Through Fire – Snippet 44


Day of Truce

“Stop that, Alexis,” Simon said. “She’s not a danger.”

“She’s not a danger,” Brisbois said, his burner unwavering at my chest, “if she is Madame Sienna. If she’s not?”

Simon made a sound, but he was looking at me, his eyes narrowed. For a moment I wondered if he knew about what the people of Olympus could do and had done to change my appearance. Then I wondered if he was a ghost or if they had some way to bring men back from the dead. And then I thought nothing as he turned to Brisbois and said, “It looks like a standard job of disguise, well enough, I daresay, for her to pass in a crowd and not to be identified on sight anywhere in Liberte, but, Alexis, I can smell her. It’s Zen.”

I could smell him too. One doesn’t think about it, even with enhanced senses, but when I was very young I remembered identifying people by smell. Now I realized that though I hadn’t thought about it, he too smelled familiar. This was undoubtedly Simon St. Cyr. But I’d seen him beheaded.

For the first time, and I surely hope the last time in my life, in response to something as paltry as an emotional shock, my legs got shaky, and I had to sit.

“I don’t feel all that well.”

Brisbois continued pointing the burner at me, but as I bent to put my head down at my knee level, he let out air in a sustained hiss, as though releasing annoyance, and said, “Merde. I knew she looked different. Yes, she was… modified to pass. The Good Man Keeva’s idea, I think.”

Simon made a sound that wasn’t quite a cackle, and said, in a tone of profound loathing, “He would.”

Once more I wondered what things I’d missed of those that passed between normal humans. I’d thought they were friends. I’d thought–

“He couldn’t send troops,” Brisbois said, in the tone of a man who gives the devil his due. “He was hamstrung. He wanted to help you.”

Simon snorted.

That was enough. It was his snort, and I knew it. I sat up. I glared at him, “I saw you dead,” I said. I realized I was shaking. “I saw you beheaded. They held up the head to the cameras. They said le roi est mort. They–”

At the time the shock had been so great, and processed with all the fear and the chase immediately following, that I had not taken that scene as real. It’s hard to explain, but it was more like a set scene, something out of a theater production: Madame with her medals, and her entourage, and the crowd going silent, while proclamation was made to the holo pickups.

Now I saw it with perfect recall. The head, with its still-living eyes. Blood at the lips. Blood pouring out of the neck.

I ran straight into the fresher and threw up into the toilet.

When I recovered, Simon offered me his hand to stand. I ignored his hand and pulled myself up by holding onto the sink. The mirror above it reflected my own image, pale and staring, like the face of a drowned woman.

“I’m sorry,” Simon said. “I don’t know what you saw. I didn’t mean for you to–”

I rinsed my mouth, spat out the water, turned to him, wiping my mouth to the back of my hand. “I saw you dead,” I said again, and then, “I saw you beheaded.”

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I never meant for you to–”

“Go to hell.” It wasn’t even an imprecation. It was a civil exhortation. I wasn’t sure how he had managed this, but I was sure he had somehow faked his own death for reasons I couldn’t fully understand. Which meant he’d never needed to be rescued. Which meant I was an idiot.

He looked aggrieved, as though my reaction were all out of proportion. “No, you don’t understand. I never meant for to be here at all. You were supposed to stay safe. I told Brisbois.”

That’s when I punched him. It wasn’t a hard punch. I couldn’t have put force into a punch just then. I was exhausted, my head was spinning, and the image of his beheading remained in my mind, so it was like punching a ghost.

He held onto his jaw, blinked at me. Part of him looked bewildered, incredulous, as though no one had ever punched him in his life, and I wondered if that was Simon’s tragedy. No one had ever spanked him. I said again, “Go to hell. This is not a game. I was trying to save your life. I didn’t want you to die. I thought I owed you something.”

His eyes widened in even greater shock than at being punched, “You were? You didn’t? You did?”

How do you even answer that? I didn’t have to.

Brisbois loomed behind him. He moved Simon out of the way, gently but carelessly, as though he’d been an object blocking Brisbois’ passage. “You were at the palace?” he said. “Why were you at the palace? You were never supposed to break into the dungeon.”

“Of course I was,” I said, bewildered. And to Simon, in an accusatory tone, “I was trying to save you. You can’t have recovered from being beheaded. So that must have been faked. I don’t know how you did it, but I wonder about the poor sod who was beheaded in your place. I suppose he was altered to look like you?” He shook his head, slightly, but I ignored it. “Just as I was modified. Oh. Hell.”

He sighed, and put out a hand. “Ma petite–” he said. His hand was cupped as though he’d hold my forearm, but he never made contact. He pulled back, instead, and said, “No one was beheaded.”

“I saw–”

“I think perhaps,” Brisbois said, “we should retreat to the room proper and find out what Madame Sienna has been up to, and who might have tailed her here. We might not be safe here.”

“We are safe,” I said. “No one followed me. I was too fast.”

“Pah,” Brisbois said, and I expected him to deliver himself of one of his charming lectures on the stupidity of women in general and myself in particular. “Pah. Come sit down, Madame, and tell me exactly what you’ve been doing.”

