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 (27 page)

BOOK: Solstice
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I exhaled and continued walking toward the University, relieved my implant hadn’t been read, but knowing there was really no place to hide now. They could find me in my room or track me.

More people were leaving the tram, and we moved as a unit toward the University gates. It looked as if the officials had set up check points to evaluate each person before entering. I could see another tram beyond the University, facing the opposite direction. It had been detained as well. People were coming off that tram and being divided up, some of them ushered to the gates.

I glanced behind me. I couldn’t see Daniel or Serah yet, or even Dr. Luke. I didn’t know what I’d say to explain my actions to Serah. I was now about half a block from the University gates, and didn’t know what to do. If I was who they were looking for, I’d surely be caught at the next check point.

Everything in my body screamed to run, but there was nowhere to go. I tried to keep my pace normal, acting as if I had no worries.

Then I saw Sol. He was coming straight toward me, threading his way against the crowd. I didn’t know whether to get out of his way or to wait and face him. There was no expression in his eyes as he walked toward me, but he stared straight at me.

It was starting to grow dark and the twilight hour was a dirty gray as the rain drizzled from the endless clouds above.

Then Sol took a hard right, straight into an alley between two buildings.

I nearly stopped walking, but forced myself to move. He had been looking right at me before he turned. Did he want me to follow him?

My stomach gripped as I tried to decide what to do.

As the crowd moved past the alley, I turned and went into it, too. I didn’t dare look behind me. Up ahead, Sol was nearing the end of the alley. Without looking back, he turned toward the right.

I hurried down the narrow street, wanting to run, but if I were caught I’d have to come up with some explanation and running wouldn’t help my case.

When I reached the end of the alley, Sol was nearly half a block ahead of me down the small tree-lined street. It was the neighborhood where the professors lived and in between the apartment buildings were small parks filled with trees and unused benches. Some architect had been overly optimistic that anyone would actually use these areas in the drizzling rain. The ones in the B section had been renovated into more apartment buildings years ago.

Sol’s dark jacket disappeared in the foliage up ahead. I slowed my step even more and glanced around. The street was empty; it seemed all the excitement was reserved for the University.

I moved toward the spot where he’d disappeared. I kept glancing around as I approached the area, expecting officials to burst through the alley at any moment, or for a professor to come out of his apartment building and question me.

With a deep breath, I crossed the street and stepped into the trees. The street lamps hadn’t come on yet, and in between the trees it was as dark as night.

Something grabbed my hand. I gasped. “Sol?”

His other hand was on my waist. I inhaled sharply as my heart stuttered. “What are you doing? What’s going on?”

“I had to talk to you,” he whispered, his mouth close to my ear.

I shivered, not from cold, but from his nearness. His hand moved to my back as he pulled me into a hug. I was so surprised that I held my breath, not knowing what to think.

“Are they looking for me?” I asked.

But he didn’t release me; in fact, he held me tighter. This wasn’t good. I thought the weeks of separation would have put more distance between us, would have helped him forget. Maybe he had. But there was something wrong now, and he seemed scared.

“Sol,” I said, reluctantly pulling way. “What’s going on?”

He let me move away, but still leaned close. “It’s Chalice.”

Chalice . . . not me.
“Where is she?” My heart thumped in dread, but at the same time I was relieved that this wasn’t about
me.
Had she escaped? Why were they searching for her at the University?

“She was Banished,” Sol said.

My stomach twisted. I’d expected him to tell me that she was in a prison somewhere, being punished, or questioned, or that she’d escaped and they were looking for her. As horrible as it would be to learn that about Chalice, hearing about her being Banished was not what I expected. I grabbed at Sol’s shirt, feeling as if I might blackout. “What do you mean?” The words themselves seemed self-explanatory, but I hoped with all my heart I hadn’t understood.

“She was Banished from the city,” Sol said.

“I thought she was Demoted.” And then punished. But at least that sounded better than Banished.

“I found the listing on a professor’s tablet,” he said. “I read the full report.”

“What did it say?” I wondered how he came to be on a professor’s tablet.

