Suddenly I hope the Officials find something in our house after all.
“Wait here,” I tell Bram, and I go into the kitchen. A Biomedical Official stands near the waste receptacle waving a device up and down, back and
forth, over and over. He takes a step and begins the motions again in a new spot in the kitchen. I see the words printed along the side of the object
he holds. Biological Detection Instrument.
I relax slightly. Of course. They have something to detect the bar code engraved on the tube Grandfather used. They don’t need to tear the house
apart. Perhaps they won’t find the paper after all. And perhaps they will find the sample.
How could Papa lose something so important? How could he lose his own father?
In spite of my instructions, Bram follows me into the kitchen. He touches my arm and we turn back toward the hallway. “Mama’s still arguing in
there,” he says, gesturing to our parents’ room. I grab Bram’s hand and hold it tight. The Officials don’t need to search my father; they have the
Detection Instruments to tell them where to look. But I guess they have to make their point: My father should have been more careful with something
“Are they searching Mama, too?” I ask Bram. Are we all going to share in our father’s humiliation?
“I don’t think so,” Bram says. “She just wanted to be in there with Papa.”
The bedroom door opens and Bram and I jump back out of the way of the Officials. Their white lab coats make them seem tall and pure. One of
them can tell we are frightened, and he gives us a small smile intended to reassure. It doesn’t work. He can’t give back the lost sample or my
father’s dignity. The damage is done.
My father walks behind the Officials, pale and unhappy. In contrast, my mother looks flushed and angry. She follows my father and the Officials
into the front room, and Bram and I stand in the doorway to watch what happens.
They didn’t find the sample. My heart sinks. My father stands in the middle of the room while the Biomedical Team berates him. “How could you
He shakes his head. “I don’t know. It’s inexcusable.” His words sound flat, as if he has repeated them so many times that he has given up any
hope of the Officials believing him. He stands up straight, the way he always does, but his face looks tired and old.
“You recognize that there is no way to bring him back now,” they say.
My father nods, his face full of misery. Even though I am angry with him for losing the sample, I can tell that he feels awful. Of course he does. This
is Grandfather. In spite of my anger, I wish I could take Papa’s hand but there are too many Officials around him.
And I’m full of hypocrisy. I did something against the rules today, too, and what I did was intentional.
“This may result in some sanctions for you at work,” one of the Officials says to my father, in a tone so mean I wonder if she will get cited herself.
No one is supposed to speak this way. Even when an error occurs, things aren’t supposed to get personal. “How can they expect you to handle the
restoration and disposal of artifacts if you can’t even keep track of one tissue sample? Especially knowing how important it was?”
One of the other Officials says quietly, “You ruined the sample belonging to your own father. And then you didn’t report the loss.”
My father passes his hand over his eyes. “I was afraid,” he says. He knows the seriousness of the situation. He doesn’t need them to tell him.
Cremation occurs within hours of death. There’s no way to get another sample. It’s gone. He’s gone. Grandfather is really gone.
My mother presses her lips tightly together and her eyes flash, but her anger is not for my father. She is mad at the Officials for making him feel
worse than he already does.
Even though there is nothing to say, the Officials do not leave. A few moments of cold silence pass during which no one says anything and we all
think about how nothing can save Grandfather now.
A chime sounds in the kitchen; our dinner has arrived. My mother walks out of the room. I hear the sounds of her taking the food delivery and
placing it on the table. When she walks back into the room, her shoes make stabbing, serious sounds on the wood floor. She means business.
“It’s mealtime,” she says, looking at the Officials. “I’m afraid they haven’t sent any extra portions.”
The Officials bristle a little. Is she trying to dismiss them? It’s hard to tell. Her face seems open, her tone regretful but firm. And she’s so lovely,
blond hair winding down her back, flushed cheeks. None of that is supposed to matter. But somehow, it does.
And besides. Even the Officials don’t dare disrupt mealtime too much. “We’ll report this,” the tallest one says. “I’m sure that a citation of the
highest order will be issued, with the next error resulting in a complete Infraction.”
My father nods; my mother glances back at the kitchen, to remind them that the food is here and getting cold, possibly losing nutrients. The
Officials nod curtly at us and, one by one, they leave, walking through the foyer, past the port, out the only door in the house.
After they depart our whole family sighs with relief. My father turns to us. “I’m sorry,” he says. “I’m sorry.” He looks at my mother and waits for her to
“Don’t worry about it,” she says bravely. She knows that my father now has a mistake logged against him in the permanent database. She knows
that it means Grandfather is gone. But she loves my father. She loves him too much, I sometimes think. I think it now. Because if she isn’t angry with
him, how can I be?
