Category: NonConsent/Reluctance Stories

Jessa Ch. 15

by Chimera44©

By the time Jessa had caught her breath and thought she might be able to walk again, she had expected Torah to chase her back to her computer. Instead, he appeared to have fallen asleep. She slipped off the bed with the greatest care and tiptoed from the room and down the hall. Erich was watching her when she emerged in the kitchen. He looked from her to the hallway, then nodded and turned back to his cooking. Jessa continued to tiptoe to the computer room and dove back into her research almost as avidly as she had welcomed the sex with Torah.

When Erich startled her into a soft gasp as he laid a plate of food next to her, she couldn't have said if it was his ability to move silently, or her wholesale concentration on the task of learning, and/or memorizing as much data as possible in the tiny window of time allotted her. Whenever she hit a roadblock, she flung herself at whiplash speeds into a different direction. It wasn't like there weren't questions aplenty to pursue.

She'd been at it about two additional hours, picking at the food Erich had provided - gourmet cooking obviously wasn't his forte, but it was edible and that was all that counted at the moment - when Torah was suddenly in the room, pulling her away from the computer. "It's time. We have to leave."

"I have to delete my history," Jessa protested.

"It's a secure system," Torah pointed out, tapping his watch.

Jessa put her hands on her hips. "Do you want council security or mine?"

Torah straightened. "How long?"

"Ten minutes," she replied confidently. He nodded and turned away, but Jessa saw him rubbing his face wearily as he headed down the hall. She hustled to clear her history of usage in ways that couldn't be recovered and ran out into the yard where the car was, determined to meet the timeline she had given Torah.

Torah gestured her toward the back seat and she stubbornly shook her head. "You need to sleep. You take the back seat."

On the far side of the car, Erich rolled his eyes. "And you'll navigate?"

Jessa spread her feet and planted them. "I have a photographic memory and have studied countless current and historic maps."

"Enough, you two," Torah snapped. "Jessa, back seat. You're our internet interface. Erich, just drive to the house Jacq has prepared for us. I will sleep when it's appropriate." He looked at them sternly when they continued to stare at each other. "Move out!" He added, emphatically.

Jessa climbed into the back seat and settled stubbornly in the uncomfortable center of the seat, struggling with the too small seatbelt only after Erich glowered at her. Mostly, she watched Torah as they pulled out onto an old highway. She didn't remember seeing him look tired ever, but maybe it was just him finally letting down some defenses.

"So what did you learn?" Torah asked, leaning his seat back as Erich drove west and south into the French twilight.

Jessa shrugged uncomfortably, even though neither of them were looking at her. "Not much more than I already told you. I focused on the Italy connection..."

"What about Drau?" Torah interrupted.

"Nothing," she said. "I mean, I should say mysteriously nothing," she hastened to add when Torah scowled.

"There are gaps in his history?" Erich asked.

"No. Which is part of the mystery. Everybody has gaps in their history, especially nowadays. His history is meticulous. And doesn't fit. He has a strong Germanic accent, indicating that he is from Berliner Region. Or from the outlands. But his history says he's from northern Rhine Region. Near the coast. The coast was most adaptive to the new European reality. Like you," Jessa added with a sidelong glance at Torah. "Minimal accent, open to cultural diversity." She took a deep breath. "Bona, you sister's husband, is from Austria Region." She took a deep breath. "And your mother is from what used to be Poland."

"I didn't ask you to check into my family," Torah growled.

"I'm just trying to make a point," Jessa hurried on. "Drau and his history - his real history - is pure Berliner Germanic. I'm sure of it. That is just highly unlikely if his family really came from a region that bordered on the likes of France and Belgium and the Netherlands. You've been to Summer's End. Region of origin goes out the window the first night there. I know the Circles are different, but they are no less aware of the need for genetic diversity." She noted the pulse at his temples speed up.

"So what are you saying?" Torah demanded.

"Only that there is a reasonable probability that Drau is not who he says he is. That's as far as I've gotten with his history." She glanced at Erich and straightened in the seat. "Your history is similar. Very Germanic. Probably Berliner Region..."

