Sins of Our Fathers: Post-apocalyptic Romance [sci-fi; mature content]


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    Sins of Our Fathers: Post-apocalyptic Romance [sci-fi; mature content]

    "Just look at you... You remind me of your father when we first met!"

    My mother smiles as she arranges my shirt collar to be just right, her face beaming with pride about having raised a son like me. She rarely smiles ever since father died. Evidently I remind mom of him now that I'm wearing one of his suits.

    "Thanks, mom! Don't wait for me, I'll be home late. Love you! Bye!" I peck a quick kiss on mom's cheek before running off.

    "I'll leave something to eat on the stove!" mother shouts after me, but dinner is the last thing on my mind now. Today is special, because today I am going on a date.

    ---

    Young people of my age and nationality don't really get a lot of opportunity to interact with the opposite sex before graduating from E&T. The Education and Training camps are sex-segregated; the staff are pretty strict about keeping it that way. Not to mention the study schedule is too busy to leave much time or energy for unsupervised encounters anyway. Puritanical moral standards are less to blame than practical concerns: the authorities don't generally appreciate the idea of fornicating teenagers who are yet to prove themselves worthy of mating in the first place.

    That said, it's not like teenage boys and girls don't find ways to indulge their newfound interest in the opposite sex. The school hosts monthly "dance evenings", chaperoned events where youths from both sides of the camp get to meet and socialize. It is at these times that sympathies arise, mutual affections are born and couples form, more often than not leading to marriage and family after graduation. What young people do on home leave at weekends and holidays is up to them. Once the studies begin anew, keeping separated until the next weekend is often difficult for both sides. Which is why there's a hole in the concrete fence separating the male and female barracks of the E&T camp, serving as a step to get over to the other side. Boys, and sometimes also girls, use it frequently despite the threat to be personally neutered by their instructors in the event of being caught on the wrong side of the fence. Although losing one's home leave privileges for two or more weeks and having to do extra PT or unpleasant chores on one's free time can be a very significant annoyance, that hardly deters hormonal young folk from seeking out the forbidden company of the opposite sex, if only for the thrill of doing something forbidden. I sometimes get the feeling that this is another one of those policies put in place chiefly to teach youths how to get away with breaking rules rather than any more significant purpose.

    I hop on my motorcycle parked outside the barn and set off to town. It's an old BMW R1200 dual-sport of pre-War vintage. Used to be dad's when he was still alive. Despite being some 80 years old, with few of the original parts left and barely resembling the original anymore, it's still in excellent condition. Mom used to complain about dad spending more money and time fixing that thing than he'd spend to keep the farm running. After he died, I have likewise been keeping it in good order to the best of my abilities ever since I became tall and strong enough to ride it. Today, I spent the better part of two hours washing and scrubbing every inch of it so that my ride would look shiny as new - it would, after all, be an unforgivable faux pas to take a girl for a ride on something that looks anything less than impeccable.

    Just as I'm about to set off, I see mom running out of the house, waving a belt with a gun holster.

    "Don't forget to bring along a piece, son!" mom shouts over the rumble of my bike.

    "Mom, we're not going out of town!" I argue, "I won't need it,"

    "Alright," mother hesitantly relents, "But if you decide to, make sure at least one of you is armed!"

    One of the unwritten rules that every Balt knows by heart is that you don't go out of town unarmed, ever, even if it's just for a romantic date. Sure, things in these parts ain't nearly as bad as in the South and Southeast, near the Kaliningrad and Polotsk Wastelands, and certainly nowhere near as bad as it used to be in my grandpa's youth, the first decades after the Great War and the Long Night that followed. But still only a fool would mistake the wilderness outside settled areas for safe - far too many careless folk have turned up dead, disappeared without a trace or worse after a run-in with a stray gang of brigands or feral beasts even these days. So every Balt old enough to have passed basic firearms training is expected to carry at least a sidearm outside towns and their immediate surroundings. In the best case, it will prove unnecessary, and in the worst enable one to take one's own life to avoid being raped, tortured, mutilated, killed and/or eaten, which won't necessarily happen in that exact order.

    Halfway to the town I remember I have forgotten to bring any flowers. Mentally cursing myself for such an unforgivable oversight, I wonder whether to stop and collect some in the meadow next to the road, but eventually give up on the idea. We're going to spend an indefinite time outside, and by the time she gets home, the flowers will be all wilted anyway. Besides, I'm not sure my date even cares for such things.

    ---

    Ilze Bitāne isn't exactly whom one would call drop-dead gorgeous or "popular", if that's even a word to be used within the context of my homeland's peculiar education system. Tall, stocky, and endowed with a deep voice and tomboyish mannerisms, Ilze has little in the way of traditional femininity about her. Yet the dignified, self-conscious manner with which Ilze carries herself leaves her with no shortage of would-be suitors among the town's boys. Amongst other girls, she clearly stands out as a leader, clearly able to impose her will with fists where words won't suffice. Not that she ever has to as far as I know. I find that Ilze looks very dignified and proud, even arrogant in her E&T uniform, with her field cap always pulled low over her eyes so that she must constantly keep her back straight and head held high to see in front of her. By informal but strictly-observed convention, only girls who have been on a combat patrol and seen real action have the right to wear their caps like that. Boys who qualify do it the other way around, wearing their caps far back on the crown. Ilze's martial accomplishments are further emphasized by her wearing the upper two buttons of her uniform jacket conspicuously undone - another customary privilege reserved only for those who have killed an enemy on patrol. With a confirmed kill tally of 13 at the age of seventeen, Ilze commands significant respect and authority amongst her peers, even though such kill count at a young age is not uncommon for youths of our generation who had to live through the Second Mekh War. Mine, for example, is fifteen. Kids of 10 years, some even younger, used to plant mines and throw satchel charges under Mekh tanks, throw power switches of electric traps for their androids, chuck grenades and Molotov cocktails from rooftops on Mekh patrols during the last war where I and Ilze amassed most of our kills. Strange to think how you can already know what it's like to blow up a tank or a squad's worth of people at an age when most of your peers abroad still don't shy from playing in the sandbox.

