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 (5 page)

BOOK: Solstice
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I looked up at the ceiling again, but saw no sign of a listening device. I didn’t understand the risk she was taking by wearing another ring. I handed it back. She took the ring with a shrug and slipped it beneath her pillow—like that was any type of hiding place.

“What was it like in Detention?” I asked, keeping my voice low.

She looked out the window. “Quiet.”

“And your arm?” I whispered.

She blinked rapidly, but didn’t answer. I watched her closely, looking for signs of emotion. Even if the Harmony implant wasn’t compromised, would a very intense experience cause emotion to surface anyway?

“They didn’t read the rules to you or question you?” I asked.

“They did some of that.” Her eyes shifted their gaze to me, but I couldn’t see anything beyond their steady blue.

“And . . . ?”

She tugged on the short hair curling around her ears, her fingers trembling slightly. “They asked me how I made the rings, how I learned about the symbols, and if you had helped me.”

My breath stalled.

“Don’t worry.” Her eyebrow lifted slightly. “I told them you were upset that I was wearing the ring and had threatened to turn me in.”

“That’s not exactly true,” I whispered, my heart thudding.

She reached for the ring again under her pillow. “If you change your mind and want to wear it, just let me know.”

I shook my head—an automatic response.

Disappointment brushed her face for just an instant. Or had I imagined it? She slipped the ring on her finger and examined it. “I don’t know why the Legislature is so worried about archaic religious emblems,” she continued. “If they make us feel better, what’s the harm?”

I stared at her.
What’s the harm? She sounds like Rose,
I thought, remembering the pages I’d read from her book last night. Chalice met my gaze, and there was something hard in hers. Defiance?

“How can you say that?” I asked. “Religion used to incite wars. People
killed
each other over those myths. We’ve been taught that in class.”

Chalice’s eyes darkened to indigo, and her trembling hands clamped together. “Why would someone kill another person over a
myth?
How could a myth start a war?” She shook her head. “Maybe religious beliefs
aren’t
myths.”

“You shouldn’t say that.” My head started to pound. This was a dangerous conversation. “People are Banished for joining a religious cult.” I imagined Chalice’s thin form standing in the middle of a barge as it floated on the ocean farther and farther away from our city, until she was too small to see. Where would she end up? One of those barbarous Lake Towns?

“I’m not joining anything.” Her voice was dead calm. “I just have a lot of questions about the prophets in the Before and the different Deities people used to believe in.” She ran her fingers along the red marks on her arm.

I have a lot of questions, too,
I wanted to say,
like what really happened to you in Detention
. Yet I didn’t speak the words. My throat felt thick, and for a moment I wanted to hug her and tell her that I understood. But Naomi had told me not to hug people and not to be curious, so I just stood there.

While I focused on getting ready for the day, I wondered if the Examiner had any idea what had been inside the locked jewelry box. Would he have given it to me if he had? Maybe I should have asked him why David was Taken so early. I turned on my tablet to check the daily news report. It listed the names of those who were born, those who moved levels, those who were charged with crimes, and those who were Taken.

I found his name immediately:
David James. Taken.
My eyes stayed dry this time, but something squeezed my heart. The news report made it official, just another societal record, but it was personal to me.

When Chalice was in the latrine, I hid the satchel under my mattress, knowing it was a weak hiding place, but my options were limited. Although reading the first couple of pages had made me sick with apprehension, I knew I needed to finish it. I couldn’t risk any notice by the government—something about the Examiner made me uneasy—but I did need answers. I knew that Rose refused to reveal where she kept the Carrier key, and that’s why she died, and how I got it. But who gave her the key in the first place? Where had it all started? As soon as I finished reading the book and got my answers, I promised myself that I’d get rid of it as Naomi had instructed—and the sooner the better.

Seven

Sol was waiting for me when I stepped out of the dorm building. He tipped his umbrella up with one hand as if inviting me to join him, while the other hand stayed buried in his pocket. His eyes studied me, questioning. The sight of him nearly made me turn around and claim a sick day. How could I face him after reading my grandmother’s confession about falling in love? It was my absolute worst fear to have those feelings about him, and being around him wasn’t helping.

