Home > Secondborn (Secondborn #1)(15)

Secondborn (Secondborn #1)(15)
Author: Amy A. Bartol

Grisholm appears bored. He ignores everyone else and studies me with a condescending curl of his lip, taking in my attire and my hair, which probably has knots in it. I smooth a hand down the side of my Census-issued rags, adjusting the hem so that it lies flat on my hip.

“Can it be the Secondborn St. Sismode?” Grisholm smiles like he smells something delicious. “Why is it that you still resemble a little lost waif, Roselle, even when you’re all grown up?”

“Clean living, Firstborn Commander,” I reply. It elicits a chuckle. I’m thinking, I can still kick your ass, Grisholm, like I did when I was ten and you smashed Gabriel in the head with the clock from the hall table.

His eyes skim over my criminal attire and long, messy hair. “Had a brush with the authorities, have you?”

“Census was gracious enough to put me up for a few days while we sorted out my disabled moniker. I’ll have to send them a spa basket. What would you recommend, First Commander? Assorted soaps?”

“With bubble bath,” he plays along, smiling evilly. He’s just as I remember; he loves a good snubbing. “Shall I send it for you on your behalf?”

“That is a generous offer, First Commander.”

“To whom shall I address it?”

“Agent Kipson Crow.”

“Ooh.” He mock-winces.

“Ah, you know him.”

“I do. The Fate of Virtues is smaller than you may think. You never have had much luck, have you, Roselle?”

“The only thing I’ve had in abundance is loyalty, First Commander.”

“I recall your loyalty,” he replies, rubbing the side of his head where I’d clocked him as retribution for what he’d done to Gabriel. He was too embarrassed then to have been beaten by a little secondborn girl to tell on me, so I never had to pay for what I did. “Too bad your loyalty is not reciprocated.” His words sting. “I’ll make sure Agent Crow receives your gift.”

I worry for a moment about baiting Agent Crow, but the agent will do whatever he plans to do, regardless. A basket sent on my behalf by the First Commander, heir to the Clarity of Virtues, might be the one thing that makes him hesitate to act.

Everyone quiets when the next participant joins the circle. A halo-shaped circlet crowns the Clarity’s salt-and-pepper hair, thinner than his son’s. Thinner, too, is Fabian’s physique, attired for the evening in a similar vein as Grisholm. In his late forties, he’s a man of action who, I’m told, rarely sits down, and that comes across even in holographic form.

I’ve seen Fabian Bowie every day of my life in one capacity or another, be it on the virtual screen addressing the fatedoms or inside Mother’s office when I was much younger. On the occasions when we’ve met, he’s always been cordial, if somewhat dismissive. I’ve never minded being dismissed, though. Being less than perfect in his presence is never a good idea. I’ve witnessed some of his more ruthless decisions, like assassinations of firstborns who displeased him. Mother arranges these killings, usually by finding an assassin from the pool that Admiral Dresden cultivates. I learned early that Fabian Bowie demands absolute submission from all his subjects. The only exception is his firstborn son.

Clarity Bowie’s attention is focused on me when he asks, “Are you having any trouble stepping in for the Clarity in his absence, Firstborn Leon?”

The handsome Star-Fated Daltrey clears his throat. “No trouble, Clarity Bowie. It’s an honor to serve my Fate in his absence.”

“He’s never one to stomach bloodshed,” our leader says, disdain written on his features. “I have not seen Clarity Aksel sober since his arrival here in Purity. He has more of a taste for women than he does for ruling his fatedom.”

“It’s a difficult time,” Daltrey says in a noncommittal way. “It’s my duty as second Star family to see to all the needs of our Fate while he’s away.” Clarity Bowie glares at Othala.

“Are we secure?” Mother addresses her wrist communicator. She’s not looking at any of us.

“Everything is locked down here,” Emmitt replies, his voice piping through the circle of glass on her wrist. She turns off her communicator so that he can no longer hear the conversation.

“Roselle Sword.” Mother calls me by my processed name for the first time. I lift my chin in her direction. My stomach churns as I realize that she’s distancing herself from me by using it. “Describe for us your version of the attack perpetrated against the Fate of Swords three days ago.”

My mouth feels dry, but I manage to sound passably normal as I recount the events of the attack upon Dune and me. I leave out seeing the first golden-masked man, as Hawthorne suggested. No use muddying the water. I finish by saying, “The enemy combatants brought down our airships, my moniker, and my sword by using a Fusion Snuff Pulse.”

“How did you know what it was—a Fusion Snuff Pulse?” Daltrey is the first to question me. His intense stare holds a note of fear. I take a step in his direction, studying his features closer. “Perhaps you overheard something at the Sword Palace regarding such a device?” His sand-colored eyes give me a look that I know well—it demands discretion. I’ve seen that look from Dune a thousand times. This man is somehow related to him, but how, I don’t know. He’s a Star-Fated firstborn, but I’m sure nonetheless. Their manner is the same. Their features are similar. He’s an older version of my mentor.

I look around at the faces of the others. They have no idea that Daltrey is anything other than what he says he is. They’re not even looking at him. My attention goes back to Daltrey. “I heard about the device at the Palace of Swords from my mother’s advisors. They were discussing it when I was called to see her regarding details for my Transition Day.”

I wait for Mother to call me a liar. A second ticks by and then another. I glance at her. She appears to believe me—and why not? I’d lived among them at the Palace. Everyone was lax around me because I was a phantom to them. My eyes lift to Daltrey’s. His relief is clear, but I seem to be the only one who sees it. He nods ever so slightly, and Clarity Bowie starts demanding answers from Othala. “What are you doing to keep us all safe from this fusion pulse, Clarity St. Sismode?”

Fear eats at me with ferocious bites. I just lied to The Virtue and The Sword—the two most powerful people in the world. Why? My hands are shaking so much I have to press them against my thighs.

Clarity Bowie is unimpressed by Othala’s lack of decisive action to shield the fatedoms from this new weapon. “Our enemies have become bolder, Othala. They assault us at the heart of our military, and yet, you do nothing!”

“We strike their Bases when we locate them,” Othala reasons, “but we cannot continue to assail Fates like Stars and Suns the way we have. We’re disrupting their workers. We need to keep Stars producing energy and Suns yielding food supplies. Their firstborn citizens are with us. It’s pockets of rogue secondborns whom we have to stamp out.”

“What are you doing about the threat to our power sources, Daltrey?” Clarity Bowie points at the Star-Fated firstborn.

“Cages can be built around the power sources to protect them from a pulse. But you need to do it on a massive scale, which requires around-the-clock work from Star engineers—Atom engineers can help as well. They’ll need access to every fatedom of the Republic to accomplish this task, especially the capital. We should start with your Palaces.”

“Clarity Jowell, see that Daltrey and his engineers get the access they need from Census.”

“It will be difficult, Clarity Bowie,” the diplomat from the Fate of Moons replies. “Census doesn’t like granting special access to anyone. They feel it impedes their tracking of thirdborns.”

“Would you rather sit in your palace in the dark, Clarity Jowell?”

“No,” Jowell replies. “I’ll see that it gets done. Firstborn Leon, I’ll need a list of workers as soon as you can get them to me.”

Daltrey Leon nods. “You will have them within the week.”

Grisholm makes a rude sound as he rubs his face with both hands. “This is all very interesting, Father, but we’ve heard all of this from your personal guard, what’s his name—Sand?”

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