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Authors: Sara Wilson Etienne

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Lotus and Thorn

BOOK: Lotus and Thorn
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Also by Sara Wilson Etienne



an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC

375 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014 k12

Copyright © 2016 by Sara Wilson Etienne.

Map illustration copyright © 2016 by Ian Schoenherr.

Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.

G. P. Putnam’s Sons is a registered trademark of Penguin Random House LLC.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is available upon request.

eBook ISBN 9780698173446

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Cover illustration by Shane Rebenschied

Cover background photo courtesy of

Cover design by Danielle Calotta


To my own beautiful sister, Megan— who always believes in a world of more.
Sail those waves and make them yours.

there was a sorcerer who disguised himself as a beggar. He went from house to house stealing beautiful girls. He spirited them away and no one knew where, for none of them were ever heard from again.

One day, he came to the door of a house belonging to three beautiful sisters. The beggar carried a tall basket made of reeds and his back sagged under the weight of it. His hands shook with age. Still, when he rapped his knuckles against the door, his knock was strong and loud and could not be ignored.

The oldest sister answered the door—she was lovely and kind and offered the beggar a piece of bread. But at the touch of his hand, the sister was spirited into his basket. He carried her away, striding across broad rivers and green fields, until he reached his great house in the heart of the dark woods.

But the sorcerer was a greedy man, and one sister was not enough. He went back to the house, and this time the youngest sister came to the door, dressed in black. She refused to give him any bread, but still, the beggar took her hand and she, too, vanished into his basket.

Time passed and the sorcerer found he was no longer content. He returned to the house once more. The last sister—the middle one—was known for her cunning. But she was also determined to find her stolen sisters. So when she answered the door, she looked straight into the beggar’s eyes. Then she reached out and took his hand.

EDITION, 2084.


All objects recovered from beneath the desert sandline, excepting those vital to the health and survival of the Citizens, shall be traded and surrendered to the Curadores. Any
infraction shall render the Citizen forfeit. May God find us worthy and in His wisdom allow us to return to Earth once more.


the last of the mezcal as I slipped past her into the bedroom. I blinked hard—my eyes stinging from the fumes—as the alcohol gushed from the copper still into mismatched glass bottles. Sarika could’ve used plastic, but no. She said it killed the mezcal.

The Abuelos suggested she make the switch . . . once. She’d given them her look—impassive and absolute—and said,
Surely God made certain there was enough glass left on Gabriel to hold a drink worthy of Him.

It would’ve been blasphemy coming from anyone else, but there was nothing Sarika took more seriously than God and mezcal. And, on these points, the Citizens of Pleiades agreed with her. So the Abuelos gave Sarika her glass bottles.

I hesitated in the doorway, making sure everyone was too busy to notice me—half hoping someone would. But they were consumed with preparations for the Festival. Sarika topping off each bottle in turn, never spilling a drop. Lotus dutifully capping and loading them into crates. Taschen oblivious to all, cross-legged in a cramped chair, putting the finishing touches on her dress.

The bedroom was stifling, but I slid the door shut behind me anyway. Wishing, not for the first time, that our doors had locks.

Kneeling by the mattress Lotus and Tasch and I shared, I felt for the hidden seam. Tiny, invisible stitches only Taschen could make. Finding it, I pulled my knife from my belt and paused, listening again to be sure: clinks and chatter from the kitchen. Then I sliced through the stitches and reached inside.

I dug through the stuffing—years worth of old, worn-out clothes—until I found it. The book. Even after all these years, the faded painting on the front made me catch my breath. I crawled across the mattress, brushing lint off the battered cover, and held the book up to the light of the window. There was the blond girl standing in her shady grove, tossing a golden ball. In the distance, a castle was perched at the top of a hill. Gleaming silver in the cheery sun. Earth’s sun.

But it wasn’t the girl, with her simpering smile, that I cared about. Or the magnificent castle. It was the trees. The girl was surrounded by a thousand shades of green. And I swore I could feel them . . . cool and alive and whispering. So far from anything I knew on this godforsaken planet.

From six stories up, I could see all there was to see of the deserts of Gabriel. Below my window, a steady stream of eager Citizens passed through the gates and out onto the Festival Grounds. Stalls and people and bright flags already crowded the dusty plain, but no one ventured beyond its walls to the Reclamation Fields. Not today.

I ran a finger along the frayed binding—
this was going to work.
Get out to the Festival Grounds. Get through the gates to the Reclamation Fields. Get rid of the book. Don’t get caught.

I wouldn’t have to go far. The ugly expanse of pits and digsites started just outside the walls of the Festival Grounds and stretched on for kilometers. Studying them now, the Fields looked wrong without their usual haze of excavation. No scouts crawling in and out of tunnels. No Finds being exhumed from the recesses of the planet’s former Colony. And beyond the Fields, nothing but blue-grey dunes stretching out to bleak mountains. A long valley of nothing.

