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The Girl Who Dared to Think (The Girl Who Dared #1)
Author:Bella Forrest

The Girl Who Dared to Think (The Girl Who Dared #1)

Bella Forrest




1





Before the Tower, humanity dreamed of flying.

We made great machines to lift us away from the earth, roaring on engines that growled with noxious fuels, then rockets that shot us into space. But once we were there, we realized it wasn’t enough. We grew restless. We waged war. We won, and we lost, and we brought the earth to its flaming knees. The sun tore open our irradiated, weakened atmosphere, and life dwindled to ash.

And now, nearly three hundred years after the end, we survived. Hidden behind the thick outer walls of the Tower, we served the monstrous structure that was both our salvation and our prison.

Once, we had dreamed of flying. Now, we didn’t seem to dream at all.

“Squire Castell.” Gerome, my commanding officer, snapped me out of my musings, and I cringed. I’d been daydreaming again, and not about productive things. That was not in service to the Tower.

I turned away from the window I had been gazing through and, forcing an apologetic look onto my face, met my mentor’s mildly disapproving gaze. Gerome’s dark eyes reflected nothing, but his face reset to its normal stoic expression. After a moment he gave a barely perceptible nod and turned to the man next to him, the thick fabric of his crimson Knight’s uniform creaking slightly, the sound magnified by the narrow concrete walls of the service hall we were standing in. “As I was saying, this is Squire Castell. She will be accompanying us, Mechanic Dalton.”

Dalton, a ‘seven’ from the Mechanic Department (or Cog, as we referred to them), glanced pointedly at Gerome, and even out of the corner of my eye I could see the look of disgust he was shooting me. No doubt he had seen the number on my wrist and condemned me—which meant today was not going to be the brand-new day I had promised myself it would be.

No—it seemed both of us were destined for mutually assured sniping. Dammit.

It wasn’t either of our faults; whenever any department needed to use a Knight’s equipment, our protocol was to provide them with an escort—and these occasions were typically used as training for Squires like me, so we could learn our future duties when we became full Knights. This time—like most times—we needed to go outside to repair a few of the solar panels on one of the Tower’s outside branches.

Dalton shot me another irate glance and I realized he’d said something and I had missed it. Strike two, I thought to myself. Gerome was turning and moving down the passage away from us both, heading toward the elevator just a few feet down the hall so I realized Dalton must have told him the level we had to get to. I moved to follow, but Dalton held out a disdainful arm, blocking my path.

“You’ll come up after us,” he said with a sniff. “I don’t want to risk the psychological contamination.”

A twinge of anger ran up my spine, but I looked away, biting my tongue.

As always, the narrow passageways in the shell were practically deserted. We were in its depths so there wasn’t much to look at—just pipes and concrete and steel walls.

“I can’t believe they sent a four,” Dalton muttered as he turned toward the elevator. I couldn’t control myself this time. I opened my mouth to say something when Gerome shot me a look over his shoulder, his message clear. Stay back—do not act.

Yeah, okay. Fine.

The two men stepped forward onto the elevator’s exposed steel-gray platform. Several beams of blue lights shot out from the platform and I heard the computer begin chirping out their names, identification codes and rankings as they began to rise. I watched as they were quickly lifted up toward the next floor, disappearing from view. I wondered if the system ever failed. Gerome was okay but I felt Dalton could benefit from a long fall to a cement floor.

You’re part of his detail for today, I scolded myself. Gerome would have been disappointed; my thought had been dishonorable for a Squire—or anyone, really. Besides, Dalton’s dislike of me was for a reason. A stupid reason, but one I was not helping with my negativity right now.

Level 173, Squire, Gerome’s voice buzzed in my ear.

Sighing, I pressed the button, watching as a new platform slid out of the wall and covered up the exposed shaft the elevator ran through. Taking a deep breath to mentally prepare myself for the scan, I stepped inside and waited. Almost immediately the lights came on, and I felt a dull pain in the back of my head as the neural net surrounding my cerebral cortex buzzed with activity and the computer ran its scan of my credentials.

“Identity verified: Squire Liana Castell, designation 25K-05; you are cleared for elevator use.”

I fruitlessly prayed for that to be the end of it, eager to get moving. The computer, however, was not done with me.

“Your number is currently four,” its artificially rendered feminine voice chirped. I scowled, and once again felt a throb in the back of my head. It was bad enough that Dalton disliked me because of my number; for a stupid computer to remind me of it was just downright depressing. I leaned against the wall of the shaft and waited for it to finish the worst pep talk in history. “For a Squire of the Citadel as well as a citizen of the Tower, it is recommended that you—”

“Seek Medica treatment,” I recited along with the machine, the speech ingrained. It lectured anyone ranked five or lower—but the lower you were, the more the computer had to say. “Yeah. Got it.”

“Your well-being is for the well-being of the Tower,” the computer said. “Remember that, as a Squire, it is your duty to—”

I knew the rest of its speech by heart. The damn thing regurgitated it every time I so much as breathed too close to a high-security area. Your number is too low. Have you considered Medica treatment? Maybe it’s time to find new friends! I made a face and then uncrossed my arms, pushing up off of the wall as the platform began to move, my eyes watching the painted numbers on the walls glide by.

A four. I was a lousy four, and the end of my Knights training was drawing near. If I didn’t raise my number before then, I’d fail to meet the ranking requirements to be a Knight. Consequently, I’d be dropped from my department, and essentially become homeless, doomed to try to find another department to take me in before my number fell to a one and I got arrested. All before I turned twenty-one. My parents would make a case for me and get me extensions, I was certain, but they could only buy me so much time. Not very much at all.