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DUTTON BOOKS 3 ñòðàíèöà
I glance over at Official Lei. She’s looking out the window now, in the direction of the mountains. People who are from this Province do that, I’ve noticed. They’re always looking to the mountains. Maybe they know something I don’t. Is that where the Pilot is?
I wish I could tell the parents of the little boy that everything is going to be fine. The fear on their faces tells me that they’re not part of the Rising. They don’t know that there’s a Pilot or a cure.
But there is. I’m sure of it. The Rising has it all planned out:
The Plague has been making inroads into the Provinces for months. The Society has managed to keep the illness contained, but one day it will break—and the Society will no longer be able to keep up with the spread of the disease. At this point, citizens will know what they have so far only suspected: there is a disease that the Society cannot cure.
When the Plague breaks, that is our beginning.
I’m part of the second phase of the Rising, which means that I’m supposed to wait until I hear the Pilot’s voice before I take action. When the Pilot speaks, I’m to report to the main medical center as soon as possible. I don’t know what the Pilot sounds like, but my contact within the Rising assured me that I’ll recognize the Pilot’s voice when the time comes.
This is going to be even easier than I thought. The Society’s about to take me in for quarantine. I’ll be ready and waiting when the Pilot finally speaks.
The medics hand us all masks and gloves before we climb into the air car. I pull the mask over my face even though I know none of the precautions are necessary for me. I can’t get the Plague.
That’s the other thing the Rising’s tablets do. Not only do they make you immune to the red tablet, they also make you immune to the Plague.
The baby wails as they put on his mask, and I glance over at him in concern. He might get sick, since he was likely exposed to the illness before we could give him the tablet.
But if he does get sick, I remind myself, the Rising has a cure.
There’s a river that winds through the middle of Camas City. During the daytime the water is blue. Tonight it looks like a broad black street. For a little while we hover along the dark surface of the water on our way into the center of the City.
The main City buildings, including the largest medical center in Camas, are all encircled by a high white wall. “When did that go up?” the father asks, but the medics don’t answer.
The wall is new. The Society has built it to keep the Plague contained. It’s one of many walls the Rising will have to tear down.
“Don’t say you don’t know,” the father says. “Officials know everything.” His voice sounds hard and angry now, and he looks first at Official Brewer, then Official Lei, then at me. I hold his gaze.
“We’ve told you what we can,” Official Brewer says. “Your family is under enough distress. I’d prefer not to add a citation to your difficulties.”
“I’m sorry,” Official Lei says to the father. I hear almost perfect empathy in her voice. I hope that’s the way the Pilot sounds.
The father turns around and faces forward again, his shoulders rigid. He doesn’t say anything more. I can’t wait to get out of this uniform. It promises more than we can deliver, and it represents something I haven’t believed in for a while now. Even Cassia’s face changed when she saw me wearing it for the first time.
“What do you think?” I asked her. I stood in front of the port and held my arms out to my sides and turned around, grinning, acting the way the Society would expect me to because I knew they were watching.
“I thought I’d be there when it happened,” she said, her eyes wide. I could tell from the tight sound of her voice that she was holding something back. Surprise? Anger? Sadness?
“I know,” I said. “They’ve changed the ceremony. They didn’t bring my parents out either.”
“Oh, Xander,” Cassia said. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be,” I said, teasing her. “We’ll be together when we celebrate our Contract.”
She didn’t deny it: not with the Society watching. So there we were. All I wanted was to reach her and it was impossible, since she was in Central and I was in Camas and we were talking through the ports in our apartments.
“Your shift must have ended hours ago,” she said. “Does this mean you left your uniform on all day to show off?” She was teasing back, and I relaxed.
“No,” I said. “The rules have changed. We have to wear our uniforms all the time now. Not just at work.”
“Even when you sleep?” she asked.
I laughed. “No,” I said. “Not then.”
She nodded and blushed a little. I wondered what she was thinking about. I wished we were together: face to face in the same room. In person, it’s a lot easier to show someone what you really mean.
