Sometimes my writing style confuses even me. I like to flick around in time… my flashbacks will come to present time and then have an entirely different flashback. This is not something from the classical SF I’ve read, nor is it particularly a thing in the types of anime we watch (which is mostly ‘cute girls doing cute things’). As a result, with the exception of about 400 words, everything I’ve posted about Nichole’s Book 2 is a flashback from where she is standing looking out to the northeast at the migration of the Nation before their assault on the cannibals.
For about two sentences you see “real time” below the fold, then, God help me, I do it again and flash back to how they got there. This is her third trip upriver, so I’ve no reason to dwell on details – and I don’t – and just toss a few mile markers down.
AFTER THIS! After this, I think I will be entirely in ‘present time,’ with the possible exception of a verbal montage to get the Nation across the Washington Cascades. While I’d not seen Nichole’s interaction with Rye until my fingers tapped the keys, this is an interesting development… one that I’ve no idea where it will lead.
After talking with my wife and teen daughters, there’s nothing particularly afoot this weekend for us. God willing, that means I can lay down 4k-6k words and get within striking distance of a conclusion to Book 2. Anyone have any ideas for a name? I got nothin’ right now: no-one knows what Foederati means; Enemies at the Gates is clichéd and taken… I’d like it to be a perversion, if you will, of the first title, “Friend and Ally.”
A man of the Nation entered the temporary abode. Given her background, Nichole settled on the word ‘yurt.’ Not being at least a Chief he went to one of the other three and whispered. Nichole heard and kept still as the messenger left. The one receiving the message rose and whispered it again to Rhun.
Dangerous! Each human introduces error! Whispering introduces error! At least he got it right… this time!
Rhun arose and left without a word. There were times he had been polite to them, as guests, but to her alone he had been careful to maintain a distance, even in his casual exchanges with her.
Because I’m a witch! She didn’t smile as she rose and gave Reilly a sliver of a glance. He followed her out.
After a dozen paces she again looked out and down and the mass migration. Reilly came up on her right.
“Jenkins,” was all she said.
“Ah.” Reilly allowed. “Let’s hope good news.”
“Get your effing cow out of my effing way!” they heard from about two hundred meters ahead and down the hill. The fourth of their party.
“Here comes some, now!” Nichole said with a smile.
Unlike her previous two trips upriver, this was all speed: Brunelli in tactical command, scout Reilly, corpsman Jenkins, and her. Escorted by first six then four of the Nation.
“You are so afraid of me that you need more men than us?” Nichole had asked around the fire their first night. In a single day they made best speed to The Dalles. Apparently not wanting to be under the eyes of either the Knights or the Fort, their escort stopped just before the river bent east. Knowing that she was being watched by all of them, she pretended otherwise and just before midnight left their camp and made her way to the nearby Data Center. She charged as best she could and returned before daybreak.
At dawn, six had become four. No explanation offered. Or needed. The three Regulars and the Special Observer exchanged glances and tried not to laugh.
Another eighty mile day had them at the ghost town of Boardman, where the old Interstate bent inland, away from the river. At the fringe of their steppe country the four of the Nation were visibly more relaxed.
“Prince Faisal, of the Medina Arabs, once said that his people had no use for the desert: there was nothing in it! And that they loved water and green trees.”
“In the years of hardship, the steppe has been our shield,” the tanned and tattooed leader of the four, Rye, replied. Nichole noted the other three nodded. “Our forays against the Mormons and your City…”
In what he did not say, he reveals much in what he just did, Nichole pondered. So: they moved against the Salt Lake valley first and were beat bad enough to move back around former Boise. With Portland back on its feet and retaking control of dam after dam, they must have decided to try their luck west.
A few quiet talks with her minders, friends!, she thought, filled in the blanks. Emboldened by their raids and skirmishes, a tacit alliance with the cannibals had been made.
“But two unexpected things stood in their path: both made in Japan,” Nichole had joked, tossing another piece of wood onto their small fire. Now away from the Columbia, the horsemen had their own fire a few lengths away.
Brunelli and Reilly had shaken with laughter. Knowing a part of her better, Jenkins just regarded her from over the rims of his glasses, finishing the last of the cold food from his tin.
The next day had been cloudy, but almost no rain ever made it past the Cascade Mountains. She paid closer attention to the signs indicating the ‘Umatilla Chemical Depot;’ was it really empty? And to where a branch of the great highway system branched north to the four-lane Umatilla Bridge over the river.
The McNary dam was barely a kilometer upriver from the bridge, but their guides seemed to know nothing about it. Nichole resisted the impulse to scratch the phantom itch at the back of her neck, craving power.
It was just beyond, where she and E Company of the Special Police had encountered Chief Adam’s band, that they met something similar: close to five hundred horsemen with wagons carrying mortars and some horses harnessed together to pull pieces of 37mm artillery. The same that was used against them at Fort Reilly.
“Isn’t this interesting,” said the son of the man for whom the fort was named.
And just as interesting, the vanguard didn’t stop. A small detachment rode out to speak with their escort – not to the City dwellers – and returned to the host.
“We’re expected,” Rye had told them as they resumed their ride toward the Blue Mountains, but two by two, to make way for the hoard moving the other direction. “Our Great Lord may already be on this side.”
Nichole took note of Rye’s tone and posture. Regret.
“This is such good news!” she lied, much freer with her tones. “In weeks we will have crushed the cannibals, and you and your people will be fat and happy in the rich lands of the Centralia Valley! Learning to trade and forgetting your equestrian ways!”
She enjoyed his shudder.
“Before the Breakup,” he began – and interestingly he uses a City term!, “I was a damned clerk in a supermarket. Twenty-six years old, no girlfriend, no future… out here? Under the Sky? My woman is pregnant, I lead men…”
He stopped, realizing the others were looking at him oddly. For saying so much.
Far ahead, there was a rider coming at them at full gallop. She had little time, moving Toast so that she was just off Rye’s left.
“When your son is born – and, from a man such as you, I’m sure a son,” she began, aware she’d never gotten so far into a human’s mind before, “do you want him to see the Sky?”
Nichole looked straight up into the noon-day sun. He unconsciously followed her.
“Or,” she dropped her head and vocals, staring at him, “the shelves where the diapers go on aisle six?”
He reaction was severe enough that he jerked his horse’s head about, eliciting protest. The rider was upon them, drawing up.
“Great Lord Rhun sends greetings to the emissaries of the Mayor of the City! You will please follow me!” he said, a little breathless.
Nichole didn’t move as Brunelli and Reilly moved past her with their mounts. John gave his gap-toothed smile and waved with his right toward the hills.
“We didn’t come all this way for nothing! Lead on!”
The galloping messenger narrowed his eyes as his casualness, but seeing Nichole just beyond…
They are still afraid of me!
“You will follow!” He hesitate before turning his horse about, tearing his eyes away from the harmless seeming, cute girl. “Please!”
Again, the four from the City shared a secret look.