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As they were walking, Zarah asked, "What do you remember about when you were abducted?"
After a moment to think about it, Joseph replied, "Nothing, really. I remember going to the office to get signed out and to get my suitcase. Mr. Scott, the assistant football coach, was my chaperone. He was going to drive us to the airport... except, I don't know if we ever made it there."
"Do you remember eating or drinking anything before everything went fuzzy?"
"No." Joseph said immediately, then after another moment of thought, he clarified, "I'm not saying that I didn't, I'm just saying that I don't remember it. I don't remember feeling drugged or like I was falling asleep or anything. We were in the van and everything was normal, then it's like I sort of remember things happening after that, but I can't remember what they were. It's like there's a fog over my mind when I try to remember."
"Yeah. That's just what it's like for me, too." Zarah said darkly. "I have the feeling that there's a lot more that happened. And just like you, I don't remember feeling drugged or falling asleep. It's funny you said that about your suitcase. We did that, too. Vonette, Lajni and I were all excited about our trip. We were going to be gone overnight and brought our suitcases to school."
"For me it was a visit to PSU to tour their track and field facilities." Wade added in a subdued tone.
"Do you run track?" Joseph asked with interest.
"Yeah. Well, I just started at the beginning of this school year, but the coach was saying that if I kept trying and really stuck with it, that I could be pretty good."
"Did you have your suitcase and permission slips and everything?"
"Yeah. I took my suitcase to school. I had trouble concentrating on school that day because I was so excited about the trip. After my last class, I went to the coaches office and... that's it. I think that I got into the school van, at least I feel like I did. But it's all so foggy that I can't be sure."
As they walked into the Blue and Gray meeting hall, everyone who was there stopped talking and looked at the group with surprise.
"We're just walking around, trying to get a feeling for how big this place really is. Are you guys alright?" Joseph asked tentatively at their worried expressions.
"Are you Joseph?" A red haired girl, dressed in blue, asked.
"Yes. And the other Blues are Zarah and Brianna. In Green we have Wade and Tammy. You might already know Autumn, Ryan, Kenna and Randa. At least, I think that they've all passed through here before."
"Yes. Ryan said that you'd figured some things out. Do you know where we are or how to get us out of here?"
"No such luck. We're doing our best to try and reason things out, but we aren't being given a lot of clues." Joseph said regretfully, then asked, "What's your name?"
"Mary Nicole. What do we do next?"
"Well, like I said, we're just walking around this place to see just how big it is and to see if we can spot any clues to help explain any of this."
"I think that if we don't find something to do pretty soon, we're going to go crazy."
"I tell you what. Right now we're working on trying to prove or disprove a lot of different theories as to why this is happening to us. The Yellows and Greens are working on the theory that this is some kind of selective breeding program, trying to breed the next generation of super smart people."
Mary Nicole seemed to be horrified at the suggestion, but Joseph carried on, "The Blacks and Purples are working on the 'Alien Abduction' theory, our group, the Blues and Greens, are working on the theory that a bunch of millionaires cooked this up to try and prepare for the end of the world or the fall of civilization."
"Do you really think that could be true?"
"We're going to do our best to collect evidence to either prove or disprove the theory." Joseph calmly answered, then continued, "The Grays and the Purples have sort of assumed that this is all being done by President Ashwood, or at least by someone high up in the government. We've asked Autumn if she'd ask them to look more deeply into that to see if they can come up with any evidence."
Mary Nicole slowly nodded and seemed to be getting over her surprise.
"If you guys would like to help us out, there's another theory that we've been looking at that no one's actively investigating."
"You want us to help you?"
"Yeah. I mean, unless you've got something else going on."
"No. I think we've mostly just been feeling sorry for ourselves and missing our families. What can we do to help?"
"Someone back in our meeting hall suggested that this all might just be some kind of elaborate psychological experiment..." Joseph was beginning to say, but was interrupted.
"That was me!"
Joseph smiled at her, then said, "That's right. Tammy suggested that all of this might be some carefully orchestrated psychological experiment to see how we'd react to this particular scenario. If you guys don't have anything better to do, I was hoping that you might want to get together and see what you can come up with to prove or disprove the theory."
Mary Nicole looked around at the people surrounding her for a moment, then finally said, "Yeah. I've noticed that we've got a pretty smart group here and I think that all of us would like to be doing something more productive than feeling sorry for ourselves."
"If you realize that you're feeling afraid or worried about your families, don't beat yourselves up about it. Feel what you feel and deal with things however you can. But when all that's done, this is something that you can do that will help all of us. No matter whether you prove or disprove your theory, it'll make things easier on everyone to have you taking on this part of the workload."
"I'm going to stay here and fill them in on what you already figured out." Tammy said decisively.
"Thanks, Tammy." Joseph said with a smile at her, then started walking toward the doorway which was at a ninety degree angle from the door that they had entered from.
* * * * *
"So, the Blue Gray room is a corner." Zarah said to Joseph as they walked.
"Yes. And unless I'm mistaken, all the doors along this wall belong to the Grays. We already know that the hallway we were in before was for the Blues."
"And if your theory about the design of this place is right, then the next meeting hall will belong to the Grays and the Purples and it will be a straight walkthrough with no turn."
"Yeah. From the description everyone has given, that sounds right."
