Old Friends

I’m aware the raw manuscript of C&DC needs attention.  Screw that.  I know I need a few more shorts for my short story collexion that will be three books hence.  As a result, I saw something from having re-read a line from “Foes and Rivals,” where sergeant John Brunelli makes a promise to Nichole 5.

How long would that take?  What sort or world would these people be living in by then?  I made some notes (mostly questions to myself), sat down, and got this.  About 1700 word; and this story is just beginning.  I wonder where it will go?

 

Nichole looked on from a few dozen meters away as her ship, Rahab, was carefully moved into a hanger.  One of the oldest of all of the reactionless motor-powered air/spacecraft, she was long overdue for an overhaul:  a partial engine rebuild and new avionics.  She watched as the ship slowly settled onto the supporting braces before being powered down.  At that, the chief of maintenance turned and gave her a wave and a smile.  Enough years had passed that a light-skinned, strawberry-blond girl on a military base was no longer anything unusual.  Nichole returned both before walking away from the hangers on the northwest side of the Kadena AeroSpace Base.

Once the largest US airbase on Okinawa, Japan, at the order of their new Empress Togame, took possession of it nearly two generations ago when America had its horrid economic and political implosion.  With the development of the revolutionary reactionless motors, it had been repurposed into more than just an airbase.

Rahab is the oldest ship still on the line, Nichole thought, walking further northeast toward one of the base’s gates.  She could drive but preferred to take a bus or cab.  One never knew who you might meet!  And she’s still in use because of me:  I can sustain the high gee load that humans cannot, so I and the few like me are the go-to in an emergency:  as a courier or even deep space accidents.

She had a small home in the forested hills to the northeast of the base.  She paused before her door, considering that some of the bushes on the south side needed her attention presently.  Unlocking the front door with a corner of her mind, she went in.

“I’m back,” she said softly.  It had been years since she had someone over but traditions were important.  She kicked off her shoes in the entryway and passed through the front hall to her study on the left.  One wall was her collection of out-of-print and never-digitized books, now grown to nearly one thousand over the years.  The credenza behind her desk was packed with the worn, hand-written journals she enjoyed writing.

A habit that came from letter writing to my friends… during my first mission – and first failure – in Portland, all those years ago.

Nichole dropped into the chair behind her desk and drew her current journal to her.

The soil and air samples I returned from Mars to the Imperial Labs were gladly received, she wrote.  From what they told me, the nanotechs in the soil are functioning faster and more efficiently than hoped.  It was the guess of one of the scientists that actual terraforming could begin in less than one hundred years!  That is good news my friend Togame can present to the Polar Alliance.

She paused a moment.  Her friend, the Empress, was now a very old woman.  Her mind was sharp but neither Nichole’s immediate family nor her cousins had invented a cure for ‘old age.’  True to her oath when she filched the throne so long ago, Togame had ended up with ten children, twenty-five grandchildren, and currently four great-grandchildren.

“And they, with the burgeoning populations of the Alliance, will need a place to live,” Nichole spoke to her room, thinking of her trip to Mars.  At that, she smiled and pulled a small picture from her shirt’s pocket.  She took a glue stick from a desk drawer and pasted it into her journal.

It was a laugh for everyone, she wrote first next to, then under it, to see me in a bikini on the Martian surface.  Sometimes they forget what I am!  I willed copies of this picture and a few others to their printers:  a kind of promise as to what we want to achieve.

In the Inbox in Nichole’s mind, she was aware of the ‘Chat?’ request from Reina, a machine AI from tribe Mendrovovitch.  She likely has already seen the information of what I brought back and wants to talk.  Having rather deliberately remade the Russian Empire, one of the four spokes of the Polar Alliance, tribe Mendro tended to act in a high-handed, autocratic fashion.  Which was why Nichole chose to ignore Reina’s request and go upstairs to change her clothes, instead.

Into khaki shorts and a tee-shirt, Nichole went out her back door to root around in her little out-building for the hedge trimmers.  Finding them and judging that she could put off sharpening them at least two more uses, she made for the bushes on the south side of her house.  As she did, she heard a car pull up out front.  Too early for the post; a special delivery?   Given some of the tasks assigned to her, such happened more often than not.  She pushed through the errant bushes and beheld that man standing in her short driveway.

