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Authors: Daryl Banner

Outlier: Rebellion (38 page)

BOOK: Outlier: Rebellion
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The one with the black tears lifts his chin. “I regret to say, Your Highness, that I must borrow the words most guilty men use: I am innocent.”

“Innocent.” She pores over his face, his dirty clothes, the nearly identical boy at his side—obviously a brother, if she had to swear. “Care to elaborate?”

“Yes, I care.” He lifts his chin once more, narrows his eyes defiantly. “I am here, accused of making the Lord’s Garden fall, accused of belonging to a rebellion whose slogan is ‘Let It Rain’ … but I regret to say, if I did belong to such a rebellion, those wouldn’t be my choice words. Where I’m from, it never rains.”

“Don’t be silly,” replies Ruena, frowning. “It rains everywhere in Atlas.”

“Except for the part the Lifted City covers.”

Ruena is caught, finding herself corrected. Corrected by a slum boy with greasy tears and filthy pants.

“Unless you count the Lifted City sewage pipes that, on occasion, leak,” he adds. “Then, in that case, it
does
rain. Though the raindrops are less than desirable.”

Ruena sighs, disgusted, and faces her grandfather once again. “Shouldn’t matters of those accused for mass destruction and violence be in the hands of the Council?”

“You have two thirds of your Council here,” Janlord reminds her. “The Marshal of Order Taylon is busy dealing with the so-called Doom in the second ward and the band of extremist Sister-lovers in the fourth. As well, a branch of his Guardian is still busy arresting other rebels of the Eastly Weapons Demonstration.”

“Weapon Show,” the other, younger-looking boy offers, as if for a correction. Janlord shoots him a look, and the boy bares his teeth—two are missing. For all the cuteness of his face, he’s missing teeth.
Don’t they ever think to visit dentists, to get such things fixed, or are the slumborn as lazy as they say?

“Arresting …
rebels.
” Ruena tastes the word, shakes her head and looks down on the knelt boys. “I don’t like that word. It should not exist. The people have every reason to be happy and compliant, haven’t they?” Her eyes darken, twisting. “Or are we so desperate for a repeat of the last uprising?”

“I’m desperate for nothing,” says the black-tears boy, “and I am not a rebel.”

“Then who’s responsible for the blue?” The question comes from Janlord, who moves forward and takes a seat on the steps aside Ruena. She turns a sidelong glance at him, appreciates how modest Janlord is, modest enough to sit on the floor with her like some clever commoner. “The words were plain:
The Lifted City will fall,
the ink read.
We are the real weapon. Let it rain.
I have seen this anger before, my boy. Many times before. Lost tempers. Boys who dress in black and chains and call themselves The Wrath.” His eyes look sad, a disappointed father. “Why the words, my boys?”

“If only they were mine,” black-tears replies.

Ruena feels heavy, watching the boys on their knees.
If we lived in a time of the Ancients …
“We could have a trial,” she says, her thoughts suddenly becoming speech. “A trial with a—what do they call it?—a  jury. There could be a system in place to bring justice to those who deserve it, and mercy otherwise. Their peers would judge them fair.” She sucks on her tongue, studies the boys with all her curiosity, all her wild notions. “Now, with simply a word, we can end these boys’ lives, or …”

“The ways of the Ancients brought ill judgment on many an innocent man and woman,” points out Janlord. “Their archaic system of justice proved corrupt.”

How is ours any less corrupt?
Ruena holds her tongue, all too aware that her grandfather is hearing every word of this, whether he looks alive or not. She rises, looks to the King. “If not for the blue words, the boys are still guilty of crimes with The Wrath. Thievery, isn’t it?” She puts one cold eye on the slum boy and his brother. “Murder, I wouldn’t doubt? … Rape?”

“Never rape.” His eyes turn very dark, his face set as a statue’s. “I
respect
my woman.”

“You respect the ones you rob as well?” She is all ice, the humor lost. “The ones whose lives you ruin? The ones whose husbands you kill?”

“No one is innocent,” he responds, his every word a hammer to the marble tiles. “No man, no woman, no King, no To-Be-Queen.”

Half a second of chirping laughter fills the hall. The Marshal of Legacy Impis becomes quiet again, looking off somewhere high, high above where nothing regards him but the voices that are likely in his strange mind.

