Through Fire – Snippet 11

The young man sneered at me, and made a comment — fast and in archaic French — at Alexis, who looked startled then said, “Eh,” and shrugged. “She is a pretty one, but not that kind of girl.”

I thought he’d seen enough of me to think I looked too pretty. We’d aroused suspicion. From the other side, far away on the left, was the sound of a burner zapping, and then an explosion and screams. Our inspector barely lifted his head. “Stupid,” he said. “But they will try to escape, those improved ones.”

I realized my heart was pounding. Pounding so fast I was afraid he’d hear it.

He looked at us again. “Where in Shangri-la does your mother live?”

Where do our decisions come from?

I’d never even been in a fire fight before. I had fought duels — most people in Eden do, growing up — but they had been bare hands or, on one memorable occasion, daggers. I won’t say I’d never thought of killing someone. I had. When I thought my life was in danger. But I’d never actually pulled the trigger. Except the once, with Len. But that had been different.

Now, there was no time to think — no time to run through the consequences of my actions. I saw the young man reach for a com at his belt, and I moved with the super speed that had been originally engineered into the man whose genes I carried. I took out the burner, set it on cutting beam, leaned past Alexis. I ran the beam clear through our questioner’s heart before he could react. I punched the take off button on the flyer on the way to leaning back in my seat.

I still don’t know why we weren’t shot out of the air. Unless it were because we were up in the air and flying fast by the time the young man in the liberty cap even fell. Plus, I’d used the cutting feature, not the fire one, so they might not even know he was dead, until they got close enough to him to see the blood. And by then we were well away, up in the air.

My last view of Liberte seacity as we took off was a smoldering ruin where the wedding cake-topper palace had been. It looked charred and black, like the skeleton of an ancient beast rising out of the dimatough base of the seacity.

We were slammed against the seat by the force of the takeoff. Burner rays spent themselves in our wake. Alexis got pushed back in his seat with a wide-eyed look in his eyes.

I felt like I had an elephant on my chest. But being stronger than normal people has its uses. I reached over and pressed the leveling button. Then I brought up the map, blindly, and punched remembered coordinates in. Olympus. As Alexis had said, Simon had friends there. Simon and I had helped them when they needed, and now was their turn. And I would see they followed through, if need be.

Alexis took a deep breath. He looked at me. I had shot a man in front of him, with very little provocation. I expected horror in his eyes, but there was only a sort of wondering look. “They will follow us,” he said.

“It will take them time to get in flyers and find us,” I said. “And they might not want to leave the seacity. By now word of what is going on out there must be on the coms. They’ll fear reprisals.”

Alexis took a large handkerchief from his pocket and wiped his face. “Reprisals from whom?”

Again, where do our certainties and our actions come from? I hadn’t thought before I shot, but now I knew why I’d shot, and also why we hadn’t been killed yet. And I knew where the danger would come from for those running riot in Liberte. “Everyone, I should think,” I said. “Including the old Good Men, or do you think they’ll welcome a repeat of the Turmoils?”

Alexis nodded. “Why did you shoot him?” He didn’t ask me how I’d known the coordinates to set a course for Olympus, nor did he change it. Instead, he checked my settings, and made minor alterations. I realized he was changing it so we didn’t pass over areas currently controlled by the Good Man regime, and mostly kept us over Usaian-controlled areas. The question about the shooting was asked in a curious tone, too. I thought that most people — not that I understood much about most people, of course — would be shocked, or worried, or perhaps outraged at my killing someone. Instead, his question was wondering… like the question someone would ask in a classroom. Interested, not immediately pressing.

“He was suspicious,” I said. “And he was reaching for the com at his waist. He’d have called Shangri-la, and probably given the alarm before he did. We’d have been surrounded and watched while he called to confirm our story. I figured if I killed him before he gave alarm…”

He raised an eyebrow, gave me another sidelong glance, and then was quiet. After a while, flying over the ocean, he said, “Was this the first person you killed?”

I shook my head, not wanting to explain about Len. I suppose it wasn’t that hard to explain. We’d got attacked while trying to harvest powerpods in Earth’s orbit, and he’d got a full shot of radiation. We didn’t have anything aboard to cure radiation poisoning, not that extensive. So I’d given him the coup de grace, and limped back to Eden. But there were complications to the events.

Later I’d learned that, in the same situation, Kit — whom I suppose I could call my brother, the man made from the same genes that had created me — had instead taken his radiation-poisoned wife to Earth, and got her treated.

I knew the situations were not the same. Athena Hera Sinistra, Kit’s wife, was, like me, the female clone of a Mule. But her “father” was the Good Man of Syracuse on Earth, and his willingness to do anything to recover her had made her treatment a foregone conclusion. Even then, escaping afterwards had been almost impossible. Len and I had no one on Earth. Even getting someone’s attention would have taken longer than that, and chances were we’d both have gotten killed out of hand. And I might have been captured and tortured for the location of Eden. But what if? What if instead of killing him, I’d refused to concede? What if I’d done the crazy thing and flown to Earth? Would he still be alive today? I closed my eyes.

“Uh,” my companion said.

I opened my eyes. “And you?” I said. “Have you ever killed anyone?”

He lifted his hand to his square face, and smoothed it down over the myriad little wrinkles as though of frowns past. He looked very tired. “Dozens of people.”

Which I suppose made sense, right? He’d been head of security. It would involve neutralizing threats to the Good Man, right?

So why did his answer make me feel uneasy? Surely I hadn’t taken him for an innocent lamb? What use would an innocent lamb be to me right now?

It wasn’t that I didn’t trust Alexis, for given values of trusting him. Simon had flung me into his arms with instructions to keep me safe. And he had. So far. And I didn’t think he was going to break his oath to Simon. Not really. And Simon might be slippery, but he did like me, and had been kind to me.

But Alexis had killed dozens of people. Really?

At any rate, soon I’d be in Olympus seacity and safe.