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Authors: Helen Douglas

After Eden (9 page)

BOOK: After Eden
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I giggled nervously.

“So what do you want to do?” he asked, just the tiniest hint of suggestion in his voice.

“You’ve been brushing up on your twentieth-century history this afternoon,” I said, indicating the books piled on the floor.

“That’s my weakest subject, as you know.”

“I could test you,” I said, unzipping my backpack and taking out my books.

Ryan laughed. “More studying. I’m not sure I can handle that much excitement in one day.”

I looked at the clock on the wall. “Half an hour and then we’ll do something fun.”

“Is that a promise?”

“Promise,” I said, wondering what Ryan’s idea of fun would be.

He had clearly gotten a handle on his twentieth-century history. He had no difficulty answering questions about Hitler or Mussolini or Churchill; he had informed opinions
on the causes of the First World War; he described the cold war right up to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

“You’re not just a pretty face,” I said. “If that’s your weakest subject …”

“Pretty!” said Ryan. “Thanks a lot! How about gorgeous or handsome. Even cute is better than pretty. Pretty makes me sound like a five-year-old girl.”

I laughed. “You’re definitely not a five-year-old girl.”

“Are we going to do something fun now?”

“Whatever you like,” I said, noticing that he had draped his arm along the back of the couch.

“Hmm,” he said, inching closer to me. “I can think of something …”

He shifted his gaze from me to the window. I heard the crunch of tires on gravel, saw the headlights of a car sweeping across the window like searchlights, then heard the slam of a car door.

Ryan sighed. “We have company.”

“I should probably go,” I said.

“Don’t go. I’ll introduce you to my dad.”

“That’s just the sort of fun I was hoping for,” I said.

“We can go up to my room,” he said.

The door to the sitting room swung open, but it was Cassie, not Ryan’s father. “You in here, Ry?” she said as she ran in. “You’ll never believe …”

Ryan turned toward her. “Hi, Cass,” he said. “What’s up?”

Time slowed down. I saw Cassie look from me to Ryan to me again. I saw her notice his arm along the back of the couch, how close to each other we were sitting.

“Well, this is a good idea,” she said after a pause. She turned and walked out.

Ryan leaped up off the couch and followed her into the hall. “Cass,” I heard him hiss.

I strained my ears. “How does this help anything?” she whispered. “You’re not supposed to bring anyone home.”

“I didn’t invite her,” I heard him say. “She just showed up at the door. But it’s not a problem.”

“Get rid of her.”

I heard Ryan’s voice again, but it was too soft to make out. I went back to the sofa and gathered up my books. I wanted to get out of the house as quickly as possible. Clumsily, I knocked Ryan’s neat pile of books over. I straightened his pile and finished stuffing my things back into my backpack.

Ryan came back in. “Sorry about her. She’s socially inept.”

“It’s okay,” I said, standing up. “I should get home anyway. Miranda will be wondering where I am.”

“I’ll drive you.”

“I can walk.”

“The wind’s blowing like crazy and the forecast isn’t good. I’m not letting you walk.”

I didn’t argue; I didn’t much want to face the biting wind.

“I’ll be back in five minutes,” he shouted, as we went out through the front door.

The wind whipped my hair in my face, and despite the early hour, dusk was falling fast.

“Cassie’s your sister?” I asked, once we were both inside the car. I was thinking about some of the rumors I had
heard when they first arrived in town, that he lived with his girlfriend, a beautiful blond.


“She seems …” I hesitated. I wanted to say jealous. “Overprotective.”

“Don’t take any notice of her,” he said, backing out of the driveway. He pointed to a brooding band of clouds on the horizon. “Looks like there’s a storm coming.”

I got the distinct impression he was trying to change the subject.

He parked around the corner from my house so that Miranda and Travis wouldn’t see the car, and then he walked me to my door.

“Thanks for the lift,” I said, when we reached the front gate. “Do you still want to do something tomorrow?”

“Definitely,” he said with a grin. “We never got to the fun stuff.”

After dinner, I left Travis and Miranda in the living room with the Sunday newspaper and a bottle of wine, and went up to my room. Ryan and I were going to hang out alone tomorrow.

I knew he liked me. He was always friendly and attentive. And I was pretty certain he had been about to kiss me just before Cassie arrived home.