All the questions I had for her crowded my mind.
Are you really all right? What happened in the Outer Provinces?
Did the blue tablets help you? Did you read my messages? Have you figured out my secret? Do you know that I’m part of the Rising? Did Ky tell you? Are you part of the Rising now, too?
You loved Ky when you went into the canyons. So, was it the same when you came out?
I don’t hate Ky. I respect him. But that doesn’t mean I think he should be with Cassia. I think she should be with whomever she wants to be with, and I still believe it could be me in the end.
“It’s nice, isn’t it,” she said, her face serious and committed, “to be part of something greater than yourself.”
“Yes,” I said, and our eyes met. Even with all that distance between us, I knew. She didn’t mean the Society. She meant the Rising. We’re both in the Rising. I felt like shouting and singing all at once but I couldn’t do either. “You’re right,” I said. “It is.”
“I like the red insignia,” she said, changing the subject. “Your favorite color.”
I grinned. She’d read the scraps I put in the blue tablets. She hadn’t forgotten about me while she was with Ky.
“I’ve been meaning to tell you,” she said. “I know I always said my favorite color was green. That’s what it says on my microcard. But I’ve changed it.”
“So what is it now?” I asked her.
“Blue,” she said. “Like your eyes.” She leaned forward a little. “There’s something about the blue.”
I wanted to think she was giving me a compliment, but that wasn’t it. She wanted to tell me something more. I knew there was meaning beyond what she was saying: but what? Why the addition of the word the? Why not say “There’s something about blue?”
I think she meant the blue tablets that I gave her back in the Borough. Was she trying to tell me that they saved her, the way we always believed they would? We all knew the tablets were meant to keep us alive in the event of a disaster. I wanted Cassia to have as many as possible when she left, just in case.
When I gave Cassia the tablets, I didn’t tell her the truth about how I got them. I tried to find the explanation that would cause her the least worry. What I had to do to get the papers and tablets for her was worth it. I keep telling myself that, and most of the time I believe it.
I don’t see any signs of rebellion as we arrive inside the white barricade. The Society appears to be in absolute control of the situation. A huge white tent marks the triage area, and they’ve set up temporary lights throughout the grounds inside the walls. Officials wearing protective gear oversee everything. Other air cars full of medics and patients land near us.
I’m not worried. I know the Rising’s coming. And, without knowing it, the Society has delivered me almost exactly where I need to be. I wish Cassia and I could be together to see it all happen and to hear the Pilot for the first time. I wonder what she thinks of it all. She’s in the Rising. She must know about the Plague, too.
“Infected to the right,” an Official in a hazmat suit tells our medics. “Quarantine to the left.”
I glance over to the left to see where he’s pointing. Camas’s City Hall.
“They must have run out of space in the medical center,” Official Lei says softly to me.
That’s a good sign: a very good sign. The Plague is moving quickly. It’s only a matter of time before the Rising will need to step in. Already, most of the Society Officials look harried as they direct the traffic of people.
We walk up the steps and into City Hall. For a second I imagine that Cassia’s walking next to me and we’re on our way to the Banquet.
Official Lei pushes open the doors. “Keep moving,” someone inside directs us, but I understand why people might stop in their tracks. The Hall has changed.
Inside the huge open area under the dome, there are rows and rows of tiny clear cells. I know what they are: temporary containment centers that can be constructed anywhere in case of an epidemic or pandemic. I’ve learned about them in my training but have never seen them for myself.
The cells can be taken apart and put together in different configurations, like the pieces of a puzzle. They have their own sewage and plumbing systems inside their floors, and the systems can be piggybacked onto those of a larger building. Each cell has a tiny cot, a slot for food delivery, and a small partition at the back, large enough for a latrine. The most distinguishing feature of the cells, besides their size, is the walls. They are, for the most part, transparent.
Transparency of care, the Society calls it. Everyone can see what is happening to everyone else, and medical Officials can watch their subjects at all times.
