*This story is a prequel of sorts to Darkship Revenge (and Hacking the Storm.)
It is not proofread. Yeah, I know. The free ice cream doesn’t have ALL the toppings. Sorry. I meant to do this earlier, but it turns out Advair ALSO turns off the writing. Which means I’m going to have to find another asthma solution, or see if I can do with the small emergency inhaler. So it’s last minute, and this is unproof-read. I’ll put up a proofread version in ebook format for download later, if ya’ll want it. And if it’s not cabbage. – SAH*
NOTE: I WILL PUT GUEST POSTS UP STARTING THURSDAY. (FOR A WEEK. I’M TAKING A BLOG VACATION.) I’D LIKE TO GIVE THE STORY SOME TIME TO BE SEEN. I AM ALSO ECHOING IT AT MAD GENIUS CLUB, BECAUSE I WAS TOLD TO.
Lost and Found
Sarah A. Hoyt
I had a minute. Maybe less. He lay on the bed, his eyes closed, various tubes entering and exiting his body. Machines surrounded him, beeping, burping and making all sorts of noises.
I knew what each of those noises meant. If I looked closely, I’d know what each of those tubes were doing too. I’d cared for countless patients just out of the regen machine.
But this wasn’t any patient. This was Fuse. He’d been my friend. My lover. And while the machines were fixing what was wrong with him, I knew what came after; what the plans for him were.
Even in his weakened state; even before his mind came back and he remembered who he was, his father, the Good Man of the Seacity of Albion, had placed armed guards by the door and two more, inside the door, holding high-powered burners.
There was just one of me. I had no weapons. I had a minute. Maybe less. But I had no idea how to free a very ill man with his mind in ruins. Yet I must do it, or he would die.
There is a saying, come to us from the ancients, perhaps as far back as the twentieth century – not that I’m sure anything survived that long, past wars, revolutions, famines, the Turmoils, and the many times rulers found it convenient to make sure every record of the past was lost – or at least my professor said it might be that old, back when I studied ancient literature: If you love something, let it go. If it comes back to you, it’s yours. If it doesn’t, it never was.
No wonder the ancients fell. No, I’m quite serious. They forgot the very act of letting go might tell the something you don’t value it. Worse, most of the “things” you can let go aren’t able to look after themselves.
Fuse, aka the Patrician Ajith Mainard Rex Mason, the only son of the Good Man of Albion had been competent, sociable, able to look after himself and more.
Until he wasn’t. Which is when he was wrenched away from me. Only to come back damaged and in danger for his life.
Like most things in Albion, it all started at the order of the Good Man, in this case filtered down to an order by my superior, Doctor Belmont. He was an older man, old enough to be my father, who seemed nonetheless completely up to date – then some – on the newest techniques of regen and medicine.
After a hard day of work at the Good Man’s secret labs – and yes, the reasons for both the secret and the latest techniques made sense. When a Good Man died there was often turmoil and war, and I liked safety and stability as much as the next person – he’d come to my desk, tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Addie, there’s something I’d like you to do for me, if you have the evening free.”
It wasn’t that kind of tap on the shoulder and it wasn’t that kind of request. Doctor Belmont had never shown any inclination to treat me as anything other than a daughter, maybe. He did have a tendency to pass boring or time consuming work to me, though. Which I guessed was fair, since I was twenty five, just out of medical school, for which I’d been recommended by my professors after finishing normal medtech training. I’d spent twelve years being trained for this, but I didn’t have practice, as it were. Doctor Belmont did. And besides, he was older and had a family and children, while I lived alone and had no social life.
I’d turned away from the research I was doing, on new gene splicing techniques, a way to heal the ravages of old age and illness, and looked up at Doctor Belmont. He looked somewhat embarrassed, “It’s a party,” he said.
“You want me to go to a party with your family?” I asked, confused.
He grinned sheepishly. “No, instead of me, so I can– Well, it’s my anniversary. Of course the Good Man’s orders come first, but it’s my thirtieth anniversary, and this is a simple enough job.”
“A job? At a party?”
