Children of Eden Page 47

“Have you told anyone else?” he asks. I shake my head. “Don’t. Please,” he adds, and I can see a deep worry in his eyes.

“Don’t people deserve to know the truth?”

He looks down at my hands for a moment, and I wonder what he reads about me there. Short fingernails, ragged now, though clean after my shower. Callused fingertips from climbing my courtyard wall day in, day out. Split knuckles of my own, fresh and crusted over with a scarlet line. My first battle scar. First of many? I feel like I’m on the cusp of something big, and dangerous, and sublime.

“Aaron Al-Baz isn’t just my hero,” Lachlan says. “He’s the patron saint of Eden. What we plan to do—the revolution that will make all citizens of Eden free and equal—will be launched in Aaron Al-Baz’s name. He is our touchstone, our inspiration.”

“But he was a monster!”

“No one knows that,” he tells me. “No one can know. It will lead to chaos. That’s the last thing we need. The Center is doing terrible things, but at least Eden is whole and sound. Water flows, people eat, and the deadly environment outside is kept at bay. We mean to make a smooth transition.”

“You said you’re at war,” I remind him.

He nods. “A subtle war. A battle from within, as bloodless as possible. Do you remember the craters you saw in the outermost rings?”

I do.

“They’re from the last time the outer circles staged an uprising. They’re from bombs.”

I’m shocked—almost moreso than when I read the truth about Aaron Al-Baz. “What do you mean? There has never been an uprising! No one ever dropped bombs inside Eden. It’s not in the history books.”

“What is in the history books?” he asks sharply. “Ancient history of pre-fail Earth. The life of Al-Baz. Environmental history. But what do the books say about the generations that have lived in Eden?”

I think about it. There are civics books, explaining the tenants of Eden. There are books about the governmental system. Lists of previous chancellors and cabinet ministers. But history? Of the years humans have spent in Eden? No. I assumed that was because nothing much happened. We simply lived our lives, waiting for the time when we could reenter the world. It never occurred to me that history could be happening in Eden.

“It’s not in the books, and the first children . . .” He breaks off, rubbing his forehead. “It’s like they have no memory of it. I’ve tried to talk with some of our allies about it, and they get confused, or laugh, or flatly deny it. Craters? They say those must be from collapsed underground water reservoir tanks. But the second children remember. At least, the oldest do, and they passed it on to us.”

It was seventy years ago. The poor of the outer circles tried to seize more power for themselves, armed with stones and staffs and a few guns. Pitifully few. The Center retaliated. Brutally.

“Why don’t the first children remember?”

“I don’t know,” Lachlan admits. “Some kind of brainwashing? Mutual agreement to ignore the unpleasant parts of life? I have no clue. But the important part is that we can’t square off against the Center with weapons and fighters. We’ll fail, people will die, and the poor will be worse off than ever. Someone has to infiltrate the Center at its core. From there, influence, blackmail, yes even violence, will be put to work to effect change. In the end, all of Eden has to be behind us, rich and poor, first and second children alike. That’s why it is so vitally important that Aaron Al-Baz’s name remain untarnished. They won’t all get behind me, or Flint. But Al-Baz is someone everyone can believe in. We need to have the people on our side, but then the major shift has to come from within. The ones in power have to concede to it, and give up their power to the people.”

“It sounds impossible. Why would they do that?”

“We won’t give them any choice,” he says, and the steel in his voice makes me tense up. He feels it in my hand. “Don’t worry, I’ll make sure you’re kept out of it. After tomorrow, that is. Once you take me to the cybersurgeon you can relax and enjoy being a real member of a welcoming society for the first time.”

He flops back on the bed, still holding my hand, smiling up at me.

But I don’t think that’s fair. “What if I want to help?” I ask. “There must be something I can do.”

He looks proud of me for making the suggestion, and I feel a little glow inside. But he says, “You’ve been through enough.”

“Not more than you,” I press.

“But no one should have to go through that much. If we win, no one ever will again. Peace, safety, prosperity, for everyone in Eden.”

I look down at him, lying on the bed weary and impassioned, and I’m overcome with a mad impulse. I remember Lark’s kiss in that quiet moment together, the way it haunts me, confuses me, elates me. And I wonder, would kissing Lachlan be the same?

He sits up suddenly, as if he just realized his vulnerability. “I have something for you.” He fumbles in a pocket and pulls out something. He holds it out in his closed hand. All I can see is a bit of cord woven in and out of his fingers.

I put out my hand, and he covers it with his own, letting his knuckles rest there a moment before uncurling his fingers. I feel something drop into my palm. When I look, I find a stunning piece of pale pink crystal, two inches long, its six sides beautifully smooth.

It is so clear! I hold it up and look at Lachlan through it. His face is softened to rose tones.

“Every second child has a piece of crystal from the cavern. It is a symbol of our unity. You’re one of us now.”

“It’s lovely,” I say, stroking the cool stone. “It’s perfect.”

Overwhelmed by the gift—and more by what it implies—I lean toward him, intending to kiss his cheek. At the last moment he turns his head, just a bit, and my lips touch his. Just the lightest touch. I don’t retreat. Our eyes lock, second child eyes, and I hover, his breath on my mouth, waiting to see what he’ll do. What I’ll do. The memory of Lark’s kiss fills me, then fades a little as I look at Lachlan. I have no idea what I want. But Lachlan does.

Suddenly his hand is in my hair, pulling me to him in a kiss that is fierce, delightful, frightening in its intensity. I feel wildly alive . . . but as I reach to take his face in my own hands his fingers twine in my hair and pull me back. I gasp.

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