Battles are still very difficult for me. I do jaw-jaw better than war-war. This 12k word prologue should wrap up in the next installment as they fly home. Then we will learn how Fussy scaled one cohort up to two legions and led her first crusade, to Savannah.
I am as curious as you are!
Unlike the p-kids who could perceive the machine’s home with permission, Gary knew that the changes to his sister – and the changes she had made to herself – went far beyond that. She undoubtedly was using some cameras around the reactor to ‘see,’ including seeing his wife return with some breakfast.
“And the engagement? Different than the official version?” he prompted.
There were just under five hundred of us. After the battle we found that there were a little over five hundred of them, but it was weird, brother: they didn’t make a distinction between combatant and non-combatant. Everyone had a rifle but handled them poorly. Everyone was pulling a cart or seeing to the mules pulling carts, but they didn’t do that well, either. Had they lost the ability to specialize? Given the proportion of Blacks and Browns in their force, that was my first thought. Then again, after seeing their surrendered commander, it was really clear how stupid they were! A woman!
“I seem to recall a woman in charge of your force as well, little sister,” Gary wryly observed.
“I,” his sister announced proudly, “am a brilliant and super-cute teen girl! Not some clapped-out bull-dyke like my opposite then! Ahem!”
Anyway. My two centuries waited until they were about two hundred yards away… no horse scouts, just some pickets walking about a hundred yards ahead of them. They really must have thought themselves safe to be that stupid! I had half my boys fire one volley then had the centurion of the seventh yell out for their surrender. When they didn’t, of course, I ordered a second volley to spook them and ordered our first controlled fallback.
They had begun to return fire at us but my boys didn’t panic at all! I was so proud of them, big brother! I commanded weapons free as our two units leap-frogged one another back and south. When they seemed to pause to align themselves for a charge I told everyone to go to ground and wait: I could see that their rear was wide open to the rest of my cohort. I was hoping and praying that Chesney would wait until they moved first… and he did! There was an ungodly screech – their lesbian commander – and they charged us. At that my other seven centuries attacked! I could see that he left one in reserve and had another do nothing else but provide suppressing fire from the flanks. The remaining men trotted out of the woods shooting from the hip with bayonets fixed. At fifty yards they broke into a charge.
Gary saw his sister’s turquoise eyes were glowing as she told this part of her tale. She loves it; she loves war. That is not good.
It was over in less than ten minutes! They threw down their weapons and were begging to not be killed. Before things got too dicey I and my contingent stood and came forward. That’s when I met their commander. She’d taken a round to her leg and no one was doing a thing to aid her. I yelled a medic over and demanded her formal surrender to the Empire of America. DO NOT start with me, brother! It sounded better than “the city of Knoxville” and was the first thing that popped into my mind! I’ll do better next time!
Things were a little confused, what with me never having done anything like this before, so we set up an aid station in an abandoned Protestant barn about a third of a mile past where we fought. Only a handful of minor casualties on my side; about three dozen injured and eight killed on theirs. To their credit they did look better than my boys: old US Army BDUs, old US flag patch, badges of rank… got me thinking about fixing that once we were back home! Anyway. Best of all was in one of the wagons pulled by mules: arms tied behind them was Carell and the men you abandoned in your airplane – I kid, brother! God, but you can sulk sometimes!
A couple of them looked a little beaten up and I had their ropes cut and a medic to check them. I drew myself up as best I could before John Carell, right arm high and palm up, like any good legionary. After all, he is an officer in the Society!
“Colonel Carell! I am Legate Hartmann of the Cohort Six! I am here to take you and your men home, sir!”
I think he was laughing at me, brother. That’s what I saw in his eyes, try to hide it though he did.
“So you’re the little lady who’s about to start a great, big war?” he began. He returned my hail with an old salute. “I and all appreciate your rescue mission.”
“Thank you, sir!” I yelled, putting my arm down. I’m not too proud to admit I stepped up to the edge of the cart where he sat and said, “Uh… I’m kinda new at this. What do I do now?”
