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Homecoming


Part 2 of 3

by
Nathan Barton

Hope yet dwells (Schoolhouse and Moskee)

Kathleen woke up to find herself indoors, underground, in a strange and uncomfortably soft bed. She was wearing only a shift, and a dim light illuminated the chamber. But her hand was under the pillow, and the pistol there was a comforting presence.

She vaguely remembered cleaning the kitchen and the bedroom, unable to eat what long-term stable foods she had left in the house, or the two ration packs she had brought with her. Like an automaton, she had swept and folded and dusted and used precious fuel to vacuum and pump water.

In between she had read letters, messages spread out over the months from Fran; she'd felt closer to him than she'd been able to for years. He'd even sent a few pictures, and she carefully saved these to her combicorder cubes to add to other precious memories.

Convinced now that he was dead, she found herself unable to reread that last letter until just before finally cleaning herself up and throwing herself into bed. Exhausted, she had slept without dreams. Now, however, the memories flooded in. She stumbled out of bed and to her bathroom, washing her face and hands, then pulling off the night shift and stepping into the shower cabinet. She emerged feeling better physically, at least. The robe she had unpacked last night was scandalously short: had she really grown that much since her fifteenth birthday? Still, she wasn't used to parading around nude, either. You lost habits like that quickly in the service, where there was absolutely no privacy.

She went into the kitchen but looking at the ration packs she felt her stomach again turn at the thought. Instead, she sat down at the computer and began to make a list of things to do and get while she steeled herself to reread Fran's last letter to her.

The first half-dozen blocks were like his past letters, talking about various activities and the progress of various projects he was working on. He alluded to the rapid approach of enemy troops from the Northwest, but that was it. Then he suddenly changed tack, as if he had paused writing for several hours or even several days.

"The Community Defense Committee is preparing for the attack, which we expect to come within the next twenty-four hours. Mech Infantry Company T, what's left of it, has been placed in charge of this sector. They are coordinating the defense with both us and the bits and pieces of units escaping from the debacle in Government Valley and Sundance. Since there are a fair number of us invalided-out types with a lot of combat experience and knowledge of the area, the lieutenant is pretty much deferring to us.

"We have prepared a series of positions and kill zones along nearly two miles of half a dozen: Idol, Surprise, Williams, Plato and Calvert Sacket, and of course Schoolhouse. I gather Intel doesn't expect them to push too hard up this direction; they must know that the terrain just gets tougher the closer you get to Little Spearfish and Highway 85. So I expect we will see a battalion or two, with the main effort against Beulah. That's why we have so few regulars here."

Then after another break, the letter resumed.

"This is probably the last chance I'll have to write before the Hardin and Cody units are within attack range. I love you, Kathleen, I always shall. It is much worse than we expected. Lt. Howe just told me that the main body of the Cody troops has already reached the head of Plato and Williams Gulches, and we can expect them here at any time. Some artillery has already dropped onto us; it's very accurate considering.

"I've got a scratch team of five of us, Hank Fish, Judy Larson and Tom Kobbes are all vets like me. We may not be able to fight as regulars, but we can certainly defend our homes. Keith Mitchell is just fourteen, but he volunteered to stay here and help. Our primary position is about fifty meters down from my place, but we have several supplementary points, including one just past my place. We are one of about twelve teams all together, and I think we might be able to stop them at the lower end of Schoolhouse.

"Kathleen, my lady, I'm praying that I come out of this alive. I love you so much. If you don't get any more messages after this, just remember that I love you and have loved you, and will always love you. Big shell burst just outside; rattled everything. You're lucky with your place being up the side canyon. Nobody wants to drive tanks past your front door.

"Guess I should think of something noble to say, but can't think of anything, except that I love you. We always feared we'd buy the farm in the Old Guard, if we did, and when I bought a piece never expected I'd be fighting again. Of course it is easy to remember what we're fighting for here, since we literally are defending our homes and we can look around and see the fruits of liberty. We will win, somehow. When I look at what kids like Keith and old men like Kobbes are willing to do, they'll have to kill every one of us to defeat us. And no matter how many people they can throw at us in battles like today, I'm betting they run out before we do. Love you much, very much.

"Here they come, I hear the reports of their scouts coming in over the ridge. Got to go. Love you, Kathleen."

The message had been sent at 1015 hours on 14 NOV 75, and the computer recorded that outside communications were lost at 1048 hours that day. Kathleen's house was one of the deeper in Schoolhouse, with more than eight meters of tunnel between the entry portal and the garage. Nothing had happened to it except for that commo loss. She could not help wondering just what it had taken to destroy Fran's house and the others nearby. Whatever had hit left only a clean talus slope.

After rereading this letter, though, she decided that she was not convinced that Fran was dead. He could be anywhere, and until she had more proof than this, her natural optimism would not believe he was dead. Surely she would have known if he died, surely there would have been some feeling of loss.

She returned to her bedroom to dress, and discovered that she had very little to wear. Nothing much fit anymore, she found. Her catsuits and bodysuits could stretch to fit, of course, but looked like they had been sprayed on. But her blouses and sweaters were far too tight across both the shoulders and chest, and except for some of the kilts she'd inherited from Aunt Anna, the full, pleated grand Scots kilts, even the wraparound kilts she'd worn before enlisting were pretty much too small around the hips to be able to do anything in. She finally found a loose work jacket that had belonged to Tim, and wore it with one of her Hunting O'Rourke field kilts. She was surprised when she noticed just how short the issue kilt was as compared to her old civvies ones. She figured it was useless to try boots, but did anyway, and was surprised when they still fit. She had this horrible mental image of herself as a young teen, skinny, short, and with big hands and feet!

She went out into another beautiful morning, and systematically began finding and reading the tiny aluminum crosses. She also discovered there were a few circular plates with engraved crosses, labeled "Cody Principal Army dead buried here" usually with a name and rank. Every marker had the same date on it, 14 NOV 2175. Many of the crosses were marked "buried here" or "entombed here." Others were to mark where someone had fallen. Two of those were near Number 82, at the top of a steep slope that had been fortified by a mixture of sandbags (now rotted) and rock.

At the top were two crosses: Thomas Kobbes, Corporal, Cav Troop D, retired, and Judith Larson, Quartermaster Sergeant, retired. Looking over the area, Kathleen realized this must have been the primary position Fran had talked about. She looked over the area carefully, finding a dozen pieces of brass, some paper scraps, and a small stick that someone had whittled on in a series of little vees and slashes. She held that tiny piece of wood and, unbidden tears began to well out of her eyes. How many times had they sat together at Commander's Call or First Sergeant's meeting while Fran had whittled those same little markings?

