The Deep breath…

Made a start on Part 3; the final part.  After what’s below the fold I came to a halt as I realized Nichole’s time in the City before she departs on her mission to the Nation with need some meticulous planning on my part.  She won’t be back for at least two months so I have to have all of my other characters otherwise engaged.  Both in their day-to-day lives as well as for what happens in the end.

I’ll likely be dark for a couple of days.  Unless I die (and I’ve told my wife to make a suitable post here if I do) I’ll be back with more content in a bit.  Cheerio!

six weeks prior

 

“I’d like sergeant Brunelli, corporal Reilly, and corpsman Jenkins; we should have a medical with us,” Nichole said while the general read her paperwork. “If any of the Nation are ill it will be good politics.”

Tessmer, knowing full well who and what she was, glanced up before reaching for his pen and signing the bottom of the page.

“Personnel request for this mission approved,” he rumbled. He dropped the paper and ran his left hand over the grey stubble on his head. “My every interaction with you is to my consternation.”

“I understand,” she replied, leaning forward to take the paper, “and I apologize. Such has never been my intent.”

“I know, I know, Miss Clarke,” he sighed, leaning back in his field chair that creaked ominously.

“Recon and logistics for our northern sweep going well?” she asked.

Tessmer was not sure how much she knew, but being what she was, he suspected she knew everything.

“Our patrols of the right side of the river from here to Longview…” he paused a moment at that. At her service at the Lewis & Clark Bridge. “Those patrols show little activity at all, either from the cannibals or those that have acknowledged their rule.”

He coughed slightly, thinking of their ‘initiation ceremony.’

“Shortwave with the British Columbians,” no one bothered to say ‘Canadians’ anymore, “who occupied the Nooksack valley down to Bellingham, has indicated no activity opposite their position.”

“Calm before the storm?” Nichole ventured.

“We think so,” Tessmer nodded. “The BC army is larger and has more artillery, so we think it’s us; if not this fall then in the spring.”

“I see.” She stood. “I suppose we shall see one another again in a few short months, when your forces sweep north to meet the Nation around Napavine?”

He frowned.

“Any time armies touch…” and shook his head, “is inherently dangerous, even when ostensibly on the same side!”

The general stood as well and put out his hand.

“Good luck to you, Miss Clarke.”

She took it with a nod.

“And you as well!”

She left his tent, again just south of the I-5 bridges over the Columbia. The Regulars were still dispersed like extended fingers around the perimeter of the City, to give no watching eyes any idea that they would soon be closing into a mailed fist driving due north at speed, with Militia A – and Joe, she thought – reeling out behind them to protect their line of supply.

A steady stream of couriers on horses, bicycles, and motorcycles swarmed about. Nichole made her way to the outermost perimeter where Gil sat under a tree, next to his dirtbike, reading another worn paperback.

“Still reading that steampunk book?” she asked, dropping next to him and snuggling close.

“The sequel,” he said, waving it slightly. “The author lived around San Francisco. Wonder if he made it?”

Gil leaned to kiss Nichole.

“I hope so. ‘Like to know how all this ends!” He stood and put his right out to help her up, knowing she didn’t need it.

“Thank you!” she said, again pulling into him. They both knew why and they both didn’t want to talk about it: her mission.

“Get your way again?” Gil asked, straddling Rahab and pausing before starting her.

“Yep!” She climbed onto the harlot behind him, her arms about his waist. She noted his kick-start was more violent than usual. He lowered his goggles as they moved off south.

“Still leaving Saturday,” he yelled back at her, feeling her nod on his back.

“I need to hand the class back to Erick,” she called into his ear before licking it. “And this time, pack properly!”

Gil knew, from their conversation last night that she was taking almost her entire stock from Japan with her: emergency batteries, repair kit, and a few things she flat-out refused to tell him about.

“Unless you order me as a human. Or ask me as my man. Otherwise, please, do not.” She’d kept her head down on the floor, on top of the backs of her hands through that whole little speech. From any other girl it would have been straight-up shit-testing. He knew better with her.

“Will you make the promise you did before? That you’ll come back?” he did ask.

“’At any cost?’” She raised her head but let it tilt as her eyes slid right. “’At any cost…?’”

Gil shuddered, realizing what was unfolding before him.

“How about, ‘you’ll do your best?’” he tried.

“Yes!”

She leaned to hug him, no longer considering the destruction of the world.

He tried to shrug off that memory as they crossed the Burnside Bridge and turned to the southwest. A few minutes later had them next to the long park and then before the Stratford. She swung off his bike and gave him a long, lingering kiss. Gil tried not to think of her scattered items she was packing. One half-empty tube was labeled ‘artificial saliva.’

“Love you,” he said.

“I’ll be over tonight!”

He watched her run off. He’d just enough time to park and get to his biomechanics class.

Back in her room Nichole considered the items seemingly scattered randomly, but to her eye, everything in its place. I must begin packing! Late tonight, after I visit Gil! Right now she had her responsibility to her students and peers. Past her door with a thought to what was behind Mackenzie’s she was down and out in a rush.

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