Crossing the river, 1/2

Against her centurions’ advice, Faustina crosses the bridge into a still-live battlefield, the PLA garrison surrender notwithstanding.  I was curious how she would handle it.  This is part one of the aftermath.  Part two shortly.


Faustina did consider that what she was doing was a little stupid:  had everyone on the PLA side get the message?  Would a few choose to ignore it?  Was it all a feint and would there be armored cars rolling into town in an hour?  No, she thought, shaking her head under her helmet once, there can never be talk that a demi-human skulked in their tent while heroes went out to fight!

Looking like nothing more than four message riders, they exited the bridge to their left and made their way down to the road just behind the old levee which kept the river from the town before the dams had been built.  Here Faustina encountered her first aid station:  on the grass, with cover and concealment from the buildings just south, was a dozen wounded, tended to by the non-combatant medicals who had crossed with their cohorts.  These didn’t seem particularly…

“Dammit!  That hurts!” a boy about twenty yelled as a corpsman was re-bandaging a broken, bloody left leg.  “I told you that effing fentanyl is expired!  Really expired!”

Faustina swung off her horse with a look for her staff to wait.  She loped over to where the corpsman and wounded were and squatted down to root through the medic’s pile of trash.  Finding the vial she looked about for a clean needle and syringe and pulled out the one or two mL overfill.

“Ah, dude?” the corpsman asked from behind her back, “stealing controls is a hanging offense…”

She ignored him and squirted the tiny bit of liquid into her left palm before touching it with her tongue.

“Okay!  Now I’m gonna have to arrest – ” the medic continued, standing.  She did as well, turning about.

“He’s right,” she said looking right into the non-combatant’s eyes.  “You basically gave him water, not a pain killer.”

“Gaah!” he suddenly remembered to salute, “Primess!  Missness!  Dammit!  Princess!  Sorry!  I’ll – !”

“Please take care of my heroes.  I’m going to need all of them!”

At that, she bent down to kiss the brow of the wounded man.

“Get better soon!”

“I… I will, Princess!”

Back onto her horse, she listened to her three staffers laugh softly.

Just ahead was a sign that said they were on Reynolds Street.  Faustina smiled to herself about what she was one of the few to know:  not only was Galen Reynolds one of the original five Councilmen of Breakup Knoxville, it had been an offhand comment of his, more than a generation ago, which had been transmitted by her grandfather into the machines of tribe Tohsaka.  No such thing as coincidences, indeed!

Ahead was the break in the levee which led to the now-wrecked PLA piers and wharves.  Before that was another aid station, still being assembled, as legionaries carried their buddies out of the buildings and onto the strand of grass this side of the berm between them and the river.  She tried to keep her face down to not be recognized but it was not to be.

“Princess!” one yelled.  It was enough for all but the most wounded to either sit up or roll over and see.

“My heroes!” she called.  “I’ll soon be back to check on you but must now speak with Legate Gibson.  Does anyone know where he is?”

Several pointed southeast but no one knew exactly where.  They walked their horses through what pre-Breakup must have been a rather seedy part of town… there were shouting voices ahead and Faustina saw about one hundred men standing about in an open field just to her left.

About one hundred Chinese soldiers.  Covered by half that many of her legionaries.  She suppressed a smile.  The knot of her men in a copse of trees just beyond would likely be her legate.  Head down again and face turned away from the POWs, the general of the Knoxville Expeditionary Force rode within a few yards of her just defeated enemy.  Picking Gibson’s bear-like form out as he issued a steady stream of orders, she also saw a PLA officer under guard next to him.  The local commander?

Still unnoticed they rode into the parking lot of an empty thrift store across the road from the temporary command post.  Only her comm aide accompanied her back across the street.  They approached her legate from his back left quarter.

“…soldiers just like us and probably half freaked out to be in a place like this on the other side of the planet from their home, so no.  We are using the old POW rules here with the exception that anyone who runs is shot.  Period.  What?”

The last was to the ranker who could not help but smile once he recognized who was standing at his Legate’s left.  Gibson turned and flinched.

“I told you to wait!” he hissed.

“You recommended I wait,” she countered softly.  “I disregarded your recommendation.  If it really is dangerous, I’ll leave.”

“N…no,” he said, taking such a deep breath that his leather kit groaned.  “But things are not settled here!”

“They won’t be until Savannah,” she said with no smile and a slow blink to her turquoise eyes.  “Shall I formally accept their surrender now?”

“Christ!” he muttered, now clenching his hands.  “Yes.  The local CO was already asking for you.”

He turned about to the officer.

“Major Li?  The general is here to accept your surrender and guarantee the safety of your men,” Gibson said carefully.  She saw Li nod once and look about, confused.

“I’m down here,” she said, taking off her helmet.  Li must have been a foot taller.  Reading his face and eyes was ease itself.  He looked to her legate in anger.

“You make joke?  Bring me some mongrel girl?  I do not get Yankee humor but in war this not funny!” he said as stiffly as he could.

“FFS,” they heard her mutter.

“Just because my mother is Min, not Han,” she said with a small tilt to her head, “does not mean I’m a mongrel!  Well… my dad is Prussian, so I can see what you’re getting at.  But you are still missing the bigger picture!”

Li didn’t move and tried not to look at her, still thinking he was an object of mirth.

“My Other Family has changed me!  More human than human, you might say.  You know the rumors:  the Machines; what you stupid normies call ‘AIs’!” she was well away on a rant, not even caring if her boys caught friendly fire from her insults.  “I, Faustina Hartmann, am the leader of the forces who took Augusta today!  Anger me enough and your name will be the footnote in history explaining why I led ten legions into China fifty years from now!”

She saw Li’s tiny glance to Gibson and his just as imperceptible nod.  She chose to not make an issue of it.  She was, after all, winning.

“Apologies, General,” he bowed just slightly and extended his hand.  “Please accept, per the Laws of War, the surrender of my garrison.”

“Your officers and men,” she spoke up, “shall be treated with the utmost courtesy.  I hope to have all of you paroled and repatriated as soon as events allow.”

“Events…?” Li asked.

“Until then,” she carried on as if she had not heard him, “as my Legate just said:  no attempts to escape.  No attempts to communicate with anyone.  Anyone at all.  Violate those rules and I shall put all of you to death.”

“That is illegal,” Li complained, “but we shall comply.”

They shook once more and she pivoted back to Gibson.

“Unless you need me I have to see Owens.”

“We’re okay here now,” he said.  “Sticking with our original plan for who goes where tonight?”

“Yes,” she tossed over her shoulder as she walked away.  “We will, of course, talk more later!  Any idea where he is?”

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