|The Pilot Of His Life
Author: Laura Schiller PM
Five times David Copperfield doubted the Society ... and the first time he hoped for something more. Because Dickens would have made a great dystopian author.Rated: Fiction T - English - & Ky M. - Words: 2,273 - Favs: 1 - Published: 05-07-12 - Status: Complete - id: 8094565
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
The Pilot Of His Life
By Laura Schiller
Crossover: David Copperfield/Matched
Copyright: Charles Dickens' estate/Ally Condie
The first time David Copperfield doubted the Society, he was eight years old and watching his parents from behind the stair rail. He couldn't hear what they were talking about, but he could see clearly, from one floor above them, how they moved. As usual, his mother was crying, shaking her blond curls with sorrow or denial; also as usual, his father was towering over her, his white Official's uniform contrasting sharply with his sleek black hair.
"Be quiet!" Edward snapped, loudly enough for even David to hear, as he pinned his wife against the wall between his arms. "I said, be quiet, Clara! Haven't you been listening? Are you too stupid to understand, or do you just not want to?"
Clara drooped like a flower, like one of the fragile pink mimosas in the Arburetum where she had once loved to work. Edward had used his high-level clearance code to transfer her to an accounting office, which he claimed was a far more useful vocation, but which made her pale and confused every evening as she came home. Too tired to argue, almost too tired to speak. When was the last time she had smiled?
David could see the portscreen on the living-room wall, hear the constant humming of the camera. If their every conversation was being recorded, then – Edward's high position aside – why didn't someone come to protect his Mama? Why didn't they take Edward away, Reclassify him, Relocate him to the darkest, most dangerous Outer Province?
Why didn't someone help?
By the time someone did, it was too late. Society medicine was excellent, but it could not bring his mother back to life. Clara had been pretending to take green pills for months and hiding them instead, until she'd collected enough to calm herself to death. There was no Final Banquet, or any other ceremony . He never found out what happened to her body.
"She didn't feel any pain," David was told by a serene Healer in a mint-green smock.
"How do you know?" he replied, staring point-blank into the old woman's eyes until she looked away.
Edward was convicted of domestic abuse, given Anomaly status and sent to a Rehabilitation Centre in Keya. David might have been relieved about that, if he could feel anything. Instead he wondered what dying felt like, why he couldn't be enough to keep his mother alive – and, sometimes, despite his theapist's best efforts to distract him, he wondered where she could possibly have hidden those pills without anybody knowing.
On his fourteenth birthday, reading through the Hundred Poems on his scribe for what felt like the hundredth time (especially Robert Frost's "miles to go before I sleep"), he jumped at the sound of a knock on his bedroom door.
His foster-father - bald, blue-eyed and sunny-faced in spite of having been carelessly shuffled from one vocation to another all his life – peered around the doorframe and smiled. It was not his usual perennial smile, or even his pitying smile (which David knew all too well), but a sly, proud, mischievous grin. He tiptoed into the room, holding his finger to his lips to prevent David from asking what this was about. He dropped a small paper booklet onto David's desk and vanished.
My dear boy, it read, scribbled almost illegibly in charcoal on the back of the booklet.
Please don't ever refer to the contents of this letter in range of that infernal Port. Suffice it to say, I have friends who trade in rare and unusual items, including those less than legal. Should you need to find them, go to the nearest Museum and ask about the "glorious history" of whatever Province you find yourself in.
Yours affectionately, Wilkins Micawber
PS.: May you have a very happy – and edifying – fourteenth birthday.
PPS.: Emma doesn't know, so would you please keep this between us?
PPS.: Recycle after reading!
The story in the booklet was the story of the Pilot. David devoured it in one sitting, dreamed that night about steering his mother safely downriver into a village of poetry and laughter, and was never the same again.
At seventeen, he was Matched to a tiny blonde named Dora Spenlow. One look at her during the ceremony, wearing a strapless pink gown and a radiant smile, and he was enchanted. One chaperoned dinner, and he was lost.
It was almost enough to make him forget – about the Pilot, his mother, everything. Enough to make him want to forget, anyway. Why shouldn't he be grateful for being offered such a perfect life?
"I swear," he enthused to his best friend in the schoolyard, "She is ten times as adorable in person as she is on my microcard. She's got this dimple when she laughs, right next to her mouth – she's got the cutest laugh … and you know, I think she really likes me! She gave me a rose! Picked it right off the flowerbed next to the meal hall. Do you know what that means?"
"Besides a minor citation?" Agnes Wickfield smiled wryly. "Sounds like you had a great time, David. Good for you."
Her ponytail and plainclothes were immaculate, her brown eyes level as ever. No one could have guessed that she was on her second green pill in just one week. Only her smile, which didn't reach her eyes, gave a hint that somethng might be wrong – but for her best friend of six years, a hint was enough.
"I'm such an idiot," he said, slapping his forehead. "I totally forgot. How was your first date with what's-his-name?"
Agnes' Match was the strangest-looking person David had ever seen. He had red hair, reddish-brown eyes, nearly colorless eyebrows, and a slouched posture even at such a life-changing occasion as the Matching Banquet. Thinking of him with Agnes gave David the creeps – for reasons he didn't care to examine, especially during what ought to be the happiest time of their lives.
