Through Fire – Snippet 46
Search the Sky
Brisbois reached out and grabbed at Simon’s arm. “Not yet,” he said.
Simon looked up at him and scowled. “If it’s true,” he said, “that we’re about to be invaded and if you add that to the bloodbath taking place more or less continuously, people like us hunted down and killed both here and in the territories, certainly you can’t mean we should delay. Delay why? Delay how?”
“Delay,” Alexis said, “because you’re dropping on your feet, Simon. When is the last time you slept?”
“I?” Simon seemed surprised at the enquiry. He ran his hand across his face, again. “Couple of days ago, I think. I can’t risk being caught. And I was looking–”
“You have both of us to watch over you,” Brisbois said. “No one is going to surprise you. And with you being officially dead, you have some protection. Unless I’m very wrong, I know how to watch over the entire area.” He went into the bathroom and we heard him banging on something. He returned and announced, “Yep. We can go up on the roof and watch the whole neighborhood. There’s roof access in the bathroom. I thought there might be.”
“Why?” I said.
He shrugged. “Because these motels aren’t dimatough. They’re ceramite. If one of them catches fire, the entire motel will be an inferno, and your only chance at survival is a broom from the roof.”
“Is a broom provided?” Simon asked, sounding as curious as I felt.
Alexis nodded but made a face “Four, which is the maximum occupancy for the room. But I don’t know if — if any of them will fly. Never mind. You and I are provisioned, and should it become needed to clear out, Madame Sienna can double up with one of us. However, in our situation, taking off flying from the roof might be more of a problem than roasting. It will attract attention from the Revolutionary Guard watching the air.”
“So,” Simon said. “Why delay in this flea-bag fire trap? Let’s go and–”
Brisbois shook his head. “Unless you are at your best, you’ll get killed and if the complete list of people like us isn’t in your head, I’d bet you know a lot more about where to find the right people, how to command their loyalty and where to find the vehicles and weapons needed for defense. I was your second in command, the master of your guard and your defense, and yet you often told me things I didn’t remember or had never known about. What’s more, you have their loyalty.” His voice changed from explaining to begging, “Simon, we can’t do this without you. That’s the whole point. If we could, we would go ahead without you, and I’d gladly take you to a place of safety as I took Doctor Dufort and his wife.”
“But I am fine. I don’t need to sleep,” Simon said. He tried to look alert but the tiredness was visible behind his eyes. “And besides, what if someone followed Zen here?”
“They would have shown up by now. I have been paying attention to every sound nearby,” Brisbois said. “There is no one in pursuit, or they didn’t make it this far. My guess is Jonny threw them a spectacular distraction, to keep them from finding her.
“Fine, so we’re safe,” Simon said. “And it’s time to work. How do we start? Whom do we contact?”
“We contact Jonathan LaForce,” Brisbois said. His eyes were narrow as though he were calculating something. “And we wait for his answer. And should he not answer, we try Mailys and then on down my list. When one of them answers, we arrange a meeting with everyone they can reach. Then we figure out the best way to start, by taking Madame out first, I think, but I would like their opinion. It’s not going to be done quickly.”
“But surely,” Simon said, “nothing can be gained by waiting.”
Brisbois suddenly made a sound somewhere between an exclamation of surprise and a shout, while looking behind me, at the door to the motel. He reached in his pocket.
I turned. There was nothing but motel door, locked and completely uninteresting.
I turned around again, and pulled my burner, pointing it between Brisbois’ eyes, as he was holding Simon, who had lost consciousness. Or at least I hoped that was it, and not that Brisbois had killed him. I shouldn’t have turned. Oldest trick in the book. Obviously, Simon had turned too.
“Soporific. Injector. Fast acting,” Brisbois said, ignoring me and the burner, as he half-carried, half-threw Simon onto the bed. “Stop glaring. He was not going to sleep any other way and we can’t risk having him blundering around sleep-deprived. Help me get the dresser in front of the door for double insurance, and then we’ll go up to the roof and keep watch while he sleeps. I’ll send coded messages out and see if either Mailys or Jonny answer. And in a few hours, we’ll see what is sane to do.”
I hesitated a moment before putting my burner away and lending him a hand moving the ceramite dresser — heavy, ungainly and poured by someone who didn’t mind if he left sharp protrusions in the furniture — in front of the door, solidly blocking it.
