Fear fluttered in her stomach at the sight of the security sensor.
Waving the access badge, she glimpsed at the image of a white-haired man on the card’s face.
Will using this bring its owner trouble?
The card—dropped on the pale marble of the Grand Corridor—was hers now, the inclination to return lost property overwhelmed by her need to escape.
I am Prisoner Zero.
Tension knotted inside her as the silver door slid open.
Her soft steps slapped the steel grating through the winding corridors of the Servants’ Way. She held her breath at the first corner and listened. On to the next. And the next.
Distant voices echoed.
Her hearing was keen, a notable attribute given how few she was credited—proficiency at stealth, not one among them.
A swift peek revealed two maintenance workers replacing overhead lightbulbs.
She retreated to wait for the clack, clack, clack of their supply cart to fade down the corridor.
Breathing a muted sigh, she continued to the nearest stairwell. The door’s hermetic seal swooshed closed behind her as she stared down the helical steps.
Only fifty-two floors to ground level.
She tiptoed until her arches ached, and her ears rang with the silence.
The whoosh of a door one level below interrupted the beat of her heart.
Booted feet clanged on steel tread.
Adrenaline fueled her limbs into action. She flashed the stolen badge at the sensor on the next landing. The door slid open. With the swing of braids and a swish of cobalt, she darted through and pressed against the passage wall as the door shut.
Stay calm. You can do this.
Her lungs sucked in a smoky scent laced with spices and something else. Something foreign.
The absence of working lights dulled the corridor. One flickered. Maintenance hadn’t been to this level in a while. Walls were scraped and placards pockmarked.
Lower Domiciles. Has to be.
She had rarely visited the nether levels—only Agridome Three, and never by this route.
Agridome Three was home to the savannah biome, her favorite place in the whole of this biospheric city.
Another stairwell would offer the safest course if she could find one.
She ventured forward, glad of the Middle Domicile garb she’d pilfered. Vibrant blue. Garish. Yet her regular clothing would have captured attention more assuredly than a political vidscreen broadcast.
Ahead, the flickering hall light danced to a beat—a deep thud, thud, thud.
Around the corner, two gray-clad teens bounced a rubber ball in an elongated spiral down the passage walls. Boys her age. The thudding stopped. A glimmer of curiosity in golden eyes; an appraising look from a pair of bottomless brown. Then a nod.
Nerves on edge, she slipped past them, a tentative smile curving her lips.
Only a few more turns to the next stairwell, surely.
Her freedom would be short-lived. All she hoped for was half an hour. And not to be caught.
F11-S34 on the next dented sign. A stairwell entrance.
The access badge was two fingers from her pocket when she heard a haunting melody. The sound stimulated every acoustic nerve, disabling motor function throughout her body.
A violin. Familiar. Yet different.
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