The Fifth Season
thighs ache and her breasts grow sore from bouncing. The lube only helps a little. He doesn’t feel as good as a dildo or her fingers. Still, his fantasies must be sufficient, because after a while he makes a strained sort of whimper and then it’s done.
    She’s pulling on her boots when he sighs and sits up and looks at her so bleakly that she feels vaguely ashamed of what she’s done to him.
    “What did you say your name was?” he asks.
    “Syenite.”
    “That the name your parents gave you?” When she glares back at him, his lips twitch in something less than a smile. “Sorry. Just jealous.”
    “Jealous?”
    “Fulcrum-bred, remember? I’ve only ever had the one name.”
    Oh.
    He hesitates. This is apparently hard for him. “You, uh, you can call me—”
    She cuts him off, because she knows his name already and anyway she doesn’t intend to call him anything but you, which should be enough to distinguish him from their horses. “Feldspar says we’re to leave for Allia tomorrow.” She gets her second boot on and stands to kick the heel into place.
    “Another mission? Already?” He sighs. “I should have known.”
    Yes, he should have. “You’re mentoring me, and helping me clear some coral out of a harbor.”
    “Right.” He knows it’s a bullshit mission, too. There’s only one reason they’d send him along for something like this. “They gave me a briefing dossier yesterday. Guess I’ll finally read it. Meet at the stableyard at noon?”
    “You’re the ten-ringer.”
    He rubs his face with both hands. She feels a little bad, but only a little.
    “Fine,” he says, all business again. “Noon it is.”
    So she heads out, sore and annoyed that she smells faintly like him, and tired. Probably it’s just stress that’s wearing her out—the idea of a month on the road with a man she cannot stand, doing things she doesn’t want to do, on behalf of people she increasingly despises.
    But this is what it means to be civilized —doing what her betters say she should, for the ostensible good of all. And it’s not like she gains no benefit from this: a year or so of discomfort, a baby she doesn’t have to bother raising because it will be turned over to the lower creche as soon as it’s born, and a high-profile mission completed under the mentorship of a powerful senior. With the experience and boost to her reputation, she’ll be that much closer to her fifth ring. That means her own apartment; no more roommates. Better missions, longer leave, more say in her own life. That’s worth it. Earthfire yes, it’s worth it.
    She tells herself this all the way back to her room. Then she packs to leave, tidies up so she’ll come home to order andneatness, and takes a shower, methodically scrubbing every bit of flesh she can reach until her skin burns.
    * * *
“Tell them they can be great someday, like us. Tell them they belong among us, no matter how we treat them. Tell them they must earn the respect which everyone else receives by default. Tell them there is a standard for acceptance; that standard is simply perfection. Kill those who scoff at these contradictions, and tell the rest that the dead deserved annihilation for their weakness and doubt. Then they’ll break themselves trying for what they’ll never achieve.”
—Erlsset, twenty-third emperor of the Sanzed Equatorial Affiliation, in the thirteenth year of the Season of Teeth. Comment recorded at a party, shortly before the founding of the Fulcrum.

5
    you’re not alone
    N IGHT HAS FALLEN, AND YOU sit in the lee of a hill in the dark.
    You’re so tired. Takes a lot out of a you, killing so many people. Worse because you didn’t do nearly as much as you could have done, once you got all worked up. Orogeny is a strange equation. Take movement and warmth and life from your surroundings, amplify it by some indefinable process of concentration or catalysis or semi-predictable chance, push movement and warmth and death from the earth.

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