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DUTTON BOOKS 9

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  1. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 1
  2. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 10
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 11
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 12
  5. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 13
  6. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 14
  7. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 15
  8. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 16
  9. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 2
  10. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 3

I feel hungry for the sight of that forested rise with its green trees. I feel like if I cant see Cassia, the Hill is the next best thing. We stood there together. We hid in the trees and for the first time our lips touched. I can almost feel the wind on my skin and her hand in mine. I swallow.

But when we soar a circle over Oria to prepare for landing, I cant seem to find the Hill in the dusky light of evening.

Indie is the one who sees it. That brown thing? she asks.

Shes right.

That bare, brown place is the Hill.

I start to bring the ship down. We get closer and closer to the ground. Trees along the streets turn large. The ground rushes at us. The buildings become familiar instead of generic.

At the last second, I pull the ship back up.

I feel Indie looking at me. Ive never done this before in the months weve been running in supplies.

Landing wasnt right, I say into the speakers. It happens. It will go down on my record as an error. But I have to see the Hill again, closer.

We come up in the opposite direction and head for the Hill, dropping lower than I should so I can get a good look.

Is something wrong? one of the fighters asks over the speaker.

No, I say. Im bringing it in.

Ive seen what I needed to see. The ground is bare. Its been completely bulldozed. Burned. Butchered. Its like the Hill never knew trees. Parts of the Hill have sloughed downward, no longer anchored by the roots of living things.

The little piece of green silk from Cassias dress is no longer tied to a tree on the top of the Hill, wearing out into white with wind and rain and sun. Our buried scraps of poems have been exhumed and reburied and pushed farther under.

Theyve killed the Hill.

 

I land the ship. Behind me, I hear Caleb open the hold and start dragging out the cases. I sit and stare straight ahead.

I want to be back there, on the Hill, with Cassia. I want it so much I think it might destroy me. All these months have passed and were still apart. I put my head in my hands.

Ky? Indie asks. Are you all right? She puts her hand on my shoulder for a second. Then she lets go and, without looking at me, goes down to help Caleb.

Im grateful to her for both the touch and the solitude, but neither lasts long.



Ky? Indie calls out. Come see this.

What? I ask, climbing down into the hold. Indie points at a spot near the floor, concealed earlier by the cases. Someone has scratched into the metal of the ship and carved images into the walls. It reminds me of the pictures back in the Carving.

Theyre drinking the sky, Indie says.

Shes right. Its not rain that the picture shows, not like one I drew once back in the Borough. Its differentbroken pieces of sky falling to the ground and people picking them up and tipping water out of them.

It makes me thirsty, Indie says.

Look, I say, pointing to the figure coming down from the sky. Who do you think this is?

The Pilot, of course, she says.

Did you draw these? I ask Caleb, whos appeared at the top of the hold, ready for more cargo.

Draw what? he asks.

The pictures carved into the side of the ship.

No, he says. It must have been one of the other runners. Id never vandalize the Risings property.

I hand up another case.

We finish our delivery and head for the ship. As we walk, Indie falls back. I turn around to see her talking to Caleb. He shakes his head. Indie steps closer to him. Shes lifted her chin and I know exactly what her eyes must look like.



Shes challenging him about something.

Caleb shakes his head again. His posture looks tense.

Tell me, I hear Indie saying. Now. We should know.

No, he says. Youre not even the pilot on this flight. Leave it alone.

Kys flying, she says. He had to come all the way here, back to his home Province. Do you know how hard that must be? What if you had to go back to Keya, or wherever it is that youre from? He should at least know what were doing.

Were bringing in supplies, he says.

Thats not all were doing, she says.

He steps around her. If the Pilot wanted you to know, he says over his shoulder, you would.

You know youre nothing more than a runner, even to the Pilot, Indie says. He doesnt think of you as his.

Caleb takes a step back and I see hatred on his face for Indie.

Because shes right. She knows what Caleb hopes for. Its the dream of every parentless, orphaned worker of the Risingto make the Pilot so proud that hed claim them as his own kin. Its Indies dream too.

 

Indie finds me later out in the field near the camp. She sits down and takes a deep breath. At first I think shes going to try to make me feel better by talking about things that dont matter, but Indie has never been very good at that.

We could try it, she says. We could make a run for Central if you want.

Its not an option, I say. The fighters would shoot us down.

Youd try it if it werent for me, Indie says.

Yes, I agree. And Caleb. Im finished with the selfishness that let me leave everyone behind on the plains and take only Vick and Eli into the Carving. Caleb is part of our group. When I fly, hes my responsibility. I cant risk him either. Cassia wouldnt want other people to die just so I could find her.

