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Darkship Revenge: Chapter Six

       Last updated: Monday, March 13, 2017 21:15 EDT




    When I got to the edge of the level in which Lupin’s was located, and could get a good look at sky and sea without the encumbrance of a dimatough platform overhead, I saw that light was dwindling.

    I might have stayed in Liberte, I supposed, but I was haunted by both the knowledge that they’d killed Simon and the vague, undefined suspicion that I was being followed. And it came to me, clear as day, that I didn’t know what Louis had gone to tend to when he’d gone to the shop’s corridor or perhaps its backroom while I was haggling with his father.

    It wasn’t as though I’d never been tracked or followed before.

    My father had liked to at least make sure that my body was safe, which often meant having people follow me or having devices placed on me to track me. Which was part of the reason I’d taken payment in the form of an account elsewhere, instead of a credgem I could hold. Credgems are trivially easy to bug. All electronics are.

    I had no reason to think that François Lupin as I’d known him would have me followed or tracked, but I also no longer knew what the society was like on the Seacity or what his incentives were. Under some circumstances, in some societies, even your best friend, who wishes you well, will spy on you. And Lupin was not my best friend.

    My experience allowed to check for pursuit without appearing to check. I listened attentively, but heard no single pattern of steps following me. Casual glances revealed no consistent shape or body type. And yet I was sure I was being followed.

    Fed and changed, Eris slept peacefully and I thought to myself that the instinct for being followed or not being wished well had kept me safe more than my enhanced hearing or my enhanced vision. More even than my enhanced speed.

    If I assumed I was being followed, what was the downside if I weren’t? Well, I’d spend some uncomfortable hours and might put myself to a great deal of unneeded trouble.

    But what if I were being followed and assumed I wasn’t? I could get killed. Or worse.

    At the edge of the platform I took the long circuitous road around that level, walking briskly along the side of the road, on which flyers travelled fast at the low heights which were the only height allowed within the Seacity.

    From somewhere came the idea that one of those flyers could slow and someone could grab me.

    I said, “Right,” got the Eden helmet from my pocket and put it and the extra oxygen mask on Eris’s face, then slipped my own oxygen mask on, mounted the broom and took off, into the distant sunset.

    I can’t say I saw any flyer take off after me, or that I had any proof of ever being in trouble, but I know the further away I flew from Liberte, the safer I felt.

    Of course, I hadn’t thought of where to go until I was in the air, and then it was more or less obvious.

    Some poet or other once said that you could never go home again. In my case this was very true of course. There was no way I could walk in through the front door of the house in which I was raised, or, as had been my custom, crawl in through the half open library window. None of those were there anymore. Or at least the portions still standing weren’t structurally safe. The palace had got bombed out, actually during the war over the possession of Syracuse, when my father had died. I’d seen the ruins from the air.

    But Syracuse was still there, and I doubted the levels below the palace had been substantially ruined, and I needed a place to say. Just for the night, with Eris.

    If that failed I had some vague idea of going to one of those places prostitutes rent by the hour. Father had been very strict about their being clean and vermin-free, and I was sure it would take them more than the two years or so since his death to fall into bad habits. And those establishments were known not to ask for ID or anything else but money.

    But when I approached the seacity, the palace looked less ruined than I’d expected. Oh, still a burnt ruin, don’t get me wrong, but not ruined all the way down, and I thought I’d land and go see what remained.

    I don’t know what I expected. The funny thing is that I expected it to either be completely ruined or inhabited. After all, in the lowest levels of the seacity people would take over any space, even those spaces that were left over by imperfections in building the seacity.

    There were tents and huts in those levels far less luxurious than these ruins.

    My first thought on landing was to note that the external walls hadn’t been broached and the vast dimatough gates were still locked. This seemed strange to me, since I presumed when the palace had been bombed there had been a full complement of servants in residence, and even if most of them had been killed during the attack, there should have been corpses and the disposal of the dead.

    But the glimmering black dimatough walls were unbroached and the gates locked. I circled, from the air, three times, to make sure, but I saw no movement whatsoever. True, it was getting dark, but even so, you can tell when someone is living somewhere. Well, you could if the very poor had moved in. There would be cooking smoke, and at least makeshift lights.

