Unwind / Page 45

Page 45



Now she rests in a hospital room, trussed up in a contraption that looks more like a torture device than a bed. She is riddled with steel pins like a human voodoo doll. The pins are held in precise place by rigid scaffolding. She can see her toes, but she can't feel them. From now on, seeing them will have to be enough.

"You have a visitor."

A nurse stands at the door, and when she steps aside, Connor is standing in the doorway. He's bruised and bandaged, but very much alive. Her eyes instantly fill with tears, but she knows she can't let herself sob. It still hurts too much to sob. "I knew they were lying," she says. "They said you died in the explosion—that you were trapped in the building—but I saw you outside. I knew they were lying."

"I probably would have died," Connor said, "but Lev stopped the bleeding. He saved me."

"He saved me, too," Risa tells him. "He carried me out of the building."

Connor smiles. "Not bad for a lousy little tithe."

By the look on his face, Risa can tell he doesn't know that Lev was one of the clappers—the one who didn't go off. She decides not to tell him. It's still all over the news; he'll know soon enough.

Connor tells her of his coma, and about his new identity. Risa tells him how few of Happy Jack's AWOLs have been caught—how the kids stormed the gates and escaped. She glances at his sling as they speak. The fingers sticking out of that arm sling are definitely not Connor's. She knows what must have happened, and she can tell he's self-conscious about it.

"So, what do they say?" Connor asks. "About your injuries, I mean. You're going to be okay, right?"

Risa considers how she might tell him, then just decides to be quick about it. "They tell me I'm paralyzed from the waist down."

Connor waits for more, but that's all she has to give him. "Well . . . that's not so bad, right? They can fix that—they're always fixing that."

"Yes," says Risa. "They fix it by replacing a severed spine with the spine of an Unwind. That's why I refused the operation."

He looks at her in disbelief, and she in turn points at his arm. "You would have done the same thing if they'd given you a choice. Well, I had a choice, and I made it."

"I'm so sorry, Risa."

"Don't be!" The one thing she doesn't want from Connor is pity. "They can't unwind me now—there are laws against unwinding the disabled—but if I got the operation, they'd unwind me the moment I was healed. This way I get to stay whole." She smiles at him triumphantly. "So you're not the only one who beat the system!"

He smiles at her and rolls his bandaged shoulder. The sling shifts, exposing more of his new arm—enough to reveal the tattoo. He tries to hide it, but it's too late. She sees it. She knows it. And when she meets Connor's eye, he looks away in shame.

Connor . . . ?"

"I promise,'' he says. "I promise I will never touch you with this hand."

Risa knows this is a crucial moment for both of them. That arm—the same one that held her back against a bathroom wall. How could she look at it now with anything but disgust? Those fingers that threatened unspeakable things. How can they make her feel anything but revulsion? But when she looks at Connor, all that fades away. There's only him.

"Let me see it," she says.

Connor hesitates, so she reaches out and gently slips it from the sling. "Does it hurt?"

"A little."

She brushes her fingers across the back of his hand. "Can you feel that?"

Connor nods.

Then she gently lifts the hand to her face, pressing the palm to her cheek. She holds it there for a moment, then lets go, letting Connor take over. He moves his hand across her cheek, wiping away a tear with his finger. He softly strokes her neck, and she closes her eyes. She feels as he moves his fingertips across her lips before he takes his hand away. Risa opens her eyes and takes the hand in hers, clasping it tightly.

"I know this is your hand now," she tells him. "Roland would never have touched me like that.'' Connor smiles, and Risa takes a moment to look down at the shark on his wrist. It holds no fear for her now, because the shark has been tamed by the soul of a boy. No—the soul of a man.

68 Lev

Not far away, in a high-security federal detention center, Levi Jedediah Calder is held in a cell designed for his very specific needs. The cell is padded. There is a steel blast door three inches thick. The room is kept at a constant forty-five degrees Fahrenheit to keep Lev's body temperature from rising too high. Lev is not cold, though—in fact he's hot. He's hot because he's wrapped in layer after layer of fire-resistant insulation. He looks like a mummy, suspended in midair—but unlike a mummy, his hands aren't crossed over his chest, they're held out to each side and lashed to a crossbeam so he cannot bring his hands together. The way Lev sees it, they didn't know whether to crucify him or mummify him, so they did both. This way, he can't clap, he can't fall, he can't inadvertently detonate himself—and if for some reason he does, the cell is designed to withstand the blast.

They've given him four transfusions. They won't tell him how many more he'll need until the explosive is out of his system. They won't tell him anything. The federal agents who come visit him are only interested in what he can tell them. They've given him a lawyer who talks about insanity like it's a good thing. Lev keeps telling him that he isn't insane, although he's not even sure himself anymore.

The door to his cell opens. He expects another interrogation, but his visitor is someone new. It takes a moment for Lev to recognize him—mainly because he's not wearing his modest pastor's vestments. He wears jeans and a striped buttondown shirt.

