Faustina goes to a recruitment rally as she has very little time to recruit and train men. I’m already sure that her legions for the Mississippi Valley Campaign will be under-strength: eight cohorts each instead of ten. I’m doing much research on the side to learn how this will play out.
Afterward she and her newest legate discuss the background of what might have been going on in the lands to their west and southwest. If talk about HBD scares you, just skip over that part.
Her eyes scanned while her hand signed, at the same time willing printouts and dictating messages to her two legates and various centurions.
After one tap, her door was opened by her driver, Poul. Faustina tossed her pen down and stood up, opening her arms.
“I look okay?” she asked, still not trusting herself for public events.
“If that outfit is not supposed to be regulation, you look fine, Princess,” he replied, speaking to what was cut like their fatigues but was of a lighter color material rather than their mottled green-gray. She saw his eyes linger on her still too-short, dark hair. It would probably just be touching the tops of her shoulders once they got to Huntsville.
“Yup! Something for the show tonight!” she agreed about her outfit, stepping past him as he held the door open. Faustina looked to see Tapscott, first centurion of First Legion, leaning on the car, smoking a cigar. “Hey! Since when do you smoke?”
“Savannah,” he easily replied, sketching a salute, knowing she enjoyed his insolence. “Brought a couple of boxes of ‘em back. Think I get why so many guys smoked way back in the day… calms me down.”
“I will be expecting you to show a little enthusiasm for where we’re going!” she retorted, opening her car door.
“I can pretend as well as you, General,” he said, gently tapping the cigar out on the top of the car before getting in on the opposite side.
“Where’s tonight’s party?” he asked as the driver moved them carefully through their fort and out the steel gate.
“At the old city golf course,” she replied, making eye contact with as many of her boys as she could while they pulled away from their legionary base. “Or rather that big open field just to the east of it.”
“Halfway between here and Oak Ridge… fishing for techs again?” Tapscott asked.
“Yes,” she admitted. “There is going to be a lot of engineering on this campaign: roads, bridges, rail lines. And telecom lines and towers, if I can secure the funding and materials! Much like the Society, we are going to have to drag civilization along in our wake, to make sure we can move uranium ore back here to keep the lights on.”
“The Society’s saying,” her senior centurion mused while looking out his window, “is ‘We Control the Lightning.’ Thinking of stripping that off of them, Miss?”
“Just that? Hah!”
Her tone was such he looked back at her. His non-descript brown hair over hazel eyes was just the same length as hers, as Faustina continued to let her hair grow back and he kept his just a shade too long for her taste. She continued to wonder about his genetics… something about how his face was put together. Amerind, maybe?
“The Society is no longer relevant,” she confessed to him. “They and the Council just don’t know that yet… but they will!”
Not for a moment did Tapscott think this a silly conversation with a late-teen girl. He had seen what she could do, in this world and the other.
“And when are you springing this little surprise on them?” he asked. “Their last general, Scott, resigned over your interference.”
“Only when I want to,” she said a little wistfully. Their driver was turning right off of the Oak Ridge Highway toward their destination. Her parent’s house was only a few more miles ahead. “After all, I am positively loaded with surprises!”
His snort was her only answer.
“Make sure,” she told the driver, “that you park in that church lot just there, to the right. No one sees me until I take the stage!”
“Yes, Princess,” he replied, slowing down and rotating the wheel.
From her vantage behind the small, hastily constructed stage, Faustina looked out at a crowd of about twenty-five hundred. Half a legion, if I could get them all! And why shouldn’t I? It was their interest which brought them here tonight! A professional speaker she had hired as a recruiter was just finishing up his oration. That man was illuminated by a little stage light; more than enough as the gathered crowd was framed only by burning torches. She was older that flames had an atavistic appeal to young men looking for something more than themselves.
There was polite applause as the recruiter stepped out of the light. A moment later, when Tapscott stepped into it, the crowd’s disappointment was obvious.
“Yes, I know! Y’all ain’t here to see me!” Tapscott laughed, feeding on their emotion. “My name’s Tapscott. First centurion of first cohort of First Legion! For now! I’ve been told by higher-ups that if enough of you men sign on then y’all will be the core of the new Third Legion! And, I’ll be your legate!”
Faustina listened to him go on about the business side of things: the jobs of combatants and non-combatants. The great adventure ahead and the lands and titles they would be granted at the end of the campaign.