This time the grin was less sheepish and more rueful. “The Good Man wants someone to certify that his son, Ajith, is in good enough health.”
“Good enough health for what?”
“Just good health.”
“Shouldn’t he come in and see us, then?”
“Yes, but he refuses to. Has a phobia of doctors, his father says. So, would you do it? Go to a party at the Good Man’s mansion and certify that the heir is in good health?”
I thought quickly. There were things I could smuggle. There were those med readers in bracelets, for the exceptionally hypochondriac. I happened to have one a teacher had given me years ago. If I pressed it against the heir, it should give me a read on him.
It’s not that I disliked parties, mind, but a party at this level was going to be a right pain. I sighed. It was still work. And I got paid more than I’d ever dreamed of. “Yah. All right.”
I’m not a hellion. Didn’t have much time to be one, in my youth, what with first training as a medtech, and then getting pushed to higher study and actually learning the theory and science behind the techniques for years.
But in my brief time with Fuse, I’d learned a bit about what to do when everything was against you. Even though he was in front of me, on that stupid medical bed, unconscious; even though for years now he hadn’t been himself, I could hear his voice in my head, clear as a bell, “When in an impossible situation, do something crazy. An explosion is always good.”
Nothing on hand would cause an explosion. No. I revise that. Most things on hand would cause an explosion, given enough time and knowledge. Were I Fuse, I would be able to blow this entire room to kingdom come with one of the medical machines, two drops of water and a stick of chewing gum, or equally unlikely equipment.
But I wasn’t Fuse, and all I had was myself. So an explosion was right out. But I could cause something akin to an explosion. Distract the guards. Grab their weapons. And then play it by ear.
I pretended to look at the readings in the nearest machine, made a noise of annoyance, as though I’d just remembered something. The guards remained uninterested. I opened the med supply cabinet. Because this was important – very important – they had every drug known to me, and some I wasn’t sure about. Just in case they were required, of course.
I pocketed three injectors of Morpheus into my lab coat. Better than burners those were. One shot and you’d sleep for hours.
And then I found what I was looking for.
First time I saw Fuse in person, he was frowning at me. It wasn’t exactly an hostile frown, more the type of look a man gives to a puzzle he’s not sure of being able to solve.
He was big, but what I believe is called “rawboned.” Though he looked like he could take things – to include most people – apart with his bare hands, his bones seemed to show through in cheekbones and shoulders, wrists, and his large, blunt-looking hands.
He was not conventionally handsome. Though he was wearing some sort of new-silk suit, jacket elaborately cut, pants that followed his legs in a way that could only be achieved by a highly trained tailor, there was nothing pretty or dainty or high-class about him. From his, impeccably cut but unruly, dark hair, to his heavy brows, if I hadn’t known who he was; if I hadn’t seen him in the news more than once, I’d have thought he was a body guard, or some kind of heavy muscle hired for the occasion.
At least I’d have assumed that till I looked at his eyes, which were lively, curious, and intent. He caught me looking and smiled back, a confident smile. Of course, what wouldn’t he have to smile about? He was the only son of one of the fifty men who, between them, ruled over the Earth and disposed of all of its wealth. He probably hadn’t heard the word “no”, ever, in his whole life.
But I was here to certify him healthy. Not that there could be any doubt of this man’s health, but I suppose his aged father was worried. Not that in my few encounters with the Good Man I’d found him the worrying kind. Or the caring kind. Or the human kind. But that was probably my prejudice and the fact I didn’t know the Good Man very well. I could feel his eyes on me now, from where he watched his son – and presumably me – from a sort of dais at the end of the room, from which he presided over the hundred and some people in attendance.
So I smiled back at the heir to the Good Man. He tilted his head sideways, and the frown of puzzlement accentuated.
Then he was at my side, suddenly. “You’re not one of the normal people at these things.”
“My father’s parties. Deadly dull, aren’t they?”
It wasn’t my place to criticize the Good Man, and the heir was staying unnervingly just out of reach, so I inclined my head and didn’t say anything.
“Who are you?”
“Adelaide Hawkins,” I said. And added, not sure it was a good idea, but needing it as a sort of shield, before those very observant eyes. “Doctor Adelaide Hawkins.”
