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DUTTON BOOKS 15 ñòðàíèöà
The door opens and I turn, expecting to see someone coming to tell me that my time’s up, that I need to return to work. And I don’t want to leave. It’s strange. When I was sorting, I felt certain it was the most important thing I could be doing. When I’m here, I know that being with the still matters most.
But it’s not someone from the research lab. It’s Anna.
“May I come in?” Anna asks. After she’s washed her hands and put on her face mask, she comes toward me. I stand up, ready to offer her my chair, but she shakes her head and sits on the floor near the bed. It’s strange to be looking down at her.
“So this is Ky,” she says. He’s turned on his side and she looks into his eyes and touches his hand. “Eli wants to see him. Do you think it’s a good idea?”
“I don’t know,” I say. It might be a good idea for Eli to come because then Ky could hear more than only my voice speaking to him, calling him back. But would it be good for Eli? “You would know better than I.” It’s hard to say, but of course it’s true. I only knew Eli for days. She has known him for months.
“Eli told me that Ky’s father was a trader,” Anna says. “Eli didn’t know his name, but he remembered that Ky told him his father learned to write in our village.”
“Yes,” I say. “Do you remember him?”
“Yes,” Anna says. “I wouldn’t forget him. His name was Sione Finnow. I helped him learn to write it. Of course, he wanted to learn his wife’s name first.” She smiles. “He traded for her whenever he could. He brought her those paintbrushes even when he couldn’t afford paint.”
I wonder if Ky can hear this.
“Sione traded for Ky, too,” Anna says.
“What do you mean?” I ask.
“Some of the traders used to work with the rogue pilots,” Anna says. “The ones who flew people out of the Society. Sione did that, once.”
“He tried to trade to get Ky out?” I ask, surprised.
“No,” she says. “Sione executed a trade on another’s behalf to bring someone—his nephew—to the stone villages. We farmers never assisted in any of that, of course. But Sione told me about it.”
My mind is whirling. Matthew Markham. Patrick and Aida’s son. He isn’t dead?
“Sione performed that trade with no fee, because it was a family member who wanted it. It was his wife’s sister. Her husband knew something was rotten in the Society. He wanted his child out. It was an extremely delicate, dangerous trade.”
She looks past me, remembering Ky’s father, a man I never met. What was he like? I wonder. It’s impossible not to picture him as an older, more reckless version of Ky: bright, daring. “But,” Anna says, “Sione managed it. He thought that the Society would prefer word of a death getting around to news of an escape, and he was right. The Society made up a story to explain the boy’s disappearance. They didn’t want rumors to spread about the vanishings, as they were called. They didn’t want people to think they could escape.”
“He risked a great deal for his nephew,” I say.
“No,” Anna says. “He did it for his son.”
“Sione couldn’t change who he was. He couldn’t Reclassify himself. But he wanted a better life for his son than he could provide.”
“But Ky’s father was a rebel,” I say. “He believed in the Rising.”
“And in the end, I think he was also a realist,” Anna says. “He knew the chances of a rebellion succeeding were slim. What he did for Ky was an insurance policy. If something went wrong and Sione died, then Ky would have a place in the Society. He could go back to live with his aunt and uncle.”
“And he did,” I say.
“Yes,” Anna says. “Ky was safe.”
“No,” I say. “They sent him out to the work camps eventually.” I sent him out to the work camps.
“But much later than they would have,” she says. “He likely lived longer where he was in the Society than he would have if he’d been trapped in the Outer Provinces.”
“Where is that boy now?” I ask. “Matthew Markham?”
“I have no idea,” Anna says. “I never met him, you understand. I only knew of him from Sione.”
“I knew Ky’s uncle,” I say. “Patrick. I can’t believe he would send his son out here to live where he knew nothing and no one.”
“Parents will do strange things when they see a clear danger to their children,” she says.
“But Patrick didn’t do the same for Ky,” I say, angry.
