Authors: J. A. Souders
An Elysium Chronicles Short Story
Copyright © Jessica Souders 2014
Cover by Eithne O’Halon
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Also by J.A. Souders
Available from Tor Teen:
“Grim, vicious, riveting. RENEGADE is a haunting, unforgettable debut.”
ANN AGUIRRE, National best-selling author.
“RENEGADE is a dark tale of deceit, with twists that will keep you turning the pages, and an ending that will have you on the edge of your seat.” –
LISA DESROCHERS, Author of Personal Demons.
“RENEGADE is another dark and exciting YA novel about how striving for perfection leads to murder and manipulation.” –
School Library Journal
“…exciting, suspenseful, and action-packed …. Hand this to fans of Suzanne Collins, Veronica Roth, and Scott Westerfeld.” –
“Readers of RENEGADE will no doubt be anticipating this action-packed sequel.” –
School Library Journal
My mom always told me the world was a dark and scary place. I believed her. Even before I’d been privy to every whispered thought. Every secret plan. Every hidden meeting. No one knew better than I that every decision my family makes, that
make, brings us one step closer to either our freedom or our death.
What I didn’t know was that I’d court that darkness.
It’s where I sit now, in the dark, waiting behind a staircase in a long-forgotten part of Sector Two. Hidden and tucked behind a wall that can only be accessed through the service hallways, and then through a broken service door, and finally, through a crawl space that leads to the space under the stairwell. An empty bit of space just big enough for two people to fit comfortably.
I wait, letting my mind wander and listening to the quiet hum of the machines hidden in the wall next to me. The distant buzz of voices coming from the Square. The occasional clang of metal against concrete and the muffled curse of the service crews behind the wall.
I’d long stopped listening for her. No matter how hard I listened, she never made a sound.
Not a scraping of her shoes against the bits of dirt on the ground, or the whisper of clothes against her skin. She always moves as silently as a shadow, and just as gracefully. It’s unnerving, but her uncanny silence is nothing compared to what my family and I have been doing. Or what she could really do.
Sensing something in the darkness, the hair on my arm raises and I instinctively hold my breath. Even my heart senses the danger and seems to stop its steady thump-thump rhythm.
Even though every part of me is still, my mind is racing. Thoughts—imagined and real—of what happens to Citizens caught where they don’t belong swirl like a whirlpool.
Will they just kill me here and now? Will my parents ever know what happened to me, or will I be like so many others—stolen and erased from the records as if I never existed in the first place, leaving my family with nothing but failed hopes? Or, even worse, will they make an example of me? Will they drag me out into the Square in front of all the Citizens, my parents,
and kill me?
A cool hand—
hand—runs down my arm from my shoulder to my wrist. Electricity practically pulses from her fingertips straight to my heart, and, as if she’s my real life defibrillator, my heart leaps, then stumbles, before resuming its normal rhythm.
I let out my held breath in one long shaky exhale as she sits next to me. Her shoulder touches my bicep, her hip presses against mine. She squirms around for a second, more than likely adjusting her skirts, before finally settling down.
We sit in silence for a long time, letting the quiet wash over us. We could talk in whispers. No one would hear us. Not even the sharp-eared Enforcers. But neither of us wants to break the quiet. There’s no need. We sit, enjoying the warmth of each other’s bodies and the comforting knowledge that, for today at least, we’re together. We’re happy.
I slide my hand until my fingertips barely brush her wrist. For an instant she trembles, her breath catching in a sharp, shaky inhale, before she turns her hand over, allowing me to lay mine over it, palm to palm. To entwine our fingers together. After another slight hesitation, she lays her head on my shoulder, resting it in the crook of my neck.
I love the feeling of us sitting here like this. The fondness of her delicate fingers in mine. The sensuality of the soft, silkiness of her hair as it skims across my neck.
It had taken me a
long time to get her to agree to these secret meet-ups and even longer to convince her to let me touch her in even the most benign way,
like just our fingertips.
Or sweeping her hair behind her ear. And the first time she’d let me kiss her? I was fairly certain I’d imagined or dreamed it.
Every time she “forgets” about us, it breaks my heart. It’s like starting all over again.
I don’t know how long we sit there, my thumb running lazy circles over the top of her hand, but I do know it’s my favorite part of the day and no matter what, no matter the personal cost, I’ll never willingly give it up. Even though this stolen time we share could mean death for me and worse for her, it’s worth it.
I know it’s selfish. Of course, it’s not any more so than keeping the truth from her. I want to tell her what I’m doing. What my family and the other members of the Underground are doing. I want to steal her away from this place. Away from her monsters—the imagined and the real. Away from Mother and her ever-changing and ruthless laws, away from the abhorrent things she’s done to the Citizens. To my family and friends. And even worse, to
She’s anything but the silly, simple-minded girl everyone thinks she is. She knows I have secrets. Just as she does. But she lets me keep them. If it’s because she’s hoping one day I’ll open up to her, which slices a long line of guilt into me, or if she just believes that people are entitled to keep to their own counsel, I don’t know. However, every time we meet like this, I’m reminded of how much I’m keeping from her. And it eats away at me. Little by little. More and more each time, like the seawater corroding parts of the City without proper maintenance.
