Jenny Whilmire Grayson and Chris Manckiewicz had just finished walking through the Order of Battle, identifying the most in-over-their-heads temporary officers, the best and worst performing units, where each unit was right now, and a bit about what each unit had endured recently.
Chris was explaining that the Fourth Washington Volunteers had been surprised on their flank by the pipe-and-fuse muskets. “In that first volley they lost half of one company, all from Pullman, Washington, people who knew each other well. They’re all putting off grief but there’s a world of pain there, and you’ll want to keep an eye on it. Now, turning to the artillery, you have three batteries that didn’t even—”
An unmistakable chuffing raced up into a drumbeat, then rose to a rumble outside: a very large engine starting up slowly. They all stared at each other for a moment, then rushed out of the big tent en masse.
The NeoGoliath was already rolling along Indiana 25, gathering speed into the wind, Chris, Jenny, and the officers crowded together, gaping, its spoked, iron-tired landing wheels on their double-bowed axles lifted from the roadway. The tail wheel came up, and the NeoGoliath was airborne and on her way. NSP-12 turned south at once, as if afraid or ashamed to let the officers look more closely, and began a steady climb into the sky.
“Well,” Chris said, “there goes your ride, Jenny. I was planning to stick around with the Army of the Wabash, but it would have been nice of them to offer me a choice. I wonder—”
“Let me think, Chris. I don’t see—”
Patel approached her, saluted, looked embarrassed because he wasn’t sure he was supposed to do that in front of officers, and handed her a folded sheet of paper.
She opened it and read:
My dearest daughter,
The Earl of Broad River has told me of the situation in Athens, and it is grave indeed. The leadership of the National Church, both within itself and as the Christian body that must guide our nation through Tribulation, is in the gravest peril, and it was urgent for me to go there and use the talents with which the Lord has blessed me to ensure that the outcome strengthens the hand of our Lord and King.
How I wish that I could count on your support at this dark and terrible time, or that I could say in my heart that after all, you had only just lost a husband in a terrible murder, and therefore must be excused. But I am afraid that I cannot afford, in so dire a situation, to be less than honest with myself, with you, or with the Christ whom I hope we both serve: you have shown far too little willingness to submit, far too much drive toward your own goals.
You have in fact said that you do not even believe we are in Tribulation, despite all the obvious signs, and you have not only expressed ideas and goals contrary to church teachings but you appear to be willing to endorse those who would re-secularize our government, just as if the terrible lessons of the last year had never been learned.
So with so much teetering on the brink in Athens, to be blunt, Jenny, though you are my daughter and I love you, God’s Own Nation cannot afford to have you anywhere near its capital until proper authority is re-established.
She turned to face Chris and the officers, and with her voice even and level, priding herself on never falling into sarcasm, she read the whole letter aloud, and when she finished, she said, “Now, are you all a part of whatever my father was talking about, or if you are not, can you tell me what the fuck it is?”
Colonel Irwin, the seniormost officer with them, said, “Well, ma’am, we’re mostly here because we’re
All the other heads were nodding.
“Well, that’s the start of an answer. Part of what?” Jenny said.
“I guess it started back early in the Ohio Valley campaign, ma’am. Your dad, he, uh, well, he thought he was being excluded from a lot of decisions. Like he wanted to spare a lot of lives and get preachers in here to convert the Daybreakers, he thought you could kind of pray them out of it or heal them like they were possessed or something, and he wanted the Board to order General Grayson to try to do that, he thought that… well, he thought the massacres were un-Christian. And he wanted the Board to remove General Grayson as the NCCC, he was arguing all the time that they had the power to do that if they wanted, and a lot of different things. But he was the leader of the Church side of the Board, and General Grayson was more the leader of the Army side, and not only was there already kind of a balance, but nobody really wanted to stick their neck out and make big decisions with the main guy on each side so far away, especially not with it being a war and all. So… this is kind of embarrassing… well, to put it delicately—”
Irwin’s lips pressed together, and he said, “Two days ago when we received word that your husband had passed on, and the army was surrounded, some of the Church people made a really big move; they tried to vote about half the military officers off the Board and replace them with ministers, they were going to declare their independence as a Christian nation, declare peace with the Lost Quarter tribes, and call the Army home.
“Well, that didn’t set well with the Army, and it turned out there were a lot of people that didn’t want the nation to be any more Christian than it was, so there were protests and demonstrations outside the government buildings in Athens, people demanding to stay in the US and backing the Army against the Church, and the Army was called in from Fort Benning to break them up and most of us here were among the group that refused the order, said it was against our oaths. And it was starting to look like a real revolution against the National Church, in Athens, a lot of officers muttering they didn’t like Graham Weisbrod or liberals or the Provis much, but now that General McIntyre is President up there, they’d a lot rather be dealing with a gay three-star three thousand miles away, than with a bunch of ignorant-ass crazy preachers right on top of them, if you’ll pardon my putting it that way.”
“I’ve been having similar thoughts,” Jenny said, smiling a little.
“So things were hanging in the balance, with the old Board and the Church holding most of the government buildings in Athens, and the crowds outside chanting for ‘Restore the Constitution!’, and churchers and rebels fighting each other everywhere. Most of us in the Army were figuring the rebels would win and invite us to restore order, sometime in the next few days, and we needed to stay out of it, because that’s what we’ve been trained to do, stay out of civilian politics.
“Well, but here you were surrounded and without officers, so let’s just say many of us were worried about you. Then that Bret Duquesne, you know, he’s nothing like his dad who was the biggest independent on the Board, well, Duquesne offered to fly twenty officers up here, and naturally the ones that were in favor of reunification and winning the war with the tribals were the ones who volunteered. And I am seeing now that we have possibly all been had, ma’am, because we all thought he’d be taking you back there, because our side could sure use someone to rally around—actually both sides could—and now Duquesne has maneuvered things so we’re up here, you’re up here, and the Reverend Whilmire is down there.”
Jenny nodded. “Pure Daddy. Political from the ground up but he always thinks he’s doing it for God. Well, the Army is almost ready to move, and we have the assignments worked out, so is this the place where we all shake hands and you go to your different commands?”
“Yeah. I just wish we had a way to get you to Athens; it won’t do us much good to pull the Army back together, relieve Pale Bluff, and then all be called home after the Board sends a note of apology to Lord Robert for annoying him.”
Chris spoke up. “Isn’t the radio rig still up? Let me talk to the RRC and see if something can happen.”