When we sit down to dinner my mother embraces him and leans her head on his shoulder for a moment before she hands him his foilware. He
reaches up to touch her hair, her cheek.
Watching them, I think to myself that someday something like this might happen to me and to Xander. Our lives will be so intertwined that what
one of us does will affect the other down to the ends, like the tree my mother transplanted once at the Arboretum. She showed it to me when I came
to visit her. It was a little thing, a baby tree, but still it tangled with things around it and required care to move. And when she finally pulled it out, its
roots still clung to the earth from its old home.
Did Ky do that, when he came here? Did he bring anything with him? It would have been difficult; they would have searched him so carefully, he
had to adapt so quickly. Still, I don’t see how he couldn’t bring something. Secret, maybe, inside, intangible. Something to nourish him. Something
Feet pounding, fists clenched, I hit the tracker running.
I wish I could run outside, away from the sadness and shame in my house. Sweat trickles down the front of my gymgear, through my hair, across
my face. I brush it away and glance back down at the tracker screen.
There’s a rise in the curve on the tracker screen: a simulated hill. Good. I’ve reached the peak of the workout, the most difficult part, the fastest
part. The tracker spins below me, a machine named for the circular tracks where people used to compete. And named for what it does—tracking
information about the person running on it. If you run too far, you might be a masochist, an anorexic, or another type, and you will have to see an
Official of Psychology for diagnosis. If it’s determined that you are running hard because you genuinely like it then you can have an athletic permit. I
My legs ache a little; I look straight ahead and will myself to see Grandfather’s face within my mind, to hold it there. If there’s really no chance for
him to ever come back, then I am the one who has to keep him alive.
The incline increases, and I keep pace, wishing for the feeling of climbing the hill earlier that day when we were hiking. Outside. Branches and
bushes and mud and sunlight on the top of a hill with a boy who knows more than he will say.
The tracker beeps. Five minutes left before the workout ends, before I’ve run the distance and time I should in order to keep up my optimal heart
rate and maintain my optimal body mass index. I have to be healthy. It’s part of what makes us great, what keeps our life span long.
All of the things that were shown in early studies to be good for longevity—happy marriages, healthy bodies—are ours to have. We live long,
good lives. We die on our eightieth birthdays, surrounded by our families, before dementia sets in. Cancer, heart disease, and most debilitating
illnesses are almost entirely eradicated. This is as close to perfect as any society has ever managed to get.
My parents talk upstairs. My brother does his schoolwork and I run to nowhere. Everyone in this house does what he or she is supposed to do. It’s
going to be all right. My feet hit smack-slap on the belt of the tracker and I pound the worry out of me step by step. Step by step by step by step by
I’m tired, I don’t know if I can go any farther, when the tracker beeps and slows, slows, slows to a stop. Perfect timing, programmed by the
Society. I bend my head down, gasping for breath, sucking in air. There is nothing to see at the top of this hill.
Bram sits on the edge of my bed, waiting for me. He holds something. At first I think it is my compact and I take a step forward, worried—Has he
found the poetry?—but then I realize that it is Grandfather’s watch. Bram’s artifact.
“I sent a port message to the Officials a few minutes ago,” Bram says. His round eyes look up at me, tired and sad.
“Why did you do that?” I ask in shock. Why would he want to see or talk to an Official after what happened today?
Bram holds up the watch. “I thought that maybe they could get enough tissue from this. Since Grandfather touched it so many times.”
Hope shoots through my veins like adrenaline. I pull a towel from the hook in my closet and wipe it across my face. “What did they say? Did they
“They sent back a message saying it wouldn’t be enough. It wouldn’t work.” He rubs the shiny surface of the watch with his sleeve to clean away
the smudges where his fingers were. He looks at the face of the clock as if it can tell him something.
But it can’t. Bram doesn’t even know how to tell time yet. And besides, Grandfather’s watch hasn’t worked in decades. It’s nothing but a beautiful
artifact. Heavy, made of silver and glass. Nothing like the thin plastic strips we wear now.
“Do I look like Grandfather?” Bram asks hopefully. He slides the watch onto his arm. It is loose around his thin wrist. Skinny, brown-eyed, straight-
backed, small—he does look a little like Grandfather in that moment.
“You do.” I wonder if there is anything of Grandfather to see in me. I liked hiking today. I like reading the Hundred Poems. Those things that were a
part of him are a part of me. I think about the other grandparents I have, out in the Farmlands, and about Ky Markham and the Outer Provinces and
about all the things I do not know and places I will never see.
