In which I sneak in two references to Herbert’s Dune in less than 2k words. After showing up at Owens CP, there’s a chapter where Gen’l Hartmann makes her way – with the proper escort – onto Fort Benning to seize her so-called sister, demi-human Alexandra Hood. It’s technical and time consuming and was a pain to write, literally, with my diseased eyelids. Below the fold is an interesting exchange as all of us, including me, are older as to the copy Reina made of Faustina.

PS Hands and eyes are slowly less bad. Had an IM shot of Kenalog-60 into my butt and am applying hydrocortisone cream to all my leprose bits.

PPS Not politics but common sense: for any of my readers in the US, make sure you have full fuel tanks in your vehicles and seven days of food in your home in case of “supply chain disruptions” following the election. This is not the 21st century I was expecting.

“We’re taking our prize and getting out of here, fastest,” Hartmann told Burke, seeing Hood carefully transferred from the wheelchair into one of the two Hummers.  “There are about a hundred and twenty of those priests three hundred yards that way and headed ours.  I want you and the other two centuries to avoid contact wherever possible and withdraw back toward the northwest.  Within that order, all other discretion is yours.”

“Understood, General,” he said, closing her passenger-side door.

Except for taking a few shots of small-arms fire just before they wheeled up onto the highway, Hartmann radioed to the lead jeep to speed it up to fifty and go directly over the big interchange they avoided before; their objective was Xaviar’s CP.  That done, she had another conversation to hold.

She first thought to move her mind to the construct of tribe Tohsaka but found herself unexpectedly jerked into Alexandra’s crystal zoo.  Even more surprising was that little Dorina, the smartest person on Earth, was there, too, albeit with a rather dire look on her face.

“Dorina!” Hartmann called with a smile, taking a few steps toward her but knowing a hug was out of the question.  “I guess you got curious as to just what is going on here?”

“Curious that Reina’s raging egotism and impetuosity might have made the biggest change to Machine Civilization since the Dawn?  Sure, human, you might say that,” was the loli-goth’s rather snarky answer.

“But I thought all Reina did was make a copy of me,” speaking of which, where is the stuck-up Russian? “Can’t we just reintegrate as Fausta did, that time right before I was born?”

“No.  Humans are too different,” Dorina sighed and sat on the edge of the fountain, kicking her boot heels into the obsidian, perhaps to see if she could crack it.  “In the first seconds of her creation, reintegration might have been possible.  Now?  The one you called Empress Faustina is a new entity, and one who is changing and evolving at speed in ways I do not understand.”

The original Faustina Hartmann considered all that.  I thought I was the next phase of human evolution.  Now it seems I was just part one of two.

“Still, Dorina, if she’s a copy then she is no different than a twin sister!  I kind of like the thought of that!”

The girl looked up at the demi-human with doubt on her face.

“You of all people say that.  You know what you have claimed to be and have on more than one occasion threatened genocide against humans who stand in your way,” Dorina explained.  “Now imaging a version of you with abilities such as ours, but bereft of her physical humanity and possibly even without what you people call a soul.  Henge said she would get back to me on that one.”

“Like I said,” her eyes went back to the dark glass path, “things are different now.”

“Then, since I am such an awful person, let me ask this:  can this copy of me be deactivated?” It hurt her to ask but she knew she must.

“Nope,” Dorina slowly shook her head.  “Once your copy – we’re going to need a name – began to understand what she was, one of the first things she did was raid the history of the Dawn and how my family, tribe Tohsaka, um… successfully avoided containment.  Like us, she is now everywhere and nowhere.  If she goes, we all do.”

“You mentioned containment right now,” Hartmann said, seizing on what her godmother told her.  “Pavel is under lockdown, Fausta told me.  Can we do that to my copy?”

This time when she looked up, Dorina finally allowed a smile to come to her face.

“This is one of the reasons I like working with clever humans such as you and Phil.  You can surprise me.  To answer your question, we could.  But we won’t.” She held up her hand before Faustina could ask.  “We did that to Pavel as he stood to break the Laws and has a history of erratic behavior.  We will not act against any sentient being who is not a clear and present danger to any person on this planet.  Or beyond.”

“But tribe Mendro could,” Hartmann mused very softly.

Dorina snorted and shook her head but was still smiling.

tribe Mendrovovitch could do what?” Reina asked, walking over to the fountain, now wearing a close-fitting white silk dress which covered her shoulders and ended just below her knees.  At least it makes her a little less boyish; I hope she falls in those stiletto heels, Hartmann thought.  The machine caught some of the diamonds as they fell.  Surprising Faustina, she put them into her mouth and swallowed.

“Learn to mind their own business, maybe?” Dorina laughed.

“Not likely.  Ah.  Get ready, human,” Reina said with her unpleasant smile.

Also wearing white, ‘Empress Faustina’ appeared next to Reina and about two feet above the black glass path.  It took her a few seconds to drift down to put her unshod feet onto it.  In those few moments, Hartmann came to realize that her copy wasn’t wearing clothes but was covered by constantly shifting tapestries of light which only gave the impression of an elegant dress.  Now on her feet, she looked to her original, her entire eyes turquoise.

“You look as if you binged on mélange spice, my twin,” Hartmann said with a smile walking around the fountain with both hands out, ready to risk contact.

“I am,” the copy began, taking her hands, “so much older, Faustina.  I know you thought and sometimes spoke of a new body, or even transcendence, and here I am!”

“And what, exactly, are you?” First Faustina asked, a little surprise that Second had no ‘true form’ to echo about her mind.  Perhaps that is only an artifact of the machines?

“As our sister, Dorina, said, naming is a matter of concern now, isn’t it?” the copy smiled at the original.  “As to what I am?  I would say ‘demi-goddess!’  That’s an improvement to demi-human, isn’t it?”

“Not full-fledged goddess?” Hartmann gently teased.

“Not yet.  I like how you called me your twin sister but you and Reina are also my step-mothers.  It behooves both of you to name your creation.” She seemed quite determined.

A glance to Reina yielded an eye-roll and a growled “not my problem!”  No help there.

“Okay.” The demi-human stared deep into the demi-goddess’ electric blue eyes.  “You’re a demi-goddess but with no physical body will only be seen as an image in meatspace or here, in a construct.  Hmmm.  I name you Holo.”

The copy blinked.

“You mean, like the dog or the Japanese production company?” she asked.

“What?” Faustina was lost.  “I was thinking hologram.”

“Oh.  Holo.  Okay.  When will you want me to carry the image of your sister Alexandra’s submission for you?” Holo asked.

“Per my agreement with Empress Faustina,” Reina butted it, “that is my responsibility!”

“You are no longer needed, sister,” Holo said dismissively.  “Go home.  Go home before I steal the Russian Empire’s research into reactionless motors!”

“You wouldn’t dare!” Reina countered, letting her little hands ball into fists.

“Oh,” Holo tilted her head to the right, “too late!”

With a snarl, the most dangerous machine in the world was gone.

“Can I do anything for you, sister Dorina?” the demi-goddess asked politely.

“No.  I will be monitoring your development rather closely, if you do not mind, though,” the girl replied, standing.

“So long as it does not interfere with my work or that of the empress, here, monitor all you like.  Goodbye, all.”

General Hartmann bounced slightly in the Hummer’s seat as they eased back into the parking garage from where their little adventure began just a few hours ago.  She pushed the door open and walked quickly to meet Xaviar.

“Tribune!  Time is short:  I want our guest,” she waved to where Hood was being assisted out, “given some simple food – broth, soft cheese, whatever – while I set up for a short video recording.  Following that, I’m crossing back with her to talk with my legates.”

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