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DUTTON BOOKS 12 ñòðàíèöà
“Who are you talking about?” I ask.
“The Pilot, of course.” She says it so matter-of-factly that I believe her.
The Pilot wants me to help work on the cure.
“He knows you have firsthand knowledge of the mutated Plague,” Indie says. “He needs you.”
I look back down the hallway.
“Now,” Indie says. “He needs you now. There’s no time to say good-bye.” Her voice is honest and unflinching. “Can any of them hear you anyway?”
“I don’t know,” I say.
“You trust the Pilot,” Indie says.
“But have you ever met him?”
“No,” I say. “But you have.”
“Yes,” Indie says. She enters a code and pushes open the door. It’s almost morning now. “And you’re right to believe in him.”
Ky,” she whispers to me. “Ky.”
Her hand is soft against my cheek. I can’t seem to wake up. Maybe it’s because I don’t want to. It’s been too long since I dreamed about Cassia.
“Ky,” she says again. I open my eyes.
She sees in my face that I’m disappointed. Her expression falters a little, but even in the very faint light of early morning I can see triumph in her eyes.
“What are you doing?” I ask her. “You should be in quarantine.” After we brought back Caleb, they took him away and locked Indie and me both up in quarantine cells here at the base. At least they didn’t put us in City Hall. “How did you get in here?” I ask, looking around. The door to my cell is open. Everyone else that I can see looks asleep.
“I did it,” she says. “I’ve got a ship. And I’ve got her.” She grins. “While you were sleeping, I flew to Central.”
“You went to Central?” I say, standing up. “And you found her?”
“Yes,” Indie says. “She’s not sick. She’s fine. And now you can run.”
Now we can run. We can get out of here. I know it’s dangerous but I feel like I can do anything if Cassia’s really in Camas. When I stand up, I’m dizzy for a second and I put my hand on the wall for support. Indie pauses. “Are you all right?” she asks.
“Of course,” I say. Cassia’s no longer in Central. She’s here and she’s safe.
In unison, Indie and I slip out the door of the cell and start for the fields. The grasses whisper to each other in the pale dark and I start to run. Indie stays next to me, keeping pace.
“You should have seen the landings I did.” Indie says. “They were perfect. Better than perfect. People are going to tell stories about them someday.” Indie sounds almost giddy. I haven’t heard her like this before, and it’s contagious.
“How does she look?” I ask.
“The same as always,” Indie says, and I start laughing and stop running and reach to grab Indie and spin her around and kiss her cheek and thank her for managing the impossible, but then I remember.
I could be sick. So could she.
“Thank you,” I tell Indie. “I wish we weren’t quarantined.”
“Does it really matter?” she asks, coming a tiny bit closer. Her face is full of pure joy and I feel that kiss again on my lips.
“Yes,” I say, “it does.” Then I’m struck by fear. “You made sure Cassia wasn’t exposed to the new virus, didn’t you?”
“She rode in the hold almost the whole time,” Indie says. “The ship had been sterilized. I didn’t really even talk to her.”
I’ll have to be careful. Wear a mask, stay out of the hold, keep my distance from Cassia but at the very least, I can see her. Too good to be true, some instinct within me warns. You and Cassia together, flying away, just like you imagined? Things don’t happen like that.
If you let hope inside, it takes you over. It feeds on your insides and uses your bones to climb and grow. Eventually it becomes the thing that is your bones, that holds you together. Holds you up until you don’t know how to live without it anymore. To pull it out of you would kill you entirely.
“Indie Holt,” I say, “you are too good to be true.”
Indie laughs. “No one’s ever called me good before.”
“Sure they have,” I say. “When you’re flying.”
“No,” she says. “Then they say I’m great.”
“That’s right,” I say, “you are,” and in unison we’re both running again for the ships. They huddle against the morning like a flock of metal birds.
“This one,” Indie says, and I follow her. “You first,” she says.
I scramble up into the cockpit, turning around to ask, “Who’s going to fly?”
“I am,” says a familiar voice.
The Pilot emerges from the shadows at the back of the cockpit.
“It’s all right,” Indie says to me. “He’s the one who’s going to help you run, all the way to the mountains.”