“So whaddya think, Leica?” Taschen burst through the door. “Ta-daaaaaaa!”

I shoved the book behind my back as my older sister swirled into the room wearing her finished dress. She’d been obsessed for months—scrounging for fabric, her hands perennially stained with dye as she assembled her masterpiece.

“Oh, were you making a dress?” I tried hard to keep my voice light and teasing, even as my heart panicked loudly in my ears. “I hadn’t noticed.”

She glared at me and I blinked innocently, tacking on a too-sweet smile for good measure.

“I’ll make my grand entrance again, and
this time
I expect to find my loving sister in here.” Tasch stalked out in a fake huff and I scrambled across the mattress, jamming the book under me, managing to cover up the hole just as Tasch strutted back into the room.

“Spin! Spin! Spin!” I chanted this time, and she grinned, indulging me.

Patches of purple and blue spiraled into each other as the skirt flew out. Tasch was radiant—long black hair fanning around her. And the sadness of the last year cleared from her face.

Lotus looked in from the doorway—already dressed for the fighting ring in meticulously mended pants and a loose shirt, black hair tied back tight. My younger sister added her voice to mine. “Spin! Spin!”

But as she watched Tasch laugh and show off her skirt, Lotus’s face folded into a scowl. Anyone else might’ve thought Lotus was jealous of Tasch—but I understood the truth of it. Because the same anger clenched my heart.

After the outbreak, we let ourselves get used to the faded, shadowed, grieving Taschen. Got so used to it that we’d forgotten this bright, dancing Tasch even existed. And among all my tiny daggers of grief, this was the sharpest.

But I wouldn’t dampen Tasch’s joy; I made my face relax into a smile. “The boys will trip over themselves to get to you.”

“As long as I get to dance, I don’t care who with. I’ll take Lotus if I have to!”

“Not on your life!” But Lotus let Tasch whirl her into a polka anyway.

The closed-off look fell away from Lotus’s face and it was like watching someone dancing with their own reflection—black eyes shining, skin glazed golden-brown by sunlight. They were practically twins, despite the two years separating them.

Sarika chided us from the kitchen. “No one’ll be dancing if we don’t get these bottles down to the Festival.”

“Coming!” Tasch waltzed the two of them out of the bedroom and into the other room.

“Be there in a sec!” I called.

Heart pounding, I pulled the book out from under me and slipped it in my pack. Then I thrust my arm back into the mattress and pulled out the other two treasures. The old camera—the name we shared elegantly embossed on its tarnished chrome. And the silver necklace, with its strange black metal pendant. I nestled them into my bag next to the book and smoothed the blanket over the gap in the mattress. I’d fix the hole tonight. After I told my sisters what I’d done. After I’d somehow convinced them to forgive me.

We hauled crates of mezcal and pulque down the five flights of stairs and across the courtyard. For the first time in eight months, the gates leading to the Festival Grounds were open and unguarded. The tall walls that usually isolated the buildings of Pleiades from each other were not barriers today. Citizens flooded from Pleiades’ nine glass apartment towers, out onto the Grounds, and into each other’s company.

As I stepped through the gates, the wind picked up, flapping the strings of colorful flags against each other. Despite the heaviness of my pack, despite what I had to do today, it was impossible not to feel that tingle of excitement—like I was a kid again. As the streamers played against the warm breeze, I could see it on everyone else’s face too. All the people waiting for marriages to be sanctified by the Abuelos. All the babies that’d been born but hadn’t met their grandparents. All the wooing couples who’d been separated by walls for months and months, until the flare-up of Red Death was finally under control.

“I can already hear them tuning their guitars!” Tasch said as we wove our way through the labyrinth of stalls to Sarika’s large, stately booth. There were many brewers in Pleiades, each with their own tables and crates of pulque and mezcal—but there was no question that Sarika was the best.

can smell the tamales.” Lotus grinned at us as she put her bottles down next to mine.

“Mmmmmm . . . sweet corn.” Tasch swooned into me, draping herself over my arm.

“Kabocha pumpkin.” Lotus grabbed my other arm, as if she was too weak to stand.

“Cinnamon and nutmeg and honey!” I clamped my hands to my heart and sank to my knees—taking them with me, so we landed in a ravenous, gasping pile.

Sarika glared down at us, her silver-streaked hair framing a frown, her curved nose making her look like a hawk surveying her prey. Then a smile twitched on her face.

“Useless.” She prodded our bodies with her toe. “Fine . . . off with you! You’d better hurry while you can. I’ll see you after the Remembering.”