The rumor is that the Society perfected this system back in the days when Officials were on the move looking for Anomalies. Sometimes the Society had to set up centers to contain all the Anomalies they found in order to evaluate them, and so that’s when they developed the cells. When the Officials from the Safety Department finished tracking down the majority of those they determined to be dangerous, they turned the cells over to the Medical Department for use. The Society’s official story is that these have always existed only for medical quarantine and containment.
Before I joined the Rising, I hadn’t heard much about the way the Society methodically culled the Anomalies from the general populace—but I believe it. Why wouldn’t I? They did something like it again years later, with Ky and other Aberrations.
I run a quick calculation as I look at all the cells. They’re over half full. It won’t be long before they’re at maximum capacity.
“You’ll be in here,” an Official says, pointing to Official Brewer. He nods to us and goes inside the cell, sitting down on the cot obediently.
They move past a few empty cells before they stop again. I guess they don’t want to put people next to those they know, which makes sense. It’s disturbing enough to watch a stranger go down with the illness, even when you know they’ll get better.
“Here,” the Official says to Official Lei, and she walks inside the cell. I smile at her as the door slides shut and she smiles back. She knows. She has to be part of the Rising.
A few more cells over, and it’s my turn. The cell feels even smaller on the inside than it looks on the outside. When I stretch out my arms, I can touch both walls at the same time. A thin sound of music comes through the walls. They’re playing the Hundred Songs to keep us from going crazy with boredom.
I’m one of the lucky ones. I know that the Pilot’s going to save us, and I also know that I’m not going to get the Plague. And when you’re lucky, like my family always has been, it’s your responsibility to do the right thing. My parents told us that. “We’re on the right side of the Society’s data,” my father would say, “but it could just as easily have gone the other way. Things aren’t fair. It’s our job to do what we can to change that.”
When my parents discovered that my brother, Tannen, and I were both immune to the red tablet, they became more protective because they realized that we were going to remember things that even they couldn’t. But they also told us that this was something important, our immunity. It meant that we would know what really happened and we could use that knowledge to make a difference.
So when the Rising approached me, I knew immediately that I wanted to be a part of it.
Something thuds against the wall on the other side of the cell and I turn. It’s another patient, a kid who looks like he’s about thirteen or fourteen. He’s lost consciousness and fallen against the wall without putting his hands out to catch himself. He hits the floor hard.
Within moments, the medics are at the door and inside the cell, masks and gloves on. They lift him up and take him out of the cell and then out of the Hall and, presumably, to the medical center. Some kind of liquid sheets down the walls and a chemical-laced steam boils up from the floor. They’re sanitizing the cell to get it ready for the next person.
The poor kid. I wish I could have helped him.
I stretch out my arms again and press against the walls, pushing back so that I can feel the muscles extend all along my arms. I won’t have to feel helpless much longer.
A girl sits near me on the air train, wearing a beautiful full-skirted gown. But she doesn’t look happy. The confused expression on her face mirrors the way I feel. I know I’m coming home from work, but why so late? My mind is foggy and very tired. And I’m nervous, on edge. Something feels the way it did in the Borough the morning they took Ky away. There’s a sharpness in the air, an echo of a scream on the wind.
“Did you get Matched tonight?” I ask the girl, and the moment the words come out of my mouth I think, What a stupid question. Of course she did. There’s no other occasion besides a Banquet where someone would wear a dress like this. Her dress is yellow, the same color my friend Em wore for her Banquet back home.
The girl looks at me, her expression uncertain, and then she glances down at her hands to see if the answer is there. It is, in the form of a little silver box. “Yes,” she says, her eyes lighting up. “Of course.”
“You couldn’t have the Banquet at Central Hall,” I say to the girl, remembering something else. “Because it’s being renovated.”
“That’s right,” she says, and her father turns to look at me, an expression of concern on his face.
“So where did you have it?” I ask.