She carefully put the little memento into her sporran. Now, she looked around, eyeing the terrain. Where would the alternate positions have been? Where would three people have withdrawn? From the damage and the tiny fragments of metal at this position, it was probably an air burst that killed Larson and Kobbes. Without good body armor, the others may have been wounded as well. Would they have gone straight back to that other position that was just past Fran's door? Or was there some intermediate stop? How did Keith Mitchell come to die in front of her door, on the side canyon?

She decided to go back to where Fran's house had been, and search there. She had not seen Fish's name on a marker either. Maybe there was some clue.

The slope where 94, 96, and 98 had all stood was a single expanse of talus, though if you looked at individual pieces of rock you often found scorch marks from explosions. There might have been a faint depression in that slope where 94's portal would have been located, but it was hard to tell. Apparently, the entire limestone edge had crumbled, bringing down tons of rock to bury the three entrees. Checking, she saw that the cross just up valley was for someone entombed. It was horrible to contemplate. She checked, but nothing marked the three destroyed houses. She climbed the slope carefully, as concerned for any old ordnance, like bomblets, as for the unstable footing on the rocks.

There were no crosses on top, but there was evidence of more fortifications. Nothing remarkable, except that a little patch of doghair had grown up inside the rock and sandbags enclosure. Then she saw a glint of metal under the thin layer of needles, and brushed them away carefully. There, in the soil, someone had pushed a number of expended cartridges, each one dented on the primer cap, nose first. They spelled out several letters, initials. F-S-M. If it had been FMS, she might have grown more excited, but not for FSM, unless... here she paused, thinking. Fish, Smith, Mitchell? Maybe.

She looked the area over carefully, and found no other clues. Slowly, she walked over the ridge and into the little side canyon with her house. The evidence here was inconclusive. If she had found a marker with Fran's name on it, she might have been able to deal with his death. But for all she knew, he was alive and well in Moskee, or Lead, or somewhere else, trying to find out how to reach her, trying to send messages to her and the Old Guard. Or, there was a little aluminum cross somewhere with "F. M. Smith" on it... she veered from the thought.

Before she was back to her house, she had decided to check in Moskee and try to track him down. There was still effectively no county government reestablished in Crook County, according to what John Robert had said. That left the Moskee town government, and the Med Corps. Obviously if the "Mercies" had not put up a marker in front of a known house, it was because they knew Fran was not there. She was registered as his beneficiary and executrix, just as he was hers. She would have some right to know about him.

Obviously, the Medical Clinic at Plato was gone, so the nearest office was probably at Moskee as well. That made that her logical first stop. She did have enough hydrogen in hydride form in storage to fuel the car, which like the house, had been bequeathed to her from Aunt Anna.


It was strange indeed to be driving down a road in a little private automobile, but the war was over. Moskee was a pleasant surprise. The tiny hamlet in its little park was bustling with people. She had passed a bus on the way in, and others were discharging people and even cargo. No more than a dozen buildings dotted the town, however, and several ruins were prominent. Most of the remaining structures, she saw as she approached, were patched and sadly in need of general and routine maintenance. Also, most of them must be entries to underground areas, since otherwise they must be very crowded with the number of people in them.

The streets themselves had been changed to create short segments with antifragmentation barriers to contain the damage from bombing, and these were well maintained; better, in fact than the buildings they protected.

Parking in an area with badly frost-heaved pavement and faded signs, she walked down one of these short streets to the information board and map. None of the above ground stores seemed to be open; many were out of business entirely. Since shoppers hurried by in both directions, she knew that underground, at least, people were still working and Moskee still functioned.

There was a long list of businesses and offices, with many changes. There seemed to be more additions than removals. She saw the location of the "Associated Interim Government of Moskee and Canyon Communities."

She rode a large elevator down the Braveheart Shaft with about fifteen other people. People looked at her undress uniform and eagerly asked questions about where she was from and how conditions were in her area. She found that people knew very little about what was going on even as close as Gillette.

She also noted that civilian fashions had greatly changed, for both men and women. The old, familiar elements were there: bodysuits, kilts, leggings, vests and jackets. However, they were a lot different from what she remembered as to the texture and weight, to say nothing of the length of the kilts. It was as though the vests, blouses, and kilts were accessories to the bodysuits. The fabrics were thin, and she thought, cheap. She discovered that her old catsuits, that were so tight, were right in fashion, though she didn't know if her innate modesty would let her wear that tight a suit with so little else.

Both men and women wore bright colors, too, unlike her own dark greens and blues. Even the men's kilts, even in uniform, were short, although the legs of their bodysuits seemed to be of thicker, looser material than that of the women. There were lots of civilian uniforms, and a lot of veterans with various war injuries.

The directions to the Community Medical Clinic were clearly marked, but it was harder to find the Associated Cities office. It was well back in a side drift, with a dozen other offices of various types. When Kathleen walked in, an older woman smiled at her. "What can we do for you, Sergeant?"

"I'm Kathleen Wilson, from Schoolhouse, and I'm trying to track down someone who lived in Schoolhouse."

"Oh, you're one of Marty's folks." Another older lady looked up and waved Kathleen over to a chair in front of her deskcomp.

"Hello, Sergeant. Wha' can I do for ye?" Her accent was as thick as Kathleen's. "I'm Marty MacIntyre Jones. Ye say ye're from Schoolhouse." She tilted her head. "O'course. Number sixty-four. Anna O'Rourke Wilson's niece, are ye not? I knew her years and years ago."

"I'm glad to know ye, milady Jones. Aye, I've sixty-four. Are ye the Community Clerk?"

"Ah, lass," Marty told her with a chuckle. "Wi' this beastie here," she patted the deskcomp, "I'm the President of the Town Board, the Clerk, and the Finance Officer for Schoolhouse, Plato, Williams Gulch, Idol Gulch, Rattlesnake, and Williams Divide. I'm one of the main reasons this is the office of the Associated Towns, because the Communities are in pretty tough shape these days."

"Aye, that I ken. I just came from home."

"Really? What shape was your place in? I ken it was one of the houses that appeared to have survived w'out mickle damage."

"None, really, except that I ha'e no outside commo at all."

Marty shook her head in sympathy. "You and every other surviving house and business outside of Moskee itself. The Cowboys blew the living daylights out of anything that looked like a commo relay and there just isn't the priority for fixing things here that we need to get anything reestablished. We had expected at least five years, but now that the war is over I figure it might only take about a year. Could be worse, if we'd had antique fiber optics or something."

"Wonderful news. Anything else?"

"The roads and trails association is completely defunct. I have their funds, about $10,000 mostly donated from estates, ready for when we get enough people back to be able to do something. Until then, we're going to be lucky to make it through the winters." She typed something and then read off the screen.

