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Darkship Revenge: Chapter Twelve

       Last updated: Friday, April 21, 2017 18:57 EDT



    He came back, later, his face stern. He closed the door, and he started the flyer.

    Look, I was never Miss Cautious. I’m not Mrs. Cautious either. Once, when I was twelve, I flew a broom into the façade of a skyscraper to avoid being taken back to a reform school where Father had confined me for–

    Never mind. But Lucius Keeva took off from the island too fast, too shallow, almost grazing the tall spires of the former algae processing station.

    I thought something had disturbed him, or that he was so wholly absorbed in some thought that he paid no attention to anything else.

    Kit and I barely had time to drop into seats and strap in when it became obvious that he was taking off. Eris set up a low complaining cry since I had no time to put her in the crib, not that I was sure I wanted to put her in it, and away from me, when the boys could conceivably get loose and get hold of her, so she was squished against my chest by the strap.

    Simon didn’t drop into a seat or strap in. He stood there, his concession to the fast movement being a grab at part of the frame and a spreading apart of his feet. There was a disturbing smile on his lips. And when I say disturbing, I mean disturbing. It was his “I see something funny” coupled with “I know you just parked your broom on an anthill” smile.

    When we leveled off in flight, he made his way towards the pilot’s seat, in a controlled stumble from holding on to the back of a seat to holding on to the back of a seat. When he held on to Lucius’ seat, he tapped Lucius on the shoulder.

    It took Lucius several breaths to respond, and his response was no more than a frown turned towards Simon.

    “Eh, mon ami,” Simon said, his tone still as though he were on the verge of bursting into laughter. “Would you mind telling me where we’re going?”

    I didn’t know Lucius very well. My acquaintance with him was maybe an aggregate two weeks. But I’d known his younger brother, Max, since we were both brats romping around wherever Good Men met to discuss policy and how to keep peace and stability. When Max had done that thing like a half-chew and thrusting his lower jaw forward, it was a good time to clear the decks because he was about to lose his patience.

    Needless to say Simon had known Max as well as I had. But he didn’t clear the decks. Instead, he said, “Well?”

    Lucius did the jaw thing again, then, abruptly, sighed. A puzzled expression replaced his look of anger. Not so much as though he didn’t know what he was doing, more as though he knew he’d forgotten something.

    “I can’t go to Olympus, can I?” Simon said, in a soft voice.

    “Of course you can,” Lucius said, again annoyed. “We’re not at war with you!”

    “Oh, deary me, no, we’re not. In fact we’re allies of convenience against the Good Men, but how will it look if I, who have been at pains to establish the personality of a megalomaniac populist am seen in your company with no pomp, no circumstance, nothing to indicate that I am the great Emperor Beaulieu? In my jumpsuit, and looking every day and mundane? Worse, if I’m seen in the company of one of the heroes of the Usaian revolution, someone so charismatic everyone knows about him? I’ll be judged a puppet.” And to Luce’s blank expression, “But it is worse than that, mon ami. You know it is. Athena’s husband would need lenses or disguising glasses, and possibly hair dye or you’re going to find yourself explaining why our side is now bioengineering people into freaks of nature.” A look at Kit, and, “Pardon, but that’s what they’ll call it. And what’s more, Lucius, you can’t explain those three little cherubs. And won’t they attract attention? BUT more importantly, we left behind my submarine.” He frowned, a little, towards Fuse, “That is, if Christopher here hasn’t thrown an explosive device on top of it?”

    “I didn’t see any submarine,” Kit said.

    “Which is the main purpose of submarines. To be under water and invisible from the top. Ah, well, there is a lot of shoreline there. We’ll trust Athena’s husband threw it into open water. If no chunks of dimatough floated up, chances are we’re safe. But there is also the triangular ship, Lucius. We can’t leave such things lying about for people to stumble into, because that will lead to all sorts of awkward questions, won’t it? We can’t afford it, Lucius. You know what Nat would tell you. Hell, you know that you know. You’re agitation and propaganda, are you not, my friend?”

    Lucius looked upset. I thought he looked mostly upset with himself, but if I were Simon I’d cut back on the heavy cajolery. If cajoling Lucius Keeva when he was in this mood was as safe as cajoling Max in a similar mood, he might find himself looking for his teeth on the floor.

