Chapter 21

Rachel stormed out of the library, mostly for show, just to make sure that no one slowed her down with stupid questions about was she feeling well. She stamped to her car, slammed the door shut, and by the time she tire squealed out of the parking lot she was laughing to herself about how absurd she must have looked. She just needed to collect her thoughts, so to maintain a façade of frustration and anger served no purpose now that she was alone.

Stupid Carlton. That was the real problem. But not really, since he was totally clueless about what was going on. She drove carefully home, checking frequently for the plain sedan that was tailing her. Her body-guard, she rolled her eyes. She was involved is some highly sensitive work for the military so there were always people watching to make sure she was doing what she was supposed to do.

Stupid, stupid Carlton. Idiot. But that was rather harsh since he was really just a pawn in an over-sized game of chess. She had to keep him on track to make sure the computer system was fully ready for the start of the international linguistics symposium that started Wednesday morning. He better have everything ready or his ass was on the line.

Stupid, stupid, stupid Carlton. Moron! But that was totally unfair since he was just doing his job, and hers was the ass on the line. He had no idea that he had just built the brain for a secret military counter intelligence facility. He had no clue that the international symposium was just a ruse to make the installation seem legit.

She arrived at her rented town house and went inside. The plain sedan saw her go in. She would have to report right away, and she hadn’t quite got her story straight yet. She was regretting giving a top-secret classified thumb drive to a dumbass like Carlton, poor guy, and she wasn’t sure what the reaction from up top would be. She could lie about it. Tempting, but the words of her Pastor rang in her head, “There are no liars in heaven!”

She picked up her secure phone to call in and took a deep breath. Remember Rachel, she told herself. After Friday none of this will matter anyway. Stupid Carlton.

She dialed the phone, gave her clearance code, and asked to be connected with Agent Smith.

It turned out to be easier than she thought. Agent Smith already knew about how she stormed out of the library. Thankfully her misogynistic security detail had put the incident down to “women’s problems,” so she rode that story all the way to the end of the call. Always be a bitch when you have the chance to.

She went upstairs to her bedroom and turned on the TV, the radio, an oscillating fan and the shower. She peeled off her dress and hose as she did, and made her way to the walk-in closet. She had a plan for Friday, and she wanted to check her kit.

Rachel had not registered for World Monetary Union or received her tattoo yet. She had put it off and put it off with excuse after excuse. Time was running out. She had convinced Agent Smith and the higher-ups that she would take the last appointment on Friday afternoon, as soon as the linguistics symposium was over. She was a government agent with high level security clearance so compliance was expected, but Rachel was also a Christian. She had convinced the higher-ups that this was a good cover, since anyone who had known her in the past knew that she was a devout church goer. They were worried that she was just stalling and that she was going to try to do something to avoid her registration appointment on Friday.

Rachel searched the back of the closet and pulled out a slinky looking black garment. It was very heavy for its size because it was not fabric, but a finely woven Kevlar body armour. It was a tight squeeze but she got into it, like a wet suit with short sleeves and cut off above the knees. It would be quite hidden underneath a pant suit or any of the dresses that she normally wore. It was the best protection money could buy that could be concealed under a party frock. Next came a combination of guns and knives. Three guns and six knives to be exact. Two small pistols were in a cross-draw holster on her hips, with extra ammo clips. Then another pistol with a bit more heft in a shoulder holster. There were six throwing knives in a pouch across her belly. It was uncomfortable and hot. She figured on wearing go-go boots instead of heels, to conceal another knife or two and for traction if she had to run or climb. There were a few other accessories that she added, perusing herself in the full length mirror as she did.

By the time she was done she was ready for fight or flight, and she looked herself in the eye and vowed that she would escape on Friday, or die trying.

And then there was that stupid Carlton. She laughed out loud.

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Chapter 5

“Excuse me,” said a voice from above the skirt, out of Carlton’s view.

“Yes Ma’am,” he replied.

“Hi,” her voice was edgy, slightly irritated. “How much longer is this going to take?” The feet, in pumps with a small heel, were shifting around.  He sighed.  His neck was stiff and hurt from craning so long, so he lowered his head to the floor before answering.

“Ma’am,” he began, “I wish I was done now so I could get up and take a look at you.”  The words were out before he thought what he was saying.  He winced, expecting a kick.

She chuckled, “I can’t believe you said that,” she relaxed a little, and then walked off.

As she turned Carlton caught a glimpse of a faint circular scar in the back of her right knee.  His heart skipped a beat.  He remembered something similar on Rachel Robbin’s leg, something that he had put there.

They had been on a school field trip to a nearby farm when they were about 12 or 13 years old.  It was close to the end of the trip, all the kids were playing King of the Castle on a big haystack.  Carlton had stayed close to Rachel all day, who played along, being friendly and eating her lunch with Carlton.  He was infatuated with her.

