Through Fire – Snippet 33

Something in my expression must have given my thoughts away because she sighed. “Yes,” she said. “I suppose sooner or later we will have to talk. But right now I don’t want to get in an argument with Monsieur Dufort in front of the child. And it will happen if I’m the one inside, securing the house.”

Which, having been privileged to watch some of their arguments, made perfect sense. I could well imagine what the little girl would make of the things they might say.

So I helped Mailys carry the two corpses outside. She did her share of the lifting, which connected with her other abilities. I was right. I knew it. Biological improvement had continued, or perhaps lines of biologically improved people had been cloned on into the present, perhaps. But what did this have to do with the situation we found ourselves in?

I set about finding cleaners, cleaning the pools of blood from the floor, and disposing of the used cleaning rags down an incinerator. If I hadn’t seen real middle class families before, when Simon and I had visited his nanny, this would all be alien to me. I had the feeling, I was somehow caught in a tangle amid people who knew each other and who had old scores and old paybacks running through the fabric of the revolution, but I wasn’t absolutely sure how. And I realized that what I didn’t know could kill me. Having cleaned the kitchen, I searched the house for something with which to mend the door.

“What are you looking for?” Corin asked.

“Something to fix or replace the front door,” I said.

He looked at me as though I’d grown a second head. I rounded on him. “We can’t go running around a city, one in a state of disorder and rampaging murder, in the light of day. We most especially cannot while toting a five-year-old and a kitten!”

He opened his mouth, closed it with a snap. “If Brisbois–”

“If you’re going to say that if Brisbois had only waited, you’ll have to explain to me what sense that makes, when he couldn’t possibly have known this family would need him.”

“He knew some… some families would need him,” he said. “But I suppose,” he added, reluctantly, “that he couldn’t be expected to know everyone who would need him in particular, or to make a single trip to rescue every one of them…” He hesitated. “If it’s even his objective to rescue every one of them. Which I don’t know.”

I grew impatient. I’d never known Len at this age. Or rather, I’d known Len at this age, by virtue of our studying in the same general area and in complementary professions. He’d trained as a navigator and I as a pilot. But that wasn’t the same as being involved in a relationship, or even spending time dodging death together. When it came to that, I’d definitely not been in that close a contact with him.

Which meant that I was not ready for someone who looked that much like Len to act as a late adolescent male. I’d never had much interest in the breed, frankly, and this one was no exception. “I’m not analyzing what Brisbois might or might not be doing,” I told him. “I was taught to take care of my own problems, and as much of other people’s as fell within my circle. Right now our problem is to stay safe and keep Tieri safe and, secondarily, to establish a plan of action to… to rescue the Good Man, which is what I came here to do, whether you and Mailys help me or not.”

My mission, imposed on me by Brisbois before he sacrificed himself, was to protect “the children”, and since I assumed these two were the children, I was going to follow through.

Corin’s face worked. I expected him to deliver himself of some blistering diatribe, but instead, his expression became controlled and dignified. He seemed suddenly much older. “What can I do?”

“Do you have any idea how to repair the door?”

He frowned. “I’ll look. There are ways to mend ceramite.”

“It would be better if it still looks broken,” I said. “So any looters think–”

A tight smile. “I don’t think I could make it look whole if I tried,” he said and walked off into a room at the back of the house. He came back in moments, with something resembling a gun, but more like a hand-held hair-dryer, with a sack of some sort attached to the grip. I followed him to the front door where, amid what sounded like French curses but no French curses I knew, he set about joining the broken panels of the door with what looked to be newly extruded, still hot, ceramite.

“Tieri?” I asked him, as I pitched in, holding one of the pieces so he could drip ceramite along the break. He somehow managed to get a bit on his finger, yelped, and sucked at his finger, as I made use of my extra speed to grab the implement midair and keep it from dripping ceramite on his legs.

He pulled his finger from his mouth, examining critically a bubble forming on it. “Thanks for catching it,” he said. “How about you fix it and I hold up the pieces? I swear, I need to have three arms for this job.”

“I don’t have three arms,” I said.

“No,” he said, and frowned a little. “But I think you are enhanced beyond… normal human, aren’t you?”

I shrugged, and he seemed about to say something, or ask something. His eyes examined me intently, as if I were some sort of puzzle. But all he said was, “I put Tieri in a bubble bath with toys, and then put her in bed. She was almost asleep. She–” He sighed. “She cried for hours in the safe room. Her father got her in the safe room and got it locked, but I think, though that’s not what she told me, that he had some idea of protecting the house. I don’t know what happened, exactly. But she heard screams. She was very scared.”

“What have you told her about her parents?” I asked.

“That they had to go away a little while,” he said. “And asked me to look after her. That is not unusual enough to make her suspicious. I used to look after her all the time when her parents went to shows or had to go out.”

“Who were they?”

“Family friends.”

“Obviously. Besides that.”

“Francois was the Good Man’s junior trainee accountant,” he said, as though reluctantly.

I frowned. I was still sure this was a targeted attack. It bore all the hallmarks of that, just like the attack on the Duforts had. But why? The doctor of the Good Man might potentially be worth it, but not the junior accountant, surely?

I thought back to the argument between Mailys and Corin, the references to enhanced people and, just now, Corin saying I was surely enhanced. Mailys had intimated he opposed enhanced people. I frowned intently as I fixed the door. We repaired it enough to lock it, and then, after trading a look which meant neither of us was absolutely sure this would be enough, we pushed a tall, heavy display case in front of it, completely blocking the entrance. Even if they — whoever they were — broke through the door, they’d have to break through the display case as well to get to us. Which was good, because I felt like death warmed over after the disasters of the day, and I suspected Mailys and Corin would need to sleep, as well.

When we got done, Mailys was waiting at the inner door to the hall. “I’ve made food,” she said, and added, “Well, not made. Warmed, but… I thought–”

I nodded. Corin said, “I’ll check on Tieri.”

He came back moments later. “She’s asleep with the kitten. I found the kitten’s litter box and moved it to her room. Francois?” he said. “Adelie?”

Mailys made a face and it took me a moment to realize she looked like she was going to cry. “We buried them. In the yard.” She bit her lips. “The — Oh, damn.”

Corin looked like he was waging a mighty internal battle, but all that came out was, “I liked them.”

At that an unholy light danced in Mailys’s eyes, and she said, “I’m glad to know you can make exceptions, Monsieur Dufort.”

“You don’t know anything about me, or what I feel and think,” he said. “How can you think–”

“Shh,” I said, gesturing with my hand towards the upper floor where the child slept. “We are going to need to discuss plans and to weigh things openly, and we can’t do that if she’s awake.”

They both nodded.

“First, we need to know what is happening,” I said. “Out there.”

Mailys found a comlink receiver. It was in a sort of living room, with broad, comfortable seats. We carried our bowls of soup and sat down to watch.

When Corin tuned it to the official newscast, we realized it was much worse than we thought.