Darkship Revenge – Snippet 28

“I don’t know, though, why the Mules who left chose to clone these people. I understand from the boys’ thought-chatter, and some verbal ones, that the ones on board were cloned too, but those… those clones of the people who went are raised more like children, even if in a spectacularly dysfunctional family.”  He caught my gaze and smiled a little bit, but it was a smile with no joy at all.  “Yes,” he said.  “I do understand that in any circumstances it would be dysfunctional, since the original mules were raised in crèches, with virtually no real human contact and no understanding of real human family.  But that’s how these boys were raised.  The children whose originals weren’t aboard, were raised in crèches, mostly by AIs, though I understand sometimes the living mules intervened, dispensing justice – or sometimes injustice – from above with no warning and no compunction.”

“But why?” I said.  “And how?”

It was Laz who spoke, eyebrows wrinkled above eyes that were as green as my husband’s but not cat-shaped.  “They said they had sample genetics of everyone supposed to be on the ship, for medical reasons, and they made us from that because they thought they’d need help… if… if they arrived at a world they could colonize.”

I raised my eyebrows.  “And they didn’t arrive at a habitable world?”  The story made no sense.  It smelled.  It smelled mightily. After all, their intention might have been to go to Alpha Centauri or another such world, but if they’d got there, why were they back here?  If it had proven uninhabitable, why not go further?

And if they’d intended to create these children to help with the taming of a wild world, why had they only created them in the last 20 years or so?  Laz was maybe all of seventeen, the others were younger.  If they’d made clones of all the others left behind, were they of an age?  I was willing to bet just from these three’s wild adorning that none of them were over forty, certainly none were 300 years old, because that would be a different dynamic.  Then why?

Laz shrugged.  “There was…  Father took control and he says that there might be some virtue in colonizing a wild planet not fit for humankind, but it is not for them.  That they longed for Earth and the beauty of Earth, which gave them birth.  That they’re as entitled to live here, as the rest of humanity is.  And so, they sent us, to ask –” He stopped, and said, “Perhaps you’re not the right people to ask, but –”

“But I already know it,” Kit said.  “Yes, and while we might or might not be the right people to ask, at least two of this group have power on Earth, and there are others.”  He nodded at Simon and Lucius, but he spoke to me, “They were sent to ask for a place on Earth.  Any place they can colonize and make their own, create their own independent city state or kingdom. One of their own, with entry barred to anyone else.  They promise to be harmless, if others will not harm them.”

“But –” I said, and saw Lucius frown.  It made no sense for them to ask for such a thing. After all, who had the right to grant them a place on Earth? On the other hand, in their time, there had been a linked, oligarchic government.  Worldwide. Hell, until recently there had been a linked oligarchic government.  Now with the Earth riven by revolutions… well–

“I’d say any place they can take and hold would be their own,” Lucius said drily.  “Why ask us.  And more importantly, why send children to ask us?”

“And why these children?” I asked.  “Children made from the genes of the people they left behind?”

Simon cackled.

Even if I hadn’t known it was him, in the changed appearance of Julien Beaulieu, I’d have known him by that.  “Ah, mes petits.  As usual you are all too refreshingly innocent.”  Simon was using heavily French accented Glaish.  It was something he put on when he was acting particularly outrageous. I swear I could hear my husband and Lucius rolling their eyes in unison.  “It is obvious they think there is still an oligarchy holding Earth.  Likely they approached twenty years ago and scouted the Earth, and realized there was one and who was in charge.  Then they withdrew and made these children, because what better way to appeal to the Good Men than with their own young clones?  Granted that doesn’t explain Jarl, but they probably thought he was still revered on Earth.”

I snorted.  “Which means they had no idea that the Good Men had not only destroyed their own reputations in retrospect, but also in a way cannibalized their own young clones to continue existing undetected.”

“Precisely ma cheri.  And that’s not in a way.  It is literally what they did, consuming the future to continue the present, to appear to be mortal men, amid mortal men. That’s what makes it so funny.  That they thought to use immature clones to appeal to men who’d happily kill their own immature clones, so they could have their brains transplanted into the clones’ bodies and legally inherit from themselves. It is to laugh. If you have a particularly black sense of humor.”

