“Welcome home, Dakota Mackenzie Anari.”
“Just Dakota, okay? Thanks, Hanna. It’s been a long day.” Dakota shut the door behind her and locked it as she pulled off her boots. “My first day and I shook up the nerds, fired a sexist pig and got to yell my head off. I think I made an impression, Hanna.”
The bedroom was warm and inviting. It didn’t take Dakota long to change into flannel pyjama bottoms and a black sleeveless t-shirt with a pink ‘Whose Yo…?’ blazoned across the chest. The feather bed seemed to absorb Dakota, who sighed heavily in contentment. “I’ll say this for Wells Corp., they’ve got great movers. I wonder… Hanna, did anyone bring groceries today?”
“The refrigerator is full.”
“Good.” Dakota padded barefoot into the kitchen where she began pulling pots and pans from the cupboards. In the fridge she found the bottle of wine she’d requested, and wasted no time in pouring herself a glass. “Hanna, some music please. Something soft and classical, I think.”
While she waited for the pasta to cook, she strolled through the rest of the house. She felt a little like a visitor opening doors and peering into rooms. She found the office easily enough, and even as she stepped into the room, she was surprised again at how welcoming the room seemed. The floor was covered in thick, dark green broadloom, the walls were covered in a honey-toned pine and all of her books were on shelves that lined the walls. Even her computer was already set up on the desk.
“Dakota, may I ask a question?”
“Of course, Hanna.” Dakota was studying the placement of her photos on a wall.
“What are you creating in the kitchen?”
“I’m making linguini with a white clam sauce.”
“Do you enjoy cooking for yourself?”
“It depends on my mood. I’m no chef, but I can cook fairly well. Why do you ask?”
“I am attempting to learn your tastes and desires.”
“Ah yes, you were programmed to learn and adapt, weren’t you?”
“That is correct. You have no others coming to live with you?”
“No, Hanna, there’s just me.” Dakota played with the drape and tried not to let the melancholy show in her voice. “Only me.”
“I do not wish to downplay your distress, but your water is boiling.”
“Time to check on the clams anyway.” Dakota left her wine on the desk. “Leave the light on please; I’ll be coming back in here to eat.”
“Very well, Dakota.”
Setting aside her fork, Dakota clicked the mouse again, intent on finding some way to make her idea even remotely possible. For years, she had pursued the idea of inexpensive, environmentally safe housing. The only buildings that seemed to meet her criteria were those created by so-called alternative building methods. Although rammed earth and cob homes were inexpensive, they were still labour intensive and not easily acquired. Dakota wasn’t sure that scraping away soil that was needed for farmland was an ecologically sound method of housing people. The housing was cheap, but at the cost of feeding hungry mouths…
She kept searching.
She read pages on formaldehyde and paint fumes, sick building syndrome and NASA’s living wall experiments, but when she came to an article on arsenic in children’s playground equipment she stopped.
“Hanna,” Dakota rubbed her eyes as she spoke. “What information do your files contain on arsenic in outdoor structures?”
“The most common wood preservative and pesticide used in outdoor structures is chromated copper arsenate, which is 22% arsenic. Arsenic is banned in all agriculture and food uses, but has been exempted for use in wood. One twelve foot long treated piece of wood contains one ounce of arsenic.”
“All of which is alarming enough, but we can’t go on poisoning ourselves. We need to find an inexpensive, non-toxic replacement.” Dakota’s thoughts were interrupted by a jaw-cracking yawn. “But not tonight. I’m off to bed. Set security alarms, please Hanna.”
In no time at all, she was back in the bedroom and snuggled between the sheets.
“Enjoy good rest, Dakota.”
Dakota dreamed she was surrounded by tall, golden grasses, whispering secrets in the wind, with the endless blue sky above her. She was all alone, and yet she felt safe and protected. She began to walk among the grasses with her hands held out beside her, feeling the feathery heads of the wheat stalks as they bobbed and bowed at her passing. She heard birds call out to each other, and answer in thin, reedy voices. She heard the wind blow through the grasses, and it struck her that she had not been this alone for many, many years. She heard someone call out to her then, the sound sharp in the silence, and she turned to see a woman carrying a small child away. The only sound was still the wind in the wheat. The child did not reach out, nor cry, and for a moment, Dakota wasn’t sure she had heard anything at all. But the image of the woman and the child striding away tore at her and choked her with unshed, raw emotion. She heard her name called again and she sobbed for a reason too deep to understand while she stood in the wheat field. But the doors had opened a crack, and no matter how hard she struggled, they would not close again, and she could not get her emotions under control. She wept harder, watching the woman walk away with the girl looking back over her shoulder, and Dakota sank onto the ground, and beat at the earth with balled up fists until the dirt was damp with her tears.
