Read Solstice Online

Authors: Jane Redd

Tags: #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Science Fiction, #Dystopian, #Teen & Young Adult, #Mysteries & Thrillers, #Mystery & Detective, #Romantic, #Romance, #Science Fiction & Dystopian

Solstice (2 page)

BOOK: Solstice
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Sol’s fingers wrapped around mine, and I flinched. He had not touched me like this before. He must have noticed me shaking—something I should have never allowed. His gaze was curious, burning through me.

“I—I must be cold,” I said. I could never let him know that it was fear. I couldn’t allow myself to touch him for fear that my feelings for him would become plain.

“It’s a great honor to be recruited,” he whispered.

I nodded, but my eyes stung. As I tried to follow what one of the men was saying about privileges and training, I wondered if this would be the last time Sol and I would sit in a dark auditorium together.

His fingers were strong and steady around my cold and trembling ones. I closed my eyes, grateful that the lights were dim so that no one would know I wasn’t paying attention. I’d rather think about Sol’s warm hand and the sound of his breathing and the way his leg nearly touched mine. Nearly.

“Solstice is only a few days away,” he whispered. “Your hands will be plenty warm then.”

Was it possible to hear a smile in a voice when no one was smiling? The next Solstice was one day before the Separation. We only had two Solstice days a year: one during the warm rains, and the other during the cold rains.

My lips tried to curve as I thought about the sun on my skin, but I kept them straight. Seeing and feeling the sun was an experience unparalleled by anything else, the heat more powerful than anything I’d ever felt. The entire city stopped all activity during the Solstice so everyone could bask in the rare sunlight. The closer Solstice grew, the more my skin seemed to desire it.

Dr. Wells introduced each recruiter and his or her credentials and accomplishments, his voice blending into a dull drone.

“Tell me about the Before,” I whispered to Sol.

His breath puffed. “You want to get me sent to Detention again?”

“No . . . I’m not asking you to tell me about a cult or a rebellion.” Although I did want to ask him about
how
he knew so much, I was afraid he would put himself in danger if he answered.

He squeezed my hand, and I could almost imagine him smiling at me, but when I opened my eyes his expression was as serious as ever. The top two ways to earn Banishment from our city were:

1.   
Join a religious cult

2.   
Rebel against the Legislature

“In the Before, the sun shone nearly every day.” Sol’s voice radiated through me. “It was called summer.”

“Sum-mer,” I repeated. “How long did it last?” I wanted to talk about anything other than what was happening on stage. Naomi had warned me about asking too many questions, but the more I knew about the Before, the more I could find out about the generators. That was the difference between Naomi and me. She was afraid of knowledge, while I thirsted for it.

“Summer was four months of a year,” Sol said.

Months of sun.
Nearly impossible to comprehend.

The world had been completely different back then, at least from what I could piece together. It was hard to imagine a time before Harmony implants, when people governed their own emotions and kids didn’t have to worry about student informers.

Sol’s method for identifying informers was to look for those with small, beady eyes. He said they always looked like they were scheming about something. I laughed at his reasoning—well, laughed inside—and said he was ridiculous, but we were very careful. And when he’d tell me things, it was never above a whisper and usually in the school yard where no one could hear us over the rain.

In front of us, Chalice turned. She’d heard us whispering. Although Chalice was my roommate, I wasn’t entirely sure whether she was an informer. Seeing my gaze, Chalice quickly fumbled with something in her hand, hiding it from view. But it was too late—I’d seen the metal ring she was wearing, and the strange symbol embossed on it.

A deep cold rushed through me. Chalice had worn the same ring a few days before. I made her leave it in the dorm when she tried to wear it to class, not sure if she’d been testing me. I glanced at Sol, but he was listening to the recruiter’s speech.

“Chalice,” I whispered. I didn’t want to get her into trouble, and I didn’t want to draw Sol’s attention to it, either.

I shook my head slightly, sending her my disapproval, which really masked my growing fear. Was she an informer, trying to draw me out, or was she rebelling? She turned back around, shutting out my warning.

I was about to tap her shoulder when light flooded the auditorium. The metal doors automatically locked behind us, and a voice came over the speakers, overpowering whatever Dr. Wells was saying.