    Not that a lot of people didn’t feel like doing that to Simon on a regular basis. Even I, occasionally. The fact that he still had perfectly straight teeth either meant people had almost supernatural control, or that he engaged in a lot of repair dental work.

    “Where should I go then?” Lucius said, at long last. “Staying on that island is dangerous too, particularly after the explosion, which probably showed on the sonar of anyone watching this area and might have brought patrols out.”

    “I had to get rid of that bomb,” Fuse said. “The explosive was –”

    Simon gestured the objection away. “I have control over that area. It is part of Liberte waters. None of which means I want to be there now, when a patrol might very easily come by and it would be… ah… awkward if they found us. But in the long run I can suppress any inconvenient findings and slap a do not speak order on any of my units, if needed by implying that what they stumbled on is secret research from Liberte. All that can be done later, but granted that we had to leave the algae processing station behind, and that we can’t take these people to Olympus or Liberte, do you have a destination in mind?”

    Luce shook his head. He faced forward. He was looking at his maps again, and changing our route, at a guess to avoid passing anywhere we’d be noticed, let alone attacked.

    “I have –” Simon stopped and sighed. He turned to Kit, then looked at Simon. “There is that little hideaway of Jarl Ingemar’s if Athena’s husband wouldn’t mind doing the honors of the genlock? I believe all the booby traps have been disabled, and the place itself is not only a resort, but very hard to leave without alarms sounding.”

    “I gave…” Kit stopped. “Nat the codes to disable the resort.”

    “Sure,” Luce said. “And eventually it will be a spot where those wounded in the war can go to recover. But there has been no time and no resources, and in case you did not notice, Nat is not here. And the inability of people getting out without your say so…” He looked towards the three teenagers, “Could be useful should these children, or… indeed, any others we gather.” He raised an eyebrow at Luce, but Luce didn’t rise to the bait, facing away and keeping his face blank. “Prove resourceful. I could give you the coordinates.”

    Luce gave a look over his shoulder in Kit’s direction.

    Look, it didn’t make any sense, okay? I’m the first to admit that. The place they were talking about had been used as a hideaway and resort by Jarl Ingemar. I believe before that it had been a touristic resort of some kind. It was set in an artificial cave in Northern Europe, with a climate so controlled that it grew plants and fruits from all over the world.

    Under Jarl’s use it had become a sort of fortress, impenetrable from the outside. And during his absence, with the AIs and cyborgs he’d left in control, two of them imbued with his own personality, those defensive measures had gone completely out of control and turned the place into an obstacle course coupled with cunning traps for the unwary or indeed anyone. On our last visit to Earth Kit and I had spent a very bad time there.



    However, part of the very bad time was that Kit had, at the time, been at risk of being overtaken by Jarl’s personality, implanted during a misguided treatment for traumatic brain injury. At any rate, I had destroyed all of the potential traps in the area. There was nothing injurious about the resort itself, other than being old and in some areas ruined.

    On the one hand, the place had plenty of abandoned machinery, possibly compounds for making explosives, and was dense and forest-like enough for the children to get lost in it. On the other hand it was difficult both to break into and to leave and fairly secret.

    They should be asking me, not Kit if we minded using that place. Only they remembered Kit as being half-possessed by Jarl, and they were probably keeping in mind that Jarl might take offense at the trespass.

    Kit sighed. “This is nothing to do with us,” he said. “Athena and I, and our daughter, have nothing to do with these children, or with Earth, or with granting the Mules a place on Earth if… if anyone is going to do that. It is only the merest chance that embroiled them with us. I think the best thing to do, for the three of us would be to go back home, and leave you gentlemen to handle this.”

    There was a long silence, after he spoke. Lucius didn’t move, or look back. He was looking intently at his controls and remained so, with perhaps a bit of extra rigidity to his pose, as though what had been natural abstraction was now quite unnatural appearance of abstraction.

    And Simon stayed stock still and frowned, not so much as if he were upset, but as if this upset his plans.

    Kit had spoken carefully, and politely, but with a sort of cold detachment that was quite unlike him. I wondered if it was because he felt most of all he must take me and Eris out of this situation.

