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A Little Blue
I died for the first time on the day of my fourteenth birthday. It was during a soccer game after school. Yeah, there was a war on in other parts of the world against the monsters but things were quiet in Texas and the Red Plague was just getting started so nobody knew to be afraid.
It was a pickup game, which was the only reason we let Doug play. He was a football player and had a hard time understanding that not every game followed the rules of football. I had the ball and was racing down the field kicking it in front of me to make my first goal when he plowed into me from the side. I remember the world spinning crazily, a flash of light as my head hit a rock someone had missed during the cleanup and then nothing.
My parents refused to discuss anything about that day with me, but according to the people I talked to at the hospital, they performed CPR on me until the ambulance showed up. The EMTs continued CPR until we got to the hospital and the ER staff did the same thing for another half hour. They declared me dead at 1845 and stopped resuscitation efforts.
Three minutes later my heart started on its own.
No matter what you may have heard about being dead, I don't remember any bright lights or beckoning relatives. I woke up in the hospital and thought I was still on the soccer field for several seconds. The doctors said I was fine, with no brain damage. My sister disagreed, but she had been saying I had brain damage long before that day. Maybe she's right. After all, here I am telling you this story.
Later I went to the hospital and got a copy of my death certificate. I framed it and hid it from my parents, since they found it to be extremely disturbing. I wanted to keep it though. I mean, who else had a legitimate death certificate of their own death and could talk about it?
The only thing that changed from being dead was that I never got sick again after that. No colds, no flu and no allergies. Cuts didn’t get infected anymore, either. The Red Plague didn’t even touch me. It did make the rest of my family sick, but none of them died from it.
I still have my death certificate. It's in my belongings back in Texas and I'll get it someday when I send for my things or return home.
But that might be a while.
05/12/09 1930 Austin, Texas League
The pretty woman with blue and white hair smiled at him and pulled up a ribbon with a shiny piece of metal on it from under the table she stood behind. "You get a zero. Go on inside and when they start calling tables, just wait and someone will come get you."
She hadn’t pulled it from one of the bags of tokens like the others he’d seen and he eyed it warily as he took the ribbon, but smiled pleasantly back as he'd been taught. "Thank you." He'd never been to one of these before, but he'd heard about them and hoped he'd meet a nice pokegirl tonight. Or even a not so nice pokegirl. After all, his chances of finding a nice human girl were slim and none. It was a pity that slim had died from the Red Plague.
Once inside, his hopes fell as he listened to people comparing numbers. Nobody he could hear chattering around him had a zero. He appeared to be the only one.
In his opinion it was not a good sign.
When the purple haired babe started with the number one for table assignments, he knew the fix was in. Zero was their way of getting rid of the quiet losers. He sighed and watched the happy people headed for their new future for a moment before looking for the nearest exit.
"Sir?" He turned to see a heavily pregnant brunette wearing a dress that was cut to emphasize her pregnancy instead of trying to hide it. "Are you the man that Eve gave a zero to?"
"If Eve is the name of the girl with hair like bluebonnets, I am."
She looked relieved. "Oh, good. I’m April. Please come with me."
He held back. "What's going on?"
She glanced around to make sure that they were out of earshot of the groups moving to their tables and lowered her voice. "Eve gave you that number because of something she saw in your future. I can't tell you more because, well, I don't know what she saw. She and Iain are waiting to speak to you in the kitchen, if you're willing." He glanced at the nearest table and she smiled. “Don’t worry; we’ve got food for you there too. You won’t miss out.”
“I didn’t come here for the food,” he muttered as she led him towards a door.
She looked over her shoulder at him and gave him a commiserating smile. “No, you wouldn’t have. I don’t know exactly what’s going on, but I do know that there’s not a good match here for you tonight.”
“The story of my life,” he replied with a whimsical smile.
The woman led him through the bustling kitchen to a relatively quiet area where the bluebonnet haired woman stood with a sandy haired man. The woman gave them a broad smile and gestured at a covered plate resting on a counter. “I’m sorry about the confusion. Here’s your dinner.”
“That can wait,” the man said. “I’m Iain Grey, this is Eve and your guide is April. What is your name?”
“I’m Ciaran Sullivan.” He pronounced it like they would in Ireland, Keer-awn. “Look, I just came here to try to find a pokegirl. If there’s not one here for me, I should be leaving. It’s a long walk home.”
“There is one,” Eve said quickly. “She’s just not here.”
Iain sighed. “Please sit down, Mr. Sullivan. Eve picked you out for a job I need done and I’d like to discuss it with you.”
Ciaran blinked before sitting in the indicated chair. “She picked me out?”
“You know that pokegirls have abilities that we only ascribed to fantasy, at least until recently. Eve has the ability to look short distances into the future to see things. She saw that you could do this job and that it would be good for you to do it.” He smiled when Ciaran’s eyebrows rose. “Yes, it does sound extremely convenient for me, but the truth is that she and some of the other members of my family have been frantically looking for someone to do this so I won’t do it myself. They’re afraid I’ll die, you see.”
“Does that mean I’ll die trying to do this?”
Iain shrugged. “Death comes for us all, Ciaran. It’s not guaranteed you’ll die doing this and it’s not guaranteed you won’t. I would be sending you into the middle of a war, after all. We will do what we can to try and keep you alive, though. You’ll be representing the clan, even if most people won’t know who you are or have any idea what that means if they do find out.”
Iain nodded. “I need eyes on the ground in the United Kingdom. The war between the Blues and the Royals is going on all over England, Scotland and Wales. I’m interested in the state of the war, but I’m more concerned about a threat that neither of the combatants is aware of, or is willing to admit to being aware of despite some quiet warnings from me and a friend of mine.” He met Ciaran’s gaze directly. “The world is filled with pokegirls and magic. We have no choice but to accept this. But the magic was here before James Scott started harnessing it for his own ends and others have been using it since before recorded history. The things from fantasy are often far more real than any of us would like them to be. That includes things like the undead.”
Ciaran laughed. “You mean zombies?”
