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 (20 page)

BOOK: Solstice
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The three of them began to discuss various possibilities right away; it seemed everyone had an idea, except for me. I tried to interject now and again, and I also tried not to notice that Sol’s eyes were more green today than gray.

Daniel’s voice cut in. “If we can create a cement compound that resists cracking, the Legislature would find that useful.”

But Sol was already shaking his head. Not that I was paying any attention to him. “We don’t have the time it would take—cement settles over time, thus it cracks over time.”

Daniel rested his rounded chin on his hands. “That’s a good point.”

“Besides,” Serah said, “that experiment has been done many times. And it has always failed. We don’t have the same resources as the established scientists.”

“It’ll have to be something that hasn’t been done by any other student group,” I said. “Something that only we could come up with.”

Sol scoffed. “What do we know that other students don’t?”

We know a lot
. Did the other students know about the Before, about the Phase Three Lab, about altering?

“Food additives haven’t been done recently,” Serah said. “We could come up with a new way to flavor meat or preserve vegetables. Or we could come up with a carrot-flavored yogurt.”

I hid my groan. Yogurt already came in too many flavors.

I couldn’t believe that Sol actually looked interested in Serah’s suggestions. “Well, we should at least start the research on a few of these. Next time we meet, let’s all bring what we’ve found.”

Daniel and Serah hurried out of the room, intent on fulfilling their assignments. It was plain that our group had plenty of motivation.

“Sol,” I said before he could disappear, too. I didn’t like the catch in my voice, but I needed to understand.

He turned slowly, finally looking at me—really looking at me. It was almost like the old Sol—the one who could see into my soul, the one who I used to think cared.

“Jez, I told you—”

“I heard what you said, but I want to know
why.”
I focused on taking steady breaths. I hated that his eyes were so green today.

“We’re at the University now. Our genders are separated for a reason.” His eyes searched mine, and I looked away before I could get absorbed in them.

“What about this project?” I said. “Why are we on the same team then?”

He shrugged, but I had seen it—a flicker of knowledge—he knew we’d be on this team together.

“Did you plan this?”

“Just leave it alone,” he said quietly.

I crossed to him, expecting him to step back, keep his distance, but he didn’t. “I know things are different now,” I said. “They’ve been different since I went to the laboratory.”

“You mean the prison?”

“Yes—which was a laboratory.”

His brow crinkled. For once I was telling him something he didn’t know.

“They did experiments in there on kids, Sol. They called them
tests.”
I watched his expression change to disbelief. “Look up the word ‘Clinical.’” I stepped closer to him, almost touching him. “Because that’s what I am.”

He blinked, looking down at me.

A couple of students entered the classroom and their conversation died down when they saw us standing so close together. I stepped away from Sol and walked past the students, then out the door.

I gripped my tablet to my chest, feeling anger, elation, and fear all grappling for one space. My breathing was shallow, but I had at least told someone
something
about what had happened to me. And if I was Taken, the information wouldn’t be lost forever.

The corridor was empty now. Every eager student had rushed to the study labs to start their projects. Someone gripped my arm and tugged me to the side. I turned with a gasp.

“In here,” Sol said. We stepped into an empty classroom and suddenly I was facing him, standing so close that I could smell his scent—as if he’d just walked in out of the rain.

His eyes burned into me. “What
tests
are you talking about?”

I shook my head, anger overpowering all of my other emotions. “So now you want to talk?”

“Jez,” he whispered, his voice sounding almost angry, “I’m trying to protect you. You’ve been to prison, and now you’re on
restriction.”
He looked toward the door and the empty corridor, worry on his face. Genuine worry.

“I just exchanged one prison for another.” I couldn’t keep the bitterness out of my voice.

Sol looked taken aback by my tone. But I was tired of thinking about Sol, thinking about our failing friendship
.
I needed information. “Have you talked to Chalice since you’ve been here?”

“No.”

“She’s been altered,” I said in a rush. “Her personality has changed, and she’s not the same person. We need to help her.”

