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Authors: Kage Baker

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The Children of the Company

BOOK: The Children of the Company
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This one is dedicated to …
Garrett, Patrick
Megan, Skye
Anya, Adelia
Thomas, Katie
May you, who are so much brighter and better than we were,
learn from history and find a way to save the world.
The man has an air of authority. Dignity, too. Gravity, integrity, and all you’d want to see in the face of a judge. He is a consummate actor.
His name (at least, the name he has used for the last couple of millennia) is Labienus. He is a Facilitator General for Dr. Zeus Incorporated, and the Executive Section Head for the Northwestern American Continent. This means he has a great deal of power, more than a cyborg is generally granted. If his mortal masters had any inkling of how much power he actually has, they’d be terrified.
But Labienus’s mortal masters are in their offices in the twenty-fourth century, safe in some urban hive. Labienus, at this moment, sits in his Company HQ office in 1863, and it is as far from the urban world as he can manage. The view from his window is trackless wilderness.
The local Native Americans have long since learned this is no place to visit for any reason whatsoever, and no prospector will ever manage to straggle this far into the mountains. Were one to do so, however, and were he to climb painfully up the side of a particular towering peak, and were he to look at a particular cliff wall when the light was striking it in a particular way … he’d be astounded to find himself looking into a paneled and carpeted room, where a smooth-faced man would smile out at him before pressing a button to trigger an avalanche to sweep him away like a mosquito.
And the man is smiling now, and humming a sprightly little tune to himself as he scans the file of a low-ranking drone he has just damned. As head of Black Security, it is occasionally his duty to consign his fellow immortals to
the nearest they can come to eternal fires. He doesn’t mind the work. He likes cutting away unnecessary things.
He orders a disk generated of the material he’s just scanned, and a moment later it pops obediently out of a slot in his desk. He takes it and crosses the room to a seldom-used cabinet, where he unlocks and opens a file drawer. At the very back, beyond the slots headed BUDGET REPORTS 1700–1850 and GENETIC SURVEY FOR YUKON REGION, is a small file case he’d labeled in a moment of whimsy. It reads simply DOOMED.
Labienus pulls it out and glances through it. There are a few disks in there, and several paper files. He drops the disk inside, but as he does so the foremost of the paper files spills forward, opens.
An image stares out at him. It is not a human face, as human is counted in 1863, but it might have passed for human sixty thousand years earlier. Prognathous, big and wide, with immense broad cheekbones, nose like a boulder fallen from the cliff of the sharply receding brow, massive jaw. Hair and beard are neutral, the dun color of winter hills where no snow has fallen, and the hair begins far back and is worn long. The eyes are pale, almost colorless. For all its inhuman quality, the face is intelligent and calm.
Labienus finds his smile freezing, and averts his eyes. With a grimace of self-contempt he makes himself look again, stare down the face. It’s only a picture, after all! Still, after a moment he prefers to gaze out the window at the big trees, remembering when he first saw Budu.
One day it might be known as Jericho, but at that time it had no name, no walls, no surrounding desert thick with potsherds. It hadn’t much more than a few reed huts and they sat low on the low earth, no raised mound, at the edge of a lake. It was a green place. There was a lot of rain. When there was a cloudless night, the stars were not in patterns you or I would recognize. Uncounted generations yet before it would occur to anyone that marks poked in clay with a cut reed might serve to freeze a moment in time, or make a hero immortal.
Life prospered in this low place. There was so much food, of all kinds, that it was easy to have a baby every year and feed them all. What it was not easy to do was to find room for them all, crowding around the fire.
The father was a fist, the mother was a vast belly with a pair of sloe-eyed
babies at gourdlike breasts. A boy might be edged away from the fire, especially if he was one of many boys and there was no special reason to value him. A boy might be pushed from the breast, for no reason that he could see except that there were too many children, and if he was too small to be of use yet he might wander off at times unnoticed.
So a boy might escape, occasionally, to the high places where there was plenty of room. He might look down on the huts crowding the low place, and his resentment might in time find expression. He might make songs about the ugliness of the cookfire smoke hanging in the clean air, or the stink of crowded bodies, or the unfairness of life. He would do very well on his own, if he was a resourceful and self-reliant little boy, feeding himself from the abundance all around him.
He might tell himself stories, too, as he lay in the tall grass watching the clouds cross the sky: how the clouds and the stars were people, and he was
child, not the child of the dirty people in their low village. His mother was not that smoke-wrinkled fat creature in the hut; she was a glorious goddess of towering cloud, with high domed breasts yielding pure snowmelt. And his father … perhaps his father was the darkness between the stars, since that was bigger than the stars themselves. Perhaps the boy was a star himself, accidentally fallen to Earth, and didn’t belong in that muddy village at all. Perhaps one day the other stars would notice he was lost and come find him.
There might have come a day when he had been beaten by an older brother, and run crying up to the high place, and sat there alone on the height looking down on the village, hating them all. But the wild places loved him, the big rocks and the cedars and the grasses loved him, and so … they might have listened to him when he fervently wished that something very bad would happen to the wicked dirty people down there. Perhaps they told him he had the power to bring punishment down from the sky.
And perhaps something very bad had happened after all …
He might have watched, too astonished to be frightened, as the tattooed strangers crept up on the far escarpment across the valley and peered down at his village, where the tiny people went to and fro like ants. And maybe like ants the strangers had come swarming down, screaming, and speared his people and set fire to their huts.
Then the boy might have felt terror, watching the flames, then he might have trembled where he crouched in the long grass like a rabbit. But there
might have risen also a sense of wonder in his heart, an awe that was nearly joy.
had made this happen!
