Through Fire – Snippet 20

“But then, what good does it do me?” I asked. “I thought you’d said I’d have to speak the local patois.”

“Well, alors,” he said, sounding very much like Simon. “It is the local patois. By which I mean, it is mostly Glaish, with a local overlay. If we give you the vocabulary to understand the overlay, all we need to do on your part is give you an accent, when you answer. You don’t need to speak the patois. Some people never do. Some people rarely. But you do need to understand it, and that’s easy. It is a list of words. You’ll understand the words when you hear them.”

“And it will vanish from my mind?”

A quick smile. “Like Cinderella’s dress, which is why this isn’t used for long-term learning, for things people need. Well, it’s not really used by anyone but the Usaian forces just now, but to the extent it could be used by everyone, after the revolution triumphs, and when science will be set free, it still can’t be used for long-term learning. The brain returns to its normal state.”

“So… How long do I have?”

He shrugged. “A month. Two. Who knows? Each brain is different. So… expediency and speed, highly recommended, yes?”

I nodded doubtfully, while he led me to a chair, sat me down on it, and put something that looked like a knit silver hat on me. Then he turned on an apparatus.

I can’t describe what followed, any more than I can describe the contents of a dream, after waking. It partook that same nature of a dream, or at least of what one remembers of a dream once one awakes. Images and faces and sounds seemed to come out of somewhere, suddenly, with no preparation. Things happened. Most of them not physical things. Not things I could describe. At one point, there was a feeling of falling.

And then — he was removing the helmet. I stood up. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of a stranger, standing, before turning around to look and realizing it was a mirror. The stranger in the mirror turned, too, and stared at me with brown eyes.

“Not bad, is it?” Royce Allard said, a hint of pride in his voice. “You will do. You will pass.”

“Certainly I will pass,” I said. And then I realized I’d said it with an accent like Simon’s. And that Allard had spoken in a language that included at least two French words, and one whose provenance I couldn’t identify.

I blinked at him, and he chuckled. “It will do,” he said. “It is better than I thought I could do without a staff. And now, we should get you something to wear and your equipment, because if you leave soon, you should be able to approach Liberte in the dark of night. This will not help you against military defenses, but it’s not the military you should be afraid of.”

“The Sans Culottes are the military, aren’t they?” I said.

He shook his head. “Some of them. Some of them are trained and might rise to that description, but most of them, really, are just … a barely trained rabble. Certainly not well equipped. But even so, I think your greatest danger, in Liberte proper, is from people rendered hysterical by fear.”

“Fear of what?” I asked.

We were standing in the middle of his laboratory-like beauty parlor. I stood in front of a floor-to-ceiling mirror, and saw him reflected in the glass behind me. Taller than I. Probably around forty years old, with his reddish brown hair starting to recede and at this point in time doing nothing more than giving the impression he had an abnormally tall forehead. His clever-monkey eyes looked at me in the mirror. “I was a sans culottes once, you know. Then there was… a moment, an experience.” He seemed to be weighing what and how much to tell me. His eyes narrowed. “I was raised as a Sans Culottes, you understand. Just like Martha,” he gestured towards her, and I realized she was still there. She’d been so quiet through the whole procedure that I’d forgotten her, or as near it as it was possible. “Just like Martha was raised Usaian. You don’t question it. I had training, and times of practicing for the revolution. And then, one day, while out with a group of young partisans like me, they found out something… different about me. The results were not pleasant. I was brought before the authorities on the principle that I was not equal. I did not wish to be equal. I was not trying to submerge myself to the whole, to be a good member of the unit. At the time, I had a friend who was Usaian, from one of the devout families. I… ah… converted, and eventually moved to Olympus to carry on my daylight occupation as a clothing designer.”

Beyond his hesitations, I could feel the lacunae in what he told, but I was momentarily diverted from wondering by the idea that someone who looked like he should carry stones for a living had made a living designing dresses — presumably — for fashionable women.

“That is the culture of the sans Culottes,” he said. “And there are a lot of them in all French speaking territories. They want to be equal. Really equal. Which is a good thing to aim for if you can, I suppose, but it means that sometimes you can’t be equal. Like Simon can’t be equal. And now that it’s been revealed that there are people among them who can’t be made equal, they will be afraid. Afraid, more than anything,” he said, “of the brittleness of their beliefs. The Good Men ruled for centuries, you see, on the understanding that they were superior. Denying that and destroying that belief was part of what the sans-Culottes were about. But then, when it’s revealed they really are superior, superior at a physical and mental level… Well! What is to stop people from binding themselves in subjection to these people once more; from wanting to be taken care of?”

“But,” I said. “Just because you’re faster or stronger, or even smarter, it doesn’t mean you make a better ruler.” I thought back to the man from whose genes I’d been built. By all accounts, he was faster, stronger and smarter, not just than the normal run of humanity, but than his own kind. “The way the early Mules ruled was no recommendation.”

“Yes,” he said. “But you’re talking reality.” His eyes looked grave in the mirror. “That’s not what we’re dealing in, you understand. My entire work, the daylight one, and the hidden one, requires me to be aware of what people think and believe that is not openly mentioned or openly spoken of. Humanity will undoubtedly always believe that someone very smart — smarter than they think they can hope to be, someone born endowed with gifts they can’t have, can only have one of two purposes towards them: to protect them or to harm them. And they in turn just want such people to go away. Those who are liberty-inclined because they fear that other people will submit to the superior men and the other people because, having endured the tyrannical rule of those people, they’re afraid of being subjected to it again, and being too weak to throw it off once more. The only way they can feel free is to kill those people; to make them stop existing and as if they’d never existed.”

“But I am one of those people,” I said.

His eyes went very serious. He’d been talking to me, somewhat in the way an adult speaks with a child, with the same assumption of amusement in his eyes and voice. But now his eyes went very serious, and he looked at me with a mix of something that might be worry or perhaps pity. “I know,” he said.