The throb of a headache pulled him into consciousness.
The light in the room seemed to be uncomfortably bright. But even so, he fought to put that aside and force his eyes to open anyway.
The sight that greeted him was a shock.
He was in a little white, sterile room.
It wasn't like a motel room, not that he knew from personal experience what one of those looked like, but still, there wasn't anything to make the room feel 'inviting'. No pictures. No ornaments. No... nothing. A white bed with white sheets and a white blanket, and a few sparse pieces of featureless white furniture.
As he slipped out from under the sheet and blanket, the next surprise was to find that he was naked.
He struggled to think past the headache that had taken residence inside his skull and seemed to be determined to punch its way out.
A glance around the room revealed two other doors at opposite ends of the room, one closed, and the other open. Through the open door there was evidence of a lavatory.
Upon seeing that, his bladder immediately let it be known that he had a biological need to attend to, forthwith.
* * * * *
He walked into the 'too bright' white, sterile bathroom and did his business then walked to the mirror over the sink to look at himself.
The dark circles under his eyes immediately caught his attention.
Even though he knew that he'd just been asleep, he looked as though he'd been awake for days on end.
The few whiskers formed on his chin were another curious thing.
He had been shaving since he was thirteen. Of course, even if he had never shaved, he wouldn't have been able to grow anything remotely resembling a beard. But, with his father's encouragement, he had been shaving the few scraggly whiskers that sprouted in an effort to keep himself looking 'respectable'.
The strange thing was, the growth of his 'beard' was such as to indicate the passage of a lot more time than he could account for.
As he was about to start searching through the cabinet under the sink, to see if there might be any shaving supplies in there, another thing caught his eye.
In the mirror, a small red dot in the crook of his elbow drew his attention.
He immediately looked down at his arm, and upon closer inspection, he could find evidence of three individual punctures, undoubtedly caused by needles.
An examination of his left arm revealed three more injection sites, although they seemed to be nearly healed.
Abandoning any further thoughts of shaving, he walked back into the 'bedroom'.
His first impulse was to wrap the white sheet around himself, but before he could do that, he speculated that if there were a dresser in the room, there might also be clothes.
Going to the white molded plastic dresser, he found that the top drawer held white cotton boxer shorts.
Uncomfortable with his nakedness, he pulled on a pair and found that although they were a bit loose, they were near enough to the right size for him to be able to wear them.
In the next drawer he found white tube socks. Not wanting to delve too deeply into what he was doing, he went ahead and pulled the socks on, too.
The third and final drawer contained white cotton tee shirts and he slipped one on without a thought.
Beside the dresser, there was a door that he hadn't noticed on his initial inspection. Sliding it aside, he found that it was a closet. He was surprised by the burst of color when he opened the door.
So far, everything in the room had been relentlessly white. But there, hanging in a neat row were seven identical sets of coveralls, all of them a deep, rich blue.
As he took the first one off its hanger, he noticed a number stitched on the upper left breast of the coverall in white letters.
He quickly looked through the closet and found that the other six coveralls had the exact same number embroidered on them.
He was automatically put off by the thought of his identity being replaced with a number, but there were too many unknowns for him to allow his indignity to override his curiosity and reject the idea of wearing the coveralls.
He pulled on the coveralls and noted that they seemed to also be the correct size for him, not only around the chest and waist, but also in length.
Once he had them fastened closed, he noticed that in the bottom of the closet there were a pair of brand new lace up boots. They were either actual army boots, or a very close approximation.
Before putting them on, he looked at the bottom of one and noticed a sticker on the arch which indicated the size of the boots. They were exactly his size.
His head was pounding and nothing was making any sense. But he was still aware enough to realize that someone had gone to quite a bit of trouble to make sure that he had all the essential clothing.
* * * * *
The door to his room was something that he was vaguely familiar with, a 'pocket door'. The top of the door was on a track and when the door slid aside, it disappeared into a recess in the wall.
There was no knob on his door, just a slight indentation that his fingers could catch, but more importantly, there was no way for him to lock, or even latch it.
As he walked out into the hall and slid the door closed behind him, he noticed that beside the door, the number '112' was on a placard.
His unease ratcheted up another notch as he felt yet another indication of his loss of identity.
He looked up and down the hallway and it was like looking into infinity. The white sterile hallway seemed to go on forever in both directions.
With no compelling reason to go one way or the other, he turned right and started walking.
* * * * *
After a few minutes of walking, passing one after another of the closed 'pocket' doors with sequentially increasing numbered placards beside each, he detected the sound of voices ahead of him.
He slowed his pace and listened carefully, trying to get a sense of what lay ahead.
The most noticeable thing was the sound of crying, it wasn't a sound like someone had suffered an injury, but more a sound of despair.
Beyond that, he heard the sounds of arguing voices, one of which he took to be male. The sounds were those of frustration more than anger, although in his experience it wasn't a very big leap from one to the other.
Regardless of whatever caution he felt, he nonetheless walked into a room that looked like some sort of a bizarre cafeteria, even though it didn't have food. Or maybe some sort of funky library, except that it didn't have books. It was a white room with stark white tables and single piece molded white plastic chairs.
There were about a dozen people in the room.
Two things stood out to him before anything else. First, not everyone in the room was wearing blue coveralls, like he was. Nearly half of them were wearing green. Second, there were over twice as many girls as boys.
That was another curious thing, everyone in the... room, was a teenager, like himself. There weren't any children and there weren't any adults.
