A little exposition of the imperium. I’m pleased that Colour is clever enough to find her feet so quickly.
Busy, busy in RealLife but I’m trying to keep the signal alive.
Fifty-five minutes later, with food added to her backpack, a helmet on her head, and a canteen on each hip, Colour looked on as two columns of what looked like five hundred men each stood on each side of the road leading south. Curious as to where to go, she was startled when they turned north, dressed ranks, and gave their odd salute. She had heard nothing. Turning, Colour saw General Hartmann walk out of the gate and salute back. After a series of hand gestures from her, the entire force set off south in near silence.
“This way, Ma’am,” Blaise said, indicating the middle of the two columns. He fell back as two men fell in next to her.
“Afternoon, Ma’am,” the one on her right said in a quiet voice. “I’m Senior Centurion Brown. That’s my opposite from fourth cohort, Macallen. Our princess says you’re a Special Observer for this jaunt, so you’ll stay in the middle of one of our two cohorts, unrecognizable and safe as we can make it.”
“And be sure to let us, or any of our men, know if you need anything,” Macallen added. “If you care to move this way?”
Not a parade march, the legionaries made room for them both. Everyone stared to see another woman but no one said anything.
“It is always so quiet?” she had to ask.
“As we’re in potentially hostile terrain, certainly,” Macallen replied. “Out in the open, on field marches? Legions, hell, the entire army will sing!”
“Sing? What about?” she asked again.
“Well,” the centurion looked a little abashed and some of the men immediately around them guffawed. “Some of our songs are to our empress, even our princess, here. But a lot of them are a little bawdy, Ma’am. If this goes easy, perhaps on our march back to base.”
“I look forward to it, Centurion, thank you,” Colour said with a smile.
“I need to see to things,” he replied. “You are in the fourth century. Campbell here is their centurion. Let him or any of my men know if you need something.”
He slowed his pace and let himself fall back amongst the column as another man took his place.
“Centurion Campbell,” he announced, just as softly. Colour guessed him to be no more than nineteen. “Glad to have you with us.”
“Why is that?”
He looked surprised.
“Any friend of the Princess has gotta be special, right?” he replied. “That we’uns get to see to you first rather than those rubes across the way in second means we get your luck.”
Not understanding, she just smiled and kept the pace.
About an hour later someone slapped her butt. She could not imagine her bodyguard, Blaise, doing that…
“Keeping up okay, Colour?” Aurelia laughed.
“Yes, General, I am,” she replied. “The effete Yankees in your lore started in Boston and went all way down to DC. Mainers are a rougher lot.”
“Which is one of the reasons we want y’all,” the general said in a voice a bit louder than the centurions. “The Empress does not ally with weakness. Given y’all’s fondness for fishing, I guess your colony on Mars will have to be on a coastline, right?”
“What?” The change of topic had lost her. Again.
“But you, personally?” Aurelia ignored her confusion. “You’re too old to have kids so you want to be a pilot?”
“I’ve never even been in an airplane…”
“Who said airplane? I meant you being captain of one of the regular freighters between here and Mars,” the princess corrected. “Sure, there is shielding and all but we never let fertile young humans out in space for too long. The imperium is nothing more than its children and they are precious to us.”
There were mutters of “damn right,” and “preach it,” from the men around them.
“I am very glad to hear that,” Colour said, at last able to speak to something she understood. “The anti-life lies before the Breakup… well, a lot of innocents died but given the vast majority were in the cities…”
“Maybe,” Jansen turned her head away, “that callous attitude is why I ended up barren.”
“Maybe,” Aurelia didn’t disagree. “But since you are, it was meant to be. So, maybe you are meant to be a freighter captain? Maybe like my cousin, Crown Prince Laszlo, and his toaster exploring the Belt and outer planets?”
“And what do you want in return for all that, Princess?” Colour turned back to her.
Hartmann stopped so fast the legionary behind almost walked into her.
“Your friendship. Dear God but you humans can be so slow!”
Now there was soft laughter from all around them.
“Five on Jansen, Blaise, and me,” she said, her tone completely different. “We’re crossing the road to second.”
After a short trot over, the five returned to their column. Another nineteen-ish boy came over.
“This is under-Centurion Habe. Just promoted,” the general introduced him. “His father was also a legionary, under my aunt, when she made the imperium. He can answer questions you may have about us so you can report back to your Council.”
“I’m not some kind of spy…” Colour objected.
“Never said you were,” Aurelia replied, knitting her brows together. “So slow! One of the many things you are is a conduit and one I intend to use to the fullest. See ya’!”