Page 21

 Ally Condie

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“What?” I ask, climbing down into the hold. Indie points at a spot near the floor, concealed earlier by the cases. Someone has scratched into the metal of the ship and carved images into the walls. It reminds me of the pictures back in the Carving.
“They’re drinking the sky,” Indie says.
She’s right. It’s not rain that the picture shows, not like one I drew once back in the Borough. It’s different—broken pieces of sky falling to the ground and people picking them up and tipping water out of them.
“It makes me thirsty,” Indie says.
“Look,” I say, pointing to the figure coming down from the sky. “Who do you think this is?”
“The Pilot, of course,” she says.
“Did you draw these?” I ask Caleb, who’s appeared at the top of the hold, ready for more cargo.
“Draw what?” he asks.
“The pictures carved into the side of the ship.”
“No,” he says. “It must have been one of the other runners. I’d never vandalize the Rising’s property.”
I hand up another case.
We finish our delivery and head for the ship. As we walk, Indie falls back. I turn around to see her talking to Caleb. He shakes his head. Indie steps closer to him. She’s lifted her chin and I know exactly what her eyes must look like.
She’s challenging him about something.
Caleb shakes his head again. His posture looks tense.
“Tell me,” I hear Indie saying. “Now. We should know.”
“No,” he says. “You’re not even the pilot on this flight. Leave it alone.”
“Ky’s flying,” she says. “He had to come all the way here, back to his home Province. Do you know how hard that must be? What if you had to go back to Keya, or wherever it is that you’re from? He should at least know what we’re doing.”
“We’re bringing in supplies,” he says.
“That’s not all we’re doing,” she says.
He steps around her. “If the Pilot wanted you to know,” he says over his shoulder, “you would.”
“You know you’re nothing more than a runner, even to the Pilot,” Indie says. “He doesn’t think of you as his.”
Caleb takes a step back and I see hatred on his face for Indie.
Because she’s right. She knows what Caleb hopes for. It’s the dream of every parentless, orphaned worker of the Rising—to make the Pilot so proud that he’d claim them as his own kin. It’s Indie’s dream too.
Indie finds me later out in the field near the camp. She sits down and takes a deep breath. At first I think she’s going to try to make me feel better by talking about things that don’t matter, but Indie has never been very good at that.
“We could try it,” she says. “We could make a run for Central if you want.”
“It’s not an option,” I say. “The fighters would shoot us down.”
“You’d try it if it weren’t for me,” Indie says.
“Yes,” I agree. “And Caleb.” I’m finished with the selfishness that let me leave everyone behind on the plains and take only Vick and Eli into the Carving. Caleb is part of our group. When I fly, he’s my responsibility. I can’t risk him either. Cassia wouldn’t want other people to die just so I could find her.
And if the Pilot is telling the truth, it doesn’t matter. The Plague’s under control. Everything will be all right soon, and I can find Cassia and we can be together. I want to believe in the Pilot. Sometimes I do.
“Back in camp, when we were training,” I say, “did you ever fly with him?”
“Yes,” Indie says simply. “That’s how I knew he was the Pilot, even before they told us. His flying . . .” She stops, at a loss for words, and then her face brightens. “It was like the picture we saw today carved into the ship,” she says. “It felt like I was drinking the sky.”
“So you trust him?” I ask.
Indie nods.
“But you’d still run the risk of going to Central with me.”
“Yes,” Indie says, “if that’s what you wanted.” She looks at me as if she’s trying to see inside me. I’d like her to smile. That beautiful, wide, wise, innocent, devious smile of hers.
“What are you thinking about?” she asks.
“I want to see you smile,” I tell her.
And then she does—sudden, delighted—and I grin back.
The grass rustles with the breeze. Indie leans a little closer. Her face is radiant and hopeful and raw. It feels like some new hole has been torn in my heart.
“What’s to keep us from flying together?” Indie whispers. “You and me?” I can barely hear her above the wind rustling the grass, but I know the way this question sounds from her. She’s asked something like it before.
“Cassia,” I say. “I’m in love with Cassia. You know that.” There’s no uncertainty in my voice.
“I know,” she says, and there’s no apology in hers.
When Indie wants something badly enough, her instinct is to jump.
Like Cassia.
Indie breathes in and then she moves.
She moves to me.
Her hands slide into my hair, her lips press against mine.
Nothing like Cassia.
I pull back, breathless. “Indie,” I say.
“I had to,” she says. “I’m not sorry.”
