Darkship Revenge – Snippet 36


“How long has she been out?” A voice that was familiar, but not immediately identifiable.

“About a week,” Kit said.  “She’s been semi-conscious, mostly sleeping.  I think she just got so exhausted.  I mean, I don’t think the flu is that terrible, just that she was horribly tired and it worsened it.”

“You haven’t caught it all?” the other man asked.  The smell of burning was briefly more intense.  He’d moved near the bed on my right side.  The smell was coming from him, I thought.

“I had something like sniffles,” Kit said.  “But I took the anti-viral, and it passed.  Fuse had a little worse flu, but just the flu and it was gone in there days.  Same with Eris.  I think Athena’s is a little more severe because of exhaustion.  Her fever never got as high as the boys'”

“Umph,” the man said.  “I suspect the boys were deliberately infected, with a stronger version, or perhaps a greater load of the virus.”  Pause.  “I am not a biologist.  But I think they were given this in such a way that the period of greater contagion would last the most, and also so they would necessitate caretakers, who would in turn be infected.”

I had been struggling to open my eyes, and now managed it.  My eyes were only partly open, but the sliver of vision admitted was enough for me to identify the person talking to Kit.  “Nat,” I said, and struggled to sit up.

Nat is whip-cord thin, pale blond with seeming-incongruous black eyes.  The smell of burning originated from the cigarette in his hand.  He’d started smoking obsessively after Max died.  I knew he’d slowed down on the smoking when I’d last seen him, and I wondered if the habit was now back full force due to stress.

He looked stressed, not in any way in particular, but in holding himself a little too tautly. There was an almost brittleness to his posture, as though he must keep himself from showing weakness.

Kit rushed to help me sit up, all the while scolding me for even trying to, but I ignored him, till I was sitting against the pillows, my eyes fully open.  I felt fine, really, just like I’d had a really long sleep.  Thirsty and strangely “gritty” in every joint, but not necessarily ill.  “Is Eris?” I asked Kit.

“Perfectly recovered.  She’s asleep,” he said, indicating her little box.  “She eats an awful lot.”

“Yeah, materials for making more Eris,” I said, and turned to Nat.  Luce had said he was ill, and there was something odd to his being here, and to his posture.  I didn’t like odd things, not when a plague was killing people.  “You?” I said.  “Are you recovered?”

He shrugged.  “Not… precisely.  I am medicated. I have recovered from the flu, and they’ve given me meds to try to prevent the onset of the other thing, whatever it is.  I feel fine, really.”

But I understood what he didn’t say.  What he didn’t say was that he was afraid he was already doomed and that there wasn’t anything anyone could do to save him.  It was a moment of weakness, and then he shook his head.  “It doesn’t matter.  The idea you gave Luce was a good one,” he told me.  “We have found several foci of infection, and we think we located … Lucius’ younger clone.  We have reason to think the boys are the carriers, but we need more carriers, because Doctor Dufort is having trouble isolating the virus from the boys here.  Or rather, figuring out how it causes the after-effect illness.  And I thought, if we could get a… another of the boys or … or two.”

I looked at him.  He looked sheepish.  No one ever accused me of being tactful. “You want to get the Keeva clone…”

“No,” he said.  “I mean, yes, but only because if I have to get one of them.  Also, he’s … that is he is at La Mancha Seacity.  He’s accessible.  Or should be.  Easy to get at.  So … I will be going there and trying to rescue him.  If I succeed, I’ll bring him – and his companions – here.”

“Why did you come here first?” I asked.  “If you’ve determined you’re going to do this, by yourself?”

“Oh,” Nat said.  He glanced at Kit.  “I tried to com you, and couldn’t get an answer.  I thought you might all have died, or you might all be very ill and need help, so since La Mancha is relatively close to your location, I thought — ”

If I remembered clearly, and since geography was never a passion, I might not, La Mancha was in fact several hours away, but granted closer to central Europe than to Olympus seacity.  “I don’t understand,” I said.

“He came to make sure we were alive and well,” Kit said.  “Or at least the rest of us were well.  With you not being awake, and I trying to watch both Eris, and Fuse and the boys…. If the com signaled I didn’t notice or wasn’t in the room at the time.  He got concerned.”

Nat stood up, tall and lean, holding a cigarette between his fingers, and I remembered something my late friend, Max, had once said about him, in exasperation “World’s most unlikely mother hen.”

“I think,” I said, sitting up fully and only remembering afterwards to check and be relieved that Kit had dressed me in some sort of loose gown.  “I’ll be all right.  Go and get the boys if you can.  I feel bad about any of them being in the hands of people who might use them… I mean for more than for getting a treatment for this illness.  I don’t think any of them ever had a chance.”

Nat’s lips went thin.  “I’m almost sure they didn’t.  But we can’t save all of them.  Not on our resources right now.  Besides, I might get way with one raid, but two would be suicide.  They’d know to expect me.  There would be a trap.”

“Isn’t it dangerous…?” Kit hesitated.  “Going on this mission all by yourself?  Even if it’s the first? Surely there will be guards and surely the boys are watched, at least if they made contact.”

“They made contact,” Nat said.  “We — We broke the code for that particular cluster of Good Men sometime ago, and we caught references to the boys.  They made contact and they’re alive, but kept isolated because they’re not trusted.”  Pause and he lit another cigarette.  “There was some talk of using Luce’s – John to get concession from us.  So we know where they are, and can guess at the defenses.  I wouldn’t do this on my own without on the ground intelligence.  I might be foolhardy, but despite rumors to the contrary, I’m not actually insane.”

“Still,” I said, worried now.  “Shouldn’t you take someone?  You’re a military man.  Surely you have underlings who –”

“Whom I’d rather don’t know what is happening, Athena.  We’re in a very delicate situation.  Remember — No, you wouldn’t know.  The reason Simon lost control of the Sans Culottes in Liberte is that we had to publicize what the Good Men really are.  The Good Men spent so much time distancing themselves from what they’d been before the turmoils, that they taught everyone to fear and hate the Mules.

“We’re all right in Olympus, because so many people are Usaians and Luce is a known Usaian, and … and in a relationship with a normal person.  But Thena, if people find out that this plague started with the Mules, in orbit on the Je Reviens sending down infected teenagers who are also mules…”  He pulled deeply on his cigarette and released a cloud of smoke into the air.  “The Turmoils are nothing to it.  Civilization as we know it will be leveled.  There won’t be two stones together.  And Luce and anyone they suspect of being a Mule, or enhance, which could well include myself and my family, and many others, will be killed.  You’ll pardon me if I don’t think it’s worth risking that on the chance that one of the people I pick to help me will recognize similarities and speak.”

“I suppose it’s why we’re here, with the boys,” I said.  “To keep it as secret as possible.”

Nat nodded curtly.  “I’m not a master of propaganda, like Luce is.  I don’t study mass psychological reactions every day, but I’m not stupid either.  This situation has the potential to blow sky high.”

“And you think the infection came with the boys?” I said.

“We’re sure of it.  We just don’t understand how it’s activating the secondary plague, and without it, we can’t fight it.  But we’re sure of it.  We’re sure this is… well, the revenge of the Mules.  What the boys were told was substantially right.  They were told the Mules had decided they wanted the Earth for themselves, after all, and that was true. They were told they were necessary for this endeavor, and that was true.  What I don’t think they told the boys is that they had sent them down as the instruments of the Mules’ revenge, the Mules’ plan to clear the planet of homo sapiens sapiens and make room for them.  They want the whole Earth.  I presume the boys didn’t know, because that was the way to get maximum efficiency in the attack.  It’s possible, of course –”