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Crossed, Page 18

Ally Condie


  “The Society let you climb?” Hunter asks.

  She looks at him with an expression of contempt. “They didn’t let me climb. I found a way to do it without them knowing.”

  “You and I will each take someone up,” Hunter tells her. “It’ll be faster that way. Can you do that?”

  Indie laughs in response.

  “Be careful,” Hunter warns her. “The stone here is different.”

  “I know,” she says.

  “Can you climb up alone?” Hunter asks me.

  I nod. I don’t tell him that I prefer it this way. If I fall, at least I won’t take anyone with me. “I’ll watch you first.”

  Indie turns to look at Cassia and Eli. “Which one of you wants to come with me?”

  “Eli,” Cassia says. “You choose.”

  “Ky,” Eli says immediately.

  “No,” Hunter tells him. “Ky hasn’t climbed as much as we have.”

  Eli opens his mouth to protest but I shake my head at him. He glares at me and then walks over to stand by Indie. I think I see a small, pleased smile on Indie’s face before she turns back to the rock.

  I watch Cassia as she clips onto Hunter’s line. Then I check Eli to make sure he’s hooked up right. When I look up, Hunter is ready to begin. Cassia’s jaw is set.

  I’m not worried about the ascent. Hunter’s the best climber. And he needs Cassia safe to help him in the cave. I believe Hunter when he says he needs to know why the Society did what they did. He still thinks that knowing why might help. He doesn’t yet know that the reason will never be good enough.

  Once we all reach the top of the Carving, we run. I hold on to Eli with one hand and Cassia with the other and we all move, our breath quiet and fast and our feet flying along the stone.

  We’re exposed and bare out on the rock under the sky for several long seconds.

  It’s not nearly long enough. I feel like I could run out here forever.

  Look! I want to call out. I’m still alive. Still here. Though your data and your Officials want it otherwise.

  Feet fast.

  Lungs full of air.

  Holding on to people I love.

  I love.

  The most reckless thing of all.

  When we get closer to the edge we let go of each other. We need our hands for the ropes.

  The second canyon is a true slot canyon—tiny and narrow—smaller than the farmers’ canyon. After we’ve all arrived at the bottom of the cliff, Cassia points to a long smooth surface. It looks like sandstone but there is something odd about it. “That’s where we noticed the entrance,” she says. Her lips tighten. “The boy’s body is over there, under those bushes.”

  The freedom I felt earlier is gone now. The feeling of Society hangs in this canyon like the torn and streaming clouds that linger after a thunderstorm.

  The others notice it too. Hunter’s face turns grim and I know it’s the worst for him because he feels the Society in a place that used to be his.

  Hunter leads us to a tiny cave in a spot where the canyon wall folds back in on itself. All five of us can barely crouch inside. The back of the cave ends in a pile of rocks. “We made a way in through here,” he says.

  “And the Society never found it?” Indie asks, sounding skeptical.

  “They didn’t even know how to look,” Hunter says. He lifts up one of the rocks. “There’s a crevice behind all these stones,” he tells us. “Once we’re inside, we can go through to a corner of the Cavern.”

  “How do we do it?” Eli asks.

  “Move the earth,” Hunter says. “And hold your breath in the tight spots.” He reaches for one of the boulders. “I’ll go first when it’s time,” he says over his shoulder. “Then Cassia. We’ll talk each other through the turns. Go slowly. There’s a place where you need to lie on your back and push yourself through with your feet. If you get stuck, call out. You’ll be close enough to hear me. I can talk you through. It’s the tightest just before the end.”

  I hesitate for a moment, wondering if this is a trap. Could the Society have set it? Or Indie? I don’t trust her. I watch her help Hunter with the rocks, her long hair flying wildly around her in her eagerness. What does she want? What’s she hiding?

  I glance over at Cassia. She’s in a new place where everything is different. She’s seen people who died in terrible ways and she’s been hungry and lost and come into the desert to find me. All things a Society girl should never have had to experience. I see a glint in her eye as she looks at me and it makes me smile. Hold our breath? she seems to say. Move the earth? We’ve been doing that all along.