He led me into the bathroom, where he stepped up on the vanity which groaned and creaked under his weight, and reached up to pound his fist on a barely visible trapdoor in the ceiling. It was only visible because there were stains from its having leaked, all around the edges. It took a moment to open at his pounding, possibly because of the rain and some decay on the finish, sealing it shut.
When it opened with a bang, bringing an influx of night air into the room, he lifted himself up by the force of his arms, and pulled himself onto the roof.
Then he lay flat and extended a hand down to me, to help me up. I ignored his hand and instead clambered up on the vanity and reached both arms up. At which point he put both hands just about at my underarms and pulled me up, while I tried vainly to make it up on my own.
“I didn’t need help,” I said as I landed on the roof, and then I wanted to bite my tongue in two for making such a childish remark.
His eyes danced with amusement but he didn’t say anything, except, “Down.” He had settled on his belly.
The top of the unit was completely flat, covered in dust and debris, of course, from years in the elements, but mostly crusted with a white salt coat, like almost everything in this artificial seacity in the middle of the ocean. Around the edges was a little lip, probably not more than had been left by the extruder, but enough to hide us when we fell flat on our bellies. There were roughly cut holes on the edges of the lip, to let rainwater out.
“I will settle myself there,” Brisbois said, pointing to the hole across the way, which looked out to the back of the cabin. “And you can stay here,” He pointed to the nearest hole. “Do try to look through the hole and only to look above the lip now and then,” he said. “There is no use exposing your head to a casual shot. On the other hand, looking above the lip will give you a panoramic view. So it’s worth looking up through it sometimes. Just not always.”
He went and laid down across from me. We were over the little protrusion that was the bathroom of the unit, so our legs lay side by side, while we looked over opposite sides of the building. I had a pretty good view of the front door, and I assumed he had a good view of the alley behind, the one that ran between the cabins of the motel.
I settled myself down and took a cautious look above the lip of the roof. Everything was still, almost too still, in the near vicinity. There was no one out, no one on the streets. “I don’t understand,” I said. “Doesn’t this place do any business?”
Brisbois made a sound like a cough. “Oh, yes, but that’s because it’s just up from the port. Normally it rents its rooms by the hour. But the traffic in and out of the port has stopped, and I suspect any strangers caught here are lying low, not out looking for company.”
“Oh,” I said. “A whore motel? In Eden– I mean, where I come from–”
“Well, I suppose there are some like this,” I said. “But the ones you hear about are the really nice ones. The better sort of courtesans tend to… you know… purchase permanent rooms in places with all the amenities so their clients feel pampered.”
There was a long silence and then he said, in a tone of hesitancy, “Prostitution is legal where you come from?”
“We don’t have laws,” I said.
“Oh, we do. And around here it’s illegal. I’m sure the better sort of prostitute has nicer places to take her clients, but this is pretty average for your normal, run-of-the-mill prostitute. And run-of-the-mill prostitutes aren’t doing much business just now, certainly not in the usual way.”
I looked again and everything around seemed peaceful. I doubted Brisbois had chosen this particular motel at random. The place was on a little rise, probably built on top of a set of warehouses or something else that was a half-level up, and therefore commanding a broader view of the neighborhood than any other place around.
In the distance there were shouts, and flares. It looked like something being set on fire, because the flares were too large for a burner, but it all seemed very far away, and nearby there was no sound at all, save a cricket chirping somewhere to the left of the building.
I heard Brisbois say a couple of words. At least I thought they were words, but they were in no language I knew. I turned around to see him doing something with a ring on his finger. He said another couple of words that were in no known language, then let go of his ring, picked up his burner and looked over the lip of the building, while he said, “Sending a message to Jonny and Mailys.”
“I figured,” I said.
There was a short silence, and then he said, “I thought while Simon is asleep, I might explain to you… anything that you don’t understand or don’t know about what is going on.”
My turn to cough, to disguise a laugh. “You’re just afraid of what I might do if I don’t know and run off my own.”
“Do you blame me?”
“Perhaps not, but answer me this first: you gave the Patrician some type of knockout injector?”
“What if we do spot hostiles, and it’s someone we must run from in haste?”
