Crossed, p.7
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       Crossed, p.7

         Part #2 of Matched series by Ally Condie
Page 8


  I don’t answer. I’m trying to remember how this is done. The powder turns my hands black as I sift it through my fingers.

  Vick grabs my arm. “Stop,” he says in a low voice. “All the other decoys are staring. ”

  “Why do you care what they think?”

  “It’s bad for morale if someone like you goes crazy. ”

  “You said yourself that we’re not their leaders,” I say to Vick. Then I look over at the decoys. They all avoid my eyes except for Eli. He stares at me and I give him a quick grin to let him know that I’m not insane.

  “Ky,” Vick says, and then he suddenly gets it. “You figuring out a way to turn this back into ammo?”

  “It won’t be much good,” I say. “It’ll only do one big blast, and you’ll have to treat it like a grenade. Throw the gun and run away. ”

  Vick likes the possibilities. “We could put rocks, other stuff in there. Have you figured out the fuse?”

  “Not yet,” I say. “That’s the hardest part. ”

  “Why?” he asks, speaking low so the others can’t hear. “It’s a good idea, sure, but it’s going to be too hard to set it off while we’re running. ”

  “It’s not for us,” I say, and I glance again at the others. “We’ll teach them how to do it before we leave. But we’re running out of time. I say we leave the dead to everyone else today. ”

  Vick stands up, turns around to face the group. “Ky and I are taking a break from burying today,” he says. “The rest of you can take a turn. Some of you new decoys haven’t even done it yet. ”

  While they leave, I look down at my hands—ash-black and covered with the stuff that rained down death on us the night before—and remember the way we used to scavenge remnants back in my real village. The Society and the Enemy thought they were the only ones with fire but we knew how to use theirs. And how to make our own. We used stones called chert to light small fires when we really needed them.

  “I still think we should go on a night where there isn’t a firing,” Vick says. “They might just think we blew ourselves up with this stuff if we can make it convincing. ” He gestures to the powder scattered all around us.

  He has a point. I’ve been so sure that they’ll hunt us down that I haven’t thought of other possibilities. Still, it’s more likely that others will try to follow if there isn’t a battle to distract them and death to cover our tracks. And I don’t want anyone to try to come with us. The Society will notice if more than a few decoys leave, and we might still be worth hunting.

  And I have no idea what we’re going to find in the Carving. I’m not trying to lead. I only want to survive.

  “How about this?” I say. “We’ll go tonight. Whether there’s a firing or not. ”

  “All right,” Vick says after a moment.

  It’s settled then. We’re going to run. Soon.

  Vick and I work fast, trying to come up with a way to get the guns to explode. When the others come back from digging the graves and figure out what we’re trying to do, they help us by gathering gunpowder and rocks. Some of the boys begin humming and singing as they work. I go cold as I recognize the tune, although I shouldn’t be surprised by what they sing. It’s the Anthem of the Society. The Society took music away by choosing the Hundred Songs carefully—complicated songs that only their engineered voices can navigate easily—and the Anthem is the only tune that most people can carry. Even it has a rising soprano line that no untrained person could sing. Most people can only copy the flat, drumming bass line or the easy notes of the alto and tenor parts. That’s what I hear now.

  Some of those who lived in the Outer Provinces managed to hold onto their old songs. We used to sing them together while we worked. A woman once told me that it wasn’t hard to remember ancient melodies with rivers and canyons and the Carving nearby.

  I only wanted to remember the how of doing this. But the who and why from before keep coming back too.

  Vick shakes his head. “Even if we figure this out, we’re still leaving them to die,” he says.

  “I know,” I say. “But at least they can fight back. ”

  “Once,” Vick says. There’s a slump to his shoulders that I’ve never seen before. As if he’s finally realizing the leader he is and always has been and the realization weighs him down.

  “It’s not enough,” I say, turning back to my work.

  “No,” Vick agrees.

  I’ve tried not to really see the other decoys but I have. One has a bruised face. Another has freckles who looks enough like the boy we put in the river that I wonder if they were brothers, but I never asked and I never will. All of them wear ill-fitting plainclothes and fancy coats to keep them warm while they wait to die.

  “What’s your real name?” Vick asks me suddenly.

  “Ky is my real name,” I tell him.

  “But what’s your full name?”

  I pause for a minute as it flashes across my mind for the first time in years. Ky Finnow. That was my name then.

  “Roberts,” Vick says, impatient with my hesitation. “That’s my last name. Vick Roberts. ”

  “Markham,” I tell him. “Ky Markham. ” Because that’s the name she knows me by. That’s my real name now.

  Still, my other name sounded right, too, when I said it in my mind. Finnow. The name I shared with my father and mother.