    I slow down as I approach the town's security gate. Grandpa told me the security wall in his youth only surrounded a fraction of the area it does today, and was constructed mainly from assorted rubble and junk. Nowadays it's built from industrially-produced concrete and metal, with thick coils of razor wire just below the topside. The top of the wall is lined with battlements to provide additional firing positions. There are watchtowers spaced every few hundred meters along the wall, manned day and night by members of the town militia. Though the sentries only carry rifles in relatively peaceful times like this, I know there are two heavy machineguns and an AT launcher stashed in storage lockers at the base of each tower, ready to be brought up on a moment's notice. The walls aren't meant to keep away a numerous and well-equipped enemy with heavy weapons, such as the Mekhs, but to repel lightly-armed raiders and keep out dangerous wildlife that is are the most common causes of problems these days. There's a series of Jersey barriers placed on the road in a zig-zag pattern to force any approaching drivers to slow down and keep a potential enemy from using his vehicle as a battering ram against the town's gate. Obviously won't stop a tank, but most certainly will a truck or something smaller.

    The guards at the gate recognize me as I approach and let me pass unchallenged.

    "Hey there, Hendrik!" one of them greets me, "You're all dressed up fancy today."

    "I'm going on a date," I announce with no small measure of pride.

    "A date? Well, good luck then!" the guard chuckles and emphasizes his point with a lewd gesture, clenching a fist and repeatedly slapping the other palm on top of it. I can't exactly disagree with his non-verbal suggestion, as that's exactly how every red-blooded young man like myself imagines the best possible conclusion of a romantic date.

    ---

    Ilze awaits me on the corner some three blocks down the street, leaning against a concrete pillbox built to guard this street intersection and smoking a cigarette. In cities and towns with "safe-zone" or "incorporated" status, every house-owner, or community of residents in case of apartment buildings, is responsible under Union law for the construction and maintenance of defenses on and adjacent to the building's premises. An obvious pillbox like this one might not be the most practical defense against an advanced foe like the Mekhs, but in the very least it can serve as a decoy, diverting enemy attention away from the actual, less conspicuous defense points.

    "Why, you are quite the looker today," she smiles as she speaks in her hearty alto that only adds to her natural charm. Ilze is wearing black throusers and a tight white blouse that seems almost about to burst over her voluminous breasts, upon which my eyes linger way longer than would be proper. She does seem to have overdone the perfume a bit, though - I can smell her favourite bittersweet lilac over the exhaust fumes of my motorcycle from five paces away.

    "You likewise," I return the compliment, "Shall we go?"

    "So, where will you be taking a girl this evening?" Ilze speaks, flicking the butt of her cigarette into a drain as she climbs on the motorcycle behind me.

    "I was thinking about going to a movie if you're cool with that," I state. Admittedly, I don't have much experience with dating, so my ideas on what to do on a date are mostly limited to stereotypes recounted in various pre-War novels. In the prosperous days before the Long Night, cinemas were one of the go-to spots for couples on date. Frankly, I'm not sure if we two qualify as a couple yet, having gone on two dates so far and briefly kissed once, though I definitely intend to rectify that shortly.

    "I heard they're showing this new flick from the Empire today. For Whom the Bell Tolls, I think it's called." Ilze states, "The next screening starts at 1900, I think."

    "Well, then we better get going," I say after consulting my watch that tells me there's only 10 minutes remaining. With the repertoire of Aizkraukle's only cinema coming mainly from pirated copies on flash-drives smuggled in from the West, there are no commercials and teaser trailers in the beginning like I'm told is often the practice elsewhere, movies starting at the designated time sharp, just like almost everything else in our society.

    "I'll hold on to you if you don't mind," she states, wrapping her hands around my waist. I don't say anything, being pretty certain that was a rhetorical question. Revving up my ride loudly a few times just to show off, I set off to the town's cinema.

    The establishment that the town of Aizkraukle proudly calls its cinema is a far cry from the titanic halls of propaganda and entertainment that used to bear that name before the Great War, and have since again appeared in more prosperous nations. In fact, a single screen in those establishments probably has more quadrature than our entire cinema, which is little more than a repurposed industrial hangar with about 300 seats and a projector on a platform bolted to the wall over the entrance. The cinema rarely shows more than two movies a day before the power is cut at night to conserve energy for essential facilities only, and the hall is rarely filled beyond half capacity. Most of the time they show old pre-War movies salvaged and restored by data-scavvers, along with the occasional contraband imports from the Empire or the Old Nations of Europe. The Union's brass generally isn't too keen about exposing the citizens to unredacted foreign ideas and values that may sometimes run contrary to proper Baltic morals and ways, but has made little effort to suppress the screenings of such films beyond imposing a requirement that controversial films have commentaries on questionable scenes inserted as subtitles. Evidently they realize that few things make something more appealing than banning them.

    ---

    The movie, a re-imagination of Ernest Hemingway's immortal novel, turns out to be highly controversial from the first few minutes on, explanatory commentary constantly lining the bottom half of the screen way more than translation subtitles. The original story is recast as taking place during the Winter War, the 20-year-long civil war that ravaged the remnants of the United States after the Long Night. In the best traditions of the Frenkish Empire that eventually supplanted US Provisional Government after this civil war, the protagonists are a racially-diverse bunch of Frenquista freedom fighters waging war against the tyranny of USPG regime. Although I consider myself open-minded towards foreigners and their ways, even I find myself a bit annoyed when the viewers learn that the protagonist and his mistress have been re-cast as a lesbian couple, and not even a particularly good-looking one. It certainly causes quite a bit of uproar in the hall, several people leaving annoyedly despite half of the screen being covered in subtitles disclaiming that the ongoing scenes depict a foreign lifestyle and do not represent the views or values of the screening establishment. They can later be heard outside the hall near the entrance, angrily arguing with the staff about getting a refund for their tickets, and the general distastefulness of showing this foreign smut to the public.

    Long story short, the movie turns out to be a bit of a disappointment, especially for me who has read the original novel.

    "Did you like it?" I ask Ilze when we leave the cinema two and a half hours later. It is more of a rhetorical question on my part, really.

    "You paid for the tickets, so ain't my place to complain," she grins, even though her opinion on the film is pretty obvious, "I think Roberta Jordano was too fat to be able to fight like she did without even breaking a sweat, and someone as pretty as Maria could definitely have found someone cuter than her to bang."

    "Well, that's cinema made by Communists and SJWs for you," I frown, "I don't know about you, but I don't feel like going home yet. Shall we grab something to drink and go sit somewhere?"

    "Sure," Ilze agrees, her normally-serious sapphire eyes sparkling mischievously. I've heard alcohol is forbidden for youths of our age in many foreign lands. Here in our country, nobody really cares. As far as anyone is concerned, a youngster old enough to go on patrol and fight along with the adults is old enough to drink, and old enough to answer for any drunken misdeeds.

    Our next stop is a liquor store down the block. I buy two bottles of semi-sweet blackcurrant wine from the South, certified as 100% radiation-free - an important distinction for anything coming from the southern parts of the Union.

