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DUTTON BOOKS 13 ñòðàíèöà
“Either way, Ky’s been exposed to the virus,” Xander says. “You don’t want to risk him exposing the people you have working on the cure to the mutation.”
“There’s no risk,” the Pilot says. “The villagers are immune.”
“So that’s why you’re looking here for a cure,” Xander says, and he smiles. His voice fills with hope. “There is a chance we’ll find it.”
“But if you knew about the red mark, why didn’t you bring some of those who had it out here earlier?” I ask the Pilot. “Maybe our data could be useful.” If I’m immune, they could correlate my data with that of the villagers from the mountain.
The moment the words leave my mouth, I shake my head. “It won’t work,” I say, answering my own question, “because our data is compromised. All the immunizations, the exposures we’ve had—you need a pure sample group to find the cure.”
“Yes,” the Pilot says, looking at me with a measuring expression. “We can only use those who have lived outside of the Society since birth. Others can help us work on the cure, but we can’t use their data.”
“And you must give more weight to data from those who have lived longest outside of the Society,” I say. “For second-generation, and third-generation villagers. Their information will have greater importance.”
“We’ve come by some additional data recently,” the Pilot says. “A second group of villagers has also proved to be immune, though they only arrived in the mountains recently.”
The farmers from the Carving. It must be. I remember the small dark house, the symbol for settlement, that we saw marked on the mountains of the farmers’ map. They didn’t know the name of the village or if anyone still lived there, but that was where the farmers fled when the Carving was no longer safe.
Ky is looking at me. He’s had the same thought. What if we can see Eli again? Or Hunter?
“When the people from the Carving arrived, the villagers of Endstone let them build a settlement of their own nearby,” the Pilot says. “We weren’t sure at first if the people from the Carving would also be immune to the mutation. They lived in a very different climate and had had no contact with those living in Endstone for many years. But they were immune. Which was a huge boon to us because—”
“—then you could correlate their data,” I say, understanding instantly. “You could look for commonalities between the two groups. It would save you time.”
“How close are you?” Xander asks.
“Not as close as we’d like,” the Pilot says. “There were many commonalities in the diets and habits of the two groups. We’re ruling out each possibility as fast as we can, but it takes time, and people to try the cure on.”
He’s looking at the three of us. Have we convinced him?
Xander watches me, too. When our eyes meet he smiles and I see the old Xander in him again, the one who used to smile at me exactly this way to try to get me to jump in the pool, to join in the games. When I turn back to Ky, I see that his hands are shaking just a little, his fine hands that taught me to write, that touched me when we went through the canyons.
Long ago on the Hill, Ky warned me about a situation like this, where we might be caught. He told me about the prisoner’s dilemma and how we would have to keep each other safe. Did he ever think that there might be three of us, not two?
Here, between Xander’s smile and Ky’s hands, I come to my own understanding, that the only way to keep one another safe is to find the cure.
“We can help you,” I say again to the Pilot, hoping that this time he will believe me.
Grandfather believed in me. In my palm, I hold the microcard. It is wrapped in a paper from my mother that is covered in my father’s words, written by my brother’s hand.
Outside the ship, Ky paces the clearing while we wait for the villagers to come down to meet us. “You should rest,” I tell him. “There’s no evidence that continued motion delays the onset of the illness.”
“You sound like an Official,” Ky says.
“I used to be one,” I say.
“The reason you don’t have any evidence that this works,” Ky says, “is because you never had anyone try it.”
He and I are talking and joking, using the same tone we did when we played at the game tables. Once again Ky is going to lose and it’s not fair. He shouldn’t have to be still.
But he hasn’t lost Cassia. The way the two of them look at each other is like touching. I’m caught in the middle of it.
There’s no time to think about that now. A group of people emerges from the trees. There are nine of them. Five carry weapons and the rest have stretchers.
“I don’t have any patients for you today,” the Pilot says. “Nor supplies, I’m afraid. Just these three.”
“My name is Xander,” I say, trying to put the villagers at ease.
“Leyna,” says one of the women. Her hair is in a long blond braid and she looks young, like us. None of the others move to introduce themselves, but they all appear strong. I see no signs of illness among them.
