Through Fire – Snippet 04

To Walk the Night

“That’s– ” I took a deep breath. I’d seen images like that from the Turmoils, three hundred years ago. But it was three hundred years ago. Surely it couldn’t happen now. We were more civilized, even on Earth, weren’t we? “Why would anyone do that?”

“Intimidation,” Alexis said. He looked at me, as though trying to figure out just what I’d be prepared to accept. “They’re hoping by being as barbaric as possible, they can get us to surrender before we think of fighting back.” He opened his side of the flyer and said, “Come, they might trace this. We must continue on foot, and fast.”

I got out and found him there, waiting, reaching for my hand. “I know the way,” he said. “At least the way to get away from this.”

I stopped. My hands grabbed at the stuff of my dress. “But we must fight back. They can’t be allowed–”

“We will,” he said. “Or at least I will as soon as I know what’s happening. You, on the other hand, aren’t part of this and I promised the Good Man to keep you safe.”

“It’s nonsense,” I said. “I’m stronger than you. I’m faster. I’m probably faster and stronger than Simon.” I saw his face cloud but couldn’t quite read the expression. “I’m supposed to protect others.” The last came out as a wail and even I couldn’t have known what I meant by it, except that since I remembered my foster parents had told me I should use my extraordinary strength and agility to protect others, rather than hurt them. They’d never told me what to do, I realized, when doing one required the other. They’d left me to navigate those waters on my own.

He frowned at me. Then unceremoniously grabbed my forearm, pulled me along. “You’re not stronger than all the people at once. You’re not stronger than a mob.”

He picked an odd path through the extensive gardens of the palace. I could feel roots and rocks under my feet. The ballroom slippers so perfect for dancing were not at all helpful in broken terrain. But I could hear sounds of people. Not peaceful sounds: Shouting and screaming and occasional snatches of running and barbaric song; most definitely not peaceful sounds. If what my enhanced hearing could pick up was right, then the avenues of the garden, those paths that would be easier to walk, were full of the same people who had invaded the ballroom.

Alexis was doing a good job of keeping us away from them, given that he didn’t have my abilities. He stirred us down slippery lawns and amid tree groves. Necessary if we didn’t want to fight, since he was wearing the white, gold-braid bedecked uniform of Simon’s personal guard, and I was not only wearing a conspicuous ball gown, but my holo-image had been all over local casts, as the Patrician’s special guest.

“You don’t understand,” I said. “I can fight. We don’t have to run away. I’m not … a normal human.”

There was a sound suspiciously like a chuckle, as he took a sharp turn at a cypress grove. It was hard to be sure of the song, as there was a whistling wind blowing from the sea and it carried with it the faint echo of revolutionary lyrics. His next words were clear, though. “I know,” he said.

The words took my own breath away for a moment. The implications of them made me a little dizzy. “You know?” I asked, my voice sounding like I felt.

He looked back and he was not smiling, which was good and might have saved his life. “The Good Man told me,” he said. “Come on. If you’re going to start screaming at me, I’d like to get further away from the palace first.”

“I don’t want to scream,” I said, which was true. What I wanted was to understand.

My origins weren’t so much a secret as they’d be unbelievable to ninety percent of the people on Earth old enough to understand them.

My ancestors, or at least the ancestors of the people who’d founded Eden, the tiny and secretive colony of my birth, had left Earth three hundred years ago.

They’d been bio-improved people created to serve the creatures who called themselves the bio-lords, but whom Earth history called Mules. The name came from their being all male and infertile with human females, thus designed so they couldn’t form a race that would supersede natural humanity.

They’d been created not as rulers but as servants: efficient, all-capable servants who would help rulers administer the massive bureaucracies of the twenty-first century.

They’d taken over. For over a hundred years, they’d ruled as lords of all. And, raised as slaves, insufficiently attached to the human race, their rule had been ruthless and implacable. When the revolt came, which they’d seen coming, about half of them had gathered all they could of their bio-improved servants and taken them away from the Earth, away from the massacres of the bio-improved by the normal, and to space in a ship called the Je Reviens.

No one, not even in Eden, knew what had happened between the Mules and their servants abroad the Je Reviens. All we knew was that after less than a year of travel, it had been decided that the less-bio-improved people, the servants of the bio-lords, those who were still capable of reproducing with normal humanity and who were still more human than not, should be left in a hallowed out asteroid, to found their own colony.

The separation had been achieved with such haste that the colony had not been provided with its own means to collect energy. Instead, it had to send envoys to Earth orbit to collect pods from the powertrees, the biological solar collectors seeded by the Mules in the days of their rule.

Those secretive collections were made in darkships. Dark, so as not to be noticeable against the massive, black trunks of the powertrees. The ships were also, even in comparison to transport flyers on Earth and on Eden, nearly blind and certainly stupid. Instead of improving them and risking their falling in enemy hands with all their information, Eden bio-improved their pilots and navigators, for agility and vision, and sense of direction and memory. I’d been the navigator and mechanic of such a ship for six years, half of a team with my late husband.

If we were disabled or captured, pilot and navigator were to commit suicide rather than let Earth know for sure we existed or where Eden was. I shied away from that thought and thought instead that the system had worked, that this was why darkship thieves were as much of a myth on Earth as elves or mermaids.

“You know I’m a darkship thief?” I asked.

He actually stopped. He’d been walking ahead, regardless of my attempts to talk. “I know you’re like the Patrician,” he said. One of the Mules. I know you’re as close as possible to a female clone of Jarl Ingemar.”

And then I almost screamed. Jarl Ingemar was arguably the best of the Mules. Or possibly the worst, depending on whom you asked. His rule certainly had been more intrusive than others. You see, he was well intentioned and brilliant. The powertrees, a lot of the bio-improvements to other humans, more innovations than could be listed were counted to his credit.

If you could imagine Leonardo da Vinci created and raised in a wholly artificial environment and encouraged to think it was his lot to improve not just humanity’s living conditions but humanity itself, you’d be pretty close to Jarl Ingemar.

He’d been the mind behind the conception and creation of the Je Reviens. He’d also been one of the two Mules who’d chosen to stay behind with the almost normal servants of the Mules, to assist in the founding of Eden. And who, little by little, had encouraged people to forget he still lived, as he walled himself up in a fortress of solitude and isolation.