Home > Steel Scars (Red Queen 0.2)(11)

Steel Scars (Red Queen 0.2)(11)
Victoria Aveyard

“Very well.”

I shrug out of my jacket without much fanfare, then peel off my battered pants and shirt in succession. My undergarments are nothing special, mismatched and thankfully clean, but Barrow stares anyway, his mouth open a little.

“Catching flies, Barrow?” I taunt as I pull on the uniform trousers. In the dim light, they look red and battered as rusted pipes.

“Sorry,” he mutters, turning his head, then his body. As if I care about privacy. I smirk at the blush spreading up his neck.

“I didn’t think soldiers were so embarrassed by the female form,” I press on as I zip myself into the uniform top. It’s snug but fits well enough. Obviously meant for someone shorter, with narrower shoulders.

He whips back around. The flush has reached his cheeks. It makes him seem younger. No, I realize. It makes him seem his age. “I didn’t know Lakelanders were so free with them.”

I flash him a smile as cold as his eyes. “I’m Scarlet Guard, boy. We have worse things to worry about than naked flesh.”

Something trembles between us. A current of air maybe, or perhaps the ache of my head injury finally coming back. That must be it.

Then Barrow laughs.

“What?”

“You remind me of my sister.”

It’s my turn to grin. “You spy on her a lot, do you?”

He doesn’t flinch at the jab, letting it glance past. “In your manner, Farley. Your ways. You think the same.”

“She must be a bright girl.”

“She certainly thinks so.”

“Very funny.”

“I think you two would be great friends.” Then he tips his head, pausing a second. “Or you might kill each other.”

For the second time in as many minutes, I reluctantly touch Barrow. This is not so gentle as his hands on my back. Instead, I punch him lightly on the arm. “Let’s get moving,” I tell him. “I don’t fancy standing around in a dead woman’s clothes.”

THE FOLLOWING MESSAGE HAS BEEN DECODED

CONFIDENTIAL, SENIOR CLEARANCE REQUIRED

—Captain, return to orders. COMMAND won’t stand for this. —RAM—

THE FOLLOWING MESSAGE HAS BEEN DECODED

CONFIDENTIAL, COMMAND CLEARANCE REQUIRED

Day 29 of Operation SHIELDWALL, Stage 2.

Operative: Colonel REDACTED.

Designation: RAM.

Origin: REDACTED.

Destination: DRUMMER at REDACTED.

-No contact from LAMB in 2 days.

-Request permission to intercept.

-SHIELDWALL ahead of schedule. Island #3 operational but transit problematic. More boats needed than previously thought.

RISE, RED AS THE DAWN.

THE FOLLOWING MESSAGE HAS BEEN DECODED

CONFIDENTIAL, SENIOR CLEARANCE REQUIRED

Operative: General REDACTED.

Designation: DRUMMER.

Origin: COMMAND at REDACTED.

Destination: RAM at REDACTED.

-Permission to intercept granted, will relay further info re. her location.

-Use force if necessary. She was your suggestion and your mistake if things continue.

-Get RED WEB to Stage 2. Collab with other teams to begin removal.

-Will explore other transit options for #3.

RISE, RED AS THE DAWN.

THE FOLLOWING MESSAGE HAS BEEN DECODED

CONFIDENTIAL, SENIOR CLEARANCE REQUIRED

—LAMB get your ass in line, or it’s your head. —RAM—

Another message to the fire.

“Charming,” I mutter, watching the Colonel’s words burn up.

This time, Cara doesn’t bother to ask. But her lips purse into a thin line, holding back a torrent of questions. Five days now since I’ve responded to any messages, official or otherwise. She obviously knows something is afoot.

“Cara—,” I begin, but she holds up a hand.

“I don’t have clearance,” she replies. Her eyes meet mine with startling ferocity. “And I don’t care to know what path you’re leading us down, so long as you think it’s the right one.”

A warmth fills my insides. I do my best to keep it from showing, but a bit of a smile bleeds out anyways. My hand finds her shoulder, offering her the smallest touch of thanks.

“Don’t get sappy on me now, Captain.” She chuckles, tucking away the broadcaster.

“Will do.” I straighten, turning around to face the rest of my team. They cluster at the edge of the steaming alley, a respectful distance away to allow for my private correspondences. To hide our presence, Tristan and Rasha sit on the alley curb, facing the street beyond. They keep their hands out and their hoods up, begging for food or money. Everyone slides past, looking elsewhere.

“Tye, Big Coop.” The pair in question steps forward. Tye tips her head, pointing her good ear at me, while Big Coop lives up to the nickname. With a chest like a barrel and almost seven feet of heavy muscle, he’s nearly twice the size of his brother, Little Coop. “Stay with Cara, keep the second radio ready.”

She extends a hand, all but itching to get hold of our newest prize. One of three top-of-the-line, techie-made, long-range secure radios, all swiped from the Corvium stores by Barrow’s light fingers. I pass along the radio, though I keep the second tucked close. Barrow kept the third. Should he need to get in touch. Not that he’s used it yet. Not that I’m keeping tally of his communications. Usually Barrow just shows up when he wants to trade information, always without warning, slipping past every spotter I put around the farmhouse. But today we’re beyond even his sly reach. Twenty-five miles east, in the middle of Rocasta.

“As for the rest. Cristobel, Little Coop, you’re on over watch. Get high, get hidden. Usual signals.”

Cris grins, showing a mouth of missing teeth. Punishment for “smirking” at her Silver master, back when she was a twelve-year-old serving girl in a Trial mansion. Little Coop is just as eager. His size and mousy demeanor, not to mention his brick wall of a brother, hide a skilled operative with a steel spine. Needing nothing more, they set to their work. Little Coop picks a drain pipe, scrabbling up the brick walls of the alley, while Cris scrambles to a fence, using it to boost herself onto a narrow window ledge. Both disappear in moments, to follow us from the Rocastan rooftops.

“The rest of you, track your marks. Keep your ears open. Memorize movements. I want to know everything from birthdays to shoe sizes. Gather whatever you can in the time we can.” The words are familiar. Everyone knows why I called for this scout. But it serves as a rallying cry, one last thread drawing us together. Tying them to your disobedience, you mean.

My fist curls, nails digging into my palm where no one can see. The sting erases the thought quite nicely. As does the breeze sweeping through the alley. It stinks of garbage, but it’s cool at least, blowing off Lake Eris to the north.

“The more we know about the Corvium supply convoy, the easier it’ll be to infiltrate.” As good a reason as any to be here, to stay when all the Colonel does is tell me to leave. “Gates close at sundown. Return to rally point within the hour. Understood?”

Their heads bob in taut unison, their eyes alive, bright, and eager.

A few blocks away, a clock tower chimes nine times. I move without thought, stepping through my Guardsmen as they fall in line behind me. Tristan and Rasha are the last to stand. My lieutenant looks bare without his rifle, but I know there’s a pistol on him somewhere, probably collecting sweat at the base of his back.

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