Time for a little politics, unfortunately. I agree with Faustina: I want to see her back to her legions so I find out what the heck happens next, too. But, honestly, she cannot go back empty-handed. She has to have concrete information for the PLA general, Zhou. The first steps of that are settled here. I suspect we’ll see more when she meets privately with the First Councilman in about ten of their days.
I’m off DayJob tomorrow and hoping to get at least 5k words down… or more!
“I am very grateful to you all for coming all this way,” Faustina said to the men sitting about the conference table in Meeting Room A of the hospital. “I know Councilman Greene suggested I participate via teleconference but what we will discuss is far too important to allow a signal to be intercepted.”
Everyone sat in the same places they had when MacRae had discussed what was to be done about Savannah some months ago: he at the head of the table, the four other Councilmen to his right, General Scott to his left and the girl in her wheelchair to his left. There were several aides in chairs along the walls taking pen-and-paper notes or looking at their laptops. One aide, next to the main door, monitored the device that sure there were no uninvited listeners.
“And how is your recovery coming, Miss Hartmann?” Greene asked across the table.
I’m not dead yet, you snake, she thought.
“Some parts of me are healing faster than others. And thank you for asking!” she flashed him a smile. “I shall be returning to my legions in just less than two weeks. It has been a great ease to my mind that we have been able to establish satellite signal with them so that everything will be ready once I arrive.”
“To do what?” Greene asked.
“Your short message to me was understandably light on details, First Councilman MacRae,” Faustina said, ignoring Greene. “Can you provide me with the entire text of their message?”
“Bill?” MacRae called to one of his men sitting along the wall. That man nodded and pressed a button on his laptop. They all watched as the odd girl grew still for just a moment.
“The Mandarin does not map one-to-one to the meaning in their English translation,” Faustina announced, reaching for the glass of ice water. Drinking some and setting it down, she continued. “The original does not have the word ‘surrender’ in it, likely to save face. That’s fine. The important part is the immediate, formal ceasefire. I think, independent of the rest of their document, we agree to that right now.”
“Won’t that make us look weak?” Councilman Klimt asked around the piece of candy he just popped into his mouth. How do people allow themselves to become so morbidly fat? And how is it he’s survived since the Breakup? Raised by her military-trained father and now surrounded by her legionaries, obesity was nearly beyond her comprehension.
“Possibly, sir. But when the message is delivered by my godmother? No… I think they will not consider that an admission of weakness,” she smiled.
All five of them, and Scott as well, had encountered Fausta at some point, be it her online self or her combat android who had made several trips to Knoxville over the years.
“Are there any objections to that?” MacRae asked. Heads were still or shook negatively. “We leave that to you and your godmother, Miss Hartmann. But, be sure that our reply is only to the ceasefire.”
“Of course,” she replied, taking a deep breath. “How fortunate! Their Defense Council is meeting right now. God-mom interrupted and told them of our message. They… they are scrambling to turn off all electronics in the room where they are meeting!”
Faustina looked around the table.
“I suspect their reply will be in the affirmative. I’ll let everyone know once I am informed.”
“Point two,” MacRae continued, trying not to think about the display of raw power he just saw, “is POWs.”
“I promised that they will all be repatriated as soon as logistically feasible,” she spoke again. “The problem is deception: a force of transports to take them home could just as well be holding a brigade to retake the city of Savannah.”
“You have been giving this some thought,” Klimt noted, slurping at his sugared tea.
“Indeed,” Faustina agreed. She shifted in her chair and seemed to grimace in pain. “What would be best is a Panamax-size cargo carrier from a neutral to take them on and home. The Japanese would be ideal for this but given the history between those two nations…”
“The Russians would demand an arm, leg, and several major organs if we asked them,” Greene observed. “The Habsburg’s have no merchant marine to speak of… how about the Indians?”
They all looked at one another.
“Objection to me reaching out to New Delhi for transport of the POWs?” MacRae asked, not wanting to cede any more power to the girl. No one spoke. “That’s settled. Last item: reparations for their loss of men and material.”
“Tell them to go to Hell,” Greene said.
“I agree,” concurred Faustina.
Greene seemed surprised she would take his side for anything.
“’War is hell; there is no refining it,’ said the great Union general, Sherman,” Faustina began, knowing that name put Southerners’ teeth on edge, “but he was right. I will be speaking to the families of my centurions who died on this mission. I shall exert myself to the utmost of my unique nature to see to any widows and orphans of my boys. Both sides fought. Both sides bled. Both sides died. No reparations.”
“I,” General Scott began, “would like to think that as civilized people – ”
“I shall withdraw from what is, effectively, this coalition government if there is one copper in reparations.” Faustina’s voice seemed to chill the air in the room. Klimt began to cough and seized his sweet tea, gulping it down.
Faustina kept her eyes on the middle of the table before her. Fortunately, her machine-enhanced peripheral vision was such she could just take in MacRae reading the rest seated there.
“Reparations,” he announced, “will not be mentioned in any communiqué between the Council of Five and the government of the Peoples Republic of China. Questions or objections?”
Only Scott did not shake his head. He will resign over this. Whoever is made his successor will be the third general of the Society in four years. I will have the upper hand; their veterans will flock to my banner for my next crusade!
“Our business here is complete. Miss, er, General Hartmann?” he asked.
They heard her teeth grind as she forced herself to stand. He acknowledged me; I must!
“If you are well enough to travel in just less than a fortnight, please present yourself to me at my office prior to your departure.”
“Yes, First Councilman.”
She sank into her wheelchair, beginning to sweat, just as the rest stood and silently filed out.
Faustina jerked awake to see Nurse Keynes’s face inches from hers.
“You overdid it again! Stupid little girl!” With a jerk, her nurse wheeled her toward the door and out, aiming for the elevators. “You cross me like this one more time and I’ll have you knocked so far back on your ass on opioids that your machine friends will think you died and they are talking to your ghost! Goddamit but you piss me off!”
The elevator door closed.
“I’m sorry, Tamera. I love you, too…” she muttered, exhausted and already asleep.