Not entirely sure if I’m sneaking up on the ending of what will be at least two books about Faustina or just the end of the first part of the longest novel I’ve ever written. We shall see.
Said part or book conclusion will be Faustina’s award ceremony for her army. I have already heard a few bits of it. “Land and titles” echo around my mind. She is not just conquering land, she plans to colonize it with young men and women from Greater Knoxville. And loyal to her, personally.
But first, she needs a venue. And right after that, to overcome a language barrier, she takes Nurse Wei to her godmother’s home.
She met her legates at one of Savannah’s oldest restaurants, The Olde Pink House, late the next morning for an early lunch. The fact it was just west of Reynolds Square made her smile. As the sea lanes were still being cleared after the rod’s drop, she contented herself with some cheeses and a little bacon. The rumor of “the girl with the black stubble for hair is their CO!” was now everywhere so it behooved Faustina to have her security maniple with her. She tossed out her ideas and listened to what Gibson and Owens had to say about them. She wrote nothing down, but then, she never did.
She thanked them both and announced the centurions meeting the following day at 1600. Gibson said they could come to her. Faustina shook her head. We came for the Port; we’ll meet there, she told them.
Owens was curious about what she could be doing in the intervening day, obviously asking after her health in a backhanded manner. She smiled and shook her head. Both legates suppressed sighs. She was up to something.
Faustina kept her metaphorical general’s hat on and spent most of the rest of the afternoon with her staff reviewing all documentable acts of heroism by her boys, both combatants and non-combatants. Some of the reports – especially of those wounded – had them stop while she got herself emotionally back under control. A complex spreadsheet was built around her suggestions and their input as to the citations, promotions, and awards.
“Remember,” she said in dead-seriousness, “we are setting a precedent here! I will need tens of thousands more recruits for the future I see! Let’s get this right! If you have an idea or disagreement, get it out now!”
Around 1530 one of her comm aides came in with a short verbal “she’ll be here in thirty minutes.” Faustina announced one last item on the agenda.
“Where?” she asked, standing and looking down at the map of the greater Savannah area. “Where to have the awards ceremony?”
The city’s convention center, just across the river, had been abandoned since the Breakup and was a ruin. There was nothing like the university stadium she had used to present her legions to the city. Where?
“Um?” came a soft voice from along the wall of the room they were in.
Faustina looked up to Micah’s nervous eyes. Just over sixteen years old and thus only allowed as a non-combatant, she would have rejected him due to his youth had not she personally known him from being one of the twelve of her big brother’s Brotherhood back in Knoxville. One of the shy-smart types, he was also tirelessly efficient.
“Let’s hear it, Micah,” she said. To smile would have favored him so she did not.
“We are legionaries,” he began, making her heart leap, “but taking the Chinese back home, parading them in a triumph and selling them into slavery is out. So why not make them at least witness our, us legionary’s, triumph, here?”
He pointed at the map. At the southern part of the Army Airfield, just below the POW camp.
“Big, open area. Good optics. And against the last old Great Power on earth,” he said, his soft voice still steady, “a huge propaganda coup.”
Faustina resisted her urge to take him into her arms.
“An excellent idea. Comments?” she asked her staff. There were none.
Aware of the minutes slipping by she spat order after order: what cohorts were detailed for construction; making sure the PLA had clear views of the proceedings; the places for all available legionaries; cameras; the stage for her and the upper officers to honor her boys…
“Questions?” she shot again. Nothing.
She dismissed them and retired to her own room for a moment to make what little improvements she could to her looks. The burn pattern on my neck looks kinda cool, really. A small room just behind her sleeping quarters that had been empty was converted into a type of parlor to receive guests. From who-knows-where, her staff had found two comfortable chairs and a coffee table. Curtains were hung like tapestries to disguise the concrete walls. Faustina eased into a chair and tested the signal.
This will work!
There was a tap at the doorway – there was no door – and she stood. Nurse Wei was escorted in by one of Faustina’s bodyguards.
“General Hartmann,” Wei began, obviously having practiced her English. Faustina gave her a look.
“Er… ah. Fuss-tina?” she tried again.
The mix of her family’s nickname into her given name was enough to make Faustina laugh as she came forward to once again take Wei’s hands and guide her to the other chair. The guard left for a moment. Faustina let go and returned to her chair.
“I… ‘preciate your time to see me,” Wei began.
And the world was different.
They were still sitting but on what seemed padded, leather-clad barstools with low backs. Rather than a coffee table, a circular, wrought-iron table no more than thirty inches in diameter was between them. Faustina was still as she watched her guest first look then twist about, trying to understand where she was.
To Faustina’s right was the cluster of palm trees with the eldest an impossible hundred feet in the air… an air that was a bright ocher sky with no sun. From the trees stretched back, slightly uphill a verdant path of low grass surrounded by flowering plants. As Wei pivoted to the other direction, Faustina let her eyes slide left to the drop of land – one hundred feet, one hundred yards? – and the single, huge rotating complex difference engine still there. Qin, his rattling and clanking on and on while he pursued his own machine dreams. Looking down Wei noted that their table and chairs sat upon a dark blue metal platform, maybe twenty-five feet in diameter. Hovering about two feet off the desert ground.
“Where are we? What have you done to me?!” Wei asked. “Oh!”
“It’s a black tea from Yunnan,” Faustina said, looking at the steaming glass cup with a silver handle. “Your fav, er, favorite, right?”
“Um. Yes.” Wei reached for the cup but stopped. “I hear you speak English but understand you perfectly.”
“Yeah. Me, too, but in the opposite direction,” Faustina agreed.
Wei withdrew her hand.
“Where am I?” she asked.