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“How does she look?” I ask.
“The same as always,” Indie says, and I start laughing and stop running and reach to grab Indie and spin her around and kiss her cheek and thank her for managing the impossible, but then I remember.
I could be sick. So could she.
“Thank you,” I tell Indie. “I wish we weren’t quarantined.”
“Does it really matter?” she asks, coming a tiny bit closer. Her face is full of pure joy and I feel that kiss again on my lips.
“Yes,” I say, “it does.” Then I’m struck by fear. “You made sure Cassia wasn’t exposed to the new virus, didn’t you?”
“She rode in the hold almost the whole time,” Indie says. “The ship had been sterilized. I didn’t really even talk to her.”
I’ll have to be careful. Wear a mask, stay out of the hold, keep my distance from Cassia . . . but at the very least, I can see her. Too good to be true, some instinct within me warns. You and Cassia together, flying away, just like you imagined? Things don’t happen like that.
If you let hope inside, it takes you over. It feeds on your insides and uses your bones to climb and grow. Eventually it becomes the thing that is your bones, that holds you together. Holds you up until you don’t know how to live without it anymore. To pull it out of you would kill you entirely.
“Indie Holt,” I say, “you are too good to be true.”
Indie laughs. “No one’s ever called me good before.”
“Sure they have,” I say. “When you’re flying.”
“No,” she says. “Then they say I’m great.”
“That’s right,” I say, “you are,” and in unison we’re both running again for the ships. They huddle against the morning like a flock of metal birds.
“This one,” Indie says, and I follow her. “You first,” she says.
I scramble up into the cockpit, turning around to ask, “Who’s going to fly?”
“I am,” says a familiar voice.
The Pilot emerges from the shadows at the back of the cockpit.
“It’s all right,” Indie says to me. “He’s the one who’s going to help you run, all the way to the mountains.”
Neither the Pilot nor I say anything. It’s strange not hearing his voice again. I’m so used to him talking at us from the screen.
“Is she really here?” I ask Indie quietly, hoping that she lied to me about Cassia being on board. Something about this seems wrong. Can’t Indie feel it?
“Go see,” Indie says, pointing to the hold. She smiles. Then I know. She doesn’t think this is a trap, and Cassia’s here. That’s clear, even though nothing else is. Something’s wrong with me. I can’t think right, and when I climb down into the hold, I almost lose my footing.
There she is. After all these months, we’re on the same ship. All I want, right here. Let’s take the Pilot down, let’s run, let’s take each other all the way to the Otherlands. Cassia looks up at me, her expression strong and wise and beautiful.
But Cassia’s not alone.
Xander’s with her.
Where is the Pilot taking all of us? Indie trusts him, but I don’t.
Indie, what have you done?
“You wouldn’t run with me,” Indie says, “so I brought her to you. Now you can go to the mountains.”
“You’re not coming with us,” I say, realizing.
“If things were different, I would,” Indie says, and when she looks at me, it’s hard to hold her honest, longing gaze. “But they aren’t. And I still have flying to do.” And then, fast, like a fish or a bird, she disappears from the entrance to the hold. No one can catch Indie when it’s time for her to move.
We were supposed to meet months ago on a dark early-spring night by the lake, where we could be alone.
Ky’s face is drawn with fatigue, and I catch the scent of sage and sand and grass, of the world outdoors. I know that look of stone in his face, that set of his jaw. His skin is rough. His eyes are deep.
We began with his hand around mine, showing me shapes.
In Ky’s eyes is such complete love and hunger that it goes through me like the sharp, high note of a bird in the canyon, echoing all the way through my body. I am seen and known, if not yet touched.
The moment sings between us and then everything turns to motion.
“No,” Ky says, moving back toward the ladder. “I forgot. I can’t be down here with you.”
He’s too late; the Pilot has closed the hatch above us. Ky pounds on the door as the engines fire up and the Pilot’s voice comes through the speakers. “Prepare for takeoff,” he says. I grab hold of one of the straps hanging from the ceiling. Xander does the same. Ky still hammers at the door to the hold.
“I can’t stay,” he says. “There’s an illness out there, worse than the Plague, and I’ve been exposed to it.” His eyes look wild.
“It’s all right,” Xander tries to tell Ky, but Ky can’t hear over the roar of the engines and the pounding of his hands.
“Ky,” I say, as loud as I can, between the beats of his fists hitting the metal. “It’s. All. Right. I. Can’t. Get. Sick.”
Then he turns around.
“Neither can Xander,” I say.
“How do you know?” Ky asks.
“We both have the mark,” Xander says.
Xander turns around and pulls down his collar so Ky can see. “If you’ve got this, it means you can’t get the mutated Plague.”
“I have it, too,” I say. “Xander looked for me when we were flying here.”