  I look over at the decoys gathering rocks. Part of me likes the sense of purpose in their movements and knowing that I helped them feel better for even a little while. But deep down I know that all I’ve done is throw them a scrap. They’re still going to starve.

  Chapter 8


  The Society’s first order of business, as we all sit in the well-chilled air and shiver, is to promise us coats. “Before the Society, when the Warming happened, things changed in the Outer Provinces,” the Official tells us. “It gets cold, but not as cold as it once did. It’s still possible to freeze at night, but if you wear the coats, you’ll be fine. ”

  The Outer Provinces, then. It’s certain. The other girls, even Indie, look straight ahead; they don’t blink. Some of them shake more than others.

  “This is no different from any other work camp assignment,” the Official says into our silence. “We need you to plant a crop. Cotton, actually. We want the Enemy to think that this part of the country is still occupied and viable. It’s a strategic action on the part of the Society. ”

  “It’s true then? There’s a war with the Enemy?” one of the girls asks.

  The Official laughs. “Not much of one. The Society is solidly in power. But the Enemy is unpredictable. We need them to think the Outer Provinces are well-populated and thriving. And the Society doesn’t want any one group to bear the burden of living out there too long. So they’ve implemented a six-month rotation program. As soon as your time is up, you’ll come back, as Citizens. ”

  None of this is true, I think, even though it seems that you believe it is.

  “Now,” he says, gesturing at the two Officers who aren’t piloting the ship. “They will take you behind that curtain, search you, and give you your standard-issue attire. Including the coats. ”

  They’re going to search us. Now.

  I’m not the first girl called back. Frantic, I try to find a place to hide the tablets, but I can’t see a spot. The Society-made landscape of the air ship is all slick smooth surfaces, no nooks and crannies. Even our seats are hard and smooth, the belts strapping us in simple and tight. There’s nowhere to put the tablets.

  “Something to hide?” Indie whispers to me.

  “Yes,” I say. Why lie?

  “Me too,” she whispers. “I’ll take yours. You take mine when it’s my turn. ”

  I open my bag and slide out the package of tablets. Before I can do anything more, Indie—quick even in her handlocks—palms it. What will she do next? What does she need to hide and how will she reach it with her hands cuffed like that

  I don’t have time to see. “Next,” the brown-haired Officer calls out, pointing to me.

  Don’t look back at Indie, I tell myself. Don’t give anything away.

  Back behind the curtain, I have to strip down to my underclothes, while the Officer searches the pockets of my old brown plainclothes. She hands me a new set of plainclothes—black.

  “Let’s see the bag,” she says, taking it from me. She rifles through the messages, and I try not to wince as one of the older ones from Bram comes apart in pieces.

  She hands the bag back to me. “You can get dressed,” she says.

  The moment I finish with the last button on my shirt, the Officer calls out to the head Official. “This one has nothing,” she says about me. The Official nods.

  Back in my seat next to Indie, I slide my arms into my newly acquired coat. “I’m ready,” I say softly, barely moving my lips.

  “It’s already in your coat pocket,” Indie says.

  I want to ask her how she’s done it so quickly but I don’t want to be overheard. I feel almost giddy with relief at what we managed. What Indie managed.

  When the Officer points at Indie a few moments later, she stands up and walks with her head bowed and her locked hands held obediently in front of her. Indie does a good job pretending to be broken, I think to myself.

  Across the ship, the girl they searched after me begins to sob. I wonder if she tried to hide something and failed—which is what would have happened to me without Indie.

  “You’d better cry,” another girl says dully. “We’re going to the Outer Provinces. ”

  “Leave her alone,” a third girl says. The Official notices the crying girl and brings her a green tablet.

  Indie says nothing when she returns from the search. She doesn’t glance in my direction. I feel the weight of the tablets in my coat pocket. I wish I could look and make sure they are all there, the blue ones from Xander and my own three tucked inside, but I don’t. I trust Indie and she trusts me. The weight of the package is almost the same; any added heaviness imperceptible. Whatever she wanted to hide must be small and light.

  I wonder what it is. Perhaps she will tell me later.

  They give us minimal gear: two days’ worth of food rations, an extra set of plainclothes, a canteen, a pack in which we can carry everything. No knives, nothing sharp. No guns or weapons. A flashlight, but so lightweight and full of curved edges that it wouldn’t be much good for fighting.

  Our coats are light but warm, made of something special, I can tell; and I wonder why they’d waste resources on people they send out here. The coats are the only sign that they might care if we live or die. More than anything else they’ve given us, the coats represent investment. Expenditure.

  I glance up at the Official. He turns, opens the door to the pilot’s compartment again. He leaves it slightly ajar, and I can see the constellation of instruments lit up on the panel inside. To me they seem as numerous and incomprehensible as the stars, but the pilot knows his way.

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