“I suspect,” Anna says, “that he wanted to honor Ky’s parents’ request for their child, which was that he have a chance to leave the Outer Provinces. And eventually, I’m sure Ky’s aunt and uncle didn’t want to give him up. Sending one son out would have almost killed them. And then, when nothing terrible happened for years, they would have wondered if they’d done the right thing in sending him away.” Anna takes a deep breath. “Hunter may have told you that I left him behind, along with his daughter. My granddaughter. Sarah.”
“Yes,” I say. I saw Hunter bury Sarah. I saw the line on her grave—Suddenly across the June a wind with fingers goes.
“Hunter never blamed me,” Anna says. “He knew I had to take the people across. Time was short. The ones who stayed did die. I was right about that.”
She looks up at me. Her eyes are very dark. “But I blame myself,” she says. Then she holds out her hand, flexing her fingers, and I think I see traces of blue marked on her skin, or perhaps it’s her veins underneath. In the dim light of the infirmary, it’s hard to tell.
She stands up. “When is your next break?” she asks.
“I don’t know,” I say.
“I’ll try to find out and bring Eli and Hunter to see you.” Anna bends down and touches Ky’s shoulder. “And you,” she says.
After she leaves, I lean down to Ky. “Did you hear all that?” I ask him. “Did you hear how much your parents loved you?”
He doesn’t answer.
“And I love you,” I tell him. “We are still looking for your cure.”
He doesn’t stir. I tell him poems, and I tell him that I love him. Over and over again. As I watch, I think the liquid dripping into his veins helps; there is a warming to his face, like sun on stone, when the light comes up.
Her voice comes back first. Beautiful and gentle. She’s still telling me poetry.
Then the pain comes back, but it’s different now. My muscles and bones used to hurt. But now I ache even deeper than that. Has the infection spread?
Cassia wants me to know that she loves me.
The pain wants to eat me away.
I wish I could have one without the other, but that’s the problem with being alive.
You don’t usually get to choose the measure of suffering or the degree of joy you have.
I don’t deserve either her love or this illness.
That’s a stupid thought. Things happen whether you deserve them or not.
For now, I’ll ride out the pain on the song of her voice. I won’t think about what will happen when she has to leave.
Right now, she’s here and she loves me. She says it over and over again.
Xander finds me there next to Ky. “Leyna sent me to bring you back,” he says. “It’s time to get to work again.”
“Ky’s drip was out,” I say. “I wanted to stay until he looked better.”
“That shouldn’t have happened,” Xander says. “I’ll let Oker know.”
“Good,” I say. Oker’s anger will carry much more weight with the village leaders than mine will.
“I’ll be back,” I tell Ky, in case he can hear. “As soon as I can.”
Outside of the infirmary, the trees grow right up to the edge of the village buildings. Branches scrape and sing along one another when the wind comes through them. So much life here. Grasses, flowers, leaves, and people walking, talking, living.
“I’m sorry about the blue tablets,” Xander says. “I—you could have died. It would have been my fault.”
“No,” I say. “You didn’t know.”
“You never took one, did you?”
“Yes,” I say. “But I’m fine. I kept going.”
“How?” he asks.
I kept going by thinking of Ky. But how can I tell Xander that ? “I just did,” I say. “And the scraps in the tablets helped.”
“The secret you mentioned on one of the scraps,” I say. “What was it?”
“I’m a part of the Rising,” Xander says.
“I thought that might be what you meant,” I say. “You told me on the port. Didn’t you? Not in words, I know, but I thought that’s what you were trying to say. ”
“You’re right,” Xander says. “I did tell you. It wasn’t much of a secret.” He grins, and then his expression sobers. “I’ve been meaning to ask you about the red tablet.”
“I’m not immune,” I say. “It works on me.”
“Are you sure?”
“They gave it to me in Central,” I say. “I’m certain of it.”
“The Rising promised me that you were immune to the red tablet, and to the Plague,” Xander says.
“Then they either lied to you or made a mistake,” I say.
“That means you would have been vulnerable to the original version of the Plague,” Xander says. “Did you go down with it? Did they give you a cure?”
