Chapter no 5 – The First Song

Red Rising

Ugly Dan stands with three Tinpots. Their thumpers perch crackling in their hands. Two of the men lean on the metal rails of the Webbery’s girders. Behind them, the women of Mu and Upsilon wrap silk from the worms around long silver poles. They shake their heads insistently at me, as if telling me not to be foolish. We’ve gone beyond the permitted zones. This will mean a flogging, but if I resist, it will mean death. They will kill Eo and they will kill me.

“Darrow …,” Eo murmurs.

I set myself between Eo and the Tinpots, but I don’t fight. I won’t let us die for a simple glimpse of the stars. I put my hands out to let them know I will surrender.

“Helldivers,” Ugly Dan chuckles to the others. “The toughest ant is yet but an ant.” He swings his thumper into my stomach. It’s like being bitten by a viper and kicked by a boot. I fall gasping, hands on the metal grate. Electricity slithers through my veins. I taste the bile rising in my throat. “Take a swing, Helldiver,” Dan coos. He drops one of the thumpers in front of me. “Please. Take a swing. Won’t be any consequences. Just some fun between the boys. Take a piggin’ swing.”

“Do it, Darrow!” Eo shouts.

I’m not a fool. I thrust my hands up in surrender and Dan sighs in disappointment as he clacks the magnetic manacles around my wrists. What would Eo have had me do? She curses at them as they lock her arms together and drag us away through the Webbery to the cells. This

will mean the lash. But it will be just the lash because I did not pick up the thumper, because I did not listen to Eo.

It’s three days in a cell in the Pot before I see Eo again. Bridge, one of the old, kinder Tinpots, takes us out together; he lets us touch. I wonder if she’ll spit at me, curse me for my impotence. But she only grips my fingers and brings her lips to mine.

“Darrow.” Her lips brush my ear. The breath is warm, the lips cracked and trembling. She’s frail as she hugs me—a little girl, all wire wrapped in pale skin. Her knees wobble and she shudders against me. The warmth I saw in her face as we watched the sun rise has fled and left her like a faded memory. But I hardly see anything but her eyes and her hair. I wrap my arms around her and hear the muttering of the crowded Common. The faces of our kin and clan stare at us as we stand at the edge of the gallows, where they will flog us. I feel like a child under their stares, under the yellowish lights.

It’s like a dream when Eo tells me she loves me. Her hand lingers on mine. But there’s something strange to her eyes. They should only whip her, yet her words are final, her eyes sad but not afraid. I see her making a goodbye. A nightmare is coming to my heart. I can feel it like a nail dragged along the bones of my spine as she murmurs an epigram in my ear. “Break the chains, my love.”

And then I am jerked away from her by my hair. Tears stream down her face. They are for me, though I do not yet understand why. I cannot think. The world is swimming. I am drowning. Rough hands shove me to my knees, then jerk me up. I’ve never heard the Common so quiet. The shuffling of my captors’ feet echoes as they move me around.

The Tinpots fit me into my Helldiver frysuit. Its acrid smell makes me think I am safe, I am in control. I am not. I’m dragged away from her into the very center of the Common and tossed at the edge of the gallows. The metal stairs are rusted and stained. I grip them with my hands and look to the top of the gallows. Twenty-four of the headTalks each have a cord of leather. They wait for me atop the platform.

“Oh, the horror of such occasions as this, my friends,” Magistrate Podginus cries. His copper gravBoots hum above me as he floats through the air. “Oh, how the ties that bind us are stretched when one decides to

break the laws which protect us all.

“Even the youngest, even the best, are subject to Law. To Order! Without these we would be animals! Without obedience, without discipline, there would be no colonies! And those few colonies there are would be torn asunder by disorder! Man would be confined to Earth. Man would wallow forevermore on that planet until the end of days. But Order! Discipline! Law! These are the things which empower our race. Cursed is the creature who breaks with these compacts.”

The speech is more eloquent than usual. Podginus is trying to impress his intelligence upon someone. I look up from the stairs and see a sight I did not ever think to see with my own two eyes. It stings to look at him, to drink in the radiance of his hair, of his Sigils. I see a Gold. In this drab place, he is what I imagine angels would be like. Cloaked in gold and black. Wrapped in the sun. A lion roaring upon his breast.

