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Chapter Forty-Nine


The ruined city, 1880


"Your work is progressing well now?" asked Micah, looking about him at the notebooks and sketches heaped about Crawford. "Can you read it?" He waved a hand up at the great inscription below which Crawford sat.

Crawford quirked his lips in a rueful smile. "Some words only," he admitted. "I have at least recorded it all accurately." He indicated some sections of the plaster that he and Nagi had, with utmost care, removed from the wall. He held up a lantern so that Micah could see the bright colours more clearly. "I'll pack these sections up for transport, we shall take them with us."

"How will you decipher them?" asked Micah, touching one of the highly decorated pieces of plaster lightly. "You will not have the benefit of the learned men in the Schloß, remember that."

"There are other scholars in the worlds," said Crawford. Then with a smile even more rueful he continued, "I am taking images I find attractive, Micah. No doubt you will laugh at me now."

"Not at all," said that gentleman easily. "Beauty is also important in life - you would have liked India, Bradley. Everything was very beautiful there. The colours seemed so much more vibrant than in Europe, and the flowers were more exuberant in their scent than any rose I have seen since." He nodded towards the sections of plaster. "And if needs be, you can sell them. Antiquarians would pay highly, no doubt."

"Very highly," agreed Crawford. "Though our funds should be more than sufficient with what we have found here." He drank water eagerly, offering the jug then to Micah. "I have a fancy to place these upon my parlour wall."

"You'll have a parlour?" said Micah indistinctly, drinking too.

"Oh, yes. With fashionable furniture, in a fashionable city. Schuldig would not be able to survive without theatres and restaurants. He likes his distractions and his places where he may be admired."

Micah laughed. "He does well enough here, I thought. Is that what you shall do with your freedom, brother? Spend your days spoiling Schuldig?"

"No doubt it will become wearisome for both of us in time," said Crawford quietly, "But I should like to have the opportunity." He sighed at Micah's polite expression. "You do not approve, I know."

"It is not my business," said Micah simply. "He is your friend." He offered Crawford some food, saying, "Here, I tried making cakes of the native grain, though they are somewhat tasteless, I fear."

"They are much better than anything Schuldig or I turn our hands to," said Crawford. "And it is better by far not to think of Farfarello's cooking whilst eating!" He washed down his meal with another draught of water.

"When we return to Earth," said Micah, "What shall we do? You cannot mean to storm the Schloß! You've said you don't want to be a fugitive all your life."

"That would not be freedom," said Crawford. "No, I had hoped perhaps to buy or bargain our freedom with the information gained here, mixed with a proper show of force. But that would be only if necessary - the world is a big place, Micah, as is Mars. If Farfarello had not attracted such unwelcome attention to us here, we could simply have gone missing as have so many explorers in the Martian wastes. We could have returned to Earth in some years, when the trail had quite gone dead. Now, however, New London is not large enough for us to hide in and we cannot so conveniently disappear. So now we will be more forceful - I will go to them and make our position quite clear."

"You'll do what?" said Micah in astonishment. "You'll go to the Schloß? Are you insane, Bradley? How can you hope to discuss such things calmly with them? They'll flay the flesh from your bones!"

Crawford grinned at the other man's bewilderment, laughing gaily to see the horror in Micah's eyes. "I am not quite the fool you seem to take me for!" he cried. "No, I do not propose to walk meekly to my doom, like a lamb to the slaughter! I will negotiate from a position of strength - they want the knowledge we have gained here and will pay for it. I'd hoped to know more, but we must work with what we have. I have Nagi as the ace up my sleeve - you've seen how strong the lad is. Let him but lose his temper properly and they can watch the Schloß crash to the ground about them. If needs be, there are persons there I will gladly kill, just to show that I can. But their mere lust for the knowledge we shall bring will no doubt not be enough - I've thought about this and have decided that the way to deal with them is to destroy some of their hopes for the future, and by so doing force them to deal with us in the present. I propose to take something from them that they will not wish to lose, and that they will - if they have any sense at all - be willing to negotiate to have returned to them."

"What's that?" asked Micah in surprise.

Crawford drank another cool mouthful of water, watching him. "The girls," he said.

"The girls," echoed Micah. "You are crazy!"

Crawford shrugged. "You yourself have given me the idea, when you spoke to me of that young mind reader they keep insensible in the hopes of a successful breeding programme. They cannot afford to waste a single one of the girls they have. It will be easy enough to get in, they will want me to report in person. We won't waste time - we'll go straight to the girls' quarters, take the strongest of them and leave. If we have to kill instructors, so be it."

"How will you deal with the locks?" said Micah, breathlessly.

"Nagi," shrugged Crawford. "Don't look so worried, Micah! You know how obsessed they are with their theories of eugenics! They'll want as many of the girls back as possible." He smiled at the thought that the manner in which the girls' quarters were secured against entry could in any way stand up to Nagi's abilities. He could not as yet see the outcome of this action, but he knew well that the powers that ruled the Schloß felt it possible to improve the human race through the selection of perfect parents, and that, deprived of good maternal stock they would be more amenable to listen to reason.

