If you’ve just joined in, start at the beginning here.
After several turns and ascending two sets of stairs, Lucas was lost. The areas they passed through were not in current use. In places, discarded equipment nearly blocked their way. While in other spots, it smelled like a backed up toilet was spewing sewage nearby. Moisture permeated everything, even the ubiquitous algae was often covered in mould.
Ash led the way with confidence, as though she had a map of the facility etched in her head. After fifteen minutes of walking, she turned down a wider corridor with an airtight door at the end. Crates and barrels lined the walls as though waiting to be loaded onto a space craft.
Lucas relaxed—they were close. All they needed to do now was hot wire a shuttle and get out of here.
At the door, Ash stopped and put a hand on the rusted metal surface. “The hangar is on the other side.”
“Right,” Lucas said, standing on his tippy toes to see through the oval window set high in the door. Rust spatter and dried algae prevented him from making out any details in the hangar beyond. He turned back to the others. “We need a plan in case anyone is in there.”
“I’m not coming with you,” Ash said in a quiet voice. She wouldn’t meet his gaze.
He took a step closer to his old friend. “What do you mean?”
Ash cleared her throat before making eye contact. “I’m going to stay here.”
“But this facility is basically a prison,” Paxton said.
Lucas nodded, surprised he agreed. “What about Max?”
“Amelia offered to bring both my boy and my mom up to this place.” Ash gestured around. “If we all work together, it could make for a nice home.”
“But…” His words trailed off. Camila would never agree to being exiled in a place like this.
“We all know The Conglomerate discriminates against single parents—even if we make it back and they forgive us, I’m not going anywhere.” She paused and took a deep breath. “I’ve always wanted a ship of my own.”
“I know.” A knot formed in Lucas’ gut. She was right, it would most likely be better for her here. But, he was about to lose his friend and he couldn’t prevent it.
“These people need a ship’s crew. There’s a genuine opportunity here. They offered me the role of ship’s captain.” She smiled. “I could train Max to pilot. He’d love it and we’d be together more. I’d get to see him grow up.”
“Ash…” Their window for escape was closing—someone would notice they were missing soon.
She put a hand on his arm. “They’d bring up Camila. This could become a great place to raise a family.”
“But…” Paxton stepped forward between the two of them and looked at Lucas, wringing her hands together as she spoke. “My mom needs specialized treatment, she wouldn’t survive leaving Earth. I have to get back, I need to make sure they don’t cut her off.” Her eyes glistened as moisture gathered, and a single tear dripped down her cheek.
“They’ll just blank out your memories of this place and let you go.” Ash looked at Paxton with a kind expression.
“I know about that technology.” The other woman scrunched her face. “It is far from a sure thing. I might end up brain dead.”
“Ash, the choice to stay is yours.” Lucas ran a hand through his hair. “But Paxton and I need to get going now.”
“I’m sorry, Lucas.” Ash averted her eyes as she pulled open the airtight door.
Eyebrows knitted together, Lucas stared at Ash. “For what?”
The door emitted a loud groan as it opened. Two guards waited on the other side. Lucas’ mouth went dry at the realization Ash—his friend for years—had just sold him out.
“I wish this could’ve been different,” Ash whispered as the guards advanced.
Lucas glanced between Ash and the guards as he stepped back from the door.
“Stop,” ordered the first guard as his hand went to his holster.
“Run!” Lucas turned back to the inside passageway.
He sprinted as fast as he could with Paxton beside him. As he passed, he knocked over the barrels and crates with the hope of buying a little time.
They continued down the corridor and around a succession of corners. At the first door to a stairwell, he went in, carefully closing the door to not emit any sound.
Keeping themselves tight against the outside wall, they crept down the stairs. Once they were two flights down, the door above slammed open. With a hand gesture, Lucas signalled Paxton to stop. They froze in place.
“Did you see what way they went?” The guard’s voice echoed off the hard surfaces of the stairwell.
“No. This place is a maze. Ash was supposed to keep them contained,” the other guard answered. “We may never find them in here. Or just find their desiccated corpses years from now.”
“If they are trying to escape, I’m sure they went up,” the first guard said. “That’s the best way out of here.”
Two heavy sets of footfalls ascended the stairs. Somewhere above, a door opened, then banged shut.
“I think they're gone,” Lucas whispered after a long wait.
“Let’s keep going. We’ll hide for a bit, then return to the hangar.”
The two of them went down three more sets of stairs, only stopping because the lights at this level were off.
“Hang on,” Paxton said.
He stopped and turned back to her.
She smiled at him, the low light glinting off her teeth. “Thank you. I know Ash was your friend and you could have gone with her.”
Lucas ran a hand through his hair. She was right, Ash was a good friend, yet he chose to get out with Paxton. He sighed. He couldn’t even dredge up an ounce of anger to direct towards Ash—her choice to stay made sense.
“Um....” Paxton looked at him with wide eyes. “I think we got off on the wrong foot.” She stared down at her feet. “I’ve been a bit pushy.”
Lucas laughed. “Pushy is one way to describe it.”
Paxton gave him a shy smile. “Can we start over?”
“You can call me Emily.”
Lucas met her gaze and nodded. “I’m Lucas.” He reached out his right hand.
She glanced down at his hand then back to his face. After a moment, she took it.
“Nice to meet you, Emily,” Lucas said. “I’ll get you home to your mom.” Assurances given, he continued down the stairs with Emily staying close behind.