“I’m Cassia,” Cassia says.
“Ky,” Ky says.
“We’re Anomalies,” Leyna says. “Probably the first you’ve ever seen.” She waits for our reaction.
“We knew other Anomalies in the Carving,” Cassia says.
“Really?” Leyna asks, her voice full of interest. “When was this?”
“Right before they came here,” Cassia says.
“So you know Anna,” says one of the men. “Their leader.”
“No,” Cassia says. “We came after she left. We only knew Hunter.”
“We were surprised when the farmers came to Endstone,” Leyna says. “We thought everyone in the Carving had died long ago. We believed that those of us in the stone villages were all that was between the Society and the rest of the world.”
She’s very good at this. Her voice is warm but strong, and she takes in our measure as she looks at us. She’d make a good physic. “What can they do for us?” she asks the Pilot, addressing him not as her leader but as her equal.
“I’m a body,” Ky says. “I’ve got the mutation. I just haven’t gone down yet.”
Leyna raises her eyebrows. “We haven’t seen anyone standing,” she says to the Pilot. “All the other patients were already still.”
“Ky is a pilot,” Cassia says. I can tell she doesn’t like the way Leyna is talking about Ky. “One of the best.”
Leyna nods, but she keeps watching Ky. Her eyes are shrewd.
“Xander’s a medic,” Cassia says, “and I can sort.”
“A medic and a sorter,” Leyna says. “Excellent.”
“I’m not actually a medic anymore,” I say. “I’ve been working in administration. But I’ve seen a lot of the sick and I’ve been assisting with their care.”
“That will be useful,” Leyna says. “It’s always good to speak to someone who has seen the virus and how it works in the Cities and Boroughs.”
“I’ll return as soon as I can,” the Pilot says. “Is there anything new to report?”
“No,” Leyna says, “but there will be soon.” She gestures to one of the stretchers. “We can carry you if you need it.” She’s speaking to Ky.
“No,” Ky says. “I’ll keep going until I drop.”
“You trust the Pilot very much,” I say to Leyna as we climb up the path to the village. Cassia and Ky walk ahead of us, keeping a steady but slow pace. I know Leyna and I are both watching them. Others in the group keep looking at Ky, too. Everyone’s waiting for the moment when he goes still.
“The Pilot isn’t our leader,” she says, “but we trust him enough to work with him, and he feels the same way about us.”
“And you’re really immune?” I ask. “Even to the mutation?”
“Yes,” she says. “But we don’t have a mark. The Pilot told us that some of you do.”
I nod. “I wonder why there’s a discrepancy,” I say. In spite of what I’ve seen it do to people, the workings of the Plague and its mutation fascinate me.
“We’re not sure,” Leyna says. “Our expert in the village says that viruses and immunity are incredibly complex. His best explanation is that whatever causes our immunity simply prevents infection from ever being established at all, which means we don’t get the mark.”
“And it also means that you’d better not change your diet or environment too much before you find out what makes you immune, or you could get sick,” I say.
“That must have taken courage to volunteer for exposure to the mutation,” I say.
“How many people live in the village?” I ask.
“More than you would think,” Leyna says. “The stones are rolling.”
What does she mean?
“When the Society began rounding up the Aberrations and Anomalies to send to the decoy camps,” Leyna explains, “more and more of them started escaping to these places, the stone villages. Have you heard of them?”
“Yes,” I say, remembering Lei.
“Now we’re all gathering together in one village, the last one,” Leyna says. “It’s called Endstone. We’re pooling our resources to try to turn our immunity into your cure.”
“Why?” I ask. “What have those of us who live in the Provinces ever done for you?”
Leyna laughs. “Not much,” she says. “But the Pilot has promised us something in return if we succeed.”
“What is it?” I ask.
“If we find a cure,” she says, “he’ll use his ships to take us to the Otherlands. It’s what we want most, and the cure is what he wants most, so the trade is fair. And if it turns out that our immunity changes when we leave, we will certainly want cures to take with us to the Otherlands as a precaution.”
“So the Otherlands do exist,” I say.
