Infiltration Part 1.10.1 – The Waiting

While Sam was determined as he could be to get the excavation started, there was a hint of doubt cast over his face as he left Esther to her devices. Nowhere else to go, she retreated back into the tent with Mira – and was greeted to a pleasant surprise.

Both feet planted firmly on the floor and a hand on the bed’s frame, she struggled to keep herself upright, but managed it all the same. The injure gynoid looked up to give her partner a wave with her free hand – and almost immediately bent over.

“I’m still having a lot of trouble,” she admitted, lowering her rear back onto the cushion. “But I am definitely doing a lot better now than I thought I would be.”

Esther walked up to assess if Mira’s attempts at standing had caused the wound to reopen – and to her relief, it did not. “I’m actually a little surprised,” Esther began. “This injury damaged you more than I thought it would have – with or without the regenerative nodes to reseal everything.”

“That should tell you how deep the trap punctured,” Mira said with a sigh. “But enough of that. What happened with you and Sam?” Before Esther could answer, the sitting gynoid prodded, “Did you tell him to keep Shafer away?”

After briefly explaining why Shafer’s intrusion earlier was necessary for the luocans to carry out, Esther went on to discuss what the plans were for her and Sam as far as the passageway went. “I don’t know if Sam will actually be back today or not,” she concluded.

“And if he doesn’t come back, maybe you could sneak into the passage yourself – perhaps see if you can find out more information about that generator.”

“I can’t risk that,” Esther claimed. “I was already down there once and someone still managed to find me anyway. If they find me again, who knows what the luocans here will do?”

Mira tensed a little when she realized that once again the luocans had set up a wall in the middle of the road. “You aren’t even tried,” she argued. “You didn’t take a moment to even think about that!”

“I have thought about it!” Esther fought back. “You just can’t tell because we don’t have our link anymore.” It felt like every time they spoke to each other now, something would come up to remind them that the bond they now shared would not compare to what they had in Rhobane. The roadblocks given by the lack of connection made Esther want to ask if perhaps Mírre had sent the two of them her by mistake – but she knew that Mira’s response was going to an instant negation of such an idea.

Continuing, Esther was practically pleading for Mira to stop pushing her. “There is no need to rush things when Sam is already going to bring me down there anyway. I just need to wait.”

“All we’ve done is wait. Especially me; I’m practically a background subject as far as our mission goes all because of an injury I sustained on the first day. Don’t you think Mírre would want you to do it?”

As the conversation had gradually increased in volume, Esther attempted to bring things back down as she lowered her voice. “I don’t know what she would want. Because she is not with us.”

With that, the two of them went silent again until Mira turned herself on her bed, her legs pointed in Esther’s general direction. “I guess if I’m going to be stuck here, maybe we can find something useful for me to do around camp.”

There had to have been something for her to do now that Amity was gone. Still Esther had to ask: “Are you sure you can work with your legs yet?”

“I just need some support,” Mira claimed.

Though Esther was hesitant to believe a little support was all the gynoid needed, she did not feel the need to cause any further argument. “I’ll see if Macy has anything.” Though even saying that managed to elicit a barely-audible grunt on Mira’s end as Esther started turning away to get help.

By now all the girls were still in their tent, Macy in there with them to instruct the lot of them as they huddled around. For once it seemed a single person was able to round up the entire lot of them, as opposed to a single person with some assistants. Walking through the tent flap and witnessing the now-controlled children brought with it an air of commonality Esther had not expected to find here.

Rather than going to help herself, Macy instructed Toni to go along with Esther to grab something for Mira.

“They’re just some crutches Macy has in the back of her tent,” the girl explained. “Just don’t break them; they’re the only ones we have now.”

With that little comment, Esther began to wonder if they actually would break under an etternel’s weight.

Toni instructed Mira to stay by the tent flap as she took a deeper dive for the supports she was looking for. Patient, Esther complied – up until nearly ten minutes had passed without any word from the girl. It was difficult to see Toni from where Esther stood – and from her less-than-advantageous vantage point, she leaned a little closer in to see what was going on. “Is everything okay?” she asked.

“Fine!” shouted Toni. “It’s all fine; I just haven’t found the stupid things yet.”

Esther almost wanted to ask if the crutches were even in the tent in the first place. She thought she could hear a swear on the girl’s end before leaning in a little further and watching her heave a sigh of relief.

“Found them!” Toni cried at the same time she turned her head to witness Esther peeping from behind the flaps. Once she came back, Esther could see the droplets of sweat decorating the top of her head beneath her curly hair. Without a word, she handed the crutches over to Esther, who took them without issue.

“Thank you,” said the woman, almost turning away as the wooden utensils rested in her hands. While part of her wanted to worry about how well lumber would do with Mira, she instead took note of Toni’s stressed expression. “Is everything okay?” she wondered.

As if confused, Toni flicked her gaze upward with an electric reaction. “It’s fine,” she said, emphasizing the second word. Perhaps realizing that Esther had caught onto her, Toni sighed and shook her head. “Alright; it’s not all fine. I’m just kind of stressed out about Amity.”

There Esther saw Mira’s opportunity to get work done. “Is it the workload?” she asked, lowering herself slightly to match the girl’s eyelevel.

