A knock on his door drew Joseph out of a sound sleep.
The complete darkness was a surprise to him and he had to think for a moment about what to do to rectify the situation.
Eventually, Joseph remembered what Kenyon had done the night before and cautiously said, "Computer: Light."
To his surprise the lights immediately came up to full illumination.
His sense of wonder was short lived as another, more urgent, knock on his door reminded him of why he had turned the light on in the first place.
"Tell them to go away." Kenyon muttered.
"It might be important." Joseph said as he struggled to extricate himself from his blanket cocoon.
As he approached the door, there was yet another bout of knocking.
Joseph opened the door slightly, just enough so that he could peek out without letting whoever was outside see that he was in his underwear.
"Joseph, the doorway to the Blue and Gray room is blocked off!" Mary Nicole said anxiously. Joseph looked past her and saw Tammy standing off to one side.
"Blocked? By what?"
"A wall. It's completely solid."
"Hang on. Let me get dressed, then you can show me." Joseph said before sliding his door closed.
* * * * *
"What is it?" Jason asked as he propped himself up on one elbow.
"Something's happened. Mary Nicole said that the door to the Blue Gray room is blocked. I'm going to go check it out." Joseph said as he took a fresh pair of coveralls from the closet.
"I'll go with you." Jason said decisively as he slowly stood.
"I'll go, too." Kenyon said, although he hadn't opened his eyes yet.
Joseph carefully walked between Jason and Kenyon, as he said, "I'm going to get dressed and go with them now. You guys can catch up to us when you're ready."
* * * * *
Joseph quickly relieved himself, then pulled on the coveralls.
As he opened the bathroom door, he saw that Jason, Kenyon and Jude were all in various stages of dressing.
Before he could say anything, Kenyon walked past him into the bathroom.
"Why do you think that they'd block us from getting to the meeting room?" Jason asked as he sat down to pull on his boots.
"And do you think that the Blue and Green meeting room might also be blocked?" Jude interjected.
"I don't know... to both questions... Jude, would you mind going to the Blue Green room and checking it out?" Joseph asked as he sat on the edge of one of the mattresses and started to pull on his boots.
"Joseph." Kenyon quietly said from the bathroom doorway.
"Would you come here for a minute? I need to... just come here." The tone of Kenyon's voice alerted Joseph to the fact that something was wrong.
"Yeah." Joseph said as he quickly pulled on his second boot, then he turned to Jude and asked, "Would you tell Mary Nicole that I'll be right there?"
Jude nodded then started walking toward the bedroom door in his sock clad feet.
As he did, Joseph walked to the bathroom door where Kenyon was anxiously waiting for him.
* * * * *
"What's wrong?" Joseph asked as soon as he was in the bathroom, with the door slid closed behind him.
Kenyon was standing with his coveralls pooled around his ankles.
"You've got to see this." Kenyon said as he pulled the front of his boxer shorts down.
Although looking at another guy's penis was an unusual experience for him, after a long look he could honestly say that he didn't see anything out of the ordinary.
"What's the problem?" Joseph finally asked.
"I'm completely healed. There aren't even any marks or any raw patches." Kenyon explained.
Joseph looked again and realized that Kenyon was right before slowly responding, "I'm not completely healed and you were in a lot worse shape than I was."
"Maybe that ointment stuff they gave me did that, but if it works that good, why didn't they give it to everyone?"
"I don't know. Let's go see what's going on with Mary Nicole and we'll worry about this later."
"Yeah. Right." Kenyon said distractedly then squatted down to pull up his coveralls.
Joseph turned and was about to open the door when he had a sudden change of heart.
He turned back to face Kenyon and quietly asked, "How are you feeling... you know... about us?"
Kenyon stopped fastening his coveralls as he considered the question.
Joseph waited, not able to interpret Kenyon's expression.
Finally, Kenyon seemed to come back to himself and slowly answered, "I feel the same, but different."
"That doesn't tell me a whole lot."
"I know. It's hard to describe. I feel like I still like you and want to be with you and stuff, but I don't feel the same... hunger, that I did yesterday."
"Let's go with Mary Nicole right now and we can try and sort it out later." Joseph said cautiously, not sure of what Kenyon's reaction would be to the suggestion.
"Yeah. We've kept her waiting too long already." Kenyon agreed, then went back to getting himself dressed.
* * * * *
As Joseph walked back into the bedroom, he saw that Jude and Jason had finished dressing and had invited Mary Nicole and Tammy into the room.
"I'll be ready in just a minute." Joseph said as he squatted down to tie his boots.
"The three of you spent the night together?" Mary Nicole asked as she looked at the mattresses on the floor.
"Four, actually." Joseph said just as Kenyon opened the bathroom door.
"And here I thought I was being daring by inviting Tammy to stay in my room last night." Mary Nicole said with a timid smile.
"I'm ready when you are." Joseph said as he stood back up.
"What? Oh, yeah." Mary Nicole said distractedly, then led the way out of the bedroom.
* * * * *
"See? It was like that when we woke up this morning." Mary Nicole said as they approached what appeared to be a solid wall.
"It looks exactly like all the other walls." Jude said slowly as he stepped up to the wall and felt it, possibly to verify the reality of it.
"That could mean that some of what we're taking to be solid walls could actually be doorways." Joseph said thoughtfully as he knocked on the wall experimentally.
"It sounds solid." Jason said as he looked toward the ceiling.
Jude turned to Joseph and asked, "How do you think this was put into place?"
"What do you mean?"
"Did it drop from the ceiling, push up from the floor, slide in from one side or did someone carry it in and snap it into place?"
"That's a really good question. If we knew where it came from and how it was attached, we'd have a better idea of where to put pressure on it to break through."
Jason took a step back, then turned to Joseph and suggested, "We could do like Korbin and try ramming it with a table."
"This thing seems pretty solid, I'm betting that the table will give out long before the wall. But if we decide to do something like that, let's make sure that it's after everyone's had a chance to eat."
"I don't see a gap anywhere." Kenyon said as he got down on his hands and knees to look carefully at where the wall met the floor.
Joseph knocked on the wall again, this time much harder. "From the sound of it, I don't think that someone on the other side could hear us knocking."
At the sound of his name, he turned to see Brianna hurrying toward him.
"We... oh my God! This hallway's closed off, too!"
