Amber's breaths fell softly against the pillow as the alarm started to blare, alerting her to the beginning day. There was no sun, nothing else to note her of the time in her dusty room. The walls had been patched in some places, but the wallpaper that had been applied many years ago was peeling off the walls in strips as though some invisible hand was antagonistically pulling each piece down just a little at a time, reminding her that she was closed in, walled in like a rat.
There was no escape. Not until the end of the week, at least.
It had been eighteen full years of this nonsense, and though she had no recollection of a life outside of these cavernous tunnels, her very fiber knew that she was not meant to live this way. No, she could feel it in her soul, could feel that she was meant for a life of open air, and wind, by god. She'd only ever heard about wind from books, and the women in the underground maternity wards. Amber had volunteered there often, eager to hear every single story she could of the outside world.
When she asked the women, she never really inquired about the cities or the people on the outside. She saw people and cities every single day, although they were locked into air pockets beneath the surface. Amber asked them about the trees, about the way they blew in the wind. She asked about fire; she had never been allowed to light a fire. Fire was only to be used in emergencies because of the way it ate the air.
She asked about anything she could think of. Many of them told her tales of the first time they had ever ventured out of the tunnels. They told her of how bright the sun was the first time that it hit their face and of the first time the wind ever whipped through their hair. They sometimes told her stories of their first love, an unfamiliar face that greeted them on the outside and offered to show them around.
Most people were nice, some said, but you always had to keep your guard up above ground. The police were not as prevolent as they were below ground. There was too much ground to cover, and though the planet had advanced greatly when it came to technology, the inhabitants were more than a little aware of the ecological footprint that their forefathers had left on the world. So most of the lush forest that had blanketed over the old country was left undisturbed, and very few law enforcement officers ever went into it. She took that to heart, clutching it some place in her psyche to always keep in mind, whether she realized it or not. Amber had never had real reason not to trust anyone before, and the concept felt foreign. The forest seemed such a blackhole for people who wanted or needed to disappear when the mothers described it, and it caused a black feeling: a dark and heavy fear in her heart.
She never met her mother or her father. They had left no forwarding information, no way for her to contact them once she finally reached the outside. The only family that she was sure of was her brother, but he had gone up two years ago. Amber was hardly even sure if Alex wanted to stay in contact with her.
The alarm blared again. She had snoozed it as usual, but there was no shutting it off. The day had started, and work had to be done.
Orphans had to earn their keep. And though Amber had parents out there somewhere, they had not entrusted her or her brother to anyone in particular, which thrust them into a public system that was run by those who volunteered and usually owed the government community service.
That being said, her caretakers were not as cruel as some.
She had been lucky in that aspect, and had fallen to the care of a woman named Andrea, now in her late fifties. Although, Andrea was rather kind and understanding and more of a mother to Amber then she ever had to be, she still did not have the available funds so that Amber and the other children did not have to work.
So, begrudgingly at best, Amber smacked the alarm, and followed all the prompts to verify that she was awake for the day, typing in the prompted numbers in random sequence and answering a basic math problem before she had proven that she was truly awake. She pulled herself upward, sitting up on the bed, and touched a hand to her hair to see what damage the pillow had done.
She groaned as she stood, careful to duck her head so she didn't smack the low point in the ceiling, and made her way to the light switch. She flicked it upward, and all the LED lights in the room turned up in brightness, sufficiently lighting the room instead of just dimly glowing around the edge of the floor.
After taking a moment to throw on some clothes for work, she moved to the mirror to attempt to tame her hair.
She frowned at herself, wishing she was something more than just a dirty girl with ratty hair who lived in a little rat hole. She thrust a shoulder out upon which she rested her chin, trying a few poses as she brushed her hair. Maybe eighteen would do her more justice than seventeen. Her self-esteem shattered for the day, she tied her hair into a pony tail at the nape of her neck and gave her bangs a nice tustle.
Good enough.

She was halfway to work when the commotion started. She'd just gotten off the elevator that connected her subsection of tunnels to the mainframe, a gaping opening in the earth that seemed to go on forever, only marginalized by the dome of dirt that occaisionally would partially collapse. Several supports had been put in, but some of the people were starting to question just how bold this move had been.
Suddenly the earth seemed to drop beneath her, and she was unsure of exactly what had happened, but she immediately began helping up the children that were knocked down by the impact. Some were crying but she tried her best to calm them.
"Stay where you are," she said in a stern voice. "Everythings going to be okay."
