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 (3 page)

BOOK: Solstice
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I knew I should shut him up now, before it was too late. Before his memories became my memories. I fought against the curiosity bubbling up. Naomi’s words echoed in my mind:
Jezebel, don’t ask so many questions
. I had almost conquered my questions when Sol said, “My caretaker had pictures of flowers that blossomed in the sun.”

Thirty-seven years of rain had put a stop to all blossoming. “Tell me what they looked like.” I had seen images of flowers on the WorldNet, but I wanted to hear it from Sol.

He hesitated, and the color of his face warmed. I watched him closely. Was he fighting an emotion?

“Are you sure you want to hear this?” he finally asked.

I realized that I did want to know more—so that when we were separated, I had more of Sol to remember. The time left between us was sliding away with each moment. “Whisper in my ear,” I said.

Sol’s eyes clouded as if he were seeing something from long ago. A bead of water dropped onto his face, and I clenched my hands to keep from brushing it away.

He leaned closer, his breath soft against my skin. “The flowers had bright colors, like red and pink. Some were white or yellow.”

Inside, I smiled. “Like the sun.”

He nodded. “They weren’t grown for food, like our plants, but for beauty. Some of them grew wild beneath the sun and blue skies—fields and fields of them.”

Naomi had told me much of this, but I couldn’t admit it. It would be incredible to see an entire field of flowers. I wondered how long it had been since Sol saw the pictures. “How old were you when your caretaker was Taken?” I asked.

“Ten.” His voice sounded odd, and I looked up at him. His eyes looked moist, as if he were actually sad, but there was no way he could feel sad like me. Being Taken was simply the cycle of life.

“And you still remember the pictures?” I asked, digging myself deeper. I glanced around, checking to make sure none of the other kids had moved closer to us. I couldn’t afford Detention so close to the Separation. I wasn’t like Sol, or even Chalice. I had to stay at the top of my class. I had to get chosen for the science program.

Sol bent close enough that his breath warmed my cheek. I ignored my racing heart as he spoke. “They were impossible to forget—they were so beautiful. The pictures were old and fragile. They were given to my caretaker by his own caretaker, who he called ‘grandfather.’ He was over sixty.”

Now I was surprised. Sixty-year-old people only existed in the O Level society. Others, like Naomi, were Taken when their duties were accomplished.

The rain came down harder now, and Sol’s voice penetrated the din. “He told me the sky was blue almost every day, not just at Solstice. In the summer it stayed blue from dawn to dusk.” His dark gray eyes traveled from my face to my shoulders. “Blue like your jacket.”

I hunched my shoulders as if to pull the jacket closer and tried to imagine the color splashed across the sky, replacing the low gray clouds and the ever-present rain. I remembered Sol talking about summer in assembly. I leaned closer to him, stealing some of his warmth. Even during the day of Solstice, the clouds remained, parting just enough to allow the brilliant sunlight through.

“A year was divided into four seasons of weather patterns,” he continued.

“Seasons?”

“Spring, summer, fall, and winter.” A hint of a smile touched his lips. But it was gone so quickly, I wasn’t sure if I’d imagined it. “It rained a lot in the spring.”

I shuddered. I knew rain.

“In summer, the sun shone from early morning to late evening,” he said.

How would it feel to have several days of sunshine in a row—even weeks? Did they cancel school and work so everyone could stay outside and feel the sun all day?

“In the fall,” Sol continued, “the rain came back, but the sun still shone most days.”

“So it was gradual . . . a cycle.” I urged him on despite knowing some of the answers already from pestering Naomi. I didn’t want Sol to stop talking.

“Exactly,” he said.

“And the fourth season?”

“Winter. That’s when it snowed.”

I’d heard about snow in whispered corners from other students who were no longer with us—some who’d been Demoted for breaking serious rules. I didn’t realize that snow was a part of the winter season. I could never trust anyone to ask more about snow. Those students I’d heard the whispers from had been Demoted and never returned to school. They were imprisoned or reassigned to C Level to do menial tasks the remainder of their life cycles.

“Have you seen pictures of snow?”

“No.” Sol shifted the umbrella and his hand brushed against my back.