“Of course,” she says.
“If you let everyone in the Provinces die, you could take the Pilot’s ships yourselves,” I say. “Or you could wait until everyone was gone and then go in and take their Cities and houses for your own.”
For the first time, her easy, charming mask slips a little and I see the contempt underneath. “You’re like rats,” she says, her voice still pleasant. “Even if most of you die, there are too many of you for us to overcome. We’re ready to leave you all behind and go someplace you haven’t touched.”
“Why are you telling me all of this?” I ask her. We’ve just met, so it can’t be that she trusts me yet.
“It’s good for you to understand how much we have to lose,” she says.
And I do understand. With so much at stake, she can’t and won’t tolerate anything that might compromise her goal. We’ll need to watch our step here. “We have the same objective,” I say. “To find a cure.”
“Good,” Leyna tells me. She lowers her voice and looks at Ky. “So tell me,” she says, “when is he going to go down?”
Ky’s pace has picked up a little. “It won’t be long now,” I say. Cassia is electric, lit up simply because Ky is near her, even though she’s worried that he might be ill. Would it be worth it to have the mutation if I knew she loved me? I wonder. If I could trade places with him right now, would I do it?
When it happens, everything feels sudden and slow at the same time.
We’re walking along the narrow path when Ky goes down to his knees.
I crouch beside him, put my hands on his shoulders.
His eyes, unfocused at first, find me. “No,” he says. “Don’t want you to see this.”
But I don’t look away. I hold on and I ease him down until he’s lying on the spring grass and I keep my hands underneath his head. His hair is soft and warm; the grass is cool and new.
“Indie,” Ky says. “She kissed me.” I see the pain in his eyes.
I should feel shock, I know. But it doesn’t matter. What matters is here, now, his eyes looking at me, my fingers holding on to him and touching earth. I almost tell Ky this, that it doesn’t matter, but then I realize that it does to him or he wouldn’t be telling me. “It’s all right,” I say.
Ky sighs out in relief and exhaustion. “Like the canyons,” he says.
“Yes,” I say. “We’ll come through them.”
Xander kneels down too. The three of us look at one another; my eyes meet Xander’s briefly, then Ky’s.
Can we trust one another? Can we keep one another safe?
Near the edge of the path, the grass gives way to wildflowers, some pink, some blue, some red. The wind stirs the grass around our feet, sending a clean smell of blossoms and dirt into the air.
Ky follows my gaze. I reach over and snap off one of the buds and roll it around in my hand. It’s so ripe in tint and texture that I half expect to look down and see my palm turned red, but it isn’t. The bud keeps its color.
“You told me once,” I say to Ky, holding up the bud for him to see and then pressing it into his hand, “that red was the color of beginning.”
The color of beginning. For a moment, a memory flickers in and out. It is a rare moment in spring when both buds on the trees and flowers on the ground are red. The air is cool and at the same time warm. Grandfather watches me, his eyes bright and determined.
Spring, then. The red garden day Grandfather mentioned on the microcard was in the spring, to have both red tree buds and red flowers at the same time, to feel the way it did. I’m certain of this. But what did Grandfather and I talk about?
I don’t know that, yet. But as I feel Ky’s fingers tighten around mine, I think how this is always the way he is, giving me something even when most would think there was nothing left to do but let go.
Ky,” Cassia says. I wonder if this will be one of the last times the sound of her voice reaches me. Can the still hear anything at all?
I knew I was sick when I couldn’t keep my balance on the ship. My body didn’t move when instinct said it should. My muscles feel loose and my bones feel tight.
Xander kneels next to me. I catch a glimpse of his face. He thinks he’s going to find a cure. Xander’s not blind. Just believing. It’s so damn painful to see.
I look back to Cassia. Her eyes are cool and green. When I look into them I feel better. For just a second the pain is muted.
Then it’s back.
I know now why people might not try to fight very long.
If I stopped fighting the pain, fatigue would win, and that seems preferable. I’d rather be asleep than feel this. The Plague was much kinder than the mutation, I realize. The Plague didn’t have the sores that I can feel forming around my torso and curving across my back.
