This is something I’ve never done before: the next section of ‘Empress Crusade’ will be told from a different perspective. Specifically, that of the President of the Gulf Shore States. His internal voice is the one we shall hear and we will see Faustina and her army through his eyes. I am very curious to see how she comes across… self-confident? Pushy? Crazy as a rat in a coffee can?
Let’s go see!
“…which is why I would welcome this opportunity to meet with you, face-to-face…”
President Dysart grunted as a sailor set another mug of coffee at his left. Sitting in the relatively spacious rear of the Mark VI patrol boat’s cabin, he once again paused the video he had received yesterday night. In that pause, he made more notes to the two pages he already had.
“Face-to-face, huh?” he rumbled. A drink from his coffee lifted his eyes out the windscreen of the boat’s pilot ahead of him. Through that, he saw the other Mark VI ahead and the little PBR about one hundred yards further on. “The face of some girl…”
“Mister President?” his chief aide for this odd mission, Simmons, asked. Dysart shook his head.
From first light, the three boats had taken the winding Pascagoula River north. Not that there was a river emptying into the Gulf that didn’t wind. In Biloxi rather than the capital of Mobile, to better monitor the Louisiana situation, allowed him such a quick response. My contacts in Baton Rouge said four brigades in Vicksburg! That’s at least twenty thousand men! After having no army in these parts for a generation, until I put together the Camp Shelby units! We have no idea who they are, where they came from, and why they are there. Until this video message shows up in my inbox.
Dysart had taken the time to forward it to his IT staffers first, surprised that some outsider got one of his most private email addresses so easily. When they said it was legit, and guessed that there was likely involvement of the machines, he banished his staff and watched it for the first time. That answered the who, where, and why questions but raised even more. Who was General Hartmann? There had been rumor that someone – possibly Knoxville – had ejected the Chinese from Savannah. If that was true, and they needed Texas ore, why didn’t they have it shipped in?
And: uranium. They have working fission power plants? I thought we were doing good to get back on our feet with oil-fired. And what was the machines involvement in all of this? It was my policy that the time was ripe to bend Louisiana from Texas’ orbit to ours but with this new unknown…
Thus, after a long night of planning, he’d stepped aboard his best patrol boat in one of his best suits, the lighter, cream-colored on, for the heat of the day, for the trip north to Camp Shelby. Encrypted radio messages told of nothing new up there, but that girl – that General – had requested a parley just north of the base. Did she bring all four brigades or just a handful of troops? More unknowns.
It was around noon when the boats took the left fork in the river. Forty miles as the crow flies, almost thrice that on the water, with another twenty-five before leaving the boats near the New August crossroads to be driven into the army base. Dysart’s terse written reply to the video was, yes, he was pleased to meet, at the Camp’s northwest gate, around 1700. The agreement had come back immediately. But with another unknown: “agreed to on behalf of General Hartmann.” By whom? That was forwarded to IT, too.
Waving away any more coffee, President Dysart stared out at the trees sliding quickly past, all covered in green for what was yet another late spring; each year since the Breakup had seemed just a touch cooler. He’d been twenty-nine when the old US fell apart: a junior manager at one of the dry docks in Mobile and a petty officer first class in the Naval Reserves. Originally from Arkansas, he’d heard nothing from his family after the first few days. When looters tried to smash their way into the port in general and the docks in particular, he and his boss, Mike Dole, threw together a force to stop them. Within a month, that force was the only source of law and order in what parts of Mobile weren’t being burned by its former residents.
Understanding that trying to save everything meant saving nothing, their company of men focused on the port, with occasional sorties out to burn those nearby neighborhoods being used by gangs and looters, shooting anyone on sight. After the first three months, they began to think they might make it out of the chaos alive… then the Cuban Pauk-class corvette sailed into Mobile Bay.
Dysart went to the head to relieve himself of the coffee. We were helpless and signed almost whatever they put before us. Almost. Their demand to run the deepwater harbor themselves was the only time Dole dug in his heels. They gave in, for then. Later, he told me why: “what this demonstrated is that we must have our own navy! I don’t care if we start with guys with M-16s on yachts! Hell, let’s see if we can take some of the smaller guns of the old USS Alabama hulk! A navy means we stay us! Otherwise, our kids will be speaking Spanish to their Cuban overlords!”
And that had shaped their policy for the last twenty years. First called President as a joke, Dole took on the mantle and started acting like one. When he retired six years ago, there was no vote, just him appointing me as his successor. Twenty years of extending our reach east to Panama City and west of Gulfport and far enough south to re-negotiate our deals with the Cubans who acted more and more like pirates.
Dysart walked aft out the open hatch to the deck and paused to watch the muddy brown water stream past them. Seaward, we seemed secure. I rocked the boat by creating a landward army. But we had too! Who knew what lurked in the interior!
“And, it seems,” he said softly to the wind, “we are about to find out.”