Stories from the War-First Meeting: Part 3
Monday Reads continues with Part 3 of First Meeting, the first short story to my new WIP Friends of my Enemy. And finally, in this part, there is some background information for those of you looking for it! 😉
Friends of my Enemy
Stories from the War
First Meeting: Part 3
“You look quite beautiful today,” Byran said, glancing over at her.
Arinna waited for the inappropriate remark to follow. When Byran said nothing else, she glanced at him. He was focused on the road ahead. Which was good. They were cruising at nearly a hundred.
Beyond Byran lay rolling hills flashing by at a pace that should have felt far too quick. It definitely shouldn’t make her grin. Sunlight warmed her face, falling through the open top of Byran’s convertible. The world raced by, wind streaming around the car. But she and Byran were insulated from it, bathing in sunlight and music. It was so easy to forget herself.
“I figured if you were going to drag me to every politician, duke, and prince for tea, I’d better do some shopping.”
“You should get a dress, something lightweight for the summer.”
Ah, there was the comment. At least the thought. “Byran, I will never wear so much as a skirt around you.”
She didn’t even need to open her eyes to see the wolf’s grin on his face.
“So do you want to know where I’m taking you?”
Byran darted a glance toward her. The car veered into the other lane.
“For God’s sake, Byran! If you’re going to drive this fast, please keep us on the road,” Arinna swore, pushing herself out of her relaxed pose.
The car oscillated once more before stabilizing in its hurtling orbit. A mile went by before Byran broke the silence.
“You are getting used to our game then?”
Arinna rolled her eyes at his lack apology. “By game, if you mean ‘work related outing’, then it’s easier to find out where we’re going when we get there than trying to get it out of you beforehand.”
“I could be just taking you for a drive down the coast.”
“In which case, this will be our last work related outing.”
“Ah see, I think you are starting to enjoy this. No,” Byran interrupted as Arinna began to respond. “I know the truth. It is good to see you are having fun. I won’t tell. You said it is against the law.”
Arinna’s exasperated sigh held a hint of laughter. She knew it. Byran did too. He sang to the music as he floored the gas pedal.
When they pulled up at a gated compound half an hour later, Arinna realized this visit was different from the last five. She sat up, smoothing her blouse as she looked down the long drive.
“Where are we?”
Byran didn’t stop at the gatehouse, but rolled through at a steady pace. The gate swung open a breath ahead of the car.
“Ambassador Eldridge’s compound.”
“The ambassador for the UK? You hang out with Ambassador Eldridge enough the guards don’t stop you at the gate?”
“I’m friends with his son,” Byran said with a grin.
“Of course you are,” Arinna deadpanned. She frowned as a thought stirred. “He lives less than an hour from Madrid. We’ve been driving for over three.”
“I took the long way. Scenic route as you say?”
She nearly hit him, but a worse realization occurred to her. “Please, Byran, don’t tell me we showed up at an ambassador’s house unannounced because you are friends with his son!”
“Okay, I will not tell you,” he said, tossing her a wink as he opened his door.
She considered not getting out of the car. But Byran walked to her side, opening the door like she was royalty… or a prisoner. She felt like the latter. Byran waited for the space of a breath before he leaned closer, moving to see her face since Arinna sat staring straight ahead.
“Byran, so help me if you get me fired,” she hissed, forcing strength into her voice to offset the liquid fear in her.
“We are expected! I want you to meet my best friend. You know I would not do anything to get you sent back to that country. I don’t want you gone as much as you look like you don’t want to go back. Trust me.”
“I haven’t known you even five months, Byran. How would I know if you’d dragged me somewhere with no plan?” Arinna said, brushing moisture from her cheek before swinging her feet out of the car. “And what have you done to earn my trust?” she asked as she stood.
They stared at each other a moment. Byran finally glanced away. He placed a hand on her shoulder to guide her up the steps.
“I will be a better friend, I promise,” he said to her quietly.
The time it took to be shown into the study was enough for Arinna to shake off her fears. They were there now. She had to make the most of it. When the door opened, she was ready. But even Byran appeared surprised by who walked in.
“Good afternoon, Byran, and Ms. Prescot was it?” Ambassador Eldridge asked, giving her hand a squeeze. He stood a fraction taller than Byran, granting him a younger and more vigorous appearance than his light grey hair suggested. “Derrick was called home. His Uncle is ill, my late wife’s brother,” he said to Arinna. “He told me you were coming and I said I would entertain you both, no need to call and cancel. Very noble of you, Byran, introducing Ms. Prescot to other embassy staff. Please come. There is tea in the back parlor. It gets lovely sun this time of year. Oh, and Charles Lewin will be joining us. I hope you don’t mind.”
“Thank you, Ambassador Eldridge,” Arinna answered. “It is a pleasure to meet you and very gracious of you to take the time.” Eldridge waved the gratitude away as he escorted them through the house.
“Who is Charles Lewin?” Byran whispered in her ear.
“Minister Lewin. He is on the UK Defense Council, liaison with NATO.” Byran shook his head. “For working as PR staff at the Spanish embassy, you really aren’t into politics are you?” Arinna asked with a laugh.
“And you are,” Byran responded as they turned into a sunlit room.
“I am a political officer for the embassy,” she pointed out.
Introductions were made. Lewin offered a firm handshake, his neat suit not hiding broad shoulders or efficient movements, which hinted at Lewin’s military training. Arinna kept her guard but felt relaxed around the tall, black man whose eyes remained polite while he evaluated her and Byran.
The conversation remained low key for almost an hour. Tea, sandwiches, and comments on the coming spring, the new road along the Costa del Sol, and the flooding in the UK; Arinna waited, sensing an undercurrent. It was not her place to steer the conversation.
