Previous Page Next Page

Home Page Index Page

Darkship Revenge: Chapter Fourteen

       Last updated: Wednesday, May 3, 2017 20:10 EDT




    “How long has she been out?” A voice that was familiar, but not immediately identifiable.

    “About a week,” Kit said. “She’s been semi-conscious, mostly sleeping. I think she just got so exhausted. I mean, I don’t think the flu is that terrible, just that she was horribly tired and it worsened it.”

    “You haven’t caught it all?” the other man asked. The smell of burning was briefly more intense. He’d moved near the bed on my right side. The smell was coming from him, I thought.

    “I had something like sniffles,” Kit said. “But I took the anti-viral, and it passed. Fuse had a little worse flu, but just the flu and it was gone in there days. Same with Eris. I think Athena’s is a little more severe because of exhaustion. Her fever never got as high as the boys'”

    “Umph,” the man said. “I suspect the boys were deliberately infected, with a stronger version, or perhaps a greater load of the virus.” Pause. “I am not a biologist. But I think they were given this in such a way that the period of greater contagion would last the most, and also so they would necessitate caretakers, who would in turn be infected.”

    I had been struggling to open my eyes, and now managed it. My eyes were only partly open, but the sliver of vision admitted was enough for me to identify the person talking to Kit. “Nat,” I said, and struggled to sit up.

    Nat is whip-cord thin, pale blond with seeming-incongruous black eyes. The smell of burning originated from the cigarette in his hand. He’d started smoking obsessively after Max died. I knew he’d slowed down on the smoking when I’d last seen him, and I wondered if the habit was now back full force due to stress.

    He looked stressed, not in any way in particular, but in holding himself a little too tautly. There was an almost brittleness to his posture, as though he must keep himself from showing weakness.

    Kit rushed to help me sit up, all the while scolding me for even trying to, but I ignored him, till I was sitting against the pillows, my eyes fully open. I felt fine, really, just like I’d had a really long sleep. Thirsty and strangely “gritty” in every joint, but not necessarily ill. “Is Eris?” I asked Kit.

    “Perfectly recovered. She’s asleep,” he said, indicating her little box. “She eats an awful lot.”

    “Yeah, materials for making more Eris,” I said, and turned to Nat. Luce had said he was ill, and there was something odd to his being here, and to his posture. I didn’t like odd things, not when a plague was killing people. “You?” I said. “Are you recovered?”

    He shrugged. “Not… precisely. I am medicated. I have recovered from the flu, and they’ve given me meds to try to prevent the onset of the other thing, whatever it is. I feel fine, really.”

    But I understood what he didn’t say. What he didn’t say was that he was afraid he was already doomed and that there wasn’t anything anyone could do to save him. It was a moment of weakness, and then he shook his head. “It doesn’t matter. The idea you gave Luce was a good one,” he told me. “We have found several foci of infection, and we think we located … Lucius’ younger clone. We have reason to think the boys are the carriers, but we need more carriers, because Doctor Dufort is having trouble isolating the virus from the boys here. Or rather, figuring out how it causes the after-effect illness. And I thought, if we could get a… another of the boys or … or two.”

    I looked at him. He looked sheepish. No one ever accused me of being tactful. “You want to get the Keeva clone…”

    “No,” he said. “I mean, yes, but only because if I have to get one of them. Also, he’s … that is he is at La Mancha Seacity. He’s accessible. Or should be. Easy to get at. So … I will be going there and trying to rescue him. If I succeed, I’ll bring him – and his companions – here.”

    “Why did you come here first?” I asked. “If you’ve determined you’re going to do this, by yourself?”

    “Oh,” Nat said. He glanced at Kit. “I tried to com you, and couldn’t get an answer. I thought you might all have died, or you might all be very ill and need help, so since La Mancha is relatively close to your location, I thought — ”

    If I remembered clearly, and since geography was never a passion, I might not, La Mancha was in fact several hours away, but granted closer to central Europe than to Olympus seacity. “I don’t understand,” I said.

    “He came to make sure we were alive and well,” Kit said. “Or at least the rest of us were well. With you not being awake, and I trying to watch both Eris, and Fuse and the boys…. If the com signaled I didn’t notice or wasn’t in the room at the time. He got concerned.”

    Nat stood up, tall and lean, holding a cigarette between his fingers, and I remembered something my late friend, Max, had once said about him, in exasperation “World’s most unlikely mother hen.”

    “I think,” I said, sitting up fully and only remembering afterwards to check and be relieved that Kit had dressed me in some sort of loose gown. “I’ll be all right. Go and get the boys if you can. I feel bad about any of them being in the hands of people who might use them… I mean for more than for getting a treatment for this illness. I don’t think any of them ever had a chance.”

    Nat’s lips went thin. “I’m almost sure they didn’t. But we can’t save all of them. Not on our resources right now. Besides, I might get way with one raid, but two would be suicide. They’d know to expect me. There would be a trap.”

