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Darkship Revenge: Chapter Eleven
Last updated: Tuesday, April 11, 2017 19:10 EDT
We Come In Peace
I turned. Kit came running into the door of the flyer. I realized what I had heard was his involuntary reaction to finding the door forced, when I heard running steps behind him, and then Fuse saying, “I told you she’d be all right. She’s Athena.” I wasn’t sure whether to be grateful or scared by such confidence.
My husband’s eyes look like cat eyes. It’s a side effect of their being bio-engineered to pilot the darkships without auxiliary lights, to diminish the chances of being caught in the powertree ring. At first I’d found his expressions unreadable. Utterly opaque and alien. But now I could read them fairly well. It didn’t hurt that there was a mind-link, which transmitted in succession worry, confusion, relief, and finally amusement.
It was his cat eyes, and his calico hair that made it hard to identify the redhead as a clone of the same man, but now it was obvious. He looked like a younger, not bio-engineered in appearance Kit.
Kit stepped up to where I was tying his clone’s hands. I was using for the purpose a pink and purple band with cheerful clown faces that I suspected Luce used to attach a pacifier to a child. It was sturdy, though, and pliable enough. He examined my handy work, when I was done. Then he stepped over to baby brother whom I had bound hand and foot because I knew where he came from and then over to Thor, whose pockets Kit started going through methodically.
Fuse looked intently at Thor, in silence, as though trying to evaluate something. I assumed he’d recognized his own clone, but I wasn’t going to ask. The new Fuse was disturbing and unpredictable, both in his level of maturity and in his reactions.
Eris continued crying, and I went over to the net, got her, put her on the sling, attached to me. Simon and Luce came in.
Well, I surmised the fourth man was Simon. I had reason for it, since he moved like Simon, and he was Simon’s height and also, when he looked at me, his features split in an unholy grin that I knew all too well. But he didn’t look like Simon. Someone had darkened his skin two shades, his hair had loose curls, much like mine, and his eyes were now a deep, dark green. It was the expression in them that was still Simon’s.
There was something challenging in it, at the bottom of it, as though he were daring me to call him by his old name. I pretended great absorption in Eris, as I checked her diaper which was dry, then said, in an off hand tone, “Emperor Julien Beaulieu, I presume?”
He cackled. Lucius rolled his eyes and stepped towards the control panel. “I disabled the genlock,” I told Lucius, virtuously. “I didn’t burn it.”
“Thank you. I realized my stupidity immediately after leaving,” he said, as he pulled the panel and presumably set about reconnecting it. “I fully expected you to have burned it, in order to hear what was going on outside.” He gave a quick smile, as though mocking himself. “And I’d have deserved it.”
Fuse was talking to Kit over the contents of Thor’s pockets, a series of spheres and weirdly shaped packages, and vials. At one point, Kit turned pale, reached very carefully for a cylindrical object and walked away with it, outside the flyer.
Eris having decided she wanted to nurse, I sat down on a chair and took care of that, while Simon, Luce and Fuse took each of the boys and strapped them in to auxiliary seats which pulled down from the ceiling near the wall. Then they tied them to the seats. Halfway through it, the oldest one, Kit’s and Jarl’s clone, woke. I felt his gaze on me and realized he was frowning intently. I checked there was nothing showing from the nursing that could give him a shock, but there was nothing, except Eris’ head disappearing into my suit.
As I looked, his lips moved, at first soundlessly and then “Who are you. What are you? You look like Sinistra? Like Morgan. Like you’re made from the same genes.”
“Athena Hera Sinistra,” I said. “Legal daughter of the Good Man Alexander Milton Sinistra. And you?”
He shifted uncomfortably. The rope going up from his ankles to his hands was probably too tight, but having been tied down with too much leeway, and having managed to escape, I was not about to make that mistake. Not with these kids. I had a feeling they’d learned to fight before they learned to walk.
