A long silence fell over the room as Jude considered their words.
No one else seemed to know what to say.
Unable to tolerate the mounting tension any longer, Zarah finally asked, "We're all waiting for the next blackout, aren't we?"
When it seemed that no one else was going to answer, Joseph reluctantly responded, "Since we know it's coming, there doesn't seem to be any point in starting to do anything else."
"This might be another part of their mind game."
Joseph looked at her curiously, prompting her to expound on the statement.
"They've gone out of their way to keep us from knowing the time and date, so it would stand to reason that they wouldn't do anything at regular intervals to give us a sense of the passage of time."
"Makes sense." Joseph muttered.
"What should we be doing right now?" Jude asked timidly, reluctant to intrude on their conversation.
After a moment to consider, Joseph answered, "I'm tired of the mind games. We've come up with a lot of theories, but that hasn't gotten us any closer to a way out. Maybe it's time to take a page from Korbin's book. I feel like doing something."
"But if you do anything, all the Blues might be punished for it." Zarah reminded him.
"I know. But I don't plan on breaking through a wall. I'd just like to check out a few things to try and get a better sense of our boundaries and limitations."
"What do you have in mind?"
"The computer calls us 'Level 3'. While that doesn't necessarily mean that there's a 'Level 2' built right on top of us, I'd still like to do a little exploring to see what's behind those white plastic ceiling panels."
Zarah looked at him speculatively for a moment, then said, "Although I don't watch many sci fi movies, I haveseen enough to know that we should also check out the ventilation system."
"Well, then, what are we waiting for?"
"You want to do it right now?"
"Sure. Jude, would you mind helping me?"
"I'd be happy to. Just tell me what you need me to do."
Zarah glanced at Leah inquiringly and received a nod.
* * * * *
Joseph speculatively looked at the ceiling for a moment, then seemed to come to a decision.
Jude followed along, not sure what Joseph had in mind.
"Guys, can you move? I need to borrow this table for a minute." Joseph asked as he approached a group of three girls.
They looked at him strangely for making the request, but moved to another table without complaint.
"Help me move it over by the wall." Joseph said as he took one end.
Jude took the other and helped him relocate the table a few feet.
As soon as the table was in place, Joseph climbed on top of it, then began to press on the semi-opaque panel that let the light pass through.
"Yeah. I think it's working. Would you see if you can lift the other end?" Joseph asked as he was able to move the stiff sheet of plastic slightly.
Jude slowly climbed onto the table and Joseph noticed that he seemed to be in pain.
"Are you alright?"
"I'm bruised, that's all." Jude said quietly.
"I can get someone else to help me, if this is hurting you."
"No. I think that finding a way out of here would make me feel much better than a few minutes of rest."
"I see your point." Joseph smiled. "Lift."
With their combined effort, they were able to shift the semi opaque white plastic panel a few inches.
"What do you see?" Zarah asked hesitantly.
"A light fixture. Can you hand me a chair?"
Zarah quickly placed one of the plastic chairs on the table beside him.
Joseph scooted it where he wanted it, then climbed on top, so that he could get a better view of what was hidden in the drop ceiling.
There was a long moment of silence as everyone in the room anxiously waited to hear what Joseph had discovered.
"Well?" Zarah finally called out to him.
"If we drop this panel, we'll have access to the fluorescent tube lights, but that's about it. We'd need tools to get past the light fixture. It's metal and seems to be riveted in place."
"So, there's no crawl space?"
"There might be one on the other side of the light fixture, but there's no way to access it from here. The light fixture is fastened to the supporting frame which seems to be pretty solid." Joseph said as he climbed down off the chair.
"So, there's nothing up there that helps us."
"No. All we've got are immovable frames and floating panels that cover the light fixtures. This sort of reconfirms Lisa's point about this place having antiquated technology, but that's about it." Joseph said to Zarah, before looking to Jude and saying, "Help me shift it back."
Jude reached up and together they slid the plastic panel into place.
"Are you going to try another one?" Zarah asked cautiously.
"No. Not in here. I'm sure that they're all the same. But I'd like to take a look at the lighting in the hallway and in one of the bedrooms to see if they left us any passage to what's behind it." Joseph said as he climbed down from the table.
"Before you do that, could you help me find out where they hid the ventilation? Whether we're underground, underwater or in outer space, we still need to breathe. But I don't see any vents anywhere."
Joseph thought for a moment, then slowly said, "I can't remember feeling hot or cold or feeling any kind of a breeze since we've been here."
"Or a blower." Jude quietly added.
Joseph and Zarah turned in unison to look at him.
"Back home, I was always aware of it when the furnace or central air would kick on. It would even wake me out of a sound sleep. I haven't noticed it even once since we've been here." Jude explained.
Joseph slowly nodded, then distantly said, "If this is really a 'doomsday shelter', then it would need to have a closed system to prevent contamination from the outside. That means that the air and water for two hundred people would have to be recycled. I don't have a clue how that's done, but it sounds like it would probably take a lot of equipment and manpower and it would probably make a lot of noise."
"What about the electricity? You don't think they'd have a place like this 'on the grid' do you?" Zarah asked thoughtfully.
"No. I'm sure that they would generate their own power. They went to so much trouble to keep us from knowing where this place is, I'm sure they wouldn't have high tension power lines leading anyone who bothered to look, directly to us."
"What about solar, wind or geothermal?" Jude asked cautiously.
"No." Joseph immediately responded, "In just about any other situation, I'd say that any of them would be a wise choice, but in a 'doomsday' scenario, you have to take into account nuclear winter, which means that you couldn't depend on solar power. The size of the wind farm that you'd need to have to generate enough power for this place would be impossible to hide."
"And geothermal?" Zarah asked curiously.
"I don't know enough about it to even guess." Joseph admitted. "But I think it's safe to assume that they found some way to generate electricity for us. And from the level of technology that we've witnessed so far, I feel safe in saying that it's probably loud, smelly and requires constant attention from someone to keep it up and running."
"Joseph, you got a minute?" Stone asked as he hurried into the room with Kenyon, Wade and Alyssa following close behind.
