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Darkship Revenge: Chapter Thirteen

       Last updated: Thursday, April 27, 2017 18:39 EDT



The First Horseman

    “It is the flu,” Doctor Dufort said.

    I don’t know what I expected. A colossus of some sort, a man whose very presence bent reality around him. Or someone whose knowledge of science and medicine was so overpowering that all must recognize it.

    Instead, he was a lithe middle aged man, very calm and completely unperturbed to be sent across the globe to examine three children in a secret facility. If he found it strange, he gave no indication. “I will leave some anti-virals. It seems to be a very virulent case.”

    I had heard of him, before, or at least not precisely of him, but of the private doctors of Good Men. My own late, unlamented father had had some on retainer. I’d been made by one of them.

    Somehow I’d never expected one of them to be so unprepossessing and so calm. The ones who had served my father had been somewhat more … showy.

    He had taken the three boys’ vitals through a med-examiner that looked quite a lot more advanced than when I left Earth. I wondered what had been happening in my absence. Other than, of course, civil war and unrest.

    “Do you think they caught it from us? Somehow? Sim — Julien, maybe, if he was incubating something…”

    Dufort shook his head, then shrugged. “The emperor was in the best of health. I know, because he insists I see him every other day.” At my widening eyes and look of shock, because hypochondria had never been one of Simon’s issues, as many has he had, he said, “Ah, no, not about his health. About other matters I supervise for him. I am the one who insists on taking a look at his vitals when we meet. He has taken on much too much, and has a tendency to burn the candle at both ends. He always had.”

    I almost asked him how he had known what the Emperor Julien always had, since the constructed story I’d skimmed said that he had grown up as an humble man of the people. But I met his eyes, and there was no deception there, and we were perfectly understood. He knew who the Emperor was as well as I did. And he knew who all of us were too.

    I hadn’t ever thought of Simon as someone who burned the candle at both ends, either. Simon, at least to me, had appeared as a bon vivant, who strode through life seeking his own pleasure and his own advantage, and trying to do as much of the unpleasant “work” as humanly possible.

    It occurred to me, not for the first time, but the most forcefully it ever had, that I might never had known the real Simon, but a constructed personality designed to be seen and appreciated by such as me.

    Maybe there wasn’t even a real Simon. Maybe he just had a series of personalities, of acts, that he put on for different people.

    Certainly, another thing I’d found out on the trip here, that Kit’s “sister” – a female clone of Jarl Ingemar created and raised in Eden – had married one of Simon’s subordinates and disappeared somewhere into Olympus’ North American territories, instead of marrying Simon, as we’d all assumed she would, lent credence to the idea I’d never known Simon. He’d made light of it, shrugged and said they hadn’t suited, but I suspected when it had come to the sticking point he just couldn’t commit to anyone or anything. Not even for love. Not even for self-preservation.

    “They should pull through fine,” Doctor Dufort said, as he set a handful of vials on the counter. “I gave them a dose, just give them the next dose in two days, and then another one. They are all healthy specimens, the… ah… body decorations notwithstanding. Whatever else they are – and from what the Emperor told me, they are more or less feral – they are near-perfect physical specimens. Just keep them hydrated and fed. These vials will tip the scales a little in their favor and shorten their healing time. I’m leaving extra vials should any of you get ill. And this,” he set down smaller vials. “In case the infant should contract this.” The idea of Eris getting that sick made my hair attempt to stand on end.

    He gave me and Kit the instructions on administering the medicine, without saying anything about Kit’s eyes, the obvious mark of his bio-engineering, and without saying anything about knowing who we were.

    But when I walked with him to the front of the complex, where he’d left his flyer parked in a vast expanse of robot-maintained lawn, under green trees, beside the murmuring river, he said, in the tone of one who had hesitated a long time, “Patrician Sinistra — ”


