tagSci-Fi & FantasyOnce A Wolf Ch. 06

Once A Wolf Ch. 06

byAngelCherysse©

The Fourth Morning

When Giselle awoke, she found Geoff lying next to her with his head propped up on his hand, admiring her. She smiled and mirrored his pose.

“Good morning, Tiger. If you are going to stare a hole through me, you could at least let me know so I could make myself a little more presentable.”

“I can’t imagine you any more presentable than you are at this moment,” he rejoined. “I feel much better this morning, thanks to you. Really. I just felt like I needed to get up and do something, so I decided to explore a bit.”

“You are supposed to be resting. So, you were exploring… what, the ‘cavern’ between my boobs?”

“Sorry,” he replied, not sounding the least bit like he was. “I got sidetracked. I snooped around one of the passages we hadn’t looked into yet and found something really bizarre.”

“You found something ‘really bizarre’ in this place?” she asked bemusedly.

He laughed.

“See for yourself!”

Giselle accepted Geoff’s hand up and followed him through the previously unexplored passageway. The boulder almost completely filled the chamber in which it stood. They could see over its top – barely. There was enough space to comfortably move single-file between the boulder and the chamber’s rock wall. Neither Geoff nor Giselle had a clue how such a massive piece of rock had come to rest in so small a chamber, although both suspected it was not a natural occurrence.

They made their way around its perimeter, Geoff in the lead. Suddenly, Giselle reached out and grabbed the back of his tunic, restraining him from taking another step.

“Careful,” she cautioned. “You almost stepped on it.”

Geoff followed the direction of her gaze and saw… the hilt of a sword.

The sword lay at right angles to their path; he would have stepped on it with his next footfall. The hilt was elongated, designed for a two-handed grip, like a Claymore or Giselle’s shinobikatana. The handguard was a straight, somewhat-oval-shaped bar. There were rounded tips at either end, matching the pommel. It was difficult to determine how long the double-edged blade was, for only a few inches of blade above the handguard were visible. The rest extended under the great stone that occupied most of the room.

“They are messing with us,” was Geoffrey’s muttered curse.

Giselle stifled a grin at his use of the American idiom.

“Then we should mess with them right back,” she replied. “This is your weapon. The Arcturans want to see if you are cunning enough to secure it. I am thinking this is a warrior’s ‘graduation exercise’ in their society.”

After several fruitless pushes, he got nowhere in moving the huge piece of rock. His level of frustration was evident.

“I see what you mean about people ‘jerking your chain.’ What do I do now?” he expounded angrily.

“A King would know what to do,” was her reply.

He caught himself before he snapped off something he knew they would both regret later. Instead, he thought back to what she had said before about what kings do.

“Very well, Minister,” he retorted with as much good cheer as he could muster. “What would you recommend?”

“Don’t raise the bridge; lower the river. Dig,” she replied cheerily.

Dig?” he inquired.

“That’s right. Dig. Dirt floor.

Even in the semi-light, his embarrassment was obvious.

“I am so stupid….

He used the belt knife to carefully dig a furrow under and around the blade, doing his utmost to avoid contact with the edge. Once he was through the top crust, the soft soil beneath displaced easily in his bare hands. After a while, he had all but a few inches at the tip exposed. He was at an impasse; he could not reach far enough in to unearth those last few inches.

“I’m not sure what to do now,” he called out. “I’ve dug as far in as I can reach. Perhaps if I can just move the stone an inch or two, I might….”

With a grinding crunch, the stone above him slammed into the opposite wall. The sword sprang free in his hand. Sensing an imminent rebound, Geoff quickly rolled away in the opposite direction – just as the stone rolled back into its original position. He peered up into Giselle’s innocently-smiling face. She shrugged her shoulders just a little.

“The bottom of the boulder must be irregularly shaped, forming a natural fulcrum. Your digging probably unbalanced it just enough to allow me to roll it. It wasn’t all that. I’m hungry. Let’s go up front and have some lunch. Then, we can take a closer look at what you have.”

Giselle exited the chamber and headed for the front of the cave. Geoff rested the sword on the chamber floor against the wall, then gave a few exploratory heaves against the stone. Nothing; not even a twitch. He decided it really had been “all that” after all. He picked up his prize and hurried after his retreating companion. Who was this complex, mysterious woman? What was she?

