As Jason and Joseph walked into the Blue and Green meeting hall, Joseph was relieved to see that Zarah was overseeing things and that the ten or so other people in attendance were quietly talking amongst themselves and behaving in a respectable manner.
"How are things going here?" Joseph asked as he approached.
"I think that once people started to get word that they had been drugged, they started to attempt to control their behavior to some degree. We've heard some disturbing things from the other sections, but so far everything here has been alright."
"Did you hear anything about the Gray and Purple area?" Jason asked with concern.
"Nothing specific. It sounded like things were out of control in there for a little while, but eventually people settled down."
"Good. I need to go and check on them."
"Jayce, I want you to promise me that if at any point you feel that you're in danger, that you'll come right back here."
"And, the same if you start feeling like you're going to lose control."
"I'm here whenever you need me. Remember that."
Jason broke into a heart stopping smile, then said, "You're my white knight, my Prince Charming, always arriving in the nick of time to rescue me and vanquish my enemies."
"Let's not put that to the test. At the first sign of trouble, come right back here."
"I will." Jason said warmly, then leaned in to give Joseph a gentle ghost of a kiss.
Joseph had several conflicting emotions: he wanted to deepen the kiss, he wanted to take Jason back to his room and have his way with him. But another part of him didn't want the evidence of their relationship to be on display for everyone to see.
As Jason stood back up, Joseph saw the blush rising up his cheeks as he realized what he had just done. Joseph couldn't help but think that it was absolutely adorable.
"I'll see you later, Joe."
* * * * *
After watching Jason walk away, Joseph turned to see Zarah looking at him with a surprised expression.
"No. Not at all." Zarah immediately responded, then gestured to her right and said, "You remember Leah, don't you?"
"She came up with the name 'Roofieville'."
"Yes. Well... we've... um..."
"Good." Joseph said easily, then looked to Leah and continued, "I'm glad that someone was here to help Zarah deal with things."
Joseph then turned to Zarah and said, "I was worried about leaving without talking to you first, but I thought that people needed to know what was going on before someone got seriously hurt."
"I think you did the right thing."
"Has anything else happened while I've been doing my 'walkabout'?"
"Not really. I talked with a few of the other girls about... you know, the possibility that our captors are going to impregnate us... The thing is, with as long as we 'seem' to have been here, it's strange that no one I've talked to has had their period."
"Well, to be honest, we've only been awake and alert for a total of about fifteen hours out of... however long we've been here; three weeks, maybe."
"That's true." Zarah conceded, then continued, "But I think it's worth keeping an eye on."
"Would you mind taking care of that? I wouldn't feel comfortable talking to girls that I don't even know about their 'monthlies'."
Zarah laughed and Leah smiled at his expression, then Zarah said, "It's not something that I would typically talk about, either. But I can understand what you're saying."
"Thanks." Joseph said with relief, then looked around the room curiously.
"What is it?"
"I was just thinking that if we're trapped in here, that the people who took us must have some kind of a plan."
Zarah nodded that it sounded reasonable.
"So, what are we supposed to be doing right now?"
"Besides each other?"
"They've eliminated any possible communication with the outside. There aren't any movies, video games, music or books to read. We can't even do extra school work because the computer doles it out a few lessons at a time, then stops."
"Well, I guess if you want to give them a whole lot of credit for thinking this through, then I'd say that they're forcing us to form couples, groups and communities to help us deal with the boredom."
"But you don't think that?"
"No. If you were in a lab, would you worry about providing entertainment for your lab rats? Would you worry about their emotional wellbeing?"
"Maybe now I would." Joseph said under his breath, then continued in a normal voice, "But I can see what you're saying. When we try and rationalize their motives, we can't get things to add up. So it's entirely possible that many of the choices that were made didn't have any great motivation behind them. They just chose what was easiest for them and didn't bother to even consider the consequences to us."
"Yeah. If you step back and look at the whole thing, I think you could make a pretty good argument for that."
* * * * *
After sitting silently for several minutes, Zarah quietly asked, "What's wrong?"
"I thought that the drug was wearing off, but now I don't think that it is."
"What do you need to do to deal with it?"
"Maybe to scream and hit something." Joseph said uncertainly, then looked at her and added, "It's a guy thing."
"No. It's not just a guy thing. I think girls just have a better track record at resisting the urge."
"I keep getting these silly stray thoughts that don't connect to each other."
"Feel free to go ahead and share them. It's got to be more entertaining than anything else that's going on right now."
"I wouldn't bet on that." Joseph said with a smile at her, then said more distantly, "Just now I was thinking about how public media demonizes intelligence. It seems to glorify the most nonproductive behaviors and belittle and denigrate the skills and character traits that are essential to maintaining a productive society."
"That's a silly stray thought?" Leah asked dubiously.
"Yeah. It doesn't have anything to do with us being in here. It just kind of popped into my head."
Zarah smiled at his response, then explained, "I think what she's saying is that your silly stray thought is more in depth and thought out than things that we've been agonizing over."
Joseph shrugged noncommittally.
"The main thing I've been thinking about the last hour or so, is about my parents." Zarah admitted quietly.
"I've been thinking about mine, too." Joseph quickly assured her.
"Really? I guess by the way you tend to analyze things, I didn't think that you would focus on something like that."
"I didn't say that I wasn't analyzing."
Zarah slowly nodded, encouraging him to share.
