Authors: Jane Redd
Tags: #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Science Fiction, #Dystopian, #Teen & Young Adult, #Mysteries & Thrillers, #Mystery & Detective, #Romantic, #Romance, #Science Fiction & Dystopian
Chalice’s expression was blank, impossible to read. How could she believe in any of the ancient religions when they had corrupted so many people?
As the silence filled with the driving rain outside, I closed my eyes, thinking of Rose’s final words.
If I am sentenced to execution, I’ll tell my mother where this journal is. I’ll tell her about the key and where I’ve hidden it.
Rose didn’t have to die so soon. Even now, thirty-seven years after her death, no Carrier had activated the generators. And the Harmony implants had protected the city from rebellions, saving many lives. Was that so wrong?
Naomi’s voice popped into my mind.
You have been taught one way of thinking. But I will teach you another way.
I put the book back in the satchel; I’d find a place as soon as possible to dump the thing. I didn’t want to be caught with Rose’s words. She had died because she followed her feelings, and that would be my fate too if I didn’t learn to suppress mine.
I opened my eyes and exhaled. Chalice was looking at me. “Sorry about your grandmother,” she said.
“She knew she was breaking the rules.” I kept my voice hard, hoping to harden my heart as well, to push my emotions into a far corner. I couldn’t let Chalice know that I was sympathetic, and scared.
“She was only following her beliefs,” Chalice said.
“Sometimes a single person’s beliefs contradict what’s good for the whole.”
Chalice released a sigh and climbed to her feet. “You sound like an ethics lesson.”
Yes, I did. I shrugged for Chalice’s benefit.
“What do you think happened to the man she loved?” Chalice asked, settling on her bed across from me. “Do you think he ever turned himself in?”
“I doubt it.” I was suddenly tired. I didn’t want to be in the same room with the book anymore. I didn’t want anything to do with it. I didn’t want Rose’s sad words echoing around in my mind, and I didn’t want to discuss it with Chalice, with anyone. We had been speaking quietly, but what if our room
being monitored? And what if Chalice decided to report me for keeping the book as long as I had?
I looked away from Chalice, toward the dark window, thinking of Rose’s boyfriend. She hadn’t mentioned his name, so it would be impossible for me to research, even if I wanted to. Which I didn’t.
Rose had a chance to conform.
Everyone knew the rules—right from the first classroom until our end cycle. They protected all of us from ugly lives of crime, dishonesty, immorality. From repeating the past.
My grandmother had deliberately broken the rules, and she wasn’t afraid. Did I have the same courage? I didn’t know.
Chalice was watching me, her face pale in the dim light and the circles beneath her eyes looking even darker. “I’ll see if I can find something to burn the book with.”
At least she agreed with me on that. As Chalice reached the door, I said, “Be careful.” The image of Sol being carried away was still haunting me.
With Chalice gone, I stood before the window and stared out at the falling rain. I clutched the book in my hand, refusing to open it again. I didn’t want to think of Rose’s life of chaos and uncertainty, her world of constant death and the way she must have watched entire cities being destroyed.
Behind me, the door slid open. “Back already?” I said as I turned.
But it wasn’t Chalice. Two inspectors entered my room, eyes trained on the book in my hands like they’d seen it right through the door. One of the inspectors held an agitator rod.
A flash of heat bolted through me, and it only took an instant to realize what had happened. It was as if I’d stepped outside my body and was looking down at my writhing limbs. My scream cut off when everything went dark.
Cold and hard. The first sensations of feeling crept into my spine and brought me back to consciousness. Had I fallen off my bed? Tripped in the school yard? Then I remembered. The book. The agitator rod.
I dragged my eyes open. My mouth tasted acrid, and my body felt as if I’d run nonstop for hours, leaving me with no strength to move. The room I was in was smaller than my dorm and had no windows. It glowed faintly with a pale yellow, as if the sun filtered in from somewhere, yet there was no heat and no lighting system.
Like a prison. Had Rose felt like this? Alone, cold, in pain? I tried to block out her out, along with the unforgiveable rules she’d broken.
Someone whispered my name, “Jez.”