*****

Geoff worked while he ate, polishing the weapon with one of the hand towels his companion had requisitioned from the Arcturans. They and a goodly stack of MREs were part of the booty she had received for some unexplained previous action. He suspected it had something to do with the terrible row he had heard outside the cave entrance the night before. Early that morning, before he had begun his exploration of the cave, he had stepped outside to see what there was to see. Of course, there had been nothing. He hadn’t expected there to be. By then, he was familiar with the Arcturans and their “challenges”. While he polished, Giselle typed at her computer keyboard.

The challenges may have been the stuff of fantasy but the sword was something real. It was about six inches longer than Giselle’s overall. It had more heft to it, yet was well balanced for both striking and thrusting. It felt natural in his hands. Beneath the caked-on dirt, the metal was brightly polished. As he had suspected, it had an edge as well. A casual brush of blade against fabric had accidentally sliced his fatigues without his even realizing it. Despite being pinned beneath the massive stone, it appeared to be none the worse for wear.

It finally hit him while he was cleaning the blade. The Sword in the Stone!

“The Sword… under the Stone?”

He mulled those words carefully in his mind after uttering them aloud. Giselle giggled at him.

“I was wondering how long it would take you to catch on,” she responded. “I heard that version on The History Channel. Arthur rallied his knights to roll the stone away, allowing him to recover Excalibur. That is the mark of a true King, just as I said before; not some macho feat of personal strength. Personally, I think that version has much more credence than the original. I guess the Arcturans watch our television as well as movies.”

He looked at her sheepishly.

“But in the end, I used a ‘macho feat of strength’, as you put it, to free the sword. It wasn’t even my own.”

Giselle smiled bemusedly, cupped his chin in her hand and kissed him lightly on the lips.

“No, you did not,” she replied. “You used your intellect. You surveyed the resources available to you and used them to your best advantage, as a true King would. Arthur himself could not have done it better.”

“I had help,” Geoff confessed.

“So did Arthur. He had the counsel of Merlin, plus Guinevere, Lancelot, and all the Knights of the Round Table. In the manner of all great Kings, he added their special gifts to his own, just as you did today. In fact, I believe you are the legend come to life. I think every girl, at one time or another, fantasizes about having a legendary love affair. I’ll bet every one of them would be jealous of me right now.”

Geoffrey smiled.

“Is that your professional opinion?” he asked.

The Platinum-haired Amazon smiled coyly.

“Remember, you heard it here first,” she cooed. “Fuck ‘professional’.”

“For an American, you are exceptionally well-versed in what makes Kings great,” he opined. “I believe that to be just one of your special gifts.”

She smiled and shook her head from side to side.

“I have but one special gift,” she replied softly, “and I have the pleasure of addressing him right now.”

“Do you really believe this is…”

Excalibur?” Giselle interjected. She shrugged her shoulders a little. “For want of a better name, why not? This is a fitting sword of Kings, recovered by a King in a manner befitting its legend. As to whether it lives up to its reputation, that will be determined by the one who wields it.”

“I am not a King yet. It will be a long time before I sit on a throne.”

“You are a king to me,” she purred. “You are the eight-hundred-pound gorilla. You may sit wherever you wish.”

Geoff stood up, walked over to where she sat, and peered down at what she was typing. Giselle looked a bit embarrassed. She was just about to say something when she was interrupted.

“Hey Boss, who’s the bimbo with the Arkansas Toothpick?”

Geoff looked quickly from side to side, attempting to spot whom had spoken.

Cold as ice, Joy Boy. Try under your nose.”

“Sadie,stop that,” Giselle spoke quietly, “You’re embarrassing me.”

Geoff lowered his gaze to… Giselle’s computer?

“There you go, Slick. It looks like you’ve got half a brain after all. How about it, Boyfriend? Double or nothing?”

“Oh, this is exactly what I need,” Geoff declared, a note of irritation in his voice. “I am being insulted by a Game Boy with delusions of grandeur!”

“Ooooo, sorry Sparky; you lost the bet. Here’s Don Pardo to describe your consolation prize.”

“Isn’t there a round of Donkey Kong that demands your immediate attention?”