During the game in the haystack Carlton had been King, defending his position and throwing the other kids down as they tried to take his place.  He lost his balance and fell, crashing into two other kids as he went down and he wound up in a heap of bodies. There were legs and arms all over the place.  He got kneed in the head and elbowed in the ribs.  In a fit of exuberance grabbed a leg and bit into the flesh behind the knee.  There was a scream, and he received a powerful kick in the face.  It had been Rachel, and after that she didn’t speak to him again.

Carlton concluded that the woman who had just spoken to him could be Rachel Robbins.  His heart beat faster, his hands started sweating, his mouth became dry and he came close to panic.  What if it were Rachel?  This was a terrifying prospect, but so was the possibility that he was getting himself worked up for no reason, and it was some other woman who wore skirts and had a bite mark.

The next moments were torturous as Carlton snapped tight the last tube clamps, checked seals, replaced panel covers and collected his tools and trash.  He got ready to get up and meet the lady, whoever she was.  It involved having to wriggle out from under the counter in a rather undignified way.  Then he was out and on shaky legs he stood up.

He looked around to see where the woman was.  She was close by, her back to him, and he checked her out, head to toe and back again.  Twice.  It was a skirt all right.  Neat, straight down to her knees.  The upper body was in a matching suit jacket.  There was a flow of long hair straight down from a center parting to a point between her shoulder blades.  It moved as she moved, and caught gleams of the sun from the skylight.  Carlton got lost in the beauty of the moment enjoying the play of light on the silky hair.

He was staring at her with his mouth open when she turned around.  She recognized him and her countenance brightened.  Remembering Carlton’s silly remark from under the counter she narrowed her eyes and said, “I should have known.”

Carlton stammered a response, then she gave a girlish laugh and ran the few steps between them, catching him in an embrace.  She smiled and said, “Is that really you, Carlton Feathers?” then she winked at him, “Close your mouth sweetie.”

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Chapter 4

The United States is not really united at all.  The Eastern States of America is run by Washington DC.  The Western States of America now has it’s capital in Dallas, Texas, another major city that has become a giant-sized version of Venice. The Independent Republic of California is now, well, independent. There is only one President, and only one White House. The relationship of all these pieces is being worked out.  The United States, if it could be called that, is limping along, far past its peak of world prominence.

That was fine with Carlton.  He paid attention to the news coming out of Europe and the Asia-Pacific zone, but he was happy to be left alone in a peaceful little spot here in the heartland of The Western States of America. This was one of the few places where there was stability.  Owning a home and having a job were still possible.  It was feasible that a soul could spend their days being bored silly.

Salt City had been a work in progress for twenty years.  Directly west of Antelope Island, Utah, it was built on an island of rock in the midst of the Great Salt Lake.  You take I-80 west out of Salt Lake City, and the turn off is just after Burmester, before you get to Skull Valley.  The domes were built first, their geometrical perfection was a masterpiece of engineering that had taken years to complete.  Once the framework was constructed the domes were sealed with glass and plastic and a system of environmental controls installed.  This did everything from opening the windows to misting the air, providing an exquisitely comfortable environment.

People had been living here all that time engineering and building, but it was very exclusive.  Of the millions of Americans that were displaced or living in very poor conditions, only a select few had been invited to be part of the population of Salt City.  It was intended to be a model, a prototype of the way in which all people would one day be living.

No one believed that hype any more.  The decline in the economy and lawlessness in places made it unlikely that there would be any more dome cities. The once powerful streak of American idealism was on the verge of being snuffed out by the spasms of a tortured earth.

Yet there was at least a small ray of hope.  For the time being, at least, the people of Salt City could set aside the darkness that brooded on the fringe of their consciousness and have a big celebration.  Now it was going to be official.  The dedication of the city was today.

Carlton was installing the computer system in the Salt City Municipal Library, and working up a sweat trying to finish in time.  He was on his back on the floor beneath a terminal in the circulation desk of the main lobby.  His head and shoulders were crammed into the space under the counter when a pair of shapely legs stood beside him. Carlton considered them carefully. Two finely sculpted calves were there beside him, hanging out the bottom of a pencil skirt. Carlton’s work momentarily forgotten, he followed the shape of those calves down to feet in simple black pumps.

Carlton had been holding his breath and biting his tongue in concentration, worming his fingers into the underside of the terminal, but now he gently released the breath in a steady stream.  A skirt.  Most of the skirts he had ever seen had been clothing the body of a girl he went to high school history with. The girl with the red eyeglasses.

Rachel Robbins, the girl that he could never forget.  Now he was completely distracted.  While contemplating the elegance of the curves and the fine skin he let his mind wander back to his youth.  His first crush had been the girl who wore the red eyeglasses and skirts.   He daydreamed about that girl.  He had loved her in secret all those far off days of high school.

“Wow, nice legs,” Carlton murmured quietly, shook his head, and re-applied himself to finishing his task, packing away the bundles of wires and tubing.

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