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DUTTON BOOKS 11




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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

 

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.

 

No.

That cant be right. I read the last two lines again.

 

Now Death usurps my premium

And gets the look at Thee.

 

I switch off my light and tell myself that the poem doesnt matter after all. Words mean what you want them to mean. Dont I know that by now?

For a moment, Im tempted to stay here, hidden among the warren of shelves and rooms. I could go above ground now and then to gather food and paper, and isnt that enough to live on? I could write stories; I could hide from the world and make my own instead of trying to change it or live in it. I could write paper people and I would love them too; I could make them almost real.

In a story, you can turn to the front and begin again and everyone lives once more.

That doesnt work in real life. And I love my real people the most. Bram. My mother. My father. Ky. Xander.

Can I trust anyone?

Yes. My family, of course.

Ky.

Xander.

None of us would ever betray the other.

Before I came here, Indie and I ran a river, and we didnt know if it would poison us or deliver us to where we wanted to go. We took a dangerous, black-water risk; even now, I think I can feel the spray as we went down, the swell as we were swept under.

It was worth it then.

I remember again the Cavern in the Carving. It and the Archives mingle together in my mindthose muddy fossiled bones and clean little tubes, these empty shelves and vacant rooms. And I realize that I can never stay in these hollowed-out places in the earth for long before I have to come up for air.

This passage to Camas, I tell myself, is a risk I am willing to run. You cannot change your journey if you are unwilling to move at all.

 

I hide in alleys, behind trees. When I wrap my hand around the bark of a small willow in a greenspace, I feel fresh letters carved into it, and they dont spell my name. The tree is sticky with its own blood. It makes me sad. Ky never cut deeply like this when he carved on something living. I wipe my hand on my black plainclothes and wish there were a way to leave a mark without taking.



Im not even halfway to the lake when I hear and see the air ships.

They soar in overhead, carrying pieces of the barricade back toward the City.

No, I think, not the Gallery.

I run through the streets, darting away from lights and people, trying not to count how many times the ships come overhead. Someone calls out to me but I dont recognize the voice, so I keep going. Its too dangerous to stop. Theres a reason we are supposed to stay insidepeople are angry, and afraid, and the Rising is finding it increasingly difficult to cure and keep peace.

I run out into the dark of the marsh. Rising officers in black climb up to secure cables to the barricade walls while the ships hover over, their blades chopping through the air. I can just make out whats happening from the lights of the ships above and from the steadier beacons of those that have landed in the marsh.

The Gallery is still there, ahead of me, if I can just reach it in time.

I press up against a wall, breathing hard. Im getting closer. The lake smell of water hits me.

One of the Gallery walls lifts into the sky and I stifle a cry. So much will be lost if the Gallery is gone. All those papers, everything we made, and how will I ever find the person who was supposed to take me to Camas if the meeting place no longer exists?



I am running, running, as hard as I ran into the Carving to find Ky.

They lift the second piece of the Gallery from the ground.

No. No. No.

Within moments Im standing there, staring down at the deep grooves in the earth, where papers float in puddles, like sails without boats. Paintings, poems, stories, all drowned. The people who used to meet herewho still have words and songs insidewhat will happen to them? And how will I get to Camas now?

Cassia, someone says. You were almost too late.

I know her instantly, even though I havent heard her speak in months; I could never forget the voice of the person who piloted me down the river. Indie, I say, and there she is, wearing black and standing up from her hiding spot among the marsh plants and bracken.

They sent you to bring me to Camas, I say, and I laugh, because now I know I will get there, whatever else happens. Indie and I ran to the Carving, we came down the river, and now

Were going to fly, Indie tells me. But we have to go.

I follow her, running, to her ship on the ground.

You dont have to worry about any other Rising being on the ship, she says over her shoulder. Im the only one who flies alone. But we cant talk on board. The other ships might be listening in. And you have to ride in the hold.

All right, I say, breathless. Im glad I have no case to hinder me; its enough to keep up with Indie as it is, carrying nothing but the lightness of paper.



We reach the ship and Indie scrambles up. I follow, and stand for just a moment in surprise at all the lights in the cockpit that Indie must manage. Our eyes meet and we both smile. Then I hurry and climb down into the hold. Indie shuts the door and Im alone.

The ship is smaller and lighter than the ones we flew in to the camps. A few tiny lights line the floor, but the hold is largely dark and there are no windows. I am so tired of flying blind.

I run my hands along the walls of the ship, trying to distract myself by discovering all that I can about my surroundings.

