Enki 7.3

“Alright, from here, what can we do?”

I took a look around the three individuals as they were suspended in time, frowning to myself.  This was going to be harder than I thought.  “Okay, uh…  This one looks the most worrisome to me.  His body language suggests that he’s the most nervous, and the way that he’s holding his gun…  Yeah, he’d be the most likely to accidentally fire.  After that, a bloodbath as everyone else opens fire.”

“Right,” Mom said, brushing a lock of red hair out of her face.  “So, how do you get him to lower his gun?”

I frowned.  “Back down a bit?”

“It’s a possibility,” she said, her voice sounding oddly familiar.  “But there’s another option.  Backing down means giving up a degree of control and giving them more room to take even more control over the situation.  Instead, you can try to escalate the pressure that you put on him.”

“Wait,” I said, lifting a hand.  “That’s a little… counter-intuitive?  If the pressure of the situation is what’s making him so dangerous, then why would increasing the pressure even more work out better?”

“Choice and consequence,” she said smugly.  “If you straight up threaten him, he’s going to fire.  Instead, present him the illusion of choice, with consequence, and reinforce it a little bit.  Just do it in a mildly aggressive nature, showing him who is in actual control.”

I nodded slowly, moving to where I was before.  Slowly, I turned to look at the skitterish guy, glaring.  “Drop it or die.”

Mom shook her head quickly.  “Too far.  Tone it down just a hair.”

Crap.  Alright.  “Lower the  gun, or I’ll put it through your teeth.”  I paused  half a second.  “Please.”

“Oh,” she said, straightening.  “I like that!  The addition of the please is very well-placed.  In the immortal words of Al Capone, you can get more with a kind word and a gun than a kind word alone.  It keeps you dominant.  Maybe if you make the please itself sound…  Overly friendly and sympathetic?”

“Like I feel bad about my earlier harshness?”

“No,” Mom said quickly, crossing to me.  “Not quite that much.  More gregarious than apologetic.”

It thought about it for a moment before tilting my head a little and flashing a small smile.  “Please.”

“Perfect.  Now, let’s go into what to do if they’re a little less aggressive…”

I yawned hard as I sat up, trying desperately to blink the sleep and tears out of my eyes.

“Good nap?” Emi asked, looking up from her book.

“Good na–”  I had to pause as another yawn took me, and sniffled a couple of time.  “Yeah, good nap.”  I wiped at the tears on my face for a moment before getting out of the bed.

Emi closed her book, but kept a finger in it.  “You need some time before we have another go?”

“A few minutes, yeah.  Lemmie hydrate, too.”  I forced myself out of the bed and over to the pitcher of water.  Some in the cup, and then a little in the bowl to wash my face with.

This city had a lot of thing, electricity and sewage being among them, but it didn’t have running water.  It struck me odd that it had sewage but not an internal water system.  The hotel had it’s own water tank, as did a few other buildings, but it had communal bathrooms.  To help compensate for this, pitchers of water and bowls.

“Hey,” Emi said, putting her book on the small table and sitting a little straighter in her chair.  “Mind if I, uh, talk about something right quick?”

“Sure,” I said, flashing her a bright smile as best as I could.  “You should know that I’m willing to talk about anything by now.”  With that, I focused on scrubbing my face for a moment.

“Yeah…  But this is personal.”

Oh.  Personal talk.  I quickly finished, but yawned again.  Which gave me another stream of tears down my face.  It didn’t matter — if she wanted to get personal, she deserved my undivided attention.  “What’s up, Emi?”

She sighed softly, leaning back in her chair.  “While you were napping, I was, uh, thinking about that little conversation that we had, you know?”

I nodded as if I had the slightest idea what she was talking about.

“Well, I was thinking about what you said, that you were, uh, only really attracted to people that you were interested in.  I wanted to ask you a few questions, if that’s okay?”

“Sure.”  I moved to the corner of the bed to sit closer to her.  “You can always ask me any question.  I don’t mind explaining anything to you.”

The corner of Emi’s mouth twitched upwards for a moment, but then dropped back down.  “I was wondering if you ever, uh…”  She fidgeted for a moment.  “What I mean is, do you ever get…  Like…”

She laughed suddenly, blushing.  “This is hard.”