“No.” I understand what’s puzzling him. “If the red tablet works on me, then I was never given the initial immunization when I was a baby. So I should have gone down sick with the original Plague. But I didn’t. I just got the mark.”
Xander shakes his head, trying to figure it out. I am sorting through, too. “The red tablet works on me,” I say. “I’ve never taken the green. And I walked through the blue.”
“Has anyone else ever walked through the blue?” Xander asks.
“Not that I know of,” I say. “I had Indie with me, and she helped me keep going. That might have made a difference.”
“What else happened in the canyons?” Xander asks.
“For a long time, I wasn’t with Ky at all,” I say. “We started in a village full of other Aberrations. Then three of us ran to the Carving; me, the boy who died, and Indie.”
“Indie is in love with Ky,” Xander says.
“Yes,” I say. “I think she is, now. But first it was you. She used to steal things. She took my microcard and someone else’s miniport and she used to look at your face whenever she could.”
“And in the end, it was Ky she wanted,” Xander says. I detect a note of bitterness in his voice; it’s not something I’ve heard often before.
“They flew in the same Rising camp,” I say. “She saw him all the time.”
“You don’t seem angry at her,” Xander says.
And I’m not. There was the moment of shock and hurt when Ky said that she’d kissed him, but it vanished when Ky went still. “She makes her own way,” I say. “She does what she wants.” I shake my head. “It’s hard to stay upset with her.”
“I don’t understand,” Xander says.
And I don’t think he can. He doesn’t really know Indie; has never seen her lie and cheat to get what she wants, or realized how among all of that is a strange inexplicable honesty that is only hers. He didn’t see her push through the silver water and bring us to safety against the odds. He never knew how she felt about the sea or how badly she wanted a dress made of blue silk.
Some things cannot be shared. I could tell him everything that happened in the Carving and he still won’t have been there with me.
And it’s the same for him. He could tell me all about the Plague and the mutation that followed and what he saw, but I still wasn’t there.
Watching Xander’s face, I see him realize this. He swallows. He’s about to ask me something. When he does, it’s not what I expect. “Have you ever written anything for me? Besides that message, I mean.”
“You did get it,” I say.
“All except for the end,” he says. “It got ruined.”
My heart sinks. So he doesn’t know what I said, that I told him not to think of me anymore in that way.
“I wondered,” Xander says, “if you’d ever written a poem for me.”
“Wait,” I say. There is no paper here, but there is a stick and dark dirt on the ground and it is, after all, how I learned to write. I hesitate for a moment, glancing back at the infirmary, but then I realize The time for keeping this to ourselves is long past. And if I tried to share it with everyone out in Central, why would I keep it from Xander?
All the same, it feels intimate to write for Xander. It means more.
I close my eyes for a moment, trying to think of something, and then it comes to me, an extension of the poem with a word that made me think of Xander. I begin to write. “Xander,” I say, pausing.
“What?” he asks. He doesn’t lift his eyes from my hands, as if they’re capable of a miracle and he can finally witness what it is.
“I thought about you in the Carving, too,” I say. “I dreamed of you.”
Now he does look at me and I find I can’t hold his gaze; something deep I feel makes me look down, and I write:
Dark, dark, dark it was
But the Physic’s hand was light.
He knew the cure, he held the balm
To heal our wings for flight.
Xander reads it over. His lips move. “Physic,” he says softly. His expression looks pained. “You think I can heal people,” he says.
Just then, some of the children from the village come down the path across from us. As if we’re one person, Xander and I stand up at the same time to watch them go by.
They are playing a game I’ve never seen before, one where they pretend to be something else. Each child is dressed as an animal. Some used grass to make fur, others used leaves for feathers, and there are still more with wings lashed together, made of branches and of blankets that will be used again to warm at night. The repurposing of nature and scraps for creation reminds me of the Gallery, and I wonder if the people back in Central have found another place to gather and share, or if they don’t have time at all for this anymore, with a mutation on the loose and no cure in sight.
“What would it have been like if we could do that?” Xander asks.
“What?” I ask.
“Be whatever we wanted,” he says. “What if they’d let us do that when we were younger?”
