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“Oh no,” I say.
“We are so tired,” the woman says. “I need green tablets, as many as this will purchase.” She holds out a ring with a red stone in it. How and where did she find it? I’m not supposed to ask. But if it’s authentic, it will be worth something. “He’s afraid. We don’t know what else to do.”
I take the ring. We’ve seen more and more of this, since the Rising took away the tablets and containers the Society gave us. Though I’m glad to see the red and the blue tablets gone, I know there are people who need the green and who are having a hard time going without. Even my mother needed it once.
I think of her, bending over my bed when I couldn’t sleep, and it sends an ache through me and reminds me of how she used to lull me to sleep with the descriptions of flowers. “Queen Anne’s lace,” she’d say, in a slow, soft voice. “Wild carrot. You can eat the root when it’s young enough. The flower is white and lacy. Lovely. Like stars.”
Once, the Society sent her out to see flowers in other Provinces. They wanted her to look at rogue crops that they thought people might be using for food, as part of a rebellion. My mother told me how in Grandia Province there was an entire field of Queen Anne’s lace, and how, in another Province, she saw a field of a different white flower, even more beautiful. My mother talked to the growers who’d cultivated the fields. She saw the fear of discovery in their eyes, but she did her job and reported them to the Society because she wanted to keep my family safe. The Society let her remember what she’d done. They didn’t take that memory.
My mother spent her life growing things. Could the red garden day memory Grandfather talked about have something to do with her?
The spring breeze cuts around me, tearing the last of the old leaves from the branches of the bushes. It pulls on my clothes, and I imagine that if it took them from me, the last of my papers would soar out into the world, and I know it is time for me to stop holding certain things so close.
The woman has turned to look in the direction of the lake, that long stretch of water glinting in the sun.
Water, river, stone, sun.
Perhaps that is what Ky’s mother would have sung to him as she painted on the rocks in the Outer Provinces.
I press the ring back into the woman’s hand. “Don’t give him the tablets,” I say. “Not yet. You can sing to him. Try that first.”
“What?” she asks, looking at me in genuine surprise.
“You could sing to him,” I say again. “It might work.”
And then her eyes open a little wider. “I could,” she says. “I have music in me. I always have.” Her voice sounds almost fierce. “But what words would I sing?”
What would Hunter, back in the farmers’ settlement, have sung to his child, Sarah, who died? She believed in things that he did not. So what would he have said that could bridge the gap between belief and unbelief?
What would Ky sing? I think of all the places we’ve been together, all the things we’ve seen:
Wind over hill, and under tree.
Past the border no one can see.
I wonder, standing there with the mother of the sleepless child, something that I have wondered before—when Sisyphus reached the top of the hill, was there someone for him to see? Was there a stolen touch before he found himself again at the bottom of the hill with the stone to push? Did he smile to himself as he set, again, to rolling it?
I’ve never written a song, but I have started a poem before, one I could not finish. It was for Ky, and it began:
I climb into the dark for you
Are you waiting in the stars for me?
“Here,” I say, and I pull a charred stick from my sleeve and a paper from my wrist.
I write carefully. No words have ever come to me so easily, but I can’t make a mistake in writing them out or I’ll have to go back to the Archivists for more paper. And I have the poem all in my head, right now, so I write quickly for fear that I might lose some of it.
I always thought my first finished poem would be for Ky. But this seems right. This poem is between the two of us, but also for others. It is about all the places you find someone you love.
Newrose, oldrose, Queen Anne’s lace.
Water, river, stone, and sun.
Wind over hill, under tree.
Past the border none can see.
Climbing into dark for you
Will you wait in stars for me?
I have turned one of the beginnings I wrote for Ky into an ending. I have written something all the way through. After a moment of hesitation, I write my own name at the bottom of the page as the author.
“Here,” I say. “You can put music behind it, and it will be your own.” And it strikes me that this is how writing anything is, really. A collaboration between you who give the words and they who take them and find meaning in them, or put music behind them, or turn them aside because they were not what was needed.
She doesn’t take it at first. She thinks she has to offer me something in return.
At that moment I realize that the idea I had about trading art was all wrong.
“I am giving it to you for your son,” I say. “From me. Not from the Archivists. And not as a trader.”
“Thank you,” the woman says. “That’s very kind.” She seems surprised and gratified, and she slides the paper up into her sleeve, imitating me. “But if it doesn’t work—” she begins.
“Then come back,” I say. “I’ll get the green tablets for you.”
