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I don’t trust the water anymore.
Many people walk the river paths today. The sun feels warm on our backs. The Rising has asked everyone to keep to their Society-assigned jobs for now, until the Plague is fully contained, so most people are at work. But still, there are childcare providers bringing little kids to throw stones into the river, and workers with foilware trays, enjoying the new freedom of eating their lunch wherever they want. All of these people must be immune or cured to walk so freely. They’re like us. They know they’re safe.
I glance at the barricade wall, which also runs near the river. Even though the Rising is firmly in control, there are still restrictions for now as to where we can go. The medics and workers behind the walls can’t come out. They eat and sleep and breathe the Plague.
Cassia told me that Xander was assigned to Camas. It’s strange that he might be on the other side of that barricade, working in the medical center. Our paths haven’t crossed in Camas, though we’ve both been here for months. I wish I had seen Xander. I’d like to talk to him. I’d be interested to hear what he thinks of the Rising—if he’s found it everything he hoped it would be.
I don’t wonder if he still loves Cassia. I’m sure that he does.
I haven’t heard anything from her since the Plague broke, but they’ve immunized everyone in the Rising who wasn’t already immune. So I think she’s safe, one way or the other. But I don’t know.
I sent her a message as soon as I could, telling her how sorry I was that I couldn’t reach her that night at the lake. I asked her if she was all right and told her that I loved her.
I traded four of my foilware pilot meals for that, and it was worth it, though I can’t do it too often or I’ll get in trouble.
The silence from Cassia is making me crazy. Every time I fly, I have to keep myself from taking off and risking everything to try to get to her. Even if I managed to steal a ship, the Rising would shoot me down. You won’t do her any good if you’re dead, I remind myself.
But I’m not doing her much good by staying alive, either. I don’t know how much longer I can wait before I’ll have to risk it.
“Why not jump?” Indie asks, still needling at me. “You can swim.”
“What about you? Are you going in?” I ask Indie.
“Maybe,” Indie says. Everyone’s still a little perplexed by Indie, but more and more they also respect her. It’s hard not to after you’ve seen her fly.
I’m about to say something more to her, but then I recognize a face in the crowd. One of the traders who used to bring me notes from Cassia. I haven’t seen this particular trader in a long time. Does she have something for me today?
The way Archivists trade is different now. The Rising closed down the Society’s Museums, saying they were filled with nothing more than propaganda. So we have to wait outside of the Museums to make contact or find each other in the crowds.
The handoff is quick, as usual. She passes me, keeping her gaze level and cool, and we bump into each other slightly, the jostling normal on a crowded path. From the outside, I’m sure it all looks perfectly natural, but she’s handed off something to me—a message. “I’m sorry,” she says, meeting my eyes briefly. “I’m late.”
She’s acting as if she bumped into me because she’s in a hurry to get somewhere on time, but I know what she means. The message is late, likely because she’s had the Plague. How did she manage to hold on to the paper? Did anyone else read it while she was still?
My heart races like a rabbit in search of cover out on the plateau. This note has to be from Cassia. No one else has ever sent anything to me. I wish I could read it now. But I’ll have to wait until it’s safe.
“If you could fly anywhere, where would you go?” Indie asks.
“I think you know the answer to that,” I tell her. I slip the paper into my pocket.
“Central, then,” Indie says. “You’d fly to Central.”
“Wherever Cassia is.”
Caleb looks back at us and I wonder if he saw the exchange. I doubt it. The trader was fast. I can’t figure Caleb out. He’s the only one who brings cases back when we’re dropping off the cure. None of the other ships are taking on cargo. The commander always tells us it’s approved, but I think there’s more going on than we know. And I think Caleb has been assigned to work with Indie and me to watch one of us—but I can’t figure out which of us it is. Maybe both.
“What about you?” I ask Indie, keeping my tone light. “If you could fly anywhere, where would you go? Back to Sonoma?”
“No,” she says, as if the suggestion is ridiculous. “I wouldn’t go back to where I’m from. I’d go someplace I’ve never been.”
My fingers close around the paper in my pocket. Cassia told me once that she wears some of the pages against her skin. This is the closest I can get to touching or seeing her right now.
Indie watches me. And then, as she often does, she says something disconcerting. Unexpected. She leans closer and speaks quietly so that the others can’t hear. “I’ve been wanting to ask you. Why didn’t you steal any of the tubes when we were in the Cavern? I saw Cassia and Eli each take one. But you didn’t.”
Indie’s right. I didn’t take a tube. But Cassia and Eli both did. Cassia took her grandfather’s tube. Eli stole the one that had belonged to Vick. Later, both Cassia and Eli gave me their tubes for safekeeping. I hid them in a tree near the stream that led down to the Rising camp.