And if the Pilot is telling the truth, it doesnt matter. The Plagues under control. Everything will be all right soon, and I can find Cassia and we can be together. I want to believe in the Pilot. Sometimes I do.

Back in camp, when we were training, I say, did you ever fly with him?

Yes, Indie says simply. Thats how I knew he was the Pilot, even before they told us. His flying She stops, at a loss for words, and then her face brightens. It was like the picture we saw today carved into the ship, she says. It felt like I was drinking the sky.

So you trust him? I ask.

Indie nods.

But youd still run the risk of going to Central with me.

Yes, Indie says, if thats what you wanted. She looks at me as if shes trying to see inside me. Id like her to smile. That beautiful, wide, wise, innocent, devious smile of hers.

What are you thinking about? she asks.

I want to see you smile, I tell her.

And then she doessudden, delightedand I grin back.

The grass rustles with the breeze. Indie leans a little closer. Her face is radiant and hopeful and raw. It feels like some new hole has been torn in my heart.

Whats to keep us from flying together? Indie whispers. You and me? I can barely hear her above the wind rustling the grass, but I know the way this question sounds from her. Shes asked something like it before.

Cassia, I say. Im in love with Cassia. You know that. Theres no uncertainty in my voice.

I know, she says, and theres no apology in hers.

When Indie wants something badly enough, her instinct is to jump.

Like Cassia.

Indie breathes in and then she moves.

She moves to me.

Her hands slide into my hair, her lips press against mine.

Nothing like Cassia.

I pull back, breathless. Indie, I say.

I had to, she says. Im not sorry.


 


CHAPTER 17

CASSIA

Someones coming into the Archivists hiding place; I hear their feet on the stairs. Since Im waiting in the main area with the others, I shine my flashlight up like the rest. The figure stops, expecting us.

Once I see who it isa trader Ive passed down here beforeI drop my light. But many of the others dont. Shes trapped there like a moth. A nearby Archivist signals for me to bring my light back up and so I do, blinking, though the girl standing in the doorway is the one caught in the glare.

Samara Rourke, the head Archivist says. You should not be here.

The girl laughs nervously. She wears a bulky pack and she shifts it down a little.

Dont move, the head Archivist says. Well escort you out.

Im allowed to trade here, Samara says. Youre the one who showed me where this place is.

You are no longer welcome, the head Archivist says. Shes somewhere in the shadows, and then she steps forward, pointing the beam of her flashlight right into the girls eyes. This is the Archivists place. They decide who stays in shadows and shades and who has to face the light.

Why? Samara asks, her voice finally faltering a little.

You know why, the Archivist says. Do you want everyone else to know as well?

The girl licks her lips. You should see what I found, she says. I promise youre going to want to know She reaches for the pack at her side.

Samara cheated, the Archivist says, her voice every bit as powerful as the Pilots. It resonates around the room. None of the lights waver and when I close my eyes I can still see their bright spots and the girls nervous, blinded expression. Someone gave an item to Samara to trade on their behalf. She brought it here. We assessed its value, accepted it, and gave an item in return, with a separate, smaller item for the trader fee. And then Samara kept both.

There are crooked traders in the world, plenty of them. But they dont usually dare to try to work with the Archivists.

Youre not out anything, Samara says to the Archivist. You got your payment. Her attempt at defiance makes me ache with pity. What made her do this? Surely she knew shed get caught. If anyone should get to punish me, its the person I stole from.

No, the head Archivist says. You undermine us when you steal.

Three of the Archivists drop their lights and move forward.

My heart pounds and I step back a little farther into the shadows. Though I come down here often, Im not an Archivist. At any time my privilegeswhich are more than those afforded to most traderscould be revoked.

I hear the click of scissors and the head Archivist steps back, holding Samaras red bracelet up in the air. Samara looks ashen but unharmed, and in the lights still directed on her, I can see her sleeve pulled up and her bare wrist where the bracelet used to be.

People should know, the Archivist says to the room at large, that they can trust when they trade with us. What has happened here undermines everything. Now we will have to pay the price of the trade. The others have dropped their lights down now and so her voice is the most recognizable part of her; her face is in shadows. Paying the price for another is not something we like to do. Then her tone changes and the incident is over, finished. You may all go back to your trades.

I dont move. Whos to say I wouldnt do what Samara did, if something passed through my hands that I needed for someone else? Because I think thats what happened. I dont think Samara risked this for herself.

