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 (8 page)

BOOK: Solstice
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His voice fell a notch, and I had to strain to hear. “Don’t do anything stupid.”

My breath caught at the irony. “Too late.”

“No, it’s not,” he said, his tone urgent. “You’ve done nothing but accept your inheritance. Don’t compound it. Do what they ask. Make them believe you don’t remember the book.”

“All right.” Even from the other side of a thick wall, where I’d gotten him sent, Sol was trying to help me. “What about you?”

“I’ll be fine.”

A soft scrape came from Sol’s side of the wall.

Then a whisper. At first it sounded like, “I’ll miss you,” but I wasn’t sure. The shadow was gone. Sol was gone. Without a word of goodbye.

Ten

The Council was made up of fourteen judges. Eight men and six women. They wore stiff-looking black robes, severely short hairstyles, and all appeared to be rail thin. No overindulgence in this group. I forced myself to stay in the present and not think of my grandmother standing before her own council.

I tried to stay calm. I had to get through this—I had to get to the University and become the scientist I was meant to be.

An inspector ushered me to my seat with no explanations of what to expect. At least a dozen other adults sat in the room, all staring at me. I glanced at them quickly, wondering what their crimes might be. It seemed we’d all be present to hear each other’s cases—apparently there was no privacy. While we waited for the hearings to begin, I looked around the spacious room, taking in the marble pillars, the thick beamed ceiling, and the high, arched windows that framed the gray drizzle outside.

Finally, someone moved. The woman in the middle of the judges’ bench clasped her hands together. She seemed to wear a permanent frown, which deepened as I met her gaze. I kept my expression neutral, although I was sure that she could see right through me.

Her long, skeletal fingers unclasped, and she said in a high, reedy voice, “Jezebel, offspring of Naomi and David, please step forward.”

Already? I’d hoped to at least watch a few of the others go through their hearings so that I could prepare a little. I wanted to make sure I said the right things, followed the proper procedure and didn’t mess anything up. I rose quickly, hoping the council would appreciate my eagerness to please, then followed the direction of an inspector who pointed to a sectioned-off area in front of the bench. The worn, crimson ropes formed a square, and as I approached, the inspector unhooked one of the ropes to let me inside.

I took my place and lifted my gaze to the judges. Most of them stared at me, but a few seemed to be looking right past me, as if they had little interest in the proceedings.

The inspector, who’d directed me to the ropes, read the charges from his electronic tablet. I kept my lips pursed as he began. “Citizen Jezebel James has been found out of compliance for the following: possessing an illegal item, in the description of a book. Citizen Jezebel James has also been found out of compliance for the following: reading said illegal book.”

The inspector continued to drone through passage after passage of formalities. I didn’t realize there was so much to say about such a simple crime. Finally his voice cut off, and my breath stalled. Would they hand down judgment immediately? Would I be excused and asked to return after they deliberated?

The room was eerily quiet as I waited.

The head judge spoke first. “Tell us why you read an illegal book.”

I licked my lips, wishing I had Sol or Chalice’s courage. They’d know what to say. Taking Sol’s advice, I said, “I don’t remember opening the book. I only remember picking up the satchel from the Examiner at my childhood home.”

The judge’s expression remained still, as if she hadn’t heard me. She waited. I waited.

I spoke again. “If I’d known what was inside the satchel given to me, I wouldn’t have accepted my inheritance. But since the Examiner gave it to me, I thought there might be important information inside the book.”

Now the judge’s expression changed. Her black eyes narrowed to slits. “Why didn’t you turn it in when you opened the satchel?”

I looked down as I scrambled for an answer. What I said next could determine the rest of my life. “I thought perhaps the book had come into my hands for a reason.” They certainly knew about my caretaker’s letter. “My caretaker gave it to me for a purpose, perhaps as a warning—a warning that is meant for all of us . . . ”

Several of the judges leaned forward, their expressions questioning. My heart sank. Had I said something wrong? Had I given something away? I plunged on, hoping that spending the last five years in their A Level classes had taught me enough to get through this.