‘No To-Be-Queen’ … I heard that last jab, slum boy. You’re dangerously audacious. This sort of thing cannot be corrected or forgiven.
“Janlord here has taught me that no person should be sentenced unless you know his name and have seen the color of his eyes.” She looks on him. “Yours are black, the both of yours. Black as your hair. Now tell me your names.”

“Dran,” he says, making his name sound half a bite. “This is my younger brother, Fylan. My fiancée is named Mercy and you will ruin her life. And I agree, it’s quite important you know the names of the innocent slumborn you charge with the outrageous crime of rebellion.”

“Ah, but you said it yourself, didn’t you?” Ruena leans forward. “We are, none of us, innocent.”

The hat tips too far, topples off her head. Her white hair swings about, unrested by the loss of it, and her great and ugly scar is visible to the world of these two boys for a long, generous time. With patient grace, she reclaims the hat, sets it delicately back upon her head, then lifts her nose high as a sky. “Dran and Fylan, of no apparent last name …”

With one word, she ends their lives. Another, she condemns them. Yet another, she hands them freedom.

“To the Keep with you two,” she finishes.

“The Combs,” mutters Dran. “Every boy in the slums know what your prisons truly are: catacombs. A place to store the dead, as it goes. Nothing dignified in it at all. You might as well sentence us to die.”

“The Kingship is kind,” she recites. “The Kingship is good.” Ruena nods to the guards, finished.

The armored emerge from the walls and claim the bound arms of Dran and his younger brother Fylan, walking them down the long hall and out of sight. It is a surprising sensation, to so easily have a request honored without resistance. The only resistance she feels is her own; a battle within her belly, writhing with the guilt and the self-righteousness and the ultimate nature of power. Even her grandfather the King didn’t lift a hand in question. Any word she uttered would have been taken at its worth.
I could’ve saved them,
she realizes.
I had their lives in my hand, their two little lowborn lives. I could’ve freed them.

“You did well,” murmurs Janlord.

Ruena nods emptily, looks up at the King, her grandfather, the true judge. His bubble eyes gleam, two murky moons.

He parts his chapped, ugly lips. “Youuuuu …” He clears his throat, which does nothing whatsoever to actually clear it. “You are … too soft … to be Queen.”

Ruena frowns, insulted. Janlord had offered pardons and kindness to half the trials she’d just witnessed. How was her sentencing any different? “But I—”

“Not ready,” he grumbles, his whole beard twitching and flinching with his words. “The world is coming undone. Undone. Ruuuena.” He inhales, a horrible rasp like metal splinters grinding. The throat of the Banshee forever bleeds and bleeds and bleeds. “It has been ages since an Outlier has been found. They
hiiiide them, Ruena, hide them, they hiiiide them.”
He clenches a fist, teeth, legs, every part of him squeezed the way one strangles some invisible enemy. “Uproot them. Every one of them … them … Outliers. They threaten. Threaten the King, the Queen. They will take it all away.” Phlegm is caught in his voice, or blood, or something else awful, the last words gargling out through mucus and horrors: “Ruena forgives. Ruena kisses her killers and—and—and
grants
them undeserved homes … the Cooombs. But what does
Queen
Ruena do?”

There was a time when Ruena was only seven and her parents were already gone, and Aunt Kael, her only caretaker, had just sent away two of the servants because little Ruena insisted she was too afraid of them to request tasks be done. “You let a speck of dirt make you tremble,” said Aunt Kael, riled. “A slum cat given twenty baths can gouge out your little eyes just as keenly as a dirty one. The slumborn are here to serve us, not to scare us. They are tools. Utilities. You must think on them like a case of stairs, Ruena. A tool to get you from one floor to another, nothing more. You don’t thank the stair every time you ascend it, do you? ‘Thank you quite much, stairs.’ Well, do you?” Little Ruena gave a little smile and a laugh. This was before her scar, and all the white of her hair shook with her giggling. “Tools, Ruena, and nothing more. And no guest under the Mirand-Thrin roof fears a tool, do they?” Thereafter, whenever Ruena ascended the stairs of the Mirand-Thrin Palace, every step was a slumborn face. And whenever she reached the top of the grand stair, little seven-year-old Ruena would resist a playful urge to thank it.

