Children of Eden Page 15

“It’s okay,” she says soothingly. “If you belong to Ash, you belong to me, too. I’ll keep you safe. I promise.”

“Rowan,” I say in my own voice. “My name is Rowan.”

She smiles at me, and I feel like I’m being seen for the very first time.

We talk as though we’ve known each other forever. In a way we have. I’ve been hearing stories of Lark for so long that she is a part of me. And she probably sees so much of Ash in me that she thinks she knows me, too. As we talk, she keeps looking at me with her head cocked like the small bird that is her namesake, sometimes frowning when some preconception of me isn’t fulfilled, or smiling with sudden brightness when some expression or nuance pleases her, conforms to her idea of what I am, or should be. I think I am both familiar and mysterious.

I tell her about my life, about the endless years of solitude with only Ash, Mom, and Dad for company. About running in circles to nowhere, about climbing the wall around our courtyard to the top every single day, but never daring to go over until this night. I tell her about the loneliness, the yearning, the constant low-grade fever of anxiety that runs through me like a subtle sickness. And through it all she nods, sometimes holding my hand or stroking my arm. She is on my side, completely, I’m sure.

Still, even as I revel in finally having someone to share with, I can almost hear my mother’s voice in my head. Don’t trust, she whispers to me. You’re a secret, a dangerous secret that needs to be kept at all costs.

I ignore the imagined voice as Lark tells me about herself, her beliefs. She talks about Eden in ways I’ve never considered before. To her, the city is as much of a prison as my house is to me.

“Are we really all that’s left?” she asks. I can only tell her what I’ve heard in History vids. Our ancestors were the lucky few who survived two hundred years ago. There are no people outside of Eden. No animals, either, just a few lichens, algae, bacteria, and the like.

“But I’ve studied Ecology and Eco-history,” she says, her voice passionate. “Life is enduring, adaptable. I know that humans are terrible, destructive, but the Earth is strong. I can’t see how we could do anything to it that would destroy it completely. Ecological collapse, sure. Mass extinction, broken food chain. But I can’t believe that everything is gone.”

Again, I can only reply with what I’ve been taught: that beyond Eden, the world is a wasteland, dead and barren.

But it is the one-child policy that seems to particularly bother her. “Humans are part of nature,” she tells me. “We’re animals, just like all the other animals that used to live on Earth. Animals are meant to propagate, to expand, to grow.”

“But Eden can’t survive if the population grows,” I protest, even though I’m arguing for my own doom.

“I don’t know,” she says, pressing her lips together contemplatively. “There’s something that doesn’t add up. The vids at school say that the original settlers in Eden were chosen. That means that someone—maybe Aaron Al-Baz himself, creator of the EcoPan—decided on a number of people. Why pick so many only to reduce their numbers later?”

“Maybe it was just compassion,” I offer. “He wanted to save as many as possible, and then later generations could deal with the overpopulation.”

She shakes her head. “He was a scientist, a computer programmer, a practical, pragmatic man. I think he would have chosen the right number of people from the start. But listen to this.” Though we’re already close, shoulder to shoulder, she leans in closer so her lilac hair brushes my cheek. I shiver.

“My mom works in allocation. Once when she had to work on a weekend I went in with her and hung out in the records office all day while she was busy. I wasn’t supposed to be there, and that was the only place I’d be out of the way. No one cared about old receipts and supply lists. But you know me, I can’t not read.”

She catches what she just said with a low chuckle, and we exchange a knowing look. I do know her. I knew this fact about her years before we met. She reads the way other people breathe, incessantly, of deep need.

“I started thumbing through old records printed out on plastic paper. Not important stuff like they’d keep in the archives where your mom works. Just old receipts for food distribution and the algae farms and water circulation volume. Things no one cared about. Most of it was just shoved in any old how. Boring, I thought . . . then suddenly it got interesting.”

She tells me how this jumble of printed records went back at least a hundred years, maybe more.

“And what I found, after I’d gone through enough mind-numbingly boring lists and receipts, is that the amount of resources hasn’t declined over the years.”

I have to think about this for a long moment.

“You mean,” I say slowly, “we’re not running out of food and water and energy?” But that’s supposed to be the justification for the one-child policy. The population has to be reduced or all of Eden will run out of resources and perish.

“Not only that,” Lark whispers in close conspiracy. “From what I could see, in this district at least, the resources are actually increasing.”



AN HOUR LATER I make my way home in a dream. Well, a dream that is part nightmare. So far in my life my strongest emotions have been limited to such things as boredom, loneliness, and occasional hope. Now I’ve not only learned an entirely new range of feelings, but I’ve discovered that even seemingly contradictory ones can exist side by side. As I creep home with Lark, I’m both giddy and afraid. Both emotions have the same symptoms: pounding heart, shaking knees, anxious darting eyes.

As we start out, I realize I have no idea where I am. The map I thought I’d had in my head is gone. It should be obvious, and it would be if I was calmer. Eden is laid out in concentric rings with connecting spokes, so all I really have to do is mark the huge emerald eye of the Center and head inward until I find my own circle. But I’m so shaken by everything that has happened this night that suddenly I feel lost.

“This way,” Lark says gently, and leads me through a bot access passage.

I turn, pulling against her guiding hand. “Are you sure?” I can see the shining green dome in the other direction. “I thought . . .”

“I see a few Greenshirts on patrol tonight. More than they usually have in this circle. Are you sure no one spotted you earlier?”

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