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 (4 page)

BOOK: Solstice
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When she let go of my hand, it was as if all of my obedience training had fled. On the steps of the school, I broke down and cried. Naomi was horrified.
Jezebel, you mustn’t cry,
she pled with me.
B Level girls do not cry—not if they want to be allowed to stay with their caretakers.

That stopped my crying, but I spent the rest of the day swallowing against the permanent lump in my throat.

That same lump had returned now. I pushed back the memory as I grabbed my raincoat and umbrella from my locker and hurried to the exit, pulling the coat on as I stepped outside. The never-ending drizzle had lessened, but would become heavier as the afternoon wore on.

I crossed the schoolyard to the gates and pressed my hand against the scanner. Once through the gates, I turned down the street to face an empty stretch of sloping concrete. Everyone stayed out of the rain during work hours, and small apartments nestled against each other as if in cahoots to stand against the ceaseless rain. My dread increased as I neared the tram depot. Why was I being sent to my childhood residence? What had happened that required my coming?

Tears burned my eyes as I thought the worst.
Stop it! Crying is unacceptable.
I’d worked so hard to achieve the A Level; I couldn’t let emotions control me now. Besides, I was about to enter the depot and would soon be among people.

There had to be a reasonable explanation. My caretakers had always followed every rule perfectly . . . or at least appeared to. So why did I sense that something was wrong? I knew I had been a challenge for Naomi—at least that’s what she told me.
Jezebel, you mustn’t laugh so loud. Jezebel, stop fidgeting. Don’t hug me in public. Don’t ask that question.

I walked quickly through the driving rain, thinking of the things Naomi had taught me. What was the use of talking to David now? Naomi was gone. When I was admitted into A Level, the last thing I remember was the pride in both David and Naomi’s eyes as they said goodbye. I didn’t know it would be the last time I saw Naomi, and I left them behind without a tear, having learned to master my emotions.

At the depot, a few people stood waiting for a tram. They wore dark clothing, brown and indigo, standard for B Level citizens. A couple of them glanced at my bright jacket. I placed my palm on the kiosk screen underneath the metal awning. The gate for platform G opened automatically and I stepped through. I’d almost forgotten which tram to take across the river. Even the kiosk knew more about what was happening than I did.

Once out of the school neighborhood, the tram sped past the rows of brown and gray apartment buildings and three-story factories. Seeing the buildings reminded me of Naomi, who used to work in a clothing factory where they operated the machines that stitched royal blue jackets like mine. As B Level citizens, my caretakers were educated in useful tasks, allowed to choose mates from within their level, and produce a child—one per couple. My throat tightened as I thought about seeing David again, and memories of his face flashed into my mind, narrow and dark, with unusual green eyes.

When I turned five, I moved into the Children’s Center where my formal education began. From that time on, I saw my caretakers once a month for a free day. I only let myself cry when I was in bed at night, after all the other children were asleep. It was then that I knew I was different. I knew later, too, when in the dead of night Naomi told me why my Harmony implant didn’t control my emotions. I was breathless when she told me about the second implant—the key that made me the new Carrier.

Tram G came to a stop, and I stepped out of the sleek vehicle. A few gazes from the other riders followed me, and I wished I’d zipped up my raincoat to hide my jacket color. I stood on the empty neighborhood street for a moment, watching the tram turn a corner, until I was left alone in the stillness. Everyone who occupied the apartments on the street was working. I started toward my former building, then came to an abrupt stop when I saw who was waiting outside.

A man wearing a white jacket stood at the front entrance. In the gray atmosphere, the white of his coat almost glowed like a lamp. I knew immediately who he was.

Ruth’s been Taken,
Naomi had whispered one evening as she peered out the window. I stood next to her, on tiptoes, to look out the high windows of the apartment complex across the concrete expanse. A man with a white jacket was slowly walking around our neighbor’s building, as if looking for something. “Who is he?” I asked.

“The Examiner.”

And now, a man in a white jacket waited for me. I took a slow step forward, then another. I was in no rush to hear the news. It was now obvious that David had been Taken.