I turned my head toward the wall next to me in the direction of the sound. There was a sliver of light coming beneath it. Was it a door? I pressed my hand against it. Solid rock.
“Jez, is that you?”
I inhaled, wincing at the pain in my chest. The air passing through my lungs hurt—breathing hurt. “Yes.” I squeezed my eyes shut for a moment, trying to get a handle on the pain. Why did my throat hurt so much? Why was Sol in the next room? Was this Detention?
“What’s wrong, Jez?” the whisper came. “What did they do to you?”
“They . . . shocked me with an agitator rod,” I said, having difficulty keeping the soreness out of my voice.
“Are you all right?” he asked.
“I . . . don’t know.” I rolled over, facing the wall. A shadow shifted in the space of light. Sol was on the other side. “Where are we?” I said.
I nearly laughed, but choked instead, and tears sprung to my eyes. I had done everything I could for years to stay out of Detention, and now, less than a week before Separation, here I was. The stone ground was cold beneath me and the rough walls were like nothing I’d ever seen.
“Can you remember anything?” Sol’s voice again. It sounded as if he was whispering in my ear.
What did he mean? Of course I could remember.
“I’m sorry,” I said, the cold floor causing me to shiver. “You shouldn’t be here.” I had to think of a way to exonerate Sol. It was my fault he was here.
His voice cut into my thoughts. “Jez, this is very important. Do you remember
you were shocked?”
I took a few more breaths, and my pain seemed to stabilize as long as I didn’t move. “My inheritance was an illegal book. I should have turned it in right away.”
“This is the book you told me about in the classroom?”
“Yes,” I asked. “I’m sorry I said anything to you. What . . . what did they do to you?”
But he didn’t answer my question. “You remember talking to me in class?”
“You were shocked with an agitator, Jez. You aren’t supposed to remember.”
I let the information sink in. The Harmony implant didn’t work, and now this. “The agitator was supposed to destroy my memory?”
“Just your memories over the last day or two,” Sol whispered. “It’s a method commonly used by the Legislature. Many times it’s enough to deter the person from committing more criminal acts. They forget, and with the lost memory, their desire to rebel fades.”
I didn’t answer. I couldn’t. Did they consider me a criminal now? Did they think I’d rebel? Would I be Demoted after all? And why didn’t the agitator rod work on me? Was it because of the key?
“Jez, say something.”
I heard the fear in his voice. The thought of someone like Sol being afraid of anything made me shiver all over. “I don’t know what to say,” I answered at last. “I remember everything. They caught me in my room, standing by the window, holding that book.” I paused as I thought of Rose’s words. “If the shocking had worked, I wouldn’t remember what I read, either, right?”
“Right,” he said.
I felt him waiting for me to continue. “That means . . . that means it didn’t work and—”
“Jez,” he broke in. “Don’t let them know it didn’t work. Don’t let them know you remember what’s in that book.”
“All right,” I said, or at least I think I said it. My words sounded so far away.
“Why didn’t you destroy it in the first place?” His voice sounded calm again.
I hesitated. “It was my caretaker’s last wish that I read it—it’s the record of my ‘grandmother.’” I didn’t tell him that I’d also hoped it would help me expel thoughts I shouldn’t be having. About him.
“Ah,” he said.
My heart drummed with guilt at not reporting the book the moment I realized what it was. But even if I had to go back, even knowing that I’d be caught, I think I might have done the same thing. I might have still read the book.
“And you read it?” His voice again.
“Yes,” I whispered.
“Let me guess.” Sol’s tone was slow, deliberate. “She talks about the Before.”
I thought of everything I’d learned from Rose. “A little bit. But mostly she talked about the rains and how her life was changed when the Legislature formed.”
There was only silence on the other side of the wall, and then the shadow shifted. I waited, holding my breath. I wondered if Sol was angry now, realizing what he got himself Detention for. What I cost him. This should have stayed between me and my caretakers.
“What was her name?” he asked.
His question surprised me, and it also worried me. I didn’t want him punished anymore because of me. I regretted having told him anything in the first place.
“Jez.” His fingers appeared in the opening at the bottom of the wall. “Tell me her name.”
“What does it matter?”