“Relax,” I said comfortingly.  “I get it.  Conversations like this are awkward for most people.  Just put it as bluntly as you need to in order to get it out.  You aren’t going to offend or embarrass me.”

Emi nodded a little and took a deep breath.  “Do you ever get hard without being in a relationship?  And need to take care of it?”

I thought about it for a moment.  “I get aroused on occasion, sure.  Moreso when I was first going through puberty.  I hated it.  I used to have to, as you said, take care of it.  That’s, that’s how I got my girlfriend.”

Emi tilted her head curiously, so I continued.  “We were dance partners.  And when I say dance, I don’t just mean like tango or waltz, we did all sorts of stuff.  Think of a style of dance, and they taught it.  During the more exciting stuff, the heart starts pumping, you’re going as hard as you can, and…  Like you said, I got hard.  I was so embarrassed!”

That made Emi laugh.  “You’re, like, the most confident person that I know.  Like, it’s one thing to work yourself up in knots ’till you puke ‘cos you’re worried about messing up a con, but otherwise you’re just like, so easygoing.  It’s hard to imagine you embarrassed.”

“Oh, it’s easier than you think.”  I grinned, but then sobered.  “But, uh, she thought that it was her.  Like, that she was responsible for it, and she was pretty flattered.  And then one thing lead to another…”

I shrugged.  There wasn’t much more that I could say on the matter that she probably couldn’t figure out on her own.

“So you, like, never peeked on your sister while she was bathing or anything?”

My face twisted up as I recoiled in disgust.   “What?  Ew, no!  That’s just…  Ew!”

“Really?”  Emi giggled a little.

“No!  She’s my sister!  That’s just…  gross and ew and yuck!  No, I’d never do anything like that.”

Emi giggled again.  “That’s cute, Jordan.  I mean, my brothers did that to me when they were going through puberty.  I used to get so mad at them!  But everyone would just tell me that it was normal, and that all siblings went through that phase.”

“Did you?”  Now it was my turn to be curious.

That made the smile drop off her face, and I felt a pang of guilt.  I’d made her uncomfortable.  Stupid.  Here she was, asking me questions that were obviously hard for her, and I’d gone and ruined the mood that she’d gotten into.  So stupid!

“No,” Emi said softly.  “No, I didn’t.  That’s…  That’s kind of why I wanted to ask you about this stuff.”

I didn’t say anything.  It didn’t feel like the right time to open my trap and have something stupid come back out.  But after a few moments, she started talking again.

“I never looked at my brothers, not like that.  I never looked at anyone and felt…  I dunno.  I’ve heard people describe it, I’ve even tricked Kathy into talking about she felt.  But…  I’ve never looked at anyone and said, ‘They’re attractive.  I’d like to fuck them.’  I mean, I can look at someone and say they look good, but there’s nothing more there than that they look good.”

“You’re asexual,” I said, nodding.  There had been a bunch of stuff on confusion over sexuality in the books that I’d read about triggering.  Or had it been school?  I couldn’t remember.  Usually when I couldn’t remember where I’d learned something, I just defaulted to school.  “You’ve never felt aroused, have you?”

Emi shook her head.  “No.  Not by anyone.”

“I understand,” I said with a comforting smile.  “And I know that it might seem strange to you, but for asexual people, it can be pretty strange to see people around them who are pretty into sex.  With that comes self-doubt, or worse.  You can feel…  I dunno, broken or something.  But you’re not.  You’re just, you know, you.

“But, uh…”  I swallowed hard.  “I’ll admit, I’m kinda curious.  Have you ever wanted to be, uh…  Dating someone?”

Emi sighed before shrugging.  “I don’t know.  I don’t think so, but…”  She paused, frowning a little.  “When I was a kid, I used to dream of having a big, fancy, beautiful wedding and everything.  Buddhist-style wedding, Christian-style wedding, it was different based on what mood I was in.  But I never really had any sort of idea of who I was marrying, you know?”

I nodded.  “Just the image of it.”

“Yeah.  At least, maybe.  Maybe I just wanted to be the one wearing pretty clothes, with all the attention on me.”

Even if she didn’t want to attract anyone, it still made sense to me.  Pretty girls, pretty things.  She wanted to feel pretty.  Though, from what I understood, guys liked to feel handsome and attractive, too.  I really didn’t fall into that thing for the most part, but I had wanted to look heroic pretty much all my life.

