Read Eden Online

Authors: Kate Wrath

Eden

Text copyright© 2015 Patricia A. Doherty

All Rights Reserved

 

Cover art copyright© 2015 Patricia A. Doherty

All Rights Reserved

 

This one is for
Mom, who taught me so many things.

Among the top:

            To
love

            To
give

            To
be compassionate

            To
be strong

 

If you took my
mom apart to find out what she is made up of, you would find in great measure
each of these things.  Love, selflessness, compassion, and strength.  A smidgeon
of cat-obsession.  And a good dose of wacky humor which she uses in a vain
attempt to cover up how amazing she is.

Love you, Mom.  ♥

Prologue

Pounding, slamming, punching, fingers crunching.  Tangled
arms and lungs and nothing working can't move can't breathe—

"Eden!  Eden!"  Jonas' voice explodes in my ear. 
"Goddammit stop this thing right now!"  Panting—mine, his.  A soft
breath of voice.  "It's OK.  It's OK."

"We are stopping.  It takes a minute!"

"You're OK,"  Jonas says as the world slides
sideways, our shoulders ramming into a wall.

A huge rectangle of daylight appears in the hull.  All I can
see is white—bright, bright white that makes me squeeze my eyes closed—but I'm
scrambling for it, falling out the door and onto the road.  I scrape myself off
the pavement and stumble away, making Jonas' hand miss my back.  He reaches for
me again as I stand to the side, hands on knees, head down, gulping air.  I
swallow down the bile.  I
am
OK.  It's just a stupid armored truck. 
Nothing more.

I take long, deep breaths through my nose, sucking in clean,
fresh air.  I straighten and look at the wide stretch of blue sky beyond the
road, remembering how open and endless the world is beyond the barriers.

"OK?"

I nod, turning toward Jonas.  I
am
OK.  I'm not even
embarrassed.  Not terribly.  Not until I see Spec standing there, his pale eyes
wide as he watches me.

Something in me snaps.  "I have some issues.  OK?"

Spec's eyes flick from me to Jonas.  He licks his lips,
shrugs his shoulders like he's taking off a pack, and tosses me a smile. 
"Don't we all."  He looks to the front of our convoy, and to the
back.  "Is this going to keep happening?"

My jaw tightens, but I lift my chin.  "I'll get used to
it."  My eyes scan past him to the long stripe of road that lies ahead of
us.  "How much longer?"

He laughs as he turns back to the truck.  "You better
get used to it," he says.  "There'll be lots of places where you
can't get out.  Places where stopping equals dying."

As he disappears back into the truck, Jonas and I lock
gazes.  His green eyes are wary, but his mouth is a line of determination.

"What's your trick?" I ask, half pissed-off that
he's dealing just fine with being packed in a metal box again.

He shakes his head, looking away.  Disconnected.  We're so,
so disconnected.

Giving up on an answer, I start to move past him, but his
gaze flicks back to me.

He doesn't smile, not the way I'd like.  But there's
something real in his eyes.  "I'm mostly just focusing on how badly I have
to pee."

I laugh unexpectedly, running my fingers through my hair.  A
glance at him reveals his gorgeous face stretched into a wide smile.  As I step
toward the truck, I keep my voice level, covering up the flutter of emotion
inside me.  "Does that mean I shouldn't take a pee break now?"

"God, no," he says.  "Take a pee break. 
There are places where peeing equals dying."

Wearing a smirk of amusement, I move between the trucks to
take his advice.  I gesture to the driver to turn around, tossing him a glare
that ensures his quick compliance.  It's the most privacy I'll get out here, so
I try not to think about it.  Instead, my mind wanders back to Jonas.  He
doesn't realize it, but he really has helped.  That smile.  That moment of
connection.  A guilty little indulgence to hang onto when I close my eyes in
the dark pit.  Healthy?  Probably not.  Good idea?  Unlikely.  I thought I was
past that.  But sometimes you've got to make concessions.  Choose your poison. 
Especially in our messed-up world, where stopping equals dying. ...Where peeing
equals dying....

I snicker as I squat.

