Hermes 2.7

“And… done.”

I opened my eyes lazily.  I wasn’t tired, but I just didn’t want to move.  Unfortunately, Amy didn’t give me much of a choice, leaning forward from against my chest.  With a sigh, I unwrapped my arms from around her.  As we rose to our feet, I had to admit, I really liked being able to hold her like that.  While we’d been like that, there’d been no worries, no troubles, just the feeling of someone close to me.

We both worked our way to our feet, heading over to the artist.  We’d decided to splurge — a photo for her, a drawing for me.  He put it in a small frame and handed it to us.  He was good, photo realistic.  She was sitting between my legs, resting her back against my chest, both of us with our eyes closed and a soft smile on our faces.  Our hands intertwined.

I just wished that I hadn’t been wearing my armor for it.

“I’ll put it in your pack while you’re paying.”

I nodded and fished out my coin purse, counting out the ten coins.  It was a little hard, since I’d already changed a good deal of coin over to Twain standard.  Ten coins for two hours work might seem extravagant, but it was worth it in my mind.  I shared quick pleasantries with the man before turning around and heading over to Amy.  She was struggling with my pack, trying to lift it to shoulder height and failing.

I turned around and knelt, letting her set it on my shoulders easier.  The two half-straps easily slid into place, and the whole assembly clicked.  Chris had done good work — I was able to stand easily, the weight distributed across my entire body.  I was still getting used to the balance; I was too used to my back pulling on me.

I handed her the photo before we took each other’s hands, slowly walking.

“I wish you weren’t going,” she said softly.

“I know.  I wish I wasn’t, either.  I’d love to stay a while longer, but when you  gotta go, you gotta go.”

Amy wrinkled her nose.  “That makes it sound like you’re gonna die.”

I smirked.  “I was thinking more about going to the bathroom, myself.”

She playfully swatted my shoulder, smiling a little.  After a moment, she sobered a little.  “A full day’s worth of questions.  Wow.”

“It may not be enough,” I confessed.  “She may not even be able to give me an answer at all.”

“Pfft.”  She looked up at me, those eyes shining brightly.  “You’re smart, and you’ll be thinking about it all the way there and back.  You’ll have it figured out in, like, five.  Tops.  Then you’ll ask about a bajillion other things, too.”

“Forty-two other things,” I said with a smirk.

“Yeah, yeah.”  She grinned a little.  “Still.”

“Still,” I said with a nod.  I decided to change the subject.  “Promise me that you’ll watch over Chris for me?  I don’t wanna come back and find out he’s knocked Karen up.”

Amy rolled her eyes.  “Yeah, I’ll make sure to tell them about the birds and the bees and make sure they’re loaded up with enough contraceptives that nobody in town will be able to have kids.”

“Perfect.”

“Except what I keep for us.”

“Even better,” I said, mostly for her benefit.  Really, I was fine waiting.  Some guys seemed to be motivated by sex.  Me?  I just liked being close to another person.

Activity was increasing around us.  We were getting close.  I wished that we’d had our little photo op further away.  Just a little longer, even just fifteen minutes.  But Sarah and I were on a timetable.  Go to Twain today and leave tomorrow.  It would leave us one day’s worth of wiggle room, just in case.

Finally, we broke through the crowd, and I could see everybody.  Sarah, Chris, Karen, Roger, Manuel… and a few crates already in position.  With a sad smile, I turned to Amy.  “This is it.”

“Yeah,” she said softly, a hand rising to her chest.  “Take care of yourself out there, idiot.”

“Love you, too.”  I smiled to let her know I was taking what she called me as a sign of affection.

She reached up to grab the back of my neck and pulled me down for a kiss.  A chorus of “Ooooh” came from Karen and Manuel.  She paused for a moment and I felt her lift her arm before getting back into the kiss.  I opened one eye — she was flipping them off.  It took everything that I had to keep from chuckling.

After what seemed like an eternity, we broke the kiss and pulled apart.  I took the time to flash her a smile and run a finger over her nose before approaching the others.  My first targets were Manuel and Karen, laying a hand on each of their shoulders.  “Hey, keep an eye on my bro.  Make sure he doesn’t drive himself crazy while we’re gone.  …Or come up with an idea that destroys the world.”

