Chapter no 10 – The Carver

Red Rising

I grew up with a quicksmiling girl of fifteen so in love with her young husband that when he was burned in the mines and his wound festered, she sold her body to a Gamma in return for antibiotics. She was stronger than her husband. When he grew well and discovered what had been done on his behalf, he killed the Gamma with a slingBlade snuck from the mines. Easy to guess what happened after that. Her name was Lana and she was Uncle Narol’s daughter. She lives no longer.

I think of her as I watch the HC in what Harmony called the penthouse as Dancer makes preparations. I flip through the many channels with the twitch of my finger. Even that Gamma had a family. He dug like me. He was born like me, went through the flush like me, and he never saw the sun either. He was just given a little packet of medicine by the Society, and look at the effect. How clever of them. How much hate they create between people who should be kin. But if the clans knew what luxury exists on the surface, if they knew how much had been stolen from them, they would feel the hatred I feel, they would unite. My clan is a hot-tempered breed. What would a rebellion of theirs look like? Probably like Dago’s burner—burning hot but fast, till it was all ash.

I asked Dancer why the Sons streamed my wife’s death to the mines. Why not instead show the lowReds the wealth of the surface? That would sow anger.

“Because a rebellion now would be crushed in days,” Dancer

explained. “We must take a different path. An empire cannot be destroyed from without till it is destroyed from within. Remember that. We’re empire-breakers, not terrorists.”

When Dancer told me what I am to do, I laughed. I do not know if I can do it. I am a speck. A thousand cities span the face of Mars. Metal behemoths sail between the planets in fleets carrying weapons that can crack the mantle of a moon. On distant Luna, buildings rise seven miles high; there the Sovereign Consul, Octavia au Lune, rules with her Imperators and Praetors. The Ash Lord, who made the world of Rhea cinders, is her minion. She controls the twelve Olympic Knights, legions of Peerless Scarred, and Obsidians as innumerable as the stars. And those Obsidians are only the elite. The Gray soldiers prowl the cities ensuring order, ensuring obedience to the hierarchy. The Whites arbitrate their justice and push their philosophy. Pinks pleasure and serve in highColor homes. Silvers count and manipulate currency and logistics. Yellows study the medicines and sciences. Greens develop technology. Blues navigate the stars. Coppers run the beauracracy. Every Color has a purpose. Every Color props up the Golds.

The HC shows me Colors I did not know existed. It shows me fashion. Ludicrous and seductive. There are biomodifications and flesh implants

—women with skin so smooth and polished, breasts so round, hair so glossed that they appear a different species from Eo and all the women I’ve ever known. The men are freakishly muscular and tall. Their arms and chests bulge with artificial strength, and they flaunt their muscle like girls showing off new toys.

I am a Lambda Helldiver of Lykos, but what is that compared with all this?

“Harmony is here. Time to go,” Dancer says from the door.

“I want to fight,” I tell him as we ride the gravLift down with Harmony. They’ve doctored my Sigils so that they are brighter to match the highReds. I wear the loose garb of a highRed and carry a pack of street-scrubbing equipment. There’s dye in my hair and contacts in my eyes, all so that I look a brighter shade of red. Less dirty. “I don’t want this mission. Worse, I can’t do it. Who could?”

“You said you would do anything that needed to be done,” Dancer says.

“But this …” The mission he has given me is madness, yet that’s not

why I’m frightened. My fear is that I will become something Eo would not recognize. I’ll become a demon from our Octobernacht stories.

“Give me a scorcher or a bomb. Let someone else do this.”

“We brought you out for this,” Harmony sighs. “And only this. It has been Ares’s greatest goal since the Sons were born.”

“How many others have you brought out? How many others have tried what you’re asking me to try?”

Harmony looks over at Dancer. He says nothing, so she answers impatiently on his behalf. “Ninety-seven have failed the Carving … that we know of.”

“Bloodydamn,” I curse. “And what happened to them?” “They died,” she says blandly. “Or they asked for death.” “Maybe Narol should have let me hang.” I try to laugh.

“Darrow. Come here. Come.” He grabs my shoulder and pulls me in. “Others may have failed. But you’ll be different, Darrow. I feel it in my bones.”

My legs go shaky when I first look up at the night sky and the buildings stretching around me. I slip into vertigo. I feel like I am falling, like the world is off its axis. Everything is too open, so much so that it seems as though the city should tumble into the sky. I look at my feet, look at the street, and try to imagine that I am in the tunnelroads from the townships to the Common.

The streets of Yorkton, the city, are a strange place at night. Luminescent balls of light line the sidewalks and streets. HC videos run like liquid streams along parts of the avenue in this hi-tech sector of the city, so most walk upon the moving pathways or ride in public transportation with their heads crooked down like cane handles. Garish lights make the night almost as bright as day. I see even more Colors. This sector of the city is clean. Teams of Red sanitation workers scour the streets. Its roads and walking paths stretch in perfect order.

