The Extent

Case 98020829, Exhibit 5.c: Written in grease pencil on a series of “Preparing for the Henderson Scientific Aptitude Exam” and “Preparing for the Henderson World History Exam” flashcards, the following unusual manuscript was found in an abandoned house twenty miles into California Republic’s uppermost ashfield, nearest Kinzie Township. The committee has concluded that inductee 2049458, Annika “Nik” Yang, 17, wrote it over the course of several days following her illegal break, accompanied by inductee 5243724, Virginia “Eden” Cartwright, 14, from Black Mile U18 Military Training Facility in Rust Knife, CA. Previous psychological profiles of Yang noted her tendency towards writing lists as a coping mechanism, as well as her distrust of authority (see Supplement A); however, staff had not detected that these tendencies had progressed to this degree. Re-working of Facility disciplinary, security, and induction policy has been enacted in response (see Incident Response Report 0078574). The corresponding flashcards are labeled with their original text in italics. Strike-throughs correspond to Yang’s crossings-out of the text, and words circled by Yang are reproduced in bold. Further analysis can be found in Section 92.e.


SA179. Q: What are the four fundamental interactions of physics?

A: The Weak Interaction, The Strong Interaction, Electromagnetism, Gravity

Hair: Sometimes our hair is like a pet we carry on our head. It’s part of us—but it’s not really part of us, in the way an arm or a leg is part of us. You can cut off your hair and walk around normal—completely unlike cutting off an arm or leg—but it can still hurt to be completely shorn, to have your head looking all egg-like. Hair keeps our heads warm—that’s why it’s there in the first place—but it seems like it serves some other purpose, too. No one knows this better than you, Smith. I always imagined you working your way up from the cadet level, until you were the one shearing teenagers bald, not the other way around—now I guess I’ll never know if that’s a lie. Curly. Wavy. Straight. You were so calm, as you gave me my first regulation buzz-cut, sitting in that dimly lit vestibule, telling me it won’t hurt, I promise—you seemed to know exactly what was being taken away, like it had once been taken from you, too. I didn’t think about that until later. When you took me from my old home, I was desperate for something, but I didn’t know what, because I didn’t know anything: I had just turned thirteen, my hair was falling out in clumps, and my body felt alien to me, growing unevenly, bleeding like I had been killed. We were all marked out there—we had scars like rivers, our ribs were raw shadows in our chests, a wonder that I was able to bleed at all. And you? Tall and unmarked, filling out your tailored uniform like a fairy woman, mouth full of words I didn’t know yet, a pull to you like gravity, like the dents planets make in space. I thought you were a queen, come from another world; thought you’d take me to that parallel realm, like what happens to children in books. Narnia. Fairyland. Pern. Thought me and my small soul, me and my half-body, were about to be lifted, and hey—I wasn’t quite wrong. When I walked into my first day of training, it didn’t matter that the hair had once fallen from my head like dirty snow. I was bald, just like everyone else. You had made sure of that.

US209. Q: Describe the most prevalent contributing factors to the fall of the American empire.

A: Corruption—the hacking of several major elections by….

Petroleum War—the drying-up of several major wellheads, leading to contested territory between Panoptix and Sublumin Multinational, causing bombing of…

Bombing of Wellheads—burning of the Texas petroleum patch, with the resulting chemical winter covering the Northern Hemisphere…

Solar Flares: disrupted what remained of long-range radio communication and electronic systems…

