Justin was, to say the least, a little surprised. But then what had he expected? Sam certainly wouldn't have written a letter just to have him come to his table and chat. It was the obvious motive behind the note. Why hadn't he seen that before?
Justin looked back at Sam. He looked desperate. Expectant. He had to say something.
"I don't. . know if I can help you," he said, hesitantly. "What is it you want me to do?"
Sam was obviously trying to think of a way to word his request. It seemed as though he didn't want to scare Justin away with his problem. Greg was looking at Sam disapprovingly but he didn't notice; he was too busy focusing on Justin.
Sam's lips parted from each other and he bit down on the lower one hesitantly. Finally, he spoke.
"We. . . " he glanced sideways at Greg who was now mouthing the words, "don't tell him," out of the corner of his mouth.
"We want to get out of here."
Apparently he had chosen not to follow Greg's advice.
Justin wasn't sure if he was thankful for Sam's decision. He didn't know if he wanted to be dragged into their desperate situation. Also, Justin wasn't sure if Sam knew that he was next to powerless in convincing his father to let them go.
"I'm not sure if my father would allow me to-"
"You don't have to decide now," Sam interrupted. "Just come back on Monday with your decision."
Justin thought it over.
Somehow, Sam thought he could help them. Perhaps he already had a plan.
Perhaps it wouldn't work.
But he didn't have to decide now. He could think about it over the weekend. That seemed reasonable enough, didn't it?
"All right," said Justin. "I guess I'll see you on Monday."
Sam looked relieved.
But why? He hadn't agreed to help him. If anything he would make things tenser for Sam because now he had to worry about what Justin would say on Monday. But maybe this was Sam's first step. Perhaps just getting him to agree to come back had been his original goal and he was reassured because Justin had at least agreed to come back. After all, if he had stormed away from the table it would obviously have meant no. Perhaps consenting to meet Sam again was more of a yes than a no.
But was it?
If he had to make a decision right now, which one would he pick? Yes or no?
He couldn't decide.
On the one hand it would be helping the three Lunars he had just met. After all, they weren't supposed to be in her anyway, right? But on the other hand, Justin knew his father would not allow it.
But was that the only way?
Did he have to ask Dad?
Maybe Sam knew a way around it. Maybe Greg or Francis knew something about the plant that Justin didn't.
But that's why he wasn't deciding right now. It was for that reason alone that he was going to think about it over the weekend.
Justin stood up from the hard bench and, after looking down at Sam, Greg, and Francis, walked back into the crowd. As he did this, he could hear Greg say something to Sam.
"I told you not to say anything, didn't I?"
Sam's response to Greg was lost in the noise of the mess hall.
So, Greg didn't think that Justin would help them, did he? Perhaps he thought that Justin was going to tell his father or the guards about their plea for help.
No, Justin thought to himself. No, I'm not going to do that. That's one thing that I can decide on right now.
Justin was now on his way back to his father's office. The elegant office door stood out against the white of the hallway like a spot of mud on a freshly cleaned carpet. Justin became aware of the sounds he was making. The swishing of his jeans, the tapping of his shoes, and his breathing all became louder as he walked toward the door. But soon he became aware of another sound. One that he was not producing.
He could hear voices coming from inside his father's office. The stained, wooden door had no windows so Justin was not able to see inside. He was certain, though, that one of the voices belonged to his father.
"You told him?" His father asked.
Justin could just barely make out the words due to the muffling effect of the door.
"Well, not really," a second voice said.
The second person's words had been oddly spaced and quaking, as though the speaker was slightly frightened. The pitch of the voice had suggested that it belonged to a woman.
"How much does he know?" a third voice joined in.
The third speaker was decidedly male. He had a very low, gruff voice. It sounded as if he was trying to yell and whisper at the same time.
"Not much," the woman replied. "I didn't say a whole lot. I couldn't!"
"Good," said the man. "Thank God for Evarb technology."
"You know that's not an appropriate thing to say," Justin's father corrected. "The only reason you don't have one is because you're a member of the guards."
"Sorry," the man apologized. Though it sounded as if he hadn't really meant it.
"So that's all you told him?" Justin's father asked, almost ignoring the man's apology.
"Yes," the woman said. "That's all."
"But what about the visits?" the gruff man said. "Surely you won't ignore those."
"I don't see anything wrong with them," said his father. "Besides, it was just an accident, wasn't it?"