“I’m Laz,” he said. Then blushing a little. “At least that’s my my call name. I’m Lazarus Long from Ingemar made from Jarl Ingemar’s genes.” He turned a wandering look towards Kit ̶#8220;I think he is too, but changed. We didn’t realize the resemblance when we when we captured him, because he was suited and modified.”
The name he used tickled something in my deep memory. Something about a series of books I read long ago, in my father’s library, now probably reduced to ashes, but for a long time the place where I hid from everyone else in the household. “Lazarus — from a book?”
He smiled, as though surprised. “Yes. From some books by an ancient author. We — None of us had names, just the names of the people we were made from, but that was not us, so we took the names of story heroes.”
I remembered the character that name attached to, and I decided that this one bore watching very closely indeed. I could sort of see how a redheaded child with no name could be attracted to the moniker, but I wondered how much he’d modeled himself on his name sake.
“He’s Thor?” I said, pointing at Fuse’s clone who had come awake and was staring at Fuse and being stared at in turn.
“Yes. From the god of lightnings,” he said, with a small smile, as though realizing the funny idea of an explosives bug naming himself after Thor. Then with a movement of the head. “And he’s Captain Morgan. Of the Sinistra.”
“Yeah. For lack of a better term, my little brother.”
Laz nodded. “But you’re a woman. How can you be a woman? When Father made us –” He stopped. “I mean, they tried to make women, but they all died or were sterile. So. That leaves us.”
I wondered who “Father” was. Some rogue doctor in an unused portion of Circum? It was possible. Only at that moment, Kit came back in. When Fuse turned to look at him, he said, “I threw it away. Far into the sea.”
Fuse nodded. “Quite right.” Then he turned to Danegerous, aka Thor, “You shouldn’t have that in your pocket, kid. It’s not stable enough. You were seconds from blowing yourself up. I can’t believe you didn’t.”
Thor looked sullenly at him, and pushed his lower lip out. “I’ve done it hundreds of times. It’s a very effective explosive.”
“Well, stop doing it.” Fuse sounded like the patient adult. Hair, scars and all, he looked suddenly concerned and paternal and also very grown up? It was an expression I’d never expected to see on that face. “You could have got killed. And your friends with you.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Thor said. And burst into tears. He bawled with the abandon of a very young child, tears and snot running freely. Between sobs, he got out, “Father is going to kill us all, anyway.”
“Hush now,” Laz said. He sounded older than his years and very caring. I caught a resemblance to the tones Fuse used, and wondered what role he’d played in the younger boys’ lives. Was he the oldest? How many of them were there? And where had they grown up? “No reason to assume that. We can still find movers and shakers and present the petition.”
“What petition?” I said.
Kit made a sound. I can’t describe the sound, it being part sigh and part huff, as though he were both grieved at the situation, and upset at having to explain.
As I looked at him, he smiled, tight lipped. “I don’t even know how to explain,” he said. “Except that I think I can explain better than they do. The proposition itself is a simple one, but I sense undercurrents, and I have questions both about the whole setup of this situation, and the nature of the people who sent them to Earth with this mission.”
He frowned, wrinkles forming on his forehead, the sort of worried wrinkles I sometimes evoked, not just because he thought whatever I was doing was wrongheaded, but because he couldn’t understand my motivations. When he spoke, he did it slowly, as though he were trying to think through something. “You see, I heard them talk, and more importantly I heard them think enough that I can fill you in some, and Laz can probably fill in what I don’t know.”
“You can hear us think?” That was Laz, his eyes wide.
Kit shrugged and managed an almost smirk. He turned to me, as he continued, “I wasn’t sure they couldn’t hear me, either, Athena. That’s why I didn’t answer you. They ambushed me while I was outside the ship, trying to fix the circuits. I couldn’t fight them off without risking drifting off to space. And I didn’t want them to find you and the baby, not in the state you were in, tired and defenseless. You wouldn’t have been able to fight at all, and I’d have been impaired, defending you because if they captured you, it would all be over. We’d be done. I couldn’t risk you, no matter how much I wanted to fight them off. So I went with them quietly, and just hoped you would find my note and come after me.”
