Talking, Coughing, Writing

Busy last several days. I have completed and uploaded all twenty-two parts of the audiobook version of “Friend & Ally.” Because ACX demands a square image for sales and marketing – of course it has to be different – I had to reach out to my very talented cover artist to try to turn a normal, rectangular book cover into the damned square they want.

In the mean time, I seem to have caught a seasonal flu. No, not the Chicom Lung Rot; calling off from work – my first time ever at this hospital – with seven of eleven “flu-like symptoms” meant I had no choice but to be tested. So: no BatAIDS but just a mild flu. Because I have a million things to get done at DayJob, I went in Friday for a partial day and again today, Sunday.

With shortness of breath and a dry cough, heading to the basement to start reading “Foes & Rivals” was out. Given that I accidentally made a writing exercise into the prologue of another novel, I decided to see where that may lead. For some reason, of Empress Faustina’s three adult sons, it was Edward’s movie which started rolling first. Below the fold is some of what I have learned about him. I’m going to come up with at least a working title for this stuff…

As a crown prince, Edward Hartmann could have requisitioned one of the imperium’s EM-drive motor-craft and made a splashy entrance into Austin, the capital of the Republic of Texas.  Something his mother might have done.  Given the complicated nature of his mission, such was not his desire.  Still, he had to be received in some state lest he cause a diplomatic row if found to have slipped into a neighboring country unannounced.

Following the family meeting in Shelbyville, he’d immediately been driven the fifty miles southeast to Chattanooga, taking written notes on what he might accomplish while waiting two hours for the MAGLEV train from Knoxville.  At close to two hundred and fifty miles per hour, he would be crossing the Mississippi River in less than two hours.  Once seated in a first-class berth, he continued his notes.

Written, he thought, because even what we are, one never knows who else might be prying into our affairs, whether demi-human or machine.  Given the Empress’ broad hint about Ryland Rigó – or, to be more precise, her daughter – Edward wanted to keep his thoughts held very close.  He kept writing during the short stop in Birmingham and only snapped his notebook shut when the announcement came that they would be crossing the river in five minutes.

That puts in into de jure Texas, even if the area of former northern Louisiana is an area of “benign neglect” on the Texan’s part, to see what sort of culture might grow up in that region.  Shreveport, just thirty minutes ahead, was also de facto Texas, and also where he would be officially welcomed.  Edward looked across the aisle at his chief aide, John MacDougal.

“I look okay?” he asked.

“Your hair is a mess and your uniform wrinkled.  You also stink of cigar,” was MacDougal’s quick reply.  “You should make quite an impression, Prince!”

Only two years older than Edward’s twenty-one years, his aide had been one of many he had had over his life.  Because this one not only always told the truth, but told it in the most derogatory way possible, he had kept him on far longer than one of his brothers or sisters might have.  Edward stood, his demi-human nervous system correcting for the train’s motion, and doffed his jacket, shirt, and pants.

“Iron these.  I’ll go rinse my face and hair in the lavatory.”

MacDougal’s bright eyes under his slightly curly light brown hair twinkled in mirth.  His coppery goatee under his nose and mouth had been so jarring that Edward had looked up his genetics to get a bearing on what his man was:  a mishmash of northern Celt relocated in the early Nineteenth Century to the hills of eastern former Tennessee.

“Of course, Prince!”  MacDougal nodded, taking the clothes.  “Not that I expect her there, but you should try to look – ”

“Leave me.”

Another nod.  There were times when his aide went too far.

In the little bathroom, Edward splashed water onto his face and slicked back his nearly-black short hair.  Unlike his mother and eldest sister, Elizabeth, who had demi-humans eyes, that trait had not carried on to the rest of his siblings.  His were only an odd deep blue that some called purple.  The rest of his face took after his grandfather:  Prussian planes and angles.  More water, this time with soap, onto his hands and over his face and neck, followed by more clean water.  Toweling off and returning to his seat, his aide had yet to return, so Edward closed his eyes to consider his next actions.

The chime indicating the end of the line in Shreveport came just as his aide dropped his folded clothes into his lap.

“Odd to see you take a real nap, Prince, so’s I let you alone,” MacDougal said.

“’Preciate that,” Edward replied, pulling his clothes back on while still seated.  The MAGLEV deceleration was nearly three gees.  “Let’s get the bullshit out of the way quickly so I can talk to my grand uncle.”

The “bullshit,” a formal greeting by a junior secretary of state along with some perfunctory photos, lasted less than ten minutes.  Knowing the rest of his retinue would see what little luggage he had, Edward walked quickly to the tall man in a light gray silk suit he’d noted at the back of the little crowd:  Arpad Rigó, the husband of his mother’s aunt and both a diplomat of the Texan government as well as the commanding brigadier general of their Special Operations Group.  As his was a political mission, Edward extended his hand rather than given an imperial salute.

“Welcome to Texas, Prince!” Rigó said in his deep, resonant voice, his Hungarian accent still thick.  While the hair just above his ears was white with similar in his closely cropped beard, his eyes were bright and grip firm.  “Know that my wife, your great aunt, asks you pay us a visit if your schedule allows!”

“As I shall be spending some days in Austin,” Edward replied with a smile, family loyalty was nearly a religious dogma in their extended, odd, family, “I’m sure, barring unknown unknowns, I can make the short drive west to your lands… so long as you don’t make me try any of your wine!”

He knew that Rigó had about two hundred acres twenty miles to the west of the Texas capital, most of which was given over to growing grapes and making wine.  Edward had a typical demi-human aversion to any alcohol.

“Good!  I’ll pass that on!” Rigó led him out of the station to where a large sedan and a van waited.  “These are, of course, at your disposal, Prince, for you and your staff.  As you were understandably vague about your immediate destination…”

Even in so-called peacetime, it behooved any member of the imperial family to be cagey about their schedule.  As Edward had said:  “unknown unknowns.”

“My first stop is Austin, Uncle,” Edward said, leaning against the car and looking about.  Several locals noted his legionary uniform but that was really nothing unusual at the border.  Better, he saw the rest of his four men exit the station and head their way.

“That’s five hours!” Rigó exclaimed.  “I could have arranged a small jet – ”

“And as family, I would have welcomed it.  But you know that a cloud has hung over relations between our nations since St. Louis,” Edward said, bringing his eyes back to his great uncle.  “Showing the imperium any sort of favor will only give ammunition to the factions in both of our states who would see our close cooperation damaged, if not destroyed.”

“Besides,” the young prince said with an almost imperceptible tilt of his head, “that’s where you were headed, too!  Let’s get something to eat and spend the afternoon getting reacquainted, Uncle Arpad!”

With his family all normal, Rigó still had years of experience dealing both with the machines and with demi-humans.  He knew this young man was telling him less than the truth, but such a ride, free from distractions, prying eyes, and listening ears, could be very informative, for the both of them.

“That sounds just fine, Prince,” Rigó said, walking around to the sedan’s right to get in. “And,” the prince said, just as they closed their doors, “please call me Edward, Arpad!”

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