Children of Eden Page 49

I pull the bag off, and strangely, it is Lachlan she sees first. The two people I’ve kissed, meeting face-to-face under these strange circumstances.

Then she looks at me, and her face floods with relief. “You’re alive!” she gasps.

I use the hem of my shirt to blot her face dry.

“What are you doing here, Lark?” I ask, very close to her ear, so close it is almost a kiss.

“I’ve been looking for you. I had all my contacts from the Edge searching.”

“You’re with the Edge?” Lachlan interrupts.

“Bunch of amateurs,” Flint mutters. “Deluded do-gooders.”

Lachlan shoots him a disdainful look. “At least they’re trying. What’s wrong with trying to do good? Anything is better than nothing.”

“Until they get in our way, or expose us, or bring the Center sniffing around where it doesn’t belong.”

“What is the Edge?” I ask.

Lark answers. “The Edge is the opposite of the Center. We try to bring people together, people of all circles, all incomes, all educations.”

“A social club,” Flint scoffs.

Lark looks at him furiously, so impassioned even though she’s still tied down that my heart thrills for her courage, her strength. “We’re doing what we can. We let inner circle people know about the problems the outer circle people face. We raise money, we try to help the poor. We hide rebels. We help second children.”

Flint looks incredulous. “What second children have you ever helped?”

“Rowan, of course. She’s the first I ever met. Ever since then members of the Edge have been keeping an eye on her house, following her when she sneaks out to make sure she’s safe.”

I feel my heart sink in my chest, as Lachlan and I exchange looks.

“You told someone about me?”

“Only a very few trusted members of the Edge. I’ve known them for years. They’re absolutely reliable.”

“You idiot!” Lachlan thunders. He steps toward Lark, looking furious, and for a second I’m afraid for her. But then I see that once again he’s getting between Flint and his intended target. Lachlan is angry, but when I see Flint’s face I start to shake. He looks murderous. I think if Lachlan wasn’t between them, his hands would already be around Lark’s throat.

“Lark,” I ask softly, “how could you do that to me?”

Her face falls. “I . . . I thought I was helping you. I trust them.”

“Then you trust a traitor,” Flint snarls at her. “Which makes you a traitor, too.” He jabs a forefinger in my direction. “This girl lived in perfect safety until you told one of your ‘trusted friends’ about her. Now her mother is dead, because of you. The Center is hunting her, because of you.”

“I didn’t mean to!”

“And did your Edge friends follow you here? Are they alerting the Center now?” She shakes her head, looking desperately at me.

I’m confused, and turn away from Lark even as her flowing tears beg me to comfort her. I never truly believed that she would betray me. And this . . . She didn’t mean to, I know, but it is still her fault that Mom was gunned down in the street. I trusted her.

“Rowan, I’m sorry!” she wails, pulling at the cords that still tie her, as if she would fly into my arms if she were free. I start to walk away . . . but I can’t.

“She made a mistake,” I say firmly to Flint and Lachlan. “She thought she was helping me. But she didn’t turn me in. She didn’t betray me.” I look at her sweet, sorrowful face. “I trust her,” I say, and I’m absolutely certain that what I’m saying is true.

“Trust,” Flint spits, scowling. Then he seems to relax, and shrugs slightly. “What motivated the girl doesn’t matter. She’s here now, and done is done. Flora, get patrols up to monitor the streets outside the entrance, and put everyone on alert. I want sidearms carried at all times by everyone over twelve years old until further notice.”

She nods brusquely and leaves to make it so.

“And now I think you should go, too, Rowan,” Flint says, and a sudden deliberate gentleness in his voice gives me pause.

“I’m not going anywhere,” I say staunchly.

“You don’t need to see this. You’ve been through enough.”

Perplexed, I look to Lachlan.

“Do you really need to do this?” Lachlan asks his leader.

“She’s been in the Underground, and she’s not a second child. What other choice is there?” He turns to me again. “Rowan, go.” Then he opens a drawer in a rolling cart and takes out a syringe.

Lark understands before I do. “No! Please!” she shrieks. “I’ll never tell anyone, I swear! I’ll tell them I was lying about Rowan, that she’s not a second child! I’ll leave the Edge forever. No! You can’t!” She twists in her bonds, trying to get as far away from Flint as possible. “Rowan, please! You can’t let him kill me!”

I stare at Flint in disbelief.

“I know it’s hard for you to understand,” Flint says, “but we can’t let anyone know about us. Not yet, and not for a long time. We’ve managed to keep this place secret. I won’t put all of us—all the children and families, the tree—in jeopardy because of one stupid girl. Maybe she just made a dumb mistake. But dumb is deadly, and we can’t take any chances. The girl has to die.”

I hurl myself on top of her, protecting her with my body. “Lachlan . . . ,” I beg in a whisper.

He looks torn. “Flint, I appreciate everything you do to keep us safe, but . . . she’s just a young girl, not a Greenshirt or a Center official. There has to be another way. You don’t even know how she found the Underground yet.”

“No,” Flint admits. “Flora reported that she hadn’t yet elicited that information from the girl.” He looks at Lark with a touch of grudging respect. “She withstood interrogation well.”

“Then let’s find that out first. How she came here—and why she came here. Without beating her. Then, when we’re all cooler, we can decide what to do with her.”

“You’re just delaying the inevitable, prolonging the suffering for Rowan, and the girl,” Flint says. “There’s only one option.”

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