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DUTTON BOOKS 10 ñòðàíèöà
For a minute he sounds crazy, like he’s speaking gibberish, and then it all comes together and I think he might be right.
He twists his arm free from my grasp and starts unbuttoning the top of his plainclothes. Then he pulls down the collar of his black uniform. “Look,” he says. “I don’t have the small mark. Do I?”
“No,” I say. I resist the urge to pull down my own collar and try to see if the mark is there. I’ve never thought to look for it on myself. “You’re needed here. And if you go out there, you could infect other people. You’ve been exposed to the mutation already, like the rest of us.”
“I’ll go out into the woods. People in the Borders have always known how to survive. There are places I can go.”
“Like where?” I ask.
“Like the stone villages,” he says.
I raise my eyebrows. Is he confused? I don’t know what those places are. I’ve never heard of them before. “And do they have fluid and nutrient bags there?” I ask. “Do they have what you need to stay alive until there’s a cure? And don’t you care about exposing them to illness?”
He stares up at me with wild-eyed panic. “Didn’t you see him?” he asks. “That patient? He died. I can’t stay here.”
“Was that the first time you’ve seen anyone die in real life?” I ask.
“People didn’t die in the Society,” he says.
“They did,” I say. “They were just better at hiding it.” And I understand why the virologist is afraid. I think about running away too, but only for a second.
The head physic decides to relax the lockdown long enough to send us more patients and more personnel. He’s heard everything the virologist told me over the miniport, so he’ll decide how to report it all to the Pilot. I’m glad that’s not my job.
But I do have one request for the head physic. “When you send in the new personnel,” I say, “make sure they know this new form of the virus hasn’t responded yet to the cure. We don’t need anyone else trying to run. We want them to know what they’re getting into.”
It’s not long before several Rising officers, armed and wearing hazmat suits, escort the new personnel to our wing. The officers take the virologist away with them. I’m not sure where they’ll quarantine him—in an empty room on his own, perhaps—but he’s become a liability, and we can’t keep him here when he’s so volatile. I’m so focused on making sure he’s taken care of that it takes me a moment to realize that one of the new staff is Lei.
As soon as I can, I find her in the courtyard. “You shouldn’t be here,” I tell her quietly. “We can’t guarantee that it’s safe.”
“I know,” she says. “They told me. They’re not sure the cure works on the mutation.”
“It’s more than that,” I say. “Remember when you and I were talking about the small red mark on the people who had the earlier virus?”
“The virologist they took out had a theory about that.”
“What was it?”
“He thought that if someone had the red mark, it meant they’d had the virus, like we thought—and he also thought that it meant that they were protected from the new mutation.”
“How could that be?” Lei asks.
“The virus changes,” I say. “Like those fish you were talking about. It was one thing, now it’s different.”
She shakes her head.
I try again. “People who had the immunizations had been exposed to one form of the virus, a dead one. Then the first round of the Plague came along. Some of us might have contracted the virus, but we didn’t get really sick because we’d already been exposed to it in its weakened form. The immunization did its job and our bodies fought off the illness. Still, we had exposure to the live virus itself, which means we might be safe from this mutation. The dead virus wasn’t close enough to the mutation to protect us, but our exposure to the original live version of the Plague might be, as long as we actually contracted it.”
“I still don’t understand,” she says.
I try again. “According to his theory, those who have the red mark are lucky,” I say. “They’ve been exposed to the right versions of the virus at the right times. And that means they’re safe from this mutation.”
“Like stones in the river,” she says, understanding crossing her face. “Going across. You need to step on them in the right order to get safely to the other side.”
“I guess so,” I say. “Or like the fish you were talking about. They change.”
“No,” she says, “The fish remain themselves. They adapt; they look completely different, but they’re not fundamentally altered or gone.”
“All right,” I say, though now I’m the one who’s confused.
She can tell. “I suppose,” she says, “that you have to see them.”
“Do you have the mark?” I ask Lei.
“I don’t know,” she says. “Do you?”
I shake my head. “I’m not sure either,” I say. “It’s not exactly in an easy place to see.”
