Chapter no 16 – The Institute

Red Rising

My test results come when I am practicing my cultural recognition and accent modulation with Matteo in our high-rise penthouse. We have a view of the city, the setting sun behind. I’m midway through a clever retort about the Yorkton Supernova fauxWar sports club when my datapad beeps with a priority message sent to my datapad stream. I almost spill my coffee.

“My datapad has been slaved by another,” I said. “It’s the Board of Quality Control.”

Matteo shoots up from his chair. “We have perhaps four minutes.” He runs into the suite’s library, where Harmony is reading on an ergocouch. She jumps up and is down and out of the suite in less than three breaths. I make sure that the holopictures of me with my fake family are arranged in my bedroom and throughout the penthouse. Four hired servants—Browns and a Pink—go about domestic tasks in the penthouse. They wear the Pegasus livery of my fake family.

One of the Browns goes to the kitchen. The other, a Pink woman, massages my shoulders. Matteo shines my shoes in my room. Of course there are machines to do these things, but an Aureate would never use a machine for something a person could do. There is no power in that.

The towncraft appears like a distant dragonfly. It grows as it buzzes closer and hovers outside my penthouse window. Its boarding door slides open and a man in a Copper suit gives a bow of formality. I let my datapad open the duroglass window and the man floats in. Three Whites

are with him. Each has a white Sigil upon their hands. Members of the Academians and a Copper bureaucrat.

“Do I have the pleasure of addressing one Darrow au Andromedus, son of the recently deceased Linus au Andromedus and Lexus au Andromedus?”

“You have the honor.”

The bureaucrat looks me up and down in a very deferential, but impatient manner. “I am Bondilus cu Tancrus of the Institute’s Board of Quality Control. There are some questions we must beg to ask of you.”

We sit across from one another at my oak kitchen table. There, they hook my finger to a machine and one of the Whites dons a pair of glasses that will analyze my pupils and other physiological reactions. They will be able to tell if I am lying.

“We will start with a control question to assess your normal reaction when telling truths. Are you of the Family Andromedus?”


“Are you of the Aureate genus?”

“Yes.” I lie through my teeth, ruining their control questions. “Did you cheat in your admissions test two months prior?” “No.”

“Did you use nervenucleic to stimulate high comprehension and analytical functions during the test itself?”


“Did you use a networkwidget to aggregate or synthesize outside resources in real time?”

“No.” I sigh impatiently. “There was a jammer in the room, ergo it would have been impossible. I’m glad you’ve done your research and are not wasting my time, Copper.”

His smile is bureaucratic.

“Did you have prior knowledge of the questions?”

“No.” I deem an angry response proper at this point. “And what is this about? I’m not accustomed to being called a liar by someone of your ilk.”

“It is procedure with all elite scorers, Lord Aureate. I beg your understanding,” the bureaucrat drones. “Any upward outlier far removed from the standard deviation is subject to inquiry. Did you slave your widget to that of another individual during the test?”

“No. As I said, there was a jammer. Thank you for keeping up, pennyhead.”

They take a sample of my blood and scan my brain. The results are instantaneous, but the bureaucrat will not share them. “Protocol,” he reminds me. “You will have your results in two weeks.”

We receive them in four. I pass the Quality Control examination. I did not cheat. Then comes my exam score, two months after I took the damn thing, and I realize why they thought I did cheat. I missed one question. Just one. Out of hundreds. When I share the results with Dancer, Harmony, and Matteo, they simply stare at me. Dancer falls into a chair and begins to laugh; it’s an hysterical sort.

“Bloodyhell,” he swears. “We’ve done it.” “He did it,” Matteo corrects.

It takes Dancer a minute before he has wits enough to fetch a bottle of champagne, but I still feel his eyes watching me as though I am something different, something strange. It’s like they suddenly don’t understand what it is they have created. I touch the haemanthus blossom in my pocket and feel the wedding band around my neck. They didn’t create me. She did.

It is when a valet arrives to escort me to the Institute that I say my goodbyes to Dancer inside the penthouse. He holds tight to my hand as we shake and gives me the look my father gave me before he was hanged. It’s one of reassurance. But behind that is worry and doubt. Did he prepare me for the world? Did he do his duty? My father was twenty-five when he looked at me like that. Dancer is forty-one. It makes no difference. I chuckle. Uncle Narol never gave me such a look, not even when he let me cut Eo down. Probably because he’d taken enough of my right hooks to know the answer. But if I think about my teachers, my fathers, Uncle Narol shaped me the most. He taught me to dance; he taught me how to be a man, perhaps because he knew this would be my future. And though he tried to stop me from being a Helldiver, it was his lessons that kept me alive. I’ve learned new lessons now. Let’s hope they do the trick.

