Darkship Revenge – Snippet 29

Brands and Fire

He came back, later, his face stern.  He closed the door, and he started the flyer.

Look, I was never Miss Cautious.  I’m not Mrs. Cautious either. Once, when I was twelve, I flew a broom into the façade of a skyscraper to avoid being taken back to a reform school where Father had confined me for–

Never mind.  But Lucius Keeva took off from the island too fast, too shallow, almost grazing the tall spires of the former algae processing station.

I thought something had disturbed him, or that he was so wholly absorbed in some thought that he paid no attention to anything else.

Kit and I barely had time to drop into seats and strap in when it became obvious that he was taking off. Eris set up a low complaining cry since I had no time to put her in the crib, not that I was sure I wanted to put her in it, and away from me, when the boys could conceivably get loose and get hold of her, so she was squished against my chest by the strap.

Simon didn’t drop into a seat or strap in.  He stood there, his concession to the fast movement being a grab at part of the frame and a spreading apart of his feet.  There was a disturbing smile on his lips.  And when I say disturbing, I mean disturbing.  It was his “I see something funny” coupled with “I know you just parked your broom on an anthill” smile.

When we leveled off in flight, he made his way towards the pilot’s seat, in a controlled stumble from holding on to the back of a seat to holding on to the back of a seat.  When he held on to Lucius’ seat, he tapped Lucius on the shoulder.

It took Lucius several breaths to respond, and his response was no more than a frown turned towards Simon.

“Eh, mon ami,” Simon said, his tone still as though he were on the verge of bursting into laughter.  “Would you mind telling me where we’re going?”

I didn’t know Lucius very well.  My acquaintance with him was maybe an aggregate two weeks.  But I’d known his younger brother, Max, since we were both brats romping around wherever Good Men met to discuss policy and how to keep peace and stability.  When Max had done that thing like a half-chew and thrusting his lower jaw forward, it was a good time to clear the decks because he was about to lose his patience.

Needless to say Simon had known Max as well as I had.  But he didn’t clear the decks.  Instead, he said, “Well?”

Lucius did the jaw thing again, then, abruptly, sighed.  A puzzled expression replaced his look of anger.  Not so much as though he didn’t know what he was doing, more as though he knew he’d forgotten something.

“I can’t go to Olympus, can I?” Simon said, in a soft voice.

“Of course you can,” Lucius said, again annoyed.  “We’re not at war with you!”

“Oh, deary me, no, we’re not.  In fact we’re allies of convenience against the Good Men, but how will it look if I, who have been at pains to establish the personality of a megalomaniac populist am seen in your company with no pomp, no circumstance, nothing to indicate that I am the great Emperor Beaulieu?  In my jumpsuit, and looking every day and mundane? Worse, if I’m seen in the company of one of the heroes of the Usaian revolution, someone so charismatic everyone knows about him?  I’ll be judged a puppet.”  And to Luce’s blank expression, “But it is worse than that, mon ami.  You know it is.  Athena’s husband would need lenses or disguising glasses, and possibly hair dye or you’re going to find yourself explaining why our side is now bioengineering people into freaks of nature.”  A look at Kit, and, “Pardon, but that’s what they’ll call it.  And what’s more, Lucius, you can’t explain those three little cherubs.  And won’t they attract attention? BUT more importantly, we left behind my submarine.”  He frowned, a little, towards Fuse, “That is, if Christopher here hasn’t thrown an explosive device on top of it?”

“I didn’t see any submarine,” Kit said.

“Which is the main purpose of submarines.  To be under water and invisible from the top. Ah, well, there is a lot of shoreline there.  We’ll trust Athena’s husband threw it into open water.  If no chunks of dimatough floated up, chances are we’re safe.  But there is also the triangular ship, Lucius.  We can’t leave such things lying about for people to stumble into, because that will lead to all sorts of awkward questions, won’t it?  We can’t afford it, Lucius.  You know what Nat would tell you.  Hell, you know that you know.  You’re agitation and propaganda, are you not, my friend?”

Lucius looked upset.  I thought he looked mostly upset with himself, but if I were Simon I’d cut back on the heavy cajolery.  If cajoling Lucius Keeva when he was in this mood was as safe as cajoling Max in a similar mood, he might find himself looking for his teeth on the floor.

Not that a lot of people didn’t feel like doing that to Simon on a regular basis.  Even I, occasionally. The fact that he still had perfectly straight teeth either meant people had almost supernatural control, or that he engaged in a lot of repair dental work.

“Where should I go then?” Lucius said, at long last.  “Staying on that island is dangerous too, particularly after the explosion, which probably showed on the sonar of anyone watching this area and might have brought patrols out.”

“I had to get rid of that bomb,” Fuse said.  “The explosive was –”

Simon gestured the objection away.  “I have control over that area.  It is part of Liberte waters.  None of which means I want to be there now, when a patrol might very easily come by and it would be… ah… awkward if they found us.  But in the long run I can suppress any inconvenient findings and slap a do not speak order on any of my units, if needed by implying that what they stumbled on is secret research from Liberte.  All that can be done later, but granted that we had to leave the algae processing station behind, and that we can’t take these people to Olympus or Liberte, do you have a destination in mind?”

Luce shook his head.  He faced forward.  He was looking at his maps again, and changing our route, at a guess to avoid passing anywhere we’d be noticed, let alone attacked.

“I have –” Simon stopped and sighed.  He turned to Kit, then looked at Simon.  “There is that little hideaway of Jarl Ingemar’s if Athena’s husband wouldn’t mind doing the honors of the genlock?  I believe all the booby traps have been disabled, and the place itself is not only a resort, but very hard to leave without alarms sounding.”

“I gave…” Kit stopped.  “Nat the codes to disable the resort.”

“Sure,” Luce said.  “And eventually it will be a spot where those wounded in the war can go to recover.  But there has been no time and no resources, and in case you did not notice, Nat is not here.  And the inability of people getting out without your say so…”  He looked towards the three teenagers, “Could be useful should these children, or… indeed, any others we gather.” He raised an eyebrow at Luce, but Luce didn’t rise to the bait, facing away and keeping his face blank. “Prove resourceful. I could give you the coordinates.”

Luce gave a look over his shoulder in Kit’s direction.

Look, it didn’t make any sense, okay?  I’m the first to admit that. The place they were talking about had been used as a hideaway and resort by Jarl Ingemar.  I believe before that it had been a touristic resort of some kind.  It was set in an artificial cave in Northern Europe, with a climate so controlled that it grew plants and fruits from all over the world.

Under Jarl’s use it had become a sort of fortress, impenetrable from the outside.  And during his absence, with the AIs and cyborgs he’d left in control, two of them imbued with his own personality, those defensive measures had gone completely out of control and turned the place into an obstacle course coupled with cunning traps for the unwary or indeed anyone. On our last visit to Earth Kit and I had spent a very bad time there.