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“So what did the Pilot do?” I ask.
“He saved people,” Caleb says. “He and some of the other pilots would run people from the Society out as far as the last stone village. He made citizens pay to get out, and he helped Aberrations and Anomalies, too.”
“That’s who carved in the ships, isn’t it?” I say, understanding. “People who were hiding there when the Pilot flew them out.”
“It was stupid of them,” Caleb says, a hint of anger in his voice. “They could have gotten the pilots in trouble.”
“I think they meant it as a tribute,” I say, remembering the picture carved on one of our earlier ships of the Pilot giving the people water. “That’s what it looked like to me.”
“It was still stupid,” Caleb says.
“Do people live in the villages anymore?” I ask.
“I don’t know,” Caleb says. “They might have all left for the Otherlands by now. The Pilot tried to get them to join the Rising, but they wouldn’t.”
That sounds like the Anomalies who lived in the Carving. They wouldn’t join the Rising either. It makes me wonder what happened to Anna’s people when they reached the village we saw marked on the map. Did they meet the stone villagers there? Did the groups have enough in common to get along? Did the people living in the stone villages help the people from the Carving, or did they drive them away—or worse? What’s happened to Hunter and Eli?
“Other kids grew up telling stories about the Pilot,” Caleb says. “But I grew up watching him fly. I know he’s the one who can lead us out of this.”
Caleb sounds terrible. The pain’s winning out. I can hear it thick in his voice. And I know what’s happening.
He’s going still.
He was supposed to be immune. Something’s happened with the Plague. Is this a new version of it? One our immunity can’t protect us against?
“I want you to write down everything I said about the Pilot,” Caleb says, “including that I believed in him until the end.”
“Is this the end?” I ask.
“Did he go still?” Indie asks. “Or decide he didn’t want to talk anymore?”
“I don’t know,” I say.
She stands up as if she’s about to go down into the hold. “No,” I say. “Indie, you can’t risk exposure to whatever it is.”
“He didn’t tell you much,” Indie says, sitting back down. “I bet there were plenty of people who knew that about the tubes and the Pilot.”
“We didn’t,” I remind her.
“You believe Caleb because he has those notches on his boots,” she says, “but it doesn’t mean he was in the camps. Anyone could have cut their boots like that.”
“I think he was there,” I say.
“But you don’t know that he was.”
“He is right about the Pilot, though,” Indie says.
“So you do believe Caleb,” I say. “About the Pilot, at least.”
“I believe myself about the Pilot,” Indie says. “I know that he’s real.” She leans closer to me and for a minute I think she might kiss me again, like she did all those weeks ago. “The villages are real, too,” she says, “and the Otherlands. All of it.”
Her voice is every bit as impassioned as Caleb’s was. And I understand her. Indie loves me, but she’s a survivor. When I told her I wouldn’t run with her, she turned to something else to keep going. I believe in Cassia. Indie believes in the Rising and the Pilot. We’ve both found something to pull us through.
“It could have been different,” I say, almost under my breath. If I’d kissed Indie again after she kissed me. If I hadn’t known Cassia before I met Indie.
“But it’s not,” Indie says, and she’s right.
The world is not well.
I look out the window of my apartment and put my hand on the glass. It’s dark. Crowds gather at the barricade, the way they do often now at night, and soon the Rising officers will come in black and disperse them all, petals to the wind, leaves on the water.
The Rising hasn’t told us exactly what’s happened, but, for the past few weeks, we’ve all been confined to our apartments. Those of us who can, send in our work over the ports. All communication with other Provinces has ceased. The Rising says that is temporary. The Pilot himself promises that everything will be fine soon.
It has begun to rain.
I wonder what it would have been like to see a flash flood in the Carving from up high like this. I’d like to have stood at the edge of the canyon and felt the rumble; closed my eyes to better hear the water; opened them again to see the world laid to waste, the rocks and trees torn and tumbling down. It would have been something to watch what looked like the end of the world.
Perhaps I am witnessing that now.
A chime sounds from my kitchen. Dinner has arrived, but I am not hungry. I know what the food will be—emergency rations. We have only two meals each day now. Someday they will run out of the rations, too. And then I don’t know what they’ll do.
If we start to feel sick and tired, we’re supposed to send a message on the port. Then they’ll come and help us. But what if you go still while you sleep? I wonder. The thought makes me lie awake at night. It’s become difficult to find any rest.
I pull the meal from the delivery slot. There it is, cold and bland and blank, the Society’s stores served to us by the Rising.