    I understood his point. I did. Not just wishing to see us safe, but his reluctance to stay on Earth any longer than necessary.

    After all, Kit simply wasn̵#8217;t free to go anywhere he wanted on Earth. Sure, his eyes could be disguised with contact lenses, and then he wouldn’t look like the highly specialized enhanced life form he was. But with his calico hair, he was still noticeable. And even if we disguised that, he would stick out as a stranger everywhere. The way he moved, the accent on his Glaish, even his expressions were subtly out of kilter with anyone on Earth. It was the result of growing up in a colony that hadn’t been in contact with Earth for centuries, and not something you could easily overcome.

    Plus, I knew he still wasn’t fond of standing anywhere on Earth where there wasn’t a roof over his head. In the hallowed asteroid, in which he’d been born and raised, the sky above was a hologram. He’d confided to me that the only way he could keep from going into an agoraphobic panic outside was to pretend the skies of Earth were the same.

    In other words, he was a man out of place. And he wanted to go home. Which I understood. I did. Then why did my stomach contract at his words?

    I found I was looking at Little Brother. Captain Morgan, of the Sinistra genetic line, was a pitiful object. Too young to be a man, too old to be a child, and from the look on his face, and the way he looked warily at all of us, too untrusting to ever have been a child like other children.

    I’d been created and raised by a man who saw me as his way to a plan: his plan of turning the world into a haven for his kind, one in which normal humans were slowly pushed out, as an inferior species, unable to compete.

    Something about that thought sent a finger of cold up my spine and a suspicion crossed my mind that there was something in that I should pay attention to.

    But mostly, I was looking at Morgan.

    I’m not going to say he was a pretty child, though he could have been one, under different circumstances and different standards of grooming. And I’m not going to say my interaction with him made me think him pleasant or really possessed of any good qualities.

    The thing was, where would he have learned good qualities or proper principles, poor sprout? I’d been raised by someone who didn’t love me, and didn’t really consider me human. But even so, I’d had a foster mother, who had loved me, at least if I remembered my first years of life accurately. She’d disappeared when I was six, but she’d left behind that sense of security and love.

    More than that, I’d had the whole wide world.

    Yes, of course, my father had mostly made me acquainted with that world by sending me to reform schools and mental hospitals, in an attempt to make me conform to his plans and not question his orders.

    But in those, and in my broomer lair, I’d found boon companions, friends, acquaintances. And even then…

    Even then, I’d been a sorry mess with no more morals than a cat. I remembered what I’d been like when Kit had rescued me from the powertree ring. Even afterwards, even after he and his family had taken me in, looked after me, and given me their trust and their help, I’d been so disloyal, so unable to have any moral judgment that I’d almost gotten Kit killed.

    If Kit had never taken me in, I’d have ended up killed, my own misguided machinations trapping me into what my father wanted me to do. And if I’d somehow survived my father, I’d still be a sad creature, not fully grownup, not responsible for my own actions, let alone others’.

    What about this child, who’d grown up in circumstances that made my upbringing look idyllic?

    I slipped my hand into Kit’s, on the seat, beside him. His hand felt very cold. He looked at me.

    Simon said, under his breath, but in a tone that was obviously meant to be overheard, “How … typical. Of course, it is none of your business. Though we helped you when –”

    Kit opened his mouth, closed it.

    Into the silence, I said, “I see both sides,” I said. “Yes, Simon has helped us, Kit, as has Lucius. They didn’t need to provide us with places to stay, or cover for us, even if once or twice we might have benefited them. But I do understand Kit also,” I said, looking at Simon. “This is not his world, nor does he feel comfortable in it. He’s afraid of being caught out in something all of us know, but which he doesn’t, and which will make it obvious he’s a stranger. Considering that my father imprisoned him and tortured him to get the location of Eden and the secrets of darkships, considering that most of the effort of his people is towards hiding the location of his home world, you can’t blame him. Or rather, you can but you shouldn’t.”