An old, white male leaning slightly on a cane in his right.  Even so, his posture and build were that of a military man, up to and including the buzz-cut on his head.  There was something very familiar about his face…

“N… Nichole?” he asked in a voice hoarse with emotion.

The voice and seeing a few missing teeth was her answer.  She tossed aside her shears and ran to him, taking him into her arms.

“John!  John Brunelli!” she yelled, looking up the nearly ten inches to his eyes, wishing she could cry.  “I am so happy to see you again, my friend!”

 

Although being so much smaller, Nichole physically dragged her old friend into her home and placed him at the little table between her kitchen and living room.  She had learned to keep a small store of food for when humans visited – and learned the hard way that food would spoil over time – so was able to quickly heat up some tea and place a basket of oranges before him as she slid into the chair just opposite.

“This is truly a miracle, old friend!” she smiled at him.  “How in the world did you come to Okinawa?”

“I… if you remember, I promised to find you again,” he said, pausing to take a little tea.  “I’m sorry it took almost forty years, Nichole.”

“And,” he continued before she could reply, “you just said ‘miracle.’  Are you finally Christian?  My Ma did pray for you, almost every day before she passed.”

“Oh,” she replied softly, thinking of her friend Nancy who had done some much to teach her faith.   “I am sorry for your loss, John.  But no, I was never able to come to believe.  That’s my fault, not that of your mother’s efforts.  Or the miracle of you finding me in the rubble of The Dalles Dam.”

She watched as he seemed to look at his calloused, weather-beaten hands about the ceramic tea mug before bringing his eyes back up to hers.

“You’ve not changed, Nichole.  At all.” It was almost an accusation.

“I am a machine, John.  I never once claimed to be human.”

“That,” he seemed to struggle with an idea, “is a lie by omission, Nichole.”

“I won’t contest that,” she said quietly, reaching across the table to take his hands.  She saw him look at her left shoulder as she did.

“That ink on you, just there:  a red number five.  I remember that when we took our clothes off and went for a swim.  Just before everything went to shit with the Huns.”

“Yes, John,” she said, still holding his hands.  “It means I am a Model Five; designed to integrate seamlessly into human society.  That, in and of itself, is a deception.  I…”

She tried again.

“As I told you once:  I only wanted to make friends,” she concluded in her inhuman whisper.

“I know.  And I forgive you:  we were all soldiers and all following orders, right?” he asked while moving his tea aside and taking and beginning to peel an orange.

“That’s true,” she allowed, sitting back.  “Thank you, John.”

He waved off her gratitude while looking around.

“So.  This your place?  Kinda simple.  No matter what you look like, you retired or something?” he asked.

“Not at all,” she was able to relax as he did.  “I just got back from a business trip, in fact!”

“Someplace nice?” he asked.  As he finished his tea she stood to get John some more.  A printer in the living room’s corner hummed briefly.  She set the mug down before retrieving the paper – a larger copy of the image she had pasted into her journal – and putting it on the table, too.

While he might be an older man, she could detect his immediate physical reactions of blood pressure and body temperature at seeing her in a bikini.

“N… nice!” he managed.  “Some desert somewhere?”

“Yep!  Mars.”

He looked up.  Paused.

“You mean that?”

“Yes.  I was taking soil and air samples just a few days ago,” she nodded.  “The Polar Alliance is going to terraform the planet.  But, being what I am, I don’t need a pressure suit!”

His head went down and his shoulders shook a little.  Faster than he could grasp she was next to his chair, her arms about him.

“John?  I am sorry if I said something stupid again!”

“No… no Nichole,” he said before taking a huge breath.  “These past years I’ve kept my family together on our land just outside of Eugene, Oregon.  I was a farmer.  My two sons are farmers…”

He let the fingers of his right hand touch the image.

“And here’s you:  on another planet.  Why did I come here?”

Nichole pulled his chair out and sat sideways on his lap.  She’d seen his wedding band earlier but didn’t think this would have her friend’s wife too upset.

“As you just told me:  you were fulfilling a promise.  That is honor.  Something we here take deadly serious!” she said before resting her head onto his chest.  “You have honored me, you, your family.  Be at peace, my friend.”

She felt his arms close about her.  Neither seemed in any hurry to move.

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