"Sure. What's up, guys?" Joseph asked curiously as Zarah, Leah and Jude moved close to be included in the conversation.
"We've just been talking about something that you and I talked about yesterday..." Before Joseph could correct him, Stone quickly added, "...you know what I mean."
Joseph nodded that he did.
"I asked you why do you think they ever let us wake up?"
Joseph nodded again.
"I followed what you were saying about why it wasn't possible that we could have been unconscious for that entire time and I agree with you. But seriously, why would they let us wake up? If they only want us for our genetic material, why not keep us in whatever drug induced or hypnotic state that they had us in?"
"The only thing I can think of is that it must not be healthy to keep someone under the influence for an extended period of time. From the headache I had when I woke up and how tired I looked, I'd guess that I wasn't getting enough sleep or REM states or something along those lines."
"That does seem to fit in with the facts." Wade said thoughtfully.
"So, you believe that our only reason for being here is to provide genetic material for our captors?" Jude asked cautiously as he looked around the group.
"I don't know. I mean, if that were their only motivation, it seems that they could have accomplished their goals a lot more easily than this." Joseph said thoughtfully.
"You would think so." Stone agreed as Wade and Jude nodded in unison.
"So, what have we got? What do we know?" Zarah asked in a leading tone.
"They're collecting sperm. We're fairly certain of that." Alyssa said seriously.
After a moment to be sure that she was finished speaking, Joseph carefully added, "When we were welcomed, they as much as admitted that this was a doomsday shelter."
"From everything Mary Nicole has told us, they still don't have any way to prove that this is a psychological experiment, but so far no one has come up with another plausible explanation for why they're keeping us from knowing the time and date." Leah said as she looked around at the other members of the group.
Zarah nodded her confirmation, then said, "The longer we're here, the less it seems like one person's vision and the more this sounds like some black book project started decades ago."
"Jude and I were just discussing that, and that's also pretty much the same conclusion that Jason came to." Joseph added.
Joseph was about to say something, but noticed the speculative look in Zarah's eyes. Everyone in the group seemed to notice and waited for her to voice what she had been able to deduce. "How did they kidnap us? I mean, the whole idea of having memory wiping chemicals or hypnotic drugs is 'convenient' when we're trying to explain things, but I don't know if something like that exists in reality. Do you honestly think that they could really do something to two hundred teenagers to cause them all to forget their kidnappings and have it work perfectly on every single one of them?"
"That's a good question. What are you suggesting?" Joseph asked cautiously.
"I'm sure you figured out, just like I did, that they had to have had at least one person embedded at each of our schools for this to have worked the way it did."
Joseph nodded, but before he could speak, Kenyon said, "We were talking about that just a few minutes ago."
After a moment, Zarah continued, "This wasn't a last minute idea. They must have been watching and researching us for a while. Then someone pushed a button and all of a sudden, they grabbed 200 people from all over the country and took us all here?"
Joseph quickly interjected, "And we all just happened to be going on a school trip at the same time?"
Leah immediately picked up the thread. "And what about the clothes in our sizes? What about the shoes? The embroidered numbers?"
"What about the schoolwork? They knew exactly what school assignments I was working on before I left." Alyssa asked as she looked at the others to confirm that they had experienced the same thing.
There was a long moment of silence as everyone considered what had been said, until Joseph quietly looked at Zarah and admitted. "I see what you're saying, but I don't know what conclusion you're drawing from it."
"I think that this is something that's been going on for a long time." Zarah said frankly.
"How do you mean?" Joseph asked cautiously.
"Okay. Let's look at it from the other side." Zarah said carefully. "Sometime in the future, you're going to be abducting two hundred teenagers from all over the country. What can you do now to prepare for that?"
"Build the base. Get trusted operatives in place..." Joseph said uncertainly.
"What about mind control or hypnosis? If you had those tools available all along and you were planning the abduction, how would you use them?" Zarah asked in a leading tone.
"Well, I guess that instead of trying to abduct two hundred teenagers without knowing if the hypnosis or drugs were going to work on them that I'd find a way to test them first and lay the groundwork. Maybe while I'm doing that I'd leave a hypnotic trigger so that they'd 'switch off' when I said a certain phrase or something."
Zarah nodded and quickly said, "That's what I was thinking. Except that it probably wouldn't just be two hundred. You could try it out on hundreds, maybe thousands of kids, so that when the time finally came, you pick out the top two hundred candidates who were most receptive."
"But aren't people going to notice that we're missing?" Stone asked quietly.
"This great country of ours is going through troubling times..." Zarah repeated from memory.
"So, maybe they were waiting on something catastrophic to happen so that they could use it to mask our disappearance." Wade said slowly.
"Or, maybe they orchestrated events to cause something catastrophic to happen." Zarah suggested.
There was a long moment of silence as everyone thought that through.
Finally Jude slowly asked, "What if the people who abducted us were also under hypnotic control?"
"Why would you think that?" Zarah asked curiously.
"Because, in an operation of this scale, it would be reasonable to assume that at least a few of their operatives would have second thoughts about participating in something like this. There would also be the possibility of spies or investigative reporters infiltrating the project.
"But if they had already had control over a group of people who would obey them without thought or question, then they could just activate the operatives, have them activate us, then the operatives could go about their business without remembering any of it." Jude carefully explained.
"Vonette and Lajni were with me when everything went fuzzy. If Mrs. Snope was the one who 'triggered' the hypnotic suggestion, that could mean that they were taken, too. Maybe to a different level."
Before anyone else could jump in, Joseph added, "Or it could mean that they were told what they're supposed to say if anyone asks about what happened to you."
"But what about our parents? Aren't they going to say or do something when we're not back home in a few days?" Jude asked anxiously.
Joseph gave a shrug, "I guess it depends on what story they're told."
"Unless they're in on it, too." Stone suggested.
Joseph looked at him with surprise and asked, "Do you really think so?"
"Well, I don't have any proof, if that's what you're asking, but yes. I really do think so."
"It wouldn't surprise me." Zarah muttered.
Joseph's eyes went wide at her reaction, but before he could think of how to respond, Jude said, "If I found out that my parents were unwilling participants in my life, being controlled by an embedded hypnotic suggestion, I think that it would explain a few things."
