I MEANT TO BLOG. I was looking at a post Orvan sent me, intending to put it up. And then family stuff came up, and then I got involved in unpacking and ironing from the trip to Portugal. (What? It’s only eight months, and it got stuck in the middle of unopened household boxes) and I just realized what time it is.
So, I delivered Darkship Revenge and it will be out in May. Will a wee Snippet amuse you?
This is not the beginning of the book, but it is strongly related to its theme, and particularly relates to its cover:
Which meant that Lucius and Fuse were, what? Dead? Incapacitated? To say nothing of Kit and Simon? My throat closed at the thought of Kit or even Simon hurt in one of those buildings. Not that I wished ill on Lucius and Fuse, and frankly, by virtue of being with me, they were of mine and I’d defend them and avenge them if needed, but Kit and Simon made it personal. If one of them were bleeding to death in that warren of buildings, how would I get in and rescue him? How could I find him, if the coms didn’t work? Because I had to find him or them and rescue them. I had to.
I calmed myself down with the reassurance that these people were afraid of being followed, which meant they couldn’t have killed all the people on my side and against them. Possibly they hadn’t killed anyone, just somehow managed to evade them and get out of the building.
Right. And these voices sounded young. Like really young. One of them still had a relatively high soprano and another’s voice wavered between soprano and basso profundo, in the way boys’ voices do between the ages of twelve and sixteen or so.
None of which made me feel better about the fact that they were going to be here in seconds.
I was armed. I’m always armed. I’d rather be naked than unarmed. But that wasn’t the point. There were three of them. There was one of me. And I had to protect Eris.
Against normal people, this wouldn’t be a problem. I was fast enough – a skill not developed, but acquired via genetic manipulation of my genes by those who created me – that I could and often did defeat more people than that.
However, here caution applied. I had no idea who these people were or where they came from. They shouldn’t be enhanced of course, but… For all I knew they were the spawn of tentacle monsters. What I did know is that they had been fast enough and strong enough to subdue and kidnap Kit who, on top of being created the way I was and having the same super-speed from his genetic legacy, had been changed by a bio-engineered virus in utero, to maximize that speed. If they could capture Kit, no matter if they’d caught him at a disadvantage outside the ship, then they would be able to match my speed. So, a frontal confrontation was out of the question.
That was all right too. Okay, I’d never run up against people – other than other bioengineered clones of Good Men — who could match me for speed, but I’d run up against plenty of them whom I couldn’t kill for a reason or another. In my misguided youth, I’d run up against a lot of people I couldn’t even hurt without precipitating Daddy Dearest’s fury and much worse punishment. So I’d learned psychological subterfuge, finagling, and deception. Which worked against everyone no matter what the level of speed or even intelligence. Most of the time. Practically.
I banished misgivings. Look, whomever my wiles hadn’t worked against, they always worked against males. Mostly. Almost. Practically. They hadn’t done me much good against Kit, but my darling was a jaded bastard. How many of them could there be in the universe? And could any of them sound as young as those people outside had?
Fast, I made sure of the hidden burners, one at my ankle, one under my hair, and one where it’s really none of your business. No, not there. That would impair any fast movement.
Eris had fallen asleep. I engaged my fast speed, because I knew I had seconds only, to disengage the sling, grab her, and stow her in the back, where a net held back an assortment of toys and blankets and stuff that testified as eloquently as his words that Luce did indeed spend a lot of time babysitting young ones. I sort of rolled her in a blanket, so that it protected her from any sharp toy edges, but did not cover her face fully. I was hoping she would pass unnoticed in the middle of the mess, and no one would realize there was a baby back there. I was fully aware that if they grabbed my daughter they’d render me less effective. Not incapacitated, but less effective. Or more effective in a “kill them all” sort of way, but that too had its liabilities.
Bless the child, she did not wake up, though she did make a little aggrieved sigh, which caused me to kiss her forehead, before I returned to the middle of the flyer, the open space between seats, where I did my best to appear surprised as the door burst open.
The surprised look was made much easier by what the intruders looked like.
They walked in, in a group, as though none of them trusted the other to go in first.
