Crossed, Page 25Ally Condie
“No,” I say, my voice breaking. “I left them on the ground and ran.”
She wraps her arms around me and speaks in my ear. Words just for me—the poetry of I love you—to keep me warm in the cold. With them she turns me back from ash and nothing into flesh and blood.
Do not go gentle,” I tell him, one last time, for now.
Ky smiles then, a smile I’ve never seen before. It’s the kind of daring, reckless smile that could make people follow him straight into a firing, a flood. “There’s no danger of that,” he says.
I put my hands on him, run my fingers over his eyelids, find his lips, meet them with mine. I kiss the plane of his cheekbones. The salt of his tears tastes like the sea and I don’t see the shore.
He’s gone, in the trees, and I’m in the river, and there’s no time left.
“Do what I say,” Indie tells me, shoving an oar into my hands and yelling over the sound of the water rushing near us. “If I say left, paddle on your left. If I say right, paddle right. If I tell you to lean, do it.” The beam of her headlamp glares in my eyes and I’m relieved when she turns to face forward. Tears stream down my cheeks from the farewell and the light.
“Now,” Indie says, and we both push the boat away from the bank. We sit suspended for a moment and then the stream finds us, pushes us along.
“Right,” Indie calls.
Scattered snowflakes star our faces as we ride, little white dashes in the light from our headlamps.
“If we ever flip over, stay with the boat,” Indie yells back to me.
She can only see far enough ahead to have time for one fast call, one quick decision; she’s sorting in a way I never could, with spray in her face and water shining silver and black branches tearing at us from the banks, broken trees looming at us from the center of the stream.
I copy her, follow her, shadow her strokes. And I wonder how the Society ever caught her that day on the ocean. She is a Pilot, on this river, tonight.
Hours or minutes, they don’t matter, it’s only changes in the water and turns in the stream, shouts from Indie and oars flicking water as we move them from side to side.
I glance up, once, aware that something is happening above me; night lifting, the earliest part of morning that is still black, but black that feels like it’s rubbing off around the edges, and I miss the moment Indie screams at me to paddle right and then we’re over, over in the stream.
Cold dark water, poisoned from the Society’s spheres, rushes over me. I see nothing and feel everything, freezing water, driftwood battering me. It’s the moment of my own death, and then something else hits my arm.
Stay with the boat.
My fingers scrabble along the edge, and I find one of the grips and hold on, pulling myself to the surface. The water tastes bitter; I spit it out and cling tight. I’m inside the boat, under it, trapped and saved in a bubble of air. Something tears my leg. My headlamp is gone.
It’s like the Cavern, I’m caught but alive.
“You will,” Ky said then, but he’s not here now.
Suddenly I remember the day I met him, that day at the clear blue pool, when he and Xander both went under but came back up.
The boat shoots to the side and the water goes still.
A light shines in. Indie, pushing the boat up. She held on to the outside and somehow she still has her headlamp. “We’re in a smooth spot,” Indie says fiercely. “It won’t last. Get out here with me and push.”
I swim out under the side. The water is black and glassy, puddled for a moment in a wide place in the stream, dammed somehow from below. “Did you hold on to your oar?” Indie asks, and to my surprise, I did. “On three,” Indie says, and she counts, and we flip the boat back over and grab again for the sides. She flops, fast, like a fish, into the boat and grabs my oar to pull me over, too.
“You held on,” she says, “I thought I was finally done with you,” and she laughs, and so do I, both of us laughing until we hit the next wave of river and Indie screams, wild and triumphant. I join in.
“The real danger begins now,” Indie says when the sun comes up, and I know she’s right. The river is still fast; we can see better, but we can be seen, and we are exhausted. The heavier cottonwoods here have been choked out by thinner, less concealing trees that grow spindly, grayish-green, and snarled with thorns. “We have to stay close to the trees for cover,” Indie says, “but if we’re going too fast and we hit those thorns, they’ll finish our boat.”
We pass a huge dead cottonwood with scaly brownish bark that has fallen over, tired and done after years of holding on to the bank. I hope Hunter and Eli are in the mountains, I think, and that Ky has cover in the trees.
Then we hear it. Something overhead.
Without saying a word, we both pull closer to the bank. Indie reaches with her oar into the thorny branches but it slips and doesn’t hold. We start to drift and I stab my oar into the water, pushing us back.
The ship overhead flies closer.
Indie reaches out and grabs hold of the thorny branches with her bare hand. I gasp. She hangs on and I jump out and pull the boat over to the side, hearing the rasp of the thorny bushes along the plastic. Please don’t break, I think. Indie lets go, her hand bleeding, and the two of us hold our breath.
They pass over. They haven’t seen us.
“I’d like a green tablet right now,” Indie says, and I start laughing in relief. But the tablets are gone, along with everything else we had, swept away when we flipped in the water. Indie had tied our packs to one of the boat’s handles but the water tore them away in spite of her careful knots; some branch or tree cut right through the rope and I should be grateful it wasn’t our flesh or the plastic of the boat.
