Children of Eden Page 13

Instead I pull my light gold scholar cap low over my face and mutter something she can’t possibly hear.

“I’m not surprised,” another voice says with disdain. “Kalahari teezaks can never hold their akvavit.” I’ve never even tasted akvavit, the potent, sharply spiced liquor.

I haul myself up to my feet and sneak a sideways glance. It’s the gang of young men in sports jerseys, evidently a team from a rival school of Kalahari, where Ash goes.

“Don’t be such a prune,” another tells him. “Hey kid, if you’re looking for the Kalahari party, it’s at the Rain Forest Club, on the next street.”

I remember now that Ash had mentioned that party. Nearly everyone in his grade was going to be there, celebrating the end of midyear exams. Everyone except him. Part of the reason is that our family needs to keep a low profile. Ash isn’t the type to get arrested, but if he was ever with the wrong crowd and any little thing brought attention to our family, or a search of the house, it would be a disaster. So he almost always skips the parties.

I think maybe he does it for me, too. He thinks I’d be jealous of him out having all that fun while I’m stuck at home. He doesn’t realize how the very idea of a party terrifies me. A huge crowd of people, all looking at me, talking to me . . .

But now I have no choice. The pedestrians are beginning to lose interest in the momentary interruption of their nightlife, but those who are watching think I go to Kalahari, think I’m headed to the party. So the only thing I can do is walk away with my head down. I’ll head toward the Rain Forest Club until I’m out of sight, then make my way home. It’s the best way not to attract unwanted attention.

As I walk away unmolested, I think about what the elderly lady called me: young man. In my baggy pants and boxy jacket, with my hair up under a scholar cap, I must look like a boy. In fact, I must look exactly like my twin, Ash. That thought gives me a measure of confidence. I might not be at home in this world, but he is. If I pretend to be him, I’ll feel bolder, more sure.

Still, I’m in danger. Not just my eyes, but the smallest thing could mark me as a second child. I try to attach myself to other walkers so no one notices how the streets don’t light up for me. For the most part, though, I look like any of the students out that night, in my slightly shimmering, gold-colored school uniform. I’m at the Rain Forest Club in just a few minutes. It’s hard to even walk by the door. The music pulses, and inside I can see bodies writhing in dance, hear voices shouting to be heard above the music. It’s not a place for me. I bite my lip and turn away . . .

Only to see a Greenshirt rounding the corner at the end of the block. Bikk! Without thinking, I dart into the Rain Forest Club and I’m immediately engulfed in brilliant light and sound, in the crush of bodies. The place is decorated to look like one of the long-dead rain forests, but the trees are all synthetic, the birds and frogs and ocelots robotic. There are shrill, discordant sounds piercing the music, and I think they must be the sounds of artificial insects singing in the make-believe canopy.

My breath comes fast. I close my eyes almost all the way, focusing on a narrow sliver of floor, and start to walk toward the back, doing my best to shut out the confusion that attacks all of my senses. I’m overwhelmed.

I bump into someone—most of my social contact so far seems to be from accidental collisions—and sneak a peek at them. What I see is alarming: a man, I think, but not a man. At least not quite anymore. At first I think his skin has simply been painted, but when I look closer I see that it is sculpted, with some kind of implant beneath the skin to give it an odd texture. Tattooed color enhances the effect, making all of his exposed skin look like intricately patterned snake scales. Shocked, I make the mistake of looking at his eyes, and find that they are gold with narrow vertical black slits for pupils. They make my own eyes look normal! They must be contacts. He catches me looking—my own eyes are shadowed by my scholar cap—and flicks out his tongue at me. It is forked, like the snakes I’ve seen animated in Eco-history vids. Then he slips sinuously through the crowds.

I’ve heard that a few fanatics take their connection to the Earth’s lost animals so seriously that they feel like they have to actually become one of those animals. Ash hasn’t talked about them much. It isn’t common in any of the inner circles. Farther from the Center, though, I’ve heard people spend fortunes on changing their appearance to mimic animals. Some, Ash says, feel that they were born in the wrong bodies, that they should have been born an animal instead of a human. They call themselves Bestials.

I never dreamed I’d see one. It’s almost like seeing a living snake. I watch him dance, his arms above his head, his slim, supple hips twisting.

The room is full of such strangeness. Many of the young people are wearing their vibrant single-color school uniforms. Many are the light shimmering gold of Ash’s school, Kalahari. Some of the slightly older ones, those beyond their student years, are dressed in homage to extinct animals. One woman is covered in plastic feathers, though she resembles no bird I’ve even seen in Eco-history vids. Another has painted herself in spots and teased her short hair up to look a bit like cat ears. They look artificial compared to the snake man, though. At the end of the night they’ll pluck their feathers or scrub off their spots and be human again. Then the next night they’ll be a fish, or a wolf.

Finally I reach the back of the dance hall. There’s a dark hallway branching out in two directions—one to the kitchen, I can tell by the savory aroma, the other to the restrooms. I choose that way, thinking I’ll attract less attention, hoping there’s a back door.

There is! I surge toward it. I’ve pushed it halfway open, and can just see the blessed quiet solitude of a back street outside when I hear a voice behind me.

“Ash? Is that you?”

I turn, and there in the shadows is Lark. Ash has shown me pictures of her so many times I know her face by heart.

Her dress is the yellow-green of new leaves in springtime.



FOR ME, IT’S as if the clouds that were darkening the sky of my life suddenly parted and the sun shone a glorious beam directly on me. As I stare at Lark, a strange longing fills me. I don’t understand half the things I feel. It’s as if I’ve known her my entire life, and we’re already in perfect harmony. It’s as if I’ve been running a seemingly endless race, and she’s the finish line finally in sight.

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