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Crossed, Page 21

Ally Condie

  She looks at my hand. “How long?” she asks.

  “How long what?”

  “How long have you been an Aberration?”

  “Since I was a child,” I say. “I was three years old when they Reclassified us.”

  “And who caused it?”

  I don’t want to answer but I can tell we’re on the edge. It’s as though she holds to the walls of a canyon. If I move wrong she will look over her shoulder, let go, and take her chances with the fall. I have to give her a little piece of my story.

  “My father,” I answer. “We were Citizens in the Society. We lived in one of the Border Provinces. Then the Society accused him of having ties with a rebellion and sent us all out to the Outer Provinces.”

  “Was he a rebel?” she asks.

  “Yes,” I say. “And then when we moved to the Outer Provinces he convinced our village to join with him. Almost everyone died.”

  “You still love him, though,” she says.

  I’m on the edge with her now. She knows it. I have to tell the truth if I’m going to keep her hanging on.

  I take a deep breath. “Of course I do.”

  I said it.

  Her hand rests on the ground next to me against the splintered floorboards. The rain outside the window falls in gold and silver dashes in the beam from my flashlight. Without thinking I touch her fingers gently.

  “Indie,” I tell her, “I’m not the Pilot.”

  She shakes her head. She doesn’t believe me. “Just read the map,” she tells me. “Then you’ll know everything.”

  “No,” I say. “I won’t know everything. I won’t know your story.” This is a cruel thing to do because when someone knows your story they know you. And they can hurt you. It’s why I give mine away in pieces, even to Cassia. “If I’m going to go with you, I have to know about you.” I’m lying. I won’t go with her to the Rising, no matter what. Does she know that?

  “It all started when you ran,” I say, encouraging her.

  She looks at me, deciding. Suddenly—even though she is so sharp-edged—I want to reach out and hold her close. Not the way I hold Cassia. Just as someone who also knows what it means to be an Aberration.

  “It all started when I ran,” she says.

  I lean closer to listen. Indie speaks more softly than usual as she remembers. “I wanted to escape the work camp. When they dragged me back to the air ship I thought I’d lost my last chance to get away. I knew we’d die in the Outer Provinces. Then I saw Cassia on the ship. She didn’t belong there, or in the camp either. I’d been through her things and I knew that she wasn’t an Aberration.

  “So why did she sneak on board the ship? What did she think she could find?” Indie looks straight into my eyes while she talks, and I can see she tells the truth. For the first time she’s completely open. She’s beautiful when she’s not holding back.

  “Later, in the village, I heard Cassia talking with that boy about the Pilot, and about you. She wanted to follow you, and that’s when I first thought you might be the Pilot. I thought Cassia knew that you were the Pilot, but that she was keeping it a secret from me.”

  Indie laughs. “Later I realized that she wasn’t lying to me. She hadn’t told me that you were the Pilot because she hadn’t realized it herself.”

  “She’s right.” I say it again. “I’m not.”

  Indie shakes her head dismissively. “Fine. But what about the red tablet?”

  “What do you mean?”

  “It doesn’t work on you, does it?” she asks.

  I don’t answer but she knows.

  “It doesn’t work on me, either,” she says. “And I bet it doesn’t work on Xander.” She doesn’t wait for me to confirm or deny. “I think some of us are special. The Rising has chosen us somehow. Why else would we be immune?” Her voice is eager and again I know how she feels. To go from discarded to chosen—it’s what all Aberrations want.

  “If we are, the Rising didn’t do anything to save us when the Society sent us out here,” I remind her.

  Indie looks at me scornfully. “Why should they?” she says. “If we can’t find our way to them on our own, we shouldn’t be part of the rebellion.” She lifts her chin. “I can’t tell exactly what the map says, but I know it tells us how to get to the Rising. It’s like my mother said it would be. That black spot is the ocean. Where the words are—that’s an island. We just have to get there. And I found the map. Not Cassia.”

  “You’re jealous of her,” I say. “Is that why you let her take the blue tablet?”

  “No.” Indie sounds surprised. “I didn’t see her take it. I would have stopped her. I didn’t want her to die.”

  “You’re willing to leave her here. And Eli.”

  “It’s not the same thing,” Indie says. “The Society will find her and take her back where she belongs. She’ll be fine. Eli too. He’s so young. It must have been a mistake that he ended up out here.”

  “And what if it’s not?” I ask.

  She sends me a long, searching look. “You’ve left people and run away. Don’t act like you don’t understand.”

  “I’m not going to leave her,” I say.

  “I didn’t think you would,” Indie says. But she’s not defeated. “That’s partly why I gave you the scrap about Xander’s secret. To remind you, if it came to this.”

  “Remind me of what?”

  Indie smiles. “That you’re going to be a part of the Rising one way or another. You don’t want to run and come with me. Fine. But you’re still going to be part of the Rising no matter what.” She reaches for the miniport and I let her take it. “You’ll join because you want Cassia and it’s what she wants to do.”

  I shake my head. No.

  “Don’t you think it would be better for you to be part of the Rising?” Indie says bluntly. “The leader, even? Otherwise, why would she choose you when she could have Xander?”

