Chapter Thirty-Three

340 28 9

The cot is stiff and scratchy. The blanket I'm given smells like it's been mouldering in some rusty joint of the Bay Bridge. I buck and flop and rearrange, and stay uncomfortable. My toes keep poking past the covers. The blanket's stitching chafes my cheek. I'm nauseous. Also a little hungry. I think I have a fever.

Prisha's cot is beside mine—our unsleeping eyes keep meeting. Jared is above me, his feet by my head, and Minosh below. Through the office white noise cuts an assortment of nasal squeaks, fizzes, and honks.

I peer up the aisle. Silhouetted by a faint glow from elevator fluorescents, hunched on a kitchenette stool, sits Fedor. Flattop ears. Hands joined in a fist over his knees.


Prisha whispers, "Deb, you're awake right?"

I squirm up from my pillow, which crackles like newspaper. "Yeah."

"That bump on your head, did you—was there another fight?"

I glance around and confirm none of our row-mates are listening. How much should I reveal? After the blowup in Carter's office, Susan and Oleg—who remains "Jim Davis" to the rest of the engineers—came to the second floor and issued a kind of joint statement. Susan apologized again and announced several modifications to Blackquest 40. For the next thirty minutes, people were free to email friends or family from the 4th-floor breakroom. A pair of showers on Ten would be available for general use in the morning. An Elite facilitator had gone out for toiletries and fresh undergarments for all.

Nobody—Susan grimaced the word—would be injected against their will.

Jared shouted, "What about our stock options?"

Susan looked at Oleg, who was sporting his own bump from my headbutt. "Options are still being discussed." She dialed up the cheer in her full lips. "Let's sleep on it. Everything improves with sleep. This training has suffered missteps, without question. Carter, myself, Jim here—everyone involved acknowledges that. But we'll come out the other end stronger. That's a promise."

Then they left. People filed up to Four to write their families—Oleg and Katya monitoring—as Fedor and a helper snapped open cots. Rumors raced through the weary workforce.

Carter got fired ... Elite barred Susan's entry to the building but Kyle let her in ... The Blackquest deadlines are getting reset, that's why the countdown timers are dark ...

I felt eyes following me. People knew I had been away again, surely figured I was involved in whatever had gone down. What could I say? Even leaving aside Fedor's intermittent death glares, I had no interest in spewing bombshells that might spoil Susan's plan. If she had a plan. After my cranial assault, seemingly afraid of further escalation, Susan had smoothed things over with Oleg, agreeing to keep the training sham in place overnight in exchange for concessions—email, etc. They didn't discuss whether Blackquest 40 would be canceled in the morning, or its true purpose revealed. Or who was truly in charge. Each side just retreated to a corner.

Susan had given me a look as Paul and I departed for the second floor. Eyes large in the too-still top of her face. She wanted to communicate something. A warning? An invisible wink? I watched those luminous green pupils as long as I dared.

Did she want me to attempt escape? Come find her later, once we were both clear of Elite? Or just get some sleep?

I had no clue.

Now I find Prisha in the dark. Her blanket is balled under her chin.

"Not a major fight," I say.

"Jim Davis had a mark." She points to her own head. "Was that you?"

"He and I are, uh ... struggling. Interpersonally."

Blackquest 40Read this story for FREE!