Small red-and-white flashes of light appear in my vision as the villagers lift me onto a stretcher. I have another thought. What if you give in to the exhaustion, let yourself go still, and then the pain comes back ?
Cassia touches my arm.
We were free in the canyon. Not for long, but we were. She had sand on her skin and the smell of water and stone in her hair. I think I smell rain coming. When it arrives, will I be too far gone to remember?
It’s good to know that Xander’s here. So that when I go down, she won’t be alone.
“You walked through the Carving to find me,” I tell Cassia softly. “I’m going to walk through this to reach you.”
Cassia holds on to one of my hands. In the other, I can feel the flower she gave me. The air in the mountains is cool. I can tell when we pass underneath the trees. Light. Dark. Light. It’s almost nice to have someone else carrying my body. This damn thing is so heavy.
And then the pain gets worse. It turns red all through me and that’s the only thing I can see—bright red in front of my eyelids.
Cassia’s hand disappears from mine.
No, I want to shout. Don’t go.
Xander’s voice is here instead. “The important thing,” he tells me, “is that you remember to breathe. If you don’t clear your lungs, that’s when pneumonia can settle in.” A pause. Then he says, “I’m sorry, Ky. We’ll find a cure. I promise.”
Then he’s gone and Cassia’s back, her hand a softer pressure now on mine. “What the Pilot was saying on the ship,” she tells me, “was a poem I wrote for you. I finally finished it.”
She speaks to me gently, almost singing. I breathe.
Newrose, oldrose, Queen Anne’s lace.
Water, river, stone, and sun.
Wind over hill, under tree.
Past the border none can see.
Climbing into dark for you
Will you wait in stars for me?
And no matter what, she’ll remember me. No one, not Society or Rising or anyone else, can take that from her. Too much has happened. And too much time has passed.
She’ll know that I was here. And that I loved her.
She’ll always know that, unless she chooses to forget.
The village isn’t still at all. People are everywhere. Kids run the paths and play on an enormous stone in the center of the village. Unlike the sculptures in the Society’s greenspaces, this stone isn’t carved smooth. It’s rough and jagged where it broke away from the side of the mountain years ago. You can tell the people built the village around it. The children turn to look at us as we come past, and their eyes are curious, not afraid, which is nice to see.
The infirmary is a long wooden building across from the village stone. Once we’re inside, we carefully transfer Ky from his stretcher to a cot.
“We need to take both of you back to the research lab and interview you,” Leyna says to Cassia and me. Around us, the villagers’ versions of medics and nurses take care of the still. I do a quick count and see that Ky is the fifty-second patient. “We need Xander’s information about the Plague and its mutation, and we need Cassia to take a look at the data we’ve gathered. You’ll be more useful there.” Leyna smiles to ease the blow of what she’s saying. “I’m sorry. I know he’s your friend, but really the best way to help him—”
“Is to work for the cure,” Cassia says. “I understand. But surely we have breaks now and then. I could come visit him.”
“That’s up to Sylvie,” Leyna says, gesturing to an older woman standing near us. “I’m in charge of overseeing the cure as a whole, but she supervises the infirmary.”
“I don’t mind as long as you scrub in and wear a mask and gloves,” Sylvie says. “It might be interesting to see. None of the others here have anyone to visit them. Maybe he’ll recover more quickly.”
“Thank you,” Cassia says, her face bright with hope. I don’t want to tell her, Actually, talking to them and staying with them seems to make no difference at all. I kept talking to the patients myself. It’s instinct. And maybe the right person could make a difference. Who knows? I hope someone back at the medical center is talking to Lei. Would it have been better for me to stay there?
The door slams open. Cassia and I both turn, startled, and a man comes through the entrance. He’s tall and rail-thin, staring at us with shrewd dark eyes that peer out from under shaggy white eyebrows. His head is brown and smooth and bald. “Where is he?” he demands. “Colin told me there’s someone here who went down within the hour.”
“Here,” Leyna says, pointing to Ky.
“It’s about time,” the man says, hurrying over to us. “What have I been telling the Pilot all along? Bring them to me when they’re still fresh and I might have a chance of getting them back.”
