Through Fire – Snippet 35

I realized I’d been holding my hands so tightly closed that my fingernails bit into my palms.

I relaxed, taking deep breaths, and became aware that Mailys was awake, sitting up, and staring in frozen horror at the link. Half-glimpsed, behind her, stood Corin, also giving an impression of not noticing anything around him.

I turned to the comlink and it took me a moment to understand what I was watching, because… because I’d never seen anything like it on Eden, nor could I imagine it ever happening on Eden outside of my wildest nightmares.

The scene was a little plaza to the side of the palace. The city had been built with self-conscious, generally “French” architecture, and this plaza looked it, surrounded by tall, stone-built houses with vaguely classical architecture. The houses were probably dimatough, as were the “cobbles” underfoot and the statue of blindfolded Justice in the middle. Whoever built it had seen Paris before the bombing that leveled it, and had set to consciously imitate it.

I’d walked in that plaza before, when all the buildings around it had been filled with shoppers, inspecting clothes and jewelry in the shops, having breakfast at the small cafes whose chairs spilled to the sidewalk, and strolling around the statue.

Now the statue made a strange background — twice as large as life, her eyes blindfolded, a scale in her hand — against which a motley group of people assembled.

Someone had built a platform. It was square and seemed to have been made of imperfectly smoothed black ceramite or perhaps dimatough, except dimatough seemed too expensive for the purpose.

The purpose was… Proof that the sans culottes had in fact read their history and had decided to pay it homage. The contraption puzzled me for a moment, consisting of two large poles with what seemed like a bar of light running across the top.

Then a man I recognized as the Jean Dechausse that Brisbois had tried to kill, and whom he might have emulated himself in the process, announced, “Monsieur Professeur de la Fontaine, et Madame de la Fontaine!”

Two people were pushed forward. They weren’t bound and, in fact, were holding hands. The husband was making an ineffective effort at pushing his wife behind himself, but there were five or six burly men in Liberty caps surrounding them, and at least two hand hands on their shoulders.

The couple was forced forward, forced to kneel, heads down.

The bar of light descended from the top and… their heads rolled. The crowd shouted “Ça ira!” and the song about setting the world on fire erupted again. I stared, not believing it, as the two bodies, still bleeding and twitching, were pushed from the platform, the heads grabbed by young women waiting at the base of the platform, who held them aloft with screams of glee.

“Et Monsieur Jean-Michel Amonette.”

A dark-haired man with a well-trimmed beard, wearing the uniform of Simon’s clerks, was pushed forward, forced to his knees, and the blade fell.

Glee and screams of “Ça ira!”

I realized I was sitting immobile, rigid, thinking this couldn’t be true. This had to stop.

The people dancing on the screen looked not like humans but like blood-drunk demons who had lost every shred of humanity.

“Madame Pascal!” A blond woman in a dress that looked like something she had worn for the ball Simon had given, the ball interrupted by the revolution.

Her impeccably coiffed head had barely been gripped when the announcement went up, Dechausse sounding like a valet at a society party,

“Etienne Robert D’Blogg.” Kneel, slice, “Ça ira!”

“Monsieur and Madame Landry.” They were also in party clothes and must have been among the notables of Liberte. Kneel, slice.

Monsieur Joseph Capdepon, Francois Fleming, Verite Romaine, Jason Delong, Elisabeth Piedligere, Etienne Louis, Monsieur et Madame Vert, Madame Clithero, Monsieur Laurence Michel, Monsieur Marc Algeres.

Push forward, slice, heads lifted aloft.

Mailys found her voice first. Her croaked “Mon Dieu” seemed to wake me from a stupor.

“What is happening?” I asked. “What is this?”

Corin jumped up suddenly and hurried across the room to turn off the com. He stood, shaking. When he turned to face us, he no longer looked nineteen but like he had aged through a long ordeal. “One reads,” he said, “about the revolution and how the aristos were killed by the guillotine and the righteous fury of the aggrieved, downtrodden peasants. But … Why are they doing this?”

“What is it exactly? Do either of you know? Did either of you watch the beginning?”

Corin nodded. He sounded hoarse as he spoke. “I came into the room. You were both asleep. Dechausse…” his voice failed him and he made a sound part clearing of his throat, part hiccup. “He said all these people had been captured either in the palace of the ci-devant Good Man St. Cyr. They were all his servants and all enhanced and now they would pay for their years of good living on the backs of the poor.” He took a deep breath. “I thought they were going to… to fine them or something. But then the platform came out and the machine, and there … the crowd was already there and…” He covered his face with his hands.

Mailys got up and went to him. I’d seen them fight, and I’d seen them as a couple of squabbling children, but now she put an arm around his waist, and as he brought his forehead down to rest on her shoulder, he was every child, every young man, and she the mother-of-all-living consoling him.

She made sounds at the back of her throat, the sounds women make to children and wounded animals.

The ringing of the comlink echoed in the house, startling us all.

I was the first to reach it, fumbling and trembling, till my fingers found the button that accepted the call.

The link came on as a communicator instead of a broadcast unit, and a young bearded man looking like he’d slept rough, his eyes rimmed with red, his dark hair standing on end, stared at me in stupefaction.

“Who are you?” he said.

He was wearing what looked like the remains of a uniform of Simon’s guards. Its red fabric was tattered, the golden trim hanging in pieces, but it looked like it.

“Zenobia Sienna,” I snapped, thinking it was easier.

“You don’t–” he started, then his eyes widened. “I do believe you’re telling the truth.”

“Yes,” I said. “Who are you?”

“Jonathan LaForce,” he said, and saluted, which I didn’t think was strictly appropriate. “I’ve been trying to reach the Bonnaires, Madame, do you know where they are?”

Corin spoke up then, from the side, “They’re dead, Jon. All but Tieri. She’s upstairs asleep. We arrived after they died. She was sealed in the safe room. Crying.”

LaForce’s mouth opened, but it didn’t look like he was trying to speak. It was more like he was trying to process unbelievable information. He said something. Might have been “Mon dieu.” He swallowed hard. “I was hoping to be in time. I’ve been calling the others. There is no answer. No answer from your home, Corin. It was the first on the list.”

“The list?” Mailys joined in.

“Ah. Alors, Mailys. Why are you wearing that horrible cap?”

She put her hand up to touch the liberty cap, which she’d clearly forgotten she was wearing. “Brisbois gave it to me. He said it would help. Seems to have. What list are you speaking of?”

“I found it in Brisbois’ office. There was a data gem. The only data I could get from it was a partial list, headed with your father’s name, Corin. And then there were… others of us. I thought… I thought if I’d got the list then someone else must have. The office had been ransacked. So I thought–”

“You thought you would save those you could save?” Mailys said.

He nodded. “Now I don’t know what to do.”

“Where are you?” Corin said.

“In the old guard rooms,” he said. “The ones–Ah, you won’t know. Mailys will.”

Mailys nodded.

“I don’t know what to do,” Jonathan LaForce said. “A man is trained to fight and to guard the weak, but this… One can’t fight a mob. Did you know they’re conducting executions in the Place D’Harmonie?”

Corin nodded. “I saw them.”

“I can’t fight an entire blood-maddened mob,” Jonathan said, obviously frustrated with this fact.

“No,” Corin said.

I took a deep breath, “Can you come and join us?” I asked. “Is it possible? I think perhaps we can do something, if we plan.”

He looked dubious, but after a while nodded, curtly. “I can come. I shall knock like this.” He made a rhythmic knock on the wall next to him.”

“Come by the back door, though,” I said.

“You have to,” Corin said. “The front door is blocked with a display case.”

LaForce frowned, but nodded. And the link went blank.