Chapter 40 of Connection Concealed: Afterglow

October 4th, 2061. Half Moon Research Base, San Francisco, Fireblue Territory, North American Province, 14.20 local time.

“Rick Woodward is due to be sentenced this afternoon. He was found guilty of treason, murder and conspiracy to overthrow the government, and faces multiple life sentences.

The end of his trial will no doubt be welcomed by President Lucas, who is eager to put the Woodward case behind her. The election next month is seen by many as her own final reckoning with the scandal and its fallout.

Lucas, who called for a new election after the scandal broke, had another campaign event today. The president answered questions from voters in a downtown diner, her team said in a statement.

Pollsters expect her to be reelected with a wide margin. Today’s sentencing might still…”

Louise switched off the radio. It was hard for her to focus when El’s name was being mentioned so often.

“I’m not getting anywhere, am I?” she thought, frowning at her terminal.

She tapped the screen and an overview of the network popped up. She tilted her head. There were no warnings displayed. None. But there really should be. She was doing something wrong.

A soft-spoken voice interrupted her thoughts. “Hard to focus with the news today?”

Louise looked up at her co-worker and smiled apologetically. “Sorry, yeah. Do you want to keep it on?” She pointed at the radio.

“No, it’s fine,” Dr. Yang said. “I prefer music anyway.”

The scientist frowned at her terminal. “I’m not making much progress either,” she muttered.

Louise stretched out her legs. “I’m pretty useless today it seems.” She wrinkled her nose.

Yang nodded, plucking something off of her sleeve. “It’s still hard for me too sometimes, you know.”

Louise glanced down at her hands. She wasn’t sure she wanted to have this conversation. “It is?” she finally asked, somewhat reluctantly.

The scientist crossed her arms. “Do you worry about your family?”

“Eh,” Louise stammered, taken by surprise. “No, not really.”

Yang stared back, the look on her face so puzzled Louise felt compelled to say more.

“We weren’t close anyway. I’m sure the government came up with an explanation for my death that stopped them from asking too many questions.”

“You haven’t checked what story they put out there?!” the scientist blurted.

Louise chuckled, amused by her co-worker’s shocked expression. “No, not yet. I think I don’t want to know for now. I wanna focus on adjusting to this place.”

Yang exhaled. “It’s like a whole different world out here, isn’t it?”

“It really is.” Louise shrugged. “El keeps laughing at me because I gape at pretty much everything.”

She quickly shut her mouth, remembering that, to Dr. Yang, El was President Lucas. Her cheeks started to glow.

Yang gave her a knowing smile. “I just realized it must be even weirder for you than it is for me.”

Louise lifted her shoulders. “It is a bit of a weird situation, yeah.”

“I’m sure it’ll get better after the election.”

“I hope so,” Louise replied earnestly.

She stared at her screen, thinking. Now that Woodward’s trial was finally over, things should get a little easier for them. The election next month was what she was really counting down to, though.

It hadn’t taken the press long to figure out that the hero who had jumped in front of the president, was her lover. A lover who was a Global Coalition soldier. A lover who’s presence here was part of a covert operation.

The public had been surprisingly forgiving about their relationship. The fact that El had announced it herself probably had helped a lot. Still, their story was too salacious to ignore and the press just couldn’t shut up about it.

Louise didn’t like being followed around by photographers. She wanted to stay out of the public eye and start her new life without everyone watching her every move. Luckily, her new job made it a lot easier to do just that.

She had been assigned a job in an underground lab outside the city. It was one of the most secluded Fireblue locations. Dr. Yang had been working here ever since she had fled from the Global Army to join the rebels.

Louise had been stunned to realize the woman on the stage at the power plant had been the infamous Dr. Yang. She still couldn’t believe the scientist was alive and well. The Global Coalition would surely come for her if they ever found out.

Louise’s task was to protect Dr. Yang and her work from being discovered. Her job was to shield the network the scientist and her team used to store valuable data. Today, Louise had been testing a new intruder alert system.

A sudden flurry of movement pulled her from her thoughts. Both she and Dr. Yang looked up to see who was walking through the hallway behind the glass wall. They didn’t get many visitors after all.

“Speak of the devil,” Dr. Yang whispered and pushed herself up.

Louise stayed seated. She took in El’s outfit and felt her heart-rate pick up. Ragged jeans, a tank top and a pair of sunglasses propped on her head. El must have stopped at the residence to change before coming here.

“Good afternoon, ladies,” El said smoothly, walking into the room.

“Madam President,” Dr. Yang replied. “I wasn’t expecting you.” Louise couldn’t tell if the scientist was nervous, or annoyed.

“It’s an unplanned visit, I guess” El stated, briefly glancing at Louise. She tucked her hands in her pockets.

Louise slowly got up and crossed her arms. “Something urgent, ma’am?” she asked in a professional tone.

El walked up to the 3D model of Dr. Yang’s latest design. “No, Thomas, nothing urgent.”

“That’s still in development, madam,” Yang said, hurrying after El.

“Hmmm,” El replied, studying the turbine. “I see.” She placed her hands on the table and bent over to take a closer look.

Louise bit her lower lip. She loved how these pants hugged El’s curves. Louise wished she could walk up behind El and run her hands over her hips.

El glanced over her shoulder, catching Louise stare at her. She arched her eyebrow. “Thomas, what are you working on?”