He wriggled his fingers, and instinctively I closed my hand around them. There was no danger in it, I told myself. A thick wall separated us. Besides, who knew if I’d ever see him again?
Don’t go there,
or I’ll stop breathing altogether.
“Please,” he said.
“Her name was Rose,” I whispered.
“Like a flower.” His fingers moved against mine, and his grasp tightened. I was glad he couldn’t see me or the color spreading across my cheeks. The description of Rose kissing her boyfriend came to my mind. If Sol could make me feel this way just holding my hand, what would kissing him be like? I squeezed my eyes shut, forcing the thought away.
“She wouldn’t turn in the name of the man whose child she carried,” he was saying. “Even worse, she tried to cut out her Harmony implant. A serious crime of rebellion.”
“How do you know all of that?” I asked.
His next words sent a chill through me. “She was executed December 3, 2061, a few weeks after her child was born. Her last request was to choose her method of death. Remember the case study?”
It sounded familiar now. I let the connection settle—my grandmother was the woman we’d learned about in class. In the case study, nothing more had been said of the child, only that it was relocated a few weeks after birth. The case study had been an impartial recollection of the events. But Rose’s written words rushed through my mind—her worries, her fears, her love for the father of her child. She had been real. Not just a history lesson or a case study. She was my grandmother.
Then I remembered the conclusion of the case study. “Death by fire,” I whispered, horror sweeping over me as I thought about the barbaric methods of execution in the Before, and how some condemned criminals were allowed to choose the way they’d die. In Rose’s case, her name hadn’t been blotted out like the usual criminals. They had kept her name in the history lessons to be held up as an example.
Sol’s fingers tightened around mine. “It
her, wasn’t it?” he said.
I nodded, although he couldn’t see me. I pictured his solemn gaze, his searching eyes, which seemed to understand me even when I didn’t understand myself. I was grateful he couldn’t see the tears that had started.
“Reading about her reminded me of you,” Sol said. “Now I know why.”
My heart thumped. He couldn’t know, couldn’t realize, that my caretaker had said the same thing in her letter. Did Sol know how I struggled to control my emotions? That I wasn’t like the others? He had seen my tears. He must have guessed.
I waited a few heartbeats before asking, “How do I remind you of Rose?” I wanted to hear it from him.
“The case study had a description of her in it,” he said. “Don’t you remember?”
“Not really.” I thought hard, but all I remembered was the sentencing and her listed crimes. I didn’t recall any descriptive details.
“The study said she was uncommonly beautiful, and she was a danger to society because of it.”
I froze. And that description reminded Sol of
I was glad for the thick wall between us. I wanted to ask him more, but I was afraid the tremor in my voice would give too much away.
“She naturally attracted trouble,” he continued, “caused men to fall in love with her. Made them lose their good sense and led more than one man to his downfall.”
More than one man?
The book I’d read only mentioned one boyfriend—perhaps he was the one she’d truly loved. I tried not to compare him to Sol.
Sol’s voice continued rhythmically, like he was reading. With his brilliant mind, he probably
reading, straight from his memory. “Even if she’d turned in the man she loved, she still would have been imprisoned. The population was on a moratorium during that year. Not even married couples were allowed to reproduce.” His tone was gentle. “The Legislature probably only kept her alive long enough to deliver the child. At least they were merciful on that issue. The child lived.”
The child who had been Naomi. That’s why I’d received the book as an inheritance. Naomi must have sensed something like this might happen and wanted to send me a strong warning. I couldn’t let my feelings for Sol be discovered, or I would never succeed where Rose had failed.
Despite all of the education I’d received about how the Legislature was protecting us from our worst selves, it just didn’t make sense that one of my grandmother’s crimes had been her beauty. My consternation was threatening to become anger. I let my breath out slowly, trying to dissipate the unwelcome emotion.
Do not show anger, even if you feel it,
Naomi had told me more than once, her hands cradling my face as she looked sternly into my eyes. But this anger kept growing, despite my determination, becoming almost too big to hold in.
Sol pulled his hand away, and the shadow on the other side of the wall moved. It was closer now, darker. “Jez, listen to me.”