Dancer gives me the knifeRing he used to slice my finger months before. But he’s reshaped it to look like an L.

“They will think it the chevron the Spartans bore on their shields,” he said. “L for Lacadaemonia.” But it is for Lykos. For Lambda.

Harmony surprises me by taking my right hand, kissing where once my Red sigil was emblazoned. She’s got tears in one eye, the cold, unscarred eye. The other cannot cry.

“Evey will be coming to live with us,” she tells me. She smiles before I can ask why. It looks strange on her face. “You think you’re the only one who notices things? We’ll give her a better life than Mickey would.”

Matteo and I share a smile and a bow. We exchange proper honorifics and he extends his hand. It doesn’t grasp mine. Instead, it snatches the flower from my pocket. I reach after it, but he’s still the only man I’ve ever met who is faster than me.

“You cannot take this with you, goodman. The wedding band on your hand is queer enough. The flower is too much.”

“Give me a petal then,” I say.

“I thought you would ask for that.” He pulls out a necklace. It is the sigil of Andromedus. My sigil, I remember. It is iron. He drops it in my hand. “Whisper her name.” I do and the Pegasus unfurls like a haemanthus bud. He sets a petal in the center. It closes again. “This is your heart. Guard it with iron.”

“Thank you, Matteo,” I say, tears in my eyes. I pick him up and hug him despite his protests. “If I live more than a week, I’ll have you to thank, my goodman.” He blushes when I set him down.

“Manage your temper,” he reminds me, his small voice darkening. “Manners, manners, then burn their bloodydamn house to the ground.”

I clutch the Pegasus in my hand as the shuttle crosses over the Martian countryside. Fingers of green stretch over the earth I’ve lived to dig. I wonder who the Helldiver of Lambda is now. Loran is too young. Barlow is too old. Kieran? He’s too responsible. He’s got children to love, and he’s seen enough of our family die. There’s no fire in his belly. Leanna’s got enough, but women aren’t allowed to dig. It is probably Dain, Eo’s brother. Wild, but not bright. The typical Helldiver. He’ll die fast. The thought makes me nauseous.

It’s not just the thought. I’m nervous. I realize it slowly as I look around the shuttle’s interior. Six other youths sit quietly. One, a slender boy with an open gaze and pretty smile, catches my eye. He’s the sort who still laughs at butterflies.

“Julian,” he declares properly, and takes my forearm. We have no data to offer each other through our datapads; they took them when we boarded the shuttle. So instead I offer him the seat across from me. “Darrow, a very interesting name.”

“Have you ever been to Agea?” I ask Julian.

“Course,” he says, smiling. He always smiles. “What, you mean you haven’t? It’s strange. I thought I knew so many Golds, but hardly any of them managed to get past the entrance exams. It’s a brave new world of faces, I fear. Anyway, I envy you the fact you haven’t been to Agea. It’s a strange place. Beautiful, no doubt, but life there is fast, and cheap, so they say.”

“But not for us.”

He chuckles. “I suppose not. Not unless you play at politics.”

“I don’t much like playing.” I notice his reaction, so I laugh my seriousness off with a wink. “Not unless there’s a wager, man. You hear?”

“I hear! What’s your game? Bloodchess? Gravcross?”

“Oh, bloodchess is all right. But fauxWar takes the prize,” I say with a Golden grin.

“Especially if you’re a Nortown fan!” he agrees.

“Oh … Nortown. I don’t know if we’ll get along,” I say, wincing. I jab myself with a thumb. “Yorkton.”

Yorkton! I don’t know if we’ll ever get along!” he laughs.

And though I smile, he doesn’t know how cold I am inside; the conversation, the jibes, the smiles, are all a pattern of sociality. Matteo’s done me well, but to Julian’s credit, he doesn’t seem a monster.

He should be a monster.

“My brother must already have arrived at the Institute. He was already in Agea at our family’s estate, causing trouble no doubt!” Julian shakes his head proudly. “Best man I know. He’ll be the Primus, just you watch. Our father’s pride and joy, and that’s saying something with how many family members I have!” Not a flicker of jealousy in his voice, just love.

“Primus?” I ask.

“Oh, Institute talk; it means leader of his House.”

The Houses. I know these. There are twelve loosely based on underlying personality traits. Each is named for one of the gods of the Roman pantheon. The SchoolHouses are networking tools and social

clubs outside of school. Do well, and they’ll find you a powerful family to serve. The families are the true powers in the Society. They have their own armies and fleets and contribute to the Sovereign’s forces. Loyalty begins with them. There is little love for the denizens of one’s own planet. If anything, they are the competition.

