Who doesn’t love a meeting? Besides, that is, every normal person on Earth? Still, no matter what form of government you have, consensus among those who actually run things is critical for longevity of the oligarchy. And all governments, everywhere, are oligarchy.
In this first part we find Faustina’s success in Savannah to already be destabilizing to the powers-that-be of Greater Knoxville. The issues here are internal. Part two, this weekend, will be external. I wasn’t sure where our main character was headed, but out of the mouths of babes, little Aurelia had it right back in the latter parts of “Princess’ Crusade.”
Faustina easily hopped from the city’s wifi to the more secure net that served the Council of Five. More secure after I helped them redesign it. From it, she was surprised to learn that her father was accompanying Philip Chinon, the overall manager of the Oak Ridge complex, whose fission plants kept their region in power since the Breakup. Dad hates meetings like this. The agenda calls Chinon’s part “Future Resources”… I wonder what they are here to talk about?
She made her way to the elevator and pressed for the fourth floor. Unlike the public meetings held in the large room on three, this was not something open to the general public and required a more secure location. With a squeal of metal-on-metal, the elevator’s poorly maintained doors parted for her.
Pausing in at the double-open doors to the meeting room, Faustina glanced about. Her father and Chinon had already pigeon-holed Councilman Klimt in the far corner. Van Dyke was speaking softly with Greene and acknowledged her with a small smile. Turning to look over his shoulder, Greene was civil enough to nod and not scowl at her. The last Councilman, McCurry, sat at the long table speaking to the Colonel who, after Scott’s abrupt retirement, was acting commander of the forces of the Society.
She heard MacRae’s footfalls to her left and turned. His hand was already out and she took it firmly.
“General Hartmann. Thank you for coming.”
“Neither of us had a choice, did we?” she said with the faintest smile.
“Now there’s a picture!” Chinon, who was on the best terms with Faustina’s aunt, Dorina, called out. Everyone stopped to stare at the First Councilman and the young general with a private army, clasping hands while framed in the doorway by the light pouring in the large windows behind them.
“This is a meeting, not a photo op,” MacRae smiled, dropping her hand and walking in. “Let’s everyone find their places so we can all be home by dinner!”
Faustina’s place was at the First Councilman’s left, at the far end of the table, but as everyone moved about she went quickly to her father. It might have been unprofessional; she didn’t care: she leaned up to kiss his cheek and whisper her love for him into his ear.
Back down the table to her seat, the main attendees took their places with their aides scattered along the walls behind them. As Chinon was to Faustina’s immediate right, her father was right behind him. Odd, she thought. The colonel should have been next to me, with Phil more prominent… A slight to Chinon or did they not want the military people together?
“Gentlemen, and lady,” MacRae began, sitting. “Item one: I am pleased to report that the loading of the PLA prisoners of war onto an Indian-registered freighter began yesterday. They should sail sometime tonight.”
There was scattered applause and many nods and smiles directed toward her. She endeavored to look gracious.
“Item two…” MacRae continued, keeping things moving.
Domestic matters followed and Faustina tried to pay attention while at the same time wargaming an assault on Wilmington.
“I shall touch on the next two matters, but as they are largely military the final decision will rest with the Defense Council,” the First Councilman’s words brought her completely back. “The summary of peace negotiations is this: Beijing wants to pretend nothing ever happened: they didn’t open Savannah, charge us extortionate rates, and have the city taken off them by General Hartmann.”
He smiled grimly.
“That last bit loomed large, it seems: having lost to a girl was too much loss of face. Rumors in what little international news we are privy to hints their Minister of Defense is either retired or shot,” he explained. “Doesn’t matter, though. The General did a thorough job in recording her and her men’s exploits and, ahem, with a little help, got that broadcast far and wide. Canberra, Tokyo, Vienna, and St. Petersburg are very well aware of what happened. General Hartmann? We owe you and your men our thanks.”
