Through Fire – Snippet 05

Perhaps it was to combat this that his best friend, and the other Mule left behind, Bartolomeu Dias, had conceived the scheme of trying to create female and male clones of themselves. Perhaps the scheme had been darker and designed to give the long-lived but not immortal Mules a chance at living forever.

Just before Jarl’s death, they’d created me and what I must for lack of a better word call my brother, Kit. All that I could forgive. I wasn’t sure I could forgive that they’d called me Zenobia, which means spirit of Zeus. Nor that I’d been given to a human couple to raise, a couple who’d always seemed bewildered by me. Bartolomeu Dias, even aged, might have made a better foster parent.

None of this, though, explained why Simon would have told this man that I was made from Jarl’s genes, assembled in a lab by a complex process that defeated the ability to recombine Mule DNA and make female Mules.

If few people on Earth would be able to believe I was a darkship thief, anyone who did believe I was Jarl’s clone was likely to try to kill me.

“He … Why?”

“He trusted me. Trusts me. With what he is, too, with being descended… no, created from the Mules who were left behind. He told me that the same Mule has been succeeding himself as the ruler of Liberte for centuries, having his brain transplanted to that of his putative son, so he could inherit from himself.”

“Why did he tell you? When?”

“Oh, years ago, when he hired me as head of his security,” Alexis said. “There were reasons. In the way I became his head of security, I mean. I can’t explain now. We need to get as far away from the palace as we can.”

My tongue felt like cork in my mouth. I realized I had been gasping through an open mouth, and closed it with a snap, and swallowed. “You don’t care?”

“I wouldn’t have believed him — about you — if I didn’t know that the Mules left behind had managed to create a female. I saw no reason they wouldn’t have created one on the darkship world, where I understand they’re more advanced.”

“I mean, you don’t care that the Mules survived the Turmoils and eventually became the Good Men.”

“What is there to care about?” he asked. “It happened.”

“But … aren’t you afraid of Mules?” I’d read the history books on earth. Though I suspected the Good Men, who were after all the same people, were just as ruthless as the Mules had been, the history books made the Mules much worse. “Don’t you want to stop them?”

I swear his lips trembled upward. “Aren’t we?” he said. “Didn’t the Patrician declare the glorious revolution?” He seemed to suddenly remember how the glorious revolution had evolved. He shrugged. “I mean you no harm, at least. On the contrary. The Patrician said to get you to a safe place, and I intend to, even though it’s going to be harder than I’d imagined.”

“I don’t need to be gotten to a safe place,” I said. “If you know what I am, you know I’m as strong as the Patrician, and as capable of defending myself.”

He rolled his eyes. “And as full of yourself. Don’t either of you see virtue in planning? Are you in the habit of throwing yourself into danger with no thought?”

I’d come to Earth with very little thought, except to escape bad memories and certain social obligations. I didn’t think I was full of myself. I certainly wasn’t like Simon. On the other hand, I’d been telling Alexis that I could fight a mob single handed. Which seemed foolhardy if not stupid. So I shut up and let him lead — stumbling and skulking through the palace grounds. At an outer building, almost at the edge of the grounds, he made me wait, and came back moments later wearing coveralls of the sort that manual laborers wore, and carrying what looked like a green sheet, which he folded around me as a cloak, that covered me from head to the hem of my dress.

After that, he led me out of the grounds to what looked like a ramshackle stairway which led us into a labyrinth of derelict alleys and thus, eventually, to a cheap rented room, in a not so good section of Liberte, the area that was the domain of servants and less reputable avocations. We had chosen the cheapest of automated motels and paid for it with an anonymous credgem.

In the dingy rented room, Alexis ditched the coveralls to appear again in the splendor of white satin and gold braid. It went badly with his appearance. He was a middle-aged man, at least ten years older than my twenty-five, with short dark hair and a square face that only a mother could love, and which, indefinably, put one in mind of a bulldog. Seeing me look, he gave me a feral grin and said, “Alexis Brisbois, at your service, Madame Zenobia Sienna.”

I didn’t know what to answer, so I didn’t. I dropped the sheet. He locked the door, then stood by it, with a burner in his hand, and his ear set against the dimatough panel.

“Just making sure no one followed us,” he said. Though he’d ensured that the camera over the door was broken — not unusual in this type of lodgings, of course — he didn’t trust that someone might not be looking for us or might not have caught a glimpse of us by other means.

While he went over the room, looking for hidden cameras and disabling a couple of gadgets that might or might not have visual-pickup capacity, I stood in front of the mirror that took up an entire wall — and I tried not to think exactly what it was meant to reflect, fully turned towards the bed as it was. But even thinking about that was better than thinking that I was in an enclosed space with no help anywhere near.

I must go out. I didn’t want to hide in this ratty room forever, with or without Brisbois, and I thought his idea of getting me out of the seacity was cowardly as well as futile.

Fortunately, he had no authority over me. No one did. First I had to get out of this room. Unfortunately, it seemed whatever was happening out there was definitely a revolt against the ruling classes. That meant that being known as the Patrician’s special friend told against me. I had to figure out how to make myself less remarkable-looking, less memorable, if I was going to move unremarked through Liberte seacity.

In my mind, I had only the vaguest idea of what I could do once I got out of here. Rescue Simon, of course, both because I owed him for his hospitality and to pay him back for trying to protect me, as though I were helpless without him. Pay him back in more than one sense.

I hated to admit that Alexis Brisbois had a point, though. When going against one enemy, force and intelligence sufficed. When going against a multitude, one must manage anonymity and surprise. And anonymity was going to be a problem.

It’s not that I think I’m beautiful, or that I know I am. I do, both. And it’s not personal opinion. Like everything else about me, it’s a certainty — what I was designed to be. No choice or opinion involved.

The men who created me had thought themselves if not gods, something very close. And though I’d been created to be the female version of one of them — built in a lab, protein by protein, gene by gene — they’d made me both beautiful and memorable. I looked as close as anyone living could look to the central figure of Sandro Botticelli’s Birth of Venus. My eyes were a little less innocent, I suppose, and I kept my hair long enough to hit the middle of my back, not falling in a red-blond mass almost to my knees, as the hair of the painted Venus did. But I did look like her. I knew.