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Crossed, Page 13

Ally Condie


  It’s the boy. The one who ran with us to the Carving and then came into this canyon instead.

  He’s curled up on his side. His eyes are closed. A small sprinkling of dust kicked up by the wind covers his skin and hair and clothes. His hands are discolored and red with blood and so is the place on the canyon wall where he clawed and clawed and couldn’t enter. I close my eyes. The sight of that dried red blood, those crystals of canyon dirt, makes me think of the sugar and red-bled berries on Grandfather’s pie plate and it makes me sick.

  I open my eyes again and look at the boy. Can I do anything for him? I lean closer and see that his lips are stained blue. Since I never trained as a medic, I know almost nothing about helping people. He doesn’t breathe. I check the spot on his wrist where I’ve learned a pulse can be taken, but it doesn’t beat.

  “Cassia,” someone whispers, and I whirl around.

  It’s Indie. I breathe out in relief. “It’s that boy,” I say.

  Indie crouches next to me. “He’s dead,” she says. She looks at his hands. “What was he doing?”

  “I think he was trying to get inside,” I say, pointing. “They’ve made this look like rock, but I think it’s a door.” Indie stands up next to me and we both look at the bloody rock and the boy’s hands. “He couldn’t get in,” I say. “And then he took the blue tablet, but it was too late.”

  Indie looks at me, her eyes darting and searching.

  “We have to get out of this canyon,” I say. “The Society’s in it. I can tell.”

  Indie pauses.“You’re right,” she says after a moment. “We should go back to the other canyon. At least it had water.”

  “Do you think we’ll have to walk back and cross where we came over earlier?” I say, shuddering involuntarily as I think of all those bodies on top of the Carving.

  “We can go over here,” Indie says. “We have a rope now.” She points to the roots of the trees clinging to the side of the canyon and growing where no trees should be able to grow. “It will save us time.” She opens her pack and reaches inside for the rope. As I watch her, she takes it out and slings it over her shoulder and then carefully rearranges something left in her pack.

  The wasp’s nest, I think. “You’ve kept it safe,” I say.

  “What?” Indie asks, startled.

  “Your wasp nest,” I tell her. “It’s not broken.”

  Indie nods, looking wary. I must have said something wrong, but I can’t think of what it might be. A deep weariness seems to have come over me and I have the strangest desire to simply curl up like the boy and rest there on the ground.

  On the top of the Carving, we don’t look in the direction where the bodies would be. We’re too far away to see anything anyway.

  I don’t speak. Neither does Indie. We move fast across the Carving under the cold wind and sky. The running wakes me up and reminds me that I’m still alive, that I cannot lie down to rest yet, no matter how much I want to.

  It seems like Indie and I might be the only two living people in the Outer Provinces.

  Indie secures the rope on the other side. “Come on,” she says, and we move back down into the first canyon, where we began. We might not have found signs of Ky here, but at least there is water, and nothing of the Society that we’ve noticed. Yet.

  Hope looks like a footprint, a half footprint where someone grew careless and stepped into soft mud that later hardened too thick to blow away in the evening and morning winds.

  I try not to think of other prints I’ve seen in these canyons, fossil remains of times so long past that nothing is left but imprints or bones of what was, what once lived. This mark is recent. I have to believe that. I have to believe that someone else is alive here. And I have to believe that it might be Ky.

  CHAPTER 17

  KY

  We climb out of the Carving. Behind us lie the canyons and the farmers’ township. Below us, the plain stretches out long and wide, brown and gold-grassed. Clumps of trees cluster along a stream and on the other side of the plain the blue mountains rise beyond with snow on their peaks. Snow that stays.

  It is a long way to go in any season—and especially now at the very edge of winter. I know our odds aren’t good, but I’m still glad to have made it this far.

  “It’s so far,” Eli says next to me, his voice shaky.

  “It might not be as far as it looks on the map,” I say.

  “Let’s move to that first group of trees,” Vick suggests.

  “Is it safe?” Eli asks, looking up at the sky.

