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DUTTON BOOKS 14 ñòðàíèöà
“Still,” I say, “an immunity and a cure aren’t the same thing. You might not figure out how to bring people back. Maybe you’ll only find out how to keep them from getting the virus in the first place.”
“If so,” Leyna says, “that’s still an extremely valuable discovery.”
“But only if you make it in time,” I say. “You can’t immunize people if they’ve already gotten the virus. So we’re very useful to you, actually.”
I hear a snort from the corner. Oker stands up and walks over toward us.
“Congratulations,” Oker says to me. “You’re not just a Society boy after all. I’d been wondering.”
“Thank you,” I say.
“You were a physic in the Society, weren’t you?” Oker asks.
“I was,” I say.
He waves one knotted hand in my direction. “Assign him to my lab when you’re done,” he tells Leyna.
She doesn’t like it, I can tell, but she nods. “All right,” she says. It’s a sign of a good leader when they know the most important player in their game, and if Oker is it, she should make sure he has what he needs to try to win.
It takes them almost all night to finish questioning me. “You should get some rest,” Leyna says. “I’ll show you where you’ll sleep.”
She walks with me through the village and I hear the crickets singing. Their music sounds different up here than it did in the Borough, like it matters more. There aren’t many other sounds to cover it up, so you have to listen.
“Did you grow up in this village?” I ask her. “It’s beautiful.”
“No,” Leyna says. “I used to live in Camas. Those of us in the Border Provinces were the last to go. They used to let us work at the Army base sometimes. We left for the mountains when the Society tried to gather in the last of the Anomalies and Aberrations.”
She looks off in the distance. “The Pilot was the one who warned us that we should go,” she says. “The Society wanted us all dead. Those who didn’t come along were picked up by the Society and sent out to the Outer Provinces to die.”
“So that’s why you trust the Pilot,” I say. “He warned you.”
“Yes,” she says. “And he’d been part of the vanishings. I don’t know if you’ve heard about them.”
“I have,” I say. “People who escaped from the Society and ended up either here or in the Otherlands.”
“And no one has ever returned from the Otherlands?”
“Not yet,” she says. She stops at a building with bars on the windows. A guard stands at the door and nods to her. “I’m afraid this is the prison,” she says. “We don’t know you well enough to trust you on your own without supervision, so there are times when we will need to keep you here, especially at night. Some of the other people the Pilot brought have been less cooperative than you have. They’re here full-time.”
It makes sense. I’d do the same thing, if I were in charge of this situation. “And Cassia?” I ask. “Where will she stay?”
“She’ll have to sleep here, too,” Leyna says. “But we’ll come for you soon.” She gestures for the guard to take me inside.
“Wait,” I say. “I’m trying to understand.”
“I thought it was clear,” she says. “We don’t know you. We can’t trust you alone.”
“It’s not that,” I say. “It’s about the Otherlands, and why you want to go there. You’re not even sure that they exist.”
“They do,” she says.
Does she know something I don’t? It’s possible that she might not be telling me everything. Why would she? As she’s pointed out, she doesn’t know me and she can’t trust me yet. “But no one ever came back,” I say.
“People like you see that as evidence that the Otherlands aren’t real,” Leyna tells me. “People like me see it is evidence that it’s a place so wonderful no one would ever want to come back.”
Where are you, Ky?
This is it, my greatest fear. What I’ve been afraid of ever since the Carving when I saw those people, dead, out under the sky. Someone I love is leaving me.
The lead sorter, Rebecca, is about my mother’s age. She has me complete a few test sorts. After she goes through my work, she smiles at me and tells me that I can start right away.
“You’ll find that the way we work here is different from what you’re used to,” she says. “In the Society, you sort alone. Here, you will need to talk to Oker and the medics about everything.” She puts the datapod down on the table. “If we make an error and leave something out, miss some pattern, then it could be critical.”
This will be different from any sorting I’ve done before. In the Society, we were not supposed to know what the data was attached to, what it really looked like; everything remained encoded.