“Inspection in progress. Please remain seated.”

Three

Inspection at an
assembly?

Sol’s hand slipped away from mine, and we sat rigid in our seats.

“Stand and walk to the aisle,” boomed the voice on the speakers.
“Put your backs against the wall and face outward.”

I stood, hands clenched by my side, and looked over at Sol. He met my gaze, his eyes calm and steady. Somehow it made me feel better.

Then I looked at Chalice. Her hands were balled into fists as she walked to the aisle. Had someone seen the ring and turned her in?

I watched as the other students took their places, looking for any hint of triumph. I had grown adept at picking out the slightest nuance of emotion—even in the most stoic. I looked for subtle physical signs: the shaking leg, clenched fingers, eyes too wide. Inspections happened once a month, but never in an assembly.

Even the recruiters seemed at a loss. They stood on the stage with the director, watching and waiting. When the doors slid open seconds later, everyone’s heads turned. Two inspectors entered, carrying agitator rods. My stomach knotted as I glimpsed into the corridor where several more inspectors had lined up.

Chalice looked at me from across the room. Her hands were clasped in front of her, her ring turned around, exposed. There was no mistaking it now. My mouth went dry, and I tried to think of some excuse I could offer for Chalice. Nothing came.

As the inspectors reached her, she held out her wrists.

My stomach clenched with anger at Chalice for breaking the rules. Then at whoever had turned her in. “No,” I croaked out, at the same moment feeling Sol’s hand on my arm, as if he’d anticipated my movement.

I wanted to race across the aisle and defend Chalice, but it wouldn’t help her and would only get me into trouble. Despite the sharp anger building inside me, I knew it was futile to resist the inspectors, especially with the recruiters present. They’d know instantly that I was different.

As an inspector clamped cuffs on Chalice’s thin wrists, I wanted to shout,
It’s only a ring!

The pressure of Sol’s hand increased on my arm, and not even his nearness could distract me. But I managed to keep my mouth shut.

Chalice’s narrow shoulders sagged as if a large weight had just been piled on top of her. The inspectors escorted her out of the room and into the pristine hallway.

“What will happen to her?” I whispered.

“Detention.” The word brushed against my hair. “Hopefully.”

“Hopefully?” I had avoided Detention at all costs, since I couldn’t afford to miss lessons.

“It’s better than Demotion.”

Demotion meant she’d be kicked out of A Level, and her chance at a University education, and subsequent career, would be lost forever. Sol’s hand had dropped from my arm. I glanced at him—his eyes were trained on the metal door that had closed behind Chalice, but I could still feel the touch of his fingers. It meant nothing to him, I knew, to touch me, but I had felt it all the way to my heart.

Dr. Wells told us to retake our seats. My entire body trembled now, and I worried that Sol would see my fear. In fact, the recruiters could probably see it from the stage.

But it was too late to sit apart from him. Sol followed and sat right next to me as the lights dimmed around us again.

The head recruiter spoke loudly, and I jumped in my seat. “You will now return to your schedules, and in the next two days, you’ll be interviewed individually.”

Cold flushed through me like I had fallen into a deep pond. Before I knew it, we were all shuffling out of the auditorium, through the echoing hall, and just as we reached our classrooms, the intercom came on again, announcing lunch period.

My heart rate slowed a notch as I turned toward the school yard. I had no appetite for boiled sweet potatoes, and I was only too thankful to be away from the recruiters’ eyes. I needed time to process the fact that my roommate had just been sent to Detention and tomorrow I might be facing recruitment testing.

For once, I regretted being at the top of my class.

I walked into the cement yard, which was basically a broad pad of sloping concrete that kept the rain running off. A high iron fence surrounded the area, intended more to keep others out than to keep us in. The rain had picked up from its morning drizzle, and I hadn’t brought my umbrella. I might be cold and wet, but thoughts of Chalice suffering in Detention chased away my complaints.

I should have known Sol would follow me, which made me want to hide in my room so I wouldn’t have to keep fighting so hard against my emotions. When he came to stand next to me, the rain stopped pattering on my head. We had to stand close to fit under an umbrella he’d found—standing close was both a good thing and a not-so-good thing.

“Jez,” he said, his voice low. “Where did Chalice get that ring?”

“She won’t tell me where she found the metal.” I couldn’t look at him now; I had to wait until his voice stopped vibrating through me. “But I think she carved it herself.”

“How did she learn to make those symbols?”

I forced my breath out. He had seen the ring clearly, then. “We saw them in the museum a year ago, before the exhibit was removed.”

Sol went quiet, and even though I felt upset about Chalice, having Sol next to me was comforting.
Don’t focus on that,
I told myself.
Don’t listen to his breathing or look at the way his fingers curve around the umbrella.

Sol grasped my hand. “Are
you
wearing one of those rings?”

My breath fled again. “Of course not.” I knew I should pull away, but his hand was so warm.

“You’re still freezing,” he whispered, slowly rubbing my hand.

A warm shiver shot through me, and my hand tightened around his for a second before I reluctantly drew it away. I didn’t want him to sense anything; as it was, my face felt much too hot for having such cold hands.

But he was watching me closely, and I wished I knew exactly what he was thinking
.
I’d never had a friend like him—one I couldn’t stop thinking about even when we weren’t together. One where I had to close my eyes and bury my face into a pillow to shut out all thoughts of him so that I could fall asleep.

Thinking about the Separation made my chest hurt.

“Promise me you won’t do something stupid,” Sol said.

Another focused breath, and I dared to look at him. His longish hair was black against the backdrop of gray, matching his murky eyes.

“When have I ever done anything stupid?” I asked.

“I guess that’s a yes?” he said.

My eyes flitted away, and I hid a smile. “Correct.”

A few kids came into the courtyard. They hardly looked in our direction, moving on past toward the tree line. They had a couple of umbrellas between them and huddled in a group, most likely talking about Chalice.

“This may not be the best place to talk,” Sol said, pulling my attention from the other students.

“About what?” Curiosity pushed away thoughts of Chalice shivering in some cold Detention room.

“We don’t have much time left together now,” he said. “I want to tell you some things.”

My chest constricted more, if that were even possible, and I shoved my hands into the pockets of my royal blue jacket as I peered up at him through the gloomy afternoon rain. He was nearly a head taller than me, something that made me feel safe when I was with him.

“What things?” I asked.
And how do you know them?

His voice dropped to a whisper. “About the past.”

Normally I would have been excited to hear something new—about the Before or the Burning. But not right now, not after what had just happened with Chalice. “No,” I said, perhaps too quickly. His eyes flickered with something I couldn’t quite describe. Disappointment? Did he . . . I wondered . . . did he feel something, too?

I broke eye contact. If I could read any emotion in his eyes, he could read far more in mine. I looked around at the other kids in the school yard, standing in their groups, clustered together. They were still too far away to hear anything we said, yet I worried.

“Please.” Sol leaned toward me, his voice just audible.

I wanted to close my eyes and lean against him, let my cheek rest against his chest—just once. Instead, I pulled away so that I was barely beneath his umbrella, also keeping my voice low. “Why?”

“After the Separation, I won’t be able to share my memories with you.” His gray eyes absorbed mine, and I felt my resistance weakening. “We don’t have much more time.”

“All right,” I whispered back, my pulse racing.

He seemed to relax, and his body bent toward mine.

“My caretaker had a book filled with pictures,” he said. “I found it before he was Taken.”

“Pictures?” Pictures were images of people and places from the Before. Now, pictures could only be seen on the WorldNet. “Real ones?”

He nodded.

I thought about having an image—a picture—to carry around. Would I have kept them all together in a book? “Do you still have any?”

“I destroyed them when my caretaker left. I didn’t want his name to be blotted out from society records, and I didn’t want to get cited.”

I nodded, understanding. Had his caretaker broken more rules and told Sol about the Before? If so, how did his caretaker know so much? The forbidden “pictures” were destroyed, and that was a relief, but my heart hammered to think of what could happen if our instructors or, even worse, the Legislature, discovered what Sol had seen, and that he hadn’t turned in his caretaker for breaking the rules. The Legislature was afraid that we’d rebel, remove the Harmony implants, and civilization would regress into a rebellious society and become extinct.

BOOK: Solstice
3.49Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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