Today was supposed to be like any other day. The routine was beginning to get old, but I knew what to expect. No one working as a Boiler understands how to work the pipeline, so it’s my job to make sure it keeps working. We don’t want Loyals barreling down here looking for trouble when something isn’t perfect. I’m about to check the monitor to make sure everything is as it should be when a girl bursts into the room. One I have never seen before, and dressed in some strange dull clothing. She must be one of the fancy Favorable from Geha.
My first instinct is to get her away from the door. Someone up above will be looking for her, so it’s a great opportunity to negotiate some better food rations for all of us outside the walls that protect their city. Yet, I can’t move my legs. I see her standing before me, and she doesn’t feel like a stranger at all. Her porcelain skin and long brown hair are beautiful – like something out of a dream. Have I dreamt of her recently? Just looking at her I can sense that there’s something different about her…
I shake my head to rid myself of the initial shock of her intrusion. Well, of her arrival anyway. It’s a welcome distraction from my normal, menial work, so I definitely wouldn’t count it as an intrusion. Keeping my cool, I decide to make conversation with her. There’s no way she could hurt me – I have complete advantage over the situation. I might as well enjoy myself in the presence of a lovely girl.
“Is there something I can help you with?” I ask, keeping my voice low and gruff. I don’t want her to be afraid of me, but there’s no reason for her to be too comfortable either.
“What?” She breathes, still stunned from our encounter.
I chuckle at her uneasiness and feel my lips twitching into a half smile that I do my best to hide by looking at the floor. I thought the people of Geha are supposed to be witty and intelligent in any situation? I wipe my chin with my freehand to help smooth out the laughter in my cheeks so I don’t embarrass her. I shake my head again, wondering why the hell I’m concerned about her feelings.
“You’re clearly from Geha,” I clarify, pretending to go back to work by staring at the monitor and waiting for her to react. “What are you doing here?”
She doesn’t respond right away, causing my nerves to tense up with each moment that passes by us. I look up from the monitor to see her staring at me still. It’s like she’s analyzing me in a way that will tell her whether I’m trustworthy or not. The people of Geha are strange if they are all like her. I’m unsure whether I would enjoy that or not at this point.
“I’m looking for answers,” she squeaks out. I guess she decided to trust me. Which is good – I have no intention of harming her or selling her out. “I saw a classmate of mine get dragged down here. I wanted to know where the Loyals were taking her.”
“That’s unfortunate,” I sigh, compassionate of her situation. Although I’ve never been there, I know what it’s like to lose a friend to the unknown.
“What do you mean?”
“You’ll probably never see her again,” I mention matter-of-factly. Her face is renewed with a similar shock she experienced when she first entered the room and turned to me. I give her a bit to process the information. “How did you get down here?”
“Why do you want to know?” She accuses. She’s glaring at me as if I’m going to use her to get up to Geha.
“Curiosity, I guess,” I admit. I don’t mention how I’ve never seen anyone from Geha down here and have no idea why they would want to be here. Nor the fact I’ve never been interested in touring the city above the Boilers.
“I took the key to the gate off the wall,” she accedes. “I used them to gain entry to this place, and have them on my person so I may get back safely.”
I take mental note of the way she emphasizes the word ‘safely’. She must know I have no interest in harming her, or gaining access to Geha? Life outside the city walls isn’t perfect, but I’ve heard it’s much less stressful out here than inside there. I’ve never even thought about seeing what it’s like.
“I’ve never seen you in Geha,” the girl muses. “Who are you?”
“No, you wouldn’t have seen me within the walls,” I chuckle. This girl is naïve. I guess it’s true that they only care about what benefits them. Guilt washes over me as soon as the thought crosses my mind. Maybe others are like that, but she doesn’t seem that way. I don’t think she actually knows what happens down here.
“Why?” She asks, curiosity driving her now. She’s no longer afraid or cautious.
“Well, to put it plainly, I was born Unfavorable,” I announce with a shrug. I glance in her direction and I can see wrinkles in her nose where she’s scrunched it. Either she doesn’t believe my answer or doesn’t understand.
“What do you mean, born Unfavorable?” She inquires, generally confused about how that’s even possible.
“What do you think happens to those that are deemed Unfavorable?” I quiz. I don’t mean to sound condescending or rude, I’m honestly curious about what she believes. What the best and brightest of our kind has decided to reveal to their youth.
“We’re informed before the day of our Bleeding Rite that those who receive an Unfavorable grade are taken to a special school that can better help them adjust. However, I’ve begun to question the teachings of our elders. My brother—”
“Where is it, Burners?” An unknown male voice yells on the other side of the door.
“Loyals,” I breathe. I look into the girl’s eyes and know that she understands my meaning. They’re searching for the key she took to make sure she would be able to get back home to Geha. “If they find out you took the key, they will leave you down here.”
It’s the truth, but I regret telling her that. The fear that contorts her features pulls at my heart, making me want to protect her. Determined to get her safely out of this mess, I walk toward the door quickly crossing the room. I pause only to look at her eyes, mere inches from mine, and speak.
“Do you trust me?” I ask.
She hesitates, and I don’t blame her. Still, she nods. I place my hand on the doorknob, ready to make a crazy distraction for her escape. I turn my gaze to the door, preparing myself for what’s about to happen.
“When the door shuts behind me, count to 10,” I inform her. “After that, run to the gate and don’t look back. Be quick and quiet or they’ll spot you. Make sure to drop the key on the floor inside the Boiler room before going back up to Geha. Do you understand?”
Out of the corner of my eye, I see her nod. Good. As I’m turning the knob, she grabs my arm with her soft fingers, stopping me just before I open the door.
“Wait!” She cries, a little too loudly. I wince, hoping the Loyals outside didn’t hear. I stare down at my feet, waiting. After a pause, she finds her voice again, but this time it’s nothing more than a whisper. “Will I see you again?”
I chuckle, surprised she would even think about that right now. I look up at her with a grin I can’t hide.
“I hope so,” I say, biting my lower lip before storming out of the room and slamming the door shut behind me.