“I’ve made a data set with the people in our village and those from the Carving who have lived outside of the Society their entire lives.”
I want to tell her that I know some of those who lived in the Carving—I want to find out how Eli and Hunter are doing. But right now I have to focus on the cure and on Ky and my family.
“We have information about diet, age, recreational habits, occupations, family histories,” Rebecca says. “Some of the data is corroborated by other sources, but most of it is self-reported.”
“So it’s not the most reliable data set,” I observe.
“No,” she says. “But it’s all we have. Commonalities are everywhere in the data, of course. But we’ve been able to narrow certain things down by extrapolating from what we have. For example, our data indicates an environmental or dietary exposure.”
“Do you want me to work on sorting the elements for the cure now?” I ask hopefully.
“I will,” Rebecca says, “but I have another project for you first. I need you to solve a constrained optimization problem.”
I think I already know what she means. It’s the problem that’s been on my mind since I realized there was no cure for the mutation. “You want me to find out how long it will be before the Rising starts unhooking people,” I say. “We need to know how much time we have.”
“Yes,” she says. “The Pilot won’t fly us out if there’s no one left to save. I want you to work on that while I continue sorting for the cure. Then you can help me.” She pushes a datapod across the table. “Here are the notes from Xander’s interview. They include information regarding rate of infection, rate at which the resources were being expended, and patient attributes. We have additional data from the Pilot about these same things.”
“I’m still missing some information,” I say. “I don’t know the initial quantity of the resources or the population of the Society as a whole.”
“You’ll have to extrapolate the initial quantity of resources from the rate of expenditure,” she says. “As for the population of the Provinces as a whole, the Pilot was able to give us an estimate of twenty-point-two million.”
“That’s all?” I ask, stunned. I thought the Society was much larger than that.
“Yes,” she says.
The Rising will be trying to figure out how to best allocate resources and personnel. People have to take care of the still, obviously. Others have to work to keep food coming through, to make sure the buildings in the Cities and Boroughs have power and water. And even if a small pocket of people is safe due to contracting the initial Plague, there are only so many of them, and they’re the ones who are going to have to care for everyone else.
I need to know how many of them are out there—how many people are likely to be immune. I will have to figure out how many people are likely to go still, what percentage of those sick the immune can reasonably keep alive, and how quickly that percentage will decrease.
“Oker’s estimate is that five to ten percent of the population is generally immune to any plague,” Rebecca says. “So there will be that group, as well as the very small group of people like your friend Xander, who were initially immune and then contracted the live virus at precisely the right time. You’ll need to take both of those groups into account.”
“All right,” I say. And, as I have had to do so often before, when I sort the data I must put Ky out of my mind. For a faltering, fragile moment, I want to leave this impossible task behind, let the numbers fall where they might, and walk over to the little room where Ky is and hold him, the two of us together in the mountains now after having come through the canyons.
That can happen, I tell myself. Only a little farther now. Like the journey in the I did not reach Thee poem:
We step like plush, we stand like snow—
The waters murmur now,
Three rivers and the hill are passed,
Two deserts and the sea!
Now Death usurps my premium
And gets the look at Thee.
But I will rewrite the last two lines. Death will not take the people I love. Our journey will end differently.
It takes me a long time, because I want to get it right.
“Are you finished?” Rebecca asks quietly.
For a moment I can’t look up from my result. Back in the Carving, I wished for a time like this, a collaboration with people who have lived out on the edges. Instead we found an empty village in a beautiful place, peopled only by papers and pages left in a cave, things treasured up and left behind.
We are always fighting against going quiet, going gentle.
“Yes,” I say to Rebecca.
“And?” she asks. “How long before they start letting people go?”
“They will have already begun,” I say.
Someone comes inside. I hear the door open and then footsteps crossing the floor.
Could it be Cassia?
Not this time. Whoever this is doesn’t smell like Cassia’s flowers-and-paper scent. This person smells like sweat and smoke. And they breathe differently than she does. Lower. Louder, like they’ve been running and they’re trying to hold it in.
I hear the person reach for the bag.
