Matched, p.3
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       Matched, p.3

         Part #1 of Matched series by Ally Condie
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Page 4


  I look at the seed resting in the palm of my hand. There is stil mystery in it after al , in that little brown core. I’m not sure what to do with it, so I tuck it into my pocket next to my tablet container.

  The almost-snow reminds me of a line from a poem we studied this year in Language and Literacy: “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening. ” It is one of my favorites of al the Hundred Poems, the ones our Society chose to keep, back when they decided our culture was too cluttered. They created commissions to choose the hundred best of everything: Hundred Songs, Hundred Paintings, Hundred Stories, Hundred Poems. The rest were eliminated. Gone forever. For the best, the Society said, and everyone believed because it made sense. How can we appreciate anything fully when overwhelmed with too much?

  My own great-grandmother was one of the cultural historians who helped select the Hundred Poems almost seventy years ago. Grandfather has told me the story a thousand times, how his mother had to help decide which poems to keep and which to lose forever. She used to sing him parts of the poems as lul abies. She whispered, sang them, he said, and I tried to remember them after she had gone.

  After she had gone. Tomorrow, my grandfather wil go, too.

  As we leave the last of the cottonwood seeds behind, I think about that poem and how much I like it. I like the words deep and sleep and the way they rhyme and repeat; I think to myself that this poem would be a good lul aby if you listened to the rhythm instead of the words. Because if you listened to the words you wouldn’t feel rested: Miles to go before I sleep.

  “It’s a numbers sort today,” my supervisor, Norah, tel s me.

  I sigh a little but Norah doesn’t respond. She scans my card and hands it back. She doesn’t ask about the Match Banquet, even though she has to know from my information update that it happened last night. But that’s nothing new. Norah barely interacts with me because I’m one of the best sorters. In fact, it’s been almost three months since my last error, which was the last time the two of us had a real conversation.

  “Wait,” Norah says as I turn toward my station. “Your scancard indicates that it’s almost time for your formal sorting test. ” I nod. I’ve been thinking about this for months; not as much as I thought about my Match Banquet, but often. Even though some of these number sorts are boring, sorting itself can lead to much more interesting work positions. Perhaps I could be a Restoration supervisor, like my father. When he was my age, his work activity was information sorting, too. And so was Grandfather’s, and of course there is my great-grandmother, the one who participated in one of the greatest sortings of al when she was on the Hundred Committee.

  The people who oversee the Matching also get their start in sorting, but I’m not interested in that. I like my stories and information one step removed; I don’t want to be in charge of sorting real people.

  “Make sure you’re ready,” Norah says, but both she and I know that I already am.

  Yel ow light slants through the windows near our stations in the sorting center. I cast a shadow across the other workers’ stations as I pass by. No one looks up.

  I slip into my tiny station, which is just wide enough for a table and a chair and a sorting screen. The thin gray wal s rise up on either side of me and I can’t see anyone else. We are like the microcards in the research library at Second School—each of us neatly tucked into a slot. The government has computers that can do sorts much faster than we can, of course, but we’re stil important. You never know when technology might fail.

  That’s what happened to the society before ours. Everyone had technology, too much of it, and the consequences were disastrous. Now, we have the basic technology we need—ports, readers, scribes—and our information intake is much more specific. Nutrition specialists don’t need to know how to program air trains, for example, and programmers, in turn, don’t need to know how to prepare food. Such specialization keeps people from becoming overwhelmed. We don’t need to understand everything. And, as the Society reminds us, there’s a difference between knowledge and technology. Knowledge doesn’t fail us.

  I slide my scancard and the sort begins. Even though I like word association or picture or sentence sorts the best, I’m good at the number ones, too. The screen tel s me what patterns I’m supposed to find and the numbers begin to scrol up on the screen, like little white soldiers on a black field waiting for me to mow them down. I touch each one and begin to sort them out, pul ing them aside into different boxes. The tapping of my fingers makes a low, soft sound, almost as silent as snow fal ing.

  And I create a storm. The numbers fly into their spots like flakes driven by the wind.

  Halfway through, the pattern we are looking for changes. The system tracks how soon we notice the changes and how quickly we adapt our sorts.

  You never know when a change wil happen. Two minutes later, the pattern changes again, and once more I catch it on the very first line of numbers.

  I don’t know how, but I always anticipate the shift in pattern before it happens.

  When I sort, there is only time to think about what I see in front of me. So there in my little gray space, I don’t think about Xander. I don’t wish for the feel of the green dress against my skin or the taste of chocolate cake on my tongue. I don’t think of my grandfather eating his last meal tomorrow night at the Final Banquet. I don’t think of snow in June or other things that cannot be, yet somehow are. I don’t picture the sun dazzling me or the moon cooling me or the maple tree in our yard turning gold, green, red. I wil think of al of those things and more later. But not when I sort.