“I did. That’s why I came to Earth, and if you think it was easy totting Eris–”
His eyes widened, “You named her Eris?”
I felt my face get hot. “Well, she was born during a battle. I thought it was appropriate.”
“And serve notice to any future young men,” Simon said, in that under-voice tone that was supposed to be heard while pretending it didn’t want to be heard.
“And we hadn’t picked a name,” I said. “And Eris is a pretty name.”
“I thought we’d agreed on Jane,” Kit said.
I didn’t dignify that with an answer. Ninety percent of married life is pretending not to hear the remarks to which the only possible response is an almighty argument. Instead I smiled at him, and took a deep breath. “It’s good to have you back. And you need a fresher.”
“Something awful,” he agreed. “I didn’t get a chance to bathe in their ship, and then when I took a lifeboat and Danegerou — I mean Thor, over there, there wasn’t a fresher.”
“So, they took you hostage, and you escaped and took one of them hostage,” I said, filling in the blanks. “And you came to Earth.” I smirked inwardly that he also called Fuse’s clone Danegerous. “But who are they? Besides the clones of men three of us were cloned from?”
“Yeah,” he said. “Hell of a coincidence that, but perhaps not–” He shrugged. “I gather sooner or later– Look, this is why I chose to come to Earth even after I took Thor hostage, instead of trying to find you in Circum and going back to Eden. First, I was almost sure Eden wouldn’t take well to Thor. And second, I thought Earth needed some warning.”
“Warning?” I said. Granted, on body decoration alone, this lot looked like slightly more savage Vikings, but I was fairly sure they were just spectacularly feral children. Look, Mules never got prizes for being well adjusted, okay? And whoever had made these kids wasn’t even a genetic relation, on account of the fact that the closest genetic relations the boys had were Kit, myself, and Fuse. Nor would he or she have any reason to care for these children. And obviously they hadn’t. But feral also meant a lack of discipline. I couldn’t understand how these three striplings, aggressive, sure, but not really capable of much complex strategy could threaten all of Earth. Hell, they couldn’t even threaten all of Eden, even if my husband weren’t able to fully conceptualize a planet the size of Earth and kept thinking of it in terms of his native colony, in a hallowed asteroid.
Kit stared at the boys, then looked at me. “They didn’t tell me this, you understand, I just surmised it from hearing to their thoughts cross-chatter, that they are sent to Earth with a mission, to find a safe place for ” He paused and took a long breath. “You remember what Je Reviens means in Ancient French, right?”
“I’ll return?” I said.
“The Je Reviens did return. As far as I can figure out they are orbiting Earth, somewhere, and they sent down these most unlikely emissaries.”
It took me a while to process this. The Je Reviens was a no, the only interstellar ship ever built by inhabitants of the Earth. It had been built by the mules, back when they called themselves the bio lords, and when they had more or less reigned over the Earth like absolute despots in a way even the Good Men hadn’t managed. They had used it to escape the riots that put an end to their rule.
Correction, that is what I’d learned in my educational programs, but it wasn’t strictly true. I’d found it wasn’t strictly true when I’d become a refugee in Kit’s native colony, and learned their half of the story. Only about half the mules had left on the Je Reviens. It had been intended for all of them, and also for the people I’d learned in my early schooling to call “the servants of the Mules.”
This too was a misnomer. Oh, sure some of the people who had been meant to flee with them had been literally the servants of the Mules or bio lords as they preferred to call themselves as each one of the hundred and fifty or so of those who’d been improved to be almost a different breed of human, had controlled a vast territory that usually comprised two or three of the old style land nations as well as some sea-cities. Government like that, particularly as an oligarchy, needed a vast bureaucracy and, more importantly, a trustworthy bureaucracy.
The bio-lords employed the best of whatever they required, be it assassins or paper-pushers, and the best, by the late twenty first century were always bio-improved before birth, by ambitious or prudent parents. Enhanced for speed or intelligence, for beauty or acting ability or a thousand other characteristics. Or most of them, for those born to ambitious, prudent and rich parents.