So what are the boys, Dran and Fylan? Are they two more tools? Are they a means to an end?—or a pair of dirty cats to be tossed back to the streets? A Queen knows how to make best of her people, of her men and women who serve, and most importantly, of her fears.

Ruena whips off her hat, unafraid, and points her eyes at the King on his throne, who still awaits her answer.
What would
Queen
Ruena do?
Nothing stands between her and her grandfather, not a guard, not a Marshal, not a missing Aunt or a case of stairs.

“I won’t fear them.” Young Ruena Netheris with her electric-white hair, she spreads a mouth and speaks to a King. “No King or Queen will fear a thing …” Her eyes flare, blue-white sparks tickling the tips of her fingers. “Not even rain.”

 

 

00
39
Athan

 

 

The streets of the slums are in constant bustle and noise, no matter the hour of the sun. Certainly different from the Lifted City, which is nearly quiet and breezy all the days long, and especially the nights when people tend to stay inside. In this particular part of the city, the buildings look like they were all once one-story tall, but then a crazy man decided to put houses atop other houses, followed by nonsensical builders rising the structures higher up, two or three stories more, then yet deciding to add another story on top of the already haphazardly-stacked rest. Every street seems hugged by giants made of discolored brick and greasy glass and creaking, rotted wood that smell both homely and nauseating. Just peering up at them is stomach-turning.
And not long ago, Wick and I leapt from roof to roof.
Its height is strangely scarier from the bottom than it is from up atop those trash-laden roofs.

Many of the buildings seem to hold hands—tens and twenties of hands—joined together by metal halls and caged strips and access ways, wooden and concrete and barred walkways that hang with all matters of ornaments, laundry and bulbs of light. Athan had never imagined how vastly populated the slums are, every window seeming to move with the business of yet another person’s life. All the struggles, all the worry, all the fending off things unwanted, all the making it from day to day, meal to meal.

This is the life of the slums.

In the underpass of a particularly loud train, they find their first moment’s rest. Wick is leaning heavily against a smelly stack of buckets while Rone and Victra scout the streets, attempting to figure how far they’ve all gone from home. Athan can see Victra closing her eyes a lot and turning in all directions, likely using her Legacy to see what others in the area are seeing, searching for less populated areas to traverse, searching for indicators, signs …

He finds Wick breathing slowly and looking plenty agitated, rubbing his eyes and picking at his fingers. “Wick, you alright?”

“No.”

He bites his lip and looks off to where the big one called Tide is standing, somewhere behind the scaffolding of the railway above them. He looks like a huge human lantern. In terrible danger, running for their lives, all of them trembling from neck to knee … and all Athan feels is thrill.
I have never had this much fun before in my whole life.

“No,” Wick repeats, “not alright at all, Athan. It’s already sunlight again. I’m … I’m gonna miss school, I’ll be marked truant. They’ll come to my house, I’ll be missing. Athan, that’s bad, that’s very, very bad.”

There’s nowhere decently clean to sit, so Athan just crouches next to him. “Surely your parents will cover for you, right?”

“My dad went to that show too. Who’s to say he’s even alive right now? I … I don’t know what’s going to happen. My life has fallen apart in an instant and it’s my fault … it’s all my fault.”

It feels quite ill-timed, but Athan considers putting a hand on Wick, relaxing him the only way he can think of. Yes, yes, the whole world is awful and there’s men in scary uniforms hunting them down, and Athan’s the last remaining “wanted” face, a missing Son of Sanctum, and the splash of blue-green color in his hair isn’t nearly mask enough … but all he wants to do is steal Wick away, curl up somewhere private and warm and ask the slum boy if he likes where he’s putting his hands.

“It’s no use,” Wick calls to Tide, though he isn’t listening. “Once struck by the glow, it’s permanent.”

Athan studies the muscular backside of Tide, surprised anyone his age can be so massive, especially down here in the slums. He always pictured everyone here to be so skinny and rat-like, just like how his mom would describe it.
But you’ve been plenty wrong before,
he considers bitterly. All those things she said about them; he’ll have so many things to say to her in return, so many things she’s dead wrong about.

BOOK: Outlier: Rebellion
9.34Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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