  I sort and sort and sort until there is no data left for me. Everything is clear on my screen. I am the one who makes it go blank.

  When I ride the air train back to Mapletree Borough, the cottonwood seeds are gone. I want to tel my mother about them, but when I get home she and my father and Bram have already left for their leisure hours. A message for me blinks on the port: We’re sorry to have missed you, Cassia, it flashes. Have a good night.

  A beep sounds in the kitchen; my meal has arrived. The foilware container slides through the food delivery slot. I pick it up quickly, in time to hear the sound of the nutrition vehicle trundling along its track behind the houses in the Borough.

  My dinner steams as I open it up. We must have a new nutrition personnel director. Before, the food was always lukewarm when it arrived. Now it’s piping hot. I eat in a hurry, burning my mouth a little, because I know what I want to do with this rare empty time in this almost-vacant house. I’m never real y alone; the port hums in the background, keeping track, keeping watch. But that’s al right. I need it for what I’m going to do. I want to look at the microcard without my parents or Bram glancing over my shoulder. I want to read more about Xander before I see him tonight.

  When I insert the microcard, the humming takes on a more purposeful sound. The portscreen brightens and my heart beats faster in anticipation, even though I know Xander so wel . What has the Society decided I should know about him, the person I’l spend most of my life with?

  Do I know everything about him as I think I do, or is there something I’ve missed?

  “Cassia Reyes, the Society is pleased to present you with your Match. ”

  I smile as Xander’s face appears on the portscreen immediately fol owing the recorded message. It’s a good picture of him. As always, his smile looks bright and real, his blue eyes kind. I study his face closely, pretending that I’ve never seen this picture before; that I have only had a glimpse of him once, last night at the Banquet. I study the planes of his face, the look of his lips. He is handsome. I’d never dared think that he might be my Match, of course, but now that it’s happened I am interested. Intrigued. A little scared about how this might change our friendship, but mostly just happy.

  I reach up to touch the words Courtship Guidelines on the screen but before I do Xander’s face darkens and then disappears. The portscreen beeps and the voice says again, “Cassia
Reyes, the Society is pleased to present you with your Match. ” My heart stops, and I can’t believe what I see. A face comes back into view on the port in front of me.

  It is not Xander.


  What?” Completely startled, I touch the screen and the face dissolves under my fingertips, pixelating into specks that look like dust. Words appear, but before I can read them the screen goes completely blank. Again.

  “What’s going on?” I say out loud.

  The portscreen stays blank. I feel blank, too. This is a thousand times worse than the empty screen last night. I knew what it meant then. I have no idea what it means now. I’ve never heard of this happening.

  I don’t understand. The Society doesn’t make mistakes.

  But what else could this be? No one has two Matches.

  “Cassia?” Xander cal s to me through the door.

  “I’m coming,” I cal out, tearing the microcard from the port and shoving it into my pocket. I take one deep breath, and then I open the door.

  “So, I learned from your microcard that you like cycling,” Xander says formal y as I close the door behind me, making me laugh a little in spite of what just happened. I hate cycling the most out of al the exercise options, and he knows it. We argue about it al the time; I think it’s stupid to go riding on something that doesn’t move, spinning your wheels endlessly. He points out that I like to run on the tracker, which is almost the same thing.

  “It’s different,” I tel him, but I can’t explain why.

  “Did you spend al day staring at my face on the portscreen?” he asks. He’s stil joking, but suddenly I can’t catch my breath. He viewed his microcard, too. Was my face the one he saw? It feels so strange to be hiding something, especial y from Xander.

  “Of course not,” I say, trying to tease back. “It’s Saturday, remember? I had work to do. ”

  “I did, too, but that didn’t stop me. I read al your stats and reviewed al the courtship guidelines. ” He unknowingly throws me a lifeline with those words. I am not drowning in worry anymore. I am neck deep and it stil washes over me in cold waves, but now I can breathe. Xander stil thinks we are Matched. Nothing strange happened to him when he viewed his microcard. That’s something, at least.

  “You read al the guidelines?”

  “Of course. Didn’t you?”

  “Not yet. ” I feel stupid admitting this, but Xander laughs again.

  “They’re not very interesting,” he says. “Except for one. ” He winks at me significantly.

  “Oh?” I say, distracted. I see other youth our age mingling and gathering on our street, walking to the game center like us. They’re waving, cal ing, wearing the same clothes we wear. But there’s a difference tonight. Some are watching. Some are watched: me, and Xander.

  The others’ eyes glance at us, hold, flicker away, look back.

  I’m not used to it. Xander and I are normal, healthy citizens, part of this group. Not outsiders.

  But I feel separated now, as though a clear thin wal rises up distinctly between myself and those staring at me. We can see each other, but we can’t cross over.

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