Now I couldn’t.

“But,” Emi continued.  “I mean…  I don’t want you to take this the wrong way or anything.”

“I won’t,” I said quickly.  “Or, if I’m not sure what you mean, I’ll ask.  I promise.”

She nodded a little.  “Well…  What you and I do?  The fighting, hell, even the training, I love that.  I love that to death.  Kathy and John, they can pick up whatever partners they like.  If they catch something from it, that’s their own damn fault.  And Brenda…  We don’t let her yet, but I know that she’s interested in it.  Maybe next year we’ll be more comfortable.

“But they can have all that.  I’ll take this any day over sex.”

I grinned.  “You love the high.”

“Yeah!”  Emi bounced to her feet, grinning.  “Like you said, the heart is pumping, and then if we go long enough, my skin starts to tingle, and I just feel so…”

“Alive,” I finished for her, and she nodded eagerly.  “I get that.  Trust me, when I’m sparring, even a little while I’m fighting, it’s like…  I just feel more alive than I do any other time.”  Exercising and doing katas used to do it for me, but that petered out by my mid-teens.  These days, only sparring or fighting did it for me.

“Exactly.  I feel free, alive, capable, powerful…  I love it.  I love it so much!”

“Then…”  I stood and moved to retrieve the thick padded gloves, tossing them to her.  “Let’s get to it.”

There was a knock on the door, interrupting the two of us.  I eyed Emi for a moment.  We were both panting, sweat pouring off the both of us.  Everything that I had to give, she gobbled up readily.  It felt good to have such a willing and eager partner.

Still, though, there were other things that we had to attend to.  I  ran my hand over my head as I crossed to the door, noting the stubble.  I’d need to shave my head again.  I didn’t actually like doing it, but I could understand why the others encouraged it.

Opening the door, I found Kathy on the other side, grinning from ear to ear.  “Well, are you two having a good little training session?”

“How’d you know we weren’t fucking?” Emi asked in a sing-song voice.

“Because the two of you were singing,” Kathy said with a smirk, stepping into the room.   “Or making that weird hissing noise.  What’s up with that, anyway?”

“Breath control,” Emi said, beaming pride over what she’d learned.  “Singing helps with timing, but when you’re punching, the hissing keeps you from exhaling all the way at once and then not being able to take a breath.”

Kathy glanced at me.  “Why don’t I hear you doing that?”

I shrugged a little.  “I do, but I do it silently.  They say Bruce Lee would be quiet as a whisper when actually fighting, and from the videos that I’ve seen, Armsmaster both made noise and didn’t.  I think that he did it based on how appropriate it was for the fight that he was in.”

“So why not teach her to be silent, too?”  Kathy moved to the chair and settled down.  Emi took up the corner of the bed, which left me standing in the center of the room.  They always made it a point to rent this suite for me now so that I could have plenty of room to work out.

“I started with the advanced stuff and worked down the the basics.  Do you know where that got me?”  Kathy shook her head.  “A blown out knee, and a list of permanent injuries the length of my arm before I’d even gotten into my first actual real fight.”  Skirmishes against people who insulted my friends and family didn’t count.  “I’m not going to repeat those mistakes again with you all.”

“So, there’s more maneuvers that you can teach me?” Kathy said curiously.

“Plenty.  More to get you into position, more to avoid being put in a place where you can get hurt, and also how to take a punch.”  I would have continued, but my vision blurred suddenly.  Other than a couple of blinks, I tried not to let them know.  It started to come back quickly, though.

That had been happening a lot lately.  Along with the vomiting.  Just what was I eating that was disagreeing with me?  I didn’t feel sick.

Fortunately, Emi picked up where I left off.  “Jordan was punching my hands all night.”  She clapped the gloves together before taking them off.  “It gets me used to how punches feel, how fast they’re coming and stuff, and how to roll with them.”

“Wait,” Kathy said, holding up a finger.  “All night?  I mean, I heard the two of you doing your odd singing just now, but…”

Had I been singing again?  And had Emi been joining me?  Weird.  “We paused a couple of times for naps,” I said.  The room was already back to the point where I could make out basic shapes.  “But for the most part, yeah.”

“Well.”  She pushed herself out of the chair.  “Since John and Brenda went down to order for us, we’d better have some breakfast, hadn’t we?”