  Why would Cassia choose me?

  Predicted occupations: nutrition disposal worker, decoy villager.

  Predicted chance of success: Not applicable to Aberrations.

  Predicted life span: 17. Sent to die in the Outer Provinces.

  Cassia would argue that she doesn’t see me the way the Society sees me. She’d say their list didn’t matter.

  And to her it doesn’t. That’s part of why I love her.

  But I don’t think she would choose me if she knew Xander’s secret. Indie gave me the scrap because she wanted to play on my insecurities about Cassia and Xander. But that paper—and the secret—mean even more than Indie guesses.

  Something must show in my face—the truth of what Indie’s said. Her eyes widen and I can almost see her thoughts settling into place: My reluctance to join the Rising. Xander’s face on the microcard. Indie’s own obsession with him and with finding the rebellion. In the whirling, determined kaleidoscope of Indie’s bright, peculiar mind, these pieces make a picture that shows her the truth.

  “That’s it,” she says, her voice certain. “You can’t let her go to the Rising without you or you might lose her.” She smiles. “Because that’s the secret: Xander is part of the Rising.”

  It was the week before the Match Banquet.

  They found me walking home and said, “Aren’t you tired of losing, wouldn’t you like to win, wouldn’t you like to join us, with us you could win.” I told them no. I said I’d seen how they lost and I’d rather lose my own way.

  Xander found me the next evening. I was out in the front yard planting newroses in Patrick and Aida’s flower bed. He stood next to me and smiled and acted as though we were talking about something common and everyday.

  “Did you join?” he asked.

  “Join what?” I asked Xander. I wiped the sweat from my face. Back then I liked digging. I had no idea how much I’d have to do later.

  Xander bent down and pretended to help me. “The rebellion,” he said quietly. “Against the Society. Someone approached me this week. You’re part of it, too, aren�
��t you?”

  “No,” I told Xander.

  His eyes widened. “I thought you would be. I was sure of it.”

  I shook my head.

  “I thought we’d both be in it,” he said. His voice sounded strange, confused. I hadn’t heard Xander sound that way before. “I thought you’d probably known about it all along.” He paused. “Do you think they asked her, too?”

  We both knew who he meant. Cassia. Of course.

  “I don’t know,” I told Xander. “It seems probable. They asked us. They must have had a list of people to approach in the Borough.”

  “What happens to the people who say no?” Xander asked me. “Did they give you a red tablet?”

  “No,” I said.

  “Maybe they don’t have access to red tablets,” Xander said. “I work at the medical center, and I don’t even know where the Society keeps the red ones. It’s somewhere away from the blue and the green.”

  “Or it might be that the rebellion only asks people to join who won’t turn them in,” I said.

  “How could they know that?”

  “Some of them are still in the Society,” I reminded him. “They have our data. They can try to predict what we’ll do.” I paused. “And they’re right. You won’t turn them in because you joined. I won’t turn them in because I didn’t.” And because I’m an Aberration, I thought but didn’t say. The last thing I want to do is draw attention to myself. Especially with a report about a rebellion.

  “Why don’t you join?” Xander asked. There wasn’t any mockery in his tone. He only wanted to know. For the first time since I’d known him I saw something like fear in his eyes.

  “Because I don’t believe in it,” I told him.

  Xander and I were never sure if the rebellion had approached Cassia. And we didn’t know if she’d taken a red tablet. We couldn’t ask her either question without putting her in danger.

  Later, when I saw her reading those two poems in the forest, I thought I’d made the wrong choice. I thought she had the Tennyson poem because it was a Rising poem, and I’d missed my chance to be in the rebellion with her. But then I found out that the poem she truly loved was the other one. She chose her own way. And I fell even more deeply in love with her.

  “Do you really want to join the Rising?” I ask Indie.

  “Yes,” Indie says. “Yes.”

  “No,” I tell her. “You want it now. You might be happy there for a few months, a few years, but it’s not you.”

  “You don’t know me,” she says.

  “Yes, I do,” I say. I lean in fast and close and touch her hand again. She holds her breath. “Forget about all this,” I say. “We don’t need the Rising. The farmers are out there. We’ll all go together, you and me and Cassia and Eli. Somewhere new. What happened to the girl who wanted to leave and lose sight of the shore?” I grab her hand tight and hold on.

  Indie looks up, her face stunned. When Cassia told me Indie’s story, I realized what had happened. Indie had told the version about her mother and the boat and the water so many times that she began to believe it too.

  But now she remembers what she’s trying to forget. That it wasn’t about her mother. It was about her. After hearing her mother’s song all her life, Indie built the boat and caused her own Reclassification. She failed to find the Rising. She never even lost sight of the shore. And, eventually, the Society sent her away from the ocean to die in the desert.

  I know it happened that way because I know Indie. She’s not the kind of person to watch someone else build a boat and set sail without her.

  Indie wants to find the Rising so badly she can’t see anything else. Certainly not me. I’m even worse than she thought I was.

