CARNAL, The Beast Who Loved Me (26 page)

BOOK: CARNAL, The Beast Who Loved Me
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Thorn swayed on his feet slightly, looking around the table. At length he nodded. “I will not speak for this thing that I fear will end in bedlam, but I will stand with you and not speak against it.”

When he sat down, everyone at the table breathed in relief knowing they were stronger together even when they disagreed. Cage, who was sitting next to him, grinned and slapped him on the shoulder in a silent display of approval and camaraderie.

Rosie did her best to stifle a yawn, but Free noticed.

“It’s late” he said. “I think we’ve done the hardest part. Let’s reconvene here in five hours. We’ll have breakfast and decide how to proceed.”

Rosie held up her hand. Free acknowledged her, looking amused.

“We need to release the people being held at City Hall as soon as possible. The longer they’re held, the harder it will be to get them on our side.”

Free glanced around the table. “Excellent point. We need to be prepared to make announcements to our people by mid-morning, then go directly to Farsuitwail and announce our plans to Comstock and the others being detained. They’ll carry word to the rest of the humans in their own way, but we need to be prepared to place active duty fighters in each of the facilities at the same time to be sure that nothing is hidden or destroyed.” Free looked pointedly at Thorn. “From now on, we know everything humans know and everything they do.”

“That’s the most sensible thing you’ve said all night,” Thorn said.

 

Rosie drug herself up the stairs, scuffing each one with the drag of her boots. Charming was sitting on the top tread waiting for her.

“What…?”

She held a finger to her lips and pulled him inside her room. “Your dad included me in an ‘advisory capacity’. I don’t get a vote. It’s sort of a takes-one-to-know-one thing. He thinks I can anticipate potential human treachery. And, sadly, he might be right. At least to a point.”

Charming looked at her like he pitied her. “You’re not a bad human, Rosie.”

“No. Of course not.” She smiled. “I’m charming.” He laughed quietly. “The thing is, for humans, bad and good is as much a choice as anything. We all have it in us to go either way. Free’s friends keep talking about trust. I’m not sure humans can ever trust each other. Not really. Not completely. And I’m the first one to say it would be a mistake for Exiled to ever forget that.”

“Then you’re against this plan.”

“No. I’m for the plan.”

Charming cocked his head to the side. His smooth young brow furrowed but didn’t wrinkle. “I don’t get it.”

“An uneasy alliance is better than an uneasy distance. There’s a famous saying in my world. It’s a quote from a philosopher who specialized in political warfare. ‘Keep your friends close and your enemies closer’.”

Charming looked away with a slight scowl. “I understand what you’re saying.” He looked at Rosie. “And I wish I didn’t.”

“The death of idealism is hard.”

She gave Charming a kiss on the cheek.

He grinned. “It just got easier.”

Rosie’s responding chuckle quickly died as she grew thoughtful. “Your dad… I see why he’s the Extant. He’s brilliant and good with people.”

Charming smiled proudly. “He is. That’s why no one has questioned his leadership or challenged for it in all these years.” He grew serious. “People say Carnal will be next.”

“They do?”

“Yeah. You might say he’s, ah, admired.”

“I didn’t know that.”

“He’s still a prick.”

Rosie laughed at him again and pushed him toward the door. “I’m falling-down tired. Mere human here. Get out and let me get a few hours’ sleep.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER NINE

 

At ten o’clock the next morning, the elders had gathered everyone who was not on duty elsewhere into the bar for a community meeting. It was packed. When all the seating had been claimed, people stood lining the walls. Scar, Dandy, and Traces, a girl who usually worked the night shift with Scar, were all on hand behind the bar anticipating the need for drink when the meeting ended.

The six elders stood on the other side of the bar facing the crowd. Free turned to face Rosie and leapt to the top of the bar from a flat-footed-standstill, with the grace and ease of a panther. When he turned to face the gathering, all quieted.

Rosie’s eyes drifted over the Exiled until they reached Carnal who was standing near the door, leaning a shoulder against the wall, and staring straight at her. She surmised that he’d been relieved from duty in Farsuitwail in time so that he could be present for the impending announcement. No doubt he also needed some rest.

“Thank you for coming,” Free began. “In the past twenty-four hours, we’ve faced some hard truths and come to some hard decisions. You’ve heard that we’re temporarily holding high-ranking humans captive in their governing headquarters. I can see by your faces that you’re concerned because this could be considered an act of war.

“So let me first say that the decision to hold those people was a reaction to learning that humans have been secretly reconstructing the means to restore technology.” When a murmur went through the crowd, Free held up his hand. “That’s not the problem. Their primary goal was to use the technology to wipe out the Rautt. Frankly, that’s understandable. Since I’m unable to find anything redeemable about the Rautt, I can’t disagree with that intention. The quandary for us is that they see
us
as a threat and part of their problem.

“They were planning to launch an attack in just six weeks’ time that would have likely obliterated both Rautt and Exiled.” The hybrids went stone still into a stunned silence that made Rosie wonder if anyone else was breathing. “From what we saw yesterday, it’s entirely possible that they could do it.

“I wish I could say that I deserve the credit for anticipating such an event, but I do not. This possibility was brought to my attention by our guest, Elora Rose Storm, whom you know as Rosie. It was because of her that an investigation was initiated.”

Rosie felt herself blushing when all eyes turned to look at her.