I feel a hand on my elbow and I turn to see who it is.

Its the head Archivist herself. Come with me, she says. Theres something I need to show you.

 

She brings me through rows of shelves and through a long dark hall, her grip firm on my arm. And now were in another vast room ribbed with metal shelves, but these are all filled. Theyre lined with everything anyone could ever want, every lost piece of a past, every fragment of a future.

Other Archivists move among the shelves while some stand guard. This room has other lights, strung along the ceiling and glowing faintly. I catch a glimpse of cases and boxes and containers of uneven sizes. You would need a map to find your way through a place like this.

I know where we are before she tells me, even though Ive never been here before. The Archives. Its a little like seeing the Pilot for the first time; Ive always known of the existence of this place, but to confront it face to face makes me want to sing or weep or run away; Im not certain which.

The Archives are filled with treasures, the Archivist says, and I know every one.

Her hair shines golden in this light, as if she is one of the treasures she guards. Then she turns to look at me.

Not many people have been here, she says.

Then why me? I wonder.

There are many stories that have passed through my hands, the Archivist says. I always liked the one about a girl who was tasked with turning straw into gold. An impossible piece of work, but she managed it more than once. Thats what this job is like.

The Archivist walks partway down an aisle and lifts a case from the shelf. She opens it and inside I see rows and rows of paper-wrapped bars. She takes one of them out and holds it up. If I could, she says,I would stay in here all day. This is where I began my work as an Archivist. I sorted the items and cataloged them. She closes her eyes and breathes in deeply, and I find myself doing the same.

The scent coming from the case is familiar, a memory, but I cant place it at first. My heart beats a bit more quickly and I have a sudden rush of remembered anger; unexpected, out of place. And then I know.

Its chocolate, I say.

Yes, she says. When was the last time you had any?

My Match Banquet, I say.

Of course, she says. She closes the case and reaches for another and opens it. I see glints of silver that at first I think are boxes from Banquets but instead are forks, knives, spoons. Then another case, this one handled even more gently than the others, and inside I see pieces of china, bone white and fragile as ice. Then we move to another aisle and she shows me rings with red and green and blue and white stones, and over again to another row, where she takes out books with pictures so rich and beautiful I have to hold my hands together so that I wont touch the pages.

There is so much wealth in here. Even if I wouldnt trade for silver or chocolate, I understand why someone else would.

Before the Society, the head Archivist says, people used to use money. There were coinssome of them goldand crisp green papers. Theyd trade it with each other and it represented different things.

How did it work? I ask.

Say I was hungry, the Archivist says. Id give someone five of the papers and theyd give me some food.

But then what would they do with the papers?

Use them to get something else, she says.

Did they have things written on them?

No, she says. Nothing like your poems.

I shake my head. Why would anyone do that? Trading the way the Archivists do seems much more logical.

They trusted each other, the Archivist says. Until they didnt anymore.

She waits. Im not sure what she expects me to say.

What Im showing you, the Archivist says, are the things that most people find to be valuable. And we also have cases and cases full of very specific items for more eccentric tastes. We have been doing this for a long time. She leads me back the way we came, to the rows where the jewels were stored. She stops for a moment to take down a case. She doesnt open it, but carries it with her as we walk. Everyone has a currency, she says. One of the most interesting ones is knowledge, when people want to know things, not possess them. Of course, what people want to know is a similarly varied and intricate business. She stops near the end of one of the shelves. What is it you want to know, Cassia?

I want to know if my family and Ky and Xander are all right. What Grandfather meant by the red garden day. What memories Ive lost.

A pause, in that decadent, deliberate room.

Her flashlight glances off the shelves, sending slants and glints of light in strange places. Her face, when I can see it, looks thoughtful. Do you know whats extremely valuable right now? she asks me. Those tubes that the Society had, the secret ones. Have you heard of them? The samples they take long before the Final Banquet?

Ive heard of them, I say. Ive seen them, too. All rowed and stored in a cave in the middle of a canyon. While we were there in that cave, Hunter broke some of the tubes, and Eli and I each stole one of the others.

Youre not the only one who has, the head Archivist says. Some people will do anything they can to get their hands on those samples.

The tubes dont matter, I say. Theyre not real people. Im quoting Ky, and I hope the Archivist cant hear the lie in my voice. Because I stole Grandfathers tube from the Carving and gave it to Ky to hide, and I did that because I cant seem to let go of the idea that those tubes could matter.

That may be, the Archivist says. But others dont agree with you. They want their own samples, and the ones that belong to family and friends. If they lose a loved one in the Plague, theyll want the tubes even more.

