Kryos: Chapter 48

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Scandium trussed and four in number, the defectors knelt on a wide white dais at center of the rain slick court. Below blood red sun and burning smog, spectators infected air with subtle curiosity and apprehension was in the eyes of all appraised of the coming judgment.

Ryard, Sirin and Raimer stood the unfurnished alabaster plat, and the latter raised a hard plated hand before his voice and the regiment stilled. “Who forsakes a vow is himself forsaken.” “And by their destitution, sorrowfully marked,” the albumen armored colonists replied. Raimer gestured to the corporal, who carried a simmering brand. She moved before the redheaded captive, who looked on the timorous adjudicator with tearful eyes. Shaking. Sniveling. Face wet with tears and rain. “Elyse. Please.” She halted and looked to Raimer. Her accouterments that of a warrior proud, her aspect that of a frightful waif. A fleeting gesture of indecision, unnoticed by most. As Raimer’s features bent with derision, she passed the brand to Ryard and returned to the host, her eyes downcast, posture maladroit.

The CAV-keep stood a moment in shock before surveying the master of the ceremony. Raimer inclined his head and with the gesture Ryard stepped forth, taunt and rueful.

“I’m sorry, for what I said,” the redhead croaked, his body convulsing with panic. “Forgive me.”

Ryard inhaled deeply and raised the brand.

“Forgive me.”

Without utterance, Ryard plied the iron to the visage of the condemned. The gaoled cawed for mercy but met with wordless resolve and hung his head, scantly conscious due the pain. After marking the redhead, he moved to the next mutineer, and the next, each pleading, then howling in turn.

When the grim work was done, Ryard stood unsteadily, pivoted from the prisoners and looked to the sea of faces surrounding. The followers of Sonderon were much affected by the trial, but the legionaries of the deep showed only stern approval, for the scoring was law, and law was absolute.

The drizzle waxed to a deluge and the judged were removed from the courtyard and ferried to the bowels of the fortress. Jean and Ryard followed behind the diminished procession, composed now only of colonists, and, side by side, gazed upon the passing faces of the inmates who leered from translucent penitentiary cells. There were southers, whose swarthy pockmarked faces were masked by coal black beards and handmade hats, and federants, whose jaundiced skin crinkled with proud disdain, and pallid aecerites whose ragged habiliments were composed of knitted refuse. None spoke and footfalls filled the hall.

To the left, near the cell at the end of the dungeon corridor sat the tattooed rogue who Ryard had apprehended with Sirin’s assistance. The knave raised a thumb and drew it across his throat, his face held in a paroxysm of primal savagery. When Ryard previously beheld the inked reaver he had felt a mixture of anger, sadness and pity, now he felt only cold derision. When the inked reaver beheld the branded his posture slackened, his eyes went wide and he instinctively pressed himself against the wall, as if fearful of being next to be scourged.

“Come,” Ryard prompted. “We’re wasting time.”

As the colonists secured the traitors, Raimer and Ryard ascended a windowed lift and watched the city unveil itself beyond the high walls. Darkness descended. One by one the near districts went black and the men exchanged looks of concern.

“Rehdon’s handiwork.”

“Why would he shutter the reactors? To force us into the open?”

Ryard shook his head and leaned against the translucent pane of the elevator. “He’s been here.”

“Oh that’s right, with the-”

“He’d have known the fort has its own generator.”

“Then what’s the point?”

“Desperation, degradation. What he’s doing isn’t just about us. Its about the entire city.”

“I don’t understand what he stands to gain.”

“Maybe he doesn’t either. Maybe that isn’t what motivates him.”

“And what motivates you?”

“To do this?”

“To do anything.”

“I like putting things back together. Keeping things running. That’s why I became a CAV-keep. Growing up I wasn’t good at much. Not handsome enough to be an actor, or patient enough to be a novelist or dishonest enough for sales work. But I knew machines. And that’s how I saw the CAV-ways throughout the city, as one marvelous machine. One great river of steel. The blood vessels of a metal heart. But it was in decay. And I wanted to keep it running. Like a horologer at work on an ancient orrery. Then, I wanted to improve it. Turn the river into an ocean. That all seems quaint now.”

Raimer gazed out the window. Only the furthest reaches of the city remained illumined. Sheets of rain sloshed against thick boleite casing and the sky flashed with brutal fulmination, intermittently revealing the forms of space shuttles that jutted from the far aerospace complex like great javelins. The captain shifted and returned his gaze to his companion and his voice assumed a somber edge.

“They told me what he said. The first you branded. Hamlin. About being an interloper. I confess, I was of a similar opinion. You’re only here because of Kryos’ favor. Thought he’d prejudiced himself. Thought you didn’t have sufficient nerve. But it was our own was lacking.”

Ryard turned slowly from the window, grip tightening on the ritual brand he yet held, an adamant countenance there reflected.

“Not anymore.”

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