"Hold on. What are you talking about?"
"The door to the Green hallway... it's gone. There's a wall there, now."
"Can we still get into the Blue and Green meeting room?"
"Yes. There's just no other way out of it, now."
"We're trapped." Mary Nicole gasped.
"Only slightly more than we were before." Joseph muttered absently as he fought to make sense of the new developments.
"What are we going to do?" Tammy asked, drawing Joseph's attention.
"As I see it, we're very limited on what we can do. I'm open to any suggestions."
"What's going on?" A younger looking girl with dark blond hair asked as she stepped into the hallway from room number 101.
"Did you hear anything last night when this was put into place?" Joseph asked as he glanced back at the wall.
The girl's eyes went wide as she quietly responded to Joseph, "No... When did that happen?"
"My guess would be, after everyone went to sleep."
"Holly, are you sure you didn't hear anything at all last night?" Mary Nicole asked to verify.
"No. When I left the meeting room, I went right to bed and didn't wake up at all."
Jason looked around at the other members of their group before suggesting, "Let's go check out the wall in the meeting room. Maybe we can spot some differences between them."
"Yeah, we might as well." Joseph said as he leaned into the wall with his shoulder and pushed with all his might.
"What if we can't find a way past these walls?" Mary Nicole asked as she looked around the others, sincerely hoping that someone had an answer.
"If you think about it, we're no worse off than we were before." Kenyon tried to reason.
Joseph looked at him with surprise at the statement, then cautiously said, "You may not think so at mealtime."
"I hadn't thought of that." Kenyon gasped.
"Come on. Let's go and see just how bad it is." Joseph said as he started walking.
Jude and Jason shared an anxious look as they followed.
* * * * *
After only a few steps, Joseph stopped, then walked back to room 105 and knocked on the door.
"Zarah? Are you awake?"
After a moment, he heard her quietly answer, "I am now."
"We've had a new development and I think that we're going to need that big brain of yours."
"Hold on... give me a minute."
"If you guys want to go on ahead, we'll catch up to you." Joseph said more quietly to his companions.
Before they could go, Mary Nicole quickly suggested, "Actually, I was thinking that instead of doing that, we might start knocking on doors. We've got some pretty smart people in here with us. We might want to put their talents to use."
Joseph considered for a moment, then thoughtfully said, "Yeah. I think that if there were ever a time for a mass meeting, this is probably it."
* * * * *
Joseph watched as the group dispersed and began knocking on doors and waking people.
The door beside him slid open and Zarah asked, "What's happened now?"
Rather than answer verbally, Joseph simply pointed down the hallway.
It took a moment for Zarah to understand the gesture, but she finally stepped through her doorway and saw the stark, blank wall that hadn't been there the day before.
"Where did that come from?"
Zarah turned suddenly and looked the other way down the hallway, then at Joseph, not daring to ask.
"There's also a new wall separating us from the Green hallway." Joseph answered anyway.
"What are we going to do?"
"Another good question. Maybe if we put our heads together we can come up with something."
"Just a second." Zarah said quickly, then stepped back into her room.
Joseph looked up and down the hallway as people in various stages of wakefulness began to emerge from their rooms.
"We're ready." Zarah said as she stepped out with Leah following close behind.
Joseph's expression fell when he saw her.
"I thought you were okay with this." Zarah said cautiously at his unexpected reaction.
"I am. Really. It's just that every time I see someone else who's not wearing blue, I'm reminded of what's at stake."
"You don't think..."
"Yeah. I do."
* * * * *
When Joseph reached the meeting hall, he broke away from Zarah and Leah so that he could get a first-hand look at the wall.
Just as with the other wall, there was no indication of how it was put into place. The wall looked as solid and secure as any other. It was as though the wall had been there all along.
When Tammy noticed Joseph beside her, she quietly asked, "Do you think the Greens are alright?"
"I'm sure that they're probably doing the same thing that we are right now, trying to figure out what happened, why it happened, and what to do about it."
"If they're trying to break through, can't we do something to meet them halfway?"
"The only way that will work is if we know what they're planning so that we can coordinate our efforts." Jason said thoughtfully, then looked to Joseph to confirm his reasoning.
"That's right. If they're trying to go through the ceiling while we're trying to go through the wall, we're both less likely to reach our goal."
"Does anyone know morse code? If we can tap on the wall so that they can hear it, maybe we can pass messages that way." Tammy asked as she looked around the assembled crowd.
Jason looked her in the eyes and gently explained, "I learned morse code as part of my scout training, but it's not going to be of much use unless there's someone on the other side of the wall who knows it too."
Joseph considered for a moment, then said to the crowd, "We should station teams at both walls and if we hear tapping that sounds like code from either one, we can get Jason to see if it's morse code."
"Do you want us to do that now?" A blond guy timidly asked.
Joseph didn't recognize him and cautiously asked, "What was your name?"
"Okay, Doug. Right now, let's see what we can come up with as a group and make sure that we all understand what we're doing, then you can take a team to listen at the other wall."
"Do you think that the people in the other rooms are alright?" A girl asked nervously.
"I hope so. But either way, there's not much that we'll be able to do to help them until we've found a way to get ourselves out of here. We have to focus on that first." Joseph told her.
"Why are they doing this to us?" Another girl asked before breaking down into tears.
"Mary Nicole? This sounds more like your department than mine." Joseph said as he glanced in her direction.
"Why do you say that?"
"Because I can't think of any 'practical' reason for them to isolate us like this. Your psychological experiment theory seems to be the most likely to provide any kind of a reason."
"Well, I guess that amplifying the feeling of isolation could be a method for increasing the stress."
"I can see what you're saying, but I still don't know why." Joseph said with frustration. "What do they gain from putting us under increasing stress?"
"If I knew that, I'd probably be able to explain why we're here in the first place."
Joseph looked around the gathering, then said more loudly, "Whatever else they're doing to us, there's no doubt that they're intentionally messing with our heads. So don't make the mistake of thinking that you're going crazy. Don't let it get to you."
"That's easier said than done." Mary Nicole said under her breath.
Joseph nodded his agreement, then addressed the crowd again. "If you're having trouble dealing with the stress, talk to someone. We're all in this together."
"But what about those of us who aren't Blues? What are we supposed to do?" An auburn haired girl dressed in gray asked in a tremulous voice.