But I don’t need new fluid. Someone just changed it. Where are they now? Do they know what’s happening?
I feel a tug on my arm. They’ve unhooked the bag from my line and started to drain it. The liquid drips into some kind of bucket instead of into me.
I’m turned toward the window so the wind rattling the panes is even louder now.
Is this happening to everyone? Or only to me? Is someone trying to make sure I don’t come back?
I can hear my own heart slowing down.
I’m going deeper.
The pain is less.
It’s harder to remember to breathe. I repeat Cassia’s poem to myself, breathing with the beats.
New. Rose. Old. Rose. Queen. Anne’s. Lace.
In. Out. In. Out. In. Out. In.
I must have fallen asleep, because I jump when the prison door opens. “Get him out,” someone says to the guard, and then Oker appears in front of my cell, watching the guard unlock the door. “You,” Oker says. “Time to get back to work.”
I glance at the cell across from me. Cassia hasn’t come in. Did she spend the whole night watching over Ky? Or have they made her work all this time? All the other prisoners are quiet. I can hear them breathing, but no one else seems to be awake.
When we get outside, I see that it’s dark: not even early morning yet. “You’re working for me,” Oker says, “so you keep the same hours I do.” He points to the research lab across the way. “That’s mine,” he says. “Do what I say, and you can spend most of your day in there instead of locked up.”
If Leyna’s the physic of this village, then I think Oker is the pilot.
“Follow my instructions exactly,” he tells me. “All I need are your hands since mine don’t work right.”
“Oker isn’t much for introductions,” one of the assistants says after Oker’s left. “I’m Noah. I’ve worked with Oker since he came here.” Noah looks to be somewhere in his mid-thirties. “This is Tess.”
Tess nods to me. She’s a little younger than Noah and has a kind smile.
“I’m Xander,” I say. “What’s all this?” One of the walls of the lab is covered with pictures of people I don’t know. Some are old photos and pages torn from books, but most look like they might have been drawn by hand. Did Oker do that before his hands stopped working right? I’m impressed, and it makes me think of that nurse back in the medical center. Maybe I am the only one who can’t make things—pictures, poems—without any training.
“Oker calls them the heroes of the past,” Noah says. “He believes we should know the work of those who came before us.”
“He trained in the Society, didn’t he,” I say.
“Yes,” Tess says. “He came here ten years ago, right before his Final Banquet.”
“He’s ninety?” I ask. I’ve never known anyone so old.
“Yes,” Noah says. “The oldest person in the world, as far as we know.”
The office door slams open and we all get back to work.
A few hours later, Oker tells the assistants to take a break. “Not you,” he says to me. “I need to make something and you can stay and help me with it.”
Noah and Tess send me sympathetic looks.
Oker sets a bunch of neatly labeled boxes and jars in front of me and hands me a list. “Put this compound together,” he says, and I start measuring. He goes back over to the cabinet to rummage through more ingredients. I hear them clinking together.
Then, to my surprise, he starts talking to me. “You said you saw approximately two thousand patients while you worked in the medical center in Camas,” he says. “Over the course of four months.”
“Yes,” I say. “There were many more patients that I didn’t treat, of course, in other parts of the center and other buildings in Camas.”
“Out of all the ones you did see, how many looked better when they were still than my patients here?” he asks.
“None,” I say.
“That’s a fast answer,” he says. “Take your time to think it over.”
I think back on all of my patients. I can’t remember everyone’s face, but I can call up the last hundred. And Lei, of course.
“None,” I say again.
Oker folds his arms and sits back, satisfied. He watches me measure a few more ingredients. “All right,” he says. “Now you can ask a question.”
I didn’t expect this opportunity, but I’m going to take advantage of it. “What’s the difference between the bags you make and the ones the Rising uses?” I ask.
Oker pushes a container toward me. “Have you ever heard of Alzheimer’s disease?”
That’s a question, not an answer. But I go along with it. “No,” I say.
“Of course not,” Oker says. “Because I cured it before you were born.”
“You cured it,” I say. “Just you. No one else?”
