- Text Font:
- Text Size:
- Line Height:
- Line Break Height:
There’s a lot I’d like to ask her. What is her father like? What color did she wear when she was Matched? Why didn’t I find out all of this before? Now there’s not enough time for the little things. “You’re not a Society sympathizer,” I say instead. “I’ve always known that. But you weren’t Rising at the beginning.”
“I’m not Rising or Society,” she says. The fluid drips into her arm slowly. It can’t keep pace with what’s happening to her.
“Why don’t you believe in the Rising?” I ask. “Or the Pilot?”
“I don’t know,” she says. “I wish I could.”
“What do you believe?” I ask.
“My father also taught me that the earth is a giant stone,” she says. “Rolling and turning through the sky. And we’re all on it together. I do believe that.”
“Why don’t we fall off?” I ask.
“We couldn’t if we tried,” she says. “There’s something that holds us here.”
“So the world is moving under my feet right now,” I say.
“But I don’t feel it.”
“You will,” she says. “Someday. If you lie down and hold very still.”
She looks at me. We both realize what she’s said: still.
“I was hoping to see him again before this happened,” she says.
I almost say, I’m here. But looking at her I know that it’s not going to be enough, because I’m not who she wants. I’ve seen someone look at me this way before. Not through me, exactly, but beyond to someone else.
“I was hoping,” she says, “that he’d find me.”
After she’s still, I find a stretcher left behind by the medics. I lie her down and hang up the bag. One of the head medics comes past. “We don’t have room in this wing,” he says.
“She’s one of ours,” I tell him. “We’re making room.”
He has the red mark, too, so he doesn’t hesitate to bend down and look more closely at her. Recognition crosses his face. “Lei,” he says. “One of the best. The two of you worked together even before the Plague, didn’t you?”
“Yes,” I tell him.
The medic’s face is sympathetic. “Feels like that was in a whole different world, doesn’t it?” he says.
“Yes,” I say. It does. I feel strangely detached, like I’m watching myself take care of Lei. It’s just the exhaustion, but I wonder if this is what it feels like to be still. Their bodies stay in one place, but can their minds go somewhere else?
Maybe part of Lei is floating around the medical center and going to all the places she knew. She’s in the patients’ rooms, overseeing their care. She’s in the courtyard, breathing in the night air. She’s at the port, looking at the painting of the girl fishing. Or, maybe she’s left the medical center behind and gone to find him. They could be together even now.
I bring Lei into the room with the others. There are a hundred and one of them now, all staring up at the ceiling or off to the sides. “You’re due to sleep now,” the head physic tells me from the port.
“I will in a minute,” I say. “Let me get her settled.” I call for one of the medics to come over to help me perform the physical exam.
“She’s all right so far,” the medic says. “Nothing’s enlarged, and her blood pressure is decent.” She reaches out and touches my hand before she leaves. “I’m sorry,” she says.
I’m looking into Lei’s staring-up eyes. I’ve talked to lots of other patients, but I’m not sure what to say to her. “I’m sorry,” I say, echoing the medic’s words to me. It’s not enough: I can’t do anything for Lei.
Then I get an idea, and before I can talk myself out of it, I take off down the hall for the cafeteria and the port where Lei was looking at the paintings.
“Please have paper, please have paper,” I say to the port. If I’m talking to patients who can’t answer, why not talk to the port, too?
The port listens. It prints out all of the Hundred Paintings when I enter the command. I gather up those pages full of color and light and take them with me. This is what I did for Cassia when she left me: I tried to give her something I knew she loved to take with her.
Most of the other workers think I’m crazy, but one of the nurses agrees that my idea might help. “If nothing else, it’ll give me something different to look at,” she says, and she finds adhesive tape and surgical thread in the supply closet and helps me hang the pictures from the ceiling, above the patients.
“Port paper deteriorates pretty fast,” I say, “so we’ll have to print them out every few days. And we should rotate them through. We don’t want the patients getting sick of any one painting.” I step back to survey what we’ve done. “It would be better if we had new pictures. I don’t want the patients to think they’re back in the Society.”
“We could make some,” another nurse says eagerly. “I’ve always missed drawing, the way we did in First School.”
“What would you use?” I ask. “We don’t have any paints.”
“I’ll think of something,” she says. “Haven’t you always wanted the chance?”
“No,” I say. I think it surprises her, so I smile to take the edge off. I wonder if I’d be a different kind of person, the kind Lei and Cassia could fall in love with, if I had.
