Book 17. Part Two. 1

In order to save my mind and my liver, I’m returning to the format where they show me some reels, I do what research, if any, then write it down here. No more of this “simultaneous writing” efforts for awhile.

In my two summaries of Part One, it was told from the POV of Sgt. Sergei Konev. Now we jump to Centurion Bob Hardt, who, of course, is more than he seems to be. There was a tension I introduced in Obligations of Rank and ended on a cliff-hanger in Regent which needs resolution. That is what I think Part Two is for. After that? Who knows?

With an ache from the sides of her neck to the crown of her head, Eloise lifted her head from some table.  Bob watched her eyes focus as she looked around the little room.  Besides the table, they sat across from one another on uncomfortable, fold-down chairs.

“Where am I, Bob?” she demanded.

Before answering, he reached right to a pitcher held to the table in a friction lock.  From next to it, he set out two cups and poured something which looked like tea.  Pitcher back down, he took his cup with both hands.

How much do I tell her?  She’s going to know in an hour, anyway.

“You are on INS Kennedy, that saucer you saw,” he explained.  “Half of my men left that area southwest of Winnipeg by truck.  The rest are aboard.  Essentially as bodyguards for the both of us.”

“Bodyguards?” Her hand shook, taking her cup.  “Have you abducted me, a Canadian officer, Centurion Hardt?”

“I have taken you into protective custody, El.  Great events are afoot and it is not unlikely that your SIS knows who I really am.  That puts you in danger.” He tried to smile.  “I’m sorry I couldn’t be honest in front of the Russian, back there.”

“And who are you, Centurion?” she asked in a sour tone, taking a drink.

“I am the son of Empress Faustina.  I am Crown Prince Robert Hartmann.”

She spit her mouthful of tea all over him.

He pulled a handkerchief from a back pocket and mopped at his face and shirt.

“Everything,” she was shaking while gripping the table’s edge with both hands, “everything was a lie!  You never liked me!  You just got me drunk and used me to pass information, likely disinformation, to my command!  You are despicable!”

“I’m aware.  It runs in the family.” He took another sip.  “I do like you, El, as a person and a woman.  Did I use you as a conduit?  Yes, and you knew it.  Everything I told you was true.”

“Except who you are!”

He set his cup down, hard.

“Stop acting the child, El!  You know damned well I could not!” He grabbed the pitcher and poured her more.

“Sorry for spitting on you, Bob,” she muttered.  “Or, is it Robert, now?”

“Bob Hardt is the name I chose when I enlisted in the legions,” he explained.  “I was sick of my family and wanted to make my way, not as some royal.  So, Bob is fine, El.”

“And where are we headed?” she asked, trying a second drink.

“I’ll wait until you swallow that, just in case,” he smiled at her.  Laughing now, she almost did it again.  “There.  The Regent, my cousin, has called a general family meeting in Knoxville.  That’s sort of a de facto capital, even if I was born and mostly raised around Huntsville.”

He could tell the city names meant nothing to her.

“Regent?” she asked.  “I know the word, but your Empress…”

“Is busy somewhere else.  Are you aware that Empress Togame of Japan died about two weeks ago?” he asked.

“Yeah.  It was on a newsfeed I read when my team was flying to Grand Forks.” He poured her more tea.  She drinks everything too fast.  “So, your mother – good Lord, the Empress is your mother! – is there for the funeral?”

“Yes.” That’s all I can say, now.  “While she’s gone, my cousin, Aurelia, is holding the fort, so to speak.  But just before that, she was leading an army to our northeast, to establish closer relations with the Northern Federation.  She also spoke with the Archbishop of Montreal and…”


“Met a guy in Nova Scotia.  They’re getting married, if they’re not already,” he said, shaking his head.  “What a loser.”

“The NorFeds have been quiet under our wing since the Breakup.” Eloise fortunately stuck to politics.  “And Montreal?  Is your imperium now backing the old Quebec separatist movement?  The first is meddling in our diplomatic backyard.  The second is an act of war, Bob!”

“And now you’re telling me,” she carried on, “the woman who stirred up all this trouble is running your entire country?”

“Yep.  Not sure what Sergei’s orders were, but I bet yours were like mine:  break contact with foreign forces and return home immediately.”

“Did you read my orders when I was out, Bob?” She narrowed her eyes at him.  They both swayed slightly at a change in the ship’s velocity.

“Common sense, El.  Mom, my family, and several others know who I am,” he admitted.  “Worst case?  So do your intelligence services.  And that means you are at best a person of interest and at worse, a double agent or spy.”

He leaned across the table, putting his hands around hers around the cup.

“What I said at that clubhouse was true:  I will not let you walk into the meat grinder.  You are important to me.” He let go and leaned back.  “So I grabbed you.”

“’Protective custody,’ indeed,” she snorted, setting her cup aside.  “I don’t want to fight now, so what’s next, Prince?”

She watched him wince when she said that.

“Once where I get where I need to be,” he glanced at the analog watch on his wrist, “in about five minutes, and get a better idea what’s going on, I’ll try to get you settled for a day or two.  I’ll allow you full access to your command structure, but will not let you leave.  Yet.”

“I’m your prisoner.”

“You’re my guest.” May as well.  “And my friend.  At least.”

“At least, Bob?”

“Neither my gifted brothers and sisters nor the Machines can see the future, El.”

Dropping out the dilated opening in the floor in the ship’s cargo hold, he turned to catch Eloise in his arms.  Give her points for forcing that smile off of her face, he thought.

Looking around in the last rays of the setting sun, he was surprised to see them at the Arnold Engineering Center, not quite forty miles northwest of Chattanooga, rather than Knoxville, per his original orders.  My snooty siblings would have known, of course, so once again the normie is playing catch-up.  He set Eloise down but took her hand walking toward the hestatus legionary waiting by one of the smaller hangers.  Exchanging salutes, the man opened the door for him.

Son of a…  Expecting to see prototypes – the entire complex was the imperium’s research, development, and production center for their reactionless motors – Bob looked instead at a crowd of about three dozen.  Many techs, engineers, and legionaries, but also almost all of the imperial family on Earth.

This is insanely dangerous.  One single nuke or rod…

“Finally!” Regent Aurelia shouted from their midst.  “Oh.  You brought a guest.”

While technically a princess to his Crown Prince status, until his mother returned, she ruled.  Bob tossed an imperial salute and then bowed ninety degrees from his waist to her.

“Regent Aurelia!  God protect you!” he shouted to the floor.

“Yes, yes.  Get up, Robbie,” Aurelia said, tapping his shoulder.  “And you are?”

“Lieutenant Eloise Patel, Canadian Army,” she said in a parade voice.  The rest of the room fell silent to hear that country’s name in the heart of their realm.  “I am a guest of Crown Prince Robert Hartmann.  If my presence here is an issue, I shall leave.”

In a simple legionary uniform, the surprisingly young woman, with short black hair perhaps recently dyed purple, took a step into her personal space.  Her eyes just below Patel’s, she leaned even further in.  Worse, she sniffed twice.

“Another goddam mutt,” the Regent barely whispered.  She turned to her cousin.  “I expected better, Robbie.”

“Nothing’s decided,” he replied.  She nodded.  I’ve never seen Aurie like this.  Mom was Empress at nineteen and she’s twenty-five.  Is she not suited for the job?  Then again, Mother did pick her over her own kids…

“All non-family out!” Aurelia shouted, turning about.  “Engineer Brodén!  Legate-emertus Owens!  I expect perfect security!  Thank you!”

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