There. I think Ive found something. A tiny line, scratched into the wall near the floor:

l

An L, lowercase?

I smile a little to myself, at how I want to find letters in everything. It could be a scratch, the haphazard scarring and scraping that comes with the loading and shifting of cargo. But the more time I spend running my fingers over it, the more Im convinced it was carved with intent. I try to feel for more but I cant stretch any farther while Im still strapped in.

Glancing up at the door to the hold, I unbuckle the strap and move quietly so that I can feel farther down.

There are many of them, carved in a row.

llllll

This letter must mean something, I think, to write it so many times, and then I realize; not letters. Notches. Like the ones Ky told me about the decoys cutting into their boots to mark time survived out in the work camps.

I remember what Ky told me about his friend Vick, how every day he marked was a day without the girl he loved.

Ky and I have been marking, too, with flags on the Hill. With the poetry of others and with words of our own. Whoever carved here was keeping time and holding on.

I do the same, running my fingers across each tiny groove in the metal over and over again, thinking about the pieces of the Gallery lifted up into the sky. I wonder if, when the Rising sets them down again to make a wall, some of the papers will have survived the flight.

 

The door to the hatch opens and Indie beckons for me to come up.

The ship is flying itself, somehow. Indie sits back down at the controls. She gestures for me to take the seat next to her and I do, my heart pounding. Until now, Ive never been able to see while I fly, and I feel a dizzying lightness as I look out at the land below us.

Is this what Ive missed?

The stars have come to the earth, and the ocean has turned over the ground; dark waves meet the sky. They are unmoving, barely visible but for the light of the sun rising behind them.

Mountains, I realize. Thats what the ocean is. Those waves are peaks. The stars are lights in houses and on streets. The earth reflects the sky and the sky meets the earth and, every now and then, if were lucky, we have a moment to see how small we are.

Thank you, I want to tell Indie. Thank you for letting me see while I fly. I have wanted it for so long.


 


CHAPTER 21

XANDER

Patient number 73 exhibits little to no improvement.

Patient number 74 exhibits little to no improvement.

Wait, thats a mistake. I havent examined Patient 74 yet. I delete the notation and hook the vital-stats machine up to Patient 74. The display lights up with numbers. Her spleen is enlarged, so I turn her very carefully when I perform my exam. When I shine a light into her eyes, she doesnt respond.

Patient number 74 exhibits little to no improvement.

I move on to the next patient. Im checking your stats again, I tell him. Nothing to worry about.

Its been weeks and none of the patients is getting better. The rashes along the infected nerves turn into boils, which would be extremely painful if the still could feel anything. We dont think they can. But were not certain.

Only a few of us are left who havent gotten sick. Im still a physic but because were so shorthanded I spend most of my time changing the patients nutrition bags and catheter bags, monitoring their stats, and performing physical exams. Then I sleep for a few hours and do it all again.

They dont bring in new patients very often anymore, except for those who are already here working when they get sick. We dont have room for anyone else because the still dont go home. I used to pride myself on how fast we got patients into recovery. Now my satisfaction comes from keeping as many of them here as long as possible because these days, if a patient leaves, it means theyve died.

Once Im finished with this round, Ill get to rest. I think Ill be able to fall asleep quickly. Im exhausted. If I didnt know better, Id think I was coming down with the mutated Plague myself. But this is the same old weariness Ive felt for days.

Most of the workers at the medical center have figured out by now that those who have the small red mark are the exceptions among those of us who the Rising initially made immune. The virologists theory appears to be right. If someone was lucky enough to get exposed to the earlier Plaguethe live virustheyre now immune and carry the red mark on their backs. The Rising hasnt told the general public about the mark because our leaders are worried about what will happen. And theyve been trying to figure out a cure for the mutation.

Its too much for one Pilot to handle.

Once again, Ive been lucky. The least I can do is stick around. Its the people like Lei whom I really admire. They know theyre not immune but they stay anyway so they can help the patients.

I move through the rest of the patients, all the way to the last bed, where Patient 100 draws in ragged, wet breaths. I try not to think too much about how the cure might have caused the mutation, or about where my family or Cassia might be. Ive already failed them. But I cant fail these hundred.

 

I dont see Lei in the courtyard when Im finished, so I break protocol and look in the sleeproom. Shes not there either.

She wouldnt have run away. So where is she?

As I pass the darkened cafeteria, I see a flicker of light. The port is on. Who could be inside? Is the Pilot speaking to us? Usually, when he does, they have us watch on one of the larger screens. I open the door to the cafeteria and see Lei silhouetted against the port. When I get a little closer I see that shes going through the Hundred Paintings.