“Fuck.  Yes.”  Emi brushed a few strands of hair away from her face as she stood.

By the time we were in the hall, my eyes had adjusted enough to close the door behind us.  By the time we were at the stairs, my vision was back to normal.  The prospect of food might have helped, admittedly.

By the time that we made it down to the dining area, my gut was really complaining.  I’d put my hunger out of my head until the sight of a table full of food was presented to me.  More than eagerly, I settled into a chair — I could tell it was mine because it had the largest stack of pancakes.

“Ah, he finally appears.”  John fixed me with a broad grin.

“Sorry about that, but the call of food is too great.”

“Ah, in the words of Miguel de Cervantes, laziness never arrived at the attainment of a good wish.  Apparently, to you, a good wish is food.”

“I think you’re using that quote wrong,” Brenda said softly.

“Most likely,” John admitted as I began to dig into the pancakes.  “But it’s hard to come up with a good quote for that sort of thing.”

“So, what’s the plan for today?” Emi asked.

“Well, we’re officially into summer.”  John paused to eat a slice of sausage.  We had to buy the breakfast meat ourselves, but the staff was willing to prepare it for us.  “I think that we need another job.”

“How’s everyone doing on their savings for winter?” I asked.

There were nods and idle noises of positiveness from everyone.  Fortunately, Kathy was able to add something more constructive.  “It’s going to be a good winter.  I know the prices of the place we’re going to be staying are a little high, but if we keep up at this rate, we can afford to be lazy if we want to.”

“I’d rather not,” I confessed.  Doing nothing really didn’t appeal to me.

“Nor I,” John agreed.  “While rest and relaxation are good, a little activity never did anyone harm.  It keeps the mind fresh, and the spirit ready and willing.”

I opened my mouth to add something, but a woman carrying a plate suddenly kicked a chair over to our table between Kathy and Brenda before plopping down.  I didn’t recognize her as she set the plate on the table.

“Excuse me,” Kathy said, her voice dripping with venom.  “Can I help you?”

“No,” the woman said bluntly.  She turned her head to fix her eyes intently on me.  “Hello, Fuckface.”

I may not have recognized her face, but I recognized her voice and how she addressed me.  “Hello Gina,” I said quietly.  “Gina, this is everyone.  Everyone, this is Gina, an old friend and Warden.  I’d advise you not to make any sudden movements.  She could take down everyone in this room.”

That was enough to put everyone on edge.  John slowly set down his fork, and Brenda slowly moved her hand towards the cloth wrapped around her eyes.

Everyone except Gina.  She didn’t change in the slightest, her gaze still burrowing into my eyes.  “Fortune, don’t even fuckin’ try it or I’ll carve out those eyes of yours.”  Brenda paused.  Smart.  But Gina was continuing in the same breath.  “And just to be clear, I can take most of the people at this table, not all.  I’m rusty.”

“You always kicked my ass,” I observed.

“You always made me really work for it.  Plus, you’ve kept up and have a lot more tricks up your sleeve now.  I haven’t even sparred since the Orphanage.  My skills are too important elsewhere.”

She made a point.  Better to move right along.  “How are you?”

“Pissed off.”  Gina was as elegant and polite as ever.  “You?”

“Taking it day by day.”

“I’ll bet.  Hey, Jack, why don’t you pass the syrup?”

John took a quick breath, but after a moment he moved to hand it to Kathy, who offered it to Gina.  She took it and began to pour it over her pancakes without breaking her stare.

“Shit’s fucked,” Gina observed.

“Indeed it is.”  I took a slow breath.  “Thanks for the card, by the way.  Sorry that I never got to take you up on your offer.”

“Shove your pods down your goddamn throat one of these days for that.  I’m glad that you’re keeping active and found some people to meet up with.  You’re almost tit useless on your own.”

“Don’t talk about him like that,” Emi growled softly.

“Don’t stress it,” I said quickly.  I had to keep people from getting too worked up.  If a fight broke out…  “Gina’s like that.  Trust me, we’re old friends.  It’s all good.  I’d be ready for a fight if she came here and was polite.”  But, for her, this was being polite.  Keeping tabs on everyone must have been distracting her.

“We need to talk,” Gina said flatly.