"Good morning, Lev."

"Pastor Dan?"

The door slams closed behind him, but it doesn't echo. The soft walls absorb the sound. Pastor Dan rubs his arms against the cold. They should have told him to bring a jacket.

"Are they treating you okay?" he asks.

"Yeah," says Lev. "The good thing about being explosive is that no one can beat you."

Pastor Dan gives an obligatory chuckle, then awkwardness takes over. He forces himself to meet Lev's eyes. "I understand they'll only keep you wrapped up like this for a few weeks, until you're out of the woods."

Lev wonders which particular woods he means. Certainly his life will now be one dark forest within another, within another. Lev doesn't even know why the pastor is here, or what he hopes to prove. Should Lev be happy to see him, or should he be mad? This is the man who always told him that tithing was a holy thing from the time he was a small boy—and then told him to run from it. Is Pastor Dan here to reprimand him? To congratulate him? Did Lev's parents send him because he's so untouchable now, they won't come themselves? Or maybe Lev's about to be executed and he's here to give last rites.

"Why don't you just get it over with?" Lev says.

"Get what over with?"

"Whatever you're here to do. Do it, and go."

There are no chairs in the room, so Pastor Dan leans back against the padded wall. "How much have they told you about what's going on out there?"

"All I know is what goes on in here. Which isn't much."

Pastor Dan sighs, rubs his eyes, and takes his time to consider where to begin. "First of all, do you know a boy by the name of Cyrus Finch?"

The mention of his name makes Lev begin to panic. Lev knew his background would be checked and rechecked. That's what happens to clappers—their whole life becomes pages pasted on a wall to be examined, and the people in their lives become suspects. Of course, that usually happens after the clapper has applauded his way into the next world.

"CyFi had nothing to do with this!" says Lev. "Nothing at all. They can't pull him into this!"

"Calm down. He's fine. It just so happens that he's come forward and is making a big stink—and since he knew you, people are listening."

"A stink about me?"

"About unwinding," says Pastor Dan, for the first time moving closer to Lev. "What happened at Happy Jack Harvest Camp—it got a whole lot of people talking, people who had just been burying their heads in the sand. There have been protests in Washington against unwinding—Cyrus even testified before Congress."

Lev tries to imagine CyFi in front of a congressional committee, trash-talking them in prewar sitcom Umber. The thought of it makes Lev smile. It's the first time he's smiled in a long time.

"There's talk that they might even lower the legal age of adulthood from eighteen to seventeen. That'll save a full fifth of all the kids marked for unwinding."

"That's good," says Lev.

Pastor Dan reaches into his pocket and pulls out a folded piece of paper. "I wasn't going to show you this, but I think you need to see it. I think you need to understand where things have gone."

It's the cover of a magazine.

Lev's on it.

Not just on it, Lev is the cover. It's his seventh-grade baseball picture—mitt in hand, smiling at the camera. The headline reads, WHY, LEV, WHY? In all the time he's had here alone to think and rethink his actions, it never occurred to him that the outside world had been doing the same thing. He doesn't want this attention, but now he's apparently on a first-name basis with the world.

"You've been on the cover of just about every magazine."

He didn't need to know that. He hopes that Pastor Dan doesn't have a whole collection of them in his pocket. "So what," Lev says, trying to act as if it doesn't matter. "Clappers always make the news."

"Their actions make the news—the destruction they've caused—but nobody ever cares who a clapper is. To the public all clappers are the same. But you're different from those others, Lev. You're a clapper who didn't clap."

"I wanted to."

"If you wanted to, you would have. But instead you ran into the wreckage and pulled out four people."

"Three."

"Three—but you probably would have gone in for more if you could have. The other tithes, they all stayed back. They protected their own precious parts. But you basically led that rescue effort, because there were 'terribles' who followed you in to bring out survivors."

Lev remembers that. Even as the mob was crashing down the gate, there were dozens of Unwinds going back into the wreckage with him. And Pastor Dan is right—Lev would have kept going back in, but then it occurred to him that one false move would have set him off and brought the rest of the Chop Shop down around them. So he went back out to the red carpet and sat with Risa and Connor until ambulances took them away. Then he stood in the midst of the chaos and confessed to being a clapper. He confessed over and over again to anyone willing to listen, until finally a police officer kindly offered to arrest him. The officer was afraid to even handcuff Lev for fear of detonating him, but that was all right—he had no intention of resisting arrest.

"What you did, Lev—it confused people. No one knows whether you're a monster or a hero."

Lev thinks about that. "Is there a third choicer"

Pastor Dan doesn't answer him. Maybe he doesn't know the answer. "I have to believe that things happen for a reason. Your kidnapping, your becoming a clapper, your refusing to clap"—he glances at the magazine cover in his hand—"it's all led to this. For years, Unwinds were just faceless kids that no one wanted—but now you've put a face on unwinding."


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