  “I’m sorry, Indie,” I say, and I feel sorry. I ache all over with how sorry I am for what I’m about to do. “But the Rising can’t save any of us. I’ve seen what happens when you join with them.” I strike a match at the edge of the map. Indie cries out but I hold her off. The fire licks the edge of the fabric.

  “No,” Indie cries, trying to snatch the map again. I push her away. She looks around but we both left our canteens back in the cave. “No,” Indie cries out again, and pushes past me out the door.

  I don’t try to stop her. Whatever she tries to do—catch the rain or go to the river for water—will take too long. The map is as good as gone. The air fills again with the scent of burning.



  It’s hard to concentrate on the words before me when I wonder what is being said outside the cave in the night. I find myself reading poetry again, the next part of the I did not reach Thee poem:

  The Sea comes last - Step merry, feet,

  So short we have to go -

  To play together we are prone,

  But we must labor now,

  The last shall be the lightest load

  That we have had to draw.

  The poem ends there, though I can tell other stanzas come after. The next page is missing from the book. But even in these few brief lines I hear the poet speaking to me. Though gone, but she or he still has a voice.

  Why don’t I?

  Suddenly, I realize that this is why I’m so drawn to this author’s poetry. Not only the words themselves, but a sense of how she could put them down and make them her own.

  There’s no time for this now, I remind myself. The next box is full of books that look similar to one another; they all have the word LEDGER carved into the leather of their covers. I pick up one and read some of the lines inside:

  Thirteen pages of history, for five blue tablets. Trader fee: one blue tablet.

  One poem, Rita Dove, original printing, for information regarding the movements of the Society. Trader fee: access to information exchanged.

  One novel, Ray Bradbury, third printing, for one datapod and four panes of glass from a Restoration site. Trader fee: two panes of glass.

  One page of the Book, for three vials medicine. Trader fee: nothing. Trader was executing a personal trade on his own behalf.

  So this is how the trades were done and why so many of the books here are torn, the pages loose. The farmers put books back together, but they also had to take them apart, determine their worth, trade them away in bits and pieces. The thought makes me sad, though of course it was what they had to do.

  It’s like what the Archivists do, and what I did when I kept the tablets and traded the compass.

  The tablets. Xander’s notes. Did he hide something secret inside? I tear into the packet and put the contents out on the table in two rows: one of blue tablets, one of scraps.

  None of the papers say anything about a secret.

  Predicted occupations: Official.

  Predicted chance of success: 99.9%.

  Predicted life span: 80 years.

  Line after line of information I already know or could have guessed.

  I feel eyes on me. Someone stands in the door of the cave. I look up, shine my light across the sandy floor, begin to push the tablets and scraps into my bag. “Ky,” I begin. “I was just—”

  The figure is too tall to be Ky. Frightened, I move the light up to his face and he shields his eyes with his hands. Dried blood runs down his blue-marked arms.

  “Hunter,” I say. “You came back.”

  “I wanted to escape,” Hunter says.

  At first I think he means from the Cavern, and then I realize he’s answering the question Indie asked before we climbed—Which did you want?

  “But you couldn’t go,” I say, realizing. The papers left on the table in front of me flutter as he comes closer. “Because of Sarah.”

  “She was dying,” Hunter said. “She couldn’t be moved.”

  “The others wouldn’t wait for you?” I ask, shocked.

  “There wasn’t time,” Hunter says. “It could have compromised the whole escape. Others who weren’t fast enough to cross decided to fight, but she was a child, and she was far too ill.” A muscle in his cheek twitches and w
hen he blinks tears run down his face. He ignores them. “I made an agreement with the others who stayed. I helped them rig their explosives up on the Carving, and they let me leave to be with Sarah instead of waiting for the fight.” He shakes his head. “I don’t know why it didn’t work. The ships should have come down.”

  I don’t know what to say. He’s lost his daughter and everyone he knew. “You can still go find the others on the plain,” I say. “It’s not too late.”

  “I came back because there’s something I promised to do,” he says. “I forgot myself in the Cavern.” He walks over to one of the long flat boxes on the table and lifts off the lid. “While I’m here, I can show you how to find the rebellion.”

  My fingers tingle in anticipation and I leave the poem behind on the table. At last. Someone who knows something real about the Rising. “Thank you,” I say. “Will you come with us?” I can’t bear to think of him alone.

  Hunter looks up from the box. “There used to be a map here,” he says. “Someone’s taken it.”

  “Indie,” I say. It must be. “She left a little while ago. I don’t know where she went.”

  “There’s a light in one of the houses,” Hunter says.

  “I’ll come with you,” I say, darting a glance over at where Eli sleeps in the corner of the cave.

  “He’ll be safe,” Hunter says. “The Society isn’t here yet.”

  I follow him out of the cave and down the rain-slicked path, eager to find Indie and take back what she’s hidden from us.

  But when we open the door to the little lit house, it’s Ky we see, firelight flickering on his face as he burns the map of where I wanted to go.



  I see Cassia first, and then Hunter behind her, and I know I’ve lost. Even if the map burns, Hunter can tell her where to find the Rising.

  She snatches the map from me and throws it to the ground, stomping on it to put out the flames. The edges crumple into fragments of black ash but most of the map is saved.