About a generation ago, when I was a regular reader of James Lilek’s The Bleat, something he said stuck with me (and I paraphrase from memory): “do you mind if I smoke? No one ever said no in the pre-WWII years, simply because daily baths were such a rarity. It was closer to the truth to reply ‘I’d rather smell tobacco than you.'”
Something lost in our ultra-hygienic world is what the past smelled like, especially each other. Beyond exposure to those curry-radiating Pajeets who make deliveries, the idea of smelling other people is a lost concept to modern, Western whites.
I honestly don’t know what prompted Faustina to realize that she stunk as much as the men about her, but I had to smile at her feminine, human, reaction. I think if someone had pointed out to her she was acting like a ‘normie,’ she would have bit their head off. Perhaps this is the story telling me that she might not ultimately be lost to us, after all?
Sliding off her horse, Faustina decided that the rest of her afternoon would be spent catching up on correspondence. All official dispatches were immediately opened and read at a glance. She tried to keep up with personal mail from Knoxville but had not read a thing since she had left Vicksburg. While there, the post system she had established, as part of her treaties with Jackson, Meridian, and Tuscaloosa – Birmingham was a ruin – meant ten days from Knoxville to the River. Her first slide to her grandfather’s side was when those treaties said that interfering with her post riders would be punished by crucifixion. Even a generation on, the old horror from Texas hung behind her words.
Faustina grabbed a small, folding camp table and wad of envelopes and climbed up to the completed west wall. Finding a small out of the way place on the parapet, she leaned against the outer wall, the westering sun warming her back, and read the latest news from her first home. The official word was, of course, “all is well.” MacRae’s personal note was whether or not she was still interested in his proposal. Not answering that until this campaign is over.
Chinon informed her that the Australians were selling them one hundred tons of processed uranium, due in three ships over the next twelve months. A lookout not far from her turned about at her huge sigh of relief. That gives me much more latitude in my actions here!
From Henge was a simple admonition for her not to lose her soul. Aurelia drew several, very well done, pictures of what she thought her aunt looked like leading her men into battle. A modern commander doesn’t do that, unless in extremis, my little niece!
Her big brother’s letter was two pages, typed, single-spaced. Conning it, she could tell he was writing on behalf of their parents as well. This one, I have to respond to.
So much more bothersome than willing a printout to a machine, Faustina drew some blank paper to her and pulled a pen from her chest pocket and put it to paper.
Dear Big Brother, I know I should wait several days to write this, but that’s me: bulling on ahead. I am in the midst of subduing the northern part of old Mississippi. For now, Tupelo is under my thumb. The Memphis army I shall deal with tomorrow. As there is no way I can send this out for a week, expect several addenda!
Aunt Lily’s old memories were right! These jerks keep slaves! Can you imagine, brother? I understand it took a while for our Church to get their heads out their asses when it came to labor and slavery, but this is the 21st Century!!! The city fathers of Tupelo were a little snarky but I left their “peculiar institution” alone for now until I have ten legions and can deal with them properly!
You just mouthed ‘ten legions,’ didn’t you, bestest big brother? Our uncle Arpad hinted this to me some months ago and I took it to heart. I’m barely subduing north former MS with three and expect push-back from this old State’s south in the summer. What about southern ex-Alabama? God forbid, what if I have to move against Atlanta??? Be easier to rod it from orbit, just to be sure.
I kid… I kid, brother. Don’t make my silly sister-in-law panic over you hyperventilating right now! I have time enough, and worlds, as Henge might say.
Anyway, let me sum this part up: as I told you in my last letter, getting to the River was a nice walk. My work starts now, along the edges of my imperium – don’t start, Gary! – to consolidate my realm. Why, you selfishly ask, comfortable in your hospital dayjob? Reach out to tribe Tohsaka and ask about the coming Maunder Minimum. The barbarian pressure from north to south will kill us.
Unless I take action. Which is what I’m doing.
Oh? You thought this was an ego project until you just now had one of our other family clue you in about the ice? Canada under an ice sheet means Knoxville under foreign control. Not happening, dear brother. This part of this continent is mine. Mine, Brother! I am sick of all this fighting… all this death! Only under us demi-humans can there be a lasting peace!
You rolled your eyes again! Don’t deny it!!! And don’t deny I’m right! Unless you want to live your twilight years in a second extinction event that makes the Breakup look like the JV trial-run, you had at least not oppose me!
At best, I want you, and Mom and Dad, to support me. I can’t save everyone, Bro, but I can do my best.
Love you and my entire fam. ~ F.
Folding and stuffing the letter into her back pocket, Faustina set about making her way to the command tent for the meeting with all of her cohort Centurions.
It was toward the end of the meeting that Faustina became aware she was missing Tapscott and his cigars. Yes, this is war, but none of us has bathed since we left Vicksburg! After Grant concluded his report on their munitions count – they were good for two more general engagements – she spoke up.
“Good! Thank all of you! Right now, I’m popping out the east gate to that creek just behind us,” she said, walking to the tent’s main opening. “I’d like to look, and smell, my best for tomorrow!”
Laughter followed her as she went to get some clean BDUs and a towel. Half of her security century accompanied Faustina out the east gate and down to the little creek.
“Looks like the horses took water here,” she observed, “so I’m going upstream a bit.”
Thirty of the sixty men crossed the remaining span of the old road at a trot to take up screening positions on the opposite bank. Faustina spied a part of the stream that had formed a small pool and immediately stripped. Only then remembering…
“Dang it!” she called. “Forgot my soap!”
“Empress!” one of her boys called from behind and north of her. Turning, she watched him shift his rifle to his left before finishing a white bar out of his jacket breast pocket. Too far away to underhand toss, he lobbed it like a baseball. With her improvement neurosystem, she tracked it and grabbed it out of the air with her left hand.
“Thanks, Billy!” she called back to him, fully aware his eyes lingered on her for just a little more than they should. No matter, she thought. I’m not particularly interested in what humans think of me, anyway. Faustina first looked into the clear water for treacherous rocks or poison snakes before wading in.
She plunged under the water then began lathering up both her body and hair. Two more plunges got her rinsed off as the bubbles of soap were carried away downstream to the south. It was twilight in the east as Faustina toweled off and put clean clothes on, feeling much better about the world.
“Remind me to build a spa when we get back to Vicksburg,” she called out to her escort. They laughed, knowing very well their Empress never needed reminding. Back in their temporary home, the gate barred behind them, she led them in search of something for dinner.