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The scent coming from the case is familiar, a memory, but I can’t place it at first. My heart beats a bit more quickly and I have a sudden rush of remembered anger; unexpected, out of place. And then I know.
“It’s chocolate,” I say.
“Yes,” she says. “When was the last time you had any?”
“My Match Banquet,” I say.
“Of course,” she says. She closes the case and reaches for another and opens it. I see glints of silver that at first I think are boxes from Banquets but instead are forks, knives, spoons. Then another case, this one handled even more gently than the others, and inside I see pieces of china, bone white and fragile as ice. Then we move to another aisle and she shows me rings with red and green and blue and white stones, and over again to another row, where she takes out books with pictures so rich and beautiful I have to hold my hands together so that I won’t touch the pages.
There is so much wealth in here. Even if I wouldn’t trade for silver or chocolate, I understand why someone else would.
“Before the Society,” the head Archivist says, “people used to use money. There were coins—some of them gold—and crisp green papers. They’d trade it with each other and it represented different things.”
“How did it work?” I ask.
“Say I was hungry,” the Archivist says. “I’d give someone five of the papers and they’d give me some food.”
“But then what would they do with the papers?”
“Use them to get something else,” she says.
“Did they have things written on them?”
“No,” she says. “Nothing like your poems.”
I shake my head. “Why would anyone do that?” Trading the way the Archivists do seems much more logical.
“They trusted each other,” the Archivist says. “Until they didn’t anymore.”
She waits. I’m not sure what she expects me to say.
“What I’m showing you,” the Archivist says, “are the things that most people find to be valuable. And we also have cases and cases full of very specific items for more eccentric tastes. We have been doing this for a long time.” She leads me back the way we came, to the rows where the jewels were stored. She stops for a moment to take down a case. She doesn’t open it, but carries it with her as we walk. “Everyone has a currency,” she says. “One of the most interesting ones is knowledge, when people want to know things, not possess them. Of course, what people want to know is a similarly varied and intricate business.” She stops near the end of one of the shelves. “What is it you want to know, Cassia?”
I want to know if my family and Ky and Xander are all right. What Grandfather meant by the red garden day. What memories I’ve lost.
A pause, in that decadent, deliberate room.
Her flashlight glances off the shelves, sending slants and glints of light in strange places. Her face, when I can see it, looks thoughtful. “Do you know what’s extremely valuable right now?” she asks me. “Those tubes that the Society had, the secret ones. Have you heard of them? The samples they take long before the Final Banquet?”
“I’ve heard of them,” I say. I’ve seen them, too. All rowed and stored in a cave in the middle of a canyon. While we were there in that cave, Hunter broke some of the tubes, and Eli and I each stole one of the others.
“You’re not the only one who has,” the head Archivist says. “Some people will do anything they can to get their hands on those samples.”
“The tubes don’t matter,” I say. “They’re not real people.” I’m quoting Ky, and I hope the Archivist can’t hear the lie in my voice. Because I stole Grandfather’s tube from the Carving and gave it to Ky to hide, and I did that because I can’t seem to let go of the idea that those tubes could matter.
“That may be,” the Archivist says. “But others don’t agree with you. They want their own samples, and the ones that belong to family and friends. If they lose a loved one in the Plague, they’ll want the tubes even more.”
If they lose a loved one in the Plague. “Is that possible?” I wonder, but the minute I speak it I know it is. Death is always possible. I learned that in the Carving.
Almost as if she’s reading my mind, the Archivist asks, “You’ve seen the tubes, haven’t you? When you were outside the Society?”
For some reason I want to laugh. The Cavern you are asking about, yes, I have seen that, with rows and rows of tubes stored neatly in the earth. I have also seen a cave full of papers, and golden apples on dark trees twisted from growing in a place with great wind and little rain, and my name carved in a tree, and paintings on stone.
And in the Carving I have seen burned bodies under the sky and a man singing his daughter to her grave, marking her arms and his with blue. I have felt life in that place, and I have seen death.
“You didn’t bring back any of those tubes to trade, did you?” she asks me.
How much does she know? “No,” I say.
“That’s too bad,” she says.
“What would people trade for the tubes?” I ask.
“Everyone has something,” the Archivist says. “Of course, we don’t guarantee anything except that the sample belongs to the right person. We don’t promise that there’s a way to bring anyone back.”
“But it’s implied,” I say.
“It would only require a few tubes to take you anywhere you wanted to go,” the Archivist says. “Like Keya Province.” She waits, to see if I rise to the bait. She knows where my family is. “Or home to Oria.”