Bram smiles at my response and looks down proudly at the watch.
“Bram, you can’t take that to school, you know. You could get in trouble.”
“You saw what happened to Papa when the Officials got after him. You don’t want them getting mad at you for breaking the rules about artifacts.”
“I won’t,” he says. “I know better than that. I don’t want to lose it.” He reaches for my silver box from the Match Banquet. “Can I keep it in here? It
seems like a good place. You know, special.” He shrugs in embarrassment.
“All right,” I say, a little nervously. I watch him open the silver box and put the artifact carefully inside next to the microcard. He doesn’t even glance
at the compact sitting on the shelf and for that I am grateful.
Later that night when it is dark and Bram has gone to bed, I open the compact and take the paper out. I do not look at it; instead, I slip it into the
pocket of my plainclothes for the next day. Tomorrow, I will try to find a trash incinerator away from home to drop it in. I don’t want anyone to catch
me doing it here. It’s too dangerous now.
I lie down and look up at the ceiling, trying again to think of Grandfather’s face. I can’t bring it back. Impatient, I roll over, and something hard
presses into my side. My tablet container. I must have dropped it when I changed my plainclothes earlier. It isn’t like me to be so careless.
I sit up. The light from the street lamps outside comes in foggy through the window, enough to see the tablets as I twist open the container and
spill them onto the bed. For a moment, as my eyes adjust, they all seem to be the same color. But then I can see which is which. The mysterious red
tablet. The blue one that will help us survive in case of an emergency, because even the Society can’t control nature all of the time.
And the green one.
Most people I know take the green tablet now and then. Before a big test. The night of the Match Banquet. Any time you might need calming. You
can take it up to once a week without the Officials taking special note of it.
But I’ve never taken the green tablet.
Because of Grandfather.
I was so proud to show him when I started carrying it. “Look,” I told him, unscrewing the lid of the silver container. “I’ve got blue and green now. All I
need is the red one and I’ll be an adult.”
“Ah,” Grandfather said, looking properly impressed. “You are growing up, that’s for certain.” He paused for a moment. We were walking outside,
in the greenspace near his apartment. “Have you taken the green one yet?”
“Not yet,” I said. “But I have to give a presentation on one of the Hundred Paintings in my Culture class next week. I might take it then. I don’t like
speaking in front of everyone.”
“Which painting?” he asked.
“Number nineteen,” I tell him, and he looks thoughtful, trying to remember which one that is. He doesn’t—didn’t—know the Hundred Paintings as
well as the Hundred Poems. But still, he knew it after enough thought. “The one by Thomas Moran,” he guesses, and I nod. “I like the colors in that
one,” he said.
“I like the sky,” I told him. “It’s so dramatic. All the clouds up above, and in the canyon.” The painting felt a little dangerous—streaming gray clouds,
jagged red rocks—and I liked that, too.
“Yes,” he said. “It’s a beautiful painting.”
“Like this,” I said, even though the greenspace was beautiful in an entirely different way. Flowers bloomed everywhere, in colors we were not
allowed to wear: pinks, yellows, reds, almost startling in their boldness. They drew the eye; they scented the air.
“Greenspace, green tablet,” Grandfather said, and then he looked at me and smiled. “Green eyes on a green girl.”
“That sounds like poetry,” I said, and he laughed.
“Thank you.” He paused for a moment. “I wouldn’t take that tablet, Cassia. Not for a report. And perhaps not ever. You are strong enough to go
Now, I lie down on my side, curl my hand around the green tablet. I don’t think I’ll take it, not even tonight. Grandfather thinks I’m strong enough to
go without it. I close my eyes and think of Grandfather’s poetry.
Green tablet. Green space. Green eyes. Green girl.
When I fall asleep, I dream that Grandfather has given me a bouquet of roses. “Take these instead of the tablet,” he tells me. So I do. I pull the
petals off each rose. To my surprise each petal has a word written on it, a word from one of the poems. They’re not in the right order, and this
puzzles me, but I put them in my mouth and taste them. They taste bitter, the way I imagine the green tablet would taste. But I know Grandfather is
right; I have to keep the words inside if I want to keep them with me.
When I wake in the morning, the green tablet is still in my hand, and the words are still in my mouth.
Breakfast sounds from the kitchen carry down the hall to my room. The chime, announcing the arrival of the food delivery sliding through its slot. A
crash—Bram knocking something over. Chairs scrape, voices murmur as my mother and father talk with Bram. Soon, the smell of the food comes
in underneath my door, or maybe it drifts through the thin walls of our house, permeating everything. The smell is a familiar one, a smell of vitamins
and something metallic, perhaps the foilware.
