Through Fire – Snippet 12

And The Rock Cried Out

“I don’t think I can help you,” Lucius Keeva said. He was a large man and built with slab upon slab of muscle. It would have been easier if he were angry at me, or if he’d seemed emotional. Instead, he looked stern, controlled. In his sky blue uniform, he gave the impression of being no more than the conveyance of the will of Olympus seacity and, at least if we believed what the locals believed, of its inhabitants.

We’d arrived to Olympus at sunrise, and identified ourselves to the questioning of the guards as we approached the Good Man’s palace. Or what had been the Good Man’s palace.

At first I’d thought that the change in Olympus, now fully in control of the Usaian movement was the same it had been in Liberte seacity. The Good Man had proclaimed himself something else, and everything remained the same.

But it wasn’t like that. I hadn’t seen Lucius Dante Maximilian Keeva since our raid to Circum Terra six months ago. Back then I was very new to Earth — had just arrived there with a party from Eden. Just the sheer size of Earth, the ability to travel anywhere, to hide, to disappear, had overwhelmed me. Earth had been a kaleidoscope of images and sounds. More people than I’d ever seen in my life; more people than I’d ever known existed anywhere had crowded around me. And yet, I’d seen areas that were forgotten, lost–places with no humans at all.

When my friends had gone back to Eden, I’d taken my opportunity to run away from home in style, to stay behind in a whole world where no one knew me, where no one would expect anything of me.

Is there such a state for anyone human?

I’d lingered with someone who was kind to me and who protected me from the strangeness of Earth and made me feel welcome. A whole world, many times larger than anything I knew — than anything I could even imagine, had proven too daunting.

Back when I’d last seen Lucius Keeva, he’d looked stern and remote and frightening. He still looked frightening. A very tall man, with long dark-blond hair, it was rumored he’d spent fourteen years in prison, in solitary confinement.

I wasn’t sure that was true. I thought no one could survive that and remain functional, let alone sane enough to be one of the leaders of the Usaian revolution. But there was something different about him now from when I’d last seen him: a confidence, perhaps, a … but no, it wasn’t swagger. A man who is six seven and built like an assault vehicle doesn’t need to swagger. It is an alien art to someone that size.

Perhaps it was that he was no longer the Good Man, though I was having trouble pinpointing exactly what he was.

When we landed in what had been the Good Man’s palace, the people had seemed puzzled as to whom I was asking for, when I asked to speak to the Good Man. At first I thought the difficulty was my pink and plastic-looking finery, or perhaps Alexis standing like a sullen statue behind me.

But when I said “Lucius Keeva,” the two — well, I thought they were guards — very young men in sky blue uniforms looked at each other.

“The Lieutenant Colonel, Ichabod.” one of them — the blond one, the other one being dark-haired and olive-skinned — said. They seemed almost identical in everything else, particularly youth and very upright posture.

“Oh,” Olive-skinned said. And when I’d given my name, he’d said, “I’ll be right back,” and, leaving his friend with us, had walked fast into the house. I didn’t know whether to consider that leaving us alone with one guard was a bad thing. The guard hadn’t even taken out his burner. I wondered if Olympus was really lax about its security. Then I started suspecting that there was more to it than that, that there were other levels of security between us and the Good Man. But why were they calling him Lieutenant Colonel?

A few moments later, Ichabod returned, and the two guards escorted us down a cool corridor, into the depths of the house. I’d been right about one thing: the place was filled with men in uniform, all of them armed, saluting each other around every corner. Mostly our escorts saluted other people. But since I didn’t know the insignia on people’s shoulders and chests, the distinctions evaded me.

Up a staircase, till we stood at the door to an office. Not a private office, but a huge room, filled with desks and activity. This one had at least fifteen desks, most of them manned by very young people. As we stood in the doorway, Lucius Keeva rose from behind one of the desks, which was piled high with paper and walked towards us. “Ms. Sienna,” he said. And to what must have been my startled expression, with a politeness that didn’t soften him in the slightest, “I beg your pardon. Am I forgetting a rank? Do you have one?”

I shook my head. I’d been Miss and Mrs. and Navigator Sienna, and I had no idea what I was now, but Ms. would do as well as anything. “Lieutenant Colonel?” I said.

This brought a shadow of a smile to the man’s tired face. “Oh. That’s mostly a courtesy title. I pilot a desk. The military titles should be reserved for the people in the field, but I guess they needed to call me something.” He gave me a quick look, up and down. It wasn’t that sort of look. I happened to know Lucius Keeva’s interest in women was academic. It was an open secret and not just in Olympus that he and one of the Usaian leaders, Nathaniel Remy, were a couple. But his look clearly registered my incongruous attire, yet when he looked back up it was to say, “Call me Luce. We fought side by side, that warrants treatment of equals. And how may I help you?”

I can’t describe it. I’d expected… I wasn’t absolutely certain what I’d expected. I hadn’t got the impression that he and Simon were friends precisely. In fact, Simon had told me that he had been in the same broomer lair as Lucius’ late brother, Max, but they’d never been that close. Friendly, sure, but not friends.

But Lucius had said we’d fought side-by-side. And so had he and Simon. I had been sure I could get help from him … help in rescuing Simon.

Then I found myself face to face with Keeva and couldn’t help acknowledging he was no longer the Good Man, no longer an autarch, but a man caught in the machinery of an organization he couldn’t control and I couldn’t understand. And something in his reserved, guarded expression made me feel I was up against something inflexible and hard. My heart sank.

“Simon,” I said, not expecting anything. “I need help for Simon. Simon was captured.”

Luce nodded. “We heard news… I was afraid you were both dead. It was a relief to see you here,” he said, then looking behind me. “And–”

“This is Alexis. Alexis Brisbois. He is–was the head of Simon’s security.”

“Secret police,” Alexis offered, and also offered his hand. There was a momentary but visible hesitation before Lucius shook it.

“I beg your pardon,” he said. “The attack on the palace was a shock, of course. Simon had invited me to the ball, but I couldn’t get away, and besides–” He frowned fleetingly. “It was considered too risky. My value to the cause might be largely ornamental, but it has value.” He sighed. “I’m sorry, the damned house is mostly taken up with the operations of the Daughters of Liberty.” And to our blank look, “The propaganda arm of my — The propaganda arm of our revolution.” And then, though I hadn’t asked, “It’s not a gender thing. The Sons of Liberty are the active troops.”

He shook his head. “I have a private area, for my use. Please come with me. You’ll want a bath.” The impersonal evaluating look raked me up and down again, and said that if it were him wearing that kind of finery, he’d want a bath.

The idea of Lucius Keeva in a plastic dress, with badly dyed hair made me want to giggle. Perhaps it was a stress thing. When you’ve been running for your life, emotions seem to become compacted, close together and you can flip from intense grief, or intense fear, to sudden laughter, then back again. It took a great effort for me to suppress it and by the time I had it under control, he was leading us along another set of hallways. He stuck his finger in a genlock, which sprang open. What we entered could have passed for an upscale apartment in a modern building, a white carpeted area furnished with the sort of understated simplicity that screams wealth.

Lucius gestured at a hallway at the back of the living room. “At the end of that there is a bedroom, and a fresher. I’ll have clothing brought to you. Sorry, I no longer have staff. Everyone either left, or is working for the revolution. But someone should be able to unearth a comfortable outfit your size somewhere. Martha Remy, if no one else.” He punched a com button in a nearby console and spoke so quickly and so tersely that I didn’t understand much, except that he was speaking to someone with whom he was comfortable and asking for clothes, and also that that appraising glance had got my size to a nicety. There was an equally terse answer from the other end, “Will do.”