However, when as I understood it the Mules had taken panic and decided they were about to be routed, and therefore started building the Je Reviens, the primary plan had been to take not only the Mules and their servants, but every conspicuously-bio-improved person, away from the revenge, wrath and destruction that had been labeled “the Turmoils” in my history holograms.
I still didn’t know what had caused them to leave in a panic, too, in the barely-built Je Reviens. I knew some of the people they’d left behind, they’d left behind on purpose: people like my so called father. Daddy dearest couldn’t be trusted with a ship full of people not as improved as himself and vulnerable to the idea of superiorly bio-engineered Mules any more than a wolf could be trusted penned in with a cargo of sheep.
I’d never fully understood if Father’s particular kink was sexual though it was that too or if his homicidal sadism was a response to deep psychological wounds of another kind. The only thing I was almost sure of was that it was not genetic, since I’d never felt any need to torture or kill my sexual partners.
But I did understand the decision to leave him behind. Others, it wasn’t as clear why they’d been abandoned. As I understood, Jarl had made the decision, and that decision must rest on his knowledge of his own kind, growing up. I had to be satisfied that he hadn’t thought them suitable. I suspected some of his decisions might have been rooted quite simply in his likes and dislikes, such an obvious, deep seated hatred of the original from which Simon had been made.
The rest of the people, the vast numbers of “servants of the mules” left behind seemed to have been left through the hurry in which the Je Reviens had departed, rather than due to any moral or practical judgment. In other words, there were only so many people they could collect and give warning to, and only so many who’d made it to the Je Reviens in Earth Orbit, before it left.
And while vast numbers of those left behind had died burned, beaten, crucified, killed by mobs insane for vengeance and vindication a number had survived, and reproduced and many had attained power in the households of the mules, who’d risen again to power under the guise of Good Men. My friend Nat Remy, and in fact all of my friends who weren’t the clones of Good men, were descended from those highly bio-improved people.
The ones who’d left with the mules mostly close retainers and functionaries had been offloaded in Eden, an asteroid hollowed and made suitable for human habitation for their convenience.
Only fifty or so mules had left in the Je Reviens, and no mere “improved humans”. The justification given in Eden was that only the Mules had left because they were the only ones who had a chance of attaining the distant star to which the Je Reviens was aimed. And Jarl Ingemar, and Bartolomeu Dias, Mules, both, had stayed behind in Eden to “guide the development of a free society.”
I’d never bought either of those, any more than I bought the stories Earth told its schoolchildren. It seems like hiding and whitewashing the past is one of the great vices of mankind, to be undertaken whenever someone feels he can get away with it. Sometimes it’s not even for any particular reason, but to make things somehow tidy.
But now I looked at these children. The Mules, by the time they cast away from Eden, had been alone in the Je Reviens. No one aboard the interstellar ship had been able to have children: not naturally.
When the mules were created, back in the twenty first century, they’d been as the most extremely bio-engineered of all people all sterile and all male, the last a failsafe for the first. They were so modified, even though most looked perfectly normal, that their creators didn’t want them in the human reproduction stream. Originally they had had stops on cloning, too, though that had not managed to survive a hundred years.
And it wasn’t out of the question that even creatures who could live hundreds of years even if the political necessities of Earth had required that they change bodies more often than that might want progeny. But I had trouble believing that, and besides these three These three were clones of Mules who had stayed behind on Earth. Why on Earth?
“I don’t understand,” I said, turning to look at my husband, then back at Morgan, and Laz and Thor. “These aren’t clones of the Mules who went. They are –”
“Clones of those left behind, yes,” Kit said. “I don’t know why. I know how. I’d be surprised if the Je Reviens hadn’t contained genetic samples of ALL the bio lords, as a way to treat them and to grow spare parts for them, should it become necessary.
