The Fifth Season
practically jumping up and down, he’s grinding his teeth so hard. And—whoa. He’s not looking at her, and suddenly she’sglad. Because that’s hate, in his face. She’s seen it before in other orogenes—rust, she’s felt it herself, when she has the luxury of solitude and unfettered honesty—but she’s never let it show like that. Then he looks up at her, and she tries not to flinch.
    “You weren’t born here,” he says, cold now. Belatedly she realizes it’s a question.
    “No.” She doesn’t like being the one on the receiving end of the questions. “Were you?”
    “Oh, yes. I was bred to order.” He smiles, and it’s strange seeing a smile layered over all that hate. “Not even as haphazardly as our child will be. I’m the product of two of the Fulcrum’s oldest and most promising lineages, or so I’m told. I had a Guardian practically from birth.” He shoves his hands into the pockets of his rumpled robe. “You’re a feral.”
    This comes out of nowhere. Syen actually spends a second wondering if this is some new way of saying rogga and then realizing what he really means. Oh, that is just the limit. “Look, I don’t care how many rings you wear—”
    “That’s what they call you, I mean.” He smiles again, and his bitterness so resonates with her own that she falls silent in confusion. “If you didn’t know. Ferals—the ones from outside—often don’t know, or care. But when an orogene is born from parents who weren’t, from a family line that’s never shown the curse before, that’s how they think of you. A wild mutt to my domesticated purebred. An accident, to my plan.” He shakes his head; it makes his voice shake. “What it actually means is that they couldn’t predict you. You’re the proof that they’ll never understand orogeny; it’s not science, it’s something else. And they’ll never control us, not really. Not completely.”
    Syen isn’t sure what to say. She didn’t know about the feral thing, about being different somehow—though now that she thinks about it, most of the other orogenes she knows were Fulcrum-bred. And yeah, she’s noticed how they look at her. She just thought that was because they were Equatorials and she was from the Nomidlats, or because she got her first ring before they did. And yet, now that he’s said this… is being feral a bad thing?
    It must be. If the problem is that ferals are not predictable… well, orogenes have to prove themselves reliable. The Fulcrum has a reputation to maintain; that’s part of this. So’s the training, and the uniform, and the endless rules they must follow, but the breeding is part of it, too, or why is she here?
    It’s somewhat flattering to think that despite her feral status, they actually want something of her infused into their breeding lines. Then she wonders why a part of her is trying to find value in degradation.
    She’s so lost in thought that he surprises her when he makes a weary sound of capitulation.
    “You’re right,” he says tersely, all business now because, well, there was really only one way this could end. And staying businesslike will allow both of them to maintain some semblance of dignity. “Sorry. You’re… rusting Earth. Yeah. Let’s just get this done.”
    So they go into his bedroom and he strips and lies down and tries for a while to work himself up to it, which doesn’t go well. The hazard of having to do this with an older man, Syen decides—though really, it’s probably more the fact that sex doesn’t usually go well when you don’t feel like having it. Shekeeps her expression neutral as she sits beside him and brushes his hands out of the way. He looks embarrassed, and she curses because if he gets self-conscious about it, this will take all day.
    He comes around once she takes over, though, perhaps because he can shut his eyes and imagine that her hands belong to whoever he wants. So then she grits her teeth and straddles him and rides until her

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