  CHAPTER 32

  CASSIA

  The crevice is barely wide enough for Hunter to climb into. He disappears without looking back. I’m next.

  I glance over at Eli, whose eyes have gone wide. “Maybe you should wait for us here,” I say.

  Eli nods. “I don’t mind the cave,” he says. “But that is a tunnel.”

  I don’t point out that he’s the smallest of all of us and the least likely to get stuck because I know what he means. It seems counterintuitive, wrong, to worm our way into the earth like this. “It’s all right,” I say. “You don’t have to come.” I put my arm around him and squeeze his shoulders. “I don’t think it will take long.”

  Eli nods again. He already looks better, less white. “We’ll be back,” I say again. “I’ll be back.”

  Eli makes me think of Bram and how I left him behind, too.

  I’m all right until I think too much, until I start calculating how many tons of rock must be above me. I don’t even know how much one cubic foot of sandstone weighs, but the total amount must be enormous. And the ratio of air to stone must be small. Is that why Hunter told us to hold our breath? Does he know that there’s not enough air? That I might breathe out and find nothing left to breathe back in?

  I can’t move.

  The stone, so close around me. The passage, so dark. There are only inches between the earth and me; I’m pressed tight and lying on my back with blackness ahead and behind and the immovability of rock above and below and on every side. The mass of the Carving presses all over me; I’ve been afraid of its vastness and now I’m afraid of its closeness.

  My face is turned to a sky that I cannot see, one blue above the stone.

  I try to calm myself, tell myself it’s all right. Living things have flown from tighter spaces than this. I’m just a butterfly, a mourning cloak, sealed inside a cocoon with blind eyes and sticky wings. And suddenly, I wonder if the cocoons sometimes do not open, if the butterfly inside is ever simply not strong enough to break through.

  A sob escapes my throat.

  “Help,” I say.

  To my surprise, it’s not Hunter who speaks from ahead. It’s Ky’s voice from behind.

  “It will be all right,” he says. “Push along a little more.”

  And even in my panic, I hear the music in his deep voice, the sounds of singing. I close my eyes, imagining my breath is his own, that he is with me.

  “Wait a moment if you need to,” he says.

  I picture myself smaller even than I am now. Climbing into the cocoon, pulling it tight around me like a real cloak, a blanket. And then I don’t imagine myself bursting out. I just stay tucked inside, trying to see what I can.

  At first, nothing at all.

  But then I feel it. Even hidden away in the dark, I can tell that it is there. Some small part of me is always, always free.

  “But I will,” I say out loud.

  “You will,” Ky says behind me, and I move, and then I can feel space above me, air to breathe, a place to stand.

  Where are we?

  Shapes and figures form in the darkness, lit by tiny blue lights along the floor of the cave that shine like small raindrops. But, of course, they are too orderly to have fallen.

  Other lights illuminate tall clear cases and machines that hum and moderate the temperature within the stone walls. What I see before me is Society: cali
bration, organization, calculation.

  Someone moves and I almost gasp before I remember. Hunter.

  “It’s so huge,” I say to him, and he nods.

  “We used to meet here,” he says softly. “We weren’t the first. The Cavern is an old place.”

  I shudder when I look up. The walls of the vast space are embedded with shells of dead animals and bones of beasts, all caught in stone that was once mud. This place existed before the Society. Perhaps before people lived at all.

  Ky comes into the cave then, brushing dust from his hair, and I walk over to him, and touch his hands, which feel cold and rough but nothing like stone. “Thank you for helping me,” I say into the warmth of his neck. Then I pull away so he can see what’s here.

  “It is Society,” Ky says, his voice as quiet as the Cavern. He strides across the floor of the cave and Hunter and I follow. Ky puts his hand on the door at the other side of the room. “Steel,” he says.

  “They’re not supposed to be here,” Hunter says, his voice tight.

