Stella watched Anton gather things into a backpack quickly, unsure of what everything was. He moved with a sense of danger, like every single moment counted. She didn't quite understand what was coming. She remembered that he told her that they were coming for her, but she didn't know what that entailed. He kept muttering things about different 'rings', too. There was so much about this place that she didn't quite have a grasp on yet, and that was frustrating.
Once he was done packing up everything, he picked up the electronic pad off the table and typed into it. "Anita," he said, "Do you still have my box?"
A little girl's voice came through it. "I do, Father."
"I'm glad," Anton let out a little sigh. "You're going to need it. I can't come over to your tutor's to pick you up."
"Understood. I'll see you after, Father."
"Fantastic," Anton said, turning off the pad and pushing it into one of his pockets.
"...you didn't tell her about having to-"
He put his finger over her lips to make her stop talking. "All of the electronics on the Station run through the same system. If I had given her a direct warning, that would have set the rest of the Station off to what I'm about to do." Anton pulled his hand back. "She's actually quite talented for her age." He strapped the pack to himself, tightening it a bit, and groaned as he tried to straighten himself up enough to walk. "I knew that eventually you'd find it..."
"That doesn't make sense," Stella said, shaking her head as she followed him to the furthest room from the entrance of their living quarters. "You want them to go to that world, don't you?"
Anton closed the door of the room, giving it a code to lock it. "Yes. I want us to survive. I want my daughter to have a wonderful life-"
"Because I love my wife. I've never wanted to sacrifice you for this project," He interjected, pushing a panel of the wall out to reveal a tunnel.
Stella could hear there was a sound in the central room of the living quarters. There were many footsteps. That foreboding feeling that was like a weight on her chest... She was afraid!
"Inspector Fuleena," a voice came through the door. "We've come to take you to the First Ring."
"Give us a minute," Anton called. "We are in the process of creating life!" Then he leaned down to Stella and whispered, "...make that sound..."
Stella blushed, faking a very loud, passionate moan.
He then pushed her into the tunnel and added so that the men on the other side of the wall could hear him, "Yes, my wife! We must make another!"
She bent down to crawl through the dark tunnel, going a bit before stopping to wait for him. He followed after her, turning on a little light that was fixated to a strap on his arm. He made sure to put the panel back on as well as he could and then whispered to her, "go forward until you can't."
Stella obeyed, pressing on through the dark tunnel very slowly. Together they made very little noise. She had never been so glad that she wasn't afraid of tight spaces, because if she were, they couldn't have made it anywhere. The metallic tunnel they crawled through barely let them fit. This could have been a garbage disposal or an air tunnel. It smelled terribly, like badly maintained, even rotten metal. How was there rust in here? What was this chute used for? She felt grains come off of the metal and onto her hands. Did metal even rot?
"Move quickly," Anton whispered.
"...what is this?" she asked, feeling her face frown even if she couldn't see it. "It's on my hands..."
"At certain times of the day, this particular tunnel is used for waste management," he answered.
"Waste? As in..." Suddenly she understood and her stomach would have emptied itself all over the tiny space they had to crawl in, if she had eaten anything previously. She felt a dry heave motion hit her diaphragm, and she wanted to let go all the acid within her digestive tract. The more she knew about it, the more it stank, and the more it stank, the more terrible she felt about having to be in what was essentially a sewer. "...how are you so calm about being in-?"
"We don't have time for this," he interjected with that same cool tone of voice he'd been using since they decided to come through this stagnant tunnel. "Don't think about where we are. Remember, you're being chased. We need to get to the Hatch as quickly as possible."
Stella kept crawling until she could see a light in the direction they'd been crawling in. Trying to keep in how badly she felt seemed damn near impossible. She'd never wanted a shower more in her entire life, though, she figured that self cleaning in this world had to be different from the last world she was in, considering how much was different about the living quarters and the sleeping conditions she'd seen thus far.
"There's a... Light..." she said.
"Yep. Just drop on through."
She kept crawling until she noticed that the light was coming from below, and not so much from being ahead of her. She looked down to see what was below, what was creating that light. The tunnel itself was shaped to go down that way. Below was a vat of some liquid, brown and bubbly.
"That's not a gigantic bowl of beef stew," Stella grunted as she stared at it in horror. "You want me to drop through this opening to fall in-"
Anton rolled his eyes and gave her a push. The solid ground was taken from underneath her, and she fell straight down. Stella used her hand to grab hold of her nose and closed her eyes, anticipating the fall into the boiling waste bowl below. She felt her entire body fall from the hole, knowing that whatever complaints she had about the tunnel wouldn't matter after falling into a pool of liquefied human waste. But she didn't hit the liquid even after holding her breath for as long as she could. She was suspended in the air, somehow. When she opened her eyes, she had been caught by a net that smelled similarly to the tunnel.
"Anton..." a voice said from below her. Stella looked down to see someone she'd never seen before, with his clothes much more raggedy than what the people back above had worn. "...I never thought you'd bring your wife here."
"No time for chatter," Anton said once he landed in the net. "Have you heard from the colonel?"
"Then you know why we're here."
"They're going to come looking for you both. People are going to die. Those of us who live and work down here don't have any rights from the Rings, and you know it..."
Anton climbed off the net and helped Stella down once had had his footing. "And yet, you still help me, old friend."
The stranger sighed. He had ears just like Yakay and his wife, but his skin was much darker and had marking that reminded Stella of tribal makeup. "So, she finally found the world they want?" he asked curiously. "Must be the answer to all of our troubles if they're going to such lengths for that information."
"She found the perfect place. Hearing about it, I can't help but believe we'll finally be able to live freely again, after being stuck on this forsaken station for generations," Anton said. "But at the same time, I don't want it to cost me my wife."
"How many of the people of the Station would call you selfish and illogical over this?"
"I don't care, Charl."
"Must be that lower class upbringing in you. You still got the Hatch way of life in you. No matter how much they say their life is perfect, you haven't given up on our old ways."
Anton shrugged. "Might be."
Stella looked at her husband, confused. "What does he mean, that you have the Hatch way of life in you?" she asked.
"She still doesn't remember life here, does she?" Charl asked.
"I'm afraid not." Anton answered, reaching to put his arm around Stella. "I guess that device I gave you didn't tell you about me, either. Might as well tell you now. I'm not from the Rings. I was taken there because I showed incredible talent that could be used for the greater benefit of the Station. Given a low ranking job in the Science Department because of my inventions. Only reason I have any clout at all up there is because I'm married to you. Inspector Fuleena has full command over entire sections of the Second Ring due to her importance to the Station's future, and as her husband, I am given clearance to things to better assist her."
"But the way those in the Rings are brought up... Logic and rank means more than anything else. Some things make sense, like sleeping according to physiological needs..."
"Who says that allowing me to meet with the Supreme General would mean you'd lose me forever?" Stella asked. "Why not let me tell him what I know so they can collect resources of whatever it is that they need to do?"
Charl shook his head. "You wouldn't come back."
"You don't know that."
"Once someone goes onto the First Ring, they don't come back, Stella," Anton explained. "They go, they do what they're asked, and they stay there. We have no idea what happens to them, and they aren't allowed to tell us that they're still alive."
"C'mon then. If you're going to be in hiding here, I'd better do something about your clothes at the very least," Charl said, signaling for them to follow him.
"And Anita will make it here?" Stella asked.
"...knowing her, she's probably all ready here." Anton replied, smiling.