Home > Secondborn (Secondborn #1)(12)

Secondborn (Secondborn #1)(12)
Author: Amy A. Bartol

The door of my cell opens. Glancing to my side, I see a woman dressed in civilian clothing, accompanied by a Census agent in a black leather coat similar to Agent Crow’s. A handful of secondborn soldiers, some of whom I recognize from the wreckage of the enemy attack, are with them. The one who stands out most is Hawthorne, almost a head taller than everyone else and scowling.

Wiping his bloody mouth on his shirt, Agent Crow shouts at the intruders near the door. “I’m interrogating a detainee!” He snaps the belt in his hand with a loud crack.

“Looks like you didn’t bring enough agents for that,” Hawthorne replies, gesturing at the growing red welt on Agent Crow’s cheek.

“Sorry to interrupt, old man,” the agent by the door interjects, “but it seems the identity of the detainee is no longer in question. Her hair sample, taken when she was brought in, has been verified. She’s Roselle St. Sismode, secondborn to The Sword.” He holds up a holographic chip. It shines in the dim light. “I have her new moniker here.”

Agent Crow seethes. His blond hair is a mess, falling over his brow. “I didn’t submit her hair sample, Agent Losif. How was it verified?”

Agent Losif shifts back and forth on his feet. “This is Agnes Moon.” He gestures to the attractive woman standing beside him. “She’s a secondborn advocate stationed in Swords. She has petitioned for the release of the Secondborn St. Sismode.”

Agent Crow narrows his eyes at the curvaceous redhead. “Her authority isn’t recognized here.” The agent’s cool demeanor returns. I stay rooted in the same defensive position. He’s unpredictable because he believes his power to be absolute.

Agnes straightens, holding up a wristband with a shiny blue face. She waves it in Agent Crow’s direction. “I really don’t want to interrupt either, but I have orders to redirect Secondborn St. Sismode to a debriefing and a press conference in front of the Fates.”

“On whose authority?” Agent Crow barks.

“The Clarity Bowie. He has given direct orders that Secondborn St. Sismode is to deliver a broadcast regarding the attack against her Fate. I’m sending you the authorization now.” She touches the face of her wristband. A blue light shines up from Agent Crow’s. He sets his belt down on the metal chair. Touching the surface of his communicator, he scrolls through whatever message Agnes sent him.

“This detainee has given me cause to believe that she has consorted with Fate traitors. I’m conducting an interrogation to ascertain her level of involvement with the attack against the Fate of Swords.”

“Do you really want to upset the Clarity of Virtues?” Agnes asks, her eyebrow darting into her red bangs.

“I will take my chances,” Agent Crow glowers.

“We’re under orders to remove the detainee from your custody,” Hawthorne says, raising his rifle and aiming it at Agent Crow. “Step away from the girl.” Gilad raises his rifle as well, and two other soldiers from their unit follow their lead.

The agent directs a cold stare at Hawthorne. “You’re the soldier who brought her in. Shouldn’t you be out rescuing your brethren from the city that fell on them? Or better yet, finding the ones responsible? I have plans to interrogate this one for what she knows of the attack. It could be useful information to your secondborn commanders. I will share the information. It could mean merits for you.”

I hold my breath. If they take Agent Crow’s bribe, I’m on my own.

Hawthorne doesn’t lower his weapon. He looks at me. “Roselle St. Sismode, I order you to come with us.”

Warily, I start toward Hawthorne at the door. I don’t take more than a step before Agent Crow barks, “Stop!” I halt. “She can’t leave here without her moniker. Only we can give her that.” He moves to the agent at the door and opens his palm. Agent Losif drops the shiny holographic identifier into it. Closing his fingers around it, Agent Crow lifts his other hand for the moncalate used to implant a moniker beneath flesh.

Goose bumps rise on my arms. Agent Crow opens a slot on the surgical tool and loads my moniker into it. The click of it being chambered makes me flinch. Agent Crow’s eyes meet mine. A mixture of emotions hides there—rage, lust, aggression. I suppress another shiver.