His face is older, severe, and pure with power. His hair shines, combed back against his head. Neither a smile nor a frown mark his thin lips, and the only line I see is that of a scar, which runs along his right cheekbone.

I’ve learned from the HC that such a scar is borne only by the finest of the Golds. The Peerless Scarred, they call them—men and women of the ruling Color who have graduated from the Institute, where they learn the secrets that will permit mankind to one day colonize all the planets of the Solar System.

He does not speak to us. He speaks to another Gold, one tall and thin, so thin I thought it a woman at first. Without a scar, the man’s face is coated with strange paste to bring out the color of his cheeks and cover the lines on his face. His lips shine. And his hair glistens in a way his master’s does not. He is a grotesque thing to look upon. He thinks so of us. He sniffs the air, contemptuous. The older Gold speaks to him softly and not to us.

And why should he speak to us? We are not worthy of a Gold’s words. I scarcely want to look at him. I feel like I dirty his gold and black finery with my red eyes. Shame creeps upon me and then I realize why.

His is a face I know. It is a face every man and woman of the colonies would know. Besides Octavia au Lune, this is the most famous face on Mars—that of Nero au Augustus. The ArchGovernor of Mars has come to see me flogged, and he has brought a retinue. Two Crows (Obsidians to

be technic) float quietly behind him. Their skull helmets suit their Color. I was born to mine the earth. They were born to kill men. More than two feet taller than I. Eight fingers on each massive hand. They breed them for war, and watching them is like watching the coldblooded pitvipers who infest our mines. Reptiles both.

There are a dozen others in his retinue, including another, slighter Gold who seems his apprentice. He’s even more beautiful than the ArchGovernor and he appears to dislike the thin, womanish Gold. And there is an HC camera crew of Greens, tiny creatures compared with the Crows. Their hair is dark. Not green like their eyes and the Sigils on their hands. Frenetic excitement shimmers in those eyes. It’s not often they have Helldivers to make into an example, so they make a spectacle of me. I wonder how many other mining colonies are watching. All of them, if the ArchGovernor is here.

They make a show of stripping away the frysuit they only just dressed me in. I see myself on the HC display above, see my wedding band dangling from the cord around my neck. I look younger than I feel, thinner. They jerk me up the stairs and bend me over a metal box beside the noose where my father hung. I shiver as they lay me across the cold steel and tighten my hands in restraints. I smell the synthleather of the lashes, hear one of the headTalks cough.

“Forevermore, let justice be done,” Podginus says.

Then the lashes come. Forty-eight in all. They aren’t soft, not even my uncle’s. They can’t be. The lashes bite and wail into my flesh, making a strange keening noise as they arch through the air. Music of terror. I can barely see by the end of it. I pass out twice, and each time I wake I wonder if you can see my spine on the HC.

It’s a show, all a show of their power. They let the Tinpot, Ugly Dan, act sympathetic, as though he pities me. He whispers encouragement in my ear loud enough for the cameras. And when the last lash slashes my back, he steps in as if to stop another from coming down. Subconsciously, I think he saves me. I’m thankful. I want to kiss him. He is salvation. But I know I’ve had my forty-eight.

Then they are dragging me to the side. They leave my blood. I’m sure I screamed, sure I shamed myself. I hear them bring out my wife.

“Even the young, even the beautiful cannot escape justice. It is for all the Colors that we preserve Order, Justice. Without, we would find

anarchy. Without Obedience, chaos! Man would perish upon the irradiated sands of Earth. He would drink from the blasted seas. There must be unity. Forevermore, let justice be done.”

MineMagistrate Podginus’s words ring hollow.

No one is offended that I’m bloody and beaten. But when Eo is dragged atop the gallows, there are cries. There are curses. Even now she is beautiful, even drained of the light I saw in her three days ago. Even as she sees me and lets the tears come down her face, she is an angel.

All this for a little adventure. All this for a night under the stars with the man she loves. Yet she is calm. If there is fear, it is in me, because I feel a strangeness in the air. Her skin prickles as they lay her across the cold box. She flinches. I wish my blood had warmed it better for her.