“No shit,” Kathy said, looking at her.  “If you aren’t here for a fight, what are you here for?”

“Because Fuckface here is in deep shit and needs to do a little something about it.”

“Because of New Fairfax?” I guessed.

“No.  I mean, I know that you’re innocent.  Fuck, anyone who knows you knows that you were just at the wrong place at the wrong time.  Though, I’m fucking pissed at you over that.  A great case for me to work, tons of complexity, and they pull me off it the moment that you pop up on their radar because of our relationship.”

Standard operational procedure.  But that brought up a question…  “They had Sarah talk to me.  That’s way out of the usual.”

“Yeah, I don’t know.”  Gina sucked in a breath.  “Here’s the thing, there’s a lot of oddness going on, and what I was able to get my mitts on was barely enough for me to figure out enough for me to get to have this little chat.  And even that is a hot mess of fuck.”

Odd.  “You’re locked out of the loop?”

“Entirely.  I had to technically break the rules just to learn what I did.  But, my assistant and I figured out enough.”

“Relax.”  I finally took my eyes off of Gina, looking around the table.  “Please, everyone, relax.  She’s on our side.  She isn’t going to do anything if we don’t start it first.”

It took a long moment, but everyone around the table did start to calm down a little.  Gina took the opportunity to get a bite of pancakes in.

“Do the Wardens know we’re here?” Brenda asked.

“No.  Well, not officially at least.”  Gina didn’t bother to look at her.  “I was able to piece it together, which means that someone else probably can, but they won’t come here to go after him.”  She looked to John.  “You chose well to come here.  The Wardens can’t operate here without permission, and so far Fuckface isn’t going to have cadets coming after him here.  Cadets, fucking cadets.  What the actual fuck?”

“I know,” I said quietly.  “They should have escalated it into proper response teams by now.”

“Well, I have some theories, but that isn’t important.”  She turned her attention back to me.  “You haven’t been reading the papers, have you?”

I shook my head.  “Anything regarding me I haven’t been too keen to find out about.  And, uh…  I just haven’t been interested to find out anything else.”

“Start,” Gina demanded.  “Because apparently, you’ve been raping entire villages.”

“What?”  Kathy, Emi and Brenda’s voices were overlapping.  Apparently this was news to them, too.

“Not, you know, actually raping the village itself.  Though that’s an amusing mental image.  And there’s plenty of rape going on, too.  But according to the papers, you and your merry band have been hitting small villages that don’t have agreements with the Wardens or Dragon’s Teeth and doing everything you want to them, walking away with them stripped of anything worth anything.”

“That isn’t us,” John said quickly.

“Well, fucking duh.  Even if he went pure evil, that isn’t his style.  He’d at least make sure that they had enough to rebuild so that he could hit them again some day.”  I opened my mouth, but she cut me off.  “No, Fuckface, I know that you’d never do that.  Jesus fuck, have some goddamn faith.

“But no, that’s what the papers are saying.  And that’s what the victims are claiming.  There’s no doubt that it isn’t happening, though.  Someone claiming to be you is doing this shit.  Using your rep to make people unwilling to fight back.”

That… made a disturbing amount of sense.  My mind flashed back to how our employees responded to meeting me.  The way that… what was his name?  Jim?  The way that he’d begged me.

I hadn’t even eaten yet, but I felt like I wanted to throw up.  As literally sickened as I was, though, I was also angry.  “Who?” I demanded.

“I don’t know.  Ten people, and the descriptions basically match you.  Some differences, but close enough that the average person would probably guess that the leader is you.  They roll in, kill anyone who resists, have a grand time, and roll out.  The Wardens may not have contracts with these folks, but we’re still investigating.”

The contracts were mostly there to fund them, as they couldn’t deny their members food or pay.  Truth be told, the Wardens were willing to help anyone who needed it most of the time.  Unless there were communities who openly said that they didn’t want the Wardens poking their heads in, like this one apparently.

“Alright.  Why bring it up to me now?”

“We have a list of places that they’re likely to hit.  Thinkers went to town on it.  I did the math myself, though, and shit isn’t coming our right.  If I’m right, the odds say that they’re at a village right now.  One that Wardens aren’t being dispatched to.”

John frowned a little.  “But you aren’t supposed to know any of this?”

