General Arika Cobane, beloved leader of the worker rebellion, makes a bold—but illegal—move to ensure the people’s freedom. When her scheme fails and her coconspirator hangs for treason, Arika—overworked and overwrought—blacks out.
When she awakens, everything has changed. She’s been stripped of her rank and power and the new leader of the Kongo, Kira Swan, is a charismatic traitor bent on consigning the Kongo under the guise of peace.
Desperate, Arika reunites with Hosea Kahn and seeks treatment for her blackouts at the Compound, deep in the deadly Obi Forest. Arika is determined to regain her influence, stop Kira Swan, and continue leading the Kongo to freedom, but time is
running out and she’s still unwell. Control is slipping from her fingers. When a new source of strength presents itself, an ancient authority reserved for the One destined to save the Kongo, Arika gives up everything, including Hosea Khan, to
grasp the power, but—all alone, and sick and tired—can she muster the will to hold it?
Release date: June 21, 2022
Publisher: Titan Books
Print pages: 416
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
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The Seed of Cain
The arena door slid closed behind me. I kept my head low and walked, forcing a casual pace. In a secluded alcove off the corridor, I flipped open my comm-unit.
“Jetson, are you there?” I said. “It’s time.”
A holograph of Jetson, clad in sleek black leggings, appeared, floating above my palm. He was in the Schoolhouse, two miles south of the newly constructed arena.
His deep voice clipped in my earpiece. “Arika, I didn’t expect a call. I—oh—hey, are you okay?” he said, his gaze narrowed on my face. “You look ill.”
I ignored his concern. “Are you in her room?”
“I’m down the hall,” he said. “When you didn’t message, I left. I thought—well, I hoped—you’d called it off.”
I stiffened at the sound of footsteps; someone was rounding the hall towards me. I hid Jetson’s visual in my cupped hand and continued down the corridor that skirted the arena floor, staying just out of sight.
When the steps faded, I bent my head to my palm. “I’m late because the debate ran long,” I whispered. “Kira Swan took an extra twenty minutes, and no one stopped her! Cowards, all of them!”
“Well, how did it go?” he asked. “Do we still need this?” His moss-green eyes darted to the bag he held which, I knew, contained the equipment to break into Kira Swan’s safe and photograph its contents.
“Oh, Jetson, yes,” I said. “We need it now more than ever.”
I held up my empty palm, stifling his outburst. “Blame Kira!” I hissed. “She used the extra time to demand a formal inquiry into Jones’s injury.”
Jetson gaped. My fight with Jones in the testing room had dogged me for months, but this was an ominous turn. My vengeance, while morally gratifying, was legally questionable, since Jones had been unconscious and disarmed when I’d taken her eye. The diplomats continually pressured the Council to charge me with attempted murder. Now Kira Swan, my political rival, had taken their side.
“Surely the Council denied her!” Jetson said. He sounded afraid.
“They didn’t deny her,” I said. “They didn’t even deliberate. They approved her motion unanimously.”
I swallowed. Osprey’s vote had hurt most. In the Schoolhouse, when I’d watched her stand up to Jones, she’d become my idol. Then, during the rebellion, she was the first to read the tenor of the moment. She’d joined the Rebels, and after the fight, floated to the top of society with unmatched savvy. She represented the height of political acumen and the fact that she’d taken Kira’s side meant she sensed I was no longer favored to win the Accord vote.
“Osprey’s an opportunist. I’ll win her back,” I said. “Only now, I’m on probation while they investigate. After my closing argument, I’m to clear my docket while they choose an inquisitor.”
“Slow down,” Jetson said. “An inquiry isn’t an indictment.”
Jetson hesitated, but he knew I was right. “She is attacking you, and we know she’s hiding something,” he said, acknowledging why I’d designed the mission in the first place. A maid that fancied Jetson had stumbled upon a safe in a false bottom of Kira’s wardrobe last week. The maid gave him the tip, which he’d passed on to me. I despised intrigue, but Kira’s scheme had left me no choice. If she had a shameful secret, I would exploit it, just as she’d exploited mine. I had to outmaneuver her or lose control of the Council.
“So, you’ll do it,” I prodded.
Inside the arena, Senator Osprey, the debate moderator, slammed her gavel, initiating the closing arguments.
Jetson ran a hand over his low-cut hair. “I’ll do it,” he said.
Gratified, I gave him a reassuring nod and closed my palm on his image.
I circled my finger in the air, raising the volume on my earpiece. “Jetson?” I asked, speaking under my breath.
“Copy,” he said.
I moved to the closest entrance to the arena floor. “And the image?” With a flick of my wrist, I turned the scope.
“Crystal clear, General,” Jetson said. “The stadium is packed. You’re through the double doors now. Walking to the platform, towards Osprey, and there’s Swan at the high table, left of center.”
