Through Fire – Snippet 28
Corin came running out of the inner room as I was struggling to get hold of the burner. “Alexis,” he said, then a string of words in French, and then, “I’m so glad it was you. I thought–”
“They’re right behind,” Alexis said. “I have arranged to get you out of this. Were you about to blow up the house?”
Corin half nodded and made a sound in his throat that might have been suppressed laughter or a barely contained sob. “I almost blew you up,” he said.
“Never mind that,” Alexis said. “Can you resume the sequence? They were right behind me, and although it will take them time to find the proper place and force the door open, you and I know it must be done. For that matter, blowing up the house will only buy us an hour, maybe two. I can get you out of here. I have made arrangements.”
A closed, mulish expression passed through Corin’s features, and I thought, for just a moment, that I knew that expression, that I’d seen it on Len often enough, only this time I couldn’t imagine what it applied to.
You see, my husband was the nicest man in the world. He was also the only man I could neither bully nor seduce nor budge once his mind was made up. And when that expression appeared on his face, I had to come up with a better plan because Len was going to do what he thought was right and even I couldn’t stop him.
But I couldn’t imagine what Corin though he was going to do. As he turned to go back into the room, Alexis Brisbois took advantage of my distraction to pull the burner out of my hand. As I turned to him, he said, “As for you, Madame, it’s hell’s own time you gave me. I thought you were dead, and what was I going to tell the Good Man?”
I was thinking of Brisbois talking to the man in the dark and seeming to arrange Simon’s execution. Was he going to try to convince me he was a loyal servant all the way? Or was it possible I had the whole thing wrong? Unable to decide, I glared at him, and said, “I have other burners.”
Was that the twitch of a smile at the corner of his lips? People had found me scary and cold, meddling and commanding, annoying and useful, but I didn’t think anyone ever had found me amusing. Except, apparently, Alexis Brisbois. He let go of my arms, as though he didn’t think he need concern himself with being shot. Which he probably didn’t, because I couldn’t bring myself to shoot someone who didn’t expect of me. We all have these little disabilities. “I saw you, in the dark,” I said. “I saw you talking to–”
There was warning in his eyes, and Corin was there, saying, “It is done,” and covering his ears. We covered ours, too, just in time to deaden the sound of the explosion, and feel it mostly in vibration all around. A heavy thud followed the explosion as, I suppose, the house fell in above us. The ground rocked under us.
Alexis turned, lowering his hands from his ears, and asked Corin, “How long do you think until they send another party to find the entrance? Or for the survivors of this one to try again?”
“As soon as it stops smoldering and is cool enough to enter,” Corin said, in a tired voice. “At which point, I hope we’ll be out of here.”
Alexis nodded. “Where is Father?”
I noted he didn’t say “your father.” Nothing in this mountain of a man with the blunt face resembled the Duforts, except that he was presumably human and that they all walked on two legs. But I had seen worse genetic surprises. It would certainly explain why he was here.
“My father,” Corin said, and it seemed to me he underlined the first word just slightly, “is in that room there,” he gestured with his head. “The one that’s open. My mother was tending to him, and I thought it was better to prevent surprises.”
The massive hand of the man who had once been on death row clapped Corin once on the shoulder. “Good thinking that,” he said, and then turned and pelted down the hallway, going in the door where Dr. and Mrs. Dufort were.
It seemed to me that Corin’s face was frozen for a moment. Like there was something unpleasant in the association with Alexis; like there was something about the whole situation that both bothered him and angered him.
I heard Alexis speak briskly, and a male and female voice answered him. “Absolutely not,” Madame Dufort said. “My husband has a broken rib, and is still very weak. You cannot move him within the hour.”
I was aware of Corin coming up behind me, and moving to stand beside me. The two of us filled the door, and the people inside the room ignored us.
“Father,” Alexis said, turning to Dr. Dufort. His tone was both questioning and anguished, a plea, I wasn’t sure for what.
The doctor looked up at him. He was very pale, and obviously shaken, but he looked better than I expected. Through the rent in his shirt, I could see a patch on his chest, not unlike the patch on my arm. That he was awake at all seemed to me a miracle.