"What the FUCK is going on?!" One of the girls in green screamed in frustration, causing him to recoil in surprise.
"Calm down. There's got to be a logical explanation." A boy beside her soothed.
"Really? REALLY?! Because if there's an explanation for all of this, I'd like to hear it!" The girl exploded.
"Actually, so would I." The boy beside her admitted.
Another step into the room caused a few of those in attendance to turn and look at him.
"What's going on?" A girl's voice asked from behind him, causing him to jump.
"I don't know. I just woke up."
"Me, too." The girl, also dressed in blue, said quietly and seemed to be on the verge of tears.
"My name's Joseph. Maybe if we put our heads together we can figure this out." He said in a gentle tone and did his best to smile, to put her at ease.
"Thanks. I'm Zarah." The girl responded, and it was then that Joseph noticed the number 105 embroidered on her upper left chest.
"It's nice to meet you, Sarah. What do you remember from before you woke up here?"
"My name is Zarah, with a 'Z'." She sternly corrected.
"Okay. Sorry." Joseph said immediately, then asked again, "What do you remember?"
"I was at school. There was a group of us who were selected for a special trip to the state capitol. There were three of us. We got into the van and... I don't remember what happened next. Things kind of get foggy after that."
"Yeah. Same here. But for me, we were supposed to be going to New York so that we could meet with Lisa Randall."
"She's a theoretical physicist." Joseph said, then explained, "You know all those standardized tests that we have to take? Well, they said that I have an aptitude for physics, so they wanted to do stuff to encourage my interest."
"Wait. That's kind of what they said to me, too. Except that they wanted to encourage my interest in group dynamics and social engineering... or something like that. All I know is that it sounded really creepy when they said it."
"It's even creepier now that we're here... wherever here is." Joseph said slowly, then a stray thought came to mind and he cautiously asked, "You aren't from Decatur High, are you?"
"Decatur? No. I go to Red Lake. Where's Decatur?"
"In Benton County..." Joseph said slowly, waiting for any sign of recognition. Finding none, he continued, "...Arkansas."
"Where's Red Lake?" Joseph asked, having a feeling that he wasn't going to like the answer.
Joseph looked around the room at all the people yammering or crying and spoke loudly, so he could gain their attention. "Does anyone know where we are or how we got here?"
The voices around the room quieted, and no one seemed to have an answer.
"All I know is that my principal called me to the office to talk about the permission slips for the class trip we were about to take then, the next thing I know, I'm here in Roofieville." One of the Green girls answered.
Joseph slowly nodded, then thought to ask, "Where are you from?"
As he was about to ask her name, another thought intruded on his mind. He looked around the group to verify his suspicion before saying, "There's only white people here."
"What?" The girl from Carrollton asked with surprise at the seeming non-sequitur.
"It's not a racist thing. But look around. I'm just trying to figure out what we've got in common so maybe I can figure out what we're doing here." Joseph explained, then continued, "It doesn't seem to have anything to do with where we're from, because we seem to be from all over the place. But we're all just about the same age and we're all white."
"So?" Another one of the girls asked indignantly.
"So... I don't know. Why would someone want to kidnap a bunch of teenage white kids from all over the country?"
"Ransom?" One of the green boys speculated.
"From the look of this place, I don't think money's a big worry for whoever's behind this. Besides that, my parents live from paycheck to paycheck. Whoever did this wouldn't get any money out of kidnapping me."
"My parents would probably pay them to keep me." Zarah said under her breath.
"So, why else would they kidnap us, drug us, and bring us here... wherever here is?" Joseph persisted.
"What are your grades like?" One of the girls asked curiously.
"A's mostly, a few B's." Joseph answered, then looked at Zarah inquisitively.
"Yeah. Something like that."
"Does anyone here have lower than a B average?" Joseph called out to the group.
After a moment of near silence, he decided that they had stumbled upon another of the criteria for their selection.
"What's going on?" A girl asked from the doorway.
The fact that she was confused wasn't a surprise. They all were. The fact that she had found her way to their meeting room also didn't set her apart. What did set her apart was the fact that she was wearing canary yellow coveralls.
"Where did you come from?" Joseph asked her cautiously.
"Back that way." She said as she pointed behind her to another hallway, opposite the one that Joseph had entered from.
"I mean, you're wearing yellow. Are there more people wearing yellow back that way?"
"Yeah, it was all Greens and Yellows back there and one Orange."
"Orange? How many of us do you think there are?" Joseph asked as his mind whirled.
"Has anyone found any food, yet? That's what the Yellows and Greens are worried about."
"No. But I just woke up a few minutes ago. I didn't even think to look."
"Is everything alright here?" A boy in yellow asked as he emerged from the hallway that the girl had come from.
"Yeah. It's alright. They seem to be calm." The girl confirmed.
"Have you guys figured anything out?" The boy in yellow asked as he looked around.
"Who are you?" Joseph asked slowly as a thousand and one other thoughts raced through his mind.
"I'm Stone and this is Alyssa."
"I'm Joseph and this is Zarah. What's going on back that way?"
"They're all scared half to death and taking it out on each other."
"Did you notice if there were any little kids or adults or anyone who wasn't white, back there?"
"No." Stone answered, then amended, "I mean, yes, I noticed. No, there weren't any."
Joseph nodded, then explained, "That's as far as we've gotten."