"You have a long term trust fund set up by your aunt that seems to be paying in everything like roads and trails association, security contract, fire service, insurance, town government and such. In fact, you seem to be one of the few homeowners fully paid up right now, and you actually are a common owner of about fifty parcels of empty land for which no heirs have been found, or which were willed to the Community upon death of the owners.

"Are you going to be moving back, Kathleen?"

She shook her head, overwhelmed by the information. "I... I don't really know. I'm not even on leave right now, just on pass. My unit is returning to Camp Rapid from back west, and I really don't know what I'm going to do yet. Actually, I came into town to look for someone who lived in Schoolhouse until '75. His name was Francis Marion Smith, and he lived at Number Ninety-six."

Marty entered the data, still talking. "That name sounds familiar. I think I've had inquiries on him before. Here's the record. Owner, previously occupied. Ninety-six is listed as one of the destroyed houses, I see. You know sixty of the one hundred and thirty houses have been completely destroyed, and another twenty-three are uninhabitable.

"Let's see. No record of current residence of owner of property. Based on destruction of house, owner has a credit balance of $12.95 on consolidated fees and dues. Last contact with owner or representative was 21 JAN 2176." She leaned back and looked at Kathleen. "Sorry, but that was before I took over, when things were still really, really chaotic instead of just chaotic. The only reference I have is Lead for origin of inquiry. I'm afraid that doesn't help much."

Almost all Kathleen heard was the date. 21 January 2176. That means he must have survived the battle. He may be alive. "It helps enough, milady. I have some other ways to try and find him, I think. If I can... then we'll see."

She stood up, eager to try the Med Corps lead. "Thank you so much, milady. I'll be in touch." He may still be alive. There is still hope.


The Community Medical Clinic was on one of the major underground thoroughfares of Moskee, Commerce Street. It was well maintained, as compared to even nearby businesses, but still showed maintenance was a pretty low priority these days.

A Senior Technician with General Practice green rank tabs was on duty in the outer office. He saw her uniform and stood. He wore his uniform with the empty right sleeve pinned to his belt. "Good afternoon, First Sergeant. May I help you?"

The waiting room was empty, and the status board indicated there were only two physician's assistants and two nurses in what looked as it was normally at least an eight officer clinic.

I'm First Sergeant Kathleen Wilson, Senior Technician, with C Company Infantry, on pass. I'm looking for someone who was invalided out from my unit."

He turned around and called up a menu on his terminal. "I may be able to help some, Top. Let's see. Give me everything you can. Need his name, last known address, and last date of treatment, if you know it.

"Francis Marion Smith, 96 Schoolhouse Community." He typed the information in. "Let's see. Try about 14 November '75."

The technician looked up at her. "I may not be able to help, then. This clinic was closed all during the last part of '75 and '76. They would have sent everyone either to field hospitals and units, or directly back to Lead or Trojan. Because of the commo problems here, we don't have direct access to the data files at Northern Hills General, and I only have files on people currently under treatment, plus some left over from before the clinic was shut down in '75. But I'll try."

He hit the enter key and they waited a few moments. There was a beep, and he looked at the screen.

"Well, there's something here at least. Smith, Francis Marion, 96 Schoolhouse. Treatment at Plato Clinic, March and May '75. Referral to here in May, also, and a follow-up in June. That's it." He looked up at her, then glanced down at the screen again. "Now that's odd. There's a status notice on this record."

He typed some more, waited, and typed a few more strokes. "Strange. I've never seen this code before. It looks like a Pathology sequence, but not one I've ever seen before. This is a recent record, I mean since this clinic reopened, which would have been in January of '77, for Francis Marion Smith. No address given. The code says to refer all inquiries to District Records at Lead. Well, that's almost what I was going to suggest, to Homestake Clinic in Lead, anyway; there or Northern Hills General at Deadwood." He shook his head. "Don't know why someone would put a pathology status code on an old record without updating it from Central Records, but then, everyone is having a hard time keeping everything straight right now. Well, at least the war is over."

"Aye, the war is over. Thank you, sir. I will go ahead and head into the Twin Cities."

"Good luck. Hope you find him, Top. It's always nice when some old comrades survive, isn't it?" He smiled as she left with a wave.


Lead, Twin Citicorp, Lawrence County

An hour later, Kathleen rode into Lead, the largest of the various boroughs making up Twin Citicorp: Lead, Deadwood, Trojan, Terry, Central City, New Terraville, and Englewood. She had traveled by way of Buckhorn and O'Neill Pass, and through Cheyenne Crossing. Traffic was heavy on Highway 85 after the emptiness of Moskee and north, and she felt reassured by the normalcy she saw. There was little or no war damage, people were out and about, and business seemed to be moving along.

Lead itself was packed with people. There were even new apartment blocks rising behind the mine buildings on the east side of the Open Cut, and the mills were all running at full speed. She didn't know quite how to handle the crowds. There were people everywhere, mostly moving quickly about some business or another, though there were some that just sat and watched, or talked, laughed and joked.

As might be expected, she saw more extremes in dress, and quickly saw that Moskee was still the cultural backwater it had always been. Just driving slowly in past the Old High School and the businesses along Upper Main, she saw a significant variety in dress, including a few people in the type of civilian dress she had grown up with.

The number of hangers-on that seemed to congregate in dark places disturbed her. Why, in the middle of the day, would there be people just standing or sitting around, doing nothing when there was so much to do? They even seemed to dress alike; somewhat gaudy with odd pastel colors and ornate tooled and gilded boots.

There was another group or class of people that she also noted; a few people here or there in crowds of workers or shoppers dressed in dull gray clothing of archaic design: trousers and jackets for both men and women. They stood out among the otherwise colorful clothing and the various uniforms. Military uniforms were fairly rare here, but civilian uniforms were common. She wondered what organization had such hideous uniforms.

Homestake Clinic occupied a large structure on the western side of the Open Cut just north of downtown, partially aboveground and partially underground in some of the abandoned workings of Homestake itself. Even though called a clinic, it was actually a full-service community hospital, supporting about 25,000 people directly and an additional 20,000 indirectly (in peacetime). It was actually larger than the District Hospital, the Northern Hills General Hospital in Deadwood.

Kathleen parked the little runabout in the municipal parking garage and walked down Main and then up to the main entrance of the Clinic. Again she found her undress blues to be an attraction to people, who stopped her to welcome her back and offer their appreciation. Since many of those who stopped her were obviously themselves combat veterans, she felt highly embarrassed by their remarks. She did notice that none of the pastel rabble and none of the people in gray greeted her.


The main workroom of Central Records was easy enough to find, and she went to the first desk that was free. Apparently she was not the only person with an inquiry in person these days.

This time it was a Medic First Class who rose to meet her. He wore two combat tour flashes on his sleeve and the blue and white checkerboard piping identified him as emergency medical services. He had a prominent scar bisecting his right cheek.