“Once we discovered that there was a plot and saw the facilities with our own eyes, we rounded up all the officials and workers. They’re being held so that nothing can be hidden from us while we’re making decisions as to how to proceed.”

Free swept his hand along the bar to indicate the elders standing below him, facing the crowd. “We have some ideas about how to confront this situation, but they are going to mean making some changes that will be uncomfortable for us.

“Our proposition is this. The humans fear us not just because we’re different, but because they don’t know us. That will never change so long as we live separately in a closed community, high on a hill above the city. To change the humans’ perception of us, we must live with them.”

That was met with a rumble, which quickly turned into a roar of protest. Free gave them a few minutes to vent then held up his hand.

“I know the idea goes against our instincts, especially for those of us who weren’t born here, but hear me out. I have seen our path to survival and it’s not here. It’s in Farsuitwail. Our children need to be educated alongside human children so that they know everything human children know. We need to work in the labs with human scientists so that we see what they’re doing and understand it. The same is true for every area of their society. Our eyes and ears must be everywhere. We will be their neighbors, teachers, students, co-workers, and, perhaps someday, friends.”

“Keep your friends close and your enemies closer!” Charming shouted.

Rosie smiled as everyone turned to look at Charming, including his father. After Free recovered from hearing something so profound come from his good-natured youngest son, he went on to say, “We’ll also be their in-laws.”

“In-laws!” Someone shouted from the back.

“Yes. We’ll encourage some of our single males to form households with human females.”

Rosie watched Charming and his friends exchange looks. In her mind she chanted to herself to not look in Carnal’s direction, but she could feel the pull of his stare and couldn’t help herself. When she finally looked his way, he gave her a licentious knowing grin and, again, she blushed.

“Are you saying we’re going to abandon this place, Free?”

Free looked in the direction of the questioner. “I am.” He nodded. “It will be hard to leave. We built this place from nothing. In a sense, we were all born here because we were born into freedom here. I love Newland. I love my home. I love this room.” He waved his hand to indicate the room. “But I love my mate and my sons more. I love my people and our future more.

“We need to ally ourselves with the humans to overcome the Rautt and neutralize them for good. For the first time, they will fight with us. They will face the same risk. When the Rautt are no longer an issue, there will be peace. We will turn our attention to rebuilding life with humans.

”They will not look at us like curiosities when we pass, because we will be familiar. Our children will go to school with their children. We will work wherever they work, as teachers, judges, police, scientists, builders, and farmers. They will include us in their rituals and celebrations. We will share grandchildren. Some of us will live close enough to them to share walls.

“The coming time will not be easy, but it will be easier than living from alarm to alarm, wondering if the next battle will claim someone from your crew or your household.” Free looked around the room. “Rosie pointed out to me that life like this is not real freedom. She is right. It’s possible to be outside a cage and still be held prisoner by a promise.”

Free’s mention made Rosie feel self-conscious all over again. Scar reached out and gave an affectionate push to her upper arm that caused her to stumble sideways. She would have fallen except for the strong arms that caught her. She wouldn’t have thought it possible for even hybrids to move that quickly, but Carnal pulled her to her feet.

“Keep your hands to yourself, Scar,” he growled just loud enough to be heard by Rosie’s boss, but not loud enough to disrupt the proceedings at hand.

Scar laughed at Carnal, albeit silently. Like Carnal, he didn’t want to be the one to interrupt the Extant mid-speech. Carnal pulled Rosie close and whispered in her ear, “You’re one of a kind, little demon." She shuddered at the intimacy of his warm breath in her ear and she felt him smile at that reaction. When she pulled away, he let her go and moved to the end of the bar with a final parting glare at Scar, who, for some odd reason found Carnal’s challenge highly amusing.

“We’re going to release the humans being held before they manufacture a new reason to object to us, but we’re going to need to assign all active duty Exiled shifts watching the humans in their various facilities. The rest of us will work out the details of our migration and make preparations for the move. We don’t have all the details in place, but we’ll be working on it nonstop. If you have questions, ask one of the elders. If you’re active duty, report to Carnal for assignment, here at two o’clock.”

Free turned to Carnal at the end of the bar. Rosie looked up to Free’s face ten feet above her. “It’s crucial that no one leaves a post without their replacement present. We want to release the humans from City Hall at three. At that time we need people in place, but you and your crew are with me.”

Carnal jerked his chin in acknowledgement, but said, “We’re going to need some passive duty and,” his eyes flicked to Charming, “some trainees to make it work.”

“Okay,” said Free. “It’s temporary. Pair a trainee with an active. Don’t assign them together.” Turning back to the room, he said, “For the time being we’re going to need some passive duty people and trainees. Report to Carnal here at two to see if you’ve been assigned.” Free looked over the room until he found the face he was looking for. “Red, meet me outside. We have things to talk about.”

When Free stepped off the bar and landed on his feet as if he hadn’t jumped at all, the crowd began milling about talking to each other and the elders. The noise rose to a din as Exiled discussed whether or not they thought the proposition would be a good thing or bad thing.

Carnal walked back over to Rosie. “I’m working today.”

“I heard that,” she replied.

“But I can assign myself some time off tomorrow. Afternoon?”

“That’s nice,” Rosie said as she turned to drawing cider for people standing at the bar.

BOOK: CARNAL, The Beast Who Loved Me
10.63Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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