A little more exposition of what Faustina seemed needed, so I brought an expert. They have things out pleasantly. Next, hopefully tomorrow, will be the formal celebration of the victory at Savannah. Why do I think my main character has some surprise in mind?
Unable to find time over the next week to visit with her immediate family, Faustina made time to enter the home of tribe Tohsaka’s machines to speak with her extended family. She sat in a leather barstool while leaning on the wrought-iron small table looking out to the one hundred yards or so drop of land. There were three of the towering difference engines there when I was a little girl. Then two. Then one. The three machines who – Fourth Law or not – took no interest in humans, Shandor, Ninon, and Qin. Brother and I both know the rumors of Ninon’s phoenix in our changed world, and Dorina did tell me she had Shandor’s help when I died those two times after Savannah. As a demi-human, am I of no interest either?
Movement in the corner of her left eye caught her attention. Turning, Faustina saw a man in his late forties standing just off the eight-yard diameter blue metal plate about a foot above the ground where she sat on her chair. His ruggedly handsome Hungarian features and his uniform of a colonel in the Texas Field Forces made her heart trip a little as she stood. Aunt Lily certainly landed the perfect man! she thought.
Wearing her green-gray uniform with no badge of rank, just the gold wreath pin, the man nonetheless came to attention and saluted once he stepped onto the platform.
“General Hartmann,” he said.
Faustina returned his salute with her legionary: right arm straight up, palm toward him, fingers just apart.
“Colonel Rigó,” she replied, dropping her arm and rushing to him, taking his hands with hers. “And how are you, Uncle Arpad?”
“I’m fine, General – ” he began, only get cut off.
“Tsch! Here we’re family!” she corrected him. “And how are my cousins?”
“Fine, Faustina,” he agreed with a smile that made her heart do that thing again. “Ryland, two years your junior, has completed medical school and told your aunt and me that now she wants to be a captain in our Navy. Clay and Cal, the twins, spend all their time hunting and fishing. Sometimes to the detriment of their studies. They both have an interest in the vineyards and wine production on our estate. I think they are both creatures of the land!”
“And none of them demi-human or even touched by the machines,” Faustina whispered. “Perhaps hybrid vigor between your genes and those of Aunt Lily?”
Used to her way of thinking from their contact over the years, Arpad Rigó ignored her slight.
“Even we humans can throw up a genius like Ryland now and again, Faustina,” he said, managing to remain civil. “Anyway. You wanted to talk business?”
“Yes!” she cried, leading him by the hand back to the table and chair. Except now there was another chair and a very large, dangerous-looking woman standing next to it.
“My beloved friends!” Fausta boomed, taking two steps and lifting them both in her bear hug. “I am still young at operational and strategic planning! May I join you as an observer?”
Back on her feet and wondering if her godmother re-cracked one of her ribs, Faustina saw that look her uncle gave Fausta; at six feet tall, she with her dark brown hair in a huge single braid, tanned skin, and brilliant emerald eyes. She knew Aunt Lily, a jealous person, hated that look.
“I’ve no objection…” he allowed.
“Nor me!” Faustina said, sitting.
“Then I shall stand behind Arpad’s right! Call on me if you require anything!” The machine who could destroy in the world in a nonce and had shot and punched humans in clear violation of her Laws stood still with a polite smile on her face.
“Something to drink would be – ” Faustina began, halting at the two wineglasses on the table filled with purple fluid.
“The taste should mimic that of your brand, Arpad!” the machine shouted again. “There is, of course, no alcohol here so your discussion will not be affected!”
In an experiment with Fausta’s sisters, Dorina and Ai, Faustina was once allowed to see, after a fashion, how the machines perceived the construct where they were. Faustina “saw” an infinitely complex web of lights with nodes representing things such as the table or chairs. When she tried to “see” Dorina her heart had stopped. Never told mom or dad that story…
“It’s good!” Arpad said, taking a drink. A map about four by six feet appeared in the air to his left. He saw the old South of the US, from the Texas border to the Atlantic Ocean. “You… can create here?”
“Yup,” Faustina replied, taking a sip and making a face. “Any demi-human can do at least this and I’ve gotten better at much more! But to the matter at hand…”
Highlights in red formed around the collection of city-states of the Tennessee Valley and Asheville. A great turquoise blob stretched from Asheville down the Savannah River basin to that port city, labeled Transappalacia.
“Yours?” he asked.
“Mine,” she agreed. Now there was an arc in the same blue beginning at Huntsville and describing a quarter-circle which ended at Vicksburg on the Mississippi River.
“This was my first idea,” the young general began, suddenly business, “and the most direct by foot for my light infantry legionaries. Taken in isolation, it gets us where we need to be the fastest. This, of course, is stupid.”
The arc faded and she looked to her uncle.
“The objective of this campaign is to subdue all possible resistance along the rail lines that will be carrying processed uranium ore from Texas to Knoxville, where we will enrich it for our reactors,” she carried on as a complex colored web appeared on the map. “The rail lines in the old State of Mississippi are almost all north-south. So, my second thought was this.”
The rail lines faded to gossamer threads with two blue arrows dominating the map: one from Huntsville to Birmingham and another from there striking west to Jackson then Vicksburg.