“I got access to some eyes only stuff.  Redacted in some parts, but still.  And the redacted parts aren’t in places that would suggest it’s a trap to catch you, either.  So, yeah.”

I frowned.  My mind was going a mile a minute, and I wasn’t liking what it was coming up with.   “They’re inviting me to take care of it.”

Gina nodded a little.  “That’s my best guess.  I have coordinates for the village, if you want.”

“You’re right.  I’m going to.”  I looked around at everyone else.  “You don’t have to come along–”

“Fuck that shit,” Emi growled.  “I’m not letting you take on ten people alone.”

“I’m in as well,” Brenda said.  “I’m willing to do a lot of things, but ruining a village so that they can’t even rebuild?  Letting a rapist run around?  No, I’m in.  Besides, it might still be a trap, so you’re going to need someone to watch your back.”

John frowned at Kathy, who spread her hands and shrugged.  “I don’t like it either.  This is the sort of thing that I’d rather let the Wardens take care of themselves.  But were a democracy, and when there’s already three votes for it….”  She looked to me.  “Unless John’s leaving us, then we’re naturally in.”

We all looked to John, who let out a long-suffering sigh.  “You know, when they say that the blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb, they don’t mention that it’s going to occasionally lead you into bad places.”  He looked down at his meal.  “Can we at least finish breakfast first?”

“That’d be a good idea,” I said with a nod.  “We’ll need the energy.”  I looked to Gina.  “And more information to help come up with a plan.”

She stood suddenly, picking up her plate.  “You all stay here and eat.  Fuckface, let’s go to your room to talk.”

Emi started to stand.  “I don’t think–”

“It’s alright,” I said comfortingly, getting to my feet.  “I trust Gina.  She won’t lead me astray.”  I nabbed my plate.  “Finish breakfast, gear up, then meet me at my room so we can get a proper plan going.  Just… give us a bit first.”  Gina wanted to talk privately.  I could accommodate.

It didn’t take us long to get back upstairs.  As I closed the door, Gina marched to the table and put her plate on it.

“Alright,” I said, turning back towards her.  “What sort of powers are–”

I didn’t have time to say anything else — Gina’s shin connected solidly with my groin, making me have to fight to keep from spilling my plate on the floor.  Instantly, she recoiled, bringing her leg up to grab at her shin.

“Fuck fucking fuck on a fucking pogo fuck!”  She bounced in place a few times before glaring at me.  “You’re wearing a cup under your pants?!”

“Full armor,” I confessed.  “I’d wear my torso armor if I could get away with it.  But yeah, I don’t like to be surprised any more.”

“Fucking Christ.”  With a roll of her eyes, Gina limped along to settle and eat.  That was the thing about her — you had to keep up, because she’d leave you so far behind that you didn’t know what was going on.  Good exercise for the brain.  “Then I take it you know that you’re being hunted.  That saves me that problem.  So let’s get down to business.”

The way that she said it made it sound different from the bounty on my head.  There had been an odd tone when she’d said hunted.  Sadness, sympathy perhaps?  Most people would think such things would be alien to her, but despite her… irritability, she was still human, capable of a full range of emotion.

Still, she wanted to move on, and I didn’t want to risk angering her.  I saw far too few friendly faces these days.  “What are we looking at?” I asked as I settled on the bed.

“Ten.  All men.”  Go figure.  “The city has a wall around it, so they’ll either kill or disable the local peacekeepers and take turns pretending to be guards on the wall.  That lets them look out and shoot in if the locals get uppity.  The imposter usually keeps one or two with him, and the rest will be having fun.”

“Those poor women,” I said, looking down at my food.  I wasn’t really hungry any more.

“And men.”  She fished out her tablet — it looked like she’d upgraded since the last time that I’d seen her.  “By the size of the village, I’d guess that they’ll be there for another two days before they deplete it of what they consider useful.  Four men manning the walls.”

She tossed me the tablet.  On there was a map of the village.  How had she gotten that?

“Mixed parahumans and normies.  Reports are conflicting, but I’m guessing that the imposter is a para who uses his powers to make it look like he’s got more combat prowess than he really does.  I’m not sure what that power is, though, so be careful.”

I nodded a little as I studied the map.  I couldn’t afford to remain silent, though, as that would just work Gina up.  “How’d you  get all of this?”

“Doesn’t matter; like I said a lot of it was eyes only.”