    “Yes, but — ” Lucius said. He sighed. His face was taut, the lines on it too sharp, as though he were disciplining his expression by an effort of will. “But Athena, if we are going to keep these children secret – and I’m sure we must – until we figure out what, precisely, is going on, and if we can help them complete their mission without hurting ourselves or them, we have to leave someone with them. You’re ideal, not just because Kit can open things that Jarl coded, and will be more at home and more able to arrange things to suit you in Jarl’s retreat, but also because you will not be missed on Earth. Simon and I are both relatively prominent. If we are gone too long — As is, taking you to Jarl’s retreat and going back would take long enough to be hard to explain. But we can’t disappear for days or weeks or even, in extreme case, months. If we did, it would be noticed and people would come looking for us. Not all of them friendly people.”

    “You have subordinates,” Kit said. “Both of you. You could order someone to look after the boys, or to keep them prisoner.”

    “We could,” Simon said. “But you know who they are, and of whose genes they’re made. Do you think many normal people would be able to contain them or to prevent them from going off, perhaps into Good Men hands, carrying information about us?”



    I remembered how no school, no mental hospital, no boot camp had been able to keep me. I said, “Kit, they are… related to us. Of us. If they belong to anyone–”

    He looked at Laz and Morgan and sighed. His mind started They are really —

    Perhaps it was the sharpened look in Laz’s eyes, meeting Kit’s just a moment, that made Kit realize that for the first time, his mind talk with me was not private. I still didn’t understand why their mind talk wasn’t restricted to only bonded relationships, but it obviously wasn’t. I didn’t know what word Kit had been going to use after really. It could be anything from feral to bizarre. But instead, he sighed, heavily. He looked at me for a moment.

    Normally, if our talk had been private, I’d have said more, but all I said was, Remember what I was like when you found me. Remember my attempt at stealing a ship?

    Even though we were still paying for that piece of hooliganism – literally, since the damage to the ship had been charged to Kit who was then my legal guardian – and even though in retrospect that betrayal was one of the most despicable things I’d ever done, my husband’s lips twitched as if he found the memory of it funny. Honestly, the man had the oddest sense of humor. I was grateful, I supposed, insofar as I amused him.

    He sighed, deeply. “All right,” he said. “All right. I suppose we owe something to these children, to the extent they share our genetic code. Or not owe, precisely, but as fellow humans, as relations, it is our duty to protect them. We didn’t choose them, but we don’t choose our relations, do we?”

    “I’m not going to let Thor come to harm,” Fuse said.

    “No. I think they’ve come to enough harm,” Kit said. He frowned. He looked very much like a man deciding to do something he knew would hurt, in more ways than one. “All right. We’ll do it. But we can’t stay for months. We are already under some suspicion in Ede — At home. We can’t explain months away and get away with it. Or rather, we can but it will only make us more suspicious and isolated among our fellows. It will only make everyone think we’re traitors.”

    Lucius took a deep breath. I had the impression that he was relieved, more relieved than I expected, as though he had some plans that we could have ruined by refusing to go along with his idea. “So,” he said. “Jarl’s refuge. If you don’t mind?”

    Kit shrugged. I said, “It is a place with the possibility for endless mischief.”

    “Indeed,” Simon said. “But which place on Earth isn’t? Are you planning to take over a maximum security prison? I don’t think we have anything like Never Never anymore. Or not under our command. And even that, as we all know is not impregnable to escapes.” He turned and gave Lucius the coordinates for the place Lucius called Jarl’s retreat.

    It took a long time to get there. It was half around the world, and in the middle of the territory of Europe, the place that had got most affected by the “ecological clean-up bacteria” the Good Men had released. If they hadn’t lied about it – which they probably had – the intention of creating and releasing those micro organisms had been to clean pollution from the soil. What they had actually done was turn vast portions of continents into deserts. Other parts of the world had recovered, and North America was almost entirely re-greened and heavily re-colonized. But this part of Europe, where, according to the history we were taught, the infection had originated, remained sandy and deserted, the ground stripped of anything living, so that sand and dust were loose and blew in the air, the remains of cities standing like abandoned sentinels in the wasteland.

    Lucius didn’t need to refuel his flyer, which surprised me, but maybe it shouldn’t have. In an Earth where war – or rather, multiple, small wars everywhere, all part of a larger strife – had become a constant, it probably wasn’t safe to run on a small amount of juice, so that you might need to replace the power pack in a bad area or at a bad time. No, if I were designing for the conditions on Earth right now, I’d have backups to the back up to the back up.

