Darkship Revenge – Snippet 15

He stopped short of me and stared uncomprehending at Eris, tied to my front. She’d stopped screaming, but was making little snuffling sounds of displeasure.

I smiled at him.  Fuse was, or had been at about a six-year-old’s level of understanding, and if you introduced something or someone new to an interaction, you were likely to confuse him.  “This is Eris,” I said. “My daughter.”

“Your…”  He blinked.  “You have a daughter?” He came around with great curiosity, to peer into the helmet at Eris’s sleeping face.  “Tiny,” he said.

“She’ll grow,” I said.  Then added, “Fuse, what are you doing here?” at the same time as Fuse looked at the robot I’d shot and said, “You’ve broken Nellie.”

And then he said “My father,” at the same time I said “Nellie?” and then I said “Your father?” at the same time he said “Nellie, my robot.  You broke her, and it took me so long to build her.”  And then reproachfully, “The Sinistra house doesn’t have many things to build things.  They’re all for other things.  I had to improvise.”

The word improvise, despite the muddled nature of the rest of the talk, had been beyond Fuse when I’d last seen him, as had, also, the idea of building a robot.  Before his accident, Fuse had been a master of explosives, building bombs for fun.  After his accident he’d retained that knowledge.  That, I understood, was not that hard, as passions and strong interests might leave something behind, even as a brain was damaged.  But even if he’d had some mechanical knowledge before his accident – I hadn’t been close enough to know it – I’d never seen him show it before or since.

I proceeded with caution.

“What does your father have to do with your hiding out in the ruins of my father’s house?”

Fuse blinked at me.  “My father is trying to catch me,” he said.  “For the surgery.  Jan suggested I hide here.”

“The… surgery?”  It occurred to me that perhaps there was some treatment that might fix Fuse and perhaps it had already started.  There were ways to rescue victims of brain injury, I knew that.  The only thing that had made Fuse’s injury as bad as it was that he’d not reported immediately to a med center for regen.  But at the time he’d been running from his father.

“The surgery for him.  He has a disease.  My body will do for his brain.”

It was my turn to blink, both because that was one of the most coherent explanations I’d ever heard out of Fuse and because his eyes looked full adult and intent, and sad.

The truth about the Good Man regime which Fuse had learned just before his accident was that while, throughout the rule of the Good Men, supposedly genetically pure and unenhanced “humans”, instead of son following father, the Good Men, who were actually the Mules and the Bio-Lords of old, had had themselves cloned and their brains transplanted to the body of a supposed son.

After his accident Fuse had been deemed unusable by his father.  Not because his brain had been damaged, since that wouldn’t count once the surgery was accomplished, but because he was known to be brain damaged, and so it would be very hard to believe that he was well enough to inherit.  His father had had a new, younger “son” made, and Fuse was deemed not important enough to kill, but also not important enough to control.  He’d spent most of his time at the broomer’s lair, more or less looked after by anyone who had the time and energy.  Most of looking after Fuse consisted of keeping him from blowing something up.

He looked at me impatiently and said, in a snappish tone I was not at all used to hearing out of Fuse, “My brother was killed.  Assassinated.  My father made me come back and started using treatments,” he raised a tremulous hand to the side of his face that was slack and not fully under his control.  “To repair this.  Some nano thing.  The thing brought me back.  Brought some of me back.  I remembered.  I understood my father wanted to bring me back, so he could say I was healed and have the surgery.  He has a disease.  He needs out of his body.”

It was one of the longest speeches I’d ever heard Fuse make, and the most coherent.  “I see,” I said.

“Hid for a while.  Old lair.  There is no one old lair.  Everyone is fighting the war. Nano thingies continued working,” he said.  “Called Simon.  Simon said call Jan.  Jan said go old Sinistra house.  It’s abandoned but defen — defen — defen –” His face scrunched in frustration.  His mouth pursed.  “Can keep intruders out.  Even my father.  If he thinks to look here, and he won’t.  So I moved in, and live in secret place.  Place that closes.  But I built Nellie to protect me.”  He looked at the robot.  “You killed Nellie.”

I wondered what he meant by secret place.  If it was my father’s secret office-and-fun-rooms, I wondered how he’d discovered it and more importantly how he’d gotten into it.  I, myself, had only been able to find it because I’d seen my father go into it once.  “I’m sorry Fuse,” I said, not sure which mental age I was talking to, anymore.  “Nellie would have carved me to pieces otherwise.  You understand I don’t want to be carved.”

He nodded, forlornly, so forlornly that I added, “If we take her inside I might be able to fix her.  You remember I’m good with machines?”

His eyes lit up.  “You fix,” he said. Then looked up apprehensively.  I realized that though he’d come close to me, he was still in the shadow of the house and wouldn’t be fully visible should anyone or anything fly overhead.  “You know we’re not supposed to be out.  Someone might see.”

I agreed with him that far.  I grabbed hold of one of Nellie’s arms, beneath a cleaver end, and pulled it along.  Fortunately it had wheels, and allowed itself to be pulled fairly easily.

We went in to the home of my childhood by what used to be the doorway to the secondary kitchen.

In its heyday, as in when I’d grown up here, the house had had a population of a few hundred people, between maids, guards, cooks, gardeners and rarer occupations like seamstress or shoemaker.  To serve this population, it had two kitchens, either with a dedicated staff: one of them catered to the family, that is Daddy Dearest and I and any guests we might have at any time.  It specialized in whatever food was trendy or fashionable at the time.

The secondary kitchen catered to the staff, and while the food there wasn’t bad – my father believed in giving people incentives to stay loyal and to remain working for him – it was cooked on a grand scale and for a small multitude.  As such, it was plain, plentiful and nutritious but not in any way fashionable.

The secondary kitchen was magnitudes bigger than the primary kitchen and it had been a very full place.  Now only the furnishings remained, the staff having either died in the explosion or dispersed.  It contained two very large, industrial scale cookers, and a huge table, right down the center.  Bits and pieces of what I assumed had been kitchen equipment remained scattered around, but the pots and pans which used to hang from the ceiling and the plain, white ceramite service for 400 which used to be stacked on the shelves near the cookers were gone.  I assumed they had been looted and that the only reason the cookers and table were still here was that they’d been assembled in the kitchen and were too large to simply carry out and too complex to be disassembled by the uninitiated.

As we entered the kitchen, perhaps triggered by the change between light and dark, between warmth and relative coolness, Eris resumed screaming.

Fuse looked back, alarmed, and I said “It’s all right.  She’s just scared.  She doesn’t understand what’s happening.”

He nodded and resumed walking, out of the kitchen and into a hallway that I remembered having been furnished with oriental carpet and holograms on the walls, but which was now just bare, black ceramite.  He spoke without turning back, in a sort of toneless, flat voice, “I remember not understanding,” he said.  “It’s very scary.”

And I realized that having been severely hampered and recovering might be worse than never having recovered.  I stared at Fuse’s broad back, as he limped rapidly ahead of me, and felt a sudden surge of pity.

At the end of the hallway, past doorways that led to what used to be other parts of the house, was a large bare room.  It used to be the administrative room for all of my Father’s domains, and I wondered who had got the computers with their data, as well as all the other accoutrements necessary for running what had been the Sinistra Empire.

The room was so bare and spare that even the places where wires ran into the wall had been excavated, to remove the last bit of wire-metal that people could possibly reach.