"It is. The next room has doors on both ends, just like the room where I found you." Autumn confirmed.
"I feel like we should be doing more." Ryan said as he walked up to Joseph's side.
"I know. If there were something or someone to beat the hell out of and blame for all this it'd probably make us all feel a lot better." Joseph said sympathetically.
"We tried that. It didn't work." Randa muttered.
"I bet that, just for a minute or two, everyone in your meeting hall was cheering and hollering and really hoping that they were about to find a way out." Joseph said to her, speculatively.
"So, even if they didn't find a secret elevator or something behind that wall, at least they were able to actually, physically do something. And while they were doing it, everyone around them was able to experience a little hope. I think that regardless of the consequences and no matter the futility of the effort, that we're probably going to see more events like what happened with the Reds and the Oranges. No matter how smart we are, we can't deny our human nature. No matter how irrational the action may be, we will always fight against our captivity."
Randa smiled, then said, "I'm glad that you're not looking down on us because we acted emotionally rather than thinking it through, first."
"You took action. I have no problem with that. I regret that your groups are being punished because of it, but now we know what will happen if we take overt action against what's being done to us."
"Maybe it will make everyone feel better if I tell them that."
"Autumn, do you want to take the lead? We're in your territory now." Joseph asked as they approached the entry to the next meeting hall.
* * * * *
"These are the people that Ryan was telling us about." Autumn said as she led the way into the room.
"Do you guys know what's going on?" An older boy asked anxiously. He was dressed in gray and appeared to be about seventeen or eighteen years old.
Joseph stepped forward and said, "We're still trying to sort that out. Most of what we've come up with is educated guesses, and it's possible that any or all of our assumptions are wrong because they're based on 'evidence' that might have been fed to us."
"Okay. I get that. But what have you come up with?"
"First, I'm Joseph, what's your name?"
"Jason... they kind of made me their leader."
"Yeah. I can sympathize." Joseph said with a grin, then continued, "Okay, Jason, so far what we've come up with is that some person, people or organization has arranged for all of us to be abducted. They were somehow able to set things up so that all of us had excused absences so that our friends and families wouldn't think that there was anything wrong until it was way too late for them to investigate what 'really' happened."
"I never even thought of that. I was supposed to be going to some special scout training, out of town..."
"You're a Boy Scout?"
"Yeah. Ever since I was seven."
"That takes a lot of commitment and dedication. No wonder you got to be leader of your group."
"Anyway, we were all drugged, but none of us can remember 'how' we were drugged. I really don't know anythingabout stuff like that, but it seems like we must have been given something that wipes out or 'clouds' short term memory. I think that all of us have the sensation that we did something more than we remember, but no one remembers what it is."
"So, after we woke up, we went to the meeting halls and started trying to figure things out. In our meeting hall, we tried to discover why we were chosen, what things did we have in common that they could use as selection criteria."
"We're all fourteen or fifteen."
"Yeah, except for you. You're the oldest person that I've seen in here so far."
"Actually, I'm fifteen."
"Oh. I didn't know they made fifteen year olds that big."
"It's the Florida sunshine that does that." Jason said timidly.
"Must be." Joseph chuckled, then continued, "You're right, age is a big one. But we've also noticed that everyone here is white. No one is fat. None of us is in any way handicapped or even wears glasses. All of that doesn't prove anything, but when you consider what our captors' plans might be... it's a little creepy."
"That would also explain why there are so many more girls than guys..."
"Yeah. Like I said, it's all just guesses at this point, but going on what we've seen so far... I don't know what to tell you."
"Back in their meeting room, Joseph was asking if we could help by trying to prove that it's the government that arranged all of this." Autumn said, breaking the silence that had fallen over the hall.
"Yeah. If you don't have anything else that you need to focus on, it would really help us out."
"What do you want us to do?"
"Well, Autumn said that you were working under the assumption that what's happening to us is being done by the government. I, personally, don't think that's the case. I'm not saying that Ashwood wouldn't do something like this, I'm just saying that they wouldn't implement it this effectively. But anyway, if you'll just keep on doing what you're doing and try to find any evidence that the government really is behind this, it'll leave the rest of us free to work on other theories."
"What other theories?"
"I can fill him in, if you need to be going." Autumn quickly offered.
"Thanks Autumn. We've got quite a bit of ground to cover, so we probably should."
"Thanks for explaining things, Joe." Jason said with a teasing smile.
"Anytime, Jayce." Joseph responded with an answering grin before turning to leave.
* * * * *
"Oh. My. God! That guy was cute!" Zarah said in a whisper as they entered the hallway.
"And I'm not?" Joseph asked as he tried to restrain his smile.
"Oh, you're cute, too. He's just drop dead cute."
"I guess I can accept that."
Zarah looked at Joseph carefully. Once she was sure that he wasn't offended, she relaxed as they continued to walk.
"We're heading for the Purple and Black room. Who wants to introduce us to the natives?" Joseph asked with a smile.
"You're enjoying this, aren't you?" Zarah asked from his side.
"I'm not enjoying the situation that we're in, but I'll admit that I'm enjoying walking around and getting to know people. I never really got to do anything like that before." Joseph said with a smile, then noticed that Kenna was looking at him anxiously.
