not Christian. I would encourage you, Miss Clarke, that whatever you do believe, to please pray. For the sake of your soul and those that care about you. Good night.”
“Good…night,” Nichole replied softly to the now shut door.
A hand into each of her jacket pockets produced her power and data cords. She paused before returning the data cord. Making sure the door was locked, she plugged remaining one first into the wall, then with the fingers of her left hand pulling her skin apart on the back of her neck, and second into herself. She sat on the edge of the little bed.
Nancy says that prayer is a conversation: of talk, petition, praise. I do not understand! How can I speak to someone who does not speak back? I do not even think that I have a soul…
She did have someone who cared about her. In fact, several someones.
Sliding off the bed, she sat befitting of a proper Japanese girl, her calves tucked up under her thighs. She placed her hands just ahead of her knees and lowered her head.
“Kami-sama. God Almighty. I am Nichole 5 Clarke.”
She did not feel embarrassed to be speaking to a seemingly empty room. After all, someday she would share a copy of this memory with her family and creators. It was to her credit to take it seriously.
“While, if what I am told about You is correct, you know all about me, I would like to introduce myself. I was powered up and awoke just over two years ago, at Somi Corporation in Osaka…”
It was past midnight when she concluded her personal history. As her most recent words were about her friends, the segue was easy.
“I love Gil and Mackenzie so much! And, of course, Gil in a special, more personal way. I wish – ”
Without ever intending it, she was about to ask for something. She was making a petition.
“I wish,” she continued, “we could all be together for the rest of their human lives. I fear that will not be the case! Instead, will You help them be happy while I am with them and after I am gone?”
In the hour she waited for a response, all she heard was the thunderstorm wandering down the Columbia River Gorge. A strong wind drove rain against the little window behind her. She considered the last thing. Praise.
“I… well… if Nancy and the others are correct, I would like to thank you. Thank you for your creation and my life.”
After another thirty minutes she considered herself finished. It was time to think more about what to do about Bakke, his men, and the mayor. She shifted to stand. A flicker from the window –
Her jaw clenched as she automatically ran diagnostics following the lightning strike on her building and her subsequent collapse. The insulation protecting the Data Center cores was formidable. That for temporary accommodations? Not so much.
Everything seems fine, she thought. Why does my body not respond? She began a second-order check only to feel the beginning of that odd shut down she experienced twice after periods of extreme stress: a hidden code in her from Somi that protected her in a manner she had yet to fathom.
As she lost control of her awareness she heard something.
Her eyes opened. She had not moved from the floor. It was 0430 and time to stand to.
She pulled the cord from her neck – 91% – then the wall and pushed it into her pocket. She was out the room’s door and out the building in seconds. The storm had blown over and the sky was pocked with stars.
A quick look about in IR showed the positions of the knights guarding the facility. Nichole walked to the stables just inside the front gate. Someone was moving about with a small electric light and a bucket of water. Toast snorted upon detecting her rider’s unique smell.
“God’s blessing to you on this new day.” Nichole recognized Adamar’s voice.
“And to you, as well,” she replied with a smile, stepping into his little puddle of light. Nichole looked on as he seemed to peer intently at her.
“You seem, as you would say, to be older, Miss Clarke,” he concluded from his scrutiny of her.
Shades of Nike!
“I tried praying this past night,” she began, unsettled.
“I might… try it again.”
He nodded as he set down the bucket.
“Is there anything I may do to help before you leave us?” he asked.
Explain your vision, turbulent monk!
“Please let the knights know of my impending departure. It’d be a shame to get shot!”
She watched him turn off his tiny, hand-cranked light and step out of the stables toward the main gate.
“Not offering me use of your light?” she pushed.
“You don’t need it,” he replied softly over his shoulder.
Nichole watched him for a few paces before turning to put her blanket and saddle onto her horse.
It was less than an hour later when the sun just shown down the river gorge and E Company came into view along the old Interstate. The mounted two-man scout team had encountered her twenty minutes ago, with one riding back to make sure she was not shot in a misunderstanding. Bakke had moved himself to the front of the column. She let her horse fall in next to his.
“Major,” she said.
“Miss Clarke. Get what you wanted?”
“More than I wanted.”
“Did you?” He let his eyes slide right just for a moment to look at her.
“How long until home?”
“Making best time and no problems? We’ll be back in the City on the morning of the third day,” Bakke replied.
“So long!” she allowed herself to say.