Once I’m back inside, we keep close to the bank. The sun climbs high. No one else flies over.
I think of my second lost compass sinking to the bottom of the river, like the stone it was before Ky changed it.
Evening. The reeds at the edge of the stream whisper and hush in the breeze, and in the traces of the sunset in a high and lovely sky, I see the first star of the evening.
Then I see it shining on the ground, too. Or not the ground, but in water that stretches out dark in front of us.
“This,” Indie says, “is not the ocean.”
The star flickers out. Something has passed over it, either in the sky or in the water.
“But it’s so huge,” I say. “What else could it be?”
“A lake,” Indie says.
A strange hum comes across the water.
It’s a boat, coming fast for us. There is no way to outrun it and we are both so tired we don’t even try. We sit there together, hungry and aching and adrift.
“I hope it’s the Rising,” Indie says.
“It has to be,” I say.
Suddenly, as the humming draws closer, Indie grabs my arm. “I would have chosen blue for my dress,” she tells me. “I would have looked right into his eyes, whoever he was. I wouldn’t have been afraid.”
“I know,” I say.
Indie nods and turns back to face what’s coming. She sits tall. I picture the blue silk—the exact color of my mother’s dress—blowing around Indie. I picture her standing by the sea.
She is beautiful.
Everyone has something of beauty about them. In the beginning for me, it was Ky’s eyes I noticed, and I love them still. But loving lets you look, and look, and look again. You notice the back of a hand, the turn of a head, the way of a walk. When you first love, you look blind and you see it all as the glorious, beloved whole, or a beautiful sum of beautiful parts. But when you see the one you love as pieces, as whys—why he walks like this, why he closes his eyes like that—you can love those parts, too, and it’s a love at once more complicated and more complete.
The other boat comes closer and I see that the people on board wear waterproof gear. Is it to avoid getting wet?
Or do they know the river is poisoned? I wrap my arms around myself, suddenly feeling contaminated, though the skin hasn’t burned from our bones and we’ve resisted the temptation of drinking the water down.
“Put your hands up,” Indie says. “Then they can see we don’t have anything.” She puts her oar down across her lap and raises her hands in the air. The gesture is so vulnerable, so uncharacteristic of her, that it takes me a moment to follow her lead.
She doesn’t wait for them to speak first. “We’ve escaped,” she calls out. “We’ve come to join you.”
Their boat draws closer. I look at them, taking in their slick black clothes and their number: nine of them. Two of us. They stare back. Do they note our Society coats, our battered boat, our empty hands?
“Come to join whom?” one asks.
Indie doesn’t hesitate. “The Rising,” she says.
I run. Sleep. Eat a little. Drink from one of the canteens. When it empties I throw it to the side. No point in filling it with poisoned water.
I run again. On and on along the bank of the river, keeping to the trees when I can.
I run for her. For them. For me.
The sun shines down on the stream. The rain has stopped, but the broken pools are connected again.
My father taught me to swim one summer when we had more rain than usual and some of the holes in the land became pools for a week or two. He taught me how to hold my breath, stay afloat, and open my eyes underneath the blue-green water.
The pool in Oria was different. Made of white cement instead of red rock. You could see all the way to the bottom in most places, unless the angle of the sun blinded you. The water and the edges met in neat lines. Kids jumped off the diving board. It seemed that the whole Borough came to swim that day, but it was Cassia at the side of the water who caught my eye.
It was the way she sat, so still. She seemed almost suspended while everyone else called and screamed and ran. For a moment—the first time since I’d come to the Society—I felt clear. I felt rested. When I saw her there, something in me felt right again.
Then she stood up and I could tell from the tightness in her back that she was worried. She stared at a spot in the pool where a boy swam deep underwater. I walked over to her as fast as I could and asked, “Is he drowning?”
“I can’t tell,” she said.
So I went under to try to help Xander.
The chemicals in the pool burned my eyes and I had to close them for a moment. At first the pain and the way the bright light made it seem red behind my eyelids made me think that I was bleeding and going blind. I put my hands up to check but I only felt water, not blood. My panic embarrassed me. Fighting the pain, I pulled my hands away and opened up my eyes again to look around.
I saw legs and bodies and people swimming and then I stopped looking for someone drowning. All I could think was—
—there’s nothing here.
I’d known the pool was clean and neat but seeing it from below was so strange. Even in the rain pools that only lasted for a little while life took hold. Moss grew. Water bugs skittered in the sun along the surface until the pools dried up. But there was nothing along the bottom of this place but cement.
I forgot where I was and tried to breathe.
When I came up choking I could tell that she saw the differences in me. Her eyes rested on the scrape on my face from the Outer Provinces. But it was as though she was a little like me. She noticed the differences and then she decided what mattered and what didn’t. She laughed with me then, and I loved the way the laugh reached her green eyes and crinkled the skin around them.
