I’m enjoying how this is turning out so far. I think I’ll have Faustina in hospital recollect everything right up until the rod dropped and she was badly injured. Things will all be real-time after that. And I have a suspicion where – one of the world’s functioning fusion reactors – she and this story might be headed. Two parts? Three? We shall see; I always knew she would get her own novel!
His eyes opened at 0400. Training, not programming. Physical bodies were at their nadir at 0415 and the worst off needed to be seen to at that time. He knew he woke his wife getting up and off the cot they shared; her bright gold lion’s eyes tracked him in the darkness. Talk was unnecessary: if he needed her, she would be there.
Even at this hour, for appearance sake, he slid into his white coat. Less than a dozen steps later had him next to his little sister.
“Status?” he asked of the nurse. That question was already part of the mystique of Gary and his odd wife.
“All good,” Miss Crenshaw replied. “She muttered something around oh one hundred… hang on…”
He watched her fish out an old digital recorder from one of her many pockets. She pressed two buttons.
“…<need two cohorts into the city proper! They have gunboats offshore! Make sure you… you…>” the rest was a snort followed by a snore.
“Classical Latin; not even Church Latin,” he said softly. “Who are you working with, little sister?”
He closed his eyes and shook his head once.
“I relieve you, Miss Crenshaw,” he said formally but still softly. “Thank you for looking after her.”
“We all love the Princess, Doctor Hartmann!” she replied, standing, with a smile. “I’ll tell my grandkids about this someday! Good morning to you!”
Gary suppressed his reaction at what she called Faustina. He looked at the monitors and pulled the written notes on the clipboard hanging at the foot of her bed. Low blood pressure and low red count. The rod’s drop and explosion was one thing. What was happening deep in her body… Dorina had already told them it was a virus; a virus into her mind from a Chinese expert system. The genius AI thought she had contained and killed it but wanted another look, later this morning, if Faustina was stable enough.
They hate you for what you did to their commercial colony, he thought, re-hooking the clipboard and sitting onto the rolling stool just to her left. Her left was generally just first-degree burns with a few second here and there. Nothing like what Grandfather had to endure.
“And we have no way to fix them anymore,” he sighed.
“Fix what, Big Brother?” she murmured from her bed.
“If you tell me more of your story before I summon your breakfast, I’ll tell you, Fussy,” he replied into the dark of the morning with just a rumor of light in the window.
“I must be pretty bad off, then!” she said, rolling her head left to look at him. “Ooo! Even doing that hurts! Yep! Now… where was I…?”
“A series of first: command and boyfriend,” Gary prompted.
While doing more basic training with my century, I holed through several data Walls to find out who he was. Paul Newsom, son of one of the Oak Ridge techs; even punched my way into his electronic tablet. He had written some very nice and some very naughty things about me! I liked that!
The sun was getting low in the west on that Saturday. I needed three young men to be my first underofficers and Paul wasn’t one of them. After selecting them and giving them a run-down of what we would do Sunday afternoon, I wandered over to where Newsom was just getting onto his motorbike. Funny how he ended up sticking around so long!
“I can’t have any slowpokes in my army,” I told him, sauntering up. “You’ll need to be faster.”
“I’ll do better, Miss Hartmann, I promise,” he had carefully replied. His sandy hair was a little too long but he had the nicest pale blue eyes! I put my hand out and he took it. After a shake I moved his palm to my chest – don’t you say a thing, Big Brother! You and Henge were feeling up each other for years in her home before you got married! Anyway, at that, I said, “Call me Faustina! But only in private!”
After that, things moved fast.
One the first of June I told my assembled three centuries, two hundred forty soldiers and sixty non-combatants, that they were now First Cohort of the First Legion and there would be promotions. The cheers were such that I think even the First Citizen took note in his office downtown. Once they died down, I added the expected “but:” “But only after we complete our first real mission! We will march the one hundred and eighty miles to former Nashville in ten days! We will spend a week there taking all remaining, useable, medical equipment and machine tools! We will then march back here in fifteen! Rank and decorations to be awarded only then!”