"We're all A or B students, too." Zarah interjected.
"Right. We were trying to figure out what we all had in common that might have given someone a reason to do this to us." Joseph explained.
The sound of running footsteps caused everyone to look toward the hallway that Joseph had emerged from.
Two people, a boy wearing black and a girl wearing purple jogged into the room and stopped.
"This is the fourth meeting room that we've found. Black, purple, gray, blue and now, here's green." The girl in purple said as she tried to catch her breath.
"Are they all in a row, or did you have to turn?" Joseph asked slowly, appearing to be on the verge of discovering something.
"We had to turn right at the black and purple room, then we had to turn right again back at the one between the Grays and the Blues. The boy in black responded and watched for Joseph's reaction.
"I'm guessing that since you're here that you didn't see any way out." Zarah said speculatively.
"No. Nothing but numbered doors, and meeting halls like this one." The girl in purple confirmed.
"How about food? Has anyone found food or water?" Stone interjected.
"No. Sorry." The boy in black answered regretfully.
"Attention, Level three residents. Please dress and proceed down the hallway outside your doors to one of the meeting halls. When you arrive, relax and everything will be explained. Please, do not be afraid. Your happiness is important to us." A voice said from all around them.
"Level three? Does that mean that there's two more levels like this one?" Stone asked aloud as he looked to the others for confirmation.
"At least two." Joseph said absently as his mind tried to process all that they had learned so far.
"Let's sit down and see if they're going to tell us what's going on." Zarah said reasonably.
"Yeah." Joseph agreed and walked with Zarah and the two 'runners', to take seats at the nearest table.
"I'm Ryan and this is Kenna." The boy in black said as he sat down.
"I'm Zarah and this is Joseph."
Before they could say more, people started trickling into the room from both hallways. The people from Joseph and Zarah's hallway were all dressed in blue, and everyone emerging from the other hallway was wearing green. There were about fifteen in total, all looking sleepy and confused. One of the Blue girls was carrying her boots as she scuffed into the room in her sock clad feet.
"Welcome to your new adventure." A man's voice said from all around them, then a panel lit up on one of the white walls to show the word 'Welcome' in bright, cheerful letters. It appeared to be a projection, but Joseph couldn't find a source for it and deduced that it was being projected from behind the smooth white wall which must be semi opaque.
"As some of you are no doubt aware, this great nation of ours is going through some troubling times at the moment. It is for that reason that you have been brought here. The members of Level 3 are some of the best and brightest of the up and coming generation." The man's voice said cheerfully.
"Lucky us." Ryan said under his breath.
"Until the crisis passes, you will be kept safe here, and we will make every effort to see to your needs." The voice continued.
"Where is here?" A girl on the other side of the room called out.
"Since today is your arrival day, there will be no testing. But from tomorrow forward, you will have to earn your food by performing certain tasks. Some of these tasks will be academic exercises, designed to help you reach your full potential, others will be chores to contribute to the well being of your community."
"Wait! If we don't do what they say, they won't feed us?" Kenna asked in surprise.
"Food dispensers are located in the quarters where you awakened. They will only dispense food for the person assigned to those quarters. The community areas are available for your enjoyment when your tasks for the day have been completed."
"We're going to have to find a way to get out of here." Joseph said quietly to his companions.
"For now, take the opportunity to get to know each other and become familiar with your accommodations. Further updates will be forthcoming. Have a nice day." The unrealistically cheerful voice finished, as the 'Welcome' image disappeared from the wall.
Joseph looked at his companions and quietly said, "From the way you described the layout of this place, I'm imagining a grid with two hallways top and bottom, and two on each side. Those hallways are connected by these meeting rooms, meaning that there would be eight, forming a square. There also might be a ninth room at the center, if we can find out how to get there. If it exists, it might also be the control room for all of this."
"Control. That's the key." Zarah said thoughtfully, "They went to a lot of trouble to drug us and bring us all here, so we know that they're serious about whatever their plan is. But now they have to control us. If we really think this through, there might be a way that we can use their commitment to the project and their expectations to our advantage."
Joseph slowly nodded, then said, "We're rats in a maze."
"Which would suggest observation." Ryan added.
"When that girl asked a question, the guy who was talking didn't answer and seemed not to notice. That could mean that they can't 'hear' us." Kenna said speculatively.
Zarah considered for a moment, then said, "That wasn't a guy. That was a computer."
"How sure are you?" Joseph asked her cautiously.
"I've heard that voice before. It's commercially available for speech synthesis programs."
"So, there's a chance that there's not really an actual person watching us..." Ryan speculated.
Joseph immediately shook his head, then said, "They've gone to too much trouble and dumped too much money into whatever this is to let it drive itself off a cliff. I'm betting that the computer voice is their way of making sure that they don't accidentally give us any clues about who 'they' are or what 'they' really have planned for us."
"It's got to be the government. Who else would be able to set something like this up?" Kenna asked as she looked around the group for confirmation.
"It doesn't fit." Joseph said slowly, then continued, "Why would the government build a facility like this to begin with? I'm not saying that they wouldn't kidnap or drug us, but once they had us, they'd just put us in barracks or Quonset huts or something."
"Yeah. And why only white people? That doesn't sound like something that the government would do." Zarah said uncertainly.
"Yeah, ask the Tuskegee Airmen about what the government would do." Kenna said with a knowing look at Zarah.