Eve shook her head. “Your parents told you stories about the fey and about the nightmares that crawl through the darkness. Some of those stories were based upon true events. One of those nightmares is somewhere in the United Kingdom and we want to try to prove it so we can deal with it before it can get ready to come for humanity. Unfortunately neither of the governments in the United Kingdom is willing to either believe us or to shake loose the forces necessary to investigate our claims. Each is afraid that the other will take the opportunity to attack or otherwise turn the situation to their advantage. We’d like you to discreetly investigate and see if you can locate some concrete evidence of this evil.”
Ciaran was staring at Eve with an unfriendly look in his eyes. “How do you know what my parents did with me?”
“We told you,” Eve said softly, “I saw where you need to be, and in doing so I needed to see some of where you have been. Your parents moved here from Ireland right before you were born and you grew up on the stories of their homeland. I also know you’d like to see Ireland and the United Kingdom.”
Ciaran looked at Iain. “She’s creepy.”
“Yeah, sometimes she is when she goes all prophetic.” Iain picked up a mug of beer that was sitting nearby and took a long swallow. “She’s also wrong from time to time. If you’re not interested, you can have your dinner and then you’re free to have a nice life. If you come back on a different day, you might find a pokegirl that time. Every decision has consequences and not all of them are bad ones.”
Ciaran tapped the mug sitting next to his plate. “Is this mine?” When Iain nodded he took a drink from it. The beer was excellent and he savored it before swallowing. “How dangerous is this job?”
Iain swirled the beer in his mug for a second. “Considering that Texas is at war with Sunshine, Johto and Indigo, as long as Eoghan doesn’t realize you’re really looking for him it’s probably no more dangerous than anywhere here in Texas. If he does realize what you’re doing, your life won’t be worth spit on a hot stove. However, unless you rub it in his face he’s not going to realize what you’re doing. He’s a druid who decided that he wasn’t ready to die and took steps to make it happen, so he’s not that sophisticated as far as espionage goes. He failed, by the bye and did die, but sadly he didn’t stay dead. He could be anywhere in the UK or Ireland, so you may get to do some traveling while looking for him. If he does realize what’s happening and you survive long enough that you can get word to us, we will try to extract you before he finds you.”
“What about a pokegirl?”
“There’s one waiting to find you in England,” Eve said confidently.
“What’s her name and where does she live?”
Iain snorted a laugh and Eve shot him a glance. “What I see is never that specific, but she’ll be a good fit for you.”
“You make her sound like a pair of boots.”
Eve sputtered as Iain laughed again. “I did nothing of the sort!”
Ciaran pulled the cover off his plate and began to salivate at the odors that wafted up to him. “What’s the job pay?” Iain named a number. Ciaran frowned. It was ten times the amount he was making at his current job. “If I agree to this, can you send all the money I earn to my parents instead of holding it for me? It’s the family ranch and they’ll need it to modernize and improve our livestock. That’s why I’m here in Austin in the first place.”
Iain looked at him curiously. “Where are you from?”
“We live outside of Tulia. It’s up in the panhandle.”
“I’ve driven through it,” Iain said. “I don’t have a problem delivering your pay to your parents. If they want, I can offer them kattle, too, and at wholesale prices.”
“Those mutant sheep I’ve heard about? That would be very nice. How long would this job last?”
“It’s open ended,” Iain replied. “If I decide you’re reaching the point of diminishing returns, I’ll let you know and then we can bring you home if you want to or make other arrangements if you decide you want to stay. As for equipment, I was planning to give you a tamer’s basic kit with weapons that are compatible with UK ammunition. Fortunately with the NATO requirements, an M16A4 will work nicely. I also wanted to give you a feral to tame as your first pokegirl but Eve insisted you go without a pokegirl. She says it’ll be more beneficial for you.” He eyed his wife suspiciously. “Is this another celestial trick?”
Eve smiled serenely. “If by trick you’re asking if I know that what’s waiting for him where he’s going is better than some random feral for him to start with without knowing exactly what she is, then yes.”
Iain grimaced. “Well, trick or not, if your first pokegirl hasn’t bothered to show up within a few days of your arrival let me know and I’ll have something shipped to you. Trust me when I say that wandering around with a less than perfect pokegirl while waiting for this perfection to decide to grace you with her presence is much safer than wandering around without any pokegirl at all.”
Ciaran frowned. “You make it sound like I’ve already agreed to do this.”
Eve opened her mouth and Iain shoved his fingers into it. She glared at him and he chuckled. “Let’s not make the man decide to spite you like I would if I were him and you said what you were about to say.” She bit him gently and he pulled his fingers out. “It’s just that we’re hoping you’ll agree to this job. This is about all I’m going to tell you until you make a decision. After that, you’ll get a full briefing if you decide to accept the job.” He wiped his fingers off on Eve’s blouse. She yelped and jerked away from him with another glare. “I would like an answer soon, though, if I can get it.”
“I’ll do it,” Ciaran said. “I wanted to visit Ireland and this is probably the only way I’ll ever be able to get there. How can I get in touch with you?”
“Do you know where the Barton House is?” Ciaran shook his head and Iain pulled a folded piece of paper out of his pocket. He laid it on the counter next to the plate. “Here’s a map that’ll get you there. Settle your affairs here in Austin and meet me there in three days.”
Ciaran nodded absently. He hadn't eaten all day and the meal had most of his attention. "I'll be there."
07/06/09 1725 Dundee, Scotland
Ciaran clung to the gunwale of the boat and tried not to throw up as the waves crashed over the Meridian Beacon’s bow once more. In his opinion the storm was excruciatingly miserable. To the Scots working around him, it was just a spring blow and nothing worth remarking on. After what seemed like a small series of forevers the ship forced its way past the breakwaters and into a harbor where the waves instantly vanished.
As soon as the ship was moored, the gangplank was run out and people started down it. Over on one side, bearings squealed as a crane began turning in their direction in preparation to unload the tonnes of supplies Ciaran had ridden with from Texas. He waited until the initial crush of people had passed at the gangplank before shouldering his duffel and heading for shore.
