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 (9 page)

BOOK: Solstice
13.18Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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The smell of food hit me immediately—cooked fish and something like sweet potatoes. I’d never smelled anything so good until this moment, and my stomach ached with anticipation. Eight tables were lined up in two rows in the room, and seated at them were about a dozen or so men and women, wearing the same light blue jumpsuit as my host.

The gazes that met mine were curious, but brief. The people turned back to their food and continued eating as if they were in a rush. One woman held my gaze an instant longer. I had just enough time to notice her very green eyes and long hair pulled back into a ponytail, before she, too, was eating again.

Dr. Matthews motioned for me to sit. As I took a seat, several feet away from the others, a young man came toward us from across the room, a plate in his hands. Instead of the blue jumper, he wore a nondescript beige. He was about the same height as Sol, but his hair was golden brown and cut short. His brown eyes were a shade darker than his tan skin. If I hadn’t known better, I’d have thought he was someone who’d spent his days out in the sun.

I tried not to stare, but I couldn’t help notice how his gaze flickered over me with mutual curiosity, lingering longer than the others’ had. He set the plate in front of me and quickly turned.

I watched him walk away, then realized that Dr. Matthews was studying me very closely through those glasses of his, as if he were trying to analyze me on the spot. I felt like an insect under a microscope. His eyes didn’t shift when I met his stare.

Eventually the smell of the sweet potatoes recaptured my attention and I, too, ate as if there were nothing more important in the world.

There was also the daily tube of vitamin infusion gel on the tray, meant to take the place of natural sunshine. I snapped the end of the tube and squeezed the bitter orange gel into my mouth. It always made me feel a bit nauseated for a moment. I knew many at my school mixed theirs with food, but I didn’t like how it altered the taste of my meal.

When I finished, I set my fork down and looked up, surprised to see that the room was empty except for the young man in the beige jumpsuit and Dr. Matthews. The doctor was no longer staring, but seemed intent on reading something on his tablet. It was then I noticed a slight tremor in his hand. I heard something clink and looked over to see the young man move along the tables, picking up plates.

“It’s time to report, Miss J,” Dr. Matthews said.

I stood, wondering what my assignment would be. Perhaps the next three months wouldn’t be so bad. Maybe they’d be so impressed with my behavior that I’d be released early and make it to the University after all.

I followed the doctor out of the cafeteria. The corridor was dim and it took me a moment to realize that the young man had fallen into step behind us.

The corridor turned gradually and sloped downward. A scuff sounded behind me, and when I dared a glance behind, the young man was gone.

Dr. Matthews stopped and triggered another nearly concealed door with his hand. “Here we are,” he said. “We’ll begin the report now.”

I scanned the rounded room. There was nothing but a table and two chairs. Some cables protruded from the wall and rested on the table.

He motioned for me to take a chair and then sat down opposite me. “Let me see your ankle cuff.”

I lifted my foot, and he pressed a narrow apparatus against it. The cuff expanded, and Dr. Matthews slid it off.

“The Legislature seems to think we need these to control our prisoners,” he said.

I wondered what kind of prison this was.

“But our labyrinth of corridors is carefully monitored.” He set the cuff on the table. “These get in the way of our testing more often than not.”

He reached for the cables coming out of the wall. Each one had a circular pad at the end. “Hold still, Miss J.” He pressed a pad on each of my palms. The tremor in his hands was back, and I wanted to ask him about it—did he have a disease? As soon as my palms were connected, the table’s surface glowed and a screen appeared, much like the one in my desk at school.

“We’re careful to make the appropriate assignments for the patrons in this facility,” Matthews said. “A word will appear on the screen. Each word will have two images associated with it. Choose the one that is the most logical match, but do so quickly. We want to record your first instinct.”

I pulled my gaze from his trembling fingers and stared at the screen, waiting for the words. My pulse thudded in my ears.

The word
apple
appeared. I’d seen images of the fruit and knew they came in different colors. Red, green, yellow. Unbidden, Rose’s words came to mind.
We hid among the trees, eating apples. That’s when he leaned over and wiped the juice from my lips and kissed me.

