Back to my story, now.
It’s often struck me, as I live the ridiculousness which is my life, how wrapped up in ourselves we truly are.
What do I mean?
Well, this book, and the book Adam wrote about the end of the Artemis War, are good examples.
I am the focus of my Kendra-centric universe; I perceive everything as to how it impacts me. Unless I see/hear/smell/taste something, I don’t know it. Similarly for Cass, and Mac, and you. There’s billions of other stories going on out there, right now, and you have absolutely no idea what’s going on except where it intercepts your own perception.
Humbling, ain’t it?
Adam’s got a new collection; isn’t the cover cool? He’s gathered the four volumes which contain the Artemis War, the prequel (telling how Cass and I got started on this crazy road), plus an exclusive novelette, The Martian Gambit, all in one place and then slapped a price of $9.99 on it all.
Personally I think he’s nuts, but hey, I just lived it.
If you want to order, click the cover image or the button below.
As usual, the audio for this installment is at the bottom, and you can also buy the book in any format by clicking the other button or any of the cover images.
Chapter 16: This Doesn’t Look Right
Leaving Gulfport was easy. Maglev trains ran hourly for Jackson, the state capitol, about a hundred and eighty kilometers away. From there, depending on their specific orders, they could catch transport to anywhere on the continent.
Evan sealed the compartment door before Kendra pulled the Impervalope from her bag.
“Anyone want to make a guess?” she asked. “Chicago, we know. Wonder how she plans to get us into the California Confederacy? Last I heard, they weren’t talking to the Imperium.” She licked the seal then hesitated before opening it. “Last chance. Any takers? No? Spoilsports.” She pulled the old-fashioned paper out and read.
“You will proceed by most expedient means to Chicago, Illinois, Northern Imperium. The package will be delivered to you there by a local agent. From there you will proceed to the Big Sky Lands, change ID with our agent in Butte, and then fly directly into the California Confederacy. DO NOT ATTEMPT ENTRY BY LAND INTO CONFEDERACY. You will be met at the border of the Duchy of Lancaster by the agents already named to you at Eighteen hours, local time, day after tomorrow. Good luck.”
She snorted. ““Good luck”. Nice touch, eh?” She looked at her two companions and was underwhelmed by their responses. Evan already had a portable out and was investigating possible connections to Chicago, while Jamey was staring out the window. “You boys got that? Good.”
She closed her eyes. It was going to be a long, long night.
Gulfport to Jackson via maglev; Jackson to Louisville and inspection at the border, a reasonably quick process; then a quick ride across Indiana to the Imperium. The inspection there was considerably tighter than the Confederacy border, possibly due to the constant economic and military pressure the Imperium endured. Comprising only four former states, it still managed to be a manufacturing powerhouse in the fractured mess the North American continent had become. The Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence gave them access to the Atlantic and customers around the world and thus an independence that the United States hated.
Chicago was the center of the Imperium, though the capitol was Milwaukee. Trade flowed through Chicago, so the money and people followed. The 2040 War of Independence had scarcely scratched the city, and the population had never stopped growing, starting with ten million at the time of the war and now approaching double that.
It was an easy place to go unnoticed.
The meeting was arranged for five in the morning at the base of the old Navy Pier. Even at that hour, the Pier was busy with tourists, and Kendra felt a stir of admiration for the planning. She was admiring the Ferris wheel towering overhead when she was nearly knocked over.
“Hey!” she exclaimed. “Watch where you’re going!”
Her accidental assailant backed off. “My apologies, miss, I wasn’t looking out for myself.”
She noted the recognition signal, bit off her sharper retort, and replied, “I suppose I could have looked, too. No harm done, at least.”
Signals exchanged, the smaller man said, “Very gracious of you. If you’re looking for something else to see, you might want to try the end of the pier.”
“What’s out there?”
“There’s a Twentieth century submarine out there, the former USS Chicago. It’s something different, for sure. Don’t think you can get aboard right now, but you never know.”
