:



DUTTON BOOKS 14

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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

Still, I say, an immunity and a cure arent the same thing. You might not figure out how to bring people back. Maybe youll only find out how to keep them from getting the virus in the first place.

If so, Leyna says, thats still an extremely valuable discovery.

But only if you make it in time, I say. You cant immunize people if theyve already gotten the virus. So were very useful to you, actually.

I hear a snort from the corner. Oker stands up and walks over toward us.

Congratulations, Oker says to me. Youre not just a Society boy after all. Id been wondering.

Thank you, I say.

You were a physic in the Society, werent you? Oker asks.

I was, I say.

He waves one knotted hand in my direction. Assign him to my lab when youre done, he tells Leyna.

She doesnt like it, I can tell, but she nods. All right, she says. Its a sign of a good leader when they know the most important player in their game, and if Oker is it, she should make sure he has what he needs to try to win.

 

It takes them almost all night to finish questioning me. You should get some rest, Leyna says. Ill show you where youll sleep.

She walks with me through the village and I hear the crickets singing. Their music sounds different up here than it did in the Borough, like it matters more. There arent many other sounds to cover it up, so you have to listen.

Did you grow up in this village? I ask her. Its beautiful.

No, Leyna says. I used to live in Camas. Those of us in the Border Provinces were the last to go. They used to let us work at the Army base sometimes. We left for the mountains when the Society tried to gather in the last of the Anomalies and Aberrations.

She looks off in the distance. The Pilot was the one who warned us that we should go, she says. The Society wanted us all dead. Those who didnt come along were picked up by the Society and sent out to the Outer Provinces to die.

So thats why you trust the Pilot, I say. He warned you.

Yes, she says. And hed been part of the vanishings. I dont know if youve heard about them.

I have, I say. People who escaped from the Society and ended up either here or in the Otherlands.



She nods.

And no one has ever returned from the Otherlands?

Not yet, she says. She stops at a building with bars on the windows. A guard stands at the door and nods to her. Im afraid this is the prison, she says. We dont know you well enough to trust you on your own without supervision, so there are times when we will need to keep you here, especially at night. Some of the other people the Pilot brought have been less cooperative than you have. Theyre here full-time.

It makes sense. Id do the same thing, if I were in charge of this situation. And Cassia? I ask. Where will she stay?

Shell have to sleep here, too, Leyna says. But well come for you soon. She gestures for the guard to take me inside.

Wait, I say. Im trying to understand.

I thought it was clear, she says. We dont know you. We cant trust you alone.

Its not that, I say. Its about the Otherlands, and why you want to go there. Youre not even sure that they exist.

They do, she says.

Does she know something I dont? Its possible that she might not be telling me everything. Why would she? As shes pointed out, she doesnt know me and she cant trust me yet. But no one ever came back, I say.



People like you see that as evidence that the Otherlands arent real, Leyna tells me. People like me see it is evidence that its a place so wonderful no one would ever want to come back.


 


CHAPTER 28

CASSIA

Where are you, Ky?

This is it, my greatest fear. What Ive been afraid of ever since the Carving when I saw those people, dead, out under the sky. Someone I love is leaving me.

The lead sorter, Rebecca, is about my mothers age. She has me complete a few test sorts. After she goes through my work, she smiles at me and tells me that I can start right away.

Youll find that the way we work here is different from what youre used to, she says. In the Society, you sort alone. Here, you will need to talk to Oker and the medics about everything. She puts the datapod down on the table. If we make an error and leave something out, miss some pattern, then it could be critical.

This will be different from any sorting Ive done before. In the Society, we were not supposed to know what the data was attached to, what it really looked like; everything remained encoded.

Ive made a data set with the people in our village and those from the Carving who have lived outside of the Society their entire lives.

I want to tell her that I know some of those who lived in the CarvingI want to find out how Eli and Hunter are doing. But right now I have to focus on the cure and on Ky and my family.

We have information about diet, age, recreational habits, occupations, family histories, Rebecca says. Some of the data is corroborated by other sources, but most of it is self-reported.

So its not the most reliable data set, I observe.

No, she says. But its all we have. Commonalities are everywhere in the data, of course. But weve been able to narrow certain things down by extrapolating from what we have. For example, our data indicates an environmental or dietary exposure.

Do you want me to work on sorting the elements for the cure now? I ask hopefully.

I will, Rebecca says, but I have another project for you first. I need you to solve a constrained optimization problem.

