Through Fire – Snippet 26

I got the odd impression that this young man was enjoying the turmoil. Oh, not enjoying, perhaps. He looked like a well brought up young man, which he would be, if he was an inhabitant of this area of town. I doubted he enjoyed the knowledge his neighbors were dying or his family in danger, but he was… alive? Interested? Exerting a perhaps natural bloody mindedness kept under wraps until now?

He looked me up and down, and sighed. “Depends. Why are you so heavily armed, ‘demoiselle, if you don’t mind my asking?”

“The streets aren’t safe.”

This surprised a chuckle out of him. He chuckled like Len, too, and could have been Len’s younger brother. He looked over my shoulder at the street, then said, “I say you pick up the burners you dropped earlier, and then help me… collect these gentlemen’s burners, so that my family has something to defend itself with.” He glanced at my shoulder. “Unless your shoulder is so bad that you must have my father’s attention instantly?”

“Your father?”

“Doctor Dufort. Didn’t you know? We’ve been helping people. That’s why they targeted us, I think,” he said, as he divested the nearest corpse of weapons.

I didn’t answer because I was momentarily without the breath to answer. In Eden, due to old and odd custom, men took their wives’ names upon marriage, but Len’s unmarried name had been Dufort. Had some of the family stayed behind? If so, there was a definite family resemblance.

If we’d been on Earth, I’d have been Mrs. Dufort. I didn’t know why Eden did it other way around. It might well have been a whim of the early colonists. He’d been called Len Sienna. But on Earth–

“I didn’t know anything about you,” I said. “Only that you were under attack and seemed to be outgunned.”

He gave me a curious look, his eyes slightly narrowed, then said, “Come on in. My father will see to your wound.”

Twenty minutes later, I was sitting in a chair, getting my arm bandaged. The man doing the bandaging looked… all right, not quite like Len’s grandfather, but close enough that you could tell there was a family resemblance. He’d put something on my arm to stop it hurting, and was now bandaging it. “Not quite bad enough for regen anyway, but it should close in twenty-four hours,” he said.

He and his son, Corin and his wife had welcomed me in, and the doctor had thanked me in profuse, confused words, in the tone of a man not sure about this woman who had come out of nowhere to defend them. “You see,” he said, while he was bandaging my arm. “I thought we knew each other… All of us, in this small seacity, in the… the ones who were loyal to the Good Man. And … well, we didn’t expect you.”

By which he meant that he didn’t know me as belonging to their small circle, and therefore he was dubious of my motives and my loyalty. What could I tell him, precisely? What could I tell him to reassure him?

It wasn’t, I thought, that he suspected everyone who hadn’t been in the direct pay of the Good Man of being against him and against all those who served him. It couldn’t be. He wasn’t a fool. But the truth was that there must be a certain trust among a certain class of people here. It would be much like in my native world, where the pilots and navigators of long distance darkships, which stole powerpods from Earth’s orbit, were usually married to each other. In fact, you either married your alternate, or you traveled alone, which was a dangerous practice, since if you became disabled, the whole ship would be lost.

There was a trust, a connection, between the families of pilots and navigators that simply didn’t extend outside it. It was as though they formed a separate class of people, of families who generally interacted with each other. Because the price of bioengineering your children as pilots or navigators was very high, entrance into the group was slow, though steady and probably the only thing that stopped them from having three eyes and sixteen fingers, and so the families stayed in touch through the generations and trusted each other more than anyone else.

It had been the almost immediate attempts to match me to someone, anyone, who could have piloted the ship for me that had been at the root of my wanting to get away. What had made me stay away, decide to stay on Earth, come what may, was knowing that if I married again, it would be because I’d come to care for the other person very much. And if I cared for someone as I’d cared for Len, and found myself stuck out on a ship with him dying, no matter for what reason, nor how, I couldn’t endure it.

My life seemed to still tilt around that moment when I’d been alone with Len, knowing I couldn’t save him, knowing I’d have to shoot him. I didn’t want to have to do that ever again.

And so I’d escaped from Eden and, I thought, from its tight social circles, where everyone had known you since your decanting.

But I’d miscalculated badly. And what was more, Lucius, if he was indeed aware of what I was doing, and Martha had miscalculated with me. Liberte Seacity might be larger than the world where I’d been raised. After all, all we had was a hollowed asteroid. And no, we didn’t know exactly how many people lived there, because in Eden everyone was averse to giving unnecessary information to the authorities. But Liberte might be larger — probably not by much — but it was not the same type of society. Liberte owned other territories and other seacities, and there were many more people under its control.

But here, in the center of its governance, there would be classes of people that worked closely with the Good Man. There would be those who served him as administrators, and, yes, doctors, and medtechs, and other white collar workers. Other than the Good Man, himself, these people would have the most power.

And then there would be a panoply of people who would cater to the Good Man’s physical needs. Yes, all right, his intimate physical needs, too, if what I’d heard about Simon’s father was halfway true. But also his other needs: food, clothing, cleaning, gardening. And then there were the people who catered to all of those people, the vast class of people who lived in the lower levels of the seacity.

My mistake had been to look at that mass of people and see them as amorphous, undifferentiated, permeable. They were not. They were circles of people, each one as hereditarily closed, as guarded, as well known to each other as the navigators and pilots of Eden. For generations, their position in relation to the Good Man had made them better than the other people around them and certainly than the other people in the territories. I realized the rebellion in Liberte would not be people against people, but circles against circles.

The upper circles, those close to the Good Man, those close to Simon, had been consulted in his plans to declare “la revolution” and would have understood his motives, which I still didn’t fully understand, and his reasoning. The others… the kitchen drudge, the multitudes beneath that, who catered to the Good Man’s servants, those would have no reason to be loyal and were probably the ones who were trying to seize power with this coup. At least, I thought, most of the people I’d seen, with liberty caps and arms, most of the looters and fighters on the street had looked like people who’d have lived in the lower levels.

I sat at what had clearly been the family’s kitchen table, while the doctor finished bandaging my arm and looked at me out of curious, hazel eyes. There was enough of Len in his features, in his expressions, that I understood the enquiry and worry and I said, “Of course. Of course, you will not trust me, unless you know who I am. I mean, surely this is a rebellion of the lower levels of the seacity against everyone else.”

His forehead creased, but he gave something not quite a laugh, “The lower levels? But no. There wouldn’t be… Most of the people here are young. Very young. They’re sans Culottes from the territories and from Shangri-la, and from the prisons in Shangri-la.”

“Then why are you so curious about who I am?” I asked.

His look on me sharpened. Corin stood across the table from me, leaning against a wall. I had a feeling the hand casually in his pants pocket was holding one of those little burners he’d been firing out the window before. The doctor’s wife, a middle aged lady who’d tried to cluck over me, had been escorted by her son somewhere in the depths of the house. “I mean, I understand you don’t trust me,” I said.