Once on land he found a spot near the Beacon that was out of the way and looked around uncertainly. A stocky man with sparse hair and a permanent frown etched on his face detached from the flow of people working the docks and stopped in front of him. “You the Yank?”
“If you’re asking if I’m from Texas, the answer is yes, but I am no Yankee.”
The man grinned. “If you’re from America, you’re a Yank.” He stuck out his hand. “I’m Captain James Wagner. I’ll be your contact here in Dundee.”
Ciaran took it. “I’m Ciaran Sullivan.”
“Are you here to fight for Queen Anne?”
Ciaran shook his head. “Not directly, no. My employer wants a survey of some sites in Scotland and Ireland where he thinks it might be possible to interest investors from Texas. We, of course, would like political stability in such a situation and my employer has no love for the upstart leagues and the chaos they bring, so he does tend to favor the Queen’s side. That’s why the supplies, after all.” He smiled. “And any business we bring to Scotland will help your side with additional income in the form of taxes.”
Wagner smiled back. “That’s true enough and welcome it will be.” He gestured. “You’re being put up in an inn not that far from here. Your luggage is being sent there now. If you’ll come with me I’ll show you where it is.” The two of them headed off.
“So what is the situation here,” Ciaran asked as they walked.
Wagner glanced back at him. “What do you know?”
“I know that the Blues started here by assassinating most of the royal family that survived the Red Plague, but that Princess Anne and her daughter were up here for a horse show and were missed by the assassins sent for her because they arrived late. The Blues cleaned house of the government people they could find, both at the parliament level and down to the townships. It pissed off a bunch of people but the first uprising was put down with the use of pokegirls who massacred the crowds.” Ciaran had been given a couple of extensive lectures by Iain before he left. “Princess Anne was crowned Queen and she rallied a lot of the military who hadn’t gone over to the coup. In the meantime the Blues who were sent to Ireland got a rude surprise when a bunch of native Irish tamers smashed them with the same kind of guerilla attacks Irish rebels had used to gain their freedom from the United Kingdom. Queen Anne promised Ireland autonomy when she ruled the rest of the United Kingdom and Ireland has been neutral ever since.” That wasn’t true, but it wasn’t common knowledge that Ireland was sending forces to aid Anne and keep the Blues too busy to invade Ireland again and knowing things that were supposed to be secret was usually not good. Talking about them was just stupid. “There are more Blue forces than Royals as they recruit tamers from the regular folks who feel they were oppressed under the Royal government but that the forces on your side are much better trained and well organized, which is why things are relatively stable right now. Your tamers are spread thin catching every feral you can find and helping to capture pokegirls orphaned on the battlefield when your snipers kill their tamers.” He shrugged when Wagner stared at him. “I had a good generalized briefing but we both know that it’s the details that kill people.”
“Aye, that’s the truth, but you know more than most generals seem to.” Wagner slowed and stopped. “What’s been going on since is that the Blues have been mounting quick raids into our territory in order to keep us off balance. They’re building towards something, but what it is we’re not sure. They run a mixed group of tamers and pokegirls in, lob a handful of mortar rounds or blow up some buildings, kill everyone they can and then they run for the border. They kill people every time they do it, but it’s nothing serious.” His smile turned hard. “And many times we can intercept them on their way back.”
“You are both waiting for winter, right?” Ciaran had been an indifferent student of history, but Iain wasn’t and from him Ciaran had learned that right now warfare had become more medieval than it had been for a long time. Winter and early spring were for campaigning because the crops had to be planted in the spring and tended during the summer and fall. If they didn’t want to starve, neither side could afford to neglect their crops to wage war in the summer.
“We are.” Wagner stopped in front of a nice looking three story inn. A new sign proclaimed it the Queen’s Resort. “Here’s where you’ll be staying. Remember what I said about the raids. If you hear sirens or explosions, get outside as quickly as you can. You don’t want to be trapped inside a burning building.”
“I’ll remember that.”
“You get settled in and I’ll be back in the morning at 0600. Then I’ll take you to see the major and he can figure out what we’re going to do with you.” He waited until he was sure that Ciaran was going into the building before heading off.
The décor inside gave the building a military air and photos of soldiers, sailors and pilots covered the walls. A woman watched him cross the small lobby. “Good evening, sir. How may I help you?”
“I’m Ciaran Sullivan and I believe I have a room here.”
The woman smiled at him. “Yes, sir, you do.” She pulled some forms out from under the counter. “Please fill these out and I’ll get your key and your package.” She glanced past him. “Is it just you, sir?”
It took Ciaran a second to realize she was probably looking for a pokegirl. It made sense. The decorations suggested this place was frequented by the military and more and more of them had harems. “Yes, it’s just me.” He looked up with a frown. “I’ll take that package now.” Iain had warned him it would be waiting for him.
The woman shrugged. “I have to verify who you are from the paperwork, sir.” Ciaran sighed and went back to writing. The form was pretty general and wanted to know who he was, where he was from and, in his case, what person was his contact in the Army. He snickered mentally at the euphemistically named section for dependents. It was obviously for pokegirls since it asked for dietary and sleeping requirements for each of them.
Still, dependents still sounded better than slaves.
When he signed and handed her the paperwork, she opened a safe and pulled a large manila envelope from it. “Here you go, sir.” She laid the envelope and a key on the counter. “Your room is 5000 credits a day, sir and you are in room 204.”
Ciaran looked at the envelope. Across it were the words “open in your room”. He took it and the key and headed upstairs. His room was nicely decorated with the exception of a slightly battered looking trunk that had been neatly placed against one wall.
Ciaran dropped the envelope and his duffel on the bed and knelt in front of the trunk. He checked carefully and then pressed his thumbs against two shiny spots on the metal banding. There was a quiet click. He lifted the lid to reveal that the entire content of the trunk was one large backpack. He pulled it out and dropped it on the bed next to the envelope.
Then he ripped open the envelope and dumped a pile of colorful script on the bed. It was Royal credits in bundles. Ciaran counted them. He had two hundred thousand credits. It sounded like a lot, but if he didn't spend any money anywhere else, he'd only be able to stay at the inn for five weeks. Since he was pretty sure that food wasn't included, he had a lot less time than that. On top of that, Royal credits weren't accepted in Blue territory. They used the SLC and would probably confiscate any Royal credits he was carrying. And maybe shoot him as a traitor in the bargain.
