The book should be available now, so this is the last snippet.
Through Fire – Snippet 47
“Only Good Man St. Cyr didn’t have many hereditary servitors. I think…” He was quiet a little while, then sighed, like a man reluctantly facing a necessity. “Do you know what– I mean, do you know what the job was that the man who would become Good Man St. Cyr was created for?”
“Yes. Spying, I think.”
Another long hesitation. “Sort of. Yes, spying was part of the job, but it was, mostly, general intelligence, assassination, covert war. Spying, yes, surely, but also targeted killing and…” He hissed air out between his teeth again, a disconcerting sound. “You see, I never knew the former Good Man. Not… closely. I knew him as a ruler, and I heard some things about him from Doctor Dufort. Doctor Dufort’s family, of course, had served the Good Man, but they weren’t exactly the same as palace servitors. Also, someone grossly enhanced and deviated from normal human genetics, if he’s at all smart, tries to keep alive the man who comes from the family which knows his make-up and how to treat any peculiar problems.”
“He didn’t keep other servitors alive? No hereditary servants?”
“I — No. I don’t know precise details, except when I became head of the secret police I discovered that the former Good Man was paranoid. More paranoid than is normal for a Good Man, that is,” he said. “He would trust someone or some family for a while and then decide they had abused his trust and confidence, and banish them and have them assassinated or executed. He was always afraid, I think, that anyone beyond Doctor Dufort might figure out what he was. I don’t know what the man saw during the Turmoils. Simon doesn’t seem to be… that way. And I wonder if it was acquired and if–” a sigh.
I took the opportunity to take another look around over the lip of the building. There was a couple walking down a street two streets away. I could see their heads, though nothing more. They were walking away from us.
“It can’t be helped,” Brisbois said. “If he’s going to crack with this, then he’s going to crack. And if he cracks, then… I don’t know what I’ll have to do. This is part of the reason I agreed with his plan to join the sans culottes and foment the revolution, so he could leave his post and go off and be a colonist in the newly recovered territories.” He chuckled. “Mind you, I can’t imagine Simon being a colonist anywhere even semi-wild, but that was his idea. Which, coming from a man who spent a substantial portion of yesterday trying to find his cat–”
“Mephistopheles?” I asked. Mephy was Simon’s cat, and sometimes I thought the only creature he really loved. A big black tom with an evil disposition, he shared Simon’s bed most nights, and always worried Simon when he disappeared. I felt guilty that I had totally forgotten Mephy’s existence in the middle of worry for his master.
“Yes. We haven’t found him, but at least there is no indication he died. He might not even have been near the palace. He’s a tomcat and he roams. But the Patrician worries for him. In the… in the original revolution there were episodes of cat killing, and the Patrician fears this might come to pass here as well. He fears it’s baked into the format. It’s not rational, but–
“No. But leaving aside the possibility that Simon will become paranoid due to the present difficulties, you meant to–that is I asked how Simon found out what his father’s plan was. You said it was before his father died.”
“He’s never explicitly told me, but I think his stepmother must have told him. How she found out, I don’t know. Good Man St. Cyr had her killed. She was not the woman who had borne Simon, who St. Cyr had had killed earlier. The same thing that affected all his close relationships affected the women he married, too. He’d start suspecting them, and… Well, Simon’s step mother gave birth to a little girl. In the ensuing … drama, I think she found out what the setup was and told Simon what his fate was to be, before she was killed with her daughter. Simon–” He stopped again, for a while.
“When I was fifteen, Doctor Dufort told me what I was and that my purpose was to serve Good Man St. Cyr. This was around the time when Simon was born, so I always had a great interest in the news of the heir and what he might be doing, because he was to be my future… boss is an inadequate word and Lord not quite right. Because the Good Man is fully autocratic, if you are one of his dedicated servants, either created on purpose or descended from the Mules servants, you can’t really change allegiance, and you are somewhere between an employ and a slave. The Good Man has full power of life and death over you. Anyway, the doctor told me so skillfully that I never thought that there was anything wrong with what I was and what I was meant to be. Not at least until I was nineteen and I fell in love.”
“With Madame Parr?”