"Don't you dare put me in the same lifeboat with Drau," Erich hissed.

"You told me to do the research," Jessa argued defensively, sinking back into the car seat. That lasted only a heartbeat before she was again leaning between the two front seats. "I'm right, aren't I? I'm thinking somewhat north toward the Black Forest." She saw Erich's jaw set and Torah glanced toward her with a hint of respect, about the most he ever gave.

"I don't have an accent," Erich stated flatly, his eyes on the road.

"Everybody has an accent," she said in a softer tone. It hadn't been her intention to anger Erich further. She had slipped into lecturing mode, as if there were any classrooms anymore to be lectured to. "When I hear you speak English, I hear too perfect, like someone who worked very hard to learned to speak the language to perfection. We, almost all of us in Europe, grew up speaking English well before we started doing coursework in the language of our ancestors. But we learned that English from parents who learned from their parents who learned from parents who originally spoke the language of their land of origin. Our accent is colored by that distant, if persistent, attraction to certain sounds, like a genetic memory."

"And you learned all this from your coursework?" Erich demanded, though his sarcasm lacked a certain bite.

Jessa shrugged. "I took a course in linguistics - Etymology, actually. But I became fascinated for a time after I read an old article about Native North Americans. The author had studied a vast number of pure or no less than fifty percent genetic natives, categorizing them by reservation born and raised or urban, and by whether they learned either their native language or a pan-tribal language from birth, or later by schooling or through cultural programs, or never at all. Or if their native language was lost forever. No native speakers or recordings or anything. His premise was that they all had a recognizable accent, major components of which were present regardless of regional English accents, and which often overrode any regional accent. For example, he cited a subject that was born and raised in Brooklyn, had never been exposed to his native Sioux language but had more accentual characteristics in common with an Inuit born and raised in Northern Alaska, than a fellow Caucasian Brookliner. He had a co-author whose specialty was around the biology of speech mechanics and brain language centers and the physical production of vocal sounds. Anyway, he was able to discount any physiological basis for the accents. Not to mention that fine permutations of the accents could be shown to vary from one tribal language to another. He was about to expand his research to Latin and South America when the pandemic hit," she added softly. "I found the correlation to our situation fascinating and trained myself to listen for accents." She ducked her head. "It was the first thing that drew me to Peter - Pietro. He had a strong Italian accent, because his ancestors came to English more recently than most of us."

"Even if all that is true," Erich demanded, "If my English is so perfect, why would you decide that my original language is German? I could be a Russian or a Brit, passing as a Berliner."

Jessa kept her face a straight as possible, denying the urge to smirk. "Because you speak French with a German accent," she replied, then hurried on. "And when you speak German, it's flawless, not like someone who learned it as a second language."

"I thought you didn't speak German," Erich retorted, though it was to Torah that he threw a glower.

Jessa raised her hands defensively. "I don't, save a word or two in passing. And I'm only slightly better at reading it. But when I was in the midst of my language fascination, I taught myself to listen for sounds, not words or grammar."

Torah waved a hand between them, trying to disrupt an argument before it grew. "So what did Drau's history say? He's no fool. There will be fact mixed in with fantasy. Fewer lies to keep straight."

Jessa closed her eyes, picturing mental screen shots. "His father, Frederich, was a council member also. Bunch of Rhineland in hops and wine grapes, then he put the land under an Elite overseer and moved even further north to invest in shipping. Met his wife there, raised Drau there and in Dusseldorf when the council was in session."

"And you don't believe any of that?" Torah asked.

Jessa shook her head. "I didn't just look up facts. I mean, it's the internet, after all. Even if it's dark or classified by the Council, rumors abound. Frederich was considered an absentee landlord even before he joined the council. He was gone more often than he was at his manor on the lands and after he moved north, same thing. He invested in shipping, but no one could accuse him of micromanaging his investments. His absences were charged to Council business, but they were far greater than those of other Council members who lived outside Dusseldorf, including your father." When Torah scowled, she hurried on.

