JUNE 12th, 2061. San Francisco, Fireblue territory, North American Province, 05.40 local time.
Louise hurried downstairs and made her way to the lobby of the presidential residence. She looked around but didn’t see Stucky anywhere. She did find Hobbs arguing with Eleanor and Woodward when she stepped into the lobby, though.
“Be reasonable. The roads should be clear by noon,” Woodward said, sounding exasperated.
“Says who?” Hobbs asked.
Eleanor answered, raising her hands in the air. “Our weather system!”
“Yeah, I don’t trust your system,” Hobbs said.
Louise stopped by his side. “Good morning.”
Eleanor’s eyes immediately focused on her. “Be sensible,” she pleaded. “We can leave once the storm has passed. You’ll still have most of the day.”
Louise shook her head. “We can’t afford to wait,” she said firmly.
Eleanor turned abruptly and walked over to the corner of the hallway. She touched the wall and a screen lit up. Louise and Hobbs exchanged a look. They hadn’t seen this before.
It was the first time Louise saw Eleanor use a terminal, she realized. She walked over out of curiosity. Hobbs followed. The technology seemed state of the art. But why on earth was it built into the wall? Why not have a portable terminal?
“This is the projected path of the storm,” Eleanor said and pointed at an animation on the screen.
The storm wasn’t big, but did look like it might cause some flooding. Louise hoped she could still find a way to ask about Stucky.
“I’m not going to have this discussion again. We’re leaving. Now,” Hobbs said.
Eleanor sighed in frustration. “We don’t have a weather radar in the car. We’ll be sitting ducks if the storm changes course!”
“We can use our devices,” Louise suggested.
Eleanor shook her head. “You won’t have a signal.”
“You don’t know that,” Hobbs replied.
“Yes, we do. We jammed your signals,” Woodward reminded them.
Hobbs spun around. “Then unjam them!” he said.
“It’s not that simple,” Eleanor said as she walked over to Woodward.
“What? Did the off button get stuck?” Hobbs replied sarcastically.
Louise thought she heard the sound of nails on the marble floor in the distance. She perked up and looked at the door just in time to see Stucky race into the lobby. He had a cute, pink elephant toy in his mouth.
“What the fuck,” Hobbs said, taking two steps back. If Louise didn’t know any better, she would think he was scared.
Hobbs’s response caught Stucky’s attention too, of course, and he scrambled to turn in Hobbs’s direction with even more enthusiasm.
“Stucky! No!” Eleanor said firmly.
But Stucky didn’t listen. Louise watched it all happen in slow motion. She didn’t do anything to try to stop it because she simply couldn’t believe what she was seeing.
Stucky clumsily ran up to Hobbs, his paws slipping on the smooth floor tiles. He somehow managed to jump up and put his paws squarely on Hobbs’s chest.
Hobbs cursed, frantically trying to push Stucky away. He had been caught by surprise, though, and when he took another step back, he lost his footing. The next moment, Hobbs hit the floor hard, landing on his side.
He immediately grabbed his ribs. “Fuck!”
Eleanor pulled Stucky away from Hobbs, desperately urging the dog to calm down. “Stucky, come on, stop it. Sit!”
But Stucky was stronger than she was. He broke free and scrambled back towards Hobbs, his tongue lolling out of his mouth and his tail wagging.
Hobbs hissed between ragged breaths. “Get that dog away from me!!”
Stucky wasn’t after Hobbs this time, though. The dog grabbed the pink elephant he had dropped. Then, he raced out of the hallway and back to wherever he had come from.
Eleanor ran her hands through her hair. “Shit,” she said, walking over to Hobbs. “I’m so sorry. He’s not used to being locked up inside.”
Louise suppressed a smile. Stucky’s youthful energy had cheered her up. She wished she could go outside and play with him. She reluctantly pushed the thought away and focused on the situation at hand.
Hobbs was still lying on the floor, breathing heavily. His face was pale and beads of sweat were already shimmering on his forehead. He was still holding his side. She quickly walked over and knelt down. “What’s wrong?”
Eleanor too squatted down, causing Hobbs to glare at her while he blew out a ragged breath. “Pain in my left side,” he said, his voice sounding genuinely strained.
“Can you try to breathe calmly?” Louise asked, trying to assess the situation.
He scowled, then flinched.
“We need to get him up and in a sitting position,” Eleanor said.
Hobbs groaned and shook his head. “No,” he managed to say.
Louise turned to Eleanor. “Do you have any technology to scan his injuries?”
“Yes, there’s always a team on call here.”
More pained protest from Hobbs followed. Louise gave him a stern look. “I know. Not ideal. But you need help.”
Woodward walked back into the room at that moment. Louise hadn’t even noticed he had left. Behind him, a man and a woman in a white uniform rushed into the hallway. They had brought a scoop stretcher.
“Here they are,” Eleanor said and got up. Louise gave Hobbs a reassuring nod. “Just let them take a look, okay?”
His eyes were closed now, but he nodded.
Louise made some room for the paramedics to do their job. She watched as they scanned Hobbs with a portable machine that looked very similar to what the teams back home used.
“Lungs intact too,” she heard the woman say to her co-worker. The other medic nodded. “Let’s load him up.”
Hobbs let himself be manoeuvered onto the stretcher. He had stopped protesting entirely, which surprised Louise. “He must be in a lot of pain,” she thought.
“We need to do another scan, but probably a rib injury,” the female paramedic said.
They picked up Hobbs and made their way to the door with surprising ease. Louise was a little unsure if she should stay with Hobbs and follow them.
