Joel made a move to grab his overnight bag from the bench, and motioned with his head to alert Minerva that the bus was approaching. She turned to look at the bright bar of light across the front of the behemoth. It was clear from over a block away that there werenít many people on the bus. The windows were so large and clear and the bus was so brightly lit on the inside that you could see clearly into it.

"Itís so pretty, isnít it?"

Joel looked down at the girl with a sneer. "I guess."

She looked back up at Joel, gushing. "Wanna see a trick?"

"Maybe later."

"Itíll be quick." She stood with a hop and thrust her hands into her coats pockets, which seemed to travel down to the hem, since she was able to straighten her arms completely when she dug into them. She fished around for a second, looking uncertain, then grinned with satisfaction as she apparently found what she was looking for.

When she withdrew her hands, she held in her right one a coin of some sort. She held it in front of Joelís face so that he could see it clearly, and it looked like some sort of token. It was a dull copper color with strange, illegible markings on it that were golden and silvery.

The bus pulled up to them with a hiss, and knelt so that the passengers boarding or departing wouldnít have to step too highly and risk tripping or injury. There were only those boarding, Joel and Minerva, who went first with a flash of her brilliant white teeth.

She dropped her token into the bus and it allowed her to go on without any problems. Joel paid cash and received his transfer ticket. Minerva waited for him and sat down in the pair of seats midway the length of the bus, sliding over to the window seat. It was the same position she sat at when he first saw her a little less than twenty-four hours past. She eagerly waived for Joel to sit beside her, lest he find another seat to sit in.

Before he sat, he saw that there were only three other riders on the bus, and all of them were dozing.

"Hurry up!" she whined. "I wanna show this to you."

He pursed his lips, and sat beside her, challenging his better judgment.

"Remember the token I put in the box?"

"Yeah."

She held out her hand, palm up, and there was an identical token in her hand.

Joel looked at it. Then looked at her face for an explanation. "so?"

"Itís the same one I put in the box."

It looked similar enough, but he couldnít be sure it was the same one.

She rolled her eyes with a frown. "You donít believe me, do you?" Before he could answer, she smiled excited, and said: "Okay. Do this. Take the token from me."

Joel was unmoved.

She thrust her hand forward. "Take it! Come onnnn. I wanna show you this."

He sighed and took the token. It was as cold as a block of ice. He studied it more carefully now that it was in his hand. It looked curious, considering the weird inscriptions and reliefs that covered it on either side. It even had some fine scribe along the circular edge.

"You get a good look at it?"

He nodded. "What does this writing say?"

"Itís an ancient language. And it saysÖ are you ready for thisÖ it says ĎI belong to Minerva Snow.í"

Joel pursed his lips, looking as skeptical as he could make himself look.

"It does!" she maintained, radiance in her eyes, and face, and everything about her.

It was obvious to Joel that she was having fun.

"Well, what language is it?"

"Itís called Du-li."

"Never heard of it."

"Yeah, most people havenít. Itís ancient like I said before."

"What part of the world did people used to speak it?"

"All over. But back then, there werenít many people around anyway."

"Yeah, okay." He started to hand it back to her, growing weary of her fanciful tale, btu she shook her head.

"Put it in your pocket."

"Take it back."

"Please, Joel, just put it in your pocket. I want to show this to you."

He huffed, and did as she asked, and placed it in his shirtís breast pocket. Minerva smiled, and held out her hand. The token was in it.

Joel immediately reached for his pocket, and he found that the coin was not there. He found himself smiling in spite of himself.

"That was a pretty good trick."

She nodded. "I have more. Lots of Ďem. I can teach you some."

"No doubt when you start working for me."

Her eyes lit. "I got the job?"

Joel smirked. "Itís your to lose, kiddo. Howís that?"

"Thatís perfect, boss. Abso perfecto." And she lay her head on his shoulder and closed her eyes.

Joel wasnít so sure about that.

When Joel arrived in his office, he was feeling unusually spirited. He hated to admit it, but he was starting to enjoy the presence of Minerva Snow. She was weird, to be sure, but it wasnít an offensive weirdness. It was more endearing than anything. She was bright and enthusiastic, and that was something that he didnít see much of in people anymore. Seeiing it again was refreshing at least, and at the most it was cathartic.

It was also good to see that she had made an effort to tone down the face painting and allow herself to be seen from under the mask she put on obviously to keep people at arms length from her. No doubt it was some sort of defense mechanism meant to ward off those who might try to get too close to her, while, at the same time, it was meant to make her stand out from the crowd. She really didnít need to make up herself to stand out from the crowd. Her natural effervescence made her do that.

And, on the other hand, there was the prospect of his rendezvous with Fiera Coles that, on the surface, promised to have lots of potential. Fiera seemed game and daring and there was no doubt that she possessed that physical attributes to make men crave her, while, at the same time, Joel was certain that beneath that physicality, there was a woman of dominant spirit that many men feared. Joel didnít fear it, nor did he crave it. His wife had been that way, and in certain ways, she still was. With Fiera Coles, it would be what it would be.

He heard a knock on his door as he was putting away his outerwear, and told the person knocking to enter. It was Ahra. She wasnít at her desk when Joel walked in, and she must have heard him moving around in the office.

She stuck her head through the partially opened door. "Do you need anything?"

"Could you bring the file on the Cityís sewer vapor recovery system?"

She started to back out, dragging the door closed behind her when he called out to her. She stuck her head back in.

"And could you start a file on the APAGE organization? See what information you can find on them and their holistic research theories."

She started to back out again, dragging the door closed behind her when he called out to her for a second time. She stuck her head back in again, not looking too pleased, but saying nothing yet.

"And could you also look up something called Du-li? I think itís a language but I am not sure. See what you can find on that for me."

"Computer language?"

"No, An ancient language."

"Okaaaaay."

She backed out more quickly lest he call her back for a third time, and managed to close the door behind her this time.

Joel went about his normal morning routine. The electronic voice of the National Weather Service filled his office and he stared out over the cityscape, noting that the day would be a clear day. There was the promise of some sun, which was exceptionally good news, for the weeks of almost constant rain had no doubt severely depleted the solar energy devices in the region that he and his company had espoused. The types of unit that he had proposed to those needed solar energy assistance were extremely efficient and could work in foul weather to an extent greater than the old first generation solar units could in bright sunlight. That being said, they still needed an occasional day of full sunlight to fulfill the power needs of the users.

While he was looking out the window, Ahra quietly entered with the first of his requests. She slipped out just as quietly after laying it on his desk.

A sudden thought occurred to Joel. He had forgotten to ask Minerva about her bracelet. Whatís funny is that she apparently forgot to ask him about it on the bus and train this morning. Considering that she had called him nearly every fifteen minutes for 3 hours, he would have figured that it would have been weighing more heavily on her mind. But she seemed more interested in showing him all sorts of tricks that she could do with that coin.

He reflexly felt at his breast pocket and was stunned to find that a coin was there. He didnít remember putting anything in it, and he was one hundred percent certain that he had given the token back to Minerva. He plucked the coin out of his pocket and there it was! Minervaís coin.

Shaking his head, he walked back to his desk examining the coin as he went. He sat and pulled the desk lamp closer so that he could shine the bright light directly upon the object, giving himself more of a chance to see the finer details of it. What he saw amazed him, and it made him furrow his eyebrows. On one side, the strange script in sivler and gold colors was there, in a pattern that was obviously different from the one that Minerva had possessed. But what really set him back in his chair was what was written on the other side. It said, in plain, gothic lettering: ĎBossí Charm Token. With Love Minnyí

 

Unto the Living Earth © 2007 Walter R. Milton