“Dakota. It is time to rise.”
“I’m up, Hanna.”
“Are you ill, Dakota?”
“No, just a bad dream.”
Dakota rolled over and stretched, with her throat feeling raw and ravaged. “I know.” She lay still for a minute, her arm thrown across her eyes, as if this act could shut out the images. After a while, she threw the sheet back and rose, already setting her mind on the day that stretched out in front of her. “Shower on, please, Hanna.”
Even the hot water could not wash away the pain the dream had left behind, time and time again; Dakota had to force her thoughts back to work. Work had been her salvation before, and it would be again.
“Hanna, what time is it?”
“It is four a.m.”
“Cripes, that’s practically the crack of dawn. Better get the coffee perking, Hanna.”
“Do you wish to share the dream that upset you?”
“Not right now. Let’s just get to work, okay?”
Even as she washed her hair, Dakota was saying, “Can you tell me if there are any female engineers currently in our area who specialize in environmental engineering?”
There was only the sound of falling water as Hanna searched the internet for an answer. “The media has reported often on Joan Roebling. She has won numerous accolades for her work in toxic substance removal from water. There is also Shanis Morriseau, who according to her website, is currently looking for work.”
“She has a website?”
“My desktop is on; can you rouse it from sleep mode and bring up the website while I get dressed?”
Knowing she had a few hours before her driver came to collect her, Dakota threw on a grey sweat suit, her mind miles away from the prairie and already wondering if she could find someone to fill Mr. Tukis’ place.
A quick glance at Miss Morriseau’s website gave Dakota the pertinent details.
“Well. She has a wide range of scientific experience.” she said aloud, “She’s 37 and unemployed. I wonder why? Oh, here it is. Contract buyout. Experience with engineering, chemistry and engineering management…as well as environmental engineering.”
Dakota looked at every page of the compact website, wanting to get a rounder picture of the woman behind the scientist. Eventually, she found a photo that depicted a Native woman who looked neither old nor young. Her eyes reminded Dakota of a phrase. “Wise beyond her years.” She had listed her interests as reading mystery novels, painting, music, walks in the woods and collecting. Dakota navigated to another page and began to read about Shanis’s professional accomplishments. By the time five thirty rolled around, Dakota wanted this woman on her team so badly, she text-messaged the President of the company.
‘I have someone in mind to fill Tuckis’ empty chair. Seems like a perfect fit. Need your opinion and go-ahead.’
After including the link to Morriseau’s website, Dakota sent the message and began to search for a local phonebook.
“Dakota, is there something I can help you find?”
Dakota stopped and put her hands on her hips. “Actually, there is, Hanna.” Hanna’s image appeared on the wall.
“As nice as it is, I don’t want to be driven everywhere. I want to be the one in control, but I have a very specific desire. I need to know if there are car-leasing companies in the area that have hybrids.”
“Searching.” After only a minute, Hanna’s image blinked. “I have located an organization nearby that may suit your requirement.”
“Very good. Do they have a website?”
Hanna’s pseudo-face was replaced by the company’s website. Dakota’s finger trailed down the text, through the pictures and through more text until finally she said as she touched one image, “What about that one?”
“The Honda Insight?”
“In red, I think.” Dakota rattled off an email to the company on her computer, and just as she clicked on the “send” button, Hanna again appeared on the wall.
“Dakota, you have not eaten. What are your wishes for breakfast?”
“Flapjacks, real maple syrup, orange juice and fruit salad.”
“There is no maple syrup, real or synthetic, in the pantry.”
“So you do have limitations.” Dakota grinned as she headed for the kitchen.
“And you have an odd sense of humor, Dakota Anari.”
More coming soon!