He rolled his eyes and smiled. “Ah, one of my father’s endless body-keepers. You work for Doctor Belmont?”
“Well, you’re far better looking than him,” he said. “I approve. Do you dance?”
I did, sort of, having been taught all the necessary social graces in the boarding school for promising young people to which I’d been sent while still a toddler. I’d even danced: at school functions, at formal parties at the lab.
Dancing with Fuse was a different experience. I’d later find out he couldn’t actually read minds. But in his dancing, it was as though he could. Held close to him, I was still able to dance, but his body and mine seemed to guess each other, as though he were aware of each of my minimal movements, my smallest gestures. Which of course, he was. It was part of how he was designed, and probably not even conscious. Though I didn’t know that at the time.
I got a read on the med bracelet during the dance. I’d planned to leave immediately after I got it. But that big, surprisingly calloused hand got hold of mine, when the dance was done, and his deep, slightly scratchy voice whispered in my ear, “Hey, can I show you something?”
Good girls with enough brains to be doctors were taught early and often not to listen to the blandishments of men with power and position, particularly one who had a reputation as the love-them-and-leave-them sort, a reputation even I – who rarely paid attention to social gossip – was aware of.
But he seemed less like a vile seducer, and more like a little boy who wanted me to show you his rock collection. Against my best judgement, I said yes.
Rummaging in the medical supply cabinet, in this hospital room set up in the Good Man’s mansion, I found the injector I was looking for. It wasn’t what I wanted, as such. Given my choice, I’d have used something more gentle. But there wasn’t anything more gentle, and I didn’t have the days something like that would take to work. I had… probably thirty seconds. Maybe less.
Feeling as though a clock were counting down in my head, I grabbed the red injector. It was the sort of thing we used to bring patients back from comas. It didn’t always work, but when it worked, it was fast. A little rough but fast. Sometimes patients took a while to get their bearings and remember who they were. But they were awake and moving. In this case, I might have to settle for that.
Walking towards the bed, I was so afraid the guards would notice, that my heart beat drowned out the beeps of the machinery.
Before I used the injector, and despite the press of time, I couldn’t resist. Fuse’s face did not look like it had when I’d first met him. One of the sides was slack, in the way that denotes brain damage. There were scars crisscrossing face and scalp. I traced a scar from his scalp to his chin. It would get taken care of, of course, and it didn’t matter provided his mind came back.
If it was given a chance to.
I put the injector to his neck, hidden in the palm of my hand, away from the guards, and pushed to activate it.
Fuse’s eyes flew open. He sat up screaming.
I couldn’t have hoped for better.
“These are illegal,” said, stupidly, when Ajith Mason took me via a bewildering set of passageways and rooms to an outer room, where he removed a broom from a closet.
Brooms are antigrav wands, thus called as a joke on the mythical witch’s transport. They can be anywhere from two feet long and two palms in diameter, with absolutely no features, to what was called in slang “loads.” Loads were brooms about five feet long, with saddle and oxygen masks and other fittings that made for a very comfortable ride. This one was a… loaded Load, a broom outfitted for two people. Ajith Mason had removed it from a closet and set it on the marble tiles, then turned back to rummage in the closet for something else.
As he turned around, holding a coat, he grinned, and the corner of his eyes crinkled in mischievous amusement. “Very,” he said. Then handed me the coat. “I’m sorry. It will be very big, but you’re really not dressed for broom riding.”
No, a backless dress could not be considered ideal for broom riding. Not that I’d ever gone broom riding, though I’d seen it a lot in sensis and read novels where people did broom ride. Usually, the characters who broom rode were desperate, or criminals, or something, not the heir to a domain that included one of the largest and most productive Seacities, several algae farms and processing plants and vast territories in North America.
“These pants will help also,” he said, pulling padded leather pants from the closet. “Here, tuck your dress in. I’ll help.”