Oker taps a couple of the pictures on the wall behind him. “Not by myself. I was part of a research team in the Society. That disease clogged up the brain with extra proteins. Others before us had worked on the project, but we figured out a way to control the level of expression of those proteins. We shut them down.” He leans a little closer to look at the compound I’ve made. “So, to answer your first question, the difference is that I know what I’m doing when I put together the medication. Unlike the Rising. I know how to help keep some of the proteins from the mutation from accumulating because they act in ways that are similar to the disease we cured. And I know how to keep the patients’ platelets from accumulating in the spleen so patients don’t rupture and bleed internally. The other difference is that I don’t include as many narcotics in my solutions. My patients feel some pain. Not agony, more like discomfort. It reminds them to breathe. More likely to get them back that way.”
“But is that a good thing?” I ask. “What if they can feel all the pain of the boils?”
Oker snorts. “If they feel something, they fight,” he says. “If you were in a place with no pain, why would you want to come back?”
He slides a tray of powder in my direction. “Measure this out and distill it in the solution.”
I look down at the instructions and measure two grams of the powder into the liquid.
“Sometimes I can’t believe this,” Oker mutters. I can’t tell if he’s talking to himself or not, but then he glances in my direction. “Here I am, working on a cure for that damn Plague again.”
“Wait,” I say. “You worked on the first cure?”
He nods. “The Society knew about the work we’d done in protein expression. They pulled my team to work on the cure for the Plague. Before the Society sent it out to the Enemy, they wanted to make sure we had a cure—in case the Plague came back.”
“So the Rising lied,” I say. “The Society did have a cure.”
“Of course they did,” Oker says. “Not enough for a pandemic, so the Rising does get credit for making more. But the Society came up with the cure first. I bet your Pilot didn’t mention that.”
“He didn’t,” I say.
“I paid a considerable amount for my escape here,” Oker says. “The current Pilot is the one who brought me out.” Oker walks over to look for something else in the cupboard. “That was before he was the Rising’s Pilot,” he says, his voice muffled. “When the Rising asked him to lead, I told him not to believe them. They’re no rebellion. They’re Society, with a different name, and they just want you and your followers, I said. But he was so sure it would work.” Oker comes back to the table. “Maybe he wasn’t that sure,” he says. “He kept note of where I was here in Endstone.”
So Oker was part of the vanishings that Lei told me about. “Did that bother you?” I ask. “Him keeping track of you like that?”
“No,” Oker says. “I wanted to be out of the Society, and I was. I don’t mind feeling useful now and then. Here.” He hands me the datapod. “Scroll through this list for me.”
As I do, he grumbles. “Can’t they narrow it down any more? We all assume that it’s something environmental. Well, we eat anything we can find or grow. It’s a long list. We’ll find something to help them. But it might not be in time.”
“Why didn’t the Pilot bring you into Camas or Central?” I ask. “That would be a better place to work on the cure. They could bring you supplies and plants from the mountain. In the Provinces, you’d have access to all the data, the equipment ”
Oker’s face is rigid. “Because I agreed to work with him on one condition only,” he says. “That I stay right here.”
“Once you get out,” Oker says, “you don’t go back.”
His hands look so old, like paper covering bone, but the veins stand out, fat with life and blood. “I can tell you have another question,” he says, his voice annoyed and interested at the same time. “Ask it.”
“The Pilot told us that someone contaminated the water supplies,” I say. “Do you think they also created the mutation? They both happened so fast. It seems like the mutation could have been manipulated, just like the outbreak was.”
“That’s a good question,” Oker says, “but I’d bet that the mutation occurred naturally. Small genetic changes take place regularly in nature, but unless there is an advantage conferred by a mutation, it is simply lost because other nonmutated versions predominate.” He points to another jar, and I take it down for him and unstop the lid. “But if some kind of selective pressure is present and confers an advantage to a mutation, that mutation ends up outgrowing and surviving the nonmutated forms.”
“That’s what a virologist back in Camas told me,” I say.
