Matched, p.32
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       Matched, p.32

         Part #1 of Matched series by Ally Condie
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Page 33

 

  “Tel me more,” Ky says.

  “I wore a green dress. ”

  “Green,” he says, glancing back at me. “I’ve never seen you in green. ”

  “You’ve never seen me in anything but brown or black,” I tel him. “Brown plainclothes. Black swimwear. ” I flush.

  “I take back what I said,” he says later, as the whistle blows. “I have seen you in green. I see you in green everyday, here in the trees. ” The next day, I ask him, “Can you tel me why you cried in the showing that day?”

  “You saw me?”

  I nod.

  “I couldn’t help it. ” His gaze is distant, hard now. “I didn’t know they had footage like that. It could have been my vil age. It was definitely one of the Outer Provinces. ”

  “Wait. ” I think of the people, dark shadows running. “You’re saying this was—”

  “Real,” he finished. “Yes. Those aren’t actors. It’s not a stage. It happens in al the Outer Provinces, Cassia. When I left, it was happening more and more. ”

  Oh no.

  The whistle wil blow soon, I can tel . He knows, too. But I reach for him and hold on here in the forest where the trees screen us and the birdcal s cover our voices. The entire Hil is complicit in our embrace.

  I pul away first because I have something to write before our time ends. I’ve been practicing in air, but I want to carve in earth.

  “Close your eyes,” I say to Ky, and I bend down, his breathing above me while he waits. “There,” I say, and he looks at what I’ve written.

  I love you.

  I feel embarrassed, as though I am a child who has tapped out these words on her scribe and held them out for a boy in her First School class to read. My writing is awkward and straggly and not smooth like Ky’s.

  Why are some things easier to write than say?

  Stil , I feel undeniably brave and vulnerable as I stand there in the forest with words that I cannot take back. My first written words, other than our names. It’s not much of a poem, but I think Grandfather would understand.

  Ky looks at me. For the first time since the showing, I see tears in his eyes.

  “You don’t have to write it back,” I say, feeling self-conscious. “I just wanted you to know. ”

  “I don’t want to write it back,” he tel s me. And then he says it, right out there on the Hil , and of al the words I have hidden and saved and treasured, these are the ones I wil never forget, the most important ones of al .

  “I love you. ”

  Lightning. Once it has forked, hot-white, from sky to earth, there is no going back.

  It’s time. I feel it, I know it. My eyes on him, his on me, and both of us breathing, watching, tired of waiting. Ky closes his eyes, but mine are stil open. What wil it feel like, his lips on mine? Like a secret told, a promise kept? Like that line in the poem—a shower of all my days—silvery rain fal ing al around me, where the lightning meets the earth?

  The whistle blows below us and the moment breaks. We are safe.

  For now.

  CHAPTER 26

  We hurry back down from the Hil . I see glimpses of white through the trees, and I know they are not the birds we saw earlier. These white figures aren’t made for flight. “Officials,” I say to Ky, and he nods.

  We report to the Officer, who looks a bit preoccupied with the visitors waiting for us. I wonder again how he ended up with this assignment. Even supervising the marking of the big Hil seems like a waste of time for someone of his rank. As I turn away, I see al the lines that discipline has etched in his face and I realize again that he is not very young.

  The Officials, I discover when I get closer, are ones I’ve seen before. The ones who tested my sorting abilities. The blond female Official takes charge this time; apparently this is her portion of the test to administer. “Hel o, Cassia,” she says. “We’re here to take you to your on-site portion of the sorting test. Can you come with us now?” She glances over at the Officer with a touch of deference in her look.

  “Go on,” the Officer says, glancing at the others who have returned from the Hil . “You can al go. We’l meet here again tomorrow. ” A few of the other hikers look at me with interest but not concern; many of us await our final work positions and Officials always seem to be a part of that process. “We’l take the air train,” the blond Official says to me. “The test wil only last a few hours. You should be home in time for your evening meal. ”

  We walk toward the air-train stop, two Officials on my right and one on my left. There’s no escaping them; I don’t dare look back at Ky. Not even when we climb onto the train he takes into the City. When he walks past me, his “hel o” sounds perfect: friendly, unconcerned. He continues on down the length of the car and sits next to a window. Anyone watching would be convinced that he doesn’t feel anything at al for me. He’s almost convinced me.

  We don’t get off the air train at the City Hal stop, or at any of the other stops in the City proper. We keep going. More and more blue-clothed workers climb on, laughing and talking. One of them cuffs Ky on the shoulder and Ky laughs. I don’t see any other Officials or anyone else wearing student plainclothes like me. The four of us sit together in the sea of blue, the train twisting and turning like a river running, and I know it’s hard to fight against a current as strong as the Society.

  I look out the window and hope with al my heart that this isn’t what I think it is. That we aren’t going to the same place. That I won’t be sorting Ky.

  Is this a trick? Are they watching us? That’s a stupid question, I think to myself. Of course they’re watching us.

  Hulking gray buildings crowd around in this part of town; I see signs, but the air train moves too fast for me to read them. But it’s clear where we are: the Industrial District.

  Up ahead, I see Ky shift, stand. He doesn’t have to reach up for the grips hanging from the ceiling; he keeps himself level and balanced as the train slides to a stop. For a moment, I think everything wil be fine. The Officials and I wil keep going, past these gray buildings, beyond the airport with its landing strips and bright red traffic flags whipping in the wind like kites, like markers on the Hil . We’l go on out to the Farmlands, where they’l have me sort nothing more important than a crop or some sheep.

  Then the Officials next to me stand up and I have no choice but to fol ow them. Don’t panic, I tel myself. Look at all these buildings. Look at all these workers. You could be sorting anything or anyone. Don’t jump to conclusions.

  Ky doesn’t look to see if I’ve gotten off, too. I study his back and his hands to see if I can find any of the tension running through him that runs through me. But his muscles are relaxed and his stride even as he walks around to the side of the building where the employees enter. Many of the other workers wearing blue plainclothes go through the same door. Ky’s hands are loose at his sides, open. Empty.

  As Ky disappears into the building, the blond Official leads me around to the front, to a kind of antechamber. The other Officials hand her datatags and she places them behind my ear, at my pulse points on my wrists, under the neck of my shirt. She’s quick and efficient about it; now that I’m being monitored, I try even harder to relax. I don’t want to seem unusual y nervous. I breathe deep and I change the words of the poem. I tel myself to go gentle, just for now.

  “This is the food distribution block of the City,” the Official informs me. “As we mentioned before, the goal of the real-life sort is to see if you can sort real people and situations within certain parameters. We want to see if you can help the Government improve function and efficiency. ”

  “I understand,” I say, although I’m not sure I do.

  “Then let’s get started. ” She pushes open the doors and another Official comes to greet us. He’s apparently the Official in charge of this building, and the orange and yel ow bars on his shirt mean he’s involved in one of the most important Departments of al , the Nutrition De
partment. “How many do you have today?” he asks, and I realize that I’m not the only one taking the test and completing real-life sorts here. The thought makes me relax a little.

  “One,” she says, “but this is our high scorer. ”

  “Excel ent,” he says. “Let me know when you finish. ” He strides away and I stand stil , overwhelmed by the sights and smel s around me. And by the heat.

  We stand in a gaping space, a chamber larger than the gymnasium at Second School. This room looks like a steel box: metal floors dotted with drains, gray-painted concrete wal s, and stainless-steel appliances lining the sides and bisecting the middle of the room in rows. Steam mists and writhes around the room. Vents at the top and sides of the building open to the outside, but there are no windows. The appliances, the foilware trays, the steaming hot water coming out of the faucets: Everything is gray.

  Except for the dark-blue workers and their burned-red hands.

  A whistle blows and a new stream of workers comes in from the left while the other workers exit on the right. Their bodies sag, tired, weighted.

  They al wipe their brows and leave their work without a backward glance.

  “The new workers have been in a sterilization chamber to remove al outside contaminants,” the Official tel s me conversational y. “That’s where they pick up their numbers and adhere them to their uniforms. This new shift is the one you’l be concerned with. ” She gestures up and I notice several outlook points throughout the room: smal metal towers with Officials standing at the top. There are three towers; the one in the middle of the floor is empty. “We’l be up there. ”

  I fol ow her up the metal stairs, the kind that we have at air-train stops. But these stairs end on a smal platform with barely enough space for the four of us to stand. Already the gray-haired Official perspires heavily and his face is red. My hair sticks to the back of my neck. And al we have to do is stand and watch. We don’t even have to work.

  I knew Ky’s job was hard but I had no idea.

  Tubs and tubs of dirty containers stand next to smal stations with sinks and recycling tubes. Through a large opening at the end of the building, the soiled foilware arrives in a never-ending stream, flowing from the recycling bins in our residences and meal hal s. The workers wear clear protective gloves, but I don’t see how the plastic or latex doesn’t melt into their skin as they spray off the foilware containers with hot water. Then they put the clean foilware down into the recycling tubes.

  It goes on and on and on, a steady flow of steam and scalding water and foilware. My mind threatens to glaze over and shut down as it does when I’m confronted with a particularly difficult sort on the screen and I feel overwhelmed. But these aren’t numbers on the screen. These are people.

  This is Ky.

  So I force myself to stay clear and focused. I force myself to watch those bent backs and those burning hands and the vastness of al the refuse sliding silver along the tracks.

  One of the workers raises his hand, and an Official comes down from his perch to confer with the worker. He gives a foilware container to the Official, who scans the bar code on the side of the container with his datapod. After a moment, he takes the foilware container with him and disappears into an office at the edge of the large open room. The worker is already back at work.

 
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