Chapter no 13 – Bad Things

Red Rising

Matteo is a tall wisp of a Pink with long limbs and a lean, beautiful face. He is a slave. Or was a slave for carnal pleasures. Yet he walks like a water lord. Beauty in his step. Manners and grace in the wave of his hand. He has a penchant for wearing gloves and sniffing at even the smallest bit of dirt. Body maintenance has been his life’s purpose. So he doesn’t find it strange when he helps me apply a hair follicle killer to my arms, legs, torso, and privates. But I do. When we’re done, we’re both cursing—me from the sting, him from the punch I threw at his shoulder. I accidentally dislocated it just by punching it. I still don’t know my own strength. And they do make their Pinks fragile. If he is the rose, I am the thorns.

“Bald as a toddler, you frenetic little baby,” Matteo sighs as properly as one can say such a thing. “Just as the newest Luna fashion requires. Now, with a bit of eyebrow sculpting—oh, how your brows are like fungus-nibbling caterpillars—and nose-hair eradication, cuticle readjustment, teeth whitening on those slick new chompers—which, if I may say, are yellow as mustard dappled with dandelions … tell me, have you ever brushed your new teeth?—and blackhead removal (which shall be like probing for helium-3), toner adjustment, and melatonin injections, and you’ll be prim and rose proper–ish.”

I snort at the foolishness of it all. “I already look like a Gold.”

“You look like a Bronze! A fool’s Gold! One of the lowbred bastards who looks more khaki than Gold. You must be perfect.”

“You’re a bloodydamn odd lark, Matteo.”

He smacks me. “Mind yourself! A Gold would rather die than use that slithering mineslang. ‘Gorydamn’ or ‘gory’; and ‘slag’ instead of ‘squab.’ Every time you say ‘bloody’ or ‘bloodydamn,’ I will smack not your gob, but your mouth. And if you say ‘squab’ or ‘gob,’ I will kick you in the scrotum—which I do know my way around—as I will do if you do not get rid of that horrible accent. You sound like you were born in a gorydamn dumpster.”

He frowns and sets his hands on his narrow hips.

“And then we’ll have to teach you manners. And culture, culture,


“I have manners.”

“By the maker, we are so, so going to have to make you forswear that brogue as well as the cursing.”

He pokes me as he lists out my flaws.

“Might try adopting some manners of your own, buttboy,” I growl.

He pulls off one of my gloves and slaps me across the face and takes a bottle in hand and holds it to my throat. I laugh.

“You’ll have to get your Helldiver reflexes back soon to go with that gawky new body.”

I eye the bottle.

“Going to poke me to death?”

“It is a polyenne sword, goodman. A razor, in other words. One moment it is soft as hair, but with an organic impulse, it turns harder than diamond. It is the only thing that will cut through a pulseShield. One moment a whip, the next moment a perfect sword. It is the weapon of a gentleman. A Gold. For any other Color to carry it is death.”

“It is a bottle, you daft—”

He jams me in the throat so that I gag.

“And it was your manners that forced me to draw my razor and challenge you, thereby precipitously ending your impudent life. You may have fought with fists for honor in that hovel you called home. You were a bug then. An ant. An Aureate fights with a blade at the slightest provocation. They have honor the likes of which you know nothing about. Your honor was personal; theirs is personal, familial, and planetary. That is all. They fight for higher stakes, and they do not forgive when the bloodletting is done. Least of all the Peerless Scarred.

Manners, goodman. Manners will protect you until you can protect yourself from my shampoo bottle.”

“Matteo …,” I say, rubbing my throat. “Yes?” he sighs.

“What is shampoo?”

Another stint in Mickey’s carving room might have been preferable to Matteo’s tutelage. At least Mickey was afraid of me.

The next morning Dancer tries to rename me.

“You will be the son of a relatively unknown family from the far asteroid clusters. Soon, the family will be dead in a shipping accident. You will be the lone survivor and the only heir to their debts and poor status. His name, your name, will be Caius au Andromedus.”

“Slag that,” I reply. “I will be Darrow or I will be nothing.” He scratches his head. “Darrow is an … odd name.”

“You have made me give up the hair Father gave me, the eyes Mother left me, the Color I was born to, so I will keep the name they granted me, and you can make it work.”

“I liked it better when you didn’t act like a Gold,” Dancer grumbles.

“Now, the key to dining like an Aureate is to eat slowly,” Matteo says as we sit together at a table in the penthouse where Dancer first showed me the world. “You will find yourself subjected to many Trimalchian feasts. On such occasions, there will be seven courses—appetizer, soup, fish, meat, salad, dessert, and libations.”

He gestures to a small tray laden with silverware and explains the various methods for eating with each.

Then he tells me, “If you must urinate or defecate during the meal, you hold it in. Controlling one’s bodily functions is expected of an Aureate.”

“So these namby-pamby Goldbrows aren’t allowed to shit? And when they do, I wonder, does it come out gold?”

Matteo slaps my cheek with his glove. “If you’re so eager to see red again, let your tongue slip in their presence, goodman, and they’ll be happy to remind you what color all men bleed. Manners and control!

You have neither.” He shakes his head. “Now, tell me what this fork is used for.”

I want to tell him it’s used for picking his arse, but I sigh and give him the correct answer. “Fish, but only if the bones are still in the dish.”

“And how much of this fish are you to eat?” “All of it,” I guess.

“No!” he cries. “Were you even listening?” His small hands clutch his hair and he takes a deep breath. “Must I remind you? There are Bronzies. There are Golds. And there are Pixies.”

He leaves the rest for me to finish.

“Pixies have no self-control,” I remember aloud. “They take in all the treats of power, but do pissall to merit them. They are born and they chase pleasure. Righto?”