“A bit,” she admitted, biting her lip as she and Esther went on their way back. They were almost at the girls’ tent when Toni spoke again. “Do you ever feel like you were so close to someone you could read their mind, but now it’s like you don’t know them?”

If she only knew. “I can sympathize,” Esther said, avoiding any in-depth analysis of what Toni had just said.

Rather than open up again, Toni cast her eyes down at her feet, as if bashful. “Yeah…”

She didn’t say anything beyond that.

With a quick glance to her left, Esther noticed the other girls had started peeking at the two of them from the sliver of space between the tent’s flaps. Tightening her grip on the crutches, she cleared her throat and directed her gaze to the opening.

It took Toni a moment to read Esther’s body language – at which point she shuffled back in like a panicking play extra.

Now back to Mira’s side, Esther provided the crutches.

“Toni gave me these; they should help out.”

“I have seen these before!” Mira replied. “Sometimes people at the medical areas back home would need them for those few times they ran out of wheelchairs.”

“Do you think they’ll work for you?” Esther wondered. Just as she had asked, Mira hoisted herself up, placing the crutches tops around her ancillaries as she hopped about on her one good foot.

Mira gave her partner a determined smirk. “I think so.” She then took a few steps forward, already getting the hang of this new method of walking. Barely able to help herself, Esther returned with a smile of her own; Mira was doing a great job for someone who had never used these things before.

Suddenly Esther remembered: “Maybe we should wait a moment for Macy to get back to us.” Anticipating some protest, Esther attempted to clarify, “Just while she’s still taking care of the children.”

Though not as resistant to her demands as Esther had anticipated, Mira returned her partner’s comment with an air of passive-aggression, which she put on full display as she carried herself back to her bed without a word. “Okay! I still wish we could do this excavation together.”

As much of a disaster as that could have been without a net-link, Esther had to admit that would have been nice. She nodded.

By the time nightfall had made its approach and Esther still had yet to hear from Sam, Macy proposed that she work along with Mira in aiding her with the tasks she and her assistants had to carry out. Esther would have been annoyed by this if she were more prone to human emotion than what her architecture would allow, but rather than complain, she could only wonder what was keeping Sam.

She should have known that Persson wouldn’t have been willing to comply with whatever plan he had. Two days had passed without any word about the excavation. Still Esther did her work, making sure all the girls were accounted for, washing their clothes for them, resolving any conflicts or fights that might have sprouted between two or more girls. The work was not difficult when she had three luocans and Mira to work with, but she could understand where Amity’s general frustration and attitude had started.

It almost came as a surprise that Toni did not wish to speak on the subject they had narrowly avoided the other day. Toni and Esther barely spoke at all, instead opting to only talk when the job called for it. Cynthia, on the other hand, was a lot more social – something which she said was to be expected of Toni: now the oldest assistant Macy had. Esther learned that Macy was making an effort to make one of the girls into a new assistant, but so far nobody had volunteered for the position.

As the newcomers worked among the children, there was a noticeable amount of gossip speaking from one child to another. It took the two of them until their second day as assistants for them to verify that the gossip was about the two of them.

Thanks to Amity’s stunt on her birthday, a lot of the girls had come to believe that Esther and Mira truly were dating. Neither of the two women dared comment on this rumor, yet the idea of them being labeled as lovers was somewhat amusing.

In the late afternoon while the two women, Macy, and all the children were sitting by in their large tent, a shuffling came at the opening. Esther could not have been more relieved or surprised to find Sam at the other side.

“Hi – Macy? I’m here for Esther.” He spoke as if he were a parent pulling their child out of class. The woman in charge did not hesitate to let Esther go – at which point the woman undid some of her extra garments and rolled them up in her arms. All the while she sauntered up to Sam without a word.

It was only once they made their way back outside when the tension between them started to break. “I know, I’m sorry,” he began, almost writhing his hands as he spoke. “We had to wait longer than we wanted before we had the go-ahead.”

“We?” asked Esther as she looked over his shoulder.

“The others are gathered around the east side,” Sam explained. “But anyway – you seem to be getting along with everyone well.” The two of them walked to Esther and Mira’s tent, where she threw her clothes away for now.

“More or less,” she replied. “It’s not like I was left empty-handed with Macy around here.” Thinking about Amity suddenly reminded her: “Have you seen where Amity’s gone, though?”

“Just in a tent by herself. Her tent’s one of the closer ones to the outskirts.

Suddenly she wondered what that girl was doing in there. “Just by herself? Does she talk to anyone?”

“Not that I’ve seen,” he admitted with a sigh. “Amity’s probably still burned out, but she’ll tire out of this phase. They always eventually do.”


Now for something a little different! I’ve decided to go and start making smaller chapters when the need arises.

Honestly, with that said, this chapter should have gone up a week ago as almost all of this was here a week ago. I’ve been gone simply due to a project that I’ve been beta-reading for someone — but now that that’s over, it’s time to get serious!

Discord is open for all, as always!

Infiltration Part1.8 – Lucius Ricardo Persson

More than anything, Esther wanted some straightforward answers, but all Sam could say was that Macy wanted someone to guard the two of them.

“I just hope Mira can learn to live with this,” Esther said as she and the deputy made their way to the governing district. “I don’t understand why she reacted to Shafer’s presence so aggressively.”

Sam peeped at her from the corner of his eye, uncertain about speaking further on that matter. He began with an almost quivering start. “Is she someone who values her privacy?”

