Darkship Revenge – Snippet 32

I thought they were walking oddly.  Laz tripped on his feet more than once, and Morgan looked like he was dizzy.  I thought the long trip was telling on them.  It had come on top of a lot of effort and fighting and fear.  Surely they’d been afraid of coming to Earth.  Because it was a different and scary place, if nothing else.  But they’d slept most of the way here.  How hadn’t that made a difference?

It wasn’t until Simon, in his own inimitable style, was giving them a speech which included such concepts as “no one here will have any way to fly out, and you really can’t walk out through miles and miles of desert” and “If you behave, we’ll find a way to negotiate your request” that I could no longer fool myself nothing was wrong.

I couldn’t fool myself because Morgan, facing Simon and looking, as the other two, half asleep and barely able to stand on his feet, suddenly threw up.

Lucius was the first to rush up, again giving proof that indeed he’d become used to child care, supporting the young man, feeling his forehead.  “What is wrong?” he’d asked.  “Something not agreeing with you?”

Morgan had tried to answer and thrown up again.  His skin had gone very pale, in contrast with the blue-dyed hair.

Then Thor had lost consciousness, sinking in a heap on the floor, and Laz leaned against the trunk of a tree and said, “My head hurts very badly.  Please –”

In the end we took them to one large room, wrestled three beds in and put them to bed.

By we I mean the men.  I wasn’t even allowed near the boys, not that I was making any great effort to get close.

“You and the baby must stay clear of contagion,” Simon had said. And Kit had sided with him.

“It’s possible the boys are just sick from exposure to Earth viruses,” he said.  “On the other hand it is possible they’re sick from something they brought with them.  Who knows what mutations would appear and survive in the enclosed and circumscribed space of an interstellar ship?”  And for a moment, for just a moment in my husband’s face, there was a look of intense curiosity.  As though he’d like to collect samples and find out what those viruses were.

He was a pilot, raised to fly darkships to collect powerpods from the powertree ring.  He’d never shown any interest in biology till his mind had been cross-pollinated with Jarl’s after Kit was shot in the head and the imprint of Jarl’s brain used to restore his mind.  Supposedly most of this had been reversed, leaving just Kit’s brain.  But I couldn’t figure out how that could be true.  There would be no way to fully pull the memories apart.  The personality, maybe could be neutralized and stopped from coalescing.  But the memories?  It would be like pulling apart two sand piles.

Now and then I caught glimpses of a curiosity or interest or of knowledge left behind by Jarl’s imprint.  Jarl had been a world-bestriding biologist, after all, maybe the greatest of them all. He was credit with creating the powertrees, biological solar collectors which survived in Earth orbit, and also with having created several of the – reviled – physical mutations during the war between the Seacities and the land states.  He’d created, they said, humans who could breathe under water.  Mind you, no one had ever found any proof of that, but it was one of the things they’d said he’d done, and if true it was not just insane, but a great achievement as well.

I certainly had no curiosity about the viruses either from an interstellar ship or from Earth and no interest at all in anything but keeping my small family safe.  Marriage and motherhood had expanded my focus, from wishing to save myself to wishing to keep Kit and Eris safe too.  The idea of living on without them was scarcely bearable.  Rather death than that.

But I didn’t feel the need to expand it more than that.  I didn’t wish harm to the boys, nor to Luce, nor to Simon.  No, revise that, I’d been sincerely grieved when I thought that Simon had died.  It would grieve me if the boys died too.  And I would do what I could to keep Luce alive if only because Nat was my friend and Nat loved Lucius.  But the first essential point was to keep me, Kit and Eris alive.

Simon and Lucius left us alone with the boys after a couple of hours.  Both of them had duties and an already overlong absence to explain.  They could not stay with us to babysit the young invaders, even if the young men were very ill.  This made it impossible to keep Kit away from the contagion.  They tried to keep me away but it didn’t work.

You see, when two people need to be helped to a bathroom where they can throw up, and the third is burning up with fever and needs water, it’s impossible to keep any of three adults safely away.

Not that it mattered.  If this was – as became clear when they started coughing – a type of flu, an airborne disease, then I wasn’t safe anyway.

The night became something of a death march, a walking nightmare.  I was thrown up on twice.  Laz, the oldest of them, was burning with fever, and seemed to obsess about the other two and about someone called Pol. He muttered and struggled, in fear they had been “caught” or were in trouble somehow. It was difficult enough keeping him in bed, but if he got up, he’d blunder around like a sleep walker, walking into walls and into beds, hurting himself and getting in the way.

The other two seemed to throw up more, which both challenged us to keep them hydrated and to keep them clean.

I’d scouted the place and found my way into a storage room where someone had stored shelf upon shelf of the sort of courtesy things one might give guests of a resort: pajamas in various sizes, toothbrushes and other toiletries; slippers; extra blankets.  I’d also found sheets, intact in the lower layers, though the top ones were grey with dust.

I have no idea what fabric the sheets and clothing were made of.  They felt like the best silk, but they must be synthetic, or they would not have survived three hundred years. I think.  Not that I’d ever studied the survival of cloth.

Whatever they were, we went through all of them at a prodigious rate.  We’d get the boys more or less cleaned, then wrestle them into clothes, and then they’d throw up again or sweat so hard they looked like they’d been dipped in water.

In the middle of all this, I would nurse Eris, and change her when she cried, though I had to let her cry a while, since I needed to clean myself before touching her.  I wanted to try to diminish the chances of contagion, but knew most of what I was doing was, at best, cosmetic.

And just when we thought they’d never come to an end of the spewing, we found that what came after was worse, as they lay on the bed, sweating, eyes bright and unseeing, as their temperature climbed.  Even Laz quit his fretting and his moving, which was good, since the beds we’d moved in here were the narrow beds that had probably been allotted to servants.  Easier to move, and easier to have three of them in one room, but not big enough for someone of Laz’s build.  His movement shook the weak ceramite frame, and when he threw the covers from him, he almost overturned the bed.

But I didn’t like the looks of the boys.  I ransacked the place looking for medicines, but found nothing beyond things for headaches and band aids.  Nothing that helped bring down a fever.

Fuse had got bags, and found a machine that could be coaxed into operating and producing ice.  I wondered if it had been meant to produce ice.  I was starting to think that Fuse had the same innate mechanical ability I had.  What he’d done with the serving bot back in Syracuse, and now, his managing to make something make ice seemed miraculous, not just for him, but for anyone.  In the time I’d spent here, most of the servos and robots I’d found were decayed beyond help.

He had filled the bags with ice and packed them around the boys.  This seemed to help keep their temperature down, but it added another round to our duties.  In my case, a third round: check on the boys.  Change out the bags filled with melted ice, try to force some water down their throats, then see if Eris needed me.  We’d put Eris in a room next to the boys’ room, and brought two beds together for Kit and myself.