“You’re not making sense—”

“Just listen to me. In the prison—the laboratory—they experimented on kids. They altered the level of control in their implants to see how much they could endure without going insane or comatose.” I folded my arms as the memory of the cages surfaced. “I got out just in time, but my test isn’t over.”

One of his eyebrows lifted. “You’re saying that scientists are experimenting with
insanity
?
Jez, you shouldn’t be talking like that. There are rules against heresy.”

“You don’t understand. The rules aren’t what we thought they were.” When Sol shook his head in doubt, I said, “I know . . . I know that might be hard to believe coming from someone who was petrified to break even one rule.” I let out a breath. “When I was called to get my inheritance, the Examiner handed me the satchel with Rose’s book. It’s hard for me to believe he didn’t know what was inside.”

Sol took a step back. “You think the Examiner was testing you? That they
wanted
you to read the book, and they wanted you to be caught with it?”

I nodded. “They set me up to get caught,” I said, pleading for him to believe me. “And then thought they could make me forget what I read with the agitator rod.”

He was silent for a moment. “What about ‘altering?’” Sol folded his arms across his chest, listening, but looking unconvinced.

I stumbled on. “I saw the altering for myself. When I got to prison, I found out why I was being tested.”

Sol watched me intently, clearly not believing me, and it was all that I could do to stop myself from crying.

“Rueben told me I was a Clinical—like him,” I said.

His eyes narrowed. “What does Clinical mean?”

Voices sounded from the corridor, and Sol moved toward the door. I backed up against the wall. When the voices faded, Sol looked over at me. “I’m sorry for all the tests you’ve been put through, but Rueben was misguided.”

My throat tightened. How could I get Sol to believe me?

He looked as if he were about to say something else, but instead he stepped out the room, the door shutting behind him.

I waited a couple of more minutes until I was sure I wouldn’t cry, then I made my own exit.

* * *

That night Sol sent me a message:
I spoke to Chalice.

I immediately typed back:
What did she say?

Tomorrow,
he responded.

I stared at the words on the tablet. We’d find a way to talk tomorrow. What had Chalice said to him? Did he believe me now? I wanted to send another message, but I didn’t dare. I was already being monitored enough.

It was late, and I was sealed in my room, so I had nowhere to go. I opened the news report and scanned for Rueben’s name. He was still listed as an uncaught criminal. Had he made it to a Lake Town safely? Was he traveling on the waters? I scrolled over to the weather report, wondering why they even had one. It rained every day, and had done so my entire life. The only useful information was a small countdown box that listed 172 days until Winter Solstice.

I climbed onto my bed and closed my eyes. My body felt tired and weak, as if it badly needed the sunshine. In the dark, I couldn’t see my arms, but I knew they were pale and thin. Even my normally thick hair was limp and dull brown.

My mind took a long time to shut off that night. Just as I felt myself drifting into the gentle nothingness of dreaming, the seal on my door opened.

Twenty-six

I shot up in bed, grabbing the sides of the mattress. I had nothing with me but a small rose-shaped rock under my pillow. I was too petrified to grab even that.

Someone walked into my room, and the door slid shut behind them. The person crossed to the window, and that’s when I recognized her.

“Chalice?”

She didn’t move, but stared out the window into the dark night, holding her tablet against her chest. I wondered how she’d entered my sealed room.

I climbed off my bed, my thoughts spiraling with questions. I was afraid, but not necessarily of her. “What are you doing?” I said, keeping my distance.

She didn’t answer.

I saw the puffiness beneath her eyes and how thin she looked. I touched her arm lightly, and when she didn’t react, I laid my hand on it. She swallowed audibly in the silence.

“What happened to you, Chalice?” I whispered.

She moved slightly as if she heard me. I had learned once that the last thing to shut down in a body at the end of the life cycle was hearing. If she wasn’t the same person after altering, perhaps she could still hear and comprehend what I said to her. That struck a new fear inside me. I’d seen what happened to the children that the scientists altered in the prison—what if this was just a more mild form, or a slower form, and she would go crazy at any moment?

I moved away, keeping an eye on her, but my thoughts turned bleak. What if Rueben had been altered, but the side effects were delayed? What if he was in some place, stuck, because he couldn’t communicate like Chalice?

But she
had
talked to someone—Sol. Had she responded?

“Can you talk . . . to me?” I asked, adding in the last part, wondering if there was some sort of barrier between us created by the altering.

There was nothing for a long moment, and just when I was about to say something else, she turned to look at me and said, “Who are you?”

I was stunned. Had the altering made her forget me? How could she be at the University if she’d lost her entire memory? Wouldn’t that affect her class work?

“Jezebel,” I said, feeling sick inside. “We were roommates in Level A.”

She stared at me, her body silhouetted by the window. I met her gaze, hoping that she’d remember.

“Why can’t I talk to you?” she said.

“I—I don’t know,” I said, thinking fast. “Who told you that?”

She closed her eyes for an instant. When she opened them again, they seemed vacant, empty. “I can’t see you. I can’t speak to you. I can’t visit you.”

My breath stopped. Her words sounded like she’d memorized them and had repeated them over and over. “You’re in my room, Chalice, visiting me, right now.”

“Yes,” she said in a flat voice. “But I don’t know why.”

My heart hurt. My brave friend was gone. I could no longer hope that she was only pretending.

“How did you get into my room?” I asked.

“There was a message on my tablet to come here.”

A cold chill spread through me. Who told her to come here? And how did she have the security clearance to open my door?

“I didn’t know whose room it was,” Chalice continued, her eyes narrowing as she studied me.

For an instant, I thought I saw some recognition there, but it faded in the dark before I could decipher it. “Why are you here? Try to remember,” I whispered, taking a step closer to the door, not that I could get outside. I was taller than Chalice, but she was definitely stronger.

Chalice continued to stare at me. The light from the streetlamp light behind her made a faint glow around her head. Something flickered in her eyes. “Were we friends?” She sounded mechanical, like when Sol spoke at the assembly.

“Yes.”

She held out her tablet and read something on it. “I don’t understand.”

I wanted to see what had just popped up on her screen, but I didn’t dare leave my place by the door. “Understand what?”

“Why I’ve been sent to replace you.”

“Replace me?”
My heart beat wildly as I considered the possibilities. Were we swapping rooms? Or had I been kicked out of the University? Had my WorldNet research about the Lake Towns or flowers been discovered? I could barely whisper, “What do you mean?”

Chalice didn’t answer, the glow of the streetlamp changing her pretty features into harsh ones. She slipped the tablet into her pocket, then removed something from her jacket and pointed it at me. An agitator rod.

I dove toward her just as a thousand lights burst inside my vision.

Twenty-seven

My body shook with cold and burned with heat at the same time. I wasn’t sure if Chalice was still in the room. All I knew was that I couldn’t move, and I never wanted to move again. In fact, I didn’t want to open my eyes. Ever.

There must be a limit to how much a body could withstand. Had I reached it?

The barest noise reached my ears. Someone moaning. I opened my eyes, groaning against my own headache.

Chalice lay on the floor against the far wall, where she must have fallen when we collided. She was cradling her shoulder.

I realized the agitator had hit us both, and we had been out for some time if I was to gage by the softening gray of the room.

I looked around the room for the rod; I wanted to reach it before Chalice did. My head pounded and bright spots swam in front of my eyes, but it was my only chance.

When I spotted the rod by the door, I started to scoot toward it. The pain in my head broke out into a fierce throbbing. I kept my eye on Chalice as I reached for the rod, then scooted into the far corner of the room, keeping as much distance between us as possible. But her gaze was passive.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered, then winced and grasped her shoulder again.

Sorry?
I stared at her. Why was she apologizing? Did she finally recognize me now?

“Who sent you?”

She moved into a sitting position with another groan. “What happened to me?” Her eyes closed against the pain.

BOOK: Solstice
5.78Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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