Chapter 1: Just
Pretending

Despite all the things that have become clear, I still have
no idea who I am.  For all the pieces of information, I am an unresolved
image.  Hazy at best.  Or focused with a line drawn down the middle.  Two
sides, split.

I woke up in this world as nothing, became Eden, then found
out I was Lily before I was erased.  Now that I’ve found my past, now that I’m
‘home’, there will be expectations.  How can I possibly meet them, when I’m
such a patchwork of personalities?

Jonas reaches out and takes my hand, smiling.  Or is he
Jason?  I don't know him any better than I know myself.  Still, I smile back. 
I'm warm inside, like my entire being is absorbing this sunshine.  Within,
without.  A tropical breeze wafts across the terrace, thick with moisture and
salt, as we follow Spec's long strides toward our destiny.

Footsteps behind us, a buzz of guards who have accompanied
us this far—those who were part of the armored convoy that brought us all the
way from Baton Rouge to Miami.  We're home now, and it's about to get
interesting.

Spec makes for the edge, where a railing overhangs the sweep
of buildings below.  I can hear them down there.  Coming.  Their voices drift
in waves up to us, a mass of uncertainty.  My stomach is twisting at the
thought of all those people.  Who am I to pretend that I belong here?  That I
know what I'm doing.  But Spec has made it clear.  There can be no doubt.  No
weakness.  Not a hint of hesitation.  Blood drains away from my face as my mind
touches the memory—surrounded by a massive crowd, not allowed to hesitate.... 
Blood.  Blood.  Too much blood.

Our journey from Outpost Three took us through some
horrendous places, and put us through hell.  Saint Louis will always be a
nightmare for me, remembering what I did there.  No.  What I had to do.  I had
to kill George, or we’d all be dead.  Just like I had to bear the pain that
came in the form of some maniacal contraption attached to my nerve centers. 
That was the least of the pain. 
This
is the real punishment.  The
memory that lives on, turning my gut with every little reminder.  The guilt. 
The endless feeling of rising panic.

Jonas squeezes my hand, glancing at me.  He feels my
unsteadiness.  I take a deep breath and look forward as we step toward the
railing.

Our challenger appears from the other direction, as
predicted.  He's tall and broad, a warrior no doubt.  Tan skin, dark hair and
eyes.  A spark of intelligence.  I instantly clock him as a dangerous man, not
that Spec didn't warn us.  Kobee is not to be underestimated.  But here, we
have the upper hand.  He wasn't expecting Jason.

He slams on the brakes when he sees us, his face going
pale.  I'm getting used to it, now that I understand.  Surprised as they are to
see me, as late as I may be getting here, it
was
the plan.  Jason—no one
expected him.  Lily didn’t tell them that part of the plan.  So essentially, I've
brought him back from the dead.  Kobee's reaction is typical of everyone here. 
He's speechless, mouth open, eyes wide.  He's trembling.  What I don't expect,
after everything that Spec has filled us in on, are the unshed tears in Kobee's
eyes.

A handful of others sweep toward us, not far behind Kobee,
and fall to the same statue-like fate when they see us.  I wonder if I should
know them—somehow recognize them—but I don't.  They are complete and utter
strangers to me.  If I didn't know better, I would doubt that I had ever laid
eyes on them.  But if their reaction didn't convince me otherwise, the dog
does.

It's a big thing—an ugly, dappled mutt that you wouldn't
want to meet in a dark alley.  At first, it's trailing along with the others. 
Then it does the statue thing, but only for an instant before it launches
itself at us.  At me.

I don't have time to react or scream before its paws are
clawing at me.  Jonas catches me before I can go down.  My shirt rips at the
bottom, and even through my pants I can feel the gashes in my legs.  But the
damned dog is wagging its tail, licking me to death, spastic with what could
only be affection.

"Enough!" I manage, pushing it away, and it
finally stops, lying in front of me, still wiggling and whining with
excitement.

I look over my shoulder and meet Spec's eyes.  "You
didn't tell me I have a dog."

A smile flicks at the corners of his mouth.  "You have
a dog."   But he's tense.  Waiting for the next part.  His eyes dart
toward the railing.