    "Hendrik Vanag, are you looking to ply me with alcohol?" Ilze asks half-playfully, half-seriously.

    "I wouldn't dare even think it," I retort with a chuckle, "Any place in particular you want to go to?"

    "Let's go out of town, I know a neat spot near the reservoir a few clicks upstream!" Ilze proposes.

    "Is it far? I didn't bring any..." I am hesitant, but Ilze dismisses my concerns about her safety by pulling a bulky short-barreled S&W Model 500 revolver from her purse.

    "Don't you worry, honey, I've got this..." she states in her hearty voice and laughs out loud.

    "Is that a Five-hundred?" I'm immediately interested, "Where did you get a heater like that?" Revolvers of this caliber aren't common in our parts, and what looks by all means an authentic Smith & Wesson Model 500 from before the War is definitely not something you'd expect to find in the purse of a Baltic teenager.

    "Dad brought it as a gift for me from his trip to the Frenk-land," Ilze states with no small measure of pride about such a possession, "The ammo is really hard to come by though, so thank God for my old man's contacts in the Frenkish embassy in Riga. I've tried reloading the spent cartridges myself a few times, but could never get them quite right."

    Ilze is the second daughter of the Governor-Colonel of Jēkabpils, the next town upriver some 50 clicks from here. Although Jēkabpils District has it's own E&T camp, Ilze's old man has deliberately sent her to study here, in the district of another Governor-Colonel, so that nobody thinks to give her any kind of preferential treatment because of her father's status. To her credit, Ilze isn't fond of flaunting her father's elevated status - most students in our school don't even know who her father is other than the generic fact of him being a senior Tier Two officer. With the status of a Governor-Colonel come certain perks, such as occasional foreign trips, which the participants also use to do some shopping. Naturally, exotic and unusual guns are among the foremost interests of every self-respecting Balt. With gun laws in the Frenkish Empire being as liberal as they've ever been in America, the Colonel no doubt seized opportunity to get something special for his beloved daughter.

    "I am so going to shoot this thing!" I exclaim, probably looking like a small child on Christmas right now, "Will you let me shoot it sometime?"

    "Sure, I can drop by your place next week if you're free, and we can go out in the woods to shoot," Ilze agrees, "Just don't tell your friends. Otherwise, they'll want to shoot it too, but those bullets are pretty hard to come by."

    "It will be our little secret," I promise, "Speaking of which, I have a gift for you!"

    I pop open the helmet bin of my motorcycle, taking out my old Stahlhelm that dad used as a substitute for proper motorcycle helmet before me and the gift before replacing them with the two wine bottles. It's a small, round and quite heavy object for it's size, neatly wrapped in an old newspaper secured with some duct tape. Ilze examines it curiously before starting to unwrap it.

    "A hand grenade?" she exclaims, not sure whether to be happy or confused.

    "Not just any hand grenade. Try pulling the ring and flipping the lever forwards!" I instruct.

    "Wow, a lighter!" Ilze exclaims again as the lever clicks, a mechanism lighting a wick concealed where the grenade's fuse would normally go.

    "Took me two weeks in the crafts shop and some tinkering at home to get it just right," I proudly state, neglecting to mention the not-insignificant help I got from my best friend Valdis Liepnieks, "It's just that I know you smoke, so I thought a lighter would be something useful. I know it's a bit heavy and all..."

    "You made it all by yourself? How cool! Thank you!" Ilze smiles widely, pecking a quick kiss on my lips, "I got something for you as well!"

    She reaches inside her purse, and pulls out an elongated object, also wrapped in old newspaper but secured with a pair of hair bands. I unwrap it to discover a genuine Tier One fighting knife in my hands. It's a heavy dagger with a sturdy, thick blade meant for piercing human bone and android metal alike, best used with the augmented might of powered exoskeletons that Tier One commandos wear on missions. The laser-sharpened edges, said to be monomolecular, are so keen that I slightly cut my hand just by casually examining the blade.

    "Careful, it's very sharp!" Ilze cautions me upon noticing and quickly reaches out to kiss my cut finger.

    "I nabbed this from dad's personal stash of gear," she explains, seeing question in my eyes, "He's probably going to have my ass when he finds out, but what the hell..."

    "It's an awesome gift, but I can't accept it," I say despite the temptation to keep such a precious item, "I haven't earned it. And besides I don't want you to get in trouble."

    "I insist you keep it!" Ilze pushes the dagger back in my hands, "Let this be a reminder for you to keep up the good work and gun for Tier One. I checked out your grade list after our first date. They'd be idiots not to take you for Tier One training when you're old enough! And if they don't, they will after I have a couple words with them!"

    "I don't doubt that," I chuckle, reluctantly taking the knife and putting it away in the helmet bin as I imagine Ilze berating a bunch of lieutenant-colonel-and-above officers about failure to select me for Tier One training. Knowing her temper, she absolutely could - I know for a fact that her lips that are so sweet to kiss also know to utter the foulest curses and profanities if need be.

    "Why me?" I ask her, putting my Stahlhelm on her head. I don't have another helmet to spare, and Ilze's old man would no doubt see to my future career begin and end in the seediest of settlements in the Southern Reclamation Zone were something to happen to his daughter on my watch. She responds by snapping a Nazi salute while using two fingers as a substitute for Hitler mustache, prompting us both to laugh.

    "Why you what?" Ilze asks.

    "Why did you choose to go out with me of all the guys? I'm sure plenty of lads have asked you out."

    "You'd be surprised..." Ilze chuckles with a hint of bitterness.

    "I know for a fact that Igor and Valdis have asked you," I argue.

    "Igor..." Ilze scoffs, "That walking erection is about as picky about girls as a vulture is with food! And Valdis seems to think I'm the same kind of floozy as that Maira from Platoon 11A, who'll fuck him for a pair of import jeans! I bet they're both green with envy every time they see you with me now."

    "You didn't answer my question," I note.

    "Well, to answer shortly, I'm dating you because you asked me out more nicely than the other two, and because I can. And also because I'm partial to eyes like yours," Ilze states in her usual curt, direct manner.

    "You like my eyes, huh?" I'm not certain what to make of it. For some reason, I feel my gaze ought to be more intimidating than attractive.

    "Aye, I do," Ilze confirms and chuckles, "On that note, it doesn't take a genius to figure out which part of me you like the most..."

    Her remark sends the heat of embarassment rushing into my cheeks as I catch myself having stared at her cleaveage again for at least the past minute or two.

    "Can't blame a guy for appreciating fine gifts of nature," I state to my excuse, "Let's go to that spot of yours before they lock the gates."

