Children of Eden Page 61

He looks up at me, aghast. “You knew?”

“Recently. Mom told me, before the Greenshirts gunned her down.” I sound so hard and cold. My voice doesn’t seem like my own anymore. My father winces, cringes, seems to shrink inside himself.

“What can I do?” he asks, holding up his hands helplessly. But his hands are empty, powerless. There’s nothing he can do to make this right, except . . .

I pull the gun out from under my shirt and point it at his head.

I expect him to shout, to weep harder, to beg, to lunge at me. But he just kneels at my feet, looking sadly up at me, accepting.

If he had begged, I would have shot him. But this broken man waiting quietly for the end . . .

I’m so focused on my father that Lark, swooping in behind him, is a blur of movement. She has a heavy lamp in her hand, one my Mom never liked but which we kept because it had been her own mother’s. With a grunt of effort Lark hits my dad hard in the side of the head. He crumples to the tile floor, unconscious.

“Why didn’t you let me shoot him?” I ask Lark. She doesn’t know that I had already controlled myself.

“You need to have a clear head tonight,” she says with a lighthearted wink that reminds me of Lachlan. “Do you think you’d be calm and collected if you’d just executed your own father?”

She’s right, of course. She understands me.

“Let’s go,” I say, and lead her from my house.

Lachlan is outside, lurking in a cluster of faux palm trees planted near our doorway.

“Where were you?” I demand at the same time he says, “Why didn’t you wait for me?”

Then we both notice I still have the gun in my hand. I realize I don’t even know if it is lethal, or will only stun. With my jaw clenched tightly I tuck it back into my waistband.

“Do I even want to know what happened in there?” Lachlan asks.

I shake my head.

“Do I even want to know why you didn’t show?” I ask him.

He flashes me a crooked grin. “Probably not. Just a few simple acts of thievery.”

“Me too,” I say guardedly.

He looks down where the gun is now concealed against my belly. “Any other crimes?”

“No,” I say, then after a pause I add, “If I’d even consider shooting him a crime.”

“Don’t get hard, Rowan,” he whispers to me, touching my arm lightly with his fingertips. “If the world calls for someone hard . . . call on me. I’m already broken.”

 

 

“NO,” I SAY when I look at the route Lark has arranged for us to break into the Center. I feel a gut-wrenching shock of revulsion. “Not a chance. Not even for Ash will I go into that.”

“I know you don’t mean that,” Lark says.

“My head and heart don’t, but my nose and gut do.” But I press my lips together (I wish I could do something not-too-obvious to stop up my nose) and stand stoically looking over the huge underground reservoir that seems to contain the human waste of all of Eden.

We’re underground, having traveled by conduits where Eden’s water flows. Up until now it was what Lark called gray water—liquid that had been used for showering, washing dishes, brushing teeth. It wasn’t exactly clean, but it wasn’t disgusting. This, however, is everything that was shunted from the inner circle toilets.

“This is part of being human,” Lark says philosophically. “Especially when lots of humans live together. Rich or poor, bodily waste all smells the same.”

Lachlan looks just as calm at the prospect as I try to pretend to be, but he’s quick to voice an objection in his usual sardonic tone. “If all goes well, we hope to not meet anyone the entire time we’re inside,” he tells Lark. “But in my experience, things rarely go as well as they should. Failing that, we hope, with her father’s ID, to be able to pass as employees or messengers to a cursory glance.” He sniffs deeply. “Do you really think anyone will buy our cover story for a second if we lurk around the most important, most secure place in Eden stinking like a sewer and covered in feces?”

Lark flashes him a disdainful look. “You really don’t have a high opinion of my covert skills, do you? Oh, that’s right, we Edgers are just dabbling dilettante do-gooders.” She presses at a section of the wall and a door pops open. Inside are several sterile full-body contamination suits, along with disposable full-face masks.

I look at them dubiously. They don’t seem watertight.

“Don’t worry, they shrink to fit and then make a biofuse once you put them on. There’s a built-in rebreather with enough for at least an hour. Nothing is breaching that. At least, nothing floating in there. When you get to the other side you can strip them off and shove them somewhere.”

“And if we have to leave this way, too, instead of the main entrance?” Lachlan asks.

“There will be more on the other side. They’re everywhere. Every time something goes wrong or gets clogged someone has to dive underneath the sludge. It’s actually a very efficient system, overall. Just not one that takes human dignity into consideration. My father used to have this job, before he got promoted. Now he just decides when someone else has to do this job.”

“And we’ll come up right underneath the Center?”

“Right inside,” she says. “There will be an access hatch. My dad has taken me all over Eden underground. I can travel anywhere, unseen—if I don’t mind getting a little dirty. Most of the tunnels aren’t bad, though.”

“I wish we knew about this,” Lachlan says. “We have our own system, passageways left over from when the Underground was first built, but we know nothing about the water and sewage system. When this is all over, would you be willing to share maps with us?”

“Of course. Assuming we live.”

I try to ignore that comment.

“You’re not coming,” I tell her.

“But . . .”

“No,” both Lachlan and I say. “You’ve done your part,” I go on. “You’ve risked yourself enough for us.”

“No, not enough. Never enough.” She’s looking intensely at me. “Ash is my friend.” She turns to Lachlan. “And Rowan is . . . more than that.”

Lachlan raises his eyebrows at that comment, but luckily doesn’t look at me. Despite everything else that’s going on, I know I’m blushing at that statement. “Rowan has the right to go. Ash is her brother. But you’re just one more person to give us away, to make a mistake, to get hurt . . . to have to leave behind.” He pauses to let that sink in. To him, she’s the expendable one. If he has the chance to rescue anyone, it will be me, not her. She’ll be on her own.

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