Children of Eden Page 2

Of course, I couldn’t have the surgery, so my eyes are still their natural color. Sometimes when Ash looks at me too long I see him blink and shake his head, and I know that they unnerve him. My father, whose own eyes are dead brown like a wall, can hardly look at me.

The other difference between Ash and me wouldn’t be apparent to anyone. He’s older than me. Only by about ten minutes, but that’s enough. It means that he is the official, legal child: the firstborn. I am the shameful second child who never should have come into this world at all.

Ash goes inside to finish his homework. My lessons, assigned by Mom and closely paralleling Ash’s, were done hours before he even came home. Now, as the night deepens, I begin to pace restlessly around the courtyard. We live in one of the inner circles, just beyond the Center, because my parents are both in the government. It’s a huge house, much bigger than we need. But whenever Dad talks about selling it, or dividing it into parcels to lease, Mom shuts him down. It’s her house, inherited from her parents. Unlike most buildings in Eden, ours is made of stone. When I put my hands on it, I can almost feel the Earth breathing against me. It’s alive, somehow. More alive, anyway, than the metal and concrete and solar cells that comprise the other buildings in Eden. These stones have been in dirt, I think. Real dirt, with worms, and roots, and life. None of us in Eden has experienced such natural circumstances.

The moss that carpets the walled courtyard is alive, but it isn’t a real plant. It doesn’t need dirt. It doesn’t have roots, only threadlike anchors that help it cling to rock. It doesn’t take its nutrients from the ground, but from the air. Like everything in Eden, it is separate from the Earth. Still, it is growing, living, and as my feet pace along its carpeted softness a sharp, fresh smell rises to meet my nose. If I close my eyes, I can almost imagine I’m in one of the forests that died almost two hundred years ago.

As chief archivist in the Central Records Division, Mom has access to the oldest records, the ones from before the Ecofail. My datablock lessons only have graphic illustrations of the way things used to be, but Mom told me that in the secret chambers of the archives there are images—ancient and crumbling—of tigers and lambs and palm trees and meadows full of wildflowers. They are so old and precious that they are kept in a static-free room and handled only with gloves.

She gave me one. She could have gotten locked up for doing so, but the photo would probably never be missed, and she thought I deserved something special, for my years in captivity. One day when she was going through the records she found an undocumented image of a night sky over a great chasm. Tucked behind another document, it was labeled with a date immediately before the Ecofail.

The stars don’t look like anything I’ve ever seen. There are thousands of them, swimming in a milky sea, and beneath them I can make out the contours of trees clinging to the rocky ridge. It is a vastness I can scarcely comprehend. Eden is big, but I can bisect the city in an autoloop in half a day.

The ancient, folded image my mother smuggled out for me shows a world. The World, in fact. It is my most precious possession.

Because my mother has seen such things, she cherishes living organisms even more than most. The majority of households, Ash tells me, make do with cheerful, neon-green turf and plasticized trees. But Mom prefers to get as close as possible to the real thing, even if it isn’t as pretty. Besides the moss, we have chunks of rock covered in white and pink lichens. A creeping black slime mold coils its way up an abstract sculpture. And at the center of the courtyard is a shallow pool where red and green sheets of algae swirl continuously in an artificial current.

Mine is a luxurious house, large and comfortable. But a large, comfortable prison is still a prison.

I know that I shouldn’t think of it that way. Home should be thought of as a sanctuary, and the alternative to having a home is too horrible to even consider. But all the same, I can’t shake my sense of entrapment.

With so many lonely hours to fill, I’ve learned to schedule my days tightly. Empty time leads to daydreaming, and daydreams are dangerous for a person in my position. Schoolwork, art, and exercise are all arranged in regular sequence so I don’t have too much time to yearn for what I can’t have.

Right now, it’s too dark to draw or paint, and I feel as though I’ve read every book in the database. So I run.

In the dim starlight I can just make out the faint path where I run miles every day. The moss is resilient—that’s why it is one of the few kinds of vegetation that survived the Ecofail—but even it loses its spring under the onslaught of my feet.

As I run, the steady hypnotic pounding centers me. I can feel the blood start to move more quickly through my veins. When I push my body I feel alive. Alive, when almost all of the world is dead. But what good is it to be alive when I’m trapped?

Frustrated, I run faster, taking the corners of the courtyard hard enough to kick up bits of moss. Mom will be mad, but I don’t care. I am madder. Furious. Just because of some stupid law, I’m hidden away behind walls, a pariah who will be slaughtered or enslaved if I’m ever discovered.

Movement usually makes me feel better, but tonight it is torment. I am so sick of running in this same rectangle, clockwise, then counterclockwise. With a cry of frustration I begin to zigzag, sprinting faster and faster, jumping over the lichen-covered rocks, the chairs, leaping to the tabletop and springing off again.

All at once, I feel like I can’t breathe. The high walls seem to close in on me, like a giant mouth about to crush me with stony teeth. I dash one way, then the other, crashing into the walls, pounding them with my fists, almost snarling in bitter frustration. I know I’m spinning out of control, but I can’t help myself. Most of the time I’m somber, regulated, content. But sometimes, for reasons I don’t quite understand, I become enraged at my situation.

It’s the strangest thing, but what bothers me most is that Ash couldn’t describe Lark’s outfit. It’s so stupid, so trivial, but it gnaws at me that, with all his privileges and freedom, he couldn’t bother to take note of the one thing that mattered to me. Why does that little detail matter so much? I don’t understand it. Ash does the best he can, and it can’t be easy having to give up most of his social life so he can regale his secret sister with stories about the outside world. He must resent me sometimes.

Yet tonight, I resent him, and that makes me feel guilty, and even madder. At myself. At the Center and its laws that took everything away from me. Even at the EcoPan that keeps us all alive. I have to get away from these walls. I have to break free!

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