They were as I’d expected three boys and very young. They were dressed in what looked like those one-piece baby suits made adult size, only they had boots over their feet. This was strange enough, as was the fact that these one-piece suits had been embellished with patches, scribblings and bits of metal sewn on. It was fairly startling that the two who had cut off their sleeves had what appeared to be a welter of scars and blue ink all up their arms.
But none of this – none of it — compared to the strangeness from the neck up. First of all, they all looked startlingly familiar, but I had trouble identifying them, because… Because it looked like a piercing freak had gone insane in an electronic components store. The one in the center, who looked older than the others, had red hair, which he’d carefully shaved so it only grew on half his head. I’m assuming shaved. For all I knew he’d killed the follicles, of course. The half that remained glittered with metal, glass and who knew what the heck else, all of it looking like he’d salvaged it from a computer room. His eyebrows were pierced all along their length with more glittering components inserted. There was something orange and green and metal through his left nostril. There was a blue indecipherable symbol on his forehead. He looked indefinably familiar, but it was hard to focus through all the facial piercings and tattoos.
The one on the left looked really familiar; must be all of 12 and was prettyish in the way boys sometimes are just before or at puberty. What remained of his hair – he seemed to have eliminated random patches of it – was inexpertly dyed blue and straightened, so you could see that his hair was both curly and black. All down one side of his still-babyish face, he had scribblings in blue ink, that disappeared into his collar. His eyes were blue and feral.
The one on the right also looked familiar, but not as much, was maybe 14, had a still-round face that would probably turn sharper with age. He had fewer of the blue markings, but his ears were stretched with what appeared to be spools of some sort, his scalp was completely bald and seemed to have electronic components actually growing on it. He had cut off his right sleeve to display a welter of blue wink in designs that included a dragon and made me wonder if these were in fact the sort of primitive tattoos no one used in the twenty fifth century.
In the middle of the designs was a single word: Danegerous. Yes, it was misspelled.
I’m not a prude or an innocent, and there were very few things that people could do with their body that shocked me. I grew up between the high class of Earth, the bioengineered Good Men, who treated normal populations as disposable sludge, and in broomer lairs, where frankly most of the population treated themselves as disposable sludge.
But there was something to the way these boys were body-modified that put a chill up my spine and made me realize I was dealing with something completely different.
Throughout the ages, humans had dressed and adorned themselves to look different or to signify membership in some group or family. I was going to assume these boys were adorned according to some tribe or affiliation. I was hoping the tribe was “The Insane Neurotics” because that was how they looked.
Before I could make sure that my air of surprise was just perfect, they’d replied with their own hair of surprise. Nose-pierced red-head jumped back. I mind-heard him say Whoa!
Danegerous stood rooted to spot and I heard him mind-proclaim to the world at large It’s a woman.
And the baby, the little twelve year old was holding two burners out and pointed at me.
The shock that I could hear them mind talk hit me at the same time that I recognized the youngest one. I recognized his movements, the crazed look in his eyes, I recognized the sort of mind that always, always, reaches for a weapon first; the type of temperament that views anything strange and fascinating as something that should be shot first, so it could be dissected later at leisure.
Staring at me, those baby blue eyes in the tattooed face were my Daddy-Dearest’s eyes and my eyes too. I didn’t know how this was possible, and I was not even going to make any guesses. Just as I wasn’t going to make any guesses about their mind talk. We’d heard that the telepathy bio-ed into the mules was limited and bonded. That is it had to be a bonded pair to allow it to flow. Though really, Kit and I hadn’t been when we’d first talked, but an exception doesn’t negate the rule.
Unless these three were bonded, of course, which was possible, as there are many kinds of bond. But I didn’t want to know why I could hear them, anyway, nor why or how this kid was … for lack of a better term, my baby brother. I just knew he was. He’d been made from the same genes that had gone into making me and my late father, Alexander Milton Sinistra. The feral blue eyes were the same that had stared out of the mirror at me for most of my growing up years. I hadn’t even realized they had changed until now.
