Through Fire – Snippet 21

Against the Fall of Night

They’d equipped me, as well as they could. I had a suit that was adequate, and, for broom­back wear, a padded broomer suit, much, much better than what Alexis had procured for us. Which was good, because I had to fly long distance across the ocean on a broom of the tiny sort, that could be clipped on a belt, and had no saddle or other comforts.

The clothes were all treated in such a way that they would dry very quickly if wet, would repel dirt, would not weigh me down unduly.

They tried to prepare me for all sorts of eventualities. My boots were equally supple and likely to stay dry, and infinitely more sturdy than the palace slippers I’d been wearing.

They also gave me a first aid kit that fit in an envelope, a special pouch to carry my currency, under my clothes in such a way that I could not be pickpocketed and weapons. A couple of good knives, two burners that, like the suits, would take anything short of being set on fire, and I wasn’t sure about that.

And then Martha had seen me off, to an area from which I could take off without being noticed. She’d grabbed my arm again — it was a habit — and looked up at me and said, “I wish I could go with you,” she said. “I’d feel more confident that you would survive this, if I could. But Luce would have my hide.”

“How much does he really know of all this?” I asked.

She smiled a little. “Nothing, of course. He’s supposed to know nothing. He can’t be involved. But if I weren’t here, it would be noticed, and he would have to know something. He’d never forgive me.”

“I see,” I said, though I didn’t. It seemed to me there were more games being played than I was prepared to even understand, much less participate in. One advantage of having been raised as something apart from normal humans was that I’d never been involved in the sort of politics human friendships seemed to demand. Even in the small group of bioengineered pilots and navigators of the darkships designed to steal powerpods from near Earth, I’d stayed aloof from power plays, from guilt-inducement, from demands on me. The downside was that I’d also never experienced friendship. Love, surely, with Len, but Len was different.

Martha sighed. “It’s very difficult,” she said. “It’s almost impossible to balance the demands of our debt and our relationship to Simon, and the demands to our people and to those who have pledged themselves to our side of the revolution. We can’t put those fighting on our side in unnecessary danger. But then neither can we let Simon simply die.” She looked up at me, her intent and intense look reminding me of her twin, whom most people were scared of. “So we must count on you. You’re all we have. It’s a long shot, but perhaps you can do it. Perhaps you can bring Simon back alive.”

“I will try,” I said, feeling more doubtful of it than I had before.

She nodded, and clasped my arm for a moment. “Good luck.”

And then I’d flown off. I could remember the way. It is one of the things that was enhanced in me, beyond my genetic origins. Navigators, in Eden, were endowed with a sense of direction and a feeling for repairing machinery — not knowledge of it, precisely, possibly because as Royce said, no one had figured out how to do that, and more likely, because technology could change in the twenty or thirty years a navigator operated, and if you created people for a certain technology, they wouldn’t be able to adapt. Instead, we were given the natural talents that would make it easy for us to understand and repair machinery, with very little preparation: a look at it, a tale about how it worked.

So I knew my way to Liberte. And I’d been given some of the intelligence that Olympus had: a notion of what was going on; an idea of what and whom to avoid. It wasn’t very reliable because, as Martha had told me, it would change from moment to moment. I was to avoid someone named Dechausse, someone referred to as Madame, and I was to stay away from certain areas.

What was going on was, in a word, chaos. It was not clear whether anyone had seized leadership of the mob yet. It was unlikely from what they knew that anyone had. The mob — or rather mobs, several of them, running rampant through the city — didn’t seem to be pursuing any unified objective or even to have any unified ideology, beyond ridding the world of anyone who might possibly be genetically enhanced.

My first mission was to avoid anyone who might be preventing outsiders coming in. This wasn’t exactly as difficult as might be believed. Most people at the moment couldn’t be paid enough to come into Liberte Seacity. Even the few stories I’d heard in the public cast at Olympus, while eating a hasty dinner, had spoken of people killed, heads on stakes, general mayhem and torture, with the psychopaths that exist everywhere and every when in control of the situation and running the show.

