Faustina makes her first speech to her cohort officers. After that she has a meet-and-greet with the politicians and businessmen from the Savannah area… which I am also finished with. After her big address to her boys and the world at large the following day, I’m shelving the Crusade MS to work on the copyedit changes to my short story collection, which I am still hoping to have out in six weeks… -ish.
The Savannah River just behind her, with the first freighter since her legions took the city being eased next to the quay, made for great theater. Faustina had spoken with the eighteen of twenty of her senior centurions at four o’clock in the afternoon; only Smith and Eigen – in the hospital with their injuries – were unable to attend. Several of them had some input to her ideas but having acclaimed her imperator, they were clay in her hands.
Aware that her black, quarter-inch stubble of hair on her head made her look very boyish, she had had one of her staff tailor a skirt for her overnight. It was from the same material as the legion’s uniforms and reached to just below her knees. Faustina had also rolled up her sleeves to just above her elbows. The new, angry red skin on her left forearm was obvious.
Two of her aides had cameras ready to record. She didn’t want this to appear too staged so there was nothing by way of microphones or lighting. Best to get it over with quickly, Faustina thought. Being a peace-time general is nothing but meetings!
Her men watched as she stepped up onto a wooden crate and turned south to face them. The sun was low in the west and at just the right angle to catch in her bright turquoise eyes. She returned their legionary salute and paused to look at each one of them.
“We are all very busy getting this city back on its feet and this port open to the massive amount of trade that shall be coming its way now that the taxes against our City and my allies have been lifted by our victory… by your victory!” she shouted suddenly. She waited for their brief cheers to end.
“Your victory! For our people and for the people of Transappalachia!” Faustina watched about half of them try to figure that one out. “While given the sanction of Knoxville’s Council of Five for this expedition, what I hold here is mine! You gave that to me! You did when you hailed me at imperator! For which I am grateful! Grateful enough that when we are all together in a few days for my acknowledging the heroism of my boys, my first land-grants shall be made!”
That caused a stir. Good.
“Most of you are still young – as if I’m one to talk!” she let them laugh at that. “But there are many of you and the underofficers who have wives and some even with little children. While I need men for my next great venture, I also need families here, in my new land, to make legionaries and centurions for my future! For their future!”
She was aware her battered body was getting tired fast, Faustina refused to wipe away the sweat forming on her brow. It would make me look weak.
“From Greenville to Augusta to here, Savannah,” she said after a deep breath, “shall be my barons and viscounts! Holding the land for me, my people, and their children! For our future!”
Faustina flung her right arm straight up, palm out, fingers just open.
“God wills it!” she shouted.
“God wills it!” her officers shouted back, returning her salute.
Visibly shaking, she allowed herself to take Gibson’s hand as she stepped down from the crate. The cheers and applause from the small group carried on. She blinked the sweat from her eyes and paused to flash a winning smile at all of them while gently escorted to the SUV.
“I wanted to spend more time with them,” she exhaled once down in the front passenger seat.
“Your next appointment, Princess?” the driver asked, concerned. “And when was the last time you ate something?”
“I’d bacon and cheese this morning…”
“Christ save us!” the man said before moving them off. He dug into his jacket pockets until finding a bag of jerky and pushing it to her. “Eat this, right now! I don’t care that dinner is your next stop; if you die all of this ends!”
Recognizing his wisdom, Faustina did as she was told. The vehicle moved out.
Faustina opened her eyes and considered the time.
“You were asleep when I parked,” the driver said. “There was time enough to let you sleep for ten minutes.”
“Thank you,” she replied, opening the door and looking up.
Just east of the city of Savannah and south of the airport the permanent legionary fort was still under construction. Its steel and concrete walls were one mile per side and only about fifteen percent complete. Inside it was the smaller marching camp only a half-mile per side with twelve-foot wooden walls behind an eight-foot ditch. For her next meeting, over dinner, Faustina thought it best that her guests understood exactly had the upper hand. Feeling better with some of the meat in her stomach, she made a slow, steady walk to the north gate.
“Hi, boys,” she smiled, returning the hails of the two on guard, their hands never leaving their rifles. Just inside she was pleased to see Hogue from her staff. Faustina asked if the guests had arrived and would someone please find her some pants.
“Better!” she said a few minutes later, tossing the skirt aside and pulling them on. Her aide confirmed that, yes, the nominal mayor of Savannah under the Chicoms and his immediate entourage was there. Anyone who mattered politically, local strongmen and oligarchs, from within fifty miles had also been “politely asked” by her legions’ security teams to attend this meeting followed by dinner.
Rumors travel so fast… I wonder if any of my machine friends have looked into their propagation? I bet pushy Reina would like to know… No matter. Between my victory and even my speech just hours ago, it is going to be very plain to the locals that things here have changed. And, given local racial demographics, that could mean problems. I must resist the temptation to take my grandfather’s path.