I grab Jonas's hand and pull him with me.  We step into the
view of the crowd below and raise our clasped hands into the air, posing as the
leaders we once were.  A collective cheer—a ragged scream of joy—launches
itself into the heavens.  Jonas and I beam smiles at them all, but my teeth are
clenched.  I can hardly breathe.  I risk a peek at his face, and I can see it
there, too—the tension.

When the cheer finally starts to die down, I'm thinking
there is a speech required of us.  We need to say something to them.  Convince
them.  There has been some talk of it before, and I even tried to prepare some
words, but I can't remember any of them.  I'm hoping that Jonas is doing better
than I am, but he says nothing.  We look at each other, and I'm certain that
we're about to crash and burn.  What will we do?  What are we supposed to say?

Jonas tugs my arm, pulling me closer, and then his other arm
scoops around me, drawing me in.  He pulls me tight to him and kisses me. 
Really, really kisses me.  And if the crowd was enthusiastic before, now
they've all lost their minds.

The things going through my head in rapid succession:
confusion, bliss, understanding, disappointment.  I start to pull away, but
Jonas holds onto me tight and keeps kissing.  My resistance falls away as I
melt into his arms.  My thoughts go fuzzy, replaced by sheer emotion.  I'm so
happy in this moment—so unbelievably happy.... And so incredibly broken by the
fact that it's not real.

My mind whirls back, remembering, and I'm not kissing Jonas
on a terrace balcony.  I'm waking up in a pile-of-shit shack somewhere between
Miami and Baton Rouge, sitting up yawning after a crummy night's sleep on a
lumpy bed with grease-stained sheets.  Jonas sits up, too, but he's been
sleeping on the floor.

"Did you sleep alright?" he asks.  He must already
know the answer.

My skin is crawling.  I scratch my arms and legs, shivering
despite the muggy heat.  I spent the whole night flinging roaches off my bed. 
I must have slept sometime in between, but there was always the waking to the
sense of something running by my face.  I'd swipe my hand across the mattress,
and they'd go flying.  Better than having bug guts all over my hands, in my
bed, but still beyond creepy.  It couldn't have been any better for Jonas on
the floor.

I give him a dark look.  "I think I'll sleep outside
next time."

He snorts and looks away.  The distance between us is
palpable.

A moment later, there's a knock on the door—not that it's
completely on its hinges.  Our armed escort and our friends are outside.  We're
the only ones lucky enough to get the hell-hole shack.

"Come in," we say at the same time, and Spec
pushes through the door.

His eyes move from me to Jonas, still sitting on the floor,
and there's a little touch of surprise.  He glances behind him, and pulls the
door shut.  His voice is low.  "We'll be ready to move out soon."  He
hands Jonas a sack that must contain some food.  I'm hungry, but I seem to have
lost my will to eat.  Spec looks us over again and says, "Do you need
anything?"

"I want to see Apollon."  There is no nonsense in
Jonas' voice.  We've been separated from our friends since the beginning of
this journey.  There's been no time to explain... and we have so many things to
explain.  Guilt wells up in me again.  Apollon is my best friend in all the
world, and I didn't tell him things that I probably should have trusted him
with.  I cut him out.  Left him to be blindsided.  All that time we were
chasing across the world from one white tower to the next, I never confided in
Apollon that we weren’t just chasing my past, but Jonas’, too.  I never told
him how Jonas and I were linked together.  So when we finally made it to the
right tower with the right people, Apollon got a big whap upside the head when
he found out about our past second-hand.  We claimed to be inseparable, and we
left him out.  We called him family, but didn’t treat him like it.  What kind
of friend does something like that?

Spec looks dubious, but he nods and goes back out the door. 
Jonas climbs to his feet, brushes himself off, then fishes in the bag and
tosses me a stale roll.  I catch it, sniff it, and then stare at it, wondering
if I'll be able to stomach anything.

Apollon shoves through the door suddenly, but stops the
second he comes in.  He looks from me to Jonas, where his gaze stays, considering.

Jonas does not look at Apollon.  His eyes are downcast, like
he's distracted with the bag of food, and something on the floor, but I know
better.  He still thinks that Apollon and I are an item—a ruse we perpetrated
to help extract me from my unwise obsession with Jonas.  To give me distance. 
Time.  It was stupid, and I wanted to beat Apollon when he first ‘confessed his
feelings’ to me as we floated down the river with Jonas listening in his
sleeping pack.  But the truth is, it’s convenient.  Good, even.  I don’t know
if my feelings for Jonas are a product of our past, or something real.  I need
this space.  I really, really need this space.