"Remember, these guys are really serious about the alien thing, okay?" Kenna asked quietly.
"I already said that I wasn't going to dismiss the idea. If they can come up with some evidence, I'll consider it as seriously as any of the other theories." Joseph assured her.
Kenna looked at him carefully, seeming to judge his sincerity. Finally she motioned to Ryan to join her as she moved ahead of the group.
Joseph and Zarah glanced at each other, but said nothing more as they continued to walk down the long hallway.
* * * * *
"This is Joseph, he's the guy I told you about from the Blue and Green room. He came with us to see what you've found." Kenna said as they walked into the next meeting room.
The girl at the head of the table was dressed in purple coveralls and wore an expression that told Joseph that she was prepared to defend her beliefs.
"There have been a lot of different theories going around about what has happened to us and who is behind it. If you'd be willing to work with the rest of us, we'd be grateful if you'd gather whatever evidence that you can find to support the idea that we've been abducted by aliens. While you're doing that, we'll be working on other theories, ranging from millionaire nazis to this all being some sort of elaborate psychological experiment." Joseph explained.
The girl blinked with surprise at his forthright presentation and finally said, "We'll do our best to find whatever evidence we can."
"Our meeting room is two hallways up that way and one to the right. If you discover something important, or have any questions for us, just send someone to let us know."
"We will. And you do the same, you know where to find us."
"By my estimation, we're not even halfway through this thing, so we'd better get going."
"Are you saying that you're walking the perimeter of the station?"
"Yes. Even though I can estimate how big this place is in my head, it's not going to seem 'real' until I've actually seen it."
"Would you mind if I went along? Now that you've explained it, I think that I'd also like to get a physical sense of our surroundings."
"What was your name?"
"Well, I'm Joseph, the other Blues are Zarah and Brianna. The Green is Wade. I think you probably know Kenna and Ryan and you might have also met Randa as she was passing through here."
"It's nice to meet all of you. Are we ready to go?"
"Ready when you are." Joseph said with a smile at her, then walked to the door which was at a ninety degree angle to the door that they had entered through.
* * * * *
"Here's my room. Does anyone need to stop for a bathroom break?" Ryan asked as he indicated a door with the number 44 posted beside it.
When no one immediately answered, Joseph said, "I'm surprised that you made it all the way to our meeting room as early as you did. That must have been quite a run."
"To be honest, I was a little bit freaked out and the jogging helped me to calm down." Ryan said, then glanced at Kenna before continuing, "Having someone to talk to helped, too."
"Do you have any idea of what these guys are like, up ahead?"
"No. My door was just a couple down from the meeting hall with the Purples, so I automatically went there."
"We've had several Blacks come to our meeting room, but Randa was the only Red who did more than peek in the door." Lisa added.
"I can understand that. The people in the Red and Black meeting hall kind of gave me the creeps." Randa reluctantly told them.
"Really? What did they do?" Joseph asked curiously.
"Nothing. I mean, it's not like they tried to hurt me or anything. They just gave me the creeps so I got out of there as quickly as I could."
"Well, if you get too uncomfortable, you can go on ahead and we'll meet you at the next meeting hall."
"Actually, I might do that. My room is in the hallway that leads there."
"We'll check out what's going on in the... what is it, Red and Black room?"
"Yeah. Although there were also a few of the Oranges in there when I passed through."
"And we already heard that there was an Orange in the Yellow and Green room, so itâ€™s sounding more and more like this place is a giant square."
"Like the base of a pyramid." Lisa added.
Joseph smiled at the words, but remained silent as he continued walking.
* * * * *
"Isn't it wonderful?" A younger looking boy, dressed in black, asked as they entered the next meeting hall.
"What?" Joseph asked cautiously, then noticed Randa's 'told ja so' expression directed at him before she hurried through the other door, on the other side of the room.
"It's the end of days and we've been chosen!".
"Blue and Green? I'd heard about the Yellows, but nobody said anything about Blues and Greens." An older looking boy said as he approached them.
"Yeah. It appears that this place is a big giant square and we're from the exact opposite side. We were just walking around to see if anyone knew how we got here or what was going to happen to us."
"It's just like it says in the bible. In the last days, His chosen will be taken to paradise."
"So... you think this is the rapture? And we're the chosen?"
"Yes. Only the chosen few will be taken, incarnate, to live in paradise forever and ever." The boy said joyfully as the slightly younger boy at his side nodded his agreement.
"Well... from my point of view, my presence here disproves your theory. But I really don't know enough about religious things to say much about it. I tell you what, if you really believe that this is the rapture, would you see what you can do to come up with some kind of proof or arguments to convince the people who don't believe?"
"God doesn't give proof. You have to have faith." The younger looking boy said earnestly.
"Yeah. Isn't that convenient?" Joseph absently replied, then looked at the older of the two and said, "We've been walking around this place and asking everyone that we've encountered what they think happened to us, and then asking them to do their best to find evidence to either support their argument or disprove it. If you'd like a chance to present whatever argument you can come up with to the rest of the people here, I'll do my best to get the others to listen to you."
After a moment to consider, the older looking boy quietly said, "This could be our reason for being here, to get the rest of His chosen to accept His way."
"Good luck with that." Joseph said weakly, then motioned for his companions to accompany him as he walked toward the doorway that led to the Red hallway.