“I will,” Karen said with a nod.

Manuel flashed me a smirk.  “I’d tell you not to get yourself killed out there, but I’m pretty sure you’ll be able to handle whatever comes your way.  You aren’t crazy enough to be going out there if you didn’t stand a chance.  Besides…  I’m afraid I might jinx you.”

I smirked and patted his shoulder before moving on.  I wasn’t actually superstitious, and I doubted that Manuel was, either.  I knew he was Christian, but he didn’t have any of the stranger rituals that I’d seen.  Neither Sarah nor myself really bought into any of the superstitions, but we still followed them.  You never knew who might take offense if you didn’t.

Besides, there was a psychological aspect that we couldn’t ignore.  Even if we didn’t buy into the actual beliefs, there was a calming and steadying effect of going through the motions.  We didn’t believe that eating the heart of your first wildling kill did anything spiritual for a person, but we did believe that it helped a person come to grips with it.  Combat against wildlings was usually far more hectic than against humans, and it could potentially have a longer-term effect on people.

Forcing Chris to cook the wildling and eat the heart had been good for him.  Wildlings were scary, and it would be easy to imprint on him as such.  By forcing him to address the wildling in a manner that he was comfortable with, it helped him to cope with not only the attack, but also killing it.  Humans also associated the heart with power and vitality.  Even if a person didn’t believe in it, there was a subconscious association between eating a heart and gaining the power there within.

Small tricks, but no less effective in helping to keep my brother from feeling too bad about it.  We’d quietly done what we could, and Karen had helped out immensely without even realizing it.  I was glad, in a way, but also worried.  Chris was sensitive, and if she hurt him…

I really didn’t want to have to break her legs.  She was one of the good ones.

I moved to Roger and we clasped hands.  “Don’t take chances,” he said sternly.  “Avoidance may cost you time, but it’s better than costing you your life.  When you can, avoid your guns; they’ll just draw attention to you.  Stay hydrated and fed, but not too fed.  A slight edge of hunger will keep you sharp, but dehydration will dull your senses and mind.  And even if your armor helps keep you cool, you’re going to be sweating out there, so when in doubt, hydrate.”

“Thank you.”  I knew everything that he’d said, but he wasn’t saying it for my sake.  He was trying to reassure himself that he’d done everything that he could.  I felt uncomfortable by it, but it didn’t sink in too deep.

He smiled a bit, then clapped my shoulder.  “You two pull this off, you’ll be legends.  Entire teams of Wardens have tried assaulting that place, backed by more Dragon’s Teeth than I care to think about, and most of them didn’t back.  If those numbers are right, and you two can just waltz in there and get the stuff…”  He shook his head.  “You’ll be able to do whatever you want.  The world’s gonna be your oyster, boy.  Just make sure you come back.”  He spared a glance at Amy.  “For all of us, alright?”

“Yeah.”  I nodded.  Trying to add some levity, I quickly added, “I’m contractually obligated to live.”

He chuckled and let me go.  We all knew that the longer we’d drag it out, the harder it would be.  Almost immediately, though, Chris slammed into me, wrapping his arms tight around me.  I responded in kind, holding him just as fiercely as he did me.

“Be awesome out there, Bro.”

I smiled a little, even though he couldn’t see it.  “Never stop being awesome, Bro.”  When we pulled apart, I paused long enough to ruffle his hair.

“Love you.”  His eyes were misty as he took a step back.  He normally wasn’t quite this emotional when we’d leave, but this was a special circumstance.  I couldn’t blame him for being scared.  In a weird way, I wished I was just as scared as he was, but I was feeling rather calm about it all.  It was just as if it were another day.  If anything, I kind of wished that people would quit making a big deal of it, but I pushed those feelings aside as soon as they appeared.

“Love you, too.”  I rubbed his shoulders before moving again.  It hurt to have him feeling like this, but I didn’t have a choice.  The sooner we left, though, the sooner that I wouldn’t see it anymore, wouldn’t feel it anymore.

I walked past one of the four pylons, and a few dozen feet later, walked onto the bronze-colored disk on the floor.  The disk was large enough to handle three or four large wagons with horses, but all that it had was a dozen or so crates.