Jonas' gaze finally meanders to the doorframe beside
Apollon, avoiding his face.  "I'm sorry."  The words are strong, like
he had to forcibly eject them.  He swallows, and his voice falls to barely a
whisper.  "It's just pretend.  Just until we get out of this.  That's
all."

Apollon's mouth is open, his face red.  He doesn't get any
words out.  Jonas is already pushing past him through the door.  Apollon and I
must realize at the same time that he means to give us a moment alone, because
my blonde friend turns redder and I feel my face flush with hot embarrassment. 
Awkwardness wedges itself into the room.  I've never seen Apollon look so
completely mortified.

The cockroach saves me.  Running across the top of the bed
and into the twisted sheet that half-covers my legs....  I squeal and jump up,
standing on the mattress.  Cursing, I kick the sheet away.  My frustration and
anger target the cockroaches that kept me up all night.  "Where are the
little fuckers all coming from?" I growl.  There's some debris near the
top of the bed in a gap between the mattress and the wall.  I make a swipe at
it with one foot, sending a heap of old papers flying.  Behind them, there's a
small hole in the wall.  Bugs scatter from it in every direction.  I stare and
try not to vomit.  There are masses of them, in and out of the hole, large ones
and tiny ones, some carrying sacks of eggs on their backs.  Jerky movements and
shifting, useless wings.  I don't think I've ever seen anything so disgusting—and
that's really saying something.

I'm still cursing up a storm when I realize that Apollon has
come to stand at the edge of the bed behind me.  When I look at him, he's
staring at the nest through squinted eyes.  "That's pretty gross."

I let out another low growl of frustration and hop off the
bed to stand beside him, though I instantly notice chunks of something—dirt
clumps, I hope—sticking to my bare feet.  I want to forget the bugs and focus
on my friend.  I have so much to say to him.  So many words that have been
going through my mind since Baton Rouge.  But I find myself turning back toward
the wall, drawn to the grotesque.  The space between my shoulder blades itches,
drawing a shudder out of me.  When I manage to speak, there is an awe attached
to my voice at the realization of what I'm saying.  "They're just like us,"
I whisper.  "They dirty everything they touch."  And in my mind,
there are cities of cockroaches.  Cockroaches with Uzis and hand grenades. 
With battle axes and banners of stars.

"Not exactly," Apollon says, still considering the
roaches.  His arms are folded across his chest.  "They don't seem to be
killing each other."

I suck in a breath and step back.  I’m
not
going to
think about Saint Louis.  But it's enough to draw his attention to me, and he
looks immediately regretful of his words.

His hand clamps down on my upper arm, steadying me, though
it's a far cry from the embrace he would have normally offered.  His voice is
soft and strong.  "There's no time for ghosts right now, Eden.  We need to
talk, and I don't think we have long."

I nod.  I want more than anything to make things right
between us.

But Apollon begins, and his words have nothing to do with
our friendship, or fixing it.  "Do you really trust these people?" he
asks.  "Or should we come up with a plan to get the hell out of here the
first chance we get?"

My mouth is open, but the words are stuck.  I can't think
about anything else right now.  "Apollon," I manage, weak as my voice
sounds, "about Jonas—"

"We don't have time," he says—not exactly a snap,
but close to it.  His hand retracts from my arm.  He's not looking at my face.

"I didn't mean to—" I try again, but this time he
does snap.

"Answer the damned question.  Stay or go?  It's pretty
simple."

"Stay," I say, as though the answer is easy. 
Honestly, I haven't put much thought into this course of action.  There are
things that are far more important to me.  I don’t even
want
 to deal
with anything else until I’ve made our friendship right.  Apollon really
is
family
to me, and this distance is making me feel like the whole world is wrong in so
many ways.  I take a little step toward him, tipping my face up to look at his,
but he won't meet my eyes.  "Apollon..." I try, one last time, and it
is little more than a choked whisper.

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