    He sighed. “Two things, and please forgive me for bringing them up at all. I will only plead that you don’t know what has happened on Earth in your absence and that I have reason not to want either of you caught in it, if nothing else because it would embroil my– The Emperor, and he’s having all he can do to keep Liberte from the main strife because after the revolution, we’re not ready to… We’re not ready to fight.” He looked at me. “If you’ll forgive me, Madame,” He pronounced it Mah-dah-m in the French way. “I have here a pouch with lenses which will alter the appearance of your husband’s eyes. I would just prefer that if you leave this space no one knows what you are. That you don’t attract attention. Oh, I’d love to examine his eyes and know precisely how they were made, and how – the Emperor tells me it was a virus – something was designed to change mere human DNA in that way. Just as I’d love to know how you were made, after a long string of failures and sterile female mule clones. But I will not speak of it, not unless someone wishes to share the knowledge with me. There isn’t even a need of creating female mules for ah… Biolords to reproduce. It is possible to bridge the gap of reproduction with humans in the laboratory. The idea of making females was, I think, predicated on a perhaps natural desire for the mules to replace normal human population. A thought that their species was the next step as it were.#8221;

    “My father did name me Hera,” I said. “Athena Hera Sinistra. As Nat pointed out, the woman without a mother, and the mother of a race of gods.”

    Dr. Dufort looked at me, evaluating. “Just so, Madame. Your… ah… father… had his notions. But the thing is, right now, to prevent the other Good Men from hunting you down and trying to figure you out. And from trying to do harm to your husband. So if he would wear the disguising lenses, and you’d try to… ah, not be very obvious.”

    “Why?” I said. “I mean, sure, they know that I am missing and perhaps think I’m dead. But I grew up on Earth and none of them tried to seize me. Even if they had contracts with father that said they got to sire a child or something, I never heard of Good Men trusting each other in contracts, and surely — ”

    Doctor Dufort gave me something I’d rarely seen: an exasperated smile. It was as though he’d tried to combine the appeasement of an obsequious smile with exasperation at my slowness of mind. I wondered, for the first time, what it was like for the scientists and techs who worked for the Good Men. They had to know they were a lot more trained than the men they served, but the men they served had been designed to have greater potential. Did they think that they deserved better treatment at the Good Men’s hands? Did they think that the Good Men could have done their job and easily and only didn’t for some arcane reason? What did people feel who kept the secrets of unreasonable autocrats who might kill them for any reason or none at all? “Madame, yes, while you were growing up you were a point of curiosity, and perhaps hope for the future, but you must understand that, as you said, the Good Men never trust each other. Ever. This means that they didn’t trust your father’s assurances, or perhaps his doctors’ assurances that you were indeed fertile. Which in the end meant you were a point of curiosity but not covetousness. But now, well… Now you have a daughter.”

    “Oh,” I said. I led him to his flyer, and saw him get in, and saw him take off. Kit had given him the getting out codes.

    I came back into the room to find the boys were worse, in the throes of delirium, and that Kit and Fuse were having trouble subduing them.

    It was a full week and a half before we saw them improving again. Looking after three teenagers who were delirious, unable to function on their own, left us no time to do anything but fall asleep, exhausted, usually one at a time, while the other two stayed on duty.

    Nonetheless, in our times awake together, I noticed that Fuse was coming to himself; becoming more adult… No, more himself by the day. And though he worried about Thor, perhaps most of all, he could now be trusted to look after the other two also, and to come to us if he couldn’t handle it. The only time he woke one of us, it was Kit, because Laz was fighting in his delirium and Fuse could not hold him down alone.

    At the end of what seemed like an endless succession of days, I woke up and Kit was standing by the bed, “The fever broke,” he said. “They’re asleep. Fuse is keeping an eye on them.”

    That was early morning, the first day in the refuge when I was aware of daybreak. I drank coffee outside, looking at the fake sun climb the holographic sky, and listening to the river and the birds, and feeling… relief? No. I didn’t want the boys to die, but what had made these days grueling was not the fear they’d die, so much as the sheer amount of work, the grueling effort of looking after three incapacitated juveniles. I savored my moment with my coffee, and then Eris cried to be fed, and I hurried to look after her.

    It seemed this was a time for me to look after everyone else, and that I wasn’t going to have any time for myself, ever, ever again. Life would be a never end of caring for other people, younger people, people who were dependent on me. I never wanted to be a mother.

    And then Kit had woken up and taken Eris from me, and reminded me that the bedrooms upstairs contained a sybaritic bath. I had slept in the immense bathtub, relaxing in more warm water than we could afford in Eden, or transport in the Cathouse.



