Home > Secondborn (Secondborn #1)(16)

Secondborn (Secondborn #1)(16)
Author: Amy A. Bartol

“Dune,” Clarity Bowie corrects him. My heart beats faster at his name. He’s safe for the moment.

“Yes—him.” Grisholm points his finger at his father like they’re in the room together. Maybe they are. “Take care of whatever you have to take care of, Daltrey, and let me get back to the Opening Ceremonies of the Secondborn Trials. I have a very healthy bet on a secondborn from the Fate of Stars—Linus Star—and I want to have a chance to speak to him before the first match tomorrow.”

Othala’s indulgent smile is faked. “You should never bet against the Fate of Swords. We win The Trials almost every year.”

“The odds have plummeted on the Sword champions—the attack, you know. Your Fate suddenly doesn’t seem infallible.”

Mother looks as though he’s slapped her in the face. She tries to hide it, though, forcing a grin. “It will be interesting to see who comes out the victor.”

“The victor of The Trials never returns to his Fate, does he?” Grisholm asks, baiting her.

Gritting her teeth, Othala forces another smile. “I believe you’re correct. Balthazar chose to leave Swords and live in Virtues after winning last year’s Trials.”

“You can’t resign them to their Fates after they’ve seen Virtues,” Grisholm quips. “Plus our women are”—he evaluates me from the floor up—“more discerning in their fashion sense than those of other Fates.” I consider jumping over the railing of the island module and falling to my death—anything to get away from Grisholm’s smirk.

“Forgive my son, Roselle,” Clarity Bowie says with resignation. “He has avoided the responsibilities of his birthright ever since he could crawl.”

“There’s nothing to forgive. I am, as ever, at your service,” I respond, forcing a smile of my own.

“Your mentor speaks highly of you—or should I say your ex-mentor?”

“I will always consider Commander Kodaline to be my mentor, even if I never see him again.”

“He says that you’d make a fine leader.” Mother’s face loses color.

“I hope one day to lead a secondborn regiment of my own. I will train rigorously that I may achieve my goal.”

“There are other ways to differentiate yourself as a secondborn. You’re quite skilled with a sword, or so Dune tells me.”

“I have trained with one most of my life.”

“You could be useful. We have many enemies in our Fates.” Clarity Bowie casts a glance at Admiral Dresden. “Wouldn’t you agree, Dresden?”

The admiral scrutinizes me. “She has potential for special operations.”

“Father,” Grisholm sputters, “are you trying to make us late for the fete? Mother will be beside herself if she’s left alone among the secondborn pod-dwellers of The Trials.”

“She’ll be fine. She has quite a taste for secondborn pod-dwellers. Go if you must.” The Clarity waves his son away.

Grisholm doesn’t need to be told twice. His holographic image blinks out. For the next hour, the remaining council grills me as I rehearse a crafted set of answers to all the questions the press will be allowed to ask. When the gathered holograms are satisfied that I’m ready, they wink out, all but Fabian and Othala.

The Clarity of Virtues gives me an approving nod. “I will leave you to it, then. Make us proud, Roselle.”

“Excuse me, Clarity Bowie?”

He looks surprised that I would address him, but he indulges me. “Yes?”

“We never spoke about what I’m to say about the Fusion Snuff Pulse. What do I tell people about the weapon that brought down the airships and destroyed power in part of the city?”

“It was an explosion, like we said before.”

“But it wasn’t an explosion. It was a total loss of power.”

“If that were to become known, we’d have widespread panic.”

“If we don’t tell people, they’ll think it’s something that can be avoided with bomb-detection units. They won’t know that they could be flying in an airship and suddenly lose all power. We need to build everyone pulse-protection cages around their energy sources and tell them to stay grounded until the threat has passed. Or at least have them convert to hydrogen power in the meantime.”

“You will say nothing. Everyone has to keep working and living as if nothing can touch them. Do you understand?”

“But if we teach them how to build their own anti-pulse cages—”

“Then they’ll be doing the work of Star-Fated secondborns. That cannot happen. Your Fate is your fate and you must adhere to it or bad things happen.”

“Bad things are happening,” I insist.

“You will not say a word about the FSP! Do you understand?” he shouts.

“I understand.” I’ve never felt more intimidated in my life, not even by Agent Crow. I’m trembling for real now, and there’s no hiding it.

“Don’t make me regret trusting you.”

In an instant, only Mother and I remain. She looks me over. “You’re a disgrace. Couldn’t you have cleaned up before tapping in?”

“I was told this meeting was to be conducted with all due haste—”

“Do not disappoint me again, Roselle. You’re on a very short tether now. I will personally see to it that your life is filled with misery if you mess this up.”

“I won’t let you down.”

“You already have. Clean yourself up! I want this finished first thing in the morning before The Trials begin.” Her hologram extinguishes without a good-bye.

Chapter 8

Exo and Ohs

I stand on the island platform in shocked exhaustion for several moments, until I realize that I’m no longer in a bubble of secrecy. Turning toward the gangway, I’m confronted by six curious faces. “The press conference is in the morning, before the first test of the Secondborn Trials,” I say numbly.

“You have to get some sleep. I can only do so much with your puffy eyes—I’m not a miracle worker!” Emmitt replies in a panic.

Hawthorne joins me in the center of the island. “We’ll take Roselle to our air-barracks and return her to you in the morning.”

Emmitt wags his finger at Hawthorne. “No, no, no. You’re not taking her from this building. I’m going to be up all night planning her hair and wardrobe as it is. She stays here. You can come back when we’re done.”

Emmitt bickers with Hawthorne. The Stone’s voice has a hollow sound. The hanging trees surrounding us wait like gallows as they fight over me. Hawthorne stops abruptly. “When was the last time you ate?” he asks.

“I don’t know,” I reply. I don’t feel hunger, just terror.

“Right.” He turns to Emmitt. “Roselle needs to eat. Take us to our quarters and send for rations so that she doesn’t collapse, or you can explain why she’s not at the press conference in the morning.”

Emmitt takes a hard look at me, his gaze with the weight of a thousand eyes. He must agree with Hawthorne, because he lifts his hands for Clara to come forward. “Have you secured quarters?” Emmitt asks. “We need to accommodate”—he waves his hand in the Sword soldiers’ direction with a disdaining look—“them as well.”

“I have access to an apartment several levels up in the Treetop. A firstborn officer agreed to let us use his suite.” She glances at her wrist communicator. “Clifton Salloway. Apparently, he’s a fan of our Roselle.” She nods in my direction. “This way.” Clara leads us to the elevators.

The lift takes us up to the top floor. The doors open on another that leads to a suite. The drawing room has a multilayer air-billiards table in the center of it. A wet bar and lounge area intermingle, while five or more private rooms hide down side hallways. Gilad activates the wall-sized virtual screen with a voice command. Almost every channel is broadcasting commentary on the hunt for the Gates of Dawn rebels who perpetrated the act of violence against our fatedom, or live-streaming feeds of the Secondborn Trials Opening Ceremonies, or presenting reports about the participants in this year’s Trials.

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