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Justin - Chapter Nine

by Machelli

There it was! The edge of the computer disk was in the exact same place it had been the night before! So, Miss Carten hadn't caught on to him. She hadn't known what he was looking for.

Justin couldn't help but chuckle to himself as he reached in and attempted to pull the disk out from under the card rack.

Justin soon discovered that if he had chosen to go for the disk the other night, Miss Carten would have surely known that something was amiss. The computer disk was wedged under the rack rather tightly and Justin was making quite a show of pulling it out. To make matters worse, the disk was made of extremely thin plastic and threatened to snap whenever Justin got his hand underneath it.

Finally it slid out from under the card rack and Justin took a few moments to savor the victorious feeling in his chest. It didn't last long, though; he quickly found himself thinking of what he could have done if he had found the disk the first night or even the second.

But perhaps he was right. Maybe the East American representatives wouldn't find any weapons and would just turn around and go home. Justin clung to the thought, however impractical it seemed.

He put the disk in his pocket and started to close the "Em - Ez" shelf. But as he did this, something caught his eye.

There was something else under the card rack!

And it looked like an index card!

Justin reached in and slid the card out from under the metal rack. It came free much easier than the computer disk had. As he looked at it, he realized that it was, in fact, an index card to a book called The Underground Atlas. Justin wondered why the card wasn't in the "U" section of the card catalog. Was there something important in that book?

Justin, not wanting to miss anything that could potentially be relevant, decided to find The Underground Atlas, which was, of course, on the third floor.

Justin was beginning to grow sick of ladders.

After he had climbed all the way up to the third floor, Justin sat down on the walkway and took another look at the index card.

According to the card, the book was quite a ways away from where Justin now sat. It was almost on the complete opposite side of the library. Justin sighed, got up, and began walking.

A few moments later, he arrived at the proper section. He compared the number on the index card with the numbers on the books in front of him and realized he had some more climbing to do. Justin walked over to a sliding ladder and wheeled it over to the appropriate spot.

With each step, Justin looked left, right, and in front of him for The Underground Atlas. He wasn't sure why but somehow he simply knew that the book was important. Perhaps even more significant than the computer disk.

Finally, Justin reached the top of the ladder but he had yet to come across the Atlas.

He looked at the card once more, saw the number in its corner and began to scan the uppermost row of books. He traced their spines with his finger as the numbers grew larger and larger and got closer and closer to the one he wanted.

Then, when he knew that one of the next few books had to be The Underground Atlas, he came across an empty spot. Justin looked at the numbers before and after the bookless space and knew that the Atlas was simply not there.

Was it missing? Justin thought. Maybe that's why the card wasn't in the correct shelf. But, then again, why would it have been placed under the card rack? Wouldn't someone have thrown it away instead?

No, Justin concluded. The card was under the disk for a reason. The book had something to do with-

Justin was hoping it had something to do with the layout of the Evarb Plant but he didn't want to get too hopeful.

-with something secret, he finished.

Just then the library doors opened with a whoosh. Justin twisted his neck away from the bookshelf to see who it was.


Justin's father had entered the library and was making his way toward the card catalog!

What if he's looking for the disk? Justin thought. He won't find it and then he'll see me, up here, where the Atlasis supposed to be! He'll know I took it!

As quickly and quietly as he could, Justin climbed up to the last rung of the ladder and eased himself into the space between the top of the bookshelf and the ceiling. Justin looked over the edge to see where his father was. He was still at the card catalog, his back to Justin. It seemed as if he was not even looking in the "E" section but Justin couldn't be sure.

As he pulled himself back over the edge of the bookshelf, Justin happened to look down. It was then that he realized just how high off the ground he really was. The rows of books dove downward, meeting the horizon line that was the bookshelf's contact with the floor. It reminded Justin of a cornfield - the endless rows of cornstalks extending forever until each row seemed to merge with the next.

He quickly looked away and crawled back into the corner where the bookshelf met the ceiling.

I guess I'm going to be here a while, Justin thought.

He looked up and down the top of the bookshelf. A thick layer of dust had coated everything and was beginning to coat Justin. He looked down at his shirt and realized that the brownish-gray filth had unmistakably left its mark.

As Justin was dreaming up an explanation for the state of his clothes, his wandering eyes fell upon something that had no business being on top of the bookshelf.

The distinct form of a large book was covered with the same dense coat of dust that had blanketed everything else. It looked as if a small building had been snowed-in during a vicious blizzard.

It can't be! thought Justin as he pulled himself toward the book. Why would it be up here?

Finally, he reached the rectangular bulge and brushed it off. A grainy cloud fell off of the book and sunk to the "floor" where it rippled out in all directions.

Justin turned the book over and was met with the words: The Underground Atlas.

He grinned triumphantly and opened the front cover to behold the first weathered page.

After a few minutes of reading, Justin flipped the book over and opened directly to the Index. He scanned each alphabetically organized column and quickly came across "Evarb". He was already having much more luck than ever before. Justin was beginning to wonder if it was too good to be true.