There’s a faint ribbon of red where we are to walk, a narrow ribbon in a broad street. Our path does not move like the others. A Copper woman walks along her wider path; her favorite programs play wherever she walks, unless she strides beside a Gold, in which case all the HCs go quiet. But most Golds do not walk; they are permitted gravBoots and

coaches, as are any of the Coppers, Obsidians, Grays, and Silvers with the proper license, though the licensed boots are horribly shoddy things.

An advertisement for a blister cream appears on the ground in front of me. A woman of strangely slender proportions slinks out of a red lace robe. Suitably naked, she then applies the cream to a place on her body where no woman has ever before gotten a blister. I blush and look away in disgust because I’ve only ever seen one woman naked.

“You’ll want to forget your modesty,” Harmony advises. “It’ll mark you worse than your Color.”

“It is disgusting,” I say.

“It’s advertising, darling,” Harmony purrs condescendingly. She shares a chuckle with Dancer.

An elderly Gold soars overhead, older than any human I’ve ever seen.

We lower our heads as she passes.

“Reds up here have to get paid,” Dancer explains when we are alone. “Not much. But they’re given money and enough treats to make them dependent. What money they have, they spend on goods they’re made to think they need.”

“Same with all the drones,” Harmony hisses. “So they’re not slaves,” I say.

“Oh, they’re slaves,” Harmony says. “Enslaved by their suckling on the teats of those bastards.”

Dancer struggles to keep up, so I slow down as he speaks. Harmony makes an irritated noise.

“Golds structure everything to make their own lives easier. They have shows produced to entertain and placate the masses. They give monies and handouts to make generations dependent on the seventh day of each new Earth month. They create goods to grant us a semblance of liberty. If violence is the Gold sport, manipulation is their art form.”

We pass into a lowColor district where there are no designated walking paths. The storefronts are lined with electronic Green ribbons. Some stores peddle a month of alternate reality in an hour’s time for a week’s wages. Two small men with quick green eyes and bald heads studded with metal spikes and tattooed with shifting digital codes suggest for me a trip to someplace called Osgiliath. Other stores offer banking services or biomodifications or simple personal hygiene products. They shout things I don’t understand, speaking in numbers and

acronyms. I have never seen such commotion.

Brothels lined with Pink ribbon make me blush, as do the women and men in the windows. Each has a flashing price tag playfully hanging from a thread; it’s a moving number that suits demand. A lusty girl calls to me as Dancer explains the idea of money. In Lykos, we traded only in goods and swill and burners and services.

Some blocks of the city are reserved for the use of high colors. Access to these districts depends on badges of warrant. I cannot simply walk or ride into a Gold or Copper district. But a Copper can always slum in a Red district, frequenting a bar or brothel. Never the other way around, even in the wild, free-for-all that is the Bazaar—a riotous place of commerce and noise and air heavy with the scents of bodies and food and automobile exhaust.

We walk deep into the Bazaar. I feel safer in the back alleys here than I did in the open avenues of the high-tech sectors. I do not yet like vast spaces, and seeing the stars above frightened me. The Bazaar is darker, though lights still shine and people still bustle. The buildings seem to pinch together. A hundred balconies form ribs in the alleyway’s heights. Walkways crisscross above, and all around us, lights blink from devices. It is more humid here, dirty. And I see fewer Tinpots patrolling. Dancer says there are places in the Bazaar where even an Obsidian should not go. “In the densest places of man, humanity most easily breaks down,” he says.

It is strange being in a crowd where no one knows your face or cares for your purpose. In Lykos, I would have been jostled by men I’d grown up with, run across girls I’d chased and wrestled with as a child. Here, other Colors slam into me and offer not even a faint apology. This is a city, and I do not like it. I feel alone.

“This is us,” Dancer says, gesturing me into a dark doorway where an electronic flying dragon shimmers on the surface of the stone. A massive Brown with a modjob for a nose stops us. We wait for the metal nose to snort and sniff. He’s bigger than Dancer.

“Dye in his hair,” he growls at me, taking a whiff of my hair. “A Ruster, this one be.”

A scorcher peeks out from his belt. He’s got a shiv behind his wrist—I can tell by the way his hand moves. Another thug joins him on the stoop. He’s got jewelry processors on his eyeballs, little red rubies that

flicker when light catches them just right. I stare at the jewelry and the brown eyes.

“What’s what with this one? He want a go?” the thug spits. “Keep eyein’ me, and I’ll take your liver to sell at market.”

Thinks I’m challenging him. I’m actually just curious about the rubies, but when he threatens me I smile at him and give a little wink like I would in the mines. A knife flips into his hand. Rules are different up here.

“Boy, keep playin’. Dare ya. Keep playin’.” “Mickey is expectin’ us,” Dancer tells the man.

