Again, I’m no longer posting everything, but I do want to show that I am returning to the human-Machine interchange. Their interests and goals are very, very different and – I think – it will all segue into part two of “Goddess’ Crusade” with what might be happening to Faustina. Don’t know; not even after three Manhattans.
There was military planning before this excerpt and after it. I think chapter 8 will be the big battle. I’ve been known to suddenly be distracted by something before and I refuse to rule it out this time. All in all, I’d like to see it over and what comes next.
It was just after midnight and she had finally sat onto a camp stool and rested her head on the map table while Peterman made a few salient points about what was to be their demonstration line. The tablet next to her head chimed just as Gibson ask her if she saw fit to adjourn their meeting.
“Yep!” she agreed, sitting up and glancing at the message there for her. From a distant cousin. “I need to have words with some family of mine before I sleep!”
“I thought,” Tapscott noted, “that the enemy, Hood, prevented you from doing that, based upon what you told us in detail.”
“Me alone? Sure,” Faustina agreed, “but with one of the Machines running cover? Alexandra doesn’t have a chance so long as I stay still and under their wing.”
She saw her legates didn’t quite get that but it was too late for a lesson. Faustina stood and made for flap at the back of the tent which was to her quarters. She waved without looking back. Stripping, she lay on her stomach on the cot. The medicine for her sore butt was gone but she saw no reason to make things worse. Faustina raised her eyes to the little stand next to the bed and the wireless router there…
It was as dark as the inside of her tent. Except for the foot-deep layer of fog she found herself lying in. Standing, the fog glowed a faint red wherever she disturbed it. Looking around, she saw outlines of buildings: some intact, some just walls at odd angles to one another. A glance down to check her residual self-image – camisole and panties – then back up to see who might be meeting her. The message had been from Reina and she usually chose to meet others in her personal construct of Kuban’s restaurant. That Faustina was in the open of tribe Mendrovovitch’s construct had her curious that someone else wanted to talk.
“Sister Hartmann,” an old man’s tired voice came from her left. Turning, she beheld Balthazar with his gray beard shuffling toward her in his gulag prison outfit. During her big brother Gary’s first visit here, he had overstayed to preach the gospel to Balthazar… at the cost of one of his many heart attacks when dealing with the Machines.
“Brother Balthazar!” she called, stepping quickly to him, holding his shoulders and briefly kissing his lips. He was the only Machine she knew who did not seem to have a True Form once he had converted to Christianity. Even her silly sister-in-law Henge would still look like a happy otter those times she visited her father in their construct, Catholic though she was.
“I know you are here for Reina,” he spoke softly, “but I know what you face soon in your time. I… think it will be hard for you and I wanted you to know I pray constantly, Faustina.”
“Thank you, Balthazar! A legion of God’s Holy angels would certainly be welcome in the next few days but I think the prayers from a righteous man such as you will likely do me more good!” she said with a smile.
“If you two are quite finished?” a young girl’s husky voice asked from beyond Balthazar. Faustina hugged him once more before stepping about him to see her distant cousin, the first among equals of tribe Mendro.
“Hello, Reina,” she said politely. A Machine constrained by no Laws and who had set herself up as the Prime Minister of the Russian Empire deserved politeness. Faustina knew her cousin could array herself in many different outfits to suit her moods and needs, but today was back to her default: riding boots, dark gray slacks, a dirty collarless cotton shirt under a thin black leather coat. Looking all the world like one of the secret policemen who made Balthazar appear as he did. Odd bunch, tribe Mendro.
“While I mentioned my current status to you, cousin, I admit to being taken aback by your eagerness to talk,” Faustina continued, noting that while he had stepped back, Balthazar was following their conversation closely.
“Eagerness, human?” Faustina knew Reina hated any comparison of a Machine to a non-Machine. Which is why I do it, of course! “No. Instead, say that I am interested in a deal. One, of course, much more to my benefit than yours; but, then, I’m not the one about to lead her army into a buzz saw.”
“I see,” her ambition, at least. “Let’s get the worst part over: what do you want from me?”
“All lands west of the Great Divide of the American continent will be considered a part of Russian hegemony,” Reina announced with a flick to the inch-wide band of dark hair on her otherwise boyish cut head.
Faustina considered this. Under the coming cold of the Maunder Minimum, Russia would likely take it in the teeth. The only place that their finally increasing population could go now is central Europe, held by the Habsburg Empire, or China, imploding but still armed with nuclear weapons. The American West, though… I never gave much thought to expansion in that direction, beyond the evacuation of the populations from Memphis to St. Louis a generation from now. Is there something I’m missing? It seems she is asking for so little…?
“And in return?” Faustina asked.
“We will provide cover for you against the freak like you in the coming battle,” Reina said. “For an animal, you are at least somewhat rational and predictable. That other one is too damaged to let live.”
“As you once said to my brother: you want me to do your wet-work for you? You want me to kill one of the few of my kind?” Faustina asked, forcing herself to calm. “Why not just punch through her defenses and flatline her yourself. Now.”
“Because I want you and your legions to suffer, human. You’ve had your way this last year and I do not want you or any other animals to think to every even look at me and mine in the wrong way.”
Gotta give her points for honesty.
“I have no objection to your deal,” Faustina said clearly. “But I would like clarification of what you called ‘cover.’”
“You can move your mind into the Void and play with your toys,” Reina said, now looking at the nails on her right hand. Bored already. “If you want to try to take your mind alone against the quantum core? That’s on you and you’re on your own. Um. Unless you want a codicil to our deal?”
Without being disturbed, there was a flicker of red lightning through the ground fog.
“What do you suggest, cousin?” Faustina pushed.
“I’ve seen that broken human’s Walls; pathetic.” Reina lowered her right hand. “I can put you mind to mind; if that is what you want, human.”
“And in return?”
“A total moratorium on the development and use of reactionless motors in your imperium,” the Machine said, just a little too eagerly.
She would cripple us! Keep us in a technological second-class status for a generation while the rest of the Polar Alliance swarms offworld! Faustina learned enough history from her mother and father that, once told of such miracle engines by Henge, the parts of the human world which still worked stood at the gate of a rush of exploration and colonization such had not been seen since the 19th century. And now Reina proposes to take away the one thing we will need in the future for the one thing I need right now. Dammit! Had she just said ‘development’ I’d have twisted that and stolen the technology! But… use!
“I am sorry, Prime Minister. While I am personally intrigued by your idea, as Empress I cannot do that to my subjects,” Faustina allowed herself a polite nod. “I decline your codicil.”
“That’s fine,” her cousin seemed to think nothing of it. “Come! Let us seal our bargain!”
They stood just inside the entryway to Kuban’s restaurant, Reina’s personal construct. With a wave, she indicated her favorite table to their immediate right. Besides the crisp ironed linens on the table, there were only two highball glasses a quarter full of clear liquid. Reina dropped into her chair and only after a rude moment indicated for Faustina to sit opposite her.
“To your victory,” the dangerous Machine said, lifting her glass.
“Our victory,” Faustina replied, picking it up and feeling the signals of vodka burning down her throat. Disgusting.
“Know that we will be watching and waiting, human,” Reina said, tossing the glass somewhere behind her into the dark, hearing the crystal shatter. “And also know that my other offer will remain available to you, were you to, ah, think to avail yourself of it.”
“I see. Thank you, Reina. I must sleep now.”
Faustina pulled the tablet out of under her chest and let it drop to the dirt floor. She was asleep before it hit.