Matched, p.37
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       Matched, p.37

         Part #1 of Matched series by Ally Condie
Page 38


  The streetlights seem dimmer; the Officials’ coats dul and gray. They walk fast, a figure between them. Behind them, a few more people.


  And someone else, screaming. Even in the muted glow of the streetlights, I recognize her. Aida Markham. Someone who has borne pain before and who bears it again now as she chases the figure surrounded by Officials and Officers.



  For the first time in my life, I run as fast as I can in public. No tracker to slow me, no branches to stop me. My feet fly over grass, over cement. I cut across the lawns of my neighbors and through their flowers, trying to catch up to the lead group moving toward the air-train stop. An Officer detaches from them and hurries toward Aida. She’s drawing too much attention; other houses have open doors and people standing on the steps watching.

  I run faster; my feet hit the sharp, cool grass of Em’s lawn. A few houses more.

  “Cassia?” Em cal s from her doorway. “Where are you going?”

  Ky hasn’t heard me over Aida’s screams. They’re almost to the steps that go up to the air-train platform. When they walk under the light at the bottom, I see they’ve locked Ky’s hands together.

  Just like they did in the picture.

  “Ky!” I scream again, and his head snaps up. He turns his face toward me, but I am not close enough to see his eyes. I have to see his eyes.

  Another Officer breaks away from the group and heads in my direction. I should have waited until I was closer before I cal ed out, but I am stil fast.

  I’m almost there.

  Part of my mind tries to process what is happening. Are they taking him away for his new work position? If so, why so early in the morning? Why is Aida so upset? Wouldn’t she be happy to know he has a new chance, something better than washing foilware? Why is he wearing handlocks?

  Did he try to fight them?

  Did they see the kiss? Is that why this is happening?

  I see the air train sliding along the tracks toward the station, but it’s not the air train we usual y ride, the silvery-white one. It’s the charcoal-gray long-distance train, the kind that only departs from the City Center. I can hear it coming, too; it’s heavier, louder, than the white one.

  Something isn’t right.

  And if I didn’t know that already, the word Ky cal s to me as they push him up the steps confirms everything. Because there in front of everyone, al his survival instincts leave him and a different instinct takes over.

  He cal s my name. “Cassia!”

  In that one word, I hear it al : That he loves me. That he’s afraid. And I hear the good-bye he was trying to tel me yesterday on the Hil . He knew.

  He’s not just leaving for a new work position; he’s going somewhere and he doesn’t think he’l come back.

  I hear footsteps behind me, soft on the grass and footsteps in front of me, hard on the metal. I glance back and see an Officer hurrying toward me; forward, and an Official rushes down the metal stairs. Aida’s no longer screaming; they want to stop me the way they stopped her.

  I can’t get to him. Not this way. Not now. I can’t push past the Officer on the stairs. I’m not strong enough to fight them or fast enough to outrun them—

  Do not go gentle.

  I don’t know if Ky speaks the words to my mind somehow or if I think them to myself or if Grandfather might be out there somewhere in this almost-night, cal ing words on the wind, words with wings like angels.

  I veer to the side of the platform, feet fast on the cement. Ky sees what I’m doing and he twists away, a sharp movement that earns him a second of freedom before their hands clamp down on him again.

  It is enough.

  For a moment, he leans over the edge of the lighted platform and I see what I need to see. I see his eyes, bright with life and fire, and I know he won’t stop fighting. Even if it’s the kind of quiet fight on the inside that you can’t always see. And I won’t stop fighting either.

  The cal s of the Officials and the sound of the air train sliding to a stop wil cover my words. Ky won’t be able to hear anything I say.

  So in the middle of al the noise, I point to the sky. I hope he understands what I mean, because I mean so many things: My heart wil always fly his name. I won’t go gentle. I’l find a way to soar like the angels in the stories and I wil find him.

  And I know he understands as he looks straight at me, deep into my eyes. His lips move silently, and I know what he says: the words of a poem that only two people in the world know.

  Tears wel up but I blink them away. Because if there is one moment in my life that I want to see clearly, this is it.

  The Officer reaches me first, grabbing my arm and pul ing me back.

  “Leave her alone,” my father says. I had no idea he could run so fast. “She’s done nothing. ” My mother and Bram hurry across the grass toward us. Xander and his family fol ow behind.

  “She’s causing a disturbance,” the Officer says grimly.

  “Of course she is,” my father retorts. “They’ve taken her childhood friend away in the early hours of the morning while his mother screams. What’s going on?”

  I hear how loud my father’s voice is as he dares to ask this question, and I dart a glance over at my mother to see how she feels about this. Her face shows nothing but pride as she looks at him.

  To my surprise, Xander’s father speaks up. “Where are they taking the boy?”

  A white-coated Official takes charge, his voice loud so that everyone gathering can hear. His words are clipped and formal. “I’m sorry your morning has been disrupted. This young man received a new work position and we were merely picking him up to transport him. Since the position is outside of Oria Province, his mother became overwrought and upset. ”

  But why all the Officers? Why all the Officials? Why the handlocks? The Official’s explanation makes no sense, but after a short pause, everyone nods, accepting it. Except Xander. He opens his mouth as if to speak but then he glances over at me and closes it.

  Al the adrenaline from trying to catch up to Ky leaves me and a horrible realization begins to sink in. Wherever Ky went, it’s because of me.

  Because of my sort, or because of my kiss. Either way, this is my fault.

  “Lies,” Patrick Markham says. Everyone turns to look at him. Even standing there in his sleepclothes, his face drawn and thin from al he has suffered, he stil has a quiet dignity—a quality no one can touch. It is something I have only seen in one other person. Though Patrick and Ky are not related by blood, they both possess the same kind of strength.

  “The Officials told Ky and other workers,” he says, looking at me, “that they’d been given a new work position. A better one. But in reality, they’re sending them to the Outer Provinces to fight. ”

  I reel backward as if I’ve been struck, and my mother reaches out her hand to steady me.

  Patrick is stil talking. “The war with the Enemy isn’t going wel . They need more people to fight. Al the original vil agers are dead. All of them. ” He pauses, speaks as if to himself. “I should have known they’d take Aberrations first. I should have known Ky would be on the list . . . I thought, since we’d been through so much . . . ” His voice shakes.

  Aida turns on him, furious, forgiving. “We forgot, sometimes. But he never did. He knew it was coming. Did you see him fight? Did you see his eyes when they took him away?” She throws her arms around Patrick’s neck and he holds her close, her sobs ringing out in the cool morning. “He’s going to die. It’s a death sentence back there. ” Then she pul s away, screams at the Officials, “He’s going to die!” Two of the Officials move quickly, pinning Patrick’s and Aida’s hands behind their backs and pul ing the Markhams away. Patrick’s head snaps back as one of them gags him to keep him from talking, and they do the same to Aida to stifle her screams. I’ve never seen or heard of Officials using such force. Don’t they realize
that doing so gives truth to Patrick’s and Aida’s words?

  An air car descends near us and disgorges more Officials. The Officers push the Markhams toward it and Aida reaches for her husband’s hand.

  Their fingers miss by centimeters and she is denied that touch, the one thing in the world that could comfort her now.

  I close my eyes. I wish I couldn’t hear her screams echoing in my ears and the words I know I wil never forget. He’s going to die. I wish my mother could take me back inside my house, tuck me back in bed like she did when I was a child. When I watched night fal outside my window without a worry, when I did not know what it was like to want to break free.

  “Excuse me. ”

  I know that voice. It’s my Official, the one from the greenspace. Next to her stands an Official with the insignia of the highest level of government: three golden stars, shining visibly under the streetlight. A hush fal s over us.

  “Everyone, please take out your tablet containers,” he says pleasantly. “Remove the red tablet. ” We al obey. My hand closes on the smal container with its three tablets secured inside my pocket. Blue and red and green. Life and death and oblivion always at my fingertips.

  “Now, keep the red tablets and hand Official Standler”—he gestures to my Official, who holds a square plastic receptacle—“your containers.

  Shortly after we’ve finished here you’l receive new containers and a new set of tablets. ” Once again, we obey. I drop the little metal cylinder in with the others, but I do not meet my Official’s eyes.

  “We’l need you to take your red tablets. Official Standler and I wil make sure you do. There’s nothing to worry about. ” Officers seem to multiply. They walk down the street, keeping everyone who stayed in their houses where they are and isolating the dozen or so of us who stand near the air-train stop—the handful of us who know what happened today in Mapletree Borough and across the country. I imagine other scenes went more smoothly than this; likely none of the other Aberrations had parents or family high up enough to know what was real y happening. And even Patrick Markham could do nothing to save his son.

  And it’s al my fault. I didn’t play God or angel; I played Official. I let myself think that I knew what was best and changed someone’s life accordingly. It doesn’t matter whether or not the data backed me up; in the end, I made the decision myself. And the kiss—

  I can’t let myself think about the kiss.

  I look down at the red tablet, so smal in my hand. Even if it means death, I think I would welcome that now.

  But wait. I promised Ky. I pointed to the sky and promised him. And now, moments later, I’m going to give up?

  I drop the tablet on the ground, trying to be discreet. For a second I see it smal and red in the grass, and I remember what Ky said about red being the color of birth and renewal. “To a new beginning,” I say to myself, and I shift my feet the tiniest bit so that I crush the tablet; it bleeds beneath my feet. It reminds me of the time I saw Ky’s face across the crowded room at the game center just as my feet crushed the lost tablets beneath me.

  Except now, when I look up, he is nowhere to be found.

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