“Only a little longer but putting us through four old cities. I have already dispatched horse-mounted pioneers for deep recon. There will be an aerial fly-over of Birmingham tomorrow, along with on-ground scouts there, as well,” Faustina explained the next route.
“With, from what you sent me earlier,” Arpad said, “four of your legions and six hundred horse?”
Faustina turned back to him and blinked slowly.
“I… have not the time to recruit and train full strength legions,” she admitted to him. “Instead of ten cohorts, each legion will have eight. And I have only four hundred cavalry.”
“This campaign has not yet begun and you are already down almost four thousand men,” he said, obviously not happy.
“It,” she tried again, “is a question of timing. For the initial campaign, we do not anticipate much resistance. There has been no army in this area since the Breakup. Showing-the-flag, as it were, and stomping on anyone who looks at wrong on the way to the River should not be a problem. We do, however, anticipate resistance to grow once the locals understand that we are there to stay. And to colonize. In that six month period, I anticipate my other eight cohorts to be trained and ready to be sent to me.”
“Hmmm,” the older professional said. “Let’s set that aside for a moment to look at our position.”
Unbidden, a map showing detail of the eastern border of the Republic of Texas to the Mississippi river appeared in the air on his right.
“We have the luck of not only having to cover a third of what you do but also an old US Interstate highway paralleled by a rail line, here,” he pointed as Faustina moved the map closer to them, “at Shreveport, not legally ours but totally under Texan control, to here, just opposite Vicksburg, across what was northern Louisiana. Sparsely populated both before and after the Breakup, I’m informed.”
“The politics are still in flux,” Arpad said, finishing his glass, which Fausta refilled the moment he set it down, “but this area will likely be called a ‘province’ or somesuch, with limited local government. But militarily, it is very straight forward.”
“And there is no problem that it is your nation which will be responsible for rebuilding the rail bridge? We not only have no such capability but could not transport them along with us.” Faustina asked.
“No problem. But,” he had another ironic smile, “being owned by us, the tolls might be high!”
“I would be happy, Uncle,” she sat back with one of her feral grins, “to address your nation’s rulers and discuss what I did the last time someone attempted to hit us with putative tariffs!”
Knowing she was not threatening him personally, and being both a Special Operations officer as well as a member of their diplomatic corps, Rigó merely nodded.
“I’ll pass that on, Niece,” he said. “May we return to your operation?”
“Of course,” Faustina agreed, taking another, bigger, drink. She knew that her godmother was analyzing the demi-human’s reaction to the wine and making it a little sweeter and with less mouth-feel each time. The map of the Texans’ campaign faded and she looked right.
“Not that Texas has territorial ambitions beyond Oklahoma Province and reclaiming what was theirs in so-called New Mexico,” Rigó began, “but that doesn’t mean we want to be blind to what is happening around us.”
“Much of that, I’m told,” Faustina said with a real smile this time, “was because of the expertise of an unexpected addition to our family!”
Arpad paused to smile back.
“I have never sustained a greater loss or better victory than when these people,” he waved about tribe Tohsaka’s construct, “backed me into a corner to marry Lily Barrett!”
“Which brings me back to the point I want to make: we have both diplomatic and quasi-diplomatic teams from Mexican Tucson, old Denver, and,” he pointed at the map, “Birmingham.”
A sigh and a drink.
“From the reports I read, the effects of the Breakup in that city were appalling,” he continued in his quiet, professional tone. “It began as the standard pattern of rioting and looting followed by inter-racial warfare. The Blacks with smarts literally ran for the hills. The Whites to farms far enough away from the city. The result was as predictable as Zimbabwe or South Africa: mass starvation. At least my men didn’t find evidence of cannibalism, like what happened in Dallas and Seattle.”
“Saying all that to say this, Niece: on the first hand, I do not think you will face much formal initial resistance, so being light in your legions is a manageable problem. On the second hand, I think the centripetal needs of garrisoning this vast territory are going to prove more than you are planning for,” he said, raising first one hand then the other.
“So on the gripping hand,” Rigó dropped both, “that means that if there is some kind of counter-insurgency, you will need ten legions to hold the towns and rail lines. Recall that in the War of Northern Aggression, the Union army used half their troops to guard the train tracks.”
Seeing the girl’s face not moving from the map, he just heard her mutter, “ten legions…”
Faustina abruptly turned to look at him.
“These lands will be mine. Mine by conquest. I will make treaties and be lenient with my subjects, caring for them as a mother,” she said deliberately. “But if betrayed, it will not just be my grandfather’s name which will be a curse in people’s mouths!”
She stood. He did as well. Faustina hugged him, took two steps back, and raised her arm in salute.
“Thank you for your advice, Colonel Rigó.”
“Thank you for listening, General Hartmann,” he replied raising his hand to his brow.
He was gone. She let her eyes slide to her godmother.
“Little Namesake?” she asked, voice full of worry. “Please be older carefully!”
The world around her swirled slightly. Faustina looked at the papers on her desk for tomorrow’s triumphal parade. She looked left at the calendar on the wall. I have so little time!