At the center of the disk was Sarah, her helmet on and lowered.  When I approached, she handed me my halberd.  I turned back towards our friends and family, snapping to attention.  Chris was clutching one of his arms, a pained expression on his face.  Karen had her hand on his shoulder, silently offering him comfort.  Amy, on the other hand, was much more stoic.  When our eyes met, she gave me a firm nod.

I raised my hand, wiggling my fingers as a goodbye wave.

Everyone behind the yellow line, please.”  Some jumped at the voice over the loudspeaker, but everybody began to pull back.  “Warming up, contacting for handshake protocols.

The four pylons began to hum a little.  I’d never used this kind of teleporter before.  They had one at school, but that was only for moving cargo.  We’d had a different one for people, and using it caused a bit of physical discomfort.  Plus, it didn’t teleport through dimensions unless there was a power-built portal nearby.

“Tattletale threw in one of her man-portable teleporters,” Sarah said in a conversational tone.

“Oh?  Did she include instructions?”

“Mmm-hmm.  I figured that I’d let you look them over and carry it, though.  All that I did was check and see if it had a full charge.”

Since she wasn’t saying anything, I was guessing that it did.  “Hopefully, it’s also transdimensional.  That gives us a few more options.  Probably doesn’t have enough juice to be used more than once or twice, but still.”

There was a pause.  “There’s also a tinkertech battery.  Old school, pretty heavy-duty.  I already checked, it won’t connect up to the teleporter, not unless there’s an adaptor I missed.”

That made me look at her.  “That’s…  Interesting.”  We’d requested the teleporter, but hadn’t expected to get it.  Tattletale didn’t seem the sort to offer up a free battery like that, though.  Not without good reason.  “Well, considering we’re going to Twain, it could just be that she had them whip up an adapter for us there.”

It wasn’t until I finished the sentence that I realized that the world had changed.  Except for the air temperature, everything had changed so suddenly and completely that my brain simply hadn’t been able to process the change at first.  If I’d have blinked, the change could have happened a hundred times over in that timespan.  Gauging by how Sarah jerked, she had the same reaction.

We were now standing indoors.  Well, perhaps indoors wasn’t the right term.  It was bigger than any indoor location I’d ever been.  The ceilings were far higher than made any rightful sense, made of stone bricks and arched for additional support.  The floor was made of cracked concrete, and the walls were massive.  We stood on another bronze plate, but this one didn’t have the pylons surrounding it.

People were moving towards us, and my brain was starting to kick into overdrive, noticing details that I would have passed over.  Not a single person wore short sleeves.  Well-lit, solid lighting despite being indoors.  On two of the walls, I could see sets of large doors.  A solid sign; we were in the shipping area.  Twain had a lot of business.

The air was cooling fast — it’d even out at about sixty degrees pretty quickly.  A small blessing during the winter, though people who favored being cold blooded must have hated it.  There were various trade wagons, but it looked like almost all of them had come from one side.  The wagons on the other side weren’t drawn by horses; they looked more like tanks than they did wagons.  Big, bulky, heavily armored, and brimming with weapons and weapons ports.

While most of the people seemed content to get the wooden boxes we’d brought with nearly mechanical precision, a short, busty woman that was dressed better than the others approached.  She extended her hand with a smile.  “Rebecca Inmann, you must be Jordan and Sarah Abrams?”

Sarah took the woman’s hand, offering a polite smile.  “That would be us.  You’re our contact?”

“I was going to be initially, yes.  But my brother co-opted the role when he heard what was going on.”  She shook my hand, then looked between us.  “First time to the Twain Complex?”  We both nodded.  “Would you like the tour spiel while I take you to John?”

Sarah nodded.  “Between the two of us, we probably know all that you’re going to say, but it’s better if you do it anyway so that we’re both up to speed.”

That earned us a funny look, but she motioned for us to follow as she began to lead us away.  “Back in the day, during Scion’s initial attack on humanity, he made a direct pass over Hannibal, wiping out  a majority of the population and dropping most of the city into a chasm.  For those at the Mark Twain Cave Complex, it was a terrifying sight to behold.  Many fled into the caves, hoping that they’d provide safety.