“STOP IT! BOTH OF YOU!” Giselle shouted. “I didn’t come all this way to referee a cat fight! Sadie, calculate, to the nearest decimal, the value of Pi. EXECUTE!”

The seething Blonde placed the suddenly-silent notebook on the floor next to her and stood. She snatched the sword from Geoff’s hand, lay it down against the wall, then grabbed him by the wrist.

“YOU. Come with me.

She marched determinedly into a rear chamber, Geoff in tow. Upon reaching her destination, she turned around and threw the startled prince up against the wall.

“What the Bloody Hell was that all ab…”

That was as far as the angry young man got. The rest of his outburst was smothered by Giselle’s searing kiss. She pressed her body tightly against his. After a few moments of struggle, his righteous indignation gave way to passion and he kissed her back.

Finally, Giselle released her lips from his. Understandably, Geoff was much more subdued than he had been moments before. The blonde beauty leaned her back against the wall, slid down to a sitting position, dragging Geoff with her. She held his hand in hers and just gazed into his eyes.

“I apologize for that,” she began. “That was really, really rude of her.”

Her?

Giselle nodded.

“That is Sadie,” the blonde Amazon continued. “She has been with me for a while now.”

“Excuse me?” Geoff replied incredulously. “She is ‘with you’? I am not understanding this.”

The young woman stared at the ceiling.

Understand I have been alone for a very long time,” Giselle explained. “Everyone needs companionship, someone to talk to. Some people get a cat. Others get a bird. I have Sadie.”

“She is your pet?”

“No! She is my companion,” Giselle replied. “I wanted something – someone - to keep me company without the high-maintenance hassles regular pets require. So, I have Sadie.”

“She sounds real,” Geoff observed.

“For all intents and purposes, she is,” the blonde beauty affirmed. Sadie is an AI – Artificial Intelligence – program. She learns. She reasons. She reacts.”

“She’s a bitch,” Geoff added. “Where did you acquire a program like that?”

“I didn’t acquire her,” Giselle explained. “I wrote her. She’s a bitch because I modeled her after me. I can be bitchy sometimes, too.”

“I believe the correct response here is: ‘No Shit’,” Geoff observed. “Why did she go off on me that way? How did she even know I was standing there?”

“Geoff, my laptop has all the goodies; three-point-two gigahertz processor, one hundred twenty gigabyte hard drive, one gigabyte of Double Data Rate memory, integrated video camera and microphone, Wi-Fi network connectivity, the works. Sadie ‘saw’ you. As to why she ‘went off ‘ on you, well… as I said, we have been together for a while now, and she’s a little… possessive of me.”

Geoff just looked at her dumbly.

“Do I understand you correctly? Am I competing with a lesbian laptop for your affections?”

NO, Dammit,” Giselle exclaimed in frustration. “There is no competition. I am not some damn trophy. You win, hands down. I live in the real world, not virtual reality. Sadie is good company when I need it, but she…is…not…you. She could never hold me when I need to be held, watch over me while I sleep, convince me things will be all right when they aren’t, then make it so. You can, and do. That is why we are here, together, at this moment, while she is up front, locked in a transcendental calculation. It would be easy for me to say: ‘she was with me before you entered my life and she will be with me long after you have gone’, but that is not how I feel.”

With that, she kissed him again, passionately.

That is how I feel. That is what I want. OK?”

“Can’t you just shut her down?” Geoff inquired.

“No, I can’t,” Giselle responded. “I can’t go into specifics right now. I can only tell you I need her. We need her. I need to ask you to trust me on this one. Will you do that for me?”

Geoff’s smile was a bit forced. At least, he tried.

“You know I will. It wouldn’t occur to me not to. Giselle?”

“Yes, Geoffrey?”

“When this is all over….”

“Yes?”

“May I just give you a puppy at Christmas?”

For that, she elbowed him in the ribs. Hard.

*****

The Arcturans had rewarded the pair for their ingenuity in recovering the sword. During lunch, a medical kit, largish black ballistic nylon pouch, and scabbard had appeared on the cave floor. The scabbard had a harness assembly which the Arcturans had obviously copied from Giselle’s. With the scabbard, Geoffrey was able to sling the sword across his back and draw over his shoulder, as his companion did. Her cautions on the process were redundant. He told her he was already full aware of the risks of an overeager draw so close to the neckline.