If they lose a loved one in the Plague. Is that possible? I wonder, but the minute I speak it I know it is. Death is always possible. I learned that in the Carving.

Almost as if shes reading my mind, the Archivist asks, Youve seen the tubes, havent you? When you were outside the Society?

For some reason I want to laugh. The Cavern you are asking about, yes, I have seen that, with rows and rows of tubes stored neatly in the earth. I have also seen a cave full of papers, and golden apples on dark trees twisted from growing in a place with great wind and little rain, and my name carved in a tree, and paintings on stone.

And in the Carving I have seen burned bodies under the sky and a man singing his daughter to her grave, marking her arms and his with blue. I have felt life in that place, and I have seen death.

You didnt bring back any of those tubes to trade, did you? she asks me.

How much does she know? No, I say.

Thats too bad, she says.

What would people trade for the tubes? I ask.

Everyone has something, the Archivist says. Of course, we dont guarantee anything except that the sample belongs to the right person. We dont promise that theres a way to bring anyone back.

But its implied, I say.

It would only require a few tubes to take you anywhere you wanted to go, the Archivist says. Like Keya Province. She waits, to see if I rise to the bait. She knows where my family is. Or home to Oria.

What about, I say, thinking of Camas, someplace else entirely?

We both look at each other, waiting.

To my surprise, she speaks first, and it is then that I know how badly she wants those samples.

If you are asking for passage to the Otherlands, she says, very softly, that is no longer possible.

Ive never heard of the Otherlandsonly the Other Countries, marked on a map back in Oria, places synonymous with Enemy territory. From the way the Archivist speaks of theOtherlands, though, I can tell she means someplace entirely different and distant, and a little thrill goes through me. Even Ky, who lived in the Outer Provinces, has never mentioned the Otherlands. Where are they? For a moment, Im tempted to tell the Archivist yes, to try and find out more about places so remote they appear on no map Ive ever seen, even the ones belonging to the villagers who once lived in the Carving.

No, I say. I dont have any tubes.

For a moment, were both silent. Then the Archivist speaks. Ive noticed that lately your focus has shifted away from trading, she says. Ive seen the Gallery. Its quite an accomplishment.

Yes, I say. Everyone has something worth sharing.

The Archivist looks at me with pity and astonishment in her eyes. No, she says. Everything done in the Gallery has been done before, and better. But its still a remarkable achievement, in its own way.

She is not the Pilot. I know it now. She reminds me of my Official, back in Oria. They both have in common their conviction that they are still learning, still growing, when in fact they have long ago lost that ability.

 

Its a relief to leave the Archives and go to the Gallery, which is alive and above ground. As I draw closer to the Gallery, I hear something.

Singing.

I dont know the song; its not one of the Hundred. I cant really understand the words, Im too far away, but I hear the melody. A womans voice rises and falls, aches and heals, and then, in the chorus, a man joins in.

I wonder if she knew he was going to sing, too, if it was something they planned, or if she was surprised to suddenly find that she was not alone in her song.

When they stop, at first there is silence. Then a cheer from someone up at the front, and soon we all join in. I press closer through the crowd, trying to see the faces of those who are the music.

Another? the woman asks, and we cry out our answer. Yes.

This time she sings something else, something short and clear. The tune is full of movement but easy to follow:

 

I, a stone, am rolling,

Up the highest hill

 

You, my love, are calling

Though the winter chills

 

We must keep on going

Now and then and still.

 

Could this song be one from the Outer Provinces? It reminds me of the story of Sisyphus, and Ky said they kept their songs longer in the Outer Provinces. But all those people are gone now. That makes it seem like the words should be sad, but with the music behind them, they dont sound that way.

I catch myself humming along, and before I know it, Im singing and so are the people around me. Over and over we go through the song, until we have the words and the melody right. At first Im embarrassed when I catch myself moving, and then I dont care anymore, I dont mind, all I wish is that Ky were here and that he could see me now, singing too and dancing in front of the world.

Or Xander. I wish he were here. Ky already knows how to sing. Does Xander?

Our feet thump on the ground, and we can no longer smell even a trace of the fishes bodies that once bumped up against the shore because theyre decayed now, gone to bone, the smell of them lost in the scent of our living, our flesh, the salt of our tears and sweat, the sharpness of green grass and plants trampled underfoot. Were breathing the same air, singing the same song.


 


CHAPTER 18

XANDER

Over the course of the night, fifty-three new patients come in. Not all of them have the rash and bleeding, but some do. The head physic orders them all quarantined to our wing and assigns me to be the physic over the mutation. Ill be in charge of managing the patients care from the floor while he watches from the port.

