Page 3

 Ally Condie

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“Will it take long?” I ask her.
She doesn’t answer.
As we ride in the air train, we pass by the lake, dark now in the distance.
No one goes to the lake here. It still suffers from pre-Society pollution and isn’t safe for walking in or drinking. The Society tore out most of the docks and wharves where people long ago used to keep boats. But, when it’s light, you can see that there are three piers left in one spot, jutting out into the water like three fingers, all equal length, all reaching. Months ago, when I first came here, I told Ky of this place and that it would be a good spot to meet, something he could see from above that I have noticed from below.
And now, on the other side of the air train, the dome of Central’s City Hall comes into view, a too-close moon that never sets. In spite of myself, I have a little stirring of pride and hear the notes of the Anthem of the Society singing in my mind whenever I see the familiar shape of a Hall.
No one goes to Central’s City Hall.
There’s a tall white wall around the Hall and the other buildings nearby. The wall has been here since before I came. “Renovations,” everyone says. “The Society will open the stillzone back up again soon.”
I’m fascinated by the stillzone, and by its name, which no one seems to be able to explain to me. I’m also intrigued by what’s on the other side of the barrier, and sometimes after work I take a small detour on my way home so that I can walk next to the smooth, white surface. I keep thinking of how many paintings Ky’s mother could have put along the length of the wall, which curves back in what I imagine is a perfect circle. I’ve never followed it all the way around, so I can’t be sure.
Those I’ve asked are uncertain about how long the barrier has been here—all they say is that it went up sometime in the last year. They don’t seem to remember why it’s really here, and if they do, they’re not saying.
I want to know what’s behind those walls.
I want so much: happiness, freedom, love. And I want a few other tangible things, too.
Like a poem, and a microcard. I’m still waiting for two trades to come in. I traded two of my poems for the end of another, one that began I did not reach Thee and tells of a journey. I found the beginning of it in the Carving and knew I had to have the end.
And the other trade is even more expensive, even more risky—I traded seven poems to bring Grandfather’s microcard from my parents’ house in Keya here to me. I asked the trader to approach Bram first with an encoded note. I knew Bram could decipher it. After all, he’d figured out the games I made for him on the scribe when he was younger. And I thought he’d be more likely to send the microcard than either of my parents.
Bram. I’d like to find a silver watch for him to replace the one the Society took. But so far the price has been too high. I rejected a trade for a watch earlier today at the air-train stop on my way to work. I will pay what’s fair, but not too much. Perhaps this is what I learned in the canyons: What I am, what I’m not, what I’ll give, and what I won’t.
The sorting center is filled to capacity. We are some of the last to arrive, and an Official ushers us to our empty cubicles. “Please begin immediately,” she says, and no sooner have I sat down in my chair than words appear on the screen: Next sort: exponential pairwise matching.
I keep my eyes on the screen and my expression neutral. Inside, I feel a little tick of excitement, a tiny skip in the beat of my heart.
This is the kind of sort the Rising told me to look for.
The workers around me give no indication that the sort means anything to them. But I’m sure there are others in the room looking at these words and wondering Is it finally time?
Wait for the actual data, I remind myself. I’m not just looking out for a sort; I’m also looking out for a particular set of information, which I’m supposed to mismatch.
In exponential pairwise matching, each element is ranked by assigning an importance to each of its properties, and then paired to another element whose property rankings fit optimally. It is an intricate, complicated, tedious sort, the kind that requires every bit of our focus and attention.
The screen flickers and then the data comes up.
This is it.
The right sort. The right data set.
Is this the beginning of the Rising?
For a brief moment, I hesitate. Am I confident that the Rising can bug the error-checking algorithm? What if they didn’t? My mistakes will all be noted. The chime will sound, and an Official will come to see what I’m doing.
My fingers don’t tremble as I push one element across the screen, fighting the natural impulse to put the element where my training says it should go. I guide it slowly to its new location and slowly lift my finger, holding my breath.
No chime sounds.
The Rising’s bug worked.
I think I hear a breath of relief, a tiny exhalation somewhere else in the room. And then I feel something, a cottonwood seed of memory, light and flitting on the breeze, floating through.
Have I done this before?
But there’s no time to follow the wisp of memory. I have to sort.
It’s almost more difficult to sort incorrectly at this point; I’ve spent so many months and years of my life trying to get things right. This feels counterintuitive, but it is what the Rising wants.
For the most part, the data comes through quick and relentless. But there’s a short lag while we wait for more of it to load. That means that some of it is coming from off-site.
The fact that we’re doing the sort in real time seems to indicate that there’s a rush. Could the Rising be happening now?
Will Ky and I be together for it?
