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Darkship Revenge: Chapter Ten

       Last updated: Monday, April 3, 2017 19:44 EDT



Come Out, Come Out

    I just want to say that I and Lucius were both created by bio-enhanced madmen. And at that moment, between my stomach plummeting somewhere below my feet and my hands clutching madly at the arms of the seat, I realized that I was very glad the madmen had been bio-improved and had designed bio improvements into us at well.

    Look, I’m married to a man who, besides being as I am, designed to be faster than normal humans, had further been enhanced via a virus introduced while he was gestated, to make him faster, more accurate, with better reflexes than normal humans. Which was all needed and important when flying amid the powertrees, with their dark trunks, their explosive pods. All well and good.

    And all of us were faster than natural-born humans and had better hand and eye coordination. Which was also good. But dear sweet gods of the ancients, it was still scary to be in a flyer flown by someone of whose specific capacities I couldn’t be sure and who was engaging in what would in other circumstances be suicidal maneuvers.

    We flitted downwards, swaying within inches of a corroded reddish building, its windows like blank eyes. All the while, the seagulls disturbed by our passage raised a white and black cloud that obscured the potentially lethal obstacles around us. And all through it, Eris slept. Which meant my daughter had her father’s sense of self-preservation.

    We swayed the other way just before hitting, then went sideways, the flyer on end, and my inner ear screaming we were falling. We rushed down a narrow street between buildings, straightened again, and plunged under an arching bridge, before coming to rest on what looked like a plaza. An ancient plaza, the surfaces of the surrounding buildings softened by time, so it looked like they were natural cliffs into which windows and doors had been cut. In the center of the plaza there was a sculpture of some sort, but it had been so corroded by the salt winds that I couldn’t tell what it had once been: man, or dragon, dolphin or abstract. Just a jutting form, with what might be arms or perhaps flippers raised to the uncaring sky, trying to uplift people who’d forgotten it.

    I felt both dizzy and queasy by the time we landed. Fuse woke up, stretched and said, “Are we there, then?”

    I didn’t answer mostly because I wasn’t sure what the there was. I got up as soon as I realized we’d stopped moving, and checked Eris, then started strapping her to me. I felt a need to have her with me in this unknown place, facing who knew what dangers. I needed to feel she was protected.

    Lucius got up, and clicked his tongue again, this time with a tone of impatience, opened a compartment in the back of Eris’ seat and threw something at me. I blinked, before I realized it was a real sling, of the sort one could carry an infant in, that would support her back and not let her slip. Luxury. I put it on and put Eris in it. She didn’t wake, but made a sound like a creaky hinge. Then I headed for the door, looking in my pocket for a burner.

    Lucius grabbed my arm, “Athena, are you sure you want to go out?”

    “What? It’s my husband out there. And Simon. We came here to find –”

    “Yes, to be sure,” he said. “But I don’t mean that,” he said. “I mean, do you want to take a baby into the middle of a potential firefight? And you can’t leave her in here alone.”

    I most certainly couldn’t leave her in there alone, and if he thought I was going to stay there alone, with her, he had another thing coming. I’d read altogether too much history of the wars of mankind, to let the men go on and fight while I stayed behind, to be claimed as some sort of prize by the victors. But then I thought of something more immediate, “Firefight? Why –”

    Lucius pointed. Now that we were on the ground, windows had opened some layer admitting images into the flyer, and I could look out. We’d parked in a plaza, and there, close enough to the shadow of one of the buildings that it wouldn’t be visible from the air, I could see a small vehicle that looked like a miniature of the triangular ship.

    I cursed mentally. This wasn’t exactly unexpected, but it changed everything.