"He was really … polite," she said. "Nervous, I think. He kept apologizing all over again for little things … like touching my hand when we both reached for the salt, or … or bumping my leg under the table. And he still remembered my dress from the Banquet. He must've complimented it about … three, four times? I mean, it was only White Number Five, almost half the girls were wearing it! He … it'll probably be easier when we get to know each other. I hope so."
It would have been easier if she had complained. But her careful phrases, the way she clasped her hands together in her lap and the trapped, hunted look in her eyes when she raised them to his face, made it obvious to David how she felt, and it cut him to the core.
"I'm sorry," he said, squeezing her hand. "Agnes, I'm so sorry."
"Please don't." She shrugged him off and stood up from the bench where they were sitting, turning her back to the sun so she couldn't see his face. "What's the use, anyway?"
"White Number Five did look great on you," he called after her.
This was beside the point, but at least she looked back to roll her eyes at him, assuring him indirectly that he was forgiven.
At that moment, he would have been happy to punch her unknown Match in the face. Which was ridiculous, of course, since the redhead was not the enemy here. How many more girls and boys were trapped every year into loveless marriages, perfect on the portscreen, but impossible in real life? How many of them would give anything for the right to choose?
So much for giving up on his search for the Rising. He couldn't stop now if he tried.
Two weeks later, he came home from school to find a white Officials' air car driving away from his building and the sound of Emma Micawber's sobs echoing down the hallway.
"Reclassified!" Wilkins exclaimed, waving his empty tablet container in David's face as soon as he entered the apartment. "We're Aberrations – all of us! I'm so sorry, David, I can't even tell you how sorry I am. All because of my stupid, naïve, reckless behavior – if I go on like this, you might as well just drag me off to Rehab and leave me all alone!"
"I'm not leaving you, Will!" exclaimed Emma, jumping up off the sofa. "Or you, Davy-boy. I promise I'll stand by you, no matter what!"
Her husband picked her up and whirled her around in one his most dramatic hugs, and moments later, they were already smiling as if Reclassification were an interesting adventure. David, as usual, found it hard to join in their optimism.
He found it heartbreaking that Emma pretended to have a choice.
The entire following week tasted of saltwater to him. Dora cried during their last date, when he and the chaperone informed her that the Match was broken off due to his change in status. Agnes cried, finding it easier to sympathize with David than admit to her own troubles. David himself cried, mostly in his room, only once on Emma's shoulder after being informed of his new vocation. So much for the Instructor's career he had been dreaming of, sharing knowledge with children, supporting them as he should have been supported. Instead he was assigned to Sanitation.
And just when he thought it couldn't get worse, they conscripted him for decoy duty at the Border.
It wasn't Dora he thought of the most as he hid in ditches, caves or abandoned houses waiting out the bombs. It wasn't her memory he clung to as his comrades died like flies. Dora Spenlow seemed like a mythical creature to him now, a fairy maybe, someone so remote from his gritty, bloody new world that it seemed as if she'd never existed. She must have been re-Matched by now, just as happy with whatever respectable Citizen the data banks came up with.
He thought of Agnes. Even as he was deeply, sincerely grateful that she was not here, he imagined that she was – especially at night. Shh, David, it's okay, she'd tell him, stroking his hair when he woke up from a nightmare. She'd be sharing her rations with the younger boys, breaking up arguments, searching for the best shelters. She would be burying the dead.
"Need a hand?" he asked Vick and Ky, the unofficial leaders of the company, as they prepared to dig the fifth grave of the day.
Ky nodded; Vick touched his arm in silent gratitude and handed him a shovel.
Later, as the three stood over thirteen-year-old Jon's body, David got the breath knocked out of him by the words Ky was speaking. He'd known that the quiet, black-haired boy had some odd ritual for the dead, but he'd never been close enough to actually listen. It was the same poem Wilkins Micawber had taught him.
"I hope to see my Pilot face to face," he chimed in, glowing with half-ashamed hope and expectation. "When I have crossed the bar. I can't believe it! Oh my gosh, Ky, are you - "
"Shut up," said Ky, his quiet voice carrying more authority than if he had shouted. "That's a dangerous topic. Besides, I'm not what you think you are."
"But he can lead you to the Rising," Vick interrupted, his sunburned face almost as eager as David's own. "Right, Ky?"
"You can't be serious," Ky retorted, looking David up and down, then cutting his eyes back to Vick.
"Why not? A fourth could be useful."
"He's a rookie. He'll slow us down as much as the little one."
"He looks strong enough."
"I don't want followers, Vick! How many times do I have to say this? All I want is to escape from here and get a message to my girl!"
All at once and for the first time, the aloof and mysterious Ky looked human to David: bleary-eyed, exhausted, his voice cracking with fatigue and exasperation. David knew exactly how he felt.
"Me too," he said. "I need to let her know I'm still alive. Please, if there's any way … "
The other boys watched him silently for a long time, as if evaluating him. Finally, Ky's dark eyes softened and he almost smiled.
"You're an optimist, aren't you – David, was it?" he said. "You remind me of ... someone. The world could use more people like you."
David shrugged. Perhaps six years with the Micawbers had rubbed off on him. There were worse traits, after all, to carry through a life like his. If he hadn't kept believing in something – Emma's loyalty, Wilkins' dreams of revolution, Agnes' friendship, his own ideals – he would probably have given up on life just like his mother had. Instead, though his life might be short, he would make sure it was worthy of her.
Vick clapped a hand on Ky's and David's shoulders, a triangle of hope.
"So that's settled," he said. "Next time there's a firing – we run."