We learn the nature of who the imperium is fighting and why. And, I just learned that little Aurie has some ability to see the future. I wonder why God gave her such a terrible gift?
With today off from DayJob, a friend asked me to write a personal primer for one or many – I don’t know – who are about to embark on NaNoWriMo. I sent it to him just before posting this. If he likes it, I’ll add it here, too. If you’ve been following me for any time, it’s mostly old material about the creative writing process.
Their enemy was the Black Muslim Brotherhood. With the economic and political Breakup of the US nearly two generations ago, they had established local rule within months of that crisis. It was a brutal, racially segregated society, but outside of a few sparks of Western Civilization, that was how the world worked. Besides a couple of minor skirmishes with the emergent Republic of Texas, northeast of Wichita, they had kept to themselves. But charged astronomical fees to traverse the only road and rail bridges still intact over the Mississippi, as well as the same for any river traffic in any direction.
That had not been a concern until their racial brethren in Memphis interfered once too often in the imperium’s affairs. With the tacit agreement of Texas, the Empress had moved three legions against that city. With half of it burned, the remaining populace was expelled at bayonet point north, in the direction of St. Louis. I had read most of the refugees from Memphis were resettled – also at gunpoint – about ten miles north of their new city. A series of diplomatic nasty notes persisted for a year, but neither side drew a sword.
“Until Cairo,” Laszlo said.
“What was that, Les?” Aurie said a little clearer as she pulled her face shield off. They both knelt at a small grotto built to look like Lourdes.
“Was just thinking about what precipitated this war,” he explained.
“Oh. When the river convoy was blown out of the water by gunboats and the survivors shot? Many of whom were traders from the imperium? Yeah, that was bad.” She turned to the shrine. “Let’s pray for them, too.”
I’d never seen Mother so angry. I had certainly been frightened by her after I did something stupid, but until the Prince Consort could calm her down, I heard her shouting about crucifixions; the sin of our great-grandfather we all carry. With plans for finally closing the gap between the imperium and the Northern Federation already in the works, all was shelved and half of the entire army set in motion. To the northwest. The Empress herself flew to Austin – in one of our EM drive craft, to show off – to propose an alliance with Texas. “After all,” she told them, “we know they are harassing and killing your traders and prospectors on the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. Do you value your citizens and residents so cheaply?”
As they stood, he saw she left her face cover off, so he did, too. They walked on.
“After that outdoor Mass, right after the legions crossed the Ohio River at Old Shawneetown, why did you pull me aside and tell me about this place, Aurie?” he asked.
“We are still a very Catholic family, Les,” she smiled at him, “even if my mom is much more than your mom, these days. Yes, I know it’s putting two of the imperial family at risk, but I’m offering that to Christ in that He will listen to his Mother and grant my mother more children. They… my parents are very sad, Les.”
“But…” he was confused. “You and your brother came along right after their marriage. Oh. Is there something…?”
“This is just between us, okay? Not even the Empress hears it: at my mother’s creation, the fusion reactor burned out less than three-thousandths of a second before they finished making her.” Aurelia stopped and looked hard at her young cousin. “Roland and I might have been the only eggs she had.”
“I… I am sorry,” he managed.
“No worries! Let’s make one more… stop…”
Her voice and walk stopped and she reseated her facemask. He quickly did likewise.
“See there?” She pointed right. “That was the church itself. That is not the damage of weather and time. Those are demolition marks.”
Aurelia turned left.
“The shrine building, too.” They both heard two pairs of boots running up behind them. “Damn these people to hell.”
Turning about, they beheld Senior Centurion Atkinson. This close to the front line, no one saluted. Even had they not been demi-human, his anger was manifest.
“Cadets!” he spat through his mask. “The highest level of command orders you to her, immediately!”
“Orders, you say?” Aurelia asked with a smile in her voice. As Henge’s daughter and the Empress’s niece, she could get away with insolence which would have me whipped.
“Her word, not mine, Princess,” the centurion admitted.
“Then we shall! Come, Cousin” she cried, taking his left-gloved hand with her right. “Lead on, Tribune!”
“Beggin’ the Princess’ pardon,” Atkinson pointed at his badge, “it’s senior centurion.”
“Apologies! I was seeing the future just now!” she laughed, knowing no one knew if she was joking or not.