I blinked and focused on the screen. When two images appeared, one of a burned tree and one of an old-fashioned ceramic bowl, I clicked on the burned tree. After all, apples grew on trees—it was a fact I’d memorized about the Before.

The next word was
tricycle
. I knew about this, too. It was something that children used to ride, back when there were so many of them in the world. One image was of a smiling boy and the other of a knee, gashed open and bleeding. I studied the smile on the boy for several seconds until Matthews cleared his throat. I selected the smiling boy. I thought riding a tricycle sounded like fun.

The words continued to pop up, and I made my selections as quickly as possible. It felt like about an hour had passed when the screen darkened.

“Now for the second phase,” Dr. Matthews said.

This time I was shown pictures and asked to choose the appropriate descriptor for images of plants that were harvested in the Agricultural Center. A few plants popped up that I’d never seen before. I studied them carefully, wondering if any of them were flowers, but they didn’t have blossoms.

At the conclusion of the second phase, Dr. Matthews pulled the pads from my hands.

I glanced at him, wondering how I’d fared, but his expression was blank apart from a slight crease between his eyebrows. He escorted me from the room and led me along the corridor, eventually ushering me into a large room with a row of at least a dozen beds. It reminded me of a dorm room, but much larger. A door on the far side was marked with a latrine symbol, and above each bed was a square of metal attached to the wall.

“You’ll sleep here,” Matthews said.

I shivered at the austerity of the room. It was so bleak, so blank. The gray walls reminded me of the sky outside, and I wondered when I’d see the rain again.

“What will my duties be?” I asked.

I thought I saw a flicker of annoyance. “Your orders will be given in the morning, Miss J.” And with that, Dr. Matthews left the room.

I turned and scanned the beds. The mattresses were thin and the blankets on top were made of a heavy white material, just like the ones in my school dorm.

I crossed to the latrine and looked inside. Nothing unusual—a row of toilet stalls and two showers. Then I walked to one of the beds and examined the metal plate above it. I tried to wiggle it, but it remained sealed tight. I sat on the bed, having no idea what time it was.

Across the room, the door opened and two girls walked in, startling me with their sudden appearance. Both looked to be around eleven or twelve years old. One had reddish hair and a mass of freckles on her face; the other had dark skin, similar to the boy in the cafeteria. They glanced at me, then each climbed onto a bed.

“Hello,” I said. One looked at me and nodded, the other merely closed her eyes. The lights in the room dimmed as if on a timer. Maybe we weren’t supposed to talk to each other.

The door slid open again a moment later, and the young man from the cafeteria came in.

He quickly averted his eyes as he entered the latrine. Why was he in the girls’ dorm room? Maybe he had to clean it? The two girls in bed looked like they were already asleep and hadn’t noticed his entrance.

Maybe I could ask him about the prison—he obviously worked here in maintenance, so maybe he’d be willing to fill me in. I stationed myself a few paces outside the latrine, waiting.

When he stepped out, his brown eyes settled on me for an instant and I noticed they weren’t just brown, but had some yellow in them, reminding me of sunshine. Or maybe it was just my wishful thinking about the Solstice that would happen in a few days.

He moved past me, but I reached out and grabbed his arm. He stopped and stared at my hand as if it were the oddest thing he’d ever seen. Then the sides of his mouth curled up into a smile.

He was
smiling
at me—actually smiling. Was that allowed in this place?

“Can you tell me what kind of prison this is?” I asked.

He glanced at the sleeping girls, and I detected a hint of wariness as he said, “Phase Three.”

I dropped my hand. “Phase Three?”

“You’ll learn your assignment in the morning.” He shook his head, as if he’d said too much already.

But I wasn’t finished with my questions. “What kind of assignments are there?”

Another half smile. “Phase Three assignments.”

I let out a breath, cooling my frustration. I couldn’t let some maintenance guy, likely a C Level citizen, detect my annoyance. “Why won’t anyone tell me anything?” I pressed.

The young man suddenly leaned in, startling me with his nearness. His mouth was just inches from my ear as he whispered, “They’re listening.”