I didn’t care that his sister was weird and unfriendly or that Ryan and his family had possibly escaped from a cult. I didn’t care that Connor hated his guts; he’d get over it. All
I cared about was that exams would soon be over and spring would soon be summer and the most gorgeous boy in the universe was spending the day with me tomorrow. Alone.

I put on my happiest, most upbeat playlist and unpacked my backpack, stacking my books neatly on my desk. Right at the bottom was a book I didn’t recognize. I must have taken one of Ryan’s by mistake. The cover had a picture of a blue planet floating in black space, three small moons around it.
The Journey to Eden
, said the dust jacket. I smiled to myself. Ryan must have been reading up on the Eden Project. I was just about to put the book back, when I caught the name of the author on the spine.
Connor Penrose
. Connor would be amused by that. I turned the book over to read the blurb on the back.

As a teenager, I spent countless evenings gazing through my telescope into the black abyss of space. I never took much pleasure in the distant suns of our galaxy. Faraway galaxies left me cold. What captured my interest were the planets of my own solar system: Saturn with its weird rings, Jupiter with its many moons, Mars with its captivating red glow. I dreamed of one day finding a planet with conditions similar to those on Earth. And one day my dream came true. Serendipity led me to be in the right place at the right time and I managed to detect a small, elusive planet. A planet with an atmosphere and water. A planet filled with life. The rest, as we all know, is history

Connor Penrose. January 11th, 2081

My heart rammed against my ribcage in a series of slow, hard thuds.
Eden. Connor. 2081
. None of this made sense.

Adrenaline coursing through my veins, I opened the book to the middle and looked at the photographs. The first was a picture of a baby. It looked like any baby. The next page showed a toddler. Cute but generic. Could be anyone. I turned the page.

There, smiling brightly at the camera, was Connor. My Connor. I felt dizzy, like there wasn’t enough oxygen in the room. The caption read
Perran School, 2012
. It was the photo I had taken two days ago. I remembered the photo perfectly. Connor in his scrawled-upon school shirt, the sun in his eyes.

I jumped up and pulled my phone out of my pocket. Scrolling through my recent pictures, I found the three I’d taken on Friday. I held each of them up against the photo in the book. The last one was a match.

None of this made any sense. Either I was in a dream or I was having some sort of mental breakdown. Ryan owned a book called
The Journey to Eden
that was written by Connor Penrose, published in 2081—sixty-nine years in the future—and contained a photograph that only existed on my phone. Was I losing my sanity, or …

I ran to my mirror. The wild-haired, bright-eyed girl in it was still me. For a moment there I had expected to see the reflection of a woman of eighty-five staring back. Just for an instant, I thought that I had lost sixty-nine years.

I opened my cell and dialed Connor. He answered on the first ring.

“I’m sorry,” he said, before I had the chance to say a thing. “It won’t happen again.”

“What?” I asked. “It’s me. Eden.”

“I know it’s you, Eden. I’m apologizing for being an asshole this afternoon.”

“Connor, you remember the photos I took of you on the last day of school?”

“Yeah. When are you gonna send me copies?”

“I haven’t done that already?”

“No. At least put them online so I can see them. I posted yours ages ago.”

“I’ll do it later.”

So I hadn’t posted the photos online or sent them to Connor. I knew that, but I was beginning to doubt my own memory.

“What do you think?” Connor was saying.

“I’m not sure.” I hadn’t been listening.

“Oh.” He sounded glum. “I suppose you have other plans.”

“What are we talking about, Connor?”

“I asked if you wanted to get together on Tuesday to review for French.”

“That would be great.”

“We could study in the morning and then go to the beach or the arcade in the afternoon.”

“Perfect. I have to go.”

I snapped my phone shut and picked up the book again, flicking through the pages until I wound up back at that photo.

I turned the page. The next photo was of a telescope.
The caption read
My first telescope: a sixteenth birthday present
. Connor was fifteen. His birthday was exactly a week away.

