Cassie and Julilla walked the campsite, talking of strategy. They were within sight of the Obit bunker, which was part of a cluster of labs and offices that sprawled across a flat rise, artfully landscaped with dips and hills that had once been carefully manicured but were now shaggy with weeds. Walkways wound through fallow flower gardens, and the alliance’s tents and tarps filled every space that might have once been green and decorative. “I don’t like that the facility is on a hill,” Julilla said. “It’s going to be a problem.”

“It’s not a very big hill,” Cassie offered. “I wouldn’t have even noticed if you hadn’t said something.”

“They’re noticing it as they try to position the Fresnels. I hope our scaffolding is high enough to get the right angles, or whatever it is Sid says we need.” She glanced at the late afternoon sky. “Too bad we didn’t get here a few hours earlier. I’d have given the order to attack and been done with it.”

“Without our ordinance in place?”

“Surprise is our best weapon, not Thespian spotlight beams. I just hope….”

Cassie nodded. According to their scouts, the Pharms had broken past the alliance’s skirmish units and barricades. They were now on pace to flank them by morning if they forced a march through the night. In the meantime, the alliance was camping in plain view of any Obit who might choose to look out the window of one of the office buildings, which were surely connected by tunnel to the underground facility. That they hadn’t been attacked was a source of puzzlement and everyone hoped it was because the Obits were too few in number to risk it. But if the Pharms reinforced them by morning….

Cassie and Julilla followed a path to a man-made pond of the sort that might have once had ducks or turtles for workers to toss crumbs to on their lunch break. The water was opaque and coated with algae, but a group of camp supporters were working with buckets and filters, scooping out water and pouring it through cloth and sand in the hope of making it potable or at least good for washing.

“I hope they remember to use the chlorine tablets,” Julilla said. “If everyone gets diarrhea, we might as well shoot ourselves and save the Pharms the trouble.”

“Speaking of shooting,” Cassie glanced at her, then looked away. “If you don’t want to talk about it, just tell me to shut up. But some of us were wondering if you and Alex…?”

Julilla hesitated before answering. “We had an understanding. Actually, we had several. One was that we each wouldn’t let the other suffer from Telo.”

“I see.” Cassie didn’t ask the next question because it hung in the air between them, as obvious as a banner.

“He was also a sometimes-boyfriend. Nothing serious. He was nearly twenty and we knew there wasn’t much time.”

“But you loved him anyway.”

Julilla nodded and seized on the first distraction she could find. “That looks like the twins over there, under that willow.”

Cassie looked in the direction indicated. “Are you sure? They aren’t having sex.”

Julilla gave her a playful shove and they strolled to where Danny sat holding a book while Danica lay in the grass with her head in his lap. Danny’s voice carried softly on the summer breeze as he read aloud:

And I would rather have my sweet
though rose leaves die of grieving;
than do high deeds in Hungary
to pass all men’s believing.

Danica smiled up at him with sleepy eyes. “Why Hungary?”

“Because that’s what it says in the book.”

“That’s a silly reason. How about Callahan Road?”

Danny coiled a lock of her hair around a finger. “It doesn’t sound as good, love. But if you want—”

Julilla cleared her throat and the twins looked at her, but made no move to get up. “We need to discuss your assignments, lovebirds.”

“We don’t have any,” Danny said.


Danica sat up, frowning. “We’re just here for the Telo cure. We’re not part of your army. You can’t tell us what to do.”

“If there’s a cure and you want first crack at it,” Julilla said, “You’ll join my army and accept an assignment.”

“What kind of assignment?” Danny asked. “We haven’t trained to be part of a phalanx or whatever it is you’re planning on doing.”

Julilla moved closer so she was standing over them. “Actually, I want you to run messages between the unit commanders tomorrow. You’re perfect for the job, since it requires speed and smarts, but also the ability to defend yourself. What do you think?”

The twins looked at each other. “Can we talk it over?” Danny asked.

“You’ve got ten minutes.” Julilla jerked her chin at Cassie and they walked a little distance away and sat on a small stone bench.

“That was a good idea,” Cassie said.

“I hope so. You think they’ll accept?”

“No telling.”

They turned their conversation to other matters and were deep in discussion of their hopes and concerns when Danny and Danica sauntered over like a pair of lazy felines. Danny glanced at his twin for confirmation, then said, “We accept. We’ll run battlefield messages for you. And in return, we get the cure, even if there’s only two doses and everyone else is waiting in line.”

Although it wasn’t for Julilla to decide how a cure would be distributed, she stood and held out her hand. “Done.”



Alice Audrey said...

It's nice to be reminded that the Twins are independent of the Regents, and only there for their own reasons.

You aren't going to be an O-Henry-bad-author and kill one of them, are you? Don't answer that.

Ann (bunnygirl) said...

The twins are a law unto themselves, aren't they? It's what makes them fun.