Nala tried her best to be ignored as she walked casually down the corridor adjacent to her classroom. She planned on doing this quickly and efficiently, just as they taught her. Living in the sky, in one of the largest stratoships in the world, did not grant her much freedom on board. In fact, the chances of her breeching security in any way shape or form were little to none.
But this wasn't about security. This was about the truth.
She wasn't supposed to be the lab for another six minutes, so she made it to the end of the corridor and turned left, where the navigation lab was. She knew the technicians that were usually there had shifts on which they would take breaks. A group of them started to come back from the cafeteria, just as she'd predicted. In the midst of them was a stout, shaggy-haired boy even younger than she was. Nala wiped her face clean of expression, looked straightforward and crashed right into him, shoving him away and out of immediate earshot.
"What the-" the boy said, toppling over.
"God! I'm so sorry. Are you okay?" Nala said rather loudly, standing over him.
The other technicians, who for the most part were middle-aged adults with serious expressions on their faces, paid little attention to the two of them.
He was rubbing the side of his arm which had broken his fall. "What are you doing?" he said, his boyish voice pitchy and underdeveloped.
"I'm here to collect," she said.
"I'm working," he said, straightening his flannel shirt and looking up at her indignantly.
"We had a deal, nerd," Nala said, crossing her arms.
"If by nerd you mean the first ever male under the age of sixteen to drive a four thousand-ton airship, then I dare say you are correct in your assessment."
"All right, all right! But was that really necessary? Couldn't you think of anything that didn't involve you knocking something into the ground? It's like you have the IQ of a squirrel. Well, actually. Nevermind. That's an insult to squirrels."
"Look, nerd, I have three minutes. So talk." Nala said.
He rolled his eyes and looked around him. "Fine, but if you go blabbering to people, I'll deny everything."
Nala glared at the kid impatiently.
He opened his mouth, and then closed it again, sighing. "You wouldn't believe me if I told you."
"Try me," Nala said.
"Well, do you know what it is this thing's used for? Why it was built in the first place?"
"Training," Nala nodded. She remembered her father mentioning it once in one of their few, forced conversations. "A special type of training. Except no one really knows for what-"
"Or who, or why. In fact, the majority of employees aren't allowed in some parts of the ship. Or most of it, really."
"What do you mean?"
"I once stole a glimpse of blueprints for the stratoship a few months back as I was passing floor E. Turns out eighty-five percent of it off-limits to all employees save the captain. Or in other words, your dad."
"You got all that from a glimpse?" Nala said.
He flashed her smile, and tapped his forehead, singing, "Photographic meh mor ee."
"Ah. And have you ever…?"
"Been in any of 'em? No. Have you not listened to a word I've said? Off-limits," he said sternly, causing her to frown. "However, there have been a few accidents. Or at least that's what they looked like."
"What accidents?" Nala said, no longer aware of how much time she had left before someone would notice she was gone.
"A couple of weeks after I'd been recruited there was a break-in on of the chem labs. I was walking back to my room when this big, beefy kid about your age ripped open the doors with his bare hands and destroyed everything inside. And I mean, destroyed. It was awesome," he said, throwing his hands up in the air.
"Then a bunch of other scientific-looking people came to the scene. He was immediately put down, and I never saw anything like that again."
Allen waited for Nala's reaction, but she had none, except that she wanted to know more. With each question answered came a thousand more. "And they let you go? Just like that?" she asked, dubious.
"Let me go? You think I'd still be here talking about it if they'd even suspected I was there?"
"So you hid?"
Now she allowed herself to be amazed. She couldn't believe how ignorant of so many things she'd been for so much of her life. She was going to get to bottom of this, somehow.
"When you say accidents," Nala started to say, but before she could inquire further, she noticed the color drain from Allen's chubby cheeks and his eyes focus on something behind her.
"I'd hate to be the one to interrupt something important."
Whipping around, she saw a lean, dark-haired man with glasses staring down coldly at them.
"No, sir," Allen said abruptly. "It's not."
The man, who looked about twenty continued to glare, and for a moment Nala saw true fear in Allen's eyes. "Get back in the lab now, Brooks, or don't ever come back at all."
"Yes, sir." And Allen disappeared, leaving Nala completely alone with the stranger. But to her surprise, the man didn't speak to her or even look at her. He just waltzed back inside, the automatic doors sealing themselves shut behind him. And that was when Nala realized how late she was, and that she could have no hope of being let off so easily.
An: Yay? Nay?