Scars: Scars are hurt and history written on the outside. Alright—on the inside, too. They’re anything that has ever had trouble healing right, or doesn’t look the way it used to. Scars are what you get to keep when your hair gets taken away, and they’re for sure a part of you, like an arm or a leg is a part of you—you can get to be proud of them, like I’m proud of them. Or at least the ones on the outside. Ash-shrapnel on my cheeks. Ink-river on my forearm. Keloid where my finger was. The inside scars, though, sometimes you just have to plow through all that damaged tissue. Take them, Eden said to me, holding out her flashcards. They’re horrible; it’s all rote. I’d already filled up my own cards with crosshatched shorthand, making my lists smaller and smaller, until finally I’d run out. That was months before I met her—I’d been angling to steal someone else’s, I wanted paper so bad. Still, I was so surprised at her offering that I almost didn’t take them at all. The cards were the first object, the first anything someone had offered me in years—so it was several seconds before I took them in my hands, said Thank you, several more before I told her you don’t know how much this means. Eden for sure knows how much it means, now. She stays up with me when I write, did you know that? She doesn’t want me to be alone. Eden’s been reading my whole story from the beginning, even the parts that make us just fold in on each other, even those unreadable, unhealable parts. Back underground, her gift still raw in my hands, I looked through every horrible, rote, stilted question until I found ones that opened doors in my mind, and I could feel my story swelling up inside me, kicking against my skull like an unborn child. But still I didn’t think I could write it. I thought things would make more sense out here, when I got out, if I got out—that ink-river scar’s new, Smith. It cuts through the numbers on my right arm, my writing arm, and the ink has bled into the wound, and the whole mess looks like lightning, my veins, a river.

US039: Q: Describe the Marshall Plan of World War II. At what point in the war did US officials know about the German concentration camps? What was the official reason for not releasing this information to the public?

A: The Marshall Plan involved Allied aid to several impoverished European countries…

Tattoos: Tattoos are like scars, except you get to choose the story that’s written on you. To an extent. You might not get to choose if the needle’s clean, or the artist’s any good, or if they carve a number on your arm, or the digits of that number when they do—but you do get to choose what they’re supposed to be, the thing they represent. To an extent. Tattoos are less disfigurations, like scars are, and more symbols—and symbols are subjective; symbols can mean anything you want. Some people at Black Mile put tattoos over their scars, and other people put tattoos around them, like picture frames. Me, I just asked for a list of names—figured no one could mess that up. That’s what most people chose, a list of names. Even though you told me my list was a price, Smith, one I would extract from the enemy, when the time came to go into combat, to sacrifice myself, to die—I’ve always turned my list of names into a form of remembrance. It was a prayer I could say to myself at night, a prayer that someday, somehow, I could still be lifted. Christopher Yang. Erica MacCrae. Marissa Yang. Emery Yang. See? Choice. The extent.

SA042: Q: What factors contributed to Watson and Crick’s Rosalind Franklin’s discovery of the structure of DNA?

Names: Names are like tattoos that go over your entire life. Choose a new name, and you choose a new life for yourself—in theory, of course. In reality, I think we keep our old names—only under our skin, like those dolls that open up to more dolls underneath. So when I chose my new name and did the clever, stupid thing in shortening my old one, I like to think that I kept the original: only deep down in my chest, like the smallest doll, the one that doesn’t open anymore. Sometimes, when I’m just about to fall asleep, I can hear exactly how that name sounded—most of the time, though, it just hurts to crack open my chest that much. Annika Yang, that was the ghost name I bubbled into the answer sheet when I was aptitude-tested for military service, sitting in that abandoned high school gym, my folding chair placed right under the basketball hoop. A net hanging over my head, Smith, and still I didn’t know this place was a trap. Eden’s family was mad religious: she says naming herself for the promised land kept her holding onto them, their belief and their hope. Eden, because like all of us, she still wanted to be lifted. That’s how I know Smith isn’t your real name, Smith. We all want to be free of something. I think you used to be someone else, but you killed her—Maybe because you had to, but maybe because it was just easier, to not be a human being all the time. For years I wanted to be you, wanted you to like me, and sometimes I think your kindness, when you were kind, made me an even worse kind of monster. Because how can you live with that other body, rotting inside you? How can you live with the fact that you burned that smallest doll completely, until she was nothing but dead white ash?

US087: Q: What societal changes resulted in the wake of the cotton gin?