I wouldn’t have obeyed if the back of my brain hadn’t been so fully occupied in figuring out how Simon could have survived, how he could say no one had been beheaded. I instinctively recoiled at Brisbois’ demand, but then I realized I had to find out what had happened. One thing I was sure of: Earth or not, people did not grow spare heads.

I walked out of the fresher, in between them, and sat on the edge of the bed, my hands on my knees. “You told me to run and to take care of the children. By which I presume you meant Corin and Mailys.”

“Did you?” Brisbois asked.

“Yes,” I said, and then it occurred to me I had no idea if Corin or Mailys were still alive. He couldn’t have expected me to keep them safe while running for my life, after the attack on the palace. And yet, I was absolutely sure that’s what he expected. The sense of failure that had pursued me since watching the beheading now crushed me. And then I realized Simon was still alive. And if Simon was still alive, I’d been the victim of a massive deception. Perhaps more than one.

I told them everything I’d done, how we’d ended up in the Bonnaires’ home, about the child, about Jonathan LaForce.

“Jonny is alive, then,” Brisbois said, sounding relieved.

“Yes,” I said. “Or at least he was alive when we parted.”

Brisbois nodded. “He’s alive then. He’s one of those you can only kill by catching him unwary. If he knew they were after him, he’s alive. If you’re alive, he’s alive.”

I frowned a little, feeling as though my ability to survive had been disparaged, “He might have been pursued more closely.”

Brisbois pursed his lips. “Maybe,” he said. “But why was he looking for me? Why was he in my office? Besides wanting to save the others? And he should have given me some credit. I was trying to get the others to safety already.”

“There is other stuff. There is… your wife.”

For just a second there was an expression of extreme shock in Brisbois’ face. “My wife?”

“Rose Parr. Madame. They said she was your wife.”

“Ah,” he said. His voice sounded really hoarse. I thought I saw Simon smirk out of the corner of my eye. “Not these last ten years at least. She–”

“Set him up to get caught and killed,” Simon said, and as Brisbois opened his lips, he lifted a hand. “Peace. I’m aware I did as well. I claim extreme necessity and also the extreme fear of a trapped animal. But I didn’t even know who you were, much less being intimately acquainted with you. And I think I’ve made up for that lapse, have I not?”

Brisbois didn’t say anything, but I got the impression his eyes flashed. “We have no time for foolishness,” he said. I thought he was talking to me, because it had the same tone of his prior diatribes on women, but then he glared at Simon, “Not even a rousing game of let’s see if we can make Alexis squirm. What has my ex-wife to do with this, Madame Sienna?”

“I am to understand she’s trying to eliminate all enhanced people as well consolidating her power over the non-enhanced. I heard there were hundreds of executions.”

“Thousands,” Simon said, sounding distressed. “She had people flown from the territories. I’ve been on the edges of the plaza. I’ve seen it…” He shook his head. “That’s why my execution had to be staged as soon as possible. So I could help people.”

I wanted to ask him how he could hurry the execution. I realized he must be the man I’d seen with Brisbois in the dark, talking of hurrying the Patrician’s execution, which solved at least one of my problems for me. Whatever else was true or not, Brisbois was loyal.

But there was a more pressing matter than my curiosity to know exactly how I’d been deceived. For one, I was almost sure the deception hadn’t been aimed at me, or not only at me. “I don’t know how you intend to help people,” I said, “but LaForce says our case is dire. Besides the executions, the fleet is about to attack and–”

For the first time I had Simon’s attention. He stood straighter, and asked, “What fleet?”

“The Good Men,” I said. And as I saw him shape his mouth to say ‘Merde” I said, “Not that one. Apparently with our internal dissension, there is more of a chance of taking us with a smaller force, and so they… they are. Or they’re trying to.”

Simon had been standing next to the door to the fresher. Now he leaned against the door frame and slid down it, to sit on the dubiously clean floor. He made a face. “How many ships?” he asked. “How many men?”

“I don’t know,” I said.

“But Jonny LaForce thought they were a problem?” Brisbois asked.

“Yes, he said it was a reason we needed to free the Patr — you, Simon. Because only you could organize forces for defense fast enough. He said something about their bringing as many of their troops to bear as they could, so that they could crush Liberte, before returning to their war with the Usaians.”

He pursed his lips in a silent whistle, then turned to Brisbois. “Alexis?”

“If you’re asking me my opinion of LaForce’s estimate, let me assure you that this is not something to dismiss out of hand. I’ve known Jonny since he was a toddler. He can be impetuous; he’s something of a hothead; he pens romances in his spare time, but he’s simply the best second-in-command I’ve ever had. If he says we’re about to get attacked with overwhelming force, we’re about to get attacked with overwhelming force. I don’t know the details, but I’m sure his intelligence is good.”

Simon looked… odd. Not quite confused, though confusion was part of it. It was a look somewhere between annoyance and disappointment.

He took a deep breath, “Not attack us as such, Alexis. This has nothing to do with us.”

“It doesn’t?” Alexis asked.

“No. All we have to do is gather our people and get them out of here before the attack. And then we’re fine. They can take all of the isle and Madame in the bargain for all I care.”

Alexis Brisbois’ face hardened, something like disbelief casting his features into stone, “Monsieur le Patrician, it is not that simple.”