I blinked rapidly, fighting with everything I had against the tears. In the memory of my caretakers, I at least owed them the control that Naomi had taught me. The gravel crunched under my feet, and as I forced myself to walk, small pebbles scattered. The man in the white jacket watched me, not giving anything away in his expression. My stomach felt as if I’d eaten a large stone. I couldn’t even swallow; my throat was too tight. Although I had been on my own for many years, it wasn’t until this moment that I truly felt alone.

I forced myself to make eye contact as I neared the Examiner. His eyes were a watery blue, his face pale with a faint pink hue. He wasn’t much taller than me, and his shoulders sagged away from his neck. When he held out his hand, I hesitated, then extended my own. He gripped mine briefly. His hand was dry and rough and cold as I imagined paper to be—the kind displayed in the City Center Museum.

“Jezebel James, offspring of David and Naomi James,” the man said in a nasal voice. It was then that I noticed a leather satchel next to his feet, and he picked it up and gave it to me. He opened his mouth, then closed it, as if changing his mind about something. Finally he said, “This is your inheritance.”

Forbidden tears stung my eyes, as I fought against them. Receiving my inheritance meant it was over—truly over. David was gone, my childhood past.

I clutched the bag, its weight heavier than I expected. Maybe there was more than one memento from the apartment. I wondered what David had chosen but I didn’t want to peek with the Examiner still standing there like a statue, his gaze hard on mine.

With a glance at the door, I knew I couldn’t attempt to go inside; it was prohibited. The rooms would be sterilized and a new couple assigned. I wondered if they’d have a child—someone to sleep in my room, in my bed.

I carried the satchel and made my way back to the tram depot with measured steps. The man’s eyes stayed on me, and I gripped the handle tight to prevent my hands from shaking. I didn’t want him to see.

Five

When I entered my dorm room, I turned on the lamp and stopped cold.

Chalice was in bed, sleeping, her back turned toward me.

Relief washed over me, and I turned the lamp off and listened to her steady breathing. She seemed peaceful in the glow of the streetlamp coming through the window, as if she hadn’t been hauled off to Detention at all.

I curled on my bed and pulled a blanket around me, letting the tears escape. Chalice was back, but both my caretakers were gone, forever. It felt final somehow, more than when Naomi had been Taken. The emotions rocked through me, making me feel sad and angry at the same time. Why did I have to feel so much?

I could almost hear Naomi admonishing me,
Don’t give them any excuse to send you back to B Level.

I exhaled in disbelief, letting the tears run down my face in the darkness. Perhaps there was an accident at David’s factory. Perhaps he’d broken a rule. My chest ached as I worried it had been more; worried that it was something I had done.

The only things I had left now were memories and whatever was in that satchel. With Chalice asleep, this was my chance to see what David had left me. I reached under my bed for the satchel, then turned toward the light coming in from the lamppost outside.

The scent hit me first. Musty. Dry. A touch of old bark. I reached inside and pulled out a square object. It was Naomi’s jewelry box. I knew the jewelry box would contain no gems, just as it never had when I was a child. The Examiner would have scanned it to ensure that it didn’t. All gems and minerals were reserved for advancing technology. But I had seen images of jewelry on the WorldNet.

I tried to lift the lid but found it locked. Strange. I didn’t remember it ever being locked. When I shook the box, something knocked against the sides. Trying to keep completely silent, I searched in the latrine for anything thin and sharp, and finally settled on a small pair of scissors.

Back on the bed, I pried open the lock and lifted the lid. My mouth dropped open.

It was a book.

I had never held a real book. Most of them had been destroyed in the Burning in the first year of the rains, but I’d seen one in the museum behind a protective case. How had the Examiner missed the book? His scanner must not pick up old paper or bindings.

My hands trembled as I opened the book, unsure of what I’d find. It made a rustling sound, and I paused, glancing over at Chalice. Her breathing remained even and undisturbed, so I carefully turned the front cover and read:
2061.

As I lifted the first page, a delicate-looking piece of paper came loose. I picked it up, handling it carefully. There was strange writing on it—it looked like writing I’d seen on display in the museum—actual letters written by hand with curves and loops. It took me a moment to decipher the words, but once I figured out the first few, it became easier.