"Well. I guess the first thing is, my dad loves his son, who just happens to be me. I didn't think about it for a long time, but over the years I've gotten the sense that he has this image in his mind of who his son is, and I'm a placeholder, performing the role more or less to his expectations, but not actually being the person that he imagines me to be. As long as I don't stray too far from his vision, he mostly ignores me and I can do what I want."
"What about your mom?" Zarah asked in a whisper, prompting him to continue.
"She has her own role to perform. When we're in the same place, we say the lines that we're expected to say and do what we're expected to do, but we never break out of character with each other. In a sense, I don't know her. She's a stranger to me. I only know the part that she plays. If she left and someone else took her place and played the same role, it wouldn't change a thing. The theater would continue uninterrupted."
"Wow. That's grim."
"Isn't it that way for everyone?"
"I'll have to think on that. I really don't know."
"I guess it doesn't matter in here. Now I've taken on a new role, so I have to go through the motions of being one of the leaders. I have no choice but to play the part to the best of my ability."
"What if you don't. What if you're just yourself?"
"You mean be the actor behind the role? I don't know who that is. All I've ever been is the role that I've portrayed. I don't know how to be anything else. If I were to disregard the expectations of others, then I would be lost. The cues of what others expect of me are the only guideposts telling me what I'm supposed to do next. They're my director, feeding me clues about what's expected in the next scene."
"What about Jason? Do you feel that you're doing what he expects of you?"
"No. But my character is reacting to him in the way that his character needs him to. I guess that I feel somethingfor him, but the situation that we're in dictates my reaction and what I can do."
"What do you want to do?"
"That's the big question, isn't it? There's a part of me that just wants to reject everything that's been done to us and cocoon myself in the sensation of loving and being loved... just let the rest of this drama play out without me and spend every minute of every day kissing and hugging and loving."
"Why don't you?"
"That's not my role. Whether I choose to accept the expectations of others or not, they're still there. And to make matters worse, the same thing applies to Jason. My character in this situation is drawn to his. What happens when those roles are gone? Who are we when it's just the two of us? Will we have anything to say to each other? When everything else is removed, will we have any reason to be together at all?"
"If you look at things that way, then do you think that there's any chance that you'll ever find someone to be your real self with? Do you think that you'll ever find true love?"
"I don't know. I'm not sure that such a thing really exists. It's possible that the entire concept is just a marketing ploy to sell greeting cards and shiny jewelry."
"How likely do you think that all of this, what you're telling me, is a side effect of the drugs?"
"I don't think that there's any doubt about that. Every day of my life is spent 'in character'. I've never dared to break out of the role, because it might interfere with my performance. Without my role, there's nothing left. I'll have no part to play in my own life. I'm nothing."
Kenna rushed into the room at full speed. When she spotted Joseph, she quickly said, "Some of the Reds and Blacks have started bothering Lisa and her group in the Purple and Black room. She's getting a little afraid of how they're acting. Do you think you could help?"
"Yeah. I should have known that something like this was going to happen. Religion controls people with fear and shame, so naturally when fear and shame are chemically suppressed, they won't have any concept of how to behave." Joseph said as he stood and walked to join Kenna at the door.
Zarah and Leah exchanged a cautious look at the way Joseph had flawlessly slipped back into 'character'.
* * * * *
As Joseph and Kenna walked into the Purple and Gray meeting room, Joseph saw Jason and stopped.
"It sounds like Lisa's having problems. Could you spare a few minutes to help me sort it out?"
"Kenna filled me in on her way through. I was just waiting on you to come back."
* * * * *
"How are things here?" Joseph asked as the three of them started walking into the next hallway.
"Actually, better than I expected. There are a few people feeling regretful over some of their actions, but I've assured them that everyone understands and it won't be held against them."
"How are you doing?"
"To be honest, I'm more confused than I've ever been."
"I can understand that. Do you mind if I make a suggestion?"
"I like you, Jason. From my point of view, that's all this is. So don't worry about it."
"But what about Kenyon?"
"He doesn't figure into it, at this point. Decide what you feel and what you can accept, then we can deal with what comes next."
"But what about you? Don't you have to come to some decisions, too?"
"I already have. I know what I want. Now I just have to wait and see what I can have."
As they approached the doorway to the Purple and Black meeting room, Jason stopped and quietly asked, "What do you want?"
"If we both have the courage, I'd like to find out what will happen next between us."
"What about Kenyon? Have you come to a decision about him, too?"
"My feelings for him are different. I'm flattered and honored that he's interested in me. There's a good chance that what he's feeling is infatuation, and that it will pass when the drug wears off. And I suppose that even if his feelings don't change, he might not be able to cope with the stigma of being seen as 'gay'. But if all that works out and he wants to see what's next, I'd be willing to try."
"But you don't love him."
"No." Joseph admitted, then continued, "But I don't love you, either. I like you very much and I'm attracted to you. If we both decide that we want to spend time together and see if we could have something more, then we might be able to find love along the way."
"I don't understand... are you talking about dating me AND Kenyon, both?"
"Until someone comes to me and asks me to date him or her exclusively, and I say 'yes', then I'm free to date whoever I'm interested in." Joseph said, then leaned in and quietly added, "Take all the time you need to make a decision that you're comfortable with... just don't wait too long."
"So, you're not going to wait for me until the end of time?"
"Not if you don't ask me to." Joseph said with a grin, then glanced at Kenna and nodded that they were ready to go.