My heart thumping wildly, I turned the page. The next picture was an older-looking Connor, aged about twenty perhaps, standing on the beach with a surfboard. Connor had been taking surfing lessons for weeks, which he really enjoyed, despite the fact that he couldn’t stand up on the board. The next plate showed him sitting behind a desk of books. The caption read
Studying for finals, University of Manchester, 2018
. I turned the page. Connor, now older, standing next to a good-looking young man identified as Nathaniel Westland.
. A relative of Ryan’s? Connor looked middle-aged, though it was clearly him; Nathaniel looked as though he was in his early twenties.

There were only three photographs left. One was of a blue planet that looked just like Earth but had three moons in its sky. The caption simply stated
Eden from Mayflower II
. The next was of a middle-aged Connor beaming at the camera, surrounded by towering pink cliffs, a green river winding into the distance.
Zion Valley, Eden, 2053
. And the last one was of an old man with white hair and a party hat.
Connor Penrose at his eightieth birthday party, 2076

This was insane.

I turned to the front of the book and began to read. The chapter described a boy born in the late twentieth century, the first and only child of David and Rosa Penrose. David, an accountant, died from colon cancer when Connor was six. His mother, a teaching assistant at a local primary school,
raised him alone after that in a small fisherman’s cottage near the harbor. All the facts added up. This was my Connor.

I needed the Internet. The problem was Miranda had decided—on one of her overprotective whims—that the only computer with access to the Internet should be in the living room.

I pushed the book under my pillow and ran down the stairs to the living room. Miranda and Travis were cuddled up on the sofa, the newspaper spread out between them.

“Here. See if you can finish this,” said Miranda, pushing the crossword across to me. “There are only two clues to do.”

“What you been up to?” asked Travis.

“Science review,” I said.

“You mustn’t study too hard,” said Miranda. “You need some downtime too.”

“I’m having downtime right now.” Privately I was calculating how long I would have to sit there and socialize before I could go online.

“Put the news on, Travis,” said Miranda.

He clicked the remote and the BBC News 24 channel appeared on the TV screen. I plastered a mildly interested expression on my face and tuned out. I needed answers.

“Do you mind if I use the computer?”

“More work?” asked Miranda.

“I got stuck on one of the science questions.”

“What was the question?” she asked.

“Is time travel possible? But I’m struggling with it. I thought I’d do some research.”

Travis shook his head. “That’s a complex topic for Year
Eleven exams. Scientists themselves don’t agree on that subject. Whose theories are you supposed to be considering? Einstein’s?”

Einstein was supposed to be pretty smart. That seemed a good place to start.

“Yes. Einstein.”

Travis pressed the mute button. “According to Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity, time travel would require faster than light travel, and it would take an infinite amount of energy to accelerate an object to the speed of light.”

“So Einstein thinks time travel is impossible,” I said, feeling oddly disappointed.

“Yes. And no. General Relativity is a different matter,” said Travis. “And then, when you bring quantum mechanics into the discussion …”

“Travis!” said Miranda. “Where is all this geek-speak coming from?”

Travis grinned. “Would you believe me if I told you that, before I decided to train as a chef, I briefly flirted with a career as a science teacher?”

“You’re joking?” said Miranda, wide-eyed.

“Forget Einstein and quantum whatever,” I said. “Do you believe in time travel?”

Travis caught my eye. “No. Nor do most scientists. Just because something may be theoretically possible doesn’t mean it’s likely.” He stood up and removed a pack of cigarettes from the back pocket of his jeans. Miranda pulled a face. Considering how much she loathed cigarette smoking, it surprised me that she was willing to overlook it in
Travis. On the other hand, guys hadn’t exactly been knocking down our door.

He pulled a cigarette out of the pack and tucked it behind his ear. “I need to head home now. Early start tomorrow.”

“I’ll see you out,” said Miranda.

As soon as I heard the sound of Miranda brushing her teeth, I booted up the computer.

The first thing I searched for was Connor. Connor Penrose. Not a common name, but on a planet with 7 billion people, there must be loads. Googling Connor Penrose brought up over a million results. I scanned through the first ten pages of them: Facebook profiles, boys who had won sporting tournaments or competitions, place names. But I didn’t find any reference to an astronomer who had discovered a planet called Eden. I’m not sure I really expected to. Next I tried a Web search for Eden, which brought up lots of pages about the Eden Project and an episode guide for
Star Trek
. It was a waste of time.

BOOK: After Eden
13.03Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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