    ---

    Ilze's proposed spot is a flooded gorge on the opposite side of the reservoir a couple clicks upstream. The town of Aizkraukle sits next to Pļaviņas hydroelectric power plant, the largest power station in the Baltic Union, and one of the largest surviving ones in Eastern Europe as well. Built during the Soviet era over 150 years ago and curiously named after a town some 35 clicks upstream rather than the one right next to it, this power plant is the first in a cascade of three built on Daugava River. During the Long Night and the following decades, this cascade was the beating heart of the nascent Union, providing vital electric power to the entire Baltic region and allowing isolated safe-zone communities to retain at least some degree of modern civilization. The three plants are of such economic importance that even the Mekhs refrained from bombarding anywhere near them or their dams during their two invasions.

    To get to the other side of the river, we must cross the dam, situated in a narrow gorge that required only minimal artificial damming to establish a reservoir. Grandpa once told me there used to be a scenic valley with tall cliffs of dolomite and limestone, all now submerged under 70 meters of water. The better part of the dam houses the power plant, but deep within the bowels of the dam also lie military bunkers that are said to house not just the local district, but the entire Eastern Latvia regional command. From there, the tunnels extend all over beneath the town, reaching over to the other coast through the lower reaches of the dam. During the last Mekh War when my dad was killed, the Mekhs never managed to penetrate deeper than the second level of the tunnel network during their 16 months of occupation. Even though I know the tunnels under the town as the top of my hand from back then, it doesn't constitute even one-fifth of what the military and the local residents have dug over the past 60 years, and few if any people know the entire network that is constantly changing and evolving.

    The road leading to the other bank goes down into the steep-sided river valley past an inconspicuous entrance to the military compound hidden inside the dam structure, and then into a road tunnel going through the entire dam under the spillways. At the far end, there's a walled-off area still considered part of the town and a gate with a military checkpoint.

    "Where are you two headed? It's getting late and we're locking down in 30," one of the guards speaks after pulling me over near the guardhouse.

    "Just going out for some, uh... fresh evening air, sergeant," I explain. The sergeant grins - it's pretty obvious to him what two infatuated teenagers have in mind leaving town on a late hour in warm summer night.

    "Then better make it quick! If you're not back in 30, you're spending the night outside the walls," he says.

    "Don't worry, sergeant, we can handle ourselves," I reassure him. The guard shrugs and waves his collegues to let us pass.

    ---

    After some 15 minutes drive through overgrown ruins of what likely used to be a suburban district of Aizkraukle before the War and some forest, Ilze directs me to pull off the road on a narrow trail. After a brief drive through the woods, we end up near the flooded gorge.

    I've been here before with Dad. Gorges like these that line the banks of the reservoir make for excellent fishing spots. It was here that he taught me how to use a quok for luring catfish.

    "What does a quok even look like?" Ilze asks after I tell her about that, "I know it's used to catch fish, but I've never actually seen one."

    "It looks like something between a boomerang and a bent spoon," I explain, "You hold it by the shorter end, and paddle through water with the spoony end, so that it makes this "quok-quok" sound. Catfish go crazy about it and will come right next to your boat if you get it right. Doesn't your dad ever take you fishing?"

    "Nah," Ilze shrugs, "He's more of a hunting person. Truth be told, he doesn't really have much time to take me anywhere."

    "That sucks," I remark, "I can take you fishing and show you how to use a quok when the summer holidays begin! If you want to, of course."

    "That would be so sweet of you," she smiles, "And I'll be sure to bring along extra bullets so that you can shoot my revolver more!"

    Using the last rays of the setting sun, I rig up a place for us to settle down, laying out a blanket I keep in the utility bag next to the helmet bin just for such occasions. Granted, it is coarse and smells of motor oil a bit, but neither of us is picky. Ilze has in the meantime taken to collecting firewood, since we'll need to keep warm if we are to stay here for the night.

    "Let's not light the fire just yet," she proposes, "Let's wait until the stars come up."

    I agree with her idea, and we decide to sit down for a drink. Neither of us have any glasses, so we have to make do drinking straight from the bottle.

    "Here's to our third date!" I call the first toast, taking a swig and passing the bottle to Ilze.

    "Whoo-wee, this stuff's got some kick!" she shudders after taking a swig herself, "We'll be totally wasted by the time we're done with those two bottles!"

    "Not that it's a bad thing," I laugh, "This doesn't taste like fortified wine. They're probably using some mutant yeast there down South."

    "I have an uncle who works down in the SRZ," Ilze states, "He says it's not that bad there anymore, certainly not like it used to be fifteen, twenty years ago. For most part it's just abandoned towns and farms, safe enough to live in, it's just that the people don't want to settle there after hearing all these tall tales about how bad the SRZ is."

    "Can't blame them. I wouldn't want to live next to a mutant-infested radland either," I argue.

    "My uncle says it's not the mutants that one needs to worry about down there, it's the normal people," Ilze speaks, "Ever since the reclamation program began, the Union's been shipping just about every misfit and fuck-up not worth outlawing to work in the SRZ decontamination crews and whatnot. Some try in earnest to reform and work hard and honest to get their sentences reduced, but others stick to their antisocial ways or even run off to join the raiders. There used to be mutants too back in his youth, but the military has since hunted most of them down, so any still out there stay deep inside KalRad where our patrols don't go looking for them."

    "Dad told me about them too," I say, "Back in his day, you weren't a proper Tier Two until you had bagged yourself your first radland mutt. Nowadays only Tier Ones still have to go hunting for mutts in the wastes."

    "It was different back then," Ilze agrees, "Back then, our people didn't have the Mekhs, the Zaps and the Oldies breathing down their necks every time they strayed into one or another useless stretch of wasteland claimed by them. And there were a lot more mutants than today as well."

    "I've always wondered what's it like down there in the South," I state after taking another swig and shuddering as the wave of warmth runs its course through my veins.

    "I'd like to go visit my uncle in Alytus, but my dad would never allow it," Ilze sighs, "Says he wants to have some grandkids someday. As do I, for that matter."

