Read The Lost Code Online

Authors: Kevin Emerson

Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Science Fiction, #Action & Adventure, #General, #Social Issues, #Adolescence

The Lost Code

BOOK: The Lost Code
13.57Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub







For my parents,
who have always supported my creative pursuits
and also sent me to summer camp

Before the beginning, there was an end

Three chosen to die

To live in the service of the Qi-An

The balance of all things

Three guardians of the memory of the first people

They who thought themselves masters of all the Terra

Who went too far, and were lost

To the heaving earth

To the flood.

Three who will wait

Until long after memory fades

And should the time come again

When masters seek to bend the Terra to their will

Then the three will awaken, to save us all.

Good night, Mother Sea,

Good night, Father Sky,

Hide from sight the sunken homes,

The faces floating by.



We’ll go down to SoHo,

Shop for antiques in a rowboat.



, I drowned for the first time. I was three-quarters of the way through the cabin swim test when the cramp that had been tightening in my side the whole time finally twisted into a solid knot. I seized up, my legs shut down, and I sank.

I thought desperately, but the order didn’t make it past my abdomen. The cramp was like a fist, clenching tighter, white pain radiating from its grip. I reached wildly for the surface but found only water and bubbles. I kept thrashing, trying to get my cabin mates’ attention as they swam by above, but none of them noticed.

I never should have been in the water, never should have even taken the test. I knew that, but I’d tried it anyway, because of her: Lilly, the lifeguard and one of the counselors in training. You didn’t impress someone like Lilly by being too lame to tread water and swim a few laps. And up on the dock, impressing her had seemed like maybe the most important thing.

I saw her now, a blur of red bathing suit, standing there watching us. Well, watching everyone else. I guess I hadn’t made enough of an impression for her to notice either.

And that was nothing new for me.

I slipped deeper, into colder depths. My arms started to slow, the muscles too tired, the pain from the cramp blinding. Pressure on my ears. The light dimming around me.

A feeling began to ache in my chest, a certainty:
Owen, it’s time to breathe.
The order was matter-of-fact, like there were little technicians inside my body, wearing yellow jumpsuits and monitoring all of my functions on glowing screens. That was how I always felt, like others were in charge of me, like I was just along for the ride.

The technician watching my heartbeat whispered to his neighbor, who was in charge of my blood-oxygen levels. Her screen flashed ominously. A persistent beeping made her shake her head.
There’s not much more I can do
, she said.
We’re going to need air

The urge grew, a balloon expanding in my chest. Like I
to breathe. Exhale. Inhale. Even if there was water outside of my mouth. It didn’t seem to matter.

That’s all I’ve got
, chimed in another technician, watching the last blips of oxygen leave my lungs.

I couldn’t . . . But the body is a simple machine. It doesn’t plan for you being underwater when you need air. It figures you wouldn’t be that stupid, I guess. And if you were, well, then there were three billion other humans out there who probably wouldn’t make the same mistake, so your genes clearly weren’t worth passing on. Survival for the fittest, that was the plan. Then again, there had been
billion people on the planet. Not sure losing seventy percent of the species was really part of that grand design. Maybe it was time for the genes to go back to the drawing board.

I’m hitting the intake override
, said another technician.

Has to be done
, said the blood monitor.

No . . . No . . .
Pressure everywhere. I struggled to hold my mouth shut. I could get the cramp under control, then swim up. . . .


Had to hold on, had to—

But my mouth opened anyway.

The air burst free in oblong bubbles. I watched helplessly as they made their wobbling dash toward the surface. Water poured in to fill their place, and there was a feeling of cold—
—icy pain and weight, pressing me down, my lungs filling, and for just a second it all hurt so much—

Then it didn’t. The pain was gone, leaving an immediate silence, like that strange way that the lightning rains back home would suddenly be over, and in their aftermath there would only be this sense of quiet, no more rumbling, no more wind, just the pop of cinders in scorched earth and the hissing of rocks.

Calm. I was so calm. When had I ever felt like this? No more worry, no more panic. Was this what death felt like?

I sensed everything in my body slowing down. The technicians were studying their screens in mild surprise.
Well, that was unexpected
, said the lung monitor, surveying the flood with dismay.