I have learned a few things from the Archivists. Food is running out; therefore, it is valuable. So I’ve used it to trade my way out of my confinement in my apartment. I take the meal out to the Rising guard at the entrance of our building. He’s young and hungry, so he understands.
“Be careful,” he says, and he holds open the door for me as I slip into the night.
I feel my way down the stones and steps, my hands brushing against the sides and coming away with the familiar green smell and feel of moss. The recent rain has made things slippery, and I have to concentrate, keeping the beam of my flashlight steady.
When I reach the end of the hallway, I’m not blinded, the way I usually am. No flashlights flicker onto me, no beams swing in my direction as people notice me coming through the door.
The Archivists are gone.
A chill runs up my spine as I remember how this place reminded me of the crypt from the Hundred History Lessons. I close my eyes, imagining the Archivists lying down on the shelves, folding their hands on their chests, holding perfectly still as they wait for death to come.
Slowly I shine my light on the shelves.
They are empty. Of course. No matter what, the Archivists will survive. But they didn’t tell me that they were leaving, and I have no idea where they might have gone. Did they leave anything back in the Archives?
I’m about to go look when I hear feet on the stairs and I spin around, swinging up my flashlight to blind whoever has entered.
“Cassia?” the voice asks. It’s her. The head Archivist. She came back. I lower the light so she can see.
“I was hoping to find you,” she says. “Central is no longer safe.”
“What has happened?” I ask.
“The rumors about a mutated Plague,” she says, “have been proven to be true. And we’ve confirmed that the mutation has spread here to Central.”
“So you’ve all run away,” I say.
“We have all decided to stay alive,” she says. “I have something for you.” She reaches into the pack she carries and pulls out a slip of paper. “This came in at last.”
The paper is real and old, printed with dark letters pressed deep into the page, not the slick surface blackness of printing from a port. There are two stanzas; the ones I don’t have. Even though time is short and the world is wrong, I can’t help but glance down, greedy, to read a bite, a bit of the poem:
The Sun goes crooked—that is night—
Before he makes the bend
We must have passed the middle sea,
Almost we wish the end
Were further off—too great it seems
So near the Whole to stand.
I want to read the rest but I feel the head Archivist’s gaze on me, and I look back up. Something has gone crooked here; night is coming. Am I drawing close to the end? It almost feels like it—that there can’t be much farther to go, having come so far already—and yet nothing feels finished.
“Thank you,” I say.
“I’m glad it came in time,” she says. “I’ve never left a trade unfinished.”
I fold the poem back up and put it in my sleeve. I keep my expression neutral, but I know she’ll hear the challenge in what I’m about to say. “I’m grateful for the poem, but you’ve still left a trade unfinished. My microcard never came in.”
She laughs a little, the sound echoing through the empty Archives. “That one has come through, too,” she says. “You’ll receive the microcard in Camas.”
“I don’t have enough to pay for passage to Camas,” I say. How did she find out that’s where I want to go? Does she really have a way for me to get to Camas, or is she playing a cruel joke on me? My heartbeat quickens.
“There’s no fee for your journey,” the head Archivist says. “If you go to your Gallery and wait, someone from the Rising will arrive to bring you out.”
The Gallery. I’ve never kept it hidden, but something about it being used like this feels wrong. “I don’t understand,” I say.
The Archivist pauses. “What you’ve traded,” she says, very carefully, “has been interesting to some of us.”
It’s like my Official, again. I was not interesting to her, but my data was.
When my Official said that the Society had put Ky into the Matching pool, I saw the flicker of a lie in her eyes. She wasn’t sure who had put him in.
I think the head Archivist is keeping something from me, too.
I have so many questions.
Who put Ky in the pool?
Who paid for my passage to Camas?
Who stole my poems?
This, I think I know. Everyone has a currency. The Archivist told me that herself. Sometimes, we might not even know what our price is until we are confronted with it, face to face. The Archivist could resist everything else in that treasure trove of the Archives, but my papers, smelling of sandstone and water and just out of reach, were irresistible to her.
“I’ve already paid my passage,” I say. “Haven’t I? With my pages from the lake.”
It’s so quiet, here underneath the ground.
Will she admit to it? I’m certain I’m right. The impassive stone of the Archivist’s face looks entirely different from the flicker I saw on the Official’s face when she lied to me. But both times, I feel the truth. The Official didn’t know. The Archivist took my papers.
“My obligation to you is finished now,” she says, turning to leave. “You’re aware of the chance for passage to Camas. It is yours to keep or refuse.” She moves away from the beam of my flashlight into the dark. “Good-bye, Cassia,” she says.