I think I already know what she means. Its the problem thats been on my mind since I realized there was no cure for the mutation. You want me to find out how long it will be before the Rising starts unhooking people, I say. We need to know how much time we have.

Yes, she says. The Pilot wont fly us out if theres no one left to save. I want you to work on that while I continue sorting for the cure. Then you can help me. She pushes a datapod across the table. Here are the notes from Xanders interview. They include information regarding rate of infection, rate at which the resources were being expended, and patient attributes. We have additional data from the Pilot about these same things.

Im still missing some information, I say. I dont know the initial quantity of the resources or the population of the Society as a whole.

Youll have to extrapolate the initial quantity of resources from the rate of expenditure, she says. As for the population of the Provinces as a whole, the Pilot was able to give us an estimate of twenty-point-two million.

Thats all? I ask, stunned. I thought the Society was much larger than that.

Yes, she says.

The Rising will be trying to figure out how to best allocate resources and personnel. People have to take care of the still, obviously. Others have to work to keep food coming through, to make sure the buildings in the Cities and Boroughs have power and water. And even if a small pocket of people is safe due to contracting the initial Plague, there are only so many of them, and theyre the ones who are going to have to care for everyone else.

I need to know how many of them are out therehow many people are likely to be immune. I will have to figure out how many people are likely to go still, what percentage of those sick the immune can reasonably keep alive, and how quickly that percentage will decrease.

Okers estimate is that five to ten percent of the population is generally immune to any plague, Rebecca says. So there will be that group, as well as the very small group of people like your friend Xander, who were initially immune and then contracted the live virus at precisely the right time. Youll need to take both of those groups into account.

All right, I say. And, as I have had to do so often before, when I sort the data I must put Ky out of my mind. For a faltering, fragile moment, I want to leave this impossible task behind, let the numbers fall where they might, and walk over to the little room where Ky is and hold him, the two of us together in the mountains now after having come through the canyons.

That can happen, I tell myself. Only a little farther now. Like the journey in the I did not reach Thee poem:

 

We step like plush, we stand like snow

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.

 

But I will rewrite the last two lines. Death will not take the people I love. Our journey will end differently.

 

It takes me a long time, because I want to get it right.

Are you finished? Rebecca asks quietly.

For a moment I cant look up from my result. Back in the Carving, I wished for a time like this, a collaboration with people who have lived out on the edges. Instead we found an empty village in a beautiful place, peopled only by papers and pages left in a cave, things treasured up and left behind.

We are always fighting against going quiet, going gentle.

Yes, I say to Rebecca.

And? she asks. How long before they start letting people go?

They will have already begun, I say.


 


CHAPTER 29

KY

Someone comes inside. I hear the door open and then footsteps crossing the floor.

Could it be Cassia?

Not this time. Whoever this is doesnt smell like Cassias flowers-and-paper scent. This person smells like sweat and smoke. And they breathe differently than she does. Lower. Louder, like theyve been running and theyre trying to hold it in.

I hear the person reach for the bag.

But I dont need new fluid. Someone just changed it. Where are they now? Do they know whats happening?

I feel a tug on my arm. Theyve unhooked the bag from my line and started to drain it. The liquid drips into some kind of bucket instead of into me.

Im turned toward the window so the wind rattling the panes is even louder now.

Is this happening to everyone? Or only to me? Is someone trying to make sure I dont come back?

I can hear my own heart slowing down.

Im going deeper.

The pain is less.

Its harder to remember to breathe. I repeat Cassias poem to myself, breathing with the beats.

New. Rose. Old. Rose. Queen. Annes. Lace.

In. Out. In. Out. In. Out. In.

Out.


 


CHAPTER 30

XANDER

I must have fallen asleep, because I jump when the prison door opens. Get him out, someone says to the guard, and then Oker appears in front of my cell, watching the guard unlock the door. You, Oker says. Time to get back to work.

I glance at the cell across from me. Cassia hasnt come in. Did she spend the whole night watching over Ky? Or have they made her work all this time? All the other prisoners are quiet. I can hear them breathing, but no one else seems to be awake.

When we get outside, I see that its dark: not even early morning yet. Youre working for me, Oker says, so you keep the same hours I do. He points to the research lab across the way. Thats mine, he says. Do what I say, and you can spend most of your day in there instead of locked up.

If Leynas the physic of this village, then I think Oker is the pilot.

Follow my instructions exactly, he tells me. All I need are your hands since mine dont work right.