    More importantly, Lucius had both fresher facilities, and food on board. When those needs had come up, he’d grinned, “Remember, I am often entrusted with the care of the Remy children.”

    Which probably explained why the food was highly colored, amusing, somewhat bland and in the case of crackers, shaped like iconic heroes of the Usaians. I found it a little odd to eat a package of smiling George Washingtons, the mythical George that the Usaians believed would come back to establish their republic anew.

    We slept too. Not all at once, but by turns. It was decided, without discussion that two of the adults, besides the pilot, needed to be awake at any time. Kit and I took turns amusing Eris, and if I’d thought that Fuse’s staring at me while I tended to her had been unnerving, the look on the boys’ faces was twice so. They looked as if they’d never seen a baby. Which now I thought about it might be true, at least for their conscious lives, if Morgan was among the youngest batch of clones made.

    I confess that by the time we arrived and dipped down to the entrance that would otherwise look as just the rock face of a hill, I was jumpy like a broomer at a peacekeeper convention.

    The thing was I knew these kids. Oh, not them personally, of course. How could I? But I knew the genetic stock they came from, a genetic stock that had been replicated with no outside input. Meaning, I knew the people whose clones these children were, and being clones they didn’t have anyone else’s genetics, so sweet reasonableness couldn’t have come from anywhere else. These weren’t the children of my misguided father, or Jarl Ingemar or of Meinard Ajith Rex Mason, Fuse’s father. No. They were their clones.

    Sure the argument of nature versus nature can go on forever, and sure, Lucius wasn’t Max and as far as I knew Max was nothing like their father, Dante. But that didn’t mean that the innate tendencies weren’t there. Luce and Max, at least, had both been relatively laid back until provoked beyond endurance, and both men of few words.

    I’d seen these kids under pressure, and could attest that like their originals or like myself and Kit, for that matter, they were spitfires, hell on two feet, ready to resolve whatever was scaring them by scaring it right back.

    So why were they so passive during the trip? They slept most of the way, save for requests to use the fresher. They didn’t even ask for food, though they did ask for water.

    I kept expecting one or the other of them to flourish a stolen weapon or a hidden one, and try to take over the ship.

    Instead, they sat there sleepy, heavy eyed. I wondered what was going on. Had the immensity of the Earth scared them?

    When Kit had first seen the ocean he’d indulged a fit extreme agoraphobia, but we’d been flying above it on a broom, not in an enclosed, totally covered flyer. That surely wouldn’t raise their fears.

    For that matter, their fears shouldn’t be acute when we came out of the flyer in the cavern. Though there was an artificial sky above, it was cycling through night time when we arrived, a beautiful summer sky, studded with lights like stars, which was clearly not the sky outside, which had been the middle of a summer afternoon. Besides they knew we had gone underground into a cavern.

    But if they weren’t scared, they were still reacting weirdly. I half-expected the boys to look around in wonder, or to be surprised and maybe even delighted by the heavily wooded space, the river murmuring through the mechanically-maintained lawn on the riverside, or the rustling of small animals and birds. But they didn’t even look either way, when we let them out of the flyer, and escorted them to one of the main buildings, which used to be the resort’s main hotel and later Jarl’s main residence. Instead, they stumbled along, staring at their feet.



    I thought they were walking oddly. Laz tripped on his feet more than once, and Morgan looked like he was dizzy. I thought the long trip was telling on them. It had come on top of a lot of effort and fighting and fear. Surely they’d been afraid of coming to Earth. Because it was a different and scary place, if nothing else. But they’d slept most of the way here. How hadn’t that made a difference?

    It wasn’t until Simon, in his own inimitable style, was giving them a speech which included such concepts as “no one here will have any way to fly out, and you really can’t walk out through miles and miles of desert” and “If you behave, we’ll find a way to negotiate your request” that I could no longer fool myself nothing was wrong.

    I couldn’t fool myself because Morgan, facing Simon and looking, as the other two, half asleep and barely able to stand on his feet, suddenly threw up.