Joseph could respect her ability to ask the logical question, despite how frightened she was. "What was your name?"
"Well, Roxie. All I can tell you is that we're going to do our best to get through the wall so that you can get back to your room before meal time."
"And if you can't?"
"We'll see what options are open to us when that time comes. I'll tell you right now that there's no way I'm going to be drinking a full glass of breakfast, knowing that someone else is going without."
A girl in blue discretely put an arm around her and quietly said, "You won't go hungry."
Joseph smiled at that, then turned to Zarah and asked, "Have you come up with any ideas about what's going on or what we can do about it?"
"Not exactly. I'm still trying to put the pieces together. But I feel like we're missing something really obvious."
"Okay. Let's all look at the pieces that we have." Joseph said to the crowd, then looked around to see if everyone were following along. When he determined that they were, he continued, "We're being milked for our sperm and it stands to reason that they'll be harvesting eggs sometime soon. The computer has as much as admitted that something catastrophic is going on outside which prompted this project to be activated. We've been drugged and we've endured treatment that seems consistent with psychological experiments. And although certain factors could have been staged to provide us false clues, it appears that this 'project' has been around for a very long time, probably more than fifty years."
Joseph looked over the crowd and could see that most of those present seemed to be carefully thinking over the puzzle pieces that he was placing before them.
"The people who did this already knew who we were long before this ever happened. Our lives were structured so that we all had the same formative experiences when we were growing up. For example, we all had walking pneumonia when we were ten. We all had a pet dog die when we were thirteen."
"Stop it! You're scaring me!" One of the girls screamed.
Joseph looked at her with concern, then remembered meeting her once before.
"Landra, I'm not trying to scare you. I'm trying to let you know what we've discovered so that maybe you can help us figure this out. If we can figure out why we're here and what's expected of us..."
"Shhh... I hear something!" Tammy called out, drawing everyone's attention.
Joseph raised his hands and motioned for everyone to be quiet as he strained to hear.
"I think it's Wade! I can hear him, but I can't make out what he's saying." Tammy said carefully as she kept her ear pressed to the wall.
Joseph walked to her side, careful to remain silent as he did so.
"I can almost hear him..." Tammy whispered.
Joseph pressed his ear to the wall and listened as carefully as he could, but still couldn't hear anything.
After another long moment of listening, Joseph whispered, "I can't..."
"Shhh!" Tammy hissed.
Joseph finally stepped away, not sure if she were really hearing something or not.
He looked around the room, then spotted who he wanted and walked to him.
"Doug. Why don't you get one or two people and stake out the other wall? If you hear anyone calling out or tapping, be sure to send someone back here to let us know."
"Do you want to help me?" Doug asked a pair of girls near him and they immediately agreed. One was Roxie, in gray. The other was her companion from before, in blue.
As soon as they had left, Joseph turned to Mary Nicole and asked, "Do you want to get a team together and see if you can come up with any better theories about what they could gain by increasing the stress on us?"
"Yeah." Mary Nicole said as she glanced at Tammy with an expression of concern.
"Maybe she's just got really good hearing."
Mary Nicole forced a smile for his benefit before motioning to a few other people to join her on the other side of the room.
"Is there anything I can do to help?" Jason asked as he walked to Joseph's side.
"Yeah. It'd be a really big help if you could talk to the other non-Blues and see how many of them already have someone who'll be willing to share their snail-trail. Once you've found that out, find out who's left and see if you can find any kind-hearted Blues who'll be willing to help someone in need."
"Can I assume that you'll be willing to share?"
Jason smiled at the reaction and seemed to be about to lean in and kiss Joseph, but stopped himself before he started.
"Having some regrets about yesterday?" Joseph guessed.
"No. It's not that. I just... you know... I shouldn't do stuff like that in front of everybody."
"Would you still feel that way if I were a girl?"
"Yes. Certain things should be done in private, because they're intimate and special. Doing them in public cheapens them." Jason explained, then quietly added, "But I'm not sorry that I kissed you, yesterday. I'm just sorry that I put it on display for everyone else to see."
"Are public hugs okay?"
"Yes. Public hugs are fine... great, in fact."
"Good. Then give me one so you can get to helping the non-Blues."
Jason smiled, then leaned in and gave Joseph a firm hug that accurately conveyed his level of caring.
* * * * *
As soon as Jason had stepped away, Jude quietly asked, "Is there something I can do?"
"Yeah. It would be a really big help to me if you would go around and talk to people to see how they're doing and if they need help dealing with what's going on. You might want to start with Landra." Joseph said as he glanced in her direction.
"But what should I tell her?"
"Tell her what you believe in and why you think that everything will be alright."
After a moment to consider, Jude quietly asked, "This is because of my religion, isn't it? In essence you're asking me to tell her something that you believe is a lie."
"I'm asking you to tell her what she needs to hear right now."
* * * * *
Joseph watched as Jude left, then noticed Kenyon watching him from across the room.
Joseph did a quick survey of the area, making sure that no one needed his help before he walked to Kenyon and asked, "Did I miss anything?"
"Not that I can think of. Of course, when I'm watching you, I'm usually not thinking about what I should be, anyway."
"What do you want to happen to us next?"
"Us?" Kenyon asked as he made a motion which indicated the entire room. "Us?" he asked again as he indicated Jason, Joseph and himself. "Or, us?" He asked as he looked Joseph in the eyes.
"I'm not asking about love or anything. Before that, I'd like to know if you think that you'll be able to handle being in a relationship with a guy. Because if you can't, then regardless of how strongly we feel toward each other, it won't matter because it's not going to work."
"I don't think I'll know if I'll be able to handle it until I've tried."
"Okay. Then I guess the question is, will you try?"
Kenyon thought for a moment, then cautiously asked, "Are you asking me for a commitment or something like that?"
"No. At least not in the typical 'boyfriend' sense of the word. Some couples work out and some don't. I understand that. But I need to know that if we do this that you're not going to bail out the first time someone looks at us funny or tells a homophobic joke. Basically, at this point, I'm not asking you if you have the heart, I'm asking you if you have the balls."
"What about Jason?"
"When he's ready to talk about it, I'll ask him the same thing."
"And what happens if we both say 'yes'?"
