For medical reasons, I’m going to be hopped on prednisone for two weeks. If I’m going to gain 200#, God please let me write 50k words! The leading edge of this is below.
Under the new way I’m posting, and I realize now it will not be until January until I get around to completely revamping this webpage (a sales/marketing splash will be the front; this blog will be moved under “Categories”) but this excerpt is something I’ve pointed out to online and RealLife readers: I can only write what they show me. Five days ago I jotted down Fussy and the last three cohorts of Legio V making their way south. Then nothing. Everything here for you I did this afternoon. And now I’m blank again.
What a lovely hobby I have! And next post is a contest to win free hardcopies of my books! Follow and see!
Coming over a low rise of a hill, she looked ahead and right to see the tiny village of Dadeville in the midst of what was once a larger town. More importantly, allowing a smile to at last come to her lips, was the nearly completed massive legionary fort, about a mile further on. Her army was together.
Ignoring the calls of “slowpokes! where were you ladies? get lost on your way?” she told Peterman to leave things to his subordinates and follow her to the center. As they were not staying long, no wooden buildings were being built but a large tent for the commanders was erected. Messengers already were running in and out, tossing salutes quickly and casually as the information they carried on paper or in their heads was more important than ritual.
Faustina strode quickly in with Peterman on her heels. With more light in the outer part of the tent, her high command was clustered about a map table. Gibson and Owens were arguing about supplies as Tapscott’s cigar was forming a gray cloud over them all. Aides hovered along the canvas walls, shaking like greyhounds, awaiting orders.
“Ten-SHUN!” Peterman shouted. Everyone turned about, saw their little general, and saluted. Tapscott at least left his cigar in his left hand. Faustina smiled and returned their salutes, knowing she could never do what she wanted: to embrace them all.
“Tell me the local sitrep now,” she began, stepping to the table. “Then what you saw from Montgomery to here, then what you saw from Vicksburg to Montgomery. After that, I’ll tell you what I know. However, gentlemen, you need to know one thing upfront: my enemy.”
“Our enemy?” Owens ventured a correction.
“My enemy is a demi-human with the power of a quantum computer at her disposal, capable of running rings around me,” she ignored him. “I hope Toma can give us a little more about the humans on the ground from Fort Benning. My boys seemed to be itching for a fight, well…”
“They are going to get one,” Faustina’s voice lowered. “We will win, gentlemen, but this is going to be a tough one.”
After a short pause, when a runner came to the tent’s entrance and froze, Tapscott spoke up.
“I’d rather you hear directly from Senior Centurion Toma,” he said, “who is on his way here; maybe two hours. But there are motorized patrols in the Auburn-Opelika area, no more than twenty miles southeast of here. So far, no one is shooting at us. Gibson?”
“Right.” That legate began. “The land from Montgomery to here was almost completely deserted, General…”
His ten minutes yielded to Owens who spoke to their initial march. From Meridian to Montgomery, there were signs of recovery: small farms and a few villages. No electricity. Racially, it went from mostly white around Meridian to mostly black just east of Selma. After that, mostly no people at all. It appeared that Montgomery, much like Birmingham, was hit hard in the Breakup and never recovered, even with its proximity to the Alabama River. There was the sound of boots running in their direction as Owens closed his remarks.
“Centurion Toma, Gen’ral,” the man at the tent flap said, a little out of breath, saluting. “Gate guards said you’uns was here and for me to report soonest.”
“Indeed. Come over here and show me where your third cohort is.” She pointed at the maps after returning his salute.
“Strung out southwest to northeast, here around Waverly,” he replied. “About four miles.”
“You dispersed your cohort over four miles?” Peterman asked, a little cross at that reckless action.
“We’s actin’ as scouts right now, legate,” Toma defended himself with only a flick of his eyes to Faustina’s. “Pretty flat ‘round here and those Benning troops got Hummers and trucks. They could be here in half an hour if they’s set their mind to it. Sir. I told my men to retreat at any threat and get word back here.”
“Gibson? Where’s my cavalry?” Faustina asked, turning to her acting commander.
“Those who’d been screening our move north to here are resting until nightfall,” he answered without a pause. “The other two hundred are on Centurion Toma’s wings, Roxana in the southwest and stretched all the way to nearly Oak Bowery to the east-northeast. Reports come back here every hour.”
“Your dispositions are sound,” Faustina said to Gibson and Toma without a look to Peterman. “What new can you tell me, Toma? And can someone get my officer some water, please?”
“Rights after you’uns left north, Gen’ral,” he began, not at all self-conscious about his audience, “I took my men right back down the road where we’uns first met them Benning soldiers…”
“You know enough to consider them soldiers, Toma?” she asked.
“Yes’em, er, Gen’ral.” He nodded thanks to an aide who handed him a large flagon of water. “Relations seemed if not friendly then at least cor-dee-al.”
She heard Tapscott sniff in humor as Toma carefully tried an unfamiliar word.
“I took a century – combatants only – and at they’uns invite, went right down into Opelika,” Toma went on. “Their sergeant, Parker, same guy I met that first time, seemed nice enough. Still wanted to know more about the imperium and you, but I jus’ played dumb: just a grunt who didn’t know what the high-falutin’ high command did or thought.”