“Cassia?” my mother says outside my door. “You’re late for breakfast.”
I know. I want to be late to breakfast. I don’t want to see my father today. I don’t want to talk about what happened yesterday, but I don’t want to
not-talk about it either, to sit at the table with our portions of food and pretend that Grandfather isn’t gone for good.
“I’m coming,” I say, and I pull myself out of bed. Out in the hall I hear an announcement on the port, and I think I catch the word hiking.
When I walk into the kitchen, my father has already left for work. Bram pulls on his raingear, grinning wildly. How can he forget about last night so
quickly? “It’s supposed to rain today,” he informs me. “No hiking for you. They said so on the port.”
My mother gives Bram his hat and he jams it onto his head. “Good-bye!” he says, and he heads for the air train, early for once because he likes
“So,” my mother says. “It looks like you’ll have a little free time. What do you think you’ll do?”
I know immediately. Most of the other hikers will use their time hanging out in the common area inside the school, or finishing assignments in the
school’s research library. I have something else in mind, a visit to a different library. “I think I might go visit Papa.”
My mother’s eyes soften; she smiles. “I’m sure he’d like that, since you missed him this morning. He won’t be able to stop work long, though.”
“I know. I just want to say hello.” And destroy something dangerous, something I’m not supposed to have. Something more likely to be found at
an old library than anywhere else, if they truly do record the composition of everything burned in the incineration tubes.
I pick up one of the dry triangles of toast tucked inside my foilware, thinking of the way the two poems looked on the paper. I remember many of
the words, but not all of them, and I want all of them. Every last one. Is there any way I can sneak one more glance before I destroy the paper? Is
there any way to make the words last?
If only we still knew how to write instead of just type things into our scribes. Then I could write them down again someday. Then I might be able to
have them when I am old.
Looking out the window, I watch Bram waiting at the air-train stop. It’s not raining yet, but he jumps up and down on the metal steps to the
platform. I smile to myself and hope no one tells him to stop, because I know exactly what he’s doing. In the absence of real thunder, he’s making his
Ky is the only one walking toward the air-train platform when I go outside. The train to Second School has left and this next one goes into the City.
He must have to report to work when his leisure activities get canceled; no free hour or two for him. Watching Ky walk, his shoulders straight, his
head up, it strikes me how lonely he must be. He’s spent so long blending into the crowd, and now they’ve separated him out again.
Ky hears me coming up behind him and turns around. “Cassia,” he says, sounding surprised. “Did you miss your train?”
“No.” I stop a few feet away, to give him his space if he wants it. “I’m taking this one. I’m going to visit my father. You know, since hiking was
Ky lives in our Borough, so of course he knows the Officials visited us last night. He won’t say anything, though—no one will. It’s not their business
unless the Society says that it is.
I take another step toward the air-train stop, toward Ky. I expect him to move, to start up the stairs to the platform, but he doesn’t. In fact, he takes
a step closer to me. The tree-spiked Hill of the Arboretum rises in the distance behind him, and I wonder if we will ever hike there. The
thunderstorm, still a few miles away, rolls and rumbles gray and heavy across the sky. Ky looks up. “Rain,” he says, almost under his breath, and
then he looks back at me. “Are you going to his office in the City?”
“No. I’m going past that. He’s working on a site out at the edge of Brookway Borough.”
“Can you make it out there and back in time for school?”
“I think so. I’ve done it before when he was working out that way.”
Against the clouds, Ky’s eyes seem lighter, reflecting the gray around them, and I have an unsettling thought: perhaps his eyes have no color.
They reflect what he wears, who the Officials tell him to be. When he wore brown, his eyes looked brown. Now that he wears blue, they look blue.
“What are you thinking about?” he asks me.
I tell him the truth. “The color of your eyes.”
My answer catches Ky off guard; but after a second he smiles. I love his smile; in it, I see a hint of the boy he was that day at the pool. Were his
eyes blue then? I can’t remember. I wish I’d looked more closely.
“What are you thinking about?” I ask. I expect the shutters to close in as they always do: Ky will give me some expected answer, like “I was
thinking about what I need to do at work today” or “The activities for free-rec on Saturday night.”
But he doesn’t. “Home,” he says simply, still looking at me.
The two of us hold each other’s gazes for a long, unembarrassed moment and I feel that Ky knows. I’m not sure what he knows—whether he
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