    Okay, so we didn’t know whoever had flown that had been armed. Or that they’d get into a firefight with Kit, necessarily. Except that we did, of course, know they had kidnapped my husband in space, and I couldn’t imagine anyone kidnapping Kit without at least the threat of firepower. And I couldn’t imagine them following Kit, knowing what he could do, without being armed. Because Kit was good enough in a fight to scare even me. In fact, I’d lost several fights to him, before we’d arrived at our present good understanding. So —

    So I wanted to go out there and kick some righteous butt. Or more likely some unrighteous one. I had never been the kind who stays behind at home and prays for the fighters. For one I wasn’t a believing woman and wouldn’t be sure, exactly, whom to pray to. For another, I had great faith in the power of my fighting, a faith reinforced through all the military schools, reform academies and mental hospitals Daddy Dearest had tried to confine me to in hope of taming me.

    Whenever there was fighting to be done, I’d always been there in the thick of things, doing for myself what no one else could: fighting to keep me alive.

    And I had vowed to fight to keep Kit and Eris alive too. Kit because he fought for me, and Eris because… because I was responsible for her existence.

    And that of course was the problem. Before, when I’d leapt into battle with both feet, I had done so risking only my life, and often risking it in order to save it. But now I was responsible for Eris who, for the moment, was wholly dependent on me for food and care. Lucius was right that I couldn’t leave her behind in the flyer. No matter how we locked that, someone could get in and hurt her or take her, and that was simply not acceptable. But going into a potential firefight with the men, taking her was also unacceptable. I’d worry about her getting hit as I’d worried in the fight in Circum. But more importantly, concern for her would slow me down and make us both vulnerable. It could lose the fight.

    I said a very bad word, and Lucius’ eyes widened as though he’d never heard it before. “Fine,” I said. “I’ll stay. But you shouldn’t take Fuse,” I said. “If whoever is after Julien is in league with the Good Men, Fuse could be in danger, since his father is looking for a whole-body donor.”

    But Fuse — I swear — patted me on the arm as he passed and said, “Don’t worry. My father doesn’t have triangular ships.” And then he was out. Lucius hesitated long enough to give me one of his rings. As it landed on my palm, I saw it was a com ring. “I’ll call you if we need help,” he said. “And if you need to run away.”

    I thought both of those were fairly useless, since I suspected he’d rather be torn to pieces by wild seagulls than call on a woman with a baby for help, and that I’d rather be torn to pieces by wild seagulls than to run away just because I was told to. But I supposed we were both keeping appearances. Or appeasing the back of the mind which was much alarmed by separating before facing the, for lack of a better term, bad guys.

    I watched them leave the flyer. I locked it. I felt possessed of a sense of unreality. This had never happened before. I’d never stayed and let anyone else go fight for me.

    Kit? I called out in my mind. And I got back a sense of his presence, but no reply, again. So he was here, very near, he wasn’t dead, but there was some reason he couldn’t answer. The feelings that came with it were of being busy and also somewhat scared. And that was odd. Kit didn’t scare easy.

    There was also a feeling like he wished I’d hush. I’d never got such from him, except when he was in the middle of a difficult collection, so maybe that was it, maybe he was in the middle of something difficult and couldn’t afford to have his concentration disrupted.



    I was sorely tempted to call again, to make him say something that might give me a clue. I didn’t. The worst part of being a grown up and responsible is that you have to hold back on the things you really would like to do. Or even feel a need to do. If Kit felt as though my calling to him would endanger him, I’d have to be very uncaring to actually call out to him again. I suspected that I was in fact very uncaring, but I’d learned to act like real humans. Kit was a real human and the last thing I wanted to do was disillusion him and destroy his love for me.

    I watched as Fuse and Lucius – and was Lucius really handing Fuse a burner? Did he have any idea how far that man would go for a good explosion? And that Fuse, damaged and half healed, might not have a full sense of his own mortality let alone other peoples’? – cautiously approached a large, darkened doorway. They must have heard something coming from there, otherwise why fixate on that particular doorway? I realized since the flyer was landed and sealed, it was impervious to outside noise. It must be, since I couldn’t hear the seagulls. But that was no good. I had to know what was happening out there. Even if there weren’t a fight imminent, I hated not knowing what was going on. I hated being left behind, at any time, and not knowing what people I cared for were facing.

