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 (26 page)

BOOK: Solstice
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Serah and Daniel both sat straight up. “Look at that,” Daniel said, pointing out the window across from us.

Since the rain was so light today, it seemed the fog had lifted as well. From our seats we could see beyond the rivers and the massive docks, out to the ocean.

The ocean was a dark gray mass, churning angrily, with white caps cresting the waves. I stood and crossed to the window.

There were boats everywhere. Everything from rudimentary rafts to the sleek black vehicles belonging to officials. Large fishing vessels moved slowly through the water, the rails covered with seagulls that stood wing to wing.

“I’ve never seen the ocean this close up,” Serah said.

“Neither have I.” I exhaled in amazement. The clarity of the day showed just how big it really was.

The tram continued to move toward the ocean. I thought of Rueben arriving at the docks and trying to find a way across. Where had he gone? There weren’t any Lake Towns within sight. It was like heading into a vast nothingness.

Serah touched my arm. “Look over there.” I followed her direction. A cluster of officials stood together on a dock. A raft-type boat bobbed in the water a couple of dozen paces away, like it was coming into the dock. But the officials had formed a barricade, blocking it.

Dr. Luke turned to look. “Those must be Lake People.” He shook his head. “They’ll never be allowed to dock.”

I stared through the window, trying to get a better glimpse of the people on the raft. There were four people, two of them quite young—children who were maybe five or six.

The tram turned a corner, and I lost sight of them for a moment. Through gaps in buildings, I could see that one of the Lake People, a tall man, was standing in the raft, his fist raised.

“What do they want?” Serah asked Dr. Luke.

He was reading something on his tablet again. Without looking up, he said, “Now that they are over the disappointment of not being allowed to enter the city, they’re probably begging for food.”

My heart ached. I thought of the desperate people who had come all that way. The tram slowed and came to a stop in front of a building that blocked the view of the ocean.

Dr. Luke looked up. “We’re here. Gather your things.”

We each picked up our satchels and followed the professor off the tram. I hoped for another glance at what was happening out on the water. “Do the officials ever give in and offer some food?”

Dr. Luke shook his head. “They would be foolish to do so.” He glanced at me, probably surprised by my questions.

I fell silent. I didn’t want the professor to wonder about me too much.

We arrived at the training center and entered a narrow room with beige walls and beige floors. Metal chairs lined the walls, and there was nothing in the center but a single table. I wondered what type of training took place here. No one was in the room yet, and Dr. Luke told us to sit down and wait.

The professor disappeared through a door, and Serah and Daniel took a seat. I crossed to the windows to see the ocean again. The rain had picked up, making the view hazier than before. The officials had abandoned their barricade, and the raft of Lake People was nowhere to be seen.

Dr. Luke entered, followed by ten women. They all wore gray or blue shirts and pants. Their hair was cropped short to their scalps. They might have looked like men, but for their delicate features, and they were all quite thin. It was their smell that surprised me—like spoiled food.

One woman glanced at me, her eyes bright with curiosity. I nodded in a friendly way, and she quickly looked away.

They sat along the wall, their hands clasped and their expressions blank for the most part. They all seemed oblivious that we’d come to help. I wondered what their skills were and what sort of jobs they did.

Daniel launched into an explanation of the treatment we were giving them. The women seemed a bit more interested after that. Serah asked the women to pull up their sleeves. I winced as the women revealed arms covered in irritated red rashes. It looked much more painful in person than in the image I’d seen.

Serah handed the ointment samples out to the women and I followed behind, demonstrating how to apply it. I held my breath more than once, trying to grow accustomed to how the women smelled. No one met my eyes as I worked.

Daniel wrote down the names of each woman and a few details about them as Serah and I helped the women one by one. I asked the first woman what her job was. She glanced at me for an instant then lowered her head. Why wasn’t she answering? I knew she’d heard me.

When I moved on to the second woman, I tried not to gasp. Her skin was worse than the first woman’s, with red welts raised high above her skin. When I applied the ointment, she winced, but didn’t pull away.

“Where do you work?” I asked her.

She seemed less reserved, or maybe more intelligent than the first woman. “We boil ’n preserve vegetables.”

“Is it hard work?” I asked.

She gave me a strange look as if she didn’t understand the question.

When I finished, I moved onto the next woman, the one who’d seemed curious when she first came into the room. “Do all of you work with food?” I asked.

She nodded. I was surprised to see how green her eyes were.

I lowered my voice and asked, “Do you know a woman named Chalice?”

The woman opened her mouth to answer, and I was appalled to see that she had several broken teeth in her mouth. Weren’t the C Level people taught to care for their teeth?

“Who wants t’ know?” the woman whispered back, seeming to understand I didn’t want to be overheard.

“She used to be at the University with me. She was Demoted.”

The woman’s eyes glimmered. She actually looked excited. There was more emotion on her face then all the other women put together. “We don’t ’ave any University people on my team. No one’s new.” She glanced over at the other women, but they didn’t seem to be paying attention. “When someone’s Demoted, it takes ’em a while to recover from punishment.”

“Punishment?” Wasn’t living under the conditions these women were in punishment enough? I looked down the row of women, seeing anew their damaged skin, limp hair, pale complexions, thin bodies, and expressionless eyes.

The woman laughed, actually laughed. No one seemed to notice—perhaps they were used to this woman’s display of behavior. “Never ’eard about the punishments, eh?” Her voice remained low, so I had to stay close to hear, even though my nose wrinkled at her odor. “Maybe less of you’d break rules if you knew ’bout the punishments.” She gave me a broken-toothed grin.

“What type of punishments?”

Her green eyes brightened. “Break you hard . . . s’you don’t get any mighty ideas of moving up to no higher level.”

I shivered.
Break you hard
. . . Serah was nearly finished with her five women. I had fallen behind. I wanted to question the woman further, but I settled for asking, “If you see my friend Chalice, can you let me know in your report?”

The woman gazed at me, distrust in her eyes.

“I’ll bring you a gift next time—something from the University,” I said.

The woman’s eyes brightened, but still she looked like she was considering.

“My name is Jezebel,” I said. “What’s yours?”

She hesitated, then finally said, “Ruth.”

“Thank you, Ruth.” I touched her hand, and she raised her brows.

I moved onto the next woman and hurried to catch up with Serah. When I finished with the others, Serah and Daniel were waiting for me.

Daniel went through the reporting procedure until all the women seemed to understand. The official who’d accompanied them agreed to help them if there were any problems. We watched the women leave the room, their little packets of cream in their hands. Just before stepping through the door, Ruth looked back at me.

We followed the professor out the way we’d come, and I slowed when the ocean came into view. There seemed to be even more boats now, all heading in different directions, but no sign of the raft. Fog had crept in, clinging to the edges of the docks. Soon, the afternoon would fade to dark, and it would be impossible to see the ocean.

As pre-approved by the University board, we’d be allowed to visit our test subjects in two more weeks. They’d fill out their reports daily, and on the fourteenth day, we’d complete our observations and record the progress in person.

On the tram ride back to the University, I stared out the window at the gray, hardly processing the passing buildings. I couldn’t get what Ruth had said about the Demoted out of my mind. What kind of punishments were they subjected to? Were they sent to an experimental lab like I had been? Were they altered?

My eyes stung. I missed Chalice, and knowing what might be happening to her made me want to find her all the more. Was it true what Sol said? That if this science project was successful, I might be able to make a special request?

But if Chalice was ‘broken’ and had no desire to return to a higher level, or was incapable of it . . . I shuddered. I’d seen her when she was altered—she hadn’t remembered me then.

Would she remember anything now?

Thirty-four

We were nearing the University when the tram came to an abrupt stop. Daniel, Serah, and I jerked forward. Dr. Luke looked up from his tablet, bracing himself against his seat.

Two officials stepped onto the tram, carrying small transponders. The tram was nearly full with passengers by now. At each stop farther from the ocean, more and more people had boarded.

The serious look on the officials’ faces told me not to ask any questions. They approached each person, holding the transponders to each shoulder and scanning their Harmony implants.

They were identifying us.

They were looking for someone.

My heart raced as the officials moved through the crowd, starting on the opposite side of the tram from where I sat, checking Harmony implants one by one. I heard Serah inhale sharply next to me, and Daniel was gripping the sides of his seat, his hands turning blotchy red and white. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think both of them were afraid. And then I started noticing other people’s reactions. Most were dead calm, but a handful looked genuinely nervous.

Had Rueben been right? Were there Clinicals all over the city? Did some of these people, like me, have a secret they were worried about being uncovered?

As the officials moved to the middle of the tram, my mouth went dry. I looked out the window toward the University. Even from a block away, I could see that there was a crowd gathered in front of the gates.

Something big was happening. They must be looking for someone connected with the University. I looked at the people inside the tram.

One official stopped in front of our professor across the aisle and held up the transponder. For a split second, I thought I saw a trace of nervousness cross Dr. Luke’s brow, but it was gone as quickly as it’d come.

“What’s going on?” Serah whispered next to me. “Why are they blocking the University entrance?”

“I don’t know,” I whispered back, but dread had pooled in my stomach. The officials were getting closer. Then, on the outskirts of the crowd, I saw Sol. His tall form stood out clearly among the officials. He wore a black coat, matching his dark hair. It looked as if he’d been standing in the rain for a while with no umbrella or hood.

And he was staring right at the tram.

My throat tightened. Did he know which tram I was on? Was he with the officials on another manhunt like he’d been for the cult members?

Fear surged through me. Everyone on the tram had noticed the crowd at the University by now and had started to murmur, their voices questioning.

I glanced over at the officials. They had moved on from our professor; who had returned to looking almost bored. Had I imagined his anxiety?

One of the officials reached Daniel. Soon it would be my turn. My hands felt slippery with perspiration.

Everything seemed to slow as I thought about what they could possibly arrest me for. I’d done some research, yes, but it was all explainable under the guise of science project. I had kept every curfew and every rule for weeks. Besides, anything else might be a test, right?

I had controlled my emotions, and if anyone knew what Sol had said to me, he wouldn’t be out in that crowd. The transponder readout must have been satisfactory for Daniel because now the official was moving onto someone else.

Instinctively, I scooted away from Serah and sidestepped my way toward the door. Sol was still watching the tram, his eyes so focused that I imagined he could see right through the metal sides and into my heart.

No matter how I tried to talk myself out of it, I was sure this had something to do with me. Had I asked Ruth too many questions? Had they found Rueben, and he named me as an accomplice after all? Or had Sol confessed his secret to the University and they were waiting to arrest us together?

I slipped through the people as slowly as possible, trying to avoid attracting any attention. The doors to the tram now stood open, but there were several officials just outside, their eyes searching for something. Or someone.

I froze. It would be impossible to leave the tram. I looked up the street again. Sol was on the other side of it now, standing near a building. Our eyes met, and I knew for sure he’d seen me this time.

The tram started up suddenly, and the officials shouted for it to stop. We were thrown against each other as the tram jerked to a stop again. I used the jostling to move to the other side of the tram, hoping I could escape the transponder reading. One of the officials announced, “If you’ve been cleared you can leave. This tram is now out of service.”

I moved with those leaving, my heart pounding so hard in my ears that I couldn’t decipher the conversations around me. One glance behind told me that Serah had noticed my escape. She stared after me, her eyes hard and small.

I turned from her quickly, hoping to get off before she could alert anyone. Sol was watching me climb off the tram. I met his gaze and wished that I could ask him what was happening. He gave me a slight nod and then suddenly disappeared into the group of officials. Where had he gone? Was he going to turn me in now?

BOOK: Solstice
7.09Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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