Through Fire – Snippet 45


“That’s where you’re wrong,” Simon said. “It is precisely that simple.”

Brisbois was quiet a long time. Then he sighed, “Simon,” he said, and it was the first time I’d heard him call my friend by his first name, but it must not be the first time he’d done it, because there was no surprised reaction. However, the tone in which Alexis said “Simon” was more earnest and pleading than when he said “Patrician” or “Good Man” or “Protector” or “St. Cyr.”

“Simon,” he said again. “I know what your plans were. I know what you wanted to do, but I don’t think it’s possible. I think you’re going to give up something of your dream, to change it, and I think even you will see it. There are people whose lives depend on your actions, on your assuming responsibility. Innocent lives that have done nothing to deserve the hell about to be unleashed on them.”

Simon stood up, his movements jerky. I realized for the first time that he was very tired. I thought if he’d slept since the attack on the palace it had been catnaps, possibly in not very safe refuges. And once more I wondered where he’d been and why.

He shook his head. His mouth hardened. “I am tired of being responsible for people,” he said. “I am tired of being told that the lives of innocents depend on me.”

The statement shocked me, said like that, in the full light, well, not of day but of a relatively well-lit cheap motel room. All my life I’d been told I was responsible for others. Because I was faster, smarter, stronger, I was supposed not only to look after those I liked, but to make sure that even those I didn’t like didn’t somehow run afoul of me. So, for instance, no matter how bad their offenses against me, I wasn’t allowed to challenge anyone to a duel, because if I killed them and in the process showed how much better I was, though I might be technically correct, everyone in Eden would turn against me.

My brother — to call him that — Kit, had it easier than I because he had been bioengineered, visibly, as a cat as the pilots of darkships were called. He had the eyes that looked — though weren’t, exactly — feline, and so everyone knew he also had reflexes faster than any normal human being. As such, he could excuse himself from a duel by pleading the advantage this would give him. He could admit to being better than normal humans at a myriad things and they’d leave him alone.

I couldn’t. Not unless the ability in dispute were navigation or an instinctive feel for machinery. For some reason those weren’t often brought up in normal everyday life.

So I was in the unenviable position of having to be responsible for both myself and others, of avoiding injury even to those who openly courted it by antagonizing me. It didn’t make for a sweet disposition. I narrowed my eyes at Simon, who was crossing his arms on his chest, narrowing his eyes and glaring daggers at Brisbois.

I had never agreed so much with anyone, and yet something nagging at the back of my head told me Simon had no right to shrug off the load his birth had imposed on him just because he was tired of it.

“You can’t give up your responsibility just because you’re tired,” Brisbois said, softly, in the sort of voice a man uses to speak to an injured child. “I understand your exasperation, and I understand why you’re tired of it all. I approved of and agreed with your plan, remember? You were going to give up rule, and you were going to go off and be a colonist in the territories, with no more responsibility to Liberte than any other citizen.” He glanced sideways at me, for just a second, but suddenly I knew, with absolute certainty, as though it had been said, that part of Simon’s plan included marrying me. I wasn’t sure if I was offended at the idea that he thought he could just marry me if he wished, or if I was touched at his plan. Of course, someone like Simon wouldn’t know rejection. How could he? He’d been born the heir to the Good Man of Liberte. Anything within the confines of the isle would have been his for the asking. Everything except freedom to be himself.

And on that I was flattered that he understood he couldn’t have me as his lady, as a Good Man. He wanted me as a friend and a partner, not a decoration. I looked at him with softer feelings than I’d ever entertained, as Brisbois went on, “Then when this horrible attack happened, I went along with the rougher plan that we were going to get you executed — and to hurry it up with false rescue attempts — so that you could disappear, knowing that at the same time that you and I were going to rescue every one of our kind we could. But that plan has escaped our hands as much as your former plan, Simon. We can’t do that.”

“Why not?” Simon’s protest had all the petulant defiance of the very young.

“Because, Patrician, it’s gotten out of control. We meant to re-create the revolution, did we not, without the dark side of it? Well, you meant to do so. I wasn’t sure the feat was possible, but I liked the idea and encouraged you to try it. Except that, just like the first revolution, back in ancient France, it has all fallen in the wrong hands. For reasons beyond our control, you couldn’t stay in power and slowly guide people to greater freedom and a more equitable society. You were deposed, the palace was attacked, people got killed, and then Rose seized control and more people were killed.”

“Rose…” Simon rubbed his hand across his face, as though trying to get rid of cobwebs. I wondered how tired he really was. “She is a problem.”