He lifts my hand, rubbing his thumb over the skin between my thumb and finger. “You have a birthmark,” he says. He places the tool beside my birthmark and depresses a button. A puff of white air emits from the nozzle aimed at my skin. It instantly numbs the area. A thin laser cuts a line on the back of my hand. I bite my lip as it burns, but the pain isn’t unmanageable. Small curls of smoke rise to my nose. Agent Crow inhales deeply, watching me.

The laser extinguishes and a little clamp appears from the cylindrical body of the tool. It latches into the flaps of skin, pulling them apart while a tiny claw on a steel arm reaches inside to extract my fried moniker. The claw drops the broken, bloody chip onto the floor. It retreats back inside the metallic body and retrieves the new identifier, shooting it into place.

My eyelids close a fraction at the intense stinging of the new chip settling onto my sinew. Agent Crow watches, savoring my pain. The claw and the clamps retract into the body of the tool. Red laser light seals my skin closed, leaving a pink incision scar that throbs.

Agent Crow lifts my hand to his lips, kissing my incision. I try to pull my hand from his, but he holds it fast, smiling. “I will dream of you, Roselle,” he promises. The flow of my blood feels thready.

My new sword-shaped hologram shines for the first time. It’s no longer golden. It’s silver, denoting the Transition to a processed secondborn. Agent Crow flashes me a grin. I wrench my hand from his and move to the doorway. Hawthorne, Gilad, and the other two soldiers surround me. Agent Crow’s attention shifts to Hawthorne. “I never forget a face,” he says, “nor an insult.”

“Neither do I,” Hawthorne replies, his rifle still pointed at Agent Crow. Agent Losif and the woman with the moon moniker are the first to leave. The soldiers from Hawthorne’s unit direct me out. Hawthorne doesn’t lower his weapon until he’s clear of the cell. When he turns and looks at me, his expression is grim. “Move,” he orders.

Chapter 7

Moment of Clarity

Agnes and Agent Losif assume the lead, directing us to a barren hallway in what feels like the bottom of the world. My bare feet are numb against the cool floor, but I hardly notice. I lose my sense of direction as we turn corners and cross through checkpoints where all our monikers are scanned and we’re questioned. When we move again, Hawthorne’s hand touches the small of my back and directs me toward an elevator.

All of us enter the lift except for Agent Losif. He holds the door and addresses Agnes. “You can make it unaccompanied to the surface from here. I’d suggest that you don’t come back for a while if you can help it. Agent Crow is not one to forgive this type of transgression.”

“I hope I never see any of you again,” she responds tersely.

The doors close and Agnes slumps against the wall of the lift. Her green eyes pierce Hawthorne’s. “You need any more favors, you can forget it. Had I known we were going to confront Kipson Crow, there would’ve been no way you could’ve convinced me to help.”

“I owe you, Agnes.”

“You don’t have enough merits to pay me back for this, Hawthorne. And we can’t meet anymore. We can’t be seen together.”

“I know. Thank you.”

She looks at me with derision. “Roselle St. Sismode. I never would’ve thought you’d be a fan, Hawthorne.”

“She taught me the St. Sismode maneuver. I owed her.” He’s talking about a series of choreographed sword attacks designed to give maximum thrust and power in fusionblade combat. I was required to do virtual-access demonstrations of the maneuver.

“I knew it had to have something to do with your sword,” Agnes says sourly.

I’m trembling. Hawthorne removes a copper-colored metallic swatch from a pocket on his thigh, unfolding it into a blanket that he wraps around my shoulders. I clutch it to me. The fabric crinkles and makes noise as I shake, but it warms me, for which I’m grateful. We reach the surface and the elevator doors open into a metal bunker. The guards check our monikers once more before they open a wide steel door. The moon casts pale light high above us. The airships shine on the docks in the branches of the stone Trees, swaying in the wind.

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