For a moment I picture the black of ships coming in above the white dome of the Hall and I feel the cool air through my hair as I rush to meet him. Then the warm pressure of his lips on mine, and this time there is no good-bye, but a new beginning.
“We’re Matching,” someone says out loud.
He breaks my concentration. I look up from the screen, blinking.
How long have we been sorting? I’ve been working hard, trying to do what the Rising asked. At some point I became lost in the data, in the task at hand.
Out of the corner of my eye, I catch a glimpse of green—Army Officers in uniform moving in on the man who spoke.
I saw the Officials when we first came in, but how long have Officers been here?
“For the Banquet,” the man says. He laughs. “Something’s happened. We’re Matching for the Banquet. The Society can’t keep up anymore.”
I keep my head down and continue sorting, but at the moment they drag him past me I glance up. His mouth is gagged and his words unintelligible, and above the cloth his eyes meet mine for a brief moment as they take him away.
My hands tremble over my screen. Is he right?
Are we Matching people?
Today is the fifteenth. The Banquet is tonight.
The Official back in the Borough told me that they Match a week before the Banquet. Has that changed? What has happened that would make the Society in such a rush? Data culled so near to the Banquet will be prone to errors because they won’t have much time to check for accuracy.
And besides, the Match Department has its own sorters. The Matches are of paramount importance to the Society. There should be people higher than us to see to it.
Perhaps the Society doesn’t have more time. Perhaps they don’t have enough personnel. Something is happening out there. It almost feels like they’d done the Matching before, but now they have to do it again at the last minute.
Perhaps the data has changed.
If we’re Matching, then the data represents people: eye color, hair color, temperament, favorite leisure activity. What could have changed about so many people so quickly?
Maybe they haven’t changed. Maybe they’re gone.
What could have caused such a decimation in the Society’s data? Will they have time to make the microcards or will the silver boxes stay empty tonight?
A piece of data comes up and then gets taken down almost before I see it at all.
Like Ky’s face on the microcard that day.
Why try to have the Banquet like this? When the margin of error is so high?
Because the Banquet is the most important celebration in the Society. The Matching is what makes the other ceremonies possible; it’s the Society’s crowning achievement. If they stop having it, even for a month, people will know that something is very, very wrong.
Which is why, I realize, the Rising added the bug, so that some of us could Match incorrectly without getting caught. We’re causing further havoc with an already compromised data set.
“Please stand up,” the Official says. “Take out your tablet containers.”
I do, and so do the others, faces appearing from behind the partitions, eyes bewildered, expressions worried.
Are you immune? I want to ask them. Are you going to remember this?
Am I?
“Remove the red tablet,” the Official says. “Please wait until an Official is near you to observe you taking the tablet. There’s nothing to worry about.”
The Officials move through the room. They’re prepared. When someone swallows down a red tablet, the Officials refill the containers right away.
They knew they’d have to use these, at some point, tonight.
Hands to mouths, memories to nothing, red going down.
The little seed of memory floats past again. I have a nagging feeling that it’s something to do with the sort. If I could only remember—
Remember. I hear footsteps on the floor. They’re getting closer to me. I wouldn’t have dared to do this before, but trading with the Archivists has taught me to be stealthy, sleight of hand. I unscrew the lid and slip the paper—remember—into my sleeve.
“Please take the tablet,” the Official tells me.
This isn’t like last time, back in the Borough. The Official standing in front of me isn’t going to look the other way, and there’s no grass beneath my feet to grind the tablet into.
I don’t want to take the tablet. I don’t want to lose my memories.
But perhaps I am immune to the red tablet, like Ky, and Xander, and Indie. I might remember everything.
And, no matter what, I will remember Ky. They’re too late to take him from me.
“Now,” the Official says.
I drop the tablet into my mouth.
It tastes like salt. A drip of sweat running down, or a drop of tears, or, perhaps, a sip of the sea.
The Pilot lives in the Borders, here in Camas.
The Pilot doesn’t live anywhere. He or she is always on the move.
The Pilot’s dead.
The Pilot can’t be killed.
These are the rumors that people whisper in the camp. We don’t know who the Pilot is, or even if the Pilot is male or female, young or old.
Our commanders tell us that the Pilot needs us and can’t do this without us. We’re the ones the Pilot will use to take down the Society—and it’s going to be soon.
But of course the trainees can’t help but talk about the Pilot any chance they get. Some speculate that the Chief Pilot, the one who oversees our training, is the Pilot—the leader of the Rising.
Most of the trainees want to please the Chief Pilot so badly you can feel it rolling off them in waves. I don’t care. I’m not in the Rising because of the Pilot. I’m here because of Cassia.