    Now, with my safety and Eris’ dependent on what happened out there, I had to know. I just had to. I jumped to the control panel, and attempted to turn it on. The damn thing was keyed to a genlock on the dash, its membrane waiting, presumably for Lucius’ genetics to turn on.

    Normally my way to deal with genlocks was to burn them out. I considered them personally offensive, because they were just a stupid membrane with a circuit behind, and once you burned them you disabled the circuit and could then have your way with whatever mechanism it had protected.

    It was offensively stupid to use them as locks because they were so easy to disable. I mean, I could see why people on the street thought they were a good idea, but even my own late, unlamented father had used them, and that was double stupid, as he should have guessed that my genetics were close enough to his in the key components to be able to open them. Of course, the penalties for burning the genlocks were terrible, but they’d never been a consideration for me. While Father was alive, and my status was as daughter of a Good Man, I’d been above the law. And now I was just outside the law, a stranger whose home was in another world altogether, and whose brief sojourns on Earth were as brief as possible.

    But I still didn’t think it was a good idea to burn out the lock on Lucius’ flyer. I suspected he would get a little testy at that, and besides, my dim sense of honor, mostly learned from Kit, told me it was a bad thing to do, since he was helping me. I had to be an adult, yet again.

    So, instead of burning out his lock, I opened the panel, and looked at the mechanism, till I figured out which circuit to detach, to do the equivalent of burning the genlock, but in such a way that it could be reconnected in seconds and that the big blond lunk wouldn’t feel the need to kill me for it.

    I found it and disconnected it, then the alarm that went with it, before it could do more than let out a brief, loud, peep. I held my breath, in case that had wakened Eris, but she continued sleeping, and I took a deep breath, pulled up, turned the flyer on, in wait mode and listened. Listened as hard as I could… Seriously, why would the man leave me with a baby in a dangerous situation without giving me the opportunity to fly his flyer or even to hear in case there was danger outside? And he was bio-designed to be smart. Imagine if he weren’t.

    I found the button that allowed sounds from outside to penetrate, and jumped. The sound of screaming seagulls was everywhere, as they lifted, again, from the building into which Lucius and Fuse had disappeared. Something must have startled them anew, but they were so loud I could hear nothing else, and now Eris started screaming. I bounced her gently, trying to get her attention, and it seemed to work for a moment.

    Outside there were shapes, barely visible among the seagulls. Perhaps human shapes.

    In that moment I heard young, strangely accented voices just outside the flyer, “– take their flyer and go.”

    “It would be stupid,” another voice said. “They’ll take ours.”

    “Ours is a damned lifeboat,” said a third voice. “I wish them luck of it. You can’t maneuver. With theirs, we can go anywhere on earth. ANYWHERE!”

    “That is a point, but where could we go? And what will Father say if we lose our boat.”

    “I don’t care. This is not working the way we expected. That idiot knew nothing. We must go somewhere where we can find the power brokers and deliver the message. And then we’re free. Free, Laz, think about it.”

    These words were clear, but they must have done something, some movement, some gesture, that set off the seagulls again because all I could hear after that was a mumble, and a fizz and the screams of the disturbed birds.

    A fizz. Like a burner. They were burning the genlock on the door.

    Damn it! Lucius was going to be upset his flyer was vandalized, but it wasn’t my fault. Worse, and double damn, these – boys? — were undoubtedly the crew of the triangular ship. And they were outside. And even though it had been said my husband had a hostage, this was clearly more than one person. And they were nobody’s hostage.

    Which meant that Lucius and Fuse were, what? Dead? Incapacitated? To say nothing of Kit and Simon? My throat closed at the thought of Kit or even Simon hurt in one of those buildings. Not that I wished ill on Lucius and Fuse, and frankly, by virtue of being with me, they were of mine and I’d defend them and avenge them if needed, but Kit and Simon made it personal. If one of them were bleeding to death in that warren of buildings, how would I get in and rescue him? How could I find him, if the coms didn’t work? Because I had to find him or them and rescue them. I had to.