Faustina exercised great facial control to not laugh at her high-falutin’ high command just behind her.
“They said that town and the one southwest, Auburn, used to be part of some big ol’ college,” he said, shaking his head. “Don’t really got what he meant, so when he asked if we’uns would like to go on to their fort – about forty mile further on – I politely declined. It was just then…”
He looked about for more water and was taken aback when his general took the flagon and replaced it with a full one.
“Much obliged, Gen’ral.” After a drink, he resumed. “Was just then a Hummer with six of them…er, commissar troops came pulled up – yes?”
“You called them priests, disagreeing with them being called a commissariat, to my face, did you not?” Faustina demanded.
“Well, yes, I did…”
“Have you changed your mind?”
“Well, no, Gen’ral…”
“Then stick to your guns, call them priests, and get on with your report!” she said with a slow blink only he could see.
“Six of them priests came out of that Hummer, dressed in mostly black with them black berets. Four of ‘em white, two black guys. That, Gen’ral, seems true for their soldiers, too,” Toma went on, emboldened by the look in his General’s eyes. “They acted all buddy-buddy, two of ‘em taking me and my staff to lunch in an area that looked a little like the hospital where you’uns brother works, Gen’ral. Had to take a cousin of mine there when a tractor rolled over him.”
“And what did you discuss at lunch?” she gently tried to steer him back to the point.
“While they had lots of questions, still,” he said, missing the looks the legates gave one another, “I kept saying lots about nuthin.’ Those times I tried to ask about their Fort, who was in command and the like, they got as cagey as I was. When I saw the beers coming faster and faster… well, I ain’t much for book lernin’, but I ain’t no rube, neither! We ate our chicken-fried steak, drank one beer, and stood.”
He paused. Embarrassed.
“That’s when I made a mistake, Gen’ral,” he said softer. “I offered to pay but they said no. Still, one of the two priests, the black guy, took the silver coin and looked at it. ‘This is from Knoxville, not some imperium! You fellers’ telling us the truth?’ At that, I blurted out ‘Empress Faustina ain’t got her own mint set up yet! Our homes are there but we’uns is her boys!’”
He took a deep breath.
“I’m sorry, Gen’ral. Empress. I blew it,” he tried to admit.
“Compared to what our enemy knows now, your slip is nothing, Senior Centurion,” Faustina said calmly. “And your dedication to your Empress and your fellow legionaries is noted. Was there anything else?”
“For that time? No, Gen’ral. We got out of there soon as we’s politely could. Things… things were not so cor-dee-al on our next visit,” Toma allowed.
“And when was that?” his general asked.
“Seven… no, six days ago.”
Just after the attack on the causeway. And just after Alexandra tried to personally kill me. Faustina considered the hours but found Toma’s story to be worth every second of her time.
“We tried to repeat like before,” he began, “just us eighty guys takin’ in the town. First thing we’uns saw was the heavy trucks, loaded with soldiers, everywhere. Heard some odd squealin’ off to the east, like bagfuls of cats bein’ drowned. My G-2 guy said he recognized that from videos: tracked vehicles on asphalt.”
Faustina waved him to silence and whirled about.
“From tip to tail of my army,” she dropped her tone, “I want all of my boys to know there are definitely tanks on the other side of the hill. This is matter of caution, not fear. Legates? When Toma is finished we’ll be discussing a reorg of our anti-armor tubes. Send word out now, please.”
She waited a moment for the underlings to get their orders and rush out before returning to Toma.
“Yes, Gen’ral,” he said, decidedly more nervous. “This time there was two Hummers with priests, not at all happy ‘bout sumthin.’ They told us, I wrote it down right after ‘cause it made no sense, that we was unclean.”
“Of course they did,” Faustina muttered.
“Gen’ral?” She nodded for him to go on. “That… this is hard for me, but you asked… that black priest from before came right up into my face and said, ‘That girl, who you call an empress, is unclean. Attack us; retreat. No matter. She must die and anyone who follows her will die, too. For your immortal life, I ask you to reject the flesh; be perfect, be pure in the Void.’ It… it was the creepiest dang thing I’d seen in my life, Gen’ral!”
“I bet.” Even softer.
“Gen… Empress Faustina? What did he mean?” Toma was genuinely curious.
“The one who rules in and around Fort Benning,” she spoke carefully, knowing the rumor mill would have this gate-to-gate in hours, “from fear, has rejected Christ and instead worships the safe, predictable regularity of the crystalline. Our God-given free will must be purged and replaced with perfect order. The order of the dead. If that is not from Satan I do not know what is.”
“Thank you, Senior Centurion,” she said, taking his arms with her hands, enjoying his shudder. “Are you back to your men this evening?”
“Of course, Emp… Gen’ral!”
“Tell them I am counting on them and know they will not disappoint me. Or Christ,” she added.
With his salute and quick departure, she again turned about. The look on Tapscott’s face…
“Yes?” she asked as he stubbed out the last of his cigar.
“You just put yourself on the same level as God, General Hartmann,” he used her rank to make his point more obvious. “You really think that’s a good idea?”
“All things that are true are good, legate,” Faustina said with a confident grin. “Why do you think our watchword is ‘Deus Vult’? Now, let’s talk about cobbling together an independent antitank unit, okay?”