Chapter no 11 – Mad

Red Rising

“You’re mad.”

“Thank you.” Harmony smiles.

“I assume you misspoke; pray repeat yourself,” Mickey says to Dancer. “Ares will pay you more money than you’ve ever seen if you can

successfully attach those to my young friend here.”

“Impossible,” Mickey declares. He looks over to me, measuring me for the first time. He is unimpressed despite my height. I don’t blame him. Once, I thought myself a handsome man of the clans. Strong. Muscular. Up here, I am pale and wiry, young and scarred. He spits onto the table. “Impossible.”

Harmony shrugs. “It’s been done before.”

“By whom? I ask.” He turns his head. “No. You cannot bait me.” “Someone talented,” Harmony taunts.

“Impossible.” Mickey leans even farther forward; his thin face has not a single pore. “There’s DNA matching him with the wings, cerebral extraction. Did you know they have subdermal markings in their skulls? Of course you didn’t—datachips attached to their frontal cortexes to substantiate their caste? Then there’s synapse linkage, molecular bonding, tracking devices, the Quality Control Board. And there’s the trauma and the associative reasoning. Say we make his body perfect, there’s still one problem: we cannot make him smarter. One cannot make a mouse a lion.”

“He can think like a lion,” Dancer says plainly.

“Oho! He can think like a lion,” Mickey snickers. “And Ares wants it done.” Dancer’s voice is cold.

“Ares. Ares. Ares. It doesn’t matter what Ares wants, you baboon. Never mind the science. His physical and mental dexterity is probably daft as a damn bowl cleaner’s. And his tangibles won’t match. He’s not their species! He’s a Ruster!”

“I’m a Helldiver of Lykos,” I say.

Mickey raises his eyebrows. “Oho! A Helldiver! Clear the halls! A Helldiver, you say!” He mocks me, but he squints suddenly as if he’s seen me before. My whipping was televised. Many know my face. “Bugger me blind,” he mutters.

“You recognize my face,” I confirm.

He pulls up the viral video and watches it, looking back and forth between it and me. “Aren’t you dead with that girlfriend of yours?”

“Wife,” I snap.

Mickey’s jaw muscles flicker under his skin as he ignores me. “You’re making a savior,” he accuses, looking over at Dancer. “Dancer, you bastard. You’re making a messiah for your gorydamn cause.”

I never looked at it that way. My skin prickles uneasily. “Yes” is Dancer’s answer.

“If I make him a Gold, what will you do with him?”

“He will apply to the Institute. He will be accepted. There, he will excel well enough to reach the ranks of the Peerless Scarred; as a Scarred, he can train to be a Praetor, a Legate, a Politico, a Quaestor. Anything. He will advance to a prime position, the primer the better. From there, he will be in a position to do as Ares requires for the Cause.” “Mother of God,” Mickey murmurs. He stares at Harmony, then at Dancer. “You want him to be a bona fide Peerless Scarred. Not a


A Bronze is a faded Gold. Of the same class, but looked down on for inferior appearance, lineage, and capabilities. “Not a Bronze,” Dancer confirms.

“Or a Pixie?”

“We don’t want him to go to nightclubs and eat caviar like the rest of those worthless Golds. We want him to command fleets.”

Fleets. You lot are mad. Mad.” Mickey’s violet eyes settle on mine after a long moment. “My boy, they are murdering you. You are not a

Gold. You cannot do what a Gold can do. They are killers, born to dominate us; have you ever met one of the Aureate? Sure, they may look all pretty and peaceful now. But do you know what happened in the Conquering? They are monsters.”

He shakes his head and laughs wickedly. “The Institute is not a school, it is a culling ground where the Golds go to hack at one another till the strongest in mind and body is found. You. Will. Die.”

Mickey’s cube lies at the opposite end of the table. I walk over to it without saying a word. I don’t know how it works, but I know the puzzles of the earth.

“My boy, what are you doing?” Mickey sighs in pity. “That is not a toy.”

“Have you ever been in a mine?” I ask him. “Ever used your fingers to dig through a faultline at a twelve-degree angle while doing the math to accommodate eighty percent rotation power and fifty-five percent thrust so you don’t set off a gas-pocket reaction while sitting in your own piss and sweat and worrying about pitvipers that want to burrow into your gut to lay their eggs?”

“This is …”

His voice fades as he sees how the clawDrill taught my fingers to move, how the grace with which my uncle taught me to dance is converted into my hands. I hum as I work. It takes a moment, maybe a minute or three. But I learn the puzzle and then solve it easily according to frequency. There seems another level to it, mathematical riddles. I don’t know the math, but I know the pattern. I solve it and four more puzzles, then it changes once more in my hands, becoming a circle. Mickey’s eyes widen. I toss the device back to him. He stares at my hands while working his own twelve fingers.

“Impossible,” he murmurs. “Evolution,” Harmony replies.

Dancer smiles. “We will need to discuss price.”

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