"Still, it seems like there's some other kind of motivation behind all of this. They said 'the best and the brightest' and 'the up and coming generation'." Joseph said and seemed to be on the verge of figuring something out.
"What have you come up with?" Zarah asked as a chill went up her spine. She couldn't account for the feeling, but had an idea that Joseph might be onto something.
"The end of the world." Joseph whispered as his expression became distant.
"What?" Ryan asked in surprise.
Joseph blinked and seemed to come back to the present before explaining, "Think about it. If a bunch of people... millionaires... were worried about the end of the world, what do you think that they'd do to prepare for it?"
"Build themselves bunkers so that they could take their families there and stay safe while the rest of the world goes to hell." Ryan answered, then looked to Kenna for confirmation.
After a moment to consider, Kenna nodded then asked, "So, what does that have to do with us?"
"You need to think longer term. After our civilization falls, what then? How do they pick up the pieces?" Joseph asked in a leading tone.
"With a bunch of smart kids who've been trained to do what they're told." A voice said from over Joseph's shoulder.
Joseph turned and saw that Stone and Alyssa were both standing there, listening to their conversation.
"What you said, it makes sense." Stone said thoughtfully, then focused on Joseph and continued, "But I think it's more than that. The girls outnumber the guys by quite a bit. Why do you think that is?"
"For breeding." Zarah muttered.
"Not just that, according to what the voice said, they know that we're all smart, that's one of the reasons why we were chosen. I think that not only do they want a bunch of smart people under their control, but they also want our smart kids." Stone said as he looked around the assembled group.
"And the male to female ratio suggests that they mean for each guy to father kids on at least three different girls." Ryan speculated.
"At a time." Kenna added, then continued, "If we were supposed to 'repopulate the earth', or something along those lines, then the need for genetic diversity would require that each man impregnate as many women as possible and that the women bear one child after another in an endless succession until they're no longer capable of childbirth."
Joseph slowly nodded, then asked, "How do you think that they're going to arrange that?"
"Viagra in our food?" Ryan suggested uncertainly.
"Viagra only increases blood flow to the penis, ensuring an erection. It doesn't do anything to stimulate sexual behavior. If their objective is really to get us hot and horny, they'll have to do that by stimulating the libido with an aphrodisiac." Stone said clinically.
"You sure know a lot about this stuff." Ryan said with a curious look askance at him.
"I'm a fifteen year old guy who gets decent grades. That doesn't really draw a lot of admirers. So, if I can't do it, I can at least read about it." Stone said unrepentantly.
There was a long moment of silence, until Joseph finally said, "The food dispensers will only provide food for the person assigned to those quarters. That's how they could be sure to give each person the drugs to make them do what they want."
"So when I eat, I might be getting fertility drugs and you might be getting aphrodisiacs?" Zarah asked speculatively.
"Or you might be getting birth control and I might be getting the equivalent of chemical castration, if they decide that we're not a good genetic match." Joseph countered.
Zarah thought about that for a moment, then quietly said, "Which brings us back to control."
"How long do you think they plan on keeping us here?" Alyssa asked the assembled group.
"I don't know." Joseph admitted, then regretfully continued, "But that might have something to do with why they only kidnapped teenagers."
There was a long moment of silence as the group digested the words.
Finally Zarah quietly said, "Oh... that long."
* * * * *
"Tammy thinks that this is all some kind of a psychological experiment that they're running on us." One of the Green girls said loudly from the other side of the room.
Zarah looked at Joseph inquiringly as he considered the idea.
"What could they be trying to prove?" Alyssa finally asked.
Zarah noticed that Joseph seemed to be lost in thought. After a moment to consider, she carefully answered, "Actually, they could be trying to prove any number of things about human behavior, group dynamics and the reactions to isolation within homogenous groups of people."
"Isolation? There's almost thirty people in here now. And if Joseph's right about the layout of this place, that might mean that there's about two hundred of us in here." Stone said challengingly.
"Not isolation from each other. More like isolation from the outside world. Think Lord of the Flies." Zarah explained.
Joseph slowly nodded, then said, "Actually, they might be right."
Stone looked at Joseph with surprise, then cautiously asked, "So, are you giving up on your end-of-the-world idea?"
"No. But it's best to formulate as many hypotheses as possible, then as things progress, search for evidence to disprove them."
Stone nodded, then cautiously asked, "Okay. What kind of evidence do you have that this is a psychological experiment?"
"What time is it?"
When Joseph didn't get an immediate answer, he continued, "Is it day or night?"
A few of the people surrounding their group were turning and listening to their conversation.
"What day of the week is it? What's the date?"
"That doesn't prove anything." Stone said halfheartedly.
"Why did they strip us naked and remove all our personal belongings? Why wouldn't they let us have our phones or tablets or anything else that might allow us to have some concept of the passage of time?" Joseph persisted.
"To keep us disoriented." Zarah whispered, mostly to herself.
Joseph nodded, then explained, "I can't say for sure that that's the reason behind this, but it seems like they went out of their way to make sure that we were as cutoff as possible from any concept of where and when we are."
Kenna slowly nodded, then quietly said, "That does sound like some kind of a big mind game."
Despite the number of people in the room, it was silent as everyone seemed to be pondering the possibilities.
Finally, Stone quietly said, "So, either it's the end of the world or they're messing with our heads?"
Zarah shook her head and responded, "There's nothing saying that it couldn't be both."
"That's right. The presence of one doesn't automatically disprove the other." Joseph agreed.