    Her father has a point. Even though the rad-storms from Kaliningrad Radland rarely sweep far into Union territory anymore, and the ones that do bring nowhere near the amount of radiation they once used to, they are still a hazard to be reckoned with. Not to mention that long-lasting fallout is just one of a number of nasties that wind and waters from KalRad can endanger one with - there's also derelict biological and chemical weapons, toxic contamination from industrial sources, and reportedly even swells of self-replicating nanites. With the Union's strict eugenics policies, exposure to any one of these hazards could disqualify Ilze from receiving a parental permit. She would have to apply for voluntary sterilization in order to be eligible for state welfare benefits, and any children born to her without a parental permit would likewise be ineligible for state healthcare or any other benefits. She would have to spend her own money on putting them through all the extensive tests and examinations to prove them completely healthy and fit in order to qualify them. And that is assuming her children wouldn't be taken from her shortly after birth to be euthanized if found deficient. The Union has taken far too great pains to rebuild the nation with a pure, healthy genepool to allow it to be recontaminated by irresponsible citizens unfit for procreation. And even if the Southern Reclamation Zone is indeed as relatively-safe as Ilze's uncle makes it out to be, the region is still hardly an appropriate place for a pretty young girl to travel to. There's simply far too many shady individuals whose basest urges might be tempted by the sight of a young woman of prime breeding age.

    "Smart man, your dad," I note.

    "You don't know him," Ilze sighs, "He's alright, but sometimes he can be such a pain in the ass! I guess that's because he's a Governor-Colonel and doesn't want anyone to think his daughters get any special treatment because of that."

    "Well, at least you still have a dad to complain about," I remark, Ilze's words having struck a sensitive string with me.

    "I'm sorry about what happened to your father," she hugs me, prompting me to hug her back uneasily, "Everyone in town says he was easily the finest soldier ever born around these parts."

    "Don't be," I respond, "Dad at least died on a field of battle, serving his country and people. He would've never wanted to expire in bed from disease or old age."

    "Still, I can see and feel how much you miss him," Ilze lets go of me and holds on to my hands, "Believe me, I would know. I lost my mom 'round the same time when your dad fell in battle."

    "Your mom?" I'm surprised, "Wait, isn't...?"

    "Evita? No, she's my step-mom. Dad remarried a couple years later, said a family cannot prosper without a woman's touch. Still, he never stopped loving mom, and Evita was decent enough never to ask him to," Ilze explains, and even though she tries her best to put on her usual nonchalant manner, I can easily sense it's difficult for her to talk about it, "She's a good woman, always been kind to me, and it's good that dad can move on with her."

    Ilze is from a different town and transferred to our E&T camp only after the last Mekh War, so I was always under the impression that Evita Bitāne who occasionally comes to visit Ilze is her real mother.

    "How, if I may know?" I ask.

    "Nothing as glorious as your dad, I'm afraid. She was driving a boat across Daugava during the spring flood, ferrying some medical supplies to a civilian hospital during the Mekh War. The current was strong, an ice floe came her way, and she didn't manage to dodge it, so the boat capsized. Mom made it to the shore, only to die of pneumonia two weeks later. Ironically, the supply of antibiotics that could have saved her had gone down with the boat."

    "My condolences," I nod, "But there's nothing glorious about losing a parent, even if he or she died the way one wanted, doing the right thing. They are gone, perhaps even celebrated as heroes, but we remain behind to pick up the pieces."

    "Let's drink to our parents, living and otherwise," Ilze suggests, blowing her nose in hope I won't notice the tears rolling down her cheeks. I need not be asked twice, eager to change such a depressing subject.

    ---

    The night has set in, and the sky is full of stars. Full moon shines over the reservoir, reflecting from it's mirror-smooth surface. In the distance on the other coast shine the lights of the town. Crickets chirp and nightingales sing in the warm summer night, and dozens of glowworms shine their eerie green light in the surrounding bushes.

    We spend some time talking of various things and gazing in the sky at the stars, inasmuch the canopy of surrounding trees allows us.

    "I wonder what's it like to live on the Moon," Ilze states, pointing at the occasional golden spots dotting the pale disk of Earth's only natural satellite. Those are Lunar cities, built before the Great War and largely spared its ravages. Moonies have barely any presence or interest down here on Earth, though they are said to be a prime power up in space.

    "Jumping and throwing things should certainly be easy there," I chuckle, "Imagine how far you could chuck a grenade in basic combat readiness test at 1/6th Earth gravity!"

    "Damn..." Ilze grins after doing some quick math, "I'd be almost as effective as a grenade launcher. Only problem, so would be almost everyone else."

    "Mars would be more interesting, I think," I say, "I read how they started terraforming the place before the Great War, had even gotten close to making a breathable atmosphere when the bombs fell. Folks from before had some real crazy tech bordering on the arcane, stuff that even the Frenks and the Mekhs these days can barely even comprehend, let alone replicate. Nowadays, Mars is mostly just hydro-farms and solar plants and mines with the occasional dome-city in between, but there's also plenty of old bases and techno-ruins from before. Salvagers who know what to look for can make fortunes there."

    "They can have all the fortunes they like," Ilze shrugs indifferently, "I'd never trade... this for a pile of cash and having to live out my life in a red desert with no green, no water and barely-breathable air."

    And she points at everything surrounding us. I'm compelled to agree. I'm definitely not cut out to be a spacefarer either.

    "Hey, let's go swimming! That's something even the most filthy-rich Martians can't afford to do!" Ilze suddenly proposes.

    "What, now?" I exclaim, confused by the suddenness of her idea.

    "No, in the bloody morning! Of course now, silly!" she says, starting to undress without any heed to my presence. While I don't have a problem with going swimming butt-naked if I have to, doing it with a girl for company is a first for me, so prudishness dictates that I look away and take a few steps in the dark next to my motorcycle before starting to take off my own clothes.

    "What, you never seen a girl with no clothes on?" Ilze laughs, noticing my antics, "You've been staring at my tits like a hungry baby for the better part of the day already, might as well give'm a good look now!"

    It's too dark to make out any details as she turns towards me in her current topless state, but it's still enough to give me red cheeks and a boner. I can't tell whether I find more embarassing the current state of my manhood, or the fact that Ilze had noticed what had frequently caught my eyes all day long despite my efforts to hide it. While I am busy trying my best to convince my little friend to return to its more socially-appropriate form, she slips out of the last of her garments and heads towards the flooded gorge. On her way, Ilze steps into the moonlight that fully reveals her forms, instantly destroying my efforts at suppressing physical signs of arousal and instead leaving me with a rock-solid boner.

    "Come on! Don't be shy!" she turns back and beckons to me seductively as she wades into water, the better parts of her concealed by the shadow. Sighing with frustration and doing my best to cover up with both hands, I make a run for it and leap head-first into the water, hoping that Ilze won't notice.