    I calmed myself down with the reassurance that these people were afraid of being followed, which meant they couldn’t have killed all the people on my side and against them. Possibly they hadn’t killed anyone, just somehow managed to evade them and get out of the building.

    Right. And these voices sounded young. Like really young. One of them still had a relatively high soprano and another’s voice wavered between soprano and basso profundo, in the way boys’ voices do between the ages of twelve and sixteen or so.

    None of which made me feel better about the fact that they were going to be here in seconds.

    I was armed. I’m always armed. I’d rather be naked than unarmed. But that wasn’t the point. There were three of them. There was one of me. And I had to protect Eris.

    Against normal people, this wouldn’t be a problem. I was fast enough – a skill not developed, but acquired via genetic manipulation of my genes by those who created me – that I could and often did defeat more people than that.

    However, here caution applied. I had no idea who these people were or where they came from. They shouldn’t be enhanced of course, but… For all I knew they were the spawn of tentacle monsters. What I did know is that they had been fast enough and strong enough to subdue and kidnap Kit who, on top of being created the way I was and having the same super-speed from his genetic legacy, had been changed by a bio-engineered virus in utero, to maximize that speed. If they could capture Kit, no matter if they’d caught him at a disadvantage outside the ship, then they would be able to match my speed. So, a frontal confrontation was out of the question.

    That was all right too. Okay, I’d never run up against people – other than other bioengineered clones of Good Men — who could match me for speed, but I’d run up against plenty of them whom I couldn’t kill for a reason or another. In my misguided youth, I’d run up against a lot of people I couldn’t even hurt without precipitating Daddy Dearest’s fury and much worse punishment. So I’d learned psychological subterfuge, finagling, and deception. Which worked against everyone no matter what the level of speed or even intelligence. Most of the time. Practically.



    I banished misgivings. Look, whomever my wiles hadn’t worked against, they always worked against males. Mostly. Almost. Practically. They hadn’t done me much good against Kit, but my darling was a jaded bastard. How many of them could there be in the universe? And could any of them sound as young as those people outside had?

    Fast, I made sure of the hidden burners, one at my ankle, one under my hair, and one where it’s really none of your business. No, not there. That would impair any fast movement.

    Eris had fallen asleep. I engaged my fast speed, because I knew I had seconds only, to disengage the sling, grab her, and stow her in the back, where a net held back an assortment of toys and blankets and stuff that testified as eloquently as his words that Luce did indeed spend a lot of time babysitting young ones. I sort of rolled her in a blanket, so that it protected her from any sharp toy edges, but did not cover her face fully. I was hoping she would pass unnoticed in the middle of the mess, and no one would realize there was a baby back there. I was fully aware that if they grabbed my daughter they’d render me less effective. Not incapacitated, but less effective. Or more effective in a “kill them all” sort of way, but that too had its liabilities.

    Bless the child, she did not wake up, though she did make a little aggrieved sigh, which caused me to kiss her forehead, before I returned to the middle of the flyer, the open space between seats, where I did my best to appear surprised as the door burst open.

    The surprised look was made much easier by what the intruders looked like.

    They walked in, in a group, as though none of them trusted the other to go in first.

    They were as I’d expected three boys and very young. They were dressed in what looked like those one-piece baby suits made adult size, only they had boots over their feet. This was strange enough, as was the fact that these one-piece suits had been embellished with patches, scribblings and bits of metal sewn on. It was fairly startling that the two who had cut off their sleeves had what appeared to be a welter of scars and blue ink all up their arms.