The first bite was heaven. Warm, ground corn and cinnamon-laced pumpkin. I hadn’t had anything sweet for eight months. Not since the New Year’s Festival. Not since the sudden, devastating wave of disease had swept through Pleiades. Not since we’d lost Mom and Dad. And suddenly the mouthful felt grainy and too rich.

I squeezed my eyes shut, remembering my mother’s beautiful eyes turning pink. Blood leaking from her mouth. Her ears. Her eyes. Dad wouldn’t let us go near her, wouldn’t even let us say good-bye.
I’m not losing all of you,
he’d said. But when Mom had cried out for him, he couldn’t stop himself, cradling her in his vast arms.

And he held on tight. Even as he surrendered them both to quarantine, he refused to be separated from her. Red Death was always a threat in Pleiades, but it usually just took a few dozen a year—those who were already old or sick. But that day, my parents were just two among hundreds who were infected. And I remembered the silent Curadores, faceless in their isolation suits—hauling their bodies away to be burned in the Dome. The endless bodies.

Now, chewing in silence, my sisters and I were each trapped in our own nightmare of memories. And when the guitars started up and the trumpets called to the dancers, Tasch used the excuse to escape. I wished Lotus had too, but she seemed to think it was her duty to stay with me. So we wandered aimlessly through the maze of booths, my eyes darting in the direction of the gates on the far side of the Festival Grounds. Toward the Reclamation Fields.

Usually Citizens were allowed to gather every two months—a relief from the isolation which was supposed to keep the plague in check—and the Chuseok Harvest Festival had always been my favorite. But not this year. Despite the sunshine and the scent of grilling bulgogi and corn cakes, there was an uneasiness about the day. And I couldn’t wait anymore. I steered us away from the market and toward the fighting rings, knowing Lotus wouldn’t be able to resist.

Fighters were already gathering—boasting and clacking their sticks together in good-natured taunts. Watching their easy camaraderie, I longed to shed my pack and join them, to step into the ring and show what I could do. My body quick and ruthless. My eyes taking in every movement, every twitch and feint. The wooden sticks in my hands lending me their solidness.

But, of course, I didn’t do any of those things. Instead, as Lotus glanced at the fighters, then back to me, I said the words she needed to hear.

“Go sign up. You know you’re ready.” I played the older sister for all it was worth.

She was fourteen this year—finally old enough for the ring. We’d been training hard, even after, especially after, Dad died. She still hesitated and I put my hand on her arm. “You’re a natural, like Dad . . . the best I’ve ever seen. You’re going to make him proud.”

Lotus shook her head, her dark eyebrows pulling down. “Not as good as you.” She squeezed my hands and I realized that it wasn’t Dad’s memory that was making her hesitate.

No. Not as good as me.
I squeezed back with my six-fingered hands—my Corruption—trying to keep bitterness from twisting my face. It didn’t matter how good I was. I would dishonor the ring with my aberration. “Then you’ll fight for both of us. Your victory will be my victory.”

Lotus nodded and darted in to kiss my cheek. Then she ran off to join the rowdy crowd.

“New blood!” one of the fighters shouted. And a heckling, hooting call went up from the ranks—folks clapping Lotus on the back as she was assigned a match for the evening. It stung more than I’d imagined to watch her step into that world that was closed to me. But I also realized I was excited to watch her tonight. What I told her was true . . . she was gonna win. And Dad would be proud.
would be proud.

But first, I had my own task. I was afraid if I put it off any longer, I might discover I didn’t have the nerve. So I told myself I was just going for a walk.

I kept my mind busy as I zigzagged through reunited families. Women showing off pregnant bellies. Little kids trying to keep up with older cousins. All the while, heading for the entrance to the Reclamation Fields.

But when I reached the gate, there were guards posted. There were
guards posted at the Festivals. Yet there they were—five or six of them huddled, talking solemnly near the entrance. I panicked, feeling like they could
my treachery.
the sinful items in my pack.

I took a deep breath and I reminded myself that this was exactly
I needed to do this. For my sisters. For myself. With the Abuelos’ recent raids on Citizen apartments, our naming gifts weren’t safe anymore.
weren’t safe. I would have to find a way through.

But as I started to evaluate my options, the enormous bonfire was lit—calling everyone to the Remembering. Suddenly, Citizens were moving toward the stage, closing in around me, anxious to show off their faith. Four thousand people all suddenly moving in one direction. Or was it more like three thousand now? And as Sarika’s voice boomed over the Festival Grounds, I was swept along with the press of people.

“For millennia, Earth was our home. It was beautiful and lush and people were happy.”

This was not good. I’d hoped to be out and back by now. I caught a glimpse of the gate as the crowd funneled by it—it was open and unguarded now.

I swung back around—determined not to miss my chance—and smacked straight into a stranger. I grabbed on to him to keep from falling. “Sorry!”

BOOK: Lotus and Thorn
4.01Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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