A cold shot of fear went up my spine, because let’s face it, I knew myself, and I’d known daddy. No one with those genes could be trusted, not even for the simple things that untrustworthy people could be trusted with, like, you know, not doing things that will get them killed.
My face must have turned to stone. He hadn’t recognized me, or the relationship between us. Which was good, I supposed. I was measuring the space between us and figuring out how to disarm him. I wondered if the other two were armed too. So far they were not making any effort to reach for guns.
“How do you know he’s a woman?” Baby Brother asked, in voice, glaring over his shoulder at the other two while keeping his weapons trained on me.
With anyone else, I’d have risked a lunge at him. I would. But with him, which is to say with myself, it was too risky. It might push him past slightly annoyed into homicidal maniac. I felt a trickle of cold sweat run down my back. From the pile of toys I heard the snuffle, snuffle, snuffle that was often the precursor to a really good Eris; cry. Surely not. Surely she wasn’t going to start… Please, don’t start. I didn’t want to see what these feral children could do to a baby. I was going to guess they had no protective instincts of any sort.
I took slow, controlled breaths.
The redhead, who was clearly the oldest one, blushed. It was kind of weird to see someone that pierced and tattooed blush, but blush he did. His voice was gruff and low as he said, “Look at her. She—” He made gestures in the front of his chest, even though Baby Brother had gone back to staring at me and wouldn’t see me. “She looks like a woman.”
“Maybe he’s just malformed. How would you know?” Baby Brother was defiant and sneering. “What would you know what a woman looks like, anyway? And how many women can there be? On Earth?”
“Uh,” Danegerous said. “Uh. Many. The hollos,” he said. “From Earth.”
“Bah,” Baby brother said. “They could just be differently dressed men. How would you know what they look like naked? That’s the only way to tell if there are real differences.”
I saw the two older ones trade a look and thought there must be hollos that Baby Brother wasn’t privy to. But why hadn’t they seen women? And why did they seem to think women were rare? Had they been raised in some home for the seriously mentally unstable, kept locked away from all of humanity? Now I thought about it, it made perfect sense, actually.
“Come on,” the tallest and oldest one, the redhead, said. “You don’t have to see what they look like naked to see they’re different. In olden times, they were the people who gave birth. Their whole body is designed for it.”
Baby Brother’s eyebrows went up. He looked deeply thoughtful, in that way that my soi disant father had looked before he had someone arrested. He turned to me. “Strip. We’ll see if it’s true.”
Right. And I’d see him in hell.
But I couldn’t say that, and I couldn’t mouth off. There was that snuffle, snuffle from the toy storage at the back. I had to control my expression. I had to find a way out of this.
I couldn’t run at him and pound him into dirt, because the other two might object, and if Baby Brother had the enhanced speed as I did, the other two might also.
And I couldn’t intimidate him with words, because I didn’t know where he’d come from or what he’d been through. As I said, an asylum wasn’t out of the question. Perhaps father had made him as a back-up body donor. The thing was I didn’t know what to hold over him. If someone has already been raised in hell, threatening him with flames is besides the point. Which I’d proven over and over again when well-meaning ladies had threatened me with expulsion from schools where Daddy dearest had enrolled me.
When sane routes out of trouble are impassible, as my broomer friends had taught me, you take the crazy one.
I let my knees hit the floor, raised both my hands to my head, and bawled in the most sincere way I could manage, “Oh, please, don’t hurt me.” My noise had the effect of covering any noise Eris might make.
By the corner of my eye, while crying, and cringing, I noted that Redhead and Danegerous had jumped back. Apparently my performance was terrifying.
But Baby Brother also resembled me in not scaring. Or perhaps in scaring angry.
His lip curled up. “He’s a coward,” he said, and stepped forward, raising his foot. I had to struggle not to smile. The more psychotic they are, the easier they fall. And by genetics alone, poor Baby Brother was laboring under more issues than some long-running journals.
As he raised his foot to kick me, I bent forward, as though to grovel, and said, “Oh, please, I’m just a poor woman.” I noted that both Redhead and Danegerous did a little mental shout of Told you so. Which was good because it took them off guard too.