His touch warmed me. As hot as the sun. I breathed out, slowly, letting the heat subside. All I knew was that the snow was colder than rain. “Tell me about the snow.”

“My caretaker’s grandfather said the snow was as cold as ice. It made you shiver all over. But it wasn’t hard; it was soft somehow, and white.” He made a noise that was almost a laugh and grasped my hand. “You’re still freezing—this is probably what snow feels like.”

“Tell me about the summer,” I said. Could he feel the pulse in my hand throbbing like mad?

“In the summer, the sun became so hot that whole forests dried up and sometimes caught fire.” He kept his voice soft and his head close to mine so I could hear his words.

I casually pulled my hand away as I tried to imagine a fire so big that it covered a whole forest. “Is that what started . . .” my voice dropped to a whisper “. . . the Burning?”

“No, Jez. Do you want to talk about the Burning, too?” He was teasing me now. We were taught to focus on the world as it was now, and how the Legislature had restored it to order. The earlier civilization had destroyed the world with poor choices long before the rain came.

“Of course not,” I said. But something inside me broke, and I blamed it on the extra exertion I was making, standing with Sol and trying not to feel anything. “I don’t understand why man would destroy his own beautiful world.”

Sol raised his eyebrows—my statement had bordered on argumentative.
Jezebel, do not argue.
He leaned in, his dark hair falling across his forehead. “To make it better, of course.”

I thought I saw confusion in his gaze just for an instant. Maybe he
was
like me. But even as I thought it, I knew it wasn’t true. I had watched him carefully enough over the past months—his calmness and control—to know he was not fighting against strong emotions like I was.

I wanted to agree, like a good citizen, but my stomach twisted at the thought.

The civilization that came before us had mired itself in thievery, child abuse, prostitution, murder, and government corruption. It had allowed pedophiles to live a street away from elementary schools, built strip bars at the edge of decent neighborhoods . . . The List went on. Every child over the age of five had the List of Failures memorized.

The world Before was a black stain on humanity. Our world—our gray world of Order—was faultless.

But still. I wanted to hear more. I glanced around the yard again. Lunch must be almost over, but no one had made a move to go inside yet, despite the heavy rain. My heart thumped and seconds slipped away.

“What else did your caretaker tell you?” I asked as casually as possible as I shifted away from him, hoping he wouldn’t notice. There was only so far I could move and not remain under the umbrella. The class bell rang, and the other students broke up their groups of umbrellas and started heading for the doors.

We watched them pass by, then Sol said, “We should go, Jez—”

“Tell me more about the flowers, then we’ll go in.” I didn’t want to be late, either, but we could spare one minute more.

His breath swept my face in a sigh. “Flowers were grown only for their beautiful colors. Golden sunflowers that were dark yellow with black centers.”

I nodded, closing my eyes and becoming lost in the image he created. Remembering this would help me when I was isolated in my own science lab, separated from Sol and Chalice.

“They had oval petals and stems growing as high as your shoulders. Red flowers called peonies—so red it looked like the color of blood—with long green stems. Thousands of them grew in the same field. There were violet and pink flowers called roses that had small circular petals all grouped together. My caretaker said they smelled like the most expensive perfume.”

I exhaled, imagining a perfume-scented plant. “They must have been beautiful.”

He nodded and looked at me with an almost-smile. It wasn’t a true smile, but I pretended it was, and it melted something inside me.

“Now we have the same memories.”

“Promise to tell me more tomorrow,” I whispered before I could monitor myself. I didn’t mention the recruiters—maybe if I pretended they didn’t exist, it would all go away. We hurried into the building. When we stepped onto the thick mat just inside the school and removed our raincoats, my stomach coiled into a knot. Another morning had faded, another day half-over. Another hour closer to the Separation.

The pale green floors seemed to extend a mile, forming a wide corridor lined with tall metal doors. Sol and I stopped in front of one, and he raised his palm to the small ID kiosk on the right. The door swooshed open, and we both entered the square classroom containing twenty-two desks and chairs, the same pale green on the walls as on the floor. Twenty pair of eyes turned to look at us.

We were late after all.