“He’s right,” Oker says. “At least to my thinking.”
“He also told me that it was likely the cure itself that applied the selective pressure and caused the mutation.”
“It’s likely,” Oker says, “but even so, I don’t think anyone planned that part. It was, as we who live outside of the Society sometimes say, bad luck. One of the mutations was immune to the cure, and so it flourished and caught on.”
Oker’s confirmed it. The cure caused the real pandemic.
“I’ve gotten ahead of myself,” Oker says. “I haven’t yet told you the way a virus works. You’ve figured some of it out for yourself. But the best way to explain it,” and his tone is dry, “is to refer to a story. One of the Hundred, in fact. Number Three. Do you remember it?”
“Yes,” I say, and I actually do. I’ve always remembered it because the girl’s name—Xanthe—sounds a little like my own.
“Tell it to me,” Oker says.
The last time I tried to tell a story was to Lei and it didn’t go well at all. I wish I’d done better for her. But I’ll try again now, because Oker asked me to do it and I think he’s going to be the one to figure out the cure. I have to try to keep from smiling. It’s going to happen. We’re going to do it.
“The story is about a girl named Xanthe,” I say. “One day she decided she didn’t want to eat her own food. When the meal delivery came she snatched her father’s oatmeal and ate it instead. But it was too hot, and all day long Xanthe felt sick and feverish. The next day she stole her mother’s oatmeal, but it was too cold, and Xanthe shook with chills. On the third day she ate her own meal and it was just right. She felt fine.” I stop. It’s a pretty stupid story, meant to remind Society kids to do what they’re told. “It goes on and on like that,” I tell Oker. “She ends up with three citations for improper behavior before she realizes the Society knows what’s right for her.”
To my surprise, he nods. “Good enough,” he says. “The only part you forgot was the part about her hair.”
“Right,” I say. “It was gold. That’s what the name Xanthe means.”
“Doesn’t matter anyway,” Oker says. “The important thing is the idea that something could be too hot, too cold, and just right. That’s what you need to remember about the way a virus works. It uses something I think of as the Xanthe strategy. A virus doesn’t want to run out of targets too quickly. It kills the organism it infects, but it can’t kill too fast. It needs to be able to transfer to another organism in time.”
“So if the virus kills everything too quickly,” I say, “it’s too hot.”
“And if it doesn’t move to another organism fast enough, it dies,” Oker says. “Too cold.”
“But somewhere in the middle,” I say, “is just right.”
Oker nods. “This mutation,” he says, “was just right. And not only because of the Society and the Rising and what they each did. They contributed to some of the conditions, yes. But the virus mutated on its own, as viruses have done for years. There have been Plagues all through history and that won’t end with this one.”
“So we’re never really safe,” I say.
“Oh no, my boy,” Oker says, almost gently. “That might be the Society’s greatest triumph—that so many of us ever believed that we were.”
Ishould go to see Ky.
I should stay here and work on the cure.
When I let myself really think, I am torn between two places and become lost, adrift in worry, accomplishing nothing and helping no one. So I don’t think, not that way. I think about plants and cures and numbers and I sort through the data, trying to find something that will bring back the still.
Comparing the lists isn’t as simple as it sounds. They don’t only include names of the things that the villagers and the farmers ate, but also the frequency with which the foodstuffs were consumed; the type of ground where they were cultivated, if they were plant or animal goods, and a myriad of other information that needs to be taken into account. Just because something was eaten often doesn’t mean that it provides immunity; conversely, something eaten only once is unlikely to produce immunity.
People go in and out—medics examining patients and returning to report, Oker and Xander doing their work, the sorters taking breaks, Leyna checking in to see our progress. I become accustomed to the comings and goings and eventually I don’t even look up when I hear the wooden door opening, closing; I barely notice when the mountain breeze slips in and rustles my hair.
A woman’s voice breaks into my concentration. “We thought of a few more things,” she says. “I want to make certain we included them all on our list.”
“Of course,” Rebecca says.
Something about the woman’s voice seems familiar. I glance up.