“I’ll look for you,” she tells me, and before I can say anything else, she steps around behind me, slides her finger under my collar, and pulls it down. I feel her breath on my neck.
“If the virologist is right, then you’re safe,” she says, and I can hear the smile in her voice. “You have the mark.”
“Are you sure?” I ask.
“Yes,” she says. “I am. It’s right there.” After she takes her hand away I can still feel the spot where her finger pressed against my skin.
She knows what I’m about to ask.
“No,” she says. “Don’t look. I don’t want it to change what I do.”
Later, as we leave the courtyard, Lei stops and looks at me. As she does, I realize that not very many people have eyes that are the color of hers: true black. “I changed my mind,” she says.
At first I’m not sure what she means but then she sweeps her long hair to the side and says, “I think I want to know.” There’s a faint tremor in her voice.
The mark. She wants to know if she has it.
“All right,” I say, and suddenly I feel awkward. Which is ridiculous, because I’ve looked at plenty of bodies that are just bodies. I know they’re people, and I want to help them, but to some extent they’re anonymous all the same.
But her body—will be hers.
She turns her back to me and unbuttons her uniform, waiting. For a moment I hesitate, my fingers hovering. Then I take a deep breath and pull her collar down. I’m careful not to brush her skin.
The mark isn’t there.
And then without thinking I do touch her. I put my hand on her with my palm flat against the bone at the base of her neck and my fingers curving up into her hair. Like I can hide this from her.
Then I draw in my breath and pull my hand back. Stupid. Just because I’m fully immune doesn’t mean I can’t still carry some form of the mutated Plague. “I’m sorry—” I begin.
“I know,” she says. She reaches over and takes my hand down without looking at me, and for a brief moment our fingers lock and hold on.
Then she lets go and pushes open the door, walking inside the building without looking back. And out of nowhere, I think: So this is how it feels to stand at the edge of a canyon.
The City of Oria looks like it got its teeth kicked out. The barricade here is no longer a neat circle. Instead, it’s riddled with gaps. The Rising must have run out of white walls to enclose the stillzone, so they’ve had to use metal fencing instead. I see the hot glint of it in the spring sun as we fly over. I try not to look in the direction of the Hill.
Others, Rising officers in black, wave up at us. We’re flying lower now, and I can see people looting and pushing against weak places in the fence. The barricade is about to be breached. Even from up here, I can feel the panic.
“The situation has deteriorated too much to land,” our commander says. “We’ll do a supply drop.”
I have to admit that there have been times when I wished something bad would happen to the people of the Boroughs in Oria. Like the time the Society took me away and no one but Cassia ran after me. Or when the people laughed during the showings because they didn’t understand death. I never wanted to see them die, but I would have liked for them to know how it felt to be afraid. I wanted them to know that their easy lives had a cost. But this is terrible to see. Over the past few weeks, the Rising has lost their grip on the people and the Plague. They won’t say what’s happened, but something has. Even the Archivists and traders seem to have completely disappeared. I have no way to get a message to Cassia.
One of these days, I’m not going to be able to resist flying to Central.
“The most secure area is located in front of City Hall,” says the commander. “We’ll make the drop there.”
“Are we dropping all our supplies at City Hall?” I ask the commander. “What about the Boroughs?”
“Everything in front of City Hall,” he says. “It’s the safest way.”
I don’t agree. We need to disperse the supplies, or it’ll be a bloodbath. People are already trying to break through the barricade. When they see us drop, they’re going to want to get inside even more, and I don’t know how long the Rising can hold off having to use violence in a situation like this. Will they send the fighters in like they had to do in Acadia?
Indie and I are last in the formation, so we circle around again while the others make their drop. We’re outside of the City proper now, moving back in over the Boroughs. As we do, I see people coming out of their homes to watch us fly. They’ve obeyed the Rising’s commands to stay put and wait instead of coming to the barricade.
And it means they’ll likely starve, while the others at the walls fight over the supplies we’ve brought.