Knowing where they both came from, either of them being anal about privacy seemed more than a little hypocritical. Things would have been different this morning if Shafer was a servant to the Mother, but the fact of the matter was that he had no ties to the Mother – probably didn’t know who Mírre was.

“I don’t think that was really the point of her outburst,” Esther argued after a long pause. “It’s just that even when the Domain was looking over us, it was at least the same people every day. She just must not like the idea of a man watching her sleep.”

“That’s a fair point,” Sam acknowledged. “Well, I’m sorry you guys didn’t get the best wake-up call. Originally Macy asked me to do it, but – ” He trailed off.

“Really?” asked Esther, looking somewhat amused. “I think Mira would have liked that better.”

That last comment almost made him double-take. “You think so?”

“Well, you’re definitely friendlier than Shafer.” And without any words on Sam’s part, the two endured a shared moment of silence as Esther, lost in thoughts that Sam could not begin to comprehend, drifted slightly to the side, catching herself before going too far off-course.

One question had alluded her the entire time and had continued to do so as Sam guided her through town: “Is there something specific the Director wants to talk to me about?”

“Like a topic of interest?” Sam inquired. “He honestly didn’t say anything about that – just that he wants to see you both soon.” He paused. “He would have rather seen both of you at once, but I told him about Mira’s condition and he accepted that that’ll have to happen some other day.” To say he accepted it was a little misleading.

“He didn’t tell you anything at all?” asked Esther – to which Sam simply shook his head. Her voice coming nowhere near as hesitant as she had intended, Esther almost regretted her next few words. “Is the Director okay?”

The question had clearly struck some kind of nerve; Sam’s grimace was enough to make that clear – even if he did try his best to clear the reaction from his face.

Still he played coy, almost stopping when he asked, “What do you mean?”

She remembered the conversation she and Mira had had with Shafer the night before. Knowing she couldn’t back out now, she continued. “I just heard from someone that the Director’s beliefs are…uncouth.” She struggled to come up with the nicest way to say it. “Just that I shouldn’t try arguing with him unless I want trouble.”

While he hadn’t completely stopped them in their tracks, the silence on Sam’s part was enough to solidify that she had misspoken. “Sorry – that’s just what I heard.”

More silence ensued – and now following behind as opposed to walking side-by-side, Esther had little way to tell what he was feeling, but she could guess when she heard a light snicker. “Whoever told you that isn’t entirely wrong,” he confessed.

“How’s that?” Esther asked, rushing up to meet his side again.

“You’ll find out when you meet him.” Out of everything about this conversation, the only part that called for some concern was the fact that someone had already told Esther about the Director’s oddities.

Knowing Esther must have been itching to get away from the topic of discussion, Sam attempted to change the subject. “But hey – it’ll be a bit before we’re there, so I want to know: was there anything else down in that tunnel you found that we weren’t able to get through yesterday? I know we were kind of quick about it and you seem to be doing better now than what I heard you were like when Rand found you.”

The woman had almost forgotten about how sickly she felt shortly after escaping the river. Even so, there was little outside the major details she had already brushed up on – until she remembered some of the documents she had read.

“I did read a paper I found down there. There was a really dusty room with a bunch of documents. It must have been written when the previous owners of that place just got the generator.”

His attention clearly grabbed, Sam inquired further. “Were there any Autorian documents – stuff that looked like it was written by the Domain?”

“No,” she replied. “Any talk of anything Autorian was completely reserved for Autorise S.A.”

“Oh, good God!” Sam chortled. “How old was that doc?”

“About sixty years. And what’s more is that the paper was complaining about a change in converters – and the converters I saw once I got down to the generator were outputting to a format that the Domain doesn’t use anymore.”

Sam raised an eyebrow. “You know what the formats the Domain uses? Were you some kind of technician for them?”

Again she wished she had stopped herself while she was ahead. “I worked with the AI there,” she half-lied. “So I know that the plug that the generator used doesn’t work with anything the Domain is making now – not without yet another converter.”

Heeding her words, Sam nodded, which she took as a prompt to continue.

“And the generator,” she began. “I don’t know how it’s still running if it’s been sixty years since that place was operational or since this town was operational, but it’s still running – and it needs to be turned off soon because – ”

“Whoa, whoa – hold on!” Sam interrupted, finally stopping them in their tracks. “You’re telling me that the generator has been running nonstop all this time? That’s actually what it looks like?”

Tilting her head up to meet his gaze, Esther blinked, coming within a handful of millimeters from touching him. “I think so,” she replied. “But I don’t think it’s actually generating anything anymore; it’s just running by itself without any rhyme or reason.”

For the first time since they had met, Sam faced away without a word, as if worried she would catch a glimpse at him in his weakened state. He mumbled something she could not hear, then flipped around to face her, though he refrained from looking directly in her eye. “That could mean a few different things,” he started, taking a deep breath before he continued. “Either someone is down there maintaining that thing, or the generator is on a path to self-destructing any day.”

Had he not interrupted her, Esther was going to say that last bit out of his mouth. “Right.” She wanted to say something else, but nothing else would come out.

Continuing their walk to the Director’s tent, Sam went ahead with his explanation, Esther in tow. “You see – we suspected there was a generator somewhere down there,” he acknowledged, then paused again as a new thought occurred to him. “But the fact that it’s running and hasn’t broken means – ” Another pause. “It makes me think it could be a coil spinner.”