I grabbed Baby Brother’s foot before his kick landed, and pulled. Up. Hard. With Super Speed.
Look, just because they could move very fast, didn’t mean they thought other people could too. Or perhaps they didn’t think women could. Or perhaps they just couldn’t think.
As Baby Brother hit the ground with a resounding jar, and before he could roll over and shoot me, which he would have, given half a chance, I had removed his burners. I slipped one into my pocket. Then I lifted the insufferable brat by the tuft of ill-dyed hair, and pointed my burner at his head. My idea was to use him a shield and threaten to shoot him.
But of course, nothing is ever easy or simple. The horrible brat spun around, somehow, ignoring pain. His hair tore at the roots. Leaving me holding a hank of improbably colored hair, he got free. I realized why he was missing tufts of hair. Apparently fighting recklessly was one of his amusements.
He aimed for my crotch with a well applied kick, and while it still hurt, it didn’t hurt me like he expected – I guess he really didn’t know any women – which allowed me to bring the burner butt neatly into the side of his head, rendering him unconscious, just as Redhead dove at me.
I shoved Baby Brother out of the way and kicked Redhead in the crotch just before he hit me. Of all the fighting I learned, both formal and street, for my money, the best training I ever got for combat was the ballet camp I once attended. It allows such precision in high kicks. I jumped out of the way as he rolled on the floor clutching his family jewels. Since I didn’t know his resiliency level, I pulled the burner from my hair – look, I didn’t know Baby Brother’s standards in weapon maintenance. The one I’d taken from him might or might not work – and pointed a burner at him and one at Danegerous, who was backing up, both hands in full sight, his mouth working.
Weirdly, the Redhead, on the floor didn’t even look at me. He howled, both mind and voice, staring at his companion, “Thor, don’t.”
Danegerous gave a little start, and looked mulish, while shaking his head. “If we’re going to fail… If we fail… You know what Father—”
“Fuck Father,” the redhead yelled. I felt wordless shock from the other two. “This doesn’t mean we’ll fail. Just because the guy didn’t know anything about Earth, and we let Morgan try his way at making friends and influencing people, it doesn’t mean we failed at the mission.” He looked at me. “Look, Ma’am, I know we started badly, but if you give us a chance, we want nothing nefarious. We’re emissaries on a peace mission.”
“And I’m Winnie the Pooh,” I said.
“No, you’re not,” Danegerous said with an edge of hysteria to his voice, his hand reaching into his pocket. “We know him. He’s much younger than you.”
At the same time I yelled “Freeze.”
He didn’t, so I leapt across the room, grabbed his hand in mine and pointed the weapon at his head. Only to point it at the redhead who made a jump at us. Finding the burner pointed at his head, he lifted both hands, “Ma’am,” he said, the soul of politeness. “You must let me get the stuff from Thor’s pockets. He’s an explosives fanatic, and he’s trying to blow us all up.”
“I have to,” the so called Thor yelled. “You know what Father will do to us if we come back defeated.”
Which is when his voice, wavering and adolescent though it was, found a place in my head. “Thor… Mason?” I asked.
He froze. “Wah?”
“From the genetic line of Ajith Mason?” I asked.
The Redhead who’d been inching closer, with all the stealth of a cat, stopped and froze too. He stared at me. And I caught a flash in the eyes that made his features click into place. “And you,” I pointed the burner at him, and waved with it. “You’re Jarl Ingemar’s clone.”
I should have known better. Look, perhaps it’s genetic. Like Little Brother I apparently had a way to make friends and influence people.
I’m not going to give you a blow by blow account. I don’t remember it. I remember Thor Mason squirming, trying to go for his stored bombs, presumably. I mean, what would you expect from Fuse’s little brother?
I hit him hard, on the head, and eased him down quickly, just in time to deal with Jarl’s – and therefore my husband’s — clone who seemed unsure on whether to attack or not and therefore was at a disadvantage when I hit him hard.
I was in the process of tying all of them, individually and securely when Eris started screaming blue murder, and Kit yelled in my head Athena, Athena, answer me.