Through Fire – Snippet 09

“How do they know?”

He made a gesture, like it was all up. “The Usaians,” he said, referring to the messianic cult that had modeled their revelations on the principles of the long-vanished country which used to occupy vast portions of North America, the same cult that was now firmly in control of Olympus seacity and its dependencies. “They broadcast — Their propaganda station– They broadcast the truth about the Good Men.”

I looked blankly at him for a moment. It had been part of the regime of the Good Men to prevent wide broadcasting and news reporting except by those licensed to do so. The technological stop for such activity was in Circum Terra. Simon and I had been part of an invading party that had taken control of the station and removed those controls.

“But how can that be in their interest?” I said. “Lucius Keeva, in Olympus, is as much of Mule stock as the rest of them, and he’s the face of the Usaian revolution.”

“Oh, they’ve convinced everyone he is different. He saved one of their own. Some act of heroism or other, all conveniently filmed.” He made a face, then a dismissive hand gesture. “The thing is, we have nothing like it. And it’s different, anyway. The Usaians want only equality under the law, but our movement was supposed to make everyone equal. Really equal.” He sounded almost desperate. “The law can’t make you really equal.”

A sarcastic voice at the back of my mind asked how they intended to perform this miracle, but I didn’t say it. He went on, “So, when they found out what Good Man St. Cyr was, he wasn’t an acceptable Protector. Some hotheads got to talking, out in Shangri-la, likely in some tavern or bar or diner, and they decided that he was just doing what they’d done before, the Mules becoming Good Men and some people, not quite hotheads, who had been plotting this for a long time, found the opportunity they needed to ignite a revolution only they have the power to control. A revolution far more destructive than we anticipated. The Good Man is caught in it, and–”


He bowed his head. “We’ll need help. Don’t tell me you’re enhanced. The Mules were enhanced. But they fled or laid low until the madness of the crowds passed.”

“We can’t wait that long. Did they capture Simon?”

Alexis frowned. He looked puzzled or perhaps upset. When someone has a face that doesn’t owe much to beauty and which time has etched with wrinkles clearly due to frowning a lot, it’s hard to tell if they’re frowning or merely thinking. “Yes,” he said. “Or at least the word is that they’re trying to trade him to the Good Men, in exchange for a promise not to invade and not to pursue their vengeance against the revolutionaries. The revolutionaries hope to establish their own fiefdom here, with no interference. They’d rather reign in a tiny place than get in an enormous war they’d be sure to lose.” He took a deep breath. “The other people–The people at the palace… Most of them. Not all, but most of them…” He made a gesture with his hand. “Heads on stakes.”

There was a suppressed emotion. I thought the words were compromise words for what he’d really like to say. For “people at the palace” he most likely meant, “my friends, my subordinates, everyone I knew.” For “Heads on stakes”, “They were all killed.”

I took a deep breath. “I’m sorry.”

“We must go outside the seacity to find friends to the Patrician,” he said. “The people in Olympus owe him.” He stopped as though it had occurred to him such debts are often hard to collect and said, on a down note, “The Remys like him. They were children together. Or at least they were young together. Same broomers’ lair.”

This much was probably true. The Remys, retainers to the Good Man of Olympus, seemed to include Simon in their adventures and they had indeed been part of an illegal broomers’ lair together.

“But you said it’s turmoils against bioed people. It can’t be. There are no bioed people anymore. There haven’t been since the late twenty-first, right?”

“From my looks no one would ever suspect me of being bioed, right?” He shrugged. “But people knew me by sight, and someone might recognize me.” He looked up at me. “And you– Well, if they see you! I mean, you did a good job, but anyone who looks at you too intently…” He shrugged. “Bioed people escaped back in the Turmoils and a lot of those who served or serve the Good Men… the hereditary families, are bio-improved in some way. At least people say it’s obvious, looking at them. And their existence is an affront to equality. No one can be equal if some people were designed not to be.”

“But no one can be equal,” I said, and refrained from pointing out that if my readings of history were right, there had been enough variation before bioing. “How can they enforce everyone being equal? People are born different, too.”

He shrugged again. “Yes, but it’s not so obvious, or at least it’s not deliberate. It’s an act of God or fate or providence. Allons, that’s what they say, and so, anyone who worked for the Good Men, particularly those in hereditary positions, but even the others, too, were considered… suspect. And so… We must go. You and I can’t save anyone alone. Not against a whole seacity. If we try we’ll just end up dead. And we can’t find others, if there are still others, not without going back to the palace or chancing capture ourselves. And then the Good– the Protector will die for sure. But if we get help, we’ll have a chance.”

I hesitated. A chance. Just that. I wanted to say I could take on the whole seacity with my hands tied behind my back. But while I might be faster than any one person, stronger than any three people, I knew I was no match against five hundred thousand. “And so, what do we do? You got us in these outfits, and I agree we will pass at least cursory glance. So, we’re a not-very-well-off couple out for a night on the town, right?”

He bit his lower lip. “I have arranged for a car. Enfin, my service has … had resources. It is my hope,” he said, “that we leave the seacity and … go to the Good Man’s friends. Olympus. Olympus would work. They would know how to help me free him. And how to protect you.”

I understood without being told that it wasn’t even a matter of loyalty or of doing as he was told. No. Alexis was holding on to these orders as the one thing still giving structure to his life in a world gone suddenly insane. I didn’t say that having people working on protecting me made me feel like a coward.

“Once we’re out of the hotel — can we get out of this seacity?”

“If we look like them, if we say we’re going to Shangri-la, or … or something, to see my mother, yes, we can. I think. From what I saw and heard, at least, it won’t be easy, but it shouldn’t be impossible.”

“Your mother lives in Shangri-la?”

He shook his head, and who was I to ask him questions? After all, he might not want me to know where his family was. Why would he trust me? I was a stranger tossed into his lap. More or less literally.

“Once we’re out of the seacity, you’ll have discharged your duty.” I said. “I’m sure there is no large scale hunting of those who might be bioed going on elsewhere. I’ll be safe. And then I might come back with the rescuing party.”