The 100 (The Hundred #1)(7) by Kass Morgan

The girl made a show of glancing from side to side. “This looks good to me,” she said, prompting more snickers.

Wells tried to for C tring everce himself to stay calm. “The thing is, if we’re near a stream or a lake, it’ll be easier to—”

“Oh, good.” A low voice cut him off. “I’m just in time for the lecture.” Wells glanced to the side and saw a boy named Graham walking toward them. Aside from Wells and Clarke, he was the only other person from Phoenix, yet Graham appeared to know most of the Waldenites and Arcadians by name, and they all treated him with a surprising amount of respect. Wells didn’t want to imagine what he’d had to do to earn it.

“I wasn’t lecturing anyone. I’m just trying to keep us alive.”

Graham raised an eyebrow. “That’s interesting, considering that your father keeps sentencing our friends to death. But don’t worry, I know you’re on our side.” He grinned at Wells. “Isn’t that right?”

Wells glanced at him warily, then gave a curt nod. “Of course.”

“So,” Graham went on, his friendly tone at odds with the hostile glint in his eyes, “what was your infraction?”

“That’s not a very polite question, is it?” Wells tried for what he hoped was a cryptic smile.

“I’m so sorry.” Graham’s face took on an expression of mock horror. “You have to forgive me. You see, when you’ve spent the past 847 days of your life locked in the bottom of the ship, you tend to forget what’s considered polite conversation on Phoenix.”

“847 days?” Wells repeated. “I guess we can assume you weren’t Confined for miscounting the herbs you probably stole from the storehouse.”

“No,” Graham said, taking a step toward Wells. “I wasn’t.” The crowd fell silent, and Wells could see a few people shifting uncomfortably while others leaned in eagerly. “I was Confined for murder.”

Their eyes locked. Wells kept his expression carefully devoid of emotion, refusing to give Graham the satisfaction of seeing the shock on his face. “Oh?” he said carelessly. “Who’d you kill?”

Graham smiled coldly. “If you’d spent any time with the rest of us, you’d know that that isn’t considered a very polite question.” There was a moment of tense silence before Graham switched gears. “But I already know what you did anyway. When the Chancellor’s son gets locked up, word travels fast. Figures you wouldn’t fess up. But now that we’re having a nice little chat, maybe you can tell us exactly what we’re doing down here. Maybe you can explain why so many of our friends keep getting executed after their retrials.” Graham was still smiling, but his tone had grown low and dangerous. “And why now? What made your father decide to send us down all of a sudden?”

His father. All day, absorbed in the newness of being on Earth, Wells had almost been able to convince himself that the scene on the launch deck—the sharp sound of the gunshot, the blood blooming like a dark flower on his father’s chest—had been a terrifying dream.

“Of course he’s not going to tell us,” Graham scoffed. “Are you, soldier?” he added with a mock salute.

The Arcadians and Waldenites who’d been watching Graham turned eagerly to Wells, the intensity of their gazes making his skin prickle. Of course, he knew what was going on. Why so many kids were being executed on their eighteenth birthdays for crimes that might have been pardoned in the past. Why the mission had been hastily thrown together and put in motion before there’d been time to plan properly.

He knew better than anyone, because it was all his fault.

“When will we get to go home?” asked a boy who didn’t look much older than twelve. Wells felt an unexpected pang of pity for the brokenhearted mother who was still somewhere on the ship. She had no idea that her son had been hurtled through space onto a planet the human race had left for dead.

“We are home,” Wells said, forcing as much sincerity as he could into the words.

If he said it enough times, perhaps he’d start to believe it himself.

He’d almost skipped the concert that year. It had always been his favorite event, the one evening musical relics were taken out of their oxygen-free preservation chambers. Watching the performers, who spent most of their time practicing on simulators, coax notes and chords out of the relics was like witnessing a resurrection. Carved and welded by long-dead hands, the only instruments left in the universe produced the same soaring melodies that had once echoed through the concert halls of ruined civilizations. Once a year, Eden Hall was filled with music that had outlasted humanity’s tenure on Earth.

But as Wells entered the hall, a large, oval room bordered by a curved panoramic window, the grief that had been drifting through his body for the past week solidified in his stomach. He normally found the view incredibly beautiful, but that night the glittering stars that surrounded the cloud-shrouded Earth reminded him of candles at a vigil. His mother had loved music.

It was crowded as usual, with most of Phoenix buzzing around excitedly. Many of the women were eager to debut new dresses, an expensive and potentially maddening feat depending on what sort of textile scraps you found at the Exchange. He took a few steps forward, sending a ripple of whispers and knowing glances through the crowd.

Wells tried to focus on the front of the room where the musicians were gathering under the tree for which Eden Hall was named. The legend was that the sapling had miraculously survived the burning of North America and had been carried onto Phoenix right before the Exodus. Now it reached to the very top of the hall, its slender branches stretching out more than ten meters in each direction, creating a canopy of leaves that partially obscured the performers with a veil of green-tinged shadows.

