Through Fire – Snippet 39

He sighed and tapped his fingers on the table. “You see, you’re dealing with two Good Men and two very different sets of policies. The Good Man before the current Good Man didn’t trust anyone in his guard who wasn’t enhanced the same way he was. He was, you could say, the counterpart of Madame, who proclaims to all and sundry the wonders of natural humans, those who have not had their genes tampered with. He thought the only trustworthy people were those as enhanced as he was. Only he found that wasn’t precisely true. I’m not exactly sure what happened or when, but… but Brisbois and Madame turned on him. Perhaps he took Madame into his bed.” He shrugged and looked at my appalled expression. “I don’t know, understand. I’m just speculating. At the time I was just a very young man and training to be in the defense forces, not… not in the palace guard as such. I just know something must have happened, because Brisbois made an attempt against the Patrician and it came out he was working with the Sans Culottes and so was Madame and Jean Dechausse, perforce, and then–” He shrugged. “Their attempt against the Good Man failed and they were all imprisoned. The Good Man condemned them to death. And then–” He expelled air between his teeth in a long and expressive hiss. Most of what it expressed was his frustration, though I wasn’t sure with what. “And then someone made an attempt against the late Good Man. Some people say it was his son, and this is possible, but we don’t know for sure. What we know is that, whatever happened, it caused the Good Man to be brain damaged, unable to exercise his power of government and his son succeeded him. He then went into death row and saved Brisbois, making him head of his security force. But unlike the previous Good Man, Simon St. Cyr didn’t want …” He said a word I didn’t understand, clicked his tongue and said, “Men without a mother in his security force. He thought, and perhaps… well, he thought that those who had been created in a lab, gestated by a surrogate and brought up by foster parents who were hired to raise them, were not the most stable of people. I don’t intend to dispute it, though some people say none of us are very stable, and neither are most natural born people.

“At any rate, he picked enhanced but not as powerful as possible guards. And he set them to work under Brisbois. Mailys was, I think, the only one created like Brisbois in the force, and that was because she was considered Brisbois’ daughter. But the rest of us… the rest of us were just enhanced, not made. Still we were a fraternity of sorts. Each of us knew the others, and each of us knew we weren’t quite like other people, and that meant we trusted each other more.”

“So that was the list you were talking about,” I said. “Everyone in the guard.”

“Oh, no, no, no,” he said. “Everyone enhanced. All of the creations of Doctor More–” He looked at Corin. “Of Doctor Dufort. We all went to him for treatment when needed, because he had files and he knew about all of us, including the secrets of how we were made and exactly what each of us was capable of.” He opened his hands. “Even people like the Bonnaires, who were clerks in the Good Man’s administration.”

He stopped then, because Tieri had come from the playroom, cuddling the kitten. “I heard noises outside,” she said.

We traded a look, and Jonathan got up. He picked Tieri up and deposited her unceremoniously, kitten and all, on Corin’s lap, before he slid down the hallway. I didn’t care if I or Mailys were more enhanced than he was, Monsieur LaForce did a pretty good imitation of a cat who didn’t wish to be seen, moving down the hallway soundlessly, knitting with the shadows.

The rest of us were left sitting at the kitchen table. Corin, absently, petted the kitten, but even Tieri had ceased speaking. It was as though all of us were straining to hear some noise. I thought of how Corin had survived the attack on his parents’ house, and knew he would be listening for warnings that we were in for a second attack. And the rest of us? I didn’t know what Mailys had survived, or what attacks she’d experienced, but I knew that my life had taken too many unexpected turns lately for me to be sanguine in the face of a potential threat. So I watched and waited, listening for a sound of disaster: an explosion, the sound of a breaking window.

What we got instead was Monsieur LaForce coming back, cat-footed, and sliding back into his chair, sliding his burner on the table in front of him. The burner was good quality I noted, better than the burners Simon’s guards had carried. I could see the settings from narrow cutting to total burn. He had it on total burn, and he had the safety off. It seemed foolhardy near a child, but then I realized LaForce had his eye on the child and was watching her carefully. I stopped paying attention to the burner and looked at him. He shrugged. “It could be,” he said. “There could be someone scouting around the house. You see, Madame managed the attack on the palace,” he said. “And I think the main reason was to get the list I found in Brisbois’ files. I’m sure he had it locked, but doubtless, having been married to him, she knows him very well. At least, she had somehow unlocked it,” he shrugged. “And so I assume all of us are in danger, all of us have had assassins sent against us.”

“Because she hates modified people?” I asked.

He shrugged. “Because she knows we know she’s also one. After her appeal to the natural people, if such exist in any of the seacities, she can’t reveal herself to be more enhanced than any of them, can she?”

“Could we reveal her as such?” I asked.

“Corin, maybe, or Doctor Dufort,” he said. “No one else. Which is why she tried to eliminate the whole family. But still, you know, if it’s one or two of us saying it… but if it were a crowd, and there were files.”

“Yes, I see,” I said, and I sort of did, though the politics of a land this big and with these many people seemed bewildering at the best of times. Something he’d said bothered me. “Would you say, honestly, that the objective of raiding the palace was to get the list? Not to imprison the Good Man?”

He pursed his lips. “I suppose that is possible,” he said. “Though I suspect she never thought she could do it. I mean, the Good Man is not that easy to capture. None of them are. People have tried for centuries.”

It occurred to me with sudden clarity that while he knew Simon was made, a Mule and a clone of the last Good Man, he had no idea what made him different from the other Good Men. He didn’t know that for centuries the Good Men had their brains transplanted into the bodies of their putative sons. The previous Good Man, Simon’s father, had done that over the centuries. And he might have, with the experience of centuries, been a hardy survivor, difficult to kill. But Simon was my age and inexperienced in all these games.

I thought of him throwing me at Brisbois, telling Brisbois to get me out of there, to get me out of danger. I thought of Brisbois who had tried, as hard as he could, to take me to Olympus and keep me there and safe. Now, Simon, who had turned his last moments of freedom to taking care of me and not himself, was imprisoned, and Brisbois, who had tried so hard to keep me away from this madhouse, was probably dead. At least I didn’t see how anyone could survive what happened on the beach. And I was here, in the middle of the madhouse. And no one was going to save Simon but me. If I could figure out how to do it.

LaForce was still talking. “I think she was so surprised at capturing the Good Man that she doesn’t know what to do with him. But … I don’t know if you’ve looked at the com.”

“Only the… the… trials… or the…” I looked at the young girl, and searched for a word that she would not understand, and thought maybe, just maybe Jonathan LaForce knew enough history. “Madame la Guillotine.”