A hard lump formed in my throat. The paper was addressed to me and signed by Naomi, dated five years ago.

Jezebel,

Soon I will meet my fate. I don’t know if I’ll get to say goodbye one last time, and I don’t know how long David will be around. We have always loved you, even though we were never able to speak it often. I’m giving you
my
caretaker’s story—she is your ‘grandmother.’ Her name was Rose. You are very much like her. You know what she refused to reveal and that she gave her life after passing on the Carrier key. I hope Rose’s story will help you be strong in your resolve.

Burn the book and this letter to ash after reading.

Your mother,

Naomi

My eyes pricked with tears. I exhaled and reread her letter. Were they the last words she ever wrote? What had happened to her? And David? No one returned from being Taken when the cycle of life was concluded. I squeezed my eyes shut, blocking out the thoughts that said I’d never see David again.

After a few moments, my breathing evened and I was able to look past the paper from Naomi and read the first line of the book. It was also handwritten, the ink faded.
January 8, 2061
was at the top, then the words:
Dear Journal.

It was hard to believe that I was holding an actual record written in the Before by Naomi’s caretaker, Rose. I couldn’t quite think of her as “grandmother,” although I knew that’s what she would have been considered in the Before.

I tilted the book toward the light to get a sharper image and read the first sentence—words written nearly forty years ago.

Today I fell in love.

My face burned, and my hands went cold. Dread started in my stomach and crept throughout my whole body. I knew then that the story couldn’t end well, and that explained why I had never even known Rose’s name.

After the Burning, one of the first rules passed by the Legislature was Statute 3:1:
Romantic interludes are forbidden.

Falling in love was the third way to get Banished.

Six

I woke with a start—Chalice was staring at me, her face inches from mine.

“Are you all right?” I asked, sitting up.

“Fine.” But her voice sounded distant, and her eyes looked puffy and red. “Where were you?”

Had she seen the satchel? “My caretaker, David . . . he was Taken.” My gaze wavered, and I hoped that she wouldn’t see the sorrow that inflated inside me.

But Chalice didn’t seem to notice. She moved back and peered out the window. Then she said in a voice not much louder than a whisper, “Why? He wasn’t very old.”

“The Examiner didn’t tell me why,” I said. “He only gave me the inheritance.” I clamped my mouth shut before my voice could betray my emotion. I had only read a couple of pages last night, stopping when the fear in my stomach pinched into nausea.

Chalice turned from the window, and it was then I saw the deep red mark on her left arm.

“What happened?” I asked.

She brought a finger to her lips and shook her head.

I crossed to her and reached for her arm, but she pulled away. “They might be listening,” she whispered.

“Listening?”

She clamped a hand over my mouth. With her other hand, she pointed up. I looked at the ceiling, but didn’t see anything.

I stepped away. “No one can hear us,” I said, hoping it was true.

“In Detention, they told me . . .” Her voice faltered, and I couldn’t help staring. Something in Detention had changed her. She shook her head again and pointed at the ceiling.

“Are there listening devices up there?”

She nodded. I examined the ceiling from all angles, but still didn’t see anything out of the ordinary. Maybe they just wanted to scare Chalice.

“Sorry about David,” she said.

I exhaled, believing that she truly was sorry. Chalice was like that. She expressed her private thoughts without the blubber of emotion that always seemed to cloud mine. I nodded, unable to speak for a moment. She pressed something into my hands and I looked down to see the silver ring—a boxy emblem stood out from the simple band. “They let you keep it?” I whispered, more for Chalice’s peace of mind than mine, because I actually thought someone was listening.

“Not exactly,” she replied, her voice barely there. “This is a new one. It will bring you comfort.”

Comfort?
“It won’t be comforting when I’m in Detention.” Why did she insist on so visibly breaking a rule? My gaze strayed to her right shoulder where a semisquare scar was obvious beneath the cutoff sleeve of her thin night shirt. The Harmony implant was secure.

BOOK: Solstice
12.82Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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