That is one of my life-mottoes. It is derived from Calvin Coolidge saying “If you see ten troubles coming down the road, you can be sure that nine will run into the ditch before they reach you.”
Strangely, one of my other life-mottoes is from the US Marine Corps: “Doin’s better than thinkin’,” which I have used in one of my books. The gripping hand between the two is knowing when to act and when not to.
First Councilman MacRae’s proposal to Faustina was a bolt from the blue for her and me. Thankfully he gave her time. She takes a little of that time to place it before the brother she loves so much and her sister-in-law she thinks so mistaken. They come to the same conclusion: give it time. In a month or two, they could be in a hot-war with the PLA, or attacked on another front, or revolution at home, or… or… the horse just might learn to sing.
Tomorrow: back to Savannah!
Faustina was a little unclear about how she found herself down eight stories and into her sister’s car. She only came back after Henge pulled her mind to the machine’s home.
“Huh?” Faustina asked, looking about at her surrounds on the eight-meter diameter metal platform, a landmark made by Henge’s father a generation ago to try to isolate humans from tribe Tohsaka’s environs.
“Why am I here?” she asked blankly.
“I could not force into your mind without hurting you, dear sister,” Henge said, stepping to Faustina while wearing her typical blue denim overalls over a white tee shirt. Her bare feet made no sound on the cool metal.
Henge placed a finger onto her sister-in-law’s forehead. And shuddered.
“Ah. Mild emotional trauma,” Henge observed in a clinical voice. “So it did not touch upon you and your legions!”
Faustina’s motionless non-reaction concerned her.
“Sister? Faustina?” she asked. “Shall I call your godmother…?”
“No!” then quieter, “no… godmom can’t see me like this…”
Another odd image-dissolve had Faustina slightly car-sick in the very short drive to the flat of her brother and his family.
“Thank you,” Faustina whispered, dropping her head to her chest.
Her eyes opened again to look at the ceiling of her brother’s family’s living room.
“What’s wrong with me?” she asked to the stucco ceiling.
“Where shall I start, little sister?” she heard her brother ask.
She rocked her head left to look at Gary sitting in a worn chair just a few feet away.
“Have you and the rest been prying into me, big bro’?” she sighed.
“Only for a medical assessment,” he replied just a bit too loud for her. He noted that and continued quieter. “We found nothing beyond the damage we know. That means this is something your nurse or MacRae said to you. That’s private and we did not touch your mind.”
He watched her take a minute to herself. That was fine: her soup was not yet ready.
“Thank you, brother,” she said, but continued their way, even at the expense of her lines. We three will talk briefly after dinner. “Am I to spend the night here? For our flight tomorrow?”
“Yes,” he replied verbally, to keep her lines at ease. “I demand, sister, you sleep in; I shall fly you to Savannah, noonish.”
No. This early departure is your choice! If you code and die I’ll explain to Mother and Father!
You are such an assh –
“Your soup is ready!” Henge said, coming from the little kitchen with a bowl for her sister and a kick to her husband’s foot. “And if I can pick of fringes of your conversations, Aurie can, too, Husband!”
Faustina watched Gary accept his scolding and nod once in apology.
“Whatev’s,” Faustina said, pushing herself up so she could eat. “Oooo! Bean and bacon! You are the absolute best, stupid sister – OUCH!”
Henge set the bowl down on the table to their right while flicking Faustina’s nose very hard with her left.
“I tolerate much of you, my unfolding mystery of a little sister,” she said in a cold tone Gary rarely heard, “but not under my roof when I bring you food.”
I am sorry, she thought to them both.
We shall see, was Henge’s curt reply as she left.
“You cannot burn,” her brother said out of nowhere.
“What’s that?” Fussy asked, reaching for the bowl.
“You cannot burn your ships and bridges; not yet. No matter what you think you might be, you are still here: here and now.”
Faustina had just brought a scoop of the soup to her mouth. In her pause, it fell from her spoon back into the bowl.
“Here and now… brother,” she reflected quietly, with another scoop. “I want to get all-around; be lost in time.”
She could tell he did not understand but who did? Instead, he thanked his wife for his portion of soup. Faustina was just aware he asked Henge about their daughter. Up in her room, painting, he was told.
“I didn’t know anyone in our family besides mom had an artistic bent,” Faustina observed.
“Perhaps it passed through me, obviously skipping my generation,” Gary suggested.
“I, big brother, am poth- positively awash in creativity,” Faustina said around her mouthful. “How many other private armies are you aware of?”
“Something from grandfather, it would seem,” he said low.
“No blood connexion,” she refuted. “Other than our fallen human nature.”
“Nice to hear you admit that now and again,” Henge said leaning on the corner of the wall that opened to the kitchen.
“Ah hab…” Faustina swallowed and tried again. “I have always referred to myself – and my close family – as demi-humans. I will not deny that part of my nature.”
Am I demi-human, too? they all heard Aurelia ask, who had just come downstairs.
Just by speaking to us like this answers your question, little niece! Get some of this yummy soup before your mom and dad take it all!
They wouldn’t do that, the little girl replied, ambling into the kitchen. I think you are teasing me.
Faustina leaned forward to set her empty bowl onto the low table next to her. She was leaning back to take a rest before their conversation when her brother bothered her again.
“Do you think your appearance will cause any issues with your officers or men?” he asked, aware she was tired.
“My hair is already coming in fast. As for my slight burn scars…” she just elevated her left arm, “will be proof in my flesh how much I care for my boys. Lemme rest, bro’…”
Gary and Henge left her and sat with their daughter at their small dining table to finish their dinner.
A few hours later, with Aurelia asleep in her room, Gary and Henge wondered if they should wake their troublesome sister or let her sleep and heal. As a doctor he wanted sleep; having the smallest glimpse at her emotional distress, she thought it best they talk it out before her departure. The argument was ended when they heard Faustina call for a glass of water from downstairs.
While Gary sat, Henge brought a cup. About to sit in her husband’s lap, she caught the tiniest frisson from her sister and instead retrieved a chair from their kitchen table, placing herself precisely between the two siblings.
“MacRae’s wife is dying, pancreatic cancer. Once she’s past and after a suitable mourning period, he wants to marry me,” Faustina spoke tonelessly and without preamble, looking at the ceiling from her position on the couch. She could sense her brother thinking and her sister-in-law’s mind loose like a tiger in the Void.
“Having been arrested by MacRae – ” Gary began.
“That was eight years ago, bro’,” Faustina interrupted, “and we won that one.”
“ – and given the reason,” he continued, “I am not sure I trust his motives. Like me, you are mixed race. Unlike me, what you and our machine family has done to your nervous system makes you even more… different. Why would a man who wanted to make greater Knoxville a white-ethnostate wed a demi-human?”
“Power, of course, brother,” she now slowly sat up and paused to take a drink of her water. “He’s about to be dictator for life. Perhaps an actual king, later. I possess the largest army for a thousand miles around. It could be… complementary.”
“What it could be is playing a long game,” Gary countered, obviously not happy. “Condition your legions to think of him as their commander, not you. And casting you aside at his first opportunity.”
“Perhaps,” she acknowledged with another drink. “You are awfully quiet over there, sis. Canvassing your family before taking a position?”
“Canvassing?” Henge reflected, gazing at Faustina with her golden eyes. “That’s not quite the apposite word. Perhaps nothing more than consultation. Your brother has already produced two objections which you have brushed aside – a bit too casually, I might add – so rather than challenge you, I wanted to instead listen to you.”
“Ooo! Subtle!” Faustina smiled at her. “Have me put myself in the dock, as it were! Let me start by saying this: when he put his hands onto my shoulders – ”
She just saw the scowl flicker across her brother’s face.
“ – I will admit all I felt was disgust. I have kissed my boyfriends and even let one of them feel up my boobs – not a word, Gary! – and enjoyed every moment of it. So, right on the heels of my negative physical response came his proposal. My visceral instinct was to jack him in the jaw but I’m a Hartmann and made of sterner stuff!”
She leaned back to calm herself.
“Even with bro’s second, political warning, it would make political sense, I think. And given that the ultimate force, military power, is mine, it could well be me tossing him aside and taking his place.”
“You,” Henge said, picking her words, “would take the throne yourself? Not content to be prime minister like my cousin Reina of tribe Mendrovovitch?”
“If the population of greater Knoxville would even have you,” Gary added.
“Oh, don’t be obtuse, brother!” Faustina said with a little more heat than she should. She paused to take a deep breath. “You know they would.”
“Yes. I apologize.”
“Faustina?” Henge’s voice was even softer. “You sit there talking about the possibility of killing the man who might be your husband. Reflect on that, please.”
Gary saw his wife had landed a solid hit.
“I think that is enough for tonight,” he said, “and you badly need sleep. You will be busy in Savannah for at least a month. Time enough to think this through. I will add just one more point for your consideration, my dear little sister.”
“And that is?” she asked a little snarkily.
“Mother and father would not attend your wedding,” Gary concluded, standing. “Please let me help you to the guest room.”
“Okay,” she said in tactical surrender. “Will you pray with us, Henge?”
“Just try to keep me out!” she beamed her winning smile at Faustina.