“Yes. Rose… Back then her views on enhanced people and normal people were different. She thought we should rule them just by virtue of being enhanced. She thought it was disgusting that people were allowed to just be born naturally. She was supposed to be a secretary of the Good Man. No, that’s not exactly right. She was supposed to supervise the Good Man’s offices, his clerks, his archivists. Anyway, she saw just enough to think the Good Man was a fool, and the regime full of waste. She started a small revolutionary group. We called ourselves “The Just.””
“I was …. I’d fallen in love with her, and I would do whatever she wanted. When we came of age, we got married secretly, because our position was complicated. We were technically just orphans rescued by the state, and as such free to marry like anyone else. On the other hand, we were what we knew ourselves to be, and our whole lives had been controlled from birth, so the idea that we were free to marry seemed like a joke. We weren’t free to do much of anything. So we got married, and I visited her in her rooms in the palace, as she visited me in mine. For ten years, we had this revolutionary group, but we never did much more than distribute pamphlets, and try to divulge some of the worst things the Good Man was doing. Like when he arrested someone secretly.
“Honestly, I don’t know how we weren’t caught. Then again, I should say I’m not sure that’s all we did. That’s all I did and all I knew about. I have no idea, though, if Rose’s activities were as restricted as my own.”
I looked over and surveyed the street. It was very quiet. From somewhere far off came the sound of raucous singing.
“I learned a lot of what I would call everyday deception and agitation,” he said. “Had to, since even distributing pamphlets or meeting with other malcontents was illegal and we needed to evade arrest. I know how to disguise myself, and how to pass unnoticed in a crowd.”
There was a sound of an explosion in the distance and I looked over to verify, but the street was still deserted.
“The thing is,” Brisbois said, like a man speaking out of a dream, “that when Simon found out about the … about what his father meant to do with him, he got in touch with Rose. And Rose took the specifications for what we were to do to the Good Man. There was a bomb planted in his flyer, but that was a ruse. A diversion. He wasn’t in his flyer at the time. The flyer was remote-controlled.
“You see, we needed an explanation for his having suffered brain damage, but the damage needed to be very specific, the sort of thing that would damage his brain, but not so that he would die, and which would give hope that he might be able to come back to full functioning. Simon figured that this was the one way that the other Good Men would not take over. St. Cyr had friends and allies among them, who would not encourage an attack on Simon and Liberte as long as there was a chance St. Cyr would come back. I’m not quite sure why, to be fair, but I think there were secrets held over people’s heads, and things that would come out one way or another. So, while I was instructed to put a bomb in the Good Man’s flyer, and I was told that it was meant to kill him, Jean Dechausse and Madame — I think by then he was already her lover and this was part of an elaborate plan to rid herself of me — applied the damage very carefully. He was then transported to the site of the crash and it was all staged.
“But I was traced as the planter of the bomb, and Simon had to, of course, throw me in jail.” There was a long silence. “Simon St. Cyr is not his father. It bothered him that the hit he’d ordered resulted in what was objectively an innocent man being condemned to death. As soon as he’d gotten full control of the reins of power in the seacity, he made it his business to seek me out in my jail cell. He refused to sign my warrant. He brought me out. He gave me a new identity.
“At first I trusted him no more than his father trusted anyone. How could I? After all, I’d just been set up to die by my wife, the person I trusted most in the world, the person I’d have followed into the jaws of hell. And I knew what his father had been. But we talked, and I realized that Simon was not his father. I realized that he truly had not meant for anyone to die, not even to save himself from death. He thought he was hiring a hit from experienced revolutionaries that would keep everyone safe from harm. He couldn’t understand how I’d got captured, and he didn’t want me to die for it. So, new position, new face, new name.”
He snorted. “Actually, most of it was done while in jail. There were… interrogation sessions, before I was convicted. This was before Simon had taken over. Before they gave up hope of bringing his father back. My features were permanently rearranged which, with a very little work from a skilled surgeon, became just a rather unremarkable face.”
“Ah,” I said. I’d wondered why someone enhanced would look like he did. It wasn’t that all enhanced people were beautiful, but most weren’t actually homely. He was. Something had been bothering me, in the back of my mind. “The double… Am I right to understand that the man to be executed in Simon’s place was a clone double? Or was he just some person whose features had been rearranged by plastic surgeons?”
“No. It was what we call a blank double. Yes, a clone. Not really acephalous but with no more brain development than it takes to keep it alive and in more or less decent health. There is no thinking, no personality there. Not even walking. We spread the word that he’d had a stroke, in fear at the invasion of the palace. They believed it.”