That made me look up at her.  “You can get into trouble for this, can’t you?”

“No.  Look, it’s complicated.  I don’t want to go into it, alright?”  Right, I’d gone and pissed her off.  Dangit.

“Sorry.  It’s just…  good to know that you didn’t even contemplate that it might be me doing this, or that I wouldn’t want to do something about it.”

She looked up from her meal, fixing me in her stare.  It honestly surprised me that it took a couple of moments for her to respond.  “I know you better than that, Fuckface.  You’ll always put others before yourself.  Hell, you’re the guy that when Tracy Woodward said that she wanted to date him found someone to set her up with.”

I didn’t even know who she was talking about, let alone remember that incident.  “How are they doing?”  Not that I was about to admit it.

“Good.  Married, two kids.  Besides the point.  Listen, I know you, and what sort of person you are.  You might go to desperate lengths to survive, especially with your new so-called friends, but you’d never end up doing that kind of shit, and you’d never turn your back from fixing that kind of shit.

“So, yeah, I know you.”

“You know an awful lot about me for someone who doesn’t much care for people.”

Gina shrugged and turned back to her food.  “You’re my friend, and I still owe you for Troy Wilkenson.  I don’t have a lot of friends, and anyone who’s willing to be my friend is either crazy, a masochist, or too damn nice for their own good.  You aren’t in the first two camps, so if there’s one person that I’m going to pay attention to, it’s you.”

That was fair.  As she took a bite of her breakfast, I looked back to the map.  “One entrance, an inn nearby.”

“They want use the inn,” she said around a mouthful of pancakes, making the word won’t sound odd.

“Right.  They’ll make use of the better houses.  There’s gotta be two hundred people here…”

“They’re frightened of your rep and what’s been said of the other villages they’ve heard about.”  She cut off another hunk of hash browns.  “They killed the cops, so people will be too cowed to fight back so long as they’re visible.  One man on each wall.”

“Gotcha.”  I eyed the layout again.  “Okay, so four on the wall, two or three on the imposter–”

“I said one or two,” Gina insisted.

“Yeah, and I’m going to make plans as if it’s more difficult.  Three is worse than two.  So that takes seven of the ten.  Three unaccounted for.”  I frowned a little.  “Right, maybe I can work with that.”

“You’ve got a plan?”  She actually sounded hopeful over that.

“Maybe.  More like an idea.”  I looked back up to her.  “I’d have figured that you had a plan for me.”

The corner of her mouth twisted upwards.  “You’re better about pulling something insane out that I can’t think of or counter when you’re up against the wall.  It’s why you were the one that I enjoyed sparring against.  What’s your idea?”

I knew she wasn’t going to like it, but I told her anyway.


4 thoughts on “Enki 7.3

  1. Thank you for reading this chapter.

    Sexuality is something that I don’t shy away from, but I’m always careful in its presentation. I’m always paranoid that people with automatically think that I’m demonizing something or encouraging something else. Really, I’m not doing either, even when I address it. Do I think that if a girl in a high-stress lifestyle seeks out sexual companionship with whomever she can, that she’s automatically a slut? No, as I can understand. Do I think that if a girl initiates a sexual encounter that she’s a slut? No; I recently published a chapter about this in Avalonian Marine over on Guardians of New Avalon where the main character kissed someone out of the blue, and I doubt anyone would describe her as a slut.

    Likewise, do I think that if a guy has a bunch of partners, it’s just boys being boys? No. Life is far more complicated than that. Individuals and circumstances count for a lot.

    Honestly, my own beliefs on people bear surprisingly few reflections on the characters that I write. Each character is their own person, with their own viewpoints, beliefs, and issues. Often, I will use my writing as a way to try and understand why people or characters behave the way that they do, coming to grips with it. Sometimes I’ll discover that my interpretation was wrong, but the presentation was right. That’s always surprising, but I welcome it.

    Emi’s sexuality was hinted at a while back, when she helped Jordan change his armor. “I’m not interested in seeing what you’ve got.” She honestly didn’t care about what he had, not in an embarrassing or sexual manner. She’s more of the opinion that male genitalia are weird and kinda gross — she’s happy with hers by comparison, thank you very much.

