He was a mouse, quiet and small, hurrying from shadow to shadow. She followed behind with her hand in his, his grip as sure as his timing.
A whisper: "There'll be a service robot coming through, one minute, maybe two. I can already hear it. After that we go."
"Across to the catwalk. Down the ladder."
"Lower? Even lower?"
The robot's whirr was growing louder, and she watched its shadow spread and distort along the wall before it came into view, sliding past them unawares. She covered her own mouth with her hand.
After the robot passed, he stuck out his head just far enough to glance back in the direction from which it had come, before turning back to her with a nod and a wink. They were moving again. Her bare feet lifted off rubber tile and landed on metal grate.
"There." He pointed: a service ladder, surrounded by safety rings, led down and away from the catwalk into darkness. There were no windows, not down this low.
She looked down nervously into the blackness. "Aren't we near the ground yet?"
"We're still twenty stories up."
"What's a 'story'?"
"Level. Come on."
"How many levels… how many 'stories' is Olympia?"
"You don't know, do you? You're not supposed to. The Governing Council keeps it secret. It's at least two hundred, maybe more, and I'm pretty sure they're still adding to it. The upper levels, the rich people levels, they're taller than the ones for people like us. Higher ceilings."
"That doesn't seem fair. My sister and her husband had to wait two years for an apartment. They're in an efficiency on eighty-three—"
"Come on. Just don't look down."
The ladder rungs were cold against the soles of her feet. She couldn't help looking down to keep from stepping on his hands; she didn't stop shaking until she could see the concrete floor below them.
He was already examining a door control panel when she stepped off the ladder and exhaled in relief. There was a level placard on the wall beside the door, inscribed with a neat, bold '1'; she had never seen one in single digits before. "What now?"
"Almost." He tapped three buttons, and then three more, but nothing happened.
"You have done this before?"
"Twice." He tapped in a slightly different sequence.
"Who'd you bring?"
He laughed, turned to look at her. "Nobody. Only you. Now let me concentrate, they change these codes once a week." He tapped another series of buttons. The door buzzed, slid open.
They were bathed in a brilliant light. He was through the door immediately, and she lost him in the glare. "Wait! I can't see!"
"You're used to windows, they're filtered. Your eyes will adjust. Just don't look directly at the sun."
With eyes squinting under a shielding hand, she stepped out onto gravel, wincing at the discomfort. "I should have brought shoes." Ahead of her, he grinned, beckoned her to follow. She stepped onto the grass.