“I don’t know, though, why the Mules who left chose to clone these people. I understand from the boys’ thought-chatter, and some verbal ones, that the ones on board were cloned too, but those those clones of the people who went are raised more like children, even if in a spectacularly dysfunctional family.” He caught my gaze and smiled a little bit, but it was a smile with no joy at all. “Yes,” he said. “I do understand that in any circumstances it would be dysfunctional, since the original mules were raised in crèches, with virtually no real human contact and no understanding of real human family. But that’s how these boys were raised. The children whose originals weren’t aboard, were raised in crèches, mostly by AIs, though I understand sometimes the living mules intervened, dispensing justice or sometimes injustice from above with no warning and no compunction.”
“But why?” I said. “And how?”
It was Laz who spoke, eyebrows wrinkled above eyes that were as green as my husband’s but not cat-shaped. “They said they had sample genetics of everyone supposed to be on the ship, for medical reasons, and they made us from that because they thought they’d need help if if they arrived at a world they could colonize.”
I raised my eyebrows. “And they didn’t arrive at a habitable world?” The story made no sense. It smelled. It smelled mightily. After all, their intention might have been to go to Alpha Centauri or another such world, but if they’d got there, why were they back here? If it had proven uninhabitable, why not go further?
And if they’d intended to create these children to help with the taming of a wild world, why had they only created them in the last 20 years or so? Laz was maybe all of seventeen, the others were younger. If they’d made clones of all the others left behind, were they of an age? I was willing to bet just from these three’s wild adorning that none of them were over forty, certainly none were 300 years old, because that would be a different dynamic. Then why?
Laz shrugged. “There was Father took control and he says that there might be some virtue in colonizing a wild planet not fit for humankind, but it is not for them. That they longed for Earth and the beauty of Earth, which gave them birth. That they’re as entitled to live here, as the rest of humanity is. And so, they sent us, to ask –” He stopped, and said, “Perhaps you’re not the right people to ask, but –”
“But I already know it,” Kit said. “Yes, and while we might or might not be the right people to ask, at least two of this group have power on Earth, and there are others.” He nodded at Simon and Lucius, but he spoke to me, “They were sent to ask for a place on Earth. Any place they can colonize and make their own, create their own independent city state or kingdom. One of their own, with entry barred to anyone else. They promise to be harmless, if others will not harm them.”
“But –” I said, and saw Lucius frown. It made no sense for them to ask for such a thing. After all, who had the right to grant them a place on Earth? On the other hand, in their time, there had been a linked, oligarchic government. Worldwide. Hell, until recently there had been a linked oligarchic government. Now with the Earth riven by revolutions well–
“I’d say any place they can take and hold would be their own,” Lucius said drily. “Why ask us. And more importantly, why send children to ask us?”
“And why these children?” I asked. “Children made from the genes of the people they left behind?”
Even if I hadn’t known it was him, in the changed appearance of Julien Beaulieu, I’d have known him by that. “Ah, mes petits. As usual you are all too refreshingly innocent.” Simon was using heavily French accented Glaish. It was something he put on when he was acting particularly outrageous. I swear I could hear my husband and Lucius rolling their eyes in unison. “It is obvious they think there is still an oligarchy holding Earth. Likely they approached twenty years ago and scouted the Earth, and realized there was one and who was in charge. Then they withdrew and made these children, because what better way to appeal to the Good Men than with their own young clones? Granted that doesn’t explain Jarl, but they probably thought he was still revered on Earth.”
I snorted. “Which means they had no idea that the Good Men had not only destroyed their own reputations in retrospect, but also in a way cannibalized their own young clones to continue existing undetected.”
“Precisely ma cheri. And that’s not in a way. It is literally what they did, consuming the future to continue the present, to appear to be mortal men, amid mortal men. That’s what makes it so funny. That they thought to use immature clones to appeal to men who’d happily kill their own immature clones, so they could have their brains transplanted into the clones’ bodies and legally inherit from themselves. It is to laugh. If you have a particularly black sense of humor.”
