Hope everyone had the New Years Eve and Day they desired. I’ve spent most of the morning avoiding writing (two loads of dishes, repaired a space heater, collating a week’s worth of leftovers) and the afternoon sitting down and writing.
Below the fold are the first moves against the city of Savannah and the Peoples Liberation Army units that occupy it. There are several references to military history and we learn that like her Machine namesake, Faustina has what a normal person would consider to be a very odd sense of “fun.”
After two hours of a kind of sleep, Faustina opened her eyes. Squeezing out of her tent and looking over the wooden walls of their camp and the pine trees beyond she took in the first color of the pre-dawn.
Purple. Thank you, God.
She moved quickly about the marching camp for half of Second Legion. Taking a page from the boldness of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia but only with the agreement of her centurions, she had divided the army not once but twice: First Legion a day and a half ago peeled off to the right and south along an old corridor cleared for now-dead powerlines. It would, she learned from her mentor so many months ago, be Second who “held them by the nose” while First “kicked them in the ass.”
And even Second was divided. There were the even-numbered cohorts with her as her fist. The odd were strung out as scouts and pickets from the river valley on her left to a mile and a half on her right. Strobe lights had been used to check the location and security of the barges with the 105mm howitzers. Her horse scouts had confirmed the berm and two chain-link fences, the outer supposedly electrified and the five meters between their three-meter height sown with anti-personnel mines, of the PLA just ten miles south, following a four-lane road that once arced around Savannah.
Today. At noon, she thought, walking quickly to the south gate as her half legion marshaled itself. She was onto her horse and out with her escort without a word. I must see my negotiator one last time!
For the past five days, she had constantly moved amongst her boys as they marched through the fragrant pines, reminding them of the overall plan, to listen to their officers, and, most importantly, to keep advancing. Falling back, or, God forbid, digging in, would be fatal. Prudence on behalf of Second would be expected but she still demanded aggression; that was the reason she was with them rather than First.
Passing through what a generation ago had been a bedroom community of Rincon brought her into Third Cohort. Its centurion, Rodgers, was waiting for her with a young legionary to his right who had a laconic look on his face. They saluted as she dismounted.
“I know you volunteered for this, Greene,” Faustina began, getting right to the point, “but if they kill you your cousin might kill me.”
“My cousin, the Councilman, has been the family hot-head since he was shitting his diapers,” her Greene replied in a low, slow, soft voice. Just the kind to put people at ease. “I’m going to do exactly what we all talked about.”
He jerked his left thumb over his shoulder, pointing south.
“I will politely as possible ask them to surrender, under the most generous terms possible. If they see fit to shoot the messenger, well,” he rolled his shoulders. “That’s their business.”
“That’s where you are wrong,” Faustina said with a harsh grin. “If they shoot my messenger then what happens after we win will make my grandfather’s soul blush!”
At her invocation of Clive Barrett and Texas’s ExComm murder machine, even Rodgers was wishing he was somewhere else. Greene nodded without smiling, saluted again, and made for his Bay being held by a non-combatant.
“Have you checked your radio?” Faustina worried.
“As I can without broadcasting. I’ll make a proper check-in when I see their line,” he replied from the saddle. His man handed him a long wooden pole. At the end of it was a furled white flag of truce.
“Remember they are not Western, White, or Christian!” she clucked again. “Take care! I want you back!”
With one hand on the reins and the other holding the pole, she could only watch his head nod while he cantered off.
“Orders, Miss?” Rodgers asked, turning to her.
“We’ve ten miles to cover in four hours, nothing for my boys, I know. And then we have six hours of daylight to defeat the enemy,” she shouted to those about them. “Is there anyone here I’m not giving an award for bravery afterward?!”
“No!!” was the resounding yell.
“I don’t know about you boys!” she continued to shout, “but I remembered my swimsuit! I’m spending tomorrow on the beach! Are all of you, my boys, going to be there?!”
“Good!” then, quieter to Rodgers. “Take care of them, please.”
“I shall, Miss.”
When Greene broke radio silence it was the cue for all of Second Legion to do the same. Whoever on the Chinese side is tasked with SIGINT probably just shouted in fear, Faustina thought. Dozens of their medium-sized observation drones went into the air and code phrases and numbers were passed to the barges on the river, bringing them to a halt five miles from the town and just at shy the enemy’s northern defenses. Each of Second’s cohorts had two communication teams, to make them sound twice as big as they were.
First Legion was still silent and would be until either she ordered them to attack or Gibson saw an opportunity and took it.
While she could almost smell the wifi, she was still not close enough. Fortunately, they had wargamed this possibility, too.
“Where’s Dodo?” she demanded of her combat staff, now trebled for the battle. It was her nickname for the drone with a single task: find good signal and bounce it to her position.
“Eight thousand AGL; searching for signal,” someone called back.
“Dammit! Blind!” she hissed. There was, so far, no shooting but Greene was overdue… Without her salutary experience days ago in Augusta, she would have chosen to move closer to enemy lines for signal.
“Greene on the radio, Miss!” her second comm aide called.
“You talk for me,” she directed. It would not do for the PLA to hear her voice. “Report, Greene!”
Her aide echoed this.
“They were polite enough to listen and not shoot me,” was his quick reply. “That the local CO kicked my message upstairs and waited for a reply means their chain of command knows they have a way out if they want it.”
“Thank God,” Faustina muttered, waving to not send that. “How long ‘till he’s safe?”
“Five minutes,” Greene replied.
She looked at her other comm aide.
“General Order Seven-One-Seven,” Faustina said slowly and clearly. They were attacking.
“Yes, Miss. Seven-One-Seven,” he carefully replied before sending.
“And follow that with Code: Tiger, please,” she added.
Her man smiled and nodded without turning back to her. Every legionary knew Code: Tiger. “God Bless us; there’re none like us!”
She shivered and those who happened to be looking in her direction saw her turquoise eyes flare. Signal!
“Dodo, Miss! It has – ” she waved him to silence. Images and telemetry poured into her mind. Faustina first sent coordinates to the howitzers on the barges. She was aware some part of her mind spoke through her mouth to give troop locations to her staff. But she…
She stood before the Wall of the PLA Savannah computers. Unlike a static defense, this one had an Expert System making the Wall flex and ooze in odd ways in her mind’s eye. It would be impossible for a human or group of them to break without time and servers.
The stream of words flowing from her mouth paused for just a moment. Now everyone was looking at her.
“Flesh is my body; fire is my mind!” they heard her intone. This is going to be fun!