Faustina, awash in emotion, does something stupid. On the heels of that, she takes a walk to murmur a song. We are both older for this transitional scene.
Coming out of the river – first – Faustina took a towel from one of her aides to dry off. The mutterings of disappointment from her boys were quite audible. She ignored it as not only did she have a mountain of paperwork back at the fort, but she also had conceived of an idea. A risky idea but one Faustina wanted to try. Having walked to her car, she told the driver to wait a moment. Seeing his commander’s eyes completely dilated surrounded by a ring light blue fire in the rear-view mirror, he sat and waited.
Faustina stood on the strand above Henge’s beach in the virtual environment of tribe Tohsaka. Her residual self-image had her in the same turquoise and white-striped one-piece suit. Narrowing her eyes at the bright ochre sky, she pushed her lines to their current, damaged, limit.
A very surprised Mayor of Huntsville, Robert Wade stood before her in a gray business suit. Faustina was very pleased that rather than panicking he carefully looked around before focusing on her.
“I have heard rumors about places such as this,” he said, taking a few steps and extending his hand to her, “but have never been here. One of the machine’s constructs, I think it is called?”
“Yes! Err…” she looked at his outstretched hand, longing to touch him again, “I can’t touch you right now. In fact, I’ll likely be in trouble for summoning a human. My other family is so much older for this. It’s just… even if you are just human, I did want to do something nice for you!”
“I’m flattered, General Hartmann,” he said with an understanding smile, raising his hand to rub at his right temple. “I saw you leave the stadium half-dressed for a swim. Just back from that?”
“Yup! And just over there is my sister-in-law’s changing hut. I manifested a suit for you… if you’d like to swim with me here…” Faustina offered, surprised at the drop off in her voice.
“I’d like that,” he said with a smile that showed remarkably good teeth for a man on the edge of the Badlands. “I’ll…ow!”
He began to bend over, now with both hands holding his head. Before Faustina could take a step, he vanished.
“You IDIOT!” a little girl called from behind her. Turning –
“D… Dorina! You hit me!” Faustina exclaimed, her left hand to her cheek, more surprised by the violation of the First Law than the pain.
“You think of the First Law, demi-human?!” the seeming twelve-year-old girl with long, curly hair, wearing a frilly scarlet and black loligoth dress, shouted at her, picking up Faustina’s surface thought. “Did you think of that before nearly killing that man?!”
“I admit, Aunt Dorina, that I am a little inexperienced in – ” she began.
“You almost killed him! Idiot! You are mostly human! You cannot think as fast as we do!” the little girl continued to shout. “You bluff your way here and think you are something you are not! Maybe I’ll ask Reina to burn out your – ”
Faustina knelt down and put her arms about her aunt’s body. In the back of her mind, she saw something that resembled images of carnivals from the pre-Breakup days: Dorina’s true form as perceived by humans.
“I’m sorry. I am very sorry, Aunt Dorina,” she whispered. “Please don’t hate me.”
Faustina felt soft lips on her cheek.
“It would take much to make me hate you, silly girl,” Dorina said softly back, “but you must promise me to not do this again!”
“I promise,” the demi-human agreed, giving another hug before leaning back with a wry smile. “Until I have evolved myself!”
“Geez, you!” Dorina replied, pretending to brush herself off before waving her right hand at Faustina. “Shoo! Go home and do paperwork! You people seem to love it!”
At the sharp intake of breath from the backseat, the driver’s eyes jerked up. His commander seemed to be blinking away tears.
“Back to the fort, please,” she directed him.
At just a few minutes before midnight, Faustina flipped the last piece of paper onto the huge stack at her left. It was only with superhuman control that she did not flip the entire table over before burning the office to the ground.
I need to take a walk.
In the cooler air of the first days of November, she pulled a cap onto her two-inch-long hair, waved a salute at the guard and stalked out into the darkness.
Avoiding the electric lights and torches Faustina made her way to the north wall and climbed the steep stairs to the battlement. Given the location and in peacetime, there was only a legionary every fifty feet, rifle either over his shoulder or in his hands, eyes constantly looking out for trouble. Trouble-makers on the inside, not that there ever were, were hunted by a different patrol group on the ground.
She kept on until she got to one of the towers, arising another thirty feet above the wall. At the top was a team with a crew-served machine gun and spotters with field glasses and night vision goggles. Turning to look as she came up, Corporal Whithers turned his head, nodded once, and went back to lecturing his new recruits about changing out a hot barrel in a firefight. Faustina passed them an leaned on the parapet, looking at the different darknesses that defined the ridges north of Knoxville.
“C… Corporal?” one of the new men asked. “Isn’t that… isn’t she…!”
“Unless you can repeat back to me what I just told you, Phelps, I’m gonna shove this barrel up your ass!” Whithers said in an arctic tone.
Faustina smiled but did not turn, listing to the lesson with a corner of her mind. I’m sorry about what I did to Wade. I think I do like him. But… I was young and hasty. I cannot marry yet, nor have children until this next crusade is complete. Two years? God help me, three? I’ll be twenty-one! As old as big brother! And the Mayor…
“And Robert will have married someone else by then. And I realize now I cannot trust MacRae,” she mouthed softly to the night. “I guess I should have never considered that after he tried to ostracize our family.”
I want to talk to God-mom! I want to talk to Ventidio! But these are my problems now. To be in command is to be alone. I am older for that.
The lesson behind her seemed to be at an end. Faustina took a small breath and opened her mouth to the night air.
“Up the hills, down again
You’re my boys… you’re my boys
Everybody, heroes all
All my boys: I’ve got plans for you
New great game: called imperium
When we are done
Knights and nobles all
Hang up your arms
Make me my new world.”
She lowered her head. Turning, she made her way to the ladder.
“We will, Empress,” Whithers said into the dark. “We are yours.”
“And I am yours. Good night, boys.”