“No, what Rose is,” Alexis said, “is insane. She’s not in control of the populace because she’s not in control of herself. There are ways people like us can go. We, I mean, not the improved ones, not people like Jonathan LaForce or Corin who are enhanced, but were still raised by real mothers and fathers, but people like Mailys and myself, and, I suppose you: the motherless ones, the surrogate born, the crèche raised. Once we find out who and what we are, we can come to terms with it and scream defiance in the face of the world, saying, yeah, I’m unnatural and what of it? I’ll show you what someone unnatural can do. Or we can hate what we are and envy everyone who was born of a real mother and a real father. We can let that corrode us and destroy the basic decency within us and our sanity too. It is insane to want what you can’t have. Most of us — you, I think — choose a mixed path. But Rose — Rose chose self-hate and envy at full throttle. She chose to hate herself and all like her, and to work to make sure that no one was ever created or ever lived who wasn’t born in the natural way and of natural parents.”

“Myself, you suppose?” Simon said. It felt like a scream, and wasn’t any less scary for being said at normal voice. “Do you have any idea how much more I had to bear, finding out I’d been born, not even as someone designed for a purpose, but as a blank, one of those kept down in the… in the lab. That I was no one and nothing, but a body my putative father could take over to continue his life? Do you have any idea how that felt, particularly when I’d been raised to think of myself as… as special… the son and heir of the Good Man? Particularly when I had all these plans for what I was going to do to improve the lot of the seacity?

“And then to find out it was all a lie. And that yet, somehow, unless I wanted to be responsible for a monstrous invasion and massacre, I had to stay on; I had to devote my entire life to perpetuating a horrible regime because the alternative was worse? No, Alexis, you have no idea what I, myself, faced. And you have no right to tell me I have to keep on facing it. You don’t own me.”

The last came out as a roar.

Alexis Brisbois was quiet a long time after that, staring at Simon, who glared up at him. I thought that pose of indignation must be hard to maintain, that pitch of anger difficult to keep. I could almost see the flagging of his indignation behind his eyes, replaced not by calm but by an immense tiredness.

Alexis spoke again in the slow, patient tone, as though Simon were an overwrought child, “No one owns you. And some of us will help you, always, for the sake of what you’ve already done; what you’ve tried to do. But some of those people who served you are like Johnathan, Simon. They have families. Both the parents who agreed to have them improved, and the children they’ve sired. There are children like Tieri, orphaned and lost, who will get killed by the turmoil, or killed in the invasion. Right now, our best hope for resisting the invasion and coming out on the other side alive are the enhanced and trained people who are scattered and running. They will come to your voice, but to none other. Simon, the good and the bad will die together if this isn’t stopped.”

Simon’s face contracted in a snarl. “Damn you,” he said. “Damn you.” Then the snarl became something like a hiccup. “And I can die trying to protect the innocent, but no one, no one can stop this. Certainly not I. I am dead, Brisbois, as far as the seacity is concerned.”

Alexis shrugged. “Not so far as those of us who know you are concerned. I suggest, Simon, that to begin with we organize our people and take down–” He took a deep breath, “My wife and Jean Dechausse and the whole merry circus of blood-thirsty, power-hungry moral cripples. And then we can… perhaps, organize a defense. Hasty and of course it’s not guaranteed we’ll survive, but we can perhaps defend Liberte?”

Simon looked at him a long while, his eyes slightly unfocused. “I wish I could believe we had a chance.”

“I’ll stay,” I said. “I’ll help.”

“Will you?” A quick look of Simon’s and the old laughing mockery — maybe self-mockery — was back in his eyes. “You don’t have to, you know? We’re not your people and you owe us nothing, and there’s a good chance it’s going to end up with all of us dead.”

“Will it?” I asked. “And how am I not your kind? I also was assembled protein by protein and have no real parents. If I’m not your kind, I don’t know who is. And I also learned that it’s my responsibility to care for others, because they are weaker than myself.”

He put his hand to me and touched my fingers — just the tip. “I should send you away,” he said.

“Are you under the impression she’d stay away?” Brisbois asked, amusement in his voice. “Have you met Madame Sienna?”

Simon gave me a look with a raised eyebrow, as though asking me to corroborate or deny. I shrugged and shot what I hoped was a quelling glance at Brisbois, but I said, “I’m not going to hide and quake while you two go face danger. It’s not my style. And I owe you too much to repay it with indifference.”

“In the name of gratitude, she helped organize an attack on the prison.”

“You mean people died in it,” I said. “And I do understand that, but–”

“No, Madame Sienna. People dying in a situation like ours is inevitable. The point is to make sure the right people die. From what you said, you both killed some of the infiltrators making war on our people, and you freed some who were headed for execution. Your effort might have been misapplied, and that is our fault for not informing you of our plans, but even so you did more than we could have done on our own.” He gave Simon a look. “You see, Patrician, it is useless to keep her out of our plans.”

I was so stunned at being praised without irony by Brisbois and on something in which I thought I was guilty of a mistake too, that all I could do was mumble, “It was LaForce’s idea.”

But Simon only nodded as though all of this made perfect sense. He set his mouth in a hard line, and said, “Fine, then. Let’s set out and start gathering people who can help us fight Madame Parr and stop the invasion of the seacity.”