    Nothing. The gardens had gone wild, and nothing moved inside the perimeter of the walls. So I did what any sane person would have done. Or perhaps not any sane person, since I was after all of the same line that had built this house, and the one things we couldn’t claim, just looking at the floor plan, was any sanity.

    I landed in front of the gates, found the genlock in the dimatough and put my finger in the lock. The lock was a genlock and had been keyed to my supposed father’s genes. I wasn’t sure, though Kit could probably give you an exact description, of the manipulations that had gone into making me, but I knew that it was close enough for me to open all the locks.

    This one was no exception and the gates slid open with a protesting creak.

    I took a step into the patio-driveway in front of the house, and then saw it coming towards me. It looked like a serving robot that someone had crossed with a kitchen mincer. What I mean is that it was a cylindrical column, with multiple arms coming out of its center, at all different angles. Each arm was equipped with a cleaver or knife or, yes, I was sure of it, serving fork.

    One thing is to think that if you’re caught here or there you’re going to be lunch, and another and completely different is to be faced with what looked like a butler robot gone wild.

    I screamed and fried it right through the chest with my burner, only to have the burner ray glance off the black dimatough carapace, as the thing lurched closer at an incredible speed, and I shot the burner again, this time at the light on top, amid the whirring arms.

    The light exploded, the robot stopped. It started to emit a high pitch whine and Eris woke up and started crying.

    Through all this din, I heard a much too familiar voice say “Thena?”

    There was only one person in the world who could sound like that, managing to make his voice waver, and hit several pitches at once.

    I turned around and saw him loping towards me, at an uneven gallop, his hair – what remained of it – standing on end, his clothes looking like what someone would wear if he dressed in the dark, after severe brain damage. Which applied. I said, “Fuse,” and put my burner away.

    Fuse was — I suppose you must call him a member of my broomer’s lair, only some special conditions apply. Fuse had started out, like me, the child of a Good Man and raised in the lap of luxury. Until he’d discovered the secret underpinning the entire regime of the Good Men and he’d run from his father’s vengeance. An accident while going through an old piece of port machinery had rendered him safe from retribution. And brain damaged. Only one thing remained between the old Fuse and the one after the accident: an unnatural enthusiasm for making things explode.

    One side of his body was close to paralyzed, he had missing tufts of hair, but it seemed to me as he got closer, that the expression in his eyes was less vague and wandering than it had once been. Half of his face remained slack and drooping, but it didn’t look like he was drooling, his mouth wasn’t loose, and it looked like his eyes were actually focused.



    He stopped short of me and stared uncomprehending at Eris, tied to my front. She’d stopped screaming, but was making little snuffling sounds of displeasure.

    I smiled at him. Fuse was, or had been at about a six-year-old’s level of understanding, and if you introduced something or someone new to an interaction, you were likely to confuse him. “This is Eris,” I said. “My daughter.”

    “Your…” He blinked. “You have a daughter?” He came around with great curiosity, to peer into the helmet at Eris’s sleeping face. “Tiny,” he said.

    “She’ll grow,” I said. Then added, “Fuse, what are you doing here?” at the same time as Fuse looked at the robot I’d shot and said, “You’ve broken Nellie.”

    And then he said “My father,” at the same time I said “Nellie?” and then I said “Your father?” at the same time he said “Nellie, my robot. You broke her, and it took me so long to build her.” And then reproachfully, “The Sinistra house doesn’t have many things to build things. They’re all for other things. I had to improvise.”

    The word improvise, despite the muddled nature of the rest of the talk, had been beyond Fuse when I’d last seen him, as had, also, the idea of building a robot. Before his accident, Fuse had been a master of explosives, building bombs for fun. After his accident he’d retained that knowledge. That, I understood, was not that hard, as passions and strong interests might leave something behind, even as a brain was damaged. But even if he’d had some mechanical knowledge before his accident – I hadn’t been close enough to know it – I’d never seen him show it before or since.

    I proceeded with caution.

    “What does your father have to do with your hiding out in the ruins of my father’s house?”

    Fuse blinked at me. “My father is trying to catch me,” he said. “For the surgery. Jan suggested I hide here.”