Joseph's first impulse was to deny that it could be possible, but he found that he couldn't. Although his relationship with his parents wasn't horrible, there was no way that he could allow himself to classify it as anything remotely resembling 'close' or 'warm'.
After a long moment of silence, Stone finally asked, "What evidence do we have?"
As Joseph's mind raced, he absently responded, "What difference does it make?"
At the looks of surprise of the others, he continued, "With us being in here, what does it matter if our parents were involved or not?"
"It doesn't, I suppose." Jude said quietly, then continued more strongly, "But I'd still like to know."
"If they were, what would that mean?" Zarah asked cautiously, obviously trying to steer the conversation in a slightly different direction.
Although the difference between 'if it were true' and 'what if it were true' was slight, it was enough to bring Joseph some measure of relief. "Depending on how far back this goes, it could be that they only got married because they were ordered to."
"What makes you think that?" Kenyon asked curiously.
"We're all fourteen or fifteen years old. What if every one of our parents were part of the same project fifteen or sixteen years ago and they were all told to get married and have a kid?... Just one kid."
"I'm an only child." Jude said quietly.
"So am I." Stone muttered.
"Yeah." Zarah whispered, then looked at Leah inquiringly.
Leah regretfully nodded her confirmation, and much to Zarah's surprise, so did Alyssa.
"If that's true, then now that we've been... collected, their job is done. They'll probably be free to live their own lives and maybe they'll even forget about us ever existing." Joseph speculated.
"Or they'll self-terminate." Stone offered.
Joseph looked at him inquiringly, silently asking him to elaborate on his reasoning for that conclusion.
"Once your assets have performed their function and outlived their usefulness, you dispose of them before someone else has a chance to use them against you."
"He's right." Zarah confirmed. "Unless they have a further use for them, they're expendable."
After a moment, Joseph reluctantly voiced what many of them were thinking, "The same as us."
Joseph didn't have to look to see who had put an arm around his shoulders. He automatically snaked his arm around Kenyon's waist and returned the hug.
"What are we going to do?" Stone asked into the silence that followed.
Joseph closed his eyes as his mind fought to process all the different theories and the options that were open to them.
When he opened his eyes again, he saw that everyone was looking to him, waiting for an answer.
"I don't know."
* * * * *
At some unspoken cue, they all moved to an unoccupied table and took seats.
Kenyon made sure that he was seated beside Joseph, in case he was needed for moral support.
"Could we stage a hunger strike?" Leah asked into the silence.
"They use starvation as punishment, and besides that, they could just call a 'blackout' and feed us while we're zoned out. They've already proven that. All we'd end up doing is causing ourselves unnecessary suffering." Joseph said thoughtfully.
"Is there any way that we could defeat the 'trigger'?" Stone asked as he looked around the group.
"Everything I know about hypnosis, I learned from black and white horror movies." Joseph responded, then continued, "We can check around and see if there's anyone who's studied the subject, but that seems like a longshot, at best."
"Still, we'll get the leaders to ask around the other rooms. Even if it's a longshot, it may be the only shot that we've got." Zarah responded.
Joseph nodded his agreement.
"How sure are we about the hypnosis thing; as opposed to some psychochemical agent that deletes short term memory?" Stone asked thoughtfully.
"I'd say over ninety percent sure. I don't see how they could manage a group of two hundred pissed off frightened teenagers without some sort of mind control mechanism." Joseph chimed in.
"Okay, then what about the operatives at our schools and our parents. How sure are we about that?" Stone asked carefully.
"That's harder to be certain of, but I still think that we've got enough compelling evidence to at least consider it to be 'likely'." Joseph added.
Before Stone could move on to his next question, Leah cautiously asked, "What's the point of the psychological experiments? It can't be to collect data. If they're using mind control, then the results would be corrupted and completely useless."
Joseph thought for a moment, then said, "Yes. Mary Nicole came to the same conclusion. All I can think is that maybe the 'hypnosis' or whatever it is is most effective when we're already feeling a little off balance and uncertain."
"Or, maybe it causes us to feel off balance and putting us in this situation gives us a way of justifying the feeling that we're already having." Stone suggested.
"In the outside world, it would be a lot more difficult to mask a missing chunk of time. We'd have ways of knowing just how long we were out of action..." Joseph was saying when Wade interrupted.
"When I was ten, I had walking pneumonia. I was out of it for a few days and I lost any sense of how long I was confined to that bed."
"Yeah. Something like that happened to me, too." Kenyon said cautiously.
"Something like that, or EXACTLY that?" Joseph asked seriously.
"Exactly. I remember that I was sick for three or four days, but when I was allowed to get out of bed, it had been a week." Kenyon quietly admitted.
"That's right." Zarah interrupted, drawing everyone's attention. "Looking back on it, it seems strange. If I was so sick that I was delirious and slipping in and out of consciousness, why didn't they take me to a hospital?"
"The funny thing for me is that when the pneumonia was finally over, I felt fine. I didn't feel as though I'd been sick at all." Leah said distantly.
"That's right. I remember that. I had a regular appetite and I didn't feel weak or anything. I didn't even have a cough." Wade added.
"Did ALL of us have that same experience?" Joseph asked as he looked around the table.
All in attendance either verbally answered or nodded in the affirmative.
As he looked around, Joseph noticed that their group had doubled in size and that Brianna had joined them at some point during their discussion.
"I wonder what other things we've all had happen to us. I mean, did everyone have a dog named Prince who died when they were thirteen?" Stone asked as he looked around.
"Mine was named Princess." Zarah quietly admitted.
"King." Joseph muttered.
From around the table the names Duke, Duchess, Queenie and Ferdinand were all mentioned.
Joseph thought for a moment and finally said, "Which suggests that certain formative experiences in our lives might have been 'staged' to turn us into the people we are today."
"They did all of that for some sperm and eggs?" Alyssa asked disbelievingly.
"No. I don't think so." When he saw that everyone in attendance was listening to him, he said more loudly, "I don't think we're the end of the process. We're not the culmination of the project. I think that we're just one step along the way to whatever their final goal is. There's probably a lot more going on, a lot more 'projects' or 'levels' that we'll never know about and couldn't even guess at, because it has little or nothing to do with our part in the overall plan."