Ireland used a different currency altogether. They still used the Irish pound, as they had since 1938. Fortunately for Ciaran's brain, they had decimalized in 1960. Still, they didn't take either credit produced by the fighting governments. Since they weren't sure who was going to win, taking money that would one day become useful only as wallpaper or toilet paper was mad.
Ciaran carefully stowed most of the money in side pockets of the backpack, putting ten thousand credits into the money belt he wore under his clothes.
From another pocket he pulled his pokedex. It was the latest version, designed by Theodora, and was a rectangle fourteen centimeters by seven centimeters and a centimeter thick. According to Iain, it resembled something he called a smart phone. It had holographic display capabilities, but also a flat touch screen that took up the entire back of the unit. Ciaran had been given the pokdex a month ago and had been working hard to master its intricacies ever since. It still looked disturbingly fragile to him, but he knew that was an illusion. He’d used it to hammer nails as part of his training to use the device and used the light on it to look for something he’d lost underwater. It went in his money belt too.
The pokedex and the pokepack were the only two pieces of advanced technology Ciaran had brought with him, and the pokepack was disguised to look like a standard MOLLE assault pack. It had far more extensive external storage than a pokepack from where Iain had come from. The external storage was filled with rugged clothing while the internal storage system held Ciaran’s weapons and ammunition along with a small number of empty pokeballs.
He put the pack back in the trunk and locked it before kicking off his boots and lying down on the bed. Considering that his body still thought it was in Texas and while here it was after 1800, there it was five hours earlier. His body wasn’t going to think it was bedtime until sometime after 0300 and so it was going to be a long night and an even longer day tomorrow.
07/07/09 0445 Dundee, Scotland
Ciaran found himself on the floor with no memory of how he got there as around him he heard glass and crockery shatter. He realized he was lying on his boots and tugged them on as something exploded with a bright flash and a loud crack outside his window. His window exploded inward, showering him with glass. He’d been trying to stand, but the building shuddered and the floor twisted beneath him, knocking him back to the floor.
The floor had a definite lean to it now and, rather than trying to stand again, Ciaran crawled to his door. The door was jammed but when he put his full weight into it, it sprung open and he tumbled out into the dust and darkness of the hallway. More explosions sounded outside and gunfire began to crackle as he fumbled his way down the stairs and into the unlit lobby.
The woman he’d spoken to when he checked in came through a door behind the counter. Ciaran could see the pale nightdress she was wearing and was about to call out to her when the front door slammed open and a soldier entered through it. “Thank heavens,” the woman said. “We’re under attack!”
The soldier fired a long burst into her torso, slamming her back over the counter. Ciaran froze as the man swung his weapon around, but his dark clothes kept him from being noticed. An offhand comment Iain had made swam through his mind about how both sides in the civil war here were drawing on the same stocks from the old United Kingdom and so there was a lot of commonality of equipment.
He hadn’t considered that it meant they wore the same uniforms.
At a yell, the soldier went back outside. Ciaran crept to the woman and checked for a pulse and couldn’t find one. More explosions and gunfire sounded outside and, belatedly, a siren began to wind somewhere in the distance.
Light flared outside and there was a whooshing sound. Ciaran ran to the door and looked outside. People were running and, as he watched, a pokegirl stopped and breathed a wall of flame onto the third floor of the inn above him before pelting after a group of people.
Ciaran grabbed the possibly dead woman and threw her over his shoulder. He staggered out the door with her and dumped her on the ground a safe distance from the inn. More soldiers appeared along with a trio of pokegirls, but since they weren’t attacking, Ciaran took a chance and waved to get their attention. “They ran that way,” he shouted, pointing in the direction the Blues had gone. “And this woman has been shot!”
One of the soldiers shone a light on the woman and Ciaran felt his gorge rise. Her chest had a huge hole in it. “She’s dead,” the soldier announced unnecessarily as his men raced in pursuit of the Blues. “Get started putting those fires out.” The light went out and he ran to join them.
Ciaran looked up at the inn. The third floor was fully engulfed and there was no way he was going to put that out. His trunk was fire proof so he wouldn’t lose his pokepack, but the duffel he’d brought from the ship was only fire resistant and was likely to be destroyed. A few other buildings down the street were on fire and he could see lines forming to pass buckets from a well to try and save the least involved buildings or at least prevent the spread of the fires.
The building next to the inn had partially collapsed, probably from the explosions he’d heard but miraculously it wasn’t on fire. Ciaran turned to join the fire brigade when he heard a moan come from the wrecked building. He peered in the doorway but couldn’t see anything. Suddenly he turned and ran into the inn, grabbed some candles he’d seen when he’d come in and ran back to the damaged building. He always carried waterproof matches and used one to light a candle before carefully venturing inside. The inside was a mess; part of the floor above had collapsed into the first and broken pieces of wood and furniture were everywhere. Dust still sifted down from above, making him cough. “Anyone in here,” he called. Nothing. He moved deeper into the wreckage, stopping when he saw a leg protruding from under part of a collapsed wall.
Ciaran wedged the candle out of the way and began pulling at the pile, occasionally looked up when something shifted above him as he removed another board. It was a woman and she’d been pinned beneath the wreckage. She moaned again. “Miss, I’m going to try to dig you out.” He started by building a platform next to her until it reached the rubble pinning her in place. Then he took a stout board and levered at the pile. Nothing. He levered harder, putting all his strength into it. He felt something in his back twinge, but there was no pain. Not yet. The rubble moved upwards slightly and he slid another board onto the platform. Piece by piece he slowly he lifted the pile until the woman’s labored breathing eased a little. “If you can hear me, I’m going to try to pull you out now.” She didn’t respond.
