Better Never Than Late

characters, independent, introductions

Two months without an update?  We suck; sorry.

There is some good news:  I’ve completed the sequel to “The Fourth Law.”  I’m in the midst of editing and such right now.  A bit longer than the first book; understandable as the focus has gone from two main characters to…well… several more.

Besides putting in chapter breaks and other coding matters, I’ve the little issue of thinking up a name for the thing.  “The Fourther Law” sounds stupid, and I didn’t come up with a Fifth Law (although ‘remember to tip your bartenders and waitresses’ is a sensible one).  Maybe a free copy for whomever comes up with a good title?

My objective was to have at least a Kindle version released by Easter, two weeks from today.  I’m much older at formatting that I was back in December, so I just might make that.

I’ve put an excerpt below the fold.  No spoiler warnings, per se, but if you’ve not read my first book, there are a few things revealed.  Cheerio!

The eastern sky was a pale rose as Orloff slowly walked back to the wagon, not wanting to awaken Lily. Their third morning after crossing the Mississippi.  Camped in small forest outside of the highway loop, just past Collierville, there had been no signs of any windmills, nor any other power sources.  And with Fausta having to return fire from that sniper near the Memphis airport, her power reserves were quiet low.

He carefully leaned over the wagon’s edge: Fausta in her customary position, glasses up for night, and Lily huddled next to her under several blankets.  Both her and Orloff’s breaths visible in the chill of the early morning.

“You dote on her,” Fausta said quietly.

“As does your entire family,” he replied in his gravelly voice as low as he could. “We all have our reasons.  And shouldn’t you be conserving power?”

“Operating this speaker at this range is fine, Mister Orloff. We still making for Corinth?”  He nodded, knowing she could see just fine in this light.

“The old US72 is straight, flat, and sparsely populated. I’m hoping to find an abandoned factory or farm with a generator, for you, Miss Fausta.”

She opened her jaw just slightly. Next to her, Lily shifted and gripped at Fausta arm.

“…Ai…” she murmured. Orloff grimaced at that.

“It’s all right, Mister Orloff. She and I are friends, but I don’t think even you appreciate the bond between Lily and my sister.  I just….”  She trailed off.

“Yes?”

“I just wonder how everyone is doing. I wonder how I’m doing.”

Fausta had explained that when they first started into southern former Arkansas: the consciousness that her android body supported was only a fraction of the entirety of her mind.  When she’d reacquired signal in Pine Bluff, she actually had to get to know herself again.  Orloff had wondered if there would be a point where she would be unable to reintegrate herself, essentially creating a new person.  Fausta had said the totality of her would simply absorb the android’s personality.  Lily laughed at his reaction; ‘they’re not like us!’ she had said.

“I’m sure everyone is doing fine, Miss Fausta.” He replied, leaning forward to touch Lily’s leg.  “Lily, it’s morning, wake up.”

“Huh?” She said groggily.

She was still blinking at the morning sun as they clattered down the road to the east. As usual, Orloff tried to look everywhere at once for possible threats.  Lily rubbed at her eyes.  Blinked, rubbed them again.  Is that…?

“Hey, Orloff,” she said pointing, “you see those?”

He squinted through his monocle. Just over that tree line, maybe five miles away….

“Windmills. I count six, with two turning,” he said.  “What do you see?”

“…five, six. Yeah.  Two moving.”  Lily reached back and squeezed Fausta’s shoulder.  “A power source, friend!”

Orloff proceeded with his typical caution. If they were working, there was a very good chance that someone was defending them.  As they passed a rusted ‘Welcome to Mississippi!’ sign, he mused that perhaps they’d been built here on the border to show off, rather than generate electricity.  Another idiocy paid for by debt and fiat currency.  Of course, they were all paying for that now.

A gravel road led off the highway to the small wind farm. There was a chain link fence stretching around it, but the gate was wide open.  Inside, he could see three buildings.  One looked like an office, so the others must be controls.  He brought the cart to a halt about twenty yards from the gate.

“Hear anything, Miss Fausta?” He asked.

“There are at least two—” Just then the door to the office building opened.  Two men with rifles strolled out.  Dirty tee shirts and faded jeans.  Orloff thought they’d not had a bath in a week or more.  Not exactly the types you’d expect to see caring for a relic of modern civilization.  They walked to the open gate.

“Let’s be on guard here,” he said under his breath.

“What’s you be wantin’?” The shorter of the two called.

Orloff slowly pointed at the windmills. “I’ve got some batteries I need to recharge.  Those things work?”

“Pretty much,” the shorter one replied, his eyes sliding to Lily. “But it ain’t free.”

Orloff nodded. “We can pay.”  The taller one spat some tobacco juice into the dusty road.

“How? We ain’t takin’ no paper!”  He said.

“Would you take minted silver coins?” Orloff asked.  The other two looked for a moment at each other.

“That’s a good start,” the short one said, again with a glance at Lily. “Why don’t you bring you’s wagon over here to this building.”  He waved at the one just beyond the office.

“Much obliged.” Orloff started Clyde forwards at a slow walk.  As they came abreast of the two men, the taller one exclaimed, “Hey!  Another woman!  You a slaver or sumthin’?”

So slavery has been reintroduced in this region, he thought. Wonderful.

“Not at all. That’s my wife; she was taking a break back there.  This is my niece, Lily.”

“Pretty,” said the short one from her side. Orloff stopped the wagon where they indicated.  Lily had her hand on her pistol while Orloff climbed down, then she followed.  Fausta stood and leapt down.