    Lucius was the first to rush up, again giving proof that indeed he’d become used to child care, supporting the young man, feeling his forehead. “What is wrong?” he’d asked. “Something not agreeing with you?”

    Morgan had tried to answer and thrown up again. His skin had gone very pale, in contrast with the blue-dyed hair.

    Then Thor had lost consciousness, sinking in a heap on the floor, and Laz leaned against the trunk of a tree and said, “My head hurts very badly. Please –”

    In the end we took them to one large room, wrestled three beds in and put them to bed.

    By we I mean the men. I wasn’t even allowed near the boys, not that I was making any great effort to get close.

    “You and the baby must stay clear of contagion,” Simon had said. And Kit had sided with him.

    “It’s possible the boys are just sick from exposure to Earth viruses,” he said. “On the other hand it is possible they’re sick from something they brought with them. Who knows what mutations would appear and survive in the enclosed and circumscribed space of an interstellar ship?” And for a moment, for just a moment in my husband’s face, there was a look of intense curiosity. As though he’d like to collect samples and find out what those viruses were.

    He was a pilot, raised to fly darkships to collect powerpods from the powertree ring. He’d never shown any interest in biology till his mind had been cross-pollinated with Jarl’s after Kit was shot in the head and the imprint of Jarl’s brain used to restore his mind. Supposedly most of this had been reversed, leaving just Kit’s brain. But I couldn’t figure out how that could be true. There would be no way to fully pull the memories apart. The personality, maybe could be neutralized and stopped from coalescing. But the memories? It would be like pulling apart two sand piles.

    Now and then I caught glimpses of a curiosity or interest or of knowledge left behind by Jarl’s imprint. Jarl had been a world-bestriding biologist, after all, maybe the greatest of them all. He was credit with creating the powertrees, biological solar collectors which survived in Earth orbit, and also with having created several of the – reviled – physical mutations during the war between the Seacities and the land states. He’d created, they said, humans who could breathe under water. Mind you, no one had ever found any proof of that, but it was one of the things they’d said he’d done, and if true it was not just insane, but a great achievement as well.

    I certainly had no curiosity about the viruses either from an interstellar ship or from Earth and no interest at all in anything but keeping my small family safe. Marriage and motherhood had expanded my focus, from wishing to save myself to wishing to keep Kit and Eris safe too. The idea of living on without them was scarcely bearable. Rather death than that.

    But I didn’t feel the need to expand it more than that. I didn’t wish harm to the boys, nor to Luce, nor to Simon. No, revise that, I’d been sincerely grieved when I thought that Simon had died. It would grieve me if the boys died too. And I would do what I could to keep Luce alive if only because Nat was my friend and Nat loved Lucius. But the first essential point was to keep me, Kit and Eris alive.

    Simon and Lucius left us alone with the boys after a couple of hours. Both of them had duties and an already overlong absence to explain. They could not stay with us to babysit the young invaders, even if the young men were very ill. This made it impossible to keep Kit away from the contagion. They tried to keep me away but it didn’t work.

    You see, when two people need to be helped to a bathroom where they can throw up, and the third is burning up with fever and needs water, it’s impossible to keep any of three adults safely away.

    Not that it mattered. If this was – as became clear when they started coughing – a type of flu, an airborne disease, then I wasn’t safe anyway.

    The night became something of a death march, a walking nightmare. I was thrown up on twice. Laz, the oldest of them, was burning with fever, and seemed to obsess about the other two and about someone called Pol. He muttered and struggled, in fear they had been “caught” or were in trouble somehow. It was difficult enough keeping him in bed, but if he got up, he’d blunder around like a sleep walker, walking into walls and into beds, hurting himself and getting in the way.

    The other two seemed to throw up more, which both challenged us to keep them hydrated and to keep them clean.

    I’d scouted the place and found my way into a storage room where someone had stored shelf upon shelf of the sort of courtesy things one might give guests of a resort: pajamas in various sizes, toothbrushes and other toiletries; slippers; extra blankets. I’d also found sheets, intact in the lower layers, though the top ones were grey with dust.

    I have no idea what fabric the sheets and clothing were made of. They felt like the best silk, but they must be synthetic, or they would not have survived three hundred years. I think. Not that I’d ever studied the survival of cloth.