Where usually she would have preferred to play dumb at the mention of such technology, Esther genuinely had no idea what he was talking about.

“Some old energy format that failed,” he clarified. “One of Autorise’s competitors back in the day tried to make something that would be quicker and cheaper than the regular Sednium rods – which means that if the generator blows up now, the blast won’t be as bad as it would be if it were using rods.” After saying this out loud, the man heaved a sigh. “We wouldn’t deal with anything on a nuclear scale, but it still won’t be pretty if that thing goes off. Something needs to be done about that generator once we’re done with the Director, assuming he doesn’t have other plans for you. Coil-based systems might be more efficient than sednium in the long-run, but there’s no way that thing can still be functioning without some loose bolts scattered around.”

Hearing him talk about loose bolts reminded Esther of all the pieces that had fallen off that robot. If that many pieces had fallen off one android, she didn’t want to think about how many had shaken off the generator in its volatile state.

“Going back in there sounds dangerous,” Esther commented, as if she wanted to dissuade the man from doing his work.

To that, Sam shrugged, the corner of his lips turned up just enough for Esther to notice. “A lot of what I do is dangerous; it’s all part of the job. Plus it would potentially be more dangerous if we just left that thing as it is.” He paused. “Speaking of dangerous: some of those traps that you and your friend walked into are set up around that area, so just keep close to me when we get there.”

But for now, they had someone to meet. “I can see the Director’s tent,” said Sam.

This must have been the government district, then – at least that was what Esther could infer from Sam’s claim that the Director’s tent was nearby. If he hadn’t said anything, she never would have guessed this was where the government was gathered, as there were no banners or any other signs of authority hung up. If the goal of not carrying on such an age-old tradition was done in an effort to keep the local leaders’ homes as inconspicuous as possible, these luocans succeeded. As age-old as flag-hanging was as a practice, the authoritarian AI of the Autorise Domain still recognized it as a legitimate form of marking territory. To the flesh of the Domain, it was the most natural way to signify alliance to the state – yet the Disconnected sought to abandon such principles.

Only one of the tents in the area was guarded – and it was the tent Esther and Sam were headed toward. “Oh, damn,” he mumbled, eyeing the guard. “James wasn’t there when I left.”

The guard stood short, yet firm, a rifle in his hands. “What is it, Sam?” he said, gesturing the barrel at the the ground in front of the visitors’ feet.

Sam gave him a smile as he gestured toward the woman at his side. “This is one of the new visitors we have been talking about,” he said. “James, meet Esther!”

“If you’re expecting me to shake hands with her, you know I can’t do that,” the guard grumbled, gaze locked on the woman. “Not when I’m on duty.” Turning his gaze toward Sam, he continued, “I take it you want to introduce her to Director Persson? Because I still can’t let you in. The Director has said he will be busy all day with his work.”

To the surprise of the three of them, a voice called from the tent behind James. “I am actually able to see people now!”

The three of them all hesitated to react, James eyeing Esther as if she were to blame for his looking like a fool right now. Without argument, he shrugged and slid to the side to allow the two of them in.

Esther and Sam stepped in without a word.

While Sam had grown accustomed to the Director’s archaic method of organization, Esther struggled to figure out if there was a method behind the placement of the paper schematics, cartographic tools, and weapons she saw about the place. The Director was smart enough to keep all his weapons on the side of the desk opposite of the opening – but the fact that she could see them stacked on top of each other at all was definitely cause for concern. Beyond the weapons, the lone MDA on his desk was the most polished item in the area. Were it not for the beard, she might have assumed he was younger than Sam – for once he revealed himself from behind the desk, hidden behind a slab of plywood, his aura changed from that of an overworked man to that of an excited boy.

“Oh yes – thank you for coming, both of you!” he cheered, speaking faster than the newcomer had anticipated. “Sam, my boy – I take it this is Esther, yes?”

“Yes, she is,” Sam replied, noticing as his commanding officer had already locked eyes with the newcomer.

“Splendid!” he beamed, urging the two of them to take their seats in front of his desk as he went to do the same. As her eye drifted away from his, Esther caught the map in the middle of the desk, noticing several of its spots had been marked in red or blue. It was only after the Director raised himself in his seat when her gaze returned back to the center of attention.

“And the other one,” he began, still beaming. “That would be Mira, correct?”

“Yes,” she replied, “that’s Mira.” Hoping to at least somewhat reciprocate his enthusiasm, she returned his grin with one of her own. “She is still in our tent, but she’s doing okay.” She swore she could see a sparkle in the Director’s eyes.

“The bear trap!” he interjected. “I must apologize; it is unfortunate that the trap caught you and not somebody more deserving of such punishment. I hope now you realize that the wilderness is no place for a lady such as yourself to wander. But by now you must have found refuge with us, yes?”

Catching on to his histrionics, Esther almost needed a moment to rethink the words he had spoken before replying. “Have we found refuge?” she said, repeating his words. “I think so. I have only been here for a day, but so far things seem good.”

Before she could speak another word, the Director cut in again. “But tell me,” he began, putting a cap on his energy. “You and your friend – you belonged to the Domain, yes?” Esther and Sam both flinched.

His seemed to have been intentionally worded to be as damning to answer as possible.