“You don’t like my company, miss?” he asked with a laugh.
She stared at him for his pun.
“I told you before: I have work there, not out here!” she grumbled.
“Well, then!” He turned in his saddle and waved. As Errogan trotted up, Bakke turned back and took a handful of sealed papers from his inner jacket pocket and passed them over to Nichole.
“You are now my courier! I expect these to be in the hand of the Group Leader before midnight tonight,” he said in a tone of command. “That’s a ride of eighty miles.”
“Of course, sir,” Nichole replied.
“If you fail, I could ask for you to be shot.”
“I understand, sir.”
Her calm seemed to irritate him. He snapped his head left to Errogan.
“As a woman, she must have an escort. Your primary mission is those messages, not her life. Clear?”
“Go!” Bakke called.
With a tiny shift in her saddle, Toast broke into a canter down the highway. Errogan following just a moment later.
Canter, trot, walk. Repeat. She looked wistfully at each dam they passes. Especially those that had dishes pointed to the sky.
A few minutes after 1600 they trotted onto the grounds of the Laurelhurst mansion. The construction equipment was gone along with the houses around it, affording a clear field of fire from the dug in and sandbagged positions she noted. A stable had been built just to the southwest. They left their horses and walked quickly to the main entrance. There were now two armed Special Police, once of whom lowered his rifle at them.
“Halt! What do you want?” he called.
“Nichole Clarke, civilian, seconded to Major Bakke’s E Company, acting courier! I have messages for Group Leader Brown!” she replied clearly. Errogan stood at her left, his rifle slung over his shoulder and his hands in plain view.
“You can give any messages to me,” the guard called.
“My orders are to deliver them to the Group Leader,” she pitched her voice to carry.
“A civilian may not enter – !” the guard began.
She balled her fists and put them onto her hips, giving a contemptuous twist to her torso.
“I have before!” Now she was yelling. “Stupid!”
The other man brought his rifle down just as the front door creaked open. Brown’s great bulk took a single step out.
“What’s all this, then?” he rumbled. With no immediate answer, he hailed Nichole. “Miss Clarke! A pleasure to see you again! Please come with me!”
Realizing their colossal error, the two snapped to attention and did not even breathe. Leaving the door open, Brown went back inside. Nichole paused at the door and turned her head to stare at the one on her left that created this situation. Her mouth just slightly open, she tried a subsonic. She was pleased to see him piss himself before she continued in, Errogan right behind her.
Brown stood next to the secretary’s desk, waiting for her.
“Messages?” He asked.
“Yes, sir. Here.” She drew them out and handed him the packet held together with a rubber band.
“Thank you. And your version?”
“Group Leader?” She was unsure of his question.
His great form gave a tiny sigh.
“How did things go?”
She looked pointedly at the secretary and Errogan before back to Brown.
“Speak freely in my command.”
“Sir.” Adamar’s vision drove her next words. “The horsemen hold the City in contempt. They will turn on us and kill us all.”
The pen in the woman’s hand fell and rolled off the desk with a clatter. No one moved.
The Group Leader took a deep breath. His leather kit groaned.
“Thank you, Miss Clarke. You are relieved. Please return to the university.” He said with little enthusiasm.
She was out the door at a run. A quick look saw Toast being seen to. When out of direct observation, she increased her pace to a human maximum. There were always other eyes.
A quarter of an hour later had her taking the steps in front of the Stratford in a bound. The front door was open to try to catch a breeze against the late afternoon heat. She slowed to a walk, took off her helmet, and stopped once just inside: Steven was already reaching for the rifle behind him. He stopped at her wave.
“I’m back!” She knew quickly moving past the desk in full military garb would result in one thing.
“Oh. Nichole.” Steven repositioned the rifle. He gave an odd glance up. “Good to have you back! Ah… Gil Haven is visiting Miss d’Arcy.”
“Perfect! Thank you!” She ran for the stairs.
She stepped into the fourth floor’s hallway. Similar to the front door, several doors were open for air circulation. Including Mackenzie’s!
I’m so happy to see everyone again! I’ve missed them so much!
A few short steps and she turned left into Mackenzie’s ro–
At the creak in the doorway, Mackenzie – her black hair up in twin-tails – kneeling, leaned back from Gil, who, in his swimming Speedo, looked over his shoulder to see his lover’s unexpected return. Mac drew her hands back from Gil’s stomach. Nichole saw they were covered with something grey and sticky.
“Friends? What are you two doing?”