A riff on Lucretius. You’ll see why when Nichole 5 shows up.
This again slightly longer installment marks the end of Part 3 of the MS for “Empress’ Crusade.” I want to wrap the whole thing up in no more than 40-60 more pages. I’ve reams of notes and images in my head but, honestly, am not sure which way to jump right now. I know Faustina moves due east but not with how many of her four legions in Vicksburg. I see the huge old Army base of Fort Benning. I see what’s left of Atlanta and those in it a generation on. I also understand her operational desire to secure the rest of the Deep South and a land route to Savannah.
This weekend will be spent in note-taking and, very likely, a series of micro-stories to try to muddle my way through this. I don’t want to inflict that kind of “blue skying” on anyone, so it is likely that my updates will dwindle to nothing for June.
I am still looking forward to playing about with creating audiobooks over the summer. Once I have the rest of EC in the can, so to speak, I might just post my prototype voice efforts on you, my poor, unsuspecting readers… and listeners.
Below, Faustina once again reaches out to her extended family to make a point to President Dysart of the Gulf Shore States: the world is a much, much smaller place than he thought it was.
At the end of the long conference table, President Dysart watched the girl give a huge, jaw-cracking yawn, only belatedly remembering to cover her mouth. That, and her talking with food in her mouth, pointed out that even demi-humans could have poor manners.
“Early for you, Empress Faustina?” he asked, formal again as this six AM meeting would try to outline the parameters of trade between the two states. All but one of the attendees had filed in and found their seats. A barely-heard squeal of tires announced the last-minute arrival of their last. A short, portly man in a white suit with a little matching hair around the fringe of his head rushed into the doorway.
“Sorry, sorry!” he explained. “Wanted to stop at the refinery for a first-hand look and one hour turned into two! Well, now! You must be that gal’ everbody’s talkin’ ‘bout! I’m Jerry Conner, Secretary of State!”
Dysart stood just as she did. He watched her stare at his hand before looking right across into his eyes.
“We are Empress Faustina,” she intoned and turned back to the table. Waiting.
Alene warned me how she treats subordinates. I cannot imagine for a moment she does the same with her own men!
“Please sit here at my right, Secretary Conner,” Dysart tried to sound as friendly and welcoming as possible. He knew his right-hand man had a very thick skin. But from a girl…?
“Thank you, Mister President,” Conner said, shaking his hand and sitting. The girl took her seat as Dysart did.
“This brief meeting is only to establish a framework for future negotiations,” the President began. “The imperium and the Gulf Shore States have, to-date, had little to no economic interaction. I imagine that is about to change.”
“Correct, President Dysart,” the Empress said in her normal voice. “While not a free port, we will welcome your vessels at Savannah; tolls to be determined. Further, once enough steel is available, the imperium will pay one third the cost of reestablishing the rail line from Meridian to Mobile.”
“Why not up to Montgomery?” Conner spoke up. “Shorter route to Huntsville, wot?”
“Meridian puts you closer to Vicksburg, if the GSS cares to trade with central Texas and beyond,” she said, unflustered. “Also, Montgomery is not yet in the imperium.”
“Yet,” Conner echoed. She nodded.
“Is thar’,” he laughed, “any limit to your ambitions?”
After a pause, Dysart resumed. “The last item I’d care to speak to is the little bit of trade from around Camp Shelby west to McComb. Empress Faustina?”
“As the railroad from that village is only open to the south, New Orleans, at this time, it will be a matter of what accommodation you reach with Louisiana,” she allowed. “Of course, as things change and grow, so too will our accords.”
“If ah may?” Conner went on before anyone could say. “And just how much y’all’s be interferin’ in Louisiana? You’uns came out of the blue and began dictatin’ terms like you own the place. What’s to stop y’all from doin’ all agin’?”
“Nothing, Mister Secretary,” she said with an unpleasant smile. “Nothing will stop us.”
She looked back to Dysart.
“Was that all, Mister President?”
“Thank you for your time, Empress Faustina,” he said, standing. Everyone else did as well. Conner, last.
“If you need to speak with me again, I’ll be on the beach, soaking my feet.”
“Did you really need to antagonize her, Jerry?” Dysart asked after dropping back into his chair. Simmons set a large glass of water before him and he downed half of it.
“One, John, is ah think she’s got you bamboozled,” Conner held up a finger. “Two, ah don’t rightly see kowtowing to some little gal.”
“That little gal showed up with a trained army of at least ten thousand without warning,” Dysart began, “and from what my intel men are telling me, at least another ten thousand scattered from Vicksburg to Huntsville. If she gathers her fingers into a fist, she’ll swat us like a fly. For some reason, she, no, the Empress wanted to play nice. We should thank God she did else you and I would at best be POWs right now, Jerry.”
“Ah see what yur sayin’ and why yur sayin’it, John,” Conner conceded, “but thars’ sumthin’ ain’t right ‘bout that gal!”
Dysart indicated to Simmons to have breakfast brought in.
“You have no idea, Jerry,” he said with a smile to take the edge off. “Let me tell you what I’ve learned in three days…”
“Miss Hartmann,” Dysart said, walking up to her left where she sat on a blanket in the sand underneath a sun umbrella. It made him smile to see the two piles of papers, on her right and left, each held down by a rock. “It appears bureaucratic paperwork is universal.”
“So it seems, Mister President,” she agreed, looking up to smile at him. “Thank you for letting me use the printers at the old hotel. Much of what I needed to do in Knoxville and beyond I did with that cell tower, but the new imperium is lower tech right now.”
“The cell tower?” he asked, taking off his suit coat and holding it over his left shoulder. It was a little warm even by Southern standards.
“Yes. I was able to speak with the Council of Five for business as well as to my family,” she explained. “I had to congratulate my silly sister on her new boy!”
