Maybe all these people are supposed to be living in the sorting hat. Maybe this whole “Society” is really a collection of people that all fell into the hat and never came out, instead opting to start a new life. That’s why there’s such a priority on concepts like sorting, because the hat is their Big Brother who commands them on its capricious whims.
At work the next day, we all notice immediately when the Officials enter the room. Like dominos falling at a game table, head after head turns toward the door of the sorting center. The Officials in their white uniforms are here for me. Everyone knows it and I know it, so I don’t wait for them. I push my chair back and stand up, my eyes meeting theirs across the dividers that separate our slots.
Like dominos at the game table? Yes, you mean sequential, Ally but that just gives me the image of heads bonking into one another as they walk by. It’s funny but I doubt that’s what you wanted. You were probably hoping we felt the sinister hand of “the Society” making its presence known. It doesn’t make sense as these people would have to visit all the time if they’re giving tests to prospective employees. Apparently it’s time for Cassia’s test so she goes along with them.
None of the three Officials makes small talk as they set things in order. The Official who spoke first seems to be in charge. The others, both women, are efficient and smooth. They hook up a datatag behind my ear and one inside the neck of my shirt. I don’t say anything, not even when the gel they use stings my skin.
To be fair, Cassia, if they know as much about you as we do, they know there’s nothing to talk about. ‘So, how have you been?’ ‘Durr? ‘ ‘Uh huh. Gotta love the weather we’ve having, eh?’ ‘Burble de derp!’ ‘Yeah, I’m going to pretend I’m not talking to a brain damaged goldfish and shut up now.’ ‘I like ice cream!’ ‘I bet you do.’
And “datatag? Really, Ally? This sounds like it was written in the late eighties/early nineties when it was rather fashionable to drop computer terms in science fiction in the hope of sounding hip. ‘Take this RAM. You can use it to override the serial port of the mother board and make it stream bytes until they can’t use it. But you have to hurry because the bytes will start decayin once the ROM starts working. Then you’ll only have forty thousand cycles before it’ll start working again. By then you’d better have hacked the mainframe or else the firewall will stop the hard drive. Also, internets.’
First they have Cassia sort some numbers but never telling us how they’re “sorted”. Cassia just says she looks for patterns and makes order out of the chaos. Look, Ally. If you’re going to make us sit through a chapter of Cassia applying for a job, you’d better damn well be able to make sense of it. What does it mean to sort numbers like that? How does staring at a bunch of disconnected and sourceless things until putting them in an arbitrary order help anyone, let alone “the Society”? Is it just busy work to keep idiots employed until they figure out how to sterilize them?
As I sort the numbers on the screen, making order out of chaos and detecting patterns, my heartbeat evens out. I stop trying to hold onto so many other things—the memory of Xander’s kiss, what my father has done, curiosity about Ky, worry about Em in the music hall, confusion about myself and how I am meant to be and who I am meant to love. I let it all go like a child with a handful of balloons on her First Day at First School. They float away from me, bright and dancing on the breeze, but I don’t look up and I don’t try to grab them back. Only when I hold onto nothing can I be the best, only then can I be what they expect me to be.
Wait, what? This civilization doesn’t allow “useless” trees like cottonwoods to exist but they allow children to have balloons? That’s a colossal waste of helium just to make some brightly colored latex float for a day or two. These are the same people that feed their citizens plain oatmeal every day because food is all about nutrition and not taste. Maybe they sit on a huge helium reserve and just like rubbing it in the face of everyone else. And suddenly now, Cassia cares about love. When that word hasn’t entered the discussion in any of the chapters prior.
Skip forward to the end of the test and they’re congratulating Cassia on a job well done. They say she’s done a remarkable job of sorting and that they have their eye on her. Cassia worries a bit about being watched by the “Officials” and how she feels pinned by their observation. Don’t flatter yourself, Cassia. They just want someone to sort through the fruit baskets they get from other countries. It turns out the beloved dictator in charge has OCD and just can’t stand mixed fruit.