    The water is cold, it still being early summer, but we are both used to it - we are Balts, after all. Warm showers are a privilege awarded only once a week in E&T, exception being the infirm. Like elsewhere along the reservoir, it is safe to dive here head-first. Just a few paces from the riverbank, the bottom plunges into the abyss almost vertically. That and the pitch-black water makes it quite scary to swim here, especially with the knowledge that we're not the only things swimming around here, nor the biggest. Pļaviņas Reservoir is famous Union-wide for its giant catfish, not a year passing without someone catching a man-sized one, and even bigger three-meter-long monsters aren't unheard of. Some say they grow this big because of the radiation on the bottom, from the fallout washed in by Daugava from the Polotsk Wasteland. Others think that's simply because few have been catching them since the Great War, allowing the fish to live and grow to such great sizes. The smaller ones I used to catch with Dad weren't radioactive - this we checked with a Geiger counter just to be sure - so it's most probably the latter case. That said, the giants that I've personally seen dragged from the reservoir's depths are enough to give any swimmer second thoughts. Known to devour large waterfowl and even lunge on creatures drinking near the banks, the largest of them could easily devour a younger child or drag down an adult. Last summer folks caught an ancient giant catfish in Koknese, a town some 15 clicks upstream, and found what was left of some poor Mekh in it's stomach. Fragments of skull and bone, some indigestible cyber-implants, and 536th Tula Motorized Infantry Brigade unit badge. Even though the poor sod was most likely long dead by the time a catfish decided to make a meal of him, the simple fact that it was able to isn't a very comforting thought, along with the fact that it's catfish spawning season now. They tend to nest near the banks in places like this gorge, and can be quite aggressive if some disturbs them.

    We swim out into the moon-lit reservoir. There's not a sound to be heard asides from the nightingales, the crickets, and the occasional splashing of fish in the distance. The latter uncomfortably reminds me that catfish feed mostly by night. I know that the likelihood of feeling cold slimy barbels wrap around my leg an instant before I'm dragged into the abyss to be devoured is pretty much zero, but the mere knowledge of there being bigger and more dangerous things in the water gives me a mild sense of thrill and danger. Not that it's a bad thing.

    "Ever hear about that giant catfish they caught in Koknese last year?" I ask Ilze to mess with her a bit, hiding a mischievous grin.

    "Aye, what of it? I heard they found some Mekh soldier's bones in it," she responds.

    "Well, I was just thinking... What if there's more like it somewhere down here, watching us right now.... Waiting for the right moment..." I speak, trying to sound spooky.

    "They ain't "watching" us," Ilze laughs, "Catfish can't see for shit with their tiny eyes!"

    "Well, you know what I mean."

    "Still, they don't eat people."

    "One of them ate that Russkie."

    "Who was most likely dead and rotting on the bottom anyway."

    "You are no fun," I grumble mostly in jest after my efforts to scare Ilze with the prospect of being eaten by a giant catfish have failed miserably. She splashes some water at me in retaliation for my remark. I return the favour, and in no time we find ourselves locked in a splashing battle, which I let her win.

    "If you want to talk scary stuff, rather imagine what it would be like swimming near the power plant, where you could get sucked down into the turbines and come out on the other side completely chummed," Ilze gives her own try at telling scare tales, "How's that for scary?"

    "You'd never get into the turbine, silly," I retort, "They have big iron grids in front of the turbine vents, so they don't get damaged ingesting all sorts of junk floating in the water."

    "Oh yeah? Then why is it forbidden to swim near the plant?"

    "Because you could still get sucked down and drown. Not that the guards would fish you out of the water and give you a good whooping long before that happened."

    "You're no fun yourself," Ilze frowns, "Your turn!"

    "Alright... Imagine there's a gang of raiders sneaking through the bushes while we're frolicking out here. What if they've already found our spot, are rifling through our stuff as we speak, and are preparing to jump us as soon as we come out of the water?" I do my best to sound scary.

    Ilze looks at me wide-eyed and starts swimming back to the bank at best speed before breaking into laughter a few strokes later.

    "You win," she concedes, "That really is a scary thought!"

    "Imagine the things they'd do to us..." she says almost dreamily after a brief pause, "First they would definitely torture us a little to warm up, maybe break some bones or pull some nails. Then the lot of them would probably rape me while making you watch. Or, if they're the more perverted kind, they'd do it the other way around and make me watch while they're having their way with you instead. I'd definitely scream horribly..."

    "They wouldn't let us scream, not this close to the town. They'd probably gag us with a rag or something first," I play along with her new scare tale.

    "They could gag you with my panties... But no, you'd definitely like that too much! Rather, they could gag you with the smelly, filthy underwear of their big, fat ugly boss!"

    "Why would their boss take off his underwear to gag me in the first place?"

    "Because he'd be busy raping one of us, remember?"

    "Why couldn't he just pull his pants down halfway? And they would already have all of our clothes to gag us with."

    "Because then we wouldn't have the plot excuse for him to gag you with his underwear, silly! Anyway, after they'd be done with that, they could tie us both to a big spit and roast us alive over a slow fire..."

    "...but they would take us off from it soon, so they can start eating us while we are still alive!" I conclude with a malicious grin, "Oh, and they'd also make us eat slices from each other while they're at it!"

    "You'd love to eat a piece of me, wouldn't you?" Ilze laughs.

    "I can certainly think of a few parts I'd like to try... You know what would be the worst torture for me if that happened?" I chuckle and ask.

    "No, what?"

    "That those raiders would drink all our booze while eating us!" I laugh.

    "You drunkard, you!" Ilze plays offended and splashes some water at me, "And here I was hoping it would be having to watch me suffer so terribly..."

    "Look at it differently - at least we would die and go to heaven together," I argue, "If there is one, anyway. And if not, no big deal, because we'd still get to die together."

    "Do you believe in heaven, Hendrik?" she asks me on a more serious note.

    "I don't know... Dad never gave much about God and religion. He always said that a man needs only his wits and pair of firm hands to make his own heaven or hell right here on this earth. Mom's the more spiritual one in our family, though not the churchgoing type either. She's baptized, but attending church on Easter and Christmas is about the sum of her religious life. I guess they both wanted me to figure out what I believe in for myself," I answer. The majority of Balts consider themselves Christians of one denomination or another, a sizable minority having taken up the new heathen "Ancestral faith". For most, though, the extent of their religious practice is roughly like my mom's - limited to weddings, funerals and few special occasions. Though the Union authorities position themselves as strictly-secular, in practice religious groups enjoy considerable government support, provided the priests are on-board with the government doctrines and willing to preach them to their flock.

    "Is your dad religious?" I ask.

    "Quite a bit, yeah," Ilze states, and from her tone I get the feeling she doesn't quite agree with her father on spiritual matters, "Since the majority of people in our town go to church, he says that as the Governor-Colonel he must set a good example."

