Darkship Revenge – Snippet 35
We had dinner that evening, the three adults together, after we’d given the young men food, and Fuse asked, “They’ll live now? They’ll live.”
“They’ll live,” I told him. “The doctor said they would.” Part of me thought it was very easy for him to say it, when he hadn’t had to actually nurse them through the illness.
After dinner, I received a Com from Luce. It was a hologram call, and I could see him, sitting at a vast desk, piled high with papers. He looked tired and old. I knew he was ten or fifteen years older than Nat and I and the rest of my broomers’ lair, but I’d never thought of him that way. Till now. He looked like he had aged years since I’d seen him a week and a half ago. “I wanted to know how the boys were doing?” he asked.
“Oh, they’re recovered,” I said. “They’re fine.”
His fingers drummed on his desk. It was odd, because he was staring at me through the hollo communicator, but his fingers were drumming on the desk as though they had no connection at all with his mind, as though they were an automatic gesture.
I could sense something troubling him, something deep and unexpressed, but all he said aloud was “They have no other symptoms, now? They are fully recovered and have no other symptoms?”
“No symptoms as though of a hemorrhagic fever? Blood seepage through skin? Organ failure?”
I was horrified. “Light! No. Why? Do other people have those symptoms?”
He opened his mouth, snapped it shut. “Some. A good number of the people who caught this… flu.” He looked more distressed than what he’d said warranted.
I thought I knew the only thing that could make him this tired, so I asked, “Nat?”
He raised his eyebrows at me, as though trying to make me feel I had no right to ask. Then he sighed. “No. Well — He has the flu as I do. But no. It’s …. It’s just a great number of people have those symptoms and a lot are dying, and we can’t seem to stop it. And Julien has thrown all sorts of resources at it, but we still can’t stop it. We can slow it down by constant blood transfusions, but our supply is not unlimited, and artificially produced blood seems to have deleterious effects, in mass quantities. Julien has tried everything. His wife is very ill.”
“Wife?” I asked, surprised. It had never occurred to me that my scapegrace friend had married. Who had he married? His wife couldn’t be one of us. Of course neither had my surrogate mother been, or any of the surrogate mothers of my friends, but somehow it seemed wrong. For that matter, Nat wasn’t one of us, one of the clones of Good Men. So I didn’t think that Luce wanted to hear my ideas on it.
Luce sighed again and shook his head. “Oh, it’s just… He picked her from a row of beauty contest winners, and she was supposed to be a show wife, a trophy of the Emperor, to show how vastly powerful and attractive he was, but Thena, I think he’s come to love her, and you know Julien was never that stable. He’s really tried everything. And if she should die this could affect his emotional well being, and in turn put our position in jeopardy.” He gave a mirthless laugh. “Not that it matters, since we’re losing so many people, I think everything will be destabilized. The whole world.” He seemed to bring himself to a halt with an effort and shrugged. “Look, I’m probably depressed because of this flu thing. I’m probably worrying for no reason.”
“Is there any reason to think anyone will die?” I asked. “We weren’t even really worried for the boys, and, having grown up in an insular environment, they were more likely to lack the resistance to –”
Luce pursed his lips. “Oh, people are dying. A lot of people. I don’t know if it’s the same flu the boys had, though –” He paused. “I have this feeling it might be. “Whatever it is, though, it’s going through the troops on both sides, both the Good Men and us and our allies, and there have been…” He frowned. “Something sets in after people recover or when they’re recovering from this flu. They… The med techs say they don’t make enough palettes, in the blood. The upshot is the blood doesn’t coagulate as it should. It hits some people differently from others, and some just get bruises and fatigue and jaundice, but we’ve had people die from sudden strokes, as a bleed let loose in their brains. Watch the boys. We don’t know if it’s the same thing, but…”
“You’re worried. About the boys.”
“Not about those three particularly,” he said, but was frowning, as if in deep thought. “But yes, about them, too. It’s just that… We’re losing people we can’t afford to lose. And even just the ones who are ill… Never mind, that is my worry, and not part of yours. We’re a smaller fighting force, holding out in the face of a much larger enemy, and the truth is they can afford to lose more people than we can before our force becomes non operational.”