"Then I guess that we'll all have to decide what we want, what we'll settle for or maybe how much we'll put up with. Remember, up until yesterday you considered yourself to be straight. The vibe I get from Jason is that he never even considered his sexuality before yesterday."
"What about you? Were you gay before you were kidnapped and brought here?"
"I really don't know. There's a part of me that always thought that someday I'd get married and have kids and stuff like that. So I sort of 'assumed' that I was straight. But I don't remember ever really thinking about it, too much. I looked at it as what was naturally going to happen. As far as being attracted to guys or girls... I think it's all about the same to me."
"What about now? What do you feel when you look at me?"
Joseph shyly smiled, then said, "I feel honored to know that you're interested in me. I feel like I'd do anything in my power to protect you. It makes me happy when I know that you're happy. I genuinely like you and I want to spend time with you."
"But I don't turn you on."
Joseph looked around, then guided Kenyon to take a few steps away from anyone else before saying, "Maybe there's something wrong with me. It's like, sometimes, when I see someone, a little alarm goes off inside me and all of a sudden my dick wakes up and my brain shuts down. I get all stupid and bumbling and I'll do anything to get that person to notice me, even if it's to annoy them into telling me to go away."
"And you don't feel that for me."
"I didn't feel that for you the first time I met you. What I feel for you is like a creeping sense of realization. I'll notice one thing about you that I find really attractive, then I'll spot another. I promise that if I didn't find you attractive at all, I'd just tell you."
"But you felt the 'alarm' go off for Jason, didn't you?"
"Yeah. I also felt that for Zarah, Randa and even Korbin. Once I got my brain to kick in and sort through what I was feeling, I realized that even though I was attracted to them and liked them, I wasn't really interested in getting any closer."
"Except for Jason..."
"Well, yeah. I got that initial physical attraction thing for him, like I was telling you about. But as I got to know him, I didn't find anything to make me lose interest. In fact, I think that I could love him... if he could handle being in a relationship with me."
"But you don't feel that for me."
"No. I feel something completely different for you. Jason's beautiful to look at and fun to be around. But I feel like... I don't know how to say it. It's hard to explain..."
"Okay. It's like, I don't feel like Jason would ever be mine. He's the kind of person who needs to maintain his own sense of self. I believe that I could love him. And I think that it's possible that he could love me, too. His life and mine could intersect at some key points, but they'd still be mostly separate. He's just wired that way... we could 'connect' but we could never 'merge'."
"Are you saying that you think that we could?"
"Yeah. I think that if we both decide that it's what we want and commit to it, that we could form a partnership... a 'union' that would redefine who both of us are, making us into something more than either of us would be on our own."
"But how would Jason fit into something like that?"
"I don't know if he would... or could. But I think that he's wonderful and special. Even if he isn't capable of sharing 'all' of himself, I'd still like to accept as much as he's willing to offer."
"What happens if I can't handle that?"
"I wish that I could work things out so that no one gets hurt. But from the look of it, that may not be possible. The most I can do is be sure that everyone goes into this with their eyes open. We'll all make our decisions, then we'll do our best to live with them."
Kenyon slowly nodded his acknowledgement.
"I wish that I were better at explaining how I feel. I promise that I don't love Jason more than you and I'm not waiting to see how things work out with him before making a decision about us. I just want for all of us to have enough time to sort through our feelings before we decide what we're doing next."
"Yeah. I'm usually pretty good about thinking rather than feeling, but when it comes to you... I guess it's like you said, I look at you and my alarm goes off, then all my thinking kind of just goes south."
"That's probably the nicest thing anyone's ever said to me."
There was a long moment of silence which was broken by Tammy calling out, "Joseph! Joseph! It's Wade! I heard him!"
"What did he say?" Joseph asked as he hurried to her side.
"I don't know, but it's him! Now I'm sure of it!"
"Keep listening and if you can even make out a single word, call it out. We need all the help we can get right now."
* * * * *
Joseph looked around the room at all the anxious people, then came to a decision, "Aaron, would you do me a favor?"
The dark haired boy with deep blue eyes looked at Joseph with surprise at being called on, before cautiously walking over to him.
"Could you get a few people and do a quick head count, then try to figure out if there might be any vacant rooms? If there are, then we'll see if maybe some of the Blues were caught in other areas, or if maybe not all the rooms were full to begin with."
As Joseph watched him walk away, Kenyon noticed his inquisitive look.
"Don't tell me that your 'alarm' just went off."
"No. It's nothing like that. I'm just trying to remember where and when I learned Aaron's name."
"What do you mean?"
"When I needed his help, I automatically asked him for it, but now that I think about it, I never met him before and I don't remember anyone ever telling me who he was."
"Yeah. I can't think of any reason why I'd know him."
"What about her? Do you know her name?" Kenyon asked as he pointed at a random girl in the room.
"No. I've seen her around, but I haven't met her yet."
"Okay. Fair enough. But tell me what else you know about Aaron."
"I don't know anything about him."
"Do you know his full name?"
"Why would I know that?"
"Well, if you know his first name without knowing why, maybe you know his last name for the same reason."
"As far as reasoning goes, that's about as roundabout as it gets."
"Maybe he's like me and Jason. Maybe his name is common enough that he has to use his last name sometimes to tell him apart from all the other Aarons that are running around."
"Or maybe he'd just use his middle name like Mary Nicole does."
"That's possible. What's his middle name?"
"How did you know that?"
"I don't know."
"So Aaron Scott what? What's his last name?"
"I need to sit down. All of a sudden, I'm not feeling very well."
"Okay." Kenyon said as he guided Joseph to the nearest available chair.
Once Joseph was seated, Kenyon quietly asked, "Aaron Scott what?"
Kenyon glanced around and caught Jude's eye. He quickly motioned for Jude to come over to them.
"Is Joseph alright?"
"I don't know, yet. But can you do me a really big favor?"
"That dark haired guy over there. Would you ask him his full name, first middle and last? We need to know it."
"Um, yeah. Okay." Jude muttered uncertainly before walking away.
"Myrtle Beach, South Carolina."
"That's where Aaron lives. Myrtle Beach. He actually hates the ocean and wishes that he could live just about anywhere else."
"Joseph, you need to stop."
"Some of the people around him think that he's slightly autistic or has aspergers. He's even been evaluated for it. The thing is, he just doesn't have any patience for drama and refuses to participate in it."