“Give them an hour,” Eleanor said, touching Louise’s elbow.
“The rain will be here by then,” Woodward commented.
“How about we reassess things in my office,” Eleanor suggested.
Louise blew out a breath. “Okay.”
“Rick, can you find Stucky and make sure he doesn’t attack anyone else?” Eleanor asked.
“Sure,” he said with just a hint of a grin.
“Okay, this way,” Eleanor told Louise, gesturing towards a door on the right.
Louise met her gaze. The butterflies that had been dormant this morning now stirred.
When Eleanor closed the door behind them, the first thing Louise noticed were the many books. Three of the four walls had floor to ceiling bookcases with what must be thousands of colorful spines on display.
There were picture frames positioned among the books and on top of the wooden desk in the middle of the room. A large window with a view of the garden let in quite a bit of light. An old, leather sofa and a reading lamp were the only other pieces of furniture in the room.
Eleanor giggled. Louise didn’t understand why until she noticed her mouth had fallen open. “I’ve never seen this many paper books,” she stammered.
“They’re collector items, even here,” Eleanor said.
“Really?” Louise asked.
Eleanor nodded. “We still create paper for notebooks, but the quality is not good enough for printing books.”
Louise walked over to one of the bookcases and ran her fingers over the spines. “Everything is so different here,” she said, basically thinking out loud.
“Yes, it is,” Eleanor agreed.
Louise bit her lip, then turned around. “But your technology isn’t that different,” she said and crossed her arms in an attempt to regain her composure.
She had been caught off guard again and had forgotten she was supposed to be suspicious of anything this woman did or said. Eleanor frowned slightly but didn’t reply.
“Why do you have a terminal built into the wall? And why do your medics have the same scanners as we do?” Louise asked.
Eleanor walked over to the couch and sat down. She replied while crossing her legs. “We don’t have anything against technology, we just choose to use it differently.”
Louise’s eyes dropped to Eleanor’s bare ankles. Eleanor was wearing dark sneakers and casual slacks. On top of them, she wore a navy blue blouse. Louise also noticed a thin golden necklace with a hummingbird pendant around her neck.
Eleanor didn’t look anything like the men and women on the Global Council did, Louise thought. Her world’s leaders always wore the same dark grey suits with Global Coalition shoulder patches.
Louise liked the way Eleanor dressed a lot more. Or maybe she just liked Eleanor Lucas. She knew she wasn’t supposed to be thinking any of this, but being alone with Eleanor always seemed to lower her defenses.
She forced herself to stop staring. “What do you mean by using technology differently?” she asked.
Eleanor leaned back, her arm resting casually on the back of the sofa. “We don’t let technology get in the way of our lives.”
Louise frowned, skeptical. “No, you basically live in the past,” she blurted out.
Eleanor pursed her lips. “Do we?”
Louise gestured towards the books. “Yeah! I mean, look at your office!”
Eleanor made a show of studying the room, then just smiled.
“You don’t even have a terminal here!” Louise added, getting frustrated.
Eleanor tilted her head, still smiling.
“I bet people get killed because they don’t have access to the technology they need! Like today, with the storm!” Louise snapped.
Eleanor’s eyes widened a little bit, but more in an amused than in a hurt way. It infuriated Louise. She threw her hands up in the air. “How can you care so little about your people?” she said, desperate for a real response from Eleanor.
Eleanor stayed perfectly calm, though. “Everyone is safe. If you want, I can show you how things work around here.”
Louise bristled. “I’m not a fucking tourist!”
Eleanor got up in one swift move now, taking two steps towards Louise. She stopped just in time to stay out of Louise’s personal space. Louise could still see every small freckle on her nose, though.
“No, you’re not. But what are you, Louise? Or who are you?” Eleanor asked, her eyes filled with fire.
Louise stumbled back, feeling trapped. “What a stupid question,” she thought. And yet, she couldn’t answer it. Where there used to be automatic replies and absolute certainty, there were now only question marks. Panic flared in her chest.
She tried to change the topic. “We should be finding a way to get to the third inspection site,” she croaked.
Eleanor took another step towards her. She was just inches from Louise now. “Why were you ignoring me yesterday?” she asked quietly, her gaze intense.
Louise’s nostrils flared. “Get away from me,” she hissed.
Eleanor shook her head slowly, standing her ground. “Why, Louise?”
Louise straightened up and towered over Eleanor in an attempt to regain control. It had the opposite effect, though. She was now even closer to El and she could feel her whole body buzz with hot excitement.
“You’re lying,” she said, hating how weak her voice sounded.
Eleanor narrowed her eyes, leaning in. “About what?” Her fingers brushed against Louise’s upper thigh, sending shock waves through Louise’s body. Her breath caught. Every inch of her skin was tingling. Her lower abdomen tightened.
“About what, Louise,” El repeated, almost in a whisper.
“Everything. I know you’re hiding things,” Louise replied with difficulty, desperately trying to ignore the full lips just inches away from hers. All she had to do was lower her head and…
A loud knock on the door made Eleanor step back abruptly. Her chest was moving up and down faster than usual. The muscles in her neck shifted as she swallowed. She ran a hand through her hear, clearly debating what to do.
Louise hoped she wouldn’t answer the door. She didn’t want the moment to end. She wanted to know what Eleanor had to say. She desperately needed to hear her deny everything.
But Eleanor took in a deep breath and turned to open the door instead. “Rick, honey,” she said, her voice shaky.