Im about to say something but then I stop myself and watch her for a second. Ive never seen anyone look at the paintings the way she does. She leans forward. She takes a few steps back.

Then she pulls up a painting, and I hear her draw in her breath as she puts her hand right on the screen. She stays there looking at it so long that I clear my throat. Lei whirls around. I can barely see her face in the reflected light from the port.

Still having trouble sleeping? I ask.

Yes, she says. This is the best remedy Ive found. I try to picture the scenes again in my mind when Im lying down.

Youre taking your time with them, I say, trying to joke with her. Youd think you hadnt seen the paintings before.

For a moment, I feel like shes about to tell me something. Then: Not this one, she says, moving aside so I can see the screen.

Its number Ninety-Seven, I say. The painting shows a girl in a white dress and a lot of light and water.

I suppose I didnt notice it until now, Lei says, and her voice sounds final, like a door shutting tight. I dont know what I said wrong. For some reason Im desperate to open that door back up. I talk to everyone here, all the time, patient and medic and nurse, but Leis different. She and I worked together before we came in.

What do you like about it? I ask, trying to get her to keep talking. I like how you cant tell if shes in the water or on the shore. But whats she doing? Ive never been able to figure it out.

Shes fishing, Lei says. Thats a net shes holding.

Has she caught anything? I ask, looking closer.

Its hard to say, Lei tells me.

So thats why you like it, I say, remembering Leis story about the fish that come back to the river in Camas. Because of the fish.

Yes, Lei says. And because of this. She touches a little patch of white at the top of the picture. Is it a boat? The reflection of the sun? And here, she says, pointing to darker spots on the painting. We dont know whats casting these shadows. There are things going on outside the edges. It leaves you with a sense of something you cant see.

I think I understand. Like the Pilot, I say.

No, she says.

In the distance, we hear screaming and calling out. A fighter ship whirs overhead.

Whats going on out there? Lei asks.

I think its the same as usual, I tell her. People outside the barricade wanting to come in. The orange light of bonfires on the other side of the walls looks eerie, but it isnt new. I dont know how much longer the officers can hold them.

They wouldnt want in if they knew what it looked like, she says.

Now that my eyes have adjusted to the light, I can see that Leis fatigue is actual pain. Her face has a drawn look, and her words, usually so light, sound heavy.

Shes getting sick.

Lei, I say. I almost reach out and take her by the elbow to guide her from the cafeteria, but Im not sure how shed feel about the gesture. She holds my gaze for a moment. Then, slowly, she turns away from me and lifts up her shirt. Red lines run around her back.

You dont have to say it, she says. She tucks her shirt back in and turns around. I already know.

We should get you hooked up to one of the nutrient bags, I say. Right now. Thoughts race through my mind. You shouldnt have stayed, you should have left like the others did until we knew we had something that worked

I dont want to lie down, Lei says.

Come with me, I tell her, and this time I do take her arm. I feel the warmth of her skin through her sleeve.

Where are we going? she asks me.

To the courtyard, I say. You can sit on a bench while I go get a line and a nutrient bag. This way, she wont have to be inside when she goes down. She can stay outside as long as possible.

She looks at me with her exhausted, beautiful eyes. Hurry, she says. I dont want to be alone when it happens.

 

When I return with the equipment, Lei waits in the courtyard with her shoulders slumped in exhaustion. Its strange to see her with less-than-perfect posture. She holds out her arm and I slide the needle in.

The fluid begins to drip. I sit down next to her, holding the bag higher than her arm so that the line keeps running.

Tell me a story, she says. I need to hear something.

Which one of the Hundred would you like? I ask. I remember most of them.

I hear a faint trace of surprise in her voice under the fatigue. Dont you know anything else?

I pause. Not really. The Rising hasnt had time to give us new stories, and its not like I know how to create. I just work with what I have.

Yes, I say, trying to think of something. Then I borrow from my own life. About a year ago, back in the Society, there was a boy who was in love with a girl. Hed watched her for a long time. He hoped shed be his Match. Then she was. He was happy.

Thats all? Lei asks.

Thats all, I say. Too short?

Lei begins to laugh and for a moment she sounds like herself. Its you, she says. Its obvious. Thats no story.

I laugh, too. Sorry, I say. Im not very good at this.

But you love your Match, Lei says, no longer laughing. I know that about you. You know it about me.

Yes, I say.