The taller one took a look into the wagon. Just what is it you gonna charge up?”  He asked.

“That,” said Orloff slowly, “is not your concern.”

No one said anything for a few moments, then the taller one laughed.

“That’s fine! You take what you needs on in there,” he said with forced humor, “but since we’s don’t gets many visitors, you can leave your niece out here to chat!”

Sighing, Orloff looked as Fausta brushed at her hair, them seemed to stretch. Great:  two more in the office, and another in the building they’d been directed to.

“I think,” he began, “that it’s best that we just move on.”

“And I think, old man,” the shorter one said, “that yous be stayin’. Hey, Zed!”

The door of the office opened again and the other two men came out, their pistols pointed. Fausta grinned, her metallic sharks teeth flashing in the morning sun.

“What in the HELL is that?!” The taller called in fear.

Orloff quickly drew his pistol and shot him in the head. Lily leapt behind Clyde for cover as Fausta charged the two that had just emerged.  They’d only time for one shot each, both of which bounced off of her armor.  The closer she punched with her left hard enough for Orloff to hear all the facial bones shatter; in an another moment, the further man receiving her right.

Blocked by the wagon, Orloff dropped and shot at the shorter’s legs; missed, but distracted him long enough for…

…Fausta jumped over the wagon, firing her revolver has she dropped. Two shots into each shoulder.

“Lily! Cover the door next to us!”  Orloff called.  She came up over Clyde’s back with her gun pointed.  Fausta was already on her way, and smashed through the door with her shoulder.  Orloff heard a short “I give u–!” before another crunch of bone.

For a moment all was still, the only sound from the short thug screaming in pain. Fausta’s targets were all unconscious.

“Fausta! Check the other building!” He called as he walked around the cart.  He took aim….

“What the hell are you doing!” Lily yelled. Orloff shot the wounded man in the head and looked up at her.

“What?”

Fausta trotted past him and kicked in the door of the last building.

“Clear!” She called.  Orloff turned and walked towards the first two Fausta hit.

“Stop it! I forbid it!”  Lily yelled as she stormed towards him.

“I’m not a machine that takes your orders, little girl.” He raised his pistol.

“No! NOOO!!!  There’s already too much killing in my life!  Stop it!  PLEASE!”  She collapsed into the gravel and dust, crying.

There was a rush and Fausta was between him and the two on the ground.

“Do not, Mister Orloff. Please.”  She said.  “For Lily.”

“You want me to leave enemies behind us?” He asked.  “At some point we’re likely to come back this way, and these thugs, their friends, their family, will all be gunning for the Chinese girl, old man, and fanged demoness.  Better to eliminate the problem now!”

“Please.”

He frowned as he holstered his weapon. “On one condition!  You break their legs so as to cripple them.  That reduces their threat potential and serves as a warning to others.”

“I agree,” she said simply. She went to Lily and picked her up.

“Don’t do that, Fausta!” Lily cried.  She shushed her.

“It will be fine. And no more killing.”

She leaned Lily against the wagon and retrieved the man from inside the building. Laying him next to the other two, she methodically stomped on their knees, crushing them.  Lily was crying again.  She looked at Orloff.

“Acceptable?”

“Yes. I’ll turn the wagon around.  You get in there are see if there’s really a way to charge up.”

Fausta first went to Lily and half-carried her into the building. Inside, Lily tried to bury her face in her chest as she cried.  “I’m so sorry, friend Fausta!  I never knew he was like this…!”

“There, now,” Fausta said as she looked around. Ah.  “Are you able to help me?”

Lily took a shuddering breath and nodded. “Doing’s better than thinking.  What can I do?”

Fausta shed her jacket and pulled off her black tee shirt. Her scale mail glistened; Lily noted the two impact marks on her chest.  She turned about.

“Where a human’s right kidney would be, pull that section of my armor up.”

A little unsure of herself, Lily grasped at the scales in that area and tugged.

“Harder.”

There was a tearing noise. Oh:  it was merely velcroed in place.  Just under it was a two-phase plug.  Lily pulled it out.  About four inches of clearance.

“Thank you.” Fausta walked over to the wall socket she’d seen a moment ago.  Reaching behind her back, she plugged herself in.  She shuddered and made a moue.

“What is it, friend?”

“This electricity tastes awful!”

Lily found she could still laugh. Oh, Fausta!

Happy to sit and hold hands, after about twenty minutes they began to hear the cries and screams of the men outside. When a sudden silence fell, Lily feared the worst.  She stood.

“I’d better go make sure he didn’t….” But Fausta reached out and took her hands back.

“He’s a violent man, Lily.” She said.  “But not a dishonorable one.”

Lily relented and sat back down. After another twenty minutes, Fausta quickly reached around and unplugged.

“Full up?” Lily asked with a smile.  Fausta shook her head.

“Eighty five percent. But I hear horses coming.”  She stood.  “We go.”

Outside Orloff waited on the driver’s bench. Without looking at him, Lily sat as far from him as she could.

“Horses coming.” Fausta called.  “Give me thirty seconds.”

She walked to the three men. She pushed her sunglasses up onto her head and peeled her lips back.  They recoiled in horror.

“If ANY of you ever threatens my friend again,” she growled. “I will eat you!”

She returned to the wagon and took her place. When they out of earshot, Orloff said, “Miss Fausta?  That was hilarious.”

“Thank you, Mister Orloff.”

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