Going to try to get a few updates to “Imperium’s Shadow” out the next few days as I am taking a vacation. Sure, I get three days off here and there from my DayJob, and two weeks over two years ago when I changed hospitals, but the last time I drove somewhere for more than a week? August of 2017, I think.
This will be a trip out west in the US. The reason is dropping off Daughter #1 at her 5-week internship but this is my chance to show these Midwestern kids what real mountains, the Rockies, look like. We’ll also see Zion National Park and the north rim of the Grand Canyon.
In the meantime, Prince Robert has a 0300 patrol with a hangover.
Robert’s watch for the entire mission to date had been at 0300. Even with a splitting headache from the local moonshine, he rolled over in his little tent at 0245, dug through his medical kit, and swallowed two aspirin. With a half moon providing plenty of light, he recognized Mitch’s silhouette creeping toward him.
“Y’okay?” the other breathed.
They moved out of the camp to the east where the forms of the other two were coming back in.
“Ildi” one of them said.
“Julian,” Mitch countered. Robert found it utterly surreal that the night’s passwords were his kid sister and brother. But by a different father.
To her credit, I guess, mother did wait fourteen months before hooking up with her next “prince consort,” five years her junior and an emerging player in what had been the Gulf Shore States, now just another province, after my dad died. Typical for her, she was almost immediately pregnant again, this time with my sister Ildi, four years my junior. Another demi, but she seemed to always laugh more than she talked, thinking this world her own personal fluffy stuffed toy.
“Gotta admit, Bob,” Mitch said quietly as they moved past some maintenance shed before turning south into broken trees. It would be a slight climb of a hill to the neighborhood above but it would give them a nice view of the camp and any potential threats, “that you seemed hot for that foreign gal’.”
“Maybe I’m, a, er,” he stopped himself before he used the word xenophile, “interested in exotics. I don’t think so. It’s just cool, I think, to talk to a gal rather than just put it to her.”
“Too much work!” his friend smiled in the dark. Robert stifled a laugh.
From their position a mere two dozen feet higher, they noted that the legionary fire was cooling coals where the Canadian burned low with one man sitting before it, turning over some of the wood.
“Is that their idea of a night patrol?” Mitch ventured.
“Or is that a ruse to make us think they are incompetent?” Robert countered. “They have absorbed all of the old US Midwest over the past few years and, as that gal said, gave the Russians a bloody nose way up north.”
“I cannot imagine living or fighting in all that ice and snow! I pray the Empress never sends us so far!”
“Hell, Mitch,” his friend chided as they walked slowly west, now looking down at the small reservoir, “it’s colder in space and you know the rumors…”
“Legion Eleven Mars? Christ save me from that assignment!” His voice came up a little in concern. “I’m staying the hell right here!”
“In Kentucky?” the prince mouthed to remind the legionary of noise discipline.
“You know what I mean, dammit! C’mon!”
Pushing through some waist-high brush the came out just next to the south side of the tiny lake and walked along the gravel path on the top of the levee, stopping at the north end.
“I’m two years in, fourteen to go,” Mitch now whispered. “Once I make centurion I can get married and we’ll be set for the rest of our lives. Outer space, with no air? Mars, with no air or water? Like hell, Bob!”
You’re wrong on those.
“What if, just spitballing here, what if there was water and breathable air on Mars? Would you reconsider? Maybe not as a legionary but as a colonist?” he asked.
Time passed. Robert guessed five minutes.
“Maybe. I don’t know.” He took a step down to get off the levee. “Let’s make our second loop.”
So. This confirms that what the Polar Alliance is doing on Mars is not common knowledge among the rankers of the imperium. Is that true of the empires or Russia and Japan? Of Australia? No way for a normie like me to know that. When I’m home and Ed’s back from Texas, we’ll have to compare notes as to what Great Uncle Arpad knows from his current home and his first one, the Habsburg Empire in central Europe.
He gave a smile in the lessening darkness while they moved northeast past an abandoned school on their left.
I never knew that what I thought was all of those celebrations and carrying-on during my fifth birthday were for another reason. I was happy for the cake and one present from each of my four older brothers and sisters. But it wasn’t me. Everyone but me and normie Caillie were happy that the Empire had retaken Constantinople; back in Christian, western hands for the first time in over six hundred years.
Twelve-year-old Liz had made me a micro-sensorium all by herself! Is there anyone as smart as she is? The other toys were nice but bought. She made me that. And it’s still on my shelf back in a room I’ve not seen in over a year.
Before his thoughts turned negative, they paused again under a water tower.
“I was drunk,” Robert admitted aloud. “When did Hill get back?”
“An hour before midnight, pretty much,” Mitch replied. “Didn’t seem too bent and went to his tent rather than the comsat so I don’t think we’re at war.”
“That’d be a shame. These Kentuckians seem nice – ”
“Their girls sure do!”
“ – so bringing the legions north would not help things.” He turned to look at the northern sky as the stars faded, one by one. “But if the snow and ice doesn’t stop? That means Canada becomes a part of the imperium. Or…”
“Or it’s St. Louis. Several of them. Let’s head back.”
He heard the odd sound from Mitch’s throat. Yeah. No one wanted such again. But would the Empress – my mother! – use fusion weapons to defend what she considered her? Prince Robert knew the answer to that.