“A surprisingly minor cave-in, however, nearly killed several people.  It was at that point that Warren Oswald triggered as a tinker.  With his help, the people were rescued, and of the eight, seven survived.  However, we were never evacuated to one of the other Earths, so people tried to set up here.  Especially once word of what had happened to St. Louis got to us.”  She didn’t look old enough to have been more than a small child when that had happened.  She might have just been speaking of the community.

“Fortunately, Warren had triggered as what is colloquially known as ‘junk tinker.’  Able to take scraps and make it into something valuable, he quickly set up the Mark Twain Cave into something livable.  We scavenged what we could, we found ourselves living at a virtually modern standard of life.  Today, he’s known as the Junker King, though he doesn’t get to do a much tinker work these days as administrative duties of being our leader.

“After Gold Morning, people eventually made their way here on their way back to St. Louis.  After that initial swell of people, the complex was extended with the structure we’re currently in, connecting to Cameron Cave.

“Since then, our numbers have grown to thirteen thousand.  Approximately 80% of our population are triggered, with almost 70% of those being tinkers.  Of those, almost half are junk tinkers.  We’ve continued to excavate, finding more cave systems and creating an impressive complex.  I suggest that you keep to the visitor’s areas, as our more home areas can be confusing to outsiders.”

We had to move to get around a wagon that was being prepared, cargo being loaded into it.  Without missing a beat, Rebecca continued.  “We produce many of the exports that make living possible.  On top of our production of tinker-specific goods, we manufacture many things for the common man.  We created the interdimensional communication arrays that are used by almost every community, and have refined the process to the point where, save for select subsystems, the components can be made by anybody.”

Not that they could be easily mass-produced, or that people understood how some of those easily-made systems operated.  There was a group of thinkers and tinkers known as the Common Consultare here in Twain that was responsible for taking technology and refining it into something that could be reproduced.  It could take months or years to do for even a simple system, but they made good money doing it.

“Several celebrities live here, or have summer homes here, and we politely request that you give them their space.  Conflicts spring up quickly here, and we don’t wish to aggravate it with harassment.  Due to it’s importance in defending the upper North America from St. Louis and the items we manufacture, we boast the second-highest number of Wardens and Dragon’s Teeth per capita, second only to New York.”

“What about local guards?” I asked.  I’d heard about the number of parahumans before, as well as the Warden and Dragon’s Teeth presence, but that had been a question I’d always had.

Rebecca shook her head.  “None.  Both the Dragon’s Teeth and the Wardens charge the city very little for their support.  They handle all of our police needs, including helping when wildling superpacks attack the city.  The only part of our defense that we handle ourselves.  And…”

She stopped and held up her hand for us to do the same.  Two men were arguing.

“I don’t care!” a heavyset man bellowed.  “We can set up a secondary grid to supply power, but using a battery in bursts like that is only going to wear it down.  Those things are expensive!”

“Which I warned you and the rest of the Council about beforehand,” the other, skinnier man said softly.  Just because he was more quiet and his tone gentle didn’t mean that he was the safer of the two.  His stance was relaxed, save for one hand gripped into a fist, and his body was rigid in that stance.  He was ready to lash out.  “And the Council firmly told me that it wasn’t worth the cost for all new wiring.”

“But that battery is worth just as much as the wiring!  More!  You’re just wasting it most of the time, and it’s just going to get weaker being used like-”

“Guys,” one nearby lumper barked, still carrying a crate.  I wasn’t sure if she was loading it into a wagon or off of one.  “Just make a capacitor battery.”

“I just said that batteries like that are-”

“Capacitor,” the lumper stressed again.  She sighed softly, setting the crate down and drawing closer.  She squatted in front of them, drawing on the ground.  “A battery offers power over a period of time, but capacitors are different.  A capacitor soaks up electricity when not in use, then discharges it all at once.  By arranging them in a battery array, like this, you can still get the voltage that you need in bursts.  It would solve the power issue without wasting a battery, and save the Council the cost of all-new wiring until we have another project that needs more juice.  Plus, capacitors are cheaper.”