“How are you?” he said, his question simple, yet perfect.

I couldn’t sleep. I can’t think. And I only want to be with you today.
“Tired,” I said, the finality in my voice putting a stop to further questions.

One of his eyebrows lifted, but he didn’t press for more information.

We only had a few more days left together. At one point I had dreaded the Separation, but now I welcomed it. It would be freeing not to have to battle against myself during every moment.
Stop it,
I chastised myself. This was exactly what Naomi warned me about when she risked passing on an illegal book. I had to relax and stay calm. Stick to the rules. Sol’s gaze was intent on me as I walked down the steps, and I ignored the warmth spreading throughout my body as I joined him at the bottom of the stairs. I plainly saw the concern, the questions, in his eyes, and it was killing me.

He glanced at me several times and stayed close while we walked the short distance to the school hall. I wanted to throw my arms around him and cling to him like a girl drowning in a fast river. Did he notice that my entire body trembled? That I was having trouble separating the emotions rolling over me—fear, grief, infatuation, fear again. Inside my pockets, I clenched my hands together, trying not to fall victim to his nearness. I stole glances at his profile, his shoulder. I looked at his hand and thought of how casually it had touched me the day before, sending my heart racing. Was that what Rose had felt?

By the time we reached the classroom, I had to take shallow, measured breaths, and Sol scanned us through the door.

Several students looked up as we entered but the news of my caretaker must have spread, because everyone looked quickly away. Chalice already sat at her desk and seemed to look right through me as I took my seat. The other kids refocused on their screens, determined not to miss one word of any lesson so close to the Separation.

“Welcome to Ancient Religion Myths 14,” the desktop chirped as soon as my earbuds were in place.

I glanced over at Sol. His eyes were on me, questioning again. I gave him a nod, letting him know that I appreciated it. “Outside,” I mouthed. He nodded, understanding.

My body relaxed. I could talk to him in the yard and tell him about David, and Rose’s handwritten book and how she’d fallen in love. Maybe telling him about Rose’s mistake would somehow save me from the same fate.

“What cannot be proven cannot be trusted,” the monotone console voice said. “The idea of faith was invented by those who wished to take advantage of the innocent.”

I looked at Chalice, hoping that she was listening carefully. She turned her head, biting her lip. She seemed smaller, shrunken against the seat. Her long sleeves covered the red marks I’d seen earlier, but they did nothing to hide the delicate dark beneath her eyes.

She shifted again, and I saw something on her hand. Was she wearing a ring again? I was stunned. Whatever they’d done to her in Detention hadn’t been enough. Was it worth the risk to miss out on the University? To be Demoted or Banished?

“Faith is an idea created to control others,” the lesson voice continued.

I’d barely had time to digest the words when the room flashed yellow. The metal doors automatically locked with an echo, and the desktop screen flickered into six words.

Inspection in progress. Please remain seated.

My heart flipped. Had they come for Chalice again? I wanted to scream at her for being so stupid. Hadn’t they already done enough to her in Detention?

But no inspectors entered the classroom, and the panic continued to well within me. If they weren’t inspecting the classroom, then maybe it was the dorm rooms. They would find my book.

Now
I
would be questioned. Sent to Detention to face whatever Chalice had, or perhaps Demoted. I’d fail as Naomi had failed. There would be no Carrier after all.

The blood drained from my face, and I gripped the edges of the desk to keep myself upright.

You are the last hope, Jezebel.

Why hadn’t I stashed the book somewhere this morning?

After a few tense moments, the Ancient Myths lesson resumed, but the metal doors remained locked, which meant I was right. The inspection was taking place in our dorm rooms and I had to sit in the classroom while my whole life crumbled bit by bit. I tried to concentrate on the droning voice explaining why Buddha and Muhammad and Jesus Christ were false prophets of the world Before, and why all of their books of scripture were the first to be incinerated in the Burning.