Micah shook his head, as if he could not believe what he heard. "How shall we move about with a gaggle of silly girls slowing us down?" he demanded.

"They won't be silly," said Crawford. "They'll be trained just as are the boys in Schloß Rosenkreuz. They will know better than to hinder us - if they do, we will kill one or two as examples, and the rest will obey quickly enough." He placed a hand upon Micah's shoulder, continuing, "No doubt the girls will give us some trouble - they will not yet have learned that they are slaves, perhaps. Though I would think it should be clearer to them than to the boys! We shall be able to control them, never fear."

"May we at least not take mind readers?" said Micah. "How many of them could Schuldig hope to keep quiet?"

"We'll keep no mind reader strong enough to have lost her name," said Crawford. "We may have to take such a girl, to let our seriousness of purpose be known. But we'll probably kill her as a warning to the others." He looked intently into Micah's face, saying, "We cannot afford to be squeamish."

"They'll hunt us down," said Micah.

"Not if we make it too costly. A mixture of bargaining and force - they'll let us vanish. We are strong, Micah. Few mind readers are as strong as Schuldig, my visions are accurate, Nagi is stronger yet. We can defeat what they send against us."

"Can we?" said Micah morosely. "My abilities are small compared with yours."

"You're intelligent. You can use what you have," said Crawford. "Farfarello has no such abilities at all, yet you could hardly call him weak. They underestimate us, brother."

"They will not once we begin," muttered Micah. "Are you sure we can break away? Bradley, it is not too late. No one knows of your plan - would it not be sensible to bend the neck to them? Do they not treat us well enough?"

"We have been over this ground before," said Crawford. "Don't be afraid! Courage, Micah! We will look down on all those who sought to break us to their will."

"I would like to go back to India," said Micah, after a moment's silence. "We will go to Virginia, you and I, and see my parents. Then I will show you India - you will love it, Bradley! I was never so happy --" he paused and looked away, wiping at his eyes. "Forgive me," he said quietly, his voice queerly desolate. "My work there was important and I felt most appreciated by our erstwhile masters. It was rewarding and engaging. I was sorry to leave."

"Was it so pleasurable?" said Crawford. "I thought both the Europeans and the natives scorned you?"

"Most of them," said Micah softly. "There was a girl I'd have married if I could --"

"Ah," said Crawford. "But you felt you would not receive permission?"

"Yes," sighed Micah. "That, and she was already married."

Crawford pushed his spectacles further up his nose, unsure of what to say. "Do the natives have divorce?" he said finally.

"She was not Indian," said Micah. "Another problem! When the call came to leave I thought of taking her away -- but it was better to leave, I thought. She had said most unkind things to me, though that was because she was afraid." He looked in Crawford's eyes solemnly. "Let us hope the child was her husband's," he said. He rubbed at his face, continuing, "I had told myself I cared nothing for the outcome, till I gained a brother back and found what it was to have a family once more. I wish I knew --"

Crawford took his hand, squeezing it tightly. "We'll find out. If I have a niece or nephew I won't let them be raised as another's. I'm glad that has been a worry I have been spared."

"Are you sure?" said Micah, curling his fingers about Crawford's, his eyes gleaming in the dim light.

Crawford was silent, his eyes downcast.


* * *



Schloß Rosenkreuz, 1870


Crawford leaned back against the wall of the kitchen block, taking his ease in the sudden warmth of spring. Beside him his second-in-command, Franz Scherer, boxed the ears of a younger boy who had unwisely answered his queries without a respectful "Herr Scherer" appended to his words. Crawford flicked a glance at the punishment being administered and decided it was not excessive. His group was one that many of the boys in the Schloß aspired to, for the students all said that beatings within the group were administered only to those who deserved them, and once within the circle protection against all the students outside it was absolute. The younger boy's whines and apologies stopped as Franz straightened and looked across the courtyard.

"Crawford," he said into Crawford's mind. "Look at what's coming."

"I'm not blind," answered Crawford in like manner, pushing away from the wall and adjusting the spectacles no one had been foolish enough to mock him for wearing for some years. All about him boys fell silent as they watched the group of girls, watchful and wary, cross the courtyard. There were far fewer girls in the Schloß than boys, a fact that had been discussed amongst the students many times, the majority of the boys being of the opinion that girls were as naturally inferior in the allocation of supernatural abilities as they were in the averages of height and strength. The approaching group stopped some twenty feet from the boys, the more wary of them looking behind them as boys from other groups stood in knots, whispering to each other. Crawford waited until the moment before the eldest of the girls was about to speak, and smiled coolly.

"Ladies," he said. "To what do we owe the honour?"

