Darkship Revenge – Snippet 34

The First Horseman

“It is the flu,” Doctor Dufort said.

I don’t know what I expected.  A colossus of some sort, a man whose very presence bent reality around him.  Or someone whose knowledge of science and medicine was so overpowering that all must recognize it.

Instead, he was a lithe middle aged man, very calm and completely unperturbed to be sent across the globe to examine three children in a secret facility.  If he found it strange, he gave no indication.  “I will leave some anti-virals.  It seems to be a very virulent case.”

I had heard of him, before, or at least not precisely of him, but of the private doctors of Good Men.  My own late, unlamented father had had some on retainer.  I’d been made by one of them.

Somehow I’d never expected one of them to be so unprepossessing and so calm.  The ones who had served my father had been somewhat more … showy.

He had taken the three boys’ vitals through a med-examiner that looked quite a lot more advanced than when I left Earth.  I wondered what had been happening in my absence. Other than, of course, civil war and unrest.

“Do you think they caught it from us? Somehow?  Sim — Julien, maybe, if he was incubating something…”

Dufort shook his head, then shrugged.  “The emperor was in the best of health.  I know, because he insists I see him every other day.”  At my widening eyes and look of shock, because hypochondria had never been one of Simon’s issues, as many has he had, he said, “Ah, no, not about his health.  About other matters I supervise for him.  I am the one who insists on taking a look at his vitals when we meet.  He has taken on much too much, and has a tendency to burn the candle at both ends.  He always had.”

I almost asked him how he had known what the Emperor Julien always had, since the constructed story I’d skimmed said that he had grown up as an humble man of the people.  But I met his eyes, and there was no deception there, and we were perfectly understood.  He knew who the Emperor was as well as I did.  And he knew who all of us were too.

I hadn’t ever thought of Simon as someone who burned the candle at both ends, either.  Simon, at least to me, had appeared as a bon vivant, who strode through life seeking his own pleasure and his own advantage, and trying to do as much of the unpleasant “work” as humanly possible.

It occurred to me, not for the first time, but the most forcefully it ever had, that I might never had known the real Simon, but a constructed personality designed to be seen and appreciated by such as me.

Maybe there wasn’t even a real Simon.  Maybe he just had a series of personalities, of acts, that he put on for different people.

Certainly, another thing I’d found out on the trip here, that Kit’s “sister” – a female clone of Jarl Ingemar created and raised in Eden – had married one of Simon’s subordinates and disappeared somewhere into Olympus’ North American territories, instead of marrying Simon, as we’d all assumed she would, lent credence to the idea I’d never known Simon.  He’d made light of it, shrugged and said they hadn’t suited, but I suspected when it had come to the sticking point he just couldn’t commit to anyone or anything. Not even for love.  Not even for self-preservation.

“They should pull through fine,” Doctor Dufort said, as he set a handful of vials on the counter.  “I gave them a dose, just give them the next dose in two days, and then another one.  They are all healthy specimens, the… ah… body decorations notwithstanding.  Whatever else they are – and from what the Emperor told me, they are more or less feral – they are near-perfect physical specimens. Just keep them hydrated and fed.  These vials will tip the scales a little in their favor and shorten their healing time. I’m leaving extra vials should any of you get ill.  And this,” he set down smaller vials.  “In case the infant should contract this.”  The idea of Eris getting that sick made my hair attempt to stand on end.

He gave me and Kit the instructions on administering the medicine, without saying anything about Kit’s eyes, the obvious mark of his bio-engineering, and without saying anything about knowing who we were.

But when I walked with him to the front of the complex, where he’d left his flyer parked in a vast expanse of robot-maintained lawn, under green trees, beside the murmuring river, he said, in the tone of one who had hesitated a long time, “Patrician Sinistra — ”