“You sobs done beating each other off yet?” an impish kid sneers from the corner of the shuttle. He’s so drab he is khaki instead of Gold. His lips are thin and his face like a cruel hawk just as it spies a mouse. A Bronzie.

“Are we bothering you?” My sarcasm has a polite nip.

“Does two dogs humping bother me? Likely, yes. If they are noisy.” Julian stands. “Apologize, cur.”

“Go slag yourself,” the small kid says. In half a second, Julian has drawn a white glove from nowhere. “That to wipe my ass, you golden pricklick?”

“What? You little heathen!” Julian says in shock. “Who raised you?” “Wolves, after your mother’s cootch spat me out.”

“You beast!”

Julian throws the glove at the small kid. I’m watching, thinking this is the height of comedy. The kid seems pulled straight from the Lykos crop, Beta maybe. He’s like an ugly, tiny, irritable Loran. Julian doesn’t know what to do, so he makes a challenge.

“A challenge, goodman.”

“A duel? You’re that offended?” The ugly kid snorts at the princeling. “Fine. I’ll stitch your family pride together after the Passage, pricklick.” He blows his nose into the glove.

“Why not now, coward?” Julian calls. His slender chest is puffed out just as his father must have taught him. No one insults his family.

“Are you stupid? Do you see razors about? Idiot. Go away. We’ll duel after the Passage.”

“Passage …?” Julian finally asks what I’m thinking.

The scrawny kid grins wickedly. Even his teeth are khaki.

“It’s the last test, idiot. And the best secret this side of the rings around Octavia au Lune’s cootch.”

“Then how do you know about it?” I ask.

“Inside track,” the kid says. “And I don’t know about it. I know of it, you giant pisshead.”

His name is Sevro, and I like his angle.

But the talk of a Passage worries me. There is so little I know, I realize, as I listen in as Julian strikes up a conversation with the last member of our shuttle. They talk about their test scores. There is a severe disparity between their low scores and mine. I notice Sevro snort as they say theirs aloud. How did applicants with such low scores get in? I’ve got an ill feeling in my gut. And what did Sevro score?

We come to the Valles Marineris in darkness. It is a great scar of light across Mars’s black surface, going as far as eyes can see. At the center of it, the capital city of my planet rises in the night like a garden of jewelswords. Nightclubs flicker on rooftops, dance floors made of condensed air. Scantily-dressed girls and foolish boys rise and fall as gravMixers play with physics. NoiseBubbles separate city blocks. We cut through them and hear worlds of different sounds.

The Institute is beyond Agea’s night districts and is built into the side of the eight-kilometer-high walls of the Valles Marineris. The walls rise like tidal waves of green stone cradling civilization with flora. The Institute itself is made of white stone—a place of columns and sculpture, Roman to its core.

I have not been here before. But I have seen the columns. Seen the destination of our voyage. Bitterness wells in me like bile rising from stomach to throat as I think of his face. Think of his words. His eyes as they scanned the crowd. I watched on the HC as the ArchGovernor gave his speech time and again to the classes before my own. Soon I’ll hear it from his lips myself. Soon I’ll suffer the rage. Feel the fire lick over my heart as I see him in person once again.

We land on a drop pad and are shepherded into an open-air marble square looking over the vast valley. The night air is crisp. Agea sprawls behind and the gates of the Institute stretch before us. I stand with over a thousand Goldbrows, all glancing about with the cocksureness of their race. Many clump together, friends from beyond the white walls of the school. I did not think their classes so large.

A tall Golden man flanked by Obsidians and a coterie of Gold advisors rises on a pair of gravBoots before the gate. My heart goes cold as I recognize his face and hear his voice and see the glimmer in his ingot eyes.

“Welcome, children of Aureate,” ArchGovernor Nero au Augustus says

in a voice as smooth as Eo’s skin. It is preternaturally loud. “I assume you understand the gravity of your presence here. Of the thousand cities of Mars. Of all the Great Families, you are the chosen few. You are the peak of the human pyramid. Today, you will begin your campaign to join the best caste of our race. Your fellows stand like you in the Institutes of Venus, of the Eastern and Western Hemispheres of Earth, of Luna, of the Gas Giant Moons, of Europa, of the Astrodian Greek Cluster and the Astrodian Trojan Cluster, of Mercury, of Callisto, of the joint venture Enceledas and Ceres, and of the farpioneers of Hildas.”

It seems only a day ago that I knew I was a pioneer of Mars. Only a day ago that I suffered so that humanity, desperate to leave a dying Earth, could spread to the red planet. Oh, how well my rulers lied.