    "And you?"

    "Me?" Ilze isn't sure, "I don't really know. I don't concern myself with such matters. If there is a heaven or hell after death, good for us, I guess - and if there's not, then there ain't anything we can do about it either, so there's no point worrying about it either way."

    ---

    It's getting cold, so we swim back to the shore. Having brought no towels for the unplanned dip, each of us has to make do with a half of the coarse blanket that smells of gasoline and motor oil and which we use to sit on.

    "We should've worn something more outdoor-ish," I remark, getting dressed and sneaking a peek at Ilze as she does the same.

    "Bit too late for should-haves... Coming out here was admittedly kind of a spontaneous idea," she states, "Care to light the fire?"

    I use that as an opportunity to try out my gift. The Tier One combat knives come with a frizzen for starting fires screwed into its hollow grip. Collecting enough dry shavings and splinters to serve as a starter is quick with the knife's razor-sharp edge. The frizzen, I've heard, is made of a special alloy that makes extra-hot and long-lasting sparks. With the combination of both, I have a fire going in a matter of minutes.

    "Pity we didn't bring something to cook on that fire," I state, sitting back next to Ilze, "I'm hungry and the wine ain't helping either."

    "Too late now," she shrugs, "Guess we'll have to wait until morning."

    After opening the second bottle and taking a swig, I pass it on to Ilze and gaze at the fire in silence. For some reason it occurs to me that this is probably the most ancient of distinctly-human activities. Ever since it first occurred to some anonymous caveman to build and preserve a fire to ward off predators, not a single generation of humans has grown up without sitting around a fire. Even after humans developed technology to destroy entire continents at whim, travel beyond their homeworld and shape other worlds to their liking, they would still gather around a fire and enjoy it's warmth and sense of security that it provides. Even the Martians and the Moonies have fireplaces to gather around in their artificial hi-tech habitats, the practical issues of making real fire of open flame in their self-contained environs making the act all the more special. Fire has been man's best friend aeons before the dog, and will remain so until the end of Mankind, the last human to walk this world probably breathing his last in the comfort near a warm fireplace.

    "You look very thoughtful," Ilze remarks, holding on to my hand, "What's on your mind?"

    "Wow... Never took you for a philosopher," she chuckles after I relay my thoughts to her, "But I guess you are right. Fire is man's best friend."

    "Ancient Persians used to worship fire. They would leave their dead to the carrion birds, because burning them would defile the fire, and burying them would pollute the ground," I mention, recalling having read it in a book from Dad's library.

    "I think they did it more for practical reasons," Ilze states, "Ain't easy to dig graves in all that rock they have there, nor is there much wood growing around in those mountains. Vultures, on the other hand, live wherever there's carrion to eat."

    "Makes sense," I agree. Makes me wonder what do they do with the dead in contemporary Iran. The place used to be a fundie Islamic republic before the Great War. Nowadays it's more of a secular military dictatorship closely affiliated with the Mekhs. They say Iran survived the War and the Long Night pretty well, having vast underground complexes of shelters dug deep under the mountains, big enough to preserve a sizeable part of the original population.

    After a few more swigs of wine, Ilze leans down against me with her head in my lap.

    "I'm still cold," she says, looking up at me with her lively blue eyes, "Will you keep me warm?"

    I get the feeling that she's just looking for an excuse to squeeze close to me. Not that I mind in any way.

    "It's what I'm here for, ain't I?" I say, playing with a strand of her honey-blond hair. I've heard that blue eyes and blond hair is something of a stereotype about Balts in the outside world. Can't say I've met a lot of outsiders to compare with, but there evidently must be quite a few such folk among us for such a stereotype to exist.

    "Do you ever wonder what it'd be like to be married?" Ilze speaks, responding to my fiddling by holding on to my free hand, "Have a wife to wait you at home every day, and kids to raise?"

    "Wait, you're suggesting what I think you are?" I exclaim.

    "I'm not suggesting anything, Hendrik Vanag," she looks at me sternly, "I am asking you a normal question, and even if I was suggesting what you think, we'd still have to pass E&T first and get certified for a marital permit."

    "Well, I don't know..." I say, "I mean, I'd have to get married to qualify for Tier One training anyway, so sure, I do think what it'd be like from time to time. And if you want to know, I absolutely wouldn't mind if it was with you."

    Such is the custom - only family men are eligible for training as Tier One commandos. The idea is that family men, having dependants, tend to be more sensible and level-headed than unmarried men, and will do their utmost to come home from their mission alive. Though this rule is relaxed at times when suitable men are in short supply, candidates are still expected to be in the very least formally engaged.

    "I wonder if they'd pass us," Ilze speaks. The eugenics commission examining every new couple tends to be pretty strict - a strong and healthy family is, after all, a guarantee of strong and healthy children, the future of our nation. Gone are the times when starting a family was the inalienable right to every worthless waste of breath that the old world was so full of, if the propaganda films we are regularly shown at school are anything to go by. Truly enough, some of the things that existed in the old world, such as single mothers and abusive families of substance addicts, are essentially unthinkable in our current society. These days, a citizen grown too fond of drink or too heavy-handed with his family will be given a warning once, ordered to straighten out the second time, and outlawed the third time - no further questions, no lengthy debates, no doubts about the legality or fairness of it. The Founding Colonels in their great wisdom decided to break the cycle that had bred the throngs of useless people whose sole excuse of existence was to legitimize the reign of the vilest, basest specimens of humanity who had brought the old world and very Mankind to the brink of annihilation. Part of doing that was to ensure that only the worthy would be allowed to form families and rear children from there on. So every couple that seeks a formal recognition of their relationship from the state must first undergo a rigorous examination and be issued a permit to start a family and have children.

    "I don't see why not. As far as I know, we're both healthy, and wouldn't have a problem getting the work assignments we want. If I don't make the cut to Tier Two, I'll definitely sign up for work with the town militia or the Enforcers. No way in hell they could rate me as anything less than a Three," I state. Tier Threes are all those citizens who do not qualify for service in the regular army of Twos, but are fit enough and willing to serve as part-time militiamen.

    "If they passed me for Tier Two, I'd want to pull a term or two before settling down and having kids," Ilze states, looking up dreamily and holding my hand, "Earn a higher rank, do my part in making our country safe, that sorta thing... Who knows, if I turn out to be good at it, I might even gun for full diamond. But I'm definitely having kids at some point."

