Home > Red Queen (Red Queen #1)(11)

Red Queen (Red Queen #1)(11)
Victoria Aveyard

Dad wheezes to himself, his chest clicking with each breath. Maybe Gisa will be like him now, her hand a metallic mess, her brain torn and bitter with the thought of what could have been.

“Why don’t you just use the ’lec papers I get you?”

In response, Dad pulls a ration paper from his shirt and feeds it into the box. Normally, the thing would spark to life, but nothing happens. Broken.

“No use,” Dad sighs, sitting back in his chair. We both stare at the utility box, at a loss for words, not wanting to move, not wanting to go back upstairs. Dad ran just like I did, unable to stay in the house, where Mom was surely crying over Gisa, weeping for lost dreams, while my sister tried not to join her.

He bats the box like hitting the damn thing can suddenly bring light and warmth and hope back to us. His actions become more harried, more desperate, and anger radiates from him. Not at me or Gisa but the world. Long ago he called us ants, Red ants burning in the light of a Silver sun. Destroyed by the greatness of others, losing the battle for our right to exist because we are not special. We did not evolve like them, with powers and strengths beyond our limited imaginations. We stayed the same, stagnant in our own bodies. The world changed around us and we stayed the same.

Then the anger is in me too, cursing Farley, Kilorn, conscription, every little thing I can think of. The metal box is cool to the touch, having long lost the heat of electricity. But there are vibrations still, deep in the mechanism, waiting to be switched back on. I lose myself in trying to find the electricity, to bring it back and prove that even one small thing can go right in a world so wrong. Something sharp meets my fingertips, making my body jolt. An exposed wire or faulty switch, I tell myself. It feels like a pinprick, like a needle spiking in my nerves, but the pain never follows.

Above us, the porch light hums to life.

“Well, fancy that,” Dad mutters.

He spins in the mud, wheeling himself back to the pulley. I follow quietly, not wanting to bring up the reason we are both so afraid of the place we call home.

“No more running,” he breathes, buckling himself into the rig.

“No more running,” I agree, more for myself than him.

The rig whines with the strain, hoisting him up to the porch. I’m quicker on the ladder so I wait for him at the top, then wordlessly help detach him from the rig. “Bugger of a thing,” Dad grumbles when we finally unsnap the last buckle.

“Mom will be happy you’re getting out of the house.”

He looks up at me sharply, grabbing my hand. Though Dad barely works now, repairing trinkets and whittling for kids, his hands are still rough and callused, like he just returned from the front lines. The war never leaves.

“Don’t tell your mother.”

“But—”

“I know it seems like nothing, but it’s enough of something. She’ll think it’s a small step on a big journey, you see? First I leave the house at night, then during the day, then I’m rolling around the market with her like it’s twenty years ago. Then things go back to the way they were.” His eyes darken as he speaks, fighting to keep his voice low and level. “I’m never getting better, Mare. I’m never going to feel better. I can’t let her hope for that, not when I know it’ll never happen. Do you understand?”

All too well, Dad.

He knows what hope has done to me and softens. “I wish things were different.”

“We all do.”

Despite the shadows, I can see Gisa’s broken hand when I get up to the loft. Normally she sleeps in a ball, curled up under a thin blanket, but now she lies on her back, with her injury elevated on a pile of clothes. Mom reset her splint, improving my meager attempt to help, and the bandages are fresh. I don’t need light to know her poor hand is black with bruises. She sleeps restlessly, her body tossing, but her arm stays still. Even in sleep, it hurts her.

I want to reach out to her, but how can I make up for the terrible events of the day?

I pull out Shade’s letter from the little box where I keep all his correspondences. If nothing else, this will calm me down. His jokes, his words, his voice trapped in the page always soothe me. But as I scan the letter again, a sense of dread pools in my stomach.

“Red as the dawn . . . ” the letter reads. There it is, plain as the nose on my face. Farley’s words from her video, the Scarlet Guard’s rallying cry, in my brother’s handwriting. The phrase is too strange to ignore, too unique to brush off. And the next sentence, “see the sun rise stronger . . .” My brother is smart, but practical. He doesn’t care about sunrises or dawns or witty turns of phrase. Rise echoes in me, but instead of Farley’s voice in my head, it’s my brother speaking. Rise, red as the dawn.

Somehow, Shade knew. Many weeks ago, before the bombing, before Farley’s broadcast, Shade knew about the Scarlet Guard and tried to tell us. Why?

Because he’s one of them.

SIX

When the door bangs open at dawn, I’m not frightened. Security searches are normal, though we usually only get one or two a year. This will be the third.

“C’mon, Gee,” I mutter, helping her out of her cot and down the ladder. She moves precariously, leaning on her good arm, and Mom waits for us on the floor. Her arms close around Gisa, but her eyes are on me. To my surprise, she doesn’t look angry or even disappointed with me. Instead, her gaze is soft.

Two officers wait by the door, their guns hanging by their sides. I recognize them from the village outpost, but there’s another figure, a young woman in red with a triple-colored crown badge over her heart. A royal servant, a Red who serves the king, I realize, and I begin to understand. This is not a usual search.

“We submit to search and seizure,” my father grumbles, speaking the words he must every time this happens. But instead of splitting off to paw through our house, the Security officers stand firm.

The young woman steps forward and, to my horror, addresses me. “Mare Barrow, you have been summoned to Summerton.”

Gisa’s good hand closes around mine, like she can hold me back. “W-What?” I manage to stammer.

“You have been summoned to Summerton,” she repeats, and gestures to the door. “We will escort you. Please proceed.”

A summons. For a Red. Never in my life have I heard of such a thing. So why me? What have I done to deserve this?

On second thought, I’m a criminal and probably considered a terrorist due to my association with Farley. My body prickles with nerves, every muscle taut and ready. I’ll have to run, even though the officers block the door. It’ll be a miracle if I make it to a window.

“Calm down, everything’s settled after yesterday.” She chuckles, mistaking my fear. “The Hall and the market are well controlled now. Please proceed.” To my surprise, she smiles, even as the Security officers clench their guns. It puts a chill in my blood.

To refuse Security, to refuse a royal summons, would mean death and not just for me. “Okay,” I mumble, untangling my hand from Gisa’s. She moves to grab onto me, but our mother pulls her back. “I’ll see you later?”

The question hangs in the air, and I feel Dad’s warm hand brush my arm. He’s saying good-bye. Mom’s eyes swim with unshed tears and Gisa’s trying not to blink, to remember every last second of me. I don’t even have something I can leave her. But before I can linger or let myself cry, an officer takes me by the arm and pulls me away.

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