It's much later when I finally find my way back to the Training Facility, where people lazily mill around as some retire to their dorms. Exhausted by yet another strenuous day, I make my way to my own dormitory.
When I walk in, I notice that Leah isn't here yet. She must be on her way. I sit on the bed and lean against the wall, waiting for Leah to return. But she never does. Almost an hour passes and she still doesn't come. The clock reads 10:30; half an hour past the curfew. Suspicion lights like a flame within me and I walk out into the empty training area. It's much too late to go searching the entire Depot for her, and Sam is probably still at the Security Quarter. I search around the Facility, desperate, when I see Matthew walk in from the entrance tunnel.
I hiss his name and he glances around, alarmed, before he sees me and starts towards me.
"What is it?" He looks tired, and his grey t-shirt is smeared with dirt.
"Have you seen my friend lately? Leah?"
"Rude? Curly black hair?" I nod anxiously. "Nope."
My heart drops.
"Thanks anyways," I mutter. Matthew begins to walk away when I notice something odd: faded, rectangular scars crossed midway with straight lines lie on both of his temples, right where an RScreen would be plugged in.
"Matthew!" I call again.
"What?" He asks, wheeling around. His hazel eyes narrow in annoyance.
"You used to be plugged in," I say. He falters in the middle of a step and his eyes widen in... Is it fear?
"What did you say?" He asks distantly.
"You used to be plugged in. Those are RScreen scars, right?" He attempts to steel himself, but everything about him looks tense and uncomfortable. Slowly, I walk towards him, remembering what my mother said a few weeks ago: The process is extremely sensitive and quite painful. It's called being Unplugged.
"Unplugged," I whisper to myself. And then I raise the volume of my voice so he can hear. "I'm sorry. I didn't know--"
"It doesn't matter," he interrupts. I accidentally notice that his hands are shaking, and a strange nervousness begins to course through me. I clear my throat.
"Why do you dig tunnels, if you used to live above ground? Shouldn't you be a spy?" It makes sense to me that if Matthew spent all that time in the city he would know valuable information that the Depot could use. He sighs and his eyes search the floor for an answer.
"I'm supposed to be one. But because of who my father is, they say it would be too risky for me to work on behalf of the Depot."
"Who is your father?" I ask carefully. Matthew's face hardens in anger and I find myself wanting to step away from him.
"Just a mindless pawn of the government. And because of him, I'm deemed useless and forced to dig tunnels for the rest of my life."
I can't help but sympathize with the bitterness in his voice. I myself have struggled with the Depot's principle of "do the job we give you or you can't affect the outcome of the rebellion". My sympathy for Matthew soon turns into an anger that feels very personal. I willfully look him in the eyes for the first time.
"You're not useless. Don't let anyone tell you what you have to do. That's what got us in this mess in the first place." I almost shock myself; there is strength in my voice that I've never heard before. Matthew stares at me, his eyes slightly widened. I stare back at him longer than socially acceptable, unable to wrench my gaze away from his own.
My heart skips a beat and I jump backwards. Leah and Luke casually walk towards us from the tunnel entrance, looking confused.
"What were you two doing?" Leah asks me, raising an eyebrow.
"Looking for you," I retort, still shaken. "What were you two doing?"
"Ah, you know..." she mutters. I stare at her blankly and she rolls her eyes.
"Bye Leah," Luke calls, striding off towards his dormitory.
"Bye," she says softly. Matthew glances at me quickly before trailing Luke.
"Come on," I tell Leah. We trudge towards our dormitory. "What was that about?"
"What are you talking about? We were late coming back from dinner and we ran into each other. We just happened to arrive at the same time." I raise my eyebrows. "That's all!"
Guilt slowly replaces my indignation. Maybe I was being too invasive.
"I'm sorry," I say. "I just thought you might have been lost and would have gotten in trouble." We enter the dormitory and I close the door. Leah pretends to punch my arm.
"It's alright," she mutters, getting into bed. Finally, I am able to fall asleep peacefully. Well, almost peacefully.
YOU ARE READING
Unplugged: The New World (#1, Unplugged Trilogy)Science Fiction
Choose to Rebel. RScreens (Reality Screens) are all the rage in America's future, just a few years after the climax of World War III. They were invented for sport, convenience, and -- most importantly -- surveillance. Enna Price, an 18-year...