* * * * *
"How are you doing, Lisa?" Joseph asked, relieved to see that everyone in the meeting room was dressed.
When Joseph noticed that Ryan was there, he gave a quick smile of recognition in his direction.
"We seem to have gotten it out of our systems. Now if our neighbors would just do the same, we could move on." Lisa said with a dark glance at the doorway that led to the Black hallway.
"If you'll tell me what they're doing, I'll go and have a talk with them."
"They just keep coming in here and trying to get us to go with them. When we tell them no, they're really mean and ugly about it and I'm afraid that if we don't do something to curb their interest, that soon they'll get violent."
"Guys or girls?"
"Girls. There was one guy with them, one time. But from the look of him, I'm not sure if it was by his choice."
"I'll see what I can do."
"I'll go with you." Ryan said decisively.
Joseph smiled at him, then headed off.
* * * * *
"By the way, thanks for what you did earlier." Ryan said as they walked.
"What did I do?" Joseph asked cautiously.
"You went to my room and warned me and Kenna about the drugged food. Up to that point, we hadn't realized that we were behaving differently from normal."
"Are you two okay?"
"Yeah. I'm glad it happened..." Ryan began to say, then rethought his words. "Well, I'm not glad that the people who captured us decided to drug us. But I don't have any regrets about what me and Kenna did while we were drugged. It was special and I'm glad that happened."
"I know what you mean."
"THE WHORE OF BABYLON SEEKS MORE SUBJECTS!!!" A naked girl said in a booming voice as she approached them in the hallway.
"Where's Jude?" Joseph asked with disdain dripping from his words.
"He has been sacrificed unto our queen!" The girl said triumphantly.
"You killed him?!" Jason asked in shock.
"Take us to Jude." Joseph said firmly.
"The queen will bask in the pleasures of your flesh." The girl said with a smirk before darting away ahead of them.
"Do you think that they killed Jude?" Jason asked with concern.
"I think that they're capable of it, but I doubt that they did." Joseph said as he walked with purpose.
* * * * *
The smell of the Red and Black meeting room assaulted them as they approached the doorway.
"Jude! Where are you?" Joseph called out as they walked in.
"He died and has been reborn as my own son." A naked girl smeared with feces and possibly other bodily fluids, said dramatically as she sat in a vulgar pose on one of the plastic chairs, perched on a table.
"Where's Jude?" Joseph demanded.
"Joseph?" A voice called weakly from the corner.
"Jude? Is that you?"
"I tried to tell them. They wouldn't listen."
Joseph was revolted at the sight of Jude, naked and smeared with filth.
"Where's your room? We need to get you cleaned up."
"You may not leave. You have not been dismissed, SLAVE!" The girl demanded.
"You're not a queen. You're a fourteen or fifteen year old girl who was kidnapped by some nutjobs and stuck in this facility. It's not religious. It's not magical. You're a shit covered little girl. That's all you are."
When Joseph saw that 'The Queen' was too shocked to respond, he continued, "I really don't care about you or anyone who willingly follows you. But if I find out that you've taken any more slaves or that you've been harassing your neighbors on either side, I will organize a trial and you'll have to stand in front of EVERYONE and answer for EVERYTHING that you've done to yourselves and to each other. Then we will JUDGE you and you will be held RESPONSIBLE for everything that you've done."
Joseph smiled slightly at 'The Queen's' anxious expression. After a moment to let her think that over, he said more quietly, "Or, we can just go."
"Leave!" She commanded.
"Thought so." Joseph muttered, then asked Jude, "Where's your room?"
"Twenty-three." Jude said as he pointed at the door leading to the Red hallway.
Joseph looked behind him to be sure that Jason and Ryan were close behind as they left the meeting hall.
* * * * *
"Get into the shower and I'll get some fresh clothes set out for you. I don't think you want to be touching anything until you've gotten cleaned up." Joseph said gently.
"You won't leave while I'm in there, will you?" Jude asked with a tremble of fear in his voice.
"No. We'll be right here. You'll be safe." Joseph assured him.
"Thank you." Jude whispered, then hurried into the bathroom.
* * * * *
"Do you think it's going to be safe to leave him here?" Jason asked with some concern while Joseph went to the dresser to start gathering clothes.
"No. I wouldn't want to take that chance." Joseph said honestly, then continued, "Why don't we stop by and see Korbin and ask if Jude can stay there? That way Jude can have easy access to his own room but can still feel safe."
"I wouldn't bet on him feeling safe anywhere, after what's been done to him."
"Maybe the shower will help." Joseph said simply as he walked to the closet to get a fresh pair of red coveralls.
"He can stay in the Gray and Purple section with us, if he needs a place."
"Let's just see how he feels after the shower. We'll do our best to give Jude whatever he needs to feel safe and secure." Joseph said as he walked to the bathroom door and knocked lightly.
"Jude! I'm going to come in for a second to drop off your clean clothes. Is that alright?" Joseph called out.
"Yes. Thank you, Joseph."
* * * * *
Joseph slid the bathroom door aside, then stepped in and closed it behind him before asking, "Do you need to talk about anything?"
"No. Right now I just want to be able to feel clean again."
"I can totally understand that." Joseph said honestly, then continued, "But if you need to talk about anything later, just know that you can come to me and I'll be willing to listen. You don't have to deal with everything on your own."
"Thank you, Joseph. I'll remember."
With that being said, Joseph slid the bathroom door open and stepped back into the bedroom area.