He made a sound like a hiss. “Madame, I am not stupid. It is unlikely we’ll have to run in a hurry, or at least in that much of a hurry, but if we have to run, then I give the Patrician an antidote.”
“You’re carrying an awful lot of those around?”
He chuckled. “Half a dozen. Mostly with a view to disabling guards, if needed, but also, I’ve known the Patrician for a long time.”
“In a manner of speaking, his entire life,” he said.
“But he didn’t know about you,” I protested.
“Well, he did and he didn’t. I’m sure he’d seen me a few times. You see, I was raised in a crèche controlled by Doctor Dufort. And the Patrician was attended by the doctor as his physician, so I’m sure our paths crossed now and then, but–”
“But I doubt he paid me much attention. Or knew who lived in the crèche, or what he had in common with us. You see, for the rest of the world, and for us too, for most of our childhood we were just orphans, abandoned or surviving parents who had died, and being raised by the doctor out of charity. We called him father–”
“Did he know?” I asked.
“What that we were created in a lab? Yes, I believe so. Since he oversaw the process, how could he avoid knowing?”
“I’m not wholly stupid, you know. That was not what I was asking. I was asking if he knew about what the Good Men did, creating children clones of themselves and then having their brain transplanted into their putative son’s body, as a way to immortality.”
Brisbois hissed again, but this time it seemed like a sharp intake of breath between the teeth. “The doctor is not a monster,” he said.
“I didn’t think he was. Not in your opinion, at least, since you made a special trip to save him, and you still call him father, but I wondered if he knew. People–” I said, partly sincerely and partly trying to ease his qualms and get him to talk. I felt like I only had a partial picture of this strange place and the relationship between people, and if I was going to survive this very dangerous time, I needed to know more. “People do strange things when under restricted circumstances. Even good people can do… things under pressure of the circumstances, and if I understand the Good Man regime, no one was quite free.”
“Only those who chose not to play along with society or established norms,” he said. “Difficult for a medical man. But no, I don’t think he knew. I think he found out after the Good Man found out. Simon, I mean”
“Why? I mean, why do you think that?” I looked up and again everything was deserted, though it seemed to me I heard steps some streets off.
“Because I was there when Simon told him, and Father’s face…” He sighed. “He thought, you see, that since the Good Man was a Mule — yes, he knew that — and he couldn’t reproduce with a normal woman because of the stops built into his kind, he had to create a clone of the Good Man, and implant it under the guise of a routine exam, in the Good Man’s wife, and that way he’d assure succession and stability. He never knew… He had been Simon’s physician since Simon was very small, and he had looked after him. He considered Simon, like us, almost one of his children. I’ve never seen anyone so shocked as when he found out what the plans for Simon were. When Simon told him, I mean.”
“How did Simon find out? Or did he only find out when his father was incapacitated.”
Brisbois snorted. “I found out what I was at eleven. Father — Doctor Dufort, I mean, told me. He told us when he thought we were ready for it.”
“Ask? No, but it’s the only way I know to answer what you did ask. Listen. He told me when I was eleven. He told Rose a little before that. What was explained to me, and probably to her, too, was that since the Patrician was enhanced, he needed servants who were enhanced too. Also, that other Good Men had enhanced servants, and so our Good Man needed to have them too, to defend himself from attempted takeovers. True as far as that goes, you know? Even if it were possible to completely ban bio-improving technology, no Good Man could ever trust any other Good Man to keep his word and not to create his own improved army to take the others out. There have been fewer wars recently, but in the early days many of the Good Men got taken out as others conquered their domains. I think about seventy of the Mules got left behind on Earth when the Je Reviens took off. This is not an accurate count, but the best guess we can make. They then took over the power structure, half of which was already… dictatorships by someone called a Good Man which ironically was supposed to have the connotation of non-genetically modified. But then they consolidated by killing each other and invading.
“When a Good Man takes over the domain of another, the normal procedure is to kill all the upper servants, precisely because they are assumed to be enhanced, or made stronger or smarter. Either that, or they are descended from people who were enhanced and stayed behind to serve the Good Man. In any case, they will be the most capable of the people on the seacity. To take them out is to decapitate the structure, which means it can then be replaced with the invader’s people.