Look, I’m really not a complete idiot. And I’d read enough fiction and even true crime accounts to know what happened when young wastrel took innocent to an isolated place on a forbidden form of conveyance. Only it wasn’t like that. No. It really wasn’t like that. There was no menace, and certainly no lecherous feeling from Ajith. It was back to the little boy who wanted to show me his rock collection. The best way to convey me there was on a broom, so we were going on a broom, and he was almost endearingly blind to how this would look from the outside.
He did help me tuck in the dress, and he found me ridiculously large boots that could go over my dainty evening shoes. Then he dressed himself.
Moments later we were aloft, with me held in front, between his arms, as though he were afraid I would fall, or perhaps throw myself down. He reached past me to control the broom.
Sea and sky were dark velvet studded with shining diamonds.
Fuse’s scream brought the two guards towards us. No way it wouldn’t happen. It was merely human. Then ran towards me, and I was ready, with the two Morpheus injectors, one on each neck, fast.
One of them must be tough as nails. Before he collapsed, he had time to try to grab at my shoulder, but then his hand went lax, and he fell to the floor in a heap, next to his comrade. I grabbed their burners. Waste not, want not. I stepped to the door and barred it, pulling a supply cabinet in front of it, and only then did I turn towards Fuse on the bed.
The truth is, I was afraid what I would meet in those once so bright eyes. But what I met was the same intent frown he’d given me the first night we’d met. His mouth worked, as if trying to find a memory to put with what his eyes told him. “Angie?” he said. Then shook his head, and said, “No. Addie.”
“Yes, love,” I said, in a whisper. The guards had gone down without a sound, but Fuse had screamed. And that could send the guards running towards us. I waited, my heart thudding so hard in my chest I was sure everyone else could hear it.
“Love?” he said. Then “Love…” He frowned and touched his lips, as though trying to find the memory of all the lost kisses. Or maybe his lips just felt funny. “What? What? What… Where?”
He’d been captured in a special mission by his father’s guards, but there was no time to explain that. “You’re in your father’s mansion.”
It was the wrong thing to say. I’d planned on turning off the machines, before he removed sensors, but it was too late for that. He was pulling leads off his body, there were shrieks from the machines. From outside came the sound of running, and frantic knocking on the door.
“Listen,” I said, grabbing Fuse’s arm, not sure he could even understand. “Listen. There is only one way we get you out of here alive.”
“Fireworks?” I said, in some puzzlement. Though my concentration of study was health sciences, my hobby had always been ancient history. I read it and watched sensis and sometimes lived part time in the past. I suppose it compensated for having no life in the present. I’d read about fireworks, but never actually seen it.
Ajith Mason laughed, delighted at surprising me. “I like explosions,” he said. “But there’s so few socially acceptable types of explosions. I once blew up a hole in my father’s pleasure gardens. I was five. I used household chemicals. After that, I learned … to use my talent in other ways. I– Never mind. My broomer’s lair… Uh. I probably should not have told you there was such a thing.”
Given the way he piloted a broom, I’d already guessed there was such a thing. I shrugged. “So you blow up things for the broomer’s lair?” Seemed odd. Did he engage in full out war?
He laughed. “We made a lair out of a bubble in the dimatough base of a seacity. And we had to enlarge it.” He shrugged. “It was great fun. Controlled explosions. But … but there’s other stuff. I did rockets for a while, for fun, also controlled explosions. Then I read about fireworks and I learned to create them.
We were in a small island, not too far from the Seacity, but far enough that our activities here should cause no alarm. It was a natural island, probably ten acres or so in size, mostly beach, with a little summit crowned with thin dirt over rock, and a few wind-swept stunted trees.
Ajith had a small cabin there, the sort of thing you buy pre-built and can fly in pieces in a flier.
“Which is exactly what I did, piece by piece, without telling my father,” he said. “And stop calling me Ajith. Only Father calls me that. The servants call me Patrician Mason. My friends call me Fuse.”
“I can’t imagine why,” I said, wryly, and he turned back from what he was doing, picking and choosing through a pile of things in a cabinet: cylindrical things, mostly to give me another of his crinkle-eye smiles.
He took an armful of the cylindrical objects out, and set the, some distance away from the cabin, then came back, grabbed a blanket he set in front of the cabin door, and told me to sit and stay, as if I were a pup.