Neither the Pilot nor I say anything. It’s strange not hearing his voice again. I’m so used to him talking at us from the screen.
“Is she really here?” I ask Indie quietly, hoping that she lied to me about Cassia being on board. Something about this seems wrong. Can’t Indie feel it?
“Go see,” Indie says, pointing to the hold. She smiles. Then I know. She doesn’t think this is a trap, and Cassia’s here. That’s clear, even though nothing else is. Something’s wrong with me. I can’t think right, and when I climb down into the hold, I almost lose my footing.
There she is. After all these months, we’re on the same ship. All I want, right here. Let’s take the Pilot down, let’s run, let’s take each other all the way to the Otherlands. Cassia looks up at me, her expression strong and wise and beautiful.
But Cassia’s not alone.
Xander’s with her.
Where is the Pilot taking all of us? Indie trusts him, but I don’t.
Indie, what have you done?
“You wouldn’t run with me,” Indie says, “so I brought her to you. Now you can go to the mountains.”
“You’re not coming with us,” I say, realizing.
“If things were different, I would,” Indie says, and when she looks at me, it’s hard to hold her honest, longing gaze. “But they aren’t. And I still have flying to do.” And then, fast, like a fish or a bird, she disappears from the entrance to the hold. No one can catch Indie when it’s time for her to move.
We were supposed to meet months ago on a dark early-spring night by the lake, where we could be alone.
Ky’s face is drawn with fatigue, and I catch the scent of sage and sand and grass, of the world outdoors. I know that look of stone in his face, that set of his jaw. His skin is rough. His eyes are deep.
We began with his hand around mine, showing me shapes.
In Ky’s eyes is such complete love and hunger that it goes through me like the sharp, high note of a bird in the canyon, echoing all the way through my body. I am seen and known, if not yet touched.
The moment sings between us and then everything turns to motion.
“No,” Ky says, moving back toward the ladder. “I forgot. I can’t be down here with you.”
He’s too late; the Pilot has closed the hatch above us. Ky pounds on the door as the engines fire up and the Pilot’s voice comes through the speakers. “Prepare for takeoff,” he says. I grab hold of one of the straps hanging from the ceiling. Xander does the same. Ky still hammers at the door to the hold.
“I can’t stay,” he says. “There’s an illness out there, worse than the Plague, and I’ve been exposed to it.” His eyes look wild.
“It’s all right,” Xander tries to tell Ky, but Ky can’t hear over the roar of the engines and the pounding of his hands.
“Ky,” I say, as loud as I can, between the beats of his fists hitting the metal. “It’s. All. Right. I. Can’t. Get. Sick.”
Then he turns around.
“Neither can Xander,” I say.
“How do you know?” Ky asks.
“We both have the mark,” Xander says.
Xander turns around and pulls down his collar so Ky can see. “If you’ve got this, it means you can’t get the mutated Plague.”
“I have it, too,” I say. “Xander looked for me when we were flying here.”
“I’ve been working with the mutation for weeks,” Xander says.
“What about me?” Ky asks. He turns around, and in one fast motion, pulls his shirt over his head. There, in the dim light of the air ship, I see the planes and muscles of his back, smooth and brown.
And nothing else.
My throat tightens. “Ky,” I say.
“You don’t have it,” Xander says, his words blunt but his voice sympathetic. “You should stay away from us, in case your exposure didn’t actually infect you. We could still be carriers.”
Ky nods and pulls his shirt back over his head. When he turns to us there’s something haunted and relieved in his eyes. He didn’t expect to be immune; he’s never been lucky. But he’s glad that I am. My eyes burn with angry tears. Why does it always have to be like this for Ky? How does he stand it?
He keeps moving.
The Pilot’s voice comes in through a speaker in the wall. “The flight won’t be long,” he tells us.
“Where are we going?” Ky asks.
The Pilot doesn’t answer.
“To the mountains,” I say, at the same time Xander says, “To help the Pilot find a cure.”
“That’s what Indie told you,” Ky says, and Xander and I nod. Ky raises his eyebrows as if to say, But what does the Pilot have in mind?
“There’s something in the hold for Cassia,” the Pilot says. “It’s in a case at the back.”