Oker isnt much for introductions, one of the assistants says after Okers left. Im Noah. Ive worked with Oker since he came here. Noah looks to be somewhere in his mid-thirties. This is Tess.

Tess nods to me. Shes a little younger than Noah and has a kind smile.

Im Xander, I say. Whats all this? One of the walls of the lab is covered with pictures of people I dont know. Some are old photos and pages torn from books, but most look like they might have been drawn by hand. Did Oker do that before his hands stopped working right? Im impressed, and it makes me think of that nurse back in the medical center. Maybe I am the only one who cant make thingspictures, poemswithout any training.

Oker calls them the heroes of the past, Noah says. He believes we should know the work of those who came before us.

He trained in the Society, didnt he, I say.

Yes, Tess says. He came here ten years ago, right before his Final Banquet.

Hes ninety? I ask. Ive never known anyone so old.

Yes, Noah says. The oldest person in the world, as far as we know.

The office door slams open and we all get back to work.

 

A few hours later, Oker tells the assistants to take a break. Not you, he says to me. I need to make something and you can stay and help me with it.

Noah and Tess send me sympathetic looks.

Oker sets a bunch of neatly labeled boxes and jars in front of me and hands me a list. Put this compound together, he says, and I start measuring. He goes back over to the cabinet to rummage through more ingredients. I hear them clinking together.

Then, to my surprise, he starts talking to me. You said you saw approximately two thousand patients while you worked in the medical center in Camas, he says. Over the course of four months.

Yes, I say. There were many more patients that I didnt treat, of course, in other parts of the center and other buildings in Camas.

Out of all the ones you did see, how many looked better when they were still than my patients here? he asks.

None, I say.

Thats a fast answer, he says. Take your time to think it over.

I think back on all of my patients. I cant remember everyones face, but I can call up the last hundred. And Lei, of course.

None, I say again.

Oker folds his arms and sits back, satisfied. He watches me measure a few more ingredients. All right, he says. Now you can ask a question.

I didnt expect this opportunity, but Im going to take advantage of it. Whats the difference between the bags you make and the ones the Rising uses? I ask.

Oker pushes a container toward me. Have you ever heard of Alzheimers disease?

Thats a question, not an answer. But I go along with it. No, I say.

Of course not, Oker says. Because I cured it before you were born.

You cured it, I say. Just you. No one else?

Oker taps a couple of the pictures on the wall behind him. Not by myself. I was part of a research team in the Society. That disease clogged up the brain with extra proteins. Others before us had worked on the project, but we figured out a way to control the level of expression of those proteins. We shut them down. He leans a little closer to look at the compound Ive made. So, to answer your first question, the difference is that I know what Im doing when I put together the medication. Unlike the Rising. I know how to help keep some of the proteins from the mutation from accumulating because they act in ways that are similar to the disease we cured. And I know how to keep the patients platelets from accumulating in the spleen so patients dont rupture and bleed internally. The other difference is that I dont include as many narcotics in my solutions. My patients feel some pain. Not agony, more like discomfort. It reminds them to breathe. More likely to get them back that way.

But is that a good thing? I ask. What if they can feel all the pain of the boils?

Oker snorts. If they feel something, they fight, he says. If you were in a place with no pain, why would you want to come back?

He slides a tray of powder in my direction. Measure this out and distill it in the solution.

I look down at the instructions and measure two grams of the powder into the liquid.

Sometimes I cant believe this, Oker mutters. I cant tell if hes talking to himself or not, but then he glances in my direction. Here I am, working on a cure for that damn Plague again.

Wait, I say. You worked on the first cure?

He nods. The Society knew about the work wed done in protein expression. They pulled my team to work on the cure for the Plague. Before the Society sent it out to the Enemy, they wanted to make sure we had a curein case the Plague came back.

So the Rising lied, I say. The Society did have a cure.

Of course they did, Oker says. Not enough for a pandemic, so the Rising does get credit for making more. But the Society came up with the cure first. I bet your Pilot didnt mention that.

He didnt, I say.

I paid a considerable amount for my escape here, Oker says. The current Pilot is the one who brought me out. Oker walks over to look for something else in the cupboard. That was before he was the Risings Pilot, he says, his voice muffled. When the Rising asked him to lead, I told him not to believe them. Theyre no rebellion. Theyre Society, with a different name, and they just want you and your followers, I said. But he was so sure it would work. Oker comes back to the table. Maybe he wasnt that sure, he says. He kept note of where I was here in Endstone.