He, himself, ran down the beach to where he’d set things up, then ran back, his face flushed, to put his arm around me as we sat on the blanket. Moments later, there was a boom, and a flower of light in all colors of the rainbow bloomed in the sky, reflected in the sea. “Fireworks,” he said.
And indeed there were.
“You’re going to have to hold me hostage,” I told him.
Fuse was sitting on the side of the bed, naked as the day he’d been born. The scars couldn’t distract from his powerful, muscular body, and I thought with a pang that I’d not given any thought to getting him dressed, damn it. The problem with doing this sort of planning without Fuse, was that he was the one who did the planning for all our escapades before.
While the guards pounded on the door, I started undressing the largest guard. Thank all divinities, he was wearing an all-piece thing, and not dimatough armor. Dimatough armor, I’d heard, took several people to remove.
This was a matter of pulling a long fastener open, then wrestling it off the man. Fuse tried to pull my arm. “Angie? Annie? Addie?”
“I have to get out. My father wants to kill me.”
“I know, love.” The whole undressing the guard thing had taken a couple of minutes. The door was buckling, and, from the sound, someone had brought something bigger, like a large piece of furniture, to push into the door, propelled by several large men. Then would be here in no time.
“Just hold me hostage, all right?” I said. I pushed a burner into his hand. “Hold this to my head.”
He looked confused. I was giving a burner to a man who would sometimes in the last ten years have had trouble remembering his own name. And who would probably now be worse, due to the nanocite treatments just starting. The brain is a delicate instrument, I had reason to know. It was easier to break than to put together, easier to confuse than to assemble into coherent shape.
Fuse and I had been seeing each other for months, friendship proceeding by slow steps and then transmuting to love.
I not only had said nothing at the lab – I was required to be of “good moral character” to work as one of the Good Man’s doctors, after all – but we’d both kept it as silent as possible.
It never occurred to me that it might turn into marriage, and I’m not even sure why. After all few Good Men married daughters of other Good Men. All told the Good Men must use some form of sex control in their children, because there were very few daughters. So they married their own subjects. But the people they married were usually the daughters of merchants and other rich families, not doctors who had been removed from their families at two for being smart enough to enroll in special schools, and whose parents were common laborers.
I wasn’t the kind that made a Patrician by marriage. Which was just as well, because I was starting to suspect that Fuse was a very unlikely Patrician himself. I’d found out he hated parties as much as I did, and he read almost as much, and had as unlikely a turn for history.
Often, on weekends, in his cabin, we spent all day reading. But at night there were always fireworks.
Still, it surprised me when I caught hints that he was due in at our facility for some kind of procedure.
Look, it was rare enough for us to have patients in. They needed to be pretty essential to the Good Man, and sick with something that no one else could figure to rate our facility. But Fuse wasn’t sick. I’d bet my life on that. I knew exactly how healthy he was.
I asked Doctor Belmont, “Patrician Mason needs surgery?”
Doctor Belmont looked scared, for just a second. It was so quick, I probably shouldn’t have seen it. “Yes. It’s a congenital issue. We’re changing it, before his father dies. He’s pretty ill, you know, and Patrician Mason must be ready to inherit.”
Where do our fears come from? And our certainties? Maybe it was because I’d been working on the genetics of Good Man Mason and finding all sorts of abnormalities that betrayed his not being – as “everyone knew” – “the most genetically pure and natural of humans” but in fact highly engineered and with seeming stops to reproduction and cloning, just like the ones that were said to be set on Mules before the turmoils. Maybe it was the expression on Doctor Belmont’s face. Maybe it was something else.
I just know I was suddenly absolutely sure that if Fuse came in for this procedure he’d not leave the facility alive. Or at least not alive and himself. There would be something done to him; something to change his rebellious nature perhaps. Something that would make him not-Fuse.
I had to tell him.