I’ve thought about this, especially when I was in the Carving. Who am I? What am I meant to be? I think how lucky I am, in spite of the Society, to have dreamed so many, such wild things. Part of that is, of course, because of Grandfather, who always challenged me.
“Remember Oria?” Xander asks.
Yes. Yes. I remember. All of it. It’s all clear and close again; the two of us, Matched, holding hands on the air train on the way home from the Banquet. My hand on the nape of his neck as I dropped the compass down his shirt so he could save Ky’s artifact from the Officials. Even then, the three of us were doing our best to keep faith with one another.
“Remember that day planting newroses?” he asks.
“I do,” I say, thinking of that kiss, the only one we’ve had, and my heart aches for us both. The air here in the mountains is sharp even in the summer. It bites at us, twists our hair, puts tears in our eyes. Standing here with Xander among the mountains is everything and nothing like standing with Ky out at the edge of the Carving.
I reach out my hand to take Xander’s. My palm is streaked with dirt from writing with the stick, and as I look at it and think of Xander and newrose roots hanging down, the wind moves and the children dance toward the village stone, and light as air another cottonwood seed of memory comes to me:
My mother’s hands are printed black with dirt, but I can see the white lines crossing her palms when she lifts up the seedlings. We stand in the plant nursery at the Arboretum; the glass roof overhead and the steamy mists inside belie the cool of the spring morning out.
“Bram made it to school on time,” I say.
“Thank you for letting me know,” she says, smiling at me. On the rare days when both she and my father have to go to work early, it is my responsibility to get Bram to his early train for First School. “Where are you going now? You have a few minutes left before work.”
“I might stop by to see Grandfather,” I say. It’s all right to deviate from the usual routine this way, because Grandfather’s Banquet is coming soon. So is mine. We have so many things to discuss.
“Of course,” she says. She’s transferring the seedlings from the tubes where they started, rowed in a tray, to their new homes, little pots filled with soil. She lifts one of the seedlings out.
“It doesn’t have many roots,” I say.
“Not yet,” she says. “That will come.”
I give her a quick kiss and start off again. I’m not supposed to linger at her workplace, and I have an air train to catch. Getting up early with Bram has given me a little extra time, but not much.
The spring wind is playful, pushing me one way, pulling me another. It spins some of last fall’s leaves up into the air, and I wonder, if I climbed up on the air-train platform and jumped, if the spiral of wind would catch me and take me up twirling.
I cannot think of falling without thinking of flying.
I could do it, I think, if I found a way to make wings.
Someone comes up next to me as I pass by the tangled world of the Hill on my way to the air-train stop. “Cassia Reyes?” the worker asks. The knees of her plainclothes are darkened with soil, like my mother’s when she’s been working. The woman is young, a few years older than me, and she has something in her hand, more roots dangling down. Pulling up or planting? I wonder.
“Yes?” I say.
“I need to speak with you,” she says. A man emerges from the Hill behind her. He is the same age as she is, and something about them makes me think, They would be a good Match. I’ve never had permission to go on the Hill, and I look back up at the riot of plants and forest behind the workers. What is it like in a place so wild?
“We need you to sort something for us,” the man says.
“I’m sorry,” I say, moving again. “I only sort at work.” They are not Officials, nor are they my superiors or supervisors. This isn’t protocol, and I don’t bend rules for strangers.
“It’s to help your grandfather,” the girl says.
“Cassia?” Xander asks. “Are you all right?”
“Yes,” I say. I’m still staring down at my hand, wishing I could close it tight around the rest of the memory. I know it belongs with the lost red garden day. I’m certain of this, though I can’t say why.
Xander looks like he’s about to say something more, but the children are coming back again in their game, having circled all the way around the village stone. They are loud and laughing, as children should be. A little girl smiles at Xander and he smiles back, reaching out to touch her wing as she passes, but she turns at the wrong moment and he catches nothing.