Behind Augustus, in the stars, there’s movement, but it is not the stars that move. Nor is it asteroids or comets. It is the Sixth and Fifth Fleets. The Armada of Mars. My breath catches in my chest. The Sixth Fleet is commanded by Cassius’s father, while the smaller Fifth Fleet is under the ArchGovernor’s direct control. Most of the ships are owned by families who owe allegiance to either Augustus or Bellona.

Augustus shows us why we, they, rule. My flesh tingles. I am so small. A billion tons of durosteel and nanometal move through the heavens, and I have never been beyond Mars’s atmosphere. They are like specks of silver in an ocean of ink. And I am so much less. But those specks could ravage Mars. They could destroy a moon. Those specks rule the ink. An Imperator commands each fleet; a Praetor commands squadrons within that fleet. What I could do with that power …

Augustus is haughty as he gives his speech. I swallow the bile in my throat. Because of the impossible distance of my enemies, my anger was once a cold, quiet sort. Now it burns in me.

“Society has three stages: Savagery, Ascendance, Decadence. The great rise because of Savagery. They rule in Ascendance. They fall because of their own Decadence.”

He tells us how the Persians were felled, how the Romans collapsed because their rulers forgot how their parents gained them an empire. He prattles about Muslim dynasties and European effeminacy and Chinese regionalism and American self-loathing and self-neutering. All the ancient names.

“Our Savagery began when our capital, Luna, rebelled against the

tyranny of Earth and freed herself from the shackles of Demokracy, from the Noble Lie—the idea that men are brothers and are created equal.”

Augustus weaves lies of his own with that golden tongue of his. He tells of the Goldens’ suffering. The Masses sat on the wagon and expected the great to pull, he reminds. They sat whipping the great until we could no longer take it.

I remember a different whipping.

“Men are not created equal; we all know this. There are averages. There are outliers. There are the ugly. There are the beautiful. This would not be if we were all equal. A Red can no more command a starship than a Green can serve as a doctor!”

There’s more laughter across the square as he tells us to look at pathetic Athens, the birthplace of the cancer they call Demokracy. Look how it fell to Sparta. The Noble Lie made Athens weak. It made their citizens turn on their best general, Alcibiades, because of jealousy.

“Even the nations of Earth grew jealous of one another. The United States of America exacted this idea of equality through force. And when the nations united, the Americans were surprised to find that they were disliked! The Masses are jealous! How wonderful a dream it would be if all men were created equal! But we are not.

“It is against the Noble Lie that we fight. But as I said before, as I say to you now, there is another evil against which we war. It is a more pernicious evil. It is a subversive, slow evil. It is not a wildfire. It is a cancer. And that cancer is Decadence. Our Society has passed from Savagery to Ascendance. But like our spiritual ancestors, the Romans, we too can fall into Decadence.”

He speaks of the Pixies.

“You are the best of humanity. But you have been coddled. You have been treated like children. Were you born to a different Color, you would have calluses. You would have scars. You would know pain.”

He smiles as if he knows pain. I hate this man.

“You think you know pain. You think the Society is an inevitable force of history. You think Her the end of history. But many have thought that before. Many ruling classes have believed theirs to be the last, the pinnacle. They grew soft. Fat. They forgot that calluses, wounds, scars, hardship, preserve all those fine pleasure clubs you young boys love to frequent and all those fine silks and diamonds and unicorns you girls ask

for on birthdays.

“Many Aureates have not sacrificed. That is why they do not wear this.” He shows a long scar on his right cheek. Octavia au Lune has the same scar. “The Scar of a Peer. We are not the masters of the Solar System because we are born. We are the masters because we, the Peerless Scarred, the iron Golds, made it that way.”

He touches the scar on his cheek. I’d give him another if I were closer.

The children around me suck down this man’s garbage like oxygen. “Right now, the Colors who mine this planet are harder than you.

They are born with calluses. Born with scars and hatred. They are tough as nanosteel. Fortunately, they are also very stupid. For instance, this Persephone you have no doubt heard of is nothing more than a dim girl who thought singing a song was worth a hanging.”

I bite a bloody hole in my cheek. My skin shivers from rage as I find out that my wife is part of this bastard’s speech.

“The girl did not even know the video would be leaked. Yet it is her willingness to suffer hardship that gave her power. Martyrs, you see, are like bees. Their only power comes in death. How many of you would sacrifice yourself to not kill, but merely hurt your enemy? Not one of you, I wager.”

I taste blood in my mouth. I have the knifeRing Dancer gave me. But I breathe the fury down. I am no martyr. I am not vengeance. I am Eo’s dream. Still, doing nothing while her murderer gloats feels like a betrayal.

“In time you will receive your Scars from my sword,” Augustus closes. “But first you must earn them.”

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