    Whatever they were, we went through all of them at a prodigious rate. We’d get the boys more or less cleaned, then wrestle them into clothes, and then they’d throw up again or sweat so hard they looked like they’d been dipped in water.

    In the middle of all this, I would nurse Eris, and change her when she cried, though I had to let her cry a while, since I needed to clean myself before touching her. I wanted to try to diminish the chances of contagion, but knew most of what I was doing was, at best, cosmetic.

    And just when we thought they’d never come to an end of the spewing, we found that what came after was worse, as they lay on the bed, sweating, eyes bright and unseeing, as their temperature climbed. Even Laz quit his fretting and his moving, which was good, since the beds we’d moved in here were the narrow beds that had probably been allotted to servants. Easier to move, and easier to have three of them in one room, but not big enough for someone of Laz’s build. His movement shook the weak ceramite frame, and when he threw the covers from him, he almost overturned the bed.

    But I didn’t like the looks of the boys. I ransacked the place looking for medicines, but found nothing beyond things for headaches and band aids. Nothing that helped bring down a fever.

    Fuse had got bags, and found a machine that could be coaxed into operating and producing ice. I wondered if it had been meant to produce ice. I was starting to think that Fuse had the same innate mechanical ability I had. What he’d done with the serving bot back in Syracuse, and now, his managing to make something make ice seemed miraculous, not just for him, but for anyone. In the time I’d spent here, most of the servos and robots I’d found were decayed beyond help.

    He had filled the bags with ice and packed them around the boys. This seemed to help keep their temperature down, but it added another round to our duties. In my case, a third round: check on the boys. Change out the bags filled with melted ice, try to force some water down their throats, then see if Eris needed me. We’d put Eris in a room next to the boys’ room, and brought two beds together for Kit and myself.



    I don’t know how long this had been going on. It felt like years, or maybe centuries, but in retrospect, it must have been something short of two days. Maybe three or four, at the most.

    And then at some point, I found Kit guiding me to bed. I don’t remember dropping to sleep. I woke up with Eris crying. She was soaked, and obviously starved. I wondered if there was any formula around, that Kit could feed her when I slept. Clearly, she didn’t get any bad effects from three hundred year old formula.

    By the time I was done feeding her, she had fallen asleep. I tucked her away in the box we were using for a crib. And then went in search of formula. Surely, Jarl hadn’t had a need to feed babies, but some of his guests might have.

    I struck gold in one of the storage rooms, with vacuum packed, sealed bags of baby formula, but when I came back, carrying it in triumph, Fuse was waiting for me outside my room wringing his hands together and looking distraught…

    Why is it our fears always go to those we love the most? In my case, my fears went to Eris. Had Fuse tried to pick her up and dropped her, or something equally disastrous. I couldn’t even manage the voice to ask, but he said, “Thena, the boys need a doctor. A real medtech, not us.”

    Fuse seemed to have aged again overnight till he seemed his real age, except that sometimes he missed words or had trouble pronouncing something or seemed excessively frustrated. I thought he seemed older because he was looking after others. Not that he hadn’t always been a nice person, but not usually the adult in charge of sick people. For one because in the time I’d known him putting him in charge of sick people would mean he’d build some sort of explosive to blow them up, thereby solving the issue.

    Now, though, he behaved like a rational human being. A caring one. He moved from bed to bed, providing water, food, help to the bathroom.

    “Why? What happened?” I ask.

    Fuse shook his head. “They’re not coming out of this. Their fever is too high. I’m afraid they’ll be damaged. In the head.” He touched his own head, with a finger, as though to indicate the place of danger, or perhaps the disastrous results that could ensue. “Athena, we should com Simon. Simon has doctors. Stands to reason. Emperor.”

    “You’re not supposed to call him Simon,” I’d said out of reflex.

    Fuse sighted. “No. But Thena, I don’t want Thor to die.”

    “I don’t want any of them to die.”

