Darkship Revenge – Snippet 08
In the darkness there were voices. Male voices, almost whispering, not so much as though they were trying to avoid waking me but as though they were trying to be respectful in the presence of the dead, which I was almost sure I wasn’t.
“… materials are of unknown manufacture,” one said.
“She looks familiar,” the other said. “I’ve seen her somewhere before.”
There were other voices, too low to be understood, and I didn’t have time to waste on them. I was taking stock, instead.
It is something I tend to do early every morning, anyway, which amuses Kit because he says I’m the only person he knows paranoid enough to think through everything around her every morning, and make sure her body is still all there, and that no one has captured her during the night. Which just shows two things: first that I sometimes talk as I’m coming awake; and second that the foolish man doesn’t go through that verification routine when he wakes up. Entirely his problem the day he wakes up body swapped with a tentacle horror and captured by spider aliens. And I didn’t know why he’d laughed when I’d told him so.
But in this, case, having been out, taking stock of myself and my surroundings was even more important. First, because they might have done something to me while I was out. Once, when I’d been unconscious for an extended period of time, someone had stripped me naked and strapped me to a hospital bed, under armed guard. You just never knew. And second, because I had to know how many of them there were, how well armed, and if they were prepared to fight. Which was essential if I was going to escape.
And I was going to escape. As I had from that hospital bed, under guard.
I was lying down on something soft. Nothing was broken. They must have removed my helmet because I could smell the air in Circum with its tinge of staleness and — Eris wasn’t on my chest.
My taking stock of myself and the situation stopped. My heart sped up, and panic invaded my mind.
Eris wasn’t on me. She wasn’t attached to me. “Eris!” I said, sitting up. And as I sat up five males took simultaneous steps back. There was the blond guy I’d held hostage, and four other men, all of them looking like scientists. I had the vague impression they all looked alike. It probably wasn’t true, but there were all tall, skinny and had that look have having spent the last thirty years awake and studying.
Three had their hands up, in a fending off gesture. The fourth, darker haired than the one I’d first captured, stood with his arms akimbo and looked openmouthed at me, as his lips worked silently, as if he were doing difficult calculations. He cleared his throat loudly, snapped his mouth shut and croaked “Discordia?”
By this time I was standing up. His word barely registered, and I found I was yelling “Where is my daughter? Eris? What have you done with my daughter?”
They crowded together, as a group, as if by standing back to back they could avoid my killing them. Ah. My father, were he still alive, could have told them better. It just gave me an easier time targeting.
The guy I’d first taken hostage was making obvious efforts to speak, but seemed to have lost his voice. He pointed behind me, and I looked at the bed, and there, sprawled next to where I’d been, was Eris. She looked unconscious, but as I picked her up, she opened her eyes and made a gurgling sound.
“We… we changed her and fed her,” one of the other guys offered, as if he were trying to appease me. “She wouldn’t stop screaming till we did.”
I sniffed. She did smell clean and had that look she got after eating. I might have to let these idiots live. “What did you feed her?” I had nightmare visions of them expressing my milk while I’d been unconscious.
“We had some baby formula,” one of them said, and to what must have been my stunned look, because save for occasional and rare visits, everyone on Circum Terra was male and fully grown, he swallowed, “Well, old formula powder, which I think was meant to be loaded in the Je Reviens.”
Well, great. My daughter had just been fed some more than 300 year old formula. And the greedy gut had eaten it too. On the other hand, I knew some of that food had been preserved for the long haul in deep-frozen stasis. Though what the all-male mules wanted with baby formula was beyond me.
I looked at Eris. She looked fine. Which was good. If she so much as spit up, though, someone was going to die a painful death.
One of the scientists cleared his throat. “You seem to be lost and disoriented. We imagine you ditched from a ship in distress?”
I raised my eyebrow at him. They looked back at me with a mixture of fear and worry. I swear I can’t generally hear thoughts other than Kit’s, but I had the impression I could hear the guy I’d first taken hostage thinking yeah, she distressed the ship, then left.
“I mean, I mean,” the man said. “We have contacted Olympus Seacity and as soon as possible, they will send someone up to take you back and… and restore you to…” My expression must be too easily read. His speech had slowed down as he talked, and he was looking at me as if realizing he’d said something wrong, or at least that his explanation wasn’t going over the way he’d expected.
For my part, I was thinking, very quickly. First, they’d contacted Olympus Seacity. Last I’d heard, that island was the center of the Usaian rebellion, and that meant that, at least if the rebels hadn’t be utterly eliminated — I stopped, because that was possible, in which case it was quite possible that Olympus Seacity just meant another center of the power of the Mules, who had once been the Biolords and who, after the Turmoils, had taken over again under the guise of “Good Men” and pretending not to be bio-improved. And if that was the case, then I was in de-facto enemy territory.
I cast about for something to tie Eris to myself. Look, she was my daughter and I would look after her, but a baby in a fight is a liability, anyway. A baby you have to hold with one hand while fighting is a worse liability. I didn’t want her getting dropped, tossed or, worse, captured. There’d been a little piece of cloth by her side, which probably had been over her to begin with. I grabbed it and tied it around me and over my shoulder as a sling, into which I settled Eris. She was looking at me with big, expectant eyes, and I smiled reassuringly at her. Then I looked up at the men, who were staring at me with a confused expression.
“You see, Madam, one of them said, apologetically. “As soon as we can there will be help –”
I nodded. “I presume you talked to Good Man Keeva?” I asked.
Good Man Keeva, aka Lucius Keeva was the most prominent of the Usaians, and incidentally a friend of a friend. Okay, technically the lover of a friend, though it was none of my business.
If he was still in power, I’d be safe. Not that I actually expected my captors to have talked to him. It was far more likely they’d talked to an underling ten levels down.
But what I got were raised eyebrows, a confused expression and “Who? No — He is not in charge –”