After taking July and a little of August off to be older about recording and editing audiobooks, I forced myself to sit down and begin the MS for the final installment of this trilogy. I had had bits and pieces of this opening scene – which will be the prologue of Part I (of just two, I think) but was quickly shown some little details I’d not noticed before; writing is like that: it forces you to pay attention.
Wrote most of this out on my deck this afternoon. Had to flee inside with all the electronics for a squall around 1500, but just now (1600) concluded the exchange at the end of what’s below the fold. There is much packed into this: some good news, some bad news. And one point was news to me, too. I love this: writing. I really do.
Limping slightly, legate Tapscott of Third Legion made his way toward where the field hospital had been set up just before the battle. The senior Centurion of cohort six of First Legion was just walking out of one of the tents with a bloody bandage wrapped about his head. Seeing the legate, Chesney saluted and stopped to talk.
“I’ve not heard from Gibson in over an hour – ” Tapscott began, only to be cut off.
“That’s ‘cause he’s dead, sir,” Chesney said grimly. “pretty much blown to bits by a mortar shell, I was told first-hand.”
“Shit,” the legate breathed, thinking of Gibson’s now-widowed wife and their baby, back in Knoxville, before coming back to the chaos at hand. “Who is acting legate?”
“No clue. The corpsman sent me back here to try to save my eye,” Chesney pointed at his right under the bloody gauze with his left. “That didn’t work out so I was headed back to my cohort.”
“Until we get this mess sorted, it’s not your cohort. For now, you are acting legate of First Legion,” Tapscott ordered. “Get to your command… what’s left of it.”
Chesney saluted and turned to leave, aware that First Legion had well over thirty percent casualties.
“One last thing,” Tapscott called. “Where’s the General?”
When the new legate pointed away with his right, Tapscott caught his breath. Was he pointing to the Trauma tent or the neatly arranged dead with a small honor guard, just beyond it?
“She was still alive, last I heard,” Cheney said, “but still under the knife.”
Tapscott moved quickly past the triage and main tent, ignoring the moans and cries from the men inside, and didn’t pause walking into the Trauma tent. A nurse, Ted Kostic, he recognized, just inside was pulling something – vasopressin – from a tiny vial into a syringe. The nurse answered his question before he asked it.
“She’s alive; barely,” Kostic brusquely explained. “Some physical damage and she’s unconscious and unresponsive. Doesn’t appear concussed, though.”
“Her BP is cratering,” he said, lifting the syringe, “so we’re treating that and a few other issues. We’ll let you know when she’s stable, sir.”
The nurse vanished behind another canvas flap to what was hopefully a more sterile area of the tent. Tapscott was alone with his thoughts for just a moment. Out of the tent as quickly as he entered it, he ignored the pain in his leg and ran for his legion, just over a mile to the north and east. Next to a battle lost, the greatest misery is a battle gained, he recalled Wellington, from the Napoleonic Wars.
Everything is in the palms of our hands right now, he thought as he ran. And if she, Empress Faustina, dies, then these hands hold nothing.
Back at his small command post some minutes later, Tapscott allowed his staff to tell him of any important news over the last thirty minutes, of which, thankfully, there was almost none. Having been on the army’s center-left, with First to their left, his men had not suffered the high level of casualties that Gibson’s First Legion had. Still, they had suffered enough: the current numbers were just over twenty percent.
Maybe it is all worth it, he thought. One of the last radio reports from their General was that the Fort Benning army was broken and their allies from Atlanta routed back toward that city, hopefully into the waiting arms of the ambush of the auxiliary security cohorts. With this victory over the last remaining armed force to potentially oppose the legions, the Empress had achieved her first major objective: bringing all of the old Deep South into her imperium.
But if she dies, Tapscott forced himself to consider the worst, then what happens? No one else has her drive or strategic foresight. No one else – no human – can keep so many plates spinning at one time!
“What will we do then?” he asked quietly to not disturb his aide on the radio next to him. Tapscott looked west, over the treeline, at the setting sun. The clouds were piling up and it looked to rain overnight, making finding and succoring their wounded even more difficult.
“What the – ?” his aide suddenly burst out into the radio. The legionary paused before sweeping the headset off and passing it to his legate. “Emergency call for you, sir!”
“Dear God,” he muttered, putting it on, “she’s dead!”
“No I’m not, Tapscott!” a robotic, metallic voice with the tones of a young girl shouted into the earpieces. Her voice was always odd when she used her demi-human mind to speak directly to a radio. “But I’m not really alive right now, either! Get a pen and paper, now!”
He waved at his aide for such. The voice continued as if she could see him.
“Good! There are a million things you and my legates – and thank you for promoting Ches – need to do in the next week! Ready? Item one…”
Tapscott wrote as quickly as he could. Halfway down the second sheet of paper, the voice stopped.
“G- General?” he asked. “At the field hospital… they said…”
“Things are different for me now, legate,” the metallic voice was softer. “I… I honestly do not know when I will again physically be among all of you. Until then, my orders will come through radio and computers. Was there anything else?”
“No… no, Empress Faustina,” saying her name hurt him. “If we need to get a-hold of you…?”
She rattled off several frequencies and IP addresses which he also wrote down.
“If anyone needs me, I’ll be listening,” she seemed to pause. “But know that I am with all of you, always. Faustina out.”
Tapscott slowly returned the radio headset to his aide. Picking up the two pages of notes, he considered item number two, following the cleaning up of their current battlefield.
“Evacuate Atlanta,” he had written. And from the points under it, had a terrible knowledge of just what that meant.