Through Fire – Snippet 30
I swam deeper and deeper, away from the light. It felt as though my lungs must burst before my hand — extended in front of me — perceived a break between rock and wall. By feel alone, since it was too dim to see this far down, it was hard to tell if I could fit through, but there wasn’t much other choice. The only other choice was to go back to the beach and be shot by whoever had come to arrest Alexis and whoever was supposed to be with him.
Swimming forward, I could touch rock and wall on either side, but nothing caught. I emerged on the other side, into brighter-moonlit water outside the shadowy little cave, and I realized I must swim upwards or drown. My lungs felt near bursting and at any minute, my mouth would open against my will, trying to get air that simply wasn’t there.
I made a rush for it, swallowing three gulps of water before I was clear-headed enough to realize that no, there was no one pointing a burner at me, which of course, was a possibility. It was possible that it was a small detachment and that, as such, it was surrounding the cove only. Or, depending on how badly whoever it was who had sent them wanted to apprehend Alexis and his presumed accomplices, the capturing party could have extended here.
But when I surfaced there was no one there. I’d have seen anyone waiting because there was no beach on this side.
Beaches on seacities were always artificial constructions, at least beaches as they were shown in holos and as people imagined them, with sand leading on to a gentle slope into the ocean. Seacities having been poured in dimatough, and anchored to the ocean floor in some way I wasn’t sure I understood, back in the twenty first century, were … one piece. There would, I suppose, in time, be sand on their beaches, and their beaches would become graduated as the sea wore away at the dimatough.
But right then and there, unless beaches were constructed and sand flown in, the seacity floor, upon which all construction rested, ended abruptly at the water’s edge. Save for where harbors had been constructed, the most common view of a seacity was as of a black or gray cliff rising out of the sea.
And on this side of the rocks, no one had built a beach. There was the cliff and, at the base of it, the not uncommon bit of a lip, little more than a natural shelf created in the pouring of the dimatough.
I thought that I’d need to swim to it and lie down to rest. After that, I could think of where to go, but first I must be able to think, and I was still shaky from holding my breath so long.
Then I wondered where the two young people were and realized, with a groan, that I might need to swim back and get them.
This was just before two blond heads popped up out of the sea, close to me. The first was Corin’s, and he broke the water surface gasping, snorting and coughing, indicating that the holding of his breath had failed sometime before he made it to the air. The second was the young woman who’d been waiting for Alexis, her blond hair streaming water and glued to her head while she blinked. She looked far more composed than Corin.
I caught their eye and gestured with my head towards the shelf-like feature. Corin nodded, and when I pulled myself up to the ledge, and sat on it, he sat next to me, and then the girl pulled herself up next to him.
“I beg pardon,” I said. “I should have come up to guide you. I was going to see if there was a passage, and by the time I found it, I needed to see if I could get through.”
Corin gave me an odd look. “Why should you have come back? We are grownups, and we could find our own way. We did.”
I almost said Alexis had told me to look after them, but suddenly realized they might resent the sentiment as well as the fact he’d called them children.
“I think,” the girl said, her voice higher. “Alexis told you to get us out of there, didn’t he?”
“Who are you?” I asked, taken with the sudden certainty she must be his daughter, or someone he trusted as much. I remembered the name that Dechausse had called down. “Mailys Bonheur?”
She inclined her head. “They call me that,” she said.
“And you were working with Alexis Brisbois?”
She opened her mouth, closed it, then suddenly shrugged with the air of a woman throwing it all on the line. “In a way. I was his …secretary,” she said. And as though she thought I’d judge it unlikely, which I did for someone so young, she added, “No, secretary trainee, you see. Clerk in the offices. I barely escaped on the night… the night of the ball. Alexis has been trying to track us down, look after us.”
For reasons I couldn’t imagine, Corin looked stricken. He stared at the young woman then said, “You?” in an accusatory tone.
That seemed to confuse her. She blinked at him, “Yes, why?”
“Oh, nothing at all,” he said.
“I take it you don’t approve of your father’s work?”
Corin groaned. “Ah, papa, papa.”
I thought it was all very strange. Did he mean to imply this young woman had been his father’s lover? It seemed hardly credible. I’d seen the relationship between Doctor and Mrs. Dufort. Perhaps Corin just imagined things? He wouldn’t be the only sensitive young man who endowed his elders with a fantasy life they’d never had.
“I think,” I said, carefully steering the conversation. “That we need to get out of here. They might not think to look for us here, then again they might.”
“Do you think Brisbois killed himself with that grenade?” Corin asked.
“There was no flesh in the spray,” Mailys said, with certainty.
Corin gave her an almost frightened look. “It was too fast to see.”
“No, I saw. There was no flesh in the spray.”
I suddenly felt exactly as I’d felt in the evenings at Len’s parents’ home. He had an older sister who had three teenage children, and when they got to arguing, no matter how stupid the argument, you simply couldn’t stop them.
“Whether he killed himself or not,” I said, “they might, sooner or later, look here. And even if they don’t, we can’t stay on this little ledge the rest of eternity. Surely, Corin, this is not why you stayed behind instead of allowing Brisbois to get you to safety with your parents.”
“No,” he said. “I– Something must be done. I always wanted a revolution, that would, you know, set people free. But they are hurting people. They are hunting them down.”
“This surprises you?” Mailys asked.
“I mean they’re hunting down everyone, not just enhanced people,” he said, in a tone of justification. “They burned down our neighbors’ house just because they thought it was ours.”
“Revolutions,” I said, feeling about three thousand years old, “are not known for calm and precision.”
“But you can’t wait to help them?” Mailys asked. “To cleanse the world of those who are genetically engineered with superior traits? Because only after that can you be free? When you know there are no people engineered to be your superiors?”
“I never said that,” Corin protested.
“No? But you applauded it. You’re not totally unknown to me, Corin Dufort. I saw you at one of Madame Parr’s speeches.”
At that point, I was ready to plunge into the sea, even if there were no land anywhere in sight, no matter if I died, just to get away from the bickering children. I understood for the first time why Brisbois had called them children.
I was still not sure what game Brisbois was playing, nor was I reassured about his devotion to Simon, but I knew for a fact now that he was at least trying to gather the palace personnel and keep them safe. Or at least, he’d come for Doctor Dufort.
“Come,” I said. “Corin, how near are we to what might be a safe point to swim to? Or do we have to go back where we came from and pray?”
He chewed on the corner of his lip, thinking. “That way,” he pointed, opposite from where we’d come. “Oh, not very long. Around that bend, and we might find other ledges to rest on along the way. Then we’ll come to a loading dock for the vegetable market.”
“Not the vegetable market,” I said, remembering the explosion, and Simon and the revolutionary guards. “It will be guarded.”
He looked confused. “It’s the closest place, short of going back. And back there, they might have people waiting for us.”
I sighed. “All right.” It occurred to me that perhaps the revolutionary guard had moved on, after going over the place. “We’ll try it. We can always come back.”
We plunged into the water and swam to the place I’d barely escaped with my life before.