Sol looked around at the darkness, then lowered his head to mine, and spoke quietly. “I don’t have time to tell you everything, but she confessed while she was being held—something about how she’d reversed her altering.”

I inhaled. They must have tortured the information out of her.

“Do you know anything about what she confessed?” Sol said.

I hesitated only for a second. “Yes.” I felt Sol’s gaze on me, but I couldn’t meet his eyes. “We reversed the altering by . . . accident.”

He groaned. “That explains it.”

I was afraid to ask what he meant. I was afraid to think about it.

“You and Chalice have some very dangerous information. Chalice is gone now. About an hour ago, a notice went out to the University that you’re under criminal investigation.”

“So the tram stop and the officials at the gate . . . are for
me
?” My mind reeled—the officials, the transponders, the blocked gates—everyone was looking for me.

“Yes.” Sol’s voice was thick with concern.

I wanted to throw up. I would be Demoted, maybe Banished. “When was Chalice Banished?” I choked out.

“Yesterday.” He watched me intently.

Tears burned in my eyes, but I forced myself to stay composed. “What else did the report say?” I took a step away from him, putting distance between us. I had to think; I needed as much information as possible before I had to face questioning.

“Jez, we only have a few minutes before they find us,” Sol said.

I swallowed against the thick dread in my throat. Would they Banish me, too? “It isn’t right they Banished Chalice. It was my fault that it happened. We agreed not to tell anyone.” I looked up at Sol. “Even you.”

And just like that, Chalice’s final message to me was suddenly clear:
Don’t talk to Sol.
Chalice knew that if Sol learned our secret, he could be implicated, too. And by standing here, with Sol, I was doing just that.

“Don’t you see, Jez,” he said quickly, “if we knew how to reverse the altering by ourselves, the people could become more powerful than the Legislature.”

“So they’ll do anything to stop this information.” I exhaled. “And all the people they’ve altered could be reversed.” Tears gathered in my eyes. I thought of Chalice and wondered what was happening to her. Was she floating on a raft in the vast waters, traveling aimlessly at the mercy of the great swells? Suddenly I understood why she went with the cult. She was trying to hide the reversal. She was trying to protect me.

“She . . .” my voice faltered, “was trying to protect me.” Tears fell onto my cheeks now. “She thought if she got Demoted and put enough distance between us, there would be no connection between us, nothing to link me to the crime.”

Sol’s fingers touched my tears, absorbing them. I leaned into his warm hand. The temperature was dropping fast as the darkness settled in. I had missed Sol so much, missed seeing him, talking to him. With him so close I was experiencing the pain anew. My heart hurt for Sol, for Chalice. “Don’t you see, Sol? She was Banished because of me.”

“Don’t say that.”

“It’s true . . .” Suddenly I wanted to tell Sol everything. “She went through punishment after she left.” I took a deep breath. “A woman in the C Level told me today. We were there applying our test cream and I asked if anyone that had been Demoted was in their group. She told me about the punishments. She said they break you.”

Sol was quiet for a moment. “They must have dragged the information out of Chalice.”

“When she gave herself up as a cult member, it must have become obvious that she was no longer altered. And someone got her to admit how it happened.” My chest hurt, and it was hard to breathe.

We probably only had minutes left before someone discovered us, but all I wanted to do with whatever time I had left was lean into Sol and wrap my arms around him. I wanted to feel safe, even if it was for only a moment. Even if it wasn’t real.

What if this was our final moment together? I hadn’t known when my last would be with Chalice or with Rueben. And now, I was facing Sol. We could be caught in a matter of minutes—seconds. There was nowhere to hide.

Anger burned through my chest. We were all just waiting to be caught. We were all one infraction away from Demotion or Banishment. The image of the Lake People on the crude raft and the group of officials who’d refused to help them kept coming to my mind.

It was just a matter of time before someone broke a rule, even unknowingly, and they’d be replaced in a heartbeat.

Our lives meant nothing. We were only a number to them. We were an instrument to push the life cycle forward. Even my experiment with the C Level women had no meaning anymore. What did it matter if there were ten less women in the city? They had no choices—nothing to look forward to, nothing to celebrate. They worked themselves to the bone day after day, with nothing to show for it but a miserable disease. Their life cycles would come to an end, and no one would even remember who they were.

