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Crossed, Page 12

Ally Condie


  I remember the first time I saw carvings like these. In that little rocky crevice near our village. My mother and father took me there when I was small. We tried to guess what the symbols might mean. My father practiced copying the figures in the dirt. It was before he could write. He always did want to learn, and he wanted to find the meaning in everything. Every symbol and word and circumstance. When he couldn’t find the meaning, he made it for himself.

  But this cave is amazing. The paintings are lush with color and the carvings etched along the surface are rich in detail. Unlike the dirt on the ground, when you carve into this stone it becomes lighter instead of darker.

  “Who did this?” Eli asks, breaking the silence.

  “A lot of people,” I say. “The paintings look more recent. They look like the farmers’ work. The carvings are older.”

  “How much older?” Eli asks.

  “Thousands of years,” I say.

  The oldest carvings show people with splayed fingers and broad shoulders. They look strong. One seems to reach up to the sky. I look at the figure for a long time, at that reaching hand, and remember the last time I saw Cassia.

  The Society found me in the early morning. There was no sun yet and the stars were almost gone. It was that nothing time when taking things is easiest.

  I woke right when they leaned down for me in the dark with their mouths open to say the things they always said: There’s nothing to fear. Come with us. But I hit them before they could speak. I drew their blood before they could take me away to make me spill mine. Every instinct said to fight and so I did. For once.

  I fought because I had found peace in Cassia. Because I knew I could find rest in her touch that somehow both burned me up and washed me clean.

  The fight didn’t last long. There were six of them and only one of me. Patrick and Aida weren’t awake yet. “Come quietly,” the Officials and Officers said. “It will make it easier for everyone. Do we have to gag you?”

  I shook my head.

  “Classification always tells in the end,” one of them said to the others. “This one was supposed to be easy; he’s been compliant for years. But an Aberration is still an Aberration.”

  We were almost out the door when Aida saw us.

  And then we went along the dark streets with Aida screaming and Patrick talking low and urgent and calm.

  No. I don’t want to think about Patrick and Aida and what happened next. I love them more than anyone in the world besides Cassia, and if I ever find her, we will look for them. But I can’t think about them for long—the parents who took me in and received nothing in exchange but more loss. It was brave of them to love again. It made me think I could do it too.

  Blood in my mouth and under my skin in bruises waiting to show. Head down, hands locked behind me.

  And then.

  My name.

  She cried out my name in front of everyone. She didn’t care who knew that she loved me. I called her name, too. I saw her tumbled hair, her bare feet, her eyes looking only at me, and then she pointed to the sky.

  I know you meant that you would always remember me, Cassia, but I’m a fraid you might forget.

  We clear away pieces of brush and smaller stones so we have a place to rest. Some of the stones are chert, likely cached here by the farmers for fires. I also find a piece of sandstone, almost perfectly round, and I think instantly of my compass.

  “Do you think some of the farmers camped in here on their way out of the Carving?” Eli asks.

  “I don’t know,” I say. “Probably. It looks like a place they used often.” Charry circles of old fires mark the floor, as do sandy, blurred footprints and, here and there, bones from animals cooked and eaten.

  Eli falls asleep quickly, as usual. He’s rolled up right under the feet of a carved figure who has both arms raised high.

  “So what did you bring?” I ask Vick as I pull out the bag where I stashed things from the library cave. In our hurry to leave the township, the three of us grabbed books and papers without having much of a chance to look at them.

  Vick begins to laugh.

  “What is it?”

  “I hope you chose better than I did,” he says, showing me what he brought. In his hurry he grabbed a stack of plain little brown pamphlets. “These looked like something I saw once back in Tana. It turns out they’re all the same thing.”

  “What are they?” I ask.

  “Some kind of history,” he says.

  “That still might prove to be valuable,” I say. “If not, I can give you some of mine.” I’ve done a little better. I have some poetry and two books full of stories that are not among the Hundred. I glance over at Eli’s pack. “We’ll have to ask Eli what he brought when he wakes up.”

  Vick turns some pages. “Wait. This is interesting.” He hands me one of the pamphlets, opened to the first page.

  The paper is pulpy. Cheap, mass-produced somewhere on the edges of Society with old equipment, likely scavenged from a Restoration site. I open the pamphlet and read it by the light of the flashlight:

  THE RISING:

  A Brief History of Our Rebellion against the Society.

  The Rising began in earnest at the time of the Hundred Committees.

  In the year before the Hundred Selections began, the Cancer Eradication Rate remained stagnant at 85.1 percent. It was the first occurrence of a failure to improve since the Cancer Eradication Initiative took effect. The Society did not take this lightly. Though they knew total perfection in all areas was impossible, they decided that closing the gap on 100 percent in certain areas was of utmost importance. They knew this would require complete focus and dedication.

  They decided to center all their efforts on increasing productivity and physical health. Those at the highest level of Official voted to eliminate distractions such as excess poetry and music while retaining an optimal amount to enhance culture and satiate the desire for experiencing art. The Hundred Committees, one for each area of the arts, were formed to oversee the choices.

