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I don’t see any signs of rebellion as we arrive inside the white barricade. The Society appears to be in absolute control of the situation. A huge white tent marks the triage area, and they’ve set up temporary lights throughout the grounds inside the walls. Officials wearing protective gear oversee everything. Other air cars full of medics and patients land near us.
I’m not worried. I know the Rising’s coming. And, without knowing it, the Society has delivered me almost exactly where I need to be. I wish Cassia and I could be together to see it all happen and to hear the Pilot for the first time. I wonder what she thinks of it all. She’s in the Rising. She must know about the Plague, too.
“Infected to the right,” an Official in a hazmat suit tells our medics. “Quarantine to the left.”
I glance over to the left to see where he’s pointing. Camas’s City Hall.
“They must have run out of space in the medical center,” Official Lei says softly to me.
That’s a good sign: a very good sign. The Plague is moving quickly. It’s only a matter of time before the Rising will need to step in. Already, most of the Society Officials look harried as they direct the traffic of people.
We walk up the steps and into City Hall. For a second I imagine that Cassia’s walking next to me and we’re on our way to the Banquet.
Official Lei pushes open the doors. “Keep moving,” someone inside directs us, but I understand why people might stop in their tracks. The Hall has changed.
Inside the huge open area under the dome, there are rows and rows of tiny clear cells. I know what they are: temporary containment centers that can be constructed anywhere in case of an epidemic or pandemic. I’ve learned about them in my training but have never seen them for myself.
The cells can be taken apart and put together in different configurations, like the pieces of a puzzle. They have their own sewage and plumbing systems inside their floors, and the systems can be piggybacked onto those of a larger building. Each cell has a tiny cot, a slot for food delivery, and a small partition at the back, large enough for a latrine. The most distinguishing feature of the cells, besides their size, is the walls. They are, for the most part, transparent.
Transparency of care, the Society calls it. Everyone can see what is happening to everyone else, and medical Officials can watch their subjects at all times.
The rumor is that the Society perfected this system back in the days when Officials were on the move looking for Anomalies. Sometimes the Society had to set up centers to contain all the Anomalies they found in order to evaluate them, and so that’s when they developed the cells. When the Officials from the Safety Department finished tracking down the majority of those they determined to be dangerous, they turned the cells over to the Medical Department for use. The Society’s official story is that these have always existed only for medical quarantine and containment.
Before I joined the Rising, I hadn’t heard much about the way the Society methodically culled the Anomalies from the general populace—but I believe it. Why wouldn’t I? They did something like it again years later, with Ky and other Aberrations.
I run a quick calculation as I look at all the cells. They’re over half full. It won’t be long before they’re at maximum capacity.
“You’ll be in here,” an Official says, pointing to Official Brewer. He nods to us and goes inside the cell, sitting down on the cot obediently.
They move past a few empty cells before they stop again. I guess they don’t want to put people next to those they know, which makes sense. It’s disturbing enough to watch a stranger go down with the illness, even when you know they’ll get better.
“Here,” the Official says to Official Lei, and she walks inside the cell. I smile at her as the door slides shut and she smiles back. She knows. She has to be part of the Rising.
A few more cells over, and it’s my turn. The cell feels even smaller on the inside than it looks on the outside. When I stretch out my arms, I can touch both walls at the same time. A thin sound of music comes through the walls. They’re playing the Hundred Songs to keep us from going crazy with boredom.
I’m one of the lucky ones. I know that the Pilot’s going to save us, and I also know that I’m not going to get the Plague. And when you’re lucky, like my family always has been, it’s your responsibility to do the right thing. My parents told us that. “We’re on the right side of the Society’s data,” my father would say, “but it could just as easily have gone the other way. Things aren’t fair. It’s our job to do what we can to change that.”
When my parents discovered that my brother, Tannen, and I were both immune to the red tablet, they became more protective because they realized that we were going to remember things that even they couldn’t. But they also told us that this was something important, our immunity. It meant that we would know what really happened and we could use that knowledge to make a difference.
So when the Rising approached me, I knew immediately that I wanted to be a part of it.
Something thuds against the wall on the other side of the cell and I turn. It’s another patient, a kid who looks like he’s about thirteen or fourteen. He’s lost consciousness and fallen against the wall without putting his hands out to catch himself. He hits the floor hard.
Within moments, the medics are at the door and inside the cell, masks and gloves on. They lift him up and take him out of the cell and then out of the Hall and, presumably, to the medical center. Some kind of liquid sheets down the walls and a chemical-laced steam boils up from the floor. They’re sanitizing the cell to get it ready for the next person.
The poor kid. I wish I could have helped him.