Xander finds the case first and pushes it toward me. He and Ky both watch as I open it up. Inside are two things: a datapod and a folded piece of white paper.
I take out the datapod first and hand it to Xander to hold. Ky stays on the other side of the ship. Then I lift out the paper. It’s slick, white paper from a port, and heavier than it should be, folded in an intricate pattern to conceal something inside. When I peel away the layers, I see Grandfather’s microcard in the center.
Bram sent it after all.
He sent something else, too. Radiating out from the middle of the paper are lines of dark writing. A code.
I recognize the pattern in the writing—he’s made it look like a game I once made for him on the scribe. This is my brother’s writing. Bram taught himself to write, and instead of just deciphering my message, he’s put together a simple code of his own. We thought he couldn’t pay attention to detail, but he can, when it interests him enough. He would have been a wonderful sorter after all.
My eyes fill with tears as I picture my exiled family at their home in Keya. I only asked for the microcard, but they sent more. The code from Bram, the paper from my mother—I think I see her careful hand in the folding. The only one who didn’t send anything is my father.
“Please,” the Pilot says, “go ahead and view the microcard.” His tone remains polite, but I hear a command in his words.
I slide the microcard into the datapod. It’s an older model, but it only takes a few seconds for the first image to load. And there he is. Grandfather. His wonderful, kind, clever face. I haven’t seen him in almost a year, except in my dreams.
“Is the datapod working?” the Pilot asks.
“Yes,” I say, my throat aching. “Yes, thank you.”
For a moment, I forget that I’m looking for something specific—Grandfather’s favorite memory of me. Instead I’m distracted by the pictures of his life.
Grandfather, young, a child standing with his parents. A little older, wearing plainclothes, and then with his arm around a young woman. My grandmother. Grandfather appears holding a baby, my father, with my grandmother laughing next to him, and then that too is gone.
Bram and I appear on the screen with Grandfather.
The screen stops on a picture of Grandfather at the end of his life, his handsome face and dark eyes looking out from the datapod with humor and strength.
“In parting, as is customary, Samuel Reyes made a list of his favorite memory of each of his surviving family members,” the historian says. “The one he chose of his daughter-in-law, Molly, was the day they first met.”
My father remembered that day, too. Back in the Borough, he told me how he went with his parents to meet my mother at the train. My father said they all fell in love with her that day; that he’d never seen anyone so warm and alive.
“His favorite memory of his son, Abran, was the day they had their first real argument.”
There must be a story behind this memory. I’ll have to ask my father about it when I see him again. He rarely argues with anyone. I feel a little pang. Why didn’t Papa send me something? But he must have approved of their sending the microcard. My mother would never have gone behind my father’s back.
“His favorite memory of his grandson, Bram, was his first word,” the historian says. “It was ‘more.’”
Now, my turn. I find myself leaning forward, the way I did when I was small and Grandfather told me things.
“His favorite memory of his granddaughter, Cassia,” the historian says, “was of the red garden day.”
Bram was right. He heard the historian correctly. She did say day. Not days. So did the historian make a mistake? I wish they’d let Grandfather speak for himself. I’d like to hear his voice saying these words. But that’s not the way the Society did things.
This has told me nothing except that Grandfather loved me—no small thing, but something I already knew. And a red garden day could be any time of year. Red leaves in the fall, red flowers in the summer, red buds in the spring, and even, sometimes, when we sat outside in the winter, our noses and cheeks turned red from the cold and the sun set crimson in the west. Red garden days. There were so many of them.
And for that, I am grateful.
“What happened on the red garden day?” the Pilot asks, and I look up. For a moment, I’d forgotten that he was listening.
“I don’t know,” I say. “I don’t remember.”
“What does the paper say?” Xander asks.
“I haven’t decoded it yet,” I tell him.
“I can save you the time,” the Pilot says. “It reads, ‘Cassia, I want you to know that I’m proud of you for seeing things through, and for being braver than I was.’ It’s from your father.”
My father did send me a message. And Bram encoded it for him, and my mother wrapped it up.
I glance down at Bram’s code to make sure the Pilot has translated the note correctly, but then the Pilot interrupts me.