Liberte was worried about people coming in, taking over, and stopping their revolution. They neither worried about nor organized against a single individual on a broom. What they feared was armies. The armies of the Good Men; the forces from other seacities; organized fighting men.

I might be organized, but I was a single woman, and no one would be on the lookout for me. At least, not unless I triggered their feeling that I was in some way enhanced.

So I had to land without being seen. I had to move about the seacity without arousing suspicion. And then I had to find where Simon was kept, and somehow to free him and leave the seacity with him. This involved finding out who was in control, to the extent that there was some control.

Look, I said it was chaos and it was, and the way most people were experiencing the revolution would be clashing crowds of people fighting back and forth and looting. It was the disorganization of a society that had lived for centuries under a repressive order and which had now been allowed to slip its bonds.

Without an overarching authority, without their guardians which had always prevented them from doing anything illegal or even rude, the people were doing what they very well pleased and came into their heads. Or a small number of them were, and the others were locked in their houses, possibly praying the confusion would pass them by.

But from what Martha had told me, there had to be others who were organized and someone in control of them. Probably someone left over from the old Sans Culottes hierarchy. There had to be someone in control because Simon had been taken and was held, something that would be impossible in mere chaos.

If the unorganized mob had captured him, he’d have been beheaded. Or if he escaped that fate, he’d also have escaped altogether. For him to be a prisoner, there had to be an organized enough force to keep him, an organized enough force to have a leader.

Who that leader was, and what that force looked like, or how many men strong, we didn’t know and couldn’t know. Not until I got to Liberte and looked around.

They’d told me he was kept in a prison beneath the palace, where apparently the Good Men — or, since they’d all been one man, whose brain periodically got transplanted to younger clones, perhaps it’s more appropriate to say the Good Man, St. Cyr — had kept secret prisoners for centuries. It was near impregnable and probably very well guarded. The Good Man was an asset not to let go lightly and the people in charge were smart enough to both remain invisible and in control.

They probably expected an attack on the prison and were prepared to defend it.

No one had given me instructions on how to broach that prison. No one had given me instructions on how to free Simon. I suspected they didn’t know how. At any rate, I didn’t know how either. My general plan was to find my way there, to free him, and then — somehow — to find my way out again.

Details were vague because the circumstances would change. Really change, I guessed, depending on what I found on the ground.

My first view of the seacity made me afraid of what I would find. As we’d flown off, the palace had looked charred, but now it looked like the whole seacity was on fire. Fires glowed all over, like orange wounds in the dark blue-green of the seacity. Not bonfires, but blazes that engulfed buildings.

Closer in, I could hear sounds of singing and shouts, and screams, explosions, and the roaring of the fires. The whole place seemed to be awake and restless, animated by something between a party and a massacre.

I should have landed in one of the areas at the edge of the seacity, possibly in the lower levels, the sort of semi-peopled, darkened area like the beach from which Martha had opened the tunnel into Keeva’s room. I should.

I’d had it in my mind to do just that: land somewhere away from human habitation and from any roaming murderous crowds.

And then I realized my subconscious had made a different decision. I flew closer to the center, looking for a place near the palace to land, a place that was relatively deserted. This forced me to hover over the heads of the crowd, just far enough away that I didn’t risk — too much — being seen. From the air what this revolution looked like was a looting party. I saw more people carrying as much as their arms allowed than people unburdened by possessions, or people actively hurting someone else.

But then it occurred to me to wonder if I was looking at looters or refugees. If the homes of the better-off citizens of Liberte had been broken into as the palace had, and they had time to escape, would they not leave, carrying what they could?

For whichever motive, the night was full of people running here and there, talking in whispers, carrying possessions in arms — as well as singing revolutionary songs, and attacking anyone who looked bio-improved.

The air over the seacity was relatively calm, possibly because of the habit of burning down anyone who tried to take off.