“I didn’t need one,” I say.
Indie and I stop. The rest of the group shouts and hollers. They’ve found the spot where they want to jump, a deep place downriver from one of the falls. It’s where the other squadrons have been going in and it’s close enough to the path that people can stop and watch.
“Come on,” calls Connor, one of the other pilots. He looks right at Indie and me. “You afraid?” he asks.
I don’t bother to answer. Connor’s competent, arrogant, and mediocre. He thinks he’s a leader. I know he’s not.
“No,” Indie says, and right then she strips out of her uniform, down to the fitted undershirt and shorts that we all wear, and takes a running leap into the water. Everyone cheers as she hits the surface. I catch my breath, thinking how cold it must be.
And then I’m thinking of Cassia, that long-ago day in Oria when she jumped into the warm blue pool.
Indie breaks to the surface, wet and laughing and shivering.
Even though she’s beautiful, with a certain wildness in her eyes, I can’t help but think, I wish Cassia were here.
Indie sees it. A little of the light in her eyes disappears as she looks away from me and pulls herself from the river, reaching for her uniform and slapping hands with the others. Someone else jumps in and the crowd hollers again.
Indie shivers, wringing out her long hair.
And I think, I have to stop this. I don’t have to love Indie the way I do Cassia, but I do have to stop thinking about Cassia when I look at Indie. I know how it feels when people look right through you, or worse, see you as something or someone other than what you are.
A formation of air ships flies overhead and we all glance at the sky, a reflex now that we spend so much time there.
Indie climbs up on one of the rocks next to the river and watches the others jump in. She leans her head back and closes her eyes. She reminds me of one of the little lizards in the Outer Provinces. They might look lazy, but if you try to catch them, they’ll run away, fast as the lightning that breaks the desert sky before the summer thunderstorms.
I climb up next to her and watch the river and all the things that float and swim along it—birds, debris from the mountains. You could build a dozen boats from everything that races past in an hour or two, especially in the spring.
“Wonder if they’ll ever let either of you fly on your own,” Connor says. His voice is loud, of course, so that everyone can hear, and he comes closer, trying to intimidate us. He’s huge and hulking, at least six foot three. I’m only six feet even, but I’m much faster, so I’m not worried about a fight. He won’t catch Indie or me if we decide we need to run. “Seems like the Pilot always has the two of you paired up. Like he doesn’t think either of you can fly without the other.”
Indie laughs out loud. “That’s ridiculous,” she says. “The Pilot knows I can fly alone.”
“Maybe,” Connor says, and he’s so easy to read, the dirty thing he’s ready to say obvious before he can even spit it out, “the reason he has the two of you fly together is because you’re—”
“The best,” Indie says. “Of course. We are.”
Connor laughs. Water drips off him from his jump into the river. He looks soaked and stupid, not fine and shining like Indie. “You think a lot of yourself,” he says. “Think you’ll be the Pilot one day?” He glances over his shoulder to see if the others are all laughing, too, at how ridiculous this is. But everyone stays quiet.
“Of course,” Indie says, as if she can’t believe he’d even ask.
“We all hope for that,” a girl named Rae says. “Why not? We can dream now.”
“But not you,” Indie says to Connor. “You need a different dream. You’re not good enough to be the Pilot. And I don’t think you ever will be.”
“Really?” he says, leaning in, a sneer on his face. “And how do you know that?”
“Because I’ve flown with you,” she says, “and you never give in to the sky.” Connor laughs and starts to say something, but Indie keeps talking over him. “You’re always thinking about yourself. How it looks, what you’re doing. Who will notice.”
Connor turns away from her. Over his shoulder he says something crude about Indie—what he’d do to her and with her if she weren’t crazy. I start after him.
“It doesn’t matter,” Indie says, her tone perfectly unconcerned. I want to tell her that it’s dangerous to be so oblivious to people like Connor. But would it do any good?
The fun’s over. People start back to the camp for dry clothes. Some of the pilots and runners shiver as they walk. Almost everyone went into the river.
As we walk, Indie begins to braid her long, wet hair. “What if you could bring back anyone who’s gone?” she asks me, keeping up her line of questioning from before. “And don’t say Cassia,” she adds, with a little huff of impatience. “She doesn’t count. She’s not dead.”
It feels good to hear Indie say that, even though of course she doesn’t know for certain. Although, if Cassia sent me a message, that’s a good thing. I close my fingers around the paper again and smile.
“Who would I bring back from the dead?” I ask Indie. “Why would you ask something like that?”
Indie presses her lips together. For a moment I think she’s not going to answer, but then she says, “Anything is possible now.”