“Another… demi-human?” Dysart ventured.
“Likely.” He watched her let her eyes go back out to the sea. “It’s not for me to pry.”
“When you sent me that message,” Dysart tried to get this back on track; he had work to do, “you said to bring a camera crew. To film them?”
He looked east along the white beach where her men had organized several sand volleyball courts, some weight racks, swimming competitions… some were even making sand sculptures.
“No, but you may if you like. I am very proud of them. All of them.” She stood and brushed what little sand was on her legs while beckoning him to follow. At the transition from dry sand to wet, she stopped. “I was able to reach a cousin of mine and wanted you to experience something.”
“One of the reasons this land needs me, is that it will otherwise be taken over by outside powers,” she began. “Canada will try to take everything north of the Ohio River. Mexico already holds the southwest. The populations of the Polar Alliance are threatened with the coming ice and snow and will need to live somewhere. The uncontrolled emptiness of the former US will tempt them.”
“I would have thought, Miss Hartmann, that your salutary lesson to the Chinese at Savannah would be enough to dissuade others from trying,” the President ventured.
“For coming by ships on the water? I think you are correct.” He saw her tilt her head back a little to look about twenty degrees up. “But what if their ships come from the sky?”
Appearing as if from nowhere, Dysart beheld what could only be called a flying saucer: dark gray in appearance and maybe fifty yards across with a bulge in the middle. It hovered over the surf one hundred feet away and fifty up.
Just as interesting as the ship was the reaction of her men. They all stopped what they were doing to look at it, but not one showed the slightest concern or panic.
“You were expecting company, Miss Hartmann?” he managed.
“This is a scout ship from the Empire of Japan,” she explained. “It is powered by what is called either an EM Drive or reactionless motors. It left Okinawa an hour ago.”
Dysart did the math and even with his coat off began to sweat.
“Do… do they have larger craft?” he asked.
“Oh, yes,” the girl replied, still looking out and south.
The ship crept closer and lower, stopping a few yards over the wet sand. He saw a hole dilate on the underside and a figure drop out. Jesus H! Another damn girl! Not Japanese, she had red-blonde hair over a cute face with freckles across the bridge of her nose. Dysart guessed her age at twenty-five. Her tight-fitting uniform was unfamiliar but the flag of Imperial Japan was obvious. She stopped ten feet away and gave a traditional salute.
“General Hartmann,” she said in a clear voice of Broadcast English, “you wanted to see me?”
Hartmann raised her hand into the air. “Yes, leftenant Clarke. Thank you for coming on short notice!”
She dropped her hand and opened her arms while stepping forward. The other, Clarke, did the same. Dysart watched them hug one another and seemingly give each other a kiss on the cheek. Many of Hartmann’s men were applauding. Releasing her, the General gestured to where he was standing. They halted just before him.
“President Dysart!” Another salute. “I am Nichole 5 Clarke of the Imperial Aero/Space Force of Japan. I apologize for my unexpected arrival in your country.”
“I would care to think,” he replied slowly, “that a friend of Miss Hartmann’s, here, is a friend of the Gulf Shore States, as well. Be welcome.”
“Thank you, Mister President,” Clarke replied with a slight bow.
“So your point, Gen-, er, Miss Hartmann,” Dysart pulled himself together, “is that there are governments with powers literally beyond my understanding, and that without one of… without a demi-human on our side, we’ve no chance against them, correct?”
“A demi-human or more, yes, Mister President,” Faustina nodded. “As a latter example, a distant cousin of mine is Prime Minister of the Russian Empire. She, Reina, is also pure code. Under her guidance, Russia has already brought Alaska into its dominion. I would be very surprised if British Columbia will stop them, next.”
“Or the Kingdom of Columbia,” Clarke agreed with an odd, sad look on her face. There’s some story there. “Rather than my little ship, what would become of your Gulf States if it was instead a troop transport with a regiment?”
“Are you implying that humans, everywhere, must be subject to people like you or your so-called cousins?” Dysart demanded of Hartmann. “We’ve managed quite well without your kind, you know.”
“You people have made a mess of this world, Mister President, because you think too slow and the scope of your minds are too small,” Hartmann countered. “I suggest you think carefully if you and your children and grandchildren prefer my light yoke to the burden of tribe Mendrovovitch or some other power.”
She abruptly turned to the saucer’s pilot.
“Thank you again, cousin,” she said, hugging Clarke once more. “Have a safe trip home.”
“I’m afraid not, Faustina,” Clarke replied with a smile. “I’m needed back on the Moon to transport soil and mineral samples. Please give my love to your brother, my friend, Gary.”
Dysart watched Clarke trot back to just under her ship. With a leap she was inside and –
It was gone. Again: no sound at all. He looked around, trying to catch a glimpse but there was nothing to be seen.
“When she has no biologics aboard,” Hartmann said while he looked about, “there is almost no limit on her acceleration. That was probably a fifteen-gee departure.”
“So you are saying that Lieutenant Clarke…” he began.
“Is an android,” the girl completed, “and such a pretty one, too, don’t you think?”
“Yes,” Dysart agreed, staring at the hole in the sky where her ship had been. Machines with a technology I cannot imagine, leading men all over the world. He thought of what Clarke just said. Or off of it. Where is this world going?
“Not to talk shop on your little holiday, Miss Hartmann,” he turned his full attention to her, “but after what you just said, I think some formal talks between our states are in order. Is there a tentative time in the future for that?”
“Of course, Mister President,” her smile was sincere but not as open as that of the android. “I have much to do in the rest of this year, so… can you pencil me in around Christmas? I bet it will be much warmer here than in Knoxville.”
“Around Christmas it is, Miss Hartmann,” he put out his hand, “thank you. Please you and your men enjoy our sun and sand. Good day to you.”