    “The… surgery?” It occurred to me that perhaps there was some treatment that might fix Fuse and perhaps it had already started. There were ways to rescue victims of brain injury, I knew that. The only thing that had made Fuse’s injury as bad as it was that he’d not reported immediately to a med center for regen. But at the time he’d been running from his father.

    “The surgery for him. He has a disease. My body will do for his brain.”

    It was my turn to blink, both because that was one of the most coherent explanations I’d ever heard out of Fuse and because his eyes looked full adult and intent, and sad.

    The truth about the Good Man regime which Fuse had learned just before his accident was that while, throughout the rule of the Good Men, supposedly genetically pure and unenhanced “humans”, instead of son following father, the Good Men, who were actually the Mules and the Bio-Lords of old, had had themselves cloned and their brains transplanted to the body of a supposed son.

    After his accident Fuse had been deemed unusable by his father. Not because his brain had been damaged, since that wouldn’t count once the surgery was accomplished, but because he was known to be brain damaged, and so it would be very hard to believe that he was well enough to inherit. His father had had a new, younger “son” made, and Fuse was deemed not important enough to kill, but also not important enough to control. He’d spent most of his time at the broomer’s lair, more or less looked after by anyone who had the time and energy. Most of looking after Fuse consisted of keeping him from blowing something up.

    He looked at me impatiently and said, in a snappish tone I was not at all used to hearing out of Fuse, “My brother was killed. Assassinated. My father made me come back and started using treatments,” he raised a tremulous hand to the side of his face that was slack and not fully under his control. “To repair this. Some nano thing. The thing brought me back. Brought some of me back. I remembered. I understood my father wanted to bring me back, so he could say I was healed and have the surgery. He has a disease. He needs out of his body.”

    It was one of the longest speeches I’d ever heard Fuse make, and the most coherent. “I see,” I said.

    “Hid for a while. Old lair. There is no one old lair. Everyone is fighting the war. Nano thingies continued working,” he said. “Called Simon. Simon said call Jan. Jan said go old Sinistra house. It’s abandoned but defen — defen — defen –” His face scrunched in frustration. His mouth pursed. “Can keep intruders out. Even my father. If he thinks to look here, and he won’t. So I moved in, and live in secret place. Place that closes. But I built Nellie to protect me.” He looked at the robot. “You killed Nellie.”

    I wondered what he meant by secret place. If it was my father’s secret office-and-fun-rooms, I wondered how he’d discovered it and more importantly how he’d gotten into it. I, myself, had only been able to find it because I’d seen my father go into it once. “I’m sorry Fuse,” I said, not sure which mental age I was talking to, anymore. “Nellie would have carved me to pieces otherwise. You understand I don’t want to be carved.”

    He nodded, forlornly, so forlornly that I added, “If we take her inside I might be able to fix her. You remember I’m good with machines?”

    His eyes lit up. “You fix,” he said. Then looked up apprehensively. I realized that though he’d come close to me, he was still in the shadow of the house and wouldn’t be fully visible should anyone or anything fly overhead. “You know we’re not supposed to be out. Someone might see.”

    I agreed with him that far. I grabbed hold of one of Nellie’s arms, beneath a cleaver end, and pulled it along. Fortunately it had wheels, and allowed itself to be pulled fairly easily.

    We went in to the home of my childhood by what used to be the doorway to the secondary kitchen.

    In its heyday, as in when I’d grown up here, the house had had a population of a few hundred people, between maids, guards, cooks, gardeners and rarer occupations like seamstress or shoemaker. To serve this population, it had two kitchens, either with a dedicated staff: one of them catered to the family, that is Daddy Dearest and I and any guests we might have at any time. It specialized in whatever food was trendy or fashionable at the time.

    The secondary kitchen catered to the staff, and while the food there wasn’t bad – my father believed in giving people incentives to stay loyal and to remain working for him – it was cooked on a grand scale and for a small multitude. As such, it was plain, plentiful and nutritious but not in any way fashionable.

