Friday, June 8, 2007


They arrived at the safe house where their regional commander, known to his followers as Patton for his strategic prowess, was waiting with two of his lieutenants.

A blue-eyed Hispano with a general's bearing, Patton was so many generations removed from his ancient heritage that he spoke Spanish haltingly and with an unmistakably Anglo accent. His female lieutenant, Libertad, fluent in three languages and passable in two others, took an immediate shine to Diana for her competency in Spanish and the Dlilgoh Apache dialect. "We could use your help," she told her. "I know Zuni and Isleta, but never spent much time among the Apache."

The other lieutenant had acquired the name of Sputnik for his knack for maintaining uncannily accurate communications networks. He was a tall, serious young man with an intense gaze that missed nothing. He listened to Patton's suggestions about meeting times, places, and attendees, then turned those ideas into detailed plans, coordinating complex logistics with deceptive ease. When Patton said he wanted Amalia's delegation to attend a party that evening with dinner and dancing, he pulled out a notepad, appraised each member of the group with a keen eye for measurements, made a few notes and sent an orderly into town.

"This morning's meeting will last until noon,” he said. “Your evening clothes will be waiting for you at the farm when you return. Try them on right away. There will be someone on hand to help with any alterations that may be necessary. A carriage will come for you at seven."

"I'll ride my horse," Diana said. "I'm our group's messenger."

Before Amalia could rebuke her for speaking out of turn, Patton gave a reassuring smile. "We always arrange to have fast horses where Unitas people are gathered. If your own horse isn’t available, you’ll take one of ours. We give riders the highest priority."

Diana nodded and sat back in her chair.

Patton looked at each member of the assembled group in turn. "This morning’s conference is a preliminary one. Our plan is to keep the mood light and focus on building trust in advance of the more serious issues we’ll have to address at tomorrow's meeting. I'm counting on you to pay attention to anything you see or hear that could be of interest. If any of you can find a way to make friends with some of the guards from the other groups and get them talking, so much the better." He extended an arm to Amalia. "And now, if you'll do me the honor...”

Amalia took Patton's arm. She was pretty sure it was her age and reputation, and not her fading good looks, that made her worthy of this honor, but she was pleased nonetheless. Outside, an automobile was waiting. "I haven't ridden in a car in ages," she told him as she slid into the back seat.

Patton settled in beside her. "We can only afford to run them on important occasions, but it does give a good impression, doesn't it?"

"So what are our real prospects at this meeting?" she asked as the driver started the engine and they moved onto the dusty streets of town.

"Not very good. Morton is hoping we'll rubber-stamp his plan for everyone to back off and let him have his little fiefdom, with México Lindo as a silent partner. He knows what his people want, and folks in this area are enamored of the Mexico faction, for some reason. It's pure sentiment. Mexico has never done a good job of managing its affairs. Why would they be any better now, with ongoing rebellions in Chiapas, Oaxaca, Distrito Federal, and other areas? If people here want a return to their roots, they should go with Hispanos Unidos or AmerIndios."

"You didn't. Why not?"

"Why am I not with Hispanos Unidos, you mean?" Patton gazed out the window. "I'm fifty-five, Amalia. We're of an age, aren't we?"

"I'll be forty-nine this fall."

"That's close enough to remember what it was like, before everyone split into their own groups. I believe nothing is more noble than the ideals of the former United States—the notion that we're all equal and deserving of happiness. I'm sentimental enough to think we might be able to put things back on track and have it succeed this time. That's why I have nothing to do with special interest groups. Our strength is in what we can be when we put aside the differences that don't matter and work together for the things that do."

"I would like to see that, too,” Amalia said.

"Of course you would. That's why you joined Unitas, isn't it?"

Amalia ducked her head. "I'm afraid my motives aren't as pure as yours.”


Alice Audrey said...

Just how did the USA meet it's demise anyway?

Ann (bunnygirl) said...

Severe resource scarcity, mainly shortage of oil, was the primary culprit.

Some areas, like Texas, seceded rather than keep letting the federal government draft its young men and confiscate its food and natural resources for the resource wars.

Other areas erupted into civil war as local strongmen tried to take power for themselves. The federal government, short on fuel and spread too thin, pulled out of some places, judging them not worth controlling. Keeping control of the Mississippi River, for example, was a higher priority than controlling the desert southwest.

Tin Soldier gets into this subject quite a bit. It takes place about ten years before Bella Diana, when the southwest is still part of the United States, but federal control is slipping.

Alice Audrey said...

I get the feeling I should read Tin Soldier first, but I'm enjoying this so I'm going to take them out of order.