“I’ve been working with the mutation for weeks,” Xander says.
“What about me?” Ky asks. He turns around, and in one fast motion, pulls his shirt over his head. There, in the dim light of the air ship, I see the planes and muscles of his back, smooth and brown.
And nothing else.
My throat tightens. “Ky,” I say.
“You don’t have it,” Xander says, his words blunt but his voice sympathetic. “You should stay away from us, in case your exposure didn’t actually infect you. We could still be carriers.”
Ky nods and pulls his shirt back over his head. When he turns to us there’s something haunted and relieved in his eyes. He didn’t expect to be immune; he’s never been lucky. But he’s glad that I am. My eyes burn with angry tears. Why does it always have to be like this for Ky? How does he stand it?
He keeps moving.
The Pilot’s voice comes in through a speaker in the wall. “The flight won’t be long,” he tells us.
“Where are we going?” Ky asks.
The Pilot doesn’t answer.
“To the mountains,” I say, at the same time Xander says, “To help the Pilot find a cure.”
“That’s what Indie told you,” Ky says, and Xander and I nod. Ky raises his eyebrows as if to say, But what does the Pilot have in mind?
“There’s something in the hold for Cassia,” the Pilot says. “It’s in a case at the back.”
Xander finds the case first and pushes it toward me. He and Ky both watch as I open it up. Inside are two things: a datapod and a folded piece of white paper.
I take out the datapod first and hand it to Xander to hold. Ky stays on the other side of the ship. Then I lift out the paper. It’s slick, white paper from a port, and heavier than it should be, folded in an intricate pattern to conceal something inside. When I peel away the layers, I see Grandfather’s microcard in the center.
Bram sent it after all.
He sent something else, too. Radiating out from the middle of the paper are lines of dark writing. A code.
I recognize the pattern in the writing—he’s made it look like a game I once made for him on the scribe. This is my brother’s writing. Bram taught himself to write, and instead of just deciphering my message, he’s put together a simple code of his own. We thought he couldn’t pay attention to detail, but he can, when it interests him enough. He would have been a wonderful sorter after all.
My eyes fill with tears as I picture my exiled family at their home in Keya. I only asked for the microcard, but they sent more. The code from Bram, the paper from my mother—I think I see her careful hand in the folding. The only one who didn’t send anything is my father.
“Please,” the Pilot says, “go ahead and view the microcard.” His tone remains polite, but I hear a command in his words.
I slide the microcard into the datapod. It’s an older model, but it only takes a few seconds for the first image to load. And there he is. Grandfather. His wonderful, kind, clever face. I haven’t seen him in almost a year, except in my dreams.
“Is the datapod working?” the Pilot asks.
“Yes,” I say, my throat aching. “Yes, thank you.”
For a moment, I forget that I’m looking for something specific—Grandfather’s favorite memory of me. Instead I’m distracted by the pictures of his life.
Grandfather, young, a child standing with his parents. A little older, wearing plainclothes, and then with his arm around a young woman. My grandmother. Grandfather appears holding a baby, my father, with my grandmother laughing next to him, and then that too is gone.
Bram and I appear on the screen with Grandfather.
The screen stops on a picture of Grandfather at the end of his life, his handsome face and dark eyes looking out from the datapod with humor and strength.
“In parting, as is customary, Samuel Reyes made a list of his favorite memory of each of his surviving family members,” the historian says. “The one he chose of his daughter-in-law, Molly, was the day they first met.”
My father remembered that day, too. Back in the Borough, he told me how he went with his parents to meet my mother at the train. My father said they all fell in love with her that day; that he’d never seen anyone so warm and alive.
“His favorite memory of his son, Abran, was the day they had their first real argument.”
There must be a story behind this memory. I’ll have to ask my father about it when I see him again. He rarely argues with anyone. I feel a little pang. Why didn’t Papa send me something? But he must have approved of their sending the microcard. My mother would never have gone behind my father’s back.
“His favorite memory of his grandson, Bram, was his first word,” the historian says. “It was ‘more.’”
Now, my turn. I find myself leaning forward, the way I did when I was small and Grandfather told me things.
“His favorite memory of his granddaughter, Cassia,” the historian says, “was of the red garden day.”
Bram was right. He heard the historian correctly. She did say day. Not days. So did the historian make a mistake? I wish they’d let Grandfather speak for himself. I’d like to hear his voice saying these words. But that’s not the way the Society did things.
This has told me nothing except that Grandfather loved me—no small thing, but something I already knew. And a red garden day could be any time of year. Red leaves in the fall, red flowers in the summer, red buds in the spring, and even, sometimes, when we sat outside in the winter, our noses and cheeks turned red from the cold and the sun set crimson in the west. Red garden days. There were so many of them.