A Question of fire

Part Two is all about Faustina’s crusade to take Savannah, the deep-water port of former Georgia, off the occupying Chinese and hand it on a platter to the resurgent city-states of the Tennessee River Valley.

Me being me, not doing “action” well, most of it will be about the people and their relationships.  In this case, we start off with the government of Knoxville defining their problem and facing up to the only solution:  the use of force.  The fact that a demi-human girl has a near monopoly on said force is another thing entirely.

As you can tell from my posting, I was lost for days about one simple question:  how is Faustina paying for all this?  No matter what they feel for her, troops expect to be paid and weapons cost money… a lot of money.  Until I had that answer given to me – and when it happened at DayJob on Monday and I burst out laughing (confirming their suspicions that I’m mental) – I could not write a word.  Here’s half of what I laid down.  More tonight or tomorrow!


two months prior

First Councilman for Life, Michael MacRae, looked down the length of the conference table at his guests.  The four other Councilmen of Greater Knoxville were to his right in order of seniority.  To his left were his other advisors:  the Mayor of Chattanooga, General Scott of the Society, Project Manager Chinon, representing the Oak Ridge Lab reactors, and…

And her, he thought, looking at the seventeen-year-old girl with bright turquoise eyes and a winning smile.  Habitually dirty from always hanging around her play-militia, she had gotten word to clean herself up:  her long, dark hair was carefully braided back.  She wore a scarlet skirt just past her knees and a dark gray sweater against what was a late spring cold blast.  He had no choice to include her:  it was her so-called god-mother who had given them the heads-up about this event…

And that she has a private army.

“It was,” he began, “about six years ago when Miss Fausta of the Machines told us that it was just a matter of time before the Chinese business colony in Savannah would raise their fees to extortionate levels.  When such did not happen immediately we all breathed a collective sigh of relief.  It was only two years ago, when they set about reopening the Wilmington harbor that rates began to rise.  Rapidly.”

MacRae looked from one side to the other as he recapitulated the history they knew.

“They told us the tolls were to pay for the cost of rehabilitating another former American port.  We all know that when Wilmington was finally opened a year ago the tolls increased yet again, rather than dropping off,” he continued.

“These six years,” he said, leaning back in his chair, “have seen great prosperity for us:  the increase of trade and interaction with other nations and other… people…”

His glance at the girl was noted by all.

“…have been to our material and social benefit:  with a fertility rate of over four and the hard, effective work of the Society,” he nodded to the General, “in using small fission reactors to return electric power to city after city, projections are that the Tennessee and Cumberland River valleys will, with a few exceptions, be back to the pre-Breakup population level in a century.”

That provoked some surprise and reaction from the Councilmen and even Chinon.  MacRae noted that Scott and the girl seemed to already know.

“All this,” he said, raising his voice to quiet them, “is imperiled by the stranglehold of our route to the sea.  We have done well to maintain the road from here to the headwaters of the Savannah River and, as all of you know, are poised to re-open the rail line as well, increasing our trade tonnage by two orders of magnitude.”

“As my esteemed colleague,” MacRae indicated the Mayor of Chattanooga, “continues to be unable to press south against the ferals in former Atlanta, Savannah remains our window to the rest of the civilized world.”

He looked about the table again.

“And with these punitive taxes and fees, that window has been slammed shut in our faces, just as we are back on our feet after the horrors of the Breakup.”  Another look around.  “I do not see that as chance.  I see that as a deliberate policy to keep us poor, weak, and under control.”

“Gentlemen… and lady.  I have not been entrusted with the reins of government to see our people poor, weak, and controlled by a foreign power,” he concluded, standing.  “I would now like to invite suggestions this morning as to what options and actions we should take for ourselves and our children.”

There was nervous shuffling and shifting among all but one there.  Everyone knew what the First Councilman had outlined.  Everyone knew what the answer was.  In their fragile, recovered little city-state, no one wanted to be the first one to say it.

“I can have my two legions on the march in two months,” came the high voice of the girl at the end of the table.  “That puts us outside Savannah on June tenth, before things get really hot.”

Councilman Klimt, serving from the days of the Breakup, and grossly fat, made a blustering noise to MacRae’s immediate right.

“We will, however,” the girl continued, looking pointedly at General Scott, need artillery support, as we’ve none of our own.”

“You,” the youngest Councilman, Greene, “have one of your militias organized in what you call a legion.  Where’s the other coming from?”

“You, obviously, are not paying attention,” Faustina Hartmann replied with a withering glare.  “I have ten more trained cohorts.  All they need to do is take an oath to their standard…”

MacRae and Scott tensed at what they knew was coming next.

“And to me.”

“Look, missy…!” Greene said, standing.

MacRae stood as well.

“With no other suggestions I am concluding this meeting and convening a military council.  Thank you, everyone, for your time this morning.  General Scott?  Miss Hartmann?  Please remain.” With a nod to his men on the far wall, the doors were opened for everyone else to depart.

Knowing he had been put in the wrong but not grasping how, Greene was the first to storm out.  The rest followed more slowly.  MacRae noted that Chinon did take a second to place his right hand onto the girl’s shoulder.  She touched his hand without a look.  The First Councilman waved another of his over and spoke softly to him.  That man left quickly.  With everyone else departed, he leaned back once more into his chair.

“You plan on starting a war, Miss Hartmann,” he said bluntly.

She laughed.

“No!  The Chinese mercantilists already did that; I’m going to end it!”

“Two legions, as you call them,” he went on as two men came in.  One with drinks and snacks and the other with some large maps that were spread out onto the table.  “That’s what?  Ten thousand men?”

“Just over,” she agreed, pouring herself some peach juice from parts south.  “I know you’ve little military experience but a generation ago they’d be called light infantry.  Very fast but little staying power.  One of the reasons we need artillery.”

“What do you say to that, Daniel?” MacRae asked, taking a pork sandwich and some water for himself.

General Scott looked decidedly uncomfortable.  Put into command less than a year ago, he was well-versed in the Society’s primary mission of re-empowering the region.  Waging war?  Not so much.

“If I know anything about military history,” he began, “I know this:  any force with organic artillery is effectively an independent power.”

“You give her what she wants,” he said, somewhat rudely pointing to his left, “and she’ll be in your chair in no time at all.”

“I’ve been aware of Miss Hartmann’s desires for some time, General,” MacRae replied easily.  “Do you covet my place, Miss?”

“Not at all!” she laughed again.  “I’m aiming much higher than that!”

No one moved.

“And just how high, Miss?” he asked.

“Until someone stops me.  And I doubt it will be one of you humans.”

MacRae ignored Scott’s flinch at that term, pausing to drink a little water, instead.

“I think,” he began, “it is high time that I make your militia a legal part of our state.  The paramilitary Society was their protection as they moved about the chaos of the Breakup to put civilization back onto its feet.  The two brigades – ”

“They are legions and they are mine,” she said in a sharp tone.  “I will place them at your disposal… hell, we’ll even take pledge to Knoxville… but they are mine.  And I am theirs.”

“Jesus…!” they both heard Scott mutter.

MacRae let his eyes linger on one of the maps before him on the table.

“General Scott?  I’m going to request you temporarily second your artillery units to, ah, General Hartmann, here, for the duration of this campaign.  You said two months, did you?  Let’s have you and your men on parade in Neyland Stadium, where they can take their oath, in one.  Questions?” With none, he kept on.  “As you noted, Miss, I’m not a military man, so you two can talk strategy and tactics.  What can I do, by way of supplies and politics?”

The girl immediately came around to the other side of the table, rattling off what she would need and when and where she would need it, her eyes glowing.  MacRae reminded himself of all he knew and had heard about the very different Hartmann siblings:  how their minds could draw upon the sum total of all information at will…

“Hey!” she yelled, tapping at point on the map.  “Were you listening?!  I said our first engagement will likely be here, Lake Hartwell, when we seize the barges for the trip down-river.  Sure, my boys could march, but why walk when you can ride, right?”

“Of course,” he said, unflustered.  “Do continue.”

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