Crossed, p.19
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       Crossed, p.19

         Part #2 of Matched series by Ally Condie
Page 20


  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


  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. ”

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