True to her word, Faustina declares herself and accompanying cohort to just be tourists, something not seen in those parts since the Breakup. The spontaneous self-organization of local capitalists is one of the miracles of the free market.
After some autobiography, Dysart takes liberties with the Empress’s head.
“Heavens!” Faustina exclaimed as President Dysart climbed out of one of the four cars in his caravan. “Aren’t you hot in that suit?”
Wearing yet another of his trademark light cream-colored suits, Dysart paused to make sure the camera crews were setup. “Not at all, Miss Hartmann. We born and bred in the Deep South think this is a little cool, in fact!”
True to her word, she and her men had covered the fifty miles in a single day, leaving their on-foot escort miles behind and only accompanied by two jeeps and two Hummers when they made their way to the beach. Pleased that the President had made accommodations for her legionaries at a nearby abandoned hotel, the girl explained that night she was calling this a two-day vacation and could be addressed as a civilian visitor.
“It’s important,” she had said seriously, “for humans to think I am one of them. Gives me leverage.”
Word of their arrival had spread like a wildfire and vendors from as far away as Biloxi had setup along the strand of the beach to exchange their food and other wares for these polite young men from an unimaginable distance north, and who paid in silver.
“You are certainly good for business, Miss,” the President continued.
“Speaking of,” she rejoined, “thank you for sending Admiral Stewart to me at sun up. I wanted military talks out of the way soonest. What he had to say and the tour of the small artificial harbor here were most interesting.”
Facing Dysart, she pointed with her left. Gulfport Harbor was usually empty save for one or two small transports and one or two naval vessels. With the blockade of Louisiana called off, it was packed with ships.
“It was smart of you to have their crews on the beach further west,” she continued. “If those sailors found out it was me who ruined their successful campaign… well…”
“Let us hope,” he agreed, “that discretion is the order of the day. And are you enjoying your day, Miss Hartmann? Your sore feet properly soaked?”
“Absolutely! Thank you for asking, President Dysart!” She leaned a little to his right to stare at a video camera. “The Gulf Shore States are so fortunate to have such a leader!”
“Speaking of suits,” he said with a shake of his head at her overacting, “did you buy that here or bring it with you?”
“It’s mine from home,” she waved from her neck down at the broad diagonal turquoise and white stripes on her one piece. “Nicely matches my eyes!”
“True,” Dysart allowed. He did let his eyes linger on the burn scarring from her neck, down her left side and arm, and her two missing toes on her left foot, knowing she knew he was looking.
“When taking Savannah,” she explained, “it got dicey right at the end and I was injured. Well, killed, really. But my big brother and my aunt saved me.”
“That sounds like quite the story, Miss Hartmann,” he admitted. She died?
“It is. My biography, when it is written, will read like fantastical fiction to most normies. Eeek!” She suddenly raised a hand to her mouth. “That was rude! An old habit of mine! I meant, to most humans: any who do not know of my kind.”
“Does that imply that there are more of… your kind?” Dysart asked. “Captain Alene did tell me something about what he called ‘p-kids’ from Knoxville. Something about their brains being modified.”
“P-kids, yes,” she nodded, turning to look out to sea and bringing him to her side with a touch from her left hand onto his right arm. “My big brother, because he was Pavel’s – the machine’s – friend, was changed more. I was changed because he is my brother. There was another, Tracy, but she has transcended mortal form and is a goddess. Last among us is my sister-in-law, an idiot, in my opinion. She is a machine who for love became mortal.”
“You, young Miss, make something beautiful and romantic sound like a heartless tragedy,” he noted.
“She abandoned perfection and immortality for this,” the girl waved her right at the sea and sky and her left at herself. “Stupid!”
“Didn’t you once tell me,” he recalled, trying to find a way out of this bewildering conversation, “that you plan to ‘transcend human form and become a goddess,’ I think it was? Like this Tracy you just mentioned?”
“Yes,” her voice dropped to a whisper, “that is my plan.”
“This is for the cameras,” Dysart said before placing his hand onto her head and giving her black hair a rub. “Please relax and enjoy your day and night. There is much to discuss tomorrow.”
When he returned to his car, he looked back. She had not moved at all.