Wade started shaking his head, "There's something I don't understand. Why would they do the pneumonia thing and the dog thing if they're just going to pop us in here and milk us until we die? What was the point of all of that?"
"Maybe that was 'Plan A' and this is 'Plan B'."
"So it's possible that they had a whole other destiny planned out for us, but when something went wrong... or maybe went right, they hit the button, we were abducted and brought here?" Jude asked to confirm his understanding.
"Yes." Joseph speculated. "Maybe they were waiting for something like what happened with President Ashwood and President Bryce. Instead of doing to us like they did to our parents and telling us to go out into the world and get married to a compatible person and have a kid, they brought us here where they could have direct access to the genetic material that they've been cultivating, so that they could advance to the next phase."
"With the male to female ratio being what it is, I don't see how that would work." Brianna offered timidly.
"That's just in here. It seems reasonable to assume that they have a lot more people on the outside that they can command."
"Do you think that they would decide who we ended up with?" Kenyon asked from Joseph's side.
"They'd have to. If they're really trying to breed thoroughbreds, they'd have to be sure that each of the donors had the most desirable characteristics and that the proper couples paired up."
"Then, what about us? I know what I'm feeling, and it's something that I've never felt before. If they're controlling my choices and telling me what to do, then why am I feeling this for you?" Kenyon asked anxiously.
Before Joseph could respond, Zarah said, "That's a really good question. I don't see how what I'm feeling for Leah could provide any possible benefit for their 'project'. It seems reasonable to assume that they'd want me to fixate on one of the guys."
Kenyon looked at Joseph and anxiously asked, "Do you think that they're intentionally making us gay for some reason?"
Joseph looked around the table, then suddenly said, "Stone, I'm sorry to put you on the spot like this, but it could be important. Gay or straight? Choose."
"Straight." Stone answered without hesitation.
"I thought so." Joseph said with a nod, then turned to Kenyon and said, "I don't think that they're making anyone gay or straight. What I think is happening is that they're not bothering to suppress our natural inclinations anymore. In here, they don't need you to be straight. They're going to get what they want, regardless."
"So, do you think that I'm really gay?"
"You're a person, Kenyon. You're feeling attraction to another person. That's it. The gay and straight labels don't really serve any purpose. In our current situation, I don't see that it matters."
After a moment of silence, Stone carefully asked, "So what you're saying is that outside, we were being told to act a certain way, so that we'd be well placed to get married and start families. But now that we're here, they're not bothering with that?"
"Why should they? We're at their mercy... assuming that they have any. Why would they go to the trouble?"
Jude looked to Joseph and asked, "So, even though we're trapped, in a sense, we're allowed to be free for the first time."
"Not entirely. I'm sure that every time we blackout that we're being given imperatives and compulsions to make it easier for them to manage us. But as far as our 'feelings' go, it seems to be beneath their consideration." Joseph said thoughtfully, then noticed that Leah seemed to be fighting to stay awake.
A look around the group confirmed that she wasn't the only one.
Finally Joseph gravely said, "As much as I hate to give up one minute of consciousness in this place, the fact of the matter is that I'm tired. I'm going to bed. Everyone, please be thinking of other things that we can try out, to escape this place. We're not hostages, we're livestock. There's no happy ending coming if we just put up with it and 'wait'."
"Can I go with you?" Kenyon asked from Joseph's side.
"Of course." Joseph said with a smile at him, then turned to Jude and asked, "Do you want to come along?"
"You said that you're going to bed..." Jude trailed off warily.
Joseph laughed, then said, "I'll end up in bed. But first I'm going to go and talk with Jason for a minute. I'm guessing that you're not going to feel comfortable in your own room tonight, so maybe if we all put our heads together, we can come up with another place for you to stay."
"Oh! Yes, thank you." Jude said timidly.
"Good night, everyone." Joseph said as he started walking toward the door to the Blue hallway.
* * * * *
As the group walked into the Blue Gray meeting room, Joseph smiled and said, "Tammy! I didn't know you were down here."
"Yeah. We've been brainstorming about the psychological experiments theory."
"We just had a talk in the other room and it was suggested that the hypnosis or drugs that have been used on us might either cause a sort of disorientation that would be less noticeable if we weren't aware of the time and date, or that the drugs might work more effectively if we were kept unaware. I don't know if that helps you at all, but I think that's all that we came up with that relates to what you're working on."
Mary Nicole seemed to consider for a moment, then said, "We'll need to discuss the merits of that idea."
"Good. While you're doing that, I'm going to get some sleep." Joseph finished with a smile.
"Pleasant dreams." Mary Nicole said warmly.
"I wouldn't bet on it." Joseph chuckled, then led the way out of the meeting hall.
* * * * *
As they walked down the long hallway, Jude quietly said, "If everyone is going to bed, I could sleep in one of the meeting rooms."
"I don't want to sleep alone." Joseph responded seriously.
Jude looked at him with surprise at what he might be suggesting.
Joseph noticed, but continued undeterred, "Unless I miss my guess, there are going to be other people who are feeling the same way that I do. All we have to do is find a couple who are spending the night together and ask them if you can use the other person's room."
"I'd let you use mine, except that there's blood all over my sheets." Kenyon added.
"Don't worry. You won't have to stay there." Joseph assured him.
Jude and Kenyon shared a look, but didn't ask Joseph what plan he had cooking in that mind of his.
* * * * *
"How are things going in here?" Joseph asked as they walked into the Gray and Purple meeting room.
"We're just beating our heads against a brick wall. We don't have enough pieces of the puzzle to be certain of anything." Jason said with frustration.
"How are you doing, Autumn? Feeling any better?" Joseph asked gently.
"Yeah. Sorry about before."
"As long as Jason's cool, there's no problem."
"We're good." Jason said with a quick smile in her direction.
Joseph focused his attention on Jason and said, "Well, Jayce, I was hoping that you could help us with something."
"Sure, Joe, what can I do for you?"
"Kenyon and Jude both need places to sleep. I was just wondering if you knew of anyone that might be sharing a bed with someone else that we could ask if we could borrow their unused room."