As it turned out, it was. The text had gone into extreme depth about the Evarb Plants and had even sported a diagram or two. However, the information Justin needed was regretfully missing from the Atlas. Disappointed, Justin carefully closed the book and began to turn around but stopped. There had been something unnatural with the way the back cover had met the rest of the book. A strange clicking sound had been made when he had closed the book. It sounded as though something inside the cover was loose and was rattling around.

Slowly, almost apprehensively, Justin opened the back cover of the book. Again, it made the same sound. Something seemed to be sliding from one end to another inside the binding!

He examined the book closer. For some reason the rear book cover was slightly thicker than the front.

Justin ran his fingers along the edge of the book and soon came across a noticeable seam between the fabric of the inside of the cover and the hard binding of the outside. The spot where Justin's fingers had stopped appeared to be connected unprofessionally. As though the fabric had been torn away and then sewn back on.

Should I tear it off? Though Justin. It looks like it was torn to begin with but would my father notice if I did? How often does he look at this book?

Justin decided that the answer to the last question was not often, seeing as how the Atlas was on top of the bookcase, covered in dust.

And with that, Justin dug his fingers into the seam of the cover and pulled.

The fabric separated from the binding rather easily and with a small amount of noise. This was something Justin had not thought to consider. The amount of noise that the fabric would make had not been at the top of his concerns list.

However, he became thankful for the lack of noise as he peered over the edge of the bookshelf and saw that his father was still in the library. He was no longer searching through the card catalog but was sitting in one of the plump scarlet chairs, reading instead. Justin turned his attention back to the Atlas.

Inside of the back cover was another small computer disk, very similar to the one he already had in his pocket. Justin took the disk out of the book and gingerly attempted to tuck the fabric back into place so as to look as unnoticeable as possible.

After giving the concealment as much care as he could, Justin closed the book and pushed himself away from it, leaving a dust-free trail in his wake. He brought the first disk out of his pocket and laid it next to the second.

Justin could only wonder what they both held within them. Perhaps it was a detailed layout of the Evarb Plant. But, then again, maybe the information on the two computer disks was completely useless to Justin. Maybe they were a computerized version of the immense card catalog.

And then, as Justin was thinking of this, he came to ask himself a more important question.

How will I find out?

There are no computers in the house. The only one that I know of is in my father's office and I won't be going back there until next Monday. If it's still there, that is.

But that was something he didn't want to think about. He preferred to convince himself that East America would not find any guns and he would be able to help Sam, Francis, and Greg escape within the next week.

The faint sound of the library doors closing brought Justin up and out of his thoughts. He cautiously looked over the ledge of the bookshelf and, upon observing the absence of his father, slid the computer disks into his pocket and climbed back down the ladder.

As Justin walked past the card catalog a thought struck him.

Had he closed the "Em - Ez" shelf?

It was closed now but perhaps his father had done that. If that was the case, would that be enough to tip his dad off to the fact that he had taken the computer disk?

Suddenly Justin remembered the index card in his other pocket. He pulled it out and opened up the proper shelf. After Justin had slid the card in its respective place under the metal rack, he closed the drawer and walked out of the library. The familiar feeling of paranoia had permeated his thoughts once again.

As soon as Justin was in his room, he began to think of places to hide the disks. After all, if his father did notice that they were missing the last thing Justin wanted to happen was for the disks to be taken away before he had a chance to use them.

At long last he finally came across the perfect hiding place.

Justin had taken some tape and had stuck the two computer disks to the backside of his desk. In order to do this he had found it necessary to crawl on top of the desk, which, Justin reasoned, made it all the more improbable that someone would find them. Their location was inconspicuous, inconvenient, and ingenious.

Justin gave himself a much-needed pat on the back and headed downstairs for dinner.

After the last meal of the day, he returned to his room, changed into his pajamas and crawled into bed.

His last thought before falling asleep was the hope that the next day would not contain an explosion.

Justin awoke on Saturday with an extremely sore left arm. It felt as though he had either slept on it the entire night or had put it in a remarkably uncomfortable position.

After lying awake in bed for a while, Justin finally convinced himself to sit up. He swung his legs out from under the covers and aimed his still unfocused eyes at the alarm clock on the wall above his bed.

As the large, panel-like clock surfaced from the blur of Justin's vision, he came to realize just how late it really was.


How could I have slept for so long? thought Justin. I didn't go to sleep all that late.

Then, somewhat puzzled, Justin got out of bed, clutching his now throbbing left arm.

The day seemed to go by rather fast. Before Justin had truly woken it was time for dinner and, as odd as it seemed, time to go to bed. The strange thing was that he was actually tired when he crawled back under the sheets.

However, throughout the abbreviated day, something had been nagging him in the back of his mind. It was as if he was supposed to do something but couldn't remember exactly what it was. The feeling had annoyed Justin and still continued to annoy him until he finally dozed off.

The first half of Sunday was as much of a haze as Saturday had been. Justin found that he had difficulty organizing his thoughts. It felt as though he was putting together a puzzle but, just as he was about to recognize what picture the puzzle made, someone would scramble all the pieces.

After lunch, Justin's thought process had improved. It was easier for him to think of individual topics and focus on them but he still had that strange feeling that he was forgetting something. Something very important.