* * * * *
"After seeing how you talked with me, I somehow thought that you'd be a little more... I don't know, telling them what they wanted to hear or something. I mean, I know that you don't believe in aliens, that much was obvious. But even so, you treated me with as much respect as though I believed just the same as you did." Lisa said thoughtfully as they slowly walked down the hall, away from the Red and Black meeting room.
"There's a big difference between you and them. You looked at the evidence and came to a different conclusion than I did. I can totally respect that. They looked at the same situation and found something to justify the beliefs that they already held, disregarding everything else." Joseph explained.
"If they go through with it and come up with some arguments to support what they're trying to prove, are you going to listen to them?" Wade asked curiously.
"Yes. Of course. While I seriously doubt that they'll find anything remotely resembling proof of what they're claiming, it's always possible that they'll come up with something that we've overlooked, because we're approaching the situation with a completely different mindset."
"Still, I can understand why Randa was creeped out by them. I just hope they don't start going door-to-door, wanting to share the 'Good News'."
"Wouldn't that just be our luck? On top of being kidnapped, drugged and stuck inside this white plastic monstrosity, we also have to put up with unrelenting evangelicals."
"I think that would be even funnier if Lisa's right, and we've really been abducted by aliens." Zarah interjected.
A laugh spread through their little group and even Lisa saw the humor in the suggestion.
* * * * *
Any good cheer that they might have been feeling suddenly left them as they entered the next meeting hall.
There were close to twenty people dressed in red and orange coveralls, mostly girls, sitting at the tables and determinedly not looking at the broken plastic panel in the wall.
"Blue and Green, too?" One of the few boys in the room said when he noticed them.
"Yeah." Joseph confirmed, then asked, "How are you guys doing?"
"You don't have any food, do you?" The boy asked reluctantly, obviously not expecting them to say 'yes'.
"No. But if it's any consolation, what they fed us tasted like it's already been eaten at least once."
The boy considered that for a moment, then broke into an unwilling smile.
"My name is Joseph. We're just walking around this place meeting people and trying to get an idea of how big it really is."
"I'm Korbin. Have you found anything interesting?"
"Yeah. I've met lots of interesting people so far, and most of them have been willing to help me, trying to figure out what's happening to us."
"We're prisoners here. What else do you need to know?"
"We're hoping that if we can figure out who kidnapped us, where we are and what they plan to do with us, that we can come up with some way to escape or call for help or... at least do something."
"I did something." Korbin said as he gestured over his shoulder with his thumb, indicating the broken wall. "We all got punished for it."
"Yeah. Randa told us about that. I really wish that I had some food to give you or some other way to help you out. But because you did that, now we know that they'll withhold food as punishment. It's not just an empty threat."
"Glad I could help."
"Well, I wasn't going to ask, but since you brought up the subject of help..."
"What do you want?"
"As we've walked from one meeting hall to the next, we've been talking to people about what they think is really happening and who did this to us."
"Have you talked to the guys back that way, yet?" Korbin asked with a slight smile as he pointed back the way they came.
"Yes. I talked to them. I wasn't impressed."
Korbin nodded, then quietly asked again, "What do you want?"
"We've been asking each group we encounter who they think did this to us and why. Everyone's working on a different theory and trying to find as much evidence as possible to support it. Hopefully, by doing it this way, when we put our heads together we'll be able to figure out something that will help us get out of here."
"What do you want from me?" Korbin asked in a voice that indicated he was losing his patience.
"Do you have any theory as to who kidnapped us and why?"
"No." Korbin replied simply, then added, "And I don't care. All I want is to find a way out."
Korbin looked at him with surprise at his easy acceptance.
"Iâ€™ll tell you what. If I find out that anyone has any theories about a way to get out of here, I'll be sure to let you know about it. I've got people working on trying to think us out of this mess. But it's very possible that you might be able to work our way out."
After a moment for the words to sink in, Korbin slowly nodded his head.
"And if there's anything that you need, get word to me and I'll do whatever I can to get it for you."
"Do you think you could lay your hands on a jackhammer for me?"
"I haven't found one yet, but I promise, as soon as I do, it's yours."
"I'd appreciate that."
"And there's one thing I can think of right now if you're really serious about trying to get out."
Korbin looked at him with more than a little interest.
"That wall you tried to break through is an outside wall. I have no idea where we are, but there's a good chance that it might be underground..." Joseph trailed off as he glanced at Lisa, then dutifully added, "...or in space."
Korbin's eyes went wide in surprise at that.
"Either way, breaking through an outside wall probably isn't the best way of getting out of here. If you look at the layout of this place, it's a big square. The thing is, so far the center of the square is unaccounted for. So it's possible that there could be a control room or an elevator or something there, if we can just find a way to reach it."
"So, do you think I should have tried breaking through that wall?" Korbin asked as he pointed across the room.
"Maybe... Maybe not. This is a corner, so I don't know if it would get you anywhere. I think it would probably be more likely to get you to the central room or whatever if you broke through the innermost bathroom wall of one of the rooms." Joseph said thoughtfully, then quickly added, "Of course, that's just a guess! And there might just be a 'door' somewhere. You should probably look for that first."
"We've been looking at the outer wall. I never thought about there being a room in the middle of this place."