"After what happened today, I'm sure that there are a few people sharing. But I honestly don't know who they are." Jason slowly answered, then looked at Autumn inquisitively.
She slowly shook her head.
"I guess we could start knocking on doors, if we need to." Joseph said reluctantly.
Jason seemed to have an idea, so everyone waited to see what he would come up with.
Finally, Jason turned his attention to Kenyon and Jude and asked, "Would you two mind sharing a bed?"
"It wouldn't be my first choice." Kenyon answered honestly, then looked to Jude and hurried to say, "No offense, Jude. But there's only one person that I want to share a bed with right now, and it's not you."
Jude smiled at his bumbling explanation and responded, "You're not the person that I would want to share a bed with, either."
"If you're dead set against it, we can do like Joseph said and start knocking on doors. But if you're willing to put up with it for tonight, Joseph could stay in my room with me, and you two could stay in Joseph's room." Jason offered.
Kenyon looked at Joseph regretfully before saying, "You and Jason are going to be a thing, huh?"
Before Joseph could formulate a response, Jason said, "I don't think there's any way we could do this that everyone would be happy with it. But the reason I want to spend the night with Joseph is because he's the only one here that I feel 'safe' with. After everything that's happened, I really need that. I hope that you can understand."
"Yeah." Kenyon reluctantly admitted, then continued, "And I wouldn't have any problem feeling safe with Jude. I guess I was just thinking with my dick."
Joseph pulled Kenyon into his arms and quietly said, "I like you, Kenyon. I know that you want me, but Jason needs me. I don't know if I'll feel anything different for either one of you in the morning, but I'd really like to find out."
"Are you in love?" Kenyon whispered.
"No. But this feels like the right thing to do."
"Do you think that there's any chance that someday sleeping with me will feel like the right thing to do?"
"Yes. There's a very good chance of that." Joseph said gently before releasing Kenyon from the hug.
"I'm sorry, Kenyon." Jason said, at a loss for what more to say.
"It's okay, Big Guy. You need to feel safe. I get that. But just so there's no misunderstanding, I love him, too. I'm not giving up."
"Are you ready for bed?" Joseph asked Jason quietly.
"Yes. I've been fighting to stay awake."
Joseph nodded, "Waiting for the blackout. Just like the rest of us."
"Jude, are you okay with this?" Kenyon asked cautiously.
"Yes. Like you, this isn't my first choice, but I'm not upset."
"Are you wanting to sleep with Joseph, too?"
Jude chuckled at the suggestion, then quietly admitted, "No. Tanner."
* * * * *
Since Jason's room was so close to the Gray and Purple meeting room, Joseph and Jason stopped at Jason's door and watched as Kenyon and Jude walked away.
"Kenyon loves you. I feel really bad for doing this." Jason said honestly as he opened the door to his room.
"I feel bad about it, too. But I still think that this is the right thing to do." Joseph said as he followed Jason inside.
"Do you love me?"
"Maybe. It's complicated. I want for you to feel safe and for you to know that you can trust me. I feel like I want to hold you and let you know that everything's going to be alright."
"Is everything going to be alright?"
As much as Joseph wanted to tell Jason what he wanted to hear, he felt that it was more important to be honest. "No. I don't think so."
"What do you think is going to happen?"
"If you'll remind me, I'll go through the whole thing with you in the morning about how I reached this conclusion. But what I expect to happen next is that we're going to be milked for our sperm. The girls are going to have their eggs harvested, and it's probably going to be horrible and maybe even gruesome. That's going to happen again and again until, at some point, our captors will have reached their quota. Then this phase of the project, level 3, will be terminated."
"Do you think that they're going to kill us?!"
"How could they not? How could they ever let us go?"
"If they have the means to make us forget, couldn't they just wipe out our memories of this place and release us?"
"Why would they take that chance? What would they gain from it? By letting us go, they would open themselves up to the risk of being exposed. To prevent that, all they'd have to do is poison our food, turn off our air or just stop feeding us and their problem would be solved."
"We've got to get out of here."
"Well, duh." Joseph said with a grin at the understatement.
"Do you have any ideas about how to do that?"
"Not a single one. But I doubt that I'm going to come up with any ideas until I've had some sleep. My brain is slagged."
"Mine, too." Jason admitted, then cautiously asked, "How do you want to do this?"
"I usually shower before bed... I should have thought to bring a change of clothes."
"If you go right now, you could probably get your clothes before Kenyon and Jude have fallen asleep."
"Yeah. I'll be right back."
"Do you want me to go with you?"
"No. If you want to go ahead and shower while I'm gone, I'll let myself in when I get back."
"Okay. But when you come in, please say something so that I'll know that it's you."
Joseph could see the anxiety in his eyes.
"Or, you could come with me to get some clothes and then we could take our showers when we get back."
"You wouldn't mind?"
"Not at all."
* * * * *
After knocking on the closed door, Joseph quietly asked, "Can I come in? It's Joseph."
The door slid open to reveal Kenyon wearing a tee shirt and boxer shorts.
"We were just getting ready for bed. What's up?" Kenyon asked cautiously.
"I was wanting to take a shower and realized that all my clothes were here." Joseph said shyly.
"Oh. Okay. Jude's taking a shower, now. Come on in." Kenyon said as he backed into the room.
"I bet it's going to take more than a few showers for him to feel clean again."
"Good point. I just need my clothes, then we'll be out of here."
Kenyon looked at Jason and asked, "Are you here to protect him from me?"
"No." Joseph said, "He's here so that I can protect him."
Kenyon saw the twinge in Jason's expression and quietly said, "Sorry, Jason. I don't mean to be a dick. Sometimes I just am."
"No. You have nothing to apologize for."
"You know, if we had a bigger bed, there'd be a really easy solution to this." Joseph said as he joined them at the door with a bundle of clothes gathered in his arms.
"Are you talking about having an orgy?" Kenyon asked cautiously.
"No. More of a sleepover. It's not about sex, it's about all of us feeling safe and being around the people that we enjoy spending time with."
"I suppose that it's a moot point since the bed's so small." Jason said hesitantly.
