Through Fire – Snippet 06

Simon had taken me to where the painting was kept, in a vault to which it had been moved after the destruction of Florence. I think he believed the resemblance would flatter me. Instead, it had made me shake my head at the folly of the man from whose genes I was created and his old friend who’d helped him to make me. I’d known his friend. He’d been a sort of an uncle to me growing up. Until I saw that painting, I’d never realized he was insane. Broken, divided, lost, yes, but not mad.

So in that cheap hotel room, looking at my all too memorable reflection, I thought I must dye my hair brown. I must have said it aloud, because Alexis made a sound from the door. When I looked at him, I found him glaring back at me, over his shoulder. “You’re going about it all wrong,” he said. He looked disgusted or perhaps pitying. His face was hard to read.

I lifted my eyebrows at him, in an enquiry I didn’t know how to phrase, then said, “But I can’t stay here,” I said. “You must understand, I wasn’t made to sit and watch. I was told–”

He sighed. He sighed as though he were faced with all the stupidity of the world. He shook his head, shrugged. “I can’t convince you to be sensible, can I? At least allow me to represent to you that going out there, like this, with no idea of what you face and no more ability to move unnoticed in this world than a twenty-foot butterfly, is little less than suicide. If the whole seacity has decided to turn against the Good Man and anyone associated with him, you can’t fight them alone. If, on the other hand, it’s a small group causing all this, we can plan and overcome them.”

I was about to argue but stopped. I wasn’t completely stupid. It was just his assumption of mastery that bothered me. But he was right.

Alexis’ voice was low and raspy, and had just the edge of an accent. “Let me go and reconnoiter. I’ll bring you more clear intelligence, which you can use in your decision. You might still choose to risk yourself, but you’ll do it under advisement and that might fulfill what the Good Man meant by keeping you safe.” For some reason, unlike the edge of an accent that made Simon sound aristocratic and intriguing, it made Brisbois sound like a peasant, slow of thought. I realized the hands holding the burner were large and rough-looking, as if he tilled fields or built houses by hand in his spare time. “I doubt this entire riot is targeted at you specifically, but it doesn’t need to be particular to be fatal. And if you have to disguise yourself, dyeing your hair brown is all wrong.”

I looked back at the glass, and spoke to his reflection in the glass.

“What do you think is happening?” I said. I scanned his face for a hint of alarm, a look of … something that would give me an idea of what was likely to happen what the limits of possibility were. He was of Earth and more likely to understand better than I. I didn’t want a disaster to take me by surprise. Not again.

He shook his head. “I wouldn’t like to say. I can’t be sure. I suspect, but…” He took a long, deep breath. “Only, in this situation, acting on a suspicion and being wrong might land us in worse trouble than we’re in already.”

“Right,” I said. “But not acting can kill us too, no? We can’t hide here until they track us down!” He’d lowered his eyebrows over his dark eyes, as though in deep thought. “Look, people broke into the palace. Into the ballroom. They weren’t the troops of the Good Men.” I remembered people in everyday outfits, normal looking people. I remembered blood and fire. “They can’t be that powerful. We should be able to do something, to rescue Simon.”

“No,” he said. “No. I’m almost sure they were… just people. And the people who fired at our flyer were the same. People from — People from here, people from Liberte. The transports never left the water, and I’m sure the Good Men aren’t behind this. But I’m not sure…” He made a sound of exasperation, as though his mind refused to formulate the words he needed in this situation. “I’m not sure who they’re hunting for, you understand? If it’s a list of names, I’m on that list or you are. Or are they just trying to kill a certain type of person? Or it might just be a spasm of rebellion against anyone perceived as wealthier or more powerful. I don’t know, and neither do you.”

“Simon said to get me out of there, but he didn’t come with us. He thought I was in danger and he was not, clearly.”

“No,” Alexis said. “I don’t think he thought he was in no danger. Don’t you know the Good Man would be gallant enough to rescue you while sacrificing himself? I do wonder what Good Man St. Cyr knew that–” He stopped. I didn’t say anything. Neither of us were sure of anything about Good Man St. Cyr, including being sure that he was still, at this moment, among the living. Remembering the invaders into his house and ballroom, the explosions, the destruction of what seemed like immutable order, I doubted it. On the other hand, I had the very strong impression that the ci-devant Good Man, by his own words Protector of the People, was not that easy to kill.

A long silence fell. Alexis kept his ear against the door. After a while he sighed. “Do you trust me?”

I wanted to say yes, but did I trust him? Define trust. I’d learned from the earliest age that I was different, and that trusting other people — even my adoptive parents — to know what was best for me could be bad. Very bad. I’d learned early on to make my own way, to forge my own path.

I’d trusted one person in the world. Len, the pilot of my darkship. I’d married him too. And then I’d had to kill him, because the alternative was far worse.

But here, on this strange world, with this strange man I’d been thrust upon, what was trust? Could I trust him as I’d trusted Len? No. Could I trust him to not try to overpower me and take me away from danger, as he’d been ordered to do?

“You have orders,” I said. “From the Good Man. Would you lie to fulfill them?”

Alexis laughed, a mirthless cackle. “Let me rephrase that,” he said. “Do you trust me to tell you the truth if I promise to do so?” He seemed to search my face. “Yes, I promised to protect you to the best of my ability, but the Good Man transferred my loyalty to you. That means I protect you, but tell you the truth and let you decide what course you take. I don’t think I could overpower you forever.”