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Chosen Ones, Page 2

Veronica Roth

  “I know you don’t want to talk to me about it,” Matt said. “But what about someone else?”

  “Like who?”

  “Dr. Novak, maybe? She works with the VA, remember? We did that talk together at the juvenile detention center.”

  “I’m not a soldier,” Sloane said.

  “Yeah, but she knows about PTSD.”

  She had never needed an official diagnosis—PTSD was definitely what she had. But it was strange to hear Matt say it so comfortably, like it was the flu.

  “All right.” She shrugged. “I’ll call her in the morning.”

  “Anyone would need therapy, you know,” he said. “After what we’ve all been through. I mean, Ines went.”

  “Ines went, and she’s still booby-trapping her apartment like she’s living out a Home Alone fantasy,” Sloane said.

  “Okay, so she’s a bad example.” The floodlight on the back stairs glowed through the windows, all orange-yellow against Matt’s dark skin.

  “You’ve never needed it,” Sloane said.

  He raised an eyebrow at her. “Where do you think I kept disappearing to the year after the Dark One died?”

  “You told us you were going to doctor’s appointments.”

  “What kind of doctor needs to see someone weekly for months?”

  “I don’t know! I figured something was wrong with . . .” Sloane gestured vaguely to her crotch. “You know. The boys or something.”

  “Let me get this straight.” He was grinning. “You thought I had some kind of embarrassing medical condition that necessitated at least six months of regular doctor visits . . . and you never asked me about it?”

  She suppressed a smile of her own. “You almost sound disappointed in me.”

  “No, no. I’m just impressed.”

  He had been thirteen and lanky when she met him, a body of sharp edges with no sense of where it began or ended, but he had always had that smile.

  She had fallen in love with him half a dozen times before she knew she had—when he was screaming orders over the deafening wind of a Drain, keeping them all alive; when he stayed awake with her on long night drives through the country even after everyone else had fallen asleep; when he called his grandmother and his voice went soft. He never left anyone behind.

  She curled her toes into the tile. “I’ve been before, you know. To therapy,” she said. “I went for a few months when we were sixteen.”

  “You did?” He frowned a little. “You never told me that.”

  There were a lot of things she hadn’t told him, hadn’t told anyone. “I didn’t want to worry anybody,” she said. “And I still don’t, so . . . just don’t mention this to the others, okay? I don’t want to see it in fucking Esquire with the headline ‘Rick Lane Told You So.’ ”

  “Of course.” Matt took her hand and twisted their fingers together. “We should go to bed. We have to get up in four hours for the monument dedication.”

  Sloane nodded, but they still sat on the kitchen floor until the medicine kicked in and she stopped shaking. Then Matt put the knife away, helped her up, and they both went back to bed.



  October 4, 2019

  Ms. Sloane Andrews



  Reference: H-20XX-74545

  Dear Ms. Andrews:

  On 13 September 2019, the office of the Information and Privacy Coordinator received your 12 September 2019 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for information or records on Project Ringer.

  Many of the requested records remain classified. However, due to your years of service to the United States government, we have granted you access to all but those requiring the highest level of security clearance. We searched our database of previously released records and located the enclosed documents, totaling 120 pages, which we believe to be responsive to your request. There is no charge for these documents.


  Mara Sanchez

  Information and Privacy Coordinator



  WHEN SLOANE’S ALARM went off the next morning, she took another benzo immediately. She would need it for the day ahead; that morning, she would attend the dedication of the Ten Years Monument, a memorial for the lives lost in the Dark One’s attacks, and that night, the Ten Years Peace gala, to celebrate the years since his defeat.

  The city of Chicago had commissioned an artist named Gerald Frye to construct the monument. Judging by his portfolio, he had taken a great deal of inspiration from the work of minimalist Donald Judd, because the monument was actually just a metal box surrounded by a swath of empty land where the unsightly tower in the middle of the Loop had been, next to the river. It looked small by comparison to the high-rises around it, glittering in the sun as Sloane’s car pulled up on the day of the dedication.

  Matt had hired them a driver so they wouldn’t have to park, which turned out to be a good idea, because the entire city was swarming with people, the crowd so thick the driver had to blast the horn of their black Lincoln to get through it. Even then, most people just ignored the sound until they felt the heat of the engine behind their knees.

  Once they got close, a police officer let the car through a barrier and they cruised down a clear stretch of road to get to the monument. Sloane felt her pulse behind her eyes, like a headache. The second Matt opened the car door and stepped out into the light, everyone would know who they were. People would hold up their phones to record video. They would thrust pictures and notebooks and arms past the barriers to have them signed. They would scream Matt’s name and Sloane’s name, and weep and struggle forward and tell stories of who and what they had lost.

  Sloane wished she could go home. But instead, she wiped her palms on the front of her dress, took a slow breath, and put her hand on Matt’s shoulder. The car eased to a stop. Matt opened the door.

  Sloane stepped out behind him and into a wall of sound. Matt turned toward her, grinning, and said, right against her ear, “Don’t forget to smile.”