"Medic Romero at your service, First Sergeant. May I help you?"

As at Moskee, she explained her need. He sat down and had her pull the chair around where she could see his screen. He entered the data and they waited briefly. "I don't think we'll have any problem, as we can tie in to Med Corps Central Database down in Rapid if we need to."

After almost a minute, the screen beeped. "FILE ACTIVE 10 MAR 80. WAIT."

Romero typed in an acknowledgment and leaned back to look at her. "Well, he's still alive as of two months ago."

Kathleen felt relief flood through her and sighed out a very long breath. Romero looked at her, concerned.

"Are you okay, First Sergeant?"

"Aye," she breathed. "More so than in a verra long time."

The computer beeped again, and they looked at the screen. Romero looked at the report and blinked in puzzlement. "FILE SMITH FRANCIS MARION DOB 27 MAR 2152 -- NOT FOUND."

"That's strange. If it was active just two months ago it should still be in the core database and not archived. Let me try again." He typed furiously.

Kathleen recognized Fran's birthday, but suddenly realized she had not told Romero his birthday.

She mentioned that just as the computer again beeped. The same line reappeared. Romero leaned back, scratching at his forehead.

"I hope we aren't going to have a crash again. Last one took twelve hours to fix. But I just can't get hold of that set of records. Let me try something else." Again he typed what seemed like a dozen lines. I'm glad the Forces have given up on most paperwork. I'd make a lousy First Shirt if my typing skills were important.

The answer took longer this time, but was just as frustrating: "STATUS UPDATE: FILE DOES NOT EXIST."

"That is just plain crazy. It just told us the file exists. He backed up completely and got the same line as the first time: "FILE ACTIVE: 10 MAR 80."

"Stupid machine," Romero looked ready to cuss.

He called across the room. "Hey, Greg. Come give me a hand with this." A slightly older Medic First Class with OR markings stood up and walked over. Romero explained what he did, and demonstrated. Again, each of the same responses appeared.

"Right. Let's see. He's ex-military, medically retired, right? Let's try going through priority BHAF override. You know, like for emergency WIA treatment protocol."

Now Greg, seated at Tom Romero's desk, typed in a series of answers to computer queries. A new screen appeared, with letters nearly an inch high. "FRANCIS MARION SMITH SSG INF CO C RET-M."

"Aha! I think we got it." Greg hit the proceed key.

The computer immediately came back with a single line message. "Confirm identity of inquiry agent." Greg typed in Kathleen's full name and rank. The screen blanked and then two more lines appeared:

FILE F M SMITH DOB 27MAR52 INACTIVE
DOD 14NOV75
CODE 77PX29843XT

Greg stared at the screen. "This is ridiculous. I've never seen this happen before."

Tom looked also. "You know, that looks like a Pathology Code, but I've never seen one with an XT suffix. What in the world is this?"

They tried several other approaches, but continued to get the same conflicting data; either they were told the record did not exist, the record was active, or F. M. Smith was dead. Several calls and other people were unable to get anything more, and attempts to get the data directly from both Rapid City and the back-up database gave exactly the same answer.

After several hours, they all gave up, at least for the moment. Tom and Greg both promised to try again after catching up on their other work.


Kathleen emerged onto Main Street and wandered back uphill to the West, trying to think of some other approach for tracking down Fran. I am an infantryman, for crying out loud, not a detective. Well, no, I was an infantryman; the war is over. Putting aside thoughts of future work, she gave some thought to trying to find a private investigator, but she didn't know anyone, and didn't know how long that would take. She prayed that she could figure out just what to do.

Several blocks up from the Open Cut, she found herself standing next to a small storefront cafe with an open courtyard beside it. Her stomach growled at the odor of cooking, and she realized that she'd had nothing at all to eat for at least thirty-six hours, since the unit party back in Gillette. She found that she was hungry, and turned in and sat down.

There was an empty two person table that gave her a good view of the courtyard and the street. It was near lunch, and most of the dozen tables were occupied, with from one to four people.

A harried boy, about twelve, rushed out from the cafe itself, and gave her a menu with a smile. He looked at her uniform and her ribbons, then with a voice of awe, asked, "Did you just come home from the war?"

With a suppressed grin she'd have not thought she had in her, she replied, "Aye, laddie. From Gillette just yesterday."

"Wow. I'm glad you came to eat at our place. I'll be back in a few minutes to take your order, milady." He almost ran back inside. "Sis..."

Several other people looked around at her, and Kathleen found herself the object of intense scrutiny. She smiled, though, and had the smile returned with interest. Several men and women murmured a welcome and then most turned back to their meals. However, the table nearest her, with two men and a woman, kept looking her way.

"Would you like to join us, Sergeant?" The woman asked. "If you'd like the company?"

The last thing I need is to sit down and eat with some strangers... no, maybe that is exactly what I need to do.

"Thank you, I will be honored. She moved to the larger table and sat down. Everyone introduced himself or herself. The woman was Margaret M'Gowen Murphy, a local electronics manufacturer with eight years combat as a tanker in the South Dakota theater. The older man was T.J. Brooks of Cameron, who called himself a "finder," from Deadwood. The other man was Douglas Calvert, an equipment and materials salesman from Chadron. Neither Brooks nor Calvert had military experience, which might be, in Brooks' case, because he had one of the remaining types of Multiple Sclerosis.

When Calvert introduced himself, except for the Chadron accent, his voice sounded familiar to Kathleen. She looked at him carefully. He had thin, carefully combed blond hair, gray eyes, a thin face with some very faint scars, and had a good build. He didn't remind her of anyone, physically. He wore a Highlander set kilt; one of the general patterns used by people who did not belong to a clan, and as far as she knew, she knew no one from Chadron, about 150 miles to the south.

After introducing herself, and after the boy returned to take her order, she explained that she was on pass and trying to track down the whereabouts of her fiancÚ.

Mrs. Murphy immediately turned to Brooks. "Perhaps you've found a new client, Thomas." She explained to Kathleen that Brooks was exactly what his title implied. He found things and people when you needed them. They were meeting here in Lead because she had needed some specific equipment for her plant, and Brooks had found that Calvert had precisely what she was looking for.

Calvert explained that he had stayed over in the Twin Cities for several days extra so that the three of them could work out the precise details of rebuild and delivery. Kathleen found it hard to understand the details of the deal, but she was interested in this practice of Brooks.

The meal was enjoyable even with her circumstances. She had opportunity to question T.J. Brooks about his profession and he offered free advice. "I am not about to charge someone just home from the war to help her find her intended." The suggestions he offered were good ones, and she jotted several down on her notepad.