The eldest of the girls, a Swedish maiden with pale hair, scowled at him. "Crawford --" she started.

"She knows your name," sniggered Franz. "It must be love."

"Shut up, Franz," Crawford said easily. "What do you want, Andersson?"

"An alliance," she said, glaring at Franz and at the other boys who laughed in an uncouth manner.

"An alliance?" said Crawford. "Why?"

"One of ours was assaulted last night," said Andersson.

"How is that my problem?" asked Crawford. "She was alone I heard - such foolishness deserves whatever befalls it, don't you think? It wasn't one of my people that did it." He directed a quelling glance at two boys attempting to circle round behind the girls. "Why should we help you? Get your own revenge. You have nothing that interests us."

"I want to speak to you privately," said Andersson, ignoring the boys as they laughed all the more loudly and made obscene suggestions.

"Privately?" said Crawford, leaning back against the sun-warmed wall, enjoying the heat through his uniform jacket. "What a queer thing to say. I have mind readers, you have mind readers. What privacy could there be? Make your statement in public or not at all."

Andersson's lips thinned and she made an abrupt gesture. Her second-in-command, a tall English girl, pushed a shivering child out in front of their group. Andersson gave the little girl a further push, shoving her into reach of the boys.

"A hostage," she snapped. "For our good behaviour while we talk."

"Hello, my sweet," Franz said, lifting the girl's chin ungently and smiling as she quivered.

"And you haven't asked for one of ours. You must be desperate," said Crawford.

"Unattractive in a woman," said Franz, pulling the child closer to him.

"Keep her unharmed," Crawford murmured. "I'll speak to Andersson alone."

"Do you want me to listen?" Franz's voice said within his mind.

"Don't be stupid," thought Crawford. "Of course I want you to listen." It was not as if he could stop Franz anyway, which made it better to order him to do as his natural inclinations pushed him. It made other orders more likely to be followed. "I mean it," he thought. "Keep that girl untouched." Without another moment he stepped closer to the girls and with mocking courtesy escorted Andersson to the middle of the courtyard, out of earshot of both groups. That everyone who could was eavesdropping, he had no doubt, but the illusion of privacy was as important in the Schloß as the real thing.

"What do you have that could possibly make me offer you an alliance?" he said without preamble.

"It's what you have," she said. "Everyone says you're not as bad as you could be - and I think you like that. You like people wanting your attention for reasons other than fear."

"If you're not afraid of me you haven't been listening to the right people," Crawford scowled, making himself angry. Andersson could feel what others felt, and he didn't want her thinking she understood him or could manipulate him.

"You don't treat the younger children the harsh way some do. You don't have insubordinate followers beaten half to death. You're fair, Crawford. Not many boys in your position have such a name. Be fair to us and we'll fight your battles. No one will forget the boy who at one stroke gained so many more followers."

Crawford looked down at her, shaking his head. "You're speaking from a position of weakness. You're already afraid of what will happen if you fight by yourselves and lose. Accept what happened and don't let your people be foolhardy in future. I'll give you safe passage back to where the instructors can see you. I'll even give you back your hostage."

"There aren't enough of us," said Andersson furiously. "There are almost five times as many boys!"

"As I said, a position of weakness," said Crawford. "Well, if you are really so desperate -- I don't want an alliance, Andersson. I want your allegiance." He gave her a gentle smile. "On your knees and swear fealty."

"No," she spat. "Be damned to you. We'll take our own revenge." As she turned away Crawford caught her arm.

"All right," he said. "You're not as weak-minded as you seemed." He grinned, saying, "There were two futures - one where you cursed me, one where you were prepared to humiliate yourself beyond belief. I hate toadies, Andersson. There are enough of you to be worth my time. You have your alliance."

"You'll find out who's responsible?" she said.

Crawford shrugged. "Every boy in the Schloß knows who's responsible. I wanted to destroy their group anyway. Be in the far cellars tonight. What you do with them is your business." He looked at her closely. "You're lucky you're such a rare commodity. You won't be punished for going too far."

"Is that your opinion," she said, "or your foresight?"

"Both. Let's get back before our people become worried."

"Wait. There is something else. You may consider it part of our alliance, if you like." She raised her chin and looked at him fearlessly. "You're seventeen. You'll be sent out soon."

"Yes," said Crawford. "Perhaps you should have allied yourself with me last year."

"I won't be sent out so quickly, I'll be here at least another year, like all the girls. You know why."

"Yes," said Crawford again, glad he was not a girl, with the additional burdens placed by the Schloß on that sex.

"If I'm given a choice," she said, "I will ask for you."

"Why?" he asked, seeing in her eyes resigned anger and misery.

"Because," she said, turning from him and walking away. "Everyone says you're not as bad as you could be."

Crawford look after her in silence, then strode back to the waiting youths. "Come on, boys," he said grimly, "We're going hunting."
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