Oker’s so driven, it’s almost inhuman. I feel the same way—we have to find the cure—but his focus is something else. It doesn’t take many days before I’m accustomed to the routine in the research lab, which is: we work when Oker says to work and we rest when Oker says to take a break. Sometimes I catch a glimpse of Cassia in the sorting rooms, but for the most part I spend my time compounding formulas according to Oker’s instructions.
Oker eats his meals right here in the lab. He doesn’t even sit down. So that’s what the rest of us do, too: we stand around and watch each other chew our food. It’s probably the stress of the situation and the late hours, but something about it always makes me want to laugh. The mealtime conversations are a measure of how well things are going with the cure trials. Oker’s different from most people because when things are going well he won’t talk. When things are going badly, he’ll say more.
“What is it about the Otherlands,” I ask him today, “that makes all of you want to go there so much?”
Oker snorts. “Nothing,” he says. “I’m too old to start over. I’ll be staying right here. And I’m not the only one.”
“Then why work on the cure if you’re not sharing the reward?” I ask.
“Because of my inherent altruism,” Oker says.
I can’t help but laugh at that and he glares at me. “I want to beat the Society,” Oker says. “I want to find the cure first.”
“It’s not the Society anymore,” I remind him.
“Of course it is,” he says, tipping back his canteen to drink. He wipes off his mouth with the back of his hand and glares at me. “Only fools think that anything has changed. The Rising and the Society have infiltrated each other so thoroughly that they don’t even know who’s who anymore. It’s like a snake eating its own damn tail. This—out here—is the only true rebellion.”
“The Pilot believes in the Rising,” I say. “He’s not a fraud.”
Oker looks at me. “Maybe not,” he says. “But that doesn’t mean you should follow him.” Then his gaze turns sharp. “Or me.”
I don’t say anything because we both know I’m already following the two of them. I think the Pilot’s the way to revolution, and that Oker’s the way to the cure.
The patients here still look much better than the ones back in the Provinces. Oker’s cured all the secondary symptoms from the mutated Plague, like the platelet accumulation and the lung secretions. But he keeps muttering about proteins and the brain, and I know he hasn’t figured out how to prevent or reverse the mutation’s effect on the nervous system. But he’ll get there.
Oker swears. He’s spilled some of the water from the canteen onto his shirt. “The Society was right about one thing,” Oker says. “Damn hands stopped working a year or two after eighty. Of course, my mind still functions better than most.”
Cassia’s already in her cell when I get there, but she’s waited up for me. I can’t see her very well because it’s night, but I can hear her when she talks to me. Someone down the hall shouts out at us to be quiet but everyone else seems to have fallen asleep.
“Rebecca says all the research medics like you,” Cassia says. “She also says that you’re the only one who talks back to Oker.”
“Maybe I should stop,” I say. I don’t want to alienate any of the workers. I’ve got to stay inside the research lab working on that cure.
“Rebecca says it’s good,” Cassia says. “She thinks Oker likes you because you remind him of himself.”
Is that true? I don’t think I’m as proud as Oker is, or as smart. Of course, I have always wondered if I could be the Pilot someday. I like people. I want to be around them and make things better for them.
“We’re getting closer,” Cassia says. “We have to be.” Her voice sounds a little bit farther away. She must have moved back to sit on her bed instead of standing right at the front of the cell. “Good night, Xander,” Cassia says.
“Good night,” I tell her.
Sometimes, when I am tired, it seems that I have never lived anywhere else. I have never done anything but this. Ky has always been still, and Xander and I have always been working on a cure. My parents and Bram are lost to me, and I have to find them, and the task at hand seems very large, too large for any one person or any group of people.
“What are you doing?” one of the other sorters asks. She gestures to the datapod, and to the tiny scraps of paper and the charcoaled stick I’ve been using for notes. I’ve found that sometimes I have to write things down by hand to understand the data I see on the datapod’s screen. Writing clears my mind. And lately, I’ve been trying to draw by hand from the descriptions recorded in the datapod, because I can’t picture the things they’ve described as being possible components for the cure. The sorter’s eyes crinkle with laughter as she looks at my attempt at drawing a flower, and I pull the paper closer to me.