"Well, like I said, it's all just a guess. But if anyone comes up with any other guesses that sound like they could pan out, I'll be sure and get them to you. While the rest of us are trying to think our way out of here, we're going to be counting on you to work our way out."
"Yeah. Thanks." Korbin said as thoughts seemed to be flashing a mile a minute behind his eyes.
"Remember, let me know if you need anything."
"Yeah. I'll be waiting on that jackhammer."
"I'll have it to you as quick as I can." Joseph said with a grin, then looked back at his companions to see if they were ready to go.
"Is it okay if I come along?" Randa asked timidly as they started walking toward the door.
Joseph flashed a quick smile at her, then said, "Sure. Just be sure to pay close attention as we go so you can fill Korbin in on what we find."
* * * * *
"I wonder if maybe the Reds might have the right idea." Zarah said as they walked.
"Maybe." Joseph muttered, then continued, "I think that this is one of those instances where we have to try as many things as possible until we find something that works."
"Is there anything you can think of that we can do to get them some food?" Brianna asked quietly.
"No. I wish that there were, but with the controls they have on our food supply, I really can't think of any way around it."
"When you got your food, did a table and chair slide out of the wall for you?" Zarah asked cautiously.
"If you look at the layout of the room, and assuming that all the rooms are the same, that would mean that there has to be some sort of a cubby hole or crawlspace between rooms."
Joseph thought about that for a moment as they walked and finally said, "You're right. I'd like to look at two rooms that are side-by-side so that we can see if they really are all the same, or if every other one is a mirror image. But either way, the furniture that slides out of the wall has to go somewhere when it's retracted."
Intrigued by the suggestion, Wade added, "We should be able to measure from doorway to doorway and get an idea of the distance between them, then measure the width inside each room to find out how much room we're missing."
"Except that we don't have a tape measure, to measure with." Randa interjected.
"You don't need a tape measure, just something of a fixed length. If you can't find anything better, you could tie your coveralls all in a row and use them like a rope to judge the distances." Lisa said thoughtfully.
Joseph looked at her with a smile of surprise. "That's a good idea. Would you mind asking a few of the Purples and Blacks to help you with that?"
"Yeah. I'll do that as soon as I get back." Lisa promised.
"You can use my room, if you can find number 43 or 45 so that we can check theirs out, too." Ryan volunteered.
"What do you want?" A girl, dressed in orange coveralls asked as they approached the doorway to the next meeting hall.
"We're just walking around, talking to people, and trying to get a feeling for how big this place really is." Joseph answered simply.
"You're not the majority here."
"As far as I know, there's the same number of each color. There is no majority."
The girl turned to face Zarah and said, "They can't control us, here. We're the majority. We make the rules, now."
"Shouldn't we all be working together, trying to find a way out of here?" Zarah asked cautiously.
"We're here for a reason. We're going to prove that a matriarchal society can operate more reasonably and efficiently than the male-dominated society that's kept us in a state of perpetual war throughout recorded history."
"You know what? Why don't you give us some time to think on that. Can we pass through your meeting room?"
"In time you'll realize that we're right. Come back to us when you're ready to join 'The Sisterhood'." The girl said as she stood aside.
"Come on, boys." Zarah said with a grin as she led the way.
Joseph, Wade and Ryan were careful to remain close as they walked into the Orange/Yellow meeting hall.
There were about fifteen girls in there, about evenly distributed between Orange and Yellow. All of them watched warily as the small group passed through their room.
* * * * *
"How did that happen in just one day?" Wade asked in amazement, once they were well away.
"Talk about Lord of the Flies." Joseph said with a shake of his head.
"Maybe they've got the right idea." Zarah said speculatively. "Men have been running things and making a mess of them for a long time now. Maybe it is time for women to give it a try."
"Are you thinking of joining 'The Sisterhood'?"
Zarah laughed at the suggestion, then said, "No. But I think it's an interesting idea. Considering where we are and what's been done to us, I think that we have more important things to focus on, at the moment. If we're going to figure this out and find a way out of here, it's going to take all of us working together."
"I agree with them that male-dominated society has produced a variety of phallic weapons of destruction fueled by a cloud of testosterone bloodlust." Lisa said thoughtfully, then added, "But I don't think the answer is to dominate and subjugate the men. We need to learn to work side by side and not even consider which gender someone is."
Joseph nodded, then turned and asked, "What do you think, Randa?".
"I think they're nuts." Randa said simply. "We've been kidnapped. We don't know what they're going to do to us next. The last thing we need is to bring in more drama to cloud our thinking and divert us from what should be our objectives."
"Right. If we can put our heads together and come up with some answers, then maybe we can find a way out of here."
"Or maybe, while you're doing that, Korbin might find a way out." Randa interjected.
"That would work, too."
"It'd really help me if someone could draw me a map of this place." Wade shyly admitted.
Joseph looked at him and regretfully said, "So far, I haven't come across any paper, pens or anything else that we could use to do that. It's possible that later we might have some sort of computer access or something, since the voice said that we'd have to do lessons. But besides that, I can't think of any way that we could do it."
"If you really needed to, we could come up with a crude layout using socks and things to represent the different areas of the... complex." Zarah said helpfully, then quietly added, "We should really come up with a name for it, just to make conversation easier."
"With everyone we've talked to, it seems to me that we're going to have to either have a mass meeting, or at least a summit meeting with representatives from each color group so that we can pool our information and coordinate our efforts." Joseph said thoughtfully, then turned to Zarah and continued, "I think that if we're going to come up with a name, we should do it then, so it will be universally understood."
"There's the next door. Should we be on guard?" Ryan asked cautiously.
"No. This should be Stone and Alyssa's room." Joseph assured him.
"So we're almost back?" Wade asked to confirm.
"Yes. The next meeting room after this one should be ours."
* * * * *
"How are things going?" Joseph asked as he and his group walked in.
"Everyone, these are the people we were telling you about." Alyssa said to the group of people, gathered around the tables.
Joseph noticed that they were nearly equally divided between Yellow and Green and that there was one conspicuous Orange, present. Since the one in Orange happened to be a boy, and considering what he had learned of 'The Sisterhood', he could certainly understand why he chose to share company with the Yellows and Greens.
"I'm terrible with names. I know Joseph and Zarah, but they'll have to tell you who everyone else is." Alyssa finished a bit shyly.
Joseph looked to Zarah and nodded for her to go ahead.
"In Blue we have Brianna. In Green we have Wade. In Purple we have Lisa and Kenna, in Black we have Ryan and in Red is Randa."
"No Oranges?" The orange clad boy amongst them asked with a knowing grin.
"No. We didn't do much more than pass through their area." Joseph said with a smile, then thought to ask, "What was your name?"
"So, are you here spying for 'The Sisterhood', or hiding out from them?"
"Hiding out. And the rest of the Orange guys are, too. I think that they all ended up with the Reds."
"So, you're not onboard with the female dominated society that they have planned?"
"Who voluntarily becomes a second class citizen?"
"Good point." Joseph said with a nod of agreement, then turned to look at Stone and asked, "Have you been able to come up with anything?"
"We decided to split the work. Half of us are brainstorming to come up with a more comprehensive list of what traits all of us have in common. The other half are working on what traits someone wanting to breed humans for their own purposes might be looking for." Stone explained.
"And when you're done, you'll compare the two lists and see how well they match up." Joseph said with a nod.
"Even if it matches point for point, it won't prove anything. But I think it will lend credence to the idea and might possibly give us an insight into their motivations and expectations."
"As soon as we get back to our meeting hall, we'll need to get to work on our theory. I'm glad we did our 'walkabout', but we promised to do something and we need to buckle down and do it."
"How was it? What did you see?" Alyssa asked curiously.
Joseph could tell that everyone in the meeting hall was interested to hear the tale of their travels.
After a glance at Zarah, to see if she wanted to explain, Joseph finally said, "Well, since you're working on the 'Eugenics', you know that we've been asking people to investigate different theories. In our room, we're investigating the theory that one or more millionaires prepared a doomsday bomb shelter so that he or they could wait out the 'end-of-the-world' or the fall of civilization."
Joseph glanced around the room and found that everyone in attendance was paying their full attention.
"In the next room, we asked that they investigate the possibility that all of this is just some elaborate psychological experiment, seeing how we'll react when placed in this situation."
"I hadn't thought of that. It could be, couldn't it?" Kenyon asked thoughtfully.
Joseph smiled at him, then continued, "The next room was Autumn's, where the Grays and Purples meet. Since they were already working under the assumption that this is all something being done by the government, we asked them to pursue that line of reasoning to see if they could come up with any compelling evidence."
"Ashwood wouldn't kidnap us, he'd torture and kill us." One of the Green girls said vehemently.
"And rape." Zarah added.
At Joseph's surprised look, Zarah explained, "President Ashwood has always struck me as being kind of 'rapey'. Do you know what I mean?"
Joseph couldn't contain his smile and said, "I'm pretty sure if you look in the dictionary under 'rapey' you'll see Ashwood's picture."
A few chuckles spread around the room at the comment.
Joseph became serious as he went back to his summary of their 'walkabout'. "After we left the Grays and Purples with the 'Government Conspiracy Theory', we moved on to the next meeting hall where the Purples and Blacks meet. They're investigating the theory that we might have all been abducted by aliens."
"You can't be serious!" Kenyon blurted out.
Joseph looked him in the eyes and said, "If you looked at our situation and came to me with a theory, whether I believed it or not, I'd encourage you to follow it through and try to prove or disprove it. As far as alien abduction goes... well, I don't think anyone here can deny the 'abduction' side of it. So that's half the battle already won. I'm willing to wait and see what they come up with for the other half. Even if they can't prove to me that it's aliens behind all of this, they might still come up with some evidence or a new theory as to 'who' is doing this to us."
"Yeah. Okay." Kenyon relented, then thought to add, "It's good that you're not automatically rejecting things that you don't believe. It'd be easy to miss something by doing that."
"Well, I guess that leads us to the next room we encountered, the one shared by the Reds and the Blacks." Joseph said reluctantly.
Before Joseph could continue, Kenyon quickly said, "I already told everyone about them. I heard about them before I came here. They're a bunch of religious nutjobs who think this is 'the rapture'."
Joseph nodded his agreement.
"Why did you accept the alien abduction theory and reject the religious one?" Alyssa asked curiously.