“Prime, not righto. Now what is expected of a Gold? Of a Peerless Scarred?”

“Perfection.” “Which means?”

My voice is cold as I mimic a Gold’s accent. “It means control, goodman. Self-control. I am permitted to indulge in vices so long as I never permit them to usurp control. If there is a key to understanding Aureates, it is found in understanding control in all its forms. Eat the fish, leave twenty percent to indicate its deliciousness did not overpower my resolve or make slaves of my taste-buds.”

“So you were listening after all.”

Dancer finds me the next day as I practice my Aureate accent in the penthouse’s holomirror. I can see a three-dimensional depiction of my head in front of me. The teeth move strangely, catching my tongue as I try to roll my words. I am still becoming used to my body, even months after the last of the surgeries. My teeth are larger than I initially thought them. It also doesn’t help that the Goldbrows speak as though they’ve had golden shovels stuck up their bloodydamn stinkholes. So I find it easier to speak like one if I see that I am one. The arrogance comes easier.

“Soften your r’s,” Dancer tells me. He sits attentively as I read from a datapad. “Pretend as though there is an in front of each one.” His burner reminds me of home and I remember how ArchGovernor Augustus seemed in Lykos. I remember the man’s serenity. His patient

condescension. His smirk. “Elongate the l’s.”

“Is that all the strength you have?” I say into the mirror.

“Perfect,” Dancer praises with a humorous shiver. He claps his good hand on his knee.

“Soon I’ll be dreaming like I’m a bloodydamn Goldbrow too,” I say in disgust.

“You shouldn’t say ‘bloodydamn.’ Say ‘gory’ or ‘gorydamn’ instead.”

I glare at him. “If I saw myself on the street, I would hate me. I would want to take a slingBlade and carve me from pucker to stinker and then burn the remains. Eo would puke to look at me.”

“You’re young still,” Dancer laughs. “God, I sometimes forget how young.” He takes a flask out of his boot and downs some before tossing it to me.

I laugh. “Last time I drank, Uncle Narol drugged me.” I take a drink. “Maybe you’ve forgotten what the mines are like. I’m not young.”

Dancer frowns. “I didn’t mean to insult, Darrow. It’s just you understand what you’re to do. You understand why you’re to do it. But you still lose perspective and judge yourself. Right now you probably get sick looking at your golden self. Righto?”

“Righto there.” I drink deep from the flask.

“But you’re only playing a part, Darrow.” He twitches his finger and a blade slips from the ring on his finger. My reflexes are back and quick enough that I might have shoved it up into his throat if I thought he meant me harm, but I let him swipe the blade across my index finger. Blood wells out. Red blood. “Just in case you need reminding what you really are.”

“Smells like home,” I say, sucking on the finger. “Mum used to make blood soup out of the pitvipers. Not half bad to the truth of it.”

“You dip flaxbread in it and sprinkle in okrablossom?” “How’d you know?” I ask.

“My mum did the same,” Dancer laughs. “We’d have it at Dancetide, or before the Laureltide when they’d announce the winner. Always squabbing Gamma.”

“Here’s to Gamma.” I laugh and finish another swig.

Dancer watches me. The smile eventually slips from his face and his eyes grow cold. “Matteo’s to teach you to dance tomorrow.”

“Thought you’d be the one doing that,” I say.

He thumps his bad leg. “Been a while since I’ve done that. Best dancer in Oikos. I could move like a deeptunnel draft. All our best dancers were Helldivers. I was one for several years, you know.”

“I figured.”

“Did you, now?”

I gesture to his scars. “Only a Helldiver would be bit so many times without drillBoys around to help pull the vipers off. Been bitten too. Got a bigger heart for it, at least.”

He nods and his eyes go distant. “Fell into a nest when fixing to repair a nodule on the clawDrill. They were up in one of the ducts and I didn’t see them. They were the dangerous kind.”

I see where he’s going with this. “They were babies,” I say. He nods.

“They have less venom. Much less than their parents, so they weren’t burrowers bent on laying eggs inside of me. But when they bit, they used all the evil in them. Fortunately, we had antivenom with us. Traded some Gammas for it.” In Lykos we had no antivenom.

He leans toward me.

“We’re tossing you into a nest of baby vipers, Darrow. Mark that. Admissions testing is three months from now. I will be tutoring you in conjunction with your lessons from Matteo. But if you do not quit judging yourself, if you continue to hate your guise, then you will fail the test or worse—you will pass it and then slip up and be found out while at the Institute. And everything will be squabbed.”

I shift in my seat. For once, there’s another fear in me—not of becoming something Eo would not recognize, but a more primal fear, a mortal fear of my enemies. What will they be like? I already see their sneers, their contempt.

“Doesn’t matter if they find me out.” I clap Dancer’s knee. “They’ve taken what they can from me already. That is why I am a weapon you can use.”

“Wrong,” Dancer snaps. “You’re of use because you’re more than a weapon. When your wife died, she didn’t just give you a vendetta. She gave you her dream. You’re its keeper. Its maker. So don’t be spitting anger and hate. You’re not fighting against them, no matter what Harmony says. You’re fighting for Eo’s dream, for your family that is still alive, your people.”

“Is that Ares’s opinion? I mean, is it yours?”

“I am not Ares,” Dancer repeats. I don’t believe him. I’ve seen the way his men look at him, how even Harmony pays him deference. “Look into yourself, Darrow, and you’ll realize that you are a good man who will have to do bad things.”

My hands are unscarred and feel strange when I clench them till the knuckles turn that familiar shade of white.

“See. That’s what I don’t get. If I am a good man, then why do I want to do bad things?”

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