The woman watching my brain activity shook her head.
Probably a few minutes more
, she reported,
then that will be that

I knew what she meant. I’d read that the brain could live for about four minutes without oxygen. Even longer if the water was really cold, but the lake here inside the EdenWest BioDome was kept at 22°C, which was supposedly the ideal temperature of summers past. I knew lots of facts like that, but being smart had done me no good. Better muscles, an abdomen that didn’t malfunction—these were the things that would have made me more fit to survive.

I drifted down into the shadows. My feet touched muddy bottom, making clouds of brown particles. Slippery plants clutched at my ankles, the fingers of unseen creatures of the deep. I keeled backward, my back settling into the cold muck.

The surface looked like another world. There were my cabin mates, sliding by in loose lines, their hands and feet smashing the shimmery mirror top of the water over and over. The white-and-red lane lines vibrated in their wakes. Some were finishing the test now, hauling themselves up onto the floating dock.

High above, I could see feathery white SimClouds gently drifting across the hazy blue of the TruSky, the afternoon brilliant in the warm glow of the SafeSun lamps. Another perfect summer day in the temperate forest, just like it had been half a century ago, before the Great Rise, when global warming and climate change spiraled out of control. The soaring temperatures and savage depletion of the ozone layer turned most of North America into a desert. The rapid melting of the world’s ice caps caused the oceans to rise up and devour the coasts. The old technopolises of New York, Shanghai, and Dubai drowned, and billions of people around the world became climate refugees, displaced and doomed to die in the wars, plagues, and chaos that followed. The only safe havens were the thin rim of land in the Habitable Zone above sixty degrees north latitude, and the five Eden domes, where people could still live as they once had.

Yet with the murky filter of the water, I could see through the illusion, to the distant ceiling of EdenWest. When I’d arrived last night, getting off the MagTrain after the all-day trip from my home out at Yellowstone Hub to here in what used to be Minnesota, the dome had looked even more impressive than in the pictures I’d seen: an endless curve of perfect white, an impenetrable guardian of the people inside. But from down here, I could see the black burn marks where the dome had been damaged by the increasing solar radiation. Some of the triangular panels were new and shiny white, but most were gray and spotted. I could also see the monitoring station in the center of the roof, a pupil in the dome’s eye that constantly kept watch for solar flares, dust storms, or lightning rains.

There were rumors back home that all the Eden domes were failing. The Northern Federation worried that it was only a matter of time. Then, the modern cities inside would fall, but instead of submerging, the Edens would bake, and this little lake would dry up just like all the rest. When it did, maybe they’d find my bones in the cracked mud.

One more minute
, said the technician monitoring my brain. I tried one last time to move my arms, my legs, anything. No use.

Just about everyone was out of the water now. Everyone else passing the test, and here I was, dead. Had any of my cabin mates even noticed I was gone yet? What about Lilly? Could she have forgotten about me already? What about our moment on the dock?

“Hey there, you gonna be okay?” Lilly had asked, just before the swim test. All ten of us in my cabin were crowded in front of her on one end of the dock, which was shaped like a wide H and stuck out from a small brown beach. Inside the lower half of the H was the shallow swimming area for the little kids. Strung inside the top half were the lane lines. This was where the test took place. Every older camper had to take it to get a swimming level, from Tadpole to Shark. You had to be a Shark to do any of the cool things on the water, like sailing, kayaking, or swimming out to the big blue trampoline raft where the CITs hung out and did acrobatics.

I hadn’t even realized that Lilly was talking to me. I’d been gazing out across the water, still getting used to the sight of trees everywhere, to the feel of air that was heavy, moist, and thick with scents of flowers and life, and also to all these healthy, well-fed Eden kids around me, who acted like being in a place like this, feeling like you were
on a summer day, was no big deal.

But I guess I’d also been worrying about the test, and it showed.

“Hey,” Lilly said again.

