“O’Brien, did you really go outside, through the doors? What’s it like out there?” Duncan had wanted to ask O’Brien since he’d heard that he been able to check the perimeter of the underground topside for Kai. Outside of the topsiders, most people had never been to the surface or at least hadn’t spent a significant amount of time there and Duncan was interested in hearing O’brien’s story.
“Yeah, I went out there.” O’Brien beamed as if he’d really made the journey through the doors. “It’s dark and cold. Windy and damp. But really nothin’ to be afraid of like everyone makes it out to be.”
“Well, then what happened to everyone else who went with you? You must’ve seen something scary,” Duncan pressed on.
“Nah, we all went in separate directions. All I can think is maybe they got lost or fell in a hole or something. I’m not saying it ain’t dangerous, ya know, just that it ain’t as bad as people say.”
Ronin walked in having overheard the last portion of the conversation. “Well, O’Brien, if it ’ain’t so bad as people say’ you won’t mind going back out there. I need you to do another perimeter check and report back if you find anything. Take Duncan with you this time. His presence is irritating me.”
“Sir, I’d love to go back out there, sir, but I promised my family I’d be helping them with some things in quadrant 3 tonight.” O’Brien had no intention of going topside and he knew with Duncan with him, it would be unlikely that he would be able to pull off his trickery this time.
“Well your family will just have to wait or do without you, won’t they O’Brien? You’re on my payroll and that means you belong to me. And when you belong to me, you do as I say. I don’t pay you to question my authority, O’Brien, and if you do it again, I’ll see your tongue cut from your mouth. Do I make myself clear?” Ronin had become incredibly agitated by O’brien’s disobedience. His fingers were itching to squeeze the very life from his body.
“I understand, Sir,” O’Brien said, gathering his things. “Looks like you’ll get to see topside for yourself, Duncan. Let’s go.”
With that, O’Brien and Duncan headed out into the corridor toward the entrance the topsiders used to get to the surface. Ronin hoped that at least one of them would make it back to reassure him that Kai was nowhere to be found. There had still been no real confirmation that he was dead, and Ronin didn’t know if there ever would be. What he did know though, was that as each day passed with Kai nowhere near the compound, it became more likely that he was dead and it bought more time for Ronin to execute his own plans.
Turning to look at Duncan as they walked, O’Brien said, “I lied. You should know before we go out there. I lied and there is something scary waiting just outside those doors for us.”
Ellie took her time with her shower, relishing the feel of the hot water on her skin. She washed her hair three times for good measure, as it was nearly matted to her scalp, and by the time she was finished she had almost convinced herself that she was being paranoid. Almost. There was still something about Kai since he came back that made her itch to know if Indaya had started trying to figure out the device she’d slipped her.
Kai was waiting just outside the shower room for Ellie. That was one of the things that bothered her the most. Not that he was trying to protect her, he’d always done that, but Kai had never hovered. He knew she was capable of taking care of herself. He knew it well because he had given her combat training just in case she needed it, not that it had particularly helped her out of her last predicament. But he was gone on missions often, and he wanted to know she could take care of herself if something happened. Her Kai would have more faith in her than this regardless of recent events.
So what, Ellie? She asked herself Is this some kind of doppelganger? Unless… Ellie shook her head at her own ridiculous, irrational and fleeting thought. I’ve read too much Science Fiction.
O’Brien opened the door, ushering Duncan out first. He waited for a second and heard the other man’s voice “I thought you said there was something scary out here. I don’t see anything except a hell of a lot of cloud coverage, sand, and dirt and dead grass. Oh and smoke from waaaaay the hell over towards the East.”
O’Brien hesitated and then forced his way outside. Duncan was right, there was no immediate threat. Nothing that either of them could see in any direction, and yet there was that smoke. He made an executive decision then. Whatever that smoke meant, it couldn’t be good, and he did not want to turn Ronin onto that tidbit of information, lest he send him out there to figure out what the hell it meant, and that looked a good way off. He had survived this mini trek topside thus far, and he had no plans of winding up like the other men. Which begged the question where did they go?
“That’s nothing. Lightning strikes commonly cause fires like that.” O’Brien spoke to Duncan, and it sounded convincing even to his own ears. Duncan nodded and after a few more moments of searching around the general area, they headed back down, locking the door securely behind them.
O’Brien could feel his pulse behind his eyes, and like a caged, wild thing trying to escape his chest. Duncan looked pumped; charged.
“I might go see a recruiter; sign up as a Topsider. I know I can pass the physical and the fitness test. That was fucking awesome, I want to see more!”
“Yeah, well, Duncan have at it. Not me. I’m better suited for inside endeavors, so I’ll stick to those, thanks.”
Duncan glanced over his shoulder. “Tell Ronin that’s where I’m headed will ya?”
“Sure, sure.” O’Brien was so relieved nothing had carried him off, that he would tell Ronin almost anything, almost.
“You’re sure you saw no sign of my darling brother?”
“Not even a glimpse of another person in any direction, sir.”
“No other signs of life up there at all?”
“Nope,” O’Brien lied “nothing at all. Lifeless, brown, cloud coverage, the usual. Nothing and nobody lurking about.”
“Good. Very, very good. Thanks, O’Brien. Where’s the other kid?”
“Oh, Duncan was headed to sign up as a Topsider.”
“That could prove useful, very useful indeed. Here O’Brien, for your troubles.” Ronin shoved a fistful of dollars into his hand and left him standing there, calculating just how much money he had made over the last month, doing all of Ronin’s bidding. There was no doubt about it, working for him was terrible, and you did things that caused you to lose sleep, but it was damn lucrative.
Indaya had waited until she was alone in her room to open the book. She was no idiot and could take context clues. She knew there was something behind it since Ellie had never offered to lend her a book of any kind, she treasured them too much. And Kai was acting funny. When she opened the note, she had to cover her mouth from squeeing in delight.
Ellie needed her help, and she loved feeling useful, but the fact that she got to try to alter and get a form of technology she had only heard her father talk about, made her jittery with excitement. According to her note, Ellie wanted her to tweak it so she could use it as a communication device. It seemed easy enough on the surface, but she wouldn’t know how difficult that would be until she got started. Realistically she knew she had a few days, so it would look like she actually read the book, but still, Indaya got right to work.
Opening the device was easy enough. It appeared on the surface to be one solid piece of material, but upon further inspection, Indaya noticed a small line running nearly around the center of the device. A little pressure and few twists saw it pop open exposing the inner workings.
The detail inside the device was immaculate. Whoever had designed it had access to the absolute best tools available in regard to developing electronic devices. It looked as if all the electronic components were still intact which brought a huge smile to Indaya’s face. Most of the wiring hadn’t deteriorated at all, which was impressive considering the age of the device. She wasn’t sure where Kai had found it, but it was definitely a fortunate find.
As she examined the inside of the device more closely, she realized that there were parts and wiring with which she was not familiar. Some of it crossed and connected in ways that she didn’t fully understand. She’d been working in engineering for a few months now as a full-time employee, having followed her father to learn all she could for a few years, but she couldn’t recall ever working on anything so delicate and so complex during that time. Still, she was determined to complete the task Ellie had asked of her and without help from any other person. That didn’t mean she couldn’t consult the quadrant library though. Indaya wrapped the device carefully in some cloth and stuck it back inside the book before sliding it under her mattress for safe keeping. Feeling that it was in the safest place possible, she headed to the digital library to read about these remote devices and how they worked, hoping it would give her some insight as to how she could effectively modify this little treasure.
“Oh hey, Duncan.” He had nearly crashed into her as she walked toward the library. He seemed to be in quite the hurry to get to somewhere.
“Hey Indaya, what’s up?” Duncan seemed annoyed that he’d had to stop because she’d spoken to him.
“Nothing really. Just going to the library to read up about some engineering information. You know, I think I know things and then something always comes up to teach me that I have more to learn.” Indaya smiled warmly at Duncan.
“Yeah, I could imagine that would happen a lot in engineering. You’ve always been pretty smart, I’m sure you’ll figure it out.”
“Hey, just a warning, I saw Kai earlier. I know you two aren’t exactly the best of friends so I figured I’d let you know he’s been roaming around these corridors for some reason lately.” Indaya knew that Kai had confronted Duncan in the past over his obsession with Ellie. She didn’t want either of them to be arrested for causing a disturbance in the hallways.
Duncan laughed. “What are you talking about? Kai hasn’t returned from…I mean, never mind. Thanks for the warning. I appreciate it.” He tried to scurry off toward Ronin’s place, but Indaya grabbed him by the arm.
“Hey, what do you mean Kai hasn’t returned? He was just with Ellie earlier. I saw him.” She paused in thought… “Unless… Duncan, tell me the truth. Is Kort pretending to be his brother? Why would he do that? Why would you let him do that to Ellie?”
“Indaya, I don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t know anything. I have somewhere I have to be, so if you don’t mind, I’m going to be on my way now.” Duncan looked nervous as he strode toward quadrant one. He hoped that Indaya would keep her mouth shut. He didn’t want to have to harm her and he definitely didn’t want Ronin to get his hands on her.
Indaya watched him until he turned the corner at the end of the corridor. Great, she thought. Now I’ve got to figure that out too.