She doesn’t answer me; she snaps the silver box open and shut. “It all happened so fast,” she says. “I’m going to have to look at the microcard again when I get home.”
I smile at her. “I remember that feeling,” I say, and I do.
I slip my hand inside my sleeve and feel a tiny scrap of paper there, one that’s too small to be a poem. I don’t dare take it out on the air train in front of so many eyes, but I think I know what’s happened.
Back in the Borough, when the rest of my family took the tablet and I didn’t, they all seemed like I do now. Confused, but not completely at sea. They knew who they were and understood most of what they were doing.
The air train slides to a stop. The girl and her family get off. At the last moment, I stand up and slip through the doors. This isn’t my station but I can’t sit any longer.
The air in Central feels moist and cold. It’s not quite dark yet, but I see a hook of moon tipped in the dark blue water of the evening sky. Breathing deeply, I walk down to the bottom of the metal steps and stand off to the side, letting the others pass. I pull out the slip of paper from my sleeve, hiding my hands and their movements in the shadows under the stairs the best I can.
The paper says remember.
I’ve taken the red tablet. And it worked.
I’m not immune.
Some part of me, some hope and belief in what I am, dissolves and disappears.
“No,” I whisper.
This can’t be true. I am immune. I have to be.
Deep down, I believed in my immunity. I thought I would be like Ky, like Xander and Indie. After all, I have conquered the other two tablets. I walked through the blue tablet in the Carving, even though it was supposed to stop me cold. And I’ve never once taken the green.
The sorting part of my mind tells me: You were wrong. You are not immune. Now you know.
If I’m not immune, then what have I forgotten? Lost forever?
My mouth tastes like tears. I run my tongue over my teeth, feeling to see if there’s any trace of tablet left. Calm down. Think of what I remember.
My most recent memory before the air train is of leaving the sorting center. But why was I there so late? I shift and feel something under my plainclothes, something besides the poems. The red dress. I’m wearing it. Why?
Because Ky is coming tonight. I remember that.
I put my hand over my pounding heart and feel the whisper of paper underneath.
And I remember that I have poems to trade and that I carry them next to my skin.
I know how these papers came to me, back when I first got here. I remember it perfectly.
A few days after my arrival in Central, I walked along the edge of the white barrier circling the stillzone. For a moment I pretended that I was back in the Carving; that the barrier was one of the canyon walls and that the windows that lined the apartment buildings all the way up were the caves in the Outer Provinces; crevices in the stone of the canyon where people could hide, live, paint.
But, I realized as I walked, the outside surfaces of the apartments are so slick and same that even Indie couldn’t find a hold on the walls.
The lawns of the greenspaces were covered in snow. The air felt like it did back in Oria in winter, thick and cold. The fountain in the middle of one of the greenspaces had a marble sphere balancing on a pedestal. A Sisyphus fountain, I thought, and I told myself, I need to be gone by spring, by the time the water runs over it again.
I thought about Eli. This is his city, where he came from. I wonder if he feels about it the way I do about Oria; that, in spite of all that has happened, it’s still home. I remembered watching Eli go toward the mountains with Hunter, the two of them hoping to find the farmers who had avoided the Society for so long.
I wondered if the barricade was up when he lived here.
And I missed him almost as much as I missed Bram.
The branches above me were dry, dead, their fingers unleaved and bare. I reached up and snapped one down.
I listened. For something. For some sound of life in that quiet circle. But there were no sounds, really, beyond the ones that can’t be stilled—like wind in trees.
But I realize that told me nothing.
In the Society, we don’t call out beyond our own bodies, the walls of our rooms. When we scream it is only in the world of our own dreams, and I have never been sure who hears.
I glanced over to make sure that no one was watching, and then I bent down and in the snow near the wall I wrote an E for Eli’s name.
When I finished, I wanted more.
These branches will be my bones, I thought, and the paper will be my heartand skin, the places that feel everything. I broke more branches into pieces: a shinbone, a thighbone, arm bones. They had to be in segments so they would move when I did. I slid them up into the legs of my plainclothes and down into my sleeves.
