Authors: Pierce Brown
Tags: #Hard Science Fiction, #Dystopian, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Galactic Empire, #Colonization, #United States, #Science Fiction, #Adventure, #Literature & Fiction
contest this. “Look what he’s done. If he knows how to play the game, if he knows the variables, he’ll sit in a corner for days running through the possible moves, countermoves, externalities, and outcomes. That’s his idea of fun. Before Claudius’s death and before we were sent to live in different homes, he’d stay inside, rain or shine, and piece together puzzles, create mazes on paper and beg me over and over again to try and find the center when I came back from riding with Father or fishing with Claudius and Pax. And when I did find the center, he would laugh and say what a clever sister he had. I never thought much of it until I saw him afterward one day alone in his room when he thought no one was watching. Shrieking and hitting himself in the face, punishing himself for losing to me.
“The next time he asked me to find the center of a maze I pretended I couldn’t, but he wasn’t fooled.
It was like he knew I’d seen him in his room. Not the introverted, but pleasant frail boy everyone else saw. The real him.” She gathers her breath, shrugging away the thought. “He made me finish the maze. And when I did, he smiled, said how clever I was, and walked off.
“The next time he drew a maze, I couldn’t find the center. No matter how hard I tried.” She shifts uncomfortably. “He just watched me try from the floor among his pencils. Like an old evil ghost inside a little porcelain doll. That’s how I remember him. It’s how I see him now when I think about him killing Father.”
The Telemanuses listen with a foreboding silence, as afraid of the Jackal as I am.
“Darrow, he’ll never forgive you for beating him at the Institute. For making him cut off his hand.
He’ll never forgive me for stripping him naked and delivering him to you. We are his obsession, just as much as Octavia is, as much as Father was. So if you think he’s going to just forget how Sevro waltzed into his citadel with a clawDrill and stole you from under him, you’re going to get a lot of people killed. Your plan to take the cities won’t work. He’ll see it coming a kilometer off. And even if he doesn’t, if we take Mars, this war will last for years. We need to go for the jugular.”
“And not just that,” Daxo says, “we need assurances that you’re not aiming to begin a dictatorship, or a full-demokracy in the case of victory.”
“A dictatorship,” I ask with a smirk. “You really think I want to rule?”
Daxo shrugs. “Someone must.”
A woman clears her throat at the door. We wheel around to see Holiday standing there with her thumbs in her belt loops. “Sorry to interrupt, sir. But the Bellona is asking for you. It seems rather important.”
Cassius lies handcuffed to the rails of the reinforced medical gurney in the center of the Sons of Ares infirmary. The same place I watched my people die from the wounds they suffered to save me from
his clutches. Bed after bed of injured rebels from Phobos and other operations on the Thermic fill the expanse. Ventilators whir and beep, men cough. But it’s the weight of the eyes that I feel most. Hands reach for me as I pass through the rows of cots and pallets lying on the floor. Mouths whisper my name. They want to touch my arms, to feel a human without Sigils, without the mark of the masters. I let them as well as I can, but I haven’t time to visit the fringes of the room.
I asked Dancer to give Cassius a private room. Instead, he’s been set smack in the middle of the main infirmary among the amputees, adjacent to the huge plastic tent that covers the burn unit. There he can watch and be watched by the lowColors and feel the weight of this war the same way they do. I sense Dancer ’s hand at work here. Giving Cassius equitable treatment. No cruelty, no consideration, just the same as the rest. I feel like buying the old socialist a drink.
Several of Narol’s boys, a Gray and two weathered ex-Helldivers, slump on metal chairs playing
cards near Cassius’s bedside. Heavy scorchers slung around their backs. They jump to their feet and salute as I approach.
“Heard he’s been asking for me,” I say.
“Most the night,” the shorter of the Reds answers gruffly, eying Holiday behind me. “Wouldn’t have bothered you…but he’s a bloodydamn Olympic. So thought we should pass the word up the chain.” He leans so close I can smell the menthol of the synth tobacco between his stained teeth.
the slagger says he’s got information, sir.”
“Can he talk?”
“Yeah,” the soldier grumbles. “Doesn’t say much, but the bolt missed his box.”
“I need to speak with him privately,” I say.
“We got you covered, sir.”
The doctor and the guards wheel Cassius’s gurney to the far back of the room to the pharmacy, which they keep guarded under lock and key. Inside, among the rows of plastic medication boxes, Cassius
and I are left alone. He watches me from his bed, a white bandage around his neck, the faintest pinprick of blood dilating between his Adam’s apple and the jugular on the right side of his throat.
“It’s a miracle you’re not dead,” I say. He shrugs. There’s no tubes in his arms or morphon bracelet. I
frown. “They didn’t give you painkillers?”
“Not punishment. They voted,” he says very slowly, taking care not to rip the stitches on his neck.
“Wasn’t enough morphon to go around. Low supplies. As they tell, the patients voted last week to give the hard meds to the burn victims and amputees. I’d think it noble if they didn’t moan all night from pain like lonely little puppies.” He pauses. “I always wondered if mothers can hear their children weeping for them.”
“I didn’t weep. And I don’t think my mother cares much for anything other than revenge. Whatever
that means at this point.”
“You said you had information?” I ask, to business because I don’t know what else to say. I feel an ironclad kinship with this man. Sevro asked why I saved him, and I could aspire to notions of valor and honor. But the deepspine reason is I desperately want him to be a friend again. I crave his approval. Does that make me a fool? Disloyal? Is it the guilt speaking? Is it his magnetism? Or is it that vain part of me that just wants to be loved by the people I respect. And I do respect him. He has honor, a corrupted sort, but true honor nonetheless.
“Was it her or was it you?” he asks carefully.