You know Carell as well as I do, brother: an inveterate liar. He could have immediately, and probably legally, taken command off me. Instead he quickly whispered a dozen lines. I turned and called orders, sending my boys running in all directions. I turned back to him and whispered my thanks.
“Do you think,” Henge asked, coming through the doorway with field rations, “that you are now beholden in some way to Mister Carell?”
“No.” Faustina’s denial was complete. “I… I don’t know exactly why, sister, but I knew that he and I already had… an understanding. Sorry if that doesn’t make sense!”
“I understand completely, even if I can feel that my husband does not,” she easily replied, opening a box and sorting things on the credenza under the window. “All of Gary’s women are aware of his blind spots.”
“’Gary’s women!’” he heard his little sister snort as his wife handed her some sliced meat and cheese. “Ewww! When did this expire?!”
“And then?” he asked one last time.
There was no way, none, that we could have taken them all prisoner and escorted them all the way to Knoxville. I put Carell in charge of field intelligence and told him to get what he could out of them before I paroled them in the morning. I’d all the defeated sitting down in the open field just off the highway and covered by three centuries. Three more started on a night marching camp. The rest I sent in all directions to grab anything edible, hearts-and-minds be-damned. It was not my fault that these little burgs happened to be cross-paths to two emergent powers after the Breakup. I saw that look, brother!
Dusk was on us as my boys came back into camp with what they found. It helped that the carts of the defeated force had about a week’s rations but they were as expired as this crap is; you really let me down on this, stupid sister! Yes, yes: I’ll eat it anyway. It would upset snotty brother if I died again!
It was nearly dark when Carell showed up outside my command tent. From the fire before it I saw he was leading that creepy broad who was their commander. As I had just finished penning their parole his timing was impeccable.
“This is Pat DuPree,” he announced, “the captain of the soldiers you just defeated.”
“Pat!” I had to laugh at that. “Of course!”
I was able to get a-hold of myself after that and try again.
“Sorry, ma’am,” I said stepping forward and extending my hand. “I was just completing some paperwork for you and your unit.”
She seemed to recoil in horror at my words.
“Did… did you just assume my gender?!” she hissed. She hissed at me!
“Gender?” I replied, really clueless. “Nouns have gender. You might be a dyke but you’re a woman.”
What came out of her mouth next, brother and sister, made me understand where the ancients came up with the idea of harpies: she began to screech and scream, tearing at her face with her fingernails as she did, calling me all sorts of nasty names. ‘Hater!’ seemed to be about every fourth word… she used it like a invocation. After a few minutes of this one of Carell’s men took her away while he stayed with me by the fire.
“I wanted you to see that with your own eyes. I want you to understand what’s outside our tiny little bubble of Western Civ we have built in and around Knoxville,” he said, deadly serious. “I don’t know what sort of ideas you or your machine friends have about pushing that bubble out, but you should know right now that there are ideologies – religions, really – who want all of us dead. And are willing to die themselves to achieve that!”
He turned to go but paused at the limit of the fire’s light.
“Take careful steps, Legate Hartmann,” he said before vanishing into the night.
Gary and Henge watched her eyes close as she relaxed in the bed. He noted her vitals were fine and her skin just a little less angry looking.
“I think I am taking careful steps, my family. But I think I also see something that you all do not,” Faustina said.
“And… what is that, sister?” Henge asked, raising a cup to her sister-in-law’s lips.
The regular breathing of her sleep was their only answer.
Henge moved the cup away.
“The barge with the fuel arrived an hour ago. Your airplane will be ready in two hours. Shall we go home today?” she asked.
“Yes,” he replied. “She’s stable enough and we should retrieve Aurelia before my parents spoil her completely.”
“It is more likely,” she smiled at him before sliding her arms about his waist, “that she is spoiling her uncle, your little brother, right now!”
“And when her new sibling is here?” Gary asked, putting his hand onto her lower abdomen.
“She’ll do the same! Hush and kiss me!”
“Go to your room, you two pervs,” Faustina muttered. “Lemme sleep…”