Authors: Pierce Brown
Tags: #Hard Science Fiction, #Dystopian, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Galactic Empire, #Colonization, #United States, #Science Fiction, #Adventure, #Literature & Fiction
Aja and Cassius exchange a look.
“If you have a lead on Tinos, you need to share it with us now,” Cassius says.
“I have nothing definitive yet. Tinos is well hidden. And we’ve yet to capture one of their ship captains…alive.” The Jackal sips his coffee. “But irons are in the fire, and you’ll be the first to know if anything comes of them. Though, I rather think my Boneriders would like the first crack at the Howlers. Wouldn’t you, Lilath?”
I try not to stir at the mention of the name. But it’s hard not to. They’re alive. Some of them, at least.
And they chose the Sons of Ares over Gold….
“Yes, sir,” Lilath says, studying me. “We’d relish a real hunt. Fighting the Red Legion and the other insurgents is a bore, even for Grays.”
“The Sovereign needs us home anyway, Cassius,” Aja says. Then, to the Jackal: “We’ll be departing
as soon as my Thirteenth has decamped from the Golan Basin. Likely by morning.”
“You’re taking your legions back to Luna?”
“Just the Thirteenth. The rest will remain under your supervision.”
The Jackal is surprised. “My supervision?”
“On loan till this…
is fully snuffed out.” She practically spits the word. A new one to my ears. “It’s a token of the Sovereign’s trust. You know she is pleased with your progress here.”
“Despite your methods,” Cassius adds, drawing an annoyed look from Aja.
“Well, if you’re leaving in the morning you should, of course, dine with me this evening. I’ve been wanting to discuss certain…policies regarding the Rebels in the Rim.” The Jackal is vague because I’m listening. Information’s his weapon. Suggesting my friends betrayed me. Never saying which.
Dropping hints and clues during my torture, before I was sent into the dark. A Gray telling him that his sister is waiting in his salon. His fingers smelling like frothed chai tea, his sister ’s favorite drink.
Does she know I am here? Has she sat at this table? The Jackal is still prattling on. Hard to track the voices. So much to decipher. Too much.
“…I’ll have my men clean Darrow up for his travels and we can throw a feast of Trimalchian proportions after our discussion. I know the Voloxes and the Corialuses would be delighted to see you again. It’s been too long since I had such august company as two Olympic Knights. You’re in the field so often, skirting around provinces, hunting through the tunnels and seas and ghettos. How long has it been since you had a fine meal without worry of a night raid or suicide bombers?”
“A spell,” Aja admits. “We took the Brothers Rath up on their hospitality when we passed through
Thessalonica. They were eager to show their loyalty after their…behavior during the Lion’s Rain. It was…unsettling.”
The Jackal laughs. “I fear my dinner will be tame by comparison. It’s been all politicians and soldiers of late. This gorydamn war has so impeded my social calendar, as you can imagine.”
“Sure it’s not your reputation for hospitality?” Cassius asks. “Or your diet?”
Aja sighs, trying to hide her amusement. “Manners, Bellona.”
“Not to fear…the enmity between our houses is hard to forget, Cassius. But we must find common
ground in times like these. For the sake of Gold.” The Jackal smiles, though inside I know he’s imagining sawing off both their heads with a dull knife. “Anyway, we all have our schoolyard stories.
I’m hardly ashamed.”
one other matter we wished to discuss,” Aja says.
It’s Antonia’s turn to sigh. “I told you there would be. What does our Sovereign require now?”
“It pertains to what Cassius mentioned earlier.”
“My methods,” the Jackal confirms.
“I thought the Sovereign was pleased with the pacification effort.”
“She is, but…”
“She asked for order. I have provided. Helium-3 continues to flow, with only a three point two percent decrease in production. The Rising is struggling for air; soon Ares will be found and Tinos and all this will be behind us. Fabii is the one who is taking his—”
Aja interrupts. “It’s the kill squads.”
