It’s officially the winter season at the Barnett Residence: with this recent cold snap I have un-mothballed our pellet stove in our basement. It keeps things about 80F down there. The ground floor is set around 65F and upstairs falls to 61F or lower when the wind howls.
Another busy DayJob week leading to no writing at all for nearly four days. On the morning of the fourth day I texted my wife that I was becoming morbidly depressed. She counselled me to hang on a bit longer. Wisdom: in the past day and a half I’ve written just over 3000 words about little Fussy and her first battle, the first part of which is just below the fold.
We moved off toward the southeast. There was a small bridge over the New River; I didn’t want to chance the Interstate bridge. I would have been a little surprised to encounter a blocking force there but they would at least have scouts keeping an eye on it. I would!
I told my best centurion, Chesney, to take his men over the bridge at a trot and take the crossroads about five hundred feet further on. I led the rest across except for the last century who brought up our rear behind the non-combatants. No opposition. Chesney had advised me to leave a troop of horses in the camp we just left, to keep an eye on anything that might try to get into our rear, but I had so few men! I had to see what was ahead of us! I sent them all northeast and had them fan out as they did. My first critical decision came when we reached the hills to Roanoke’s southwest: there were two ways into town. The front door was to get back onto the Interstate north of us or take the back door: a thirty-mile swing right and up an old highway.
Faustina paused while Henge wiped away some soup from around her mouth and proffered the cup and straw with the local tea to her. After a long drink, she thanked her sister-in-law with a glance.
Our food would run out after the night’s meal. An argument can be made for the ‘indirect approach’ but in this new world of mine – er, ours! – I wanted boldness and more boldness.
We ran across some people in Christiansburg. I could not slow the advance so I picked a maniple as a bodyguard and stayed twenty minutes to talk. Turned out to be worth every second! Mostly farmers with a couple of shopkeepers, they thought of themselves as Virginians and were more than happy to tell me about the forces that took Carell and his men.
“Sodomites and Satan-worshippers! Every last one of ‘em!” was their consensus. They said that the rumor since the Breakup was that old DC came out openly for the Enemy. They only way all those noodle-armed degenerate Whites weren’t eaten by the diversity in Baltimore is that they used them as shock troops; first taking all the land in a twenty-mile radius and putting all Whites to work the land as slaves. About five years ago they were strong enough to move south and take the Richmond area, implementing a similar policy. I was told that their main re-colonization effort was to the south and southeast of that city but they were putting reconnaissance in force toward the Appalachians.
“And thot, um!” she swallowed. “I really like this cheese! And that, it seems, is what Carell’s team bumped into!”
Henge gave her a little more tea.
“And that is when you thought you could catch them? Rescue our men?” she asked.
“It was worth trying!”
I thanked them and ran to get back to the tail of my column, by then already a mile ahead. As we were drawing closer to what looked like an engagement, my place, at least initially, was in the front. On the way I yelled encouragement to my boys and spared a quick word with all ten centurions as to what I had learned. But by the time I was up front I noted just how low the sun was in the west, nearly touching the tops of the old mountains. I did the math in my head and came up with just under thirty miles. I was not about to take my boys into a fight against an unknown enemy in an unknown city in the twilight. Time to dig and build.
While they began a marching fort just east of Roanoke and shielded from the city by a hill to our east, I took my bodyguard detail and ran again: this time up what a rusted old sign called Green Hill Park. It took a few minutes to find a vantage point where I could look east and down into the old city.
“Henge? I’ll be honest,” Faustina sighed. “I was scared. That place looked as big as Knoxville from up there… but no lights. I saw some lines from smoke coming up from what must have been multiple campfires in the hills on the road to Lynchburg, to the northeast. I could not imagine any local survivors being so stupid so I surmised the recon force we sought. But, what was I supposed to do?”
By the time I was back down the opposite side of the hill, I had a partial idea. First was that we were going to make a light marching camp. When my centurions objected, given how far into bandit country we were, I told them that we would not be there long enough for that to matter: the men would be up and on the road at 0430. I could tell Chesney was not impressed so I took out an old map and flicked on my flashlight with a red filter.