Every time he spoke, Kathleen stopped to turn and look at Douglas Calvert. His voice sounded so familiar, and yet she could not place him. Who did he remind her of? She didn't know any civilians, and this Calvert didn't have any military time. She studied him covertly while they ate. Some of his mannerisms also reminded her of someone. Still, his features were memorable, and she would not have forgotten him if she'd met him in the past.

Both Mrs. Murphy and Mr. Calvert excused themselves at the same time, but Brooks stayed to talk with Kathleen some more, and then offered to help with some quick research. Homestake Library was just across Main Street, and he quickly went through several datacubes of outdated phone listings and area directories with her. In the copies from '75 on, there were only two Francis Marion Smiths listed for the entire Black Hills, one at 3800 Sheridan Lake Drive in West Rapid, and hers. The other one remained in West Rapid, but Fran was dropped both from the phone listings and the Crook County Directory.

"We also have to check the Lawrence County Directory since Lawrence County assumed temporary administration of Crook County after the Winter Offensive. Still do, in fact." Nothing came up. A records search also failed to turn up anything, except for Fran's will, logged in with Crook County Registrars Ltd. on 4 April 2175.

"Well, he named you as both sole beneficiary and executrix, but I imagine you knew that already?"

Kathleen nodded.

"Have you checked with his bank yet? Do you know which one he used?"

"We both use the Infantry Association Credit Union, out of Fort Meade."

Thomas grinned. "There is a good lead. They have joint operating agreements with most of the credit unions in the Hills, including, I think, both Homestake Employees, Miners Association, and the Gaming Association ones. After we finish here, check at one of those. Take a copy of this will with you."

They checked a few more things, but Fran's name did not come up. Finally, Thomas said he would have to leave her to continue looking. "Do you have a hotel room here in town?"

"Nay, I was planning to go back up to Schoolhouse. Of course, I need to take some supplies with me."

"Milady Sergeant, let me suggest that you get a room here or in Deadwood. We've got full commo with Pennington County, with West Meade and Custer, and you can use the room computer in your room, tie in with your combi-recorder, and run some search patterns in newspaper files. I'd suggest going through the Centennial and the Pioneer, at least, and the Sun-Times and Herald, at least what issues they have. The Sun-Times is being published in Aladdin, last I heard, and the networks are good about getting as many papers as possible.

"So go get some rest and do something else for a while, then, do some more research on the computer. Also, check back with the Medical Corps. That sounds really weird, and they may be bothered enough by it to keep digging."

She looked up at him from the library carousel. "Thomas, I really dinna ken how tae thank thee."

He grinned again; he had a nice grin. "Don't worry about it. I enjoy helping people; that's why I got into this business. Money's a way of keeping track, and of course, I've got to eat on something. But Mary, that's my wife, would never forgive me if I didn't help you.

"For one thing," and his grin disappeared. "You remind me a lot of my daughter." He pulled out a picture of a pretty teenager, with the same big eyes and hairstyle as Kathleen had, but blonde where Kathleen was a dark reddish-brown.

"She's pretty. How old is she?" Kathleen asked.

"She... she would have been twenty-three next month. She was killed three years ago down in the Niobrara Valley, with McGruder's Command, Infantry Company Golf. She was the baby of the family."

Kathleen handed the picture back to Mr. Brooks. "I believe I understand. Thank you."

Brooks started to leave, but Kathleen remembered something.

"Thomas, this Douglas Calvert. How well do you know him?"

"Not too well, I'm afraid. I've been doing business with him indirectly for about a year, on and off. Sometimes he's hard to get through to; seems to be sick a lot. He doesn't like to travel; this is the first time I've ever met him here. Before it's always been in Chadron itself, or at Oelrichs or Smithwick, once in Hot Springs.

"He's a bit of a weird duck. Seems to just sort of jet out into space once in a while, lose his train of thought or something. Almost like what they call 'flashback syndrome' with soldiers, except he's never served in the Forces."

"Why not?"

"His illness, I think. He has to take several different medications. He doesn't talk much about it, except to make fun of being a drug junkie. He's nice enough, a whiz mechanically and with supplies, honest as the day is long. He's just weird in some ways. He really seemed to like you, though, and paid you a lot of attention. Until today, I've sometimes thought he was a misogynist. Shows you can't get to know someone just by visiting with them a few hours every month or so, or talking over the computer."

She thanked him, and he left.

Kathleen continued to look up some other leads after he left, and about thirty minutes later, without any more leads, left the library. Consulting a street directory, she found that the Homestake Employees' Credit Union was just three doors down the street. She shook her head at herself; she could see the sign from where she stood.

Inside, the teller directed her to the manager's cubicle, overlooking the small customer area. The manager, a man in his late 50's wearing a MacDougall kilt and clan badge, held a chair for her with an artificial hand, and then she noticed that both were artificial. He grinned and held up the right one. "Mining accident at the Golden Reward." Holding up the left: "Mistake clipping my fingernails when I first got my artificial right arm." She laughed a little. "Really, I lost it as a mechanic with Tank Company F in the Big Horns in '57. What can I do for you?"

Kathleen explained, passing over the printout of the will, which the manager verified. "He obviously trusts you. I don't often see unlimited power of attorney coupled with a will like this, unless it is a married couple." Kathleen found his reaction was sympathetic, and he was soon talking directly to the IACU at Fort Meade. They granted access to him, and in a few minutes, he gestured Kathleen to come around the table to look at the screen over his shoulder.

"Looks like it's just coming up, Sergeant. Has two accounts, both active; one long-term and one for day to day."

Kathleen saw surprisingly high balances; BH$ 5,350 in the long-term account, and BH$ 2,302.945 in the short term one.

"Let's see the transaction record," the manager said, hitting several keys.

Long rows of records appeared, and Kathleen felt her heart jump. "He must be alive. All those transactions!" The top one was dated three days ago, for BH$ 2.35 to Westnet Computer Services in Trojan. There were others, seemingly every two or three weeks.

The manager patted her hand. "No, Sergeant, don't get excited. Sorry to disappoint you, but most of those look like automatic transactions that are set up. In fact, a lot of the ones that aren't automatic transactions appear to be refunds of some of the automatic transfers. See here, this sequence right here." He pointed at a series.

800215  DP Westnet Comp Svcs Spearfish	2.60 ET
000214  DP FNBBH NA Rapid City		5.60 ET
800210  AP Westnet Comp Svcs Trojan	2.35 ET
800210  AP Grand Canyon Sec Sys Moskee	5.60 ET

"See, the money goes out and then comes in again. I bet if we check we'll find that Grand Canyon Security Services is out of business, and First National is just rebounding the money. Westnet still exists, at least on paper, and probably has some sort of automatic penalty for not being able to provide services." He hit the page-down key and pointed out virtually the same sequence in December of last year, and again back in October.