"His wife's history was quite vague. She was supposedly from the area of Bremen, orphaned at a young age, and very reclusive under the premise that her parents perished under traumatizing circumstances but I could find no corroborating information. The gist of it was that no one was surprised when she didn't appear in public very often, even on the few occasions that Frederich made appearances at his shipyards or Rhine valley manor, or even at his digs in Dusseldorf. No one was very concerned, because Drau - presumably with his mother - was keeping up and out-performing at his program work. When he turned twelve, he was a constant shadow of his father, again pretty much as was expected."

"So, what do you think?" Torah asked.

"I need more time..."

"I'm asking your opinion, not a recitation of facts."

Jessa rubbed her hands on the coarse pants Jacq had provided, trying to buy time. "I'm not comfortable with speculation. My training screams against preconceived notions."

"Throw your training out," Torah said without inflection. He threw a warning look at Erich. Jessa glanced in the rearview mirror to see Erich eyes on her and quickly looked down at her lap again. She wasn't sure why Erich seemed so irritated with her of late, save maybe that he was being drawn into a situation he really did not relish, and blamed her for that. There, she realized ecstatically. She had just taken a giant leap of faith and speculated.

She took a deep breath. "I think Frederich was really from Berliner Region and was set up in the Rhine Valley on the lands he took over. I think that maybe..." She trailed off.

"We don't have time for coyness," Torah warned.

Jessa sighed. "I kept asking myself what his reason for suddenly appearing in that area might be. Not that he doesn't have the right to move at will, but it all seemed to be wrapped in mystery, including the implication that the lands were originally owned by an ancestor of his. I traced back to before the plague. They were owned by an American, in the movie business. After the pandemic, a few people stayed on to caretake the place, figuring they were safer there. It appeared that Frederich showed up and claimed the land, but appeased the occupants by keeping them on and providing well for them. And the family history that he gave everybody certainly didn't have him arriving from East Germany.

"I think, too, that his wife was from the region of Berlin and that she was kept in seclusion because her English was so poor, which would mark her right away as not from Bremen. Even their servants were purported to have German accents. And Drau was obviously a German speaker before he learned English."

"What of Frederich, then, if a heavy German accent was so telling?" Erich challenged.

"Apparently, he hid his better. Perhaps with intense training to be able to pass as a Rhinelander? The rumor was put out that Drau spent much of his childhood with his original wet nurse, who spoke mostly German, hence his accent."

"None of this makes sense," Torah complained. "Why the subterfuge? The council for that area of the continent is made up of Berliners and Rhinelanders, as well as Austrians and others. "What would be the purpose of hiding his origin? It's not like his homeland would impact his opportunity to get on the Council. Hell, they've been a few seats short for over a decade with all the health issues. They've had to open the seats up to wider and wider circles just to find competent Councilors."

Jessa sat back and wrung her hands. "That's the mystery that I haven't unraveled yet. If you're trying to pull something over on the Council itself, you don't exactly post it on the Councilary Web." Jessa heard a faint growl from deep in his throat.

What about this doctor he was trying to set us up with? Johnat?" Torah asked.

"He doesn't exist," she stated flatly, then hurried on when he straightened in his seat abruptly. "There's one thing that the Germans are really good at, well, more than one, but to my point, they track people really well. They might not have much more than a name, a date of birth, and a current location, but even lowborn can be found easily on a population list. I tried every permutation of the spelling of Johnat that I could think of, and even some that I couldn't think of. I couldn't find anything."

"Maybe he's within the city of Berlin. Maybe he's a Security Forces doctor," Torah suggested, leaning back slowly.

Jessa shuddered and shook her head in confusion. "Why would Security Forces have an obstetrician on staff?"

"They're often married. At least the officers are. Even they aren't free of the dictates of the Council to procreate. But they prefer to keep the rest of us at arm's length, so they maintain their own support systems wherever possible."

"But who do they answer to, if not the Council?"

"The Council Agents evolved because the Security Forces were becoming too independent. They would accept the orders of the Council, as far as the desired end result, but they had become more insistent on choosing the means to meet the ends. So the council set up the training camps to funnel the best and the brightest into Agent career tracks and the not-so-dedicated or bright into Security Forces."