"Okay. But even if that's true, we should still be able to figure out when it is. I mean, they knocked us out and brought us here. That couldn't have taken more than a day or two." Ryan said in a somewhat anxious voice.
Joseph nodded, then thought to ask, "What day was it when you were... taken?"
Ryan had to think for a moment, but finally said, "Friday."
"Friday the second or Friday the ninth?" Joseph asked to confirm.
"For me it was Monday the fifth." Joseph said, then raised his voice and asked, "Is there anyone here that was taken after Monday, the fifth of November?"
"I was." A girl in blue said from the other end of the table and sounded not to be in the most stable condition.
"What was your name?"
"What day was it when you were taken, Brianna?"
"Tuesday, the sixth."
"Okay. Can you remember anything that happened on Tuesday?" Joseph asked, then explained, "It might give us an idea of what all of this is about."
"Yeah. President Ashwood sent planes and bombs and stuff to try and kill President Bryce."
"Wait. What?!" Joseph yelped.
"Yeah. I think I remember that, too." Alyssa said slowly, then continued, "Mrs. Bryce and one of their kids were shot, trying to get to safety."
"That's right, and it was election day." Brianna quickly added, as an afterthought.
"There was also a big hacking attack." A boy in green with a mop of unruly black hair interjected.
Joseph looked around and found that everyone, all of the nearly thirty people in the room, were listening to their conversation.
"What's your name?" Joseph asked the black haired boy.
"Tell us what you know, Wade."
"Well, I heard about President Bryce. By the way, I also remember hearing that his son, Chris, was probably going to be okay. I think the last thing I heard was that they weren't sure about the President's wife or their unborn baby." Wade said as he struggled to remember.
"Oh, Jesus. No wonder the 'end-of-the-world' alarm went off." Zarah whispered under her breath.
"But there was something else going on. Some kind of huge hacking thing, I think it happened on Monday, but I didn't hear much about it until Tuesday. There was all kinds of stuff about how President Ashwood had lots of people killed who opposed him or disagreed with him... or looked at him funny. I mean lots. And not just them, but their families, too. Of course, the people on the news were saying that it was all just a hoax but... I really don't think that it was." Wade finished anxiously.
Joseph thought about that for a moment, then said, "When the computer voice welcomed us here, it said that this country is going through troubling times and that's why we were brought here. If President Ashwood openly attacked President Bryce and somehow President Bryce was able to spill a bunch of secrets about President Ashwood, then I'd say that bullets and bombs and who knows what else are either going to start flying soon, or already have."
As the others were thinking about that, Wade slowly said, "I actually have no problem believing that, but I still don't get why they brought us here."
"We've had a few ideas about that, but none of them are too nice to think about." Joseph told him.
Wade smirked slightly, then said, "Well, being kidnapped, drugged then dumped in a 1960's vision of the future isn't too nice to think about either."
Joseph looked at their surroundings with wide eyes, then quietly said, "I can't believe that I didn't make the connection."
"I thought it was obvious. This is the same white plastic crap furniture that they had in all those 'just barely in color' sci fi movies from the 60's." Wade said as he gestured at the furniture in question.
When Zarah noticed the change in Joseph's expression, she quietly asked, "What's wrong?".
Joseph seemed to break out of his racing thoughts at the question and responded, "This is a lot worse than what I was thinking. It's looking more and more like we're caught in some rich whacko's doomsday scenario. But to make matters worse, whoever it is has no concept of reality. They've dumped tons of money into re-creating a 1960's fantasy and trapped us in it."
"What does that mean?"
"I had originally thought that a millionaire or a group of them had set this up so that they could rebuild after the fall of civilization. And I guess that could still be true. But what I hadn't anticipated is that the person planning all of this was an idiot. They watched cheesy old sci fi movies and didn't use them as inspiration, but literally re-created the entire scenario."
"So! Have you ever seen one of those movies with a happy ending? They're all psychological horror movies, ending in gruesome tragedy."
"Actually, I don't really enjoy sci fi movies, I'm more of a reader."
Joseph looked at her with surprise for a moment, then calmed himself before saying, "Okay. It may not be as bad as I'm making it out to be, but it still seems like we've been trapped in someone's re-creation of a bad movie that was a really stupid bad idea to begin with."
"Rich, racist, determined... and stupid. That's a dangerous combination." Stone muttered, mostly to himself.
Zarah looked at him speculatively, then slowly said, "Maybe there's some way we can make that work for us."
That caught Joseph's interest and he cautiously asked, "How?"
"I don't know, yet. But I doubt that I'm going to come up with any brilliant ideas until after I've had something to eat. I'm starving."
As she said the words, Joseph felt his stomach rumble in agreement. "Food sounds like a really good idea. Let's all go and eat and anyone who's interested in helping us figure out what to do next can meet us back here."
Sounds of agreement were spreading through the room when Ryan said, "We're going to have to jog back to the Purple and Black areas. Do you want us to take them any messages from you?"
"Yeah. If you find anyone who's interested, tell them what we've been able to figure out so far. If any of them have anything to contribute, have them meet us here."
"We'll do that, too." Alyssa said as she stood from the table.
"We'll be back. Don't start without us." Stone said as he also stood.
"You got it." Joseph said with a smile, then looked to Zarah to see if she were ready to go.
"I wonder if they put you in here because of your leadership skills." Zarah said with a smile at him.
"I don't want to make the mistake of giving them too much credit. We've already seen evidence of their flawed reasoning in creating this place to begin with. If the reason for me being here is anything more than the fact that I met their most basic selection criteria, it could be something as stupid as me looking like some 1960's heartthrob that none of us ever heard of before."
"Yeah. It could be that, too." Zarah laughed as they started walking down the hallway.
* * * * *
"This is mine." Joseph said as he stopped at his doorway.
"I'll see you in a few minutes. Bon appetite." Zarah said with a smile, then continued on.
Joseph slid open the door and was once again struck by the unrelenting 'whiteness' of the room.
He made a cursory inspection of the bedroom, not finding anything remotely resembling food waiting for him.
He walked into the bathroom, on the off chance that there might be something waiting for him in there, but the room was completely unchanged from when he'd been in there earlier.
As he walked back into the bedroom, he said aloud, "I thought you said that there'd be food in here."
"Outstanding requirements: Bed not made. Rectify situation to receive nourishment." The computerized voice said from all around him.
"Are you saying that you won't feed me unless I make my bed?" Joseph asked into the air.
"Outstanding requirements: Bed not made. Rectify situation to receive nourishment." The voice repeated.
If Joseph had any doubt about the voice being that of a computer, the exact repetition of the instructions, in word and in inflection, would have been enough to convince him.
He walked to the bed and did a half-assed job of adjusting the cover so that it lay flat.
As he was setting the pillow in place, he heard a movement from just past the foot of the bed.
He turned to see a table and low bench type chair emerging sideways from the wall. At the same time, and at the same slow pace, as though they were all part of the same mechanism, a panel in the wall was sliding aside to reveal something that looked like a milkshake, housed inside a lighted box that was a cube, about twelve inches wide, high and deep.
He cautiously picked up the glass and was surprised to find that it wasn't cold, as he would have expected.
A cautious sniff of the gray creamy looking concoction yielded no aroma. From the appearance, he might be able to convince himself that this was a cookies and cream milkshake, except that there was no evidence of cookies... or cream... or anything else, really. It was a sludgy gray liquid.
He thought for a moment about not drinking it, but had the feeling that it might be the only opportunity for him to have anything remotely resembling food in the foreseeable future. Besides that, him not drinking wouldn't punish them, whoever they were, to any measurable degree, but it would almost certainly result in suffering on his part.
He brought the clear hard plastic drinking glass to his lips and took a tentative taste.
The flavor wasn't unpleasant. In point of fact, it didn't appear to have any flavor at all.
The color was absolutely revolting, reminding him of when he helped his dad empty the collected water out of the shop vacuum in their garage. But he could close his eyes easily enough and not be overly bothered by it.
The texture, however, was a completely different matter. From its appearance, Joseph expected the 'sludge' to be somewhat thick, perhaps like a milkshake. But nothing prepared him for the unexpected viscosity of it.
Mucous... snails, slugs and various other gastropods came to mind as the lukewarm wads of gelatinous goo found their way to his stomach.
He very nearly choked, as he quickly placed the glass on the table beside him.
After a few deep breaths, he decided to go ahead and take a seat at the table, since it was so conveniently placed.
It took a few minutes of weighing his options before he screwed up his resolve and forced himself to drink some more.
His original plan had been to drink it down, all in one go, and be done with it. But near the midway point, his plan had to be altered.
He hadn't taken into account just how 'thick' the revolting gray sludge was. No matter how quickly he tried to drink it, it seemed to only go at its own snail's pace.
He drew in a few deep, desperate breaths and became aware of his eyes watering.
As he looked at his half-empty glass, another thing came to mind. He was actually starting to feel 'full'.
He nearly convinced himself that he would be able to endure on what he had already been able to force down. But before he could commit to that choice, he once again reminded himself that he was in a situation where he had no concept of time. There was no way of knowing when the next 'meal' would be provided.
After a deep inhale as much to brace himself, as to provide him the oxygen he would need to 'chug' the remaining 'food', Joseph brought the glass to his mouth and fought determinedly to drink it down.
Even so, he nearly ran out of air before the last vestiges of the slimy concoction were finally swallowed.
"Please return the glass to the dispenser receptacle." The computerized voice said in a tone that was a little too cheerful. In fact, to Joseph's ears, it sounded to be almost delighted in its triumph, coercing him into drinking the repulsive semi-gelatinous goo.
It only took a matter of seconds for him to reason that, if he refused, then food might be withheld from him as a consequence.
He stood and placed the glass back into the cube shaped space in the wall, where he had gotten it from.
As soon as he released the glass, the table, bench and panel in the wall started moving in unison.
"Thank you, have a nice day." The computerized voice said cheerfully.
"Blow me." Joseph responded darkly.
Within a minute, the table and bench had retreated and left nothing but a pattern of grooves in the wall, outlining where they had been.
* * * * *
The sound of a knock on the door nearly made Joseph jump out of his skin.
He quickly walked to the door and slid it aside.
"Did you enjoy your dinner?" Zarah asked with a knowing smile.
"That was, without a doubt, the most disgusting thing I've ever put in my mouth." Joseph said as he stepped into the hallway and slid the door closed behind him.
"I've had worse." Zarah said simply, then added, "But not by much."
"You've had worse than that?"
"Yeah. When I was about twelve or thirteen I was starting to get a little 'chunky' so I started drinking 'meal replacement' shakes to try and lose weight. It was just about as gloppy as this stuff, but it was also way too sweet and had really nasty perfumy artificial flavor." Zarah explained as they walked.
