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When I first came to this camp, I worried that the Rising might use us like decoys the way the Society did, but the rebellion has invested too much in our training. I don’t think they’ve trained us to die. But I’m not sure what kind of life they’ve trained us for either. If the Rising works, what happens next? That’s the part they don’t often talk about. They say that everyone will have more freedom and that there won’t be Aberrations or Anomalies anymore. But that’s about all they’ll say.
The Society is right about Aberrations. We’re dangerous. I’m the kind of person a good citizen imagines coming up behind them in the night—a black shadow with hollow eyes. But, of course, the Society thinks that I already died in the Outer Provinces, another Aberration cleared away.
Dead man flying
“Give me a couple of steep turns,” my commander says through the speaker on the panel. “I want a left turn to a south heading and a right turn back to the north heading—one hundred and eighty degrees on each.”
“Yes, sir,” I say.
They’re testing my coordination and mastery of the ship. A coordinated turn with sixty degrees of bank exerts twice the force of gravity on the air ship and on me. I can’t make any abrupt corrections or changes or the ship might stall or break apart.
As I perform the turns, I can feel my head, my arms, my whole body sinking into the seat beneath me, and I have to strain to hold myself upright. When I finish, my heart pounds and my body feels unnaturally light at the lifting of the extra pressure.
“Excellent,” my commander says.
They say that the Chief Pilot watches us. Some of the trainees think they’ve ridden with the Chief Pilot—that he’s disguised himself as a trainer. I don’t believe that. But it’s true he could be watching.
I pretend that she is too.
I turn the air ship in the sky. When I first came up it was raining but now all of that is below me.
She’s far away right now. But I’ve always hoped that through some trick of distance and desire she might look up and see something black against the sky and know it’s me by how I fly. Stranger things have happened.
And soon I’ll be finished with my practice flight and they’ll send me out on my real assignment for the night. When they handed out the assignments last week, I couldn’t believe my luck. Central. At last. Later tonight, she really could see me flying, if she looks up at the right time.
I bank again and then begin to climb. We only fly alone like this when we’re on a training run. Usually, the Rising has us work in groups of three: a pilot, a copilot, and a runner who rides in the hold and takes care of the errands—the forays into the Society that the Rising conducts as stealthily as possible. I like it best when they let the pilots and copilots help the runners and we sneak through the streets of a City on a mission for the Rising.
Tonight, I’m assigned to stay with the ship, but I’ll find a way around it. I’m not getting that close to Cassia and then staying on board the whole time we’re in Central. I’ll find some excuse to leave and run to the lake. Maybe I won’t come back, even though in some ways I do fit in with the Rising better than I have anywhere else.
I’ve had the ideal upbringing to work with the rebellion. I spent years perfecting the art of being unnoticed in the Society, and I had a father who didn’t accept the way things were. I understand him better up here, where he has never been, than I ever did on the ground. Sometimes a line from the Thomas poem comes to mind:
And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
If I could do what I really wanted, I’d gather up everyone I care about and fly them away. I’d swoop down first in Central, for Cassia, and then I’d get everyone else, wherever they might be. I’d find my aunt and uncle, Patrick and Aida. I’d find Cassia’s parents and her brother, Bram, and Xander and Em and all the others from the Borough where we grew up. I’d find Eli. Then I’d soar back up again.
You could never fly with that many in this ship. It’s too small.
But if I could, I’d take us somewhere safe. I don’t know where yet but I’d know it when I saw it. It might be an island somewhere out in the water, where Indie once believed you could find the Rising.
I don’t think the Carving itself is safe anymore—but I think out in the old Enemy territory there must be some other secret place where we could run. If you go to a museum now, you see that the Society has changed the Outer Provinces—made them smaller on the map. If the Rising fails to overturn the Society, by the next generation the Outer Provinces might not show on the maps at all. It makes me wonder what’s out there that I know nothing about and how else the Society might have altered maps over the years. There must be a world past the Enemy territory. How much has been erased and taken away?
I wouldn’t care how small the world became as long as I had Cassia at the center of mine. I joined the Rising so we could be together. But they sent her back to Central and now I keep flying because that’s the best way I can think of to get to her, as long as the Society doesn’t shoot me down.
There’s always that risk. But I’m careful. I don’t take unncecessary chances like some of the others who want to impress the Chief Pilot. If I die, I’m no good to Cassia. And I want to find Patrick and Aida. I don’t want them to think that they’ve lost another son. One is enough.
They think of me as their own, but they always saw me as who I was. Ky. Not Matthew, their son who died before I came to live with them.