"Joseph. Forget about Aaron. Come back to me."
"His Maw-maw made him a little child-sized quilt when he was young. He carried it with him everywhere, until he went to school. He had such a fit on his first day of school, that his Maw-maw cut a piece off the quilt so that he could take it to school with him, in his pocket and touch it whenever he needed to feel comforted by it. He carried that with him until a couple years ago."
"He says that his full name is Aaron Scott Kristofson." Jude said as he approached.
"Joseph. Focus on me. Listen to the sound of my voice. Come. Back. To. Me."
"What's wrong?" Jude asked with concern as he squatted at Joseph's other side.
"He's in some kind of a trance." Kenyon explained, at a loss for anything meaningful that he could do to help.
"He's always been so lonely. Sometimes he wanted to be around people and enjoy their company, but he just couldn't stand their bullshit and games."
"Joseph! Wake up!" Kenyon said firmly, drawing the attention of some of the people around them.
"What?" Joseph asked confusedly as he started to focus on Kenyon.
"You went away for a little bit. I need for you to stay with me, now."
"What happened?" Joseph asked as he began to look around to orient himself.
"Let's not get into that until you're completely back to being you."
"Yeah. Okay. I'm feeling really foggy right now. Did I just have a seizure or something?"
"What's wrong?" Zarah asked with concern as she approached.
"Stay with him." Kenyon whispered to Jude, then took a few steps away to talk to Zarah, out of Joseph's earshot.
* * * * *
"Something just happened that's impossible. Joseph went into some kind of a trance and all of a sudden knew things that he couldn't possibly know."
"Like psychic visions?"
"I guess so. I really don't know anything about stuff like that, but the thing that weirded me out most about it was that he seemed to get lost in it. It's like he could see Aaron's past and couldn't break away and come back to the here and now."
"Aaron, the dark haired guy by the wall, who's looking at us."
Zarah glanced over at him, then looked back to Kenyon with some concern.
"Do you think that you can watch over things here for a little bit? I'm going to take Joseph back to his room and get him to rest for a few minutes, away from all these people."
"That might be a good idea. If it really is something psychic, then being in a crowd of people is probably the worst thing for him."
* * * * *
"I'm feeling better. We should go back." Joseph said as they entered his room.
"We need to figure out what just happened to you. How much do you remember?"
"I think I remember everything. It's just a little bit muddled."
"What's Aaron's last name?"
"Okay. Do you know how you know that?"
"No. You asked me and somehow I just knew."
"I can't believe you're making me do this..."
"Do what?" Joseph asked him with concern.
"You're making me 'brain up' and figure stuff out. You're supposed to be the smart one. I'm supposed to be the pretty one." Kenyon said with mock annoyance.
"That sounds like a fair division of labor to me."
"But you can't tell anyone that I did this, alright? It could ruin my rep."
"My lips are sealed."
"Okay. Looking at this objectively, I can see two possible explanations. One is the obvious, that you have, or are developing, some type of psychic ability which allows you to know things that you couldn't possibly know."
"Or, it's also possible that while you were under hypnosis, that you were given information about Aaron and told to divulge that information at a certain point or under certain circumstances."
"I guess it could be that, too."
"Occam's razor would suggest that we give most credence to the hypothesis which is more probable and realistic."
"Which means that we're going to assume that what I know about Aaron is implanted information."
"We're only going to assume that inasmuch as we're going to test the assumption."
"How are we going to do that?"
"What's my middle name?"
"I don't know. You told me that your first name is Richard, but you never told me your middle name."
"I know. That's why I'm asking."
"But even if I know it, that won't prove anything. It could still be implanted information."
"True. But each time you answer another random question, it's less likely to be something that someone else would have thought to include in your subconscious programming."
"What's my middle name?"
"Nothing. You don't have one."
"Correct. What's my mother's maiden name?"
"What's her mother's maiden name?"
"And what about her mother's?"
"Where was I born?"
"Ramah, New Mexico."
"What was the date?"
"October twenty sixth, nineteen ninety seven. By the way, belated happy birthday."
"Thank you. What can you tell me about where I lived in New Mexico?"
"Your grandfather bought the land just before he retired, he wanted to spend his retirement building the house of his dreams. But his dreams ended up being a lot bigger than his wallet or his ability as a carpenter. The land... was Native American reservation land that was being sold off. Although people had lived there before, no one really claimed that piece of land as belonging exclusively to them."
"You're going too deep. I need you to come back to me, now."
"What? Oh, right. What else do you want to know?"
"What kind of truck did my grandfather drive?"
"He drove lots of trucks. The list of trucks he hasn't driven would probably be shorter."
"What kind of a truck did he drive when I was living there?"
"Oh. I don't know. Probably either that oxidized tomato soup colored Bronco... or it could be the smurf blue Isuzu."
"Okay. That's enough. Go ahead and relax for a minute."
"How did I do?"
"Did I get all of the answers right?"
"As far as I know."
"I asked you a few questions that I didn't know the answers to. I don't know my great-grandmother's maiden name, but you gave me an answer without hesitation."
"If you don't know the right answer, what does that prove?"
"First off, I asked some obscure questions about myself that no one could have predicted that I'd ask. So they couldn't have given you the answers in advance."
"Unless they programmed you to ask those questions."
"I hadn't thought of that. Yes. That could be. But the more layers of obfuscation we suppose, the less likely that the scenario we're imagining is true."
"Okay. So what have you been able to figure out?"
"If this were actually some form of telepathy, then you couldn't know anything about my past that I don't already know."
"But I could have known what you were testing me on and just made something up."
"I guess so, but I know what kind of a truck my grandfather drove when I was living there."
"Was it the Bronco or the Isuzu?"
"The Bronco. But you didn't know that. We can't say anything for sure until we've done a lot more testing, but based on the results of this one test, it looks like you have some sort of legitimate psychic ability... that isn't necessarily telepathy."
"Okay. But it still sounds a little bit too... sci fi for me. What if we assume that this is all some hypnotic scenario playing out in our heads and none of this is really happening."
"I guess that's not any more farfetched than anything else that we're talking about."
"If that really were the case, why would our captors try to convince us that I'm psychic?"
"Maybe to distract you?" Kenyon offered halfheartedly.
"Yeah. Like being kidnapped, drugged, sexually molested and caged wasn't distracting enough."