  A lot of men had told Sloane to smile, but all they wanted was to exert some kind of power over her. Matt, though, was just trying to protect her. His own smile was a weapon against a gentler and more insidious form of racism, the kind that made people follow him through retail stores before realizing who he was or assume he had grown up in a rough neighborhood instead of on the Upper East Side or fixated on Sloane and Albie saving the world as if Matt, Esther, and Ines had nothing to do with it. It was in silence and hesitation, in careless jokes and fumbling.

  There were harsher, more violent forms of it too, but smiles weren’t weapons against them.

  He walked over to the crowd pressed up against the barrier, many of the people there holding photos of him, magazine articles, books. He took a black marker from his pocket and signed each of them with his quick MW, one letter an inversion of the other. Sloane watched him from a distance, distracted from the chaos for a moment. He leaned in for a picture with a middle-aged redhead who didn’t know how to work her phone; he took it from her to show her how to switch to the front camera. Everywhere he went, people gave him pieces of themselves, sometimes in the form of gratitude, sometimes in stories of people they had lost to the Dark One. He bore them all.

  After a few minutes, Sloane walked over to him and put her hand on his shoulder. “I’m sorry, Matt, but we should go.”

  People were reaching for her, too, of course, waving copies of the Trilby article with her face plastered on one side of the magazine and Rick Lane’s sexist assholery on the other. Some of them shouted her name, and she ignored them, like she always did. Matt’s weapons were generosity, kindness, social grace. Sloane’s were detachment, a tall stature, and a relentlessly flat affect.

  Matt looked down the line at a group of black teenagers in school uniforms. One of the girls wore her hair in tiny braids with beads at the ends. They clat
tered together as she bounced on her toes, excited. She had a clipboard in her hand; it looked like another petition.

  “One second,” Matt said to Sloane, and he walked over to the group in the uniforms. She chafed a little at the brushoff, but the feeling disappeared when she saw the subtle shift in his posture, his shoulders relaxing.

  “Hey,” he said to the girl with the braids, grinning.

  Sloane felt a small ache in her chest. There were parts of him she would just never access, a language she would never hear him speak, because when she was present, the words were gone.

  She decided to go on without him. It didn’t really matter if he got to the ceremony on time. Everyone would wait.

  She walked down the narrow aisle the police had whittled into the crowd. She climbed the steps to the stage, which faced the metal box of the monument—about the size of an average bedroom, standing in the middle of nothing.

  “Slo!” Esther stood on the stage in five-inch heels and black leather pants, waving. Her white blouse was just loose enough to be elegant, and from afar, her face looked almost the same as it had when they’d defeated the Dark One—but the closer Sloane got, the more she could see that the poreless glow was achieved by foundation and highlighter and bronzer and setting powder and God knew what else.

  It was a relief to see her. Things hadn’t been the same for the five of them since she’d moved back home to take care of her mom. Sloane walked up the steps to the stage, shaking her head at the security guard who offered her an arm to help her up, and pulled Esther into a hug.

  “Nice dress!” Esther said to her once they separated. “Did Matt pick it out?”

  “I am capable of choosing my own clothes,” Sloane said. “How—”

  She was about to ask how Esther’s mother was, but Esther was already taking out her cell phone and holding it out for a selfie.

  “No,” Sloane said.

  “Slo . . . come on, I want a picture of us!”

  “No, you want to show a picture of us to a million other people on Insta!, and that’s much different.”

  “I’m gonna get one whether you smile for it or not, so you might as well not fuel the rumors that you’re a turbo-bitch,” Esther pointed out.

  Sloane rolled her eyes, bent a little at the knee, and leaned in for a picture. She even managed something like a smile. “That’s the only one, though, okay?” she said. “I’m not on social media for a reason.”

  “I get it, you’re so alternative and authentic and whatever.” Esther flapped a hand at her, her head bent over her phone. “I’m going to draw a mustache on you.”

  “How appropriate for the ten-year anniversary of a horrible battle.”

  “Fine, I’ll just post it as is. You’re so boring.”

  It was a familiar argument. She and Esther turned toward Ines and Albie, who were seated beside the podium wearing almost identical black suits. Ines’s lapels were a little wider, and Albie’s tie was more blue, but that was the only difference as far as Sloane could tell.

  “Where’s Matt?” Ines asked.

  “With his royal subjects,” Esther replied.

  Sloane looked back. Matt was still talking to the teenage girl, his brow furrowed, nodding along to something she was saying.

  “He’ll be a minute,” she said when she turned back to the others.

  Albie looked bleary-eyed, but that could be because it was eight in the morning, and Albie didn’t usually get up until at least ten. When he looked at her, he seemed focused enough, just tired. He gave her a wave.

  “Saved you a seat, Slo,” he said, patting the chair next to him. She sat down beside him, legs crossed at the ankle and tucked back, the way her grandmother had taught her. Do you really want to flash your underwear at strangers? Well, then, cross your goddamn legs, girl.