I feel a fierce, unexpected surge of sorrow and loyalty to the people of the Boroughs. They try to follow orders and do the right thing. Is it their fault everything is such a mess?
“Prepare the drop,” the commander says. We’ve never done this before—left supplies without landing—but we’ve trained for it. There’s a hatch in the belly of the ship where we can let the cargo out.
“Caleb,” I say, switching on the speaker that goes down into the hold. “Are you ready?”
There’s no answer.
“I’m ready,” he says, but his voice sounds off.
I’m the pilot this time, so I’m in charge. “Go see what’s wrong with him,” I tell Indie. She nods and walks over to the hold, her balance perfect even with the motion of the ship. I hear her open the hatch to the hold and go down the ladder.
“Is there a problem?” the commander asks.
“I don’t think so,” I tell him.
“Caleb doesn’t look good,” Indie says a moment later, reappearing from the hold. “I think he’s sick.”
“I’m all right,” Caleb says, but his voice still has a hint of strain in it. “I think I’m having a reaction to something.”
“Do not drop your cargo,” the commander says. “Return immediately to the base.”
Indie looks at me and raises her eyebrows. Is he serious?
“I repeat,” he says, “do not drop cargo. Report immediately back to the base in Camas.”
I look at Indie and she shrugs her shoulders. I ease the ship around and we fly over the people. I was coming in low for the drop and so I can see their faces turned up to watch us. They look like baby birds waiting for food.
“Here,” I say to Indie, gesturing for her to take over the controls. I go down to check on Caleb.
He’s not strapped in anymore. He stands at the back of the hold, his hands pressed against the side of the ship, his head bent down, every muscle tight in agony. When he looks at me I see fear in his eyes.
“Caleb,” I say. “What’s happening?”
“Nothing,” he says. “It’s fine. Go back up above.”
“You’re sick,” I say. But with what? We can’t get the Plague.
Unless something went wrong.
“Caleb,” I say. “What’s happening?”
He shakes his head. He won’t tell me. The ship shifts a little and he stumbles. “You know what’s going on,” I say, “but you won’t tell me. So how am I supposed to help you?”
“There’s nothing you can do,” Caleb says. “You shouldn’t be here anyway if I’m sick.”
He’s right. I turn to leave. When I sit down Indie raises her eyebrows at me. “Lock the hold,” I say. “Don’t go back down.”
We’re almost back to Camas before Caleb speaks again. We’re flying over the long flat fields of Tana and I am, of course, thinking of Cassia and her family when Caleb’s voice comes over the speaker.
“I changed my mind,” he says. “There is something you can do. I need you to write something down for me.”
“I don’t have any paper,” I say. “I’m flying the ship.”
“You don’t have to write it now,” he says. “Later.”
“All right,” I say. “But first, you tell me what’s happening.”
The commander is silent. Is he listening?
“I don’t know,” Caleb says.
“Then I can’t write,” I tell him.
“Tell me this,” I say to Caleb. “What was in those cases you kept bringing back when we delivered the cure?”
“Tubes,” Caleb says immediately, surprising me. “We brought out tubes.”
“Which tubes?” I ask, but I think I know the answer. They’d fit in the cases perfectly. They’re about the same size as the cures. I should have figured it out long ago.
“The tubes with the tissue preservation samples in them,” Caleb says.
I’m right. But I don’t understand the reasoning. “Why?” I ask Caleb.
“The Rising took over the storage facilities where the Society kept the tubes,” he says, “but some members of the Rising wanted their families’ samples under their own personal control. The Pilot provided that service for them.”
“That’s not fair,” I say. “If the Rising really is for everyone, they should have given all the samples back.”
“Pilot Markham,” our commander says, “you’re engaging in speculation about your commanding officers, which amounts to insubordination. I order you to cease this line of conversation.”
Caleb doesn’t say anything.
“So does the Rising think they can bring people back?” I ask. The commander starts speaking again, but this time I talk over him and so does Caleb.
“No,” Caleb says. “They know they can’t. They know the Society couldn’t either. They just want the samples. Like insurance.”