"Joseph, would you mind if I pulled the mattress off your bed?" Kenyon asked cautiously.
"No. I don't mind at all. What are you thinking?"
"Jason, would you grab the other end?" Kenyon asked as he took hold of the mattress at the foot of the bed.
"Yeah. Where are we putting it?"
"On the floor, right here."
Jason helped him place the mattress on the floor, which effectively blocked the walkway from the entry door to the bathroom door.
"It fits perfectly." Kenyon said happily.
After a moment, Jason timidly admitted, "I don't get it."
"If we get the mattress from your room and bring it in here, the two mattresses should fit snugly side by side and make a suitable place for four people to sleep." Joseph explained.
"Do you want to?"
"There's safety in numbers." Joseph said with a smile at him, then glanced at Kenyon before saying, "And this way, no one gets left out."
"Do you think that Jude will be alright with this?" Kenyon asked with a glance toward the closed bathroom door.
"I think that as long as we present it to him as a 'sleepover' and not an 'orgy', that he'll probably be able to live with it."
"Yeah. You're probably right."
* * * * *
"What happened?" Jude asked as he walked into the bedroom wearing a tee shirt and boxer shorts.
"Joseph and Jason came over to get some clothes." Kenyon explained.
"And they took the bed with them?"
"Yeah. They're taking the bed to Jason's room and bringing Jason's mattress back here." Kenyon said with a smile at Jude's flummoxed expression.
"Why are they doing that?"
"So that we can have a sleepover." At Jude's blank expression, he explained further, "It's for a lot of reasons, but mainly because we'll all be a lot happier and sleep a lot better if we're all able to sleep in the same room."
"What do you expect to happen beyond sleep?"
"There's a chance that someone might get kissed or cuddled at some point during the night, but that's about it."
Jude's expression said that he wanted to believe, but still had his doubts.
Kenyon put his thumbs in the waistband of his boxer shorts and quickly pulled the front down.
Jude caught a glimpse of the bandages and spots of blood before turning away.
"I got tore up in the last blackout. I promise, I'm not going to do anything to you." Kenyon said before carefully moving his waistband back into place.
After a moment, Jude quietly said, "It's not that I have anything against you or imagine you to be some kind of monster. I guess it's just the way that I was raised."
"Yeah. Well, if you think about it, they might have been right about some of that. I mean, if they warned you about monsters that would try to capture you and take you away... well. Yeah. But, I'm not a monster, I'm just another captive, like you."
"Is there anything that we need to do to prepare for their return?"
"No. Not that I can think of."
"Would you mind if I sit down until they come back?"
"No. I just didn't want to freak you out by asking if you wanted to sit on the mattress with me."
"Computer: Table." Jude said to the wall where the food dispenser was located.
Immediately, the table and bench began to emerge from the wall.
"I thought that only the person who was assigned to this room could do that."
"The computer will only release food or academic exercises to the person assigned to these quarters. But it only does a verification of identity for those requests." Jude said then sat down at the table, and calmly said, "Menu."
Kenyon's jaw dropped when he saw the computer menu appear on the wall.
"See? The options in italics are not available for common use."
"How did you get it to do that?"
"I just asked for the menu."
"I asked for the menu back when I first started and it didn't do anything."
"Were you sitting down?"
"The viewscreen only activates when you're sitting down in front of it."
"Water..." Kenyon said as he started reading the menu aloud, then saw the word on the screen highlight.
"If you say any of these keywords while you're sitting down at the computer, it will take them as commands." Jude said before retrieving the glass of water from the dispenser receptacle and handing it to Kenyon.
"Thanks." Kenyon said absently, then thought to ask, "Why isn't it bitching you out for 'uncoded responses'?"
"That only happens in the... schoolwork... menu." Jude said as he fought to avoid using the actual word.
"Oh, so when it's in... AE mode, then it listens to every word. When it's in this mode, it only listens for the words on this list. But what about when it's not in this mode? What commands can you use at any time?" Kenyon asked curiously, then took a long drink of water.
"If you precede the request with the code word 'computer' then you can use any of these commands. I don't really know enough about how it's programmed to tell you what other words it's listening for outside of menu mode."
A heartbeat later, he found out.
When the lights came back on, they revealed Jude's grin.
"I guess I should watch what I say when the computer's menu is up."
"Yes. That would probably be best." Jude agreed, then said to the computer, "Computer: Close Menu."
"Thank you, have a nice day."
Kenyon took the last drink of his water, then waited for what he knew would happen next.
"Please return the glass to the dispenser receptacle."
"It really creeps me out when it does that. I feel like it's always watching me." Kenyon admitted shyly as he put the glass where it belonged.
"Thank you, have a nice day."
"I have no doubt that it is watching us, listening to us and probably sensing us in other ways that we're not aware of."
Jude and Kenyon turned when they heard the front door open.
"Getting that bed frame into the other room was a challenge." Joseph said as he led the way into the bedroom carrying a mattress, followed closely by Jason.
"Wouldn't it have been better to have the two beds side by side?" Jude asked curiously as he stood.
"That would make it nearly impossible to get through the room to the bathroom. This way we'll all have a comfortable place to sleep, but you can just walk across the mattress when you need to get from one side to the other." Joseph said honestly, then looked at the bench and table curiously.
When Jude followed his gaze, he said, "Computer: Close Table."
As soon as he did, the table and bench began to recede into the wall.
"One of these days you're going to have to show me how you do that."
Jude and Kenyon shared a smile at Joseph's comment.
* * * * *
"I'm going to take my shower now. If you guys are tired, you can go ahead and go to sleep while I'm in there." Joseph announced.
"Do you need any help?" Kenyon asked with a grin.
"No, thanks. I think I've got it." Joseph laughed, then walked into the bathroom.
Jason looked at Kenyon curiously, then said, "You seem to be a lot more comfortable than you were earlier."
"Yeah. I was struggling with the whole 'gay' thing, but Joseph said some stuff that made me feel a lot better about it." Kenyon said honestly as he climbed onto the mattress and pulled the blanket over him.
"What did he say?"
"Basically, he said that if I can find happiness, I should be happy. Don't stress about what doesn't matter."
