Knowing what we know, it is a little hard to not want to slap the top of Faustina’s head for being a smartass, here. Not technically a lie, even by omission, but her blizzard of disinformation is not going to go done well once President Dysart understands what is going on. And given how Fussy runs her mouth without her legates around, that will happen sooner rather than later.
“Just askin’,” he tried a colloquialism. “My wife’s been twenty-nine for years now. From the screen to the north, I’d guess at least two brigades, er, legions.”
“You may guess all you like, Mister President,” turning them north before too close to her men. “The outskirts of this base are in very good order. I imagine the interior is as well?”
“You may guess all you like, General Hartmann,” he tossed back at her. “My government doesn’t pay for these soldiers to sit around on their asses, forgive my language, all day. If there’s work to be done, they do it.”
“A sound policy,” she agreed with a nod, “what with ‘idle hands’ and all that. Bored men are a source of trouble. Is that why you chose to interfere in Louisiana? Your sailors were bored?”
“The foreign policy of the Gulf Shore States is not the concern of a, ah, visiting General,” he replied carefully.
“When the foreign policy of any political entity touches any part of the imperium or their commercial and political allies, it becomes a concern of my master’s and thus mine,” the young woman said in a harder tone, stopping to face him in the middle of a two-lane road that ran off to the northeast. He watched her take a careful breath. “If not today, I am willing to stay and talk with you and yours about a peaceful resolution to this muddle, beneficial to all concerned.”
“Would that ‘all concerned’ be us, Louisiana, Texas, and Knoxville? And,” Dysart first looked over her head at the other M2 Hummer while rubbing his chin, before looking back down, “you have mentioned ‘your master’ and just used a word I confess I’m not familiar with. If we’re goin’ to gather ‘round a table, it’s best to know who all the players are.”
“Of course, President Dysart,” she replied with her eyes fixed on his. Perhaps it was the light from the westering sun, but what he had thought a sparkle there was now a turquoise fire. “I did not want to burden you with a barrage of facts at our introduction. As we are beyond that, allow me to clarify: while dispatched by the government of Knoxville, the army of which I am the commander is the imperial army of Empress Faustina”
Another woman? Dysart thought. I have never even heard rumor of this name. Is this girl just making it up? No: a minimum of ten thousand men is not a bluff. She seems sincere in a desire for peace… but there are so many unknowns here!
“May I ask a question prior to a proposal?” he asked, waving them back into motion to where they began walking.
“Please,” she said politely.
“This Faustina you just mentioned. Where is her empire? We’ve certainly heard nothing about it here…”
“You have heard Savannah was taken off the Chinese. I know that. So, you have heard something of her: that action was the imperial army.”
“So… you and your… legions,” Dysart clarified.
“And what else does this woman claim?”
“For now? Suzerainty over all of what was once the Deep South,” Hartmann replied. At their meeting point, she turned to him and gave a girlish laugh. “In the future? All of North America? More? Who knows?”
“That includes my country,” Dysart rumbled, unhappy.
“I’m aware. The peaceful incorporation of the Gulf Shore States into the imperium as an autonomous actor is of great importance to the Empress,” she said, dropping her smile. “I assure you.”
“Please consider this one of the many points we should discuss tomorrow,” she continued blithely on. “I’m sure you want to consult with your staff, if not your allies in Mobile, before setting a time for our meeting.”
She extended her hand to him and waited.
“General Hartmann?” he asked before moving, louder so his men could hear and record it. “You know this empress well?”
“Will you swear before God and your family that she desires peaceful accommodation?” Not worth my breath but it is a diplomatic point.
“I swear before God and my families, President Dysart!”
He took her hand.
“This may change overnight, but may I propose a working brunch with our staffs? Just here,” he indicated the covered guard houses with his left, “at eleven?”
“That’s a date, Mister President!” Another turquoise flash. “Just don’t tell your twenty-nine-year-old wife!”
He let go of her hand and walked quickly back to his men, hearing her boots hit the cracked asphalt in the other direction. Another damned sleepless night! he thought. A sudden recollection: what did she mean by families?