Ryan slept fitfully that night, waking in a jumbled mess of blankets and sheets. He had to down a cup of coffee before he could open his eyes all the way. Breakfast was a simple affair; a bowl of cereal and an under-ripe banana. He brushed his teeth, washed his face, and got dressed. He didn’t bother shaving–Ryan did so only once every other day or so. There was no point in going through the ritual daily; no one in Q4 cared. He stared at himself in the wall-length mirror in his bedroom. Ryan didn’t consider himself a vain man, but the apartments came furnished and he couldn’t help but notice that for the first time in his life, he was actually building muscle. Must be all the time spent in the gym trying to overhear the news, he thought. He straightened his shirt and left his apartment.
John Neil was sitting outside at one of the tables, sipping a coffee and reading a book. Each apartment came stocked with several bookcases full of books, and there were new deliveries every couple of weeks. The inmates and guards swapped books as well, so that there was enough reading material to keep everyone occupied. “What’s that one?” Ryan dropped into one of the two empty chairs at the table.
“Farenheit 451. I haven’t read it since high school. I’m enjoying it more this time around.” John Neil was short and thin, so that if weren’t for his lined face and balding head, Ryan might have thought he was a teenager. He didn’t work out here, so unlike Ryan, he wasn’t getting stronger, but rather carried his bout with the Sweats like a badge.
“Good book.” Ryan wasn’t sure how to segue into the topic of Gene Dockery. “Do you remember when that reporter came around?” Direct and to the point–though lacking any amount of finesse.
John frowned, closing his book though he kept his finger on his page. “Why do you ask?”
“Because he talked to four of us. You, Blanchard, myself, and some guy named Sullivan.”
John shrugged. “We just talked about having the disease, being here.”
Ryan leaned closer, pretending to look over the cover of John’s book. “I overheard the guards last night. Dockery is reporting on some of the stuff I told him. I’m curious what else he learned while he was here. Maybe there’s more we can do than just…sit around.”
“Don’t go looking for trouble. We’re lucky just to be alive and no matter what it may seem like, we’re not the guards’ friends. They’ll kill us if we try to escape.”
“Who said anything about escape?”
“You didn’t have to. What will you get from talking to all of us about this? Are you hoping to contact Dockery again? If so…how would you even do that? We have no contact with the outside world.”
Ryan sat back and folded his hands on the table. “I don’t need to escape. I just need information and a bit of luck. I have someone on the outside, if she’s still alive. The guards will execute me if I try to escape, true, but not for trying to get in touch with an old friend. They might even help me with that.”
John opened his book again. “Well, I don’t want any part of it. I didn’t even want to talk to Dockery. They’ll clear all this up and then we’ll be able to go home. I don’t want to make any waves. I don’t want to be that guy who gets killed two weeks before everything is opened up again, you know?”
“Yeah, I understand. But how will you be causing trouble if you tell me what you talked about with the reporter?”
“I just want to read and wait this whole thing out.”
“Fine.” Ryan shook his head and pushed himself to his feet, leaning on the table. “But I want you to think about it. You can still help people, without taking on much risk at all. Think about it, John.” He’d have to go and talk to Blanchard. John Neil, he decided, was a coward.
After wandering the common areas for a half hour, Ryan saw no sign of Marcus Blanchard, and he wasn’t exactly hard to find. He wore his hair in gelled spikes and a gold ring hung from his septum. Ryan trudged toward the elevator, intent on going up to Blanchard’s apartment. When the doors slid apart, there he stood.
“Hey man,” Ryan greeted. “How’s it going?” He blocked Marcus’ path. They rarely saw eye to eye and while they weren’t enemies, nor were they friends. Ryan had really hoped that John would have known who Sullivan was, but he wasn’t going to give up just because the person he agreed with more readily wasn’t willing to help him.
“It goes. Same shit, different day, you know?” Marcus looked past Ryan. “Are you just going to stand there?”
“That depends. I need to talk to you.”
“Then talk, but move out the way.”
Ryan stepped outside and waited for Marcus to leave the elevator, falling into step alongside him. “You spoke to that reporter when he came here, right?”
“Yeah. So did you. What does it matter?”
“John Neil and someone whose last name is Sullivan did too.”
“I know Sullivan.” Marcus sneered. “Real sneaky guy.”
“But you do know him. So you can introduce him. Look, I want to talk–the four of us, tonight. Can you get him to come to my apartment?”
“Why? What do you want to talk about?”
Ryan pushed his hand through his hair. “I want to get out on the table what each of us told Dockery. The guards were talking about his reports and–“
“Obviously. He’s the reporter for this whole thing, isn’t he?”
“He is, but that’s not what I meant. I think there’s something going on–something bigger than us, and I think Dockery is the key. I can get to him, get a message to him, I mean, but I need to know what he knows first.”
Marcus shrugged one shoulder. “Whatever man, I’ll be there. I’ll see if I can drag Sullivan along too.”
“Thanks. See you.” He turned away from Marcus, not eager to share the man’s company any longer than he had to. Ryan went to find John again, who was still outside reading Farenheit 451, and invited him to come and watch a game after dinner. Of course, they weren’t going to watch a game, but Ryan suspected that if he got John Neil, Marcus Blanchard, and Sullivan into one space, he could figure out what was going on beyond the concrete walls of Q4.