Previously: “Transported, somehow, from the place where EON-1 was supposed to be, we found ourselves in strange company - and in Unity City. Our quest to learn about the Sky Spiders seemed to have come to a premature end – and to make matters worse, I learned that my close companion Lady Una was dying.”
Part 36: Kissing Una
We stood on the balcony, watching the last red rays of the setting sun colour the marble rooftops of Unity City. Lady Una – just Una now, we'd decided – leant over the railing, the wind snatching at a few strands of hair that had slipped from her bun.
“Had you been much to Unity City before all this happened?” she asked.
I shook my head. “To parliament at times. But they didn't like me much there. A few meetings with the Minister for Science, when she wasn't in Kingchester, General Cass as well, the bastard...”
“Yes, unfortunately. Has it changed much?”
She looked around at the various rooftops and spires and domes. “No. Except it didn't used to all be white. It was grimy and sooty, like you always assume a city is. I grew up here, with my mother. I was always getting on the train to go visit my uncle in Circhester, or on the tram to visit disreputable characters in districts I shan't name. Do you remember me from before? You knew my uncle, didn't you?”
“He was a lesser evil. I never cared for weapons research, but with the Danegeld war, and then the Sky Spider seeding, I could never really get away from the military. Your uncle I didn't mind so much, although I suppose his war machines had killed more than any of his peers'. Do I remember you? I know he always had family around, but I never noticed anyone in particular.”
She pivoted around, turning her back to the view. “I'm sure we must have been in the mansion at the same time. Probably more than once.”
I said nothing. It was getting dark.
“It's for the best though,” she said. “If I'd been able to get close to you, I'd only have used you.”
“In what way?”
She smiled wryly. “Blasted title. I could never do anything by myself. I was always looking for ways to get into lectures, exhibits, dissections... I'd have hit the jackpot with you.”
“Honestly,” I said, “I didn't do all that much until the Sky Spiders came along. And then I only came to prominence because all the scientists better qualified to investigate wound up dying. Were you really such a minx?”
She looked down at her hoop skirt. “It's academic now. I'm not even human any more.”
“That's very academic,” I agreed. “Almost philosophical.”
The last sliver of sun disappeared behind the city skyline. Everything became dull and grey.
“I thought we might save the world,” Una said. “Instead there's only three of us left alive, and we're no use to anyone.”
“Saving the world,” I mused. “Would you think me a traitor if I said that I was only ever interested in finding out what the Sky Spiders are really up to?”
She scoffed. “I would, as a matter of fact. Peregrine...”
She looked away from me. “Sometimes I forget who you are. There's the person I've spent all this time with, confided in, grown fond of... And then there's your place in history. Your role. Not a hereditary title, but things you've done of your own volition.”
“You mean the Select Committee.”
“You went to chat with the creatures that destroyed my body. To offer our unconditional surrender.”
“And you want, what, revenge?”
An angry expression flashed across her face before she quashed it. “You know what: maybe I do. Maybe I don't care why they've done what they've done. They have no right to cause such misery and suffering. Look around you. This was a city of millions of people. And now it's completely silent. Everyone is dead or forcibly subdued. These aren't actions that you try to understand and appease. This was an attack that we had to repel or die trying.”
I tried to keep my voice level. “Was it really, though? General Cass decided that it was, and he did die trying, along with a million other people who might well still be alive right now if he'd kept his anger and his arrogance in check.”
“Or maybe, if Cass hadn't given John Kirkham the change to steal Prometheus, everybody in Fortress City would be dead now as well.”
It was a good point. I struggled to think of a riposte for a little while, and then sighed. “I don't want to argue with you, Una.”
“Well perhaps I want to argue with you.”
I laughed. “Okay. I won't argue with that.”
Una touched a gloved thumb and forefinger to the bridge of her nose and laughed with me. “You bastard. I think I'd prefer it if I didn't find you so agreeable.”
I pushed her hand aside and leaned over to kiss her. She placed her hand on my shoulder and kissed back, then broke away and let her forehead rest against mine.
“You idiot,” she said. “There are still plenty of women left in the world who haven't been rebuilt with machinery.”
“Do you remember kissing me when you thought I might die? I've been alive some time since, so I just thought I should repay you.”
“With interest, it seems,” she said - then pulled away from me suddenly. “Remus. How long have you been there?”
Remus, standing just inside the door to the balcony, bowed with a flourish. “I was waiting for a suitable moment to interject.”
Una slipped her arm in mine. “There's no time like the present.”
Remus smiled. “I said that I would answer what questions I could. If you would step inside, perhaps we can begin.”
TO BE CONTINUED...
Next week: Questions? Most certainly! Answers? Well, I guess you'll just have to check back in a week's time for the next instalment of Into the Mind of the Sky Spiders!