Some good news. Some very bad news. Faustina is learning to think under pressure.
Most of my fam is out of the house for one reason or another tomorrow. Barring any oddity I shall complete not only part three of three but also quite possibly bring Part One to a conclusion. What little I have seen of Part Two is… rather weird.
From somewhere to her left and north came the rumble of their artillery, concentrated first at the defensive line before her cohorts. She had a few handfuls of sappers but if they could get past the PLA’s first line of defense quickly it would initiate a chain-reaction of panic among their commanders’ minds. All Faustina needed was a coded signal that a breach of at least one hundred yards had been effected and she would launch her entire five-cohort reserve into it.
In addition to the deep sounds from the artillery came a hint of small arms fire from along their entire front line. She “looked” through some of the drones but saw no breakthrough as yet. Time for me to be that force-multiplier!
“I’m breaking their Wall, now,” she announced. “If you need me back and I don’t come, stop the ‘cast from Dodo!”
In an otherwise empty, black space, the Wall stretched off in each direction forever. ‘Looking’ up, Faustina took in what might have been motes of light or patches of darker blackness. Yes, the Machines are curious to see what will happen here. Returning her focus to the Wall, she briefly considered the ES and its patterns. As soon as she detected what she thought was a flaw, Faustina ‘moved’ herself next to it and touched the kaleidoscopic ooze with her right index finger.
It instantly ran up her arm and nearly to her shoulder. From somewhere in meatspace she heard the shout “arrhythmia!” No matter; big brother pulled this crap stunt all the time growing up! In touching her so much she now had a solid read on the ES’s fundamental. Faustina used a tactic taught to her years ago from distant-cousin Reina, of tribe Mendro: the swirl of colors on her arm first crystallized then shattered away. From just a fingertip Faustina now placed her entire palm against the Wall. There was never sound in the Void but she could swear she heard her non-conscious opponent screaming.
“Arrhythmia ended!” she noted from some other world.
From under her hand, a turquoise spot formed and moved outward. The Wall flexed just slightly and the whirl of rainbow-vomit ate at the edges of the blue but still it expanded until twice her height. Faustina drew back her left arm with her hand in a fist. And waited.
The turquoise stopped expanding but yielded no ground to the colors around it. Almost there… A fissure appeared under her right palm.
“Knock, knock,” Faustina smiled, quoting the Pope, and punched her left fist into the back of her own right hand.
The Wall before her shattered. Its remains to her left and right quickly changing color to her code. She took a ‘step’ forward, placing her mind into the breach to hold it open…
“How are things here?” she whispered, her eyes unseeing, to her staff. There was so much to do!
“Cohorts three and five are through their outer line but have not secured a broad enough front to release the reserve,” she was told. “But Cohort one is falling back; it seems the local commander used counter-battery radar to find our arty and launched a counter-attack. They are requesting reinforcements.”
“Absolutely not. Lose the guns first,” she whispered again, “looking” at the two breakthroughs. “Release the reserve: tell them to follow behind Fifth and move! The enemy is going to try to hold the main airport and the port. Bypass them and stay away from the airstrips: that’s a machine gunner’s dream! Back in a bit!”
Orders were already going out as they watched her body grow still.
Their opponent, she now saw, was two reinforced regiments in strength. There were a dozen armored cars at Hunter Army Airfield about ten miles to the south. Too far away to affect anything! How stupid! Their base and some of the city drew power from a small fission reactor of poor design. If I have to, I’ll SCRAM it; but, if I do, I don’t know if we can get it operational again! Option of last resort… let’s see… no nuke that I can see. Thank God! There’s their comm web; as much as I’d like to play it is easier just to kill it. Which she did. All PLA units were now leaderless and would have to act on their own initiative. Something the Party frowned on.
“…incess!” impinged on her mind from somewhere. “First Legion is already five miles into their lines and close to the old city!”
Faustina moved two drones to take a look. Telemetry from one of them was suddenly gone as it was likely taken out by a shoulder-launched anti-air missile but the other confirmed what she had been told: somehow Gibson had punched a massive hole in the enemy’s far left flank and was just now to where the armored cars were. She sent a warning and –
What was that? she wondered. A short burst of signal to a satellite. Aware it was sent but unable to read it – self-erasing – Faustina fretted a little but assumed it was the overall CO telling Beijing that their base falling. That I am winning!
You are in grave danger, her mentor, Ventidio, broke noninterference to warn her.
From? she asked, suddenly afraid.
Ask the shade of your grandfather. She could tell Ventidio was no longer with her.
My grandfather? There’s no time for a pogrom when they are losing so fast…
So fast… a signal into the sky… to one of their orbital battle stations…
Faustina was completely back to her body leaving only a corner of her mind to keep the breach in the Wall open. She stood and shouted.
“We have no pre-arraigned code for this so send it in clear,” her tone brooked no opposition. “Expect orbital kinetic bombardment in one to two hours. Find a defendable line and – God help me! – dig in and keep your heads down!”
A courier on horseback rode up to her command tent, yelling for her. She quickly went outside.
“Yes,” Faustina asked.
“Legate Owens reports our arty lost but scattered units of the enemy are surrendering across the front of Second!”
“Good news! But!” she raised her right finger in the air, “in case he did not hear, get back to him right now and tell him that everyone has to get under hard cover or dig in!”
Finger still up, she raised her arm to point into the sky.
“Rods from God,” she said. “They are going to bombard this place from orbit with huge tungsten rods dropping at ten miles per second, trooper. They land like an atomic bomb going off.”
Faustina watched the blood drain from his face as he got the message. Not even bothering to salute he yanked his protesting mount around and galloped off.
“What should we do, Princess?” her chief aide asked.
Faustina turned about to stare at the western horizon. Where is it? How long do we have? How many rods? She turned back to the south.
“Screw what happened in Augusta, I’m following my boys in there,” she announced while first pulling her helmet on then picking up her rifle into her hands. “We move as fast and far in as we can for forty-five minutes then we dig. There’s no way telling where it will land but I’ll need to see to things the moment after it does!”
And please let it be just one!
Her staff ran to catch up to her as she double-timed it down the lane.