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Under the Never Sky

Under the Never Sky

Under the Never Sky 7

Page 7

 

  Aria looked down at the table. There was a long, deep scratch in the metal. She didn’t want to picture Soren with disfiguring scars. She didn’t want to picture him at all.

  “Reverie hasn’t suffered a security breach in over a century. It’s both absurd and impressive that a group of Second Gens could do what Aether storms and Savages have not accomplished in so long. ” He paused. “You realize how close you came to destroying the entire Pod?”

  She nodded without meeting his eyes. She’d known how dangerous it was to start a fire, but she’d sat and watched it happen. She should have done something sooner. Maybe she could’ve saved Paisley’s life if she hadn’t been so scared of Soren.

  Aria’s eyes blurred.

  Paisley was dead.

  How was it possible?

  “With the nonfunctioning cameras in Ag 6 and your Smarteyes deactivated, we find ourselves in a bit of a primitive situation. We have only your accounts available to tell us what transpired that night. ” He leaned forward, his chair scraping softly on the floor. “I need you to tell me exactly what happened in that dome. ”

  She glanced up, searching his cold stare for a clue. Had they found her Smarteye? Did Hess know about the recording? “What did Soren tell you?” she asked.

  Consul Hess’s lips thinned into a smile. “That’s confidential, just as your testimony will be. Nothing will be divulged until the investigation is completed. Whenever you’re ready. ”

  She traced the scratch on the table with a gloved finger. How could she tell Consul Hess what a monster his son had become? She needed that Smarteye. Without it, they’d believe whatever story Soren gave them. Soren had said it himself in the agriculture dome.

  “The sooner we settle this, the sooner you can go,” Hess said. “You need time to grieve, as we all do. We’ve cancelled school and unessential work for the remainder of the week to allow for the healing to begin. I’m told your friend Caleb is organizing a tribute for Paisley. ” He paused. “And I can imagine how you’re anxious to see your mother. ”

  She tensed, looking up. “My mother? Ward said the link was still down. ”

  Hess waved his hand dismissively. “Ward isn’t on my staff. Lumina is quite worried about you. I’ve arranged for you to see her as soon as we’re through. ”

  Tears of relief wobbled on her lower eyelids. She was sure now. Lumina was all right. She’d probably tried to reach Aria while she was in Ag 6 and left the message when Aria hadn’t been available. “When did you speak with her? Why was the link down for so long?”

  “I’m not the one being questioned here, Aria. Your account. From the beginning. ”

  She told him about shutting down their Smarteyes, slowly at first, but gaining confidence as she described the game of Rotball and the fire. Every word brought her nearer to seeing Lumina. When she got to the part where the boys chased her and Paisley, she faltered, her voice cracking. “When he—when Soren—tore off my Smarteye, I guess I went unconscious. I don’t remember anything after that. ”

  Consul Hess propped his arms on the table. “Why would Soren do that?”

  “I don’t know. Ask him. ”

  Hess’s dull gaze bored into her. Were the other Consuls feeding questions through him? “He said going there was your idea. That you were after information about your mother. ”

  “It was his idea!” Aria cringed as the ache in her head flared. Sedatives. Pain. Grief. She didn’t know what hurt most. “Soren wanted to go on a real adventure. He came ready to make fire. I just went because I thought he’d be able to tell me about Bliss. ”

  “How did you come to be found in the exterior airlock?”

  “I was? I don’t know. I told you. I blacked out. ”

  “Was someone else in there with you?”

  “Someone else?” she said. Who else could have been in an off-limits dome? Aria tensed as a blurred image appeared in her mind. Had that truly happened? “There was . . . there was an Outsider. ”

  “An Outsider,” Consul Hess said evenly. “How do you think an Outsider came to be in Ag 6 on the same night you went there, at the same time Soren disabled the system?”

  “Are you accusing me of letting a Savage into Reverie?”

  “I’m simply asking questions. Why were you the only one brought to the safety of an airlock? Why weren’t you attacked?”

  “Your son attacked me!”

  “Calm down, Aria. These questions are standard procedure, not intended to upset you. We need to gather facts. ”

  She stared at Consul Hess’s Smarteye, imagining she spoke directly to Consul Young. “If you want to gather facts,” she said firmly, “then find my Smarteye. You’ll see what happened. ”

  Consul Hess’s eyes widened with surprise, but he recovered quickly. “So you did make a recording. Not an easy feat with a deactivated Eye. Smart girl. Just like your mother. ” Hess tapped his fingers on the table a few times. “Your Eye is being searched for now. We’ll find it. What did you capture in the recording?”

  “Just what I told you. Your son going crazy. ”

  He sat back in his chair, crossing his arms. “This puts me in a difficult position, doesn’t it? But be assured that justice will be done. It’s my responsibility to keep the Pod safe, above all else. Thank you, Aria. You’ve been very helpful. Can you manage a few hours of transport? Your mother is eager to see you. ”

  “You mean actually go to Bliss?”

  “That’s right. I have a transport waiting. Lumina insisted on seeing you in the flesh to be certain you’re receiving the proper care. She’s quite persuasive, isn’t she?”