"Let's see if there are some filters we can use to pull those out and look at just what is left. But don't get your hopes up. One of our biggest problems today is getting the systems cleared of literally thousands of automatic transactions that are no longer of any use, except maybe for paying for the war by the transaction tax."

He typed at the keyboard for almost a minute.

"Looks like we have something here, Sergeant Wilson. Let me see..."

A new sequence appeared.

800112  CW ATM Oelrichs3         10.00 X
800112  CW ATM Chadron AP2       5.00  X
790719  CW ATM Hot Springs M2    10.00 X
790322  CW ATM Smithwick2        10.00 X

The sequence continued back for at least a year and a half, with no similarity on dates but all being cash withdrawals from automatic teller machines of five or ten dollars. Most were in Chadron or Crawford, but there were a few in Fall River County as well.

The manager turned to her with a big smile, and it was all she could do to keep from throwing her arms around him and whooping with joy.

"Well, Sergeant Wilson, your young man is alive. I don't know how he's living on so little or why he's not doing anything about all this automatic transfer business; maybe he's got another job or another account. Still, he has got to be alive, because IACU requires a fingerprint or a retina-scan to get at an account from an ATM. I've never heard of anyone spoofing their security for more than a couple of transactions; Homestake uses the same firm's systems. I am really happy to be of help. It is too bad that we don't know anything about where he's living except that it must be somewhere in the Chadron area based on this info."

She left the credit union with her heart soaring, even though she knew it might be quite an effort to find Fran. Still, she had other resources and could be lucky again. She thanked God for people like T.J. Brooks.

Mindful of his advice, she decided to stay here in Lead tonight, and follow up with the research.


Open Cut, Twin Citicorp, Lawrence County

She first retraced her steps to Homestake Clinic. Even after passing on the information about Chadron, the two records technicians were unable to provide anything else. They would try to get contact with the Chadron Hospital and see if there were any records there. Apparently the info would not be in Central Records, since Chadron had only recently been reconnected electronically with the rest of the Hills. Their suggestion, though, was to head south and take up the search there.

She again thanked them and left the clinic in far better spirits than she had left that morning.

The Golden Hills, Lead's major hotel, was located at the top of Main Street, across from the old Twin Cities Mall. Kathleen left her runabout in the city parking and walked uphill to the hotel with her pack. As with everywhere else, employees were scarce, and the only staff on duty, even at only five in the afternoon, was one person. Still, Kathleen was welcomed profusely, and she had the feeling she was the first returning soldier they had seen in a long time.

The room came out to be far less than she was expecting: only four and a half Black Hills dollars, including the 2% war transaction tax. The room itself was bright and cheerful, with a great view of Lead and Homestake. It was on the sixth floor, and she found that she had developed a slight touch of agoraphobia; she wasn't used to being this high off the ground anymore.

She first scanned the Pioneer's on-line morgue. She found nothing about Fran, but did read their reporting of the Winter Offensive, at first with interest and then with growing horror. Worst was the report that more than 300 military and civilians were missing in action and probably taken prisoner. On a hunch, she expanded her search to recaptured POW's and found one article that specifically reported that a number of prisoners taken by Cody and Hardin troops had escaped from near Green Mountain and found near the Grand Canyon. However, no names were given. That had happened almost two weeks after the battle, on 26 November.

She checked another hunch, and ran a search for Hank or Henry Fish. This time she hit pay dirt. An article on 20 DEC 75 reported that Henry Fish, one of several civilians held captive by the enemy after the Grand Canyon Offensive, had been transferred to Lookout Mountain Hospital. He was a local Spearfish man and well known for some deeds during his service years, and was being treated for injuries including torture while a prisoner.

There was another reference, and when she called it up her excitement turned to ashes in her mouth. It was dated 12 FEB 76 and was an obituary for Henry Fish, who had died of wounds at Lookout Mountain Hospital. He had no living relatives.

Still, it was progress, she decided. Maybe Fran had been one of those captured? It might be an explanation for the messed-up medical records. There might be a list somewhere that she could track down. And there was still the Chadron lead.

She had to stop for a while, and noticed it was already nearly eight, and getting dark. She looked at her uniform and made a sudden decision. She could use some civilian clothes that really fit, and would enjoy the break. When had she last gone shopping for clothes or worn something other than a uniform?

At the desk, she asked the clerk about where to go shopping this time of night for some clothing. The mall stores were apparently closed already, but usually a clothing store on one of the tunnel arcades below Main Street, called "Lead-in-the-Cut" was open evenings. He gave her directions, asked if she had enough ammo for her pistol, explaining that there had been some significant increases in attempted assaults. "We had two last month," she was told. "I remember when there were two a year. Things are getting bad."

This time she was lucky enough to catch one of the little electric trolleys running up and down Main, and rode it to the Open Cut for a penny. This time also, she went down the outer stairways, along the face of the Open Cut itself. She noticed a number of different balconies, many containing cafes or stores, which apparently did not connect directly to the stairs. The stairs were well lit, but there were places where lights had been broken or burned out. The Cut itself, though, was lit by lights from the factories at the bottom, and by floodlights from the Homestake Mine mills over on the east side.

It was in one of those darker landings that she was accosted.

"Hey, soldier." The accent sounded Nodaker; that mixture of Scandinavian, British and German that was so distinctive. She stopped, peering into the dimness. Three figures stood there in the garish clothing that the canaille she had seen earlier in the day seemed to favor. Two were men and one was a woman, and all wore solid black, or what looked like solid black kilts, in addition to the weird pastel colors of their bodysuits and shirts.

"May I help you?" Kathleen asked, hoping her wariness didn't show up in her voice.

"Hey, soldier. Looking for someplace to celebrate, eh?" The man on the right was talking. "Why don't you come with us, help us celebrate the end of the war? We've got some friends that would sure like to meet an honest-to-God hero, eh?"

She thought he sounded drunk or high. Surely not in the center of the third largest city in the Black Hills? Things couldn't be this bad around here, that people can roam the tunnels drunk? "No, thank you. I appreciate the invitation, but I've got to do some shopping and then some work. No, thank you." Her accent had completely vanished, and her eyes and ears were alert for anything. You never knew how a drunk, or three of them, were going to react.

"C'mon," the man started to say, but the woman interrupted.

"What's the matter? Too good to come party with us, your high and mighty sergeant-ness? Think all your fancy medals make you too slick to be with us working folk what pay your way?"

"I didn't say that, milady," Kathleen said, and was also interrupted.

"'Milady.' Isn't that sweet, eh? Little soldier girl must have been brought up right," the woman sneered. "You lousy warriors will get yours, one of these days. Lording it over us, parading your connections. Why doncha go back and start the war over and do it right this time?"