I was a kid. I knew I loved her but I didn’t know what it meant. Over the years everything changed. She did. I did.
I hide the tubes and the papers in two different places. It’s impossible to know if the tubes are still viable outside of their cases in the Cavern—but Eli and Cassia trusted me. In case of flood, I put the tubes up high in the knot of an old cottonwood tree.
The papers won’t have to stay hidden for long so I bury them low in the ground and mark the place with a rock I carve. I’m pleased with the pattern. It could be waves in the sea. Currents in a river. Ripples in the sand.
Scales on a fish.
I close my eyes for a moment and let myself remember the people who are gone.
Rainbows glimmered in the stream. Golden grass tangled along the bank where Vick ran and thought about the girl he loved. His boots left unnotched prints in the earth.
The sun set over a land that my mother found beautiful. Her son painted next to her with his hands dipped in water. Her husband kissed her neck.
My father came out of a canyon. While he was inside, he’d seen people growing and harvesting crops of their own. They knew how to write. He wanted to bring all of that to the people he loved.
The lake is only a few hundred yards away. I leave the cover of the trees.
After coming across so many dead in the Carving, so many still, silent tubes in the cave, the scene of life in the camp before me makes my heart pound with joy. All these people living, moving. In the Carving I could almost believe we were the last people in the world. As the people in the other boat tow ours to the shore of the lake, I glance over at Indie and she smiles, too. Our hair streams out behind us and our oars lie across our laps. We’ve made it, I think. At last.
“Two more,” one of the men in the boat in front of us calls out, and in spite of my happiness at finding the Rising I wish that he had been able to call out three. Soon, I tell myself. Ky will be here soon.
Our boat scrapes along the shore and I realize that it’s not our boat any longer; it belongs to the Rising now. “You’ve reached us just in time,” says one of the people who towed us in. He holds out his black-gloved hand to help us. “We’re about to move. It’s not safe here anymore. The Society knows where we are.”
Ky. Will he make it in time? “When?” I ask.
“As soon as we can,” the man says. “Come with me.” He leads the way to a small cinder-block building near the edge of the water. The metal door is closed tight but he knocks loudly and it opens immediately.
“We found two on the lake,” he says, and the three people inside stand up, the metal of their old Society-issue chairs scraping as they push back from a table full of maps and miniports. They wear green plainclothes and their faces are covered but I can see their eyes.
“Get them sorted,” one of them says, a female Officer. “You’ve been in the river?” she asks us.
“We’ll have to have you decontaminated,” she says. “Take them there first.” Then she smiles at us. “Welcome to the Rising.”
As we leave the tiny building the three Officers watch us. Two have brown eyes, one has blue. One female. Two males. All with fatigue lines around their eyes. From working too long? Doubling as Society and Rising?
They’re going to sort me, but I can do the same.
After we’ve washed, a young woman swabs our arms and checks for contamination. “You’re clean,” she tells us. “It’s a good thing it rained and diluted the poison.” Then she leads us through the camp. I try to take in what I can while we walk but don’t see much more besides other cinder-block structures, little tents, and one enormous building that must house something huge.
Once we’re inside another small building, the woman opens one of the doors that line the hallway. “You’ll be in here,” she says to Indie, “and you, in here.” She opens a second door for me.
They’re going to split us up. And we were so intent on survival, we didn’t even think about what we should say.
I remember the prisoner’s dilemma. This is where they catch you; how they tell if your story is true. I should have assumed the Rising might use it, too.
There’s no time to decide. Indie looks at me and gives me a little smile, and I remember when she helped me hide the tablet
s on the air ship. We managed to keep things hidden before. We can do it again. I smile back at her.
I just hope we both think the same things should stay secret.
“State your full name, please,” a pleasant-voiced man says.
“Cassia Maria Reyes.”
Nothing. No flicker. No sign of recognition at the name, no mention of Grandfather or the Pilot. I knew better than to expect it, but I still feel a tiny chill of disappointment.
Decide, quickly, how much to tell. “Citizen, as far as I know.”
“How did you come to be in the Outer Provinces?”
I will keep Grandfather and his poems out of it; the Archivists, too. “I was sent here by mistake,” I lie. “An Officer in my work camp told me to board the air ship with the other girls and wouldn’t listen to me when I told him I was a Citizen.”
“And then?” the man says.
“Then we ran to the Carving. A boy came with us but he died.” I swallow. “We came to a settlement but it was empty.”
“What did you do there?”
“We found a boat,” I say. “And a map. I read the code. It told us how to find you.”
“How did you learn about the Rising?”
“In a poem. Then again in the settlement.”
“Did anyone else come with you out of the Carving?”
The questions come too fast to think. Is it better to let them know about Ky? Or not? My hesitation, small enough, has given it away, and I answer honestly because I’m preparing to lie about something else. “Another boy,” I say. “He was from the villages, too. We couldn’t all fit in the boat, so he’s coming on foot.”