She looks at me. The liquid drips into the line.

I know an old story about people who couldnt be Matched, she says. He was an Aberration. She was a citizen and a pilot. It was the first of the vanishings.

The vanishings? I ask.

Some people inside the Society wanted to get out, Lei says. Or wanted to get their children out. There were pilots who would fly people away in exchange for other things.

Ive never heard of anything like this, I say.

It happened, Lei says. I saw it. Some of those parents would trade anythingrisk everythingbecause they thought sending their children away was the best way to keep them safe.

But where would they take them? I ask. Into Enemy territory? That doesnt make any sense.

Theyd take them to the edge of Enemy territory, Lei says. To places called the stone villages. After that, it was up to people to decide whether theyd stay in the villages, or try to cross Enemy territory to find a place known as the Otherlands. No one who went on to the Otherlands ever came back.

I dont understand it, I say. How would sending your children out to the middle of nowherecloser to the Enemybe safer than staying in the Society?

Perhaps they knew about the Plague, Lei says. But obviously your parents didnt feel that way. Neither did mine. She looks at me. You almost sound like youre defending the Society.

Im not, I say.

I know, she says. Im sorry. I didnt mean to tell you history. I meant to tell you a story.

Im ready, I say. Im listening.

The story, then. She lifts her arm and looks at the liquid running in. This pilot loved the man but she had obligations at home, ones that she couldnt break, and obligations to her leaders, too. If she left, too many people would suffer. She flew the man she loved all the way to the Otherlands, which no one had done before.

What happened after that? I ask.

She was shot down by the Enemy on her way back, Lei says. She never got to tell people what she had seen in the Otherlands. But she had saved the one she loved. She knew that, no matter what else happened.

In the silence that follows her story, she leans against me. I dont think she even knows shes doing it. Shes going down.

Do you think you could do that? she asks.

Fly? I say. Maybe.

No, she says. Do you think you could let someone go if you thought it was best for them?

No, I say. Id have to know it was best for them.

She nods, as if she expected my answer. Almost anyone could do that, she says. But what if you didnt know and you only believed?

She doesnt know if its true. But she wants it to be.

That story would never be one of the Hundred, she says. Its a Border story. The kind of thing that can only happen out here.

Was she a pilot once? Is that where her husband is? Did she fly him out and now shes going down? Is this story true? Any of it?

Ive never heard of the Otherlands, I say.

You have, she says, and I shake my head.

Yes, she says, challenging me. Even if you never heard the name, you had to know they existed. The world cant only be the Provinces. And it isnt flat like the Societys maps. How would the sun work? And the moon? And the stars? Didnt you look up? Didnt you notice that they changed?

Yes, I say.

And you didnt think about why that might be?

My face burns.

Of course, Lei says, her voice quiet. Why would they teach you? You were meant to be an Official from the very beginning. And its not in the Hundred Science Lessons.

How do you know? I ask.

My father taught me, she says.

Theres a lot Id like to ask her. What is her father like? What color did she wear when she was Matched? Why didnt I find out all of this before? Now theres not enough time for the little things. Youre not a Society sympathizer, I say instead. Ive always known that. But you werent Rising at the beginning.

Im not Rising or Society, she says. The fluid drips into her arm slowly. It cant keep pace with whats happening to her.

Why dont you believe in the Rising? I ask. Or the Pilot?

I dont know, she says. I wish I could.

What do you believe? I ask.

My father also taught me that the earth is a giant stone, she says. Rolling and turning through the sky. And were all on it together. I do believe that.

Why dont we fall off? I ask.

We couldnt if we tried, she says. Theres something that holds us here.

So the world is moving under my feet right now, I say.

Yes.

But I dont feel it.

You will, she says. Someday. If you lie down and hold very still.

She looks at me. We both realize what shes said: still.

I was hoping to see him again before this happened, she says.

I almost say, Im here. But looking at her I know that its not going to be enough, because Im not who she wants. Ive seen someone look at me this way before. Not through me, exactly, but beyond to someone else.

I was hoping, she says, that hed find me.

 

After shes still, I find a stretcher left behind by the medics. I lie her down and hang up the bag. One of the head medics comes past. We dont have room in this wing, he says.

Shes one of ours, I tell him. Were making room.

He has the red mark, too, so he doesnt hesitate to bend down and look more closely at her. Recognition crosses his face. Lei, he says. One of the best. The two of you worked together even before the Plague, didnt you?

Yes, I tell him.

The medics face is sympathetic. Feels like that was in a whole different world, doesnt it? he says.

