The last of about 68 thousand words of my next novel. What began as just a writing experiment to get to know some of the imperial families better once again took on a life of its own. When these people want a story told, I’ve learned over seven years that I’ve little say in the matter.
I hope everyone has enjoyed seeing this story come in being along with me. Recording audiobooks and making a Machine Civilization wiki are my priorities for this fall but it’s not as if I won’t do a little writing. In fact, late last night I saw this scene where Aurelia, now 29-years-old and the leading general of the imperium looks back at her own life. In disgust. I wonder…
While not technically failing his assignment – Faustina had given him a year, after all – Laszlo was the first to counterattack.
“Quite the compromise on your part to let an albino into the imperial family,” he said rudely around the cigar still in his mouth. “That marriage gonna be big news or just swept under the rug?”
Robert saw nothing in his mother’s face. He wondered if his gifted brothers did.
“Yes, Laszlo,” the use of his full name was a tell, “it will be news. They will be married in Frankfort. My new marquis shall be there and so will all of my available family. Her appearance will be important to show that anyone can gain admittance to my family.”
That she could not bring herself to say Sky’s name was everything Robert could do to not laugh.
“The whole family?” Rob asked. “Will we have a sequel when Ed and Liv get hitched, too?”
“They shall not be married this year,” the empress began…
“Excuse me, mother?” Edward demanded.
“…as it will give the Texans ideas that they can make claims on me. They cannot.” She looked at them one by one. “And, Ed, you shall not be king. My model for that land is the settlement of Austria-Hungary in the eighteen seventies: I shall be empress here and Queen of Texas, there. Your second thought was, however, correct, you shall act in my name as the executive to those lands. Viceroy is troublesome so we shall devise a new word. Proconsul? No, that won’t work, either.”
A tactical setback but still a win, Edward bowed in his chair.
“And with Kira gone and you not letting another man touch your penis, what are we to do with you, Les?” she stated bluntly.
“Off planet. Scouting asteroids and moons for bases for the imperium,” he replied.
“Agreed. Two more hulls are being laid down for ships like Lionheart,” Faustina took her son’s renaming in stride. “I want to review with you the plans for ships ten times as big in one to two days.”
“Of course, Empress.”
“And what shall I do with you, beloved human boy?” Faustina tilted her head left to Robert, showing her teeth.
“My mission, mother, was a success beyond your original plan,” he began to reply. “There were certainly elements of luck but I think I can continue to contribute to the imperium in my capacity as a G-2 in the legions.”
“I do need a tribune to command the rebuilding the dams of the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers…” she began.
“I know nothing of engineering, mother,” he knew she knew. “Send me back, further north. Let me see and talk to those Canadians still up north and west. Let me prepare them for your rule, not that of the Russians.”
“Planning on banging the pajeet officer cadet?” she pushed.
“No. Keeping her love-sick will allow me to pass intel to their army without the socialists in their government knowing. As your son, I know I must marry and have heirs,” Rob forced himself to not look at Les, “but that is years to come. And anyway…”
He tossed back the last of his whiskey and looked sly.
“Cousin Aurelia is long overdue to find a good man!” he laughed.
“Aurie is the second-best general my family has produced,” Faustina leaned back to cross her legs and stab out the tiny remainder of her cigarillo. “And as my heir, she will have plenty of suitors.”
“Oh? Did I surprise all of you just now? And here I thought I had such clever children!” She stood and they followed, stunned. “Let’s walk north and get some dinner. I’ve more surprises for you!”
With the water of the spillway of the Duck River over their shoulders, the imperial family once again was enjoying a light dinner at Pope’s Restaurant in Shelbyville. Having eaten some barbequed pork, they were all surprised when their mother gave a particular hand sign to the chief waitress, who came moments later with shot glasses. Six of them were placed onto their rough, weather-beaten outdoor table.
“But y’all hate…” Robert began.
“Unless something important is afoot,” Laszlo said over him. “It is, Mother?”
Her reply was to look over his shoulder at the interior of the restaurant where they picked out the steps of more guests. Les and Ed heard two human females, Rob, next to his mother, saw them but recognized neither. The taller in a dark skirt with a red shirt recoiled briefly after bumping into the door frame to the outside. The other looked just like…
Wait, he suddenly thought in fear, that short one…! That android! But in an off-white skirt and pink blouse, her skin was almost cream white.
The empress stood and moved just away from the table, one hand out to each.
“Livia! Minerva! Be welcome!” she said in a tone indicating layers of deception.
Taken aback, Laszlo and Edward stood at once.
“Hey, Ed!” Liv called, opening her arms. With a look first to his mother, he stepped quickly into them, kissing her passionately.
“It’d be nice if you did that to me, too,” the android said rather sullenly. All she got was Les running his hand over her synthetic hair.
“What’s the meaning of this, Empress?” he asked.
“Consider yourselves formally betrothed,” Faustina said to the first couple, flaring her nostrils. “She’s not fertile right now, so you can have fun for two days before I send her back to Austin. There’s a BNB a few blocks from here. Don’t cross me, Edward. Next year.”
“Of course. And thanks, Mom!”
Laszlo was mightily pleased to see that got under her skin.
“And her?” he asked, resting her hand on Minerva’s head.
“A Crown Prince, alone, in deep space? Do you think I am so stupid or value you so lightly, my son?” the empress asked caustically. “This is your permanent co-pilot until I say otherwise. I, Empress, Order you to take care of one another!”
“Empress!” they both saluted. Livia was already pulling Edward out of the restaurant to get him to bed as quickly as she could but her Intended easily moved her back to the table and put the shot glass into her hand as the rest, even Minerva, picked up theirs.
“Deus vult!” they cried.
Ed and Liv were gone in a second. Noting things were complete, Minerva took Laszlo’s hand from her head and held it as they, too, left. They messaged one another and copied it to Faustina that they were headed for the Arnold Development Complex to look at what modification their ship would need. Only Fussy’s improved hearing took in the android’s request, “If you close your eyes, you can pretend I’m a boy when I touch you there…”
“So, my beloved son?” she replied, turning to face Rob.
“Little Aurie gets the crown?” Robert asked.
“I’ve heard it rumored,” she stared at the little river behind him, “but I don’t believe it.”
“Can we trust anything you say?”
“Everything. But every statement has a short expiration date.”
“You play with us because you love us, is that what you are trying to say?” he asked, just a little angry.
Empress Faustina kissed Crown Prince Robert’s right cheek.
“Good times make weak men.” Her eyes glowed turquoise an inch from his. “We survived the Breakup and we, all of us, Machine, demi, and human, are now the Change. We are remaking creation.”
“God wills it, mother?”
“God wills it.” She kissed her son and smiled before turning about. “Keep me informed about Canada!”