  Aria nodded, a smile stirring inside her. She could just imagine their showdown. Lumina had a scientist’s patience. She never stopped until she had the result she wanted. “I’m fine. I can go. ” She wasn’t anywhere close to fine, but she’d pretend to be if it got her to Lumina.

  “Good. ” Consul Hess stood. Two men dressed in blue Reverie Guardian suits entered the room, crowding it with their imposing size, while two more stayed outside. They stared at her face, where her Smarteye should have been. Aria decided there was no use covering her naked eye anymore. She rose from the table, fighting off a riot of aches in her joints and muscles.

  “Take good care of her,” Consul Hess said to the Guardians. “Get well, Aria. ”

  “Thank you, Consul Hess. ”

  He smiled. “No need to thank me. It’s the least I could do after all you’ve been through. ”

  Chapter 6

  PEREGRINE

  Perry pulled his satchel and bow over his shoulder and stepped outside with Talon late the next morning. Fishermen and farmers milled around the clearing. Too many people, mingling like the workday was done. Perry dropped a hand on Talon’s shoulder, stopping him.

  “Are we getting raided?” Talon asked.

  “No,” Perry answered. The scents rolling past didn’t carry enough panic for a raid. “Must be the Aether. ” The blue swirls looked brighter than they had overnight. Perry caught glimpses of them stirring above thick rain clouds. “Your father’s probably called everyone in. ”

  “But it doesn’t look so bad. ”

  “Not yet,” Perry said. Like all the stronger Scires, he could anticipate Aether storms. The prickling sensation in the back of his nose told him the sky would still need to take a turn for the worse before it became a threat. But Vale never took chances with the Tides’ safety.

  At the mercy of his growling stomach, Perry steered Talon toward the cookhouse. He noticed his nephew favoring his right leg. It wasn’t a terrible limp. Hardly even obvious. But when a pack of boys came yelling and drumming up dust, Talon stopped walking. The boys shot by. Wiry mutts, lean from work and meager meals, not illness. A few months ago, Talon had been at the head of that pack.

  Perry swept his nephew up over his shoulder, hanging Talon upside down and making a show of having fun. Talon laughed but Perry knew he was putting on a show too. He knew
Talon ached to run with his friends. To have his legs again.

  The smell of onion and woodsmoke hung in the cool dimness of the cookhouse. This was the largest structure in the compound. Where they ate. Where Vale held gatherings in the winter months. A dozen large trestle tables took up one side, with Vale’s head table on an elevated stone platform to the rear. To the other, behind a half wall of brick, there was a cooking hearth, a row of iron stoves, and several worktables that hadn’t held food with any plenty in years.

  The day’s haul ended up there, from the fields and the sea. Whatever else Perry and the other hunters managed to bring in. Everything went there to be shared among the families. The Tides were fortunate to have an underground river running through their valley. Made irrigating easy. But having all the water in the world didn’t help when the Aether storms came, scorching stretches of land. This year, their scarred fields hadn’t yielded nearly enough to fill their stores for the winter. The tribe would be eating because of Perry’s sister, Liv.

  Four cows. Eight goats. Two dozen chickens. Ten sacks of grain. Five bags of dried herbs. They were just some of the things Liv’s marriage to a northern Blood Lord had bought the Tides. “I’m expensive,” Liv had joked the day she left, but neither Perry nor his best friend, Roar, had laughed. Half of the payment for her had already arrived. They expected the other half any day, after Liv reached her intended husband. They needed it soon, before winter came in force.

  Right away Perry spotted a cluster of Audiles at a table in the back, bent close as they whispered. Perry shook his head. The Ears were always whispering. A moment later, he caught a vibrant green wave, bracing as cypress leaves. Their excitement. Probably someone had overheard his tussle with Vale.

  Perry set Talon on the brick bar, ruffling his hair. “Brought you a weasel today, Brooke. Best I could do. You know how it’s been out there. ”

  Brooke looked up from the onion she chopped and smiled. She wore one of his arrowheads on a leather cord as a necklace, drawing his eyes down. She looked good today. Brooke always looked good. Her sharp blue eyes narrowed on Perry’s cheek for an instant, then she winked at Talon.

  “He’s a cute little thing. Bet he tastes good. ” She tipped her head toward the large pot hanging over the fire. “Toss him in there. ”

  “Brooke, I’m not a weasel!” Talon giggled as Perry scooped him up.

  “Hang on, Perry,” Brooke said. She dished out bowls of gruel for them. “We might as well get him good and fat before we cook him. ”

  He and Talon took a table by the door as always, where Perry could best catch drafts from outside. They might give him a few moments of warning if Vale showed up. Perry noticed that Wylan and Bear, Vale’s best men, sat with the Auds. That meant Vale was probably hunting alone.

  Perry wolfed down the barley porridge so the flavors wouldn’t linger in his mouth. Being a Scire also meant having a great sense of taste. Wasn’t always a good thing. The bland mash soaked up traces of other meals from the wooden bowl, leaving the rancy aftertaste of salt fish, goat’s milk, and turnips on his tongue. He went back for another helping because he knew Brooke would give it to him, and food was food. When he finished, he sat back and crossed his arms, feeling only mildly hungry and more than a little guilty for filling himself at the price of his sister’s happiness.