My skirted robe swept behind me as I crossed the stadium, mentally thumbing through my argument. Kira advanced her position brilliantly, framing the Accord, and the confiscation of arms, as a path to prosperity. She’d won the business sector, handily. Wooing them with a temperate tone and smile that never wavered, even as she decimated my character. I had command of the militia; they’d follow me, even against the Council. But everything in me resisted that path. The people together was the strongest sword. I wouldn’t stop until they united behind me.
I mounted the stage steps as Osprey outlined the structure of the closing arguments. “General Cobane will speak first,” she said, “followed by Senator Swan. Agreed?”
I lifted my chin and rested one hand at the small of my back, where I holstered my Apex. I nodded, acknowledging the rules.
Osprey looked to the high table. “And you, Swan? You agree to adhere?”
“I will,” Kira said, softly.
The audience roared their approval. As Osprey backed away, giving me the podium, my supporters chanted their devotion.
Ber-seeer-ker, Ber-seeer-ker. Berserker—it was the name the soldiers gave me on account of my battle style. Ber-seeer-ker, Ber-seeer-ker.
I acknowledged their praise but, as I stepped forward, weakness buckled my knees and I grabbed the podium. I hated to admit it, but Jetson’s observation had been on point. I didn’t just look ill, I felt it. Insomnia and bouts of vertigo plagued me. More, my memory—sharp from birth—was failing. Last week, I accepted a medal of valor for my leadership in the Raid of Cobane, the first battle of the rebellion. They said I fought on the frontline for forty-two hours, earning the name ‘Berserker.’ At the award ceremony, I nodded along as soldiers recounted the battle. But, during my acceptance speech, I realized I couldn’t remember details of the Raid or the war, just vague impressions and, at times, disturbing echoes—
Find them! Find their hiding places and leave nothing alive. Advance!
A chair screeched against the floor as Osprey resumed her seat at the high table. The cheers from the tiered seating lulled. It was time. Setting my jaw, I punched down the weakness billowing inside me. I took a breath and mentally started the mission clock.
“People of the Kongo,” I said. “We have a grave decision before us.”
Through my earpiece, Jetson narrated his progress. “I’m in her room,” he said. “Moving towards the wardrobe.”
I went on. “If we accept the diplomats’ Accord, dark people will no longer control the Kongo. If we reject it, we will remain at war with America. Many of you have seen battle, and so have I. I have the scars to prove it.” I untied my crimson Council robe and let the wide neck slide down my shoulders. Half-inch haute ink tattoos lined my naked back. In the evening light of the arena, they glowed like matchsticks.
“I bear five hundred and twelve marks,” I said. “One for each person who died in the first battle.” I held the drape of the embroidered robe to my chest and turned a circle. The soldiers in the auditorium followed my lead, recalling the fallen. Howling, they ripped their shirts to display neck-to-waist hautetattoos. They lifted their faces, showing off florescent designs the breadth of the neon rainbow.
In my ear, Jetson buzzed. “I’ve removed the false bottom of the wardrobe. Initiating radio silence in three, two, one.” A scuff sounded in my ear as Jetson removed his earpiece to work the dial of the safe.
“There’s only one path forward,” I said, launching the next segment of my speech. “We’ve got to—”
Jetson cursed. I jerked and my earpiece slid sideways. I worked to maintain my composure before the crowd. “We—We’ve got to—”
From my dislodged earpiece, Jetson shouted, “Arika, there’s a time stamp. She’s been alerted.”
“We—uh,” I stuttered.
At the head table Kira Swan frowned as the alert came to her comm-unit. She rose.
“Stall her!” Jetson said.
Panicked, I shouted, “Senator Swan!”
Kira froze beside her chair. She had her comm-unit displayed in her hand. Her face tense, she scanned her palm for information. Every head in the arena swiveled her way, then back to me. Kira looked up and glared at me as if I’d lost my mind.
“Senator, you—can’t leave,” I said, improvising.
Osprey sat taller. Her hair, in bonsai style, was shaped like a bird in flight. It lifted from her head, adding clout to her already prominent stature. “General,” she said. “Explain yourself.”
My mind raced. “It’s Senator Swan’s turn,” I said. Moisture pooled at my temples and my headdress, a horned antelope skull, slipped on my ears. I removed it, resting it on the podium, and hedged on. “We’ve been here all day; the Council needs rest,” I said. “So, I’ve decided to relinquish my time.”
Kira Swan’s gaze narrowed on me. Her expression darkened as she determined I was responsible for invading her privacy. Her eye skirted the room, looking for a way out.
“Senator Swan?” Osprey said, expectantly. “You’re up next. Please take your seat.”
Trapped, Swan swallowed. She was still young, only ten years my senior, but her deep bosom and thick waist aged her. With a sweet smile that, for some reason, looked wrong on her broad-chinned, thin-lipped face, she sat.