* * * * *
"How is he?" Jason asked with concern.
"Better than I expected." Joseph said honestly.
"What do you plan to do about the rest of those nutjobs in the Red and Black room?" Ryan asked.
"Exactly what I said to them. As long as everyone involved is there by their own choice and they're not harassing their neighbors, I don't plan to do anything about them."
Jason started looking around the room with a puzzled expression.
"What's wrong?" Ryan asked curiously.
"I just realized that this room is backward." Jason said slowly.
"How's that?" Ryan asked cautiously.
"He means that it's the mirror image of his room." Joseph said with a smile.
"It's the reverse of yours and Wade's, too." Jason added.
"That's right. We all have even numbers. Jude has an odd, so he's the reverse of the rest of us."
"Why would they alternate?" Jason asked thoughtfully.
"I suppose to match up the crawl spaces between the rooms."
"Crawl spaces?" Ryan asked cautiously.
"Yes. The bench and table have to go somewhere when they're retracted. There has to be an open space on the other side of this wall for them to go."
"So, we could break through that wall and gain access to the crawl space?" Ryan asked to confirm.
"Probably, yes. But before you get your hopes up, I doubt very seriously that the crawl space leads anywhere that you'd want to go. I can't see the designers of this place leaving such an obvious escape route."
"So, if you broke through, all you'd really end up doing is getting punished with starvation for trying." Jason added thoughtfully.
"I'm not saying that we won't do it at some point, just for a lack of anything better to do. But I don't see any urgency to trying it out because it's most likely going to be wasted effort."
All three turned when the bathroom door opened.
Joseph gave a reassuring smile, then asked, "Feeling better?"
"Yes. Thank you." Jude said gratefully.
"We were thinking that, if you wanted, we could ask Korbin if you'd be allowed to stay in his area where you'll be safe."
"Oh. I thought I'd just go with you."
"You can go with us if you like. There's no problem with that. It's just that when you need to eat or go to sleep, you'll have a longer trip to get back here."
"I don't mind some extra walking. Besides, right now, I think that I'd rather be among frie..." Jude stopped suddenly and snapped his mouth shut.
"I can't speak for these guys, but you can call me your friend if you want to." Joseph said honestly, then added, "I may not believe in all the same things that you do, but as long as we can agree to disagree about that stuff, I have no problem with you."
"Count me in on that, too." Jason said with a smile at Jude.
Jude returned the smile and nodded his acceptance.
"Yeah. I'm in." Ryan said with a grin.
"The meeting room I'm usually in is about as far from here as it's possible to get. If you'd like something closer, we can take you to Jason's. You'll be safe there." Joseph promised.
Jason gave a single nod of confirmation that he would watch after Jude if he decided to go to the Gray Purple room.
"I'll go with you, if you don't mind." Jude said timidly to Joseph.
"Okay, then I suppose the next big question is, do you think you can face walking back through the Red and Black room or not?"
"I'd rather not, if I don't have to."
"You don't. And it's going to take the same time to get back to my meeting room, either way." Joseph said to Jude, then turned to face Ryan and Jason as he said, "If you guys want, you can go back through the Red and Black room, so you don't have to take the long way around."
"I really should get back to the Gray and Purple room to check on everyone." Jason said in a conflicted tone.
"And I want to tell Lisa about what you said so she won't be as worried." Ryan added.
"Then it's settled." Joseph said confidently, then asked, "Are we ready to go?"
"Would it be possible..." Jude began to ask, then trailed off.
"What is it, Jude?"
"I don't think that I can continue on any longer without eating. If I were to eat, would you see that I don't disgrace myself?"
"I can't be entirely responsible for your behavior, there's just no way that I can promise that. But I will promise to stay with you and remind you that you're under the influence of mind altering drugs and that you'll have to face the consequences of your actions tomorrow."
"Thank you. I will do my best to act in a manner that I can be proud of."
"Do you want for us to hang around?" Ryan asked cautiously.
"No. You guys go ahead and as soon as Jude's done drinking his dinner, we'll head out." Joseph said confidently.
"Okay. Remember to let us know if you need our help with anything." Jason said as he looked into Joseph's eyes.
"Count on it." Joseph said with a smile.
Joseph had a nearly irresistable urge to give Jason a kiss and a hug before he left, but didn't want to take the chance of making Jude feel uncomfortable or unsafe in his presence.
Jason gave Joseph one last longing look before he and Ryan left the room.
* * * * *
"Computer. Food." Jude said simply toward the corner of the room where the food dispenser was located.
The table, bench and food receptacle all moved in unison in response to his command.
"It seems like you really understand how the computer system works."
"The computer has a rudimentary lexicon of verbal commands. From the simplicity of it, I doubt that it can recognize more than ten spoken words in the main menu." Jude said simply, then took a long, slow drink of the repulsive gray sludge.
"I'm guessing that you've studied verbal input programs before."
It took a moment for Jude to finish swallowing, but he finally said, "Yes. When I was about twelve, I got the idea that I'd like to be able to control my home computer verbally. I worked on it for almost a year before I finally accepted that it was a lot easier to just use the mouse and the keyboard."
"I guess that it is." Joseph said with a grin, then waited as Jude took another long drink of his dinner.
After a shiver of revulsion, Jude quietly said, "Thank you for being so understanding."
"I'm just sorry that you had to go through all of that. I should have realized when I was here before that things could have gone that way."
