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I swear under my breath. It’s a full drill. We’re actually going to take flight. I can feel my trip to Central slipping away.
Unless they send us there on our drill. There’s still a chance.
Indie leans forward to the speakers in the cockpit. “We’re missing our runner,” she says.
The door opens and another figure in black comes in. For a moment we can’t see who it is, and I think Maybe it’s Vick, or Eli. Why not? I’m paired with Indie, which feels almost as unlikely.
But Vick is dead and Eli is gone.
“You’re the runner?” Indie asks.
“Yes,” he says. He looks to be about our age, maybe a year or two older. I don’t think I’ve seen him before, but we get new people all the time in the camp. I catch sight of a few notches on his boots as he walks over to the hatch.
“You were in the decoy villages,” I say. There are a good number of us here who were decoys at one time or another.
His voice is flat. “Yes,” he says. “My name is Caleb.”
“I don’t think I knew you there,” I say.
“You didn’t,” he says, and disappears into the hold.
Indie raises her eyebrows at me. “Maybe they put him with us to equal things out,” she says. “Two smart, one stupid.”
“Do we have cargo for this drill?” I ask.
“Medical supplies,” Indie says.
“What kind?” I ask. “Is it real?”
“I don’t know,” she says. “The cases are all locked.”
Moments after Indie lifts us into the sky, the computer in the cockpit starts spitting out flight code.
I pull it out and read it.
“What does it say?” Indie asks.
“Grandia City,” I say. Not Central.
But Grandia’s in the same general direction. Maybe we could keep going past Grandia and on out to Central.
I don’t say anything to Indie, not yet.
We leave behind the dark spaces near the mountains where our camps are located and soar over the Boroughs on the outskirts of Camas City. Then we move over the City itself. There’s the river that goes through the City, and the taller buildings like the Hall.
A circle of white loops around them.
“How long has that been there?” I ask. I haven’t flown directly over the City in almost a week.
“I don’t know,” Indie says. “Can you tell what it is?”
“It looks like a wall,” I say. “Around City Hall and some other buildings.”
My uneasiness deepens. I keep my eyes on the control panel, resisting the urge to look over at Indie. Why is there a wall around the center of Camas City? And Indie and I have never been paired up to fly together before. Why now?
Is this how Cassia or Xander felt when they found out they were Matched? This can’t be right. All the odds are against it. So how is it happening?
Indie’s thoughts must be running along the same track as mine. “The Rising matched us up,” she says. And then, as Camas City disappears beneath us, she leans closer to whisper to me. “This isn’t a drill,” she says. “It’s the beginning.”
I think she’s right.
The medic finishes examining the little boy and stands up. “Your son is stable,” he tells the parents. “We’ve seen this illness before. People become lethargic and drift into a sleep-like state.” He gestures to the other medics, who come forward with a stretcher for the child. “We’ll take him to the medical center immediately, where we can give him the best possible care.”
The mother nods, her face pale. The father stands up to help with the stretcher but the medics move around him. “You’ll need to come with us,” the medic says to the boy’s parents. He gestures at the three of us Officials, too. “You’ll all need to be quarantined as a precaution.”
I glance over at Official Lei. She’s looking out the window now, in the direction of the mountains. People who are from this Province do that, I’ve noticed. They’re always looking to the mountains. Maybe they know something I don’t. Is that where the Pilot is?
I wish I could tell the parents of the little boy that everything is going to be fine. The fear on their faces tells me that they’re not part of the Rising. They don’t know that there’s a Pilot or a cure.
But there is. I’m sure of it. The Rising has it all planned out:
The Plague has been making inroads into the Provinces for months. The Society has managed to keep the illness contained, but one day it will break—and the Society will no longer be able to keep up with the spread of the disease. At this point, citizens will know what they have so far only suspected: there is a disease that the Society cannot cure.
When the Plague breaks, that is our beginning.
I’m part of the second phase of the Rising, which means that I’m supposed to wait until I hear the Pilot’s voice before I take action. When the Pilot speaks, I’m to report to the main medical center as soon as possible. I don’t know what the Pilot sounds like, but my contact within the Rising assured me that I’ll recognize the Pilot’s voice when the time comes.
This is going to be even easier than I thought. The Society’s about to take me in for quarantine. I’ll be ready and waiting when the Pilot finally speaks.
The medics hand us all masks and gloves before we climb into the air car. I pull the mask over my face even though I know none of the precautions are necessary for me. I can’t get the Plague.