“I don’t understand it,” I say. “Someone like the Pilot should have seen enough death to know the tubes aren’t worth anything. Why would he waste resources doing something so stupid?”
“The Pilot knows you can’t bring people back with the samples,” Caleb says. “Not everyone else does. He uses that to his advantage.” He exhales. “The reason I’m telling you all this,” he says, “is that you need to believe in the Pilot. If you don’t, we’re going to lose everything.”
“I didn’t know I was so important,” I say.
“You’re not,” he says. “But you and Indie are two of the best pilots. He’ll need everyone he can get before this is all over.”
“What’s this?” I ask. “The Plague? The Rising? You’re right. The Pilot does need all the help he can get. He hasn’t managed to get anything under control so far.”
“You don’t even know him,” Caleb says. He sounds angry. That’s good. There’s a little more life in his voice.
“I don’t,” I say. “But you do, don’t you. You knew him before the Rising came to power.”
“We’re both from Camas,” Caleb says. “I grew up on the Army base where he was stationed. He was one of the pilots who flew to the Otherlands. He took more people out to the stone villages than any other pilot. And he never got caught. He was the obvious choice to lead the Rising when it was time for a new Pilot.”
“I’ve lived in the Outer Provinces,” I say, “and I’ve never heard of the stone villages or the Otherlands.”
“They’re real,” Caleb says. “The Otherlands are the places far past Enemy territory. And the stone villages were built by Anomalies along the edge of the Outer Provinces when the Society came to power. The villages are like stepping-stones in a river. That’s how they got their name. They run north to south and they’re all built a day’s journey apart from one another. When you reach the last one, you have to cross through Enemy territory if you want to go on to the Otherlands. You really haven’t heard of the villages?”
“Not by that name,” I say, but my mind races. The farmers in the Carving were far away from any other Anomalies, but they did have the map with another village marked in the mountains. That village could have been the southernmost of the stone villages, the final one. It’s possible .
“So what did the Pilot do?” I ask.
“He saved people,” Caleb says. “He and some of the other pilots would run people from the Society out as far as the last stone village. He made citizens pay to get out, and he helped Aberrations and Anomalies, too.”
“That’s who carved in the ships, isn’t it?” I say, understanding. “People who were hiding there when the Pilot flew them out.”
“It was stupid of them,” Caleb says, a hint of anger in his voice. “They could have gotten the pilots in trouble.”
“I think they meant it as a tribute,” I say, remembering the picture carved on one of our earlier ships of the Pilot giving the people water. “That’s what it looked like to me.”
“It was still stupid,” Caleb says.
“Do people live in the villages anymore?” I ask.
“I don’t know,” Caleb says. “They might have all left for the Otherlands by now. The Pilot tried to get them to join the Rising, but they wouldn’t.”
That sounds like the Anomalies who lived in the Carving. They wouldn’t join the Rising either. It makes me wonder what happened to Anna’s people when they reached the village we saw marked on the map. Did they meet the stone villagers there? Did the groups have enough in common to get along? Did the people living in the stone villages help the people from the Carving, or did they drive them away—or worse? What’s happened to Hunter and Eli?
“Other kids grew up telling stories about the Pilot,” Caleb says. “But I grew up watching him fly. I know he’s the one who can lead us out of this.”
Caleb sounds terrible. The pain’s winning out. I can hear it thick in his voice. And I know what’s happening.
He’s going still.
He was supposed to be immune. Something’s happened with the Plague. Is this a new version of it? One our immunity can’t protect us against?
“I want you to write down everything I said about the Pilot,” Caleb says, “including that I believed in him until the end.”
“Is this the end?” I ask.
“Did he go still?” Indie asks. “Or decide he didn’t want to talk anymore?”
“I don’t know,” I say.
She stands up as if she’s about to go down into the hold. “No,” I say. “Indie, you can’t risk exposure to whatever it is.”
“He didn’t tell you much,” Indie says, sitting back down. “I bet there were plenty of people who knew that about the tubes and the Pilot.”
