Through Fire – Snippet 18

And Now You Don’t

I saw. It started like all adventures in a stealthy and convoluted way. We went back to what had once been the Good Man’s palace, but Martha didn’t approach it the normal way. Or, frankly, in any sane way. She seemed to think it was very important to get in without anyone seeing us, even though she had a job within the building and I was a guest there.

“No, you see,” she said. “If they know we went in, they’ll track us, and figure out where we went. And while Lucius wouldn’t want you to die in Liberte anymore than I do, any more than I want Simon to die, it’s very important that he be able to deny that he gave you any help, much less allowed you to get help from our expert in disguise and makeup.”

“Expert in disguise?”

“Yes,” she said. “What else? Oh, he would hate it if he heard himself referred to that way. He has a fancy title, something about tactical deception and infiltration, and yeah, what he does is way more than physical disguise. You’re going to need way more than physical disguise. But yeah, that’s what it comes to.” We were walking up a steep, winding street, towards the palace. To be precise, towards the back of the palace. I trusted her, because you had to trust someone, but I thought the whole idea was a little mad. No, a lot mad. It would be the equivalent of breaking into your own living room. “Royce is an Usaian, a convert, and a civilian contractor with the armed forces of Olympus. He is under the purview of the Daughters of Liberty, which are, roughly, under Luce’s control. If we use Royce’s services, it must be without Luce knowing it.”

And now we were on a beach, and I was wondering exactly why, and what this had to do with going to the palace. It was a very pretty beach, with golden sand, probably imported and set on the black dimatough frame of the seacity, once it was poured.

If I hadn’t known that the seacity was artificially built, grown on a poured dimatough frame, I’d have thought it was natural. Of course the seacity had been built more than two hundred years ago, and it would have been at the mercy of natural forces ever since. This was a little beach, with golden sand extending to the ocean, a few boulders — real or artificial, I couldn’t tell — and, to the inland side, a growth of shrubs and trees near the rising black wall of a cliff that formed the structural support for the rising tiers of the rest of the seacity.

Martha plunged doggedly into a cluster of bushes, and it took me a moment to realize that she was doing it carefully, too, so as not to bend or break any of the branches, not to tear any of the leaves. I followed her, imitating her as best possible. She punched a part of the black wall that looked like every other part of the black wall, and then did something. There was a dancing of fingers on the dimatough, as though it were a screen and she were entering a complex code. I couldn’t see anything, and the movements were so intricate, it would take a long time learn, I thought.

Part of the cliff slid away. She reached back, without looking, grabbed me by the arm, and pulled me in. I don’t like being touched by strangers. I really don’t like being touched by strangers. I ground my teeth together and endured.

She pulled me into a tunnel of sorts, as the unconventional door we’d used closed behind us. It was a tunnel, but it looked far more like the corridor inside a well-appointed home. The floor was some sort of tile, the walls and ceiling were off-white ceramite, and there was diffuse light from somewhere.

“Where?” I said.

“It leads to the palace,” she said. “To Luce’s room.” She looked over her shoulder. “It’s a great secret, and I only reveal it to you because I know you’d never–Because I trust you. It would be easy–”

It would be easy to send an assassin. Which meant that either Martha Remy was out of her ever loving mind to be showing it to someone who would shortly be going into a place where she might be subjected to torture; or that Lucius Keeva was not as important to their war effort as one would assume. And then I started wondering if Lucius had told her to do this. It seemed unlikely, I thought, that she would dare reveal a secret of this importance, one that could lead to a neat assassination job, without his permission. It felt wrong.

This is how paranoid you could become when everyone was playing secrecy games. I started wondering if I was crazy or they were.

At the end of the tunnel there was another code typed on an invisible screen. It made me realize you’d have to have your hand just so, and in just the right place. I wondered what would happen if you were slightly off, and had a strong feeling it was the sort of thing I didn’t want to know, not really.

“It’s not as unsafe as it seems,” she said. “If more than two people are detected in here, and if at least one of them isn’t familiar to the surveillance AI, everything will lock, both sides, and Luce will know.”

“Surveillance,” I said. “Won’t there be recordings?”

She shook her head. “No recordings. Only an automated system. In the same way,” she said, in a low voice, as the door started to slide open, “this door won’t open if there’s anyone but Luce in there.”

“But Luce–”

“He won’t be there,” she said, and once more I wondered exactly what he knew, what she knew, and if they’d arranged all this together.

We left the hallway for a large, white-carpeted bedroom, furnished in polished pine furniture. It looked much like the guest room where I’d changed after showering, but the bed was larger. Then again, Lucius Keeva was a large man.

There is something intrusive, I think, about seeing the bedroom of someone you’re not intimate with. Bedrooms are so much a part of a person, a place where you remove your clothes, where you are yourself, and safe from intrusion from the world outside. There’s always something, in anyone’s bedroom, that will surprise those who don’t know him very well.

In Lucius Dante Maximillian Keeva’s room, it was the stuffed giraffe. I’d met the man, I’d heard his history, I’d even seen him in action as part of an expedition to commandeer a strategic asset. The last thing I expected of Lucius was that he would sleep with a stuffed giraffe. And yet, there it sat, three feet high from chest to head, with a too-happy smile on its face, looking out at the world with shining glass eyes.

Martha saw me staring. I couldn’t help staring. I thought she was going to explain the giraffe, but then she shrugged, as though thinking that no explanation would be enough.

To this day I have no idea why Lucius Keeva has a giraffe on his bed. And I don’t intend to ask.

We crossed the bedroom, and then she got cautious. We went out of the bedroom, turned a sharp right, went through what looked like a closet, then upstairs that had a distinct “maintenance area” look and down another set of stairs, then through another closet, and into a different hallway. Every step of the way she looked out before we emerged, to make sure no one was around.

Not only didn’t we come across any guards, we didn’t come across anyone, until Martha knocked at a door at the end of a hallway lined with shelves piled with anonymous boxes.

From the other side, a voice said, “Yes.”