    But none of this – none of it — compared to the strangeness from the neck up. First of all, they all looked startlingly familiar, but I had trouble identifying them, because… Because it looked like a piercing freak had gone insane in an electronic components store. The one in the center, who looked older than the others, had red hair, which he’d carefully shaved so it only grew on half his head. I’m assuming shaved. For all I knew he’d killed the follicles, of course. The half that remained glittered with metal, glass and who knew what the heck else, all of it looking like he’d salvaged it from a computer room. His eyebrows were pierced all along their length with more glittering components inserted. There was something orange and green and metal through his left nostril. There was a blue indecipherable symbol on his forehead. He looked indefinably familiar, but it was hard to focus through all the facial piercings and tattoos.

    The one on the left looked really familiar; must be all of 12 and was prettyish in the way boys sometimes are just before or at puberty. What remained of his hair – he seemed to have eliminated random patches of it – was inexpertly dyed blue and straightened, so you could see that his hair was both curly and black. All down one side of his still-babyish face, he had scribblings in blue ink, that disappeared into his collar. His eyes were blue and feral.

    The one on the right also looked familiar, but not as much, was maybe 14, had a still-round face that would probably turn sharper with age. He had fewer of the blue markings, but his ears were stretched with what appeared to be spools of some sort, his scalp was completely bald and seemed to have electronic components actually growing on it. He had cut off his right sleeve to display a welter of blue wink in designs that included a dragon and made me wonder if these were in fact the sort of primitive tattoos no one used in the twenty fifth century.

    In the middle of the designs was a single word: Danegerous. Yes, it was misspelled.

    I’m not a prude or an innocent, and there were very few things that people could do with their body that shocked me. I grew up between the high class of Earth, the bioengineered Good Men, who treated normal populations as disposable sludge, and in broomer lairs, where frankly most of the population treated themselves as disposable sludge.

    But there was something to the way these boys were body-modified that put a chill up my spine and made me realize I was dealing with something completely different.

    Throughout the ages, humans had dressed and adorned themselves to look different or to signify membership in some group or family. I was going to assume these boys were adorned according to some tribe or affiliation. I was hoping the tribe was “The Insane Neurotics” because that was how they looked.

    Before I could make sure that my air of surprise was just perfect, they’d replied with their own hair of surprise. Nose-pierced red-head jumped back. I mind-heard him say Whoa!

    Danegerous stood rooted to spot and I heard him mind-proclaim to the world at large It’s a woman.

    And the baby, the little twelve year old was holding two burners out and pointed at me.

    The shock that I could hear them mind talk hit me at the same time that I recognized the youngest one. I recognized his movements, the crazed look in his eyes, I recognized the sort of mind that always, always, reaches for a weapon first; the type of temperament that views anything strange and fascinating as something that should be shot first, so it could be dissected later at leisure.

    Staring at me, those baby blue eyes in the tattooed face were my Daddy-Dearest’s eyes and my eyes too. I didn’t know how this was possible, and I was not even going to make any guesses. Just as I wasn’t going to make any guesses about their mind talk. We’d heard that the telepathy bio-ed into the mules was limited and bonded. That is it had to be a bonded pair to allow it to flow. Though really, Kit and I hadn’t been when we’d first talked, but an exception doesn’t negate the rule.

    Unless these three were bonded, of course, which was possible, as there are many kinds of bond. But I didn’t want to know why I could hear them, anyway, nor why or how this kid was … for lack of a better term, my baby brother. I just knew he was. He’d been made from the same genes that had gone into making me and my late father, Alexander Milton Sinistra. The feral blue eyes were the same that had stared out of the mirror at me for most of my growing up years. I hadn’t even realized they had changed until now.

    A cold shot of fear went up my spine, because let’s face it, I knew myself, and I’d known daddy. No one with those genes could be trusted, not even for the simple things that untrustworthy people could be trusted with, like, you know, not doing things that will get them killed.

    My face must have turned to stone. He hadn’t recognized me, or the relationship between us. Which was good, I supposed. I was measuring the space between us and figuring out how to disarm him. I wondered if the other two were armed too. So far they were not making any effort to reach for guns.