“The head physic is going to pull you from your next shift if you don’t go to the sleeproom now,” the nurse tells me.
“I know,” I say. “I heard him on the port.”
But there’s someone I have to speak to before I go. “I’m sorry,” I tell Lei. The words are as inadequate as they were the first time, so I try again. “They’ll find a cure, don’t you think?” I point to the painting hanging above her. “There’s got to be some light in a corner somewhere.” I wouldn’t have seen the light if she hadn’t pointed it out, but once she did, it became impossible to ignore.
On my way to the sleeproom, the door to the courtyard opens and someone in black steps out into the hall, blocking my way. I stop in my tracks. It’s a girl I’ve seen before, but my exhausted mind won’t let me place exactly where. Regardless, I know she doesn’t belong here in our locked-down wing. The head physic didn’t tell me anyone new was coming in, and even if they did, they’d have to come through the main door.
“Oh good,” the girl says. “There you are. I’ve been looking for you.”
“How did you get in here?” I ask.
“I flew,” she says. Then she smiles, and I know exactly who she is: Indie, the girl who brought the cures in with Ky once before. “I might also have some keycodes for the doors,” she says.
“You shouldn’t be here,” I tell her. “This place is full of people who are sick.”
“I know,” she says, “but you’re not, are you?”
“No,” I say. “I’m not sick.”
“I need you to come with me,” she says. “Now.”
“No,” I say. This doesn’t make any sense. “I’m a physic here.” I can’t leave all the still, and I certainly can’t leave Lei. I reach for the miniport.
“But I’m here to take you to Cassia,” Indie says, and I drop my hand. Is she telling the truth? Could Cassia really be close by somewhere? Then fear rushes over me. “Is she in the medical center?” I ask. “Is she sick?”
“Oh no,” Indie says. “She’s fine. She’s outside, on my ship.”
All these months I’ve wanted to see Cassia again, and now I might have the chance. But I can’t do it. There are too many still, and one of them is Lei. “I’m sorry,” I tell Indie. “I have to take care of the patients here. And you’ve been exposed to the mutation now. You shouldn’t leave. You need to go to quarantine.”
She sighs. “He thought you might be hard to convince. So I’m supposed to tell you that if you come with me, you’ll be able to help him work on the cure.”
“Who are you talking about?” I ask.
“The Pilot, of course.” She says it so matter-of-factly that I believe her.
The Pilot wants me to help work on the cure.
“He knows you have firsthand knowledge of the mutated Plague,” Indie says. “He needs you.”
I look back down the hallway.
“Now,” Indie says. “He needs you now. There’s no time to say good-bye.” Her voice is honest and unflinching. “Can any of them hear you anyway?”
“I don’t know,” I say.
“You trust the Pilot,” Indie says.
“But have you ever met him?”
“No,” I say. “But you have.”
“Yes,” Indie says. She enters a code and pushes open the door. It’s almost morning now. “And you’re right to believe in him.”
Ky,” she whispers to me. “Ky.”
Her hand is soft against my cheek. I can’t seem to wake up. Maybe it’s because I don’t want to. It’s been too long since I dreamed about Cassia.
“Ky,” she says again. I open my eyes.
She sees in my face that I’m disappointed. Her expression falters a little, but even in the very faint light of early morning I can see triumph in her eyes.
“What are you doing?” I ask her. “You should be in quarantine.” After we brought back Caleb, they took him away and locked Indie and me both up in quarantine cells here at the base. At least they didn’t put us in City Hall. “How did you get in here?” I ask, looking around. The door to my cell is open. Everyone else that I can see looks asleep.
“I did it,” she says. “I’ve got a ship. And I’ve got her.” She grins. “While you were sleeping, I flew to Central.”
“You went to Central?” I say, standing up. “And you found her?”
“Yes,” Indie says. “She’s not sick. She’s fine. And now you can run.”
Now we can run. We can get out of here. I know it’s dangerous but I feel like I can do anything if Cassia’s really in Camas. When I stand up, I’m dizzy for a second and I put my hand on the wall for support. Indie pauses. “Are you all right?” she asks.
“Of course,” I say. Cassia’s no longer in Central. She’s here and she’s safe.
In unison, Indie and I slip out the door of the cell and start for the fields. The grasses whisper to each other in the pale dark and I start to run. Indie stays next to me, keeping pace.
“You should have seen the landings I did.” Indie says. “They were perfect. Better than perfect. People are going to tell stories about them someday.” Indie sounds almost giddy. I haven’t heard her like this before, and it’s contagious.