He sighed.  “Two things, and please forgive me for bringing them up at all.  I will only plead that you don’t know what has happened on Earth in your absence and that I have reason not to want either of you caught in it, if nothing else because it would embroil my– The Emperor, and he’s having all he can do to keep Liberte from the main strife because after the revolution, we’re not ready to…  We’re not ready to fight.”  He looked at me.  “If you’ll forgive me, Madame,” He pronounced it Mah-dah-m in the French way.  “I have here a pouch with lenses which will alter the appearance of your husband’s eyes.  I would just prefer that if you leave this space no one knows what you are. That you don’t attract attention. Oh, I’d love to examine his eyes and know precisely how they were made, and how – the Emperor tells me it was a virus – something was designed to change mere human DNA in that way.  Just as I’d love to know how you were made, after a long string of failures and sterile female mule clones.  But I will not speak of it, not unless someone wishes to share the knowledge with me.  There isn’t even a need of creating female mules for ah… Biolords to reproduce.  It is possible to bridge the gap of reproduction with humans in the laboratory.  The idea of making females was, I think, predicated on a perhaps natural desire for the mules to replace normal human population. A thought that their species was the next step as it were.”

“My father did name me Hera,” I said.  “Athena Hera Sinistra.  As Nat pointed out, the woman without a mother, and the mother of a race of gods.”

Dr. Dufort looked at me, evaluating.  “Just so, Madame.  Your… ah… father… had his notions.  But the thing is, right now, to prevent the other Good Men from hunting you down and trying to figure you out.  And from trying to do harm to your husband.  So if he would wear the disguising lenses, and you’d try to… ah, not be very obvious.”

“Why?” I said.  “I mean, sure, they know that I am missing and perhaps think I’m dead.  But I grew up on Earth and none of them tried to seize me.  Even if they had contracts with father that said they got to sire a child or something, I never heard of Good Men trusting each other in contracts, and surely — ”

Doctor Dufort gave me something I’d rarely seen: an exasperated smile.  It was as though he’d tried to combine the appeasement of an obsequious smile with exasperation at my slowness of mind.  I wondered, for the first time, what it was like for the scientists and techs who worked for the Good Men.  They had to know they were a lot more trained than the men they served, but the men they served had been designed to have greater potential.  Did they think that they deserved better treatment at the Good Men’s hands?  Did they think that the Good Men could have done their job and easily and only didn’t for some arcane reason?  What did people feel who kept the secrets of unreasonable autocrats who might kill them for any reason or none at all?  “Madame, yes, while you were growing up you were a point of curiosity, and perhaps hope for the future, but you must understand that, as you said, the Good Men never trust each other.  Ever.  This means that they didn’t trust your father’s assurances, or perhaps his doctors’ assurances that you were indeed fertile.  Which in the end meant you were a point of curiosity but not covetousness.  But now, well… Now you have a daughter.”

“Oh,” I said.  I led him to his flyer, and saw him get in, and saw him take off.  Kit had given him the getting out codes.

I came back into the room to find the boys were worse, in the throes of delirium, and that Kit and Fuse were having trouble subduing them.

It was a full week and a half before we saw them improving again.  Looking after three teenagers who were delirious, unable to function on their own, left us no time to do anything but fall asleep, exhausted, usually one at a time, while the other two stayed on duty.

Nonetheless, in our times awake together, I noticed that Fuse was coming to himself; becoming more adult… No, more himself by the day.  And though he worried about Thor, perhaps most of all, he could now be trusted to look after the other two also, and to come to us if he couldn’t handle it.  The only time he woke one of us, it was Kit, because Laz was fighting in his delirium and Fuse could not hold him down alone.

At the end of what seemed like an endless succession of days, I woke up and Kit was standing by the bed, “The fever broke,” he said. “They’re asleep.  Fuse is keeping an eye on them.”

That was early morning, the first day in the refuge when I was aware of daybreak.  I drank coffee outside, looking at the fake sun climb the holographic sky, and listening to the river and the birds, and feeling… relief?  No.  I didn’t want the boys to die, but what had made these days grueling was not the fear they’d die, so much as the sheer amount of work, the grueling effort of looking after three incapacitated juveniles.  I savored my moment with my coffee, and then Eris cried to be fed, and I hurried to look after her.

It seemed this was a time for me to look after everyone else, and that I wasn’t going to have any time for myself, ever, ever again.  Life would be a never end of caring for other people, younger people, people who were dependent on me.  I never wanted to be a mother.

And then Kit had woken up and taken Eris from me, and reminded me that the bedrooms upstairs contained a sybaritic bath.  I had slept in the immense bathtub, relaxing in more warm water than we could afford in Eden, or transport in the Cathouse.