Look But Don't Touch

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For a solid week after the catastrophic collision between Topside and Underground, Alex saw little of the people whose care she had been entrusted to. Em was the only one who kept a consistent schedule, coming to help shuttle her back and forth between her bed and the bathroom and dropping off food. Lee, however, had well and truly vanished.

At first, Alex didn't ask after her, unsure another face-to-face meeting would end on a pleasant note. When logic and reason finally kicked back in, she was forced to come to terms with the fact that she had been a massive ass, and then couldn't bring herself to ask about her out of shame. It was strange how upsetting Lee's lack of presence had become. As reluctant as Alex was to admit, she looked forward to their nightly meetings. But now? Now, the hole Lee's absence left grew profoundly deeper the longer she sat in woolly silence day after day.

Finally, after stewing for an insufferably long period of time, Alex's reservation broke. Like it or not, she had to apologize. It was the least she could do to start making amends with someone she owed her life to. Sliding out of bed didn't pose as much of a hazard anymore. Standing took less concentration. Walking was still a challenge, but her back and forth treks with Em were doing wonders for reestablishing her balance and core strength.

Somewhere in the less irrational part of her brain, Alex suspected she shouldn't wander. First, this was unfamiliar territory. Second, she was looking for someone who probably wanted nothing to do with her. If Rebecca was anything to go off, the people of the Underground were intolerant of her kind, but there were no guards waiting outside Lee's room. No Em. No Rebecca. No disgruntled Undergrounder. Just a comfortable quiet interrupted every now and then by messages tapped out on the pipes running like veins above her head.

The main room — largest of the areas Alex had seen so far — was cluttered with bits of scavenged furniture, rugs, overstuffed bookshelves, loose papers, and trinkets of every size. It was cozy in a sort of chaotic, pack-rat kind of way, illuminated by bare light bulbs ensconced in colorfully intricate glass shades. In the air, Alex detected the faintest hint of pipe smoke, lending to the wizard-workshop atmosphere.

Stopping at an overloaded bookshelf, she ran her fingers across the spines, noting their varied genres. Most were thick medical journals with names she could hardly sound out in her head much less pronounce. Others were dated and badly worn textbooks ranging in developmental age from kindergarten to early college in every subject imaginable. Alex thumbed through a few of the college-level textbooks, unsurprised to discover a few were pilfered library books. One book had a library card still wedged into the back, the name R. Farrow written in pencil in the tiny margin.

From the main room, Alex had two options for travel. Left would take her to the front door: a heavy, ship-hatch looking thing. Right opened into a hall that led deeper into the dwelling. She knew she couldn't very well head out the front door. Just by look alone, it probably would make a hellacious racket.

So right it was.

Directly off the main room, Alex stumbled across what she assumed was Rebecca's personal quarters completely by accident. The décor was less chaotic and more organized than the front room. Almost sterile. Only a few touches of human warmth peppered the space in the forms of a child's scribbled artwork and Polaroid pictures of Lee in various stages of growth and small trinkets undoubtedly made by the matriarch's daughter over the years. Most of those photos were tacked to an enormous cord board dominating the back wall. Beneath it was a desk that had seen better days piled with carefully placed manila folders.

From there, the tunnels crossed and bisected each like spider webbing, making her trek labyrinthine and all the more eerie due to low light and hissing pipes. Not for the first time, Alex questioned her reasoning for doing this. So many things could go wrong...and likely would have if the distant sound of music hadn't caught her attention.

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