Four

There were no flashing lights, no sudden appearance of the school director. But those twenty pairs of eyes had all witnessed our late entry. I wondered which one would report us. I couldn’t mess anything up—not so close to the Separation. I kept my eyes on the ground as I hurried to my desk, completely avoiding even a glance at Sol when he sat next to me.

The lesson was already in progress as I slipped in my earbuds: “The claim of free agency is what criminals use to justify their crimes.”

I stared at the screen, trying to digest the words so I could regurgitate the lesson later on the final test. The voice thumped on. “For civilization to exist, all people must abide by the rules.”

I felt people watching me. Thoughts of Chalice and how the inspectors had escorted her out of the auditorium returned with full force.

Did any of the students overhear what we had said? I had been careful to make sure none of them had been standing by us in the yard, but I was still afraid.

My hands trembled as I concentrated on taking steady breaths. Maybe no one would report that we were late. I couldn’t let anyone see me shaking. Naomi had warned me plenty. I knew better than this—to let my curiosity win. To listen to Sol’s memories, to stand so close to him, to think so much about him. To let him into my dreams. I had worked hard to get to the A Level. I had to get to the University, there was no other way.

When I was ten I asked Naomi why we were different. Wasn’t it just easier to be like everyone else?

To be fully human is the best gift you can ever have. And not until we create a larger world can human freedoms be restored. Find a way to create more land and civilization will spread out, and the Legislature’s control will diminish.

I wanted to trust Naomi—but what would stop civilization from corrupting itself again if there were no controls in place from the Legislature? I glanced around the room and wondered what the class would be like if everyone were like me and we didn’t have to suppress our emotions.

Rebellion.

Revolt.

Destruction.

You have to trust me, Jezebel. You’ve been schooled to only believe one way. But there are other options.

I didn’t fully understand trust—I just knew that Naomi had pleaded with me more than once to trust her. She had failed at being the Carrier, and now it was up to me.

I forced myself to focus on my screen and chanted inside my head:
Don’t screw this up. Don’t screw this up.
I’d watched kids transferred to B Level for failing one test. I couldn’t afford to be transferred.

The lesson continued. “Universal laws must be understood by the youngest of citizens.”

I repeated the words to myself, committing them to memory. Most kids tested into A Level at the age of five. It took me until I was twelve. I was too skittish to handle it any earlier. I was late coming to the game, so I had to make every hour count even more.

Suddenly the lights flickered in the room, and our screens flashed red. I froze, feeling absolutely sick. The only other time I’d seen the screens turn red was during a security breach at the school, when a group of B Level kids tried to break in. They were all Demoted to C Level.

The students looked around, the confusion on their faces mirroring my own.

“Jezebel James,” the voice coming from my screen said. By the stillness in the classroom, I knew the voice had been piped to everyone else, too. My entire body trembled. I wanted to disappear. Had someone overheard my conversation with Sol?

“Report to your childhood residence immediately.”

I hadn’t been to my childhood residence in four years. I struggled to take even a shallow breath. Why was I being sent there? Did this have something to do with what Sol and I were talking about in the school yard? My neck prickled with hot sweat, and I stared at the blinking words that scrolled across the screen, barely processing what it said.
Resume Ethics Lesson 28.

Someone touched my elbow. I looked up and saw Sol standing over me. I broke out of my stupor and took out my earbuds with numb fingers.

“I wish I could go with you,” he said. “Be safe.”

I stood, my legs shaky. “I will.” Dozens of paranoid thoughts collided in my mind. Was Sol an informer? But everyone was staring at me, and I stepped away from him and threaded my way around the desks.

Naomi was Taken only a few weeks after I tested into the A Level and came to live at the school. I hadn’t been in any contact with my male caretaker since then. It hadn’t been necessary. So why now? I had entered a new life, and David had remained in his old one on the other side of the river, working in his job assignment.

With a backward glance, I left the classroom, wishing Sol
could
have come with me. But we had to face our own fates. The hiss of the metal door seemed final somehow as it closed behind me. My footsteps echoed against the polished floor as I walked to my locker, the sound reminding me of the first time I had stepped into a school. I had been five, and Naomi had held my hand until we reached the doors of the Children’s Center.

BOOK: Solstice
3.58Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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