"The first was," admitted the man. "But the second time was on purpose! I know it!"
"Oh?" Justin's father said, interested. "How do you know that?"
"Mr. Livel said-"
"Mr. Livel!" the woman scoffed.
There was a small pause in the conversation.
"Continue," said his father.
"Mr. Livel told me in his report that this time the kid had a piece of paper in his hands. We suspect that one of the Lunars gave him a note the first time through!"
Justin took a panicked step back.
They were talking about him!
The woman's voice had to belong to Miss Carten! His father had been asking her about what she told Justin about the Lunars. And that other person knew about the note! Where was this leading? What were they going to do about it? Was he in trouble?
I knew I wasn't supposed to be in the mess hall!
"I'll ask him about it during the weekend," Justin's father said. "But right now I don't see a problem with it."
The doorknob began to turn in its socket.
They were coming out.
Justin was right in front of the door.
What if they hadn't wanted to be overheard?
Justin stumbled backward, away from the door and down the brilliant hallway. The door slowly got smaller and smaller. Then the door wasn't there any more. His father was. He walked out of his office and glanced quickly at Justin. As soon as his father was out of the doorway, a man that Justin had never seen before walked out as well.
The man's hair was extremely white, almost as white as the hallway. He was wearing the same blue suit that Mr. Livel had been wearing. The only difference was that, instead of black, this man's vest was a dark, blood red color. Justin could make out the butt of some sort of gun protruding from a holster on the man's belt.
Did Mr. Livel have a gun?
Also, the man was in better shape than Mr. Livel who, although taller, had a more-than-average amount of weight distributed in the stomach area. He looked very menacing, indeed.
Justin had expected to see Miss Carten come out of the room as well but the white-haired man shut the office door behind him. Perhaps she had been on some sort of speakerphone. Justin found that the whereabouts of Miss Carten began to lose importance as his father and the white-haired man walked toward him.
When they got close enough to talk to him they stopped. The white-haired man eyed Justin suspiciously.
A chill ran up and down his spine.
The man's eyes were gray; there was no hint of color in them at all. They were simply slate-gray, just like the sheet of clouds had been in the plane ride to Oregon.
Somehow, the man's eye color added to his personality. Justin had the feeling that the white-haired man was not even the slightest bit compassionate. A sense of strict rules and enforcement permeated the air around him like a thick, gray fog. Justin shivered again.
"Justin," his father said. "This is Luther Drake, the Chief of the Guards."
Drake extended a rigid hand.
Justin took it.
"Hi," he managed to say.
"Hello," said Drake in his raspy, talking whisper.
"Chief Drake and I were just having the most interesting discussion," his father announced. "Weren't we Drake?"
"Yeah," said Drake with a sour look on his face. He sounded as though he were being humiliated.
His father glanced sideways at him.
"Well, I suppose you have loads of work to do, don't you?"
Chief Drake grunted and walked down the hall. At one point he cast a backward glance at Justin but quickly looked forward again.
"I guess it's time we go home then, isn't it?" his father asked.
Justin looked away from Drake.
His father started toward the lobby with Justin close behind.
"So, Justin, how was your day?"
They were in the helicopter now and were headed back toward the house. The ocean of emerald-green grass below them rippled in the wind and the cabin of the helicopter was bathed in a painfully bright red. The contrast in colors made the line between the cabin window and the scenery below shimmer like the sun. Justin was going to ask why the red cockpit light was necessary but before he did that he had to answer his father. What had he said?
"How was your day, Justin?"
"Oh, uh . . fine, I guess," he replied, somewhat shaken. He was still worried about what his father would do about his visits to the mess hall.
"That's good," his father said as he sat back in his seat and looked forward.
Was that it? Had he expected me to tell him? He should've asked me flat out! Was this a test? What am I supposed to do?
Justin decided that, at that moment, sitting back in his seat as well seemed to be the proper choice of action.
The minutes dragged on after that. Justin sat in silence and so did his father. Justin pondered his guilty feelings in his head over and over again. He wondered why his father wasn't talking. Was he angry? Perhaps he was intentionally letting Justin sweat in the back seat on purpose. He came up with many possible reasons for his father's lack of conversation, none of which offered much comfort. His Dad was being as social as a brick.
It was a long ride home.
Once the helicopter had landed and the big sky doors of the "garage" were rumbling shut, Justin and his father made their way into the house. As soon as they were in the lobby, his father told him to wait right there because he had a surprise for him.