A: Slavery, which before had little economic benefit…

Maps: Maps are what you make when you want to make sense of the world. They are at their heart, I think, vastly simplified versions of the world itself: when you map something, you’re stripping it down to its roots, cutting out all the extra information, showing only what needs to be shown. So when I draw maps, and I draw lines and angles and circuitry, vents and ductwork, a thousand mazes, every impossible way out—I draw it all as simply as possible, and the world makes sense to me. You got over the fact that I make maps years ago, here, Smith. You made me prove the hard way, that I’d never use them to escape. My first maps were found in my boots, a supremely unoriginal place: there was no pretending they weren’t mine. Enter Eden, who didn’t know my open secret—Eden, a first-year with a higher score band than me, walking by the western wall with her hands curled within her coat sleeves, bald and bootless like all of us, when we were that new. Little bird, bundle of wiry muscle, brave of her to walk up to me: I’ve a meanness about me, like wolves or drill sergeants, hard and flint-eyed; I’ve been working on it for years. But she saw me drawing, this bootless new girl, and her eyes went wide and bottomless, and I knew, I just knew, what she was thinking, could see the thoughts crossing her eyes like clouds. Nimbus. Cirrus. Cumulus. “I make maps,” I said, like it was the most obvious thing, and held up my left hand, so she could see my finger missing. But instead of saying “oh,” or “I’m sorry,” or “Let’s escape together!” or charging uselessly to report me, Eden asked, “Could you teach me?” A need I’d rarely seen before in her eyes. I didn’t quite know, then, that she was different, that she was like me, but I like to think I could tell. I like to think that we can recognize each other, us mapmakers, just from the places our minds go, when we’ve been left in the dark.

SA124: Q: Name and describe the four forces of evolution.

A: Mutation, Gene Flow, Genetic Drift, Natural Selection

Escape: Escape is what you dream of when you can’t live the way you do. We for sure couldn’t live the way we did, and thus we dreamed of escape: we were children, the story goes, and you reduced us to animals. Or just convinced us we were animals in the first place. Reduced us to several thousand pairs of small and bloody hands. Not yet the blood of our enemies—mostly the blood was our own, as we clawed each other, as we fought, in dormitories and hallways and bathrooms, fought for the division of that all-important resource: your approval. Scars for days, we had: black eyes so black I couldn’t see straight. Girls and boys would limp into history class—we were fodder, we didn’t have to be healthy to make war, just violent. You spit-shined us to the sheen of fanaticism, and we shone like tiny, bloody suns: swum through pools with practice rifles on our backs, watched endless replays of the drone strikes, pushed the commands ourselves, when you made us; doled cruelty like we were born to it; rolled over, helplessly, at any action approaching love. And the days were numbered, for a near-escapee, a fiftieth percentiler like me—when indeed the days were numbered for all of us, when indeed we were to be killed in combat, if not exactly on our eighteenth birthdays, then not a whole lot after that. I realized we were killed only when we were no longer useful, too late—by the time when I was no longer useful. This place was a holding tank for the schemers, the wunderkinds like me—the ones most likely to lead any semblance of a rebellion in the network of factory towns holding this place steady. Rollingwood. Wirepatch. Broken Hill. Diamantina. The towns so many of us were stolen from. All that rote memorization was just to exhaust us, so we couldn’t scheme straight—but so what? I needed your approval to live past eighteen; I needed the other children’s approval just to day-to-day survive. Almost-escaping gave me less than nothing. I learned teeth and claws, after I was punished; you watched me. I learned that fuck-you-up look, learned to make them stay away from me—learned the hard way, bandaged my nine knuckles in the dark. Hid until my aggressors moved on to more vulnerable targets, lashing out when cornered, until one fine morning I was not-untouchable enough to approach one of the lower-profile packs and make myself useful. Paid my dues in fealty and obeisance, and if I was not valued, then, at least I was valuable. I had my prayers with me: my maps and lists and names and litanies, written on my flashcards. And I was alive, reformed, I had resigned myself: I was going to be like you, going to shoot for some high-profile home-base position. Even though most of me knew this was impossible. Then Eden came and blew that version of me apart. Newcomer, factory girl, scarred as any of us, scared as hell, but not one bit of her dead—even underground, at Black Mile, this place crushing us all under its dirty thumb. Even you. You only laid a hand on me once, Smith, and only when Black Mile decreed it; you were at least that kind. But you always had more of a choice than any of us. So no, I am not sorry for lying to you, butcher, when you asked me if I loved my country; I am not sorry, I am not sorry, I am not sorry at all.

SA067: Q: What are primary examples of convergent evolution?

Hands: Hands are such windows into people. Eyes can show you what they’re feeling in the moment, sure—but hands can show you their entire life. Or at least the worst parts of their life; happiness didn’t really leave a mark on us, as we met at the walls every day. I told Eden I’d actually lost which way was north when I was brought down here, and had chosen a direction that was arbitrary; I showed her how to flatten real objects, how to trace where the vents were, find their path through the walls. How to memorize this information, and destroy it afterward. She taught me how to scale vertical faces, in return, how to find the cracks where my weight could go. I was learning, too: Eden has the most messed-up hands of anyone I’ve ever seen. This is partly because Eden climbs everything—and I mean everything, she puts her fingers and toes in places you’d think fingers and toes could not ever, much less should ever go—and partly because she worked scavenge and demolition before she came here, leaving bits of abandoned buildings stuck all over her body. There are knobs of calluses and metal shavings the size of extra fingers on her palms; she has a smashed thumb, and a set of burns on her forearms, from leaching gold from motherboards with acid. Eden joked that the metal detectors always went off when she passed through, and held her pencil gingerly, because her hands couldn’t feel very much, anymore, and said it hurt to clench her fists, because her scars would wrinkle up against each other, painfully. I was risking a lot, but blacking out the friction of the consequences: It seemed like if I trusted her, she’d trust me. Eden so clearly knew what it meant to be hurting. All her family’s old-time religion back at her scavenge-factory, she told me, was really just a way to soak up their pain. When we shook on our unstable, tentative, impossible promise, even my own rough-cut palms, my own nine fingers, could feel how puckered and seamed hers were.

SA129: Q: Describe genetic crossover.

Stories: Stories are what you tell to get through the winter: Any winter, inside or out. They make new worlds, they make sense of old ones, and they’ll keep you alive, if you want them to: Eden and I pretty much cracked each other open in those weeks, that way broken people do. Pretty much spilled our guts out. Pretty much told each other everything. So yes, I told her my real name, my secret name, and she told me hers, in return: We used these names sparingly, an endearment; our starved hearts singing, even as we crossed into barren territory. I told her how I made my first map, dreaming of the surface; how you put a knife in my hands, Smith, and made me cut my own finger off. Told how I did it, how much it hurt; the sheer amount of scar tissue sustained: hastily, like blue fire, how my mind went dark for a year. Told her how my blood spattered over my ill-fitting black mockery of a uniform, spattered all over your nice white dress uniform. too; how at least I had the satisfaction of that, of ruining something that wasn’t mine. And I told her about my parents, who brushed my hair, told me stories, taught me the names of the stars. That big orange book they read to me and my sisters from, how it all just wrapped us in a blanket, made me dream while I was waking. Told her all the typical, massive losses sustained by people like us, the place their bodies are, bone meal in an ash field, the times I think of them, lying unguarded, in the dark. Christopher Yang. Erica MacCrae. Marissa Yang. Emery Yang. And the things Eden told me? Are hers. I can’t write them down for you. But I can tell you that even though we had wrongness carved clean through us, even just the presence of another voice, another mind matched to our own, was enough, was more than enough—not to fix the damage, but to live with it. I wish you could learn from us, Smith; you are for sure a damaged thing, however upright and in control. We crossed whole rooms we hadn’t touched in years, and those things you hide are never really gone, you know: they just lie there waiting for you to lift them, turn them in your scarred palms, hold them up to the light. I would catch Eden’s eye during drill, force myself to pass her like a ghost, then feel the glow of our secret, ballooning inside my chest—people from my pack, my friends-of-necessity, asked why I was grinning like an idiot; they thought I had given up, by then, thought I’d finally crossed the line into that ash-crazed, self-denying, warmonger territory so many of us were pushed into. Meanwhile, half the sentences I wrote—scribbling on my new flashcards—began “Eden says” or “Eden thinks.” I wasn’t writing lists anymore, Smith, I was writing sentences. Compound, simple, imperative—the truth. But the best thing, the very best thing, was that Eden was absorbing just as many ideas from me as I did from her. Our minds sang with the heresy of it, and all this—all this within your system slowly eating us alive. We were making our own light, by the ventilation ducts; we knew with certainty, that we could not be subterranean creatures anymore.