I watch Modjob’s friend as he tries to stare me down like I’m some sort of child. Modjob smirks and leers at Dancer’s leg and arm. “Don’t know a Mickey, cripple.” He looks to his friend. “You know a Mickey?”

“Nah. Ain’t got no Mickey here.”

“What a relief.” Dancer sets a hand on the scorcher under his jacket. “Since you don’t know Mickey, you won’t have to explain to Mickey why my … generous friend couldn’t reach him.” He moves his jacket so they can see a glyph etched on the butt of his gun. The helmet of Ares.

When he sees the glyph, Modjob gulps and says, “Squab,” then they fall over each other to open the door. “G-g-gotta take your shooters.” Three others move toward us, scorchers half up. Harmony opens her vest and shows them a bomb strapped to her stomach. She rolls a blinking detonator over her nimble Red fingers.

“Nah. We’re good.”

Modjob swallows, nods. “You’re good.”

The interior of the building is dark. It is a darkness thick with smoke and throbbing lights—much like my mine. Music pulses. Glass cylinders stand as pillars amongst chairs and tables where men drink and smoke. Inside the glass, women dance. Some writhe in water, their strange webbed toes and sleek thighs moving to the music. Others gyrate to the thudding melody in environs of golden smoke or silver paint.

More thugs guide us to a back table that seems made of iridescent water. A slim man reclines there with several creatures of the strangest sort. I thought them monsters at first, but the closer I look, the more confused I become. They are humans. But they’ve been made differently. Carved differently. A pretty young girl, no older than Eo, sits looking at me with emerald eyes. The wings of a white eagle sprout from the flesh

of her back. She’s like something torn from a fever dream, except she should have been left there. Others like her lounge in the smoke and strange lights.

Mickey the Carver is a scalpel of a man with a crooked smile and black hair that hangs like a puddle of oil down one side of his head. A tattoo of an amethyst mask wreathed in smoke winds around his left hand. It is the Sigil of a Violet—the creatives—so it is always shifting. Other violet symbols stain his wrists. He’s playing with a little electronic puzzle cube that has changing faces. His fingers are fast, thinner and longer than they should be, and there are twelve of them. Fascinating. I’ve never seen an artist before, not even on the HC. They’re as rare as Whites.

“Ah, Dancer,” he sighs without looking up from his cube. “I could hear you from the drag in your step.” He squints at the cube in his hands. “And Harmony. I could smell you from the door, my darling. Terrible bomb, by the bye. Next time you need real sneaky craftsmanship, look Mickey up, yes?”

“Mick,” Dancer says, and seats himself at the table of dream-things. I can tell Harmony is growing a bit dizzy from the smoke. I’m used to breathing worse stuff.

“Now, Harmony, my love,” Mickey purrs. “Have you given up on this cripple yet? Come to join my family, perhaps? Yes? Get yourself a pair of wings? Claws on your hands? A tail? Horns—you would look fierce in horns. Especially wrapped in my silken bedsheets.”

“Carve yourself a soul and you might get a shot,” Harmony sneers. “Ah, if it takes being a Red to have a soul, on this I shall pass.” “Then to business.”

“So abrupt, my darling. Conversation should be considered an art form, or like a grand dinner. Each course in its own time.” His fingers fly over the cube. He’s matching them based on their electronic frequency, but he’s a bit too slow to match them before they change. He still hasn’t looked up.

“We have a proposition for you, Mickey,” Dancer says impatiently. He glances down at the cube.

Mickey’s smile is long and crooked. He does not look up. Dancer repeats himself.

“Straight to the main course then, eh, cripple? Well, propose away.”

Dancer swats the cube out of Mickey’s hands. The table goes silent. The thugs bristle behind us and the music continues to pound. My heart is steady and I eye the scorcher on the thigh of the nearest thug. Slowly, Mickey looks up and cuts the tension with a crooked smile. “What’s what, my friend?”

Dancer nods to Harmony and she slips a small box over to Mickey.

“A present? You shouldn’t have.” Mickey examines the box. “Cheap stuff. Such a tasteless Color, Red.” Then he slides the box open and gasps in horror. He recoils from the table, slamming the box shut. “You stupid sodding bastards. What is this?”

“You know what they are.”

Mickey leans forward and his voice becomes one lone hiss. “You brought them here? How did you get them? Are you insane?” Mickey glances at his followers, who peer down at the box wondering what has so unbalanced their master.

“Insane? We’re bloodydamn manic.” Dancer smiles. “And we need them attached. Soon.”

“Attached?” Mickey starts laughing. “To him.” Dancer points at me.

“Leave!” Mickey screams at his entourage. “Leave, you simpering sycophantic miscreants! I’m talking to you … you freaks! Get out!” When his entourage has scurried away, he opens the box and dumps the contents onto the table. Two golden wings, the Sigils of a Gold, clatter onto the table.

Dancer sits. “We want you to make our boy here into a Gold.”

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