Sam could have sworn had he never told the Director that the newcomers were Autorian.

“From Toubane?” the man continued in his guests’ silence. “Or some other city?”

Esther blinked a few times, contemplating if she should answer the question at all. “Rhobane,” she answered honestly.

“Ah, I see,” he said, nodding. “I came from Toubane before that city was demolished. Most people were deported to other cities; others escaped. That’s just how it was.”

“Oh.” Despite what Sam had told her about many of these luocans bearing Autorian blood, she did not expect the Director to be of such a breed of luocan. “How were you able to tell I was Autorian?”

“Because you just told me!” he cried, cackling.

Sam wanted to groan.

In an effort to save herself before further questions arose, Esther continued. “Mira and I had a guardian who was walking with us outside the town’s border.”

“Interesting,” the Director murmured, hunched over his desk – quite uncomfortably, given the height of his seat – as he listened. “And what exactly was the Domain wanting to do with you out there?”

“We didn’t know. The guard took us outside Rhobane and left us with no resources.”

“And what do you think the Domain would have done to you if you tried going back in?” he prodded.

Esther swallowed. “I don’t know. And I don’t think I want to know, either.”

“Oh, I understand,” replied the Director, his tone as pathetically empathetic as he could make it. “And your friend doesn’t know, either?”

“No, sir,” Esther answered.

“I am sorry,” he said. “But if nothing else, I am glad to have you here now; that is more than what the Autorise Domain can say for its people.”

More than anything, the knowledge that this man had once been in the same system as her had Esther yearning to learn more – about his origins and what all he had done in the Domain. The fact that he had come from Toubane told her that he had joined the Disconnect about fifteen years ago – when he would have been a teenager, most likely. She wondered if they had crossed paths before, but she doubted it. Perhaps that was a good thing, as due to her lack of aging, it might have come across as suspicious to the Director if he saw the same person, unchanged, years after his departure from the Domain.

Catching Esther in her deep thought, Sam jumped back in. “We actually discussed a bit about the passage on the way here and I found out Esther apparently worked with the AI there,” he explained. “Apparently she knows a bit about the Autorian formats.”

The Director cast an inquisitive glance at Esther. “Is that so?” Well I would be happy to offer you some work to do in that passage once we get to know you better.”

An offer already? And from the leader of the camp? “I’ll keep that in mind,” she said, elation shining upon her countenance.

“Yes – well, Esther: it was nice meeting you, but I must return to my work. There is a lot for me to cover and the chance to meet a new lady is just enough to break me out of it, but I must return to my work now.” With that, the Director motioned both of them to stand and leave.

As Esther hoisted herself from her seat, Sam interjected. “Wait –”

“Please, Sam!” Persson begged, lowering back to the space beneath his desk, his face hidden again behind the wooden paneling. “I will have someone call you over when I am done.”

Sam opened his mouth to speak again, but was stopped by a voice from outside. “You heard him, deputy!” James called.

His lips pursed, Sam took another look toward the desk, received no response, then gave in, gesturing Esther to come out with him. All the while James stood idly by, rifle still held tight as he eyeballed the two. Headed back to the tent where Mira now resided, it was only once they were out of the guard’s earshot when Sam let out a sigh.

“That was sudden,” Esther acknowledged. “And kind of rude.”

Sam rubbed a temple. “You don’t say.” He shook his head. “Sorry. I just wanted to tell him about the passageway and see if we could get some guys to come down with us, but he doesn’t seem to be in any mood to talk about it.”

“Well, you’re his second-in-command, aren’t you?” she inquired. “Wouldn’t you be allowed to take some people yourself.”

At that, Sam snorted. “He would probably think I’m attempting a coup d’etat if I tried something like that.” Another sigh. “But yeah – that’s the Director. Do you think you two will be able to get along?”

“I guess so,” Esther said. “I’m actually surprised how friendly he was when we got in, but he spoke so fast it was difficult to keep up with.”

“You don’t think he’s too nice?” Sam inquired.

If the level of nicety was meant to be some kind of warning, Esther was more than capable of keeping that thought in the back of her mind. She hesitated to reply. “Maybe he was,” she admitted. “Why do you ask?”

By now they had started to drift along the northern border of camp – indicated by the visible row of evergreens around this part of the area. “I guess it’s complicated,” he replied, barely keeping himself from sighing again. “He’s usually not very nice to newcomers unless they’re women.”

Esther could sense the unfortunate implications already.


Originally this and Part 1.7 were going to be the same chapter, but you know how it is. I think.

Anyway, the Discord is open, as always!

Infiltration Part1.7 – Monarchs

“What are you doing in here?!” Mira shouted.

Suddenly awoken from her spot beside the bed, Esther raised herself, only to bump her head on the bed’s ledge. The blow made her ears ring as she still struggled to assess what was going on.

Through it all, Shafer barely reacted as Esther rubbed the spot she had just hit. “I’m keeping watch,” he answered from where he sat, a hand at his side and legs crossed. “We still ain’t sure if you ladies are trustworthy yet, so I’ve gotta keep an eye out.”

Esther retracted her hand from her scalp, relieved to not see any liquid. In a less panicked state, she turned her head up to Shafer. “Wait – you were watching us sleep?”

Shafer nodded.

