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Her face changed a little, became more approving. “Of course,” she said. “Wait here. It won’t take me long.” She vanished again along the shelves.
That was our first trade. Later, I discovered the woman’s identity and learned that she was the head Archivist in Central City, the person who oversees and directs the trades but doesn’t often execute them herself. But, from the beginning, she’s taken a special interest in the pages Ky sent me. I’ve worked with her ever since.
When I climbed out from underground that night, clutching the box full of papers in my chilled hands, I paused for a moment at the edge of the field. It was silver grass and gray and black rubble. I could make out the shape of the white plastic that covered the other excavations, protecting them from a Restoration interrupted and not yet resumed. I wondered what that place used to be and why the Society decided to abandon any attempts at bringing it back.
And then what happened next? I ask myself. Where did I put the pages after I took them from the Archivists’ hiding place?
For a moment, the memory tries to slip away like a silvered fish in a stream, but I catch hold of it.
I hid the papers in the lake.
Even though they told us the lake was dead, I dared to go into it because I saw signs of life. The bank looked like the healthy streams in the Carving, not the one where Vick was poisoned. I could see where grass had been; in a place where a spring came in and the water was warm, I even saw fish moving slowly, spending the winter deep below.
I crept out through the brush that went up to the edge of the lake, and then I buried the box under the middle pier, under the water and stones that pattern in the shallow part where the lake touches shore.
And then a newer memory comes back.
The lake. That’s where Ky said he’d meet me.
Once I reach the lake, I switch on the flashlight I keep hidden in the brush at the edge of the City, where the streets run out and the marsh takes over.
I don’t think he’s here yet.
There are always moments of panic when I come back—will the papers be gone? But then I take a deep breath and put my hands into the water, move away the rocks, and lift out a dripping box filled with poetry.
When I trade the pages, it’s usually to pay for the exchange of messages between Ky and me.
I don’t know how many or whose hands the notes will go through before they get to Ky. So I sent my first message in a code I created, one that I invented during the long hours of sorts that didn’t require my full attention. Ky figured out the code and changed it slightly when he wrote me back. Each time, we build upon the original code a little, changing and evolving it to make it harder to read. It’s not a perfect system—I’m sure the code can be broken—but it’s the best we can do.
The closer I get to the water, the more I realize that something is wrong.
A thick cluster of black birds has gathered out near the edge of the first dock, and another group of them is congregated farther down the shore. They cry and call to each other, picking at something, some things, on the ground. I shine my flashlight on them.
The black birds scatter and screech at me and I stop short.
Dead fish lap along the bank, catch in the reeds. Belly- up, glazed-eyed. And I remember what Ky said about Vick and the way he died; I remember that dark poisoned stream back out in the Outer Provinces and other rivers that the Society poisoned as the water ran down to the Enemy.
Who’s poisoning the Society’s water?
I shiver a little and wrap my arms more tightly around myself. The papers inside my clothes whisper. Underneath all this death, somewhere in the water, other papers lie buried. It’s early spring, but the water is still frigid. If I go in to get the pages now, I won’t be able to wait as long for Ky.
What if he comes, and I’ve gone home cold?
We’re getting closer and closer to Grandia. It’s time to tell Indie what I want to do.
There are speakers in the cockpit and down in the hold. The commander of our fleet can hear anything I say, and so can Caleb. So I’m going to have to write this out for Indie. I reach into my pocket and pull out a stick of charcoal and a napkin from the camp’s meal hall. I always keep these things with me. Who knows when the opportunity to send a message to Cassia might come along?
Indie glances over at me and raises her eyebrows. Silently, she mouths, “Who are you writing to?”
I point at her and her face lights up.
I’m trying to think of the best way to ask her. In the Carving, I said we should try to run away from all of this. Remember? Let’s do that now.
If Indie agrees to come with me, maybe we can find a way to get Cassia and escape with the ship. I only get one word written down—In—before a voice fills the cockpit.
“This is your Chief Pilot speaking.”
I feel a little jolt of recognition, even though I’ve never heard him speak before. Indie draws in her breath, and I shove the charcoal and paper back into my pocket as if the Chief Pilot can see us. His voice sounds rich and musical, pleasing, but strong. It’s coming from the control panel, but the quality of the transmission is much better than usual. It sounds like he’s actually on the ship.
“I am also the Pilot of the Rising.”
Indie and I turn to look at each other. She was right, but there’s no triumph in her expression. Only conviction.
“Soon, I will speak to everyone in all of the Provinces,” the Pilot says, “but those of you taking part in the initial wave of the Rising have the right to hear from me first. You are here because of your decision to join the Rising and your merits as participants in this rebellion. And you are also here because of another important characteristic, one for which you cannot take credit.”