I stretch out my arms again and press against the walls, pushing back so that I can feel the muscles extend all along my arms. I won’t have to feel helpless much longer.
A girl sits near me on the air train, wearing a beautiful full-skirted gown. But she doesn’t look happy. The confused expression on her face mirrors the way I feel. I know I’m coming home from work, but why so late? My mind is foggy and very tired. And I’m nervous, on edge. Something feels the way it did in the Borough the morning they took Ky away. There’s a sharpness in the air, an echo of a scream on the wind.
“Did you get Matched tonight?” I ask the girl, and the moment the words come out of my mouth I think, What a stupid question. Of course she did. There’s no other occasion besides a Banquet where someone would wear a dress like this. Her dress is yellow, the same color my friend Em wore for her Banquet back home.
The girl looks at me, her expression uncertain, and then she glances down at her hands to see if the answer is there. It is, in the form of a little silver box. “Yes,” she says, her eyes lighting up. “Of course.”
“You couldn’t have the Banquet at Central Hall,” I say to the girl, remembering something else. “Because it’s being renovated.”
“That’s right,” she says, and her father turns to look at me, an expression of concern on his face.
“So where did you have it?” I ask.
She doesn’t answer me; she snaps the silver box open and shut. “It all happened so fast,” she says. “I’m going to have to look at the microcard again when I get home.”
I smile at her. “I remember that feeling,” I say, and I do.
I slip my hand inside my sleeve and feel a tiny scrap of paper there, one that’s too small to be a poem. I don’t dare take it out on the air train in front of so many eyes, but I think I know what’s happened.
Back in the Borough, when the rest of my family took the tablet and I didn’t, they all seemed like I do now. Confused, but not completely at sea. They knew who they were and understood most of what they were doing.
The air train slides to a stop. The girl and her family get off. At the last moment, I stand up and slip through the doors. This isn’t my station but I can’t sit any longer.
The air in Central feels moist and cold. It’s not quite dark yet, but I see a hook of moon tipped in the dark blue water of the evening sky. Breathing deeply, I walk down to the bottom of the metal steps and stand off to the side, letting the others pass. I pull out the slip of paper from my sleeve, hiding my hands and their movements in the shadows under the stairs the best I can.
The paper says remember.
I’ve taken the red tablet. And it worked.
I’m not immune.
Some part of me, some hope and belief in what I am, dissolves and disappears.
“No,” I whisper.
This can’t be true. I am immune. I have to be.
Deep down, I believed in my immunity. I thought I would be like Ky, like Xander and Indie. After all, I have conquered the other two tablets. I walked through the blue tablet in the Carving, even though it was supposed to stop me cold. And I’ve never once taken the green.
The sorting part of my mind tells me: You were wrong. You are not immune. Now you know.
If I’m not immune, then what have I forgotten? Lost forever?
My mouth tastes like tears. I run my tongue over my teeth, feeling to see if there’s any trace of tablet left. Calm down. Think of what I remember.
My most recent memory before the air train is of leaving the sorting center. But why was I there so late? I shift and feel something under my plainclothes, something besides the poems. The red dress. I’m wearing it. Why?
Because Ky is coming tonight. I remember that.
I put my hand over my pounding heart and feel the whisper of paper underneath.
And I remember that I have poems to trade and that I carry them next to my skin.
I know how these papers came to me, back when I first got here. I remember it perfectly.
A few days after my arrival in Central, I walked along the edge of the white barrier circling the stillzone. For a moment I pretended that I was back in the Carving; that the barrier was one of the canyon walls and that the windows that lined the apartment buildings all the way up were the caves in the Outer Provinces; crevices in the stone of the canyon where people could hide, live, paint.
But, I realized as I walked, the outside surfaces of the apartments are so slick and same that even Indie couldn’t find a hold on the walls.
The lawns of the greenspaces were covered in snow. The air felt like it did back in Oria in winter, thick and cold. The fountain in the middle of one of the greenspaces had a marble sphere balancing on a pedestal. A Sisyphus fountain, I thought, and I told myself, I need to be gone by spring, by the time the water runs over it again.
I thought about Eli. This is his city, where he came from. I wonder if he feels about it the way I do about Oria; that, in spite of all that has happened, it’s still home. I remembered watching Eli go toward the mountains with Hunter, the two of them hoping to find the farmers who had avoided the Society for so long.
I wondered if the barricade was up when he lived here.
And I missed him almost as much as I missed Bram.
The branches above me were dry, dead, their fingers unleaved and bare. I reached up and snapped one down.
I listened. For something. For some sound of life in that quiet circle. But there were no sounds, really, beyond the ones that can’t be stilled—like wind in trees.