Through Fire – Snippet 07
I thought of Simon ordering him to protect me. In the same way that I felt Simon would be very hard to kill, I had a strong feeling — belied by Simon’s effete, frivolous appearance — that the ci-devant Good Man would be a very bad person to cross; and that Alexis, being his servant, would know that at an instinctive, deep-set level. On the other hand, I suspected Simon was remarkably intolerant of the lower classes giving him their opinions, and he would have trained this man to know that. So why was Alexis talking of having transferred his loyalty and of telling me the truth? “Who are you?” I asked. “And don’t tell me Alexis Brisbois. Who are you? What are you to the Good Man St. Cyr?”
“Head of his security force,” Alexis said. “If he’s still alive, and if not–” He stopped. “Do you trust me to scout for you and do my best to protect you in whatever course of action you choose to take? If I promise to report to you faithfully, to help you rescue Simon and anyone else we can if at all possible?” He nodded at me. “Come. Surely you don’t think I want everyone I worked with, my colleagues, my friends, my subordinates at the palace to die? If I hadn’t been ordered to get you out and protect you, I’d be up there fighting. If we can save anyone, I’ll accept your help. Do you trust me?”
It took me a moment, and I confess the answer came more from gut instinct than from reasoned thought, but I said, firmly, “Yes.”
He pushed the safety on his burner, handed it to me. “Then, trust me to disguise you. I can’t stand to be here and not be sure what’s happening out there, nor how much danger we’re in,” he said. “Or the danger everyone else is in. Nor what to do about it.” He took a deep breath. “I’m going out. You stay here. If anyone — anyone at all — knocks ignore them. If anyone manages to open the door and it’s not me, shoot them. If… It might be better if they don’t capture you alive. If I don’t come back in… in two hours or so, you’re on your own. Try to make your way out, and Que Dieu — And try to be safe.”
I appreciated his not spelling out that if the burner was almost out of juice and I was out-shot, I should off myself. It was clear enough from what he didn’t say, but he didn’t say it. I’d made that decision of “better dead than captured” for Len once. I might have been wrong. Could I make it for me?
“When I come back, I shall knock this way,” he beat a distinctive rhythm on the sideboard by the bed. “Do you understand?”
My eyes might not be as innocent as those of Botticelli’s Venus, but they clearly had a way of looking startled and not fully sure of anything much. I knew this because throughout my life people had asked me if I fully understood unpleasant things and tried to prevent me from fulfilling my duty.
I nodded at Alexis, with a touch of impatience. “I understand,” I said. And I did. I might not understand the precise danger we stood in, but I understood that I was in danger.
He looked dubious, as though something in my look failed to reassure him, but he put his ear to the door, then opened the door a crack and looked out.
Turning back, he said, “I’ll try to be back. If I’m more than two hours, you’re on your own.”
And he left.
I stayed by the door, burner at the ready. The clock embedded into the wall above the mirror worked. Surprising, given the state of the rest of the lodgings. Looking at it, reminded me that time could pass much slower than any objective measurements showed.
It lacked five minutes to two hours since Alexis had left, when the knock came. I’d been considering what to do on my own and had almost decided I’d leave and search for a derelict building that I could occupy and from which I could range out to figure out what I could do to prevent more chaos and death.
Alexis knocked and I opened. He came in and tossed a bag onto the bed. “I got you hair dye. And an outfit. They’re in the bag,” he said, gesturing.
“But I want to know what’s happening out there.”
“I’ll tell you. We’re going to have to leave. It’s… madness. Chaos unleashed out there. We’ll have to get away. Clear away from Liberte. There’s revolutionary guards; there’s organized patrols. And then there are unorganized mobs, out for the blood of anyone who — of anyone connected with the administration.”
“But Simon–” I said.
“We can’t save him on our own,” Alexis said. “Not against this. We’ll need help. Remember I told you that you couldn’t fight a multitude all by yourself? You can’t. There’s mobs, but behind them there’s covert and implacable organization. I have some idea who is behind this, but no way to get at them on my own. They are seeking anyone connected to the Good Man, anyone who is — Anyone they can eliminate. The Good Man has friends outside the seacity. We must reach them and ask them for help.”
“He could die while we do that!” I said.
“Then he’d be dead already,” Alexis said. “But I don’t think he is. I think the chaos is just dressing on the real action. I think this is a planned revolution; I think there are people in charge, people who’ve been waiting for an opportunity, and they know that the Patrician is worth more alive than dead.”
“As a hostage.” He sounded impatient.
“A hostage to whom? The Good Men?”
He shrugged. “Them, or anyone else. The Good Men don’t like their kind killed, not visibly, not even if they’re rebels. They certainly don’t like their kind killed by anyone but themselves. It might give people ideas. As for the Usaians, they don’t like rebels killed, and they might intervene to save him just because of that. They might be willing to pay or sign a non-aggression pact in exchange for Simon. First we need to get out of here. Then we’ll figure out how to save him. We’ll find outside help.” And then, “You should be disguising yourself.”
“I thought you said there was a better way than dyeing my hair!”
I took the bag into the attached fresher and saw. Or thought I did. The hair dye he’d got me was not brown, but a cheap, obviously fake red. The bag also contained just as cheap, and equally obviously false makeup, contact lenses that changed my eyes to dark brown, and a dress that appeared to be made of some sort of plastic. It felt uncomfortable against the skin, but it changed my look completely. I’d been considering dyeing my hair brown or black and wearing a unisex suit of the sort that manual laborers used to cover up their real clothes. I now realized that would have made me stand out like someone who was trying to disguise herself.
This, though — from the obviously fake hair color, to the overdone makeup with my now-unremarkable brown eyes surrounded by black liner and highlighter, and with the cheap, but ruffled and ornamented pastel-pink dress — looked like I was trying to call attention to myself and had nothing to remarkable to make note of.
As I put the makeup on, it occurred to me that Alexis’ competence in this particular situation was very odd. It didn’t strike me as something people could simply think their way into. But who would the head of security of the Good Man St. Cyr have conspired against? And why and how would he have needed a disguise?
Whatever he was, whatever he had been, Alexis seemed like he had a lot of experience with conspiracy.