“You were active in the military, were you not, Ms. Prescot?” Minister Lewin asked. Arinna released her tension on an outward breath. Now, they would talk.
“Yes. Four years,” she answered, pleasantly.
“I didn’t know that,” Byran said.
“You never asked.”
“Was that before or after hurricane Dexter and the riots on the east coast?” Eldridge asked.
“After. Dexter happened my first year of West Point.”
“Tactical training, wasn’t it?” Lewin asked over the rim of his cup, eyes holding no doubt as to the answer.
“Yes. Military tactics and strategy.”
“So what do you think of the USA’s response,” Eldridge asked fluidly, as if it were the natural flow of conversation… or very well rehearsed.
“In regards to?”
Lewin offered polite laughter. “The riots after Dexter, the personal weapons quota, the roundup of excess weapons in depots?” Lewin asked, waving a hand to encompass all the policies enacted since 2048 and the response after Dexter.
“The laws were, of course, unfortunately necessary,” Arinna answered by rote. “The riots were… terrible. Dexter destroyed New York, but it also badly damaged Boston. After the riots, the city was unlivable.”
“Yes, but military rule of the government? That doesn’t seem extreme to you?” Lewin asked, leaning forward.
“Extreme,” Arinna paused on the word. “The military rule started the year after I graduated from West Point. I was already active duty by then. It felt like… a blessing. We finally were able to restore order and dissipate the chaos.” Byran shifted uncomfortably.
“It isn’t a popular sentiment in Europe. Things have been bad here, for certain. But you retain a large portion of your agriculture and manufacturing. You’ve lost cities to the flooding and people to HALO. I don’t know what it felt like to you the last decade, but I can tell you that I have only vague memories of a life that didn’t involve fighting. HALO hit when I was twelve. Lempert took out Miami and the Everglades when I was fifteen. There has been little but fighting for supplies and clean water for years. Most states were under martial law before the government transitioned to military control. At least under the new military government, there is no fighting in the street anymore. Sections of cities have rebuilt.”
“So you have no problem with the loss of democracy and the suspension of voting?” Lewin asked.
“Of course. But it is temporary. The change in the US government has made the EU uncomfortable. You cannot imagine the chaos we were dealing with back home. We’ve had to reorganize states, abandoned others as unsustainable due to the storms, pollution, and cost of repairing infrastructure. The choices are difficult and politically unpopular. But they had to be made. Once things settle, the government will revert. For now, the military does the best it can to select acceptable leaders.”
“Yes, the military. And here you are with a qualified background and at a strategic post making connections,” Eldridge mused. “You do not aspire to a leadership position, do you, Ms. Prescot?”
“To rise higher than Warrant Officer? Certainly. I want to help guide the country. But I would think by the time I returned and was promoted, we will have returned to a democracy. I will help as a peacekeeper, not a politician,” she answered. Eldridge broke eye contact, glancing away thoughtfully.
“You support all of your government’s, excuse me, military’s policies then?” Lewin asked flatly.
“No,” Arinna said with amusement. She sat back in her chair. “I think the weapons depots are a mistake. They make too tempting a target for those who are unhappy with the current state of things.”
“Yes, but obviously they are protected,” Lewin responded.
“Yes. But people can be bribed, soldiers can be lax. There are too many, spread too far apart to be strategically and efficiently monitored. Though I cannot say how many or where, of course.”
“I’m with NATO. I know how many weapons bunkers there are,” Lewin said.
“You know how many they told you there are,” Arinna answered. Lewin put his tea cup down.
Eldridge snorted. “Did you really think the USA liaisons with NATO disclosed everything?” he asked Lewin. To Arinna he said, “My son served with the British Army. It is a shame you could not meet him today.”
“Yes, it is,” Byran said with a yawn.
“My apologies, Baron Vasquez. I did not mean for the talk to trend toward military topics. But what do you expect with three, at least, interested in defense in the room?”
Byran’s easy smile took on a cold cast. But his response was interrupted by a knock on the door. Eldridge rose to speak his servant. The humor fell from his face, glance darting to Lewin.
“You should return to your embassy, Ms. Prescot. I think you will be needed there,” Eldridge said, returning but not sitting down.
“Why? What has happened,” Arinna asked, rising to her feet along with Byran.
“We’ve just had news of an attack, a large one, in the USA.”
“New Chicago. A group has claimed responsibility. The call themselves the FLF, Freedom Liberation Front. Have you heard of them?” Eldridge asked, waving for Lewin to stay behind as he escorted Byran and Arinna out of the room.
“No. There are several groups that formed in response to the martial law. But I don’t recognize that name.”
Eldridge paused, holding her gaze. “You should.” The moment passed as he turned, indicating a waiting maid. “Clara will see you out. Have a safe drive back,” he said as he left them.
“I didn’t know any of that about you,” Byran said as he drove them back to Madrid. Thoughts circling on the conversation with Eldridge, Arinna had forgotten about his presence.
“Well, you are usually too busy showing off to ask about my childhood,” she responded, blushing at the words as soon as they were spoken. “Byran, I…”
“No. It is true,” he said, surprising her with his unruffled ownership of a fault. Michael would have stormed off. The comparison sent a jolt of confusion through her. She looked away, hoping it didn’t show on her face. “You, though, you seem more than a political officer,” he added, voice serious but without accusation.
“What would you think a political officer for a country under a military government and stationed at a foreign office would be like?” she asked, careful her voice betrayed no nervousness. “I kept my rank. I am military.”
“Well, I wouldn’t think they’d be so cute.”
Arinna rolled her eyes, not fighting a smile.
Read part 4 here.