Giselle appeared no stranger to the nylon pouch and snatched it up. Geoff had inquired after it. She smiled and replied it was a little ‘bonus’ in the weapons department that might come in handy later. Then, she changed the subject.

Over a two-hour period, she stepped through more advanced combat swordsmanship techniques with him. She taught him the philosophy, breathing, and basic movements of the Iai fast-draw, combined with elements of the Battojutsu attacks that could defeat an enemy before he had a chance to react, as she had done to the ant. Again, she stressed he concentrate on form at that stage; speed would come later.

“Giselle, I was wondering. How long do you think it will be before the Arcturans advance us to more… modern weapons?”

She gazed into his eyes serenely.

“You mean like assault weapons, grenades and the like? They may get around to it eventually. If they do, we will use them because the Golganthans will also. I’m rather hoping we can wrap this up before they do.”

“Why?”

Giselle took her companion’s hand and sat down with him. She chose her words carefully.

“Geoffrey, Technology can be wonderful, but it is inherently unsafe. The more advanced and destructive the technology becomes, the more difficult it is to control. The process of dealing death becomes so easy, any idiot can do it – and will. The idiot can, with one lucky shot, undo an entire lifetime of training or, in a worst-case scenario, Civilization itself. So-called ‘fail-safes’ aren’t. Any system, even the most complex, can be cracked. I appreciate simple things. They are not necessarily ‘idiot-proof’, but at least they are ‘idiot-resistant’.”

“I have been meaning to ask about you and your ‘simple things’,” Geoff began. “You are amazingly good with a sword. Actually, ‘good’ doesn’t even come close to describing your skill. But soldiers have not depended on these kinds of edged weapons in centuries. You, on the other hand, handle yours as though you had been wielding it all your life. How can that be?”

His companion smiled.

“Geoffrey, my training went well beyond conventional weapons. It’s all about getting the job done with what is available. As it happens, my particular weapons training is a perfect fit for this combat. We talked before about being here, versus being at home. As much as I despise the Arcturans and having to jump through hoops for them, I am glad we are here, rather than someone else. I feel confident we can get the job done with the weapons at hand.”

“Thank you,” Geoff offered quietly.

Giselle looked at him askance.

“For what?” she asked.

“For validating a judgment I made this morning while I watched you sleep,” he replied. “From what I have seen in the past three days plus, I can’t think of anyone I would trust more to do this job than you.”

He leaned over and kissed her then. She broke the kiss, but was not in any hurry about it.

“That wasn’t very professional,” she murmured.

Sue me,” he challenged.

“You are picking up some of my bad habits,” she cooed – and kissed him back.

*****

Mike had had a champion, too. Giselle was not aware of it until she returned from Japan. Colonel Adam Sampson had gone to the mats with the Pentagon Brass, lobbying for a Medal of Honor for the young Ranger lieutenant. Such was not to be. The peace negotiations were on in Paris. Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho were deep in negotiations (Yeah, right; over the shape of the fucking conference table!). There was no way Washington would admit to running a covert op inside a country which, technically, it was not at war with.

The North Vietnamese would not admit to six men eluding their crack regiment for the better part of a week, rescuing four downed American airmen, stealing a boat, and escaping into the night (there was no one left to tell them one had stayed behind as a rear guard), destroying their major seaport in the process. In the end, both sides had done what they did best; saved face. They swept the entire affair under the rug and never spoke of it in public.

There were a couple of things the Pentagon could do and Colonel Sampson stayed in their faces until it got done. The 75th was reorganizing. All thirteen active companies were being pulled together under a new regimental banner – with an old, proud name. Company B would form the nucleus of the new Second Battalion, with major command headquarters at Fort Lewis, Washington. Since no body had ever been recovered (how could they?), the late lieutenant would be carried on the battalion’s rolls on special status. In addition, the lieutenant would be ‘kicked upstairs’ a couple of floors – or Creighton Abrams was gonna get a complete set of lumps. Oak leaves would be just about right for a genuine hero like that, Adam Sampson thought.

*****

They had come upon the dense stand of trees about an hour into their patrol. It was the topographic anomaly Giselle had noticed the previous night and thought best to check out. This wasn’t like the grove that had led up to their encounter with Leatherface. This was a forest, through which wound the path on which they tread, Geoff in the lead.

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