"You don't need to lose weight."
"Yeah. As soon as I accepted that I was never going to be a 'supermodel' I went back to eating normal food and everything sorted itself out."
"Well, I don't think weight gain is going to be a problem for us, if that's going to be our only source of nutrition."
"Yeah. That's something else that I was thinking about..."
"No." Zarah immediately responded, then explained, "Earlier we were trying to figure out what we all had in common. Did you notice that out of everyone in the meeting hall, no one was overweight?"
"No. It never occurred to me."
"The only reason I mentioned it is because, given the rate of obesity in this country, how statistically unlikely do you think it is that we'd end up with a group of people that all fall within the clinical definition of 'normal' weight?"
"You're right. I didn't notice anyone who was particularly thin, either."
"Do you remember if anyone in the meeting hall had glasses? I wasn't looking for it, but if there wasn't, that's another thing that we should probably check on." Zarah said as they walked through the doorway into the meeting hall.
The thought made Joseph uneasy, although he couldn't put his finger on exactly 'why' that was.
"If we're right about their plans for us, I mean, about the breeding thing, then I don't think that it would be too big of a leap in reasoning to assume that the people orchestrating all of this look upon women as primarily having value as 'baby factories'." Zarah added as she led the way to the table and took the seat that she had occupied previously.
Joseph automatically took the seat beside her and noticed that the four other people already in the room automatically moved to take seats with them. The only one of them that he recognized from earlier was Wade.
Joseph considered Zarah's words for a moment, then finally said, "I don't know if there's enough evidence to support that theory, but I haven't seen anything yet to disprove it."
"What are you talking about?" A blond girl in green asked as she turned in her seat.
"Eugenics." Zarah said simply.
Joseph felt a chill run up his spine at the invocation of the word.
"Does that mean that we've been kidnapped by Nazis?" The girl asked with a hitch of fear in her voice.
Zarah seemed to be considering the question carefully before she answered, "I'm not an expert on things like this, but from what little I know about it, eugenics was just one component part of the Nazi agenda."
"What's eugenics?" Wade asked timidly, appearing to be ashamed that he didn't already know.
Zarah flashed him a quick smile, before answering, "Like I said, I'm not an expert. But I came across some things in my grandparents' library that caught my interest and I did a little research. As I understand it, eugenics is the scientific theory about improving a confined human population by controlling their breeding to increase the occurrence of the most desirable inheritable characteristics."
Wade thought about that for a moment, then cautiously asked, "And you think that's what's going on here?"
"It's another possibility." Joseph said before Zarah could answer, then explained, "Try thinking about it this way. If someone were trying to breed a superior version of humans, what steps would they take?"
Zarah nodded, then continued the thought, "That doesn't mean that that's what's going on here, but in trying to make sense of all of this, we need to consider what their motivations might be."
"I thought you said that you weren't going to start without us." Stone said as he and Alyssa, along with four others dressed in yellow walked into the meeting hall.
Joseph smiled as he said, "We couldn't help ourselves."
Stone grinned at the answer, then asked, "What did we miss?"
"We were just discussing the possibility that we've either been abducted by Nazis or at least, by a group of people wanting to breed their own version of 'The Master Race'."
"Oh, is that all?"
Wade, who had been lost in thought, suddenly asked, "Do you really think that we've been captured by someone wanting to force the evolution of the human race?"
"Evolution isn't really the right term unless we start talking about timescales of tens of thousands of years. I think that 'selective breeding' is more accurate. The goal wouldn't be to produce the next taxonomic species of humans, because that's totally unrealistic. What we're talking about is more along the lines of what they do in breeding horses or dogs to produce thoroughbreds with the most desirable dominant genetic attributes." Zarah carefully explained, then quickly added, "I'm just going on my limited understanding of this. I don't really have any background in genetics or evolutionary science. I've just read some stuff."
"You know a lot more about it than I do. We weren't even allowed to say the 'E' word in my school." Alyssa interjected.
"What have you guys figured out?" A voice asked from behind them.
"Welcome back, Ryan. We're just floating theories, at this point." Joseph said to him pleasantly, then thought to ask, "Is Kenna coming back?"
"Yeah. She stayed behind to talk to the Purples and Grays about what you were talking about before." Ryan said as he walked to the table and took a seat.
"Did the Blacks come up with any new theories?"
"Aliens." Ryan said with a barely restrained grin.
"Wow! I hadn't thought of that one!" Joseph said with a laugh.
"There are a few of the Blacks and Purples who are pretty sure that we're not even on Earth anymore."
Zarah appeared to be more thoughtful than amused by the suggestion. Finally, she said, "Well, as absurd as it sounds, I can't see any reason to reject it until or unless we have conclusive evidence to prove that it absolutely isn't possible."
Wade was the one to voice what the majority present seemed to be thinking, "Well, except for the obvious... that it isn't possible."
"Under ordinary circumstances, I'd agree with you. But given the extraordinary situation that we've found ourselves in, we can't afford to dismiss any theory, out of hand."
Joseph considered that for a moment before decisively saying, "Ryan, the next time you talk to the Blacks and Purples, tell them to go ahead and do whatever they can to collect evidence to prove their theory. We're not necessarily 'onboard', but we'd be interested to hear their arguments."
