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And then she’s gone.
Who will be waiting for me at the Gallery? Is the passage to Camas real, or is it one final betrayal? Did she arrange it for me, perhaps out of guilt for taking my papers? I don’t know. I can’t trust her anymore. I pull off the red bracelet that marked me as one of the Archivists’ traders and put it on the shelf. I have no need of it, because it does not mean what I thought it did.
I find my case sitting alone on its shelf. When I open it and see the contents inside, I find I want none of them. They are part of other people’s lives, and it feels that they no longer have place in my own.
But I will keep the poem the Archivist gave me. Because this, I think, is real. The Archivist might have stolen from me, but I cannot believe she would forge something. This poem is true. I can tell.
We step like plush, we stand like snow—
I stop at that line and remember when I stood at the edge of the Carving, in the snow looking out for Ky. And I remember when we said good-bye at the edge of the stream—
The waters murmur now,
Three rivers and the hill are passed,
Two deserts and the sea!
Now Death usurps my premium
And gets the look at Thee.
That can’t be right. I read the last two lines again.
Now Death usurps my premium
And gets the look at Thee.
I switch off my light and tell myself that the poem doesn’t matter after all. Words mean what you want them to mean. Don’t I know that by now?
For a moment, I’m tempted to stay here, hidden among the warren of shelves and rooms. I could go above ground now and then to gather food and paper, and isn’t that enough to live on? I could write stories; I could hide from the world and make my own instead of trying to change it or live in it. I could write paper people and I would love them too; I could make them almost real.
In a story, you can turn to the front and begin again and everyone lives once more.
That doesn’t work in real life. And I love my real people the most. Bram. My mother. My father. Ky. Xander.
Can I trust anyone?
Yes. My family, of course.
None of us would ever betray the other.
Before I came here, Indie and I ran a river, and we didn’t know if it would poison us or deliver us to where we wanted to go. We took a dangerous, black-water risk; even now, I think I can feel the spray as we went down, the swell as we were swept under.
It was worth it then.
I remember again the Cavern in the Carving. It and the Archives mingle together in my mind—those muddy fossiled bones and clean little tubes, these empty shelves and vacant rooms. And I realize that I can never stay in these hollowed-out places in the earth for long before I have to come up for air.
This passage to Camas, I tell myself, is a risk I am willing to run. You cannot change your journey if you are unwilling to move at all.
I hide in alleys, behind trees. When I wrap my hand around the bark of a small willow in a greenspace, I feel fresh letters carved into it, and they don’t spell my name. The tree is sticky with its own blood. It makes me sad. Ky never cut deeply like this when he carved on something living. I wipe my hand on my black plainclothes and wish there were a way to leave a mark without taking.
I’m not even halfway to the lake when I hear and see the air ships.
They soar in overhead, carrying pieces of the barricade back toward the City.
No, I think, not the Gallery.
I run through the streets, darting away from lights and people, trying not to count how many times the ships come overhead. Someone calls out to me but I don’t recognize the voice, so I keep going. It’s too dangerous to stop. There’s a reason we are supposed to stay inside—people are angry, and afraid, and the Rising is finding it increasingly difficult to cure and keep peace.
I run out into the dark of the marsh. Rising officers in black climb up to secure cables to the barricade walls while the ships hover over, their blades chopping through the air. I can just make out what’s happening from the lights of the ships above and from the steadier beacons of those that have landed in the marsh.
The Gallery is still there, ahead of me, if I can just reach it in time.
I press up against a wall, breathing hard. I’m getting closer. The lake smell of water hits me.
One of the Gallery walls lifts into the sky and I stifle a cry. So much will be lost if the Gallery is gone. All those papers, everything we made, and how will I ever find the person who was supposed to take me to Camas if the meeting place no longer exists?
I am running, running, as hard as I ran into the Carving to find Ky.
They lift the second piece of the Gallery from the ground.
No. No. No.
Within moments I’m standing there, staring down at the deep grooves in the earth, where papers float in puddles, like sails without boats. Paintings, poems, stories, all drowned. The people who used to meet here—who still have words and songs inside—what will happen to them? And how will I get to Camas now?
“Cassia,” someone says. “You were almost too late.”
I know her instantly, even though I haven’t heard her speak in months; I could never forget the voice of the person who piloted me down the river. “Indie,” I say, and there she is, wearing black and standing up from her hiding spot among the marsh plants and bracken.
“They sent you to bring me to Camas,” I say, and I laugh, because now I know I will get there, whatever else happens. Indie and I ran to the Carving, we came down the river, and now—
“We’re going to fly,” Indie tells me. “But we have to go.”
I follow her, running, to her ship on the ground.