Someone’s coming into the Archivists’ hiding place; I hear their feet on the stairs. Since I’m waiting in the main area with the others, I shine my flashlight up like the rest. The figure stops, expecting us.
Once I see who it is—a trader I’ve passed down here before—I drop my light. But many of the others don’t. She’s trapped there like a moth. A nearby Archivist signals for me to bring my light back up and so I do, blinking, though the girl standing in the doorway is the one caught in the glare.
“Samara Rourke,” the head Archivist says. “You should not be here.”
The girl laughs nervously. She wears a bulky pack and she shifts it down a little.
“Don’t move,” the head Archivist says. “We’ll escort you out.”
“I’m allowed to trade here,” Samara says. “You’re the one who showed me where this place is.”
“You are no longer welcome,” the head Archivist says. She’s somewhere in the shadows, and then she steps forward, pointing the beam of her flashlight right into the girl’s eyes. This is the Archivists’ place. They decide who stays in shadows and shades and who has to face the light.
“Why?” Samara asks, her voice finally faltering a little.
“You know why,” the Archivist says. “Do you want everyone else to know as well?”
The girl licks her lips. “You should see what I found,” she says. “I promise you’re going to want to know . . .” She reaches for the pack at her side.
“Samara cheated,” the Archivist says, her voice every bit as powerful as the Pilot’s. It resonates around the room. None of the lights waver and when I close my eyes I can still see their bright spots and the girl’s nervous, blinded expression. “Someone gave an item to Samara to trade on their behalf. She brought it here. We assessed its value, accepted it, and gave an item in return, with a separate, smaller item for the trader fee. And then Samara kept both.”
There are crooked traders in the world, plenty of them. But they don’t usually dare to try to work with the Archivists.
“You’re not out anything,” Samara says to the Archivist. “You got your payment.” Her attempt at defiance makes me ache with pity. What made her do this? Surely she knew she’d get caught. “If anyone should get to punish me, it’s the person I stole from.”
“No,” the head Archivist says. “You undermine us when you steal.”
Three of the Archivists drop their lights and move forward.
My heart pounds and I step back a little farther into the shadows. Though I come down here often, I’m not an Archivist. At any time my privileges—which are more than those afforded to most traders—could be revoked.
I hear the click of scissors and the head Archivist steps back, holding Samara’s red bracelet up in the air. Samara looks ashen but unharmed, and in the lights still directed on her, I can see her sleeve pulled up and her bare wrist where the bracelet used to be.
“People should know,” the Archivist says to the room at large, “that they can trust when they trade with us. What has happened here undermines everything. Now we will have to pay the price of the trade.” The others have dropped their lights down now and so her voice is the most recognizable part of her; her face is in shadows. “Paying the price for another is not something we like to do.” Then her tone changes and the incident is over, finished. “You may all go back to your trades.”
I don’t move. Who’s to say I wouldn’t do what Samara did, if something passed through my hands that I needed for someone else? Because I think that’s what happened. I don’t think Samara risked this for herself.
I feel a hand on my elbow and I turn to see who it is.
It’s the head Archivist herself. “Come with me,” she says. “There’s something I need to show you.”
She brings me through rows of shelves and through a long dark hall, her grip firm on my arm. And now we’re in another vast room ribbed with metal shelves, but these are all filled. They’re lined with everything anyone could ever want, every lost piece of a past, every fragment of a future.
Other Archivists move among the shelves while some stand guard. This room has other lights, strung along the ceiling and glowing faintly. I catch a glimpse of cases and boxes and containers of uneven sizes. You would need a map to find your way through a place like this.
I know where we are before she tells me, even though I’ve never been here before. The Archives. It’s a little like seeing the Pilot for the first time; I’ve always known of the existence of this place, but to confront it face to face makes me want to sing or weep or run away; I’m not certain which.
“The Archives are filled with treasures,” the Archivist says, “and I know every one.”
Her hair shines golden in this light, as if she is one of the treasures she guards. Then she turns to look at me.
“Not many people have been here,” she says.
Then why me? I wonder.
“There are many stories that have passed through my hands,” the Archivist says. “I always liked the one about a girl who was tasked with turning straw into gold. An impossible piece of work, but she managed it more than once. That’s what this job is like.”
The Archivist walks partway down an aisle and lifts a case from the shelf. She opens it and inside I see rows and rows of paper-wrapped bars. She takes one of them out and holds it up. “If I could,” she says,“I would stay in here all day. This is where I began my work as an Archivist. I sorted the items and cataloged them.” She closes her eyes and breathes in deeply, and I find myself doing the same.