I look over at Indie. Her face looks beautiful, lit up. She believes in the Pilot. Do I, now that I’ve heard his voice?
“The red tablet doesn’t work on you,” the Pilot says. “You remember what the Society would have you forget. As some of you have long suspected, the Rising did this—we made you immune to the red tablet. And that is not all. You are also immune to an illness that is even now overtaking Cities and Boroughs throughout the Provinces.”
They never said anything about an illness. My muscles tense. What does this mean for Cassia?
“Some of you have heard of the Plague.”
Indie turns to me. “Have you?” she mouths.
I almost say no but then I realize that I might have. The mystery illness that killed Eli’s parents.
“Eli,” I mouth back, and Indie nods.
“The Society intended the Plague for the Enemy,” the Pilot says. “They poisoned some of the Enemy’s rivers and released the Plague into others. This, combined with continued attacks from the air, completely eliminated the Enemy. But the Society has pretended that the Enemy still exists. The Society needed someone to blame for the ongoing loss of life of those who lived in the Outer Provinces.
“Some of you were out there in those camps. You know that the Society wanted to eradicate Aberrations and Anomalies completely. And they used your deaths, and the information they gathered from them, as one last great collection of data.”
Silence. We all know that what he says is true.
“We wanted to come in and save you sooner,” the Pilot says, “but we weren’t ready yet. We had to wait a little longer. But we did not forget you.”
Didn’t you? I want to ask. Some of my old bitterness against the Rising fills me, and I grip the controls of the ship tightly, staring out into the night.
“Back when the Society created this Plague,” the Pilot says, “there were those who remembered that what is water in one place becomes rain somewhere else. They knew that releasing this disease would come back to us somehow, no matter how many precautions were taken. It created a division among the scientists in the Society, and many of them secretly joined the Rising. Some of our scientists found a way to make people immune to the red tablet, and also to the Plague. In the beginning, we didn’t have the resources to give these immunities to everyone. So we had to choose. And we chose you.”
“He chose us,” Indie whispers.
“You haven’t forgotten the things the Society wanted you to lose. And you can’t get the Plague. We protected you from both.” The Pilot pauses. “You’ve always known that we have been preparing you for the most important errand of all—bringing in the Rising. But you’ve never known exactly what your cargo would be.
“You carry the cure,” the Pilot says. “Right now, the errand ships, covered by the fighters, are bringing the cure to the most impacted cities—to Central, Grandia, Oria, Acadia.”
Central is one of the most impacted cities. Is Cassia sick? We never knew if she was immune to the red tablet. I don’t think that she is.
And why is the Plague in so many places? The largest cities, all sick at the same time? Shouldn’t it take longer to spread, instead of exploding everywhere at once?
That’s a question for Xander. I wish I could ask him.
Indie glances over at me. “No,” she says. She knows what I want to do. She knows that I want to try to get to Cassia anyway.
She’s right. That is what I want to do. And if it were me by myself, I’d risk it. I’d try to outrun the Rising.
But it’s not just me.
“Many of you,” the Pilot says, “have been paired with someone you know. This was intentional. We knew it would be difficult for those of you who still have loved ones within the Society to resist taking the cure to your family and friends. We cannot compromise the efficiency of this mission, and we will need to bring you down should you try to deviate from your assigned course.”
The Rising is smart. They’ve matched me with the one person in camp I care about. Which goes to show that caring about anyone leaves you vulnerable. I’ve known this for years but I still can’t stop.
“We have an adequate supply of the cure,” the Pilot says. “We do not have a surplus. Please don’t waste the resources many have sacrificed to provide.”
It’s so calculated—the way they paired us up, the way they’ve made just enough of the cure. “This sounds like the Society,” I say out loud.
“We are not the Society,” the Pilot says, “but we recognize that we have to save people before we can free them.”
Indie and I stare at each other. Did the Pilot answer me? Indie covers her mouth with her hand and I find myself, inexplicably, trying not to laugh.
“The Society built barricades and walls in order to try and contain the illness,” the Pilot says. “They’ve isolated people in quarantine in the medical centers and then, when space ran out, in government buildings.
“These past few days have been a turning point. We confirmed that the numbers of those fallen ill have reached a critical mass. Tonight, Match Banquets all across the Society fell apart, from Camas to Central and beyond. The Society kept trying to reconfigure the data, right up until the last moment, but they could not keep up. We infiltrated the sorting centers to accelerate the problem. It wasn’t difficult to throw the Matching into disarray. There were silver boxes with no microcards and blank screens without Matches all across the Provinces.