Home > Secondborn (Secondborn #1)(8)

Secondborn (Secondborn #1)(8)
Author: Amy A. Bartol

“Wait!” My bleak eyes fly to Dune.

“Can you give us a moment?” Dune asks. Hawthorne nods and walks away, just out of earshot.

Dune gathers me into a hug. I smell sandalwood, even through the dust covering us. I cannot remember ever being hugged by him before. I close my eyes, trying not to cry. In a hushed voice, he asks, “Do you remember the name I told you?”

“Yes.”

He squeezes me tighter. “Roselle, there’s something you need to know,” he says, so low that only I can hear him. “Walther is not just my secondborn brother—he’s my older brother.” My eyes widen, and I loosen my grip on him. “Now you know my secret. Find me, should you need me. I will be there for you.” Too shocked to speak, I hardly react when he kisses my forehead. Dune straightens and looks past my shoulder. The handsome soldier approaches us. “Hawthorne, should anything happen to her, I’ll hold you responsible.”

“I understand, Patrøn. I’ll make sure she gets to where she’s supposed to be.”

I cling to Dune for a moment longer, my head on his shoulder, and then I let him go, taking a shaky step back, and then another. My vision blurs. Hawthorne walks beside me, his rifle in hand, scanning for any sign of the enemy as we move to the waiting troopship.

Near the ramp, Gilad is surrounded by a squad of soldiers, all about my age, with the glowering stares of thousand-year-old souls. Hawthorne raises his voice over the hum of the aircraft. “You’re in charge of the unit until I get back, Gilad.”

Gilad smiles imperiously at his assembled unit. “All right, children,” he roars, “this is only a rescue mission if you find someone alive! Let’s uncover Swords who need our help, and beacon them for the med drones to mend ’em and send ’em!”

Hawthorne gestures toward the ramp. “After you, Roselle.” Walking to the ship, I glance back over my shoulder at the only man who ever truly loved me.

Chapter 5

Mine Now

I enter the drab interior of the aircraft. Rows of black seats line its walls and belly. The airship is empty, except for the pilots in the front and Hawthorne beside me. I select a seat by the ramp. Hawthorne reaches up and pulls down the harness. He locks it in place around me and takes a seat across from me.

Through the open doorway, I see Dune amid a unit of firstborn officers who have come to escort him to the capital in Virtues, their snow-white uniform capes turning gray with dust. They don’t know that Commander Kodaline is really Dune Petes, thirdborn Sword—an imposter. He has to be thirdborn if his older brother, Walther, is a secondborn Sword soldier. Panic careens through my veins. If any one of those officers discovers Dune’s secret—that the golden sword-shaped moniker that usually shines on his left hand is somehow a fake—they’d be tempted to execute him where he stands. By every law of the Fates of the Republic, he shouldn’t exist.

Thirdborn laws allow few exceptions. It’s considered greedy to deplete resources on a third child. Clarities, who are required to have two children, are usually the only ones who can produce more than the allotted offspring, but there have to be special circumstances. Gabriel or I would have to die before my mother could give birth to another child. She would need special permission acquired through a petition and legal channels. It has happened, but it’s not common. A whole division of the government called Census is devoted to the detection and elimination of violators of the thirdborn rules, and its authority is almost absolute. I shiver, knowing that I can never tell anyone what Dune just told me. If I do, he will be hunted down and slaughtered.

If Walther is secondborn, then who is their firstborn brother?

“Are you okay?” Hawthorne asks. I stare at him blankly. “You look as if you might faint.”

“How long until we get to the Golden Circle?” My voice doesn’t sound like me. It’s gravelly and raw—dry from the dust coating everything and the emotions choking my throat.

He shrugs, settling back in his seat and pulling down on the harness above his head to lock it in place. “Less than twenty.”

I nod and look away from him. The ramp rises and obscures my view of Dune. It thumps hard against the side, sealing us in. The sound of it reverberates. Dim lights illuminate the interior as the aircraft lifts straight up. I get an aerial view of the destruction through the transparent aisle beneath my feet. Several buildings have toppled over. Fires rage over entire city blocks. Broken airships lie like skeletons across the scorched ground.

This is the first strike my fatedom has suffered in this war. Usually, we’re pounding cities in the Fate of Stars, the Fate of Atoms, and the Fate of Suns, cities suspected of harboring Gates of Dawn soldiers or sympathizers. Mother is probably beside herself, the first Sword in several centuries to fail to protect her people—her firstborns. She doesn’t care about anyone else.

I glance up through my tears. Hawthorne studies me, and I realize I’m trembling, my body reacting to trauma. Unlocking his harness, Hawthorne shifts to the seat next to mine. From a compartment on the side of his thigh armor, he extracts a square packet. He cracks it with both hands and shakes it. “Here.” He places it in my hand. Heat radiates from it. He nudges my hands together, letting the packet warm them both. Unwrapping a gauze bandage from his medical supplies, he uses a water spritzer to wet the material. Setting the water aside, Hawthorne extends the cloth to my face.

I lean away from him, avoiding his hand. “What are you doing?”

“Cleaning you up. You’re a mess.”

“Who cares what I look like?” I ask, bumping his arm away.

Reaching for a chrome lid to a power source generator, he pulls it off the unit and holds it up so that I’m confronted by my reflection. I resemble a weeping ghost. Gray dust covers my skin. Streaks of tears create desolate lines through it.

“I’m not crying. I have dust in my eyes,” I lie.

“I know,” he lies, too. He replaces the chrome lid. The wet cloth nears my face once more. This time I don’t pull away as Hawthorne gently presses it to my cheek and wipes off the soot.

“I’m sorry,” I murmur. “About your nose.”

He shrugs. “I’ve had worse. It’s been broken a few times.”

“You can’t tell.” I bite my bottom lip anxiously. He winks at me. My heart flutters, and my face flushes hotly.

“I get it fixed whenever it’s broken. Gilad teases me about it. He says it’s a waste of merits because it’ll just end up broken again. Probably by him.”

“What are merits?”

“Special privilege units. You earn them by doing things better or faster than everyone else. Or by doing things others can’t do.”

“Are there any other ways to earn them?”

“Sometimes you can earn them for being a turner—reporting other secondborns for infractions of the rules. I wouldn’t advise it, though. Turners have a way of not lasting very long in most units.”

“You mean they’re killed?”

“I mean they have an accident that they never recover from.”

“What else can you use merits for?”

He stops cleaning my face and sits back. “All kinds of things—extra rations, novel files, magazine files, soap, hair products, sweets, entertainment—”

“What kind of entertainment?”

He wads up the dirty cloth and throws it at a bin. “Well, there’s films and music . . . date night.” He gives me an appraising look and smiles. My heart thumps harder in my chest. “You get to go on a date—each person pays merits to meet each other. They match you with someone you’d be compatible with, and then they allow you to meet and . . .” He waves his hand in a gesture that indicates a next step. “And whatever.” He raises both of his eyebrows.

I just stare at him.

He frowns. “Please tell me you know what I’m talking about.”

I shake my head.

“Sex, Roselle. I’m talking about sex.” I straighten in my seat and look away from him, embarrassed by the turn our conversation has taken. “You know what sex is, then?” He laughs.

“I know what it is. I don’t know why anyone would waste merits on it. It’s not like you’re allowed to have a child. We’re secondborns. We’re forbidden to procreate. What would be the point of date night?”

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