  “If we’re careful,” Vick says, already moving, his eyes on the stream. “That stream’s different from the one in the canyon. I bet the fish here are big ones.”

  We make our way out to the first clump of trees. “How much do you know about fishing?” Vick asks me.

  “Nothing,” I say. I don’t even know much about water. There wasn’t much of it near our village except what the Society piped in. And the streams back in the canyons aren’t wide and slow in places like this one. They’re smaller, quicker. “Aren’t the fish dead by now? Isn’t the water too cold?”

  “Moving water rarely freezes,” Vick tells me. He crouches down and looks into the river, where things move. “We could catch these,” he says excitedly. “I bet they’re brown trout. They’re so good for eating.”

  I’m already crouched next to him, trying to figure it out too. “How can we do it?”

  “They’re finishing spawning,” Vick tells us. “They’re sluggish. We can reach in and scoop them up if we get close enough. There’s not much sport it in,” he says regretfully. “We’d never have done this back home. But there we had line.”

  “Where is back home?” I ask Vick.

  He looks at me, considering, but maybe he figures that since he knows now where I’m from he can tell me where he started, too. “I’m from Camas,” he says. “You should see it. The mountains are bigger than the ones over there.” He gestures across the plain. “The streams are full of fish.” Then he stops. Looks back at the water where things move in the deep.

  Eli still crouches down, keeping low like I told him he should. Still, I don’t like the way this plain sits out bare under the sky in between the Carving and the mountains.

  “Look for a riffle,” Vick says now to Eli. “It’s a place in the stream where the water gets shallow and moves faster. Like here. And then do this.”

  Vick crouches down slowly and quietly by the stream’s edge. He waits. Then he slides his hand into the water, behind the fish, little by little moving his fingers upstream until they’re under the fish’s belly. Then, quick, he flips the fish out onto the bank. It flops and gasps for air, its body slick.

  We all watch the fish die.

  That night, we go back inside the Carving where we can hide the smoke of a fire. I strike chert to light it, saving the farmers’ matches for another time. It’s the first real fire we’ve made and Eli loves holding his hands to the licking flames. It’s one thing to be fired upon and another to be warmed. “Don’t get too close,” I warn Eli. He nods. The light flickers on the canyon walls and sends the colors of the sunset back. Orange fire. Orange stone.

  We cook our fish slowly in the embers so it will last longer in our journey across the plain. I watch the smoke and hope it dissipates before it rises above the canyon walls.

  It will take hours for all of the fish to be ready, Vick says, because we need all the water to be removed from the flesh. But they last longer this way and we’ll need the food. We’ve balanced the odds of whoever was in the township following us all this way against that of needing more stores for the plain, and food won out. Now that we’ve seen how much ground we have to cross we all feel hungry.

  “There’s a kind of fish called rainbow,” Vick says, his face reflective. “Most of them died out long ago in the Warming, but I caught one once up in Camas.”

  “Did it taste as good as this?” Eli asks.

  “Oh, sure,” Vick says.

  “
You threw it back, didn’t you?” I ask.

  Vick grins. “Couldn’t stand to eat it,” he says. “It was the only one I’ve ever seen. I thought it might be the last one left.”

  I sit back on my heels. My belly is full and I feel free, away from both the Society and the farmers’ township. Everything isn’t poisoned. Moving water rarely freezes. Those two things are good to know.

  I am the happiest I’ve been since the Hill. I think there’s a chance I might make it back to her after all.

  “Were your parents Officers before they were Reclassified?” Vick asks me.

  I laugh. My father, an Officer? Or my mother? For different reasons, the suggestion is ridiculous. “No,” I say. “Why?”

  “You know about the guns,” he says. “And the wiring in the coats. I wondered if one of them had taught you.”

  “My father did teach me that,” I say. “But he wasn’t an Officer.”

  “Did he learn that from the farmers, too? Or the Rising?”

  “No,” I say. “Some of it he learned from the Society for his work.” Most of it he taught himself. “What about your parents?”

  “My father was an Officer,” he says, and I’m not at all surprised. It makes sense: Vick’s bearing, his ability to command, the way he said the coats were military-grade, the fact that he once lived by the Army bases. What could have happened to cause the Reclassification of someone in such good standing—a member of a family of Officers?

  “My family’s dead,” Eli says, when it’s clear that Vick doesn’t intend to say anything more.

  Though I’d guessed that must be the case, I still hate to hear him say it.

  “How?” Vick asks.

  “My parents got sick. They died in a medical center in Central. And then I got sent away. If I’d been a Citizen, someone could have adopted me. But I wasn’t. I’ve been an Aberration for as long as I can remember.”

  His parents got sick? And died? That wasn’t supposed to happen—didn’t happen, as far as I knew—to people as young as Eli’s parents must have been, not even Aberrations. Dying that early doesn’t happen unless you live in the Outer Provinces. And it especially doesn’t happen in Central. I’d assumed they’d died like Eli was meant to, out in the villages somehow.

  But Vick doesn’t seem surprised. I don’t know if that’s for Eli’s benefit or if Vick has heard something like this before.

  “Eli, I’m sorry,” I say. I was lucky. If Patrick and Aida’s son hadn’t died and Patrick hadn’t pushed so hard, I never would have been brought to Oria. I might be dead right now.

  “I’m sorry too,” Vick says.

  Eli doesn’t answer. He scoots closer to the fire and closes his eyes as if talking has exhausted him. “I don’t want to talk about it anymore,” he says quietly. “I just wanted to tell you.”

  After a pause, I change the subject. “Eli,” I ask, “what did you bring from the farmers’ cave?”

  Eli opens his eyes and pulls his pack across the ground toward him. “They’re heavy, so I couldn’t bring many,” he says. “Only two. But look. They’re books. With words and pictures.” He opens one up to show us. A painting of an enormous winged creature with colors all along its back curls through the sky above an enormous stone house.

  “I think my father told me about one of these books,” I say. “The stories were for children. They could look at the pictures while their parents read them the words. Then when the kids got older they could do it all themselves.”

  “These have to be worth something,” Vick says.

  What Eli’s chosen are hard to trade, I’d imagine. The stories can be replicated but the pictures cannot. But at the moment he grabbed them, Eli wasn’t thinking of trading.

  We sit by the embers of the fire and read the stories over Eli’s shoulder. There are words we don’t know, but we puzzle out the meanings by looking at the pictures.

  Eli yawns and closes the books. “We can look at them again tomorrow,” he says decisively, and I grin to myself as he packs them into his bag. He seems to be telling us I brought these here and you can see them on my terms.

  I pick up a stick from the ground and start writing Cassia’s name in the dirt. Eli’s breathing slows as he falls asleep.

  “I loved someone too,” Vick says to me a few minutes later. “Back in Camas.” He clears his throat.

  Vick’s story. I never thought he’d tell it. But there’s something about the fire tonight that makes us all talk. I wait a moment to make sure I ask the right question. A bright spot in the coals flares and goes dark. “What was her name?” I ask.

  A pause. “Laney,” Vick says. “She worked at the base where we lived. She told me about the Pilot.” He clears his throat. “I’d heard it before, of course. And on the base people used to wonder if one of the Officers could be the Pilot. But for Laney and her family it was different. When they talked about the Pilot it meant more to them.”

  He glances at the spot where I wrote Cassia’s name over and over in the dirt. “I wish I could do that,” he says. “We never had anything but scribes and ports in Camas.”

  “I can teach you how.”

  “You do it,” he says. “On this.” He shoves a piece of wood toward me. Cottonwood, probably from the stand of trees where we fished. I start in on it with my sharp piece of stone, not looking up at Vick. Near us, Eli sleeps on.

  “She used to fish, too,” Vick says. “I’d go to meet her at the stream. She—” Vick stops for a moment. “My father was so angry when he found out. I’d seen him get angry before. I knew what would happen but I did it anyway.”

  “People fall in love,” I say, my voice hoarse. “It happens.”

  “Not Anomalies and Citizens,” Vick says. “And most people don’t celebrate their Contract.”

  I draw in my breath. She was an Anomaly? They celebrated their Contract?

  “It wasn’t sanctioned by the Society,” he says. “But when the time came I chose not to be Matched. And I asked her parents if I could Contract with her. They said yes. The Anomalies have their own ceremony. No one recognizes it but them.”

  “I didn’t know that,” I say, and I dig the agate deeper into the wood. I wasn’t sure Anomalies other than the ones in the Carving still existed so recently or so close to Society. In Oria no one had seen or heard of any in years, except for the one who killed my cousin, the first Markham boy.

  “I asked her parents on the day I saw the rainbow,” Vick says. “I pulled it out of the river and saw the colors flash in the sun. I put it back right away when I saw what it was. When I told her parents about it, they said it was a good omen. A sign. You know what that is?”

  I nod. My father talked about signs sometimes.

  “I haven’t seen one since,” Vick says. “A rainbow trout, I mean. And it wasn’t a good omen after all.” He takes a deep breath. “Only two weeks later I heard that the Officials were coming for us. I went to find her, but she was gone. So was her family.”

  Vick reaches for the cottonwood. I hand it back to him although I haven’t finished. He turns the piece and studies the way her name looks right now—LAN—almost all straight lines. Like notches in a boot. And suddenly I know what he has been marking all along. Not time survived in the Outer Provinces—time lived without her.

  “The Society found me before I got home,” Vick says. “They took me to the Outer Provinces right away.” He hands the carving back to me and I start working on it again. The firelight plays on the agate like the sun might have on the scales of the rainbow when Vick pulled it from the water.

  “What happened to your family?” I ask Vick.

  “Nothing, I hope,” he says. “The Society Reclassified me automatically, of course. But I wasn’t the parent. My family should be fine.” I hear the uncertainty in his voice.

  “I’m sure they are,” I tell him.

  Vick looks at me. “Really?”

  “If the Society gets rid of Aberrations and Anomalies, that’s one thing. If they get rid
of everyone connected to them, there won’t be anyone left.” This is what I hope—then Patrick and Aida might be all right, too.

  Vick nods, lets out his breath. “You know what I thought?”

  “What?” I ask.

  “You’ll laugh,” Vick says. “But when you said that poem the first time, I didn’t just wonder if you were part of the Rising. I also hoped that you’d come to get me out of there. My own personal Pilot.”

  “Why would you think that?” I ask.

  “My father was high up in the Army,” Vick says. “Very high up. I thought for sure he’d send someone out to save me. I thought it was you.”

  “Sorry to have disappointed you,” I say. My voice sounds cold.

  “You didn’t disappoint,” Vick says. “You got us out of there, didn’t you?”

  In spite of myself I have a small feeling of satisfaction when Vick says that. I smile in the darkness.

  “What do you think happened to her?” I ask after a few moments.

  “I think her family ran away,” Vick says. “The Anomalies and Aberrations around us were disappearing, but I don’t think the Society got them all. Maybe her family left to try to find the Pilot.”

  “Do you think they did?” I wish now that I hadn’t said so much about the Pilot not being real.

  “I hope so,” Vick says. His voice sounds hollow now that the story is told.

  I give him the piece of cottonwood carved with her name. He looks at it for a moment and then puts it in his pocket.

  “So,” Vick says. “Now. Let’s think about getting across this plain and back to whoever we can find. I’m going to keep following you for a while.”

  “You have to stop saying that,” I tell Vick. “I’m not leading. We’re working together.” I look up at the sky with all its stars. How they shine and burn I don’t know.

  My father wanted to be the person who changed everything and saved everyone. It was dangerous. But they all believed in him. The villagers. My mother. Me. Then I grew older and realized he could never win. I stopped believing. I didn’t die with him because I no longer went to any of the meetings.