The idea made me squirm. Even without a brain, it seemed evil to create persons who… weren’t. And then to dispose of them.
“They were created as backups for Simon’s father,” he said. “As doubles of Simon, the same age he is. In case something happened to Simon that prevented the transplant, so his father didn’t have to die, if his transplant had to happen as an emergency.” An odd snort, hiccup, chuckle. “I understand most Good Men create these backups. Well, maybe not Good Man Sinistra. Creating a female once, and having her not die or be sterile, was enough of a miracle.”
“But,” I said. “I’d thought of that, but it makes no sense.”
“How not?” he asked.
“If they can have these blanks, why take the risk of creating a fake son, with his own independent life, one who might, you know, find out as Simon did? Why the whole elaborate charade?”
“Because they aren’t doing this in the open. They’re doing it in secret and behind everyone’s back. People aren’t supposed to know the Good Men are the Mules or, as they called themselves, the bio-lords, climbed to the top of the pile again. They have to pretend to be normal people with a normal family and have a normal, visible heir who will take over after them when they die. I mean, Mules can live twice or three times the normal span. They wouldn’t need cloning if both Mules and cloning weren’t illegal. As it is, they need fake sons, and an entire architecture of normal succession. There are other reasons — I understand — there are failings to these all but acephalous clones. They don’t have the right muscle mass, and there are problems with the attachment sites for the nerve endings. In fact, if anyone were forced to use one — and there’s rumors one or two of the Good Men have done so over the centuries, though I can’t, of course, verify anything — it would be the same as recovering from a near-fatal stroke or a brain injury. It would be neither easy nor simple. Certainly not guaranteed. So, a “real son” with a real history is vastly preferable. And this is why the doubles were Simon’s age. Were, because most of them were in Doctor Dufort’s lab, which had been blown up.”
I was about to ask him if that was indeed so, and if a son couldn’t be faked with public appearances by these clones, when he suddenly said something in that tongue I didn’t understand. Another voice answered with an incomprehensible word, and Brisbois said, “Merde.” He was moving, turning around, on his belly. I did too, to face him, just as he opened the trapdoor in the ceiling of the bathroom, and said, “We’re still safe, but they are on their way. Our moles in the sans culottes have passed word to Jonny. Madame knows the Patrician is here. She knows they beheaded a fake. She couldn’t care less about us, or where we are, but she cares about him, and she wants to eliminate him. We must clear out.”
“The brooms?” I said.
He shook his head. I figured he had a plan, but I said, “Simon is drugged into sleep.”
“Yes. And he’s had a couple of hours. I have the antidote.”
I wondered how he was going to deal with a combative Simon who would rightly feel betrayed at having been drugged into sleep against his will. I shouldn’t have worried. Brisbois had that covered.
The antidote left Simon oddly sleepy and compliant, blinking his eyes in confusion, and easily led, as we climbed back up to the roof — Brisbois pulled Simon up by main force — and then Brisbois produced a very light and compact rope ladder — it looked like it was made of transparent, very strong filaments — from some inner pocket.
I said, “A rope ladder?” as he was securing the thing to one of the cut outs on the edge of the roof.
“The well-equipped revolutionary is always prepared for a quick getaway,” he said. “Seriously, even though I see no one and you see no one, Jonny says the door to the motel is watched, so we must escape through the back, without being noticed. If we’re lucky.”
Brisbois went down the ladder first which made me wonder about both his loyalty and his chivalry, until I realized that climbing down a rope ladder might be a slightly too complex task for someone in Simon’s drugged state to execute. He stumbled from step to step, with Alexis’ very careful instructions, and when he fell the last few rungs. Brisbois caught him and set him on the ground, as I scrambled down.
We had no more than stepped on the filthy ground of the alley than I heard the sound of boots — heavy boots — running. Several alleys away, but headed for the door of the motel.
I looked at Brisbois. He nodded, once, and did something — some sort of special tug to his rope ladder that removed it from its attachment. He shoved it in a big mass into his clothes and then, without exchanging a word, both of us knowing exactly what needed to be done, we each grabbed Simon by the arm and ran.
I was very grateful that both them were enhanced, and that we could run very fast.