Through Fire – Snippet 36


When Jonathan arrived, we were looking through the food stored in the fridge portion of the cooker. Cookers on Earth were baffling. There were two kinds: the very cheap ones that just heated things, and then the complex ones that you needed a degree to program. I was used to the cookers on Eden, where you chose what you wanted to eat, and it was delivered to you. This cooker was the one you needed a degree to program. Which was a problem, since the only pre-prepared food needing only to be heated had been consumed at our other meal.

The cooker contained frozen steaks, frozen fish, frozen vegetables, and, in the refrigerated compartments, fresh vegetables. All of which were useless, since we had no idea how to cook them.

Corin flung the freezer closed and said, “I suppose we could always light a fire in the backyard and cook meat over it, like savages.”

“Not the backyard, Corin, no,” Mailys said in a fainting voice. “The graves!”

He looked contrite. “No.”

And that’s when the knock at the door came, in the code LaForce had showed us. Even so, Mailys looked through a spy hole on the door, before opening, and I had my burner out and pointed at the man as he came in.

Jonathan LaForce was, as the com had shown, dark-haired and bearded. What the com had failed to show is that he was also intimidating. Despite not being nearly as tall as Brisbois, he gave the impression of being at least that tall, perhaps more.

He came in, his hair on end, and from the moment he entered the room, he somehow distorted the space around him and took charge.

It started with his sheepish grin at my burner pointed at his belly. He said “Alors,” smiled again, and then, without seeming to care that I was still pointing the burner at him, he asked Mailys, “I wonder if I could use the fresher? And do you have any food?”

Corin snorted. “Food enough, if we can figure out how to use it.

LaForce cast a look at the stove, “Oh, an Elite 55? We have the cheaper model at home, but it works pretty much the same. Don’t worry about it. If I can use a fresher, first?”

I put my burner away. If he was just going to ignore it, there wasn’t any point. I could pull it out fast enough anyway, should he get funny, and until then it clearly wasn’t intimidating him or putting him on his best behavior. If he was a hostile, after all, I’d have to count on my ability to shoot him suddenly.

Mailys conducted him to one of the guest rooms on the bottom floor. He emerged impossibly fast, looking like a new man. He looked clean and his newly combed hair was still beaded with water. He’d trimmed his beard. He wore a dark blue tunic and pants, both of which stretched so much over his frame that it was obvious they’d been tailored for someone much smaller. Philip, I assumed, or maybe the Bonnaires had kept spare guest suits.

Corin had gone upstairs to get Tieri, who came down holding his hand, followed by the little kitten. LaForce looked sad, and then talked to the child, asking her about the kitten. In moments she was prattling on about how she’d found him in the backyard just before Maman had called and told her that she had to go in the little room, so Tieri had taken the little cat in the room with her.

“But he doesn’t have a name yet,” she said. “I was thinking of calling him Soleil.”

“For his being gold?” LaForce asked and picked the little girl up.

“Yes. But I’ll ask Maman what to call him when she comes back. Will she be long?”

“She has important work to do,” LaForce said. “What do you like to eat, ma petite? And what should we feed this little cat?”

Moments later, he’d cooked a plate of chicken and corn for the little girl, and he was setting a plate of plain cooked fish in front of Soleil.

Then he busied himself at the cooker again. This time it took longer. Tieri, done with her food, asked to go play. Play — we checked as we were afraid she’d turn on the com — was to take place in the playroom/nursery at the end of the house, where she had her dolls and toys that I couldn’t even understand. When we escorted her there, she showed us the dolls and also three different construction games.

She seemed disappointed we didn’t wish to stay and play with her, though Corin told her he would perhaps be able to after we ate.

Back in the kitchen, we sat down while Jonathan LaForce dished out a gourmet meal of steak, lightly seared and still rare inside, potatoes in butter, and a vegetable medley to which he’d added herbs and spices.

I realized I was ravenous. The food we’d eaten earlier had barely taken the edge off my hunger. If I hadn’t been so worried, I’d have been aware of starving earlier.

We sat at a round table, as Jonathan put plates in front of the three of us, before taking a plate for himself.

He ate as bluntly as he did everything else. Not exactly with bad manners, but giving the impression that he had no time for flourishes or even much conversation.

We each drank what we fancied from the stock in the house, in my case a dark beer.

“And now,” he said. “I suppose you want to ask me questions, Madame? I suppose that’s why you asked me to come here?”

I nodded to him, then looked at Corin, who got my question without my asking it. He went down the hall to the playroom and tiptoed back to tell us she was well enough entertained.

La pauvre petite,” Jonathan said. “I’ll take her to my wife, I think. One more in our brood won’t make a big difference. And she’s young. She’ll forget.”

“Your wife…” Mailys said. “She’s safe?”

“Oh, yes. I’ve arranged for her to hide as…” He shrugged. “She and the children are safe, and I’ll take Tieri Bonnaire to her after dinner, if no one objects.” His eyes softened in a way I hadn’t thought possible. “We can always afford another child. Or at least, well, someone has to look after her, and my wife will love her like our own.”

Since both Mailys and Corin, who had trouble agreeing that the sky was blue, seemed to think this was a great idea, I nodded, then said, “You said you had a list of people like… us? You? What did you mean?”

He looked from me to Corin and Mailys.

Mailys shrugged. “I’d never heard of her, but she is one of us. Has to be, or she wouldn’t have been able to keep up with us when we escaped after Brisbois was– After he tried to kill Dechausse.”

“Ah,” LaForce said. “But Madame Parr is also one of us.”

“Yes, but…” Corin cast me a confused look. “Zenobia helped us defeat the people besieging our house. Besides, Brisbois trusts her.”

I was at a loss to think what part of my interaction with Brisbois had given Corin the impression I was trusted, rather than merely tolerated.

At any rate, all LaForce said was, “But Brisbois is missing. And you were… ambushed?”

Corin sighed. “She did refuse to take the rescue trip out of here. But so did I.”

I could probably shoot them all, or at least two of them before they even realized what I was doing. My hand was in my pocket, clenched around the burner. But I didn’t press the trigger. Dead they’d be no use to me.

I needed to find out where Simon was, and figure out a way to rescue him. I needed to find my way around this bewildering city. I needed allies. And besides, if I shot them all, I’d become responsible for Tieri. I didn’t see myself dodging crazy revolutionaries all over town, while saddled with a child and a kitten. There were limits to even my self-delusion.

I made a quick calculation. It had been important for me to not tell anyone, other than Simon, who already knew, about Eden, about how I’d come to be here and about what I was.

Partly it was a habit of secrecy engrained in my people. When their ancestors had left Earth to fund Eden, it had been important to keep Eden secret. It still was. As had been proven when Athena Hera Sinistra’s loss had caused the Good Men to start ambushing the darkships: the ships from Eden that came to Earth orbit to steal energy pods.