“Enough,” Kit said.  “That leaves us with the question of what to do with these innocents?  Do we let them return with a message that there is no one who can grant them such a thing, and that if they can take and hold any portion of the Earth it is theirs?”

“Father won’t believe that!” Laz said.  Little brother was now awake and struggling with his bonds.  I kept a sharp eye on him, but all he did was wail, “He’ll have us killed, or worse.”

I didn’t ask what was worse.  I’m sure there were many, many worse things that could occur to minds marinated in malice for centuries.  Hell, my late unlamented father himself could easily come up with worse.

“He said,” Laz said, with an effort at coherency and clarity of speech, “That we were to ask the Good Men, and to have the council of Good Men grant us license to land.  They said anyone at all in an official position, even harvesters in Circum would be able to get us in touch with the Good men, and that once the Good Men knew we existed they would not resist seeing us.  But they said the permission must be official.  We can’t be led into a trap.”

So, paranoia, added to everything else, which also tracked with the Mules I’d known.  It was enough to make you wonder if Jarl had been right and if the ones who’d left in the Je Reviens were the better half of the Mules. If the better half was this paranoid…

Simon cackled, “I tell you. They scouted! Before they made these children.”

Seemed likely, since they knew about the Good Men, and who they were.  I didn’t bother arguing, but said instead, “Well, if we can’t give them assurances, ourselves, should we speed them to the Good Men side?”

Two people answered simultaneously.  One of them was Fuse, who yelled, “We can’t let my father know that Thor exists!” and Lucius who said, in a tired, tight voice, “I don’t need any more blood on my hands, thank you so much.”

“But they’ll try to get there, since we can’t help them,” I said.  “And I know my own little brother, as I knew the old bastard, and as I know myself.  He’ll try to escape, and he’s quite likely to manage it, if he wants it badly enough.”

Lucius frowned. There was a look to his face that resembled nothing so much as the sky before thunder. “You’re not the only delegation they sent,” he said, rounding on the boys.  “Are you?  Were you hand-picked?”

There a shake of the head from Lars, a shrug from Morgan.  Thor’s eyes were fixed on Fuse, as though trying to puzzle something out.

“Who else is — who else did they send?” Lucius said.  “Who else did they make?  Who are all of you? Is there one of every Good Man who ruled on Earth twenty years ago?”  He sounded as if he was in the grip of some great emotion, but I couldn’t tell what it was.

“Five other delegations,” Laz answered.  He was puzzled, probably by this big man being so urgent in that question.  “If they all failed, then they’d send others.”

“Is there one of you who — who looks like me?” Lucius asked.  And suddenly I understood.  For reasons hard to explain, Lucius had once had a “little brother.”  Not really, of course, just a younger clone, but given out as a brother, and raised as such, in his “father’s” dysfunctional family.  Max had died when his father had needed a new body for his brain.  Max had been my friend.  I hadn’t known Lucius who was in prison when I had come of age.  But I understood from people who’d known them both that Lucius really considered Max his little brother, and had loved him as a sibling.  Now here was someone like Max, who might have been sent elsewhere in the world, possibly into a trap, possibly to be killed without Lucius being able to do anything to save him.

Laz frowned at him, but it was Little Brother who spoke.  “You’re… Keeva?”  and to Lucius’ nod.  “It’s John,” he said.  And looking slightly at Laz, “Can’t you see it? It’s John Carter.”

A light, visibly, went on behind Laz’s eyes and he said.  “Oh.  Yes.  He was also sent with… with Tom. Tom Sawyer and Christopher Robin.”

Lucius was all urgency now, “How old are they?  Where were they sent?”

“John is my age,” Morgan said.  “Twelve. Tom Sawyer fifteen.  Christopher Robin is Laz’s age or a little older.  I don’t know where they went.  They didn’t know where they were going. We were told to just find Good Men.

Lucius said a word he really shouldn’t say in front of children, even if the children were feral.  He looked like he’d suddenly developed a hell of a headache.  He’d pulled his com from his pocket, and started pushing buttons before he looked around wildly and said, “Excuse me a moment.”