After I leave the woman, I make my way to the Archivists’ hiding place to see if they have more work for me, and to check on my things. After the theft of my belongings, I asked the Archivist to store my case for me. They keep it somewhere back in a hidden room, one I’ve never even seen. Only a few of the Archivists have keys.
They bring me out my case and I look inside. Once filled with priceless pages, my case now holds a roll of paper from a port, a pair of Society-issued shoes, a white shirt that was once part of some Official’s uniform, and the red silk dress I wore when I thought I would see Ky at the lake. The poems I have left I keep with me always. Together, everything does not make up an impressive collection, but it’s a start. It’s only been a few weeks. Either the Rising will take me to the ones I love or I will find a way to do it myself.
“It’s all here,” I say to the Archivist helping me. “Thank you. Is there any further trading you need me to do today?”
“No,” he says. “You’re welcome, as always, to wait outside the Museum to see if anyone approaches you.”
I nod. If I hadn’t talked the woman out of the trade earlier today, I’d be on my way to another item for my collection.
I tear off a long strip of port paper from the roll and wrap it around my wrist, under my plainclothes. “That will be all,” I say to the Archivist. “Thank you.”
The head Archivist catches my eye as I come out from the shelves. She shakes her head. Not yet. My poem and the microcard still haven’t come through.
Sometimes I wonder if the head Archivist is the real Pilot, steering us into the waters of our own want and need and helping us come out safely in little boats filled with different things for each person, the items we need to begin our true, right lives.
It’s not impossible.
What better place to run a rebellion than down here?
When I climb the steps and emerge above ground, I smell grass coming up, and feel night coming down.
Back in the City, I’m not sure I can do it. I’ve held on to the poem for so long. Perhaps I’m spending and giving too much now.
But my biggest regrets are from saving and holding back. I kept my poems too long and they were stolen; I never taught Xander or Bram to write. Why didn’t I think to do that? Bram and Xander are smart; they could learn on their own, but sometimes it is good to have someone help you in beginning.
I creep out into the dark and unroll the spool of paper from my wrist. I drape the paper along the smooth, cool metal surface of one of the benches in the greenspace, and then I write, pressing down carefully with a charcoaled stick. They’re so easy to make if you know how, a dip of a branch into the incinerator. When I finish, my hands are black and cold and my heart feels red, warm.
The branches of the trees hold out their arms and I drape the paper over them. The wind moves gently, and it seems the trees cradle the words as carefully as a mother would a small child. As carefully as Hunter held Sarah when he carried her to her grave in the Carving.
In the white light of the streetlamps, it feels that this greenspace might only live in a high flight of imagination or the depth of a dream. I wonder if I will wake up and find it all gone. These paper trees, this white night. My dark words waiting for someone to read them.
I know Ky will understand why I have to write this, why there was nothing else that would suffice.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Even if it’s a Society sympathizer who takes them down, he will see the words as he pulls the papers from the tree. Even if he burns them, they will have slipped through his fingers on the way to fire. The words will be shared, no matter what.
Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
There are many of them in the world, I think, good men and women with their frail deeds. Wondering what might have been, how things might have danced, if we had only dared to be bright.
I have been one of them.
I unwind more paper and see the line
Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight
I weave the papers through the branches. A long loop. Up and down, my knees bending. My arms above my head, like the girls I saw once in a painting in a cave. There is a rhythm to this, a keeping of time.
I wonder if I am dancing.
Are you jumping today?” one of the other pilots asks me. Our squadron walks along the path next to the river that twists and turns through the City of Camas. At one spot in the river—down near City Hall and the barricade—the river becomes a series of falls. A gray heron slices through the swift waters near us.
“No,” I say, not bothering to hide the irritation in my voice. “I don’t see the point of it.”
“It’s a sign of unity,” he says. I turn to look at him a little more closely.
“We all work for the Rising, don’t we?” I ask. “Isn’t that all the unity we need?”
The pilot, Luke, falls silent and walks a little faster, so that I’m alone at the back of our group. We’ve been given a few hours off and everyone wanted to go into the City. For many of us, it still feels dangerous and exhilarating to walk freely through the streets of a City that used to be Society, even though the Rising has had full power in Camas for some weeks now. As expected, Camas was the first and easiest Province for the Rising to take over—so many insurgents live and work here.
Indie falls back to walk with me. “You should jump,” she says. “They all want you to do it.”
Some of the other squadrons have started jumping into the river. Though it’s officially spring now, the water comes down from the mountains and it’s frigid. I have no plans to go in the river. I’m not a coward, but I’m also not stupid. This isn’t the safe, warm blue pool of the Borough. After the Sisyphus, and what happened when Vick died—