The first attempt didn’t work and he had to jack the wreckage higher two more times before he could work her out from under it. The smoke had thickened and light flickered somewhere above them. Ciaran realized with a start that the upper floor of the building he was in was now on fire. He’d planned to slide the woman outside to try to minimize injuring her more, but now he threw her over his shoulder in a fireman’s carry and stumbled through the door. The smoke was blinding now and Ciaran plodded along until he couldn’t walk any more. Abruptly the wind changed and the smoke cleared. He saw the mouth of an alley and made his way to it. He collapsed there and rolled the woman off of him. He was too exhausted to move and could only gasp air as he leaned against the wall behind him. Without realizing it, he fell asleep.
07/07/09 1030 Dundee, Scotland
Ciaran opened his eyes and winced as the sun shining in his face sent bolts of pain through his skull. He was stiff and sore and his back was a sheet of dull fire from hips to shoulders. For an instant he wondered why his back hurt so much and then he remembered the night's events. He glanced around and, yes, he was sitting in an alley with someone nestled against him. He blinked and looked again. Someone, he figured the woman he’d rescued, was leaning against him with her head nuzzled into his shoulder. All he could see was a shower of long black hair falling around her face. She was wearing a brown blouse that looked like the homespun people were starting to make all over the world and faded jeans.
He nudged her gently with his shoulder. She sleepily made an unhappy noise and buried her face against his shoulder a second time. He nudged her harder. Pain spiked down his spine and he decided he wasn’t going to do it again. “Hey.”
She lifted her head and blinked bright blue eyes at him. Her forehead was crusted with dried blood but she didn’t seem to feel any pain as her brow furrowed. “Do I know you?”
“Probably not. Do you remember the attack last night?”
“Attack?” Her eyes widened. “I remember the explosions. Something fell on me.” She slowly felt her head. The blood flaked away, revealing undamaged skin beneath it.
“The Blues attacked us last night. They damaged the building you were in and parts of it collapsed, trapping you. I found you and managed to dig you out. How do you feel?”
“I’m stiff. Are you an American?”
“There is no America,” he said bitterly. “The leagues chopped it up without so much as a by your leave. I’m from Texas, which used to be part of the USA. My name is Ciaran Sullivan.”
“I am Victoria. Your name is Irish.”
“My parents emigrated from Ireland to Texas before I was born.”
She nodded. “How do you feel?”
He hesitated. “I’m not sure I’ll be able to stand. I think I hurt my back rescuing you.”
“Let me see.” She pushed him flat and rolled him over before he could protest. Pain ripped through him and Ciaran fought not to scream as Victoria felt along his back. Coolness spread from her touch and the pain faded until it was an ugly memory. “Is that better?”
“It is.” He pushed upwards and slowly pulled his feet under him.
“Why is that back of your shirt covered in blood? None of it is yours.”
Ciaran frowned but quickly realized what it must be. “A woman was shot and I carried her out of the building in the hopes she was still alive. She wasn’t.” He looked down at her. “You are a pokegirl, aren’t you?”
She nodded, watching him intently. “Does that bother you?”
“No. Should it?”
“It bothers some. You might not have rescued me if you’d known.”
He shook his head. “You are human and you were in danger. I’d do it all again.”
“Even knowing you’d hurt yourself in the doing?” He nodded and she smiled. “Good.” She rose gracefully to stand next to him. Ciaran was surprised to discover that she was shorter than he’d thought. He was nearly six feet tall and she was obviously at least six inches shorter than he was.
Suddenly he felt awkward around her. What did people talk about after something like this? “Well, I guess you need to be getting back to find your tamer,” he muttered. "He's probably looking for you."
“You are right.” She took his hand and squeezed gently. “Thank you for saving my life, Ciaran Sullivan. I should return to where you found me. Are you going there too?”
“Yes, I am. I was staying in the inn next to it. I just hope my possessions survived the fire.”
“I hope so too.”
They walked back without speaking, and Ciaran enjoyed her presence the whole way. The inn wasn't nearly as damaged as he expected, but he realized what had happened when a woman sprayed a powerful blast of water from her hands into the window of one of the other buildings that had been on fire.
"Sullivan!" Ciaran turned to see a tired and disheveled Captain Wagner waving. "When I heard what had happened I got here as soon as I could."
"They shot the woman who was tending the counter," Ciaran said numbly. "I think she's dead."
Wagner nodded. "Yes, she is. Mary was the owner so even if it weren't so badly damaged we'd still have to find you someplace else to stay. What about you?"
"I'm ok." He looked the inn over speculatively. "Is it too dangerous to go inside? My things are still in there." With a start, he realized that Victoria had managed to slip away without him noticing.
Wagner shrugged. "Before everything unraveled you'd have to wait for some engineer or safety inspector to certify it's safe before we'd let anyone in. These days? If you want to try, go ahead. The fire's out, at least. We'll have to get your things unless you want to wear military issue."
Ciaran settled his shoulders. "I'm sure your uniforms are more than acceptable, but I'll be back as soon as I can." He noted that Wagner didn't offer to help him, which suited him perfectly.
The interior was dark and stank of smoke and steam. Holes had burned in the stairs, and Ciaran carefully climbed around them to the second floor. Each step was cautiously tested before he'd move onto it.
The fire had made it down to the second floor, but most of the damage in his room was smoke related or from the water that had been used to put the fire out. His duffel was in one corner and he checked it over. The duffel's fabric was scorched in a couple of places and it and everything inside it would need cleaned, but that was more than acceptable, given the circumstances.
The trunk was covered in soot but otherwise looked undamaged. After thinking about it for a moment, Ciaran dragged the trunk over to the window. "Lookout below!" He waited a few seconds and shoved it out. He peered out the window and watched it hit the ground with a loud bang. It didn't look like the fall had damaged it. "That's mine, Wagner!" Then he slung his duffel and carefully made his way back outside.
Wagner was sitting on the trunk. "Is that everything, Sullivan?"
"I'll arrange for this to be taken to your new billet. You want another inn?"
"At five thousand credits a day? I'm not carrying the Texas treasury with me. Something a little more economical would be nice."
"I can have you put up in the visitor's quarters. It's not as nice as the inn, but," he looked at the ruin and shrugged, "it's free. Right now, though, I suppose it is much better than the inn."
Ciaran laughed. "That sounds good."
07/07/09 2100 Dundee, Scotland
It had been a long day and Ciaran looked at the bed with anticipation as he shut the door and kicked off his boots. After setting him up in the transient quarters, Wagner had taken him on a tour of the base that had lasted most of the day. Ciaran had the distinct impression that someone higher up thought impressing him could lead to more supplies from Iain's family, and that they were much harder off for resources than anyone had let on. Perhaps they were right. Iain had requested that he see what he could find out about the current military and political situation in addition to his primary mission, but the truth was that Ciaran had no idea what Grey might be planning and he certainly didn't think he had any influence with the Grey family.
So Ciaran had been squired around the area without a break except for meals. On top of that, after they got done for the day, Wagner had taken him to a pub that had been claimed by the Army. He'd intended for the two of them to spend all hours drinking, but Ciaran had begged off after his second pint. He was exhausted and getting drunk on top of that would have just meant he'd have to be carried back to his room. He was also looking forward to the one major benefit of being in transient quarters: it had running hot water.
There was no furniture other than the bed and a chair, so his trunk sufficed as a table where Ciaran dumped his clothes as he stripped them off. There was a closet, but he didn't have anything to hang up so he ignored it. His duffel was on top of the trunk too, and he made a mental note to see if he could get it and his clothes washed. In the morning, he decided. He was too tired to care about it at the moment.
He regarded himself in the mirror as he brushed his teeth. He was almost the stereotypical quintessential Irish, with curly dark red hair that fell to his shoulders. He was lean, but that had more to do with what had become his regular diet after the death of the fast food restaurants and supermarket chains when the infrastructure was destroyed during the Revenge War than any workout program. He'd always been athletic, and the hard work on the family farm had only helped to build muscle, but he'd never win a bodybuilding contest, even if they started having them again. Bright green eyes glittered above a day's growth of red beard that he hadn't had the chance to shave after the attack. Briefly he considered taking care of it, but the siren call of a hot shower was not to be denied.
After adjusting the water to be as hot as he could stand it, Ciaran got in. He rested his head against the wall and savored the hot water sluicing down his back. He turned around to find a washcloth and jumped a foot when he realized he wasn't alone in the shower. A nude Victoria stood there watching him with an impish smile. "What are you doing here?"
He couldn't help but look her over. Her black hair was longer than he'd thought; he could see curls of it peeping around her hips. She was slender but not skinny, with a lithe figure, small breasts and slender hips. Ciaran hadn't been laid in a while and felt his body responding to her presence even as his heart thudded in his chest.
She chuckled throatily. "You told me to find my tamer, so I did."
"I'm not your tamer."
Her smile widened. "No, you're not. At least not yet. But I found you and I'm not leaving. If you sound an alarm, they will come and capture me and give me to someone against my will, but you wouldn't do that to me, would you?"
She was right; he felt that forcing a woman was rape, no matter what kind of woman she was. "What about your tamer?"
Her smile faded. "I don't have one, Ciaran, but I'm not stupid enough to wander around Dundee with a sign that says so. I'd be hounded until I was captured or fled. This way I get to choose who I'll be with. Most of us don't get to do that."
Ciaran was apparently the type of man to look a gift horse in the mouth. His sister said it was proof he was not entirely sane. "Why me? I'm not even a local."
"You unselfishly tried to rescue two people last night, even though it got you hurt. That one of them was me is important to me, but you didn't care who I was. You are a good man and I think you'll continue to be one to me." Her eyes turned serious. "I've seen the way some people treat their pokegirls and I don't want that to happen to me." She cocked her head. "Are you going to reject me?" She sounded surprised at the concept.
"No, I'm not, it's just surprising. I don't find women appearing unannounced in my shower every day." He started to say something else and gasped as the hot water pounding down his back suddenly became icy. He immediately turned it off. "Get out." When her mouth dropped, he chuckled. "I'm still filthy and there's no hot water to play in. I'm not rejecting you, but I want to clean up first and sex in cold water does not sound like fun."
Without another word she climbed out of the shower, leaving him alone. He quickly bathed, only turning on the icy water as needed to rinse. The smoke smell clung and required several lathers of the harsh soap to get rid of, so he was blue and shivering by the time he finished.
Victoria was sitting on the bed with her hands in her lap and a patient expression on her face. The fact that his duffel had been unpacked and all of the items in it had been laid neatly out on top of the trunk belied her appearance of doing nothing but waiting for him to appear. He nodded towards the trunk. "Spying?"
A hint of a flush appeared on her cheeks. "I prefer to think of it as exploring. If we're going to be together, it would be smart to know more about you so I can make you happy."
"Is that important?" He sat down on the bed next to her. "I don't know a whole lot about human psychology, much less pokegirl psychology, but is that something I need to be aware of?"
"It is important. If you're happy then I'll be happy. I don't know if that's pokegirl psychology, but it's a good thing for a relationship." She leaned against him and pulled away. "You're freezing!"
"I lost the opportunity to be warm when I ran out of hot water when the naked girl appeared unexpectedly in the bath and started babbling at me, remember?" He grinned. "That's why I'm not already ravaging you."
She glanced at his crotch, where things were still decidedly quiet. "I see. We'll," she said as she pushed him back on the bed and curled up with him. "We'll have to warm you so that the ravaging can commence."
They lay for a few minutes before Ciaran pulled her face up and kissed her. She melted against him as he licked her lips gently. She moaned softly against his mouth and their kiss quickly turned hungry. "I think you're warming up," she half-whispered as her hand slid down his belly to grasp him. "Except for this, it's still an icicle."
Ciaran grunted and rolled on top of her. "It'll warm soon enough." He kissed her lips and worked his way down her chin to her throat. He nipped her and she gasped, arching beneath him. He nibbled his way down her chest to a breast and sucked gently. Her hands cradled his head and held him in place as he nursed. He slipped a hand between her legs and stroked her wetness.
She moaned loudly and lifted her head to look at him. "Ciaran, do you know how long it has been for me? You can tease me later!" She lifted her legs, wrapped them around his waist and pulled him down her body.
"As you wish," he said cheerfully and buried himself inside her. Victoria gave a long cry of mingled happiness and relief until he hit bottom. "Better?"
She growled loudly as she writhed beneath him. "Less talking and more thrusting!" Ciaran began slowly moving inside her, almost pulling all the way out before sliding as deeply as he could go. He sped up, rising up on his hands to thrust harder until both she and the bed were moving underneath him. Suddenly Victoria stiffened and whined loudly through clenched teeth. He kept moving and soon she began moving beneath him, babbling incoherently as she raked his back with her fingernails. Ciaran felt his orgasm building up from his toes and he bellowed as he exploded inside her.
Ciaran tried to roll off of Victoria, but she wrapped her arms around him to hold him still. "You stay right there," she said softly as she kissed his chest.
“It would be better for us both if you were on top,” he replied and rolled again. This time she didn’t fight him. Once he was still, she stretched out and rested her head on his chest as he stroked her hair. Slowly her breathing deepened and she fell asleep. Ciaran quickly followed suit.
07/08/09 0500 Dundee, Scotland
“I could be a problem,” Victoria announced as she dropped on the bed cross legged. She was wearing the same clothes she had on yesterday but they looked clean. Ciaran hadn’t seen them last night, so he figured she’d cleaned them before coming to his room.
“Do you state the obvious often,” he asked wryly. “By the way, it’s not fair that I had to sleep in the wet spot.”
She stuck out her tongue at him. “I meant with the government.”
“The Royals or the Blues?” He grinned once. “Sounds like baseball teams.”
“The Royals prefer to be called the Loyalists since they’re fighting for the queen and the old way of life. Around here, the politest thing the Blues are usually called is the rebels. The Blues like to be called the Blues, surprisingly enough. And, yes, I was talking about the Loyalists. You might not want to say that we met yesterday.”
Ciaran was shaving and watching her in the mirror as he did. Now he made a face. “What happens if I do?”
“The Loyalists are always looking for more pokegirls. We are the key to winning this war, after all. Because of that it’s against the law for civilians to own them. They have to give any up to the military. You’re not a British subject, but they could become intransigent about that particular rule if they think we met here.”
“I understand they’re buying ferals from Iain Grey and Haven. Why would they want to anger me and try to take you too?”
She shrugged. “I wouldn’t cost them a credit and I’m not feral. That’s hard to pass up.”
Ciaran wiped the remnants of shaving cream from his face with a towel. “How long have you been in the UK without a tamer?”
She flashed a grin. “I’ve been living here since before the Revenge War ended. I looked completely human and so I blended right in.”
“Do you have any kids?”
Her smile vanished. “It wasn’t safe to have children and if you're not feral there are ways to keep from having a pokegirl pregnancy. I certainly wasn’t going to murder all but one of any litter so I could look like it was a human pregnancy. I’ll have children when it’s safe for them and for me.”
“That and then you’d be a fertile woman and you might get locked up.”
“They don’t do that here. They just pay women to have children and pay more if it’s from an approved stud. A fertile human woman doesn’t have to work another day in her life here if she’s willing to play brood mare.”
“What about the Blues?”
“They lock the fertile women up. Only the ‘good genes’ get to their eggs.” She grimaced. “And not surprisingly the leadership has the best genes of all.”
“It’s shocking they’d abuse their power like that,” he said sarcastically. “How did you keep from going feral?”
“It’s a military base, Ciaran, with few women and there are more like it all over the country. I disguised my appearance and became a whore when I needed a male. I got the sex I needed and I got paid for it. I left as soon as we were done so I didn’t get attached to anyone.”
His eyes met hers in the mirror. “Is that why you’re here?” He shook his head before she could respond with more than an angry narrowing of the eyes and a thinning of her lips. “It can’t be. You’re still here and you’re telling me about you. And you didn’t negotiate a price or any conditions beforehand.”
“You’re quick. Not quick enough to keep from insulting me, but I suppose I’ll forgive you this one time.”
“I’m sorry I insulted you,” he said apologetically. “But it was a possibility. You did just show up in my room last night and scare me out of six months growth.”
She looked surprised. “Did I really frighten you that much?”
“In my experience it’s not healthy to be ambushed by a pokegirl. That’s when people tend to get mangled.”
She frowned. “I guess that would be a good survival trait today, but I’ll never hurt you.”
Her frown deepened. “What does that mean?”
“Are you stronger or faster than a human?”
Her frown vanished. “I see what you’re getting at, but I’m not that much stronger than a human. I’m not like an Amachamp or something or you’d be dead already.”
“I’m merely pointing out that you could hurt me by accident, just like I could shoot you by accident. You, however, can’t be disarmed.”
She laughed. “With what gun?”
“I take it you didn’t get into the trunk last night.”
Her head came around to stare at the smoke stained trunk. “I think the lock is jammed. I couldn’t pick it.”
“The lock is a fake. It has nothing to do with opening the trunk. It's just there as a distraction for the average thief.”
She glared at him as he shrugged into a shirt. “That’s mean.”
“Apparently it’s not since it kept you busy.” He checked his watch. “We need to be outside in a few minutes.”
“What weapons are in there?”
“There are some firearms and other weapons for me. We’ll have to find you some.”
“I don’t think we are supposed to use guns.” She frowned again. “I mean pokegirls who aren’t dedicated firearms using types.”
He shrugged. “Pokegirls fight with weapons and techniques. The more human looking ones tend to use weapons more and a firearm is a tool for fighting. Are you turning down the offer of another tool in combat?”
She blinked. “When you put it that way, no, I’m not. But the Loyalists won’t like it.”
“I don’t think they factor in my considerations nearly as much as they think they should. They’re not going with us on our mission and they don’t get to bleed and die with us.”
“We have a mission?" She perked up visibly. “What is it?”
“Later. And let me do the talking about where and when we met.”
07/08/09 0600 Dundee, Scotland
Captain Wagner's natural frown deepened when the woman who’d followed Ciaran out of the transient quarters didn’t leave and instead stopped behind the tall redhead. “Who is she?”
Ciaran didn’t look behind him. “That’s Victoria.”
He yawned. “I believe we were going to breakfast.”
“Is she a pokegirl?” Wagner’s eyes narrowed when Ciaran nodded. “You didn’t say you had a pokegirl. Why haven’t I seen her before?”
“I didn’t mention her and she traveled in my luggage, which is why you haven’t seen her until now. I have a pokeball for her, so she doesn’t take up much room that way. That’s why I didn’t want to wait to get my things out of the inn, no matter how dangerous it was.” Ciaran raised an eyebrow. “Is her presence going to be a problem?”
“It’s unexpected,” Wagner replied sourly. “Nothing in your packet said anything about a pokegirl.”
“Why should it?”
Wagner looked surprised. “I thought you Texans treated your pokegirls like they were real people.”
“Some do. Not all of us are that dumb.” He shrugged. “Look, I’m hungry. If Victoria’s presence is going to be that much trouble, we can just go somewhere I can pay for her breakfast or you and I can meet after I eat breakfast and make sure she’s been fed. She’s too human to eat animal feed and I’ve had her for too long to think she won’t start complaining if she gets too hungry.”
“Why not keep her in her pokeball?”
“After what happened yesterday when the rebels attacked? I almost died. Her job is to keep me alive and that’s what she’s going to do. I’m not saying that you Loyalists didn’t do everything you could, but face it, the rebels can penetrate your security, they did penetrate your security and I almost got shot, crushed and set on fire because of it. If nothing else, Victoria is a shield to soak up bullets meant for me.” He smiled slightly. “Even if she’s a tiny shield.”
Wagner looked confused. “Huh?”
“To really shield me I need a pokegirl taller and wider than I am to hide behind. She is neither.”
Wagner laughed. “That’s true.”
“So, is Victoria going to be an issue?”
Wagner looked behind Ciaran and shrugged. “No, she shouldn’t. She can even eat with us.”
07/08/09 1145 Dundee, Scotland
Ciaran and Victoria were sitting on a seawall outside some kind of manufacturing complex and watching the harbor while waiting for Wagner to finally get them clearance to see it. The day before, Ciaran and Wagner had pretty much free run of what Wagner wanted Ciaran to see, but today there was much more red tape and apparently most of it was due to Victoria’s presence.
“I’m sorry about this,” she muttered in a low voice.
“Don’t be. You didn’t make the rules here and I didn’t make them either. Neither of us has anything to be sorry for yet.” He glanced at her. “It tells me a lot about how they think, actually, and for that I’m grateful for your presence here today.”
“I have a question.”
“Don’t bother asking me if you can ask a question,” Ciaran said. “Just ask it.”
“You told Wagner that I traveled here in a pokeball. What are you going to do if he or someone else wants to see it?”
“I’ll show him a pokeball. I’ve got some in my trunk. We do probably need to key one of them to you in case he wants me to prove it’s your pokeball.”
She turned to him. “You have pokeballs? Where did you get those from?”
“I work for someone who is manufacturing them. He gave me some empty ones for this trip. If I catch some ferals I can send them to him and get paid for them. Part of that payment will probably be more empty pokeballs so the process can repeat ad infinitum.”
“How do you feel about pokegirls?”
“But you’re selling them,” she pointed out quietly.
“No, I’m selling ferals. Look, pokegirls are complicated and you can’t treat a feral like a person and expect her to respond as one. She’s animalistic until she’s tamed. In an ideal world no pokegirl would ever have to be feral, but that’s not the kind of world we live in. To facilitate pokegirls finding homes, ferals are property and can be sold. Once they’re tamed, they become people in Texas, with all of the rights of any other Texan.” He smiled when she just gave him a perplexed stare. “Ok, there is no good analogy for this, but taming a feral pokegirl is a responsibility like adopting a child. Someone who does that is telling other Texans that they’re willing and able to go through the effort to teach someone else how to be a citizen. Once she’s aware, she can do anything any other Texan can, including leave her tamer if she wants to. Just like any other adult Texan, a pokegirl cannot be bought or sold. Anything otherwise implies some kind of servitude and everyone in Texas is free.”
“That’s actually a pretty good analogy.”
Ciaran shrugged. “No, it’s not. Like most analogies, it breaks down when you look at the details. You don’t adopt a child expecting that child to become your lover. Also, pokegirls are conditioned to want to stay with their tamer, so sometimes it’s hard for them to decide to leave. I guess that’s still a lot like the child analogy, but in Texas a pokegirl must decide for herself that she’s unwilling to take any abuse. Nobody in Texas sees it as their responsibility to interfere in a relationship no matter how screwed up it seems on the outside. If they tried, the law would shut them down. Now if she asks for help, that’s different, but,” he shrugged again.
“She has to ask.”
“What if someone murders a pokegirl?”
“Murder is murder. That’s why we have a small government in Texas and they have pokegirls that can divine the truth. But also, self-defense is self-defense. If a person kills another person and it is self-defense, then it doesn’t matter if a pokegirl or a human was killed or did the killing. I guess it doesn’t matter either if it’s murder.” He shrugged.
“Will I ever see Texas?”
“When my job’s over I will be going home. Unless you decide otherwise and if we’re still together, you’ll be going with me.”
“Good.” She looked behind him. "Captain Wagner is coming back."
Wagner stopped in front of them as they turned around on the seawall to face him. "I'm sorry, but we can't see this factory if she has to be with you. There are security concerns about her presence there."
"Afraid she'll pee on the carpet." Ciaran asked acerbically.
Wagner colored and then shrugged. "The truth is a little like that. They can't all be trusted to stay under control and there are a lot of explosives in that factory. I tried, but I was overruled."
"Well, it can't be helped." Ciaran rose. "Does that mean we're done with the tours today?"
"It'll be better if I go back and consult on where I can take you now, so probably."
"Do we need to move out of the transient quarters?"
Wagner shook his head. "No, no you don't. I'll pick you up again in the morning and I should have an itinerary where we don't have to spend most of the day waiting to get permissions for things you were already cleared to see."
"That sounds like a good investment. Thanks."