She looks older than her voice sounds, her hair completely gray and twisted in complicated braids and knots up high on her head. She has weathered skin and a gentle way of moving her hands, holding up a list on a piece of paper. Even from here, I can tell that it’s handwritten, not printed.
“Anna,” I say out loud.
She turns to look at me. “Have we met?” she asks.
“No,” I say. “I’m sorry. But I’ve seen your village, and I know Hunter and Eli.” I want to see Eli. But because I’ve been visiting Ky and working on the cure, I haven’t taken the time to go looking for the farmers’ new settlement, even though I know it’s not far from the main village. Guilt washes over me, although I don’t know if Leyna and others would let me go, even if I asked. I am here to work on the cure.
“You must be Cassia,” Anna says. “Eli has always talked about you.”
“I am,” I say. “Tell Eli that Ky is here, too.” Has Eli told Anna about Ky? From the flash of recognition in Anna’s eyes, I think that Eli has. “But Ky is one of the patients.”
“I’m very sorry,” Anna says.
I grip the edges of the rough-hewn table, reminding myself not to think too deeply of Ky, or I’ll break down and be no good to him at all. “Hunter and Eli—they’re fine?”
“They are,” Anna says.
“I’ve wanted to come see them—” I begin.
“It’s all right,” Anna says. “I understand.”
Rebecca moves slightly and Anna takes the hint. She smiles at me. “After I’m finished, I’ll tell Eli that you’re here. He’ll want to see you. And so will Hunter.”
“Thank you,” I say, not quite believing that I’ve met her. This is Anna, the woman who I heard about from Hunter and whose writings I saw in the cave. When she begins reading her list, I can’t tune out the sound of her voice.
“Mariposa lily,” Anna says to Rebecca. “Paintbrush flowers, but only in small quantities. It can be toxic otherwise. We used sage to season, and ephedra for tea ”
Words as beautiful as songs. And I realize why I knew Anna’s voice. It sounds the smallest bit like my mother’s. I pull a scrap of paper toward me and write down the names Anna says. My mother might already know some of them, and she will love to learn the others. I’ll sing them back to her when I bring her the cure.
“It’s time for you to rest for a little while.” Rebecca presses a piece of flatbread wrapped in cloth into my hand. The bread is warm and the smell of it makes my stomach rumble. They make their own food here. What would that be like? What if I had time to learn that, too? “And here,” she says, handing me a canteen. “You should eat while you visit him.”
She knows where I’m going, of course.
As I walk down the path to the infirmary, I breathe in the forest. Wildflowers grow in all the places where people don’t walk; purple and red and blue and yellow. The clouds, a stirring and startling pink, soar in the sky above the trees and peaks of the mountains. And a conviction comes to me in this moment: We can find a cure. I have never felt it so strongly.
When I arrive, I sit down next to Ky and look at him, touch his hand.
The victims of the Plague don’t close their eyes. I wish that they did. Ky’s look flat and gray; not the colors I’m used to seeing, blue, green. I put my hand on his forehead, feeling the smooth expanse of skin and the understructure of bone. He seems hot. Could he be infected? “He doesn’t look good,” I say to one of the medics on duty. “His nutrient bag is already empty. Do you have the drip turned up too high?”
She checks her notes. “This patient should still have one working.”
I don’t move. It’s not Ky’s fault something went wrong. After a moment she stands up and goes to get a new bag to attach to his line. She seems harried. There are only two medics on duty. “Do you need more help in here?” I ask.
“No,” she says sharply. “Leyna and Oker only want those of us with medical training to work with the still.”
After she finishes, I sit next to Ky and rest my hand on his, thinking of how alive he was on the Hill, in the canyons, and, for a moment, in the mountains. And then he was gone. I think of how I spent all that time puzzling out the color of his eyes when I started to fall in love with him. I found him changeable and difficult to put into one finite set, one clear description.
Äàòà äîáàâëåíèÿ: 2015-09-15; ïðîñìîòðîâ: 9; Íàðóøåíèå àâòîðñêèõ ïðàâ