Just coming off of ten days on second, or evening, shift at my DayJob. It might be a good shift for older folks with nothing better to do or students with morning classes, but I hate it. You wake up late with only a few hours before work. Work ten hours, get home at midnight and go to bed. What little time I have I to myself was spent with my subconscious mind fretting about work. So precisely nothing got done writing, regardless of my Lenten obligation to complete “Empress’ Crusade.”
Having worked the weekend I had today off and thus have tried very hard to get back into the groove. Although I wanted to keep this early section focused on humans, Reina informed me that was not to be. Once she has her say, even Faustina finds her plans for the future suddenly in flux. My next installment, when Fussy asserts herself against the Council of Five, is going to be very, very interesting.
Faustina windmilled her arms a little to get her balance. The clatter of real silverware onto ceramic plates reached her ears before she allowed her eyes to open.
Kuban’s! I was asleep goddamit! Were my lines not as soft as wet vellum right now I’d have been able to keep this intrusion out!
Feeling steady on her “feet,” Faustina slowly opened her eyes to take in the entryway of the representation of the very old and now gone restaurant of Kuban’s in St. Petersburg, Russia, the home-base, as it were, of the first-among-equals of tribe Mendrovovitch, Reina. It had been a very rare childhood favorite of her Chief Coder, Dmitri, when he had been a little boy. Understandably rare: the silverware and ceramic she had heard. Velvet covered chairs and benches. Hand-carved wood framed each and every booth for the customers and the Italian marble floor made each sound carry.
“Why am I here?” Faustina muttered, knowing she would get an answer in about…
“You’re stupid,” Reina announced from her left.
“A pleasure to see you again, cousin,” Faustina said, turning but keeping her right hand at her side this time. Touching one of them could shatter her mind right now. She nodded her head as to an equal. The girl seemed no older than Faustina, with the same short hair but for the long fringe down the right side of her face.
Faustina enjoyed her cousin’s scowl.
“I am trying to help you, stupid human,” Reina said tactfully.
“Obviously,” Faustina agreed, older in humor and insults from her silly sister-in-law. “Even semi-conscious with my lines you are informed enough to know my body does not heal as fast when my modified nervous system is… so engaged.”
Faustina said this with a swipe of her right hand from her face down to her legs; her camisole, and panties. Residual self-image. I’m thinking I’m wearing what I had on in my cot. I’d love to armor-up and punch my cousin in the head but it would fry my brain.
“I shan’t keep you long, human-relation,” Reina was something of a stickler for distinctions. “One of your mentor’s brothers, Aqua, has negotiated some things with us. Part of that negotiation is what his brother, Ventidio, has done with you.”
Reina paused. Her black leather boots, dirty cotton collarless uniform, under a thin black leather jacket was suddenly gone, replaced by a thin, woolen peasant dress with floral images stitched into the hem, waist, and chest. The sleeves stopped at her elbows.
“Sit with me, please,” for a moment it looked as if she swallowed a bug, gesturing at a booth to her left. “Human Faustina.”
She did, aware she was still tired and likely to run her mouth where she shouldn’t. God! Help me! I need my family so much!
“They, those humans,” Reina was just able to swallow her distaste of the word, “call you empress. You, stupidly, refuse.”
“It… is too soon,” Faustina said with her head just lowered and her arms at her side. “Where I am, those humans have a long tradition of being very contrary.”
“Even after the Change?” Reina asked.
Her head still, Fussy’s eyes came up.
“You know. What they call the Breakup.” Reina leaned back on the purple velvet of the bench, running her left hand back and forth along it. “That is only the beginning.”
“I am aware, barely, cousin,” Faustina agreed, wanting to try to use her human wiles to draw this machine out. “But I am only demi-human. I cannot see all the myriad ways.”
“Hah! While we are on Earth it will change!” Reina barked a laugh. She then paused and tilted her head slightly. “Your time here is short. Your aunt, the Cleverest, rails at me now!”
“Humans must have action! They must see you win! Recruit another one or two legions and get out of that city!” Faustina saw that her cousin was deadly serious. “West or northwest! Make a plan now!”
Reina blinked and the world about Faustina became a fog as she went home.
“And be ready for what comes next,” she barely heard her Russian cousin’s voice. “The ice and snow are coming. Fast.”
With a gasp and pain in her chest, Faustina gulped air on her cot. Once she felt able to move she sat up and took several large drinks of water from an old plastic cup. Her headache hurt but was not crippling. So tired…
What was coming? she vaguely asked, already back asleep.
Awake at 0500, Faustina shambled to her bathroom to get ready for the day. More paperwork more meetings. I really need to get back in the field…
At that thought, she suddenly recalled Reina’s overnight intrusion.
I need more legions, she said. And what was that about ice and snow? As curious as she was, Faustina focused on getting her teeth brushed and making sure her business skirt wasn’t on backward for her meeting with the Council of Five. I’ll never live down that one time… ugh! Cramping slightly from her period, she again resolved that once she had at least four children, her new body would be free of reproductive organs.
Faustina slipped into her jacket and moved from her quarters to the office. Standing by the door was her driver. She pirouetted in place before him to see his nod: yes, she got her clothes right. He held the door for her as she walked down the three steps to the muddy gravel where the little electric car waited for them. She opened her own door and sat in the back while her driver came round to his side.
Losing signal briefly between the cell tower erected in the legionary fort and those of the city as she was driven west, Faustina closed her eyes. From what I read yesterday today’s agenda is repatriation of the Chinese POWs, a final peace treaty, and a discussion of who should succeed Scott as general of the Society. There may be other matters but those touch upon me and mine.
Coming in on the old highway her eyes opened as they passed the old city zoo, closed since the Breakup. Reina called it the Change. That’s right! Something about snow and ice… At her sigh, her driver gave a quick glance up into his rearview mirror. His passenger’s eyes were a light blue fire.
I am older, Faustina thought. Maunder Minimum. A mini- if not full-on ice age. Making a few holes through the Walls of some Ottawa databases tells me of remnant-Canada “migration plans.” I had thought my next campaign would be to establish operational contact with civilized Texas. Now, perhaps, I must give thought to uranium sources. But that would mean… what were those States called? Ah: Colorado and Wyoming. So far!
“We’re here, Princess,” her driver said, decelerating before the Knoxville City-County Building.
“Thank you,” she replied, reaching for the door handle. “This will likely be some hours. Find some food and drink but stay within five minutes of me.”