    “How do you know he’s a woman?” Baby Brother asked, in voice, glaring over his shoulder at the other two while keeping his weapons trained on me.

    With anyone else, I’d have risked a lunge at him. I would. But with him, which is to say with myself, it was too risky. It might push him past slightly annoyed into homicidal maniac. I felt a trickle of cold sweat run down my back. From the pile of toys I heard the snuffle, snuffle, snuffle that was often the precursor to a really good Eris; cry. Surely not. Surely she wasn’t going to start… Please, don’t start. I didn’t want to see what these feral children could do to a baby. I was going to guess they had no protective instincts of any sort.

    I took slow, controlled breaths.

    The redhead, who was clearly the oldest one, blushed. It was kind of weird to see someone that pierced and tattooed blush, but blush he did. His voice was gruff and low as he said, “Look at her. She –” He made gestures in the front of his chest, even though Baby Brother had gone back to staring at me and wouldn’t see me. “She looks like a woman.”



    “Maybe he’s just malformed. How would you know?” Baby Brother was defiant and sneering. “What would you know what a woman looks like, anyway? And how many women can there be? On Earth?”

    “Uh,” Danegerous said. “Uh. Many. The hollos,” he said. “From Earth.”

    “Bah,” Baby brother said. “They could just be differently dressed men. How would you know what they look like naked? That’s the only way to tell if there are real differences.”

    I saw the two older ones trade a look and thought there must be hollos that Baby Brother wasn’t privy to. But why hadn’t they seen women? And why did they seem to think women were rare? Had they been raised in some home for the seriously mentally unstable, kept locked away from all of humanity? Now I thought about it, it made perfect sense, actually.

    “Come on,” the tallest and oldest one, the redhead, said. “You don’t have to see what they look like naked to see they’re different. In olden times, they were the people who gave birth. Their whole body is designed for it.”

    Baby Brother’s eyebrows went up. He looked deeply thoughtful, in that way that my soi disant father had looked before he had someone arrested. He turned to me. “Strip. We’ll see if it’s true.”

    Right. And I’d see him in hell.

    But I couldn’t say that, and I couldn’t mouth off. There was that snuffle, snuffle from the toy storage at the back. I had to control my expression. I had to find a way out of this.

    I couldn’t run at him and pound him into dirt, because the other two might object, and if Baby Brother had the enhanced speed as I did, the other two might also.

    And I couldn’t intimidate him with words, because I didn’t know where he’d come from or what he’d been through. As I said, an asylum wasn’t out of the question. Perhaps father had made him as a back-up body donor. The thing was I didn’t know what to hold over him. If someone has already been raised in hell, threatening him with flames is besides the point. Which I’d proven over and over again when well-meaning ladies had threatened me with expulsion from schools where Daddy dearest had enrolled me.

    When sane routes out of trouble are impassible, as my broomer friends had taught me, you take the crazy one.

    I let my knees hit the floor, raised both my hands to my head, and bawled in the most sincere way I could manage, “Oh, please, don’t hurt me.” My noise had the effect of covering any noise Eris might make.

    By the corner of my eye, while crying, and cringing, I noted that Redhead and Danegerous had jumped back. Apparently my performance was terrifying.

    But Baby Brother also resembled me in not scaring. Or perhaps in scaring angry.

    His lip curled up. “He’s a coward,” he said, and stepped forward, raising his foot. I had to struggle not to smile. The more psychotic they are, the easier they fall. And by genetics alone, poor Baby Brother was laboring under more issues than some long-running journals.

    As he raised his foot to kick me, I bent forward, as though to grovel, and said, “Oh, please, I’m just a poor woman.” I noted that both Redhead and Danegerous did a little mental shout of Told you so. Which was good because it took them off guard too.

    I grabbed Baby Brother’s foot before his kick landed, and pulled. Up. Hard. With Super Speed.

    Look, just because they could move very fast, didn’t mean they thought other people could too. Or perhaps they didn’t think women could. Or perhaps they just couldn’t think.