Justin's mood improved for a second but was brought down by the pessimist within. The surprise could be something good but, on the other hand, it may be some sort of punishment for sneaking into the Lunar mess hall. Somehow, the latter seemed to be the most possible at the time.
Justin's father had disappeared rather quickly but he reappeared just as fast, walking toward Justin with something small and rectangular in his hand. Justin recognized the object right away. It was a voice drafter, a small, computerized microphone that translated what you said into a written document that could be accessed on a computer. Justin used to have one back in Connecticut but it had broken a long time ago. He had used it to compose e-mails and keep a relaxed journal.
His father handed it to him.
"I thought that, perhaps, you could send messages to some of your friends in East America," he said in his slow, measured voice.
Justin turned it over in his hands. It was much better than the one he had owned back home.
"Thank you," Justin said, gratefully.
Justin's father looked down at him for a few seconds. It was as if he wanted to say something else but was beginning to think better of it. Finally, he turned around and walked toward the library.
Justin stood alone on the reflective, marble floor, looking at the door his father had just walked through.
In the silence, Justin whispered, "fine, if you don't ask, I won't tell."
He then walked up a staircase and into his room.
Once there, he half fell, half rolled onto his bed. He began to play around with the voice drafter. He wanted to write something, maybe an e-mail to his friend, Jeffery.
He turned the thin rectangle over and pressed the "capture" button.
"Hi, Jeff," he said, unsure of what to say next. "This is Justin. How are you? I'm fine."
He stopped the device and pressed "erase document" in a discouraged manner. He laid the voice drafter on the pillow next to him and stared at it for a while. Finally, he reached over and pressed the "capture" button again.
"Record date," he ordered. The rectangle beeped and a little light on the side of the device quickly flashed green.
"Here's my situation," he said with more confidence than before. "I've gone to the Lunar mess hall two days in a row and I'm not so sure that's allowed. On the first day, I got this note from Sam and he wants me to help Gregory, Francis, and him escape. That's definitely not allowed. The thing is I kind of feel sorry for them because they shouldn't be in the plant anyway. After all, they didn't do anything. Of course, they could be lying but for some reason I don't think that's very likely."
He paused, thinking of Sam, remembering his face. There was no way he was lying to him. He turned back to the drafter.
"Secondly, I overheard my Dad, Chief Drake, and Miss Carten talking about me in the office. They know about the note but I don't think they know what it says. It's almost like they were spying on me or someth-"
His hand crept to his pocket and pulled out the letter.
He read it over, slowly.
His head turned to look at the voice drafter.
"And here I am," he whispered. "Writing down everything they want to know."
He reached over and hit "stop capture". Then, after thinking about it, he pressed "erase document."
He sat up and looked at the letter again. His hands came together at the top and he ripped the paper in the middle. He tore it again and again until all that was left was a desperate confetti. Justin walked over to the wastebasket and extended his hands to drop the pieces in with the garbage but he stopped. He turned around and walked toward the bathroom instead. He lifted up the toilet seat and dumped the remains of the letter in the bowl. The paper soaked up the water and the ink began to sink away from the pieces of the letter.
Justin flushed the toilet.
The now gray water swirled around and took the incriminating letter with it.
As he walked out of the bathroom his eyes fell upon the voice drafter. Perhaps he should record something else on it, something that told a different, blameless story. After all, if his father did check it, he would find a perfectly innocent explanation of the whole incident.
He picked up the drafter and, after thinking about what to say, pressed "capture," said, "record date," and started talking.
"All right, I've got a problem," he said in a very genuine manner. "I'm pretty sure that my Dad thinks I'm ‘in league' with the Lunars. Although, I'm not so sure he's as suspicious of me as Chief Drake is. I don't think that guy likes me one bit. Anyway, the truth is I'm not! I went back to the mess hall so I could talk to some people my age. I haven't had the chance to meet any kids around here and the fact that I don't go to a real school means that I won't make any ‘friends'. Besides, the Lunars don't seem bad at all. It's hard to understand why they're in there in the first place! So, that's about it. I hope this situation won't get blown out of proportion."
And with that, he hit "stop capture". The little light on the side of the drafter flashed yellow and the device beeped two times.
He took the drafter over to his desk and placed it on top of the polished wood.
"Come and get it," he whispered.
Then, after looking at the drafter for a bit, he left his room for dinner.
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