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Darkship Revenge: Chapter Nine
Last updated: Saturday, March 25, 2017 09:08 EDT
Let it be noted I much prefer traveling in a comfortable flyer than on broomback. So did Eris, who fell asleep as soon as I secured her in a seat which had special adaptations for children. Since this was Lucius’ flyer, it merited a side long glance at him, while I fumbled with the infant-adaptor module, which was sort of a pull-out crib.
He looked amused, and I got the impression he enjoyed puzzling me. After a while, he reached over and set the proper adaptor. “Nat has siblings,” he said, in the tone of voice one uses when trying not to laugh. “And often I’m the only family member who can work with them around, since most of my work is writing things and appearing in hollo casts. I do a lot of my work at parks and zoos.”
He waited till Fuse and I were strapped in, on either side of the pilot seat, then pulled up at least three screens worth of info before programming a route into the flyer. I said, “Difficult route?”
“No. I just don’t like to find myself in the middle of a shooting match. And some of the things used could bring us down. So I check what is happening on the route. A lot today, apparently.”
“I just flew,” I said. “On the broom.”
“Yes, but Nat says that angels protect you. Or something. Which considering some of the things he survives ”
“It’s safe with Athena,” Fuse said. “She’s always safe. Because she’ll kill anyone who tries to hurt those with her.”
“I don’t normally mean to hurt anyone,” I said. Though it wasn’t precisely true. I’d tried to hurt people with malice aforethought several times before. And sometimes even managed it.
Lucius was programming our course, and spoke without turning around, “It’s not a bad idea, or a bad thing to hurt people when they’re trying to hurt you or those you love. It’s something I had to learn.” His voice had the sort of slow, thoughtful cadences that betrayed he had put deep thought into the words.
“You said Kit was with Simon?” I said.
“Yes, though perhaps I shouldn’t have said it.”
“But Simon is dead. I saw it on –”
Lucius pushed the button to input the route, then turned his chair around. “There have been issues. There was a revolution in Liberte,” he said.
“I know. I saw the hollos.”
He shook his head. “It’s more complex than the hollos show. Simon set the revolution off without meaning to, and the only way it could be brought under control was for someone to take charge who was experienced, someone who understood and could control the armies and the loyalty of those who knew how to run the domain. As you must understand that person was ”
“Simon? But he–?”
“Ah, no. What was killed was one of his replacement clones. Acephalus or nearly so. Created as emergency bodies for for the Good Man.”
“The what?” In Eden it was normal for people to grow bodies, or at least body parts, in order to replace their own in case of injury or accident, as well as to forestall aging. Just not conscious bodies or bodies that moved under their own power. “But it could move!”
“Yeah, the Good Man made them that way. Healthier. It can be exercised and develop muscles of its own.”
“But that’s disgusting. And bioengineering is forbid –”
“And you think that means totalitarian, secretive rulers haven’t done it.” Lucius gave me a look that enjoined me to be my age. “We know they cloned themselves, plus whatever went into creating you. We don’t have much provable knowledge, because we only have one of the doctors who did this, most of the others ran away, went underground or are missing. Simon’s was an Usaian and tried to mitigate what he did, but we do have a clue as to what went on. Anti-bio-engineering laws were and are for the little people.”
I opened my mouth and snapped it shut. I’d seen how much my father cared for rules that hampered or mattered to other people. Lucius smiled. It wasn’t a good smile. Just a mirthless stretch of the lips. “Precisely,” he said. “Anyway, so he had a near anecephalous without a brain clone killed, and he It’s complicated, but we’ll say he had surgery to change his features and he proclaimed himself –”
“The Emperor Julien Beaulieu,” I said. “The rat bastard. I should have recognized the style. Beaulieus as a currency, now. That should have told me it was Simon behind it. Megalomania.”
Lucius smiled, a tight smile. “Precisely.”
“So, we’re going to his palace? Kit is there? With a hostage?”
Lucius made a face. “It’s not that simple.”
“Nothing ever is.” Honestly, when I die, if I have a grave, and if anyone wants to give me an epitaph beyond Thank all divinities, she’s dead I would like Nothing is ever easy or simple.