I don’t know exactly what will happen if I do tell her. The possibilities are endless. But one thing is for sure. She’ll hate me. She’ll never believe that I never wanted to hurt her, or that I only want her for her, not what she can do for the Underground. Not what my own mother wants me to get from her. Even though it started out that way, things changed. Rapidly.
What would be worse than her hating me, what I can’t risk, is that she’ll walk away. If that happens, even if she doesn’t tell Mother what we’ve been planning and Mother doesn’t kill me, Evie might as well stick a knife in my heart herself, because that would be better than living without her.
Then again, if I don’t tell her, and Mother continues with the plans that our intel seems to be pointing to, I’d rather her hate me. Because I don’t want her to be what Mother wants her to be.
I’m just about to tell her. To let everything out in one long rush of words, when she squeezes my hand and sits up.
“What’s wrong?” Her voice is quiet, but still retains the raspy breathiness that I love.
I can’t do it. I can’t risk it. Not now. There are other ways. And other days. So I just kiss her forehead, then pull her head back down to my shoulder.
“Nothing.” My tongue trips on the lie. “Everything is perfect.”
For the next few hours, I wander around Sector Two, pretending to be shopping in the Farmer’s Market, or considering jewelry at my mom’s favorite jeweler, admiring the artful handiwork of some of the metal workers from Three. When I can stay out no longer, I sneak into my parents’ apartment. Because home is where you go when you have nowhere else to go. And, even at sixteen, no one knows how to make things better than Mom.
My appointment as Miss Evelyn’s Suitor has granted me an apartment in Sector Two, despite my “inadequate” status of being the offspring of mechanical engineers. I’ll keep it for as long as I remain a Suitor. Should she not choose me, I will be remaindered back into the care of my parents. So Mother says.
A sick feeling is eating away at my gut, and I can’t pretend not to know why. It’s not that I’m not supposed to be here—in my parents’ apartment—anymore, even though I’m not. Or that I’m worried my mother will want to know what I’m doing out so close to curfew—she already knows. It’s the thoughts I’ve been having since my tryst with Evie.
Guilt weighs on me. I feel almost like I’m drowning in it. It was obvious she hadn’t believed me. She’s nothing if not observant and, being who she is, she can recognize a lie from a fathom a way. But she let it be. We both knew, have known for a while, that I haven’t been telling her something. But she never asks. Never pushes. Just quietly accepts that I won’t or can’t tell her.
She’d just changed the subject, telling me about her day. Normally she’d have inquired about my day and my parents, but she must have known—or at least thought—I’d just have to lie to her about it, so she didn’t. Instead she’d chattered on and on about her flowers, what her maids were gossiping about, anything and everything she could think of. Practically babbling to fill the silence my guilt had turned from serene to a straining tenseness. Anyone overhearing her side of the conversation would have thought exactly what Mother wanted everyone to think about Evie: that she was a daft, ignorant child.
Normally I could—and would—have done nothing but hold her hand and listen to her talk about anything. Once I listened for almost two hours while she’d talked on about a Surface artifact I’d brought her. It was the first time I’d really realized that she wasn’t what everyone, including my parents, thought of her. She was intelligent, and witty. And had a way about her that made you
to listen to what she was saying, especially when she was excited about something. And she was definitely excited about this piece.
She explained everything there was to know about it. What it was. What it meant. Where people used it. I think I must’ve gotten an entire history lesson of the Surface and its trinkets, just from that one object. Some kind of gold cup with pictures engraved along the side. The crews from Sector Three are forever finding stuff and I’d learned early on that she adored anything to do with the Surface, from the tiniest metal objects to vases she placed all over her rooms.
Even though they were contraband and anyone caught with stuff like that would be punished harshly, Mother didn’t seem to care that she collected any of it.
In fact, she seemed glad of it.
Evie had even told me that she had Surface studies that involved more than just the dire warnings we got. She’d confided in me that she thought maybe Mother was wrong and that the Surface wasn’t entirely the abhorrent place Mother had made it out to be.
My mom had prattled on for days wondering why Evie would be allowed to study the Surface and demanded I find out what Evie knew. But almost a week later Evie came to me in our place and hadn’t remembered a word of the conversation we’d had about it. She’d merely laughed it off and told me that of course Mother was right about the Surface. Mother was always right.
When I’d asked her why she hadn’t come to see me in more than a week, she’d looked puzzled, then mumbled something about forgetting and changed the subject. The first of her secrets. The first time I’d actually seen what my mom and dad—and Eli—had only hinted at in murmured conversations.
Today, however, Evie’s voice hadn’t been soothing. It had been frenzied, and made my already taught nerves vibrate like the strings on her violin when she ran her bow over them. So I’d done the only thing I could think of to stop myself from spilling every secret I had.
I’d kissed her.
It may not have been our first kiss, but it felt like the first time, every time. Especially when she couldn’t remember that we’d kissed before. And even though I hated what that meant—her forgetting—I did like how she responded to the “first kiss” every single time.
Unfortunately, it had done nothing to soothe my nerves. It had only made me feel even guiltier. So I’d made up some flimsy excuse about my mom needing me and taken off, leaving her behind in the darkened hallway. Like a coward.