    I knew that Emi was an aromantic asexual from the very start. Originally, I had a scene in mind where the five of them would be traveling and talking about the classic Protectorate heroes and who they would boff — Brenda had no idea because she didn’t really know who they were, Jordan would reveal his own complicated sexuality after agreeing with John that Legend would be a good choice and refuting John’s joking statement that “It’s not gay if it’s Legend,” and Emi would give a stock answer. Then, while Jordan was bathing in a river, Emi would approach him and explain her own sexuality, and tell him that her answer had been just to fit in with everyone.

    As is the way of my writing, though, it came up in entirely different contexts. Instead of Emi confessing to Jordan, explaining her sexuality (or lack thereof) came up naturally here. The moment that Jordan asked if she’d peeked, it just flowed out. I’m rather fond of that conversation, surprisingly. It explores both characters nicely on several levels, showing and not telling. As always, some things may not be as obvious as others.

    And an appearance of both Mom and Gina! I’m thinking about doing an interlude focusing on Gina. Not from her PoV, but from someone close to her. Her assistant in the Wardens, perhaps. Would there be interest in that? Or is there someone else you’d like an interlude of?

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    • I would really like to see an interlude dealing with Mom, but I doubt that will happen any time soon. So yeah, seeing some more of Gina would be pretty cool. I would also kind of like to see how she thinks, but I understand not having her be the PoV for narrative reasons. Seeing how other people feel about her would be pretty cool as well. I am a bit worried that it will read as more of the same “She is abrasive but brilliant” that we get from Jordan, but I actually trust you enough as a writer to make it more interesting than that. If nothing else, Jordan is bound to be quicker to dismiss things that most people would find extra irritating that Gina does.

      I have had this sneaking suspicion for awhile now that Jordan’s whole “yawn so hard I cry” things is a bigger deal than is let on, and this chapter just reinforces it. We open up with him getting a ton of social advice from his Mom (which puts a fewof his interactions in the last arc in an interesting new light) and immediately after that dream ends he cries. I am really starting to buy in to the idea that it is a subconscious reaction to his dreams, or possibly just to his emotions in general. Jordan does a fair bit of hiding away how he feels about stuff, which is generally bad for you, and tears are known to be a mechanism that the body uses to lower the chemicals that promote sadness. It could be that Jordan’s body is taking any chance it gets to purge those chemicals because on his own he bottles stuff up too much to get a good cry in as often as he should.

      I am also incredibly concerned about the whole dizziness and nausea thing early on in the chapter. I would say that Jordan should know enough about medicine in general and head wounds in particular to notice the symptoms of a severe concussion. Of course, we also know that Jordan is very adept at actively avoiding thinking about specific things as well. If he consciously admits to having a serious concussion and needing to take things slow or seek out medical help, then he is the sort of person who would jump right to it. But Jordan is also the sort of person who would not want to inconvenience his new team, and possibly even admit how badly he is already abusing the gift of his new body.

      Whether he doesn’t notice it or doesn’t let himself notice it, it is still a deeply troubling condition that I can’t imagine will work out for him in the long run. As always, thanks for writing such a solid story. I really appreciate having something that I can sink my conspiratorial teeth into.

      Liked by 1 person

      • A PoV from Gina’s perspective would be insanely difficult for me. I’ve tried playing with it before, but it just doesn’t work due to her power. I can write it in a way that does her power justice, sure, but it comes out incredibly unreadable — my last attempt clocked in at 8,000 words to do what would normally be only 700 words or so. Naturally, I’ve scrubbed every attempt. It’s either write an interesting chapter, or write a chapter that’s accurate to the character. I’d rather do the former.

        Instead, if I do a scene focusing on her, it would be from the PoV of her assistant, who is bright enough to see through some of her bullshit and break through it to get at the core of most matters. They make a good team. But you are right — I’ve put more thought into her than just “abrasive but brilliant.” She has as much complexity as anyone else that I’ve brought to the table for multiple chapters. Having someone that can get to the heart of her character while still showing the sheer magnitude of what they do would be interesting, I think.

        As for the rest, SSAICNC.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I don’t actually know that last acronym, but I hadn’t really expected any sort of confirmation or denial on my wild theories. And I don’t know if it was mentioned before, but if nothing else I would like to get a bit more information on Gina’s power. So an interlude from someone who knows and focuses on that would be pretty cool.

          Liked by 1 person

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