US065 Q: What factors contributed to Napoleon’s retreat from Russia?

Plans: Plans are really just prayers to the universe. I think they’re necessary mostly in terms of persuading yourself to do stupid things: stupid things that might save your life, that is. Eden and I stayed up for three nights straight, shooting our plans down, finding everything that could go wrong. Most holes lay not in getting to the surface, but what we’d do when we got there: Down here had become our territory; it was difficult to think of mapping anywhere else. There was no logic to the stretch of the surrounding wilds, the way there was logic to ducts and vents and mazes—and I had skated along the unpredictable line of the rules for so long that breaking them felt unthinkable, unthinkable to go jeopardizing a steady half-life for the unsustainable promise of a full one. The strain of belonging and not belonging was cutting into me, surely as your knife had: I would trace my thumb over my forearm, my number, my list of lost people, trying to unlearn everything, everything you’d ever taught me about revenge. I am not sorry, I am not sorry, I am not…This didn’t go on forever. A plan can’t accomplish anything, if it’s not implemented—and we found one, or it found us, and we followed it to the bitter end.

SA078: Q: Describe the body’s immune response to blood poisoning, in cellular detail.

Blood: Most of the time blood’s just swimming around us, all blue and passive. Some tropically warm river, no fish in it, just flowing along, marching soldier-rhythm to that unstoppable bu-bum bu-bum bu-bum. But when it gets outside our bodies—well. What a mess. No wonder I, thirteen, had found my new, bleeding body so uncomfortable. On that day, that fateful day, Eden and I were some hundred yards closer to the surface, and it was three in the morning—razors, could not have been more on edge than us. Even Eden, scaler of everything, had her hands shaking. The maps were shaking, too, impossibly bright in my head, and I believed in them almost entirely because I had to, because at that point, I had no choice. We had to cut from the lower maintenance tunnels into the upper ones, and I was leading us up a vertical exhaust shaft, after Eden had led us up the last one: She was on the walkway below me, the rope tight around my waist, and I reached my hand up, towards the vein-thin horizontal duct I knew would be there, back braced against the opposite wall. My mind had already cast itself into the upper tunnels, their laddered expanse, where the going would be easy—I was that jittery kind of confident, living half in the world where we’d already escaped, half in this one. But my foot slipped, and I cast out my extended arm for balance, and ended up levering full force on a set of exposed screws, calling out, the soft part of my forearm impaled. A. B. Negative. There was a clock in my body, ticking down to nothing. I should’ve braced myself, should’ve something, but my head was not where I left it, my legs were failing, I could feel the screws rip into me as I fell—and then nothing, for a long time, nothing, as if I had ceased to exist. (Section continues on card SA056 Q: In which part of the brain is vested control of the rhythm of the heart and lungs?) I woke dimly aware of an ache, and the fact that something was missing—but the crazy patterns our lights made, the shine and wobble of hundreds of feet of metal pulsed against my skull, making it difficult to cultivate awareness of anything else. I thought, stupidly, wow, this is what it must be like to be in shock. Then what was missing came back to me. It was pain, and I nearly blacked out again, it was so bad: vomited, half-curled, into my own lap, then fell onto my back again, onto the walkway below the duct, bruised everywhere, elbow broken where I’d tried to roll; this tightness over my forearms, someone crying, unable to speak. It was Eden, crying, or at least I thought it was—the sound seemed to come from everywhere. Please, she was saying, please, Annika, please, please…Poor dear, I thought distantly, She’s lost the map. And then, I am the map. I am the goddamn map, I am, I am, I am, and I opened my mouth, and sound came out, up three hundred feet to a maintenance ladder breach the fire door avoid the alarm three flights of ladder-stairs and a shaft turn right turn left and my voice was the voice of a harpy, clawing her way out of hell. Eden had bound my arm with her shirt, I learned later—her uniform shirt, the shirt you gave her, saving my life. We were on our feet by then, and I was not part of this world anymore, was half-walking, half-stumbling, every step tearing something out of me, towed up rope-lengths into the hot dull roar of the exhaust ducts, coughed out of the lungs of that massive animal—blood on my hands, blood on Eden’s hands, Eden breathing short breaths, saying come on, come on, you’re strong, you can do this, we’ll make it, we can’t not make it, and the sheer amount I loved her, was not containable, by then. Dripping onto our chests, smeared on the rungs of ladders thousands of feet below the Earth, tracing up towards the surface, the sickest map imaginable: the biggest mess I’ve ever made; mine, mine, mine.