“This trade didn’t come through until recently,” the Pilot says. “It appears that after it left your family’s hands, the trader involved fell ill. When it did come through, we found the microcard intriguing, and the message as well.”
“Who gave this to you?” I ask.
“I have people who watch out for things they know might interest me,” the Pilot says. “The head Archivist in Central is one of those people.”
She has betrayed me again. “Trades are supposed to be secret,” I say.
“In a time of war, different rules apply,” the Pilot says.
“We are not at war,” I say.
“We are losing a war,” the Pilot says, “against the mutation. We have no cure.”
I look at Ky, who doesn’t have the mark, who isn’t safe, and I understand the urgency of the Pilot’s words. We can’t lose.
“You are either helping us to find and administer the cure,” the Pilot says, “or you are hindering our efforts.”
“We want to help you,” Xander says. “That’s why you’re taking us to the mountains, isn’t it?”
“I am taking you to the mountains,” the Pilot says. “What happens to you when you arrive there is something I haven’t determined yet.”
Ky laughs. “If you’re spending this much time deciding what to do with the three of us when there’s an incurable virus raging through the Provinces, you’re either stupid or desperate.”
“The situation,” the Pilot says, “is long past desperate.”
“Then what can you possibly expect us to do?” Ky asks.
“You will help,” the Pilot says, “one way or the other.” The ship turns a little and I wonder where we are in the sky.
“There are not very many people I can trust,” the Pilot says. “So when two of them tell me contradictory things, that worries me. One of my associates thinks that the three of you are traitors who should be imprisoned and questioned away from the Provinces, out where I’m certain of the loyalty of the people. The other thinks you can help me find a cure.”
The head Archivist is the first person, I think. But who is the other?
“When the Archivist drew my attention to this trade,” the Pilot says, “I was interested, as she knew I would be, both by the name on the microcard and the message included on the paper. Your father did not side with the Rising. What, exactly, did you do that he didn’t dare to do? Did you take things one step further and strike against the Rising?
“And then when I looked more closely, I found other things worthy of notice.”
He begins reciting the names of flowers to me. At first, I think he’s gone crazy, and then I realize what he’s saying:
Newrose, oldrose, Queen Anne’s lace.
“You wrote that and distributed it,” the Pilot says. “What does the code represent?”
It’s not a code. It’s just my mother’s words, turned into a poem. Where did he find it? Did someone give it to him? I meant for it to be shared, but not like this.
“Where is the place over the hill, under the tree, and past the border no one can see?”
When he asks the question like that, it sounds complicated, like a riddle. And it was only supposed to be simple, a song.
“Who were you meeting there?” he asks, his voice clear and even. But Ky’s right. The Pilot is desperate. There’s no undertone of fear when he speaks; but the questions he’s asking, the way he’s gambling some of his precious time on the three of us—it all makes me cold with fear. If the Pilot doesn’t know how to save us from the new Plague, who does?
“No one,” I say. “It’s a poem. It doesn’t have to have a literal meaning.”
“But poems often do,” the Pilot says. “You know this.”
He’s right. I’ve thought about the poem with the Pilot’s name in it and whether that was the one Grandfather really meant me to find. He gave me the compact, he told me the stories of hiking the Hill, of his mother, who sang forbidden poems to him. What did Grandfather want me to do? I’ve always wondered.
“Why did you gather people at the Gallery?” the Pilot asks.
“So they could bring what they’d made.”
“What did you talk about there?”
“Poetry,” I say. “Songs.”
“And that’s all,” the Pilot says.
His voice can be as cold or as warm as a stone, I realize. Sometimes it sounds generous and welcoming, like sandstone under sun, and other times it’s as unforgiving as the marble of the steps at City Hall.
I have a question of my own for him. “Why did my name interest you now?” I ask. “People in the Rising must have seen it before. It meant nothing to them.”
“Things have happened since you first joined the Rising several months ago,” the Pilot says. “Poisoned lakes. Mysterious codes. A Gallery built where people could gather and exchange things they’d written. It seemed your name was worth a second look. And when we looked again, there was a great deal to find.” And now his voice is very cold.
“Cassia’s not fighting against the Rising,” Xander says. “She’s part of the Rising. I can vouch for her.”