“And the liquidation protocols you’ve instituted in rebellious mines. She’s worried that the severity of your methods against the lowReds will create a backlash comparable to earlier propaganda setbacks. There have been bombings on the Palatine Hill. Strikes in latfundias on Earth. Even protests at the gate of the Citadel itself. The spirit of rebellion is alive. But it is fractured. It must remain so.”
“I doubt we’ll be seeing many more protests after the Obsidians are sent in,” Antonia says smugly.
“There is no danger of my tactics reaching the public eye. The Sons’ abilities to propagate their message has been neutered,” the Jackal says. “I control the message now, Aja. The people know this war is already lost. They’ll never see a picture of the bodies. Never glimpse a liquidated mine. What they will continue to see is Red attacks on civilian targets. MidColor and highColor children dead in schools. The public is with us….”
“And if they do see what you’re doing?” Cassius asks.
The Jackal does not immediately reply. Instead, he signals a barely dressed Pink over from the couches in the adjacent sitting room. The girl, hardly older than Eo was, comes to his side and stares meekly at the ground. Her eyes are rose quartz, her hair a silvery lilac that hangs in braids down to her bare lower back. She was raised to pleasure these monsters, and I fear knowing what those soft eyes of hers have seen. My pain seems suddenly so tiny. The madness in my mind so quiet. The Jackal strokes the girl’s face and, still looking at me, shoves his fingers into her mouth, prying her teeth apart. He moves the girl’s head with his stump so I can see, then so Aja and Cassius might.
She has no tongue.
“I did this myself after we took her eight months ago. She attempted to assassinate one of my Boneriders at an Agea Pearl club. She hates me. Wants nothing more in this world than to see me rotting in the ground.” Letting go of her face, he pops his sidearm out of his holster and thrusts it into the girl’s hands. “Shoot me in the head, Calliope. For all the indignities I have heaped upon you and your kind. Go on. I took your tongue. You remember what I did to you in the library. It will happen again and again and again.” He returns his hand to her face, squeezing her fragile jaw. “And again.
Pull the trigger, you little tart.
Pull it!” The Pink shakes in fear and throws the gun on the floor, falling to her knees to clutch his feet. He stands benevolent and loving above her, touching her head with his hand.
“There, there, Calliope. You did well. You did well.” The Jackal turns to Aja. “For the public, honey is always better than vinegar. But for those who war with wrenches, with poison, with sabotage in the sewers and terror in the streets, and nibble at us like cockroaches in the night, fear is the only method.” His eyes find mine. “Fear and extermination.”
Blood beads where buzzing metal pinches my scalp. Dirty blond hair puddles onto the concrete as the Gray finishes scalping me with an electric razor. His compatriots call him Danto. He rolls my head around to make sure he’s got it all before clapping me hard on the top of it. “How ’bout a bath,
?” he asks. “Grimmus likes her prisoners to smell nice ’n civil, hear?” He taps the muzzle they strapped to my face after I tried to bite one of them. They moved me with an electric collar around my neck, arms bound still behind my back, a squad of twelve hardcore lurchers dragging me
through the halls like a bag of trash.
Another Gray jerks me from my chair by my collar as Danto goes to pull a power hose from the
wall. They’re more than a head shorter than I am, but compact and rugged. The lives they live are hard—chasing Outriders in the belt, stalking Syndicate killers through the depths of Luna, hunting Sons of Ares in the mines…
I hate them touching me. All the sights and sounds they make. It’s too much. Too gruff. Too hard.
Everything they do hurts. Jerking me around. Slapping me casually. I try my best to keep the tears away, but I don’t know how to compartmentalize it all.
The line of twelve soldiers crowds together, watching me as Danto aims the hose. They’ve got three Obsidian men with them. Most lurcher squads do. The water hits me like a horse kick in the chest. Tearing skin. I spin on the concrete floor, sliding across the room till I’m pinned in the corner.
My skull slams against the wall. Stars swarm my sight. I swallow water. Choking, hunching to protect my face because my hands are still pinned behind my back.
When they’ve finished, I’m still gasping and coughing around the muzzle, trying to suck in air.