“It’s not that I don’t care about your battle. A free Earth is preferable to — But I don’t know what I can do.”
“No, of course not. Your worry is, I suppose, to go home, once those boys are out of danger.”
I tried to think of it. Going back to Eden, without resolving this situation…
I hated to admit it. I never wanted to be a mother. I truly never wanted to be a mother, and I hated being responsible for anyone else. But something had happened between giving birth to Eris and finding little brother, yes, and Laz too. These boys were probably worse raised than I’d been. I didn’t know what they were doing on Earth, but I was sure that those who had sent them didn’t care if they lived or died. And I knew if we left them to their own devices, in war-torn Earth, between rival factions, they’d be lucky to remain alive.
From the things they’d muttered while raving out of their minds with fever, I gathered Laz had spent a long time protecting these and others of the boys. I couldn’t be less of a parent and protector than a half grown stripling, who could never have been taught any principles.
“I don’t know,” I said. “I don’t think we can leave like this. For one.” I hesitated. “It’s possible we’d be taking contagion back to … To the colony. For another, I feel strangely responsible for the boys.” There were other reasons. In the upheavals in Eden, the role that Kit and I had played had left us under suspicion of creating dissension and less than popular with most people. I didn’t want to go back to Eden just yet. Oh, I’d have to face public opinion at some point, and I did miss Kit’s family, but right then, going back, with Eris, was like going back into confinement. Sure we could live again to gather powerpods, but how long could our little family hold out against the world? Did I really want to raise a child in an enclosed ship with just Kit and I? An upbringing even more artificial than mine?
“But it is dangerous for you to remain on Earth,” Lucius said.
“I know. Doctor Dufort told me.”
“Yes. He said I could become a prize of contention among Good men, but it doesn’t matter. He gave us lenses, if Kit should need to leave this refuge, and I have survived on Earth a long time. What can I do? What do you want me to do?”
He took a deep breath. “We’re going on the assumption that the flu was brought by the children. Doctor Dufort thinks –”
“Doctor Dufort thinks that there is something different about this flu. Something wrong. He thinks that it’s a designer disease, though he can’t figure what it was designed to do. But that strange after-effect of your palettes count dropping and dropping worries him. And he thinks it might be the intention in the long run. But whatever it is, defies his attempts at figuring out so far.”
“And getting more of the boys would help. Also establishing some sort of quarantine. At least prevent the spread of this to our side, until we can cure it. If we only knew where the others were. Didn’t they talk? Tell you anything?”
I shook my head. “No, I genuinely don’t think they know. It was all targets of opportunity, and finding someone who would lead them to the council of Good Men. Look how they latched on to Kit, whom anyone born on Earth would identify as an outsider.”
“This is not what you want to hear, I know, I said. Have you tried figuring out – I’m sure you have spying operations – where the disease is propagating from among the Good Men? The centers of those should be where the other boys are.”
He made a face. “A lot of our spies are down too. A constant worry that those in the field speak when they’re out of their minds. But our cyber spying, and breaking into hospital record centers is at least so-so. We might be able to get something from that. I’ll put some of my kids on it… My subordinates. Most of them are so young. Hard to think of them as anything but kids. They’re used to doing that sort of analysis for public opinion, though, so they should be able to do it for this. It’s a little different but they’re adaptable. More adaptable than I. Thank you. I hadn’t thought to use them that way, and most of our other leaders are too sick to think straight. I shall do it.”
He had worried me enough that I played with the com devices in the compound to get news of the rest of the world. By the next morning, the news were full of this strange disease tearing through the various armies of the world. It was rumored that the Usaian troops were particularly affected, though I wasn’t sure how they were getting those news.
The boys started improving almost immediately. Two days later, Eris caught the flu. The boys recovering without showing signs of the secondary infection.
And on the sixth day, the news were full of stories about how Yolande St. Cyr, Empress of Liberte, crowned by the Emperor’s own hands, had died.
And that night, I found that my thinking was becoming fuzzy and confused, and I went to bed. I thought I’d slept through the night, nothing else, but I woke with two men speaking by my bed, and a smell of something burning.