Crossed(14)By: Ally Condie
Vick and I both curse under our breath when we see the replacements on the air ship. They are young, much younger than us. They look to be fourteen, thirteen. Their eyes are wide. Frightened. One of them, the youngest-looking kid, looks a little like Cassia’s brother, Bram. He’s darker-skinned than Bram, darker than me, even, but his eyes are bright like Bram’s. Before it was cut, his hair must have been curly like Bram’s.
“The Society must be running out of bodies,” I say to Vick, keeping my voice low.
“Maybe that’s the plan,” he says.
We both know the Society wants the Aberrations dead. It explains why we’re dumped out here. Why we don’t get to fight. But there’s another question, one I can’t answer:
Why do they hate us so much?
We fly blind. The air ship is windowless except for the pilot’s compartment.
So it’s not until we step outside that I know where we are.
I don’t know the village itself but I know the area. The field we walk is orange-sanded and black-rocked, yellow-grassed with plants that grew green this summer. There are fields like this one all over the Outer Provinces. But I still know exactly where I am because of what I see in front of me.
There it is on the horizon—the landmark of my childhood.
From where we are now, I can’t see all of it—just pieces of red or orange sandstone jutting up here and there. But when you get closer—when you reach the edge and look into the Carving—you realize that the stones aren’t small at all. They’re the tips of formations as large as mountains.
The Carving isn’t one canyon, one mountain, but many—a network of interlocking formations that goes on for miles. The land rises and falls like water, its high jagged peaks and deep slot canyons striped with the colors of the Outer Provinces—gradations of orange, red, white. In the faraway stretches of the Carving the fire colors of the sandstone grow shadowed with blue from distant clouds.
I know all of this because I’ve been to the edge several times.
But I’ve never been inside.
“What are you grinning about?” Vick asks me, but before I can answer, the Bram kid comes up to us and gets right in Vick’s face.
“I’m Eli,” the kid says.
“All right,” Vick says, and then turns away in irritation, back to the row of faces who have selected him as their leader even when he never wanted to be one. Some people can’t help being leaders. It’s in their blood and bones and brains, and there’s no getting around it.
And some people follow.
You have a better chance of surviving if you follow, I remind myself. Your father thought he was a leader. Couldn’t get enough of being a leader, and look what happened to him. I stand one step behind Vick.
“Aren’t you going to give us a speech or anything?” Eli asks. “We just got here.”
“I’m not in charge of this mess,” Vick says. And there it is. The anger that he spends most of his energy keeping in check shows a little. “I’m not the Society’s spokesman.”
“But you’re the only one with one of those,” Eli says, pointing at the port clipped to Vick’s belt.
“You want a speech?” Vick asks, and all the new kids nod and stare at him. They’ll have heard the same lecture we did when we came in on the air ships about how the Society needs us to act like villagers and civilians to draw out the Enemy. How it’s only a six-month job, and once we go back to Society our Aberration status will be wiped clean.
It will take exactly one day of firing for them to realize that no one has lasted six months. Not even Vick comes close to having that many notches on his boots.
“Watch the rest of us,” Vick says. “Act like a villager. That’s what we’re supposed to do here.” He pauses. Then he pulls the port from his belt and tosses it to a decoy who has been around a couple of weeks. “Take this for a run,” he says. “Make sure it still works out by the end of the town.”
The kid takes off. As soon as the port is out of earshot, Vick says, “The ammunition is all blanks. So don’t bother trying to defend yourselves.”
▶ Also By Ally Condie
- · Crossed