“When I look out at your faces here I don’t just see legionaries!” Tapscott yelled, getting to the close of his address. “I see knights, barons, viscounts, and counts, owning hundreds and thousands of acres! All in the name of our Princess! Our Princess!”
He raised his arm in a legionary salute as their chant began and spread. The light on him abruptly went out but the chant grew louder. The small team who had kept their eyes away from the stage, and thus preserved their night vision, ran and added another level, about a foot taller, to the stage where Faustina would stand. They came to see me, she thought, striding forward confidently, the pain of her right leg now in the past and used to her changed left foot, and so they shall!
The chant now was leavened with the cries from those in the front rows who could just make out her form on stage. At the expense of a mild headache later, she let her eyes blaze turquoise blue into the blackness. Cheers and whoops replaced the chant.
“For anyone here who wants to be one of my boys,” she shouted, still in the dark, “I shall be your Princess!”
After about thirty seconds and a tiny lull in the cheering, she turned on the floodlights with a corner of her mind. With her arms out, Faustina’s non-regulation uniform shown painfully white and silver.
“And after this campaign,” she smiled as she shouted, “I shall be your Empress!”
It was nearly two in the morning when her driver started the car to take them back to the fort.
“Although everything worked out well,” Tapscott scolded her quietly, “please do not surprise us like that again.”
“It was a whim at the end of my speech,” she shrugged in the darkness. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you about my leather cuirass under my uniform, first, though.”
Finishing to cheers and applause, Faustina had first stepped down from her platform then, with a broad smile, leaped down from the stage into the crowd of potential recruits. Her improved hearing picked up the shouts from not only her security detail but also that of her newest legate.
“’Damn fool girl!’” she said in the car, trying to mimic Tapscott’s voice. “I was never in any danger. Even if someone had pulled a pistol, you know what my reflexes can do.”
Faustina patted his right shoulder once.
“But thank you for your concern! Try to show the same for your new command.”
“Of course,” he replied. They were on the highway east when he spoke again. “You have been a little cagey about that dinner with MacRae you had. We know the official version of the meeting the next day confirmed you and your proposal for this next campaign… now that I’m a legate I’d like to ask what went on.”
“I think,” Faustina replied, twisting her torso to stretch, “that I need a walk. Think of it as a surprise inspection before I bed down. Join me, Tapscott.”
“Yes, Miss,” he said, knowing she did not want to talk with their driver listening. Just a few minutes later they were quietly winding their away about her fort.
“It was,” she began softly, “Klimt who, when not stuffing his fat face, told MacRae that normalizing the lands to the west and southwest of Huntsville was inviting disaster. While the surviving white population was still lower-tech farmers and the blacks sustaining a die-off in the Breakup of almost an order of magnitude worse, things were never a direct threat to us.”
They were challenged by a sentry who was surprised to see two of his high command walking around in the wee hours of the morning. Faustina thank him for his good work.
“Why is that?” Tapscott asked. He’d barely been a teenager when the Breakup began and recalled little of the world before.
“That race has a lower intelligence than whites and orientals as well as poor impulse control,” Faustina explained, “which was fine for life in sub-Saharan Africa. On this continent and later in a high-tech world, they had no place. Concentrated in cities and fed by the government, they could only briefly riot during the first days of the Breakup. Most starved within a week after.”
“Good Lord,” her legate muttered. “I… I had no idea! There are a few here in Knoxville, but…”
“They learned very quickly to keep to themselves and police their own… or else the survivors of the Breakup would do it for them,” she replied. “They were fortunate to be so few. Had they numbered more, Knoxville would have had to take steps like those of my grandfather.”
“So why did Klimt see trouble now? A generation on?” Tapscott quickly asked to get the subject away from her relative who was nearly a bogyman parents would use to frighten misbehaving children.
“Almost one generation on,” she was happy to be led back to her topic, “it is just a matter of time before these little communities start to become larger communities. That’s fine. Klimt has always worried since he heard about the horsemen and their nation of Columbia in the Pacific Northwest. If it can happen there, it can happen here.”
They were almost back to her quarters at the intersection of the two main roads in the fort.
“I am to be the tool to make sure those little and larger communities evolve and grow under careful guidance,” she told him. “My careful guidance. Good morning to you, legate!”