It’s been a big day for Faustina but there are thousands of details to resolve after a battle, as she is discovering. One thing she has learned from history is that speed is an army’s great strength: if you can appear where you opponents never expected you to be, you are inside their OODA and halfway home to winning.
Phase Two was what had been tentatively planned on the march from Vicksburg to Yazoo City: if they could decisively beat the Tupelo force, where next? Standard doctrine said to attack the opposing army. Once disposed of, the land was yours. That would mean a turn north to take on the Memphis army.
“The problem I have with that,” Faustina explained to her legates as they walked next to the artillery, about five miles short of Yazoo, “is a lack of intelligence. From what little we know, the mayor of each city acts like a dictator, but there are some rumors that they occasionally act in tandem, such as now. My concern is if we bop the Tupelo army, then attack the Memphis army – with a smaller force, mind you – Tupelo could spend that week or so scraping together another ten thousand. We go after that, with a further reduced force…”
“All the while Memphis is doing the same,” Gibson muttered, understanding but not liking where she was going.
“And two hundred miles north of Memphis, a Black city, is the nation-state of St. Louis, the Black Muslim Brotherhood,” Owens mused. “Be a shame if they suddenly took an interest in the weakened parties to their south, wouldn’t it? So your workaround is?”
“Run for Tupelo the day after we beat their first army,” Faustina said with a nod. “We show up at the city gates, if they have them, demand a formal surrender and treaty. That goes by the gallop to the Memphis’s army and the city fathers.”
“All the while,” she continued, running her hand over the 37mm barrel of a gun, “we march in the direction of Memphis.”
“What if Tupelo doesn’t surrender or sign?” It was Gibson’s job to find fault with her notions.
“We burn the city and send that news by gallop,” their general replied with no surprise. “I guess I would have to order all of the POWs shot, too.”
“Good Lord!” she heard Gibson mutter.
“Either way, Memphis’s military and political command will panic,” she pretended to not hear him, “and pull their army back. We catch it and kill it. Simple.”
“You don’t think the Memphis army will continue, crush my Fourth and liberate the POWs?” Samson asked, genuinely curious.
“If they were a single political entity, yes, and I would never have put this forward,” Faustina smiled. She found most humans so boring but never her legates and senior Centurions. “One of the reasons another short general won so many of his battles was that it was Napoleon’s luck to almost always be facing coalitions, to be defeated piecemeal. I am applying that logic here.”
Ahead, coming down the west side of the long column at a canter, the mounted engineering team closed quickly to give their report about where their marching fort would be built.
“I like it,” Owens finally said.
“No objection,” Samson was a bit gloomier as he could catch the business end of this it if went wrong.
“You promise to keep your mind open if facts change in the field?” Gibson more rumbled than asked.
The fastest way to Tupelo was just how their army came: back up the Natchez Trace Parkway. That had them marching past the POWs of that city’s army. Tall white stakes were hammered into the ground, delineating a circle of about two thousand feet in diameter. The defeated had been informed that taking a step past a stake would result in a volley into the entire mass. Faustina thought self-policing was always the simplest way to go. But she did want a word with a particular someone and had sent a message ahead. She dropped out from her place at the head of first cohort of First Legion to have a quick talk with her opposite.
“Brigadier Forrester,” she said, her right arm high as if to catch the first rays of morning.
“General Hartmann,” he replied, his a traditional salute. “Or, from what I’ve heard, should I say “Empress Faustina”?”
“When acting in a political context, yes, you will,” her tone dropped with her arm. “And as both, I ask you: why did you use flamethrowers? They are irregular.”
“General, had I a plane and a nuke I would have used that already,” his lips twisted to match his sardonic tone of voice. “I’ve heard that war is hell, Miss.”
Last night’s mercy killing behind her eyes, she could not bring herself to hate him for stating the obvious.
“Then let us pray that neither of us gets our hands on such weapons.” The line of men tramped past behind her. “I stopped to ask one question. You have the right to not answer.”
“I am going to tell your town, Tupelo, to submit to me. Do you think your city council will?” Faustina asked, voice cold.
“Just out of professional curiosity, General,” she watched his dark eyebrows arch, “what if they don’t?”
“I burn it. All of it. When I have time I will kill all military-age men and relocate the women and children to the far-flung corners of my imperium.”
Pulled by mules at the break between the two legions, the artillery creaked past.
“Day-um,” he muttered at last. “’Sides that empress thang, I hear you-uns is one of them other kind.”
“A machine?” she asked.
“Then how in the hell can a girl – ” he began.
“I was not finished, Brigadier. I am not a Machine. I am not a human. They began to change me. I continue to change myself,” she said, extending her arms out to each side, palms facing him. “I, and those like me, are demi-human. Under our rule, humanity has a future.”
Half of Second Legion was passed.
“Well,” Forrester managed at last, “once they hear what happened to me…”
“My army will be there before your dispatch riders are. I tracked them by aerial drone and had my cavalry ride them down and kill them,” she dropped her arms and gave him an inhuman smile. Faustina enjoyed his shudder.
“Then I’s best write a letter…” he tried again.
“Good. I’ll inform my men to take it from you and get it to me, soonest,” she concluded, turning to see the column’s tail coming up. “But you had best write fast!”
“General!” he shouted one last question as she walked away. “If you burn my town, what happens to us?”
His answer from her was that horrible smile again but accented by a flash of turquoise from her demi-human eyes.
“Jesus,” he muttered before asking the men from Fourth Legion for a pen and paper.