The elevator had thankfully been evacuated of people by the time the second impact happened. The stress was too much and the cord snapped, sending the elevator crashing down to the bottom stop. People began to fear the worst, and Amber was unsure of what was going to happen if something was terribly wrong.
The alarms hadn't started going off, which allowed her the assumption that for the time being at least, everything was okay.
She spoke in hush tones to the children, trying to keep them calm although some of them were crying their eyes out, worried about the loud noises they were hearing. To be completely honest she was panicking as well, but she managed to keep her face straight. It was no more than a few moments before people started clamoring up the emergency stairs and banging on the airlocked doors, but it felt like hours were passing, each second resonating more than the last, more heartbeats filling the space and time; her heart was drumming so loudly in her ears that it muffled all the other sounds.
The airlocks let up after what seemed like to long, but only so that the doors themselves could be lifted. It took several people to lift each one, and some never opened at all. The lights flickered, and the children began to scream.
It took a few more moments before the alarms started to blare, louder than any sound Amber could recall, the noise bouncing off the bare dirt walls with surprising acoustic endeavor. The children put their hands over their ears and it wasn't long before others followed suit. Her efforts to calm them after this point were absolutely in vain, and some of them even ran off into the crowd of people entering the small halls to try to find their caretakers; there was no way to stop them.
She stood, her ears still covered, trying to keep her balance as the ground underneath her seemed to shake, and several people underneath the airlock doors lost their balance, and in turn the doors lost their support and collapsed on top of them, crushing them, and trapping anyone still behind the doors. The force of the collapse seemed to knock the ground out from under her feet, and she fell backward, landing so hard it knocked all the air from her lungs, leaving her gasping on the ground in shock as people carelessly trampled around her.
She tried to regain her composure quickly to avoid being thrown and killed under their feet, but she could not seem to catch her breath. Time had begun to be marked by the brief, rhythmic blares of the alarm that battered her bare ears so hard she thought her ears may begin to bleed.
"Amber!" The voice was so faint even though it was right beside her as it screamed. She looked over at the man kneeling over her, pressing his fingers to her neck seemingly to check for a pulse. His brow was furrowed up tight and the rest of his face was covered in dirt. He coughed almost constantly, turning his head into his sleeve every few seconds.
She put a hand over the one pressed to her neck. "Eric, you're alive." Her voice was weak, not loud enough to rise over the alarm.
He hadn't heard her, but he picked her up, draping her over his arms. He started for the staircase, though everyone seemed to be trying to use it at once. She tried to tell him to just wait, but it was as if the strength had drained out of her. She couldn't bring herself to move at all. It was always at the most inopportune of times this seemed to happen to her.
Eric managed to push past several people though, using just his shoulders to push them aside. It wasn't as if they cared that he had someone who seemed to be wounded in his arms. At this point that was everyone down there.
Amber ached to move, to be something other than a hinderance, but she had completely shut down, and a black edging had begun to tunnel her eyesight. She knew what this meant, something more than the cataplexy that cursed her. She was going to faint.
She held on, irritated by her weakness. The children needed her. Eric had to take her back to the children. But the more she stressed, the more difficult it proved to move, the more difficult it proved to think.

She wasn't entirely sure when she lost consciousness, nor how long it was before she woke up in the crowded infirmary. The noise was so overwhelming upon opening her eyes that she immediately wondered how she'd managed to sleep (albeit she had fainted) at all.
Several sirens were still blaring off their warning in an arrangement far short of perfect unison, and though the infirmary was beyond full, more and more patients were being carted in on stretchers, the victims of the crowds feet sitting nearly on top of patients that had been badly burned.
Amber started to sit up, only to be met with a hand on her collarbone.
"Lay down, Amber," Eric coaxed, but she shook off his touch.
"This is nothing new to me. I deal with this all the time at home, so let's give the bed to someone who was actually hurt, yeah?" Upon sitting up, she realized she must have sustained some bruising, though she held her face clear of a wince. "See? All good."
The disapproving look on Eric's face only seemed to gain intensity, but he didn't protest.
"What happened?" she asked, raising her voice a little as another alarm added the chorus.
Eric squinted as the new addition filled his ears. He helped Amber to her feet instead of responding, maneuvering them out of the infirmary, and down through the the tunnels. The alarms weren't much quieter through the tunnels; in fact, the noise just reverberated through the walls, unsettling the raw ground. It was a wonder they hadn't suffered a collapse in the first place, she thought. It was a miracle anyone was alive at all.