Cassia doesn’t move away from Ky. She stays there, looking protective.
“I’m Oker,” the man says to us, but he doesn’t offer to shake hands. He carries a plastic bag full of liquid and his knotted hands grip it so tightly that it bulges and seems as if it might burst. “Damn it,” he says, noticing, and he holds it out to Sylvie. “Take it from me,” he says. “I’m seizing up. Don’t break my fingers.”
Sylvie pries the bag out of his grip.
“Hook it up now,” he says, nodding toward Ky. “I just made this. It’s fresh. As fresh as he is.” Then he laughs.
“Wait,” Cassia says. “What is it?”
“Better stuff than what the Rising gives them,” Oker says. “Go on,” he tells Sylvie. “Hurry up.”
“But what’s in it?” Cassia asks.
Oker huffs and glares at Sylvie. “Take care of this. I don’t have time to go through all the ingredients.” He pushes the door open with his shoulder and leaves the infirmary. I hear his shoes on the path outside as the door squeaks shut. He moves fast. His hands might be twisted, but there’s nothing wrong with his legs.
“He’s right,” Sylvie says. “At first, we used the nutrient bags the Pilot brought in from the Provinces, but then we ran out before the Pilot could deliver more. Oker made his own mixture to keep the patients alive and it seemed to work better, so we’ve been using it ever since.”
“But won’t that compromise the cure?” I ask. “This isn’t what the patients back in the Provinces are getting.”
“That may change,” Sylvie says. “Oker recently gave the Pilot the formula for the solution in the bags. If the Pilot can, he’s going to try to change what they use in the Provinces.”
“What do you think?” Cassia asks me quietly.
“They do look better,” I say. “Their color is good. Hold on.” I listen to one of the patients breathe. His lungs sound clear of fluid. I feel near his ribs—the spleen seems to be normal size.
“I think Oker’s telling the truth,” I say. I wish we’d had this formula earlier. Maybe it would have made a difference for our patients.
Cassia kneels down next to Ky. He looks ashier than the others, though he’s the most recently still. She sees it. “All right,” she says.
Sylvie nods and hooks up the bag that Oker brought in. Cassia and I watch Ky’s face to see if there is any change, which is stupid. Not many things work that fast.
But Oker’s stuff does. After only a few minutes, Ky does look a little bit better. It reminds me of the way the cure worked on the first Plague.
“It seems too good to be true,” Cassia breathes. She looks worried. “What if it is?”
“We don’t have a lot to lose,” I say. “What the Rising is doing in the Provinces isn’t working.”
“You’ve never seen anyone come back?” Cassia asks.
“No,” I say. “Not from the mutation.”
We both stand there for a moment longer, watching the liquid drip into Ky’s line. We avoid each other’s eyes.
Cassia draws in a deep breath and I wonder if she’s going to cry. But then she smiles. “Xander,” she says.
I don’t even try to stop myself. I reach out and pull her close and she lets me. It feels good and for a moment I don’t say anything. Her arms go around me and I can feel her breathing.
“Are you all right?” she asks.
“I’m fine,” I say.
“Xander,” Cassia asks. “Where have you been? While I was in the canyons and in Central, what happened to you?”
I’m not really sure how to tell her. Well, I didn’t go through any canyons, but I gave tablets to babies on their Welcoming Days. And, I took tissue samples from old people at their Final Banquets. I did make one real friend, but I couldn’t keep her from going still. No one I took care of came back.
“We need to go,” Leyna says. “Colin’s gathering together people to question you. I don’t want to keep them waiting.”
“I’ll tell you later,” I say, smiling at Cassia. “Right now, we have to find a cure.”
She nods. I don’t mean to seem like I’m trying to get even with her for all the times she left me in the dark about what was happening. But it’s strange to realize that she knows as little about me right now as I did about her for all these months. She’s the one who has to wonder.
I don’t want us to have to wonder about the other anymore. I’d like us to know what’s going on because we’ve been together. I’m hoping that finding this cure can be the beginning of that.
“Can you,” one of the villagers asks me, “give us any specific numbers regarding the way you were treating the still?”