Then I stood up to move.
It’s a strange feeling, I thought, like my bones are walking along with me on the outside of my body.
“Cassia Reyes,” someone said behind me.
I turned around in surprise. A woman looked back at me, her features unremarkable. She wore a standard-issue gray coat, like mine, and her hair and eyes were brown or gray; it was hard to say. She looked cold. I couldn’t tell how long she’d been watching me.
“I have something that belongs to you,” she said. “It was sent in from the Outer Provinces.”
I didn’t answer. Ky had taught me that sometimes silence was best.
“I cannot guarantee your safety,” the woman said. “I can only guarantee the authenticity of the items. But if you come with me, I’ll take you to them.”
She stood up and began walking. In moments she’d be out of sight.
So I followed her. When she heard me coming, she slowed down and let me catch up. We walked, not speaking, along streets and past buildings, beyond the edges of the pools of light from the streetlamps and then to a snarled wire fence enclosing an enormous grassy field, pitted with rubble. Ghostly white plastic coverings on the ground billowed and breathed in and out with the passing breeze.
She ducked through a gap in the fence and I did, too.
“Stay close,” she said. “This field is an old Restoration site. There are holes everywhere.”
As I followed her, I realized with excitement where I must be going. To the Archivists’ real hiding place, not the Museum where they did superficial, surface trading. I was going to the place where the Archivists must store things, where they themselves went to exchange poems and papers and information and who knew what else. As I skirted the holes in the ground and listened to the wind rustle the plastic coverings, I knew that I should be afraid, and somewhere deep inside, I was.
“You’re going to have to wear this,” the woman said, once we were in the middle of the field. She pulled out a dark piece of fabric. “I need to tie it over your eyes.”
I cannot guarantee your safety.
“All right,” I said, and turned my back to her.
When she was finished tying the cloth, she held me by the shoulders. “I’m going to spin you around,” she said.
A little laugh escaped me. I couldn’t help it. “Like a game from First School,” I said, remembering when we covered our eyes with our hands and played children’s games on the lawns of the Borough during leisure hours.
“A little bit like that,” she agreed, and then she spun me, and the world whirled around me dark and chill and whispering. I thought of Ky’s compass then, with its arrow that could always tell you where north was no matter how often you turned, and I felt the familiar sharp pain that I always had when I thought of the compass, and how I traded his gift away.
“You’re very trusting,” she said.
I didn’t answer. Back in Oria, Ky had told me that Archivists were no better or worse than anyone else, so I wasn’t certain I could trust her, but I felt that I had to take the risk. She held my arm and I walked with her, lifting my feet awkwardly, trying not to step on anything. The ground felt cold and hard under my feet but every now and then I felt the give of grass, something that had once been growing.
She stopped and I heard the rasp of her pulling something away. Plastic, I thought, that white sheeting covering the remains of the buildings. “It’s underground,” she said. “We’ll go down a set of stairs, and then we’ll reach a long hallway. Go very slowly.”
I waited but she didn’t move.
“You first,” she said.
I put my hands up to the walls, which were close and tight, and felt old bricks covered in moss. I scuffed my foot forward and took one step down.
“How will I know when I’ve reached the end?” I asked her, and the words and the way I used them made me think of the poem from the Carving, the one I loved the best of those I found in the farmers’ library cave, the one that always seemed to speak of my journey to Ky:
I did not reach Thee
But my feet slip nearer every day
Three Rivers and a Hill to cross
One Desert and a Sea
I shall not count the journey one
When I am telling thee.
When I reached the last step, my foot slipped, just like in the poem.
“Keep going,” she said from behind me. “Use the wall to guide you.”
I dragged my right hand along the bricks while dirt crumbled among my fingers, and after a time I felt the walls open up into the space of a large room beyond. My feet echoed along the ground and I heard different sounds; feet shifting, people breathing. I knew we were not alone.
