With a slap to my forehead, I realized packing for this vacation is a non-issue: all bulky items, such as my hiking boots, can be left in the car with Daughter #1 in Kanab, UT. Camelbak’s and even changes of clothes except what I’m wearing on the flight back can stay until we return in July to drive her back home. Duh!
Below the fold, Robert’s mother shows off and the speculatores roll up for lunch in a pub in Georgetown, Kentucky.
Countering the passwords yet again – we’re all fairly sure Julian is a normie like me – they saw their centurion crawling out of his tent to greet the dawn. Rockford was with one of the drivers coaxing the fire back to life for coffee.
“Hardt!” Hill called as the rest of their unit came back to life. “You, me, and Rockford, now.”
“Yes, sir,” he replied, ambling over to the firepit.
After a few minutes, coffee in their tins, their CO began.
“Carlyle hasn’t signed anything,” Hill began after taking his first drink. “Since the imperium can make the same ninety-nine year guarantee, Donne immediately escalated: free trade with Greater Canada. From what Tenth’s command allowed me, I went one better: a crash program to bring electric power north, pretty much along our route, and to have the Empress confirm the old man – and his heirs – as the Counts. That last one got the attention of his son. The Canadians left that out of their calculations.”
The other two young men smiled. Monarchy was the natural state of mankind and the machines, both. The Canadians had been parliamentary for so long, they had forgotten that.
“We stayed off politics for dinner, proper.” Hill shook his head. “I cannot recall the last time I didn’t have a beer with dinner! Anyway. Donne seemed to complain about the cold and the changes forced onto his people. I took the high road about the imperium’s population program. To the point that, well…”
Robert was curious just what his CO had been authorized to say, knowing who was tracking his mission.
“To the point of our motors: our off-planet activities,” he saw Hill smile. “I looked at Mark, that’s the son, and asked him if he’d like to look up at the Moon, knowing his children were there?”
“That must have been a KO,” Rockford silently laughed.
“I think so,” Hill agreed, finishing his first tin. “Carlyle wanted to talk more, but I begged off as we’re just scouts. It was just then that…”
He looked around and beckoned the other two to lean in. He lowered his voice.
“My personal cell phone chirped. There’s no signal at all around here but a message came through anyway.” He was even quieter. “The Empress! I couldn’t confirm it, but who else could force a live image like that! The text below her face said ‘sending an emissary in the morning; good job, Panck!’”
Rockford smiled like a wolf. Robert tried hard not to roll his eyes at his mother showing off.
“So!” Hill exclaimed after pouring some more coffee. “That gets us off the diplomacy hook and back onto our mission. The population in the hills between here and Cincinnati is light so I’m taking us west, to Frankfort through some burg called Georgetown.”
He took out his ubiquitous maps from his jacket pocket for the other two to see.
“So, down this road, through Myers?” Rockford asked.
“Nope. The son said the bridge on that way is out, too. We’ll have to go northwest, then southwest,” he pointed. “About seventy-five miles. Allowing for a lunch stop in Georgetown to sound them, another easy day.”
“Then we should be about getting ready,” Robert said, standing.
“Oh, there’s time enough for breakfast, Hardt,” Hill waved him back down. “While that’s being made, you get anything out of that Pajeet or just you in?”
“She’s a cheap date, that’s for sure,” the young prince smiled. Teasing from his family was merciless; this was nothing. “What I really took away was that their army is very spooked by what the Russian Empire wants. Which of course is likely everything. She did not mention the imperium at all.”
“Hmmm,” Hill muttered to the rising sun as some of their team put bacon and some eggs into a large skillet over their fire. “Get that into a report that I can addend to mine in thirty minutes.”
“In fact…” Hill looked over the ranker’s shoulder at something and smiled. Robert turned about.
Holding her head and staggering just a little, Officer Cadet Patel was making her way the short distance to their fire.
“I’ve aspirin if you need it, Officer Cadet,” Robert said, standing again. With everyone about, formality was called for.
“Took some when I woke up a few minutes ago, Bob, er, hastatus.” She returned his legionary salute with her Canadian. “And good morning to you, Centurion Hill.”
“I hope my man was a gentleman to you, Officer Cadet,” Hill managed without grinning.
“Very much so, thank you.” Her eyes flicked to Robert’s then back to Hill’s. “If he is representative of all legionaries, I understand why the Kentuckians have been content under the imperium’s wing.”
“He’s – ” Hill began, then suddenly stopped. Looking up.
A flying saucer made of some dark gray material had silently come over the trees to the south and was drifting the short distance northeast. It came close to the ground near the courthouse building.
“He’s just one reason,” Hill finished.
Mother is definitely showing off. To send a reactionless motor craft for a minor diplomatic mission? This is for the Canadians more than the Carlyles.
“Should we…” Robert began.
“Nope,” Hill smiled at the disbelieving looks on the Canadians’ faces, “I’m reliably told we can move out. Let’s finish breakfast and be on our way.”
An hour later had their trucks parked just north of the bridge over what Centurion Hill was now calling “this goddam Licking River!” It was true that it was still up. It was more correct to say that only half of it was passable to motorized traffic.
“Everyone out,” Hill said after walking back to the second truck. “We walk across then the drivers bring the trucks, slow. Connell? Get a team on you under us in case the damn thing cracks and a truck falls. I want the man at the wheel out and in medical treatment immediately.”
That seemed to mollify the nervous drivers a little.
Fortunately, there was no such incident and they continued southwest out of the hillier country and back into the central bluegrass region. A couple of deputies or perhaps customsmen waved them to a pause just outside of Paris. They did not demand a fee but did pass on what little news of the town there was. No, they had not seen anything of the Canadian army.
It was just before noon when they passed over the old interstate highway into Georgetown. A commercial district likely abandoned since the Change gave way to older houses, some occupied, and a sign on their left, cracked and stained, proclaiming Georgetown College. Likely, Robert thought, another altar to the uselessness of so-called higher education in the old days.
The lead truck halted followed by the others. Piling out under the eyes of a few locals who stopped to stare at legionaries, they looked right back.
“’Slaint’ Public House?” Mitch tried, looking at the sign on the building just across the street to their south.
“’Slann-cha,’” Robert corrected. “And a public house is another way of saying a pub.”
“Hell!” Mitch came right back. “Why didn’t they say so!”