Aaaannnd: things went to crap. A salutary lesson as to why you should listen to your underofficers. Demi-humans make mistakes, too. It shall be interesting to see how this plays out in her mind and in her army.
Gibson nodded and pointed first at the legionary who had smiled at her then across the road. They both understood.
Standing next to her horse and out of earshot, the man said that her other legate was set up not quite a mile away in some trees next to a graveyard, just off of old I-520.
“Gravesites by the highway, huh?” she laughed as she swung up into the saddle. No one else got the mention. Pre-Breakup culture was disappearing fast.
Which is probably a net good, she thought, cantering a couple of thousand feet to the interstate’s access road before turning right. She had noticed the men on guard so Owens and his staff must be in cover.
She slowed to a walk and moved to where the riders from north, south, and east were going. Ah, there! A little break in the tree cover. Faustina made sure to catch the eyes of the man stationed there before dismounting. He acknowledged her with a nod, no salute.
“I commend your victory, legionary,” she said, stopping before him. “How are things here?”
“Mixed, Miss,” he replied, his eyes darting about and not happy she was here. “It seems not all the enemy got word about the surrender. Please get under cover!”
With a smile she did as she was bade, leading her mount into the trees. A few yards in a man was there to take charge of them while she and her three moved on to her legate, talking animatedly with his staff and Adams, centurion of Second Legion’s Fifth cohort. She also took note of the corpsman attending to one of her boys sitting against a tree bleeding from a shot to his left shoulder.
“If I wouldn’t be court-martialed for it,” Owens said without turning – he had always had excellent awareness – she thought, “I would take you over my knee and spank you for being this stupid!”
His men gasped but she was pleased that Adams just smiled.
“There is no place on Earth I am safer than with my boys,” she countered, but also understanding that she had crossed the line from brave to foolhardy. “After you brief me we shall leave at once.”
There was a *crack* of a rifle report from somewhere to the north. Her legate waved them all to a squat.
“The abandoned apartments or the woods?” Faustina asked, fully aware of her stupidity for having just ridden past them.
“Not sure,” Owens said. “I’ve three maniples searching that way now. For everything else…”
He quickly detailed that with Gibson in the middle of things, he was sending patrols south to the unused rail yard and southeast to the last of the city bridges over the river, both to make sure there was no communication to Savannah.
“Besides also getting a rider to Gibson every twenty minutes, that’s where we are,” he concluded.
“Casualties?” Faustina asked, her eyes flicking to the wounded man for a moment.
“Six killed; two dozen wounded of which three are critical. One of them is back across the bridge but I cannot move the others until we get rid of that sniper,” Owens said.
“Six killed…” she said softly but no more, knowing her legate’s report would give her all the details. I will have to see their families myself.
“What’s the best way out of here for me?” Faustina asked.
“In an armored car with a sore bottom!” Owens almost snarled before calming himself. “There isn’t one! We’re thin to the west and – “
“North is out.”
“We’ll go west then northwest now, back to First,” she decided, standing and waving for their horses to be brought through the trees with them.
“I’m headed the same way, back to my cohort,” Adams walked at her right. “I’ll accompany you part way. I am, after all, a bigger target!”
Stopping at the treeline, Faustina looked at what had been a small neighborhood of little prefab houses. There were now all burnt or dilapidated ruins. Getting back onto their horses now just made them a better target so they continued on foot, screened from the north by a thin line of trees. Owens turned back to his temporary CP.
“Never seen Legate Owens so hot!” Adams laughed. He laughed at almost everything. “I hope that spanking rumor doesn’t spread!”
“No one will hear it from – ” she began, but stopped when the centurion suddenly froze and swayed back a step. Right before another *crack!*
“What the…?” she watched him look down to the spreading patch of red on the front of his BDU before falling face-first into the tall grass. And not moving.
Her bones and muscles were that of a teen girl. Her nervous system was something else again.
“Corpsman!” she was yelling, impossibly loud as she spun her rifle off her shoulder and threw herself down, immediately beginning to crawl north into the trees. She heard her staff follow, slower, and action from Owen’s CP.
Stopping where the trees ended, she stayed flat but looked across the road north. Faint motion gave her the location of the three maniples. Then the shooter cannot be where Owens thought he is! Somewhere in those trees just barely left…! Her right eye looking down the rifle’s sites with her left waiting for movement or a flash.
There! The report was just reaching her ears when she moved ever so slightly and squeezed the trigger. A shadow slumping over. She aimed a fraction lower and fired two more times. Her ears heard Adams being attended to and someone crawling up next to her. Owens.
“Status?” he asked tersely.
“I think I dropped one. No idea if more.”
He turned and spoke quickly to the man at his right. A series of blasts from an old airhorn had the left-most maniple swinging right and trotting ahead in sections: one half laying covering fire for the other have advancing. There were no further sounds for several minutes before an out-of-tune trumpet called all-clear.
Faustina immediately crawled back to where Adams had fallen. The medic had turned him over and torn his shirt off. And… was doing nothing.
“I’m sorry, Princess,” he nearly choked, “the centurion is dead.”
“My… one of my…” she let go her rifle and crawled the rest of the way to his body, crying. “No! You can’t be dead, Adams! This is one of your jokes!”
“Miss,” Owens said urgently, touching her shoulder, “we have to get you under cover!”
She shook him off and pulled Adams into her lap, his blood spilling into her hands.
“Nooo!” she howled again, uncaring of herself and only for him. “Get up Adams! That’s an order! Please get up! Please…!”
“Princess!” Owens shook her violently. “Your command!”
Her emotions ended at once. She again stood and waved her horses to her. Without a word and barely allowing her staff to catch up, she was in the saddle and at a canter back toward First Legion.
Her legate heard a sound and saw the medic was crying, too.
“She loves us so much!” he managed, looking up at his legionary commander. “She almost ordered the centurion back to life! Someday, she will!”
That was above Owen’s paygrade. He looked about and started barking command after command to salvage the situation.