“We must always follow the rules, even if we don’t agree,” I continued. “I thought the book was something I was supposed to read—even if I didn’t know why yet.’”

That seemed to relax them, but it was hard to read their placid expressions. The head judge nodded for me to continue.

Was this a good sign? I moved on, embracing the chance to defend myself. “I needed to experience the consequence of hiding something,” I said, directing the focus away from the possibility that I had actually read the book and remembered what I’d read. “The consequence of being caught, and the consequence of standing before the judgment seat.”

The head judge tilted her head, her eyes narrowing. What did that mean? She approved or she didn’t approve?

She was still waiting for me to speak, so I said, “If I’d not had this experience, then I wouldn’t understand the human condition fully as I move on to the University level.” I let out the breath I was holding, hoping they’d believed my act and that it would be enough.

The judge’s hands came together in a swift and decisive motion. “Three months arrest.”

Arrest? I was being sent to prison?
I opened my mouth to protest, to question, but stopped myself. Three months . . . how much would that set back my plan? Would I still be eligible for the University?

My eyesight blurred as I tried to appear steady and calm. Somehow I managed to nod to the judge’s council while my mind raced. The inspector gripped my arm and led me from the room. I glanced at the other people waiting their turn. None of them met my gaze now. I was ushered into a side room where a metal cuff was secured around my ankle. It seemed to meld to my skin, flexible, but cool.

Then, we pushed through another door, this one leading to an outside platform in some sort of an alley.

“Where are we going?” I asked the inspector.

He didn’t answer. Maybe I’d be sent to my dorm room and just have to stay inside for three months. My hope grew just a little.

“Do people ever get released early?”

This time he did answer. “Never heard of it.”

My heart sank. I thought I’d made a compelling argument, but it would be dependent on their belief that the agitator had worked on me. I had no way to ask. By the end of three months, how much of the life I’d created would be left?

I’d miss the final tests, the Separation ceremony, the first months of University. Would I still get into the University? Then I remembered . . . the Solstice. Surely I’d be allowed to enjoy the Solstice?

I was about to ask the inspector about Solstice when I heard the familiar sound of an approaching tram. It came around the bend and made an effortless stop. As the inspector guided me onto it, I noticed the dark windows. No one could see in or out. I took a seat on a narrow bench and the inspector sat across from me, his eyes locked on me.

The tram could have held two dozen people—or prisoners. Today it was empty except for us. Seconds later, the metal doors shut, and the dull lights came on. The tram lurched into motion, knocking my head against the shaded window.

After several moments, the tram slowed, and just as I anticipated it stopping, the car tilted downward and descended a hill of some sort. The hairs on the back of my neck bristled. Were we going to the lower levels of the city? The C Level? The docks? Maybe I’d be put on a work crew. But even that would be better than being Banished from the city, to where there was nothing but vast waters and uncivilized Lake Towns full of barbarians.

The air grew noticeably cooler, though that didn’t bother me as much as the encroaching smell. I couldn’t quite identify it. There were definitely chemical qualities to it, not strong enough to burn my eyes, but enough to create a bitter taste in my mouth. I looked at the inspector. He continued to watch me, seemingly unbothered by it.

The angle of the track steepened, and I clutched the bench as the speed increased until, suddenly, we came to an abrupt stop. If I hadn’t already been holding onto the bench, I would have been flung to the floor.

The metal doors opened, and the inspector stood. I rose to my feet, my legs unsteady. The chemical smell was stronger now, invading every one of my senses. The inspector didn’t seem to notice, but latched onto my arm and guided me out of the tram. As soon as we stepped onto the platform, the doors shut and the tram reversed direction.

It was pitch dark except for glowing beads of light to the side of the platform. The thin string of lights continued to the right, descending as if following a set of steps. Cold air penetrated my clothing, pressing against my skin and making me shiver. There was no doubt now that we were underground.

I folded my arms and inhaled carefully, trying to avoid breathing in the strange smell. The inspector kept ahold of my arm and led me along the strip of light. My vision adjusted slowly, and I began to make out the dimensions of a massive tunnel sloping gently downhill.