There would have been a lot more shouting, screaming, scratching, and biting at that point if the women in front of Shafer were not artificial. Instead the Autorian visitors sat in silence, sensing an immeasurable distance between themselves and their own invasive guardian despite him being practically within arms’ reach.

“Well,” Esther began, her voice monotone, yet firm. “We’re awake now and we’re not going back to sleep.”

“I can see that,” Shafer said, nodding again.

“Leave.” Mira spoke. Esther whipped her gaze around to see the still-disabled woman’s untwitching countenance hyperfocused on Shafer, her green stare completely still, refusing to ask again or even blink as every part of her screamed for the man to follow her command.

Shafer followed along. Mira continued to stare.

A smirk ran along his face as he gave in, picking himself off his seat. “If you insist, Missy – I’ll just be outside.” The man spoke not another word as he let them be, taking his chair with him and placing it just beyond the tent’s flap – which he proceeded to zip closed.

Only once Shafer left the room did Mira finally blink again. Following this retraction of her partner’s state of supposed fury, Esther asked, “Are you okay?”

Mira turned her head to Esther, avoiding eye contact and blinking rapidly almost as if she were fighting back tears. “I guess I’m okay,” she replied. “But what was that? He’s just allowed to come in whenever he wants?”

“Is that a surprise to you? It seems like that would be the case, since the people here are keeping us close under their watchful eye, anyway.” Esther paused. “And if you didn’t have to worry about your leg and this place had some kind of military district, I’d be surprised if we weren’t harbored in the military district instead of the medical tent.”

It was a good point, she knew. Her lips pursed, Mira beckoned Esther over; Esther obliged without a word.

“I already do not like that man,” Mira whispered. “After the threats he made on my part while he dragged me into camp, I’m hesitant to believe he would want anything more than to kill us while we sleep.”

In some ways, the idea that he would kill the two of them before they had a chance to meet with the Director seemed so silly an idea that Esther almost had to feign sarcasm. “Right – you said yesterday he threatened you, but – ”

“I alluded to it,” Mira corrected.

“Right,” Esther said again. “Let’s just wait for now, okay?” Her ear almost seemed to twitch at some noise from outside. “At least we know this: if he shoots a gun at us right now, the girls are going to hear and I don’t think he wants that kind of attention from children.”

Mira said nothing.

“MORNING!!”

Amity awoke with a start, the wind knocked out of her at the same time hear ears started ringing. In her panic, she lifted herself out of her lying position, looking here and there to find only Cynthia nearby – who stood by with a smile on her face.

Feeling as if the girl had just tied her stomach in literal knots, she resisted the urge to punch that smiling face. “What was that about?” she snapped, rubbing her belly when she noticed the large slab that Cynthia had anchored on top of her. On further inspection, this slab appeared to be some kind of book.

“Happy birthday, Amity!” said Cynthia. “Miss Macy said she wants to see you once you’re dressed – and she also wanted you to have this.”

Amity opened it up to find all the pages were completely blank. “It’s a…journal?” Suddenly she factored in the weight. “It’s really thick – damn!”

“I wouldn’t know anything about it; Macy just said you should have it. What would you need a journal for, anyway?”

Her thoughts still buried in sleep, it took Amity a moment to remember why she would need such a heavy collection of paper: something few people had in such quantities. Once she did remember, she still hesitated to reply. “I have my reasons.”

Because it was her birthday – specifically the day of her transition into adulthood – people would make a big deal whether Amity wanted them to or not. Suddenly she remembered that tent she still needed to finish sewing together, cursing at herself when she realized she could have done that the day before. If it wasn’t finished by the end of today, she was probably never going to forgive herself.

The materials that made up Amity’s project were placed in a stack in Macy’s tent. As luck would have it, she, Toni, and Cynthia needed to meet up with their mentor today – as with Amity’s graduation from the medical area, there followed a large sleuth of tasks that would be left unhandled unless the other two assistants agreed to pitch more of their time in.

Once they were properly dressed, the three of them left all the other girls to their devices and made it over to Macy – who proceeded to run them through their tasks for the week. After that, Macy opened the much-needed discussion of Amity’s approaching leave.

Perhaps disrespectfully, the first question raised was who would be replacing Amity, if anyone. Amity did not wish to offer any ideas for potential new pupils.

She was barely listening by the time she heard Cynthia blurt out one of the names she wanted to hear least. “What about Miss Esther for now?”

A bolt of electricity flashed through Amity’s blood. “We’re not doing that!” she argued, her unblinking eyes locked on the youngest girl’s. Toni and Macy seemed to disappear from the conversation entirely as the tent went almost completely silent, save for the electronic hum of the MDA station. “You’re not going to force me to be her mentor.”

Just as quickly as she had vanished, Macy returned. “Oh, don’t make any assumptions about that,” she said, waving her hand. “I will be the one who teaches that woman, if things were to come to that.” She paused. “Did you truly think you would replace my position by the end of the day?”

“Well, no,” Amity replied, then cast another annoyed glance at Cynthia – who sat back without further argument.

Again the tent went silent, Macy keeping an eye on the now-adult Amity. The girl had certainly blossomed in the time she had spent as one of Macy’s assistants, sticking through wherever their camp’s Director decided to carry them all next. And now, just as they had reached their supposed final destination, Amity needed to make her own move into adulthood. It was not a position that most specialists often found themselves in.