“You don’t have to worry about any other Rising being on the ship,” she says over her shoulder. “I’m the only one who flies alone. But we can’t talk on board. The other ships might be listening in. And you have to ride in the hold.”
“All right,” I say, breathless. I’m glad I have no case to hinder me; it’s enough to keep up with Indie as it is, carrying nothing but the lightness of paper.
We reach the ship and Indie scrambles up. I follow, and stand for just a moment in surprise at all the lights in the cockpit that Indie must manage. Our eyes meet and we both smile. Then I hurry and climb down into the hold. Indie shuts the door and I’m alone.
The ship is smaller and lighter than the ones we flew in to the camps. A few tiny lights line the floor, but the hold is largely dark and there are no windows. I am so tired of flying blind.
I run my hands along the walls of the ship, trying to distract myself by discovering all that I can about my surroundings.
There. I think I’ve found something. A tiny line, scratched into the wall near the floor:
An L, lowercase?
I smile a little to myself, at how I want to find letters in everything. It could be a scratch, the haphazard scarring and scraping that comes with the loading and shifting of cargo. But the more time I spend running my fingers over it, the more I’m convinced it was carved with intent. I try to feel for more but I can’t stretch any farther while I’m still strapped in.
Glancing up at the door to the hold, I unbuckle the strap and move quietly so that I can feel farther down.
There are many of them, carved in a row.
This letter must mean something, I think, to write it so many times, and then I realize; not letters. Notches. Like the ones Ky told me about the decoys cutting into their boots to mark time survived out in the work camps.
I remember what Ky told me about his friend Vick, how every day he marked was a day without the girl he loved.
Ky and I have been marking, too, with flags on the Hill. With the poetry of others and with words of our own. Whoever carved here was keeping time and holding on.
I do the same, running my fingers across each tiny groove in the metal over and over again, thinking about the pieces of the Gallery lifted up into the sky. I wonder if, when the Rising sets them down again to make a wall, some of the papers will have survived the flight.
The door to the hatch opens and Indie beckons for me to come up.
The ship is flying itself, somehow. Indie sits back down at the controls. She gestures for me to take the seat next to her and I do, my heart pounding. Until now, I’ve never been able to see while I fly, and I feel a dizzying lightness as I look out at the land below us.
Is this what I’ve missed?
The stars have come to the earth, and the ocean has turned over the ground; dark waves meet the sky. They are unmoving, barely visible but for the light of the sun rising behind them.
Mountains, I realize. That’s what the ocean is. Those waves are peaks. The stars are lights in houses and on streets. The earth reflects the sky and the sky meets the earth and, every now and then, if we’re lucky, we have a moment to see how small we are.
Thank you, I want to tell Indie. Thank you for letting me see while I fly. I have wanted it for so long.
Patient number 73 exhibits little to no improvement.
Patient number 74 exhibits little to no improvement.
Wait, that’s a mistake. I haven’t examined Patient 74 yet. I delete the notation and hook the vital-stats machine up to Patient 74. The display lights up with numbers. Her spleen is enlarged, so I turn her very carefully when I perform my exam. When I shine a light into her eyes, she doesn’t respond.
Patient number 74 exhibits little to no improvement.
I move on to the next patient. “I’m checking your stats again,” I tell him. “Nothing to worry about.”
It’s been weeks and none of the patients is getting better. The rashes along the infected nerves turn into boils, which would be extremely painful if the still could feel anything. We don’t think they can. But we’re not certain.
Only a few of us are left who haven’t gotten sick. I’m still a physic but because we’re so shorthanded I spend most of my time changing the patients’ nutrition bags and catheter bags, monitoring their stats, and performing physical exams. Then I sleep for a few hours and do it all again.
They don’t bring in new patients very often anymore, except for those who are already here working when they get sick. We don’t have room for anyone else because the still don’t go home. I used to pride myself on how fast we got patients into recovery. Now my satisfaction comes from keeping as many of them here as long as possible because these days, if a patient leaves, it means they’ve died.
Once I’m finished with this round, I’ll get to rest. I think I’ll be able to fall asleep quickly. I’m exhausted. If I didn’t know better, I’d think I was coming down with the mutated Plague myself. But this is the same old weariness I’ve felt for days.
Most of the workers at the medical center have figured out by now that those who have the small red mark are the exceptions among those of us who the Rising initially made immune. The virologist’s theory appears to be right. If someone was lucky enough to get exposed to the earlier Plague—the live virus—they’re now immune and carry the red mark on their backs. The Rising hasn’t told the general public about the mark because our leaders are worried about what will happen. And they’ve been trying to figure out a cure for the mutation.