Darkship Revenge – Snippet 14
When I got to the edge of the level in which Lupin’s was located, and could get a good look at sky and sea without the encumbrance of a dimatough platform overhead, I saw that light was dwindling.
I might have stayed in Liberte, I supposed, but I was haunted by both the knowledge that they’d killed Simon and the vague, undefined suspicion that I was being followed. And it came to me, clear as day, that I didn’t know what Louis had gone to tend to when he’d gone to the shop’s corridor or perhaps its backroom while I was haggling with his father.
It wasn’t as though I’d never been tracked or followed before.
My father had liked to at least make sure that my body was safe, which often meant having people follow me or having devices placed on me to track me. Which was part of the reason I’d taken payment in the form of an account elsewhere, instead of a credgem I could hold. Credgems are trivially easy to bug. All electronics are.
I had no reason to think that François Lupin as I’d known him would have me followed or tracked, but I also no longer knew what the society was like on the Seacity or what his incentives were. Under some circumstances, in some societies, even your best friend, who wishes you well, will spy on you. And Lupin was not my best friend.
My experience allowed to check for pursuit without appearing to check. I listened attentively, but heard no single pattern of steps following me. Casual glances revealed no consistent shape or body type. And yet I was sure I was being followed.
Fed and changed, Eris slept peacefully and I thought to myself that the instinct for being followed or not being wished well had kept me safe more than my enhanced hearing or my enhanced vision. More even than my enhanced speed.
If I assumed I was being followed, what was the downside if I weren’t? Well, I’d spend some uncomfortable hours and might put myself to a great deal of unneeded trouble.
But what if I were being followed and assumed I wasn’t? I could get killed. Or worse.
At the edge of the platform I took the long circuitous road around that level, walking briskly along the side of the road, on which flyers travelled fast at the low heights which were the only height allowed within the Seacity.
From somewhere came the idea that one of those flyers could slow and someone could grab me.
I said, “Right,” got the Eden helmet from my pocket and put it and the extra oxygen mask on Eris’s face, then slipped my own oxygen mask on, mounted the broom and took off, into the distant sunset.
I can’t say I saw any flyer take off after me, or that I had any proof of ever being in trouble, but I know the further away I flew from Liberte, the safer I felt.
Of course, I hadn’t thought of where to go until I was in the air, and then it was more or less obvious.
Some poet or other once said that you could never go home again. In my case this was very true of course. There was no way I could walk in through the front door of the house in which I was raised, or, as had been my custom, crawl in through the half open library window. None of those were there anymore. Or at least the portions still standing weren’t structurally safe. The palace had got bombed out, actually during the war over the possession of Syracuse, when my father had died. I’d seen the ruins from the air.
But Syracuse was still there, and I doubted the levels below the palace had been substantially ruined, and I needed a place to say. Just for the night, with Eris.
If that failed I had some vague idea of going to one of those places prostitutes rent by the hour. Father had been very strict about their being clean and vermin-free, and I was sure it would take them more than the two years or so since his death to fall into bad habits. And those establishments were known not to ask for ID or anything else but money.
But when I approached the seacity, the palace looked less ruined than I’d expected. Oh, still a burnt ruin, don’t get me wrong, but not ruined all the way down, and I thought I’d land and go see what remained.
I don’t know what I expected. The funny thing is that I expected it to either be completely ruined or inhabited. After all, in the lowest levels of the seacity people would take over any space, even those spaces that were left over by imperfections in building the seacity.
There were tents and huts in those levels far less luxurious than these ruins.
My first thought on landing was to note that the external walls hadn’t been broached and the vast dimatough gates were still locked. This seemed strange to me, since I presumed when the palace had been bombed there had been a full complement of servants in residence, and even if most of them had been killed during the attack, there should have been corpses and the disposal of the dead.
But the glimmering black dimatough walls were unbroached and the gates locked. I circled, from the air, three times, to make sure, but I saw no movement whatsoever. True, it was getting dark, but even so, you can tell when someone is living somewhere. Well, you could if the very poor had moved in. There would be cooking smoke, and at least makeshift lights.
Nothing. The gardens had gone wild, and nothing moved inside the perimeter of the walls. So I did what any sane person would have done. Or perhaps not any sane person, since I was after all of the same line that had built this house, and the one things we couldn’t claim, just looking at the floor plan, was any sanity.
I landed in front of the gates, found the genlock in the dimatough and put my finger in the lock. The lock was a genlock and had been keyed to my supposed father’s genes. I wasn’t sure, though Kit could probably give you an exact description, of the manipulations that had gone into making me, but I knew that it was close enough for me to open all the locks.
This one was no exception and the gates slid open with a protesting creak.
I took a step into the patio-driveway in front of the house, and then saw it coming towards me. It looked like a serving robot that someone had crossed with a kitchen mincer. What I mean is that it was a cylindrical column, with multiple arms coming out of its center, at all different angles. Each arm was equipped with a cleaver or knife or, yes, I was sure of it, serving fork.
One thing is to think that if you’re caught here or there you’re going to be lunch, and another and completely different is to be faced with what looked like a butler robot gone wild.
I screamed and fried it right through the chest with my burner, only to have the burner ray glance off the black dimatough carapace, as the thing lurched closer at an incredible speed, and I shot the burner again, this time at the light on top, amid the whirring arms.
The light exploded, the robot stopped. It started to emit a high pitch whine and Eris woke up and started crying.
Through all this din, I heard a much too familiar voice say “Thena?”
There was only one person in the world who could sound like that, managing to make his voice waver, and hit several pitches at once.
I turned around and saw him loping towards me, at an uneven gallop, his hair – what remained of it – standing on end, his clothes looking like what someone would wear if he dressed in the dark, after severe brain damage. Which applied. I said, “Fuse,” and put my burner away.
Fuse was — I suppose you must call him a member of my broomer’s lair, only some special conditions apply. Fuse had started out, like me, the child of a Good Man and raised in the lap of luxury. Until he’d discovered the secret underpinning the entire regime of the Good Men and he’d run from his father’s vengeance. An accident while going through an old piece of port machinery had rendered him safe from retribution. And brain damaged. Only one thing remained between the old Fuse and the one after the accident: an unnatural enthusiasm for making things explode.
One side of his body was close to paralyzed, he had missing tufts of hair, but it seemed to me as he got closer, that the expression in his eyes was less vague and wandering than it had once been. Half of his face remained slack and drooping, but it didn’t look like he was drooling, his mouth wasn’t loose, and it looked like his eyes were actually focused.