Home > Secondborn (Secondborn #1)(7)

Secondborn (Secondborn #1)(7)
Author: Amy A. Bartol

Dune shoves me in the direction of the Vicolt. I lift my face to the sky. A troopship above us pitches to the side, its thunderous sound replaced by the soughs it creates as it falls.

Chapter 4

Pulse Pummeled

The troopship plummets, clipping the side of a building and crashing through several floors. It topples over into another building in a shattering of glass that looks like sparkling, jagged rain. Black smoke turns the blue sky to night. Dune and I reach the Vicolt amid screaming and chaos. People trample each other in their attempt to run from the pelting debris.

Dune pushes me into the Vicolt. Climbing into the driver’s seat, he reconnects the circuitry, and the hovercar trundles forward as he seals the doors shut. Smoke and thick clouds of rock dust overcome the vehicle, shrouding it in a haze. Thunderous rumbling drowns out the sounds of my coughs. Dune closes the vents.

The navigation system comes back online, and the hovercar resumes its course. Still panting, Dune says, “That orb was an FSP, a Fusion Snuff Pulse. It’s new technology. Our spies infiltrated an enemy lab in the Fate of Stars last month and found evidence of such a device. It disrupts the atomic fusion we use to power everything.”

“It brought down the death drones and the Wingers—the drone cameras—my sword,” I reply, lifting the beautifully crafted silver hilt. It doesn’t ignite.

“It probably knocked out anything fusion-driven for several miles.”

But the Vicolt’s power runs on old-fashioned electromagnetic cells, backed up by hydrogen cells. It slows to a stop. A soft breeze blows the dust away, exposing our path. A large portion of one of the troopships lies in a smoldering heap before us. Pieces of people litter the avenue.

A part of me is stunned, but I’ve been trained for this. “We have to help them.”

Dune tears off a strip of his uniform cape and hands it to me. “Wrap this around your nose and mouth to keep the dust from your lungs.”

We emerge, and for the next hour we work as a team, searching the wreckage for wounded, pulling debris away from bodies, checking for signs of life. Most victims are so badly crushed that there’s no chance of survival. I almost lose hope until I discover a young female soldier still breathing among the carnage. Dune pulls pieces of the ship off her as I kneel and begin dressing her wounds with swatches of fabric I tear from her uniform. Her ebony hair is nearly white from dust.

The steel arm of a medical drone nudges me aside, its cylindrical silver body hovering over the soldier. A blue light scans her from head to toe, assessing her injuries. Other medical drones arrive, scouring for survivors. I step back and right into someone standing behind me. Masculine arms encircle me. Turning around in his embrace, I stare up into the visor of a Fate of Swords soldier, noting the shiny black broadsword embossed on its matte-black surface. The visor retracts in sections, revealing a wicked smile and gorgeous, steel-colored eyes.

The soldier jerks the wool away from my nose and mouth. Lifting his hand to reposition his headset microphone, his deep voice resonates into it. “I’ve located her.” He pauses, listening. “I’m sure it’s her.” He grasps my wrist, takes an identification processor from his belt, and positions it over the side of my hand where my sword moniker usually glows. He pulls the trigger on the scanner. Blue light illuminates my skin. His scanner works—he must have come from outside the snuff pulse’s range. My identity doesn’t register on his device. Usually, a holographic screen with all my vital information would display. Frowning, he triggers the scanner again. Blue light dances over my hand, and then . . . nothing.

“Her moniker is fried, but it’s her,” he scowls, glancing skyward. “How do I know for sure? I’ve been forced to watch her every day for as long as I can remember. I think I can recognize Roselle St. Sismode. Commander Kodaline is with her.”

I turn toward the wounded soldier behind me. Dune has taken my place beside her, holding her hand as the medical drone administers combat dressings and medication. The soldier’s hand moves to encircle my upper arm. He turns me back to him. I wince at the pressure of his grip. “Stay where you are,” he orders. His other hand examines my torso. The blood of dead soldiers smears my uniform.

“That’s not my blood.” I try to brush his hand from me. Chaos swirls around us. Newly arrived rescue ships and drones circle overhead. The breeze has begun to blow the dust and smoke away, allowing us to see and breathe much easier.

“Hold still,” the soldier orders.

“I’m not hurt. Please let go of me.” I try again to shrug away.

“Are you in shock?” he asks in a rush. “Who is the Clarity of Virtues? Do you know what fatedom we’re in?” He runs his hand over my stomach, worry creasing his brow when his gloved hand comes away with more blood.

I stare at his handsome face, my heartbeat racing uncomfortably. “I’m not in shock, Fabian Bowie is Clarity, and we’re in Swords. Let go.”

He won’t let go, and I’m not used to being touched, least of all by a domineering soldier whose face makes me feel like my heart is too big for my chest. I drive my elbow into his nose, not hard enough to break it, but enough to let him know he needs to let me go.

He does. He wipes his bloody nose with the back of his gloved hand. “You just struck a superior—”

I move back. “Technically, I’m still an unregistered secondborn until I’m processed. You’re not my superior anything. I’m not in shock, I’m not injured, and you don’t get to touch me unless I say you can.”

I feel a rifle muzzle tap the back of my skull. I still. “You need some help, Hawthorne?”

The soldier’s scowl deepens. He reaches out and pulls me behind him, knocking the gun away. “Gilad, don’t point your weapon at her!”

Before the second soldier can comply, he’s disarmed by Dune, who detaches the fusion charge from beneath the grip of the rifle, rendering it useless. Dune pockets the charge before handing the weapon back to the young combatant. “Have any of the Gates of Dawn soldiers been apprehended yet?”

The overconfident one with the incredible eyes stands at attention, giving Dune the respect owed to him by his firstborn rank. “I’m unaware of any prisoners being taken, Patrøn.”

“What’s your name?” Dune asks.

“Hawthorne Sword, Patrøn, 11-171971.” He gives only his first name, his Fate, and his number. His last name was taken from him when he was processed. He’s now required to identify with his Fate, to which he’s sworn his loyalty, rather than with his family.

“And you?” Dune’s gaze rests on the one who put the muzzle to my head.

The soldier’s visor ticks back. He doesn’t look much older than me, but he has white scars on his brow, nose, and both cheeks. “Gilad Sword, 25-135472.”

“How old are you?” Dune studies them.

“Nineteen, Patrøn,” they answer in unison.

More soldiers climb over the embankment of smoldering rubble surrounding us. “And how long have you been wards of the Fate?”

“I was Transitioned when I was ten, Patrøn,” Hawthorne answers.

“I was ten, also, Patrøn,” Gilad replies.

Dune’s lips twist in a sneer. “Secondborn soldiers keep getting younger and younger. Are all of your families afraid of you?”

The question was rhetorical, but Gilad answers anyway. “Well, yeah.” He smirks, showing imperfect teeth. “We’re scary monsters, Patrøn.”

Hawthorne glances away, listening to his headset. His eyes shift back to Dune’s. “A transport is en route to intercept you here and take you directly to the Fate of Virtues at the order of Clarity Bowie.”

“I will accompany Roselle to processing. She is to make her speech—”

Hawthorne raises his palm. “Negative, Patrøn. You’re to leave immediately for Virtues. Those are orders. A secondborn transport is en route to intercept Roselle St. Sismode.”

Two ships emerge above us and rapidly descend. Doors open from the top and form ramps leading into the bellies of the aircraft. Gilad tucks his rifle to his chest and walks toward one of the vessels. Hawthorne touches my elbow but pulls his hand away when my eyes shift to it. “We need to go, Roselle.”

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