Something I am choosing to do in “Goddess Crusade” is play up the soft-SF tech associated with the Machines. There was very little of that in the second of the trilogy and, given where this might be headed, I need to get readers reacquainted with those ideas. The ‘final boss,’ as it were, of this trilogy is Alexandra Hood, some years Faustina’s senior and also demi-human… but in a manner I do not yet grasp.

Below the fold is their first face-to-face meeting. Sorta. Faustina is disappointed.

It bothered her that Alexandra had not responded at all to her message, as she genuinely desired a diplomatic way out of this, even after the attempt on her life.  Nearly midnight, Faustina took her mind from Peterman’s report and again bounced to a node near Fort Benning.  Why won’t you talk to me?

“Because you are impure.”

For just a moment Faustina thought she was in the construct of tribe Tohsaka but quickly realized that to be incorrect.  The path under her feet looked like obsidian.  The trees all about her were crystalline, down to their leaves.  Unlike her godmother’s home with its washed-out, ochre sky, this was a breathtaking blue.  It all seemed just a little familiar, but she focused instead on the young woman a dozen feet before her, also on the path.  She wore what looked a little like chainmail but reflected so much as to probably be of a crystal nature, too.  Above that was the face she had just glimpsed days ago when she had first slept with Robert Wade:  Alexandra Hood.

Her face was unremarkable.  Pale, Celtic skin but hair as dark as Faustina’s, brushed out away from her head, giving her something of a leonine look.  Her eyes were hazel and seemed fully human, not demi-human.  That she neither smiled nor frowned was, to Faustina, a good place to start.

“I am Faustina Hartmann,” she said and waited.  When the other said nothing, she pressed on.  “This construct is very interesting.  Am I correct that what is around us is based on the Knoxville Zoo?”

“How would you know that?” Her voice was low for a girl and had a peculiar sound to it.  “The zoo closed early in the Change.”

“I ranged around a lot as a kid, growing up between Knoxville and Oak Ridge,” Faustina wanted to keep her talking.  She used “change,” not “breakup!”  “Some friends and I played hide-and-seek there a few times.  This is from near where the big cats were kept.  Is that right?”

A breeze blew and the trees made a faint shrieking from their limbs against a tinkling of their leaves.

“Yes.  It was the last time I was happy.  Before that thing hurt me,” Alexandra’s eyes never moved.  “When I learned to create I made this place.”

Unlike Tohsaka’s home, where Dorina was older so many years ago for realtime transference of physical feelings, Faustina detected nothing of her meatspace body.  That she was already getting a headache was not a good sign.  Hope my alarm is going off!

“It’s very pretty.  Thank you for inviting me here!” That sounded better than “abducting me.”  “May I ask your name?”

“You already know.”

“Then may I ask if we can be friends?  We can talk political differences later, but I would like to be your friend,” Faustina was sincere, but her head was hurting…

“I see.” Alexandra finally blinked.  “You have a heart monitor.  I had hoped to keep you here long enough for you to die.”

Well, dang.

“And now another thing comes,” the other said, raising her eyes to the sky.  “Leave the Void.  Leave me alone.”

Faustina sank to her knees in pain.  At a great crash and flash from the sky, she looked up to just see what appeared a huge golden Chinese dragon breaking through a crack in the sky.

“Clear for shock,” she heard the blank, mechanical words from the AED.  No!  I’m back!  Arrrgh!  She convulsed slightly as the electricity flowed across her chest.

“S… stop!” she barely managed, her eyes still not working.  “Ba… back now!”

“Jesus, General!” she recognized the voice of the fort’s chief medical officer.  “You were gray when we piled in here!  No breathing, pulse, nothing!”

Just able to open her right eye, she saw him kneeling next to her cot.  A half-used syringe of atropine in his hand.

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