    “Isn’t it dangerous…?” Kit hesitated. “Going on this mission all by yourself? Even if it’s the first? Surely there will be guards and surely the boys are watched, at least if they made contact.”

    “They made contact,” Nat said. “We — We broke the code for that particular cluster of Good Men sometime ago, and we caught references to the boys. They made contact and they’re alive, but kept isolated because they’re not trusted.” Pause and he lit another cigarette. “There was some talk of using Luce’s – John to get concession from us. So we know where they are, and can guess at the defenses. I wouldn’t do this on my own without on the ground intelligence. I might be foolhardy, but despite rumors to the contrary, I’m not actually insane.”

    “Still,” I said, worried now. “Shouldn’t you take someone? You’re a military man. Surely you have underlings who –”

    “Whom I’d rather don’t know what is happening, Athena. We’re in a very delicate situation. Remember — No, you wouldn’t know. The reason Simon lost control of the Sans Culottes in Liberte is that we had to publicize what the Good Men really are. The Good Men spent so much time distancing themselves from what they’d been before the turmoils, that they taught everyone to fear and hate the Mules.

    “We’re all right in Olympus, because so many people are Usaians and Luce is a known Usaian, and … and in a relationship with a normal person. But Thena, if people find out that this plague started with the Mules, in orbit on the Je Reviens sending down infected teenagers who are also mules…” He pulled deeply on his cigarette and released a cloud of smoke into the air. “The Turmoils are nothing to it. Civilization as we know it will be leveled. There won’t be two stones together. And Luce and anyone they suspect of being a Mule, or enhance, which could well include myself and my family, and many others, will be killed. You’ll pardon me if I don’t think it’s worth risking that on the chance that one of the people I pick to help me will recognize similarities and speak.”

    “I suppose it’s why we’re here, with the boys,” I said. “To keep it as secret as possible.”

    Nat nodded curtly. “I’m not a master of propaganda, like Luce is. I don’t study mass psychological reactions every day, but I’m not stupid either. This situation has the potential to blow sky high.”

    “And you think the infection came with the boys?” I said.

    “We’re sure of it. We just don’t understand how it’s activating the secondary plague, and without it, we can’t fight it. But we’re sure of it. We’re sure this is… well, the revenge of the Mules. What the boys were told was substantially right. They were told the Mules had decided they wanted the Earth for themselves, after all, and that was true. They were told they were necessary for this endeavor, and that was true. What I don’t think they told the boys is that they had sent them down as the instruments of the Mules’ revenge, the Mules’ plan to clear the planet of homo sapiens sapiens and make room for them. They want the whole Earth. I presume the boys didn’t know, because that was the way to get maximum efficiency in the attack. It’s possible, of course –”



    “No,” Kit said. “They’ve been delirious enough, they’d have told.”

    Nat nodded again. “So, you see, I can’t take just anyone, because I can’t risk their recognizing one or all of the boys and… well… turning,” he told me. “I can’t ask your husband to go, because he’s a stranger in the Earth, and because his mutations are obvious. Should he be captured he’d risk his entire world, but worse, should be captured, I don’t suppose you could make it out of here and back home on your own.”

    “No,” I said. “Probably not.” It wasn’t so much a problem of navigation, but more that if both Kit and I were under suspicion in Eden, I’d be under a hundred times more suspicion if I returned without Kit. But I didn’t need to explain this to Nat.

    “I can’t take Simon because he’s very ill.” A look at me. “Not physical. He really was in love with his wife, and the shock of her death, combined with the events of the last few months have been too much for it. Simon…” He shrugged.

    I had some idea what he might mean. Simon had always seemed to me an unstable concatenation of personalities beneath a brittle shell he’d fashioned for himself. It was quite possible under the stress of several months of hell, he’d split wide, or was in danger of doing so. “Also, frankly,” Nat said, “Since the Emperor Julien threw in with the Usaians, he’s even more hated than I am on that side.”

    “Luce,” I said.

    “No! He’s more important than I am to the cause. He’s the figurehead that holds us all together. I couldn#8217;t do that.”

    Whether that was true, or whether Nat was trying to protect Luce and not risk him was unknowable. He probably didn’t even know it himself.

    I cleared my throat. “There’s Fuse,” I said. “I know what you’re going to say, but he’s really in much better shape than he ever was, and he would go, if you asked him.”

    Nat shook his head. “No way, Thena. No way. You have no idea how actively his father is hunting him. We’ve been keeping track of that, so we can keep him alive. His father could die at any minute, and knows it, and is trying to capture Fuse with all the desperation of a dying man. I would not risk him. Even though this cluster of Good Men is not the same as Fuse’s father belongs to – because their overall alliance is a patching together of small alliances, of course – if they caught Fuse, they’d have a valuable bargaining chip, and they do know it.”

