“Baby, it’s cold outside”

And inside, too. Having worked HealthBenefitsJob this weekend, I was off today. My plan was to retire to the basement to record two if not three chapters of Part Two of “Friend & Ally.” It’s 15F outside; the vents are closed in the basement… and I turn off the furnace when recording, anyway. Hmmm. Catching a cold and/or freezing to death does not seem a good execution of said plan, so I shelved that. Maybe Thursday.

Needing to do something creative, I forced myself to start typing out the short story in the back of my head for a week: a generation after the end of “Goddess’ Crusade,” for some reason, Faustina gathers her adult male children together for a meeting. Why? I’m not entirely sure, but I think it has something to do with the succession to the imperium. Making some notes before typing, I now see that at forty-three years old, Faustina has six + one children, four of whom inherited her demi-human nature. I am just as curious as you are.

“Shelbyville, former Tennessee,” Edward muttered aloud.  “Why here, of all places?”

“It’s on our northwest frontier,” his older brother, Laszlo, replied, walking north next to him along a cracked and overgrown two-lane road.  To their left was grassland which had once been a golf course.  To their right was the tiny Duck River.  “Nashville, fifty miles to the north, is a colony of legionaries from Second.  The blacks in Memphis one hundred and fifty miles to the west we’ve had to suppress once.  Having the imperial family together so close might focus their attention.”

“It’s just us three, Les,” the youngest of the three, Robert, just turned seventeen, countered.  “Liz and Caillie aren’t here.  Elizabeth we get:  she’s off-planet.  By why not have my older sister attend?”

“Because Mother likes to have these little drama plays, to keep all of her children off-balance,” Edward snorted.

It was at once both true and disrespectful to their mother, Empress Faustina.  Laszlo, second born and her first son, usually was quick to defend his mother but was older to say nothing to Edward’s little provocations.  He walked on in his field gray legionary uniform and boots, armed only with his pistol.  Typical for the imperial family, he had no indication of rank, just an “L. Hartmann” stenciled over his right pocket.  His brother Edward, younger by one year at twenty-one, was kitted out in an identical fashion.  Only Robert wore civilian clothes of reddish-gray trousers, a dirty woolen and collarless shirt, all under a long leather coat.  Looking all the world, Laszlo thought, as one of distant cousin Reina’s secret police of the Russian Empire.  He is not demi-human and compensates as he can.

There was a snort of a horse from just around the corner ahead.  As the area was secured by a cohort, Laszlo wasn’t particularly concerned.  With a flick of his mind, he used local signal to find out…

“Look sharp, brothers,” he said casually.  “She’s here.”

Around the corner on the back of a dark brown Tennessee Walking Horse came Empress Faustina.  Typical for her, she used no saddle.  At seeing her sons, she gave a genuine smile and waved her right hand at them, high in the air.  For a woman in her early forties, she looked ten years younger, even after multiple deaths on her various campaigns.  More curious was the two horses pulling what appeared to be some kind of ancient trolley modified for road travel… not that much was left of the road.  It navigated the cracks and breaks as best it could while their mother increased her horse’s speed to meet them.  Just yards away, she slid off her mount’s back, strode forward quickly, and threw her arms wide.

“My boys!” Faustina Hartmann cried, gathering them into herself.

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