The Governor walked, and did not walk in peace. How could she, with everything that was happening? But her face was impassive as she passed the guard stations. You must always be more confident, more calm than the troops, the General had told her. She could remember the scene as if it were last night.
“Even if I'm not?” she had asked, sitting by the bed, listening to his labored breathing.
“Especially if you're not! Nothing will terrify them so much as thinking their Commander is worried.” He coughed into a handkerchief, and groped for his cup of water. “They will always assume that you know more than they do, whether you do or not. If you look worried, they'll assume there's something bad you haven't told them. And nothing is scarier than a danger you don't know the details of. Not knowing what it is makes it a hundred times as scary.”
“But I'm only human” she protested.
“Not when I'm gone, you won't be,” he retorted. “You'll have to be something more, their rock in the quicksand. You're ready for this. Tough enough for this. In the last year you've met commanders, reviewed troops, and debriefed returning sorties. We've let them see you by my side in all major decisions. This will work.. It has to. People, especially troops, need to believe that someone has a plan, that someone has the answers. Otherwise … otherwise it's all quicksand, and they'll panic.”
She stroked his head. “But what if it is all quicksand?” she whispered.
“Then you fake it,” he said. “You'd be surprised how much your troops can do if they don't know how bad the odds are. I've led them to victory many a time against odds of five, ten to one. Do you think I ever said 'men, were doomed, but put up a good fight anyway?' Hell no! I put on my game face and said 'let's go GET those fuckers!' And we did. Every time.” He stopped and retched into the handkerchief again. Specks of blood stained the linen. She felt as if they were coming out of her own heart.
“Robbie” she whispered, using the name no one else dared use with him, “Robbie … I don't know if I can do it. You're my rock. Without you, love, it's all quicksand.”
He just looked at her with those hazel eyes. Eyes she had worshiped for eighteen years still pierced her like darts, opened holes into her soul, wounds that would never close. Even now, in his last battle, they remained clear and imposing. “You must,” he told her. “Or everything I've done was for nothing. For nothing! Without a strong leader, it'll be civil war, and you know it. The State will collapse, and Texas will pick up the pieces. Are you going to let that happen? Is that how you are going to remember me? Is that – “ he lapsed into another coughing fit, but above the linen clenched in his fist, his eyes held hers, indomitable.
She waited until the worst of it passed. Slowly, he regained control, but his color was paler now, as if he were using up the last drop of himself to try to get through to her. Then he spoke again, but she had to lean forward to make out the words.
“If you ever loved me,” he said, “then do this. Do it for me. Do it for yourself. Do it for all the poor bastards who will be lost without you. Keep the dream alive!”
His head fell back on the pillow, but the eyes still watched her, waiting for her agreement. Those eyes clung to her as unwaveringly as the General had clung to his Dream.
There was a knock at the door. Without waiting, Collins stepped into the room. The young lieutenant's face was blank, but new lines at the corners of his eyes, a hint of redness in them from blinking back too many tears, and the way he unconsciously fiddled with one of his buttons betrayed his nervousness, his unspoken fears for the future. “I'm sorry, ma'am,” he began, “but the doctor says that we need – ”
Kristana stood. She was not a tall woman, but at the moment she refused to acknowledge that. It was now or never. “YOU NEED?” she roared. “How DARE you? Do you know who I am?”
He snapped to attention at the sound of her voice and gulped. “Y-you are the – “
“I AM THE ACTING GOVERNOR OF COLORADO!” she screamed. “Get OUT! Get out and give this man some peace, by GOD, or you'll wish you had never been born!”
Collins jerked like a he had been slapped and his hand rose without conscious thought, snapping her a salute. Without a word he turned, ramrod straight, and marched from the room.
“And tell the Cabinet to assemble in the main meeting hall in one hour!” she bellowed after his fleeing back. Then she turned back to the General.
His hazel eyes were twinkling, and a smile was playing about his lips.
“That's my girl,” he said, and closed his eyes.
He kept smiling for another minute or so. Then his face went slack.
His last battle was finally over. And he had won.
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