As I suspected, Dysart gets the low-down on Faustina. The Gulf Shore States may be 90% maritime but that does not mean their landward army cannot have a decent staff. And it looks like they are blessed with a very capable intel officer in the form of Captain Alene, a careful and thorough man. He gives his best summary of the empress and the imperium to his commander-and-chief, saving the worst for last.
Not at all certain if his emails were being read by outsiders, Dysart wrote only in the most circumspect terms about the meeting he had some hours ago. His first priority was military and that meant being driven straight back to General Brant’s office. This time they stayed in the larger, outer office with his sub-commanders seated around the long oval table and aides and techs in chairs along the walls.
“Before any details, General Brant,” he’d begun without preamble, “I want you to guarantee you keep old US49 to Gulfport and US98 to Mobile open! And the railroads that parallel them! We cannot allow this army to be cut off!”
He paused while Brant wrote quickly before leaning back to issue orders to a sergeant who left at a run.
“Next, not as critical: get anyone you have with irregular warfare experience and load them up with booze, cigars, whatever luxury items in the PX,” the President continued. “I want our men to schmooze what information they can out of these legions. We only have it on Hartmann’s say-so who they are and where they come from. I want some confirmation. That consolidated report in my hands no later than eight in the morning.”
Another written order and another quick departure.
“The last immediate item: if you’ve not already, I want every motorized vehicle that can move and fight ready by four AM,” he ordered. “I don’t want them bunched up in one juicy target but neither so dispersed we can’t use them. I leave that to you, General.”
Dysart waited for the longer – nearly three-quarters of a page – order to be written before leaning back in his chair and waiving for some sweet tea to be poured.
“If I may, Mister President?” Brant asked. “You just used an odd word: legions.”
“That’s what your opposite number, Hartmann, called them,” Dysart explained. “She admitted they are organized like our brigades but… I think they use that term because of their politics.”
“Which are, Mister President?”
“God help me,” he began, shaking his head, “but they seem to be making some kind of empire here in the Old South. Let me tell you what we discussed…”
Dysart spoke for ten minutes, not just about what he and that girl had discussed, but also what kinds of impressions he got from her. It was a solid minute of silence before Brant pointed to the man two places to his right. Captain Alene, a shorter man with a little Native American in his blood, was Chief of Intelligence.
“Alene, here,” their general began, “had been ending his daily briefings for the last couple of months with what he calls ‘speculation’, rather than intelligence. Up until this very moment, I thought he had just been feeding me snippets of some bullshit sci-fi novel he’s been writing on the side.”
“Captain?” he continued, now looking at him, “can you give the President and the rest of us a summary of what you’ve been trying to tell me all this time.”
“Of course, sir. And the fault is mine: I didn’t really believe what I had been hearing, so how could I make others believe it?” he said in a soft-spoken voice. The kind that would put someone being interrogated at their ease. He took a breath and began.
“I became curious last summer, when Savannah fell,” Alene said. “The Chinese were at the end of a very long supply line so that was not a complete surprise. What caught my attention was what looked like a propaganda film of a rally of the troops that did it, a couple of weeks after the battle. Besides the presentations of promotions and awards, the person at the center of attention was very interesting: a girl.”
“Describe her,” Dysart said immediately. Alene did: dark stubble on her head, shorter, bright blue eyes…
“Scar tissue down her left side?” Dysart again.
“Y… yes, Mister President! How did…?”
“Keep going. What else?” Dysart felt his frown growing.
“While they called her General Hartmann – the same one you spoke with, I’m sure – at the end, her army did something I have only read about in the history books,” Alene continued. “It was a very striking thing.”
“Which was?” even Brant seemed exasperated.
“They hailed her as ‘imperator.’ That’s where our word for emperor comes from,” Alene explained.
“Let me skip ahead,” the President’s hands shook ever so slightly. “Did you get a name? A full name?”
“Yes, Mister President,” Alene nodded, glancing down at a paper to double-check himself. “Faustina Hartmann.”
“That kid suckered me!” they all heard the President hiss before speaking back up. “What do you know about their invasion from Knoxville to Vicksburg?”
“Bits and pieces, sir. But there is something else,” the captain looked down again and back up, “about Faustina Hartmann.”
“Jesus H, it gets worse?” Dysart demanded. “What?”
“This, I have said to General Brant, speculation, based upon what I have heard, but…”
“Out with it, man!” his commander-in-chief ordered.
“She’s not human.”