The room is filled with people. I couldn’t tell right away from looking at them which of them might be people like us, brought here by the Pilot to help with the cure, or who might be the Anomalies from the village. But after a few minutes, I think I can tell who has lived in the Society at one point or another.
Oker sits on a chair near the window, his arms folded, listening to me. Some of the village’s sorters are here to take down the information. Oker’s the only person in attendance without a datapod, except for me.
Leyna sees me noticing the datapods. “The Pilot brought them for us,” she explains. “They’re very useful, but not as dangerous as miniports. We don’t allow any miniports in the village.” I nod. Datapods can record information but they don’t transmit location the way a miniport can.
“I have treatment and patient data for the regular Plague and for the mutation,” I tell the group. “I’ve been working inside the medical center since the night the Pilot came over the ports to announce the Plague.”
“And when did you leave?” someone else asks.
“Early this morning,” I say.
They all lean forward at once. “Really,” one says. “You’ve been working on the mutation that recently?”
“Perfect,” says another, and Leyna smiles.
The medics want to know everything I can remember about each patient: the way they looked, their ages, the rate of infection, how long it took until they went still, which people’s illnesses progressed more rapidly than others.
I’m careful to tell them when I’m not certain.
But for the most part, I remember. So, I talk and they listen, but I wish it were Lei here working with me on the cure. She always knew the right questions to ask.
I talk for hours. They all take notes, except for Oker, and I realize that he can’t manage the datapod with his hands the way they are. I expect him to interrupt like he did when he came into the infirmary, but he remains perfectly quiet. At one point, he leans his head back against the wall and appears to fall asleep. My voice starts to wear out right when I’m explaining about the mutation and the small red mark.
“Now this,” Leyna says, “we already know. The Pilot told us.” She stands up. “Let’s give Xander a rest for a few minutes.”
The room clears out. Some of the people look back over their shoulders like they’re worried I’m going to vanish. “Don’t worry,” Leyna says. “He’s not going anywhere. Will one of you bring back something for him to eat? And more water.” I finished the pitcher they’d brought in for me long ago.
Oker is still asleep at the back of the room. “It’s hard for him to rest,” Leyna says. “He catches a catnap when he can. So we’ll leave him alone.”
“Are you a medic?” I ask Leyna.
“Oh no,” Leyna says. “I can’t take care of sick people. But I’m good at managing the live ones. That’s why I’m in charge of finding the cure.” She pushes her chair back a little and then leans closer to me. I’m reminded again of an opponent at one of the game tables back in the Society. She’s drawing me in, getting ready to make some kind of move. “I have to admit,” she says, smiling, “that this is all rather humorous.”
“What is?” I ask, leaning forward so that there’s not much space between us.
Her smile widens. “This whole situation. The Plague. Its mutation. You being here now.”
“Tell me,” I say. “I’d like to be in on the joke.” I keep my voice easy, conversational, but I’ve seen too many still to think that anything about what’s happened to them is funny.
“You all called us Anomalies,” Leyna says. “Not good enough to live among you. Not good enough to marry you. And now you need us to save you.”
I smile back at her. “True,” I say. I lower my voice. I’m not entirely sure that Oker is asleep. “So,” I say to Leyna, “you’ve asked me plenty of questions. Let me ask you one or two.”
“Of course,” she says, her eyes flickering. She’s enjoying this.
“Is there any chance at all you can find a cure?”
“Of course,” she says again, perfectly confident. “It’s only a matter of time. You’ll be helpful to us. I won’t lie. But we’d have found the cure without you. You’ll just help us speed up the process, which is valuable, of course. The Pilot’s not going to take us to the Otherlands if too many people die before we can save them.”
“What if your immunity provides no clues?” I ask. “What if it turns out to be a matter of genetics?”
“It’s not,” she says. “We know that. The people in the village come from many different places. Some came generations ago, some more recently. The Pilot doesn’t want us to include the recent arrivals in the data, so we don’t, but we’re all immune. It must be environmental.”
Äàòà äîáàâëåíèÿ: 2015-09-15; ïðîñìîòðîâ: 5; Íàðóøåíèå àâòîðñêèõ ïðàâ