    The secondary kitchen was magnitudes bigger than the primary kitchen and it had been a very full place. Now only the furnishings remained, the staff having either died in the explosion or dispersed. It contained two very large, industrial scale cookers, and a huge table, right down the center. Bits and pieces of what I assumed had been kitchen equipment remained scattered around, but the pots and pans which used to hang from the ceiling and the plain, white ceramite service for 400 which used to be stacked on the shelves near the cookers were gone. I assumed they had been looted and that the only reason the cookers and table were still here was that they’d been assembled in the kitchen and were too large to simply carry out and too complex to be disassembled by the uninitiated.

    As we entered the kitchen, perhaps triggered by the change between light and dark, between warmth and relative coolness, Eris resumed screaming.

    Fuse looked back, alarmed, and I said “It’s all right. She’s just scared. She doesn’t understand what’s happening.”

    He nodded and resumed walking, out of the kitchen and into a hallway that I remembered having been furnished with oriental carpet and holograms on the walls, but which was now just bare, black ceramite. He spoke without turning back, in a sort of toneless, flat voice, “I remember not understanding,” he said. “It’s very scary.”

    And I realized that having been severely hampered and recovering might be worse than never having recovered. I stared at Fuse’s broad back, as he limped rapidly ahead of me, and felt a sudden surge of pity.

    At the end of the hallway, past doorways that led to what used to be other parts of the house, was a large bare room. It used to be the administrative room for all of my Father’s domains, and I wondered who had got the computers with their data, as well as all the other accoutrements necessary for running what had been the Sinistra Empire.

    The room was so bare and spare that even the places where wires ran into the wall had been excavated, to remove the last bit of wire-metal that people could possibly reach.



    Fuse paused and said, “First night here, I looked at wires and where wires went,” he pointed at a section of wall behind denuded built-in storage. The storage was in molded dimatough and looked like it had been poured at the same time as the wall, which probably explained why no one had tried to remove the shelves. They had removed the doors that had been wood, and which had once hidden the shelves. “I was bored,” he explained. “And I realized that some of them had to be for a secret door. So I got wires from other places. Some of the bombed, unstable places still had everything. And I got components and I refixed the entry.”

    I remembered the door to my father’s secret domain had once been operated by manipulating a faun’s statue and some accouterments on the shelves. Those were gone, but Fuse now reached beneath a shelf, touched a point on the wall, which looked to me indistinguishable from any other point on the wall, kicked a distant shelf. Part of the wall slid away revealing a hallway. He smiled back at me, an echo of his old lopsided smile, “Come,” he said. “Once this is closed we’ll be safe here. Even if they know there used to be a secret place, they won’t know where to look.”

    I hesitated. I had known Fuse well before, and while I wouldn’t say I’d have trusted him with my life, since his impairments made trusting him with anything but the ability to “make a big boom” perilous, I had known how his mind worked and his proclivities. I knew Fuse had been a good natured child, at heart. Now —

    Then I thought that once Fuse’s personality had been stripped away by the accident, what had remained, at the heart of it, was his own basic inclinations, which seemed to be rather well-intentioned and perhaps even, at least when applied to the old Fuse with his impairments, sweet. I remembered he used to greet me with wholehearted hugs, for instance, and I didn’t even remember a single instance of his throwing a tantrum.

    And while brain injury could and did change people’s personality, the vague memory I had of Fuse before his injury was of a quiet, somewhat shy, but helpful and rather gentle young man. Besides, if he tried anything funny, I could fight him off. I’d fought off bigger men before. And even if he had the same enhancements I had – or so close as made no difference – being also the clone of a mule-Bio-Lord-Good Man, he hadn’t full control of his body yet. That much was obvious from his dragging right foot, his trembling right arm.

    I nodded and followed him, pulling Nellie the Robot. He noticed this and said, “It’s okay. I’ll take Nellie. You have a baby,” and reached to pull Ms. Cleaver Robot himself.

    Inside the secret door, it looked far more as I remembered my father’s house looking. There were deep rugs on the floor, and shelves and cabinets everywhere, many of them crammed with mementos of my father’s long and disreputable career.