An empathetic hesitance to her countenance, Macy stepped up to the young woman. “You aren’t feeling too troubled about all this, are you, dear?” asked Macy. “I know this must be a dizzying day for you, Miss Amity – lots on your mind?”

Caught slightly by surprise, Amity tilted her nose in the air to meet the older woman’s gaze. “Not really,” she lied, eyes locked with Macy’s. “Just a few things I want to talk about once we’re alone.” She resisted the urge to eyeball the other two in the tent as her mentor seemed to draw closer. She could sense the other two peering at her, knowing there was much more locked behind those tight lips; Amity resisted the urge to look back as Macy took a step back herself.

Macy, Cynthia, and Toni continued discussing task reassignment, with Amity only piping in when directly called upon. More than anything, Amity hoped her departure would be the kick in the pants Toni – now to be the oldest – needed to finally start taking initiative and acting more assertive with all the other kids. It had certainly helped Amity’s growth when Zoe – the oldest before her – made her departure almost three years ago.

Thinking about Zoe made Amity sigh; that woman hadn’t been seen by anyone since the split just a year after her adult life began. Perhaps if this settlement in Kortrick truly was to become the next big place that some were hoping for it to become, then she and Zoe might meet again – but so far their wandering tribe had had no such luck with any other location, giving Amity little hope that it would happen this time, despite whatever Sam or her uncle told her.

As promised, Amity stayed behind once the other two girls had left, now standing to Macy’s eye-level. It had been a few days since she and Macy were the only ones in the same room, completely sealed off from the rest of the world for just a bit. Even her Uncle Shafer was hardly around to provide such luxuries.

Rather than have Amity speak immediately, Macy started with a question of her own. “I’m surprised; did you leave that journal in your bed?”

“Yeah,” Amity replied. “Cynthia just gave it to me without really explaining what it was for. Was there something you were wanting to tell me?”

Macy chuckled as if she expected the woman to know – and, in all honesty, she did know, but needed validation. “It’s about all the things you’ve written on the MDA I’ve been lending you,” Macy clarified, lowering her voice on the last few words. “You still haven’t let anyone else know about that, have you?”

The fledgling woman shook her head. “No, nobody’s caught me using it.”

With a smile, Macy turned around to the docking station and pulled one of the devices out: a slab covered in tired gray-blue plastic. The nubs on the buttons had worn out over time due to excessive use on Amity’s part.

“Well, this week will need to be the last time you use it,” said Macy as she handed the MDA over. “That is why I gave you the booklet; it was the biggest one I could find and it has more clean paper than I have seen in anyone’s possession – not since Director Persson’s predecessor.”

While part of her wondered where Macy would have found such a voluminous collection of what was considered a somewhat rare material beyond the Domain’s borders, she sought not to question it.

“I also have a pen here you can use to copy all the things you wrote down on the device – just in case you lose or break your own. But once the week is over and you have fully moved out, I will need the MDA back.”

Only a week? In that time, Amity would be lucky if she hadn’t developed carpal tunnel from all the text she had to copy over. Would she even be able to keep the text legible?

On top of that, she still needed to finish the tent. That would most certainly need to come first – especially when she was so close to finishing it as it was. Once finished, she would probably place it somewhere at the northeastern side of camp, albeit this was a little close to the ruins for her liking. Thinking about ruins made her wonder why she needed to make the tent when the possibility of living in stable architecture was well within their reach.

Despite all the thoughts swimming in her head, Amity nodded her understanding to Macy. “I’ll get it all done,” she said. “But if I get wrist cramps, it’s your fault.”

Macy couldn’t help chuckling at that last remark. “Very well, then. If you’re going to be busy, I’ll go take care of the other girls.” As she retreated to the opening flap of her tent, she uttered a few last words: “Good luck, Miss Amity.”

A light breeze blew in as her former mentor stepped out.

In the time it took for her to remember what she was doing, Amity had nearly dropped the MDA in her hand. She swore at herself and proceeded to turn it on, flipping the switch as the non-lit screen came to life. Once about a minute had passed, she traversed through the system menu and read the notifier beneath all the text files:

File Storage: 129kb / 2048kb.

All of that was text. Basic text, no properties or metadata. No special formatting outside of the manually-inserted characters. Her head started to hurt when she realized how many words that amount of data actually took up. Her wrist started to hurt just as much.

So long as Shafer kept his promise to stay out of the passage for the time being, Sam could breathe easy for the day.

“They weren’t too happy, but what’re you gonna do?” Shafer said upon his arrival. “I’m just happy they didn’t smack me.”

Sam, meanwhile, had half a mind to ask the scouts’ leader about the message he had found – but seeing the man here now, all Sam could muster was a barely-related question: “Did Macy get you the MDA back?”

“That she did,” said Shafer, nodding. “Thanks again for sending the message out.”

His brain itched with the desire to ask, but still nothing else came out, providing an awkward silence between the two men. With few words beyond that, Sam left the scout leader to watch over his boys.

Perhaps the Director would know something about those highwaymen – or anything contained within Shafer’s message. Sam only hoped the Director wouldn’t tell Shafer that he was snooping through the MDA.

The last time he and Persson had met up, the Director expressed a need to see both of the newcomers at the same time on that very day, only to be more than slightly disappointed when nobody was willing to bring Mira over in her condition. It would have been a simple procedure, according to the Director, but apparently it was not simple enough to warrant anyone’s support.

