Poison Study Page 13

The diamonds on the General sitting close to the Commander were blue. He was General Hazal in charge of Military District 6, just west of Brazell’s MD–5. General Tesso’s diamonds were silver for MD–4, which bordered to the north of Brazell’s. If a district planned a big project, like building a new factory or clearing land for farming, a permit approved by the Commander was required. Smaller projects, like installing a new oven at a bakery or building a house within the district, only needed approval from that district’s General. Most Generals had a staff to handle the processing of new permit applications.

It was apparent from the Generals’ complaints that Brazell’s permit was in the initial processing stages. Discussions with the bordering districts had started, but the Commander’s staff had not yet reviewed and authenticated the factory’s plans. Usually once the staff recommended approval, the Commander signed off on the application. The Code of Behavior only stated that permission must be received prior to building, and if the Commander wanted to bypass his own process he could do so.

We had been taught the Code of Behavior at the orphanage. Anyone wishing the honor of running errands into town had to memorize and recite the Code perfectly prior to gaining the privilege. Besides reading and writing, the education I had received from Brazell had also included mathematics and the history of Ixia’s takeover by the Commander. Since the takeover, education was available to everyone and not just a privilege for the men of the richer classes.

My education, though, took a turn for the worse when I began “helping” Brazell. Memories threatened to overwhelm me. My hot skin felt tight. I trembled, forcing my mind to the present. The Generals had finished their rebuttal of the Commander’s decision. Valek tasted the Commander’s cold food, and pushed it closer to him.

“Your concerns are noted. My order stands,” the Commander said. He turned to Valek. “Your food taster had better live up to your endorsements. One slip and you’ll be training her replacement prior to your reassignment. You’re dismissed.”

Valek took my arm and steered me from the chamber. We walked down the hallway until the door of the war room clicked shut. Then Valek stopped. The features on his face had hardened into a porcelain mask.


“Don’t say anything. Don’t threaten or bully or intimidate. I’ve had enough of that from Brazell. I’ll make every effort to be the best taster because I’m getting used to the idea of living. And I don’t want to give Brazell the satisfaction of seeing me dead.” Tired of examining Valek’s every facial expression and straining to hear every small nuance in his voice for clues to his mood, I moved away from him. He followed me. When we reached an intersection, Valek’s hand grasped my elbow. I heard him utter the word medic as he guided me to the left. Without once looking at his face, I let him steer me to the infirmary.

As I was led to an empty examining table, I squinted at the medic’s all-white uniform. The only color on the uniform was two small red diamonds stitched on the collar. My mind was so muddled with fatigue that it took me some time to figure out that the short-haired medic was a female. With a grunt, I stretched out on the table.

When the woman left to get her supplies, Valek said, “I’ll post some guards outside the door, in case Brazell changes his mind.” Before leaving the infirmary, I saw him speak with the medic. She nodded and glanced toward me.

The medic returned with a tray full of shiny medical instruments that included a jar of a substance that looked like jelly. She scrubbed my arms with alcohol, making the wounds bleed and sting. I bit my lip to keep from crying out.

“They’re all superficial, except this one,” the medic said as she pointed to the elbow I had used to break the glass. “This wound needs to be sealed.”

“Sealed?” It sounded painful.

The medic picked up the pot of jelly. “Relax. It’s a new method for treating deep lacerations. We use this glue to seal the skin. Once the wound heals, the glue is absorbed into the body.” She scooped out a large amount with her fingers and applied it to the cut.

I winced at the pain. She pinched my skin together, holding it tight. Tears rolled down my cheeks.

“It was invented by the Commander’s cook, of all people. There are no side effects and it tastes great in tea.”

“ Rand ?” I asked, surprised.

She nodded. Still holding the skin together, she said, “You’ll need to wear a bandage for a few days and keep the cut dry.” She blew on the glue for a while before releasing her grip. She bandaged my arm. “Valek wants you to stay here tonight. I’ll bring you dinner. You can get some rest.”

I thought eating might require too much effort, but when she brought the hot food, I realized I was starving. A strange taste in my tea caused me to lose my appetite in an instant.

Someone had poisoned my tea.

Chapter Seven

Iwaved down the medic.

“There is something in my tea,” I cried. I began to feel light-headed. “Call Valek.” Maybe he had an antidote.

She stared at me with her large brown eyes. Her face was long and thin. Longer hair would soften her features, her short style merely made her resemble a ferret.

“It’s sleeping pills. Valek’s orders,” she said.

I let out a breath, feeling better. The medic gave me an amused look before she left. My appetite ruined, I shoved the food aside. I didn’t need sleeping pills to help me give in to the exhaustion that lapped up my remaining strength.

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