“What do you mean?”
“Who kept the Obsidians from boiling out my eyes and taking my tongue? You or Virginia?”
“It was both of us.”
“Liar. Didn’t think she’d shoot, to tell the truth of it.” He reaches up to feel his neck, but the manacles jerk his hands to a halt, startling him back into the room. “Don’t suppose you could take these off? It’s dreadful when you’ve got an itch.”
“I think you’ll live.”
He chuckles as if saying he had to try. “So, is this where you act morally superior for saving me?
For being more civilized than Gold?”
“Maybe I’m going to torture you for information,” I say.
“Well, that’s not exactly honorable.”
“Neither is letting a man put me in a box for nine months after torturing me for three. Anyway, what the hell ever made you think I give a shit about being honorable?”
“True.” He frowns, creasing his brow and looking startling, like something Michelangelo would have carved. “If you think the Sovereign will barter, you’re wrong. She won’t sacrifice a single thing to save me.”
“Then why serve her?” I ask.
“Duty.” He says the words, but I wonder how deeply he means them any longer.
In his eyes I glimpse the loneliness, the longing for a life that should have been, and the glimmer of the man he wants to be underneath the man he thinks he has to be.
“All the same,” I say, “I think we’ve done enough evil to one another. I’m not going to torture you.
Do you have information or are we just going to dance around it for another ten minutes?”
“Have you wondered yet why the Sovereign was suing for peace, Darrow? Surely it must have crossed your mind. She’s not one to dilute punishment unless she must. Why would she show leniency to Virginia? To the Rim? Her fleets outnumber those of the Moon Lord rebels three to one. The Core is better supplied. Romulus can’t match Roque. You know how good he is. So why would the Sovereign send us to negotiate? Why compromise?”
“I already know she wanted to replace the Jackal,” I say. “And she can’t very well have a full-scale
rebellion on the Rim while trying to cuff his ears and fight the Sons of Ares. She’s trying to limit her theaters of war so she can focus all her weight on one problem at a time. It’s not a complicated strategy.”
“But do you know why she wanted to remove him?”
“My escape, the camps, the disruptions in helium processing…I could list a hundred reasons why
installing a psychopath as ArchGovernor could prove burdensome.”
“All those are valid,” he says, interrupting. “Convincing, even. And they are the reasons we provided Virginia.”
I step back toward him, hearing the implication in his voice. “What didn’t you tell her?” He hesitates, as if wondering even now if he should tell me. Eventually, he does.
“Earlier this year, our intelligence agents discovered discrepancies between the quarterly helium production logs reported to the Department of Energy and the Department of Mine Management and
the yield reports from our agents in mining colonies themselves. We found at least one hundred and twenty-five instances where the Jackal falsely reported helium losses due to Sons of Ares disruption.
Disruptions which didn’t exist. He also claimed fourteen mines destroyed by Sons of Ares attacks.
Attacks which never happened.”
“So he’s skimming off the top,” I say with a shrug. “Hardly the first corrupt ArchGovernor in the
reselling it on the market,” Cassius says. “He’s creating artificial shortages while he stockpiles.”
“Stockpiles? How much so far?” I ask tensely.
“With the surplus inventory from the fourteen mines and the Martian Reserve? At this rate, in two
years he’ll have more than the Imperial Reserves on Luna and Venus and the War Reserve on Ceres
“That could mean a hundred things,” I say quietly, realizing just how much fuel that is. Three quarters of the most valuable substance in the worlds. All under the control of one man. “He’s making a play for Sovereign. Buying Senators?”
“Forty so far,” Cassius admits. “More than we thought he had. But there’s another kink which he’s
involved them in.” He tries to sit up straighter in his cot, but the manacles around his hands anchor him to a half-slouched pose. “I’m going to ask you a question, and I need you to tell me the truth.” I’d laugh at the idea if I didn’t see how serious he is. “Did the Sons of Ares rob a deep space asteroid warehouse in March, several days after your escape? About four months ago?”
“Be more specific,” I say.
“A minor main belter in the Karin Cluster. Designation S-1988. Silicate-based junk asteroid. Nearly zero mining potential. Specific enough?”
I reviewed the entirety of Sevro’s tactical operations when I was making my recovery with Mickey.
There were several assaults on Legion military bases within the asteroid belts, but nothing remotely like what Cassius is talking about.
“No. There were no operations on S-1988 that I know of.”
he mutters under his breath. “Then we judged right.”
“What was in the warehouse?” I ask. “Cassius…”
“Five hundred nuclear warheads,” he says darkly.
The blood on his bandage has spread to the size of a gaping mouth.
“Five hundred,” I echo, my own voice a distant, hollow thing. “What was their yield?”
“Thirty megatons each.”
“World killers…Cassius, why would they even exist?”
“In case the Ash Lord ever had to repeat Rhea,” Cassius says. “The depot lies between the Core and the Rim.”
“Repeat Rhea…that’s who you serve?” I ask. “A woman who stores enough nuclear warheads to destroy a planet, just in case.”
He ignores my tone. “All evidence pointed to Ares, but the Sovereign thought it gave Sevro too much credit. She had Moira investigate it personally, and she was able to trace the tags of the hijacker ’s ship to a defunct shipping line formerly owned by Julii Industries. If the Sons truly didn’t steal them, then the Jackal has the weapons. But we don’t know what he’s doing with them.” I stand there, numb. Mind racing to piece together how the Jackal might utilize so many atomics. According to the Compact, the Martian military is only permitted twenty in its arsenal, for ship-to-ship warfare.
All under five megatons.
“If this is true, why would you tell me?” I ask.
“Because Mars is my home too, Darrow. My family has been there as long as yours. My mother is