“Where are we?” I said, finally daring to ask another question.

His response was abrupt, and something about the tone of his voice made me shudder. “You’ll see soon enough.”

We continued to walk on the smooth surface that vibrated beneath our footsteps. It was certainly metal. Every few steps, I felt a gush of cold air touch my feet as if the floor were suspended somehow and air flowed beneath it.

When the inspector stopped and raised his hand, a door to the side of us that I hadn’t even noticed slid open. He pushed me inside, let go of my arm, and stepped away. The door slid shut behind me, and I was left in complete darkness. Alone.

Eleven

I stood still for several moments, waiting for some other door to open up, for another inspector to take me to the next place. I waited for a voice to come through a speaker and give me instructions, to tell me what tasks I’d be sentenced to for the next ninety days.

But none of that happened. I was alone, with no sound or light, and no way to keep track of time.

The chemical scent was stronger in this room, but it didn’t seem to affect me, so I stopped worrying that they were trying to drug me. Maybe I’d been sent to a facility that processed chemicals, and was going to be forced to work on an assembly line.

I reached my hands out in front of me, hoping to see a glimmer of my skin, but there was nothing in the blackness. I took a step forward, then another. Three steps later I touched a wall. It wasn’t stone or metal, but a soft, pliable substance. I pushed my hand into the wall, making an indent. When I pulled away, it moved back into shape. I ran my hands along it, following until I was in a small circular room.

The ground seemed flexible. Crouching, I touched the floor. It was also malleable, like thick rubber.

I completed the circle and found the narrow door I’d been sent through. Nothing around the metal door indicated a way to open it, so I sat on the ground, pulled my knees up to my chest, and finally let the worries invade and the tears fall. There was nothing to do but wait.

My stomach hurt. My head hurt. My heart . . . ached. I had never been this far away from my dorm or school, and it was impossible to imagine that everything was continuing on as normal without me.

I wondered what Sol was doing at this exact moment. Was it day or night? Was he still in Detention? Or had he been released? Was he eating or studying? Was he thinking about me?

Just as I was about to drift to sleep, the room filled with light that seemed to be coming from everywhere at once.

I blinked against the brightness. The first thing I noticed was that I was still alone. The second, that the walls were a yellow-brown and the floor a pale blue. The metal door was the customary slate gray. I thought maybe I was dreaming, but my mouth was too dry and my stomach too empty for this to be a dream. I listened for the sound of a door opening, for footsteps, anything. Still nothing. But I sensed I was being watched.

I stood, stretching my stiff legs. Dizziness hit me in a wave, and I closed my eyes for an instant, trying to keep steady.

The door slid open.

The man who stood on the other side wore a pale blue jumpsuit the same color as the floor. It was neatly creased along the sleeve and pant legs as if he hadn’t sat all day. His eyes were the brightest blue I’d ever seen—almost piercing. He wore metal-framed glasses, which was unusual in our City since eye correction was done at a young age. And although he was completely bald, he looked only about five or six years older than me.

His eyes narrowed for an instant as he looked me up and down. “I’m Dr. Matthews.” He looked at the tablet in his hand. “Miss J, follow me.”

I wanted to ask who he was and what I was supposed to do here, but instead I kept quiet and stepped beside him, determined to do everything I was asked. What kind of doctor was he? He didn’t stop, didn’t wait, and I propelled myself forward. The light was dim in the corridor. The floor sloped, but he showed no sign of slowing down.

As I hurried to keep up with him, I tried to orient myself. The walls were made of the same yellow-brown padded material, and we were in some sort of tunnel. We were definitely underground, traveling deeper, but what was above? I looked for doors or other connecting hallways, but there were none, just the long winding snake of a corridor moving deeper and deeper into the earth.

My breath grew shallow as I walked. I hadn’t eaten for a while, and my energy was fading fast. Time felt strangely off down here.

The doctor finally came to a stop and waved his hand against the wall. A brown metal door that matched the wall slid open and we stepped into a cavernous room, more brightly lit than the corridor.

BOOK: Solstice
5.16Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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