  It feels wrong: this overlay of the sterile and the Society over the earthy and the organic. The Society wasn’t supposed to be in my relationship with Ky, either, I think, remembering how my Official told me that they’d known all along. The Society slides in everywhere, snakes in a crack, water dripping against a rock until even the stone has no choice but to hollow and change shape.

  “I have to know what they killed us for,” Hunter says to me, gesturing to the cases. They are filled with tubes. Rows and rows of them, glittering in the blue light. Beautiful as the sea, I imagine.

  Indie comes into the cave next. She looks around and her eyes widen. “So what are they?” she asks.

  “Let me look more closely,” I say, and I walk between two of the rows of tubes. Ky comes with me. I run my hand along the cases made of smooth, clear plastic. To my surprise, there are no locks on the doors, and I open one to get a better look. It makes a soft hiss as it opens and I gaze at the tubes in front of me, overwhelmed all at once by both the amount of sameness and the amount of choice.

  I don’t want to disturb the tubes in case the Society has an alarm system, so I crane my neck until I can see the information on the tube in the center of the middle row. HANOVER, MARCUS. KA. The first notation is a name, clearly, and the second is the abbreviation for Keya Province. Beneath the Province, two dates and a bar code have been engraved.

  These are samples of people, buried in the earth with the bones of creatures long dead and with the sediment of seas long stone, rows and rows of glass tubes similar to the one Grandfather had, the one containing his tissue preservation sample.

  Behind the exhaustion and fatigue, I feel my sorting mind grind its gears, whir into action. Trying to make sense of what I see and the numbers in front of me. The cave is a place of preservation, accidental and intentional, in the mudded fossils above us and the tissues stored in tubes.

  Why here? I wonder. Why so far on the edge of the Society? Surely there are better places, dozens of them. It is the opposite of a graveyard. It is the reverse of saying good-bye. And I understand this. Though I wish it didn’t, in some ways this makes more sense to me than putting people forever into the earth and letting them go the way the farmers do.

  “They’re tissue samples,” I tell Ky. “But why would the Society store them here?” I shiver and Ky puts his arm around me.

  “I know,” he says.

  But he doesn’t.

  The Carving doesn’t care.

  We live, we die, we turn to rock or lie in earth or drift out to sea or burn to ash, and the Carving doesn’t care about any of it. We will come and go. The Society will come and go. The canyons will live on.

  “You know what they are,” Hunter says. I look over at him. What must someone who has never lived in the Society think of something like this?

  “Yes,” I say. “But I don’t know why. Wait a moment. Let me think.”

  “How many are in here?” Ky asks.

  I do a quick estimation based on the rows in front of me. “There are thousands,” I say. “Hundreds of thousands.” The tubes are small, row upon row, case upon case, aisle upon aisle, in the vast space of the Cavern. “But not enough to account for all the samples that must have been taken over the years. This can’t be the only facility.”

  “Could they be moving them out of the Society?” Ky asks.

  I shake my head, confused. Why would they do that? “They’re arranged by Province,” I say, noting that all the tubes in the case before me say KA.

  “Find Oria,” Ky says.

  “It should be on the next row,” I say, calculating, walking fast.

  Indie and Hunter stand together watching us. I turn the corner and find tubes marked OR for Oria. Seeing the familiar abbreviation in such a strange place gives me an odd feeling that is both intimate and distant.

  I hear a sound at the secret entrance to the Cavern. We all turn. Eli comes through just like Ky did, grinning and brushing dirt from his hair. I rush over to him and grab Eli tight, my heart hammering in my chest at what he went through all alone.

  “Eli,” I say, “I thought you were going to wait.”

  “I’m fine,” he tells me. He glances over my shoulder, looking for Ky.

  “You did it,” Ky calls out to Eli, and Eli seems to stand a little straighter. I shake my head at Eli. Promising one thing, then choosing his own way when he changed his mind. Bram would have done the same thing.

  Eli looks around, wide-eyed. “They’re storing tubes here,” he says.