"Joseph! Tammy just passed out!" Brianna called through the door.
"I'll be right there!" Joseph called in return.
"Are you sure that you're alright? Do you need to rest some more?" Kenyon asked with concern.
"I'm a lot better than I was. Let's go."
"Let me know if you start feeling weak."
* * * * *
"Thanks for letting me see you 'brain up'. I understand what it's like to have to hide it."
"Yeah. Well, if I were really smart, then maybe I'd understand why people celebrate ignorance. Someone who's vapid, selfish and mean is treated like they've accomplished something great and someone really smart can't even get a date."
"War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength."
"That's another thing I like about you. No one else would ever think of quoting George Orwell to me."
* * * * *
As they walked into the meeting room, all Joseph could see was a group of people gathered at the wall that had once been the doorway to the Green hallway.
"What happened?" Joseph asked as he gently nudged his way through the crowd of onlookers.
"Tammy was trying to talk to Wade through the wall when all of a sudden, she just passed out." Mary Nicole choked out as tears slid down her cheeks.
"Has anyone but Tammy been able to hear Wade?" Joseph asked as he looked at Zarah..
"No one else heard anything."
"Have you checked her breathing and pulse?" Joseph asked Mary Nicole, not knowing what else to do.
"Yes. They're fine. It's just like she's asleep, except that she won't wake up."
Joseph looked around and spotted Jason.
"Jayce, would you go and get Doug and his group from the Blue Gray door? Kenyon and I have stumbled onto something and I'm going to need everyone here to help us reason it out."
Jason nodded once, then dashed out of the room.
"But what about Tammy? Isn't there something we can do for her? She won't wake up." Mary Nicole urged Joseph to understand.
"Just stay with her and keep her comfortable. Hopefully when we get everyone working on this together, we'll be able to come up with something more that we can do." Joseph said quietly to her, then turned to the group and said, "Everyone, please sit down. As soon as Doug, Marissa and Roxie get here, we're going to have a brainstorming session to try and figure all of this out."
There were several incredulous looks, but people slowly started across the room to take their seats.
* * * * *
"We're here. What's going on?" Jason asked as he rushed into the meeting room, followed by those he had been sent to retrieve.
"If everyone will sit down, I'll tell you what we've been able to discover." Joseph said as he tried to get his thoughts into some sort of order.
After a moment, everyone seemed to be settled into place. Mary Nicole was still kneeling beside Tammy, but everyone else was seated in chairs.
"I know that this is going to sound... well, crazy, but that's why I'm bringing it up to all of you. I think that I might have come up with another scenario to explain why we're here."
That caught the attention of everyone in the meeting hall.
"Just a little bit ago, I asked Aaron to help me with something." Joseph glanced in Aaron's direction before continuing, "After I asked him for his help, I realized that I'd never met Aaron before and no one had told me his name. I just somehow knew it."
Uncertain glances flashed around the tables and the silent consensus was that Joseph appeared to be going off the deep end.
"I know what it sounds like, but hear me out. After the thing with Aaron, Kenyon and I tried a little experiment and I was able to do it again. I knew things about him that I couldn't possibly know."
Joseph could tell by people's expressions that they weren't far from dismissing what he was saying entirely.
He quickly scanned the group and finally found one person to focus on.
"Landra, your last name is Piet. You're from Seattle, Washington. Your mother's maiden name is Clark and your next door neighbor has a son named David who's fourteen, just like you are."
"Is that right?" Zarah asked Landra uncertainly.
"Yeah." Landra whispered, wilting under the stares of all the people in the room.
"Kelly. Your last name is Brighton and you're from Norman, Oklahoma. Even though you live in a nice house in a nice neighborhood, your parents don't seem to enjoy it. They're bitter and angry, even though they never say exactly why that is."
"How do you know that?" Kelly barked.
"That's why I wanted to talk to all of you. This... ability, seems like something straight out of a sci fi movie. It can't be real, but it's hard to deny it when it seems to work one hundred percent of the time."
"Could this be the next stage of the psychological experiment? Them making us think that we're psychic or something?" Brianna asked speculatively.
"Yes. Kenyon and I discussed the possibility that I might have been given the information about different people during the last blackout and instructed to have this 'realization', possibly to distract us from other things."
"Except that Joseph had information about me that no one could have possibly known." Kenyon interjected, then continued, "And the idea that they could program me to ask particular obscure questions so that Joseph could provide the right answers sounds unreasonable to me. That would be a whole lot of work for very little payoff, since you couldn't honestly count it as proof of anything."
"Where am I from?" A girl asked challengingly.
"Your name is Jeanna Leann Cade and you're from Breckenridge, Texas. Your great-great-grandfather was from County Donegal, Ireland. He faced a lot of discrimination when he came to the United States and almost didn't survive to marry and start a family."
"Joseph, listen to me, you need to come back to the here and now." Kenyon said urgently.
Everyone watched as an expression of puzzlement crossed Joseph's face.
"To me it looks like the farther back he goes, the more he can see and the more likely he is to get lost in it." Kenyon explained to those watching.
"Was he right about your great-great-grandfather?" Zarah asked Jeanna cautiously.
"Maybe. I heard that one of my ancestors was from Ireland, but that's all I know about it."
"But he was right about everything else?"
"Sorry. We've got too much to do for me to be drifting away like that. If anyone else would like an amazing demonstration, talk to me after we're done with the meeting." Joseph said as he looked around.
"You said that you might have come up with a reason for us being here." A brown haired girl said anxiously.
"Yes. I mean, it's possible. What I was thinking is that if this thing that I have is a legitimate psychic ability, then I can see why someone, either from the government or another organization, might want to have complete control of me, and also might want to have access to my genetic material."
"Are you saying that you think we're all psychic?" Zarah asked cautiously.
"I don't know about that. But what if we all had that genetic potential? Then the next thing to do would be to put us in a situation where that potential might be realized."
"By abducting us and ramping up the stress." Zarah supplied thoughtfully as she seemed to be a million miles away, evaluating the permutations of what Joseph was suggesting.
"If you can see things and know things psychically, can't you just know where we are and how we got here?" Doug asked reasonably.