Kathleen was stung, and snapped back. "Why don't you?"

The man answered, "Your kind don't want us. We don't have the right connections to pass your Warrior's Ceremony, and we aren't wanted."

"Oh?" Kathleen said. "That apply to you, too?" She asked the woman.

The woman spit. "Dearie, I carry a weapon. I can shoot, I can fight. Your precious Forces won't let me in because I'm 'marginally psychotic.' They call me crazy, and I was, to even want to go and fight in your stupid war."

"'Tis your war, too, milady. You still have your freedom, rather than bowing down to Pierre or Laramie, do ye not?"

The woman ignored her question, though still patting her pistol. "What say, Ralph, you want to party with this upright twit while I'm around? I'm enough for both you." She turned around and started up the stairs with the man who had been silent throughout the confrontation.

Ralph took a step toward Kathleen and she reached for the pistol on her belt. Another step and she unsnapped the holster. He started to reach for his own, a civilian-holstered pistol. Kathleen tensed. Then he stopped, shouted several cuss-words at her, and turned around, almost falling down in the process. He clattered up the stairs in his fancy boots, calling for "Julie" and "Hardrock" to wait.

Trying to calm her pounding heart, Kathleen stood on the landing a few seconds, one hand on her pistol butt and the other on the hilt of her short sword. Finally, she turned and continued down.

The store, she found, was open and brightly lit. Like every place else she seems to have seen, it was in need of repair, but clean and neat. It was also large and seemed to have a large selection of clothing, but had only one person working.

"Hi," the girl, about thirteen or fourteen, came from the office. "Welcome to the Clothes Closet Ladies' Wear. Just look around, and if you need anything, ask." She stopped on her obviously routine spiel, and added, "Why, you're a soldier. Ma'am, wha' can I do for ye?"

"Something nice for street wear, but sort of like this," Kathleen said. She indicated her undress uniform. She noticed the girl wore a clinging but not too tight bright blue bodysuit under a pale cream, almost translucent vest and a very short MacDougall kilt, with plains-style boots to the knees. She carried a tiny automatic and decorated dagger on opposite sides of her belt on a braided belt.

"Sort of like a uniform, ma'am? Well, if 'tis like a sore thumb ye wish tae be, but..."

"Aye?"

"We ha'e some nice outfits that will suit ye well, and they are not too extreme. Here, let me show you..."

On arrival back in her room, Kathleen again looked at herself in the full-length, if cracked, mirror. The outfit had cost what to her was a fortune, $10.50. That was two days' pay even for a first sergeant. Of course, she had most of ten years pay to draw on; she could afford to splurge. The girl had shown her what the "mainstream" styles were, today: this was much more conservative. Still, she felt nearly immodest, and wondered out loud what Aunt Anna or even Mother would have said.

She wore a bright green body suit with ankle-length legs and sleeves down to the thumb. It was thick enough for warmth, but fit like a second skin, like the commando and ranger catsuits she had worn as an undergarment when she could get them from supply. But this was both undergarment and outer garment, because the O'Rourke kilt she wore, still called the small kilt, was of the thinnest wool she had seen in a long time; woven but with poor quality dyed yarns.

Its main problem was that it was short; a good six inches shorter than her uniform's kilt, and not to compare at all to a full kilt. While its hem was rounded, there was not much overlap as it wrapped around her. Still, she decided, she could at least move freely in it.

Over the upper portion of the body suit and the kilt, she wore a soft knitted bright yellow long-waisted but sleeveless jacket, with a deep vee neck and wide lapels. One of these sported her clan badge and arms, taken from her older clothing. She decided that it looked good, if more revealing than she'd have liked, since the neck on the body suit was a shallow open collar rather than the turtleneck she'd have preferred. (Dead in fashion, according to Lisa the store clerk.) The jacket was designed to wear a weapons belt over it and not distract, and her military pistol belt didn't distract too much. The leather shop was closed by the time she and Lisa had finished. After that incident on the stairs, she was not going to wear unfamiliar gear anyway. Too, she had noticed that military weapons gear was fairly common, even on people dressed quite fashionably. With veterans making up close to 60% of the population, that wasn't odd.

She'd not be the object of such attention as she'd received earlier today, at least, wearing this rather than her uniform.

After a break to record more of the day's events on her combicorder, she returned to the review of newspapers and magazines on the room computer. Three hours provided no new information. She then discovered that she could access old directories and phone books for much of the Black Hills as well, broken out by areas. However, this also did not help. Finally, she sat back to think, watching the random patterns on the wall screen.

Fran was out there someplace, or had been as of January. That was only four months ago, rather than four years, so she'd made a lot of progress. With the strict Black Hills privacy code, that was pretty good for a start. She mentally reviewed everything she knew. It didn't add up to much.

The best bet probably was to go down to the Chadron area, after spending several days with the unit in Rapid. They'd be authorized at least a month's leave before the remaining troops were brought back up to strength and put through retraining. After that, they'd probably be sent someplace in the east or south to relieve one of the units there.

She didn't expect, though, to have to stay in the service very long. But if she moved to the reserve, she might get a permanent third rocker, which would be nice. After what she'd been seeing, she wanted to slide back into civilian life slowly. Of course, no one, civilian or military, could much remember what peace was like. Looking around, it was going to take some severe adjustments. It was best to do that with an outfit she was somewhat familiar with. Even if the war was over. She trusted Lieutenant Crane, and expected STARC to give him his permanent captaincy, once personnel issues could be settled. The Old Guard was unlikely to be moved fully into the Reserve, but would likely be split into part reserve, part active, and assigned to frontier duty. She could live with that. Assuming Fran would be willing to move at least temporarily to wherever the unit was stationed, they could marry soon.

That brought her back to the problem at hand. In Chadron and that area, she had a good chance of finding someone who at least knew Fran. And she could use his picture too. Wasn't that one of the methods the detectives used in old books. "Here, do you recognize this person?"

She flipped open her combicorder and called up one of her pictures of Fran, taken just before he'd been wounded. Oh, and he had sent her a new one from Moskee or Sundance a few months before they lost contact. She called them both up, and made a mental note to find someplace that could make a hardcopy in color for her. She looked at the pictures, staring as if she could will some mental contact with Fran. The second picture was actually a video/sound sequence, but the combicorder did a poor job of recreating the sound.

She pushed the playback button, and the tinny digitized voice sounded. She hadn't listened to it in years. "Hello, Kathleen 'Becca. Hope you enjoy this picture. Miss you, love you." It was so poor it was all she could do to make out the words. Are you in Chadron, dear one? What are you doing now?