  “We think they’re organized by Province,” I tell him, and then I see Ky signaling to me.

  “Cassia. I found something.”

  I hurry back over to where Ky is while Indie and Eli wander up and down other rows, looking for their own Provinces. “If the first date is the birthdate,” Ky says, “then the second date is likely . . .” He pauses, waiting to see if I draw the same conclusion.

  “The death date. The date the sample was taken,” I say. And then I realize what he means. “They’re too close. They’re not eighty years apart.”

  “They weren’t just storing the old,” Ky says. “These people—they can’t all be dead.”

  “They don’t only take the samples when we die,” I say, my mind racing. I think back—so many chances. Our forks. Our spoons. The clothes we wear. Or maybe we even give the samples ourselves, nod and scrape our own tissue away, hand it over and then take a red tablet. “The sample at the end means nothing. The Society already has tubes for everyone they want to keep. Maybe younger tissue works better. And this way, if we don’t know about the other samples, they can keep us compliant until the very end.” My heart leaps within me, perversely, in gratitude to the Society.

  Grandfather might have a sample in here. It might not matter that my father destroyed the one taken at the Final Banquet.

  “Cassia,” Ky says softly. “Xander’s here.”

  “What?” Where? Has he come to find us? How did he know?

  “Here,” Ky says quietly, pointing to one of the blue-lit tubes.

  Of course. I avoid Ky’s eyes and look at the tube. CARROW, XANDER. OR. His birthdate is correct. This is Xander’s sample; but Xander is not dead.

  As far as I know.

  And then Ky and I both stand by the case, our eyes running over the numbers, our fingers interlocking. Who is here? Who is saved?

  “You’re here,” Ky says, pointing. There it is, the date of my birth. And my name: REYES, CASSIA. I draw my breath in sharply. My name. Seeing it here reminds me of the way it felt when they said my name at the Match Banquet. It reminds me that I belong. That my future has been secured by the Society with great care.

  “I’m not here,” Ky says, watching me.

  “You might be in another Province,” I say. “You could be—”

  “I’m not here,” Ky says. And for a moment, in the dim lighting of the cave, with the way he knows how to blend with the shadows, it seems that he is not. Only t
he feel of his hand holding tightly to mine tells me differently.

  Hunter comes over to stand next to me and I try to explain. “They’re tissues,” I tell Hunter, “a little bit of skin or hair or fingernail. The Society takes them from its Citizens so that, someday, the Society can bring us back to life.” I wince at my use of the word us—for all I know, I might be the only one in this cave with a tube stored here. And even that might only be because they haven’t had time to change my status yet. I glance up at the walls of the cave again, at the bones and teeth and shells left behind. If what we are isn’t in our bones, it must be in our tissues. It must be somewhere.

  Hunter looks at me and then at the tubes. He looks for so long that I open my mouth to try to explain again, but then he reaches inside a case and takes out a tube before I can stop him.

  No alarm sounds.

  Its absence unnerves me. Does a light flash somewhere back in the Society to tell an Official of the breach?

  Hunter holds the tube up and shines a flashlight through it. The samples are so small they can’t even be seen amid the solution swishing inside.

  Snap. The tube breaks and blood runs red down Hunter’s hand. “They killed us to store themselves,” he says.

  Everyone looks at Hunter. For a wild, impulsive moment, I am tempted to join Hunter in breaking—I’d open all the doors to all the cases and grab something, a stick perhaps. I’d sprint down aisles of tubes shining blue, silvery, light. I’d run the stick along them to see if they would sound like chimes. I wonder if the tune of other lives would be sour, wrong; or strong, clear, soft, and truly musical. But I don’t break. I do something else instead, quickly, while they all stare at Hunter.

  He opens his hand, looks at the blood and liquid in his palm. In spite of myself, I note the name on the label: THURSTON, MORGAN. I look back up at Hunter. Breaking a tube like that must require a lot of strength, but he seems not to notice the effort. “Why?” he asks. “How? Have they discovered a way to bring people back?”