Slowly, gradually, Justin awoke. His eyes remained shut, however, and he wished with all his heart that he would simply drop back off to sleep. He had no such luck, and so he decided to take in his suroundings without opening his eyes. Somehow the warm, stuffy darkness of his eyelids was a comfort to him.
He was on a bed. The sheets were pulled up to his neck and even though Justin did not move, he was pretty sure that the blankets were securely tucked in on both sides. He took in the first noticeable breath through his nose. A sharp, chemical smell proceeded to attack him. It seemed to violently open his nostrils and freeze them at the same time.
Justin flinched reflexively, an action that triggered an immense, searing pain in his left leg that quickly knifed its way throughout his body.
Well, thought Justin. I guess I'm not dead.
That thought was proven beyond a doubt when two strong hands suddenly pinned his shoulders into the bed and came back up, shaking him.
"Come on!" protested an adolescent boy. "Wake up!"
"What's wrong?" another deeper but still not mature voice asked.
"This kid won't wake up!" the first voice stated with a tone of complaint.
Justin, hoping to prove whoever had shaken him wrong, attempted to open his eyes. It was quite a struggle. No matter how much his brain explained that his eyes simply had to open, the rest of his body seemed to veto the order, claiming that Justin needed more rest. Finally, though, his eyelids slowly retreated and Justin was met with the blury face of his assaulter.
All that Justin could discern was that the boy existed. Anything more detailed than that was lost among the shimering sea of color that flowed in front of him.
"Is he the new kid?" asked the deeper voice, coming closer to Justin. The sound of small pieces of gravel being crunched underfoot grew louder and louder.
"I think so," the younger boy agreed. "Hey, his eyes are open!"
The older boy's blurry face swam into view. His eyes (or at least what Justin thought were his eyes) focused on Justin.
"Listen," said the older boy, curtly. "We don't have time for this. I don't know what you got away with before, but here we follow a schedule, okay? And if you're not out of bed and ready for breakfast with the rest of us you get points deducted!"
I guess I'm not in a hospital either, Justin deduced.
The strong hands that had shaken him awake left his shoulders and the two boys walked away.
Justin's vision was slowly beginning to improve. The mess of color had transformed into a comprensible picture. He was in a semi-small room, perhaps two times the size of his bedroom. Other boys, probably teen-agers, were rising or had already risen from bed.
Justin attempted to sit up. At first the sheets protested against him but were finally pulled out from under the mattress as Justin succeeded in attaining an up-right position. He swung his legs over the side of the bed and was immediately overwhelmed by an intense pain in his left leg. Slowly, almost hesitantly, Justin looked down to see what was wrong.
A long, stitched up gash ran from his thigh, past his knee, to the inside of his calf.
Suddenly the memory of the helicopter crash (though he hadn't truly forgotten it) rushed to the forefront of his mind. He had been injured and had obviously been to a hospital (wounds don't stitch themselves, after all). But where was he now?
Gingerely, Justin stepped out of bed. Where were his clothes? He couldn't walk around in shorts the entire day!
Taking a hint from the other kids in the room, Justin looked underneath his bed. Several pairs of jeans, plain white T-shirts, socks, and shorts stared back at him. Justin grabbed a set and put them on, wincing several times when the denim material scraped over his sewn up cut. The second-to-last kid was dashing out of the room after the others. A boy who was at least a year younger than Justin was bent over on his bed, untying his shoes.
Justin looked around. The rush that had been implied by the boy with the deep voice had lost its appeal. He wasn't hungry. He didn't want breakfast. What he wanted was a shower.
Justin walked over to the only other door in the room. As soon as he lay his hand on the knob, the kid on the bed spoke up.
"You can't take a shower, if that's what you're doing."
"What?" Justin turned around to look at the boy.
"You're new here, right?" the kid asked as he bent back over to finish untying his shoes. His loose, golden brown hair fell over his young face.
"Yeah," Justin admitted, looking the room over again. "I guess I am."
"Then you probably don't have any points," he said, matter-of-factly.
"I suppose I don't," Justin agreed.
"You need points to use the showers," the boy said in the same, obvious tone.
"I see," said Justin. And he entered the bathroom anyway.
Five sinks were lined up in front of him. Next to those were ten stalls. As Justin walked down the row he realized that five of the stalls were showers and the other five contained toiletts.
Sure enough, Justin could not get into the showers. When he had pulled on the handle a small device on the door had beeped accusingly and the words "enter name" scrolled across the thin display. He typed in "Justin Evarb" on the keypad below the screen and after a moment his name was replaced with the scrolling message, "you have zero points to your name. This item requires five points."