  “All right?” she said to him.

  “Nah,” he said with a half smile. “But what else is new?”

  She gave a half smile back.

  “Hey, kids.” A man was crossing the stage. He wore charcoal slacks and a blazer paired with a powder-blue shirt, and his salt-and-pepper hair was combed back neatly. He wasn’t just any man, but John Clayton, mayor of Chicago, elected on a campaign of “Not as corrupt as the other guy, probably,” which had been the motto of Chicago politics for a few years running. He was also possibly the blandest man alive.

  “Thank you for coming out,” Mayor Clayton said, shaking Sloane’s hand, then Albie’s, Ines’s, and Esther’s. Matt climbed the steps to the stage just in time to take the mayor’s hand too. “I’m just going to say a few words, then you can all walk through the monument. Kind of like blessing it, eh? Then we’ll get you out of here. They’re going to want a picture of us all. Now? Yes, now.”

  He was gesturing to the photographer, who positioned them so the monument was just visible behind them, and Matt was in the middle, his hand steady on Sloane’s lower back. Sloane wasn’t sure if she should smile for the ten-year anniversary of the Dark One’s defeat. The entire world would be celebrating today. Even the city of Chicago, which had lost so much—they would dye the river blue, and Wrigleyville would teem with beer, and the el would turn into a cattle car. The merriment was good, Sloane knew that, had even participated in it for the first few years after the event, but it was harder to do that now. She had been told that things got easier with time, but so far it hadn’t been true. The burst of joy and triumph that had come after the Dark One fell had faded, and what was left was this niggling sense of dissatisfaction and the awareness of everything lost on the way to victory.

  She didn’t smile in the picture. While Esther explained boomerang videos to the mayor, Sloane sat back down next to Albie. Meanwhile, Matt was talking to the mayor’s wife, who wondered if he might come to the opening of a new library in Uptown, and Ines was jiggling her leg, frantic as ever. Albie put his hand on Sloane’s and squeezed.

  “Happy anniversary, I guess,” she said.

  “Yeah,” he said. “Happy anniversary.”






  In approving the record of events of the February 2, 2005, meeting of the National Security Council, the president directed that the disastrous incidents of 2004 be studied in case a pattern exists among them. As the incidents are thus far unexplained by conventional means, this task falls under the purview of the Agency for the Research and Investigation of the Supranormal (ARIS).

  Accordingly, it is requested that ARIS undertake this study as soon as possible, presenting their preliminary views at the next National Security Council meeting. Attached are the articles thus far amassed by the National Security Council regarding said events.

  Shonda Jordan


  Chillicothe Gazette


  by Jay Kaufman

  TOPEKA, MARCH 6: At last count, the death toll in Topeka, Kansas, for the disaster on March 5, 2004, is 19,327—but officials don’t seem to know what caused the significant loss of life. Or, if they do, they aren’t telling.

  Weather reports on the morning of March 5 predicted overcast skies and a high of 40 degrees, with a mere 10 percent chance of rain. Witnesses from nearby towns describe pockets of sunshine and low winds. At exactly 1:04 p.m., everything went haywire. An account from an employee of the National Weather Service described the environment in the office as “utter chaos,” citing “screeching monitors and shouting.

  “For a couple minutes, it was like there had been a tornado, an earthquake, and a hurricane all at once. The air pressure changes were insane, and tremors were felt as far as Kentucky. I’ve never experienced anything like it,” the source reported. The employee requested to remain anonymous out of fear of los
ing their job. The National Weather Service has since released a statement that they can’t provide any further details to the public, as there is an investigation ongoing.

  The federal government has maintained a similar position. The Department of Homeland Security, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency, has been silent. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has said their investigation does not currently suggest either foreign or domestic terrorism behind the incident, but they aren’t presently able to rule it out. Even at the local level, the mayor of Topeka, Hal Foster—who was vacationing in Orlando, Florida, at the time—has expressed condolences and sorrow but has not voiced so much as a theory about what occurred.

  The most we can gather about the event so far comes from private citizens. Andy Ellis of Lawrence, Kansas, drove to the area surrounding Topeka with a drone he usually used to monitor the ongoing construction of his new house. His images of Topeka, which Ellis provided to every national news network simultaneously, are harrowing. They show the skeletons of buildings, bodies in the streets, and, most peculiar of all, not a shred of living plant matter. All the trees in Topeka, according to these images, are now just shriveled branches and dead leaves.

  Left without any concrete explanations, the public has turned to conspiracy theories such as an alien invasion, a government experiment gone awry, a new weapon of mass destruction, and a new kind of weather event resulting from climate change. Hysteria has spread as well, moving some people to begin construction of bomb shelters in their homes or develop new evacuation plans that advocate for spreading out from a city’s center instead of seeking shelter within it.

  “We need answers,” said Fran Halloway, a resident of Willard, one of the surviving towns just outside of Topeka. “We deserve to know why our loved ones are dead. And we’re not gonna rest until we get them.”