"I didn't 'accept' or 'reject' either one. But as far as the religious theory goes, religion by its very nature requires that you believe things with no evidence, and in many cases that you continue to believe 'despite' evidence. If you can't trust that reality is 'real' and you make-yourself-believe, or 'make-believe', what is unreal, then I have no choice but to count anything you say as questionable, at best, because your judgements and decision-making are based outside of reality."
Alyssa shrugged, "I just wondered."
"Even so, I invited them to try and come up with a reasonable argument to state their position to the rest of us. I don't think anything will come of it, but I'm willing to hear them out." After a glance at Lisa, to see if she were offended, Joseph continued, "After that we went to the meeting hall where the Reds and Oranges meet. They used one of the tables in their meeting room as a battering ram to try and break through the wall."
"What did they find?" Kenyon asked excitedly.
As much as Joseph didn't want to quell his enthusiasm, he continued on and reluctantly said, "Another wall. I'd say from the look of it that there were probably some electronics hidden in there, but they were retracted so you couldn't see anything more than some grooves in the white plastic."
When Joseph paused, Randa quietly added, "And because they did that, all the Reds and Oranges were punished. They weren't allowed to eat."
"I didn't have any problem." Kenyon said in confusion.
"They gave you food?" Randa asked with surprise.
"Yeah. Just a little while ago. I held off as long as I could, because I didn't want to have to get past the 'Amazons'. But when I couldn't wait any longer, I went back to my room and was given a tall glass of 'Snail Trail'."
Joseph pondered that for a moment, then speculatively said, "So that must mean that whoever's watching us must have known that Kenyon wasn't involved in the attempt to break through the wall."
"If nothing else, that confirms that we're being observed." Stone said uneasily.
"Right. And not just as groups, but they're aware of what the individuals are doing." Zarah added.
"Which means that they're probably listening to everything we say and know exactly who is in this room with us, right now." Randa said as she looked around anxiously.
"Maybe. But it seems unrealistic that they would be doing that for every single one of two hundred people." Joseph said thoughtfully.
"So they might just be following a few select individuals?" The Green girl from Ohio, Leah, asked.
"Or they might be following different groups. Or maybe just observing what we're doing in our meeting halls." Alyssa speculated.
Joseph looked at his companions, then slowly said, "I think that it's impossible for us to know, at this point. But all of us should pay close attention and see if we can find any other instances where they treat us as individuals rather than as parts of a group."
"I was thinking." Stone said, drawing everyone's attention, "What do you think the chances are that there are some sort of tracking chips or something in the clothes that they gave us to wear?"
"I think that's entirely possible. And since they had us unconscious and at their mercy for an unspecified period of time, it's also possible that they implanted some sort of tracking chip inside of each of us, so it wouldn't matter what clothes we wore."
"Wouldn't we notice that?"
"Not if they used the same kind of chip that they use for dogs, they're small enough that they can be injected. They'd probably do it somewhere that you wouldn't notice like in the middle of your back."
Seeming to be disturbed by the idea, Stone turned to Joseph and asked, "Have you given any more thought to how long they kept us unconscious?"
"Yeah. I've come up with a few things, but I still haven't been able to make it add up."
"Why don't you tell us what you've got? Maybe we can work through it with you?"
Joseph looked at his companions to see if any of them were anxious to keep moving. When none of them gave a reaction, Joseph walked to the table and took a seat across from Stone.
Within a minute, the rest of their group had also taken seats and waited to hear what Joseph had come up with.
"Well, when I woke up, I noticed that I had six needle marks on my arms. From the progress of healing on each of the marks, I'd say that they were probably done at regular intervals."
"So that could mean six days." Stone said thoughtfully.
"Since we don't really have 'days' or 'nights' here, I can't automatically make that assumption. But, for the purposes of what we're doing, let's go ahead and say that it was one a day, so we can move forward."
Stone nodded, encouraging him to continue.
"The other thing I noticed is my whiskers. I know you probably can't see them, but I'm in a habit of keeping them shaved, so I don't look scruffy. When I woke up, it seemed that I had more than a week of growth."
"Are you saying that you think it's longer than the 'six days' that we calculated from the injections?"
"Yeah. I've never really tracked the growth of my whiskers, but I'd estimate that it's closer to two weeks."
"Do you think that we've been kept unconscious for two weeks?" Kenna asked with surprise.
"No." Joseph said immediately, then explained, "It doesn't follow. If we were unconscious for two weeks, we'd have to eat, drink and use the bathroom. If they used feeding tubes on us, we'd still be feeling it in our throats. We'd still be feeling the catheters, too. Besides that, there would also be soreness and weakness from muscle atrophy."
"So, what does that mean?" Randa asked cautiously.
"I don't know. That's where it all breaks down."
After a long, silent moment, Lisa hesitantly said, "In some of the alien abduction cases that I've read, the abductees were up and moving around, not really awake, but more like they were sleepwalking. They'd say that it was like they had no control of their bodies."
"As horrifying as that sounds, it does seem to fit." Joseph reluctantly admitted.
"That also might tie in with the foggy memories." Wade said thoughtfully, "If they were able to hypnotize us or give us a drug that induces a hypnotic state, they could have ordered us to forget everything after a certain point."