They both stared at the woman.  The heavier set man seemed dumbstruck.  After a moment, the skinny guy looked at him, a slight grin on his face.  “Why didn’t we think of that?”

After a moment, they both got out wallets.  Rebecca took the time to look at us.  “We got lucky on that one.  It let you see one thing that’s very important here.  Keeping the peace is hard, and arguments start all the time.  One fight can cause a lot of damage, and cost the city more than any one of us are worth.  If you see someone arguing and can see a solution that might be acceptable to both of them, don’t hesitate to step in.  Let the Wardens or Dragon’s Teeth handle any fights that break out, but never ignore an argument.

“It’s traditional for both parties to offer a certain amount of money in exchange if you  do so.  Don’t refuse, as it can be seen as a sign of offense, that the argument wasn’t worth your time to begin with.  That’s a good way for another argument to break out.  The amount they offer will vary based on the individual as well as the intensity and importance of the argument to that person.

“In this case, the dock worker is Cheryl.”  The lumper accepted the payment from both men, waved at them, and retrieved her box.  “She worked with the Common Consultare until a few years ago.  Her powers let her see what others are missing when it comes to technology, including tinker tech, as well as a few other things.  A sort of lateral thinking power.  She’s very popular here in the docks, almost a rockstar amongst bickering tinkers.”

The way Rebecca said it was a subtle warning not to mess with her unless we wanted stomped into a mudhole.  Easy enough.  I would have brought up the solution if Cheryl hadn’t.  Basic electrical engineering right there.

“Why’d she leave?” Sarah asked.  “I mean, the Consultare probably pays far better than working the docks, so why leave?”

“I don’t know,” our guide admitted.  “I’ve never asked.  This way, please.”  She lead us towards the skinny man as the heavyset man was leaving.  “Jordan, Sarah, this is my husband, John Inmann.  He’s a crew chief with the City Defense Planning Commission.”

“Call me Johnny,” he said with a lazy smile as he took our hands.  Now that we were closer, I could get a better look at him.  Tattoo sleeves, skinny jeans, gauged ears, and a thin beard that ran along his jawline.  With his blond hair, it was probably the only choice for a beard that he had; anything else wouldn’t have looked good on him.

Rebecca looked mildly irritated at that, but said nothing.  “John, this is Jordan and Sarah Abrams, the people Tattletale sent.”

His smile instantly dropped.  After the briefest of pauses, he spoke hesitantly.  “No offense, but I expected you to look dumber.”

If looks could kill, Rebecca could have blasted a hole through the wall and all the way to the ocean.  Well, in theory looks could kill, but if Rebecca had blaster powers, she wasn’t using them.  Sarah, though, laughed easily, possibly to defuse the situation.  “To be honest?  I’ve felt pretty dumb since we took her up on the offer.”

That made them both grin.  “Welcome to Twain,” Johnny said quietly.  I got the feeling that he didn’t have a loud voice.  “Thank you for bringing them, honey.  I’ve got it from here.”

Rebecca moved in and leaned up to kiss his cheek before leaving.  It was good to see a loving relationship.  Even if he’d probably get an earful for what he’d said when they got home.

As soon as she left, he turned to the two of us.  “Alright, I’ve got some bad news.  Tattletale wanted us to give you one of our tanks, but my manager refused.  Same goes for a truck.”

“Gas concerns?” Sarah asked.

He shook his head.  “We don’t use gas here, and before you say anything, New Brockton doesn’t have the tinker base to keep our vehicles up and running.  No, my manager is convinced that you aren’t going to come back at all.”

“Not an unfair assumption,” I conceded.

“Yeah, well.  We’ve gotten you mercenaries.  Three of them; I’ll introduce you tomorrow morning.  A couple of wagons and horses, too.  Covered and armored.  We’ve been working on a mobile defensive wall.  Once set up, it’ll be reactive, offering some security from the wildlings.  It also has some mounted turrets, and Tattletale popped for the ammo for them.  That said, set it up outside of the St. Louis zone.  It’ll help defend against packs, but with the sheer numbers of wildlings that are crawling all over the damn city, they’ll overpower them.  The turrets would also be your only defense against the fliers, so set up a good five miles from the exterior of the zone.”