They both covered their ears against the funneling sirens' screeches, travelling back toward the housing areas, much closer to the surface and hopefully not part of the commotion. As they got closer, however, it became clear that the panic had spread back this way as well, those who had avoided as much injury as possible by getting ahead of the crowd had flown back to their units and already began telling far-fetched stories of why the sirens were going off.
Thankfully, the blaring noise was a distant sound up this way, presumably to avoid panic among the children and the nearby maternity areas. They were audible, but not nearly as threatening as they were up close. The noise that filled the hall now was panicked voices of the people packed in like sardines. Amber could only pick up whispers as they headed toward her unit; some of them whispered of murder, some of a traitorous plot, of explosives, and the most dreaded of all: an engineering failure. How many had died? Were there people still trapped down there?
No one knew the status of anything, and the tension was at its boiling point. Normally, the system would have given a prompt from the government, either to let everyone know that everything was fine or not, but with the suspicious lack of any sort of media, people had begun to worry that connection had been lost.
She tried not to think about it. Any sort of worry that crossed her mind immediately began to make her knees feel wobbly. The problem had been with her her whole life, but there was no getting used to her sickness. It only struck her when she needed her strength the most, and getting frustrated only made it worse.
All the advanced technology in the world, and a simple case of cataplexy couldn't be solved? It baffled her.
Once inside her room, the alarms so far away that they almost seemed like they were never real at all, Amber immediately moved to her bed, laying down. The exhaustion in her limbs hit her then, all at once. She groaned, stretching out and rubbing her eyes. "Eric," she whined. "What the hell is going on?"
Eric didn't say anything for a moment, and he instead tugged at his dark blonde hair and rubbed the back of his neck.
"I know you were down there. You were scheduled for work just like I was. What happened?" Amber sat up, propping herself on the pillows.
It was still another minute or so before he spoke. "I…It was really fast. I don't know what caused it. The supports though–I mean they've been going out for months, and we've been petitioning for them to start rebuilding, but they never listened." He pursed his lips. "The whole city's underground. That main support? Crumbled, and everything came down with it."
"Everything?" Her mouth hung open in shock.
"Everyone keeps thinking the systems down? I think it's more likely there are no government officials left." Eric continued fidgeting with his neck which had grown red from the friction. "I was there. I helped lift those airlocks. It's a miracle I managed to survive, and if I hadn't, who knows what would have happened to you…."
Amber frowned, more trying to take in what had happened than anything else. She took a heavy breath in before she stood, beginning to pace the room. Was she still going to be able to leave on time? How were people going to continue living here with the loss of so many people? The whole ordeal was going to change so much about life underground; there was absolutely no avoiding it. "I just don't see how anyone's going to be able to live with this. Everyone is going to be panicking once they find out there was a collapse. No one's going to want to remain down here. No one's going to want their baby born here, and no one is going to want to keep children here. There's no way."
"You're going to stress yourself out again, Amber."
She gritted her teeth. "I know my body, Eric." The words came out as more of a hiss than she had intended, but she didn't apologize. Being treated like a child was never something she was able to ignore.
Eric mumbled an apology. "Do you need me to stay with you?"
"No. I think I'm fine. You should go and help where you can," she suggested. "Maybe explain the failure to someone who can actually help fix things, I don't know."
Eric moved to her side, taking her hand gently. She didn't move, even as he pressed a kiss to her cheek. "Please don't stress out too badly about this. It'll get sorted out, I'm sure of it."
She pursed her lips and pulled away. "I need a nap," she said as complacently as she could. He simply nodded and left, though he seemed to linger in the doorway, hoping she would change her mind and ask him to stay.
Once the door was closed behind him, she pressed the lock and slid her back down the door, covering her face in her hands. The terror that threated to escape her throat in a hysteric bubbling sort of scream was overwhelming. Amber pulled her hands up through her hair, taking a deep breath.
Her freedom was coming so soon. She had looked forward to the day she turned eighteen as long as she could possibly remember, but now it seemed that the tunnels demanded more of her. They demanded that she stay and help, join a relief team, help patients: something. Eric would no doubt expect her to stay, precisely because she should take this as a sign. He had never had any intention of going above ground, but Amber knew by the way he looked at her that he would follow her there if she decided to go. Clearly, in his mind she knew, this catastophe that demanded them to assist meant that she was fated to stay below ground, to stay with him.
She groaned in irritation. Nothing could make her stay. Not a boy. Not this sort of disaster. In three days, this was never going to be any of her concern ever again. But until that time was up, she would continue to put in her share, and as soon as she took in that first breath of fresh air, everything she did would be for Amber McElroy, no questions asked.