Darkship Revenge – Snippet 22

Come Out, Come Out

I just want to say that I and Lucius were both created by bio-enhanced madmen.  And at that moment, between my stomach plummeting somewhere below my feet and my hands clutching madly at the arms of the seat, I realized that I was very glad the madmen had been bio-improved and had designed bio improvements into us at well.

Look, I’m married to a man who, besides being as I am, designed to be faster than normal humans, had further been enhanced via a virus introduced while he was gestated, to make him faster, more accurate, with better reflexes than normal humans.  Which was all needed and important when flying amid the powertrees, with their dark trunks, their explosive pods.  All well and good.

And all of us were faster than natural-born humans and had better hand and eye coordination.  Which was also good.  But dear sweet gods of the ancients, it was still scary to be in a flyer flown by someone of whose specific capacities I couldn’t be sure and who was engaging in what would in other circumstances be suicidal maneuvers.

We flitted downwards, swaying within inches of a corroded reddish building, its windows like blank eyes.  All the while, the seagulls disturbed by our passage raised a white and black cloud that obscured the potentially lethal obstacles around us.  And all through it, Eris slept. Which meant my daughter had her father’s sense of self-preservation.

We swayed the other way just before hitting, then went sideways, the flyer on end, and my inner ear screaming we were falling.  We rushed down a narrow street between buildings, straightened again, and plunged under an arching bridge, before coming to rest on what looked like a plaza.  An ancient plaza, the surfaces of the surrounding buildings softened by time, so it looked like they were natural cliffs into which windows and doors had been cut.  In the center of the plaza there was a sculpture of some sort, but it had been so corroded by the salt winds that I couldn’t tell what it had once been: man, or dragon, dolphin or abstract.  Just a jutting form, with what might be arms or perhaps flippers raised to the uncaring sky, trying to uplift people who’d forgotten it.

I felt both dizzy and queasy by the time we landed.  Fuse woke up, stretched and said, “Are we there, then?”

I didn’t answer mostly because I wasn’t sure what the there was.  I got up as soon as I realized we’d stopped moving, and checked Eris, then started strapping her to me.  I felt a need to have her with me in this unknown place, facing who knew what dangers.  I needed to feel she was protected.

Lucius got up, and clicked his tongue again, this time with a tone of impatience, opened a compartment in the back of Eris’ seat and threw something at me.  I blinked, before I realized it was a real sling, of the sort one could carry an infant in, that would support her back and not let her slip.  Luxury.  I put it on and put Eris in it.  She didn’t wake, but made a sound like a creaky hinge.  Then I headed for the door, looking in my pocket for a burner.

Lucius grabbed my arm, “Athena, are you sure you want to go out?”

“What?  It’s my husband out there.  And Simon.  We came here to find –”

“Yes, to be sure,” he said.  “But I don’t mean that,” he said.  “I mean, do you want to take a baby into the middle of a potential firefight?  And you can’t leave her in here alone.”

I most certainly couldn’t leave her in there alone, and if he thought I was going to stay there alone, with her, he had another thing coming.  I’d read altogether too much history of the wars of mankind, to let the men go on and fight while I stayed behind, to be claimed as some sort of prize by the victors.  But then I thought of something more immediate, “Firefight?  Why –”

Lucius pointed.  Now that we were on the ground, windows had opened some layer admitting images into the flyer, and I could look out.  We’d parked in a plaza, and there, close enough to the shadow of one of the buildings that it wouldn’t be visible from the air, I could see a small vehicle that looked like a miniature of the triangular ship.

I cursed mentally.  This wasn’t exactly unexpected, but it changed everything.

Okay, so we didn’t know whoever had flown that had been armed.  Or that they’d get into a firefight with Kit, necessarily.  Except that we did, of course, know they had kidnapped my husband in space, and I couldn’t imagine anyone kidnapping Kit without at least the threat of firepower.  And I couldn’t imagine them following Kit, knowing what he could do, without being armed.  Because Kit was good enough in a fight to scare even me.  In fact, I’d lost several fights to him, before we’d arrived at our present good understanding. So —

So I wanted to go out there and kick some righteous butt.  Or more likely some unrighteous one.  I had never been the kind who stays behind at home and prays for the fighters.  For one I wasn’t a believing woman and wouldn’t be sure, exactly, whom to pray to.  For another, I had great faith in the power of my fighting, a faith reinforced through all the military schools, reform academies and mental hospitals Daddy Dearest had tried to confine me to in hope of taming me.

Whenever there was fighting to be done, I’d always been there in the thick of things, doing for myself what no one else could: fighting to keep me alive.

And I had vowed to fight to keep Kit and Eris alive too.  Kit because he fought for me, and Eris because… because I was responsible for her existence.

And that of course was the problem.  Before, when I’d leapt into battle with both feet, I had done so risking only my life, and often risking it in order to save it.  But now I was responsible for Eris who, for the moment, was wholly dependent on me for food and care.  Lucius was right that I couldn’t leave her behind in the flyer.  No matter how we locked that, someone could get in and hurt her or take her, and that was simply not acceptable.  But going into a potential firefight with the men, taking her was also unacceptable.  I’d worry about her getting hit as I’d worried in the fight in Circum.  But more importantly, concern for her would slow me down and make us both vulnerable.  It could lose the fight.

I said a very bad word, and Lucius’ eyes widened as though he’d never heard it before.  “Fine,” I said.  “I’ll stay.  But you shouldn’t take Fuse,” I said.  “If whoever is after Julien is in league with the Good Men, Fuse could be in danger, since his father is looking for a whole-body donor.”

But Fuse — I swear — patted me on the arm as he passed and said, “Don’t worry.  My father doesn’t have triangular ships.”  And then he was out.  Lucius hesitated long enough to give me one of his rings.  As it landed on my palm, I saw it was a com ring.  “I’ll call you if we need help,” he said.  “And if you need to run away.”

I thought both of those were fairly useless, since I suspected he’d rather be torn to pieces by wild seagulls than call on a woman with a baby for help, and that I’d rather be torn to pieces by wild seagulls than to run away just because I was told to. But I supposed we were both keeping appearances.  Or appeasing the back of the mind which was much alarmed by separating before facing the, for lack of a better term, bad guys.

I watched them leave the flyer.  I locked it.  I felt possessed of a sense of unreality.  This had never happened before.  I’d never stayed and let anyone else go fight for me.

Kit? I called out in my mind.  And I got back a sense of his presence, but no reply, again.  So he was here, very near, he wasn’t dead, but there was some reason he couldn’t answer.  The feelings that came with it were of being busy and also somewhat scared.  And that was odd.  Kit didn’t scare easy.

There was also a feeling like he wished I’d hush.  I’d never got such from him, except when he was in the middle of a difficult collection, so maybe that was it, maybe he was in the middle of something difficult and couldn’t afford to have his concentration disrupted.