“There aren’t any pictures on the datapod,” I say. “Only written descriptions.”
“That’s because we all know what they look like,” another sorter says, sounding annoyed.
“I know,” I say softly, “but I don’t. And it’s affecting the sorts we do. They’re wrong.”
“Are you saying we’re not doing our job correctly?” the first sorter asks, her voice cold. “We know the data could have errors. But we’re sorting it in the most efficient way we can.”
“No,” I say, shaking my head. “That’s not what I mean. It’s not the beginning or the end of the sort—it’s not the data or the way we’re sorting it. Something’s not coming together in the middle, in the correlation of the lists. It’s as if there’s an underlying phenomenon that we’re not observing, some latent variable that we’re not measuring in the data.” I’m sure that our understanding of the relationship between these two sets of data isn’t right. As sure as I am that I’m missing the middle of the red garden day memory.
“The important thing,” says the other sorter, “is that we keep getting the lists to Oker.” Every day, we send him suggestions of what might contribute to the cure, weighted according to the best information we have about the patients and taking into account what hasn’t worked.
“I don’t know how much Oker listens to us anyway,” I say. “I think there’s one person Oker trusts, and that’s himself. But if we can come to some kind of consensus on what should be the most important ingredients and give that to him—he might be more likely to take what we say into account if our analysis lines up.”
Leyna is watching me.
“But that’s what we’re doing,” one of the sorters protests.
“I don’t feel like I’m doing it right,” I say. Frustrated, I push back my chair and stand up, holding the datapod in my hand. “I think I’ll take my break now.”
“I’ll walk you to the infirmary,” Leyna says, surprising me. She works very, very hard, and I know the Otherlands are to her what Ky is to me, the best, most beautiful place, not fully realized, but full of promise.
We cross the village circle and pass the enormous stone set there. In front of it are two narrow troughs.
“What do you use these for?” I ask Leyna.
“Voting,” she says. “It’s how we choose. The farmers, too. Each person in the village has a little stone with his or her name written on it. Those troughs are where people cast their stones. The choice, or trough, with the most votes wins.”
“And are there always only two choices?” I ask.
“Usually,” Leyna says. Then she gestures for me to follow her around to the other side of the stone. “Look back here.”
There are tiny names on the stone, arranged in columns. Someone has chipped and carved them in. They start at the top and come down to the bottom, where there is only a little room left.
“This column,” Leyna says, “is a list of all those who have died in this village, in Endstone. And this,” she adds, pointing to another part of the stone, “is a list of people who have gone on to the Otherlands. This is the jumping-off place, so to speak, so anyone who came through here on their way to the Otherlands—no matter where they came from originally—has their name carved here.”
I stand there for another moment, looking at the names on the stone in the Otherlands column, hoping to find someone. At first my eyes slide right over his name, not daring to believe he’s there, but then I look back and it hasn’t disappeared.
“Did you know him?” I ask Leyna eagerly, touching the name.
“Not well,” she says. “He was from another village.” She looks at me with interest. “Do you know him?”
“Yes,” I say, my heart pounding. “He lived in the Borough. His parents sent him out of the Society.” I should have thought to ask about this sooner; I can’t wait to tell Ky that his cousin was here once, that he might be alive somewhere, even if it’s in a place from which people do not come back.
“A lot of those who vanished went on to the Otherlands,” she says. “Some of them—and I can’t remember if Matthew was this way—felt that, if their parents didn’t want them in the Society, they’d get even farther away than their families intended. For some, it was almost like revenge.” Then she puts her hand on his name, too. “But you say he used this name in the Borough?”
“Yes,” I say. “It’s his real name.”
“That’s something, then,” she says. “Many of them changed their last names. He didn’t. That means he didn’t want to erase the trail completely if someone wanted to look for him eventually.”
“They had no ships,” I say. “So they would have had to walk all the way to the Otherlands.”
She nods. “That’s why they don’t come back,” she says. “The journey is too long. Without ships, it takes years.” Then she points to the bottom of the stone. “There’s just enough space for the rest of our names,” she says. “It’s a sign that we should go.”
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