“We’re here,” I pointed. “I just saw what I think is their slip-shod camp here. If their smoke discipline is that bad, I expect everything else to match it. We are going to take this road, right through the old downtown, up this back-hill road, and set up a block here, where the hills make a chokepoint just outside this little burg… er… Montvale.”
“You really think, Miss,” Chesney countered, “that we can cover… how far is it…?”
“Looks like sixteen miles,” I replied.
“Good Lord! Sixteen miles! In the dark! In front of a presumed enemy!” His tone was disbelief but not yet mutiny. “And just how – ”
“We’re leaving the non-combatants behind with the eighth cohort; it will split: half reinforcing our camp here and the other half acting as scouts. Once the camp is complete everyone will forage for food. At any cost to the locals,” I explained. “In the mean time, we get our people back! Alive!”
“So much for the hearts-and-minds…”
“If I can get one of our back at the expense of an old US State, I will do it! Do you get me, centurion!”
“I get you. Miss.” I watched him glance to the other underofficers. He was only eight or nine years older than me, but to see such respect in his and their eyes! How could we lose?
Henge had just moved the second-to-last piece of cheese toward her when Faustina’s eyes went down and stayed down. It was obvious she was very tired and genuinely asleep. Henge had pushed the pill into the ball of cheese two bites ago.
Time to call my aunt, Dorina, Henge thought, standing and moving to the doorway. She waved at the nurse down the hall to relieve her for a few minutes. Once he was in Faustina’s room, Henge hurried to their room.
“It’s time, beloved,” she said, coming in and kissing the top of his head once. He stood and left, going to find the technician responsible for signal around the nuclear plant. Henge returned to her sister’s room and dismissed the nurse with a smile. In less than ten minutes she had her first family in mind. And…
A ghost of her aunt stood opposite her on the other side of Faustina’s bed. Looking about twelve years old, she wore a frilly dress with a similar skirt just halfway down her thighs with knee-high, laced leather boots on her legs. Henge knew the dress was red and the boots black but here all was a translucent white outline; she could see right through Dorina to the wall behind her.
Little niece, Dorina thought to her. Thank you for the medical update. Shall I begin my assessment now?
Please wait for my husband, in case there is an emergency… ah! He’s nearly here! You may begin your preparations, she replied.
The ghost stepped closer to the bed and seemed to rest her left hand on Faustina’s head and her right on her chest. As Gary quietly stepped into the room she moved both hands several inches into the girl’s body.
She seems reasonably stable, Dorina thought to them both. I am getting some odd pings from the remains of the ES virus in corners of her nervous system. Rooting out the last of that nasty thing is one of my priorities here.
They watched the little girl’s shoulders sag. She did not enjoy doing what came next. They watch her sit onto the bed and into Faustina. She swung her legs up and leaned back, only keeping her head out of the injured girl’s.
I’m going to busy and this will hurt me. Please try not to do anything distracting out here! she said before leaning her head back, now totally integrated with Faustina’s body.
“Does it really hurt her?” Gary asked softly, not wanting to use any signal that might disrupt Dorina.
“You are thinking of what your father told you about what my aunt did for me when I was first made?” Henge asked, moving to the credenza and pouring a glass of water. She drank a little and handed it to Gary. “Yes. But not in the way that you – and I now – experience pain. The closest metaphor I can give you is a crippling migraine, but one that permeates your entire body and soul.”
About to drink, he lowered the glass and looked to his sister.
“I… I am sorry, Dorina…” he began.
“She does this because she loves us. All of us,” his wife said, stepping to him and sliding her right arm about his waist. “And it’s not the Fourth Law, beloved. She loves us because she chooses to!”
Gary finally took his drink of water and set the glass aside. He took his Rosary out of his left pants pocket.
“Like last time, you sit where you can monitor those two,” he said with a nod to the bed. “I’ll keep an eye on the data up there, over her head.”
“Of course!” They both shifted slightly before beginning.
“Hail Mary, full of grace…” they prayed together.