Through Fire – Snippet 37

So, our pilots and navigators kept all data in their heads and were prepared to kill themselves if captured. Which was why I’d killed Len and left Earth orbit as fast as I could, to avoid being interrogated or having Len at their mercy because his only hope was regen and that would necessitate surrendering. After which I’d have no control over what happened, and neither would he.

Eden had maybe a hundred thousand people. I didn’t know if anyone had counted lately. Maybe it was as many as half a million. At any rate, as inhabitants of a small asteroid on an eccentric orbit, we had neither the population nor the material resources to fight a war with a planet whose population topped five billion.

No. Keeping secrecy was not a matter of paranoia. And yet…

My fingers played with some spilled salt on the table, as Jonathan LaForce looked at me and said, “Well, Madame? Who are you, where do you come from, and why should we trust you? I know you look somewhat like the Patrician’s special guest, and you might even be her, with some appearance modifications, but that doesn’t stop the possibility that you might also be a traitor. It wouldn’t be the first time that a Patrician took a bed partner who killed him or betrayed him.”

“I was not the Patrician’s bed partner,” I said, and realized I’d started with the most irrelevant part of my answer… “My name is Zenobia Sienna, though if my world had followed the same marriage naming rules as most of Earth, I’d be Zenobia Dufort.”

Corin let a small sound escape and I looked towards him, “My husband’s unmarried name — men change their name in my homeland — was Dufort and he looked somewhat like you, though older… Of course older. Not so much when we married, but–” But when he’d died. I couldn’t say it.

Corin shook his head, “Was he from the continents? We’re the only Duforts in…”

“You know about the Je Reviens?” I asked. “The big, said-to-be-interstellar ship, in which the Mules left with their few remaining servants.”

“Pah,” LaForce said. “That legend. Every historian agrees it’s a myth, designed to allay the collective guilt for killing the rulers and a lot of innocents.”

“Every historian is wrong then,” I tilted my head sideways, trying to delay the inevitable, and at the same time trying to force out words that my better judgment was dubious of my pronouncing. “The Mules did leave on the Je Reviens. A hundred and some Mules, led by Jarl Ingemar. They took with them as many of their servants as they could gather on short notice. I understand the time of departure was put forward, and that meant that some of the people who would otherwise have been on board were left behind. Many died. That weighs heavily on the minds of those in Eden. We hold a remembrance day every year.”


“It’s… a–a colony in the solar system. Forgive me. I can’t say more.”

Corin’s eyes opened wide. “The darkships. The darkship thieves. They aren’t a myth?”

“No,” I said. “My husband was a pilot. I was his navigator. Both of us were bioed for our functions. He was hit with radiation from an exploded powerpod when the tractor beams from Circum Terra seized our ship. He got too high a dose of radiation. My only hope of saving him was to surrender, and I suspected if I did they’d not expend the needed effort to cure him. The only thing surrendering would do was to get me captured and interrogated by every means at Earth’s disposal. So I shot him and took the ship back home alone.” My voice became expressionless as it usually did when I was talking of Len’s death. It was easier to recite it as a learned lesson than to see, to remember–

“And yet you’re back again?” LaForce said.

“We needed to come back, myself and … and some other people to… to find something needed at home, and we did. I chose to stay behind.”

“Why?” Corin asked.

“Unless you were involved with the Patrician,” LaForce said.

I shook my head. “It’s hard to explain. Let’s say the pressure at home was great towards my remarrying and would have grown greater still with time. My skills and my biological enhancements, in my culture, are used as part of a married couple, and I… had no intention of remarrying. I couldn’t imagine falling in love or even getting attached to someone else that way again, and then not being able to save him. But there were other reasons.”

“So you’re saying you’re descended from the servants of the Good Men who left in the Je Reviens?” Corin asked. “It was family legend that a great-uncle had gone, but we always wondered if he’d just gotten killed, only–” He stopped.

“The Duforts are an old family in Eden, my homeland.”

“But,” Corin said, and stopped and cleared his throat. “But, you see, when we say you’re one of us, we don’t mean descended from enhanced people. While Madame considers everyone like that an abomination, too, given the promiscuous way enhancements were used in the later twenty-first century, I’d say practically everyone is descended from them, no? The pure human beings she imagines don’t exist, do they? But that’s not what we meant. We meant we, the people here, the three of us, and Tieri too; they more than I, maybe, were genetically enhanced, on a personal… first generation level.”

I could read the hurt in his words, see the expectation of recoil and disgust in his eyes, and all I could do was sigh and say, “No. I didn’t mean that. My late husband was just descended from enhanced people. Other… other people on Eden too, but I am the … The easy way to say this would be to say I’m a female clone of Jarl Ingemar, the leading Mule on the Je Reviens. That’s not true of course. I’m the modified version of what Jarl Ingemar would be, were he female, and our genetics are close enough to fool the less discriminating genlocks, but it’s not exactly like being a clone. More like being his sister.”

Corin nodded. “Like Athena Hera Sinistra. She was said to be one such. A fertile Mule. One who could… reproduce with any of the male Mules, the… the Good Men, now. And we know who Jarl Ingemar is. He’s living in this colony then, with the other Mules?” His eyes were narrow and I didn’t know why.

It didn’t seem to be something that needed to be kept secret, nor did I attempt it. “No,” I said. “The Mules left in the Je Reviens, after dropping us, dropping their servants off. All except Jarl Ingemar and Bartolomeu Dias, who stayed behind with the merely enhanced people. Doctor Dias is still alive, but… but Jarl Ingemar is now dead.”

His eyes were still narrowed at me. “So you’re one of them, a… a Mule?”

I shook my head. “Not exactly. I’m not quite sure why I was made, but it had more to do with making two old men happy — I mean the Mules who stayed behind in Eden — than with being a perfect ruler. I was not taught anything needed to take charge. I’m just Zen Sienna, a navigator of darkships, and since Earth has no need for those, I suppose I’m an unemployed navigator of darkships, now. Someone… I’m just one of the Patrician’s friend. He was very kind to me, a stranger on Earth, and I cannot let him die.”

Jonathan LaForce sighed. “How do we know that? That you’re a private individual who wishes to be of help to the Good Man?”

“Because I told you?” I asked, bewildered.

He shook his head slightly. “You could be… a scout? An advance force for the Mules, when they left in the Je Reviens.”

I laughed. I couldn’t help it. “Some advance force,” I said. “It’s just me. I spent six months as guest of the Good Man, doing nothing but enjoying his hospitality.”

“But… perhaps you were lying low? Waiting to get your bearings? So the Mules could take over the world?” It was Corin, and he looked like he was convincing himself of the possibility as he spoke.

Mailys cackled. “You have listened to Madame,” she said, in a tone of great appreciation.