“What about,” I say, thinking of Camas, “someplace else entirely?”
We both look at each other, waiting.
To my surprise, she speaks first, and it is then that I know how badly she wants those samples.
“If you are asking for passage to the Otherlands,” she says, very softly, “that is no longer possible.”
I’ve never heard of the Otherlands—only the Other Countries, marked on a map back in Oria, places synonymous with Enemy territory. From the way the Archivist speaks of the Otherlands, though, I can tell she means someplace entirely different and distant, and a little thrill goes through me. Even Ky, who lived in the Outer Provinces, has never mentioned the Otherlands. Where are they? For a moment, I’m tempted to tell the Archivist yes, to try and find out more about places so remote they appear on no map I’ve ever seen, even the ones belonging to the villagers who once lived in the Carving.
“No,” I say. “I don’t have any tubes.”
For a moment, we’re both silent. Then the Archivist speaks. “I’ve noticed that lately your focus has shifted away from trading,” she says. “I’ve seen the Gallery. It’s quite an accomplishment.”
“Yes,” I say. “Everyone has something worth sharing.”
The Archivist looks at me with pity and astonishment in her eyes. “No,” she says. “Everything done in the Gallery has been done before, and better. But it’s still a remarkable achievement, in its own way.”
She is not the Pilot. I know it now. She reminds me of my Official, back in Oria. They both have in common their conviction that they are still learning, still growing, when in fact they have long ago lost that ability.
It’s a relief to leave the Archives and go to the Gallery, which is alive and above ground. As I draw closer to the Gallery, I hear something.
I don’t know the song; it’s not one of the Hundred. I can’t really understand the words, I’m too far away, but I hear the melody. A woman’s voice rises and falls, aches and heals, and then, in the chorus, a man joins in.
I wonder if she knew he was going to sing, too, if it was something they planned, or if she was surprised to suddenly find that she was not alone in her song.
When they stop, at first there is silence. Then a cheer from someone up at the front, and soon we all join in. I press closer through the crowd, trying to see the faces of those who are the music.
“Another?” the woman asks, and we cry out our answer. Yes.
This time she sings something else, something short and clear. The tune is full of movement but easy to follow:
I, a stone, am rolling,
Up the highest hill
You, my love, are calling
Though the winter chills
We must keep on going
Now and then and still.
Could this song be one from the Outer Provinces? It reminds me of the story of Sisyphus, and Ky said they kept their songs longer in the Outer Provinces. But all those people are gone now. That makes it seem like the words should be sad, but with the music behind them, they don’t sound that way.
I catch myself humming along, and before I know it, I’m singing and so are the people around me. Over and over we go through the song, until we have the words and the melody right. At first I’m embarrassed when I catch myself moving, and then I don’t care anymore, I don’t mind, all I wish is that Ky were here and that he could see me now, singing too and dancing in front of the world.
Or Xander. I wish he were here. Ky already knows how to sing. Does Xander?
Our feet thump on the ground, and we can no longer smell even a trace of the fishes’ bodies that once bumped up against the shore because they’re decayed now, gone to bone, the smell of them lost in the scent of our living, our flesh, the salt of our tears and sweat, the sharpness of green grass and plants trampled underfoot. We’re breathing the same air, singing the same song.
Over the course of the night, fifty-three new patients come in. Not all of them have the rash and bleeding, but some do. The head physic orders them all quarantined to our wing and assigns me to be the physic over the mutation. I’ll be in charge of managing the patients’ care from the floor while he watches from the port.
“Doesn’t want to risk his own skin,” one of the nurses mutters to me.
“It’s all right,” I tell her. “I want to see it through. But that doesn’t mean you have to risk it. I can ask him to reassign you someplace else.”
She shakes her head. “I’ll be all right.” She smiles at me. “After all, you talked him into including the courtyard as part of the quarantine area. That makes a difference.”
“We’ve got the cafeteria, too,” I say, and she laughs. None of us spend much time there anymore, except to take delivery of our meals.
The virologist comes in to examine the patients himself. He’s intrigued, too. “The bleeding occurs because the virus is destroying platelets,” he tells me. “Which means the spleen is likely to become enlarged in the affected patients.”
A female medic near us nods. She’s conducting a follow-up physical exam of one of the first patients. “His spleen is enlarged,” she says. “It’s protruding beneath the costal margin.”
“And the patients are losing the ability to clear the secretions in their lungs and respiratory tracts,” another medic says. “We’re going to run into trouble with pneumonia and infection if we can’t get them better soon.”