When they whip Eo, I try not to watch. But it hurts more to abandon her. Her eyes find mine. They shine like rubies, twitch every time the lash falls. Soon this will be over, my love. Soon we will go back to life. Just last the lash and we get everything back. But can she even take so many lashes?

“End it,” I say to the Tinpot beside me. “End it!” I beg of him. “I’ll do anything. I’ll obey. I’ll take her lashes. Just end it, you bloodydamn bastards! End it!”

The ArchGovernor looks down at me, but his face is golden, poreless, and without care. I am nothing but the bloodiest of ants. My sacrifice will impress him. He’ll feel compassion if I abase myself, if I throw myself into the fire for love. He’ll feel pity. This is how the stories go.

“Your Excellency, give me her punishment!” I plead. “Please!” I beg because in my wife’s eyes I see something that terrifies me. I see fight in her as they streak her back bloody. I see anger building inside her. There is a reason she is not afraid.

“No. No. No,” I plead to her. “No, Eo. Please, no!”

“Gag that wretched thing! He prickles the ArchGovernor’s ears,” Podginus orders. Bridge forces a knot of stone into my mouth. I gag and cry.

As the thirteenth lash falls, as I mumble for her not to do it, Eo stares into my eyes one last moment and then she begins her song. It is a quiet sound, a mournful sound, like the song the deep mines whisper as wind moves in the abandoned shafts. It is the song of death and lament, the

song that is forbidden. The song I have only heard once before.

For this, they will kill her.

Her voice is soft and true, never as beautiful as she. It echoes across the Common, rising up like a Siren’s unearthly call. The lashes pause. The headTalks shiver. Even the Tinpots sadly shake their heads when they place the words. Few men truly like seeing beauty burn.

Podginus glances embarrassedly over at ArchGovernor Augustus, who descends on golden gravBoots to watch more closely. His shining hair glistens against his noble brow. High cheekbones catch the light. Those golden eyes examine my wife as though a worm had suddenly sprouted a butterfly’s wings. His scar curves as he speaks with a voice dripping power.

“Let her sing,” he says to Podginus, not bothering to hide his fascination.

“But, my lord …”

“No animal but man throws themselves willingly into the flames, Copper. Relish the sight. You’ll not see it again.” To his camera crew: “Continue recording. We will edit out the parts we find intolerable.”

How futile his words make her sacrifice seem.

But never has Eo been more beautiful to me than in that moment. In the face of cold power, she is fire. This is the girl who danced through the smoky tav with a mane of red. This is the girl who wove me a wedding band of her own hair. This is the girl who chooses to die for a song of death.

My love, my love Remember the cries

When winter died for spring skies They roared and roared

But we grabbed our seed And sowed a song Against their greed


Down in the vale

Hear the reaper swing, the reaper swing the reaper swing

Down in the vale Hear the reaper sing A tale of winter done

My son, my son Remember the chains

When gold ruled with iron reins We roared and roared

And twisted and screamed For ours, a vale

of better dreams

As her voice finally swells and the song runs out of words, I know I have lost her. She becomes something more important; and she was right, I do not understand.

“A quaint tune. But is that all you have?” the ArchGovernor asks her when she is through. He looks at her but he speaks loudly, to the crowd, to those who will watch in the other colonies. His entourage chuckles at Eo’s weapon, a song. What is a song but notes unto the air? Useless as a match in a storm against his power. He shames us. “Do any of you wish to join her in song? I implore you, bold Reds of …” He looks to his assistant, who mouths the name. “… Lykos, join her now if you wish.”

I can barely breathe past the stone. It chips my molars. Tears stream down my face. No voices rise from the crowd. I see my mother trembling with anger. Kieran clutches his wife close. Narol stares at the ground. Loran weeps. They are all here, all quiet. All afraid.

“Alas, Your Excellency, we find the girl alone in her zealotry,” Podginus declares. Eo has eyes only for me. “ ’Tis clear her opinion is an outlier’s, an outcast’s. Mayhaps we should proceed?”

“Yes,” the ArchGovernor says idly. “I have an appointment with Arcos.

Hang the rusty bitch lest she continue to howl.”

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