Between men and women are bad enough. Alliances? Blood, everywhere. I’ve written a bit more, but will try to add to it and post it, tomorrow. Must make an end…
There was a cough from the tent flap behind her. A horseman with an agitated look handed a single piece of paper to Rhun. That’s odd: they usually do everything verbally –
The temperature of the room changed again.
“Excepting the general and the girl, you will leave us.” Rhun commanded.
Both seconds looked at their commanders before leaving in silence.
“Your colleague, Jenkins, was kind enough to pen this himself,” Rhun began, indicating the paper with a small shake. “From the shelling of the hill, my daughter is dead and my son critical. He’s not…”
The Great Lord crumpled the paper in his fist.
“…expected to live, your corpsman writes.”
Stifling her panic, Nichole thought very fast.
“Send a message back! Have Jenkins and your boy put into one of the vehicles – preferably an MRAP – for a drive back to the City and their medical facilities…!”
She trailed off as the horse lord shook his head once.
“The cooperation between our peoples is over,” he said clearly.
Before he could say more, Tessmer spoke.
“Miss Clarke? You are discharged from all service to my army or any other offices of the government of the City of Portland.”
Clever, she thought. I am now not only a civilian, but a foreign national. Ah! I see Rhun understands as well!
“General Tessmer? You will surrender yourself and your forces to me immediately, lest,” he waved with his left beyond the tent’s walls, “there be a bloodbath.”
“Agreed. Please summon my aide that we can communicate this to my co- to my former command.” He said before pointedly looking at Nichole.
“Miss Clarke? As Japanese subject in a warzone, I am asking you to leave, right now, and not return.”
Appalled to see her plan of only a few minutes ago now no more than a bag of shattered glass, she put aside her questions, unpinned her single badge of rank – tossing it randomly away – and gave a deep, formal bow. Nichole turned to leave, pausing only for a second at the tent flap.
“I am sorry. For all of us.”
There was no reply. She left. Passing through the antechamber, she paused at the pinned open flaps, listening.
“You and your men will be treated properly, according to the standards we had back when we were all Americans…”
Tessmer asked a question she could not make out.
“No. The politicals will be afforded no such protection.”
Politicals! She quailed. The Chekists under Bakke or everyone in the Portland government?!
She exploded out of the tent, startling Adam yet again, and ran for where a horseman was holding Toast’s reins and rubbing her nose. Again, she vaulted onto her mount’s back.
“Thanks! Bye!” she called to the surprised man, already at a canter while she leaned down to recover the reins.
“I’m sorry, friend,” Nichole said to Toast while their heads were close together, “we’ve still miles to go!”
After getting clear of the camp, with her horse at trot, she fiddled with the cable under her shirt down her back: one end went into the battery in her front pocket; the other into her neck. She removed an elastic and shook out her hair from its ponytail to hide what she was.
Trot, canter, gallop. The miles sped by. Not overtaken by any riders of the Nation, she considered what her responsibility was to the Regulars: to inform them of what happened. It was an issue she chose to set aside until she entered the empty town of Castle Rock, halfway to Longview. That city on the river where she had lead an amphibious assault.
Nichole’s first clue was recognizing some of the cavalry riders: from the second detachment she and Gil had served with at The Dalles. A few had radios, which they used after smiling and waving at her.
It was less than three minutes later she saw Major Muller trotting toward her on the old Interstate.
I died for these men. I will not lie to them.
“Miss Clarke!” he yelled, obviously happy to see her. “Thank God you’re okay! Scuttlebutt said you’d gone with the horsemen on their migration – ”
“I did. May we ride on alone for a few moments?”
Her tone was such he wasted no time waving away the two with him. They stayed about five lengths to their rear.
“I shall tell you what I know, what I have heard, and what I suspect…” Nichole began.
“…which is why,” she concluded to his shocked and sweating face, five minutes later, “that I shall need to trade out my mount for a fresh one. You will understand why I have to get back to the City. Immediately.”
“Yes. Of course,” Muller agreed. “I… we…”
He seemed at a loss.
“Major? All of this was told you by a civilian. Until you receive official word… perhaps you might want to think about the families of you and your men? Who are on, how shall I say? The other side of the river.”
He reined to a halt.
“As of a bit more than an hour ago, you have nothing to desert.”
Saying nothing, he turned and pointed ahead at the interchange.
“Get a fresh horse just to the west there,” he waved for his two men to close up on them. “I’ll let them know you’re coming.”
“Thank you, Major. And good luck!”
The sun was getting low in the west when, on the northern edge of Longview, she spared a glance at the rusted sign proclaiming ‘Portland 50 mi.’
The stretch controlled by Militia A. Dear Brunelli’s God, she prayed, let me find Joe and bring him to safety!
A half moon was rising just as the purple western sky went black, so there was just enough light for her to keep them moving. From the steady flow from her pocket and through her neck, she maintained herself around eighty percent.
I wonder if friend Togame will be looking out her window at the sunrise? Nichole wondered with a glance over her right shoulder. She turned quickly back to the road. While it had largely been cleared of debris, how quickly the plants and weather began to wreck the asphalt surface had been a surprise to her.
Civilization is so fragile! And these humans just take it for granted!
A few miles further south she looked across the glistening silver of the Columbia River at Prescott Beach: her second foray into war. That had cost Joe his best friend’s life. Again, she brought her eyes back to what was in front of her.
In Kalama she saw a sandbagged platoon long before they saw her. Her notoriety of a years residence in Portland allowed her immediate passage once she had called out and identified herself. Asking further, no, none of them knew where Joe Kreeft was stationed.
Further on, at Woodland, the last narrow point along the river before the verdant plain north of Vancouver, there were two platoons and some scout riders. One of the riflemen, Steven, said Joe’s platoon had peeled of right as they came north… probably to secure the town of Battle Ground.
“Let’s hope that name is a misnomer!” she called with a smile he couldn’t have seen, bringing her borrowed horse up to a careful canter. A side-step of miles! Nichole thought, not entirely sure of the location they had named. Fortunately, five miles on, there was a sign with an arrow. Due east. Just before they turned Nichole noted the faint glow of the waste light of the City, no more than ten miles away.
I… I wonder if the last bridges are pre-wired to be dropped?