  This was the beginning of the Society’s abuse of power. They also ceased to have each generation vote on whether or not they wanted to live under Society’s rule. The Society began to remove Anomalies and Aberrations from the general population and isolate or eliminate those who caused the most trouble.

  One of the poems that the Society did not approve for the Hundred Poems was Tennyson’s “Crossing the Bar.” It has become an informal password between members of our rebellion. The poem references two important aspects of the Rising:

  1. A leader called the Pilot directs the Rising and

  2. Those who belong to the Rising believe it is possible to cross back into the better days of the Society—the time before the Hundred Selections.

  Some of the Anomalies who escaped the Society in its early years have joined the Rising. Though the Rising now exists in all parts of the Society, it remains strongest in the Border and Outer Provinces, particularly where Aberrations have been sent in increasing numbers since the advent of the Hundreds.

  “Did you already know all of that?” Vick asks.

  “Some,” I say. “I knew the part about the Pilot and the Rising. And I knew about the Hundred Committees, of course.”

  “And about destroying Aberrations and Anomalies,” Vick says.

  “Right,” I agree. My voice is bitter.

  “When I heard you saying the poem over the first boy in the water,” Vick says, “I thought you might be telling me you were part of the Rising.”

  “No,” I say.

  “Not even when your father was leading?”

  “No.” I don’t say more. I don’t agree with what my father did but I don’t betray him either. That’s another fine line I don’t like to get caught on the wrong side of.

  “None of the other decoys recognized the words,” Vick says. “You’d think more Aberrations would have known about the Rising and told their children.”

  “Maybe all of the ones who did figured out ho
w to get away before the Society starting sending us to the villages,” I say.

  “And the farmers didn’t belong to the Rising,” Vick says. “I thought that might be why you were leading us to them—so we could join up.”

  “I wasn’t leading you anywhere,” I say. “The farmers knew about the Rising. But I don’t think they were part of it.”

  “You don’t know much,” Vick says with a grin.

  I have to laugh. “No,” I say. “I don’t.”

  “I thought you had some kind of greater purpose,” Vick says thoughtfully. “Gathering people to bring to the Rising. But you came into the Carving to save yourself and get back to the girl you’re in love with. That’s all.”

  “That’s all,” I agree. It’s the truth. He can think less of me if he wants.

  “Good enough,” Vick says. “Good night.”

  When I scratch into the stone with my piece of agate, it leaves clean white marks. This compass won’t work, of course. It can’t open. The arrow will never spin, but I carve anyway. I need to find another piece of agate. I’m wearing down this one with carving instead of killing.

  While the other two sleep, I finish the compass. When I’m done, I turn it in my hand so that its arrow points in the direction I believe to be north and I lie down to rest. Does Cassia still have the real compass, the one that my aunt and uncle saved for me?

  She stands on top of the hill again. A small round piece of gold in her hands: the compass. A disk of brighter gold on the horizon: the sun rising.

  She opens the compass and looks at the arrow.

  Tears on her face, wind in her hair.

  She wears a green dress.

  Her skirt brushes the grass when she bends down to put the compass on the ground. When she stands up again her hands are empty.

  Xander waits behind her. He holds out his hand.

  “He’s gone,” he tells her. “I’m here.” His voice sounds sad. Hopeful.

  No, I start to say, but Xander tells the truth. I’m not there, not really. I’m only a shadow watching in the sky. They’re real. I’m not anymore.

  “Ky,” Eli says, shaking me. “Ky, wake up. What’s wrong?”

  Vick flicks on the flashlight and shines it in my eyes. “You were having a nightmare,” he says. “What about?”

  I shake my head. “Nothing,” I say, looking down at the stone in my hand.

  The arrow of this compass is locked into place. No spinning. No alteration. Like me with Cassia. Locked on one idea, one thing in the sky. One truth to hold to when everything else falls to dust around me.

  CHAPTER 16

  CASSIA

  In my dream he stands in front of the sun, so he looks dark when I know that he is light. “Cassia,” he says, and the tenderness in his voice brings tears to my eyes. “Cassia, it’s me.”

  I can’t speak; I reach out my arms, smiling, crying, so glad not to be alone.

  “I’m going to step away now,” he says. “It will be bright. But you have to open your eyes.”

  “They’re open,” I say, confused. How else could I see him?

  “No,” he says. “You’re asleep. You need to wake up. It’s time.”

  “You’re not leaving, are you?” That is all I can think of. That he might go.

  “Yes,” he says.

  “Don’t,” I tell him. “Please.”

  “You have to open your eyes,” he says again, and so I do, I wake up to a sky full of light.

  But Xander is not here.

  It’s a waste of water to cry, I tell myself, but I can’t seem to stop. The tears stream down my face, making paths in the dust. I try not to sob; I don’t want to wake Indie, who still sleeps in spite of the sun. After seeing the blue-marked bodies yesterday, we walked all day along the dry streambed of this second canyon. We saw nothing and no one.

  I put my hands up to my face and leave them there, feeling the warmth of my own tears.

  I’m so afraid, I think. For me, for Ky. I thought that we were in the wrong canyon because I couldn’t see any trace of him. But if they turned him into ash, I would never know where he had been.

  I always hoped I would find him—through all those months planting seeds, when I rode in that windowless air ship piloted through the night, during that long run over to the Carving.

  But now there might not be anything left to find, a voice in my head nags at me. Ky might be gone and the Rising, too. What if the Pilot died and no one took his or her place?

  I glance over at Indie and find myself wondering if she is really my friend. Maybe she’s a spy, I think, sent by my Official to watch me fail and die in the Carving so that the Official knows how her experiment played out all the way to the end.

  Where are these thoughts coming from? I wonder, and then it hits me. I’m sick.

  Illness rarely happens in the Society, but of course I’m not in the Society. My mind sorts through all the variables at play: exhaustion, dehydration, excess mental strain, insufficient food. This was bound to happen.

  The realization makes me feel better. If I’m sick, then I’m not myself. I don’t truly believe these thoughts about Ky and Indie and the Rising. And my mind is so muddled I’m forgetting that my Official wasn’t the one who started this experiment. I remember that flicker in her eyes as she lied to me outside the Museum in Oria. She didn’t know who put Ky’s name in the Matching pool.

  I take a deep breath. For a moment, the feeling from my dream of Xander comes back to me and I am comforted. “Open your eyes,” he told me. What was it Xander would expect me to see? I look around the cave where we camped for the night. I see Indie, the rocks, my pack with the tablets inside.

  The blue ones, at least in some way, were given to me not by the Society, but by Xander, whom I trust. I’ve waited long enough.

  It takes me a long time to open up the compartment because I can’t seem to get my fingers to work. Finally, I pop out the first blue tablet in the package, shove it in my mouth, and swallow, hard. It’s the first time I’ve ever taken a tablet—to my knowledge, anyway. For a moment I picture Grandfather’s face in my mind, and he looks disappointed.

  I look back down at the hollow where the blue tablet was, expecting to see empty space. But there’s something there—a small strip of paper.

  Port paper. I unfold it, hands still trembling. Sealed in its compartment, the paper stayed safe, but it will disintegrate soon now that it’s reached the air.

  Occupation: Medic. Chance of permanent assignment and promotion to physic: 97.3%.

  “Oh, Xander,” I whisper.

  This is a piece of Xander’s official Matching information. The information I never did view on the microcard; all of the things I thought I already knew. I look at the sealed tablets in my hand. How did he do this? How did he get the scrap inside? Are there more?

  I picture him now, printing out a copy of his information from the port, tearing each line carefully into strips and finding a way to put them inside the packaging. He must have guessed that I never looked at the microcard; he knew I turned away and chose to see Ky.

  It’s like Ky and the papers he gave me back in the Borough. Two boys, two stories written on scraps and passed on to me. My eyes burn with tears because Xander’s story is one I should have already known.

  Look at me again, he seems to say.

  I break open another tablet from its compartment. The next paper says: Full name: Xander Thomas Carrow.

  A memory comes back to me, of myself as a child in the Borough waiting for Xander to come out and play.

  “Xander. Thomas. Carrow!” I called, hopping from one stone on his walk to the next. I was small and often forgot to hush when approaching someone else’s house. Xander’s name, I thought, was nice to say. It sounded exactly right. Each word had two syllables, a perfect rhythm for marching.

  “You don’t have to yell,” Xander said. He opened the door and smiled at me. “I’m right here.”

  I miss Xander, and I can’t seem to stop myself fro
m tearing into more of the tablets—not to swallow down any more blue, but to see what the scraps say:

  Has lived in Mapletree Borough since birth.

  Favorite leisure activity: swimming.

  Favorite recreation activity: games.

  Peers listed Xander Carrow’s name as the student they most admired 87.6% of the time.

  Favorite color: red.

  That’s a surprise. I always thought Xander’s favorite color was green. What else don’t I know about him?

  I smile, feeling stronger already. When I glance over at Indie I see that she still sleeps. I feel the strongest urge to keep moving, so I decide to step outside and see better this place that we came into in the dark.

  At first glance it seems like just a wide open spot in the canyon, like many others, honeycombed with caves and tumbled with rocks and smoothed with undulating stone walls. But then, as I look around again, I see that one of the walls appears strange.

  I walk across the dry streambed and put my hand against the rock. The feel of it is rough under my hand. But it’s not quite right. It’s too perfect.

  That’s how I know it’s Society.

  In its perfection I see the cracks. I remember the metered breath of the woman in one of the Hundred Songs and how Ky told me that the Society knows that we like to hear them breathe. We like to know they’re human, but even the humanity they present is careful and calculated.

  My heart sinks. If the Society is here then the Rising cannot be.

  I walk along the wall, running my hand along it, looking for the crack where the Society meets the Carving, and as I come closer to a clump of tangled dark bushes I see something lying on the ground.