A snippet for elishavah, on the Occasion of her Birthday. Any and all errors of geography or description are mine..
"So," Swanson says, as she stands to go. "Are you going to sneak out early? Go see the cherry blossoms? They say they're just about at peak."
Swanson's an intelligence analyst who came over from the FBI as one of Jack's first hires. Personnel wanted someone who came pre-cleared, but Jack insisted on being part of the interviews and then insisted on Trudy Swanson, because he got a good vibe, security clearance or no security clearance. Mostly it's worked out well—she's smart and knows how to summarize and can hold strategic goals and the personal, human end of things in her head at the same time—but she does tend to get chatty, and even after the better part of a year, Jack really doesn't think his plans for the evening are any of her business.
"Nope. Gotta work," he says, shuffling unidentified pieces of paper in a way that he hopes will give her a clue. The sad thing is, it's true. DoD's breathing down his neck about speeding up the production on the ship that was supposed to be the Odyssey before it got handed off to the Russians, with no appreciation of the irony involved in making him be the one to push the project. At this point, he's just hoping that the damn Russians will at least have the sense to step away from the Greek tragedies. He's explained that "Odyssey" is just asking for trouble, but no go.
"Oh, you should," she burbles. "Prettiest thing in the world, as far as I'm concerned. Too many tourists, but that's part of the fun, you know? Get in a crowd, feel the excitement…"
"I'm not a big crowd person," Jack says, moving to the stage of hinting where he picks up the phone.
Swanson gets it, finally, standing with a smile. She doesn't take Jack personally. Another good trait. "Well, if you want any advice from a native as to where to go, give me a call. I really think you should go."
"Yeah," Jack lies, "I'll do that."
Between one thing and another, he doesn't get out of the office until nearly eleven. It's a surprisingly balmy night—spring is conclusively sprung—and he puts the windows down. He should turn south toward home, but instead somehow he finds himself driving north, up past the cemetery and over the river, and then down along its bank. Just past the 14th Street Bridge, he pulls over, cuts the engine, turns off the headlights. He's pretty sure he's parked illegally, but what the hell, you save the planet a couple of times he figures you're owed something.
The light from the streetlamps is kind of harsh, throwing the trees and the blooms into sharp relief. Even this late, there are a few people out walking; a couple of women give him an uneasy glance, maybe wondering if he's looking for something more than flowers, and he looks away until they've passed. Swanson was right; the mass of blooms marching on down the river is pretty enough to be worth seeing. They had cherries at the Academy hospital, he remembers, but somehow it's tough to appreciate pretty at a hospital. This is better. Not as good as the big spring festival on, crap, the planet he remembers as "the place with the really great spring festival," since that one smelled really good too and had beer. But still, not bad. Worth putting in the tourist brochure, once Earth has tourist brochures for interplanetary visitors.
He gives the cherries six minutes, then starts up the truck and heads for home. Yeah, he thinks, definitely one for the list. He'll have to tell Swanson; she believes in the tourist brochure too. It's one of the reasons he keeps her around.
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