A bit of a turn for the political but I thought it best for Faustina to let the locals know from the get-go how she intends to administer the land and people under her control. And, after something as awful as the Breakup, I’m sure the survivors have been thoroughly disabused of any insane notions of equality of ability or outcomes.
Just one last scene, the awards to her heroes, before I can finally turn to the copyedit of my short story collection. This is an odd week – I’m off Tuesday and Thursday, but I shall try to get it done before the weekend. So much to do! Overwhelming sometimes…
Her improved hearing just heard the mayor’s …was afraid of this…
Into the now total silence of the room, she let go duBois’s hand and turned to speak.
“I shall check to see how things are coming for dinner. Please continue to enjoy the hospitality of my legions! Back in a moment!”
She winked at Jakes before opening the door to the dining hall. When the door shut behind her it was everything she could do to not laugh at the explosion of voices in the other room.
It was much quieter when she paused at the door ten minutes later but there was still plenty of talking. Faustina flung the door open and enjoyed seeing several of them flinch. Picking out Mayor Cooke, she had taken only a couple of steps before duBois’ bulk crossed in front of her.
“I just want it understood,” he said quickly and softly, “that the misunderstanding was mine. Your hair; your uniform… I meant no disrespect.”
“And I took none at all,” she replied in a conversational tone. “Fret not; this will have no effect on any contracts with your co-op… as long as my men don’t find out what you called me. Right, Jakes?”
“Never heard a word, Princess,” he said with an abbreviated salute.
Faustina heard a sharp intake of breath at that from her right but chose to ignore it and complete her advance to Cooke. She got her hand out first.
“I am not one to leave things where I found them, Mayor of Savannah,” she began, still holding his hand, “but neither do I make a fetish of change. I marched here to right the wrong of intolerable taxes upon the trade of Greater Knoxville. Those who imposed those taxes are out of power and shall be returned to their home as soon as possible. Most of my legionaries also will return home. However, my advent here has altered the political equation for good. I shall found colonies of my veterans and they and the Port shall be under my direct authority.”
She released his hand and nodded her head just slightly.
“I look forward to working closely with your administration and,” she concluded, looking about the room, “these local businesses. We shall remake the world.”
Into the silence, it was duBois, perhaps out of self-preservation, who began the applause. It was more polite than effusive but Faustina saw it as a win.
“As my guests this evening I am pleased to offer a light buffet dinner,” she smiled at them, “consisting mostly of local foods that some of you know were paid for in silver.”
She ghosted a wink to duBois.
“That way we can continue our pleasant conversation without the formality of a sit-down meal.” She stepped aside and indicated the room behind her with a wave.
Most moved on toward the long tables with food in the adjoining room. The mayor did not.
“Under your direct authority,” he began, using her words, “is a fantastic claim to power for someone who looks like a little girl. I am guessing that the rumors which have come down the river these years with the traders from Knoxville are actually correct?”
“That depends on what those rumors are, and, as I’d rather not have this conversation a dozen times, let’s get some food, Mister Mayor!”
He followed right behind her and those already putting things on their plates made a hole for them both. She picked up a small dish and put some lightly fried shrimp and cheese cubes onto it.
“To answer your question about the rumors, sir,” Faustina said politely but a trifle loud, “let me clarify things for you. I am demi-human. I have been modified by the machines and have changed myself even more. And will continue to do so. Upstream from that, my genes are a mix of White and Chinese. I, and demi-humans like me, are going to remake the world. And worlds beyond this one, as well.”
Into another of her silences, she ate one of the shrimp.
“Hey! These are good! Are they from one of you guy’s businesses?” she asked, already knowing the answer. Another black man at the end of the table lifted his hand. Faustina walked to him and began to talk about the damage to the river’s mouth and fishing villages caused by the drop of the rod.
“You believe all that?” Cooke’s chief aide whispered into his boss’s left ear.
The mayor carefully put some barbecued pork onto his plate.
“After what has happened here in the last two weeks, how can we not?” he said, looking across the room. “I hope she really does want to work with us… otherwise, I think she’ll bounce our asses into the street in a second.”
It was about forty minutes before Faustina had almost finished working the room. Even eating a little with some sweet tea she was exhausted but there was that young man who had seemed to studiously avoid her all evening. Another Black and if he had some mix is was very long ago. Pretending to move for more tea she suddenly changed direction and was standing before him. To not make a scene she offered her hand first.
“Faustina Hartmann,” she said with what she hoped was a professional smile.
“General Hartmann,” he replied in a deep voice with only a little of his people’s dialect. “I’m Bill Bartley. I am from Augusta, actually, but your men…er, convinced me that it would be best if I came to your meeting.”
“You don’t seem to be particularly pleased by that,” which was obvious. “Were any of mine rude to you?”
“No,” he acknowledged. “I just prefer to be asked rather than told. My father was one of the top NCO’s at Parris Island. I was never a Marine in the old days but maybe I got my ornery streak from him.”
“Forgive me, but with an attitude such as that you are obviously used to telling others what do, military service or not,” Faustina said. Now that she had him talking her personality began to assert itself. “I must know the power structures both overt and covert if we are to work together in the future.”
She paused to sip at her tea.
“A future that may see you leading one of my auxiliaries,” she said so only he could hear.
“More to the point,” Faustina returned her voice to a conversational level, very aware that whenever she spoke everyone listened, “is the reason me and mine are here: trade. We will keep this deep-water port open and working. Until a rail line is built, the barge traffic up the Savannah River should increase markedly. New quays and wharves will need to be built in Augusta, immediately.”
“General Hartmann, I’m just a businessman,” Bartley began to protest.
“If my intel staff picked you that means you are the man I need, now,” she said over his objection. “I can give you some money and engineering help from the specialists in my legions. Like those of two millennia ago, engineering is the second-best thing they do!”
First-best was apparent.
“We will appreciate your help,” he said cautiously, “but you also said something about a colony. This river valley is our home.”
Someone behind her dropped their plate.
“You may have noticed that my legions reflect their home community and are thus uniformly White. You Blacks, any Hispanics, heck, if some of the Chinese want to stay, you will have the protection of the law,” Faustina said, getting into stride and setting her little plate down on the table to her left. “But we will not live cheek-by-jowl; all communities and most jobs will be separate. The denial of race realism was a factor in the Breakup and I will not allow in the lands I control.”
“Separate but equal?” Bartley finally smiled at her.
“Yes,” she agreed with a tiny head tilt. “I shall look after all of the humans – of any race – under my dominion. I am too good a Christian to consider my ancestor’s example. Oh, my! The time! I’ve one more meeting before bed! A little girl like me needs sleep; please continue to enjoy the food and drinks. If y’all need anything at all, please ask my staff!”
She turned to smile at everyone at the room before giving a friendly wave. Just at the door to the reception room, the contrarian, Bartley, called to her.
“And what ancestor was that, General?”
She paused in the open doorway and replied over her shoulder.
“Even after a generation and six hundred miles, I’m sure you have heard of the purges of ExComm in Texas. It was run by ‘Butcher’ Barrett. My grandfather. Night!”