Doesnt want to risk his own skin, one of the nurses mutters to me.

Its all right, I tell her. I want to see it through. But that doesnt mean you have to risk it. I can ask him to reassign you someplace else.

She shakes her head. Ill be all right. She smiles at me. After all, you talked him into including the courtyard as part of the quarantine area. That makes a difference.

Weve got the cafeteria, too, I say, and she laughs. None of us spend much time there anymore, except to take delivery of our meals.

The virologist comes in to examine the patients himself. Hes intrigued, too. The bleeding occurs because the virus is destroying platelets, he tells me. Which means the spleen is likely to become enlarged in the affected patients.

A female medic near us nods. Shes conducting a follow-up physical exam of one of the first patients. His spleen is enlarged, she says. Its protruding beneath the costal margin.

And the patients are losing the ability to clear the secretions in their lungs and respiratory tracts, another medic says. Were going to run into trouble with pneumonia and infection if we cant get them better soon.

Farther down the row of patients, we hear a shout. Weve had a rupture! a medic calls. I think hes bleeding internally.

I call out over the miniport for a surgic. We all gather around the patient, who has gone pale. The vital-stats machine screams at us as the patients blood pressure drops and his heart rate speeds up. The medics and surgics yell out instructions.

This patient, and all the rest, lie completely still.

 

We cant save him. We dont even have time to get him to a surgical room before he dies. I glance around at the patients nearby. I hope they havent seen too much. What can they see? The weight of the patients death settles over me as I pick up my miniport, which beeps insistently with a private message from the head physic. Hes watched the whole thing from the main port.

Sending patient data now. Review immediately.

He wants me to look at data now? When weve just had a death? The entire team looks rattled. The point of the medical center, and the Rising, is that we save people. We dont lose them like this.

I walk over to the side of the room to check the data. At first I dont understand the urgency. Its data from the patients whove come in sick, and the information looks like basic medical workups. Im not sure what its supposed to tell me.

Then I get it. The workups are all recent, from when the patients were immunized. The patients were immunized, and they still got the mutation, which means a huge segment of the population is at risk.

Im going to have to lock down your wing completely, the head physic says from the miniport.

I understand, I tell him. Theres nothing else they can do. Were going into lockdown, I tell the team.

They nod, exhausted. They understand. Weve all been through this in drills a million times. Were here to save people.

Then I hear footsteps behind me, running. I spin around.

The virologist is heading for the main doors to the wing. Have they had time to lock it down yet? Or is he going to expose an entire new cluster of people to the mutated plague?

I take off, running back down the rows of patients, as fast as I can. Hes older than me. Its short work to catch up and I tackle him, throwing us both to the ground. You dont run, I say, not bothering to keep the disgust out of my voice. You stay to help when people are sick. Thats part of your job.

Listen, he says, struggling to sit up. I let him but I hold on to his arm. We may not be safe from this mutation. Our immunizations may mean nothing.

Thats exactly why you cant risk exposing anyone else, I say. You know that better than anyone. I haul him up by the back of his uniform and walk him toward one of the wings storage closets. I dont want to lock him up, but Im not sure how else to deal with him right now.

Unless, the virologist says, sounding either crazy or inspired, the people with scars are safe. The small scars.

I know what he means. The people who had the first round of the Plague, I say. The Rising told us to look for the marks, and Lei and I talked about themthose small red scars between their shoulder blades.

Yes, he says eagerly. They could have had a slightly mutated version of the earlier virus, and their variant is close enough to the mutant form that theyre not getting it. But the immunization you and I were givenit was just chopped-up pieces of the original virus. It wont be close enough to this new mutant form to protect us.

I keep hold of him but nod to show that Im listening.

We didnt go down with the earlier version of the Plague, he says. But we were still exposed. Our initial immunity protected us from the worst symptoms, but we could still contract that earlier version of the Plague. Thats how an immunization works. It teaches your body how to react to a virus so your system recognizes the virus when it comes again. Its not that you dont get sick at all. But your body knows how to handle it.

I know, I say. Ive figured out this much already.

Listen to what Im telling you, the virologist says. If that happened, if we actually contracted the first version of the Plague, the one going around when the Pilot first spokethen we have the red mark, too, and were safe. We didnt go down, but we still had the virus. Our bodies just dealt with it. But if we didnt catch the earlier virus during that windowhe spreads out his handswe can still get the mutation. And we may not have a cure that works for this version.


: 2015-09-15; : 4;


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