"So far, I've only been able to do it with people. I can look at you and know that you're from Empire, Ohio. In fact, I can even tell you about who lived in your house before your family moved there... wait. I'm getting lost in it, again. What I'm trying to say is that I haven't learned everything that I can do with it, yet. Once I've worked with it, I might be able to do that."
"So you can tell about where I was when I was six years old, but you can't tell me about what was being done to me day before yesterday?" Doug asked cautiously, to confirm his understanding.
"Yes. I can see the pony rides at your sixth birthday party at the local park as clearly as if I had been invited to it, but the most recent thing I can pick up from you is... I'm getting a flash about you being threatened by an older guy at school... Was that last year?"
"Year before last."
"I don't know anything about you more recent than that."
"You're saying that you think that all of us have the potential to be psychic?" Zarah asked to verify her understanding.
"That's what I'm proposing. I could be totally wrong. But if I am, I'm counting on all of you to help me figure out why that is."
"What about Tammy?" Mary Nicole asked from beside Tammy's prone form.
"I don't have any evidence to support this, but I think it may be possible that she's passed out because she has an ability that's awakening." Joseph responded.
"Why do you think that?" Zarah asked curiously, not disagreeing with him but honestly wanting to understand his reasoning.
"She was listening at that wall, trying as hard as she could to hear Wade. No one else could hear him. All of a sudden, she passed out. If she were really hearing him, it might have been on some psychic level that the rest of us aren't aware of." Joseph explained.
Zarah seemed to be considering his words carefully and finally asked, "But since you seem to have your psychic ability up and running, why couldn't you hear Wade, too?"
"I don't know. I guess that I'm just trying to come up with explanations that fit the circumstances."
"Maybe it's because she's Green." Jude said abruptly.
Zarah turned her inquiring gaze on him, silently asking for more of an explanation.
"What if the colors that we're wearing aren't random. What if they indicate the type of psychic ability that each of us have the potential to develop?" Jude responded.
"If that were the case, then most of the people in here would have the same ability as Joseph, the ability to see a person's past." Zarah quietly reasoned.
Jude turned to fully face Joseph and asked, "How do you do it? How do you make it work?"
"I don't know. When I wanted to know something about someone, I just all of a sudden knew it."
"Zarah. What's my last name?" Jude asked as he looked her in the eyes.
"Wicks. But you told us that at the meeting." Zarah said simply.
"Can you tell us about his home? Where is he from?" Joseph prompted.
After a moment to consider, Zarah shook her head as she quietly responded, "I don't know. Maybe I can't do it."
"Let me give you a little help. He's from Lancaster, Pennsylvania. What color is his house?" Joseph asked in a leading tone.
At Jude's curious look, Joseph put a finger to his lips, indicating for him to remain silent.
"No. That's not right."
"What's not right?"
"He's not from Pennsylvania."
"What makes you say that?"
"I don't know. He just isn't."
"What color is his house?"
"Peachy, sandstone... coral. I don't know exactly what the color is, but all the houses around it are the same color, made from the same cookie cutter design."
"Are they old houses?"
"No. Not that old. Ten or fifteen years, at most. The land was just dry and sunbaked before that. No one lived there."
"Chandler, Arizona." Leah said abruptly.
"Yeah! That's it!" Zarah said with a relieved smile.
"What was that?" Joseph asked as he glanced at Leah curiously.
"That's where she's seeing. Chandler, Arizona."
"Jude? Is that right?" Joseph asked, already knowing the answer, but wanting him to confirm it for the others.
Joseph then turned to face Leah and asked, "How did you know what Zarah was seeing?"
"I don't know. I could just see her struggling, trying to get a clear image and I wanted to help."
"This proves what you were saying, doesn't it?" Zarah speculated.
"It makes it much more likely." Joseph confirmed, then added, "Based on what we've seen so far, it seems to me that the Blues appear to have some sort of... clairvoyant ability to look into the past."
"What about the Greens?" Zarah asked as she looked at Leah with concern.
"My first guess, based on what's happened to Tammy and Leah is that they've got some sort of telepathy."
"How do you figure that?" Kenyon asked, wanting to understand his reasoning.
"Tammy said that she could hear Wade calling to her, even though no one else could hear anything at all, no matter how hard we tried. I think it's possible that she might have been telepathically reaching out to him and making some sort of vague telepathic contact, or at least sensing his presence. When Leah was worried about Zarah, she was able to see what Zarah was trying to focus on inside her mind."
"If the Blues are clairvoyant and the Greens are telepathic, what about the Grays?" Marissa asked anxiously from Roxie's side.
"I have no idea." Joseph admitted.
"If I were going to guess, I'd say that we're probably empathic." Jason reluctantly interjected.
"Why would you think that?" Joseph asked with surprise.
"Because I've had it my whole life. I've just never told anyone before. For the most part, I just try to ignore it."
"So you can feel what I'm feeling?"
"No. Not exactly. My empathy isn't like what the comic books talk about. I don't feel other people's emotions, I can just sometimes feel what other people are physically feeling."
"So, if someone's hurt, you feel their pain?"
"Yeah. Sympathy pains."
Kenyon looked to Jason and asked, "Did you feel it when I got all chewed up?"
"No. I have to be close to someone to feel their feelings. By the time I met you, you must have been past most of the pain."
"The drugs that they gave us probably didn't help, either." Joseph added.
"That's possible. But the drugs made us do things that we wouldn't have done, otherwise. That put extra stress on us, either making us regret the things that we'd done or making us worry about the people that we'd become close to." Jason said thoughtfully.
"I can't do it." One of the girls in the group said with frustration.
"What's that, Teresa?" Joseph asked curiously.
"I can't make myself see your past or anything about you." She answered.
"Maybe you can't do it, yet. Or maybe your ability is different. Stop trying for a little bit and you might just start knowing things without realizing it, at first."
Zarah considered for a moment then asked, "Joseph, since you've had your ability the longest, could you try something for me?"
"What's that?" Joseph asked in return.
"I'm trying to get a sense of the 'range' of our abilities. You obviously don't have to be in physical contact with someone to 'read' them. But can you do it to someone who's not in the same room with you?"
"I haven't tried."
"Try Korbin. See if you can get any information about him."
"Um... okay. I'll try." Joseph said as he tried to focus on an image of Korbin in his mind's eye.
Everyone waited as Joseph tried to come up with any new information.
Kenyon walked closer to Joseph's side and quietly asked, "What is Korbin's last name?"