That’s the other thing the Rising’s tablets do. Not only do they make you immune to the red tablet, they also make you immune to the Plague.
The baby wails as they put on his mask, and I glance over at him in concern. He might get sick, since he was likely exposed to the illness before we could give him the tablet.
But if he does get sick, I remind myself, the Rising has a cure.
There’s a river that winds through the middle of Camas City. During the daytime the water is blue. Tonight it looks like a broad black street. For a little while we hover along the dark surface of the water on our way into the center of the City.
The main City buildings, including the largest medical center in Camas, are all encircled by a high white wall. “When did that go up?” the father asks, but the medics don’t answer.
The wall is new. The Society has built it to keep the Plague contained. It’s one of many walls the Rising will have to tear down.
“Don’t say you don’t know,” the father says. “Officials know everything.” His voice sounds hard and angry now, and he looks first at Official Brewer, then Official Lei, then at me. I hold his gaze.
“We’ve told you what we can,” Official Brewer says. “Your family is under enough distress. I’d prefer not to add a citation to your difficulties.”
“I’m sorry,” Official Lei says to the father. I hear almost perfect empathy in her voice. I hope that’s the way the Pilot sounds.
The father turns around and faces forward again, his shoulders rigid. He doesn’t say anything more. I can’t wait to get out of this uniform. It promises more than we can deliver, and it represents something I haven’t believed in for a while now. Even Cassia’s face changed when she saw me wearing it for the first time.
“What do you think?” I asked her. I stood in front of the port and held my arms out to my sides and turned around, grinning, acting the way the Society would expect me to because I knew they were watching.
“I thought I’d be there when it happened,” she said, her eyes wide. I could tell from the tight sound of her voice that she was holding something back. Surprise? Anger? Sadness?
“I know,” I said. “They’ve changed the ceremony. They didn’t bring my parents out either.”
“Oh, Xander,” Cassia said. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be,” I said, teasing her. “We’ll be together when we celebrate our Contract.”
She didn’t deny it: not with the Society watching. So there we were. All I wanted was to reach her and it was impossible, since she was in Central and I was in Camas and we were talking through the ports in our apartments.
“Your shift must have ended hours ago,” she said. “Does this mean you left your uniform on all day to show off?” She was teasing back, and I relaxed.
“No,” I said. “The rules have changed. We have to wear our uniforms all the time now. Not just at work.”
“Even when you sleep?” she asked.
I laughed. “No,” I said. “Not then.”
She nodded and blushed a little. I wondered what she was thinking about. I wished we were together: face to face in the same room. In person, it’s a lot easier to show someone what you really mean.
All the questions I had for her crowded my mind.
Are you really all right? What happened in the Outer Provinces?
Did the blue tablets help you? Did you read my messages? Have you figured out my secret? Do you know that I’m part of the Rising? Did Ky tell you? Are you part of the Rising now, too?
You loved Ky when you went into the canyons. So, was it the same when you came out?
I don’t hate Ky. I respect him. But that doesn’t mean I think he should be with Cassia. I think she should be with whomever she wants to be with, and I still believe it could be me in the end.
“It’s nice, isn’t it,” she said, her face serious and committed, “to be part of something greater than yourself.”
“Yes,” I said, and our eyes met. Even with all that distance between us, I knew. She didn’t mean the Society. She meant the Rising. We’re both in the Rising. I felt like shouting and singing all at once but I couldn’t do either. “You’re right,” I said. “It is.”
“I like the red insignia,” she said, changing the subject. “Your favorite color.”
I grinned. She’d read the scraps I put in the blue tablets. She hadn’t forgotten about me while she was with Ky.
“I’ve been meaning to tell you,” she said. “I know I always said my favorite color was green. That’s what it says on my microcard. But I’ve changed it.”
“So what is it now?” I asked her.
“Blue,” she said. “Like your eyes.” She leaned forward a little. “There’s something about the blue.”
I wanted to think she was giving me a compliment, but that wasn’t it. She wanted to tell me something more. I knew there was meaning beyond what she was saying: but what? Why the addition of the word the? Why not say “There’s something about blue?”
I think she meant the blue tablets that I gave her back in the Borough. Was she trying to tell me that they saved her, the way we always believed they would? We all knew the tablets were meant to keep us alive in the event of a disaster. I wanted Cassia to have as many as possible when she left, just in case.
When I gave Cassia the tablets, I didn’t tell her the truth about how I got them. I tried to find the explanation that would cause her the least worry. What I had to do to get the papers and tablets for her was worth it. I keep telling myself that, and most of the time I believe it.