I was a little worried there would be grumbling but my first sergeant assured me that the men, almost all farmers or under-employed techs, were bored with their day-jobs now that the City-State was firmly back onto its feet and were itching to do something. The second round of cheers was deafening to me up on my platform. Then the chant started: I suspect that Paul and his friends began it but was never sure: “Princess! Princess! Princess!”
“I knew then I was on my way, Big Brother,” she sighed, relaxing into her pillow. Gary was pleased to see her blood pressure, which had been low yesterday, rose during her story and now returned to normal and stayed there.
“You remember, don’t you,” she smiled with her eyes closed. “When we came back into town on July tenth? The first parade since the Breakup. My first triumph…”
Faustina’s breathing became regular as she drifted off to sleep in the face of the sunlight now cascading through the window behind him. Henge had been standing in the doorway with a tray of food for her sister-in-law. With his eyes, Gary indicated the credenza along the wall.
Faustina’s eyes reopened.
“Food! I’m hungry! Oh, hey, Henge! You’re here, too? Damn, I must be in a bad way! So, Big Brother, while you feed me, tell me my condition!”
Henge repositioned the tray onto a small moveable table and wheeled it next to Gary. He picked up a bowl of the local yogurt with his left and a small spoon with his right.
“You already said I died twice,” Faustina forced a smile. “My heart or brain?”
“Heart first time, both second. Dorina was able to restart your mind. Here,” he said, holding the spoon before her mouth.
“Um!” she said, swallowing, “that’s not bad! Is that why there’s no signal? My lines are damaged?”
He nodded, giving her another spoonful. “Dorina said if stressed your mind could go out like a light.”
“Un…” she was about to talk with her mouth full before being glared at by her brother. “And the rest of me?”
Gary paused. In a moment he felt Henge grip his shoulder.
“Brother,” Faustina said softly but firmly. “You promised and we don’t lie to each other!”
“Finish the yogurt while I collect my thoughts,” he finally said, spooning her another bit.
“Thur!” she agreed, this time ignoring his glare for her lifelong bad habit of talking with food in her mouth.
Putting the first empty bowl aside, Gary surveyed what was left. He stirred the yellow, lentil soup as he began.
“Your hair is mostly burnt off; there are mostly first- and a few second-degree burns down your left side – ”
He heard her muttered “grandfather” and ignored it.
“ – so it should grow back out okay. You were severely concussed in both hemispheres. Your lower right arm was fractured when you fell and your spine mildly cracked into places. Three broken ribs, once of which led to a collapsed lung, one other to a perforated lower intestine. Your upper right leg has a compound fracture and your left foot is broken in several places; I had to remove two of your toes.”
Faustina took all this in without a word, her eyes never leaving his while she ate three spoonfuls of soup. When he stopped she ate another.
“Gary? Brother? My lines? And, can I still have children?” she finally asked.
“Dorina is very – very, sister – unsure about your mind.” He leaned forward to rest his left hand carefully onto Faustina’s lower stomach. “Everything else is fine.”
“I still expect many nieces and nephews, dear sister,” Henge said, speaking for the first time that morning. “If you can ever settle on a man and get married!”
Straining a little, Faustina looked up and past her brother into the golden eyes of his wife.
“Still… looking,” she managed, letting her eyes and head drop. “But I promise, foolish sister-in-law.”
Gary raised the spoon again but she shook her head a fraction. “Wanna sleep…” he just made out. And saw she was close to crying. He stood and moved the tray back to the credenza before returning to tuck her blanket about her. One tear from each eye but she was already asleep.
Henge took his hand and drew him to the doorway.
“There were only two things that matter to her and she fears she has lost one,” she whispered. “I shall speak more to my Aunt Dorina… and possibly Shandor as well.”
That one of those three of tribe Tohsaka would deign to deal with a human’s medical problem was a surprise.
“I shall remove myself to the anechoic chamber to talk with them,” she continued, seeing the look in his eyes. “And yes, I shall speak with our daughter! You dote on her! Stay with Faustina and work out her remaining surgeries. I love you, Gary.”
She leaned her head back for a kiss which she promptly received.
“And I you. See you later, Beloved.”