So Oker was part of the vanishings that Lei told me about. Did that bother you? I ask. Him keeping track of you like that?

No, Oker says. I wanted to be out of the Society, and I was. I dont mind feeling useful now and then. Here. He hands me the datapod. Scroll through this list for me.

As I do, he grumbles. Cant they narrow it down any more? We all assume that its something environmental. Well, we eat anything we can find or grow. Its a long list. Well find something to help them. But it might not be in time.

Why didnt the Pilot bring you into Camas or Central? I ask. That would be a better place to work on the cure. They could bring you supplies and plants from the mountain. In the Provinces, youd have access to all the data, the equipment

Okers face is rigid. Because I agreed to work with him on one condition only, he says. That I stay right here.

I nod.

Once you get out, Oker says, you dont go back.

His hands look so old, like paper covering bone, but the veins stand out, fat with life and blood. I can tell you have another question, he says, his voice annoyed and interested at the same time. Ask it.

The Pilot told us that someone contaminated the water supplies, I say. Do you think they also created the mutation? They both happened so fast. It seems like the mutation could have been manipulated, just like the outbreak was.

Thats a good question, Oker says, but Id bet that the mutation occurred naturally. Small genetic changes take place regularly in nature, but unless there is an advantage conferred by a mutation, it is simply lost because other nonmutated versions predominate. He points to another jar, and I take it down for him and unstop the lid. But if some kind of selective pressure is present and confers an advantage to a mutation, that mutation ends up outgrowing and surviving the nonmutated forms.

Thats what a virologist back in Camas told me, I say.

Hes right, Oker says. At least to my thinking.

He also told me that it was likely the cure itself that applied the selective pressure and caused the mutation.

Its likely, Oker says, but even so, I dont think anyone planned that part. It was, as we who live outside of the Society sometimes say, bad luck. One of the mutations was immune to the cure, and so it flourished and caught on.

Okers confirmed it. The cure caused the real pandemic.

Ive gotten ahead of myself, Oker says. I havent yet told you the way a virus works. Youve figured some of it out for yourself. But the best way to explain it, and his tone is dry, is to refer to a story. One of the Hundred, in fact. Number Three. Do you remember it?

Yes, I say, and I actually do. Ive always remembered it because the girls nameXanthesounds a little like my own.

Tell it to me, Oker says.

The last time I tried to tell a story was to Lei and it didnt go well at all. I wish Id done better for her. But Ill try again now, because Oker asked me to do it and I think hes going to be the one to figure out the cure. I have to try to keep from smiling. Its going to happen. Were going to do it.

The story is about a girl named Xanthe, I say. One day she decided she didnt want to eat her own food. When the meal delivery came she snatched her fathers oatmeal and ate it instead. But it was too hot, and all day long Xanthe felt sick and feverish. The next day she stole her mothers oatmeal, but it was too cold, and Xanthe shook with chills. On the third day she ate her own meal and it was just right. She felt fine. I stop. Its a pretty stupid story, meant to remind Society kids to do what theyre told. It goes on and on like that, I tell Oker. She ends up with three citations for improper behavior before she realizes the Society knows whats right for her.

To my surprise, he nods. Good enough, he says. The only part you forgot was the part about her hair.

Right, I say. It was gold. Thats what the name Xanthe means.

Doesnt matter anyway, Oker says. The important thing is the idea that something could be too hot, too cold, and just right. Thats what you need to remember about the way a virus works. It uses something I think of as the Xanthe strategy. A virus doesnt want to run out of targets too quickly. It kills the organism it infects, but it cant kill too fast. It needs to be able to transfer to another organism in time.

So if the virus kills everything too quickly, I say, its too hot.

And if it doesnt move to another organism fast enough, it dies, Oker says. Too cold.

But somewhere in the middle, I say, is just right.

Oker nods. This mutation, he says, was just right. And not only because of the Society and the Rising and what they each did. They contributed to some of the conditions, yes. But the virus mutated on its own, as viruses have done for years. There have been Plagues all through history and that wont end with this one.

So were never really safe, I say.

Oh no, my boy, Oker says, almost gently. That might be the Societys greatest triumphthat so many of us ever believed that we were.


 


CHAPTER 31

CASSIA

Ishould go to see Ky.

I should stay here and work on the cure.

When I let myself really think, I am torn between two places and become lost, adrift in worry, accomplishing nothing and helping no one. So I dont think, not that way. I think about plants and cures and numbers and I sort through the data, trying to find something that will bring back the still.