"Like Renik," she concluded. "But that would mean the best and the brightest were also the more compliant. That seems... unlikely, given human nature."

Erich and Torah exchanged glances. When Torah seemed about to clam up, Erich jumped into the conversation. "Council agents, especially team leaders, are often privy to information that is held very close by Council members. Things not even the highest Circles know, if they don't sit on the Council. Certainly, things that Security Forces aren't supposed to know or have access to. It makes it easier for Agents to accept the orders that are given, when they have all the background information and can understand the reasoning behind them."

"You're making it sound like someone has been giving Security Forces information they are not intended to have," Jessa said slowly.

Erich glanced again at Torah and cocked an eyebrow. Torah sighed, pulled in against his will. "It goes both ways. Drau is our liaison, our handler, but I know he wasn't giving us information that we should have had."

"Because of what you knew from your father's network," Jessa concluded.

Torah rubbed his face wearily. "Yes," he conceded. "By the same token, Renik and maybe others in Security Forces seemed to know more than they should."

Jessa gasped. "Your agent, your teammate that was killed! Is that how he was set up? By Drau?"

Torah shrugged uncomfortably and Jessa suspected that it was because he blamed himself for not knowing the answer to her question. "Perhaps."

Jessa sat back and said, rather sternly, "I could probably help you more if you elaborated on what you suspect about the Security Forces. Who might be involved, where they are stationed. And if you think there might be other players besides Drau."

Erich glanced again at Torah, with a smirk that was much more typical of the Erich she had first met; the sort of friendly, teasing expression that made it really hard to remember he had an angry, violent side probably as lethal as Torah's. It earned him a scowl from Torah, but again, it seemed like a more comradely, teammates-type exchange. She dared to relax slightly.

"So what do you know about the Security Forces?" Torah asked, his voice tinged with a touch of fatigue.

Jessa shrugged defensively. "What you told me, and the stories that kids tell each other to scare themselves."

"You didn't research them?"

"By the time I got to Paris and had access, it seemed like other things were far more important. And... the memories. No matter what you may think of my lethality, Torah, knowledge of vulnerable anatomy is in no way the same as actually killing Renik, or any other man. It was only fear for my life that kept me from throwing up all over myself. And I still..."

"Fine," Torah snapped. "You're not like me. I get it. So, tell her about Security Forces, Erich. You've been dying to bring her up to speed." And just like that, he closed his eyes and was snoring softly.

Jessa bit her lip. "Maybe we should wait and let him rest."

Erich smirked, but it didn't reach his eyes, which were examining her in fine detail via the rear-view mirror. Jessa couldn't understand how he managed to stay on the road. "When Torah decides to sleep, he sleeps."

Jessa sat back and rubbed her palms on the rough denim of her pants yet again. "So how much do you know about the Security Forces?" she asked softly.

Erich snorted, this time. "More than I want to. I was in Security Forces."

"What? I thought it flowed the other way," Jessa exclaimed in confusion.

He shrugged. "It doesn't technically flow either way, in the beginning. I mean, Council Agents and Security Officer candidates start out in the same training at the age of twelve. They're all Circles, mostly Tenth, by tradition more than anything else. I mean, they had the brains and could be trained for the brawn, but they often didn't have the land or resources to derive and maintain wealth because their folks were Agents or scientists or what have you. Torah was more of an exception, than a rule. He came down from scientists, but there were some pretty clever descendants along the way, who knew how to turn the world's disasters into profits. Rumor has it there was also some pretty ruthless players along the way." He paused. "He didn't want to become an Agent. Did he tell you that?"

"No," Jessa replied softly.

"His father convinced him, eventually. Wealth is one thing, but power... Power can get you things that wealth can't even dream of. Still, he held out for a pricey bribe before he let them know he was coming on board. There was never any doubt in their mind or in his that he would become an Agent."

"But you, I mean, he told me that Renik washed out. Is that, you know, what happened to you?" Her eagerness to hear the answer only barely outweighed the cringeworthy question.

Category: NonConsent/Reluctance Stories