They uncuff me and slip my arms and legs into a black prisoner ’s jumpsuit before binding me again.
There’s a hood too that they’ll soon jerk over my head to rob me of what little humanity I have left.
I’m thrown back into the chair. They click my restraints into the chair ’s receptacle so I’m locked down. Everything’s redundant. Every move watched. They guard me like what I was, not what I am. I
squint at them, vision bleary and nearsighted. Water drips from my eyelashes. I try to sniff, but my nose is clogged tight with congealed blood from nostril to nasal cavity. They broke it when they put the muzzle on.
We’re in a processing room for the Board of Quality Control, which oversees the administrative
functions of the prison beneath the Jackal’s fortress. The building has the concrete box shape of every government facility. Poisonous lighting makes everyone here look like a walking corpse with pores
the size of meteor craters. Aside from the Grays, the Obsidian, and a single Yellow doctor, there’s a chair, an examination table, and a hose. But the fluid stains around the floor ’s metal drain and the nail scratches on the metal chair are the face and soul of this room. The ending of lives begins here.
Cassius would never come to this hole. Few Golds would ever need or want to unless they made the wrong enemies. It’s the inside of the clock, where the gears whir and grind. How could anyone be brave in a place so inhuman as this?
“Crazy, ain’t it?” Danto asks those behind him. He looks back at me. “All my life, never seen something so slaggin’ odd.”
“Carver musta put a hundred kilos on him,” says another.
“More. Ever see him in his armor? He was a damned monster.”
Danto flicks my muzzle with a tattooed finger. “Bet it hurt bein’ born twice. Gotta respect that.
Pain’s the universal language. Ain’t it,
?” When I don’t respond, he leans forward and stomps on my bare foot with his steel-heeled boot. The big toenail splits. Pain and blood rupture from the exposed nail bed. My head lolls sideways as I gasp. “Ain’t it?” he asks again. Tears leak from my eyes, not from the pain, but from the casualness of his cruelty. It makes me feel so small. Why does it take so little for him to hurt me so much? It almost makes me miss the box.
“He’s only a baboon in a suit,” another says. “Leave off him. He don’t know any better.”
“Don’t know any better?” Danto asks. “Bullshit. He liked the fit of master ’s clothes. Liked lording over us.” Danto crouches so he’s looking into my eyes. I try to look away, frightened he’ll hurt me again, but he seizes my head and pulls open my eyelids with his thumbs so we’re eye to eye. “Two of my sisters died in that Rain of yours, Ruster. Lost a lot of friends, ya hear?” He hits the side of my head with something metal. I see spots. Feel more blood leak from me. Behind him, their centurion
checks his datapad. “You’d want the same for my kids, wouldn’t you?” Danto searches my eyes for an answer. I have none he’d accept.
Like the rest, Danto’s a veteran legionnaire, rough as a rusted sewer grate. Tech festoons his black combat gear, where scuffed purple dragons coil in faint filigree. Optic implants in the eyes for thermal vision and the reading of battlemaps. Under his skin he’ll have more embedded tech to help him hunt Golds and Obsidians. The tattoo of an
clutched by a moving sea dragon stains all their necks, little heaps of ash at the base of the numeral. These are members of Legio XIII Dracones, the favored Praetorian legion of the Ash Lord and now his daughter, Aja. Civilians would just call them dragoons. Mustang hated the fanatics. It’s a whole independent army of thirty thousand chosen by Aja to be the hand of the Sovereign away from Luna.
They hate me.
They hate lowColors with a marrow-deep racism even Golds can’t match.
“Go for the ears, Danto, if you wanna make him yelp,” one of the Grays suggests. The woman stands at the door, nutcracker jaw bobbing up and down as she gnaws on a gumbubble. Her ashen hair is shaved into a short Mohawk. Voice drawling in some Earthborn dialect. She leans against the metal beside a yawning male Gray with a delicate nose more like a Pink’s than a soldier ’s. “You hit them with a cupped hand, you can pop the eardrum with the pressure.”