“We didn’t,” I remind her.
“You believe Caleb because he has those notches on his boots,” she says, “but it doesn’t mean he was in the camps. Anyone could have cut their boots like that.”
“I think he was there,” I say.
“But you don’t know that he was.”
“He is right about the Pilot, though,” Indie says.
“So you do believe Caleb,” I say. “About the Pilot, at least.”
“I believe myself about the Pilot,” Indie says. “I know that he’s real.” She leans closer to me and for a minute I think she might kiss me again, like she did all those weeks ago. “The villages are real, too,” she says, “and the Otherlands. All of it.”
Her voice is every bit as impassioned as Caleb’s was. And I understand her. Indie loves me, but she’s a survivor. When I told her I wouldn’t run with her, she turned to something else to keep going. I believe in Cassia. Indie believes in the Rising and the Pilot. We’ve both found something to pull us through.
“It could have been different,” I say, almost under my breath. If I’d kissed Indie again after she kissed me. If I hadn’t known Cassia before I met Indie.
“But it’s not,” Indie says, and she’s right.
The world is not well.
I look out the window of my apartment and put my hand on the glass. It’s dark. Crowds gather at the barricade, the way they do often now at night, and soon the Rising officers will come in black and disperse them all, petals to the wind, leaves on the water.
The Rising hasn’t told us exactly what’s happened, but, for the past few weeks, we’ve all been confined to our apartments. Those of us who can, send in our work over the ports. All communication with other Provinces has ceased. The Rising says that is temporary. The Pilot himself promises that everything will be fine soon.
It has begun to rain.
I wonder what it would have been like to see a flash flood in the Carving from up high like this. I’d like to have stood at the edge of the canyon and felt the rumble; closed my eyes to better hear the water; opened them again to see the world laid to waste, the rocks and trees torn and tumbling down. It would have been something to watch what looked like the end of the world.
Perhaps I am witnessing that now.
A chime sounds from my kitchen. Dinner has arrived, but I am not hungry. I know what the food will be—emergency rations. We have only two meals each day now. Someday they will run out of the rations, too. And then I don’t know what they’ll do.
If we start to feel sick and tired, we’re supposed to send a message on the port. Then they’ll come and help us. But what if you go still while you sleep? I wonder. The thought makes me lie awake at night. It’s become difficult to find any rest.
I pull the meal from the delivery slot. There it is, cold and bland and blank, the Society’s stores served to us by the Rising.
I have learned a few things from the Archivists. Food is running out; therefore, it is valuable. So I’ve used it to trade my way out of my confinement in my apartment. I take the meal out to the Rising guard at the entrance of our building. He’s young and hungry, so he understands.
“Be careful,” he says, and he holds open the door for me as I slip into the night.
I feel my way down the stones and steps, my hands brushing against the sides and coming away with the familiar green smell and feel of moss. The recent rain has made things slippery, and I have to concentrate, keeping the beam of my flashlight steady.
When I reach the end of the hallway, I’m not blinded, the way I usually am. No flashlights flicker onto me, no beams swing in my direction as people notice me coming through the door.
The Archivists are gone.
A chill runs up my spine as I remember how this place reminded me of the crypt from the Hundred History Lessons. I close my eyes, imagining the Archivists lying down on the shelves, folding their hands on their chests, holding perfectly still as they wait for death to come.
Slowly I shine my light on the shelves.
They are empty. Of course. No matter what, the Archivists will survive. But they didn’t tell me that they were leaving, and I have no idea where they might have gone. Did they leave anything back in the Archives?
I’m about to go look when I hear feet on the stairs and I spin around, swinging up my flashlight to blind whoever has entered.
“Cassia?” the voice asks. It’s her. The head Archivist. She came back. I lower the light so she can see.
“I was hoping to find you,” she says. “Central is no longer safe.”
“What has happened?” I ask.
“The rumors about a mutated Plague,” she says, “have been proven to be true. And we’ve confirmed that the mutation has spread here to Central.”
“So you’ve all run away,” I say.
