I call Machine Civilization a future history for a reason. All parts of every story connect in hundreds of ways, some I do not see, to every other story. I first met Karl in The Fourth Law; one of the orphans seen to by Lily Barrett. A tendency toward fat but also one of her karate students. He makes another appearance in “Empire’s Agent,” the long short story which lends its name to the book’s title. There, he meets Arpad Rigó from the newly remade Habsburg Empire. “I have to get this boy into the army!” Rigó thought. In trying to make an end of Goddess’ Crusade, I find, years later, he did.
While her legate Samson of Fourth Legion continued his report on bridge and rail construction, Faustina looked with her own eyes at the shower of sparks raining from the middle to nearly her side of the river.
“The Texan engineers are working faster than I anticipated,” she said when Samson paused. Faustina pointed. “Is that walkway safe?”
“For the engineers, yes. For an empress? No.” Her legate replied with more force than he should.
“I get it, Samson,” she said with a ghost of a smile, still looking west. “I am much older for this campaign. With a lull in the fighting right now, it is more important for me to play politics rather than play construction worker!”
“Speaking of construction, how’s the permanent fort?” she asked.
“Complete,” he replied with a look of satisfaction. “I generally keep a few centuries there for security and maintenance. Four cohorts – two in the north, two toward the south – are on constant patrol and recon. The remaining three and a half have completed the rail line to Jackson and are pressing on east. Last report had them about ten miles past that town.”
“Also better than expected! You and your boys continue to amaze your empress! All of y’all expecting land and titles on your discharge?” Her smile grew across her face as she turned toward her legate.
“All of us? No,” Samson admitted. “Lots of them will want to go home, but I think at least a third will stay.”
“With you as their viscount?”
“If that is the empress’ will, I would be honored.”
With a little huffing from the path down to the quay, Faustina was surprised to see a slightly overweight corporal of the Texas Field Forces make his way in the direction of Samson’s staff, some yards away. For some reason an image formed in her mind…
“You there! Messenger from Texas! Come here!” She called.
The young man was surprised to hear a woman’s voice and when the realization dawned of whose voice it must be, he snapped to attention and gave a salute typical for his nation’s army.
“Corporal Karl Stilwell! Texas Field Forces, General!” he not quite shouted in a quavering voice. When Samson saw Hartmann’s eyes narrow, he realized she was about to play with this poor kid.
“I am General Hartmann, Imperial Army,” she said with her salute and a look to his gut. “Spend a lot of time in the mess, Corporal?”
“Apologies, General! I have been fighting my weight my whole life!” he quavered again.
“Please be at ease, Stilwell,” she looked down the slight difference between their eyes, “and didn’t Colonel Rigó tell you years ago to knock off the carbs?”
“Huh? How did you – ?”
“And do you still practice karate? I would have thought between that and military life, you would be in better shape, Stilwell,” Faustina reveled in his confusion. Not knowing what to say or do, he snapped back to attention.
“No, General, I no longer train in karate. And, I apologize for my poor condition!”
“I said to relax!” Faustina’s smile broke over her face. “I’m teasing you, young Stilwell! You are, after all, nearly family.”
“General?” She had lost him even more.
“Weren’t you once in love with my aunt, Lily Barrett, when she took care of you at the orphanage?”
At once embarrassed that the beautiful and powerful person seemed to know his most secret history, he blurted out, “How can you possibly know that! Wait! You said your aunt…?”
“Yes, I did. As to how I know all this? Beside general family history, I suspect that you do not know what I am.” Faustina gave a small head tilt. “I am closer to Aunt Lily’s friend, Ai, than I am to you humans. My aunt’s step-daughter is, after all, my sister-in-law, too.”
But… Ai is a machine! That means you… you…!”
He stopped when she put her hand out. When he carefully took it, she shook once.
“Please continue to serve my family and friends, Karl Stilwell,” she said, letting go. “And, we shall expect your descendents to serve us, as well. Carry on.”
Faustina and Samson were some distance away before her legate spoke. “You love showing off, don’t you, Empress?”