"Dad, no," I said. "You can't make me go."
"Ciara, we've been over this. We don't have a choice." He shook his head.
"Send someone from the Plains Nation? You're telling me not one of the war clans has a daughter?" I asked skeptically.
"You know as well as I do, our alliance with the Plains Nation is tentative. This is our battle, not theirs."
"Give it a few years, I'm sure the Republic will be knocking on their door soon enough," I mumbled. "
Jonathan shook his head. "Trust me, Ciara. I wouldn't be sending you to the Republic unless I thought it was absolutely necessary."
"I don't even know what you think I'm going to be able to accomplish. I'm going to marry a guy I've never met, and somehow save the world?"
"Despite what the nation thinks, we don't want to go to war with the Republic. But, at this rate, we'll be at war by Christmas."
"Then make an alliance with Texas. Nobody messes with Texas," I said dryly.
"My sources confirm this man is an upstanding citizen," he said, ignoring me. "His father is one of General Monroe's most trusted majors."
"In the Republic "upstanding citizen" probably means he murders kittens for fun."
"Ciara Jackson," he paused. "You know the story of General John Jackson don't you?"
I fought back an eye roll, knowing exactly where this was going. "No, I've never heard of him," I said sarcastically.
"Well over a century ago he fought for these states. He would be proud to see his Confederate dreams realized, albeit under different circumstances. His stories were passed through our family for generations. It's because of him I got into politics. It's in my blood, and it's in yours."
"It's a presidency, not a monarchy," I reminded him. Though we all knew, this new world played by its own rules. Everyone knew I was tapped to succeed my father as President of the Georgia Federation one day.
"I know you'll do the right thing here, Ciara," he said, patting my shoulder. "You'll do what's best for this country."
The following morning, I left without a word to my father. He was right, I knew what was best for Georgia and I knew my obligation to my country. That didn't mean I was happy to do it.
A small group of Federation soldiers had been hand picked to accompany me. They would remain with me in Philadelphia indefinitely. The trip was to take two weeks, with supply stops. I was considering just how many supply stops I could take. Maybe if I dragged my feet, they'd just forget I was even supposed to be coming.
We left Savannah early in the morning, and began our trek across South Carolina. I complained about everything. I knew I was being obnoxious, but I just couldn't stop myself. I was sure my soldiers were already plotting my demise by the time we arrived in Charleston, our first stop.
The youngest of my three soldiers, Garrett, offered me a hand to climb from the wagon. He barely looked at me. Yeah, they'd definitely had enough of me. I followed him into into the Governor's mansion. I'd been here a million times, it looked just like every other Governor's mansion. Each state in the Federation had their capitals situated by the water. Trade was a huge part of our economy, and we had an extensive network of ships. We even traded with England.
"Ah, there she is," a bubbly man said with a smile. He stood in the open doorway with open arms. I let him pull me into a hug.
"Good to see you again, Governor Braxton."
"Psh, call me Charles, I've told you." He let me go and guided me into the foyer. Charles Braxton was the youngest of the Federation's Governors. He'd been a friend of my father's for as long as I could remember. "I'm sure you're tired, I'll have someone show you to your room."
I thanked him, and then followed a maid upstairs. As soon as the door was closed behind me, I collapsed into bed. It'd only been a day, but my back already hurt from sleeping in the wagon. Just as I was getting comfortable, there was a knock on my door. "Come in," I called half-heartedly.
The door opened just a smidgen, and a small blonde head popped in. "Cici!"
My mood changed almost immediately. "Sarah, come in!" I sat up and motioned her over. She practically ran at me, and engulfed me in a huge hug. Sarah Braxton was the Governor's ten year old daughter. For years, before I was old enough to attend my father's meetings, I was a glorified baby sitter. But, I had never minded watching Sarah. It had been nearly a year since she and her father had been to Savannah, and I hadn't seen her since.
She flopped down on my bed. "Are you so excited?"
"About what?" I asked.
"About going to the Republic!" She said as if it were obvious. "Did you know Philadelphia was the capital of the United States before Washington DC? I bet it's so pretty. Don't they have a big bell?"