“We have all decided to stay alive,” she says. “I have something for you.” She reaches into the pack she carries and pulls out a slip of paper. “This came in at last.”
The paper is real and old, printed with dark letters pressed deep into the page, not the slick surface blackness of printing from a port. There are two stanzas; the ones I don’t have. Even though time is short and the world is wrong, I can’t help but glance down, greedy, to read a bite, a bit of the poem:
The Sun goes crooked—that is night—
Before he makes the bend
We must have passed the middle sea,
Almost we wish the end
Were further off—too great it seems
So near the Whole to stand.
I want to read the rest but I feel the head Archivist’s gaze on me, and I look back up. Something has gone crooked here; night is coming. Am I drawing close to the end? It almost feels like it—that there can’t be much farther to go, having come so far already—and yet nothing feels finished.
“Thank you,” I say.
“I’m glad it came in time,” she says. “I’ve never left a trade unfinished.”
I fold the poem back up and put it in my sleeve. I keep my expression neutral, but I know she’ll hear the challenge in what I’m about to say. “I’m grateful for the poem, but you’ve still left a trade unfinished. My microcard never came in.”
She laughs a little, the sound echoing through the empty Archives. “That one has come through, too,” she says. “You’ll receive the microcard in Camas.”
“I don’t have enough to pay for passage to Camas,” I say. How did she find out that’s where I want to go? Does she really have a way for me to get to Camas, or is she playing a cruel joke on me? My heartbeat quickens.
“There’s no fee for your journey,” the head Archivist says. “If you go to your Gallery and wait, someone from the Rising will arrive to bring you out.”
The Gallery. I’ve never kept it hidden, but something about it being used like this feels wrong. “I don’t understand,” I say.
The Archivist pauses. “What you’ve traded,” she says, very carefully, “has been interesting to some of us.”
It’s like my Official, again. I was not interesting to her, but my data was.
When my Official said that the Society had put Ky into the Matching pool, I saw the flicker of a lie in her eyes. She wasn’t sure who had put him in.
I think the head Archivist is keeping something from me, too.
I have so many questions.
Who put Ky in the pool?
Who paid for my passage to Camas?
Who stole my poems?
This, I think I know. Everyone has a currency. The Archivist told me that herself. Sometimes, we might not even know what our price is until we are confronted with it, face to face. The Archivist could resist everything else in that treasure trove of the Archives, but my papers, smelling of sandstone and water and just out of reach, were irresistible to her.
“I’ve already paid my passage,” I say. “Haven’t I? With my pages from the lake.”
It’s so quiet, here underneath the ground.
Will she admit to it? I’m certain I’m right. The impassive stone of the Archivist’s face looks entirely different from the flicker I saw on the Official’s face when she lied to me. But both times, I feel the truth. The Official didn’t know. The Archivist took my papers.
“My obligation to you is finished now,” she says, turning to leave. “You’re aware of the chance for passage to Camas. It is yours to keep or refuse.” She moves away from the beam of my flashlight into the dark. “Good-bye, Cassia,” she says.
And then she’s gone.
Who will be waiting for me at the Gallery? Is the passage to Camas real, or is it one final betrayal? Did she arrange it for me, perhaps out of guilt for taking my papers? I don’t know. I can’t trust her anymore. I pull off the red bracelet that marked me as one of the Archivists’ traders and put it on the shelf. I have no need of it, because it does not mean what I thought it did.
I find my case sitting alone on its shelf. When I open it and see the contents inside, I find I want none of them. They are part of other people’s lives, and it feels that they no longer have place in my own.
But I will keep the poem the Archivist gave me. Because this, I think, is real. The Archivist might have stolen from me, but I cannot believe she would forge something. This poem is true. I can tell.
We step like plush, we stand like snow—
I stop at that line and remember when I stood at the edge of the Carving, in the snow looking out for Ky. And I remember when we said good-bye at the edge of the stream—
Äàòà äîáàâëåíèÿ: 2015-09-15; ïðîñìîòðîâ: 7; Íàðóøåíèå àâòîðñêèõ ïðàâ