“Well, as you’ll probably understand, we can’t go to Liberte Seacity and visit the Emperor Julien. You know that. In fact your husband could not stay there.”
“There is a place,” he said. “And abandoned algae processing platform, in the middle of the sea. It’s far enough from any routes and small enough that we shouldn’t be in danger. Sim– Julien had your husband and the hostage brought over by submarine. They wait us there.”
“You keep saying the hostage. Who is this hostage?”
“I understand your husband said it’s one of the people who tried to capture him. But that you have to see him to believe it.”
I didn’t know what to even answer. My mind conjured thoughts of tentacle monsters, but I was fairly sure that wasn’t it. For one, if Kit had been captured by a tentacle monster, he’d probably have said so. I mean “I have a hostage and he’s a squid” would be an irresistible line for anyone, particularly my husband. But I also didn’t understand why he wouldn’t have given us a description of any outlandish enough captor. Was this really Kit? Was he being coerced or otherwise under duress?
Luce went back to fiddling with the controls, and scanning a scrolling screen that indicated as I understood it the danger spots. He made minor corrections to our course as we went. When he got closer, or at least, I assumed so, he started pressing the link button and saying “Come in Slasher.” It took me a moment to make sense of it, and realize it was Simon’s old broomer nickname, Gutslasher. Frankly, I’d never seen Simon slash any guts, but he had taken a fancy to the name, and I think gave it to himself, which figured.
No one answered. At first I wondered if there was some answer in the screen Luce was staring at, but kept pushing the button and repeating his call, and after a while I said, “No answer?”
He shook his head looking upset.
“Kit?” I called mentally, and got back a sense that he was nearby, but no answer. That had never happened. Unless, of course, he was unconscious. The idea made me want to punch something.
I unbuckled. Fuse and Eris were asleep. I came to stand behind Luce’s chair, where I could look at the other well, not screen. It was actually a hologram of the terrain behind us and a little to the front, materialized in a cube beneath the dash. The tech had still been too new when I’d left Earth two years ago and it was amazing to see it fully functioning in a normal flyer now.
The hologram, itself, showed nothing but water, except for a structure in the distance.
“The algae processing platform?” I asked.
It was becoming more clear by the minute, as we approached it. These platforms had been cutting edge science a hundred years ago. Built more or less by the same process as the seacities, but more cheaply, they were assemblages of dimatough, ceramite and metal, often with terraces of dimatough underneath to create shallow seas where they didn’t exist, and ideal conditions for the cultivation of food-purpose algae.
In their heyday they had housed thousands of people who worked shift on and shift off on turning the aquatic plants into semblances of other plants and animals, generally speaking more appetizing to humans. I’d had algie-steak once. For a steak it had tasted an awful lot like a marine plant, and that was about the best I could say for it. However, at one time, after the “improvements” the Good Men had made to agriculture, which had rendered vast portions of the continents uninhabitable, algae had been the food of the world.
And they’d come almost exclusively from these platforms.
This one, as we neared looked almost mystical. Years ago, when Father had to make a visit near them, I’d seen the ruins of Petra. They’re in the Middle Eastern protectorate, and they’re these great big, reddish-stone buildings and cliffs, some of the cliffs carved into entrances to I suppose cave dwellings, though that’s not what they looked like.
Seen in pictures they look like just red rocks and red buildings, but looking at them in person one gets the feeling they’re the forgotten remains of something greater than us.
Oddly the abandoned station looked the same. It was reddish, possibly because it had been made with more metal than most, or maybe because someone had poured dimatough in an interesting color. Its molded forms rose and fell, like cliffs on an island, but all the surfaces looked rounded as if the wind and the sea had been working at it for millennia. And it was vast. I mean vast. Not as vast as a seacity, but I suspected that was because, like many other such installations, most of its space was under water.
I looked at the buildings that must, at one time, have housed thousands of workers. We were now close enough to see seagulls fly around and to hear their calls.
“How are we going to find Kit or Julien in this?” I asked. I was making an effort. As hard as it was, I meant to remember to call my old friend by his new name. I suspected, among other things, that it was a matter of safety. His surely, and possibly mine. It had been my experience, growing up as the daughter of a Good Man, perforce close to secrets of state, that letting others know what you knew was rarely safe.