Jude drank down the last of his dinner and fought to swallow it before responding, "I don't know how you could have foreseen their behavior."
"Please return the glass to the dispenser receptacle."
Jude did so, then watched as the door began to close and the table and bench receded into the wall.
"Thank you, have a nice day." The computer said with its ever cheery voice of accomplishment.
"I should have seen it coming because they're a group of people who've been told since conception that they're wicked evil sinners that have been saved by God's grace. They were given a book of laws and told that if they didn't follow those rules, they would be horribly punished for all eternity. So they obeyed the laws, not because they thought they were right, but out of fear. When they were given a drug that took away that fear, every sick perverted thing that they ever considered doing was all of a sudden possible, for the first time in their lives."
"If I may ask, how is that different from the way that someone without faith, like you, behaved?" Jude asked timidly.
"Are you done here?" Joseph asked as he looked around.
"I don't have any shoes." Jude quietly said as he looked down at his sock clad feet.
"There's not much we can do about that, but it's not like we can go outside. You should be fine."
"That's true." Jude responded, then walked to the door.
* * * * *
As they walked away from Jude's room, Joseph said, "Let's see... I guess the best way that I can describe it is that I don't have a list of commandments to follow under penalty of eternal damnation and torture. I try to do the right thing because it's the right thing. I try to be kind to people because I'd really like it if people were kind to me. I deal with people honestly and respectfully because it's my hope that people will respond to me by treating me the same way.
"That's not to say that when the drug took effect that it didn't do anything to me. I suddenly became open to things that I'd never seriously considered before. But I didn't have this sudden urge to run amok and do all the wicked things that I'd been forbidden to do all my life."
"Do you think that I might behave that way?" Jude asked anxiously.
"I don't know. But if I notice you doing anything that seems improper I'll try to bring it to your attention. If you keep telling yourself that despite the drug, you're still in control of your actions and responsible for your decisions, then you might be okay."
"I believe that you may be mistaken about Christian concepts of accountability."
"That's possible. It's hard for me to know anything for sure, only seeing it from the outside. But it seems to me that in order to receive God's unconditional love, that there are A LOT of conditions. And from what little I know of it, a lot of the rules contradict each other so that one denomination accepts one thing as being God's absolute truth and another believes the exact opposite. So what ends up happening is that people end up shopping around for the religion that holds the same beliefs that they do. If they're going to do that anyway, why not just skip the religion thing altogether and live their lives doing what they believe is right?"
"I don't know what to say except that I was taught from early childhood that certain things were true and that I was supposed to believe them without question."
"You mean, like Santa Claus and the tooth fairy?"
"It's not the same."
"Really? You were told a fantastic, impossible story that you were expected to believe despite any and all evidence that it couldn't possibly be true. What's the difference?"
Before Jude could formulate an answer, a voice from ahead of them said, "Go back to your own area. We don't want you here."
"Would you tell Korbin that Joseph is here and would like to speak with him?" Joseph asked hopefully.
"Joseph? Denise mentioned that you had visited before. You may pass."
"Oh! Thank you." Joseph said pleasantly then motioned for Jude to walk with him into the Red and Orange meeting room.
* * * * *
"Joseph! What brings you back here so soon?" Korbin asked with a smile.
"Your neighbors had a little dispute. How are things going in your part of the world?"
"We're still on guard, but nothing new has happened since your last visit. I've decided to hold off on inspecting the inner wall until I can be sure that our people will be safe."
After a look at the people in the room, Joseph cautiously asked, "Where's Randa? Did she go for a walk?"
"No. She volunteered to take a shift guarding the door, so she's trying to take a nap while she's got the chance."
"If your neighbors give you any more problems, let me know. I told them if they bothered you or Lisa that I would initiate action against them."
"We can fight our own battles."
"I'd appreciate it if you wouldn't fight this one. Given the way they're behaving, they're trying to provoke a fight. If you respond with violence, things will escalate and this will drag on endlessly. What I'd rather see happen is, if they act inappropriately, we stand them up in front of everyone and spell out what they did wrong and why it won't be tolerated. Think of it as public shaming. That way everyone can not only have the rules of behavior spelled out to them, but they'll also be able to witness the consequences of not behaving properly in a polite society."
"Who decides what's 'wrong'?"
"As tempting as it might be to say 'majority rule', it's been proven more than once that a majority of people can be wrong at any given time, especially when emotions are running high. So I guess that it would probably end up being a council consisting of the leaders from each meeting hall."
"I can see the sense in what you're saying, but if they attack us, don't expect us not to react."
"Considering the drugs that we've been given, I'm afraid that what starts as a reasonable reaction might easily end up being vengeful retaliation. Defend yourselves, by all means. But please be very careful about any action you take beyond that. Even if the drugs are in part to blame for our failure to limit our responses, we still have to be held accountable for any actions that we take. Otherwise, we'll have two hundred people with a free pass to hurt each other however they want."
"I'll try to keep it in mind. That's about all I can promise."
"I'm sorry that my people caused you trouble. I swear that I did my best to make them see that they weren't acting normally." Jude said timidly.
"Are you their leader?" Korbin asked cautiously.
"Was." Joseph gently corrected. "A girl calling herself 'The Whore of Babylon' seems to be running things now."
Korbin looked from Joseph to Jude and back before speculatively saying, "You rescued him, didn't you?"
"How did you know?"