“A submarine? I might do that. Thanks, um?”
“Jerald. Jerald Olp. You’re welcome. Enjoy your visit.” And he walked away, back to the slumbering city.
Kendra headed to the end of the kilometer-long pier, the sky above her turning from black to a deep blue as she walked, stars fading in the growing light. As she walked, she transmitted back to Evan. “Made contact, agent name Olp, Jerald. Can I get confirmation?”
“Roger, wilco, will get back to you with that.”
“You’ve got about five minutes.”
She walked in silence, enjoying the chill air off the lake, wishing that Cass were there with her. Less than a full day and I’m already wishing I were back in her arms. Sooner I get this done, sooner we can get back to solving our problem – or not. We could always just say to hell with it, leave the country, hell, leave the planet!
By the time Jamey had confirmed Olp’s status she found herself at the edge of the pier, staring down at aa antique Los Angeles-class submarine. There was a rope across the gangplank, and a sentry on the dock to prevent entry. She approached him.
“Good morning,” she began.
“Good morning, ma’am,” he replied. His shirt had a nametag that said Monegain. “Can I help you?”
“I was wondering if I could tour the submarine?” she asked, winging it.
“Tour? Look around? Don’t you do tours? This is a retired sub, isn’t it?”
“No, ma’am, it is not. The NIS Chicago is an active unit in the Imperium’s navy and is not open for tours.”
“Oh, I must have – oh.” Shit.
“Is there a problem?” said another voice, female, this time.
“No, ma’am!” said Monegain more crisply. “Just helping this lady, ma’am!”
“Really?” She turned to face Kendra. “Ma’am?”
She was about Kendra’s height, with long brown hair tied back from her head, friendly eyes and the dual stripes of a NI lieutenant on her coat.
“I was just taking a walk, and someone mentioned that there was a submarine down this end of the pier. I just assumed that it was a museum or something. My mistake.” She made to walk away, but the lieutenant stopped her.
“Well, technically we’re on active duty, but, what the hell. Step aside, Seaman.”
“Aye aye, ma’am.” Monegain did just that, removing the rope barrier as well.
“Thank you, lieutenant,” said Kendra after they’d crossed onto the hull.
“You’re welcome, ma’am.”
Kendra laughed. “You have to stop calling me ma’am. Kendra Cassidy.”
“Lieutenant Tara Henderson, Navigator.” The women shook hands, then Henderson led Kendra to an open hatch behind the sail. “I should lead,” she said, and descended into the sub. Hoping this was the right decision, Kendra followed.
At the bottom of the ladder were two more Seamen, well, one Seawoman, standing to the side. Lieutenant Henderson waited until Kendra was all the way down, then addressed them.
“Anderson, I want you and Sanzari to escort Ms. Cassidy to the wardroom. I’ll meet you there shortly.”
“Aye, Ma’am!” snapped Anderson. “This way, please,” he said, and as Henderson headed forward they headed aft.
At a plain steel door Anderson stopped and opened it. “If you’ll wait here, ma’am?”
“Thank you,” answered Kendra, stepping through the hatch. Sanzari followed and dogged the hatch shut. Kendra ignored her.
“Life is short,” said Sanzari.
“But the years are long,” replied a surprised Kendra. She had assumed that Henderson was her contact, not an enlisted sailor. But she supposed it made sense. Much easier to get in and out on short commitments that way.
Sanzari moved to the lockers on the wardroom wall and opened one. “I don’t know what this is, I don’t want to know, but I’m glad it’s out of my hands,” she said, handing the small box to Kendra. She tucked it into her bag.
“No problem,” answered Sanzari, then smiled. “And congratulations on your marriage.”
“I -” She stopped as the handle to the door turned, the military mask dropping back over Sanzari’s visage. She winked at Kendra, then was all business again.
“Thank you, Sanzari,” said Henderson. “Dismissed.”
Sanzari saluted and left.
“Now, then, Ms. Cassidy, if you’ll come with me, I think we can give you that tour you wanted.”