“Is that the Chancellor’s son?” a woman behind him asked. A new wave of heat rose to his already flushed cheeks. He’d never grown immune to the comet tail of double takes and curious glances he dragged behind him, but tonight it felt unbearable.

He turned and started walking toward the door, but froze as a hand grabbed his arm. He spun around and saw Clarke giving him a quizzical look. “Where are you running off to?”

Wells smiled grimly. “Turns out I’m not in the mood for music.”

Clarke looked at him for a moment, then slipped her hand into his. “Stay. As a favor to me.” She led him toward two empty seats in the back row. “I need you to tell me what we’re listening to.”

Wells sighed as he settled down next to Clarke. “I already told you they were performing Bach,” he said, shooting a longing glance at th C gl the e door.

“You know what I’m talking about.” Clarke interlocked her fingers with his. “This movement, that movement.” She grinned. “Besides, I always clap at the wrong time.”

Wells gave her hand a squeeze.

There was no need for any sort of introduction or announcement. From the moment the first notes burst forward, the crowd fell silent, the violinist’s bow slicing through their chatter as it swept across the strings. Then the cello joined in, followed by the clarinet. There were no drums tonight, but it didn’t matter. Wells could practically hear the thud of two hundred hearts beating in time to the music.

“This is what I always imagined a sunset would sound like,” Wells whispered. The words slipped out of his mouth before he had time to think, and he braced for an eye roll, or at least a look of confusion.

But the music had also cast its spell on Clarke. “I’d love to see a sunset,” she murmured, resting her head on his shoulder.

Wells absently ran his hand through her silky hair. “I’d love to see a sunset with you.” He bent down and kissed her forehead. “What are you doing in about seventy-five years?” he whispered.

“Cleaning my dentures,” Clarke said with a smile. “Why?”

“Because I have an idea for our first date on Earth.”

The light was fading, the bonfire flickering across the faces standing around Wells.

“I know this all seems strange and intimidating and, yes, unfair, but we’re here for a reason,” he told the crowd. “If we survive, everyone survives.”

Nearly a hundred heads turned to him, and for a moment, he thought perhaps his words had chipped away at the layers of calcified defiance and ignorance. But then a new voice crashed into the silence.

“Careful there, Jaha.”

Wells twisted around and saw a tall kid in a bloodstained guard uniform. The boy who’d forced his way onto the dropship—who’d held Wells’s father hostage. “Earth is still in recovery mode. We don’t know how much bullshit it can handle.”

Another wave of snickers and snorts rippled around the fire, and Wells felt a rush of sudden, sharp anger. Because of this kid, his father—the person responsible for protecting the entire human race—had been shot, and he had the nerve to stand there and accuse Wells of bullshit?

“Excuse me?” Wells said, lifting his chin to give the boy his best officer’s stare.

“Cut the crap, okay? Just say what you really mean. If we do exactly what you say, then you won’t report us to your father.”

Wells narrowed his eyes. “Thanks to you, my father is probably in the hospital.” Being given the best possible care, and on his way to a swift recovery, Wells added silently. He hoped it was true.

“If he’s even alive,” Graham interjected, and laughed. For a second, Wells thought he saw the other boy wince.

Wells took a step forward, but then another voice yelled C voWells out from the crowd, stopping him. “So you’re not a spy?”

“A spy?” Wells almost laughed at the accusation.

“Yeah,” the impostor guard agreed. “Spying on us just like these bracelets, right?”

Wells looked at the kid in the ill-fitting guard uniform more closely. Had he been told about the purpose of the bracelets, or had he figured it out on his own? “If the Council wanted to spy on you,” he said, ignoring the comment about the transponders, “don’t you think they’d choose someone a bit less obvious?”

The boy in the bloody uniform smirked. “We can discuss the pros and cons of your father’s administration some other time. But for now, just tell us: If you’re not a spy, what the hell are you doing here? There’s no way anyone will believe you were actually Confined.”

“I’m sorry,” Wells said in a tone that conveyed anything but regret. “You appeared in a stolen guard’s uniform and held my father hostage in order to break onto this ship. I think you’re the one who owes us an explanation.”

The boy’s eyes narrowed. “I did what I had to do to protect my sister.”

“Your sister?” Wells repeated. People broke the population laws more often on Walden than on Phoenix. But Wells had never heard of anyone having a sibling, not since the Cataclysm.

“That’s right.” The boy crossed his arms and met Wells’s eyes with a challenging stare. “Now I’m going to ask you one more time, what are you really doing here?”

Wells took a step forward. He didn’t owe anyone an explanation, let alone this criminal, who was probably lying about having a sister and who knew what else. But then a flash of movement caught his eye. Clarke was heading toward the fire from the other side of the clearing, where she’d been tending to the injured passengers.

Wells turned back to the tall boy and sighed, his anger draining away. “I’m here for the same reason you are.” His eyes darted toward Clarke, who was still out of earshot. “I got myself Confined to protect someone I care about.”

The crowd fell silent. Wells turned his back on them and started walking, not caring if their eyes followed him as he made his way toward Clarke.