Actually, she knew someone from Chadron now, that salesman, Calvert. He apparently traveled around the area, too. In fact, T.J. Brooks said he had met with him in Smithwick, Oelrichs, and... and Hot Springs. She just didn't know what to make of Calvert. Somehow, he seemed hollow, even fake. She wondered if he weren't actually some kind of an agent or investigator himself. She looked at the ATM list. It was an odd coincidence that the areas he hung out near were the same areas that Fran was apparently hanging around.

Was she being overly suspicious or paranoid? Like almost all NCO's, she'd had her dealings with Military Intelligence, and she'd been offered a chance to serve with them. So had Fran. That is what Calvert reminded her of: some of the MI people she'd known. Very cautious, seeming to blend in well, quiet, but playing a role. That was a distinct possibility. She knew there was a lot of enemy activity in the Hills; she'd seen a lot of warning posters in various places, even down in the lobby here. That was great; all she needed was to become mixed up in something with the spooks.

Wait! Maybe that is what has happened to Fran. Maybe he has gotten mixed up in some of the spook games. It would have been easy enough; he'd have been debriefed by them after being a prisoner (if he had been one) or after the attack. He could have enjoyed the taste of action again. Of course Fran would have enjoyed it. Repairing equipment is no substitute for combat, the sense of belonging. I can see that in his last message, with that pick-up defense team, despite the odds they faced. Since he'd survived, he would want to keep that feeling.

That might explain why he didn't need much money, and why there was no record of a phone code or anything else for him.

Well, that was enough of useless speculations. It was time for bed. She left the combicorder with Fran's picture on.


The next morning she again woke up realizing she'd slept like a log. This time, she had just as hard a time adjusting to her location, but rolled out of bed with a bit more enthusiasm. Maybe someone or something had been found! Maybe she'd find something herself.

She showered and dressed, then went down and across the street to the old Mall, where she found the daily market already set up outside. Breakfast was several different greenhouse fruits from Spearfish Valley and Nisland, fresh from the counter. She returned to her room and made some calls. It was almost nine. The first was to Homestake Clinic, directly to Tom Romero. He was already at work.

"Hello, First Sergeant. In civvies today, I see. You'll never believe this, but I have now found three different versions of that record that reports that your fiancÚ is dead, and every one has a different date. Pathology over in Deadwood claims they've never heard of an XT code. I don't know, but this is sure a weird one." He grinned. "I figure he must have at least six more lives."

She told him about the bank withdrawals and he brightened up. "Well, if we didn't think these stupid deceased notices were phony, we'd know it now. Look, how can I get hold of you if I find anything?"

Kathleen gave him her Forces postal locator and unit, then rang off. She wondered if that kind of document tampering fit in with her wild imaginings of the night before. Spook business?

Her next call was to the Credit Union. The manager was out, but she left a message that she would call later. Then she left the hotel, having noted the address of the Lead Daily Call, one of the papers she'd reviewed the night before. The Call office was just a few blocks away, near the old school.

It had been a Call correspondent who had filed the report about the recaptured prisoners several weeks after the battles around the Grand Canyon.

The receptionist at the Daily Call office was a machine. A cute animated figure greeted her as she walked in the door.

"Good morning, citizen. What can we do for you today?"

"I am looking for a reporter, an Amanda Day."

"You are," there was a very slight hesitation. "...wishing to speak with ... Amanda Day."

Kathleen hesitated and then nodded. The recognition program seemed to be able to handle a nod rather than a voice.

"One moment, milady. I will..." There was a longer pause, and then a clearly human voice emerged from the speaker.

"Hi. Did you ask for Amanda Day? Just hang on a moment, I'll be right out."

Seconds later, a girl, maybe twenty, rolled through the curtain in a wheelchair.

"Are ye Amanda Day?"

The girl extended her hand. "No, I'm Denise McRory Runde, I'm afraid. That's why I came out. Did you need to see her on business, or personal."

"Well, business, I guess. I was following up on some articles she wrote."

"Oh, well, I'm sorry, but Amanda is dead. That's why the computer called me in. None of us want even an acquaintance to be notified that someone is dead by a silly computer. She's been dead a year, I'm afraid. She was killed in a terrorist attack up at the Maitland Plant. But can I help you?"

Kathleen explained about the article, and her search for her fiancÚ.

"Well," said the girl in the wheelchair. "We may be able to help. We still have Amanda's field books, and we can probably find her notes and photos for that, if she took any. Follow me back to the morgue and we'll see."

The physical morgue, it turned out, was a large storeroom with storage shelves and cabinets. In one section were great bound volumes of newspaper, and antique-looking machines loomed elsewhere, but Denise went to a cabinet that was filled with the small datacubes that had been standard since the beginning of the century. She consulted an index and had Kathleen pull down a stack.

"You said 26 November? Here, let's find it." Denise spun around and dropped the cube into a computer that seemed to have every sort of data entry device Kathleen had ever seen.

"Bingo!" Denise pointed to the screen. "First try. And we're in luck. She gave a complete list of the names."

There were only twenty, and Fran's name was the fifteenth one. "Smith F.M. civilian captured 14 NOV badly wounded, signs of torture. Unable to speak." Kathleen's heart pounded in her ears.

"She did take pictures, too. Let's see if we can get anything."

She entered several commands, and a list of twelve photos came up. Denise flashed them one at a time while she and Kathleen looked them over. Most were useless for Kathleen: longer shots showing people lying down and medics working on them. Several cavalry motorcycles and troops in their distinctive heavy boots stood around, guarding the area. Some of the closer shots of men and women being treated were also of no use, but showed the ill treatment they had received. She recognized none of the faces. Only one shot gave her some hope, with several of the escaped prisoners who were able to walk in it. One person held their arm the way Fran had after the wound which had put him on the disabled list, but she couldn't tell if it was him or not; the person had their head completely swathed in bloody bandages.

After a few more tries, and some cross-checks, Kathleen left with a copy of the notes and photos which Denise insisted she have. She walked back to the hotel and again called the Credit Union.

This time, the manager was in. "Yes, First Sergeant. What can I do for you?" He was sitting at his desk.

Kathleen explained that she'd appreciate a print-out of the ATM's used and their locations. He said he'd have it for her at the cashier's window in about ten minutes.

It was 1130 when she started down the hill. She left her pack in the car, and then walked on down to the Credit Union. Instead of the teller, the manager himself was waiting for her.

"You may not believe this," he told her. He handed her the printout and pointed to the top of the list. There was a new entry.

800507  CW ATM Deadwood2       15.00 X

"Deadwood ATM number two is on Lower Main, across from the Bullock Hotel. Because it was just yesterday, I got a time on the transaction; it was 2135 last night."

Fran is here. Or he was last night. Am I so fortunate? If only I had some way of broadcasting...


End Part 2. See Part 3 of 3 in the September 2002 issue of Doing Freedom!

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