Through Fire – Snippet 40

“Oh, yes, that. That’s on most channels, yes, but there are others, though perhaps you need to know how to tune the com to get the frequencies from outside Liberte. Particularly the ones from Olympus.”

I raised my eyebrows at him, in silent questioning.

“The armies of the Good Men are moving into position,” he said. “Strategically. Around the isle.”

For a moment, I felt Simon’s arm around my waist, and heard his voice telling me those were just for show. “Simon,” I said, my mouth dry, and then corrected. “The Good Man said that those were for show, that they were likely empty, that if they hadn’t been empty they’d already have attacked, that–”

“Ah, that,” Jonathan LaForce said. “That for sure. It was all a show of force without actual force. The Good Men were committing as many of their forces as they could to the fight with the Usaians of Olympus and its territories. They had nothing left for a true show of force at us. But the situation has changed. To take Liberte while we were governed and unified, while the defense troops were in place; while the Good Men’s secret service operated, they were going to need a lot of men.” He made a sweeping gesture with his hands. “Now? While we’re fighting and killing each other? Some people, after these last two days, after what Madame has done, would rather kill other people of Liberte and side with the armies of the Good Men. Whatever they were before, now the Good Men promise stability and an end to killing. And I don’t know what to do about it.” He looked up and his dark eyes met mine. “I had hoped Brisbois was with you, or that you knew where he was. He’s a cunning fox, Brisbois, and he could get us through this, even now. But Brisbois–”

“Is probably dead,” Mailys said. “Or he’d have surfaced by now.”

“Yes, that is what I believe too,” he said. “Which means we need to find a way to organize the scattered remnants for defense.”

“We should free the Good Man,” I said. I saw doubt cross LaForce’s face, and I said, “Look, you might think whatever you want to of him. I know you think he was a fool for not listening to Brisbois and not realizing that Madame had undermined his authority, but he’s not stupid, and he knows this Seacity and his people.”

He made a face. “Yes, but… He’s not as cunning as he thinks. He was captured.”

“That’s because he was trying to save me. I interfered with his ability to save himself,” I said.

He pursed his lips. “All right. Perhaps. Women can do that to men. But all the same, I’m not sure…”

“She’s right about one thing, at least,” Mailys said. “The Good Man is the only person, other than Brisbois, who knows most of the people on that list, and who probably has caches of information unknown even to Madame. If nothing else, it would allow us to gather the others, to defend ourselves and those like us.”

“The Good Man is imprisoned,” Corin said. “I presume in the palace dungeons, if those still exist. You know what they call that prison. The Stronghold. Those people it swallows, it never disgorges again.”

LaForce was quiet a long time. Then he put his finger to his lips, motioning us to be silent. He stood and walked down the hallway once again, and then looked through the back window at the dark backyard. He came back. “There are no sounds out there, but I think there are. I mean, I think there are people up front. At the back, I’d bet there aren’t.”

“I could go listen and look,” Mailys whispered. “I have better senses than–”

“My senses are enhanced enough,” LaForce said. “The question is, Madame Sienna here is suggesting that we get the Good Man out of prison to find the list with the rest of us. This might work or not. The Good Man…” He hesitated and gave me the sort of look people give you when they’re afraid you’re going to be offended. “The Good Man is, of course, very capable, but he’s not the most… responsible of beings. It seems to me he always cared more for himself than the people or even the land in Liberte.”

“I don’t know about that,” Mailys said. “Sometimes I felt it was all an act. Brisbois thought it was an act at any rate. That’s why he was loyal to the man. Loyal to the death.”

I started to open my mouth to tell them of Brisbois meeting someone in the dark, then reconsidered. Really, what did I know? I had a feeling I couldn’t judge Brisbois at all, a feeling like something moved beneath my feet, like solid ground giving way. And then I was sure I heard a sound, from the front. I jumped up and reached for the burner.

“Yes,” LaForce said, acknowledging my reaction. He swept a burner into his pocket, and then took the kitten from Tieri’s grasping hands, and slipped him into his jacket pocket, closing the clasp on top of the little creature. “He’ll be quite safe, Tieri. And I’m going to take to you to my wife.” Then he spoke very quickly. “Look, I have just enough contacts and just enough reach that I will whip up a crowd in front of the palace, and we’ll get them to attack the prison.”

“But–” Corin said. “The prison is impregnable.”

“The prison was impregnable,” LaForce said. “When we guarded it. It’s also booby trapped, but I know where those are and can disable them. I might be the last person alive and free who knows those codes, in fact. I will make it easier for us to get in. Yes, there will be guards. Some of them will be like Madame and Brisbois. But, my dears,” he spoke very quickly. “If we overwhelm them with force, they can’t stop us. Even supermen can’t stop a mob. There aren’t enough of them. And in this confusion, there will be enough people I can reach who have relatives in the prison and who want them out.”

“But most of those–”

“Conspired against the Good Man? At this point what difference does that make?” LaForce asked. “Most of them are chronic cases, who oppose all authority figures, and who will be as much against Madame as they were against St. Cyr. Any who were loyal followers of Madame will already be out.”

“So, you’re going to gather a crowd?” Mailys said. “And us?”

“If you can, without giving yourself away, go to as many of the houses of our people as you know, and try to get them out safely. Let us hope it’s not too late. I will take Tieri to a safe place. Bring as many of our people as you can to the plaza at…” He looked at the clock. “Midnight?”

“Three hours?” Mailys said. “Will that be enough?”

“No amount of time will be enough,” he said. “We must make of it what we can.”

The sounds out front were now obviously footsteps and whispers. Perhaps not obvious to anyone with non-enhanced hearing, but I could discern them clearly enough. Jonathan LaForce grabbed a dark blanket from the com room sofa and wrapped Tieri in it so she was an indistinct package, which he threw over one shoulder. He opened the back door. He’d somehow managed to get his burner in his free hand and he stood very still, listening. Mailys killed the lights in the kitchen, but even dark against the dark, I saw LaForce move, quickly, with that cat-like movement of his.

An explosion sounded up front. Someone said, “Merde.”

And we were running out the door, around the graves dug in the backyard. Rather than use the gate, which was locked, we scrambled over the wall at one corner emerging in a packed dirt alleyway that smelled of lilac.

We’d slept the day away and evening had fallen, with deeper blue shadows in the edge of the wall. We moved along the wall, away from the gate. It seemed to me there were human silhouettes by the gate, men who had been waiting for us.

Then, behind us, the house we’d just left exploded, in blues and yellows, in deafening sound, in a shower of debris.

Someone grabbed my hand and pulled and we ran along the wall, in the deeper portion of the shadows, our footsteps lost in the greater noise.