“This way,” the woman said, and she took my arm to guide me. We moved away from the sounds of others.
“Stop,” the woman said. “When I take off the blindfold,” she told me, “you’ll see the items that someone arranged to be delivered to you. You may notice that several are missing. They were the payment for delivery, agreed upon by the sender.”
“All right,” I said.
“Take your time to look things over,” she said. “Someone will come back to escort you out.”
It took me a moment—I was disoriented and the place underground was dim—to understand what I was seeing. After a moment, I realized that I was walled-in by two rows of long, empty metal shelves. They looked slick and clean, as if someone cared for them and smoothed away their dust, but even so they reminded me of the crypt of a tomb we saw once in one of the Hundred History Lessons, where there were little caves full of bones and people carved in stone on top of boxes. So much death, the Society told us, with no chance of life afterward. There was no tissue preservation then.
In the middle of the shelf in front of me, I saw a large packet wrapped in thick plastic. When I pulled back the top edge of the plastic, I found paper. The pages I brought out of the Carving. The smell of water and dust, sandstone, seemed to come up from the paper.
Ky. He managed to send them to me.
I put my hands flat on the papers, breathing in, holding on. He touched these too.
In my mind, a stream ran and snow fell, and we said good-bye on the bank, and I took to the water and he ran alongside it, bringing these words the length of the river.
I turned through the papers, looking at each page. And in that cold metal aisle, alone, I wanted him. I wanted his hands at my back and his lips speaking poems on mine and our journey to each other to be completed, the miles between us consumed and all distance closed.
A figure appeared at the end of the shelves. I held the papers against my chest and backed up a few steps.
“Is everything all right?” someone asked, and I realized it was the same woman who had brought me. She came closer, the yellow-white circle of her flashlight directed down at my feet and not at my face to blind me. “Have you had enough time to look?”
“Everything appears to be here,” I said. “Except for three poems, which I assume are the price you mentioned for the trade.”
“Yes,” she said. “If that’s all you need, then you can go. Come out of the shelves and cross the room. There’s only one door. Take the stairs back out.”
No blindfold this time? “But then I’ll know where we are,” I said. “I’ll know how to come back.”
She smiled. “Exactly.” Her gaze lingered on the papers. “You can trade here, if you like. No need to go to the Museum with a cache like that.”
“Would I be an Archivist then?” I asked.
“No,” she said. “You’d be a trader.”
For a moment, I thought she said traitor, which of course I was, to the Society. But then she went on. “Archivists work with traders. But Archivists are different. We’ve had specific training, and we can recognize forgeries that the average trader would never notice.” She paused and I nodded to show I understood the importance of what she was saying. “If you bargain with a trader alone, you have no guarantee of authenticity. Archivists are the only ones with adequate knowledge and resources to ascertain whether or not information or articles are genuine. Some say the faction of Archivists is older than the Society.”
She glanced down at the pages in my hands and then back up at me. “Sometimes a trade comes through with items worth noting,” she says. “Your papers, for example. You can trade them one at a time, if you like. But they will have more value as a group. The larger the collection, the higher the price you can get. And if we see potential in you, you may be allowed to broker others’ trades on our behalf and collect part of the fee.”
“Thank you,” I said. Then, thinking of the words of the Thomas poem, which Ky always thought I might be able to trade, I asked, “What about poems that are remembered?”
“You mean, poems with no paper document to back them up?” she asked.
“There was a time when we would accept those, though the value was less,” she said. “That is no longer the case.”
I should have assumed as much, from the way the Archivist in Tana reacted when I tried to trade with the Tennyson poem. But I thought that the Thomas poem, unknown to anyone except Ky and me, might have been an exception. Still, I had a wealth of possibility, thanks to Ky.
Äàòà äîáàâëåíèÿ: 2015-09-15; ïðîñìîòðîâ: 6; Íàðóøåíèå àâòîðñêèõ ïðàâ