    Fuse shook his head. “No, he said. But… different. Thor is… is my brother. Is what I was, before… before I got sick. He’s the only family I have. Father never family. I’m — I’ll be damned if Thor has to run from someone who wants to steal his body. I’ll be damned if he blows himself up before he can learn what is dangerous. I’ll be damned if he’s going to be hurt anymore. They’ve… they’ve been very badly treated, Athena. Worse than us. And treated each other very badly. They’ve been taught very badly. They’ve been taught they’re things. Might still save them, change them, teach them better, but only if they live. Call Simon.”

    I called Simon. We weren’t equipped to deal with this alone. Morgan looked like he’d faded into his pillows, a pale little shade so thin and transparent, you fancied you could see his bones through his flesh. The blue hair and piercings which had looked almost threatening now looked just like a child’s costume, put on for a party and not discarded when illness struck.

    So I dialed the new code Simon had given me. The link rang a long time. I knew it was Simon’s personal link and in the past he’d answered almost instantly. We’d seen him just a few days ago and I couldn’t imagine that his duties as Emperor were very different from his duties as Good Man. I waited. At long last I gave up and called Olympus. I didn’t have Lucius’ code, but I had his name, and he was part of a military. I had a vague memory of numbers in Olympus, the area code used for official business. I doubted they’d changed that. Most revolutions alter but don’t abolish the previous bureaucracy. I called a lot of codes and considered revising my assumptions, before a valid com rang. I asked the rather bewildered person who answered for the codes for the military installation that used to be the Patrician’s palace: and lucked out. The person who answered me was one of Lucius’ secretaries, and had heard of me even if not recently. I’m going to assume at some point in the past he’d heard me too, because he never doubted it was my voice, but instead put me through to Lucius.

    Who answered sounding like death warmed over, “Head cold, I think,” he told me. “Though Si — Julien seems to have a more severe case of it. He collapsed during one of the morning ceremonies and the doctor has been called. His own particular doctor, Doctor Dufort.”

    “The boys have a very severe case,” I said.

    There was a long silence.

    “I don’t know what to do,” I said. “We don’t want to lose them.”

    “The doctor here reassured me it was just a flu virus,” Lucius said. There was another silence. “We’ve been getting very odd, very long lasting diseases, things that we thought were almost entirely vanished from the world, like flu and colds. The war, and the aggregation of people into tiny spaces, let alone the stress and sometimes insufficient sanitation…”

    “And I think the boys caught something their immune system isn’t prepared for.”

    “Likely. Let me call Doctor Dufort” Lucius said.

    “To come here? Would that be safe?”

    “He’s– He’s an Usaian. I’ll talk to him. Quite safe. He… was the St. Cyr physician.”

    “That,” I said. “Is hardly a recommendation.” I’d found out, on our flight from the algae station that an acephalous clone had been killed instead of Simon, and that there were any number of these, as well as people who were effectively mules or close to it, created.

    Lucius hesitated. “No. I suppose not, but he — He’s an Usaian. Without him, the revolution in Liberte would have gone very wrong indeed, and Liberte would have been taken back by the Good Men. He’s solid.”

    More than solid, I though, if his mere presence could prevent Liberte being taken by the Good Men who still controlled most of the world. What had he done? Created armies of Usaians to the cause, out of vats? I didn’t ask, though. I suspected all Lucius meant by it was “he is a believer in my faith.” I thought that if both Lucius and Simon trusted him, he would perhaps be all right. And if he weren’t, we could keep him here with us, after all. I mean, what could he do if we confined him in here with us? And the boys did need medical care.

    I went back to the room where we’d put the three boys, to tell Kit that we were going to get a real doctor to come here.

    I had Eris strapped to the front of my chest, in a sling, as I did most of the time I was awake. As I approached the room, I heard a scream, and then Laz’s voice saying, in a rush, “Me, me, not them. Not them.”

    It woke Eris, who started crying, so that by the time we entered the room, Laz half-awakened, and turned, away from us, looking as though we had disturbed something intensely private.

    “What was that all about?” I asked Kit, who looked more somber and grave than when the Cathouse had problems. We were leaving the room the boys slept in.

    “You don’t want to know,” he said. And, to my enquiring look. “They’ve been talking in delirium again, but he seems quite out of his mind. You really don’t want to know.” He looked tired too. None of us were trained doctors or even medtechs.

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