"That's a lot more ifs and maybes than I'm comfortable with." Joseph admitted, then added, "But in the absence of a more realistic explanation, I don't think we have any choice but to go with it and do our best to find evidence to either prove or disprove the hypothesis."
"So we might have been up, walking around, just doing what we're told for days or weeks before we finally woke up here?" Leah asked anxiously.
Although Joseph didn't want to confirm it, he quietly conceded, "It's possible."
"Which begs the question, why did they ever let us wake up?" Stone asked reasonably.
Joseph took a deep breath before saying, "If we continue to work under the assumption that we were hypnotized, then the only one of our theories that seems to apply is the psychological experiments."
"But if they implanted hypnotic suggestions, wouldn't they be corrupting their results? I mean, we wouldn't be acting of our own free will. Right?" Zarah asked slowly.
"It would seem so, but people are capable of justifying all kinds of things when there's no one overseeing them. I suppose that we should add 'Mad Scientists' to our list of possible culprits."
"So, do you have any idea of what date it is?" Wade asked cautiously.
Joseph thought about it for a moment, then quietly said, "There's too much that we don't know to come up with any definite number. But taking everything into consideration, my best guess would be that it's sometime in the third week of November."
"Thanksgiving." Zarah said under her breath.
"Well, if they give us a turkey leg instead of another glass of 'Snail Trail' tomorrow, we'll have our answer." Wade said with a teasing glance at Kenyon.
"We'd better get back to our meeting hall and see if there's anyone there waiting for us." Joseph said as he stood.
"Yeah." Stone agreed, then said, "And we'll see if we can come up with any more ideas about the time that we were all blacked out."
"If you guys don't need me, I'm going to stay here, just in case they need to know about something we saw while we were walking around." Wade said quickly.
"Good idea." Joseph said with a grateful smile at him, then started walking toward the door to the hallway, which was at a ninety degree angle from the door that they had entered from.
* * * * *
"None of the theories really fit, do they?" Zarah asked cautiously as they walked.
"No. We seem to be coming up with more questions than answers." Joseph said in a worried tone.
"I think that as long as we still have questions, and we don't give up, that we'll be okay."
Ryan turned to Joseph and cautiously asked, "I don't know if you've thought about it, but if we're supposed to be rebuilding civilization after the fall, what do you think they're going to expect of us?"
"They'd probably be wanting people who understand how things work. They'd want mechanics, engineers, doctors... basically, the people who are essential for keeping a society going."
"Out of everyone we've met, do you think that any of them have a talent for any of those things?"
"Korbin, maybe. The vibe I get from him is that he's probably got a really good head for engineering."
"But what about the rest? What possible contribution do you think that they could make to help a broken society recover?"
"I see what you mean. We don't have the skills, and a lot of the skills that we would need, couldn't easily be taught in this environment. Whatever they have planned for us, it must be something else."
"Another question." Zarah said grimly.
"And another seemingly disproven theory." Joseph countered as they approached their meeting room.
"Where have you guys been?" A girl in blue asked suddenly when she saw them.
"We walked around the entire base, just so we could see how big it was." Joseph answered honestly.
"What did you find? Is there a pool or a weight room?"
"What's your name?"
"Landra." She answered immediately, then asked, "Is there a courtyard or a garden?"
"There's nothing more than what you see right here. It's just a lot of hallways with bedrooms and meeting rooms like this one."
"No. It can't be. There's got to be more." She said in a wavering tone, then dashed out of the room, down the other hallway.
"Denial of reality... I think I know just who she can talk to that will make her feel better." Zarah said as she continued to look where the girl had gone.
"We shouldn't encourage anyone to become lost in mythological nonsense." Joseph warned.
"If she can't cope with reality, then she's going to need a crutch. It looks like that's the only one we've got to offer her."
"We could send her over to the Amazons." Kenna said in a speculative tone, then added, "If she's feeling fragile, that could empower her."
"I'm not sure which would be worse." Joseph said honestly.
"Let me go see if I can find her. Maybe all she needs is someone to talk to about it." Lisa said with a smile at Joseph.
"I think that sounds like the best idea yet."
Ryan turned to Joseph and said, "We'd better be going, too. I have the feeling that there will be a lot of people along the way who'll want to know what we've found."
"Make sure you tell them to let us know if they come up with any new evidence or ideas about what's going on."
"You can count on it." Kenna said with a smile at him.
"Hang on. I'll go, too." Randa said as she hurried to join them.
"I guess we'd better dig in and see if we can sort all of this out." Joseph said as he looked at Brianna and Zarah, to see if they agreed.
"Yeah." Zarah said with a nod, then added, "Without any clocks or being able to see the sun, I'm completely lost as to how long it took us to wander around this place or even how long it's been since we've eaten."
"It's disorienting, I know." Joseph said sympathetically, then added, "But right now, we've just got one thing that we need to be doing, and that's trying to reason out what's happening to us."
Brianna was the first of them to take a seat, joining the four girls who were already sitting in the room.
Joseph and Zarah followed a little more slowly, but settled in to prepare for a long brainstorming session.
Joseph took a moment to collect his thoughts, and finally said, "I guess the first thing we need to work on is our primary task of proving or disproving that all of this is some millionaire's doomsday shelter."
"It might be, but after what we were talking about with the engineers and medi .. ... . »