The night of Em’s Match Banquet I go to bed early and fall asleep quickly. It is my night to wear the datatags and I hope the information they gather from my dreams shows the sleep patterns of a completely normal seventeen-year-old girl.
Instead they show the sleep patterns of an extremely stupid and self absorbed girl. Now Ally decides to ramp up the irritation and describe a dream, a really stupid dream it turns out. Ally is at Em’s ceremony, running at her and telling her to take her red pill. Em takes all the others, says she doesn’t have a red one and dream Cassia says she can have hers. Cassia wakes up and says that, even though she, savy citizen that she is, knows the red tablet doesn’t kill people, the rumors still persist. And that’s why she just dreamed about killing Em by telling her to take the red pill.
Cassia is in a panic when she wakes up but then she says that they probably can’t tell what she dreamed just that she did. Again, I’d like to know how Cassia has come by that knowledge. Did they tell her that or is it a rumor too? Then she says that she’s felt horrible ever since grandpa gave her that poem but not as bad as that time Ky gave her that poorly done nude self portrait.
Being as this is a crappy story, the nightmare has woken Cassia up so she can wander the house at night. She sees her mom talking on the “portscreen” and wonders who she could be talking to this late. This must be Ally hinting at Cassia’s parents being part of the rebellion. It’s that or Cassia has the mentality of a forty year old woman getting ready to yell at her daughter for staying up to talk on the phone.
Then Cassia’s dad asks why she’s up. She makes and excuse about talking to Xander and dad says it was just like that when he was seeing her mom. Then Cassia asks how his parents felt about him being matched with a girl from the farmlands.
Is this chapter going to turn into a how we met story? Of course it is. Is it boring and pointless because we don’t care about Cassia’s parents? Unquestionably so. They went to the city together, saw each other then fell in love. Cassia was then conceived on the hood of an antique Trans Am, as their tradition dictates. Then her mom comes in and Cassia asks who she was talking to.
It turns out it was the government calling Cassia’s mom. They’ve decided to that Cassia wasn’t worth all the resources they used raising, educating and clothing her so now they want their money back. Their only option will be to sell Cassia back to “the Society” for spare organs and hope it cancels out the debt. Or there’s some crisis or another going on at an “Arboretum” somewhere else. This means mom gets to go on a week long trip and get away from her screeching, needy, wards of the state.
Cassia then leaves with the ceremony and grace of a hippo stepping out of a pool. Now it’s time for her to listen to her parents from her room which reveals that dad hasn’t told mom about destroying grandpa’s sample. Basically, Cassia is special because dad trusts her but not his wife.
And I have a horrible thought.
So their Match isn’t perfect after all.
Or maybe he doesn’t trust her because he found her boning Xander’s dad. Mom says something is going on because they’re pulling a lot of people to go look at some crop. Then she asks if Cassia and Bram ill be alright. Dad says they’ll be fine, they’re named characters after all.
Flash forward to the next morning where Cassia is sitting on a bus telling us about the weather. Unless the weather plays a part in the story or sets the tone, ignore it Ally. Talking about the weather is how you pass the uncomfortable silence with strangers. It’s not a subject your protagonist needs to keep addressing with me or anyone else reading along. Cassia is along on the bus, wonders about it then gets to school where she searches for the poets who’s poems she read. Nothing they’ve done has been saved and then Cassia whines about how she’s tried to do the right thing but the words won’t go away.
Flash forward, again, to Em having lunch with Cassia. Em says the ceremony was perfect and says that her match is in “Arcadia Province”. I’m assuming that, like most modern things, is named ironically and is actually a nuclear dumping site. Cassia says that they have “sea and stone” which are things not in the province Cassia lives in. And I’m about six seconds for hunting Cassia for sport just to make something happen. Then Xander comes over and Em says her match kind of looks like him.
Ally decides that the excitement will come in the form of lost property. Cassia asks for her compact back, Em says she doesn’t have it because she gave it to Ky. Why did she do this? Because otherwise the author wouldn’t have an excuse to shove Ky and Cassia together again. Ky hasn’t dropped it off but Xander says not to worry, she can trust Ky. Which would be a terrible place to end the chapter so Ally does exactly that.