Louise cleared her throat. “The alert system, ma’am.”

“Sounds interesting,” El drawled as she straightened up. She fiddled with her hair while walking up to Louise’s desk. She pointed at something, but Dr. Yang stopped her.

“Get a room, you two,” the woman sighed. She shook her head and raised her hands.

Both El and Louise’s jaws dropped.

The scientist lifted her shoulders. “What? You think I don’t know what you two are doing? Get out of here so I can get some work done.”

El looked flushed, not used to being addressed this way. “Oh my God,” she mouthed at Louise, widening her eyes.

Louise sucked her lips into a thin line to keep herself from laughing. “Let’s go,” she said, nodding at the door. “I’m done for the day.”

 

Stucky raced off the moment he saw the bird in the distance. Louise chuckled at his enthusiastic barking. The seagull looked up, lazily spread its wings and flew away. Stucky still pounced on the spot where the bird had been.

“He’s not the smartest chip off the block, is he?” El commented.

Louise snorted. “He’s just happy because we’re at the beach.”

Stucky had started digging wildly. The low sun made the wet sand look like orange clay. The wind was playing with Louise’s hair, blowing it in all directions. She slipped her arm around El’s waist and pulled her closer.

Her body was still glowing from their late afternoon stop at the residence. After they had left the underground facility, El had driven Louise insane by running her hand up and down Louise’s inner thigh in the back of the car.

By the time they had reached the residence, Louise had been ready to push El onto a bed and rip those sexy jeans off of her. A few hours later, they had reluctantly showered and dressed, agreeing Stucky needed a long walk.

Now, they were strolling over a deserted beach. The car with the driver was waiting for them about a mile back. Two presidential guards trailed them discreetly, on the lookout for intruders.

Louise’s eyebrows shot up. “Oh shit, how was your campaign stop this morning?” she asked, feeling bad for not asking sooner.

El slipped her hand into Louise’s back pocket. “Good,” she said happily. “People were lined up around the block!”

“Not too many awkward questions?”

El shook her head. “No, not at all. Mostly about policies. Not much about Woodward or…”

“Or your scandalous lover?” Louise quipped to hide her discomfort.

El giggled. “One woman did mention that a presidential wedding would be nice.”

Louise gaped at El.

Stucky barked loudly, interrupting the moment. He was dragging something out of the sand.

“Yuck, what is that?” Louise wondered out loud, squinting at the green and slimy thing in Stucky’s mouth. He started shaking his head wildly.

El raised her hand above her eyes. “Oh no, is that a dead fish?”

“I hope not,” Louise stammered.

“Stucky! No!” El yelled.

He looked up with the slimy thing still clamped between his teeth.

“Oh man, he’s going to smell for days,” El sighed. “Stuuuuuck- y! Put. That. Down,” she called out and started jogging in his direction.

Louise tilted her head, suddenly wondering about something.

“Drop it, Stucky!” El told the dog and pointed at the sand.

Stucky’s tail wagged in acknowledgment, but he was still holding on to the green thing.

“Come on, give me a break, Stucky,” El pleaded.

Louise caught up with them. She gave the dog a stern look and pointed at the ground. He whined but obeyed. A dead fish wrapped in strings of slimy seaweed tumbled onto the sand.

“Of course, you listen to her,” El said, rolling her eyes at the dog.

“Hey, you already get to boss around everyone else,” Louise joked as she scratched behind Stucky’s ear.

“You better keep him out of the bedroom tonight,” El grumbled.

Louise had to admit the dog did smell pretty bad. “You stink,” she told Stucky.

She lost herself in his brown, trusting eyes and smiled. He grinned back at her, but then spotted another bird and bolted again.

Louise and El laughed. Their fingers entwined almost automatically as they started strolling again.

“Hey, I was just wondering, why is his name Stucky?” Louise asked.

El didn’t reply at first. The orange sunlight made the freckles on her nose almost invisible. Louise was tempted to kiss the spots she always found so endearing.

“My aunt was a hacker before the Republic was founded,” El finally said, frowning.

Louise nodded, quietly encouraging El to keep going. Monique Biden was still a topic El avoided more often than not.

“She named him after Stuxnet,” El continued. “The first…”

“Cyberweapon,” Louise said, completing El’s sentence.

El glanced up at her. “Yeah.”

Louise chuckled. “I should have guessed that.”

“You should have, actually,” El murmured, squeezing Louise’s hand. “I bet it’s a name you could have picked!”

“True” Louise admitted.

“Stucky…or maybe…’Spidey’?” El teased, bumping her hip softly into Louise’s.

Louise slid her hand under El’s shirt. “No teasing me with Spider-Man again.”

El giggled. “Sorry, it’s just so…”

Louise started tickling the soft skin of El’s lower back.

“Nooooo,” El gasped, “No tickling!”

She attempted to slip out from under Louise’s arm but stumbled. Louise tried to keep her upright but instead fell on top of her while trying. She laughed so hard she had trouble breathing.

“I’ve got sand everywhere,” El complained between gasps for air.

Louise pushed herself up on her elbows, giving El some room. El turned onto her back, resting her head onto the sand, her curls tousled. Louise studied the most beautiful face she had ever seen.

El stopped giggling and blinked. Her cheeks looked flushed.

“I love you so much,” Louise whispered.

El wrapped her arms around Louise’s neck and gently pulled her down. “I love you more.”

The End (For Now).

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