Book 17. Part Three. 2

For the first time ever, the Empress’ second husband gets a speaking role. I don’t – yet – get into his background or why Faustina picked him, but I’m sure I’ll find out. Also, from Regent (now with a 5-star review), Eloise meets Aurie’s husband, too. Like El, he’s recently of Canada.

So, we have something of a meet-and-greet right now. I’m curious to see how all this develops.

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“Paperwork and a badge have been issued for you and are now on the way to your guest quarters,” the Regent said, going back around her desk.  “Your badge will not get you into about half of the buildings here, so don’t try.  I suggest you contact your Brigadier in the next twenty-four hours for orders.”

“What about Bob?” Eloise demanded.

Aurelia paused before sitting.

“Weeks?  Months?  Years?  I’ve no clue.  Dismissed, guest of mine.”

Outside of the office building, Eloise tried to recollect herself.  Perhaps I should check in with General Burghy again…

“Miss Patel?” a man asked from behind her.  Turning, she saw the older man and young boy who had been at those meetings.  This is the Empress’ husband and son.

“Yes?  Forgive me, I do not recall your name, sir…” she said with her hand out.

“In a crowd like that, we humans are easy to overlook,” he said with a wry smile, taking her hand.  “Stephen Johnston.  This is my son, Julian.”

“Hello, there, Prince Julian!” she said with a smile.  While obviously shy, he took her hand before returning to just behind his father.  She looked back to Johnston.  “And you said ‘we humans?’  So I assume you two…?”

“Normies, as my wife sometimes lets slip.” He sighed and also looked about.  “The Regent has told me about my wife and her son’s disappearance.  And I got a text just moments ago that your friend, Crown Prince Robert, seems to have gone missing, too.”

He shook his head.

“I raised that boy as if he were my own.  Faustina being gone is one thing; I know she can take care of herself.” He put his hand on his young son’s shoulder.  “Bob’s just a kid.  And I do not understand this Kalí person at all.”

“Sometimes,” he whispered, “they are exasperating.”

“I met Bob about a year ago, in what’s now your Kentucky Province,” Eloise said into the prolonged silence.  “He was so nice!  There was some edge there I didn’t get at the time – I sure do now! – and, well, I really like him.  He’s only kissed me a few times, but…”

She trailed off to see Johnston smile.

“…but I do like him.  If that’s okay with you, Mister Johnston?” she asked.

“A Canadian officer in love with an imperial centurion?” He chuckled.  “Détente, indeed.  Will you join my son and me for a walk?”

“Most certainly!  Ah.  The Regent said I must to my guest quarters first, for a badge.  Bob told me this is the most secret part of your empire,” Eloise said.

“That’s fine.  I’ve been here a few times and know you should go this way.” He shook his head with a smile.  “No one will bother you if we’re alongside.”

Concrete gave way to gravel as they halted in front of a Quonset hut dressed up for one guest.  Johnston said they would wait.  Eloise paused.

“Mister Johnston?  Stephen?” She blinked away tears.  “I’ve only been here a couple of days.  And finding out who Bob is.  This is hard… that is… I’m scared…”

She felt his arms around her, pulling her close.

“They are very different.  But they do love us,” he said, his mouth in her dark hair.  “My kids are proof of that!  You are not alone, Lieutenant Patel.  My stepson…”

He paused and Eloise looked at him.

“My stepson has told me what he wanted to about you.” He took her shoulders.  “He is fond of you, Miss Patel.”

“The Empress,” she shook him off, “said we cannot marry.  Genetics.  I need to get my badge.  Excuse me.”

I didn’t need that tiny emotional trainwreck right now! she thought to herself.  On the small table opposite her bed, a bed she wanted someone else in, was her new badge.  When did they take my picture?  Or does that even matter for the people… these demi-humans?  Bob said he’s human, but still, he grew up with them.  And then that thing with Ai, that construct, they called it.  I fear my country is on the brink of destruction if they push these people too far.

Eloise brushed at her dark hair and returned to her unexpected escort.

Who had been joined by another.

“Miss Patel?” Johnston gestured to his left. “This is Mister James Burns.  Recently married to our Regent.”

“It’s Jimmy,” the young man with rugged dark looks said, advancing with his hand out.  “And I’m glad to meet another Canadian.  Not, I guess, that I am, anymore.”

“What’s that?” she asked, taking his hand.

“My family has been in Nova Scotia for over two hundred years.  Aurie kind of dropped out of the sky,” he seemed to think that funny, “and, well, after one wild night, demanded I be her husband.  Now here I am.”

He raised his hands to the sky, looking left and right.

“Not that I have any idea where I am,” he admitted.

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