He was becoming very frustrated.

After many hours of pondering his elusive memory, Justin finally recalled that it had something to do with the Library. As he walked in that general direction he came across Miss Carten.

"Shouldn't you be outside?" she asked. "It really is a nice day."

"I know," said Justin. "I was. . "

He paused.

Where was I going?

"I was going to the Library," he finished, then adding, "but - I don't know why."

"Perhaps you were going to look something up," Miss Carten suggested in a genuinely helpful tone of voice. "That's what most people do in there."

"Right. . " said Justin. "Yeah, that's what I was going to do. . . . I think."

Miss Carten walked away and Justin continued toward the Library.

He strode through the two heavy doors of the Library and stopped a few feet in.

Was I going to look something up? he thought. If so, then what?

Justin slowly wandered over to the card catalog and stared at it, bewildered.

Why can't I think!?

Then it came to him. Everything from Friday night, the Atlas, the disks, the top of the bookshelf, and his fear that the Evarb Plant would no longer be standing, suddenly flowed back into his mind as if released from a mental floodgate.

Justin tore out of the Library and up the red carpeted staircase to his room.

Were the disks still there? Had his father found them?

He dashed toward the desk, crawled on top of it and peered over its rear edge. The two computer disks were still securely fastened to the backside of the desk.

Then, the next big question hit Justin.

Was the Evarb Plant still in one piece?

And then . .

How will I find out?

Justin slid off of the desk, banging the inside of his elbow on the back of the chair in the process. Justin walked briskly out of the room, clutching his left arm, which had begun to throb again.

Once downstairs, Justin walked down the hall towards the Library but stopped halfway there. He was now in front of the relatively plain door that led into the room where he had seen the news broadcast on Wednesday.

Carefully, Justin eased the door open and took a cautious look around the room.

It was empty.

He opened the door the rest of the way, entered the room, and slowly shut the door behind him. As he did this, Justin turned the doorknob all the way over in its socket so the latch wouldn't click when the door was completely closed.

After he made sure that he had applied as much stealth as possible to the situation, Justin turned around.

The large, flat-screen television was mounted in the exact center of the wall - its dark, reflective surface mirroring the room. Justin looked around for some sort of remote control.

Finally, after searching in every conventional location (under the couch cushion for instance), Justin found it.

The "remote control" to the television was actually a small panel of controls that had been built into a side table next to one of the chairs.

Justin pressed the power button and, almost instinctively, turned the volume down. He was pretty sure that watching TV was not against the rules but, nevertheless, he still felt the need to exercise some degree of caution. After all, he wasn't too fond of the idea of Miss Carten bursting into the room and telling him to go play outside.

The television had already been set to a seemingly "all news" station. A lady was standing in front of a large building and was saying something but Justin couldn't quite hear her.

He brought the volume up a few notches.

The newswoman's report slowly became audible.

". . said today that the design of the satellites was purely innocent and that they are to be used for broadcast only - not reconnaissance."

The background lifted up and away from behind the lady and was replaced by a picture of what Justin thought to be an Evarb Production Plant.

He leaned forward, hoping not to miss a word.

The news lady, who Justin remembered from Wednesday, adopted an almost victorious tone of voice as she began her next segment.

"Once again, I'd like to re-state the fact that East America did not find any weapons of any kind inside all seven of the Evarb Plants. However, they are going to conduct another investigation at a later date that is not to be announced. When questioned about the secrecy of the future search, East American representatives neglected to respond. Clearly, they wish to take David by surprise next time."

As Justin absorbed this information, an alarming sound grasped his attention.

Foot steps!

He hurriedly pushed the power button on the control panel and the television turned off with a quick flash. Justin held his breath as he listened to the heavy foot falls grow louder and closer.

Suddenly, the door was opened by Miss Carten who stared, surprised, at Justin.

"Honestly!" she said, as though Justin had done something that offended her. "I'm not about to have you sit in here all day, watching TV. Out you go!"

She rushed over to him and shooed him outside.

Justin's light grudge against Miss Carten seemed to lighten at that moment as he walked outside. She once again reminded him of some sort of plump little grandmother. But there was something that always seemed to be floating around her that Justin couldn't quite identify. Some sort of burden accompanied Miss Carten wherever she went like a shadow, attached to her at the legs, tripping her up sometimes.

Most of the time she would be her jolly old self, but Justin could remember at least one time when her emotional shadow had overwhelmed her and made her stumble into her true feelings.

Was the whole "genial grandmother" thing really just an act?

Justin was pretty sure it wasn't. He felt that her pleasant attitude was genuine but, similarly to how some things would make him think of home, certain thoughts or occurrences must trigger an un-happy memory for her.

Justin realized that his legs had carried him all the way out into the middle of his father's property. He was standing in an immense, green field that was practically screaming for him to lay down on it.

So, not wanting to thwart such a powerful calling, Justin flopped down onto the cool, comforting, tickling grass.

The Evarb Plant had not been destroyed and he had two computer disks that probably held the key to the Plant's layout. For once, things were looking up.

Justin allowed the warmth of the sun to sedate him as he slowly sank into a pleasant, meditative sleep.

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