My heart stuttered.
Where?
I looked around the room, scanning for listening devices, but I saw nothing recognizable. “Can you tell me anything at all?” I said more quietly.

He straightened away from me. “Perhaps.”

I refrained from clenching my hands into fists and managed an even tone as I said, “Please, anything would help.”

He waved his hand in a wide arc. “This is the sleeping room.”

I shook my head at his idiocy. His mouth tugged at the corners, and I couldn’t help but stare in fascination. I’d never seen someone smile so much.

“The metal squares above each bed are scanners—tonight they’ll collect data from your dreams.”

This, I couldn’t fathom. I folded my arms. “Really? How?”

“The scanners are the latest in discovery science. Just relax and try to sleep. Like I said, you’ll get your assignment tomorrow.” He took a step back, putting some distance between us. Perhaps he had more latrines to clean.

I exhaled and nodded. At least I had a little more information.

He walked past me and climbed onto a bed next to the far wall.

He
was sleeping here, too? I tried not to stare as he pulled a blanket over himself and arranged his pillow. “Morning comes early,” he said quietly.

I chose a bed three away from him, the sleeping girls on my other side. The lights dimmed further, set on some automatic mode, and I wondered if anyone else would be coming in for the night. I turned to find him watching me.

“What’s your name?” he asked.

I stared, but his warm brown skin nearly blended into the darkness. “Jezebel.”

“I’m Rueben. Welcome to Phase Three, Jezebel.” He blinked slowly, but didn’t take his eyes off me.

And that’s how I fell asleep, staring into the warm brown eyes of a stranger.

Twelve

That night I dreamed of Sol.

I’m chasing him through the dank underground corridors of my new prison. Each time I nearly catch up to him, he spins away, running even faster. I finally give up and sit down in the middle of the hallway. A hand reaches out to me and pulls me to my feet. Sol is now Rueben, and he’s laughing. And that’s when I realize I’m crying.

I awoke—the lights hadn’t come on in the room, and the girls were still asleep. Rueben was gone. I sat up, shivering, and discovered that my cheeks were wet and my covers thrown to the floor. I picked up my blanket and wrapped it around my shoulders. Curling back onto the mattress, I wondered if my dream had been recorded and who would be analyzing it. My head ached, a dull throb, making the dream of Sol/Rueben fade quickly from memory.

I waited in the quiet, not moving, filled with anticipation about my “assignment.” I realized that although I had escaped examination by the recruiters, I had probably landed myself somewhere much worse.

The door slid open and Dr. Matthews entered with three other people. They looked familiar and I thought I might have seen them in the cafeteria, but I couldn’t be sure. Dr. Matthews’s forehead was creased as he stopped next to my bed and frowned. “What time did you wake up?”

I had no way to know the time, but with all the eyes staring at me, I attempted a guess. “An hour ago.”

Matthews typed something on his tablet, his frown apparently a standard when he was around me. His hands weren’t trembling now.

“The sleeping powder doesn’t work, either,” one of the others said. I looked up, but missed who had spoken.

There was no change in Matthews’s expression. “Come with us,” he said. The others watched as I climbed off the bed, no doubt an ungainly sight. I needed a shower and a change of clothing, but it seemed that wasn’t on the agenda.

We traveled the winding corridors for a few minutes before entering a large room with a bank of screens lining one wall, all displaying diagrams of different parts of the brain.

Dr. Matthews was still frowning as he hooked me up, yet again, to more machines. Another series of words. Another series of images. Heat crept along the back of my neck as the others scrutinized me this time, studying me and tapping notes on their tablets. What were they expecting? What were they looking for?

Despite their scrutiny, I focused on the test, determined to score high and earn my way out of this place as quickly as possible.

* * *

Back in the cafeteria for dinner, I noticed how everyone dressed the same, how everyone seemed to have the same expressions. Reconciled to their fates. The only person who appeared to be alive and thinking was Rueben, and it was hard to ignore the warmth of his eyes as they briefly met mine.
He must be immune to the Harmony implant,
I thought. There was no other explanation for it. Or was he just pretending to have these emotions in order to get me to trust him? Was he an Informer?

BOOK: Solstice
13.18Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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