“Of course, I must go,” he said, hoarsely. “Now, Madeleine, my dear, you know I must go. It’s not a choice between what I wish and what Alexis wishes, it’s a choice between death and life. I must go if I am to live. You know they’ll keep coming, you know why. If I don’t get out of here . . . And don’t even think of staying.”
“I’ve arranged for transport off of the isle,” Alexis said. “I can carry you to it.”
The doctor gave a laugh like a hiss and said, “You’ll have to. Unless you want to creep out of here and get caught. Are you sure of the transport? I heard that no one could leave by air.”
“It’s not by air,” Alexis said. “And yes, I made sure of it. I’ll get you out the way I would have gotten the Good Man out should he allow it.”
“How is he?”
Alexis shrugged. “Alive. Stubborn, I expect.”
“Of course.” The doctor got up, on shaking legs, retrieved a small bag from somewhere and started putting injectors and instruments into it.
Alexis didn’t say anything, but the doctor must have detected something in his posture or some half-suppressed movement of impatience. “I must take the tools of my trade, Alexis. Into the unknown, and at my age.” The last was almost a grumble. At some point he closed his bag, and Alexis lifted him. I thought I heard Corin huff by my side, but it was such a small sound that it was hard to be sure.
Alexis carried the doctor effortlessly, with Mrs. Dufort running alongside him, down a long hallway and then into a vast room.
To this day, I have no idea how vast the room was or precisely what it contained. I just know that, as I walked past, it seemed to me it was full of glass coffins, and within the glass coffins there floated… people. Or sometimes parts of people: a leg, an arm, not torn and bleeding as they’d be if they’d come off a living person, but whole and sealed, as though they had grown by themselves. There were also other organs, of the kind that were imprinted in my mind as “things that should be inside people and never outside” but most of all, what stayed in my memory was a kind of container at the end, which could be viewed as a coffin on its side. Inside it, floating in some liquid, surrounded by glass, was someone I’d swear was Simon — but the eyes were blank and the body contracted in the fetal position.
I stared at it, and Corin grabbed my arm and said, urgently, “Come on. We must go. They’re going to blow this up.”
“This?” I said. “This secret place, too?”
He pulled more urgently. “They must,” he said. “The things in here…”
And he pulled me out completely.
We left the lab area and trotted down a narrow passageway for a long time. I lost sense of the center of the room and how far we traveled, because we were in the sort of space where the light came on just ahead of us and vanished behind us. It was like moving in a fog, or else in a dream, where the only space that existed was the space immediately ahead, and the space behind us vanished again.
Alexis ran, as though he weren’t carrying a full-grown man, even if one smaller than himself. And Corin walked just ahead of me, pulling me if I delayed.
At the end of the tunnel we emerged into what seemed to be a public park, and miles away — as far as I could tell — from the neighborhood where the doctor’s house had been.
I was shocked once again, by how peaceful a night could look, even when the human world was in turmoil. The night air was warm on my skin, and crickets were chirping in the shadows of palm trees. While we walked, without breaking stride, down a grass-covered slope, and then down narrow stone steps. From somewhere — probably many somewheres given the looting and burning going on — came the smell of fire and burning.
“Alexis?” a voice asked out of the dark.
“Yes,” Alexis answered.
“You were such a long time,” the voice said. It sounded young and diffident.
“Yes,” he said. “I met with some trouble. But everything is all right now. Here?”
“Nothing,” the voice said. I realized it was not only young but female.
“C’est bien,” Alexis said, and walked past a shadow standing on the beach, at the bottom of the stone steps. I spared her a glance as I went past. She was shorter than I, which was no great feat, as most women are, but also one of those young women who would have no trouble passing as young men, save for the breasts. The moonlight glinted on blond hair topped by a liberty cap.
I wondered once more what Alexis was playing at, and would have given the doctor and his family the warning if I thought there was the slightest chance they’d listen to me. But I wasn’t fool enough to think they might.