Yes, I say. It does. I feel strangely detached, like Im watching myself take care of Lei. Its just the exhaustion, but I wonder if this is what it feels like to be still. Their bodies stay in one place, but can their minds go somewhere else?

Maybe part of Lei is floating around the medical center and going to all the places she knew. Shes in the patients rooms, overseeing their care. Shes in the courtyard, breathing in the night air. Shes at the port, looking at the painting of the girl fishing. Or, maybe shes left the medical center behind and gone to find him. They could be together even now.

I bring Lei into the room with the others. There are a hundred and one of them now, all staring up at the ceiling or off to the sides. Youre due to sleep now, the head physic tells me from the port.

I will in a minute, I say. Let me get her settled. I call for one of the medics to come over to help me perform the physical exam.

Shes all right so far, the medic says. Nothings enlarged, and her blood pressure is decent. She reaches out and touches my hand before she leaves. Im sorry, she says.

Im looking into Leis staring-up eyes. Ive talked to lots of other patients, but Im not sure what to say to her. Im sorry, I say, echoing the medics words to me. Its not enough: I cant do anything for Lei.

Then I get an idea, and before I can talk myself out of it, I take off down the hall for the cafeteria and the port where Lei was looking at the paintings.

Please have paper, please have paper, I say to the port. If Im talking to patients who cant answer, why not talk to the port, too?

The port listens. It prints out all of the Hundred Paintings when I enter the command. I gather up those pages full of color and light and take them with me. This is what I did for Cassia when she left me: I tried to give her something I knew she loved to take with her.

 

Most of the other workers think Im crazy, but one of the nurses agrees that my idea might help. If nothing else, itll give me something different to look at, she says, and she finds adhesive tape and surgical thread in the supply closet and helps me hang the pictures from the ceiling, above the patients.

Port paper deteriorates pretty fast, I say, so well have to print them out every few days. And we should rotate them through. We dont want the patients getting sick of any one painting. I step back to survey what weve done. It would be better if we had new pictures. I dont want the patients to think theyre back in the Society.

We could make some, another nurse says eagerly. Ive always missed drawing, the way we did in First School.

What would you use? I ask. We dont have any paints.

Ill think of something, she says. Havent you always wanted the chance?

No, I say. I think it surprises her, so I smile to take the edge off. I wonder if Id be a different kind of person, the kind Lei and Cassia could fall in love with, if I had.

The head physic is going to pull you from your next shift if you dont go to the sleeproom now, the nurse tells me.

I know, I say. I heard him on the port.

But theres someone I have to speak to before I go. Im sorry, I tell Lei. The words are as inadequate as they were the first time, so I try again. Theyll find a cure, dont you think? I point to the painting hanging above her. Theres got to be some light in a corner somewhere. I wouldnt have seen the light if she hadnt pointed it out, but once she did, it became impossible to ignore.

 

On my way to the sleeproom, the door to the courtyard opens and someone in black steps out into the hall, blocking my way. I stop in my tracks. Its a girl Ive seen before, but my exhausted mind wont let me place exactly where. Regardless, I know she doesnt belong here in our locked-down wing. The head physic didnt tell me anyone new was coming in, and even if they did, theyd have to come through the main door.

Oh good, the girl says. There you are. Ive been looking for you.

How did you get in here? I ask.

I flew, she says. Then she smiles, and I know exactly who she is: Indie, the girl who brought the cures in with Ky once before. I might also have some keycodes for the doors, she says.

You shouldnt be here, I tell her. This place is full of people who are sick.

I know, she says, but youre not, are you?

No, I say. Im not sick.

I need you to come with me, she says. Now.

No, I say. This doesnt make any sense. Im a physic here. I cant leave all the still, and I certainly cant leave Lei. I reach for the miniport.

But Im here to take you to Cassia, Indie says, and I drop my hand. Is she telling the truth? Could Cassia really be close by somewhere? Then fear rushes over me. Is she in the medical center? I ask. Is she sick?

Oh no, Indie says. Shes fine. Shes outside, on my ship.

All these months Ive wanted to see Cassia again, and now I might have the chance. But I cant do it. There are too many still, and one of them is Lei. Im sorry, I tell Indie. I have to take care of the patients here. And youve been exposed to the mutation now. You shouldnt leave. You need to go to quarantine.

She sighs. He thought you might be hard to convince. So Im supposed to tell you that if you come with me, youll be able to help him work on the cure.


: 2015-09-15; : 10;







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