I nodded. "They do, I'll probably see it when I'm there. Maybe I'll draw it for you. Have you started learning American history?"
Sarah nodded excitedly. "It's so cool! You've got to draw me lots of pictures, I love your drawings. I hang them up in my room." She looked sheepish to admit it. "You better write lots!"
I smiled sadly. "I'll try." I didn't want to lie, but I doubted Monroe was going to let me send letters.
She folded her legs underneath her. "Tell me about the guy you're going to marry."
I shrugged. "I don't know much about him. I think he's a lieutenant or something."
She looked unimpressed. "What's his name?" She prodded.
I sighed. "Jason."
Sarah nodded, making her judgements. "That's a nice name. What's the Republic like?"
"I don't know, I've never been."
"Do they have schools and ships?"
"I don't think so. Well, I'm not sure about the ships. Maybe a few, not like ours though. There's not public schooling there, they don't teach American history either."
Her eyes widened. "Why don't they teach history?"
"General Monroe thinks it's the best way to keep his people in line. If they don't know about revolutions, they can't be revolutionaries."
"I love ships, they're pretty. Tell them they need ships."
I smiled at the suggestion. "I'll bring it up," I promised. "But that's going to be a lot harder than building a few boats. Their trading is quite limited. They don't have the infrastructure we do, no private companies trading. They burn boats if you're trading illegally." And people, I added silently. Sarah looked nervous. I shook my head and gave her a reasuring smile. "I'm tough, I'll be fine. You should get some rest, I'll see you in the morning."
The next morning we started a two day journey to Wilmington, then from there a three day trip to Richmond. "I feel like this just gets longer and longer," I murmured.
"Because it does," Garrett said.
I frowned at him. "I wasn't talking to you."
"Talking to yourself? That doesn't sound healthy."
I rolled my eyes. "I'm did not need the commentary, thank you very much."
"You spoke out loud, that was just begging for me to comment."
I sighed exasperated. "Fine, I'll just keep my mouth shut."
He laughed. "I'm just kidding! You political types are so sensitive."
"I am not," I said. He raised an eyebrow. "Oh, shut up."
He was quiet for a while and I thought I'd won. "What do think about this?" He asked finally. "About being sent to the Republic?"
"I think it's an awful idea. There's nothing I can do here, no matter what my dad thinks. The only thing that can get through to Monroe is all out war. We know he's scared, he never would've agreed to this if he wasn't. This is the time to strike, his nation is week."
"So you're for the war?" He asked.
He shook his head. "You don't know what war is like."
"And you do? You're what, a couple of years older than me? It's not like you remember the world before the blackout any better than I do."
"I might not remember it well, but I've heard stories from people who do. War isn't pretty. Innocent people are sent to kill other innocent people in the name of an idea they might not even support. They fight and die for countries who can easily replace them, they're expendable. Thousands die every day, and for what? Peace? Doesn't that seem counterintuitive? You could never understand. You won't know the people fighting in your war. You'll be sitting at home, letting people die for your right to sit on your ass."
"We aren't sitting on our asses," I protested. "We're doing whatever it takes to protect our people. Every day the Monroe Militia crosses our borders, and our people die trying to defend their homes. I've been to those towns, I've seen the destruction left behind. People lose their livelihoods, their families, and for what? Nothing. Those people are innocent too." I shook my head. "At least in war people die fighting for something."
Garrett was quiet for a minute, taking in my side. "That's why you're doing this, you're just trying to stop all of it."
I looked down. "Yeah, but I don't think I can."
After what felt like ages, we made it to Richmond. It was the largest, and thus most disputed, border city. They had their own army to defend themselves against the Militia. Smaller cities weren't so lucky. "Ready to cross the border?" Garrett asked, as he helped me out of the wagon. We were making one last supply stop in the Federation.
I shook my head. "Not particularly." We stocked up on food and water. As we walked through the marketplace, I noticed someone selling weapons. "I want a gun," I told Garrett.
"The three of us have guns," he told me, as he paid a woman for two apples.
"I want one of my own. I know how to use them."
"Not going to happen. Want an apple?" He asked. I waved him away and he shrugged before biting into one."