“So can I,” Ky says.
“That might mean something to me,” the Pilot says, “if it weren’t for the confluence of data around the three of you. There’s enough to make all of you suspect.”
“What do you mean?” I ask. “We did whatever the Rising wanted us to do. I came back to Central to live. Ky flew ships for you. Xander saved patients.”
“Your small obediences did serve to camouflage your other actions to those in the Rising with less authority and information,” the Pilot tells me. “They initially had no reason to report you to me. But after you were brought to my attention, I saw things and made connections that were unavailable to others. As the Pilot, I have access to more information. When I looked closely, I found the truth. People died wherever you went. The decoys in your camp, for example, many of whom were Aberrations.”
“We didn’t kill those decoys,” Ky says. “You did. When the Society sent people out to die, you sat back and watched.”
The Pilot continues, relentless. “A river near the Carving was poisoned while you were in the area. You detonated wiring in the Carving, destroying part of a village that belonged to Anomalies. You destroyed tubes in a storage facility in the canyons, a facility that the Rising had infiltrated. You conspired to obtain and carry blue tablets. You even killed a boy with them. We found his body.”
“That’s not true,” I say, but in a way, it is. I didn’t mean to kill that boy by giving him the blue tablets, but I did. And then I realize why the Archivist asked me about locations where tissue preservation samples might be stored. “You’re the one who wanted to know how much I knew about the tubes,” I say. “Do you really trade them?”
“You trade the tubes?” Ky asks.
“Of course,” the Pilot says. “I’ll use whatever I need to secure loyalty and resources for finding the cure. The samples are a currency that works when almost nothing else will.”
Ky shakes his head, disgusted. I can’t help but be grateful that we were able to get Grandfather’s tube away from the Cavern. Who knows what the Pilot would have used it for.
“There’s something more,” the Pilot says. “The Cities where you lived were among those who suffered contaminated water supplies.”
The lake. I remember those dead fish. But I don’t understand what he means. The three of us look at each other. We have to figure this out.
“The Plague spread too quickly,” Xander says, his eyes lighting up. “It stayed contained in Central for a long time, and then all of a sudden it was widespread. Until the virus went into the water, we had an epidemic—people getting sick from transferring it to one another. After the water supplies were contaminated, we had a pandemic.”
And now Ky and I are right there with Xander, putting together the pieces. “It’s a waterborne Plague,” Ky says. “Like the one they sent to the Enemy.”
The numbers of the Plague make sense to me now. “The sudden outbreak we saw at the beginning of the Rising—widespread contamination in several different Cities and Provinces—means that someone added the virus to water sources to hurry up the process.” I shake my head. “I should have realized. So that’s why the illness was everywhere, all at once.”
“And that’s why we were stretched so thin at the medical center,” Xander says. “The Rising didn’t anticipate the sabotage. But we handled it anyway. Everything would have been fine, except for the mutation.”
“You can’t think the three of us could coordinate all of that,” Ky says.
“No,” the Pilot says. “But the three of you were a part of it. And it’s time to come clean with what you know.” He pauses. “There’s something else for Cassia on the datapod.”
I look back at the screen and see a second file embedded. Inside I find a picture of my mother, and one of my father. The screen flashes back and forth between the two of them.
“No,” I say. “No.” My parents look up from the screen, glassy-eyed. They are both still.
“They have the mutation,” the Pilot says. “There is no cure. They are both in a medical center in Keya.” He anticipates my next question before I ask it. “We have been unable to locate your brother.”
Bram. Is he lying somewhere where no one can find him? Is he dead like that boy in the Carving? No. He’s not. I won’t believe it. I can’t imagine Bram still.
“Now,” the Pilot says, “you have an incentive to tell us everything you can. Who do you work for? Are you Society sympathizers? Someone else? Did your group introduce the mutation? Do you have a cure?”
For the first time, I hear him lose control while he speaks. It’s only on the last word, cure, and I can tell how truly desperate and driven he is. He wants this cure. He will do anything he can to find it.
But we don’t have a cure. He’s wasting his time with us. What should we do? How can we convince him?