St. Louis was a hotbed of wildling activity.  Those who supported the idea that they were tinker-made were of the opinion that they were being randomly produced there by long-forgotten tinker tech.  There were other theories, but the very nature of St. Louis, what made it appealing to scavenging every all these years after everything else had started to turn into lumps of rust, made it perfect breeding grounds for them.  They’d built up their own ecology there, one that was hyper-lethal to humans.

“The wagons might be pretty full by the time we’re done,” Sarah said.  It was more of a warning than anything.  If the walls fell, then all of our loot would be lost.

Johnny shook his head again.  “That’s fine.  This is an initial test of the design for the walls anyway.  If it’s effective against them, we’ll reinforce it and turn it into an observation post.”  Ah, then they were banking on the walls working, but willing to hedge their bets  “Anyway, getting there should be a cinch.  We’ve got a chemical formula that you should add to the horse’s water, and it’s being added to the feed as we speak.  It’ll allow them to go all day long at a good trot.”  He tilted his head to the side.  “Just don’t try and eat it.  It isn’t pretty when humans eat it.”

“Gotcha,” Sarah said with a nod.  I was curious as to the specifics, but I kept my trap shut.

“Alright.  There’s some other stuff, too, but I don’t know all of it offhand.  We’ve been scrambling — Tattletale paid some good cash to make sure as much was done as humanly possible.  I’d suggest getting here before sunup tomorrow to check everything over and buy whatever you still need.  We’ve also got you a room at the Sawyer Hotel.  Did you all already trade out for our local cash?”

“Yup,” I said proudly, reaching back to pat my pack.  “I gotta say, though, the exchange rate here is outrageous.  I had to put stuff in a box just so I could fit the cash into my pack.  I probably have a good forty pounds of coins here.”

They both stared at me for a moment before Johnny started to snicker.  “Man, we use bills here.”

I stared at him blankly before Sarah spoke.  “Did you ask the bank for Twain coin?  Specifically, Twain coin?”

“Yeah,” I said hesitantly.

Sarah looked like she was going to laugh herself.  “Jordan, Bro, they use paper notes for most of their transactions.”

My face fell flat, and she couldn’t resist anymore, almost doubling over with laughter.  Even Johnny was snickering quietly.  Now I felt the right idiot of epic proportions.  At least, I told myself, I’d be able to buy a newspaper easy peasy.


We made our way into the hotel room, already weary.  Sarah and I had spent most of our day cataloging everything we’d been able to bring with us, along with supplies and horse feed.  It was mostly her reading numbers off the manifest she’d grabbed while I handled actually counting and ensuring that everything was where it was supposed to be before loading packs and the wagons for tomorrow’s trip out.

We hadn’t gotten as many grenades and explosives as I would have liked, and not nearly enough ammonia.  On the other hand, we’d gotten plenty of firecrackers, roman candles, and a few fireworks proper, along with a bundle of fuse.  We’d done some side shopping; we’d picked up a reportedly high-calorie nutrient paste that, supposedly, could feed each one of us for a week per jar.  We assumed each jar would last us two days, then picked up enough for a month, and then normal provisions as well.

“I still think we should have grabbed the C9,” Sarah said as she moved deeper into the room.

“It’s not a good gun,” I mused as I locked the door.  I got my pack off and began the work of getting out the cover for my halberd and getting it on.  I didn’t feel like accidentally putting holes in the wall.  “Bad trigger pull, bad sights, and it’s a 9mm.”

“This one’s heavy, though.”  I glanced up at her as she checked to make sure nothing was in the chamber before putting it on the small desk.

I’d settled on a Taurus 24/7 .45 OSS for her to carry for me.  It was a nice weapon, good stopping power, solid slide, and the previous owner had done some after market work to decrease the trigger pull weight.  I’d fired off almost 500 rounds and cleaned it, with only one stovepipe jam.  Sarah had entertained herself by firing a few other weapons.

It seemed silly to most people for her to practice shooting, considering her power, but I think she enjoyed just spending time with me.  It also reminded her of the limitations and strengths of a firearm, making sure that she had respect for them.  Even if she didn’t need to use them, she had to respect the fact that they could easily kill her.