Jason pondered the words as he climbed onto the mattress, stepping over Kenyon to take the place next to the wall.
"That sounds like good advice for all of us. Being in here, there might not be too many opportunities for happiness." Jason said thoughtfully.
"While I know that that's true, in some ways I'm happier and freer than I've ever been." Jude said from his place on the mattress by the opposite wall.
"You can come over here with us if you want to. We're not going to bite you." Kenyon said playfully.
"I'm fine over here. I think that I'm going to enjoy being here with you, sharing in this experience. But I'm not part of your... relationship."
"I'm not asking you to be. But if you feel like you'd like to come over here and be included in our conversation, it's okay. We won't attack you or think that you're wanting to have sex with us or something like that."
Turning his attention back to Jason, Kenyon said, "Back in the Blue and Green room, Joseph and the others were talking about some stuff that you should probably know about."
"Well, there's a lot of it, so you'd probably better ask Joseph about it so that he can give you the details. But basically, they were thinking that maybe there was a government project a long time ago that might have started all of this. It might have started with our parents or maybe even a generation before that."
"He thinks that our parents are part of this?"
"Yeah. What they were saying was that if they've got the stuff to hypnotize us and mess with our memories and stuff like that, who's to say that they didn't start doing this a long time ago. They selected a bunch of genetically 'acceptable' people, brainwashed them, then told them all to have kids. They raised those kids and made sure that they all lived basically the same lives."
"I was raised in a foster home. I doubt that my life was anything like yours."
"Did you have pneumonia, when you were ten years old? And did your parents, or foster parents, not take you to a doctor for it?"
"Yes. That happened."
"Did you have a dog named King or Prince who died when you were thirteen?"
"His name was Rex, but yes."
"Rex means King." Jude supplied helpfully.
"Of course." Kenyon said to him with a grin, then turned back to Jason and said, "That's all the shared experiences that we came up with, but I'm sure that there's probably a lot more."
"So we all had similar life experiences. That does seem suspicious."
"Yeah. I got off track. Um, yeah, so I guess the whole mind control thing plays pretty heavily into this. Since all of us had parents and people at school who were in on this, somewhere they did something to hypnotize us so that they could set up a 'trigger' so that we'd switch off whenever we heard it."
"Which would explain the blackouts."
"Yeah. And after that we'd just do what we were told and, you know, end up here."
"Which means that all of this was set up in advance. All the pieces were in place, waiting for someone to set things in motion."
"Yeah. As soon as that happened, the sudden school trips, permission slips and all of that started rolling out and everything else was being put into place to get us here."
"Why? What's so important about us that they'd go to all this trouble?"
"That might be the most disturbing thing about all of this. We're probably not all that important. We're guessing that the project that was started with our parents, or maybe their parents, was to breed better humans. We're not them. We're just one step in the process."
Jason thought about it for a moment, then shook his head in dismissal as he said, "They wouldn't structure our lives to be the same if they planned on sticking us in here and milking us."
Jude scooted a little closer and said, "Joseph actually had an answer for that. He called it 'Plan A' and 'Plan B'. Plan A, we do just what our parents did and get married when we're instructed to do so. Then we have kids when we're instructed to do so. Then we raise them until they're ready to do the same."
Kenyon nodded, then took over the narrative, "Plan B: some catastrophic event happens that they can use as cover to pull all of us in here, then we're milked until they have everything that they need from our generation, then we die."
"He thinks they're going to kill us?"
"Actually, yes, he had a pretty good argument for that."
Before Kenyon could explain, Jude added, "Try thinking of it as them being able to take a shortcut and bypass an entire generation of their project."
Kenyon nodded, "We don't have to grow up, get married, get pregnant and raise kids. They just extract our sperm and eggs, all at once, then they don't need us anymore."
"But who's going to raise our kids?" Jason asked cautiously.
"Our parents, maybe. Or maybe they have other people under their control to do that." Kenyon answered simply.
"My guess would be 'Level 4'." Joseph said from the bathroom doorway, where he was standing wearing boxer shorts and a tee shirt.
"How likely do you think this is?" Jason asked him anxiously.
"It's another theory that's worth investigating. So far, a lot of it seems to fit, but we're going to have to look into it a lot more."
"Are you going to crawl in here with us, or not?" Kenyon asked playfully.
"Yeah." Joseph said with a grin, then knelt down on the mattress.
"We saved you a spot." Kenyon said as he indicated the space between him and Jason.
"Are you alright, Jude?" Joseph asked cautiously.
"Yes. I think so."
Joseph crawled into the space that had been reserved for him then got under the blanket.
As soon as Joseph was settled into place, he cautiously asked, "Is everyone comfortable?"
"No." Kenyon immediately responded, then said, "Let me try something."
Joseph was hesitant but waited as Kenyon changed position to align along his left side.
"Is that okay? I'm not crowding you, am I?"
"No. That's fine."
"I never slept with anyone before, so I'm not really sure how this works. All I know is that I want to know that you're there."
"It's nice knowing that you're there, too."
"That being the case, is it going to bother you if I don't touch you?" Jason asked from his other side.
"No. That won't bother me at all. If I know that you feel safe and comfortable, then I'll be perfectly happy."
After a long silent moment, Kenyon cautiously asked, "So, what do we do now?"
Joseph turned and grinned at him before saying, "Go to sleep."
"I think that's easier said than done."
"Well, I guess we could talk for a few minutes. I've been told that my talking was enough to put anyone to sleep."
"I love listening to you talk." Kenyon said firmly. "Out in the world, people babble about nothing for hours at a time. But you talk about real things. It fascinates me when you explain how you came to a conclusion, about how you put the pieces together."
"Um... okay. Well... now I don't know what to talk about."
"How about you fill me in on what's going on around the station?" Jason asked hopefully.
"That sounds like a good idea." Joseph said with a smile. "Starting over in the Yellow and Green room... we should really come up with names for the rooms. The color thing is too easy to get mixed up."
"What about 'Eden' for the Yellow and Green room?" Kenyon suggested.
"Eden? Where did you come up with that?"