My breath was shallow, and I moved a fraction closer to Sol. I couldn’t imagine not ever seeing him again. But that’s what was about to happen. There was no way out.

“Are you all right?” he asked.

“No.” I reached out slowly and touched his face. He inhaled but didn’t move. Maybe he sensed that we were in our last moments together. “I’m sorry about all of this,” I said, “about you risking this meeting to tell me what’s going on.”

He blinked. “I’ll always protect you,” he said, his voice sounding hoarse.

“I know,” I whispered. “That’s what makes this so hard.”

He tilted his head, his expression confused.

“It’s my turn to protect you,” I said. I rested one hand on his shoulder, then moved my other hand behind his neck. I lifted up on my toes and hesitated, gauging his reaction. He didn’t move, but continued to stare at me.

I lifted my chin and pressed my mouth against his.

Thirty-five

Sol didn’t move for few seconds, and I thought he might be in shock.

I had just broken a rule that could get him Demoted. I didn’t worry about myself; I was already a lost cause.

But he didn’t pull away or run into the street calling for the authorities. Instead, his mouth moved against mine.

My entire body burned as we kissed, and I wondered if this was what it felt like to be burned at the stake. The final seconds of life when the pain was beyond feeling, and the soul leaves the body, becoming something else entirely. Our bodies pressed together, fitting perfectly, filling every curve and angle.

His lips were warm and his tongue hot against mine. I clung to him as one of his hands slid behind my back and the other through my hair, pulling me even closer.

It was as if everything in my life had culminated in that kiss. All of the emotions I’d suppressed in the last sixteen years, all the times I’d watched Sol or thought about him, all of the days I’d spent in prison afraid, all of the nights I’d spent reading his last message to me. I was finally able to release all of my emotions at once, into Sol.

I broke away to breathe, and then Sol’s mouth was on mine again. Less urgent this time. We were communicating in a new way, a silent, yet complete way, where only our souls were speaking. Every touch, every kiss was an affirmation of the emotions we had finally allowed ourselves to share.

“Sol,” I gasped, wondering if I might self-ignite. He murmured something but kept on kissing me. It was another long moment before I forced myself to break away.

Sol groaned and pulled me toward him again.

“Wait,” I said. His lips went to my neck, to my ear, as his hands cradled me. “I have to tell you something.”

He lifted his head and smoothed the hair from my face. For a moment, I was mute. I couldn’t believe I was here, with Sol, kissing him. Every part of my body tingled; I was floating above the world. But my time was up.

It was now, or never. “I love you,” I whispered.

Sol gazed at me and touched my cheek. His fingers slowly trailed along my jaw, then my neck. I shuddered at his touch and the new fire that came with it. He leaned into me again, and his breath brushed my mouth.

“I have to tell you something else,” I said, the words sounding like part of a dream.

He didn’t stop his pursuit and kissed me once more, then lifted his head, his eyes hazy.

“I’m going to turn myself in.”

His eyes changed immediately, and his grip tightened, holding me fiercely against him. “No, Jez.”

“Listen to me,” I said. “If you take me back to the University, then they’ll think you caught me when I left the tram group.”

“I’m not turning you in” Sol said, his voice rough.

Voices came from somewhere down the street, accompanied by footsteps. It wasn’t hard to guess that the officials were expanding their search. Someone had realized I’d escaped the check point.

“You don’t have a choice,” I whispered. “The officials are coming now.”

“I’ve been doing some research . . . there’s a place you can hide.” His grasp tightened. “That’s why I brought you here. You have to trust me on this.”

“What are you talking about?”

He spoke in my ear, sending a shiver through my body. “Come with me.”

There was no place to go—the street was on one side of the small park, apartments on the other. Sol pulled me through the tiny park and stopped at the wall of a building. He crouched down and pushed away the dirt and littered leaves. There was a metal grate or door of some sort.

BOOK: Solstice
6.82Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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