So, dismally, Justin walked over to the sinks (which, he hoped, were free) and proceeded to run water through his hair. Upon realizing that there were no towels in this bathroom, Justin lifted his shirt up, dried his hair, and walked back out the door.
The boy with semi-long, hair was still on his bed, shoes removed, lying down.
"Told ya," he said.
Justin looked at him.
"Why didn't you go to breakfast with everyone else?" Justin asked.
The boy lifted his head off of his pillow to see Justin.
"I'm never really hungry in the morning," he explained. "Besides, it's not as big a deal as Shawn and Tom make it out to be."
"Shawn and Tom?" asked Justin.
"Shawn Radael and his brother," the boy answered. "They're the guys who woke you up this morning. They kinda' run this room."
"Oh," said Justin, even though the boy had not cleared up as much as he thought he had.
"My name's Derek, by the way," said the boy, lying back down. "Derek Darmo. I'm fourteen-years-old but most people don't believe me. It's okay if you don't too."
"No," said Justin. "I believe you."
Derek lifted his head again.
"Really?" he asked.
"Yeah," said Justin, not wanting to make an enemy out of Derek. "Really."
"Good," said Derek, lying back down.
"Why'd you put your shoes on in the first place?" asked Justin.
"It makes Shawn think that I'm actually getting out of bed." Derek explained. "But once everyone leaves I just take ‘em off. Things get so crowded outside it's not like he'd miss me."
Justin looked at Derek, unsure of whether he should say anything more.
"What's your name?" Derek asked.
Justin couldn't believe he had forgotten to introduce himself.
"Justin Evarb," he replied.
"Sure," said Derek, still staring up at the ceiling. "Of course it is."
Nothing more was said.
Justin walked back over to his bed and looked under it again. Next to the pants and shirts was a simple pair of shoes. Justin breathed a sigh of relief. That was another thing that he definitely could not do without.
Justin started to stand up but stopped upon noticing that the side of his bed had handles on it. Justin pulled on one of the handles and was surprised to see the bottom of the bed open up like a drawer. Nothing was in it but still, the unexpectedness of the discovery was enough for Justin.
He closed the drawer, stood up, decided that Derek was on to something, and lay back down on his bed, a sharp stab of pain shooting up from his leg.
During the hour that followed, Justin was not entirely certain if he fell asleep or not. He simply lost himself in a dense fog of questions such as where am I? Why am I here? And when do I get to go home?
After a while he came out of his warm daze and looked at his watch.
Suddenly the strangeness of the fact that he still had his watch struck him. Someone had relieved him of the clothes he had been wearing during the crash but had not removed his watch.
Justin slid out of bed, his left leg throbbing in protest. He looked over at Derek who was tying his shoes.
He does that a lot, doesn't he? Justin commented to himself.
Derek looked up at Justin.
"Oh good," he said. "You're up. Breakfast is probably over by now."
With that, Derek stood up and walked toward the door through which all of the other kids had exited. Justin followed closely behind.
"Where are we going?" he asked once he had caught up to Derek. This took a while because Justin had developed a painful limp.
"To work," Derek replied. "Hafta earn yourself some points."
"Right," agreed Justin. "I was meaning to ask you about those. What do you do with points?"
"You're telling me you didn't have points?" Derek asked, astonished.
"Right," said Justin. "Of course not."
Derek looked rather surprised. Walking closer, Justin could see why no one believed that Derek was fourteen. The boy didn't look a day over twelve. If that.
Derek shook the surprised look off his face and attempted to explain the concept of points to Justin.
"All right," he started, looking thoughtfully at the ceiling. "Points are. . . kinda' like money. You get them for how long you work and then you can use them for stuff. Like showers, for instance."
"How many do you get in a day?" Justin asked.
"Well," said Derek. "Let's see. You get two an hour, so . . ."
Derek began to count feverishly on his fingers but Justin beat him to it.
"That should be about sixteen, right?"
Derek looked at Justin with what appeared to be amazement on his face, although he was trying to hide it.
"Where'd you learn to add so fast?" he asked.
"You mean multiply?" Justin corrected.
Derek adopted a perplexed expression.
Justin turned his head so Derek would not see him roll his eyes. As he did this he was struck by the texture of the walls on the hallway they were walking down. The whole corridor was a repressive gray color and had undulating grooves etched into it. Where had he seen that before?
"But you can't get much for eighty points," Derek continued. "Maybe a haircut or something but nothing more than that."
"I don't think I'll be needing a haircut," said Justin, walking through a door that Derek was holding open for him. "I'll be getting out of here pretty soon once I figure out—"
But Justin didn't finish his sentence. Everything he was going to say was pushed aside by the complete realization of exactly where he was.
He was inside the Evarb Production Plant!
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