Home > Red Rising (Red Rising Trilogy #1)(3)

Red Rising (Red Rising Trilogy #1)(3)
Pierce Brown

I lower myself hand over hand, going feet first between the drill fingers so that I can lower the scanner close enough to the gas pocket to get a reading. The heat is unbearable and the air in my lungs nearly too hot to breathe. This was a mistake. Voices shout at me through the comm. I almost brush one of the drills as I finally lower myself close enough to the gas pocket. The scanner flickers in my hand as it takes its reading. My suit is bubbling and I smell something sweet and sharp, like burned syrup. To a Helldiver, it is the smell of death.

2

The Township

My suit can’t handle the heat down here. The outer layer is nearly melted through. Soon the second layer will go. Then the scanner blinks silver and I’ve got what I came for. I almost didn’t notice. Dizzy and frightened, I pull myself away from the drills. Hand over hand, I tug my body up, going fast away from the dreadful heat. Then something catches. My foot is jammed just underneath one of the gears near a drill finger. I gasp down air in sudden panic. The dread rises in me. I see my bootheel melting. The first layer goes. The second bubbles. Then it will be my flesh.

I force a long breath and choke down the screams that are rising in my throat. I remember the blade. I flip out my hinged slingBlade from its back holster. It’s a cruelly curved cutter as long as my leg, meant for taking off and cauterizing limbs stuck in machinery, just like this. Most men panic when they get caught, and so the slingBlade is a nasty halfmoon weapon meant to be used by clumsy hands. Even filled with terror, my hands are not clumsy. I slice three times with the slingBlade, cutting nanoplastic instead of flesh. On the third swing, I reach down and jerk free my leg. As I do, my knuckles brush the edge of a drill. Searing pain shoots through my hand. I smell crackling flesh, but I’m up and off, climbing away from the hellish heat, climbing back to my holtster seat and laughing all the while. I feel like crying.

My uncle was right. I was wrong. But I’ll be damned if I ever let him know it.

“Idiot,” is his kindest comment.

“Manic! Bloodydamn manic!” Loran whoops.

“Minimal gas,” I say. “Drilling now, Uncle.”

The haulBacks take my pull when the whistle call comes. I push myself out of my drill, leaving it in the deep tunnel for the nightshift, and snag a weary hand on the line the others drop down the kilometer-long shaft to help me up. Despite the seeping burn on the back of my hand, I slide my body upward on the line till I’m out of the shaft. Kieran and Loran walk with me to join the others at the nearest gravLift, just a kilometer along the cavernous K-strip of the new mine. Yellow lights dangle like spiders from the ceiling.

My clan and Gamma’s three hundred men already have their toes under the metal railing when we reach the rectangular gravLift. I avoid my uncle—he’s mad enough to spit—and catch a few dozen pats on the back for my stunt. The young ones like me think we’ve won the Laurel. They know my raw helium-3 pull for the month; it’s better than Gamma’s. The old turds just grumble and say we’re fools. I hide my hand and duck my toes in.

Gravity alters and we shoot upward. A Gamma scab with less than a week’s worth of rust under his nails forgets to put his toes under the railing. So he hangs suspended as the lift shoots up six vertical kilometers. Ears pop.

“Got a floating Gamma turd here,” Barlow laughs to the Lambdas.

Petty as it may seem, it’s always nice seeing a Gamma squab something. They get more food, more burners, more everything because of the Laurel. We get to despise them. But then, we’re supposed to, I think. Wonder if they’ll despise us now.

Enough’s enough. I grip the rust-red nanoplastic of the kid’s frysuit and jerk him down. Kid. That’s a laugh. He’s hardly three years younger than me.

He’s deathly tired, but when he sees the blood-red of my frysuit, he stiffens, avoids my eyes, and becomes the only one to see the burn on my hand. I wink at him and I think he shits his suit. We all do it now and then. I remember when I met my first Helldiver. I thought he was a god.

He’s dead now.

Up top in the staging depot, a big gray cavern of concrete and metal, we pop our tops and drink down the fresh, cold air of a world far removed from molten drills. Our collective stink and sweat soon make a bog of the area. Lights flicker in the distance, telling us to stay clear of the magnetic horizonTram tracks on the other side of the depot.

We don’t mingle with the Gammas as we head for the horizonTram in a staggered line of rust-red suits. Half with Lambda Ls, half with Gamma canes painted in dark red on their backs. Two scarlet headTalks. Two blood-red Helldivers.

A cadre of Tinpots eye us as we trudge by over the worn concrete floor. Their Gray duroArmor is simple and tired, as unkempt as their hair. It would stop a simple blade, but not an ion blade, and a pulseBlade or razor would go through it like paper. But we’ve only seen those on the holoCan. The Grays don’t even bother to make a show of force. Their thumpers dangle at their sides. They know they won’t have to use them.

Obedience is the highest virtue.

The Gray captain, Ugly Dan, a greasy bastard, throws a pebble at me. Though his skin is darkened from exposure to the sun, his hair is gray like the rest of his Color. It hangs thin and weedy over his eyes—two icecubes rolled in ash. The Sigils of his Color, a curling gray symbol like the number four with several bars beside it, wend along each hand hands and wrists. Cruel and stark, like all the Grays.

I heard they pulled Ugly Dan off the frontline back in Eurasia, wherever that is, after he got crippled and they didn’t want to buy him a new arm. He has an old replacement model now. He’s insecure about it, so I make sure he sees me give the arm a glance.

“Saw you had an exciting day, darling.” His voice is as stale and heavy as the air inside my frysuit. “Brave hero now, are you, Darrow? I always thought you’d be a brave hero.”

“You’re the hero,” I say, nodding to his arm.

“And you think you’re smart, doncha?”

“Just a Red.”

He winks at me. “Say hello to your little birdy for me. A ripe thing for piggin’.” Licks his teeth. “Even for a Ruster.”

“Never seen a bird.” Except on the HC.

“Ain’t that a thing,” he chuckles. “Wait, where you going?” he asks as I turn. “A bow to your betters won’t go awry, doncha think?” He snickers to his fellows. Careless of his mockery, I turn and bow deeply. My uncle sees this and turns from it, disgusted.

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