Luce made a sound. It wasn’t a word, or a sigh, but a sort of click of the tongue behind the teeth. It had a tone of annoyance as well as of worry. “They were supposed to answer,” he said. “I’ve tried everything including Si — Julien’s private com ring.”
My gut tightened. “Uh,” I said. “Is it possible — I mean, if Kit took a hostage, and someone had captured him before, is it possible that his captors followed him? I mean, is it?”
Lucius waved his hand. “That or that someone else saw Julien leave and followed him, or ambushed him or otherwise captured him.” He made the clicking sound again. “This is not a good place, or a good thing. Julien is too He’s always been too careless. And he has enemies. Some of them I even sympathize with.”
“Yes,” I said. “But his Machiavellic plans have a tendency to turn out all right,” I said.
“Only if you assume that what they result in is what he wants. I mean, the man is so sharp he cuts himself, and he often doesn’t know how his own plans are supposed to go.”
I didn’t say anything. It was often very hard to know what Simon had planned, and whether he’d just rolled with the punches and adapted and made the best of a bad thing. In a way he was rather like a cat, by which I don’t mean the pilots from Eden, but the real cats from earth. He could fall and roll and end up on his feet, appearing dignified and giving a good impression of “I meant to do that.” Even when I knew things had gone completely out of control.
“The problem is,” Lucius said. “I’m not sure what to do now. They arrived by submarine so I’m not sure that we can spot it from the air. And I really don’t know where to look. If they’re in trouble in there, it could take us days of searching before we find them and help them. It seems we ought to return to Olympus and resign ourselves to wait for a call, if they come out of this all right.”
“No,” I said. “The birds.”
This piece of eloquence merited me a look from Lucius over his shoulder, a look that said as clearly as words, What? Only perhaps with more emphasis and implied swearing than any words he could use.
I shook my head and disciplined myself to explain. Sometimes when I have a flash of insight it is really difficult to moderate my impatience and take people through it word by word, till they get it. The fact that I could communicate with Kit with near-instantaneous thought-images which carried their own emotions had done nothing to make me better at explaining things in logical steps. “No. Is it possible to arrange this hologram thing so we see better, without needing to go nearer?”
“You mean for size?” he asked. “Sure.” He did something on a touch screen and not only did the images size increase but the tank they were in increased too, which was startling, as I’d been assuming it was some sort of glass. I had to get me one of these.
“How does this help?” Lucius asked. “I mean we can overfly the island, but I don’t think we can see them. Not if they’re in one of the buildings. Or even in the part of the buildings that’s underwater. We’d have to get very lucky.”
“The seagulls,” I said, and before he could turn around and look at me again as though I’d sprouted a second head, I said, “You see, there is a certain number of them in the air at any time, but you can see there are a lot of them also on the buildings, on land, everywhere on the station. My guess is that in the absence of visitors or inhabitants, they’ve colonized the entire station and are used to having it to themselves.”
“Probably, but it’s not like we can interrogate seagulls.”
Is it my lack of ability at explaining, or are people, even smart people, unusually dull when I try to communicate my ideas? Or do they do it to upset me? So many suicidal people, so little time.
“No,” I said, and only added stupid mentally. Mostly because I wasn’t seventeen anymore. Also because though I don’t think he would, the man could break me in two with one arm behind his back. “You know birds, right?” I remembered he was rumored to have spent fourteen years in solitary confinement and realized he might very well not know birds, so I hurried on, as fast as I could, before he could say anything, “You see, they startle easily. If they’re used to the station without people and suddenly there are a bunch of men tromping around, possibly fighting, they’re going to fly up, alarmed.”
Lucius tilted his head sideways, looking at the tank and at the white and black dots of the seagulls on the screen, “I suppose –” he said.
He never told me what he supposed because at that moment, at about ten o’clock on the station’s circular plant, a flock of seagulls flew up suddenly, in great numbers, screaming.
“As good as we’re going to get,” he said.
And I stumbled to my seat with some difficulty, almost falling to my knees, as he made the flyer dive down towards the spot from which the seagulls had flown up.
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