“Enough,” Kit said. “That leaves us with the question of what to do with these innocents? Do we let them return with a message that there is no one who can grant them such a thing, and that if they can take and hold any portion of the Earth it is theirs?”
“Father won’t believe that!” Laz said. Little brother was now awake and struggling with his bonds. I kept a sharp eye on him, but all he did was wail, “He’ll have us killed, or worse.”
I didn’t ask what was worse. I’m sure there were many, many worse things that could occur to minds marinated in malice for centuries. Hell, my late unlamented father himself could easily come up with worse.
“He said,” Laz said, with an effort at coherency and clarity of speech, “That we were to ask the Good Men, and to have the council of Good Men grant us license to land. They said anyone at all in an official position, even harvesters in Circum would be able to get us in touch with the Good men, and that once the Good Men knew we existed they would not resist seeing us. But they said the permission must be official. We can’t be led into a trap.”
So, paranoia, added to everything else, which also tracked with the Mules I’d known. It was enough to make you wonder if Jarl had been right and if the ones who’d left in the Je Reviens were the better half of the Mules. If the better half was this paranoid
Simon cackled, “I tell you. They scouted! Before they made these children.”
Seemed likely, since they knew about the Good Men, and who they were. I didn’t bother arguing, but said instead, “Well, if we can’t give them assurances, ourselves, should we speed them to the Good Men side?”
Two people answered simultaneously. One of them was Fuse, who yelled, “We can’t let my father know that Thor exists!” and Lucius who said, in a tired, tight voice, “I don’t need any more blood on my hands, thank you so much.”
“But they’ll try to get there, since we can’t help them,” I said. “And I know my own little brother, as I knew the old bastard, and as I know myself. He’ll try to escape, and he’s quite likely to manage it, if he wants it badly enough.”
Lucius frowned. There was a look to his face that resembled nothing so much as the sky before thunder. “You’re not the only delegation they sent,” he said, rounding on the boys. “Are you? Were you hand-picked?”
There a shake of the head from Lars, a shrug from Morgan. Thor’s eyes were fixed on Fuse, as though trying to puzzle something out.
“Who else is — who else did they send?” Lucius said. “Who else did they make? Who are all of you? Is there one of every Good Man who ruled on Earth twenty years ago?” He sounded as if he was in the grip of some great emotion, but I couldn’t tell what it was.
“Five other delegations,” Laz answered. He was puzzled, probably by this big man being so urgent in that question. “If they all failed, then they’d send others.”
“Is there one of you who — who looks like me?” Lucius asked. And suddenly I understood. For reasons hard to explain, Lucius had once had a “little brother.” Not really, of course, just a younger clone, but given out as a brother, and raised as such, in his “father’s” dysfunctional family. Max had died when his father had needed a new body for his brain. Max had been my friend. I hadn’t known Lucius who was in prison when I had come of age. But I understood from people who’d known them both that Lucius really considered Max his little brother, and had loved him as a sibling. Now here was someone like Max, who might have been sent elsewhere in the world, possibly into a trap, possibly to be killed without Lucius being able to do anything to save him.
Laz frowned at him, but it was Little Brother who spoke. “You’re Keeva?” and to Lucius’ nod. “It’s John,” he said. And looking slightly at Laz, “Can’t you see it? It’s John Carter.”
A light, visibly, went on behind Laz’s eyes and he said. “Oh. Yes. He was also sent with with Tom. Tom Sawyer and Christopher Robin.”
Lucius was all urgency now, “How old are they? Where were they sent?”
“John is my age,” Morgan said. “Twelve. Tom Sawyer fifteen. Christopher Robin is Laz’s age or a little older. I don’t know where they went. They didn’t know where they were going. We were told to just find Good Men.
Lucius said a word he really shouldn’t say in front of children, even if the children were feral. He looked like he’d suddenly developed a hell of a headache. He’d pulled his com from his pocket, and started pushing buttons before he looked around wildly and said, “Excuse me a moment.”
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