Through Fire – Snippet 31

The Civilization Game

The market from this side looked too well-lit for us to simply go abroad in it. But we pulled ourselves up into a relatively unlit dock. It might very well have been the same at which I’d seen Brisbois talk to a man before it had all exploded. The whole area looked charred, as though by a conflagration. I wasn’t sure there had been only an explosion here, though. For all I knew the market had been scoured by fire.

We dragged ourselves out of the water and onto broad flagstones of the loading dock, dripping water and trying to catch our breaths.

Corin scouted ahead and around the edge of the gate. When I looked up from squeezing my hair free of water, he was gesturing for us to follow.

We did, around the molded ceramite tables, and past stalls closed with corrugated metal. We heard footsteps and people, but we didn’t see anyone. There were songs and snatches of songs going this way and that. In the dark, in the shadows, it was surprisingly scary, disquieting. It was like listening to the thoughts of the city. The thoughts of the city sung to the tune of popular songs, all of them disturbing and filled with rage; echoing of blood and threats.

We stepped lightly, down the dark paths of the market. Corin took point. I’d guess his male pride required it. But I took care to look ahead myself. I could see farther than he did and likely hear better too, and I made sure I kept us out of trouble. Out of the path of potential trouble, even.

Which is why, when I heard the voices ahead, I half-ran forward, and put my hand in front of Corin, to prevent his going any further. He and Mailys stopped, behind my arm.

“What–” Corin whispered. I put my finger to my lips, and turned so he could see it. Almost soundlessly, I whispered in his ear, “There is noise that way. A crowd. Stay. You and Mailys.”

He glared, and I think it was on the tip of his tongue to tell me he didn’t hear anything. I don’t know why he didn’t, but he didn’t. Instead, he nodded once, curtly.

I went ahead of him.

The crowd was in one of the larger areas. It must have been a courtyard. There had been several of those in the market, circular areas surrounded by stalls, all usually dealing in the same sort of goods, so that housewives could have shopped for vegetables or fish, without leaving the area. Now, in the center of one of them, a crowd had assembled. My first thought was how normal they looked. Average. Like everyone else. Except most of them wore liberty caps. And I could smell blood. The blood likely came from a young man — I think it was a young man, though it was hard to tell — standing in front of one of the stalls.

Atop the stall, standing on the little table normally used to display produce, stood a dark haired, scraggly bearded man. “The people,” he said, “will not tolerate these soi-disant improved people to live. The people,” he said. “Will make this one an example for the others.”

He said a lot of other things, too. And every time he said anything there was applause, and someone struck the young person they held captive.

I didn’t know if he was improved. It’s not something you can smell, or even see, unless you observe someone in action, and in their area of expertise at that.

What I knew for a fact was that they were tearing him apart. I could smell his blood, and I could hear his cries, the cries of someone grown hoarse from screaming.

I could also hear, and distinguish, the panting breaths, the excited heartbeats of the people surrounding him, the grinding of teeth, the fragments of sentences. “The people.” And “Keeping normal people down.” And “Oppressors.”

Fast breath behind me and I turned in time to see Corin and Mailys. Dear God, she had her burner out.

I moved faster than I had before, and pulled the burner out of her grasp. I and grabbed at Corin’s shoulder. I sped them both away.

They protested, both of them, with inarticulate sounds, but I was pulling them too fast, and the crowd was too absorbed in their sadism for it to register. I pushed and pulled the two young people away from the courtyard. I led them to place where I heard no sounds, no movement, hoping that they were deserted… When we reached the gate, there was no guard in a Liberty cap, which made me wonder what had been different the previous time. I didn’t care. I shoved the Mailys and Corin out to the street. They were both now fighting my grasp but unable to break from it.

“We must go back,” Corin said, as soon as I slowed down enough that he had breath to speak. “We must save him.”

“He’s dead by now,” I said. “And there was nothing we could do for him by the time I saw him, except give him mercy. If there had been a regen tank right next to him, we might have been able to do something, but even then I doubt it.”

“How can you know that?”

“I smelled it,” I said. “I heard it. I know.”

Mailys said softly, “She’s right. I did also. I was going to give him mercy.” Then she looked at me. “Who are you? You’re not one of us.”

If I’d put two and two together from what I’d half-heard, I’d have had a pretty good idea that I was, or close enough as would make no difference.

“We’ll talk,” I said, as I dragged them out, keeping an ear out. Corin looked mulish. Mailys looked puzzled, and I wondered what coil I was caught in this time. Was Corin some sort of anti-enhanced person fanatic? It was difficult to believe, but only because I knew what my husband had been like. However, just because you look like someone doesn’t mean you are like someone, and I wasn’t enough of a child to believe otherwise.

They kept quiet. Mailys put the red liberty cap on her head, and I wondered where she’d got it. I could guess she had preserved it in a pocket while we were swimming around the isle.

We emerged into relatively quiet night streets, well away from the market, and I wondered if we should go back to the hotel. Part of me wanted to, at least for the sake of figuring out where Alexis was, and if he was alive. But no. The chances of his being alive, even if Mailys said there had been no body parts in the spray, were small enough. And I wasn’t sure how I felt about that.

Right then, I wasn’t even sure if I wanted Alexis Brisbois to be alive or not. I just knew he’d told me to keep Mailys and Corin alive. Or at least I hoped that’s what he meant by children.

It was a small, inarticulate sound from Corin that called my attention. I turned to look where he was pointing. In this street of otherwise unremarkable middle-class townhouses, one looked looted. The door hung crookedly on its hinges. The windows were broken.

I glanced at Corin. “People you know?”

He started to shake his head, then nodded. “Friends,” he said. His voice sounded hoarse. “Of Dad’s.”

“Looks like they were attacked.”

He nodded again, then seemed to make some internal decision, and turned, starting to walk towards the door. I put a hand in front of him. “No,” I said. “No.”

“But I have to see,” he said. “It’s my duty. They might need help. ”

I looked dubiously at the house. There was no sign of movement. If there were anyone in that house, they were as likely to be hostile as they were a friend. Of the three of us, I was more likely to be able to escape if there was trouble simply because I was faster and smarter than most normal, non-bio-engineered humans. “I’ll do it,” I said. “I have … ways of getting out faster.”

“But if there is anyone in there, they’ll know me!” Corin said.

“And if the people who are in there know you but want you killed?” I asked. “Tell me who lives there.”

“Francois. He’s about thirty years old. Dark hair. His wife is Adelie. She’s blond. Twenty something? Their name is Bonnaire. They have a little girl. She’s three — No, five. Her name is Tieri.”

I nodded. “If I see them, I’ll shout I’m your friend, shall I, and then you can come in.”

I ran towards the house, but stopped at the entrance. It was silent, but that wasn’t the problem. The problem was the smell of blood. Not recent blood, either. I took a deep breath and went in, moving carefully through the shadows.

There was a sound, faint, from a distance, but it didn’t sound like someone in the house. What I mean is it was a sound so distant that it might be coming from a nearby house, or perhaps from outside, in the gardens. No immediate threat to me.