SA096. Q: Describe Solar Flares.

The Sun is bigger than anything we can imagine. It could swallow a million Earths, and still come up hungry: the layers of it are gargantuan, made of matter so hot it glows; matter so hot it isn’t even matter anymore. I don’t think people have the vocabulary for something that big, that bright-lit, floating in the middle of nothing. When we reached the surface, Eden and I, the sun had come up, and I saw only the barest sherbet smear of it before I passed out. Wordless. You were waking up then, Smith, at the same time we all woke up, down there. Reveille blared into your ears through the speakers. Someone had noticed the ropes in the gymnasium were missing—did they tell you? Did you know it was me? The tunnel lights ran full-brightness, as you and the others put on your uniforms, whipped bodies to motion, spit on the students’ shoes that were not shined enough—meanwhile I, Annika, desperate mapmaker, wordless, because I had not seen that sun in four years. The sun destroyed all the radio communications in my town, Smith, four years ago. We had no way of knowing the bombs were coming. You came in like an angel, and left everyone but me to die. Eden’s told me about the Biblical apocalypse, so I know: The fire this time. It sounds ridiculous, because it’s true. But here, here: the sun will come up tomorrow, and the next day, and the next. The sun will rise in the east and set in the west; and I will know which way north is, simply by where my shadow falls.

US190: Q: What factors contributed to the American Revolution?

Hair: Hair definitely serves some other purpose, definitely. I know this better than you, Smith, because I had forgotten it. My hair was flopping into my eyes—Could I even remember what texture it was? Could I remember the braids my mother put it in?—and Eden’s was crinkling and waving above her head; we had forgotten what it was like, to be that kind of whole, to have that kind of choice about our bodies. In the end we cut each other’s hair with a sharpened piece of glass, near a frigid river; figured it would be best, so the filters we stole would fit right. We cried, doing this. We folded our bodies close to each other and we cried. We hadn’t realized it would hurt that much, to try to be human beings again. My broken elbow was tender, healing well enough, though it hurt all the time; my forearm kept clean, we hoped, forming this jagged river of a scar—that scar tearing right through my number, Smith, jagged like veins, lightning, a lit speck of ash. We were still running-rabbit creatures—seven, preferably eight steps ahead of you and your sensors and rifles, we were; soaked in river mud to hide our scent, sleeping in houses half-collapsed, we were; waking early, hands glued on our stolen chain-stripped bicycles, destroying all of the evidence, sleeping exhausted, we were, the sleep of the just and the dead. Still, at night, our plan, its final, glorious steps, was so close we could taste it. Even you with your white uniform, your unrationed meals can’t know the pleasure of that. We are selfish, a contained unit, whatever heresy we wish dancing on our tongues, because the final day, the day of our vanishment, is almost-almost-almost at hand—and I’ve spent time, so much time, working on this. I needed to hammer the truth out, even if it never will fit quite right. Needed to tell you that truth, even if you’d never hear it. I am my own kind of beautiful choice-making monster, Smith, one with nothing to do with you. And Eden’s asleep, now, and she is beautiful: Her hair is jagged where I cut it with the glass knife, my own head bears similar asymmetries, and her eyes are closed, forehead scrunched, in that tiny furrow that’s always there when she dreams. We are not well-fed, here, but we are alive, living, without a question or a doubt—and I am sorry, I am sorry for you. You who made us sleep on metal beds with the springs sticking out. You who took our names and gave us nothing in exchange. You asked us to erase ourselves, and here we are: gone.

<End transcript>

Update: Further disciplinary action was taken following the illegal release of Exhibit 5.c by a student within the Black Mile community. Re-working of Facility policy has been enacted in response. Officer Angela Smith has requested indefinite leave; the request has not been granted. (See Request Response Form 90875857.) The search for Yang and Cartwright continues up the coast. Further evidence has not been found.