    We had dinner that evening, the three adults together, after we’d given the young men food, and Fuse asked, “They’ll live now? They’ll live.”

    “They’ll live,” I told him. “The doctor said they would.” Part of me thought it was very easy for him to say it, when he hadn’t had to actually nurse them through the illness.

    After dinner, I received a Com from Luce. It was a hologram call, and I could see him, sitting at a vast desk, piled high with papers. He looked tired and old. I knew he was ten or fifteen years older than Nat and I and the rest of my broomers’ lair, but I’d never thought of him that way. Till now. He looked like he had aged years since I’d seen him a week and a half ago. “I wanted to know how the boys were doing?” he asked.

    “Oh, they’re recovered,” I said. “They’re fine.”

    His fingers drummed on his desk. It was odd, because he was staring at me through the hollo communicator, but his fingers were drumming on the desk as though they had no connection at all with his mind, as though they were an automatic gesture.

    I could sense something troubling him, something deep and unexpressed, but all he said aloud was “They have no other symptoms, now? They are fully recovered and have no other symptoms?”


    “No symptoms as though of a hemorrhagic fever? Blood seepage through skin? Organ failure?”

    I was horrified. “Light! No. Why? Do other people have those symptoms?”

    He opened his mouth, snapped it shut. “Some. A good number of the people who caught this… flu.” He looked more distressed than what he’d said warranted.

    I thought I knew the only thing that could make him this tired, so I asked, “Nat?”

    He raised his eyebrows at me, as though trying to make me feel I had no right to ask. Then he sighed. “No. Well — He has the flu as I do. But no. It’s …. It’s just a great number of people have those symptoms and a lot are dying, and we can’t seem to stop it. And Julien has thrown all sorts of resources at it, but we still can’t stop it. We can slow it down by constant blood transfusions, but our supply is not unlimited, and artificially produced blood seems to have deleterious effects, in mass quantities. Julien has tried everything. His wife is very ill.”

    “Wife?” I asked, surprised. It had never occurred to me that my scapegrace friend had married. Who had he married? His wife couldn’t be one of us. Of course neither had my surrogate mother been, or any of the surrogate mothers of my friends, but somehow it seemed wrong. For that matter, Nat wasn’t one of us, one of the clones of Good Men. So I didn’t think that Luce wanted to hear my ideas on it.

    Luce sighed again and shook his head. “Oh, it’s just… He picked her from a row of beauty contest winners, and she was supposed to be a show wife, a trophy of the Emperor, to show how vastly powerful and attractive he was, but Thena, I think he’s come to love her, and you know Julien was never that stable. He’s really tried everything. And if she should die this could affect his emotional well being, and in turn put our position in jeopardy.” He gave a mirthless laugh. “Not that it matters, since we’re losing so many people, I think everything will be destabilized. The whole world.” He seemed to bring himself to a halt with an effort and shrugged. “Look, I’m probably depressed because of this flu thing. I’m probably worrying for no reason.”

    “Is there any reason to think anyone will die?” I asked. “We weren’t even really worried for the boys, and, having grown up in an insular environment, they were more likely to lack the resistance to –”

    Luce pursed his lips. “Oh, people are dying. A lot of people. I don’t know if it’s the same flu the boys had, though –” He paused. “I have this feeling it might be. “Whatever it is, though, it’s going through the troops on both sides, both the Good Men and us and our allies, and there have been…” He frowned. “Something sets in after people recover or when they’re recovering from this flu. They… The med techs say they don’t make enough palettes, in the blood. The upshot is the blood doesn’t coagulate as it should. It hits some people differently from others, and some just get bruises and fatigue and jaundice, but we’ve had people die from sudden strokes, as a bleed let loose in their brains. Watch the boys. We don’t know if it’s the same thing, but…”

    “You’re worried. About the boys.”

    “Not about those three particularly,” he said, but was frowning, as if in deep thought. “But yes, about them, too. It’s just that… We’re losing people we can’t afford to lose. And even just the ones who are ill… Never mind, that is my worry, and not part of yours. We’re a smaller fighting force, holding out in the face of a much larger enemy, and the truth is they can afford to lose more people than we can before our force becomes non operational.”