I don’t know much about Matthew. We never met. But I know that his parents loved him very much, and that his father thought Matthew would be a sorter someday. I know that he was visiting Patrick at work when an Anomaly attacked them.
Patrick survived. Matthew did not. He was just a kid. Not old enough to be Matched. Not old enough to have his final work assignment yet. And certainly not old enough to die.
I don’t know what happens after we die. It doesn’t seem to me like there can be much past this. But I suppose I can conceive that what we make and do can last beyond us. Maybe in a different place, on another plane.
So. Maybe I’d like to take us somewhere higher, above the world entirely. It’s colder the farther up you climb. It could be that if I flew us high enough, all the things my mother painted would be waiting, frozen.
Dead man breathing
I remember the last time I saw Cassia, on the bank of a river. The rain had turned to snow and she told me that she loved me.
Dead man living
I bring the ship in fast and smooth. The ground comes up to meet me, and the sky shrinks down from being all that I can see to a line on the horizon. It’s almost completely dark.
I’m not dead at all. I’ve never been more alive.
The camp feels busy tonight. “Ky,” someone says as they pass by me. I nod in return but keep my eyes on the mountains. I haven’t made the mistake of getting too comfortable with people out here. I’ve learned my lesson, again. The two friends I had in the decoy camps are both gone. Vick’s dead and Eli’s in those mountains somewhere. I don’t know what happened to him.
There’s only one person here who I’d call a friend, and I knew her from the Carving.
I see her when I push open the door to the meal hall. As always, even though she stands near some of the others, there’s a little circle of isolation around her, and people look at her with admiring, perplexed expressions. She’s widely regarded as one of the best pilots in our camp. But there’s still space between her and everyone else. I’ve never been able to tell if she notices or cares.
“Indie,” I say, walking up to her. I’m always relieved to see her alive. Even though she’s an errand pilot like me, not a fighter pilot, I always think she might not make it back. The Society’s still out there. And Indie’s as unpredictable as ever.
“Ky,” she says without preamble. “We’ve been talking. How do you think the Pilot’s going to come?” Her voice carries, and people turn to look at us. “I used to believe that the Pilot would come on the water,” Indie says. “That’s what my mother always told me. But I don’t think that anymore. It’s got to be the sky. Don’t you think? Water isn’t everywhere. Sky is.”
“I don’t know,” I say. This how it always feels to be with her—a mixture of amusement and admiration and exasperation. The few trainees remaining around her mutter excuses and start across the room, leaving us alone.
“Do you have an errand tonight?” I ask her.
“Not tonight,” she says. “Are you off, too? Want to walk to the river?”
“I’m on duty,” I say.
“Where are you going?”
We’re not supposed to tell each other where our assignments are, but I lean closer, so close that I can see the dark blue flecks in the light pools of Indie’s eyes. “Central,” I say. I waited until now to break the rules and tell her because I didn’t want her to try to talk me out of going. She knows that once I get to Central, there’s a chance I might find a way to stay.
Indie doesn’t blink. “You’ve been waiting a long time for an assignment there,” she says. She pushes her chair away from the table and stands up to leave. “Make sure you come back,” she says.
I don’t promise her anything. I’ve never been able to lie to Indie.
I’ve just started eating when the siren sounds.
Not a drill. Not tonight. This can’t happen.
I rise with the rest of the trainees and head outside. Figures, fast and dark like me, run for the ships. By the looks of things, it’s a full drill. The runways and fields are crowded with ships and trainees, all following procedure to prepare for the time when we all run one massive errand to take over the Society. I switch on my miniport. Report to Runway 13, the message reads. Group Three. Ship C-5. Copilot.
I don’t think I’ve flown that ship before, though it doesn’t really matter. I’ll have flown something like it. But why am I the copilot? I’m usually the pilot, no matter who I’m flying with.
“To your ships!” commanders call out. The sirens keep on shrilling.
When I get closer to the ship I see that the lights are already on and someone’s moving inside the cockpit. The pilot must already be on board.
I climb the steps and open the door.
Indie turns to look at me and her eyes widen in surprise. “What are you doing?” she asks.
“I’m the copilot,” I say. “Are you the pilot?”
“Yes,” she says.
“Did you know they were putting us together?”
“No,” she says. She turns back to the panel to start up the engines on the ship, a sound familiar and unnerving at the same time. Then she glances over her shoulder at me, her long braid whipping around. She looks angry. “Why waste two of us on the same ship? We’re both good.”
The group commander’s voice comes in from the speaker in the cockpit. “Begin final checks in preparation for departure.”