Filtering through my remaining speech, I picked the most important line. “The first lesson they taught us,” I said, “was assimilation for the greater good. Brothers and sisters, Councilors, after years of appeasement, it’s time to demand our terms on our land. We will not assimilate! No compromise—”
“No Accord!” the crowd shouted.
I performed the workers’ salute, crossing a hand over my heart and lifting it to form a fist, elbow bent, in the air. The room roared to life, joining the cheers of Kongos who watched the debate via live holograph around the territory.
“Council,” I said, over the noise, “I concede the remainder of my time to Senator Swan.”
I descended the stage and readied to leave the arena. With my pack on my back, I turned at the exit door to look at the stage.
Kira stood at the podium, her jet-black eyes wide with false humility. As she waved, absorbing the shouts of her constituency, I was struck with a moment of clarity. I envisioned the whites of her eyes liquifying. They bled down over her face—erasing dark skin to reveal the pallor beneath. Kongo in flesh, but white at the root.
With a burst of adrenaline, I jogged from the arena floor. In a twist, Kira’s inquiry had provided an opportunity. Clearing the docket I kept at my bench in the Schoolhouse was just the excuse I needed to leave early and fix whatever had gone wrong with the mission. As soon as it was safe, I spoke.
“Jetson, are you out?” I said. “Are you in the study room?”
He didn’t respond.
I checked to see that the call was still connected. “Jetson?” I said, securing my earpiece.
“I’m here,” he said, finally. He sounded faint.
Alarmed, I pulled up his image. He wasn’t in the library as we’d planned. He was in his quarters, a Council-issued space in the renovated Schoolhouse. He sat on his unmade bed, looking sick. “What is it?” I asked. I flipped the scope, showing him my face.
His throat pulsed. “The contents of the safe,” he said. “There wasn’t just one thing to photograph.”
“Okay?” I slowed to a walk.
He went on. “There was a folder of papers. I didn’t know what was important. And it was dark so—”
My heart sank. “You didn’t get photos.”
“No,” he said, quickly. “I took the folder.”
I tripped, caught myself. “Obi.”
He swallowed. “If I hurry, I can put it back. Yes, that’s what I’ll do.” He stood.
“Are you mad?” I hissed. “You can’t go back to her room. She’ll send someone there to check the breach.”
“You have to stop her,” Jetson said, his face grey.
Our eyes locked. Everyone knew he cared for me still. He was the first person she’d suspect.
“We have to destroy the evidence,” Jetson said, a thick folder in his hand. He carried it to his fireplace.
I bit my lip as he bent to light the hearth. He removed a long match and flicked his wrist. A flame puffed to life. As it wobbled toward the folder in slow motion, a handful of facts coalesced.
I’d spent months searching for a crack in Kira’s perfect image, but the details of her life remained obscure. She graduated from the Schoolhouse, but her records were redacted, something only the headmistress—Jones, at the time—could have approved. She had no verifiable house, heritage or name. And yet, as valedictorian, she received a recommendation, again, from Headmistress Jones. All that was damning enough, and now, this last piece—her demand for an inquiry. Everything pointed to Jones.
“Wait!” I said.
I bit my lip, wanting to give the order to put out the light, but needing to be sure. “Is that what you’re hiding, Swan? Are you Teacher’s pet?” I whispered.
“What’s that?” Jetson asked.
“Put out the light,” I said, finally.
Jetson complied as I spoke slowly, tracing the logic.
“Jones favored Kira Swan. We know that from her records. Jones’s recommendation buoyed Kira to the top of the Kongo political scene. In the Council election, only Hosea Khan and I earned more votes.”
I leaned forward, gaining conviction. “Attacking me, backing the Accord,” I said. “What if she’s returning Jones’s favor?” Jones had been silent for months, lying low at Hasting, and now I knew why. Kira Swan was doing the work for her. My mind narrowed on the memory of Kira’s face when she realized I’d opened her safe. She’d been terrified. “There’s something in those papers,” I said. “Something big. If it proves Kira is working for the North, it won’t matter how we found it.”
“But, if you’re wrong, we’ll be charged with treason,” Jetson said. He lit another match.
I stared into its glow. He was right. The Council demanded impeccable fealty. We were always on the lookout for the next Obi Solomon, the next leader who would betray the Kongo. Most suspected Voltaire, who disappeared a week ago after months of odd behavior. But now, I felt sure Kira Swan was not just a traitor; she was eerily similar to the traitor—ObiSolomon.
I mentally counted the parallels: both charismatic leaders with obscure records. Both ostensibly seeking peace. Both intent on surrendering arms and trusting the English.
“History is repeating,” I said.
My gaze lifted to Jetson’s. I didn’t issue an order; I didn’t have to. He extinguished the second flame.
“Start reading. I’m on my way,” I said. I tapped my ear, disconnecting the call.
The grounds people who conducted traffic at the arena met me at the exit door. “General!”
I nodded curtly. They held the crowd of local spectators at bay as I passed through and mounted the ramp to the newly installed crystalrail station. ...
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