Comparing the lists isnt as simple as it sounds. They dont only include names of the things that the villagers and the farmers ate, but also the frequency with which the foodstuffs were consumed; the type of ground where they were cultivated, if they were plant or animal goods, and a myriad of other information that needs to be taken into account. Just because something was eaten often doesnt mean that it provides immunity; conversely, something eaten only once is unlikely to produce immunity.

People go in and outmedics examining patients and returning to report, Oker and Xander doing their work, the sorters taking breaks, Leyna checking in to see our progress. I become accustomed to the comings and goings and eventually I dont even look up when I hear the wooden door opening, closing; I barely notice when the mountain breeze slips in and rustles my hair.

 

A womans voice breaks into my concentration. We thought of a few more things, she says. I want to make certain we included them all on our list.

Of course, Rebecca says.

Something about the womans voice seems familiar. I glance up.

She looks older than her voice sounds, her hair completely gray and twisted in complicated braids and knots up high on her head. She has weathered skin and a gentle way of moving her hands, holding up a list on a piece of paper. Even from here, I can tell that its handwritten, not printed.

Anna, I say out loud.

She turns to look at me. Have we met? she asks.

No, I say. Im sorry. But Ive seen your village, and I know Hunter and Eli. I want to see Eli. But because Ive been visiting Ky and working on the cure, I havent taken the time to go looking for the farmers new settlement, even though I know its not far from the main village. Guilt washes over me, although I dont know if Leyna and others would let me go, even if I asked. I am here to work on the cure.

You must be Cassia, Anna says. Eli has always talked about you.

I am, I say. Tell Eli that Ky is here, too. Has Eli told Anna about Ky? From the flash of recognition in Annas eyes, I think that Eli has. But Ky is one of the patients.

Im very sorry, Anna says.

I grip the edges of the rough-hewn table, reminding myself not to think too deeply of Ky, or Ill break down and be no good to him at all. Hunter and Elitheyre fine?

They are, Anna says.

Ive wanted to come see them I begin.

Its all right, Anna says. I understand.

Rebecca moves slightly and Anna takes the hint. She smiles at me. After Im finished, Ill tell Eli that youre here. Hell want to see you. And so will Hunter.

Thank you, I say, not quite believing that Ive met her. This is Anna, the woman who I heard about from Hunter and whose writings I saw in the cave. When she begins reading her list, I cant tune out the sound of her voice.

Mariposa lily, Anna says to Rebecca. Paintbrush flowers, but only in small quantities. It can be toxic otherwise. We used sage to season, and ephedra for tea

Words as beautiful as songs. And I realize why I knew Annas voice. It sounds the smallest bit like my mothers. I pull a scrap of paper toward me and write down the names Anna says. My mother might already know some of them, and she will love to learn the others. Ill sing them back to her when I bring her the cure.

 

Its time for you to rest for a little while. Rebecca presses a piece of flatbread wrapped in cloth into my hand. The bread is warm and the smell of it makes my stomach rumble. They make their own food here. What would that be like? What if I had time to learn that, too? And here, she says, handing me a canteen. You should eat while you visit him.

She knows where Im going, of course.

As I walk down the path to the infirmary, I breathe in the forest. Wildflowers grow in all the places where people dont walk; purple and red and blue and yellow. The clouds, a stirring and startling pink, soar in the sky above the trees and peaks of the mountains. And a conviction comes to me in this moment: We can find a cure. I have never felt it so strongly.

When I arrive, I sit down next to Ky and look at him, touch his hand.

The victims of the Plague dont close their eyes. I wish that they did. Kys look flat and gray; not the colors Im used to seeing, blue, green. I put my hand on his forehead, feeling the smooth expanse of skin and the understructure of bone. He seems hot. Could he be infected? He doesnt look good, I say to one of the medics on duty. His nutrient bag is already empty. Do you have the drip turned up too high?

She checks her notes. This patient should still have one working.

I dont move. Its not Kys fault something went wrong. After a moment she stands up and goes to get a new bag to attach to his line. She seems harried. There are only two medics on duty. Do you need more help in here? I ask.

No, she says sharply. Leyna and Oker only want those of us with medical training to work with the still.

After she finishes, I sit next to Ky and rest my hand on his, thinking of how alive he was on the Hill, in the canyons, and, for a moment, in the mountains. And then he was gone. I think of how I spent all that time puzzling out the color of his eyes when I started to fall in love with him. I found him changeable and difficult to put into one finite set, one clear description.


: 2015-09-15; : 9;


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