    As Baby Brother hit the ground with a resounding jar, and before he could roll over and shoot me, which he would have, given half a chance, I had removed his burners. I slipped one into my pocket. Then I lifted the insufferable brat by the tuft of ill-dyed hair, and pointed my burner at his head. My idea was to use him a shield and threaten to shoot him.

    But of course, nothing is ever easy or simple. The horrible brat spun around, somehow, ignoring pain. His hair tore at the roots. Leaving me holding a hank of improbably colored hair, he got free. I realized why he was missing tufts of hair. Apparently fighting recklessly was one of his amusements.

    He aimed for my crotch with a well applied kick, and while it still hurt, it didn’t hurt me like he expected – I guess he really didn’t know any women – which allowed me to bring the burner butt neatly into the side of his head, rendering him unconscious, just as Redhead dove at me.

    I shoved Baby Brother out of the way and kicked Redhead in the crotch just before he hit me. Of all the fighting I learned, both formal and street, for my money, the best training I ever got for combat was the ballet camp I once attended. It allows such precision in high kicks. I jumped out of the way as he rolled on the floor clutching his family jewels. Since I didn’t know his resiliency level, I pulled the burner from my hair – look, I didn’t know Baby Brother’s standards in weapon maintenance. The one I’d taken from him might or might not work – and pointed a burner at him and one at Danegerous, who was backing up, both hands in full sight, his mouth working.

    Weirdly, the Redhead, on the floor didn’t even look at me. He howled, both mind and voice, staring at his companion, “Thor, don’t.”

    Danegerous gave a little start, and looked mulish, while shaking his head. “If we’re going to fail… If we fail… You know what Father –”

    “Fuck Father,” the redhead yelled. I felt wordless shock from the other two. “This doesn’t mean we’ll fail. Just because the guy didn’t know anything about Earth, and we let Morgan try his way at making friends and influencing people, it doesn’t mean we failed at the mission.” He looked at me. “Look, Ma’am, I know we started badly, but if you give us a chance, we want nothing nefarious. We’re emissaries on a peace mission.”

    “And I’m Winnie the Pooh,” I said.

    “No, you’re not,” Danegerous said with an edge of hysteria to his voice, his hand reaching into his pocket. “We know him. He’s much younger than you.”

    At the same time I yelled “Freeze.”

    He didn’t, so I leapt across the room, grabbed his hand in mine and pointed the weapon at his head. Only to point it at the redhead who made a jump at us. Finding the burner pointed at his head, he lifted both hands, “Ma’am,” he said, the soul of politeness. “You must let me get the stuff from Thor’s pockets. He’s an explosives fanatic, and he’s trying to blow us all up.”

    “I have to,” the so called Thor yelled. “You know what Father will do to us if we come back defeated.”

    Which is when his voice, wavering and adolescent though it was, found a place in my head. “Thor… Mason?” I asked.

    He froze. “Wah?”

    “From the genetic line of Ajith Mason?” I asked.

    The Redhead who’d been inching closer, with all the stealth of a cat, stopped and froze too. He stared at me. And I caught a flash in the eyes that made his features click into place. “And you,” I pointed the burner at him, and waved with it. “You’re Jarl Ingemar’s clone.”

    I should have known better. Look, perhaps it’s genetic. Like Little Brother I apparently had a way to make friends and influence people.

    I’m not going to give you a blow by blow account. I don’t remember it. I remember Thor Mason squirming, trying to go for his stored bombs, presumably. I mean, what would you expect from Fuse’s little brother?

    I hit him hard, on the head, and eased him down quickly, just in time to deal with Jarl’s – and therefore my husband’s — clone who seemed unsure on whether to attack or not and therefore was at a disadvantage when I hit him hard.

    I was in the process of tying all of them, individually and securely when Eris started screaming blue murder, and Kit yelled in my head Athena, Athena, answer me.

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