"From what I've seen of you, it just sounds like something that you'd do." Korbin said with a grin, then looked to Jude and said, "If you're really a leader, then you can't let this keep you down. Take some time to regroup, then rescue your people."
"I don't know if I can."
"Just listen to Joseph, I'm sure that he'll give you good advice about how to make things work out."
Joseph smiled at the exchange, then said, "We'd better head back to the Blue Green. You know where to find me if you need anything."
"I'm still waiting on that jackhammer."
Joseph laughed and nodded, then motioned to Jude that he was ready to go.
* * * * *
As they walked, Joseph quietly asked, "How are you feeling, Jude?"
"I don't know. I don't feel any different."
"Well, I guess that it doesn't really do anything noticeable when it kicks in. Just try to be aware that if you have an impulse to do something, you may be more inclined to act on it than you would normally."
"The only thing on my mind right now is worry for Tanner. Where could he be? What might they be doing to him?"
"I wish that I had some answers for you, Jude. But it's possible that after the next blackout that he'll be returned to us. If that happens, then it might end up being the best thing for him because he didn't have to witness people that he cared about and trusted behaving badly and disappointing him."
"What do you think is really happening to us?"
"Well, if you go on what the computer revealed to us in the meeting halls as being based on fact and add to that the few things that people remember from before they were abducted, then I'd say that whatever this is started out as a 'Doomsday' project, to help humanity survive a world war or other apocalyptic event."
"So we've been abducted so that we could be saved?"
"I think that maybe that was the original intent of this place, when it was first conceived."
"But you think that someone took that original benevolent idea and corrupted it for their own purposes?"
"No. If someone came in later and repurposed the project to conform to some new, nefarious plan, then everything in here wouldn't seem to be working at crossed purposes. If there were one person or one vision in play, then we'd be moving toward some goal."
"And you don't see that happening here?"
Joseph noticed that they were walking into the 'Amazon' meeting room. The yoga lesson was apparently over, but there were a fair number of girls sitting at the tables and watching as they passed through.
As they walked into the Yellow hallway, Joseph continued their conversation, "If they weren't concerned with our comfort or emotional well being at some point in the process, then the fundamental design of this place would be drastically different. It would have been far more efficient if they had constructed communal bathrooms, shower facilities and dining halls. They could have far more easily housed us in a warehouse type area with bunk beds. Giving us individual rooms and individualized lesson plans... it tells me that at some point in the process they were actually concerned with preserving human dignity."
"So, what do you think happened?"
"Nothing big. Year after year, this project existed but was never activated. As political parties gained and lost power and as social attitudes evolved and changed, modifications were made to the original plan. Things were added and removed, all in accordance with the beliefs of the person who happened to be in charge at the time."
"How long do you think that this has been going on?"
"It's hard to say when the original 'idea' came about. But from the implementation of the plan, I'd have to go with Wade's assessment of it being early to mid 1960's. Since it doesn't matter, for the sake of discussion I'm going to assume 1962, so that makes it an even fifty years."
"So, for fifty years, each person coming into the project has brought with them their own bias and vision of its purpose?"
"Right. And with each 'generation', the purpose became more and more distorted from its original vision. Because we were given individual rooms, I'm making the assumption that at some point they were trying to provide a 'comfortable' place for us to wait out the devastation on the surface. Then, at some point later someone realized that since they had a captive population under their control, that it might be interesting to catalog their reactions to the 'End of the World' scenario. Someone following that may have looked at their suggestion and taken it to another level, perhaps by adding the drugs."
"And if those decisions were made by someone at a desk, in an office somewhere, they might not have known that what they were doing was real. They might have been looking at all of this as some kind of a theoretical scenario."
"I hadn't thought of that. One of the things that I couldn't seem to reconcile was that a person would have to be fundamentally and irredeemably evil to conceive some of the aspects of this. But if someone at a desk were given the outline of this project and asked to 'update' or 'streamline' it, as part of their normal job, then it ispossible that they might think that it was a hypothetical situation and that their recommendations would never actually be implemented in reality somewhere."
"So it might be likened to when someone is playing those violent video games. A person might commit horrendous, unspeakable atrocities in the game in order to accomplish their goals, because they know that the game is a fantasy and no one is actually being hurt."
"Yes. I think that's an excellent example."
"I feel something."
"What does it feel like?"
"But it's not a bad feeling, is it?"
"No. I don't think so. It just seems strange. I usually have this tension inside me, like a giant knot of anxiety always gnawing at me. All of a sudden, I don't feel that. I don't know... it's so different, so unfamiliar. I don't know how to be this way."
"Don't worry, Jude. I'm here. I've got you. I won't let anything bad happen."
"I think that maybe that's it. From inside it, I couldn't see... but I'm always feeling like something bad's about to happen. There's a constant gloom over everything around me because I'm always worried. But now... everything seems brighter."
"Then enjoy it. Maybe when this wears off, you'll be able to look back on this and realize that you don't have tofeel that way all the time."
* * * * *
As Jude and Joseph walked into the Yellow and Green meeting room, Joseph spotted Stone and Alyssa and automatically approached them.
"How are things going?" Joseph asked casually.
"You're walking around again?" Stone asked with some surprise.
"Yeah. I had something that I had to deal with on the other side and Jude decided to come back with me."
"Alyssa's come up with an idea about the Eugenics and... well, if she's right, this could get really bad."
"Should I leave so that you can discuss things?" Jude asked quietly.
"As far as I'm concerned, you're the rightful leader of the Red and Black room. So you should be involved in any discussion that we have about the different theories. Besides that, on the walk here you've already proven to me that you've got really good reasoning skills. You might be able to spot something that the rest of us aren't seeing." Joseph explained gently.
Stone looked at Jude consideringly, seeming to reevaluate him, taking Joseph's assessment into account.
"So, Alyssa, what have you come up with?" Joseph asked with interest.
"Do you remember what Stone said about the neverending sperm fountain and the bottomless egg carton?"
"Of course, it was one of the high points of the meeting."
"We have a pretty good indication that they were collecting sperm, there seems to be no other reason for them to have done what they did to you. But that begs the question, what do they have in store for the girls?"
"I guess that it would stand to reason that they are going to want to harvest your eggs."
"Do you know how that's done?"
"I honestly don't have a clue."
"Neither do I." Alyssa admitted, then continued, "All that I know is that it's not as easy as reaching under a chicken."
Joseph nodded that he could easily accept her assessment.
"They're going to have to stimulate egg production, I don't know if that can be done through our food or if they're going to have to knock us out and give us injections for that."
"Which they might have done during the last blackout."
"Right. And while we were out, they might have also done something to jigger our menstrual cycles so that we'd all ovulate at basically the same time."
"Considering that there have been two blackouts, I can see that being a distinct possibility."
"I really don't know enough about things like this to give more than an educated guess... well, not that educated. Let's just call it a guess."
"You're doing fine. Given our limited information, I think that you're doing a pretty good job of reasoning things out."
"You see, the thing is, when it's time for them to 'harvest'... it could be bad. Not only are we going to have to deal with the feelings of sexual violation but there's certainly going to be discomfort, and most likely some pain."
"I don't know if there's anything that we can do to prepare everyone for that."
"It's not just that." Stone interjected.
"What else?" Joseph asked cautiously, although he was pretty sure that he really didn't want to know.
"I know that it would tear us all up if that happened to one of the girls. And I know that all of us would do everything that we could to help her cope with it. But what happens when it's ONE HUNDRED FIFTY girls going through that at the same time?" Stone asked slowly.
Joseph's eyes went wide in horror at the prospect.
"There's no telling how long we'll be kept blacked out while that's going on. But I'd say that it's probably a pretty safe bet that about the time that we're all awake again and having to deal with that, then our periods will come along." Alyssa added gravely.
"All at once." Joseph whispered.
"One hundred fifty." Stone said as a reminder, in case anyone had forgotten.
"I was right." Jude said into the silence that followed. When the others looked at him inquisitively, he explained, "We are in hell."
Joseph smiled at him, then turned to Stone and asked, "How likely do you think it is that this scenario could happen?"
"If we hadn't had our dicks chewed up during the last blackout, I wouldn't think that it was very likely at all. But I feel safe in saying that it's obvious that our sperm was collected. Let's be real, that gunk is kinda useless unless you've got some eggs to put it with."
Alyssa nodded her agreement, then added, "The only other reason I can think of why they would have collected sperm would be for embryonic implantation or forced impregnation, which I think we did a pretty good job of disproving at the last meeting."
"Maybe..." Joseph said slowly, then added, "But the technology here seems to be about ten or so years behind. So, just because we know that something's possible in the outside world doesn't mean that they have the equipment or skills to do it here."
"How's it going, Joseph?" A voice called cheerily.
Joseph turned and smiled when he spotted Wade and Kenyon walking into the room.
"Hey, guys. We still don't have it all figured out, but we're working on it." Joseph assured them.
"Yeah. I guess we should be doing that, too. But we took a little break, instead." Kenyon admitted.
"It's okay. You don't have to be on duty twenty-four seven."
"Which is good, because we don't have any concept of twenty-four or seven in here."
"True." Joseph said with a smile, then continued, "Well, I suppose that we'd better head back to the Blue Green so that Zarah doesn't feel like I left her holding the bag."
"I don't think she thinks that." Wade interjected.
"Maybe not. But I have left her holding the bag with little or no explanation a few times already. She might have things that she wants to do or she might just want to take a break."
Kenyon looked Joseph in the eyes as he quietly asked, "So, are you just going to hang out in the Blue and Green room for a while?"
"That's the plan. I suppose that I'm just marking time until the next blackout..." Joseph trailed off as a sudden realization struck him.
"...Since we don't have anything else to do." Alyssa supplied with a nod.
Joseph snapped himself out of his racing thoughts and said, "If any of you want to stop by and visit, you know where to find me."
"We may be over in a few minutes. Right now we're just going to talk about you behind your back with Stone and Alyssa." Wade said with a grin.
"Have fun." Joseph chuckled, then led the way to the Green hallway, with Jude following a step behind.
* * * * *
"How are you doing, Jude?" Joseph asked as they walked.
"I'm ashamed to admit it, but I feel better than I ever have before."
"There's no need to feel ashamed. The drugs we were given were originally developed to correct a legitimate psychological condition. Maybe you just happen to have that condition to some degree and the drugs are having a beneficial effect on you."
"It seems wrong that others are suffering while I'm feeling... wonderful."
"It is what it is. If you're worried about the suffering of others, then find ways to help them. But there's no reason for you to be miserable. It doesn't help anyone."
"That makes sense. Thank you, Joseph. You've helped me more than I could have wished and given me some good advice."
"Even though I'm a godless heathen?"
"You said earlier that we could agree to disagree on certain things. If you still feel that way, then I can accept that you have a different perspective."
"Works for me."
"I have heard that there is a school of thought that ascribes to the notion that there is a creator God, who is the source and reason for everything. But that after He set events into motion He didn't concern himself with the day-to-day operation of things."
"Well, I suppose that if you take things like 'The Big Bang' and the evolutionary process and say that God got the ball rolling and then left things to progress in their own way, then I guess we'd be on the same page with most things. But the problem I have with that theory is that whenever something can be explained with science, then God is removed from the equation. God is only used as an explanation for what we don't or can't possibly know. If you're going to believe something like that, then why not take God completely out of the equation and just say, 'I don't know'. Science may or may not be able to explain all of it at some point, but for right now, we can only speculate."
"I feel like I 'need' to believe in God."
"Okay." Joseph said easily as he stopped, just outside the Blue and Green meeting hall.
Jude also stopped and looked at him inquiringly.
"Imagine for a moment that I'm right. There's no God and there never has been one. Everything from creation to evolution happened in a natural progression, without any divine intervention. Then, a few thousand years ago some illiterate nomadic people in the desert made up stories to tell each other and from that, a religion was started. If that was the way it really happened, how would things be one bit different today?"
Jude's look became distant as he considered the question.
"You don't need to give me an answer now. I need to talk to Zarah and see how things are going."
"Would you mind if I discuss this with you some more later?"
"I'll look forward to it. In fact, if you come up with a really good answer, you might make me question what Ibelieve."
Jude looked at Joseph with surprise and nodded his agreement to the arrangement.
"Come on." Joseph chuckled as he started to walk again.
* * * * *
"Did I miss anything?" Joseph asked as he entered the meeting hall.
"No. Things seem to be calm, at the moment." Zarah said simply, then asked, "How did things go in the Red and Black room?"
"They've got their own little Sodom and Gomorrah going on down there, but I told them that as long as everyone is there by their own choice and as long as they don't disturb their neighbors, that I'll leave them be."
"Shouldn't you have tried to reason with them and make them understand what the drugs were doing to them?"
"I really don't think that it would have done any good. They were way out of control down there."
"Yes. Joseph rescued me. He said that it would be alright if I came back here with him." Jude answered timidly.
"Rescued?" Zarah asked with surprise, directing her question mostly toward Joseph.
"Yes. It seems that they thought that slavery was a good idea. That's why I said the part about everyone being their by their own choice."
"Why do I get the feeling that a lot more went on that you're not telling me about?"
"Because you're a brilliant and perceptive person." Joseph said with a smile at her, then added, "But those were the main things that happened. Jude came back here with me where he doesn't have to worry about being enslaved again."
"Well, while you were out, Mary Nicole and Tammy stopped in long enough to update us on their most recent efforts on the 'Psychological Experiment' theory. They don't have any big new discoveries, but they wanted us to know that they're still working on it."
"I didn't really get to talk to Jason or Lisa about their theories, we were all pretty much focused on the Reds and Blacks... the same goes with Korbin. He's put his plans on hold until he can be reasonably sure that the Reds and Blacks aren't going to attack them again."
"I don't know if you've thought about this, but what are we going to do if their behavior gets to a point where we have to take action? How are we going to deal with a rapist or a murderer?"
"I think that all we can do is try to remind people that they're expected to behave as participating members of a polite society. If they can't or won't conform to the most minimal standards, then we'll have to expel them... basically, shun them."
"I suppose that's better than public flogging."
"I considered that, but there are a few of the Reds and Blacks who might enjoy that a little too much." Joseph said, then quickly turned to Jude and said, "No offense."
"I agree with you. I'm sure that there are some who would derive a nearly sexual delight from witnessing another person's punishment." Jude reluctantly admitted.
"They're really that bad?" Zarah asked cautiously.
Joseph looked at her regretfully and answered, "When we were there, yes. Hopefully, as the drugs wear off, people will begin to see reason and realize what they're doing and fall away from the pack."
"You don't sound too sure." Jude said cautiously.
"I'm not. I'm sorry, Jude. I don't mean to keep stepping on your beliefs, but they really do figure into this."
"I understand. Please go ahead."
"I heard this old saying, I really don't know where it comes from. But what it basically says is that good people do good things and bad people do bad things, but to get good people to do bad things requires religion."
There was a long moment of silence that was eventually broken by Leah saying, "You think that when the drug wears off, that they might keep acting that way because they're all fired up with religious fervor?"
"Yes. I couldn't have said it better."
Zarah smiled at Leah with pride.
"What can we do about that?" Jude asked cautiously.
"Present them with an alternative that they can get behind."
"If you're talking about trying to convert them to atheism, I think that you may have an uphill battle with that."
"No. I'm not talking about converting them. I'm talking about providing them a leader that understands what they believe, but can also guide them to behave properly in a social situation with the rest of us."
Jude looked at him uncertainly.
"He's talking about you, Jude." Zarah quietly confided.
"But I already failed at being their leader."
Joseph smiled at the words, then confidently said, "You didn't succumb to their madness. And even though you've taken the drug, you're perfectly rational. Add to that the fact that you share their core beliefs and can talk to them in a language that they understand. I can't imagine who would be better to lead them out of the darkness."
To Be Continued...
Another thought provoking and insightful chapter.
We have learned a few new details about not only the situations in the various groups, but we have some new information about the people we have come to like.
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher