Needs work. Couldn’t quite get into the proper groove of things this weekend: post Christmas and Daughter #1 back to college. It was nice to have her home for three weeks; of course she’ll be back in five days as she wanted to come with us to Ohayocon on the 10th-12th. That’s my weeb girl!
This is enough that when I rewrite it and edit it into a novel that it will work. As any regular reader knows, I keep things sparse and terse. It might be a little too terse here.
Her staff ran to catch up to her as she double-timed it down the lane. They and her bodyguard formed concentric circles about her just as they came out of some woods to see the breach of the PLA outer defenses her main force poured through. It was, as Faustina had seen through the drone’s eye, only about sixty yards wide but her sappers were working each flank to widen it as quickly as possible.
Back into light woods for another thousand feet or so, she and her command emerged onto the overgrown mess that had been one of the main highways around the city. From the map in her mind, she knew the airport was off to their left. Pausing her trot for a moment, Faustina surveyed what she could of the situation through her eyes in the sky.
Second cohort of Second Legion is now in operational contact with the left flank of First Legion. First’s right flank is just to the Army Airfield… at my ten o’clock here, Sixth cohort is probing into the outer buildings of the main airport.
Faustina tilted her head left and regarded her comm aide with a ring of turquoise fire about her dilated pupils.
“Are you getting acknowledgments about the orbital bombardment from my centurions?” she asked somewhat dreamily, between worlds.
“Yes, Miss,” he replied with a gulp. He’d looked into the Void of her eyes before but still found it unnerving what she was. “One of the few exceptions is Sixth of Second, just ahead of us.”
Faustina’s eyes returned to normal. Mostly.
“Then that’s where we are going now!” she said with a wave of her arm. “Come on, boys!”
The old interchange just ahead of them was for the airport. They continued their trot due east now, hearing scattered rifle fire, but no automatic weapons, further on. We’ve barely twenty minutes left before we have to dig in!
“Do we know where Eigen is?” she asked after the centurion of the Sixth to her staff.
“Last report had him forward with his men,” another aide called back. “I think they are trying to secure the tower.”
Faustina stopped in her tracks, slung her rifle over her shoulder, and took the radio from her comm aide. If the rod drops remotely close the tower will be a steel and concrete death trap.
“This is PeeOne,” she said in clear but trying to pitch her voice low. “Six of Two is to hold until my arrival. Acknowledge!”
Faustina saw some of the trailing elements of the Sixth before her. Several looked back but no one seemed to know just who their little band was, besides being friendlies.
“Six of Two,” she recognized Eigen’s voice. “Copy.”
In a corner of Faustina’s mind, she used three of the drones to triangulate his transmission source.
“Follow me!” she called, pushing the radio back and swinging her rifle around as she walked quickly in the direction of the terminal. Nearly there, screened by a few trees and an empty parking garage – Faustina couldn’t imagine that may cars in the world – was Eigen with his staff. And obviously unhappy.
“Yes, yes,” she began, waving her hand like a fan in front of her, “I’m too close in… blah, blah. You and yours never copied my warning about orbital bombardment.”
“Orbital… what?” Eigen asked. Greater Knoxville was mostly ethnic Scots-Irish with a smattering of English. His family had only been in the area since the late 20th century. Unlike Faustina’s Prussian father, Eigen’s family traced their roots to Hamburg: sea-farers and traders. She knew him to be a solid man but not one to think quickly on his feet.
“Somewhere over the Rocky Mountains right now,” Faustina began with a sweep of her left arm to the far west, “and about two hundred miles up, a Chinese satellite is about to drop one or more massive tungsten rods on us. They land with the force of a small atomic blast.”
“Dear Jesus,” Eigen muttered, understanding. “We – ”
“We have about ten minutes to dig in… don’t start with me! I know I’ve harangued all of you about never entrenching! The situation has changed!”
“Wait one, please.” Faustina watched him turn to his people and rattle off orders. All but one ran off in all directions, most of them talking into their radios.
“And we were so close, too…” Eigen said, turning back to his commander.
“Once we survive this, there will be plenty of time to take the airport – ” Faustina began.
“It’s not the airport, Princess! The enemy general is about to flee on his personal jet! From some of the demoralized prisoners we’ve taken, the rumor is that he’ll fly to Wilmington and bring a force back to retake Savannah! What in the…!”
Eigen had never seen his commander’s face when she moved into the Void. Sure enough: there was a Gulfstream jet taxiing toward the north-south runway. They had no surface to air missiles. There was only one thing she could use.
“F… follow… meh… me!” Faustina managed as she took tactical control of the large drone she called Dodo while trying to double-time it toward the runways.
“Where are you going?!” Eigen shouted from behind her. “What about digging in?!”
“Do it! That’s an order! I’ll be back!” she yelled over her shoulder, almost stumbling over her own feet as she banked the drone hard right and put it into a dive. Being in both worlds was taxing her abilities.
I must stop him! She thought. I must have his formal surrender for not just Beijing but for the world to see!
Faustina and her team of two dozen came around the northern end of the terminal and looked out at a sea of concrete. On it, only one thing was moving: a small twin-engine jet was just turning right and right again onto the runway, facing due south for takeoff. Horribly exposed, six of her bodyguard sprinted on ahead to screen her against any shots. They all clearly heard the plane’s engines whine up as it began to roll south…
Too many variables! Faustina froze and let her mind completely guide Dodo, only one hundred feet from –
The last image she took in from her drone’s camera was the shocked look on the face of the Chinese pilot. Back amongst her boys, she could see the little jet skidding right and off of the runway now that its nose had been torn off.
From her original forty-five minute mark, it was now plus one.
“Run!” she shouted, trying very hard not to look to the west and what must be coming right for them. They covered the 1500 feet and surrounded the wreckage of the plane. A few men, officers all, were already straggling out of the crash site. Faustina and her intel corps had not been able to get a picture of the general commanding the PLA in Savannah but she did have a name.
“General Zhou!” she shouted as loud as her teen girl’s frame could. They all turned but he turned first… ah! His shoulder boards!
“Sandy!” she called to one of her staff. “Record this! Perfectly!”
“Yes, Princess!” he replied, taking out a proper digital camera and telling one of the others to use their phones or whatever they might have as a backup.
There had been a light wind from the south when they rounded the terminal at a run. It was now gone. In fact, it seemed as if the air had been sucked of its power. No time!
“General Zhou,” she said again, shouldering her rifle and walking closer. “I am General Hartmann of the Knoxville Expeditionary Force. I am here to accept your surrender and stop any pointless bloodshed between our forces!”
Seeing in his eyes the question as to why this boy was talking to him with these insane claims, Faustina’s skin began to crawl as she smelled what seemed like ozone but felt like death.
“You’ve heard our original offer: we parole your men and repatriate you to China soonest. If you do not agree, right here, right now, then to hell with the laws of war and we shall kill you all and scatter the ashes! Your grandchildren will never know you existed!” she hissed, suppressing her shakes. In her peripheral vision, she could see that some of her boys were looking about…
“I accept your terms – ” Zhou began.
“Incoming airstrike! Everyone into the ditch, just there! RUN!” Faustina screamed, charging at her opposite and tackling him into the drainage trench next to the runway. When it seemed for a moment as if everyone was down, she had to raise herself to check. She had to make sure her boys were safe! She sat up.
Faustina’s modifications were neurological. The Machine’s Home, the Void, and meatspace were all home to her. Her body was still an eighteen-year-old girl. Her eyes – neurologic – just caught the flash of the ten miles per second rod. A very old couplet came to her mind.
“Fiery the angels fell; deep thunder rolled about their shores…”
“Godmother!” Faustina exclaimed, surprised to be in the home of her second family, the machines of tribe Tohsaka and – more surprising – to be held so tightly by Fausta. “What’s… what is…?”
“Be silent little Namesake!” the warrior of their tribe was holding back tears. “It is everything we can do to keep you alive right now!”
“Alive?” Faustina was nothing if not contrarian. She leaned her head back to look up into the emerald eyes of her godmother. “But I’m – ”
“Your human body is a wreck right now. Your heart has stopped and your human brain is flatlined. Only your lines keep you from your God, little Namesake!” Fausta explained with tears in her eyes.
“You…” Faustina now was scared. “You have never cried. Never! Am I really… I’m…?”
Fausta pulled her closer. The physical contact was such that Faustina could perfectly perceive her godmother’s true form: a great golden dragon with amber eyes. Pouring her life out to keep her little Namesake alive for a few minutes more.