"We're crossing the border into the Monroe Republic. These people are not well known for their hospitality. I don't expect to be welcomed with fruit baskets and smiles."
"We have an official order from General Monroe that extends protection to you." He took another bite.
I stared at him blankly. "That doesn't exactly make me feel better."
"You're never going to win an argument with me, Jackson. Don't waste your breath."
We crossed into the Monroe Republic without incident. It was hours before we saw another person. "Maybe someone blew up the entire country," I muttered. "That'd be a relief."
Garrett shushed me. "Do you hear that?" I listened closely, in the distance I could hear rustling in the trees. "Get down!" I dropped to my stomach, so I was hidden.
"Stop where you are!" I heard a voice shout. I tried to look up, but Garrett put his foot on my shoulder and pushed me back down. "Do you men have a permit for those guns you're carrying?" The voice asked.
"We are soldiers from the Georgia Federation. I have an official notice from General Monroe to secure us passage to Philadelphia." Garrett placed his gun in the cart next to my head. I reached out and touched it. For a second I contemplated grabbing it and shooting the Militia soldiers. I'd been doing target practice since I could hold a gun, I knew I'd be okay. But, I didn't know how many soldiers were out there. The last thing I wanted to do was get my people killed. There was silence and the ruffling of paper.
"Miss Jackson?" The voice asked, closer this time. Garrett took his foot off my shoulder, I pushed myself to my feet. Since the Militia soldiers were on the ground, I towered over them. "Welcome to the Monroe Republic." He didn't smile or offer me a fruit basket, but he also didn't shoot me on the spot, which was always a win in my book.
"Well then, if you'll excuse us," Garrett said. "We're expected in Philadelphia soon, no time to waste."
"Well, I can't let you go without offering you an escort. The more the merrier, right?" The man smiled. Ss soon as he had, I wished he hadn't. His smile was forced and creepy, almost like it had been carved into his face. I glanced at Garrett and tried to shake my head subtly.
"That would be great," Garrett told the man. I stepped on his foot as hard as I could manage.
"We'll send Sergeant Mason with you," the Militia solider said, motioning to one of his men. I was glad I hadn't done anything rash. There were too many Militia soldiers here. I sat back down in the cart while my men discussed for a moment. Before I knew it, we were moving again.
"Philly is only a few more days ride from here," Mason said. "We can stop in Baltimore tonight and rest at the base there before moving on." I nodded and sank back against the side of the cart.
As we neared Baltimore, there was movement in the trees. I crouched, without Garrett saying anything. Mason got out of the wagon, expecting another Militia patrol. "Sergeant Mason of the Monroe Militia," he stated. I watched as an arrow flew from the trees and hit him in the chest. I dropped to my stomach.
"Rebels!" One of my soldiers shouted. I had heard stories about rebels, mostly from Federation traders. These rebels used the American flag as their symbol. Maybe we could talk to them, make an alliance. I wouldn't have to go to Philadelphia after all. I heard the sound of arrows whizzing by, followed by the sound of bodies hitting the ground. Garrett dropped down next to me, his face pale.
"What's going on?" I asked. "Don't they know we're from Georgia?"
He shook his head. "All they know is that we were with someone from the Militia and we have guns."
"What do we do?"
"When I say run, you take off for the trees as fast as you can. Run until your legs give out. I'll shoot as many as I can, buy you some time."
"What? No. Come with me."
"If we both run, neither of us will get away. Promise me you'll run. If you die, their deaths will be for nothing."
I nodded, though it made my stomach churn. "Do I still go to Philly?"
He nodded. "You'll be safe there." He reached for my pack and slid it to me. He tucked General Monroe's order in the front, then grabbed something by his leg. "Take this, you might need it." He pressed a gun into my hand and I looked at him.
"Ready?" I shook my head but he was already crouched and ready to go. "Run!" He yelled. I shot from the wagon like a bullet. Arrows flew past, but I didn't stop. Behind me I heard gun shots, one right after the other. I wondered how many rebels were out there. Suddenly the shots stopped, not enough bullets to empty his gun. I pushed myself to run faster, and tried not to think about what the silence meant.