“Because of these false teachings, society spun out of control,” the lesson continued, forcing itself through the turmoil in my mind. “Freedom of religion turned humans into nothing better than wild dogs, ravishing each other, plundering their neighbors, cheating their own friends.”

At that moment, I felt like a wild dog, too, wishing I could tear out of the classroom and erase all evidence of the book.

Jezebel, you must control yourself,
Naomi said in my mind.

I am. I am. I am.

I imagined an inspector entering my dorm and searching through the room. He’d discover the book in an instant beneath my mattress. It would be taken to the High Inspector’s office; Rose’s words would be read, condemning her a second time. But now, I’d be the one facing sentencing.

It wasn’t until Sol’s hand reached across the space between our desks and gripped my fingers that I realized I was shaking. I wanted to tell him everything, how afraid I was, how I should have never even opened the book, but the room was full of students who were only too eager to get any competitor out of the way. And I didn’t want to condemn Sol along with me.

To my horror, tears filled my eyes. I tried to blink them away, but they collected faster and faster. I pulled my hand from Sol’s and wiped my cheeks before anyone could notice, but he’d seen them.

He leaned toward my desk, watching me carefully. He’d caught a glimpse of what I had tried so hard to suppress for so long, and now he would know I was weak and didn’t belong in A Level society.

He glanced at the others, heads bent over their consoles. “What happened?” he whispered.

“David left me a book,” I said as quietly as possible. “They’ll find it during the inspection.”

The silver in his eyes hardened to black, and I wanted to disappear. He must hate me. He had shared his memories, and now he certainly regretted it. He suddenly stood and crossed to the metal door. “Let me out! Let me out!” he shouted as he rammed his shoulder against the door.

Earbuds popped out as the entire class watched him in stunned silence. It looked as if the brilliant prodigy had gone insane.

But I knew he hadn’t. Hot and cold twisted in my stomach.

The alarms blared, and within seconds the metal door slid open. Two inspectors waited on the other side and Sol ran into them. “I have to get out of here!” he yelled, appearing every bit like a madman.

The inspectors cuffed him and he didn’t fight back—maybe not so crazy after all.

My tears started again as he was taken away and I knew he’d done it for me. Sol had just created the perfect distraction to help me hide my crime.

Eight

We learned in Ancient Religion Myths 12 that hell is a place where wicked people burn in an eternal fire. But no one who claimed to come back from the dead ever admitted to actually seeing the place. They’d all seen bright lights, heard angels who sang in perfect tune, or had joyful reunions with deceased relatives. Did that mean only good people came back from the dead? Was it possible to be alive and exist in hell at the same time?

Whatever the ancients believed about it, when Sol disappeared down the corridor with the inspectors, hell became my reality. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t move. Every part of me was on fire while at the same time colder than ice.

The classroom door remained open while the students talked among themselves. I knew that in a few minutes order would be restored and things would be back to normal, but those few minutes might give me just enough time. My heart hammered, letting me know that I needed to move now or not at all.

I slipped out of the classroom, thinking up excuses in my mind if I was stopped by an inspector. The halls were empty as I hurried through them and out the door, flinching at every sound, expecting to be caught at any moment.

By the time I made it inside my dorm room, I was out of breath with fear. I rushed to the mattress and reached under it.

Nothing.

I lifted the mattress and scanned the empty space. “No,” I whispered, as I searched under the bed, in the dresser drawers, in the latrine. “No no no.” The book was completely and absolutely missing.

Standing in the middle of my dorm room, I was torn between the need to get back to class and an urgency to find the book. Finally, feeling like I was in a dream, I walked back to class. The door had shut, but the longer I waited, the more I’d have to explain. Lifting my palm, I scanned the door open.

Chalice and the other students looked up as I slipped into my seat. I avoided their collective gaze and stared at my console, trying to concentrate. Where had the book gone? How long until someone came for me?

BOOK: Solstice
7.33Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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