As the door cracked and splintered, I grabbed the rope ladder from my pocket. It was the only thing I’d been able to bring with me, because it was so small, rolled into a tiny ball. “Hold me hostage till you get to the window,” I said, praying he’d understand. “Then go, fast, fast. I drive a red Gryphon 3000. I have already set the gencode so you can open it.” I risked a look at his eyes, and they seemed attuned to me, fully conscious. He nodded.
Then he put the burner to my head as the door cracked open and guards came in. “Stop or I shoot,” he said. But that wasn’t even to protect himself. It was to protect me. I hadn’t had time to explain, but I had to make it look like I wasn’t compliant.
The guards didn’t stop, and were on me in no time. But Fuse had already left down the rope ladder, fast, fast, and when I could extricate myself, because the guards were screaming into comlinks, he was running through the parking lot, a blur almost too fast for the eye to see.
Thank heavens whoever created the mules who became the Good Men gave them extraordinary speed of movement.
“They are the Mules,” Fuse said. He had taken my warning to heart, mostly because he hadn’t known of any procedure he had to go through, large or small. So we’d used my credentials to break into my workplace late at night.
It turned out another of those unexplained abilities that Fuse had was a facility with computers. He’d managed to defeat several levels of security and access secret files. “Addie, they are the Mules. From the twenty first, before the Turmoils. The ones that were built as supermen and became the Bio Lords.”
“They can’t be,” I said, looking over his shoulder at a treasure trove of archaic writing. “They’d be 300? 400? Years old?” The uncertainty came from how bad records had got during the turmoils, and how many had been lost.
“They are,” Fuse said. “They are. No, hold on. You see, they have heirs to pretend that succession takes place, but we’re really just “clones” of our fathers, and our “mothers” are window dressing. When time comes for us to “inherit” our brain is removed from our heads, and our father’s brain transplanted in.
It had taken a long time for me to believe it. It was too monstrous. If I hadn’t been a history buff I might not have believed it. But there was too much in the documents Fuse found that was obviously corroborated by other sources that this too, as unbelievable as it was, must be true.
It was almost dawn when Fuse said, “All right. We must run away Addie. But before we do, I must warn my broomer’s lair.”
To my blank look, he said, “I have to, darling. Many of them are also so called children of Good Men.”
He kissed me hard, and left on his broom, leaving me to clean up and pretend we’d never broken into the system.
I didn’t see him again until he was brought in, as a patient for regen and brain rehabilitation, in his so called father’s Mansion.
By then Doctor Belmont was near retirement, and he had to trust me. He had no reason not to. He didn’t know that the night Fuse’s intrusion into the clinic’s system had been detected and Fuse had been followed by his father’s guards while trying to warn his broomer lair I had been his accomplice. He didn’t know that when Fuse got severely injured flying through an old cargo-unloading machine, and become, functionally, a six year old in a scarred adult body, it had broken my heart.
He didn’t know I knew why Fuse must now be publicly healed and rehabilitated so he could inherit. His father was suffering from a particularly aggressive, incurable cancer. And the heir he’d created after Fuse’s accident was less than ten years old.
Which meant that he must make Fuse a plausible heir.
And I must save Fuse.
I didn’t see Fuse take my flyer, and for the longest time, while counselors and guards questioned me and made no sense of my “hysterical” answers, I didn’t even know if he’d understood what I told him, or if he tried to run off on foot.
I knew that he hadn’t been caught, because they kept asking me where he might have gone.
My home or the cabin is where I’d hoped he’d gone. More likely the cabin, since his father didn’t know about it.
But afterwards, after I’d got a report my flyer had crashed and burned, but there were no human remains aboard, I’d checked the cabin and it was deserted and unused.
And I didn’t know if Fuse would ever remember me, or come back to me. I hoped, but I couldn’t know. The brain is such a tricky thing. And the heart is even more so. Perhaps as he slowly healed, he’d find another love. Perhaps the parts of his memory that contained our firelit nights were gone forever.
But I’d saved him. And I’d set him free.
If you love something set it free and watch it fly. Even if it flies away forever.
Happiness was knowing that somewhere Fuse was forging his own destiny, alive and soon to be well.
And wherever he was, I loved him.
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This story is set in the universe of Darkship Thieves and is a prequel to: