Matched, p.39
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       Matched, p.39

         Part #1 of Matched series by Ally Condie
Page 40


  Final y, I hear the announcer’s voice, cal ing my destination.

  City Hall.

  My idea won’t work. I know it the minute I stand on the steps of the Hal for only the second time in my life. This is not the place of open doors and twinkling lights that welcomed me, invited me to catch a glimpse of my future. In the daylight, this is a place with armed guards, a place of business, a place where past and present are locked safe inside. They won’t let me in, and even if they did, they wouldn’t tel me anything.

  They might not know there was anything to tel . Even Officials carry red tablets.

  I turn back and there across the street I see possibility and my heart flutters. Of course. Why didn’t I think of this first? The Museum.

  The Museum is long, low, white, blind. Even its windows are made of frosted white opaque glass to keep the artifacts inside safe from the light.

  City Hal , across the street, has tal , clear windows. City Hal sees everything. Stil , the Museum might have something for me behind its tightly closed eyes. Hope quickens my step as I cross the street, gives me strength as I push open the enormous white doors.

  “Welcome,” says a curator, sitting at a round white desk. “Can I help you find anything?”

  “I’m wandering,” I say, trying to look relaxed. “I have some extra time today. ”

  “And you came here,” the curator says, pleased, puzzled. “Wonderful. You might want to try the second level. Some of our most popular displays are up there. ”

  I don’t want to draw too much attention to myself, so I nod and climb the steps, their metal echo reminding me painful y of Ky’s feet on the stairs at the station. Don’t think about that now. Stay calm. Remember coming here that time in First School, before Ky came to the Borough? Back when we had time to consider the past, before we went to Second School where all that matters is the future? Remember walking into the dining hall in the basement of the Museum with the other schoolchildren, all of us so excited to be eating somewhere new and different? Remember Xander’s bright blond head among the rest, the way he pretended to listen to the curator’s speech but kept making jokes to the side that no one else could hear?

  Xander. If I leave him here, wil another piece of my heart be torn away, too?

  Of course it wil .

  A sign points to the Hal of Artifacts and I veer right, suddenly, wanting to see the display. Wanting to see where they put al those things they took.

  Perhaps I’l see my compact, Xander’s cuff links, Bram’s watch. I could bring him here one more time before we leave for the Farmlands.

  I stop in the middle of the hal , realizing that none of those things are here.

  The other cases are stil crammed with artifacts, but the new display is nothing but a long glass case, huge and empty. A sign in the middle of it, printed in lettered words that look so different from Ky’s cursive, reads: ADDITIONAL ARTIFACTS COMING SOON. A light from above il uminates the sign in its empty, cavernous case. That sign could last forever in this sealed and pristine environment. Like the scrap of my dress from the Match Banquet.

  But I’ve already broken the glass; I’ve given the green away; I’ve made my choice. I’m already dying without Ky here and now I have to make sure I live to find him.

  I realize that our artifacts wil likely never make it into the case. The sign is the only display there may ever be. I don’t know what they’ve done with them.

  Now I know for myself that there is nothing left.

  I walk down the stairs into the basement. Where they keep the Glorious History of Oria Province, where I meant to go al along before the chance to glimpse what was lost distracted me from what must be found.

  I stand close to the glass and look at the map of our Province with its city, farmlands, and rivers, listening to the footsteps on the marble floor behind me. A smal , uniformed man comes to stand next to me. “Would you like me to tel you more about the history of Oria?” he asks.

  Our eyes meet: mine searching, his sharp and bright.

  I look at him and realize: I wil not sel our poem. I am selfish. Besides the scrap of fabric, it is al I had to give Ky, and we are the last two people in the world who know the whole thing. Even this is a dead end, even this last idea of mine won’t work. I could trade the poem but it would gain me nothing. This isn’t something I can barter; it’s something I have to do.

  “No, thank you,” I tel the man, even though I would like to know the true history of this place where I live. But I don’t think anyone knows it anymore.

  Before I leave, I look once more at the geographic map of our Society. There, in the middle of the map, fat and happy, sit the large plump shapes of the Provinces. And around their edges are al the Outer Provinces, the lines dividing them into sections, but none of them named.

  “Wait,” I cal out to the man.

  He turns and looks back at me expectantly. “Yes?”

  “Does anyone know the names of the Outer Provinces?”

  He waves his hand, uninterested now that he knows he isn’t going to get something worth trading from me. “That is their name,” he cal s back.

  “The Outer Provinces. ”

  Those blank, divided Outer Provinces on the map hold my gaze. The map is thick with letters and information, and it’s hard to make out al the names. I scan them over, not real y reading them, not sure what I’m looking for.

  Then. Something stands out to me, one piece of information lodges in my sorting brain: Sisyphus River. It threads through some of the Western Provinces and then through two of the Outer Provinces and off into the void of the Other Countries.

  Ky must be from one of those two Outer Provinces. And since that’s where the attack came when he was young, that could be where the trouble is now. I lean closer to the map to memorize the location of the two places that might be his.

  I hear footsteps coming closer, again, and I turn. “Are you sure I can’t help you with anything?” the smal man asks.

  I don’t want to trade anything! I almost exclaim to him, and then I realize that he seems to be sincere.

  I point to the Sisyphus River on the map, one tiny black thread of hope running along the paper. “Do you know anything about this river?” His voice hushes. “I heard a story about it once when I was younger. A long time ago the river turned toxic partway down and no one could live near its banks. But that’s al I’ve heard. ”

  “Thank you,” I tel him, because now I have an idea, thanks to what I’ve learned about the way our elderly die. Could our Society have poisoned the waters on their way down to the enemy country? But Ky and his family weren’t poisoned. Perhaps they lived farther up, in the higher of the two Provinces along that river.

  “It’s only a story,” the man warns me. He must have seen the hope flash across my face.

  “Isn’t everything?” I say.

  I walk out of the Museum and I do not look back.

  My Official waits for me in the greenspace outside the Museum. Wearing white, sitting on a white bench, backed by a white-yel ow sun. It’s too much; I blink.

  If I close my eyes a little I can pretend that this is the greenspace next to the game center, where I wil meet my Official for the first time. I can pretend that she’s going to tel me that there’s a mistake with my Match. But this time things wil take a different turn, go down a different path, one where Ky and I can be together and happy.

  But there is no such path, not here in Oria.

  She gestures for me to come and sit by her on her bench. It strikes me that she’s chosen a strange place to meet, right here next to the Museum doors. Then I remember that it’s a perfect place, stil and empty. Ky was right. No one here is interested in the past.

  The bench is carved of stone and feels solid and cool from the hours it spends in the shade of the Museum. I put my hand against the rock after I sit down, wondering where they quarried the stone. Wondering who had to move the rocks.
br />   This time I speak first. “I made a mistake. You have to bring him back. ”

  “Ky Markham has already had one exception made for him. Most Aberrations don’t even have that,” she says. “You’re the one who sent him away. You’ve proven our point. People who let the data slide, who let emotions get involved, create a mess for themselves. ”

  “You did this,” I say. “You set up that sort. ”

  “But you performed it,” she says. “Perfectly, I might add. You might be upset; his family might be devastated, but it was the right decision, as far as his ability was concerned. You knew he was more than he pretended to be. ”

  “He should be the one who decides whether to go or stay. Not me. Not you. Let him choose. ”

  “If we did, everything would fal apart,” she says, patiently. “Why do you think we can guarantee such long life spans? How do you think we eradicated cancer? We Match for everything. Genes included. ”

  “You guarantee these long life spans but then you kil us at the end. I know about the poison in the food for people like Grandfather. ”

  “We can also guarantee a high quality of life up until the very last breath. Do you know how many miserable people in how many miserable societies across the years would have given almost anything for that? And the method of administering the—”

  “Poison. ”

  “Poison,” she says, unflinching, “is unbelievably humane. Smal doses, in the patient’s favorite foods. ”

  “So we eat to die. ”

  She dismisses my concern. “Everyone eats to die, regardless of what we do. Your problem is that you don’t respect the system and what it offers you, even now. ”

  This almost makes me want to laugh. The Official sees the twist of my lips and launches into a list of examples, of ways I’ve broken with the Society’s rules in the past two months—and she doesn’t even know the worst of them—but she doesn’t cite a single example from al the years before. If she had a way to track al my memories, she would see they are pure. That I truly wanted to fit in and be Matched and do everything the right way. That I truly believed.

  That part of me stil believes.

  “It was time for this little experiment to end anyway,” the Official says, sounding regretful. “We don’t have the manpower to focus on it anymore.

  And, of course, situations being what they are—”

  “What experiment?”

  “The one with you and Ky. ”

  “I already know,” I say. “I know that you told him. And I know it was a bigger mistake than you led me to believe that first time we spoke. Ky was actual y in the Matching pool. ”

  “It was no mistake,” she says.

  And I am fal ing again, just when I thought I had hit the bottom.

  “We decided to put Ky into the Matching pool,” she says. “Now and then we do that with an Aberration, simply to gather additional data and watch for variation. The general public doesn’t know about it; there’s no reason they should. What’s important for you to know was that we were in control of the experiment al along. ”

  “But the odds of him Matching with me—”

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