Finally I glanced over and saw she was staring right at me. Another reason I’d been looking away was so that I wouldn’t just be gawking at her the way the rest of my cabin was. She was dressed in baggy green shorts and a red bathing suit, the thin straps indenting her smooth shoulders. Her braided dark-brown hair had streaks dyed lime green, and her sandstone skin was tinted lavender from NoRad lotion, which we’d all been instructed to wear during midday. She wore mirrored sunglasses, sky-blue flip-flops, and her toes glimmered with pearl polish. She stood there with her hip cocked to one side, one hand on it and the other spinning and unspinning a whistle around her index finger. It seemed impossible that she was only a year older than us.

“Huh?” I replied, my voice cracking slightly.

This made a group of my cabin mates laugh. They were the central unit in our cabin, a tight knot that had formed almost immediately around a kid everybody called Leech.

Lilly ignored them. “Just making sure you’re okay.”

“Oh, I’m fine,” I said quickly, trying to meet her silver-rimmed sunglasses through the glare of water and sun and make my gaze say,
Yes, I can do this
, even though I was pretty sure that I couldn’t.

I had taken swim lessons when I was a kid, back when there was still enough water to fill the one pool out at Hub. I wasn’t great at it, but I did okay. That was before I got a hernia last year, which is like a lame old-man thing to have. It didn’t surprise me that I’d gotten one, though, because it seemed like if you could get an injury doing something, I did. Temporary asphyxiation from the cave mold spores in our classrooms? Check. Sprained wrist from paddleball? Check. The hernia probably started when my whole class was forced to try cave diving, Hub’s most popular sport. It always felt like my body was made of weaker stuff, or like I’d been built for something different from everything I normally had to do.

Technically, a hernia starts with a tear in your abdominal wall. You can get them without really knowing it, which was what happened to me. I guess it slowly grew wider, until one day all I did was bend over to pick up the sandwich I’d dropped on the way to a lunchroom table and a chunk of my intestines popped out, and then there was this weird bubble beneath my skin and so much pain.

I had to have surgery to sew it up. “You’ll need to exercise some caution with strenuous activity for a while,” the doctor informed me. And after that, I got bad cramps whenever I had to exert myself.

Dad put it on my camp application, but apparently word hadn’t gotten down to the lifeguards. And now here I was, not telling Lilly.

“The Turtle is roadkill,” said Leech from nearby. The group around him laughed again, just like they laughed at all his jokes. Leech just grinned his slopey grin, his thin eyes squinting and making his dark freckles bunch into blotches. Looking at him, you wouldn’t think that he would be the ringleader of our cabin. It wasn’t like he was some amazing athlete or seriously good-looking specimen or anything. He was short and pretty skinny and covered in freckles and had uneven eyes that always seemed half closed. But he had one thing that none of us had: he had been at camp the previous two sessions already that summer, and for as many years as you could be before that. And just because of that, he was the king, and one of his royal duties was handing down nicknames.

Like Turtle, which barely made any sense, and yet because Leech said it, it was so, and his minions thought it was hilarious.

But Lilly just frowned at him. Apparently, Leech’s powers didn’t extend to the CITs. “Are you—,” she started to say. “Oh, wait.” She nodded dramatically, like she was solving a big mystery. “You’re trying to be funny.”

A laugh rippled through our whole cabin. Leech’s buddies jabbed him with elbows, and he smiled weakly. “I am funny,” he said, but the comeback was halfhearted. It was the first time I’d heard him sound that way.

Even he felt that whatever-it-was that Lilly had. Like she had her own Eden dome around her, some kind of force field. And it even felt like, when you were near her, that force field extended to you, made you safe. Like right then, when Beaker, whose real name was Pedro and who was one of the few kids who had it worse off in our cabin than I did, actually laughed out loud in these big silly chuckles.

“Shut up,” grunted one of Leech’s pack, and immediately shoved Beaker into the water.

Lilly’s hand flashed out and snatched her whistle, midspin. “Whoa, what’s
name, tough guy?”

“Jalen?” he answered, as if Lilly had made him question his own name. Jalen was the tallest of all of us, with muscles that made him look older. They weren’t the ropy, taut things you’d see on the stronger kids out at Hub. Instead Jalen’s muscles were smooth, easy-looking, like he’d just been given them without having to work, like he’d been pumped up with an air compressor. He tried to push out his chest now, to look like he wasn’t scared.

BOOK: The Lost Code
13.57Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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