Being very little, he might not have understood what occurred next. Gods might have come, tremendous beings with animal bodies and the upper torsos of giants, galloping down into the low place, swinging flint axes. And if the gods made death and death and more death, so that the strangers who had invaded his village were slaughtered in their turn, the boy assumed they too had come down from the sky at his call.
Eventually there would have been only a few ants crawling feebly here and there, and smoke rising and big birds beginning to circle, and perhaps then the boy would have been bewildered to see the centaurs break apart and become giants walking on two legs, leading great bridling stamping beasts. Perhaps he held his breath as the biggest of the giants turned his flat head slowly and stared up at the hills, and seemed to see the boy in his hiding place.
Perhaps then the giant had walked up the long slope, never taking his pale eyes from the boy, unhurried, swinging his flint axe in one bloody hand as he came. But the boy would not have been afraid; and when Budu towered over him at last, and held out his red hand, the boy would have taken it eagerly.
He would have ridden in the crook of the Enforcer’s arm after that, far above the smoke and the pitiful ant-bodies and the crying survivors, and how happy he would have been! And if he was loaded into a magical hut later, that shone like the sun and the moon and rose into the air toward the stars, if it took him to join his true brothers and sisters, it would have been no more than the boy expected.
Perhaps all this was nothing more than a story the boy made up, or an imperfectly remembered dream.
But from that day afterward, he was the child of the gods, and claimed his birthright.
It was good to be the son of a god, though he was perfectly aware he was exploiting the mortal monkeys’ ridiculous superstitions. It was better still to be a new life form with all mortal weakness burned away, a
brilliant and immortal, heir to the technology of the future! And to be a Facilitator was best of all.
The Company sent mere Preservers scurrying through the mortal world after
plants, after animals, after mortals’ genetic material, even after their clumsy clay pots. Preservers were like mice gleaning grain from an endless harvest, drones programmed with obsession for their own petty little disciplines.
Enforcers, the pale-eyed giants who rescued him, had no job but to patrol endlessly and descend like avenging demons upon mortals who made war on one another, so that the peaceful tribes would prevail and civilization would dawn at last. The Enforcers were too short-sighted to see that the very civilization they fought for would render them obsolete, too rigidly focused on their conception of righteousness to pay attention to any other work.
But a Facilitator manipulated mortal destinies to the Company’s advantage. A Facilitator shaped the raw stuff of history! Facilitators were able to adapt, to improvise, to see all sides of a question and understand every one, and that was power. Labienus set aside the name he had been given in the Company school and took the name
It meant “Great Wise One.”
Being the Great Wise One had kept him amused for a while, even as he began to suspect that the mortal masters who had reached back through the past to create him were no better than their pathetic ancestors upon whom he looked down. Impossible to resist dropping the odd technological artifact here and there, knowing how doggedly future archaeologists would label spark plugs or Phillips head screws as “ritual objects of unknown purpose.” Atrahasis had even touched up a few cave paintings, daubing flying saucers amid the bison and wooly mammoths.
This was the gloriously fluid time before history began, when there were nearly infinite possibilities. Nothing yet recorded, except in the pattern of stones tossed to a cultivated field’s edge, in the layers of ash and scrapers left in a cave, in the crumbling brick foundations of unnamed settlements. This was the perfect time—if one was an immortal creature, immeasurably wiser than one’s flawed mortal creators—to lay one’s own foundations for power among the mortal masses.
Not that he ever desired to rule them.
There was water, and mud, and there were reeds.
That was all. No cities, no arts, no industry. In short, no civilization.
The mortals hadn’t cared; they’d been happy enough, living in little clutches of reed huts that were too amorphous even for villages. They’d been
well nourished, too, hunting for ducks, fishing, gathering roots and wild grains.
Young Atrahasis hadn’t cared, either. It was all one to him if the monkeys never came down out of the trees, let alone built themselves nations. He much preferred the social life at Old World One, in the company of his fellow junior executive immortals.
And, while it was true that there were only so many times one could attend a fancy-dress ball in the costume of a god before it just wasn’t amusing anymore, there was still the sex, and the unending delicious gossip. There was the ongoing challenge of how to falsify his monthly reports to his superiors, so that his utter lack of productivity was disguised.
Best of all were the times he got out on his own in his personal aircraft, soaring above the marshy world. It was fun, swooping over the reed huts and watching the little mortals scream and point at him. And when he flew by moonlight, over the wide land and the glittering water, under the white stars: oh, then he truly felt like the son of heaven.
But the day had come when he had been called into the office of Executive Facilitator Nergal, and kept sweating in the antechamber a full two hours before being called in at last and told, with exquisite understatement, that Dr. Zeus had a special place for slackers and liars, not a very nice place really, and would young Atrahasis care to do a bit of work for a change? Such as, perhaps, organizing the mortals in his assigned region into a useful, civilized society?
He didn’t have to be told twice.
Shaking with anger and fear, he had flown out above the land between the two rivers. The first mortals to encounter him did not fare well, especially after they shot arrows into his glider.
But mortals certainly came to fear him, in time, and so they obeyed him. He bid them call him Enlil.
There was water and mud, which must be separated, even as the Lord gathered the waters under heaven together unto one place and let the dry land appear. Atrahasis ordered the mud raised into arable fields, the water drained away into canals. The weary little mortals leaned on their shovels and looked
around at this flat, arid-seeming place, where the old easy life would no longer be possible.
They asked the cruel young god whether they might not rest now; and in response he gave them oxen and plows, and barley to sow. Atrahasis made them farmers. By day they toiled for him in the fields; by night they filed back in long rows to the long reed houses where he stabled them, and slept guarded by his security technicals. Any who tried to escape were punished spectacularly.
BOOK: The Children of the Company
11.83Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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