"I don't know." Joseph said absently as he tried to focus his concentration.
"Where is he from?" Kenyon continued in the same quiet tone.
Joseph slowly shook his head.
"What color was the house where he grew up?"
"I can't do it. I'm not getting any answers." Joseph said as he opened his eyes.
"Which might mean that you have to have a line of sight for it to work." Zarah speculated.
"While I guess that's possible, I can't think of any reason why it should have that limitation."
"Well, since I have to be close to someone for my empathy thing to work, maybe it's just like that and you're out of range." Jason speculated.
"Yes. That sounds more likely to me."
"Okay. Someone just walked into the hallway, out of your line of sight. Can you tell me anything about them?" A blond girl from the group called out, drawing all attention to her.
Joseph involuntarily looked toward the hallway as Kenyon quietly asked, "First name?"
"Marcus... um, he goes by Mark." Joseph answered.
"Timmerland... without a 'B'."
Kenyon looked at the girl inquiringly.
"His first name is Mark, I'll have to ask him about the rest." The girl said before dashing away.
"He's from Ringgold, Georgia. The people where he lives are crazy, hardcore evangelicals that make the Southern Baptists look liberal."
"Yeah. That sounds like my home." Mark said with a smile as he walked into the room.
"What's your full name?" Kenyon asked Mark as he approached.
"Marcus Evan Timmerland... without a 'B'." He responded automatically, then thought to add, "I go by Mark."
There were a few chuckles, due to Joseph's accurate reading.
"I guess that's settled. Thanks, Alia."
"Joseph. If you don't have to be able to see someone, could you see if you can read Wade?" Mary Nicole asked from Tammy's side.
"I wouldn't mind trying, but I don't know what good it would do."
"Since your ability seems to have a 'range', maybe you could see if Wade's on the other side of this wall or not." Mary Nicole urged him to understand.
Joseph looked toward Kenyon, to be sure that he was going to help, before answering, "Since I don't know what my range is, I don't know how much good it will do, but I don't mind trying."
Both Joseph and Kenyon walked to join Mary Nicole and Tammy beside the wall before Kenyon quietly asked, "What can you tell me about Wade? What's his last name?"
"I don't know."
"What's his middle name?'
Joseph concentrated for a moment, then said, "I'm not getting anything."
"Where is he from?"
After another moment of concentration, Joseph quietly said, "It's just like with Korbin. I'm not getting anything at all."
"Do you think it would make any difference if Wade were passed out, like Tammy is?" Zarah asked speculatively.
Joseph looked at Tammy, then shook his head and said, "I can read Tammy just as clearly as anyone else. If Wade's on the other side of the wall, I should probably be able to read him, too."
"If he passed out, like Tammy did, maybe they took him to his room." Doug suggested.
"That's possible. All I know is that I can't get a reading on him."
"Why don't you come over here and sit down? You don't look too steady." Kenyon said as he guided Joseph to walk toward the tables.
"Yeah. Doing that messes with my head. It kind of reminds me of overusing a muscle that you're not used to using."
"Go ahead and sit down. Give yourself a few minutes to recover before you give yourself a brain cramp."
"Hold on. I feel something."
Joseph looked around the room, then started walking toward the corner which was diagonal across the room from where Mary Nicole and Tammy were located.
"What is it, Joseph?"
"I guess I was still thinking about Wade, in the back of my mind. All of a sudden, I'm getting information about him."
"How is he?" Leah asked with concern from nearby.
"I have no idea. All I know is that now he seems to be in range."
Several of those present looked from where Mary Nicole was kneeling, across the room to the corner where Joseph was now standing, facing the wall.
"If Wade's in range, can you get any idea of how far away he is or in what direction?" Kenyon asked as he watched Joseph with concern.
"No. Not really. I just know that over here I'm able to 'read' him a little bit."
"He must be on the other side of this wall." Leah said in realization.
"We can't automatically assume that. We don't know Joseph's range or how this thing really works." Kenyon gently reminded her.
"But if Joseph can 'read' Wade over here, that must mean that Wade's in the inner room that Joseph's been talking about." Zarah interjected.
"That's possible. But there are still too many unknowns for us to be accepting that as a fact." Kenyon cautioned her to understand.
"William Wade Warren from Scituate, Rhode Island. Although the land has been in his family for generations, the house is a prefab that was put on the property when he was two or three years old."
"Joseph, you're tired. You don't need to be going too deep right now." Kenyon warned.
"That's when his parents bought Duke for him. He got the new dog when they moved into their new house." Zarah said as she stepped away from Leah, to Joseph's side.
"Watch out, Zarah. It's easy to get lost in it if you go too deep." Kenyon told her quickly.
"Duke always had such a good time when they went camping. Wade and Duke would go off into the woods for hours at a time." Doug said in a trancelike voice as he stepped closer to face the wall.
"Everyone! You need to stop!"
"Wade would tell his parents that he and Duke were going to get firewood and when he'd return four or five hours later, he'd barely have an armload of sticks." Alia said with a distant smile as she stepped to Doug's side.
"Jude, help me get them away from this wall. We need to get them out of range." Kenyon said as he took firm hold of Joseph's shoulders and guided him to walk away.
"Wade's grandfather's house burned down in nineteen fifty-three. They lost everything." Marissa said quietly.
"Oh no! Not you, too. Come on. We need to get you away from here." Roxie said as she urged Marissa to walk with her.
"Jason! Help us!" Kenyon commanded as he guided Joseph across the room.
As Kenyon spoke the words, Jason suddenly grabbed his abdomen. All the color seemed to wash out of him as he crumpled to the floor.
"What happened?" Zarah slowly asked as Leah was guiding her to walk.
"That thing that Joseph does when he zones out, you were all doing it." Leah gently explained, then her eyes went wide as she suddenly looked toward the corner of the room and gasped, "Oh crap!"
To Be Continued...
Wow! You want editor's notes! I'm just as zoned out as Joseph.
This chapter is totally awesome!
Even with the cliffhanger, we have made some serious progress, here.
A couple of things come to mind, but I don't know whether to mention them, but I guess I will. Are they all dreaming this scene?
Are they all developing various psychic abilities?
If they are, will those abilities be helpful to them in solving their current situation?
I suppose we will just have to wait for the next exciting episode to find out.
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher