Could I have them wander around some more? Eat a last meal in Paradise-on-Mars? Yes, but as my regular readers know, I am all about dialog and personal interaction, no matter what the person is. So, having set the scene, as it were (“this place is perfect!”), I can now get to the problem: while Ed is having fun, he does miss his new wife. Fussy, it appears, is ready to walk away from it all until provoked by her two sons. Notice how Kalí stays quiet? This is not her fight so she stays out of it.
And then it comes out that there is a discrepancy in time. And no, what I know of the little klutz, I cannot imagine Livia not waiting for her husband. After all, her mother waited years… dang; I still need to wrap that part of the story up. Maybe in the summer.
About 1100 words because if this world is that corruptive to demi-humans, I don’t want any of my readers lost in some dream state; I value y’all too much.
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Her head came up and the rest of her a moment later, as she rushed around into his arms.
“Robert! Robert!” she cried, so happy to see him. When he felt the moisture of tears on his cheek, he leaned her back just a bit.
“Mother? Empress? Are you…?”
“I’m sorry, Robert,” she sniffled just a little. “But when I looked up, it was as if your father had walked into the room. That wouldn’t surprise me, here. I do still miss him, you know?”
“I know.” He smiled at one he both loved and feared. “You are not a sentimental person, but we know you always carry that little picture of the two of you.”
“But that’s neither here nor there,” she replied, already taking over the conversation. “Did you find that machine? Is that why you are here? Wait. You said ‘rescue.’ Does that…”
Faustina let go of her son and stepped back.
“Hello, Cousin Kalí,” she said in a slightly more careful tone. “Didn’t see you there. You look well in local clothes.”
“Thank you, Cousin Faustina. I hear you have summoned your other son, who should be here,” a quick shadow fell across the windows, one by one, “presently.”
With their rare personal moment seeming over, Bob waved about. “In the Council Chamber, huh? I guess you will never not be in politics, Mother.”
“I help out here and there.” It bothered him she stayed in her careful tone. “I also contribute a little to the local Historical Society – ”
The door was flung open and Bob’s older brother, Edward, dashed in, wearing some sort of black tunic and pantaloons under a white robe whose sleeves and base had a complex, red fire pattern embroidered on it. A red fire he once had in his eyes, before their mother punished him.
“Bob!” he shouted, taking his kid brother in a backbreaking hug. “You made it, too! And Cousin Kalí! Does this mean y’all got that machine figured out?”
“Uh, no.” Had Aurie’s guess been that good? Kalí seemed to think so. “Our cousin, here, brought me. As I just told Mother, we’re here to rescue you. To take you back.”
“That sounds great!” Edward called, letting go, grinning from ear to ear. “I hope Livia didn’t divorce me and find another man in all this time!”
“Time? Y’all have been missing barely a week, Ed,” Bob said, getting a very bad feeling about all this. “But she does miss you!”
“We,” Faustina said, taking a few steps away from her sons, “have been here a week over six months, Robert. If not that machine, may I conclude you did this, Kalí?”
“Yes. Regent Aurelia was gifted the initial knowledge. Robert’s girlfriend accidentally filled in some of the puzzle.” The odd prophet shrugged. “I brought Robert here. To rescue you. I did the best I could on the timeslip.”
“One week…?” Edward.
“Six months…?” Bob.
“Well,” Edward slapped Bob’s shoulder, “that’s fine! I got to have some fun and play engineer, like biggest sister Liz, but now I can get back to my wife as if nothing’s happened!”
“What do you mean by that?” Edward demanded, turning on her.
“The Lord has given you these months. You may not get them back.” She blinked her green eye and black eye. “I hope for greater precision on our return, but it will be at least six months later from when Robert and I left.”
“But…” Bob was confused. “Aurie’s rescue efforts, Aqua and his team looking for clues, hell, I doubt Eloise stuck around for six months! She could be shot by now!”
“Let’s go and see. Empress Faustina? Please come here and join us.” There was the faintest shimmer of light around the little prophet.
Now it was Bob’s turn to spin about, mad.
“What do you mean, Mother?”
Glad I had that warning from Kalí.
“The imperium has been a going concern for twenty-five years. One generation.” Bob tried to not yell. “Yes, the dead in the Breakup helped the reboot of our world, but you know there are factions, ‘liberty,’ they say, who would undo what you, and we, have done.”
“You are the imperium, Mother! Not Aurie, not our family! You! In three or four generations? Sure, we Hartmann’s will still be on top. Right now? Nukes and motors will mean nothing – nothing, Mother! – if you vanish.” Bob took a breath but went on before she could reply.
“What does it mean to be king?” he demanded.
“The king and the land are one,” Faustina replied by rote.
“Stay here and land will be gone in a generation,” he concluded. Bob noted Edward and Kalí were very still.
Head down, the Empress leaned into her fists on the table.
“You? You dare to lecture me? Human?” Her voice began low but was rising. “I have been at this since I was sixteen: killing to bring order. An army at eighteen. Empress a year later. Campaign after campaign. Then more than war: St. Louis and Old Eagle. Tens of thousands, no, more than a hundred thousand civilians dead. By my command. Mine!”
She turned slowly to face them.
“I regret nothing. I apologize for nothing. I have been to Confession for what might have pushed the Laws of War, human,” boy is she mad, “and given my subjects and my family everything of me.”
“Have you no decency, Robert?” Her bright turquoise eyes grew wet. “You’re right. Twenty-five years. The best of my life to take and forge the imperium. The loss of your father…”
Her voice caught and she turned away.
“For six months.” Quieter now. “For six months. No more dancing with my enemies; pointless squabbles; endless politics. I’ve never not been demi-human, but this was the first time in my entire life I have been at peace. This place is a remedy to my soul. I do not want to go back.”
Opening his mouth to mention Ildi and Julian, her youngest children, Bob paused with Edward’s hand on his shoulder as he stepped next to him.
“My brother asked you one question. I’ll ask another, Mother,” the maimed demi-human son of the Empress said. “What is duty?”
They watched her back heave once. Even facing away, it was obvious she was crying.
“Duty is as heavy as a mountain.” They watched her wipe her eyes on the sleeve of her off-white business jacket before turning around. Her eyes blazed turquoise fire. “Death is as light as a feather.”
Empress Faustina Hartmann took the step to her sons slowly. A hand on each shoulder.
“Y’all make me older.” A sour look to Kalí. “Let’s go home.”
The four stood in the dark on the stunted grass outside of Building #4 of the Arnold Engineering Center. The wind could not have been more than thirty degrees Fahrenheit. Shuddering, Bob hoped his gifted family reached out with their lines…
A siren sounded and emergency lights came on everywhere.