This came completely out of left field. So much so that for yesterday and today, having come home from DayJob, I just stared at the screen. I know a little about what happens right after this and quite a bit about Faustina’s actions once back to Savannah…
But I never saw this.
“Coffee or tea, Miss Hartmann?” he asked, indicating two small beakers to his left.
“No thank you,” so I’m back to ‘miss’ now. “While caffeine is sometimes necessary for a march or a battle, I dislike how it feels in my mind.”
“Do you mind if I…?” he asked.
“Not at all. Some water would be nice, though.”
He quickly stood and walked to his desk. From a glass pitcher, he poured ice and water into a crystal cup for her. He set it down and resumed his seat.
“Well enough to travel, I take it?” he asked before taking a sip of his black coffee.
“My doctor, brother, and nurse say not really but the decision is mine. I have to get back.”
“Do you trust your legates so little?” he asked.
Faustina tried not to glare at him. He seeks to provoke me!
“I have trusted them with my life, no,” she shook her head once, “the issue is what comes next. My boys are still busy with the post-battle minutiae, but in days will be wondering what to do next. That is the general’s responsibility.”
“Surely,” he agreed without commitment. “Returning as you arrived here? By plane?”
“Yes,” she said before pausing to drink from her cup. “My brother will take me back.”
“A member of the Society using one of their aircraft. Shall I have the city bill you for the expense?”
“If you so desire. If the PLA spiked the artillery we borrowed you may want to bill me for that, too!” she smiled at him.
She had pitched her voice so cutely that it took a moment for her words to sink in. Faustina watched him flinch.
“You… lost the guns?! But there are no immediate replacements…!” he began, almost standing.
“Yes, I did,” with him tense she leaned back and crossed her legs to relax. “From the beginning I’d planned them as a feint, to freak the PLA out and have them counter-attack. That was the reason I placed them too far forward. They did exactly what I thought they would.”
Another drink. Another smile.
“And if they did break them, fret not, Councilman MacRae,” I didn’t call you mister! “My boys shall scrounge up some more artillery – for the both us – soon enough!”
He had almost regained his composure when she pushed.
“So,” she asked, uncrossing her legs and quickly leaning forward, “what did you want to say to me today?”
“Two things,” he replied, now recovered. She watched him pour more coffee. “First: the Chinese. Until the POWs are gone I do not think a provocation toward Wilmington would be a good idea.”
“Generally,” Faustina drew the word out to make a point, “I agree. But the ultimate decision will be that of the commander at the scene as advised by her senior staff.”
“That, General,” he stressed right back, “is borderline treason.”
“Oh, please!” It was enough for her to set down her cup and stand. She walked to the window he had been looking out. “Let us leave charged words such as treason outside with the dress swords and umbrellas! You have come a very long way here in the city: your wife is the granddaughter of the most powerful founders of the city-state; you are within months of being in a position to call yourself a king. Of greater Knoxville!”
She waved her arms out at the city beyond the window before turning to face him.
“But do not think for a moment that your desire or ability comes close to mine! I shall remake this corner of the world! You should just thank God that I will do it with you humans next to me and not under me, as tribe Mendro has!” Faustina barked at the most powerful man in the city, her eyes flashing turquoise.
“That… may be,” he said, putting down his mug onto the low table. “So consider this a request and not an order: please upset the Chinese as little as possible. I think we can talk them out before we have to push them out.”
“I agree. What was your second item?” She was getting tired and wanted to sit back onto the couch but was concerned it would make her appear weak.
“You, actually, just touched on it,” MacRae said, taking his eyes from hers to stare at the middle of the table. “My wife.”
“Yes?” Faustina asked.
“She has cancer and shall be dead by the end of the year,” he spoke in a hollow tone. “This is not common knowledge and I would appreciate your confidence.”
Hearing no reply he looked back up to see his guest completely still. Her pupils were completely dilated and surrounded by a ring of light blue fire. Her mouth seemed to move just a little.
“I…see… now…” he heard her mumble.
The Walls of encryption of the hospital had always been laughable to her but it was not as if she kept up with every single patient they had. I see now: pancreatic cancer, stage four. Even if I could get her to the Empire or Japan, there is no possible cure. At least, not for a human.
“I am very sorry to hear of this, sir,” she gave the formal bow her godmother had taught her for situations such as this. “While I appreciate your confidence, I do not understand why you extend it to me. This is a personal, family matter.”
“Yes. That’s exactly why,” he said as he stood and walked over to stand just a foot from her. “Once she has passed, and after a proper amount of time, it would be politically advantageous to both of us were you to be my wife.”
Faustina heard the words but had no idea what to think.
“You’ve some months yet, so no hurry, General Hartmann,” he said, lightly taking her shoulders. “Get Savannah sorted, your boys home, and your triumphal parade over. But keep my offer in mind.”