Ever since I met her in “Worlds Without End,” I knew that Faustina, Gary Hartmann’s slightly younger sister, would have her own novel.
I just didn’t expect to have her showing me things so soon.
Like all of my stories, as I learned from Jerry Pournelle, this is starting in the middle: set maybe five or eight years after WWE, Faustina has led her personal army from Knoxville over the mountains and down the river to take the important port city of Savannah. At great cost to herself.
I confess that, as always, I’ve no idea at all where this is going and am interested as you are…
Faustina’s eyes fluttered once then opened. She lay on a bed somewhere. Outside the window to her left what she could see of the sky was red. Morning or night? She reached out with her mind to check the time… nothing?
“Dorina told us you would be awakening in an hour or two,” her brother Gary said as he walked around also from her left. He wore a white lab coat over his faded, patched shirt and similarly worn jeans. His dark eyes were filled with concern. “And we killed all signal to this area before you did. You cannot take that stress right now, little sister.”
“Big brother!” she exclaimed, her desire to sit up quelled by the pain seeping in as she became more conscious. “When did you get here?!”
“Just where,” he asked, pulling a rolling stool over to sit next to her, “do you think you are?”
“Savannah, of course! We won, brother! We did it! I did it!” she crowed. “Did you come to congratulate me? Congratulate me, big brother! Praise your little sister and her army!”
“You, and this small cadre of us, are almost three hundred miles to the northwest of that port city,” he said, pausing to look out the window. What had been red was now purple. The sun was setting. “You are on the grounds of the Oconee nuclear power station; it is the closest one we could get you to in time.”
He turned back to her. Faustina was shocked her oh-so-cold brother was holding back tears!
“What do you mean?! Ouch!” she had tried to move and was rewarded with what felt like a knife twisted in her lower back.
“I… might be a doctor. And you know my wife’s medical skills,” Gary said slowly, speaking of Henge, “but what happened to you was so severe that we had to have Dorina inside you, to guide us, so that meant a reactor’s flux point. Even so, you died twice and will still never quite be the same.”
“D… died?” she sputtered, beginning to shake. “But… I won!”
“Shhh, little sister,” he said with rare care while gently resting his right hand onto her forehead. “You will need to sleep again but I won’t let you die. I promise.”
She closed her eyes, holding her tears in.
“Before you rest, Fussy,” he teased her with her toddler’s nickname, “how much do you remember?”
He watched her take a deep breath while he glanced over her head at the monitors with her vitals.
“It… was so bright! The sky. That morning when we set out: me at the head of two legions, over ten thousand men, to take Savannah…”
When my those in my other family, tribe Tohsaka, didn’t want to make me older about war, it was a matter of finding one who would. The Mendro machines are violent and have a cruel streak a mile wide but, except for their leader, that girl, they were also such fatalists.
No, it was one of tribe Arpeggio, from Milan, who reached out to me. Ventidio, he called himself. His image was that of a hoary old veteran, a military man. I told him how things were here in Knoxville. About my brother and I. He had heard much and I was surprised that he was as scandalized with what Henge did as I am. Ventidio was very honest with me. So I was honest with him.
“Humans are not fit to rule. Your kind will not long take an interest in us. It is a hybrid, like me, who must rule!” I announced to him.
“You are human! Just because you can see into our homes – ” he tried to laugh at me. Me!
“The lines in my head are just the beginning! I shall remake the rest of my body! But more important than that: right now I need to older about war and leading men to victory. Only that will translate into power. With that in my grasp I can see to my upgrades later!”
That intrigued him enough to agree to train me in his home. We started with a wooden sword and shield. Then side arms and rifles. That was when Mom and Dad began to be concerned: so much time there my body here was ailing. I upped my food intake and did more exercises, to the point of finally keeping up with Dad and Big Brother on our 12-mile marches!
Ventidio made me older for squad, platoon, then company tactics. I was old enough now, back in my home, to let it be known that I was putting together a militia. Only a dozen showed up for the first session; at the end of it they were exhausted but happy! I not only worked their bodies but on their minds, too. A week later I looked out on our little training field at one hundred faces. My first century. My first command.
“And I met my first boyfriend! He… was looking at me like a goddess… two rows back… or so…” Faustina trailed off, asleep again.
Gary knew his wife, Henge, had been waiting in the doorway. With her sister-in-law at rest she came in, bent to kiss her husband, and stood behind him, messaging his shoulders.
“Status?” she asked.
“I do not think she will die again,” he said, relaxing under her hands, “but she is completely unaware of how bad off she is.”
“I heard some of her muttered recollections, perhaps better than you could. Did you ask her to think so far back?” Henge asked.
“No. I asked her if she recalled what happened at Savannah,” he said with another glance at the monitors before leaning forward to brush one of her remaining strands of hair off of her face. The rest had been burned off. “Why she started over… so far back? No clue.”
“Perhaps, like some of my ancestors, she needs to reboot her mind?” Henge asked in all seriousness, recalling pre-quantum computers.
There was a sound at the door: the night nurse, Crenshaw, who would be staying with Faustina. Gary stood and gathered his beloved into his side.
“We’ll be two doors down,” he said. “Alert us for anything out of the ordinary.”
“Of course, doctor!” she quietly replied. “It’s been almost five days! Please get some rest; both of you!”
Gary and Henge shuffled out.