“I know you can do the right thing,” the Pilot says. The break in his voice is gone, and now he sounds coaxing, gentle. “Your father may have sided with the Society and refused to join the Rising, but your grandfather worked for us. You are, of course, the great-granddaughter of Pilot Reyes. And you’ve helped us before, though you don’t remember it.”
I barely hear the last thing he says because—
My great-grandmother. She was the Pilot.
She was the one who sang the poems to my grandfather, even when the Society had told her she could only choose a hundred. She was the one who saved the page I burned.
“I never met Pilot Reyes in person,” the Pilot says. “She came before my predecessor. But as the Pilot, I am one of the only people who knows the names of the Pilots who came before. And I know her from her writings. She was the right Pilot at the right time. She preserved records and gathered what we needed to know to take action later. But one thing is the same for all Pilots: We have to understand what it means to be the Pilot. Your great-grandmother understood that if you don’t save, you fail. And she knew that the smallest rebel who does their job is as great as the Pilot who leads. She didn’t just believe that. She knew it.”
“We haven’t done anything—” I begin, but the ship drops suddenly, down, down.
Ky loses his balance and slams into the cases against the wall. Both Xander and I move to help him.
“I’m fine,” Ky says. I can barely hear him over the sounds of the ship, and then we hit the ground hard. My whole body snaps with the impact.
“When he opens the hold,” Ky says, “we’re going to run. We’ll get away.”
“Ky,” I say, “wait.”
“We can get past him,” Ky says. “There are three of us and only one of him.”
“Two of you,” Xander says. “I’m not going.”
Ky stares at Xander in astonishment. “Have you been listening at all?”
“Yes,” Xander says. “The Pilot wants a cure. So do I. I’ll help him however I can.” Xander looks at me and I see that he still believes in the Pilot. He’s choosing the Pilot over everything else, in this at least.
Why wouldn’t he? Ky and I left Xander behind; I never taught him to write. And I never asked Xander for his story because I thought I already knew it. Looking at him now, I realize that I didn’t know it all then, and I certainly don’t know it all now. He has traveled through canyons of his own and come through changed.
And he’s right. All that matters is the cure. That is what we have to fight for now.
I’m the vote in the balance. They both wait for me. And this time, I choose Xander, or at least, I choose his side. “Let’s talk to the Pilot,” I tell Ky. “Just a little more.”
“Are you sure?” Ky asks.
“Yes,” I say, and the Pilot opens the door to the hold. I follow Ky up the ladder, Xander coming after, and I hand the Pilot the datapod with my parents’ pictures on it.
“The Gallery was a place for meeting and poetry,” I tell him. “The blue tablets were an accident. We didn’t know they killed. We used the wiring in the Carving to seal off the cave so that the Society wouldn’t take the villagers’ stores. The poisoned streams and water—that’s the Society’s signature, and we are not the Society, nor do we sympathize with them.”
For a moment everything is as quiet as it can be in a ship in the mountains. The wind moves in the trees outside, and under that is the breathing of those of us who are not still, not yet.
“We’re not trying to take down the Rising,” I say. “We believed in it. All we want is a cure.” And then I realize who the other person the Pilot trusts must be—the pilot he asked to gather us together when he couldn’t spare the time or the risk. “You should listen to Indie,” I say. “We can help you.”
The Pilot doesn’t seem surprised that I’ve figured it out.
“Indie,” Ky says. “Does she have the mark?”
“No,” the Pilot says, “but we’ll do our best to keep her flying.”
“You lied to her,” Ky says. “You used her to bring us all in.”
“There is no stone I won’t overturn,” the Pilot says, “to find the cure.”
“We can help you,” I tell the Pilot again. “I can sort data. Xander has been working with the sick and has seen the mutation firsthand. Ky—”
“May be the most useful of all,” the Pilot says.
“I’ll be a body,” Ky says. “Just like in the Outer Provinces.” Ky walks away from me, closer to the door. He moves slower than usual, but with the same fluidity that I’ve always associated with him; his body belongs to him more than most people’s do, and I ache at the thought that it might have to stop, be still.
“You don’t know that, yet,” I say, my heart sinking. “You might not be sick.” But Ky’s expression is resigned. Does he know more than he’s saying? Can he feel the mutation inside of him, running through his veins, making him ill?
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