    I looked at Kit. He nodded almost imperceptibly, and I heard him mentally, I’d tell you no way, he said. But if the situation is as Nat says, we can’t go till this is solved. We can’t risk carrying the infection to the normal people of Eden. And if they really need more specimens, and he goes and fails, it won’t do any good. Nat will just be dead. I don’t want to risk you, but I’ve long ago realized sometimes I can’t protect you. If something happens to you, Eris still has a parent. And anyway – He smiled – Fuse is right about you. You tend to be all right in the end.

    “I could go with you,” I said.

    Nat looked horrified, which was a fine thing for a man who had gone on uncountable broomer raids and one attack on Circum Terra with me, and who knew very well I was trustworthy in a fight. “Oh, come,” I said. “You know you can trust me. Remember when I –”

    “Hell, Thena,” he crushed his cigarette on something that he took from his pocket, and which appeared to be a portable ashtray. “I know I can trust you in a fight. More than I trust myself, some ways. There’s no one I’d rather have at my back, actually, but Thena, it’s not that simple. If the Mules want the Earth, and I’m fairly sure they do, what do you think they want to do with it?”

    “Uh… live in it.”

    “Yes, thank you. Give the woman a star. Seriously, they want to replace homo sapiens sapiens. I have no idea what they call themselves, but I’m sure they call themselves something different. I’m sure they think they’re different. If they get wind of your existence, you’ll become one of the main objectives of whatever they’re planning.”#8221; He put up a hand, to stop me, and I realized I’d opened my mouth to protest that we weren’t dealing with those mules, the ones in orbit, the ones who planned to inherit the Earth, but only with their cousins who’d stayed behind on Earth. “I know, Thena, that we’re not going into the Je Reviens. But the Good Men are also Mules, and some of them might even have put two and two together. They might know what’s being done, and what’s in store. I’m not sure how it would stand between the two groups, the mules who stayed and those who left. From… from things we understood and read, the ones left behind were judged unfit to go to the stars, and might have some definite animosity against the ones who went. But in either case, either as a peace-offering, or to gain their group an advantage over the other mules, possessing the ONLY female of their kind and one who has proven herself by birthing a daughter, would definitely be a coup. And some of them probably know who they are, and an exam would tell them you have a child. No, Athena, you’re too important to risk. Or at least you’re too much danger to risk. I’ll have to do this alone.”

    “She isn’t the only woman,” Kit said. “Zen –”

    “Zen married one of Simon’s retainers and disappeared into the unexplored and newly forested continental territories in North America. Yes, we’ve tried getting in touch with her through this, but from the character of her husband, and from her own experiences, I’d guess they’re both trying to stay lost. At any rate, she doesn’t enter into this equation because only a handful of us know what she is, and none of us talks, even in code, except face to face in places we’re sure aren’t bugged. As far as the Good Men are concerned, you are the key to their future. And as soon as the Mules hear of you, you’ll be the key to populating the Earth. I’ll do this alone. I’ve done crazier things. Trust me. We have the best intelligence.”

    I trusted they had the best intelligence. I did not trust he could do it alone. Look, Nat was one of the best, an amazing fighter on broomback, and as fast and efficient as any bioengineered person. I suspected he, like many descendants of families who’d served a Good Man for a long time, had in fact been extensively improved. But he was one man. And the Good Men were paranoid and had the ability to indulge their paranoia with guards and systems of surveillance.

    In a way it was one man going up against an army. Even if he got to the boys, if they were in as bad a shape as the ones here had been, how did he propose to bring them all out?

    Of course, in my heart I was sure he meant to rescue one of those boys, even if the others died. But I don’t think he’d admit, even to himself, that any of them were disposable. And there was no way he could carry three of them, if they were very ill.

    In some tales, the lone man goes up against the evil army and emerges unscathed, because his heart was pure. I could say many things of Nat, but I’d never say his heart was pure. And at any rate, I was fairly sure no one cared about purity of hearts. If he went alone against an army, he was going to die. And we needed him not to die. And he was so stubborn there was nothing I could do.

    I got dressed and Kit and I walked him to the entrance of the refuge, and the flyer he’d left parked there.

    “Why a flyer?” I said. “A broom would be less noticeable.”

    He sighed. “Because I’ll need to bring boys back, and considering how they were raised, agoraphobia is a consideration.”

    “Um. I can’t convince you to let me come?” I asked.

    “Definitely no,” he said. I cannot in good conscience put you in danger.”

    Kit was walking around the flyer, as though inspecting it, which got him a weird look from Nat. “I … I hope it’s armored in some way?” Kit said.

    Nat shrugged. “As much as flyers are these days. Even civilians get shot at.”

    Kit nodded. Nat shook both our hands, and left to meet his doom.

Home Page Index Page




Previous Page Next Page

Page Counter Image