Faustina returns to Savannah to find out all the little details of what’s going on and what needs her attention. A fly-by gives her an overview. Right after she receives something not heard on Earth for a very long time… and guaranteeing her triumph. But she understands her most important task: “take me to the wounded.”
Faustina asked her brother to make a couple of passes around the area surrounding Savannah. The rod had landed just to the east-southeast, obliterating what was left of the little fishing communities of Tybee and Wilmington Islands. She was pleased to see her boys were themselves or directing the dredging of the river’s lanes to the Atlantic. Gary brought them in low over old Fort Pulaski and she had returned the waves of some lookouts who had been posted there.
“Think you’ll put cannon back into the fort?” he asked, banking left over deserted Hilton Head Island.
“A static defense? That’s stupid, big brother!” Faustina replied tactfully. “No, my concern is the sea lanes themselves: any trade through this port is now wide-open to piracy.”
“And where will you get the money to build a navy?” he asked, bringing them back around toward the main airport, where he had retrieved her near-dead body a fortnight ago. Faustina saw the construction of a permanent legionary base just east of town was already underway.
“A navy will come later,” she said quick enough that it was obvious she had given the matter some thought. “For now I’ll issue Letters of Marque to protect my merchant ships.”
I’ll issue… my ships, he thought.
“Uh,” he replied ambiguously. “Prepare for landing!”
His sister next to him and the medic from before, Mahan, seated behind them, checked their belts as the little two-engine plane came in for a landing from west to east.
“Oooo!” she allowed once they were on the ground and taxiing off of the runway. “This is nice of them!”
A quick look around from his instruments seemed to Gary’s eyes to be a sampling of about ten men each from all twenty cohorts of his sister’s two legions, lined up formally on each side of the taxiway leading to the hangers on the northeast side of the airfield. Still and silent, but smiling.
“They seem happy that you have returned,” he admitted, slowing further.
“And I have missed them, too!” Faustina replied without looking at him, her eyes trying to catch those of ‘her boys’.
Coming to a stop, two men ran to chock the wheels while he killed the engines.
“I’ve much to do – ” Gary began.
“But don’t you dare leave tomorrow morning without me telling you good-bye, big bro’!” Faustina shouted, taking off her comm headset.
“I won’t,” he almost smiled at her. “Get in character, general.”
She did smile, lighting up her face. When her feet touched the ground all of her men present raised their arm in salute to their general. A chant began. Expecting to hear “princess!” it took Faustina a moment to realize they were yelling something else. Latin.
“Im-per-a-tor! Im-per-a-tor!” rolled on and on across the tarmac as she walked to first salute then shake the hands of her legates.
“You put them up to this?” she asked Gibson, shaking his hand.
“Nope,” was his quick reply. “Not for officers to decide. If there’s blame or credit, I’d tell you to ask Chesney.”
“Or Tapscott,” Owens added, taking her hand next. “We’ve missed you here; there’s much to be decided.”
“I agree. It may only be mid-afternoon but I’m planning to at least working the next twenty-four hours,” she said with a nod while the chant died off. “First things first: tell me the complete casualty report while you drive me to wherever my wounded boys are.”
“It’s a part of the electronic records,” Owens said, curious. “Can’t you just…?”
“My mind is as battered as my body, legate,” she said, raising her arms, then her hands to the stubble on her head. “I’m going to be in meatspace more than usual for me over the next week or two.”
“Understood,” he replied, indicating with a wave the late-model SUV just behind him. “Hospital first. It’s about eight miles southeast of here.”
Inside the vehicle and rolling, Owens handed over a copy of the casualty reports, listing the men from worse off to least. Faustina read quickly but carefully. It could have been much worse, she thought as they pulled into the hospital’s parking lot.
Another salute to the guards outside, she allowed herself to be guided from the ICU to the rooms where here boys were, speaking with all who were conscious. Everyone whose file hand been marked ‘Christian’ she took a moment to pray with, too. After meeting the last of them, she saw through a west-facing window the sun was low in the west.
“The dead?” she asked, turning back to her legates.
They lead her to the morgue in the basement. She indicated Gibson and Owens could wait while a nurse helped her get her protective cover on. When she returned to them about ten minutes later, neither of them said a word about the tears streaming down her face.
“If it’s *snork!*” she said, blowing her nose into a rag but leaving the tears, “not too late, I’d like to see General Zhou and how the POWs are set up.”
“Of course,” Gibson said as they walked out into the twilight. “We’ve a little tent village set up on the northern quadrant of Hunter Army Airfield, less than two miles west of here.”
“Isn’t that a little close?” she asked.
“Yes and no,” her officer went on, “it keeps them close to the central mass of our men in case they try to act up. But, to-date, they have been very cooperative.”
“I noticed some Chinese in the hospital,” Faustina said. “How were their casualties?”
“Since we knew about the rod and they didn’t,” Owens observed drolly, “much worse than ours. Any of their men caught in the open died instantly or from third and fourth-degree burns right after. We, ah, made sure that word spread fast that the attack came from their side.”
“Which,” she realized, “is one of the reasons they are so compliant.”
“That, plus we have gone out of our way to be as civilized as we round-eyed devils can be,” Owens concluded, smiling at her slightly slanted eyes. “I even allowed their worse medical cases to be shipped by sea two hundred miles up to Wilmington.”
“Out of the kindness of your heart and to let the word spread about the rod,” she smiled right back. “Just what I expect of my officers!”
They paused at first one then another checkpoint at the former helicopter field. Her boys were very glad to see her but unable to properly express themselves while on duty. I’ll do something informal for them once we’re finished here.
Seeing lights come on, she asked.
“I saw power at the hospital but wasn’t sure if that was just their emergency generators. Did y’all manage to get their little reactor I SCRAMed back online?”
“So it was you who did that!” Gibson exclaimed. “That is what I heard but no one really knew the truth. Yes, power’s back on but we are very careful with signal; don’t want anyone broadcasting who shouldn’t be.”
“Understood. Yes, I killed their power and shattered their comm system when I broke their Wall,” she said, raising her right arm to rub her triceps. “I got infected by a virus doing that – kinda messed up my blood and heart muscles – but it was worth it! And I’m getting better!”
Not knowing what to say to that, Gibson told the driver where to stop.