“There might be a food strike. Don’t you care?”
“Of course I do, but your dad and the Committee know about it. They can deal with it. Plus they have Blake to…”
Riley crossed his arms. A danger sign. “To what?”
“To warn them.” And he would be perfect to spy on Ivie and Kadar for me. “Does Blake come up here often to visit?”
“Why?” When I hesitated, he said, “I recognize that look. Tell me what you’re planning.”
By the tension rolling off Riley, I knew to tread carefully. “We need a reliable person to keep an eye on Ivie and Kadar for us. I thought Blake cou—”
“No. You’re not putting him in danger.”
“It won’t be that dangerous.”
“What if Ivie and Kadar are the bombers and they notice Blake’s interest in them? He could be their next target. Besides, he’ll be needed to report to the Committee about the food situation. Trella, you’ve got to keep in mind the big picture, not just the next thing you want to do.”
The big picture. I almost laughed, remembering what I had said to Jacy about being a big picture girl. Drawing in a deep breath, I held it along with a sarcastic reply. My search for the saboteurs was important, but I suspected his ire went deeper than the recent kitchen crisis, and I had no energy to fight with him. The climb to the ceiling of the Expanse had sapped my strength.
Instead, I swiveled back to the computer screen. Not sure how to log out, I picked up the wipe board. Before I could stand, a bright whiteness flashed on the monitor, erasing the list. Then it faded to black. It seemed odd, but when I glanced at Riley, his attention remained on me.
I stood and waved the wipe board. “I’ll find someone else to help me with my problem.” Hurrying toward the door, I had almost reached the handle when he called my name.
“Who are you going to recruit?” he asked.
“I’m sure Anne-Jade knows a trustworthy person. I’ll see you later.” I slipped out of the room before he could say any thing else.
When the door clicked shut, I leaned against the hallway’s wall and considered my next move. No one was in sight. The corridors in the upper living sectors never had much traffic and they tended to be a bit of a maze. I was already on level four and Anne-Jade should be working in her office in Quad A4. Pushing off the wall, I headed to the right and froze.
Gray smoke rolled along the thin carpet. I recovered from my shock and ran, following the clouds. They thickened and blackened as I drew closer to the air plant in Quad I4. Halfway there, the shrill fire alarm sounded, assaulting my ears. Soon shouts and shrieks joined in the cacophony.
The smoke blocked my vision as it stung my eyes. I dropped to the floor and crawled to the entrance of the plant. The heat reached me first. Then I gawked at the fire. Erupting from the units that housed the air filters, flames licked at the ceiling. Water rained down from the sprinkler system, the streams hissed and steamed on the hot metal, but nothing sprayed from the nozzles directly over the air filters.
A few workers ran past me, emptying the room. About to do the same, I spotted a figure sprawled on the floor near the control panel. His legs draped over pieces of a broken chair. It looked as if he had fallen backwards. Dead?
I strained to hear any sounds that meant the fire response team had arrived, but the roar of the blaze dominated. Then he rolled to his side and I saw his face.
WHAT THE HELL WAS LOGAN DOING IN THE AIR PLANT? His shoulders shook as he coughed and I realized the flames burned closer to him. It didn’t matter why. All that mattered was saving him.
I ripped two strips of fabric from the hem of my shirt. Lying on the floor, I pulled myself toward him as if I squirmed through a tight air shaft. When I encountered the warm puddles of water from the sprinklers, I rolled, soaking my clothes and dipping the strips in them. I tied one around my nose and mouth.
Logan’s lips moved, but I couldn’t hear what he shouted. Blisters peppered his face. He squeezed his eyes closed as another coughing fit racked his body.
Sliding as fast as possible on my belly, I finally reached Logan. He jerked in surprise when I touched him. At this distance, the heat from the fire was almost intolerable and breathing was all but impossible.
“It’s Trella,” I yelled in his ear. “Can you walk?”
He clutched my arm. “Yes, but I can’t see!”
“Here.” I wrapped the other strip around his face to filter the smoke. “Stay low and keep—” Hot air choked me. Thick black smoke engulfed us and stung my eyes. A brief thought that perhaps I should have waited for the fire response team flashed. But the air cleared for a nanosecond and I tugged Logan toward the entrance.
We crawled, rolled and stumbled. The heat intensified, evaporating the water from the sprinklers before it reached the floor. The hot metal seared our skin. Halfway there, Logan collapsed and I yanked him another meter before I joined him.
Air refused to fill my lungs and my throat burned. Blackness danced in my vision, swirling with white sparks. It reminded me of the brief glimpse I had of Outer Space before Cogon floated away. Except then it had been ice cold and this time it was my turn to drift off.
A blast of water hit me, rousing me and rolling me over. Strong arms peeled me from the floor, carried me. Voices yelled and admonished, but I had no breath to respond. Tucked against my rescuer’s chest, I stared as the walls of Inside streaked by.
Then the familiar curtains of the infirmary surrounded me. I was laid on a bed as a mask covered my nose and mouth, forcing cool air down my lungs. I sucked it in despite the sharp pain in my throat. My skin felt like the flames still licked at it. The small prick in my arm a mere nuisance in comparison to the rest of my body.