"Yellow and Green makes me think of sunshine and a garden, so there's that. But also, Eden is the home of the tree of life, which makes me think of family trees and ancestry and genetics... you know."
"Um... okay. Eden it is!" Joseph easily agreed, then continued, "Well, Stone was asking me why we were ever brought to consciousness if they had us hypnotized and completely willing to do anything that they wanted."
"Good question." Jason said with a nod.
"I told him that the hypnosis might not work that way. It might not be possible to keep two hundred people hypnotized indefinitely."
"I don't really know enough about it to know if that would be possible or not."
"In the Blue and Green room... or 'The Bunker', we discussed the fact that the computer as much as admitted that we were brought here in response to some kind of a doomsday threat."
"Troubling times." Kenyon provided.
"The contribution from the Blue and Gray room... what should we call it?" Joseph asked uncertainly.
"The civil war room?" Kenyon quickly suggested.
At the vacant stares in his direction, he weakly added, "...You know, the Blues and the Grays."
"I think we all got that. But we're not really trying to come up with clever names related to the colors, we're trying to do away with the colors by giving the rooms meaningful names." Joseph slowly explained.
"The Pit of Despair." Jude muttered thoughtfully.
"I'll admit that the Blue and Gray room isn't one of the most cheerful places in Roofieville, but it's not that bad."
"That's the name of a horrible demented experiment that was done years ago. It was one of those things that makes you question humanity. I'm not saying anything about Mary Nicole, she seems to be perfectly nice. But she's studying psychological experiments and if that's what we're caught in, then it's being run by the same kind of immoral monster that ran 'The Pit of Despair' experiment." Jude explained.
"Okay. But you get to explain it to Mary Nicole."
"So, the news from 'The Pit of Despair' was that one reason that they might be preventing us from knowing the time day and date is because it might help their psychological drugs, or whatever, work more effectively by keeping us off balance."
Jason looked at Joseph dubiously, then cautiously said, "It sounds a little far fetched, to me."
"So does being kidnapped, drugged and stuck inside a plastic rat maze."
"I guess that brings us to the Gray Purple."
"You're not calling it something horrible!"
"We're naming the rooms right now. If you have a name for it, that'll be it. The rest of us will go along with it, whatever it is."
"I promise." Joseph said, then crossed his heart to show his conviction.
Jason smiled at the gesture.
"So, do you have a name for it?"
"Yeah. But it's classified." Jason said teasingly.
"Okay, the Gray and Purple area is now officially to be known as 'Classified', the home of government conspiracy theories."
"That's not what I meant. I was just joking."
"Actually, that kinda works." Kenyon said slowly.
"And I did promise. I crossed my heart and everything."
"Go ahead." Jason said with a barely restrained grin.
"What you said in the meeting caught some people's attention. Basically, we seem to be existing among the fragments of several projects, and some of them are working against each other. If this were all being done by one person or group of people, it would be working toward some goal. So the conclusion that we've reached is that this started as some government black book project that's switched hands so many times that very few people alive today even know of its existence."
"I can buy that."
"I don't think we really heard anything new from Lisa in 'Area 51'."
"The people in the Black and Red room haven't really been working with us... well, except that we've had their leader with us for a while now and he's been incredibly helpful." Joseph finished with a smile at Jude.
"What are you going to call the Red and Black room?" Jude asked hesitantly.
"It's just like the rest of us, it's your room, so you should have the honor of naming it."
"Okay. For as long as the Whore of Babylon is in charge, we'll call it that. But as soon as you're made leader again, we're changing the name."
"Do you remember what you said to me when we first met? You were so happy, so full of joy. You called it 'Paradise'."
"I might have been mistaken about that."
"Jude, when you're back with your people and helping them to improve their lives and deal with their mistakes, you're going to be building something wonderful. You haven't arrived in paradise, but you've been given the opportunity to build it."
"Do you really think it's appropriate?"
"Yeah. I think it fits."
"What have you got for Korbin?" Jason asked curiously.
"I don't know. Something like an autobody shop or an engine room or something like that. Whatever we come up with, it has to emphasize physical work and getting your hands dirty."
"Since there's no cars, I don't think an autobody shop is right. The same thing since there's no engines."
"The Workshop?" Jude asked tentatively.
"Sold! To the young man in red." Joseph said in his best impersonation of an auctioneer, then he added more quietly, "Well, not at the moment, but you know who I mean."
The others chuckled at the statement, then Kenyon cautiously asked, "What about the sisterhood?"
"You've already named them. Just about everyone calls the Yellow and Orange room 'The Amazon'."
"I'm sure that they're going to love that." Kenyon said with a roll of his eyes.
"I don't know, they might. Amazons are considered to be strong, self-sufficient women. I don't see it as being an insult in any way. But if they don't like it, we'll call it something else."
"I know it's a little weird to ask, but can I have a kiss goodnight?" Kenyon asked from Joseph's side.
"Sure." Joseph said, then leaned in to give Kenyon a gentle kiss.
As he backed away, Kenyon asked, "Anyone else want one? Last chance."
After a long silent moment, Jason reluctantly said, "Maybe just one."
Joseph smiled, then turned to his other side and gave Jason a kiss that was every bit as sweet and gentle as the one he had given Kenyon.
When Joseph was finally settled back into his place, nestled between Jason and Kenyon, he quietly said, "I wish we could turn the lights out in here."
Kenyon smiled, then said, "Any wish that it's possible for me to grant you, will be yours. Computer: Dark."
To Be Continued...
I had a feeling that last bit was going to happen, but I was paying attention earlier, and for those of you who took lit classes, you will remember 'Chekhov's gun', and yes, I am amazed they never used it in Star Trek Original Series or the TOS movies.
The premise is from the writer Chekhov, who wrote a play in which he placed a gun somewhere on stage, and didn't say a word about it, but simply left it there. It was to be used later in the play, but the clue was given to the audience early in the play, and that tactic has been used ever since, and probably earlier as well, but not called by that name.
It says that if you, as the writer, introduce a prop or a situation in a work, then, before the work is finished, that device will have a use.
So I bow to MM for putting that little device into play, so to speak.
I do wonder how many people noticed the 'lights out' bit earlier in the chapter.
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher