Faustina gives Wei a precis about ‘the machines home,’ the virtual world that dates  back to the opening pages of my first novel, The Fourth Law.  After that, Fussy’s relief is palpable when her godmother finally makes her appearance but as human minds are easily stressed in such an environment, it is soon time to go.

The little bit at the end, about Fuzhou, surprised me.  I really do wonder if there’s a blood connexion between them.  They’ll let me know if they want to, I guess.

After this – for my two days off this week – I’m going to try two big speeches:  the first is Faustina to her senior centurions and the second to her assembled legions.  I’m pretty sure about the former but the latter is still in fog.  Praying for a clearer sky.


“This is a construct in the home of tribe Tohsaka, the first of Machine Civilization,” Faustina said, not particularly pleased to speak on their behalf.  Where was god-mom?!  “This was created by my godmother’s brother so my human aunt could be with her best friend.”

“I do not understand.”

How can you be so ignorant!?!  Faustina took a deep breath.

“Are you aware there are families of,” she looked left and right and lowered her voice, “artificial intelligences on Earth?”

The spinning difference engine made a horrid, tearing sound of metal-on-metal.  Both women flinched.

“I have heard such,” Wei allowed, “but the Party tells us – ”

“The current ruling elite of your ancient land,” Fausta said, walking toward them through bushes just beyond the path, “tells nothing but lies to preserve itself.”

Dressed in her usual outfit of what looked like field gray fatigues and with her dark brown hair in a tight, single braid, Fausta paused at the edge of the platform and surveyed the two humans with her brilliant emerald eyes.  She gave a somewhat predatory smile.

“Coming from archery practice, God-mom?” Faustina asked, hopping out of her chair and walking over to meet the machine with the proclivity for violence.

“Close-quarters combat, actually, Namesake, with your Uncle Rigó,” Fausta replied, stepping up onto the platform and gathering Faustina into her arms.  “I am much better than I used to be but he still managed to stab me several times!”

Being held so close was a problem for most humans but Faustina was not most humans.  She perceived Fausta’s True Form in her mind:  a great, golden dragon; one that once ate her father.

“S… stabbed?” came Wei’s voice from behind Faustina.

“Oh!  Where are my manners?” Faustina exclaimed, tapping the top of her head with her right fist before tugging Fausta’s six-foot muscular form toward the table and chairs.  “God-mom, come meet my latest friend!  She saved my life when the rod dropped on Savannah!”

Fausta stepped right up the Chinese nurse but did not extend her hand, instead giving a short, formal bow.

“Thank you for saving my Namesake,” she said, just a trifle too loud, as was her wont.

“Of course… Fausta, was it?  I am a nurse and I was just doing my job,” Wei replied, standing out of her chair as well, looking a little unsure of herself.  “Are you…?”

“I am of Machine Civilization; last of the first!” Fausta boomed at her before tilting her head as if listening to something.  “If you’ll excuse me, I have something to attend to.  A pleasure to meet you!”

She was gone.  Faustina saw the incipient look of panic in Wei’s eyes and gently returned her to her seat.

“Try the tea, do!” she said, taking a drink of hers.

“That is very good, thank you,” Wei allowed at last, visibly calming down.  “I had no idea you had, there existed, such interesting people.”

“I grew up with ‘em,” Faustina said around a cookie she took from a plate that appeared on the table.  “I love most of them as much as my meatspace family.”

“Most of them?” Wei asked carefully, picking up a cookie and examining it.

“Yeah.  Some, like my big brother’s father-in-law, can be a tremendous poop at times,” the young general explained, looking around, “even if he did make most of this.  I guess he’s too sophisticated even for me, a demi-human, to understand.”

“That is,” the nurse said, after taking a nibble, “the second time you have used that term.  What does it mean?”

“I’ve lines in my head, from before I was born,” Faustina said, waving her left hand vaguely at her left ear, “that allows me to see into the Void.  To come here unbidden.  Later, with some of the other machines, I made more modifications to my nervous system.  I think faster than any human on earth, for example.”

“Is that how, at your young age, you are a commanding general?” Wei asked, deciding the cookie was safe, she consumed it all at once.

“That, plus I’m clever, too.  And cute!  I look great on recruiting posters!”

“You,” the nurse said slowly and carefully, “are making fun of me.”

“A little,” Faustina said with a smile.  “I don’t have any recruiting posters!”

Faustina watched her newest friend finish what was in her cup and look around at the same time.  She is assessing what to ask next, per her orders.

“Was it you and your machine friends who called down kinetic bombardment upon us?” Wei asked.  “Most of your men were dug in while we suffered many casualties.”

“Nope.  That was Beijing,” Faustina enjoyed seeing the shock of confirmation in Wei’s face.  “I was tipped off by my mentor and told my boys to hunker down.  It was only because my silly sister-in-law came into the area by airplane that her father prevented them from dropping another.  Or several.”

“Our… our own command did this to us?” Faustina was a little concerned that Wei was losing her color.

“Yes,” Faustina said, reaching across the table to take Wei’s right with her left.  “And they did it so quickly they had obviously pre-planned the eventuality.”

“It is just Aesop’s sour grapes fable again,” she continued, softer.  “If they cannot win then everyone must lose.”

“So the other port we control, Wilmington…” Wei began.

“I will not let my boys anywhere near it until I have control of your orbital battlestations or a treaty guaranteed by my machine family,” Faustina said, releasing her hand and leaning back.  “And when you pass that on to General Zhou, you can also mention that I don’t have to march on it.  I will soon have a small navy that can just blockade that port city and starve the PLA out in less than a month.”

Time enough, her aunt Dorina said to Faustina.

They were sitting in their borrowed chairs across the coffee table from one another at the Savannah airport.

Faustina considered the time.  They had been gone for about a minute.  She stood and watched Wei stand, as well.

“I am so happy I could get to know you better, friend!” she said slowly in English.  “By the way, where’s home for you?  I hope to have you back as soon as I can!”

“My hometown Fuzhou – ” Wei began.

“Holy crap!” Faustina shouted.  “My mom’s from just a few miles inland from there!  You and I might be related!”

She saw she said that too fast so tried again, slower.

“Maybe,” Wei allowed with a little smile.  “But not really likely.”

“There’s no way to know for sure by legal records, as mom was an orphan,” Faustina continued, still excited.  “Before you leave, will you please give me a blood sample?  I’d like to compare our DNA.  Please, friend, please?”

“I guess that okay… friend,” Wei said.

Faustina gave her a great hug.

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