    Though there are no formal restrictions against women partaking in the Union military in any capacity, and some even qualify for Tier One training, most are assigned to non-combat tasks and few ever attain a rank above Captain. The rigorous fitness standards are simply too much for most females, and most also know they are more valuable to society as mothers and housekeepers than fighters, leaving Tier Two to start a family after serving one or two five-year terms. If Ilze plans to ever earn the triple-diamond insignia of a full Colonel, she'd most likely have to choose career over family, though I say nothing to not ruin her dreams.

    "Do you love me, Hendrik?" Ilze asks after a long pause and a hefty swig of wine.

    "Uhh, I don't know..." her question takes me by complete surprise, "I... I think I do."

    "Are you being serious, or just say what you think I want to hear?" she looks at me, trying to look stern, yet appearing visibly inebriated.

    "Well, I'm definitely interested in you, I like you..." I'm not sure what to say, "I don't know if love is the proper word. My dad always said that only lust is instant, that real love is only born slowly over time, and we've been dating for only what, a month?"

    "My dad in turn said that whatever one does, one should either be serious about, or not do it at all," Ilze points out, "So, are you serious about us?"

    "I, uhh... Well, if you put it like that, I guess I am..."

    "You guess, or you are? It's a simple question, really!"

    "Yeah, sure... I am serious about it!"

    "Then say it!"

    "Say what?"

    "Say that you love me! I want to hear it."

    "Uh, okay... I love you."

    "Come on, you can do better! Say it like you mean it! Say my name!"

    "Alright... Ilze Bitāne, I love you!"

    "Much better... And I love you back, Hendrik Vanag!"

    Before I can respond, Ilze reaches out and pulls me in for a long, passionate kiss. I bend my knees, both to elevate her closer to me, and to prevent a re-emergent boner from prodding into her back.

    We spend the next few minutes kissing eagerly, the nightingales and the crickets having fallen silent in the woods around, the only sound being the eerie howls of owls deeper in the forest. Even in this moment of bliss, a part of my mind remains ever-vigilant and watchful, but the owls tell me it's safe for now - were there predators or raiders lurking in the dark, they would not be hooting so loudly and obviously.

    "Wow, that was... something," Ilze purrs after we finally let each other go for a moment. Even though she seems calm and nonchalant as ever, I can feel her heart race with excitement, just as my own does. We stare at each other briefly before instinct again brings our lips together. My hands slip under her blouse, exploring the skin of her back. They find three scars, two sustained in training and one in real combat. A fourth one mars Ilze's right cheek, a cut left by a grazing fragment from a raider's pipe-bomb.

    "Sometimes they still hurt when the weather changes," she purrs upon noticing where my hands linger, breathing heavily with lust.

    "I like them," I mutter. The scent of her hair makes me dizzy, as does her lilac perfume.

    "Guys don't usually appreciate scars in women," Ilze says, pointing to her cheek. I don't hesitate and kiss the scar that mars it.

    "I like it," I declare. She looks at me for a moment as if to make sure I'm serious, and kisses me again.

    She begins to unbutton my shirt and kiss my neck, her teeth sometimes grazing it a bit too tightly for comfort.

    "Hendrik Vanag," she purrs, "Sing something for me!"

    "What should I sing for you?" I ask.

    "Do you know the "White Rose"?"

    Everybody in our parts knows the "White Rose". It's a Zap song, brought over to our language since our first days of friendship back in the 1920's.

    So I sing, and Ilze sings along:

    White rose blooms in my own garden free
    My beloved must in the war-field be
    In heated battle calls us Fatherland
    In defense of her I must courageous stand


    Roses much I'll weave onto your hat
    Keep me close wherever you are at
    Charge into the battle fearless, free
    I will weave your victor's wreath

    We and the Zaps have a lot of songs in common. This is one of them, a ballad about a Polish girl seeing her love off to war. Though the Union and Zapadoslavia aren't formally allied, but our nations and predecessor states have a long history of friendship and mutual defense going back as far as 1920. Zaps declared themselves friends when they had no reason to during the last Mekh war, their volunteers fought by our side like brothers for no reward other than fame. As I continue, so too does Ilze continue to sing along in her hearty alto that somehow makes the whole song sound even more bleak and sad.

    Far away, where distant cannons roar
    Freely soars a fearless warrior's soul
    Bravely a soldier into battles walk
    White rose at his chest does forever talk

    Fell he in battle heated and fierce
    Gave he to Fatherland his life so dear
    White rose shines where stopped his heart
    In memory of all men who went to war

    A grave-mound stands, single and one
    Undecorated, abandoned all alone
    Just the white rose blooms on it
    The rose goes with him, it will never quit

    Rest in peace, my beloved dear
    Under spring roses, have no fear
    In my own garden roses wilted stand
    You won't be forgotten by your Fatherland

    "Hendrik Vanag," Ilze speaks with a deliberate emphasis on my name and accent, "Do you still want me?" Not that there's anybody else to hear.

    "Was that a rhetorical question, or am I actually supposed to answer it?" I chuckle and lean over to kiss her.

    ---

    Hours pass like minutes, at least so it would seem. As the morning raises and the birds begin to sing again, I finally drop to her side exhausted, and she drops to mine.

    "Hendrik Vanag," she breathes heavily, "Do you still think I'm your white rose?"

    "Yes, I do!" I proclaim before having another go at her again, "I will have you again, and again, if anything contradicts it! And if I have to swear faith to the archbishop in Preiļi, I will do it, if the tenets of faith so must!"

    She plunges me into kisses of lust again, and hours pass again without further question or doubt.

    ---

    Only when the beams of the morning light start to shine over the treetops do I finally feel tempted to rise with my beloved woman resting on my shoulder. Sure, many might call me but a whelp not yet worthy of a mate, but I and she both have chosen each other, and that ain't a thing even the High Marshal himself couldn't hope to change. We both have fought and killed enemies of our nation, so let any who might be tempted to question our relationship come and say that to our face.

    "They'll open the gates soon," Ilze purrs in my ear, her head resting on my shoulder.

    "We'll go when they do," I respond with predictably little enthusiasm about leaving so soon. All I ever want is to feel her body closer, tighter to me. Knowing the townsfolk, we'll probably be the gossip subjects of choice for the next week or two, until a new couple of teenage sweethearts decides to sneak off at night. I don't want that kinda publicity, and neither does she.

    "I don't care what they say," Ilze responds, giving me her "official" blank stare when I bring up us being gossiped about, "When I said that I want you, to be with you, I meant it, Hendrik Vanag!"

    There's no point in arguing, I guess. There's still hours to wait until the gates open. And I lust for that girl too much to let that time go to waste.

    "Ilze Bitāne, I want you too..."
    Last edited by CyberWar; February 2nd, 2020 at 04:59 AM.

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