I’d picked up ten magazines for the new pistol, and another 500 rounds.  I’d carry the magazines, but I wanted her to carry it most of the time.  Carrying two pistols on top of everything else on my belt would be tricky.

“And I’d rather have it be heavy and score reliable kills than empty a magazine and still have to fight for my life.  9mm rounds are great for people, but if I’m going to be using something other than my revolver, I want to make sure that it’s going to get the job done.”

“Whatever.”

I grinned to myself as I grabbed my pack and stepped into the tiny bathroom.  A quick glance at the shower revealed my worst fears — it was apparently built with people six foot tall or shorter in mind.  The shower head came up to my chin.  No matter.  I quickly stripped out of my armor and into my boxers.  I felt more comfortable wearing them anyway.  Even if I had a built-in cup in my armor, it felt weird going commando.

“We good?”

“I’m decent,” Sarah called back.  I stepped back out to find her already in her nightgown.  She offered me a smirk.  “Will you need a bedtime story tonight?”

It was actually tempting.  She’d started a story about a sailor who got shipwrecked on an island a month back, and had never finished it.  Still…  “Nah,” I said, smiling and making sure that my regret over being responsible didn’t enter my voice.  “We’ve got to be up early in the morning.”  We only had one day of wiggle room by Miss Alcott’s numbers, and we both wanted to make good time.

“Right,” she said as she got into the bed.  “Hit the lights.”  I did before crawling under the covers next to her.  The room we’d gotten only had a single king-sized bed.  I was glad to get under them.  Come spring, the sixty-degree temperature wouldn’t be worth mentioning, but with my body ramped up for summer, it was a little cool.  “I’ve always wondered if you actually sleep through the night like this or are just humoring me.”

I snorted as I curled up to her.  The bed was more than big enough for the two of us.  The both of us plus Chris could cuddle up nicely on a queen.  I wondered, briefly, if the bed had been made here or scavenged from the initial forays into St. Louis, but pushed those thoughts out of my head.  I could focus on them later.

“I can’t fake yawn worth anything.”  I put my head on her chest so that I could hear her heartbeat.  I liked this.  We only got to sleep like this when we were coming or going from a job.  I never got to sleep in a way where I could hear Chris’ heartbeat anymore.  I missed it.  It was different from Sarah’s.

When we’d been younger, the three of us would sleep curled up around each other all the time, but our parents got weird about it.  I didn’t know why, but I didn’t focus too much on it.  I just enjoyed it while I could.  I didn’t know why, but a heartbeat was special to me.  It was better than any lullaby or story.  I’d always gladly mess up my sleep schedule if it meant that I could pass out while listening to one.

I hadn’t gotten much in the way of a nap in today, so I was tired to start with.  Sarah said something, but between my exhaustion and the sound of her heart, I didn’t stay awake enough to process what she said.

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One thought on “Hermes 2.7

  1. Thank you for reading this chapter and this arc. I hope that I’m meeting with people’s satisfaction.

    I used to love spelunking. I know more caves than I can count. I’ve always wanted to make use of an expanded cave system as a sort of colony in post-apocalyptic fiction, but none of the pieces that I wrote quite fit. Sometimes it was due to the setting, and sometimes it was due to tech level. I didn’t want a murlock style culture, but an advanced culture that was on par with our own.

    Twain fits that bill nicely. They received a boost from one of Cauldron’s contingency plans. With the shift of their focus from stopping Scion to minimizing damage, it would be inconceivable for them to not have prepared resources for the scattering of humanity across multiple Earths. To this, I imagine that they had what I’m calling Community Creation Kits. I’m basing these off of the work of Open Source Ecology. (Look it up, interesting stuff.) This, combined with both the initial tinker base, gave them a kickstart that other communities didn’t.

    Twain also has several prominent authors, musicians, and artists. As much as it stands as a beacon of technology (not the main beacon, though, as Dracheheim has the best mundane tech base) it also stands as a beacon for the arts.

    I like that. That even when the world ends and humanity is a shadow of itself, we will still be writing, making music, and painting. There’s something beautiful about that.

    Like

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