    “It’s not that I don’t care about your battle. A free Earth is preferable to — But I don’t know what I can do.”

    “No, of course not. Your worry is, I suppose, to go home, once those boys are out of danger.”

    I tried to think of it. Going back to Eden, without resolving this situation…

    I hated to admit it. I never wanted to be a mother. I truly never wanted to be a mother, and I hated being responsible for anyone else. But something had happened between giving birth to Eris and finding little brother, yes, and Laz too. These boys were probably worse raised than I’d been. I didn’t know what they were doing on Earth, but I was sure that those who had sent them didn’t care if they lived or died. And I knew if we left them to their own devices, in war-torn Earth, between rival factions, they’d be lucky to remain alive.

    From the things they’d muttered while raving out of their minds with fever, I gathered Laz had spent a long time protecting these and others of the boys. I couldn’t be less of a parent and protector than a half grown stripling, who could never have been taught any principles.

    “I don’t know,” I said. “I don’t think we can leave like this. For one.” I hesitated. “It’s possible we’d be taking contagion back to … To the colony. For another, I feel strangely responsible for the boys.” There were other reasons. In the upheavals in Eden, the role that Kit and I had played had left us under suspicion of creating dissension and less than popular with most people. I didn’t want to go back to Eden just yet. Oh, I’d have to face public opinion at some point, and I did miss Kit’s family, but right then, going back, with Eris, was like going back into confinement. Sure we could live again to gather powerpods, but how long could our little family hold out against the world? Did I really want to raise a child in an enclosed ship with just Kit and I? An upbringing even more artificial than mine?

    “But it is dangerous for you to remain on Earth,” Lucius said.

    “I know. Doctor Dufort told me.”

    “Did he?”

    “Yes. He said I could become a prize of contention among Good men, but it doesn’t matter. He gave us lenses, if Kit should need to leave this refuge, and I have survived on Earth a long time. What can I do? What do you want me to do?”

    He took a deep breath. “We’re going on the assumption that the flu was brought by the children. Doctor Dufort thinks –”


    “Doctor Dufort thinks that there is something different about this flu. Something wrong. He thinks that it’s a designer disease, though he can’t figure what it was designed to do. But that strange after-effect of your palettes count dropping and dropping worries him. And he thinks it might be the intention in the long run. But whatever it is, defies his attempts at figuring out so far.”


    “And getting more of the boys would help. Also establishing some sort of quarantine. At least prevent the spread of this to our side, until we can cure it. If we only knew where the others were. Didn’t they talk? Tell you anything?”

    I shook my head. “No, I genuinely don’t think they know. It was all targets of opportunity, and finding someone who would lead them to the council of Good Men. Look how they latched on to Kit, whom anyone born on Earth would identify as an outsider.”

    Lucius sighed.

    “This is not what you want to hear, I know, I said. Have you tried figuring out – I’m sure you have spying operations – where the disease is propagating from among the Good Men? The centers of those should be where the other boys are.”

    He made a face. “A lot of our spies are down too. A constant worry that those in the field speak when they’re out of their minds. But our cyber spying, and breaking into hospital record centers is at least so-so. We might be able to get something from that. I’ll put some of my kids on it… My subordinates. Most of them are so young. Hard to think of them as anything but kids. They’re used to doing that sort of analysis for public opinion, though, so they should be able to do it for this. It’s a little different but they’re adaptable. More adaptable than I. Thank you. I hadn’t thought to use them that way, and most of our other leaders are too sick to think straight. I shall do it.”

    He had worried me enough that I played with the com devices in the compound to get news of the rest of the world. By the next morning, the news were full of this strange disease tearing through the various armies of the world. It was rumored that the Usaian troops were particularly affected, though I wasn’t sure how they were getting those news.

    The boys started improving almost immediately. Two days later, Eris caught the flu. The boys recovering without showing signs of the secondary infection.

    And on the sixth day, the news were full of stories about how Yolande St. Cyr, Empress of Liberte, crowned by the Emperor’s own hands, had died.

    And that night, I found that my thinking was becoming fuzzy and confused, and I went to bed. I thought I’d slept through the night, nothing else, but I woke with two men speaking by my bed, and a smell of something burning.

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