He stood and began to applaud. Everyone followed, with Greene, of course, the last. After a pause, Faustina stood and acknowledged their approbation with a few polite nods. She led them in returning to their seats.
“The second matter that will be before the Defense Council shall be who should next lead the Society. I’m sure everyone here has an idea, and I would like to hear them, but consider this,” MacRae paused long enough to let everyone know something was coming. “From a budgetary standpoint, there is some question about maintaining, in effect, two armies.”
Greene, of course, immediately spoke up.
“Get rid of the Society or, God forbid, just turn it over to her,” he said with a toss of his right hand, “and this will be the last elected government in Knoxville!”
“Everyone saw what happened after your little awards ceremony,” Greene continued, but now looking right across the table at Faustina, “and we’re not stupid. ‘Victorious general,’ indeed! You told us you’re aiming higher! Hell, I could find people in this building who call you empress!”
“Give her the Society and you turn us into a monarchy,” Greene concluded, back at MacRae, “and a monarchy under God-knows-what. I don’t have a place on the Defense Council but if you take that step I promise you my resignation.”
And thus your opposition, Faustina thought. If he stays on the Council we can co-opt him. I hope MacRae sees that, as well.
“That,” the First Councilman said, “is a good place to take a break. I look forward to some informal discussion for the next thirty minutes before we consider our last item, from Manager Chinon. Thank you.”
Everyone except the grossly fat Klimt stood this time. Ignoring her father’s outstretched hand toward her, she passed MacRae at the head of the table and sat on it just to Klimt’s left. From a carafe of ice water in the middle of the table she topped off his glass.
“Thank you,” he said, taking several gulps. “Why me?”
“You are the longest-serving Councilman, going back to the Breakup itself,” she smiled. “You are also what passes for our foreign policy expert – matters outside of greater Knoxville. Greene’s opposition I can deal with. Had you opposed me on Savannah? I’d likely still be drilling my legions east of here and wondering what to do with them.”
“You flatter me, Miss,” he replied, fishing about in his pockets until finding some hard candy to pop into his mouth. “And soldiers are like bayonets: only useful when you use them. Which you certainly have done.”
Faustina looked around to see that they were the only ones in that corner of the room; everyone wanted their informal space right now. Her father was just outside the door, turned to the window but glancing back at her, wanting to talk. Business first!
“Was it Mao paraphrasing Sun Tzu who said ‘make war support war’?” Faustina mused, looking over Klimt’s head and tilting hers to the right. “I don’t necessarily want the expense of all the experts in the Society to drag at what I need to be doing most right now: recruiting and training men. Contrary to what Greene suspects and what MacRae knows, my ambitions far exceed our local community.”
“I appreciate your hint, General Hartmann,” he said softer. “And you may well want to listen closely to what our wizard, Chinon, has to tell us.”
Faustina slipped off the table without a word, only stumbling a tiny bit on her truncated left foot, before homing in on her father. As he was looking out the window again, she fiercely grabbed him about his waist from behind.
“Daddy!” she said softly.
She felt him place his hands over hers while they both heard Greene shouting at someone in a closed office somewhere off to their right.
“You have a remarkable ability to upset people, Fussy,” Leslie Hartmann said quietly.
“I agree,” she said, coming around his right, her left arm still holding her father. “Upset, in the classic sense of the word: to disrupt, to overturn. The time of the Breakup is passed. I, and those like me, shall lead humanity into the world of the Change.”
“God, but I wish you would speak sense sometimes…” he groused at his little girl.
She ignored that and considered the time.
“We’ve only minutes. Tell me why you and Chinon are here,” she demanded. Then backtracked. “Please.”
“Giving you all the cards and thus the high hand in the negotiations that come next?” She saw him look about and sigh before leaning down to her ear. “We are running out of uranium.”
Her arm was still about him but oddly motionless. Drawing his face back, his daughter’s eyes were black holes surrounded by rings of blazing turquoise fire as she scoured information from the Void.
“Fussy…” his voice caught, hating what the machines did to his family.