A plate of half-finished breadcrumbs and jelly decorated Director Persson’s desk as Sam walked in, himself standing tall and clad in a tightly-knit outfit compared to the loose shawls around the Director’s limbs and torso. Sam almost questioned if Persson was even ready for their meeting before the commander in question beckoned him in. The desk smelled as if Persson had spent the night on top of it – which Sam told himself was impossible; the Director wouldn’t succumb to using strewn-about papers as a mattress!

Before Sam, the slouching man urged both of them to sit down, his nimbly body barely taller than Sam’s. Scratching a beard that made his chin appear almost three times larger than it actually was, the Director sat at an unusually-tall seat behind his desk, viewing his right-hand man from an egoistic vantage point above the mess as Sam took his seat at the chair in front.

“So, then!” the Director began, noticeably jittery where he sat. “Sam, my boy – have you seen the two new women at all this morning?”

“Not yet, no,” the deputy confessed. “Last time I saw them was last night – and that was just so I could get to know them. Shafer was looking after them for Macy this morning, but now they’re awake and he’s back with the scouts out east.”

At that, the Director drummed his fingers on his chair’s one arm. He didn’t seem to be listening to anything beyond the first handful of words. “And is there some fear that maybe you will catch Miss Esther’s cold?” he asked. “I don’t think Rand has caught anything from her, so what fear does a deputy have?”

Despite the many multiple reasons Sam could argue that his status in camp did not have an effect on his immunity to disease, he let that point roll off his shoulder much like the Director had just done with his explanation. “Well, I can’t imagine they’re too happy right now,” he tried explaining. “Most women would probably kill a man if they caught him watching them sleep. Shafer told me he managed to do his job without a scratch, but they can’t be in any mood to talk after that.”

“I hear they’re in that mood right now!” the Director argued. He gave Sam that condescending smile: the same one he cast down whenever he referred to Sam as a boy, despite the mere seven years between the two of them. It was that same look which suggested the Director was transmitting an unheard message to the person in his line of sight – and if that message was not properly deciphered within the next hour, the position of deputy was about to become that much less desirable.

Sam took a moment to respond with a silent message of his own, gaze unblinking and lips forming a straight line as if he were a wildcat stalking a rabbit. For a moment he almost felt as if he might actually pounce, but returned to reality when he blinked again.

The Director was no stranger to compromises – and, feeling the need to push his luck, Sam made an offer. “How about I just bring Esther?” he finally said. “Mira is in much too poor a condition after that accident she had with my trap, but Esther hardly seemed sick at all yesterday and I’ve already told them you wanted to see them soon.”

“No Mira?” the Director prodded. “I’d think someone with a lucky name like Mira would keep away from traps – but I suppose if the woman is hurting, then far be it from me to put her through more pain by walking her over!” With that, he lowered his seat a little, slightly reducing the strain on Sam’s neck. “Go bring Esther, then; I don’t believe I’ll be busy by the time you return.”

“Wait – there’s one other thing,” Sam ejaculated, then paused as if realizing he had just spoken out of turn.

Caught a little off-guard, the Director paused, sitting back in his chair. “And what would that one other thing be?”

Still Sam hesitated. “It’s about a message I found on Shafer’s MDA.”

“Still snooping through people’s devices?” Persson couldn’t help sneering. “Go on.”

The man gave a deep breath before explaining everything from Rouken to the highwaymen. “He told me Rouken might be coming back soon, so that’s why I went through the MDA. But now that I’ve read this stuff about highwaymen and how Shafer was apparently planning on going through the passageway before I told him not to do that yet, I feel like there’s something I’m not being told.”

Another smile crossed the Director’s face – this one much less condescending than the last, yet still enough to slightly bother Sam. “That’s because there is,” the Director confessed, lowering himself again. “Sorry if it disappoints you, but yes – Rouken likely will be coming back soon. By that point, you will hear everything you need to about those highwaymen from his mouth. He will know more than I.”

Sam may as well have not asked the question at all. With nothing left to say, he nodded. After further discussion on the general state of the camp, Sam left the Director to his work – whatever work that was. The deputy rubbed his forehead as he stepped out.

Looking around him, this camp of theirs felt like a miracle. The fact that they had found the ruins of a once-prosperous town and were now on their way to rebuilding it was nothing short of a work of God. Yet with these successes, the Director sought little more than to continually expand upon every single opportunity thrown at him – not for the betterment of the camp, but for the change to achieve further recognition or further pleasure. Perhaps it was his childhood upbringing in the Domain which had planted this greedy seed in his belly – a seed that had sprouted into a parasitic beanstalk that now drove his actions. It would explain the erratic thought patterns.

Compared to the Director, who was Sam Jacquard? The camp’s second-best: a worn-out, yet still shining figure who overachieved for the good of his people – in the hope that they would all one day live a life without the Domain’s fingers digging into every wild orifice it could find. The Domain served to spread its genes through what remained of the United States until everything was just as homogenized and inbred as artificially possible – and hearing the way Persson talked about the newcomers and thinking about how little he had helped since everyone had moved to Kortrick, Sam couldn’t help drawing parallels.

As he walked, Sam shook his head. He couldn’t go to Esther with these thoughts in mind.


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