    Most of these mementos were perfectly innocuous, consisting of things he’d been given by his subordinate rulers, usually a slightly higher version of the sort of souvenir people bought in souvenir shops. Things made of seashells, and seashells of monstrous proportions, and fossils, and holos and… And then there was his office, which consisted of a far more utilitarian bend, with a link and things that Father wouldn’t want anyone else to see. And then there were the private rooms. For a moment I entertained the hope that Fuse hadn’t penetrated the private rooms. Father had rather peculiar tastes, we’ll say it that way, the result of which had been not only dark stains on the floors of those rooms but the sort of mementos that I understood all serial killers kept: bits of humans. Usually small and desiccated, but unmistakably human bits of people who were no longer alive by virtue of Father’s agency. There had also, I think, been holos and sensi recordings. I wasn’t absolutely sure as I hadn’t activated the holo apparatus or played the sensis. In fact, since, at a relatively young age, I had realized what Father did in those rooms, I had tried to stay out of them and keep my ignorance of what happened there as much as possible.

    So I’d hoped that Fuse hadn’t opened those rooms. I didn’t know what his recovering mind would make of it, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to know.

    But when we got to the central hall of the place, the door to Father̵#8217;s most secret room which had once been secured by genlock, stood open, blasted, the lock burned away. Fuse looked at it, then stopped dead.

    He turned around to face me. “I have thrown away everything from those rooms,” he said, with a slightly worried look, as though he thought I might object. And, to my enthusiastic, “Good,” he hesitated.

    “I burned them,” he said. “Or threw it in the sea. I cleaned. I got a bed from upstairs and… and things… and I sleep there. But you don’t want to sleep there. It was a bad place.”

    I had no idea how he’d intuited I didn’t want to sleep in that place. Perhaps he’d noticed my expression when looking at the blasted-open door. Or perhaps he’d recovered enough memories and enough of his mind to realize what the place must have been and was gallantly trying to protect me. Impossible to say. I simply didn’t know the new Fuse.

    “No, I don’t want to sleep there,” I said.

    He grinned, with an echo of the Fuse I’d known, and possibly an echo of someone he’d been in childhood, and went into that space, and dragged back several blankets. “We’ll make you a bed in the office,” he said. He hesitated. “I don’t want to go upstairs and see if there are some mattresses. You don’t mind do you? Some places are very unstable.”

    I didn’t mind at all. I’d flown enough above the mansion’s ruins, to think that Fuse shouldn’t have risked it in the first place. Yes, the way the shell was split, and only selectively burned, there were probably entire rooms untouched, but the way the walls leaned at crazed angles, it was entirely possible for the entire thing to collapse at the smallest weight. In fact, Fuse had colonized just about the only safe area in the house, since Father’s holy of holies plunged under the dimatough top of the island and was therefore probably safe even in case the structure above collapsed.

    The assemblage of blankets Fuse arranged was more of a nest than a bed, but it was surprisingly comfortable. Or maybe I was that tired.

    Fuse watched in solemn, owlish interest as I changed Eris, and, because I couldn’t figure out how to get rid of him, while I nursed Eris, although I did cover the process with a draped corner of a blanket.

    At the end of it, while Eris lay in my arms, falling asleep, he gave her his finger, which she grasped with a determination that I suspected meant a whole lot of stubbornness as part of her inborn character.

    He looked down, fascinated at her tiny fingers squeezing his. “She’s holding so she won’t fall,” he said, very gently. There was a long silence. “I felt like that. When I was… when I was really not well. I kept trying to hold on to the little bits that were me,” he said. “But I kept falling.”

    I didn’t say anything. There didn’t seem to be anything I could say. Eventually he shambled off to the rooms I’d rather never enter again, and I closed the door to the office and locked it.

    Look, chances are he could get in if he tried really hard. And he probably had a burner about him, somewhere. And I’d once fought off an armed and armored man using only my boot. But I like to sleep more or less undisturbed. And what if he came in and took Eris off with him, while I slept? Let’s suppose he even did it with the best intentions in the world: did he know he was supposed to support her spine? Even if he had known that about babies long ago, while well, did he still know it?

    I shoved one of the armchairs against the door, in such a way that getting in would take time as well as effort. Time would mean time enough for me to wake up, time enough to prepare defense.

    I bedded down on the untidy nest of blankets and eiderdowns on the floor, with Erin on my chest.

    It smelled as though it had been exposed to the outside air for a long time, which was probably true, before Fuse had rescued the covers.

    As I started sliding down into sleep, I had an idea. But even the idea was not enough to keep me awake.

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