Crossed, p.18
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       Crossed, p.18

         Part #2 of Matched series by Ally Condie
Page 19


  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


  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 from 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 t
hat 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.

  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.

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