Didn’t mean to go dark again. “Princess’ Crusade” is, God willing, about 48 hours from release. The front cover of “Empress’ Crusade” is being hammered out. I am 9000 words further on in the MS of “Goddess’ Crusade” from my last post. One major change: Holo just never sounded right; Faustina’s copy – her very active, independent copy – is renamed Helena.
And the repercussions of that new version of herself begin to manifest in Faustina Hartmann almost immediately. I am getting a little concerned about what comes next.
The four vehicles, bearing their precious cargo, pressed on up a broken, nearly overgrown lane escorted by a century of legionaries and a half-dozen horse troopers. They had gained too much to lose Hood to an overlooked band of enemy stragglers. Owens had been talking low and fast to her about dispositions and supply – the former good, the latter getting thin – when they emerged into the clearing where he had his mobile command post. Everyone was busy so no one stood, not even the captive.
“And this is Luddite Section Leader Lynn,” he explained, nodding at the slightly too thin white man in his mid-thirties, wearing a black uniform with a black beret. “He wasn’t talkative but in fact boastful about our impending doom, until I showed him your little short with Hood – ”
“Don’t speak her name!” the captive spat.
“Then he got sullen, just like now. All in all, I think your picking up Toma’s impressions as to what they were was quite astute, General,” he concluded.
At the title of ‘General,’ Lynn’s head came back up, eyes filled with hate.
“Your little show was a lie! She will never surrender! We will all be made pure – !” he began to shout.
“Do you,” Faustina said loudly over him, “accept the ceasefire?”
“Go to hell!”
Faustina took out her sidearm and shot the man through his head.
“General! Empress!” Owens shouted. “He was a POW!”
“He was an enemy combatant who refused to surrender,” she replied, holstering her weapon. “I removed the threat to my army. Get this body out of here, please.”
“Jesus, General!” Owens began. “We could have at least – ”
“I have been made again and older this day,” she began, this time in a whisper that made him fall silent. “I am at once the law and justice and my patience grows thin!”
Owens froze as she did, her eyes blazing turquoise in the early night.
“You will accompany me to another crossroads along old highway two-eighty,” she continued to whisper. Several of Owens staff shuddered, “to meet with Tapscott and Chesney at midnight. I want to be on the march north on the second morning from now.”
“North,” Owens echoed. “To Atlanta.”
“Yes. We must act now or we shall not be masters of this situation. Time is fleeting.”
“General,” he tried again, “we have a great victory here but our units are scattered over a hundred square miles and we’ve thousands of POWs to process! We have to – ”
“Do you think I am not up to the task?” she asked, eyes returning to normal. “Do you think my boys are not?”
Very aware that his commanding general was acting even more unusual than what he expected after her foray to capture her political rival, Owens shut his mouth to his objections. For now.
“Of course not, General. I was merely stating facts.”
“And I will never reprimand any of my officers or men for telling me those, as you well know,” she added. “All will be clearer to you at the legates’ conference. Is there anything to eat?”
Minutes before midnight she, with Owens and Tapscott, heard Chesney talking and laughing into a radio. As he had the furthest to go it was expected for him to be the last to arrive but Hartmann was a bit surprised by his poor noise discipline.
“Really, General?” they heard as he drew closer, escorted by one of the scouts. “Starting a dynasty is expected, I just didn’t think he was your type!”
“Who is my type, acting legate?” she asked quietly in the half moonlight.
“What?” She watched his right hand drift up to the small headset while realizing who was before him. Confused, he pulled the gear off of his head to about his neck.
“General Hartmann,” he said with a wave of a salute. “I was just a little surprised about what you told me just now. And I must say your ‘radio voice’ has gotten better!”
Helena. Impersonating me? Why?
“Did you verify it was me through the proper passwords?” she asked coldly.
“Of course, General,” he replied, stiffening as he sensed something amiss. He watched as she turned to her communication aide and issued orders for new passwords to go out by mouth only to the entire army command over the next hours. When his commander turned her gaze back to him, it was all Chesney could do to not shudder. “You were talking to the latest version of me; not me,” she began. “As she is only hours old it is understandable she knows our current passwords. That is being fixed now. In the broadest possible terms please tell me what y’all discussed.”