More and more of those present could see the sense of what Joseph was suggesting.
Finally, Stone asked, "Do you want for us to ask the Yellows and Greens back in our room to do the same with the 'Eugenics Theory'?"
Joseph smiled at the suggestion and responded, "Yeah. That sounds like a really good idea. And the Blues and Greens in here can dig in and try to come up with arguments to support the idea that we've been abducted by a group of racist, misogynistic, Nazi millionaires who are a little bit too fond of 1960's sci fi movies."
"What if they started setting this up back in the 1960's or 1970's?" A girl in green asked cautiously. Joseph recognized her as being the one from Ohio who made the 'Roofieville' comment, earlier.
"What was your name?"
Joseph nodded, then said, "You might be right, Leah. There's no way that someone could have set something like this up in a matter of weeks. It's very possible that someone started working on this place decades ago, just waiting for the day when it could be used."
"What have we come up with?" A female voice asked from the hallway.
Joseph turned and smiled when he saw Kenna approaching with a girl dressed in gray coveralls. "Nazis, aliens and demented millionaires. Welcome back, Kenna. Who's this?"
"This is Autumn. She's here to find out what you've come up with so that she can report back to the Grays and Purples."
"Autumn, I'm Joseph and this is Zarah. Whenever you're ready, we can fill you in about our theory regarding the 'Doomsday Millionaires'. In yellow we have Stone and Alyssa, who can fill you in on the 'Nazi Eugenics' theory. Ryan, in black, can fill you in on the 'Alien Abduction' theory that the Blacks and Purples have come up with."
"When they said that you guys were on top of things, I really didn't think that you'd be this well organized. Everyone in our room's been whining about how much we miss our families and stuff like that."
Joseph sympathetically nodded, then quietly said, "All of us will probably be doing that at some point. It's only natural. But right now, we're trying to come up with as many theories as possible about where we are and what they're going to do to us."
"I guess that all of us just automatically assumed that this was something that the government was doing."
"Good. Then, when you go back there, ask them if they'd do their best to come up with as much proof as possible to support that theory. We're working under the assumption that this isn't being done by the government, but I don't think we have any compelling proof of that."
"Yeah. I think that it'll make them feel better to have something to do."
"Jesus God! How many of these things are there?" A girl in red coveralls asked in exasperation as she walked into the room.
"We've been assuming that there are eight meeting halls, but we don't have any proof of that, yet." Joseph answered her, then asked, "Who are you?"
"Randa." The girl said cautiously as she looked around the room at all the people dressed in various colors.
"It's nice to meet you, Randa. I'm Joseph and this is Zarah. We're all just meeting here trying to figure out who did this to us, what their objectives are and what steps we can take to get out."
"We haven't really talked too much about that. We've been working on trying to find a door or a window or a secret passage or anything else to get us out of here."
"Did you have any luck?" Wade asked with excitement at the idea.
"Yes." Randa said immediately, then quietly added, "All of it bad."
Cautious looks flashed around the room and Alyssa finally asked, "What happened?"
"After that little public-address speech in the meeting room, a few of the guys used one of the tables as a battering ram and broke through the wall."
"What did they find?" Wade asked cautiously.
"Another, even more solid, wall." Randa said simply, then continued, "And after that, we were told that we wouldn't be allowed to eat today."
That caught Joseph's attention and he asked, "Who wouldn't be allowed to eat? Just the ones who broke through the wall or all of you?"
"When we went back to our rooms, everyone wearing red or orange was told that due to our unacceptable behavior that we weren't going to be fed. We're going to have to do a whole list of things to 'earn' our food tomorrow."
"That's something that we're going to have to keep in mind. If we take any action, our color groups are likely to be punished for it."
"Another example of control." Zarah muttered.
Joseph nodded at her, then said to the assembly, "That doesn't mean that we won't take any action, but I think that it's going to be important that we be sure that everyone in our color groups is aware of what we're going to do and is willing to accept the consequences before we do it."
"I need to spread the word to the Grays. The way they've been acting, they might try something." Autumn said as she stood.
"We'll go with you." Ryan said, then looked to be sure that Kenna was going to follow.
"If you guys come up with anything good, be sure to send someone down to let us know." Kenna said, looking directly at Joseph.
"Unless anyone has anything else to add, right now, I'm going to go, too." Joseph said decisively.
Zarah looked at him, obviously not expecting that reaction.
When Joseph noticed, he explained, "I need a few minutes to clear my head. I was thinking of taking a long walk to see the rest of this place. I'd like to get a more real sense of where we are and how big this place actually is."
"Could you use some company?" Wade asked with a hopeful smile.
"The more the merrier." Joseph said with a grin at him, then looked at Zarah to see if she were going to join them.
"Are we talking about 'walking' or 'running'?"
"Walking. And we'll probably be making plenty of stops along the way, if we find anyone who wants to talk."
Joseph turned to look at the others who had gathered and said, "Anyone who wants to go exploring, you're welcome to come along."
After a moment to see that no one had any questions, Joseph and Zarah joined Ryan and Kenna at the entrance to the hallway that led back to his room.
Well, it looks as if we have another RU story, and I must admit, so far, I am quite intrigued. As always, MultiMapper has given us some real satisfying content to chew on.
I notice these kids are pretty bright. With all of them working together, they may just put all the pieces together and figure out some sort of solution. Any or all of the theories seem possible, but I guess we will have to wait to see what they can pin down.
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher