A tangled crowd of machinery and people spread out and away from him. The familiar, cylindrical corkscrew stood up above everything else. Lunars moved from one thing to another in a constant, interweaving maze, performing various odd jobs. The pure shock of what he saw caused Justin to simply collapse on the dusty floor.
"I'm not here," he muttered to himself. "I can't be here."
Derek had stopped walking and knelt down next to Justin, confused.
"What's wrong with you?" he asked, more as an accusation than a question.
Justin didn't respond. He hadn't heard Derek at all. The surprise of his location was still somewhat overwhelming.
I should have realized it sooner, he scolded himself. The hallway was gray and it had those lines in it! I remember that from the Plant Walk-through. And what about where I woke up? Was that one of the Lunar Barracks? Why would I be in the Lunar Barracks? I should have been brought to my father's office or something! Why did they put me in there?
There was, of course, an answer to these questions but Justin refused to even consider it.
"You can't sit here all day!" Derek exclaimed.
Justin looked up at the boy who was standing over him, a look of amazement and concern clearly showing on Derek's face.
"I'm not supposed to be here," Justin protested, more to himself than to Derek. "Why am I here?"
"Because," he said, obviously thinking that the question had been directed at him. "You got transferred from the other Plant."
This piqued Justin's interest enough to drag him from his mental confusion.
"Because you got transferred from the other Plant. North of us. The only other one in Oregon!"
Justin's eyes widened.
"But I'm not supposed to be here!" he argued as he fought to stand back up. His left leg was putting up quite a fight to keep him on the ground. "I'm not a Lunar! I didn't come from any other Plant! My name is Justin Evarb!"
"You're nuttier than they said you were!" Derek replied, amazed.
Justin finally stood up.
"What do you mean?" he asked.
"Shawn said you were supposed to be crazy," Derek explained. "They said that you got in a lot of trouble at the other Plant. No wonder you got kicked out!"
Justin advanced on him. He hadn't wanted to hear any of Derek's explanation. It fit too well with Justin's worst suspicions.
"I wasn't – kicked – out – of anything!" Justin breathed.
Suddenly a familiar voice sounded from behind them in the crowd of Lunars and machinery.
"Derek!" the voice cried out. "What are you—Justin!"
He looked up. Sam Yrron was running toward them. He sprinted up to Justin and wrapped his arms tightly around his neck, knocking him back down onto the dusty floor.
"I thought you were dead!" he gasped excitedly. "They said you were! How can you-"
"You know him?" Derek asked, surprised.
Sam stood back up, clearing his throat, awkwardly. Justin attempted to stand up for the second time. Sam's utter relief in his existence surprised him. Justin hadn't known he meant so much to him. And for the first time, Justin was beginning to realize why Sam's name had always come first when listing his recent friends.
"Of course I know him," Sam replied.
"Then what's his name?" asked Derek, suspiciously. Apparently he wanted this issue cleared up as soon as possible.
"Evarb?" Derek asked, disbelievingly.
Suddenly, something seemed to strike Sam as peculiar, as though something was extremely strange and he had just noticed it.
"Wait. . . " he said, turning to Justin. "Why are you in here?"
Justin smiled slightly at the oddness of the situation.
"I was just asking myself the exact, same question." Justin and Sam seemed to inspect each other for a moment before their gazes met. The few seconds of silence that followed were broken hastily by Derek, repeating a previous remark.
"Well, you can't just sit there forever!"
Justin couldn't believe it. It had just been proven that he was, in fact, Justin Evarb and Derek was still more or less unfazed.
"What?" Justin asked.
"You have to get up," said Derek, oddly energetic. "Unless you don't want to earn any points. If that's the case then by all means sit there all day, but I doubt the guards would be too pleased about it."
Justin continued to stare at Derek and, at a pure loss for words, proceeded to repeat himself.
"Get up," said Derek in a manner that was not mean but was not exactly kind either.
Justin did his best to follow Derek's orders but his injured leg did not. In the end, both Sam and Derek helped Justin up from the ground and helped him walk away from the door.
As they walked, Justin once again looked at Derek. The boy was quite a few inches shorter than he was and it seemed almost comical that someone who looked so completely harmless had ordered him off the ground. And what's more, he had even honored Derek's request. There was something about Derek that Justin couldn't quite put his finger on; something in his personality was simply different from everyone else Justin had ever met. One thing was for sure, though. Derek was definitely much more pleasant to be around than Greg.
After giving Derek his second once-over, Justin turned his attention to Sam. He was almost equal to Justin in height and of more or less the same build, perhaps slightly slimmer. Sam's hair almost glowed as much as his skin, though Justin wasn't entirely sure he was seeing clearly. After all, he was weak from pain and lack of food, but if those were the cause of Sam's "glowing," Justin wasn't so certain he wanted to eat anything or fix his leg in the near future. He also noticed just how comfortable it was to be supported by him. Sam's hands seemed to fit so snuggly around Justin that, despite his desire for self-sufficiency, he welcomed the support and almost forgot his throbbing leg
Suddenly Justin realized that he was being led further into the Plant.
"Wait," said Justin. "Wait a minute. Why are we going this way? I need to get out of here!"
"What are you going to do?" Derek asked. "Walk up to the guard at the door and say 'it's been fun but I'm afraid I have to leave now so if you could just move. . . '?"
"Well. . ." said Justin. "Not in those words exactly . . but-"
"You're dead, remember?" Sam explained.
"What?" asked Justin, bewildered.
Sam looked at Derek
"You mean you didn't tell him?"
"I didn't think he was really Justin Evarb! He looked like just another Lunar to me!"
"Tell me what?" Justin asked, confused.
"Alright," Derek said as he and Sam propped Justin up against the wall. "Here's the thing. Sam heard on the news that you had died in a helicopter crash."
"The news?" Justin interjected. "You guys get the news in here?"
"Listen," Derek said. "First of all, let me finish. And second of all, we don't have a television, but the kitchen crew does. So, when we get our food we can hear and see little snippets of news broadcasts. How else would Sam have known it was you when you walked into the mess hall the first day? He heard that you were coming over to West America and he saw a picture of you on the TV."
"Oh," said Justin. He had never actually thought about that. He had never wondered how Sam had recognized him.
"When he saw you walk in through the door, he wrote that note – something that a lot of people in here can't do – and slipped it into your pocket. He's tricky that way."
Justin looked at Sam who was blushing slightly. Apparently he was a bit modest about his talents, which, according to Derek, seemed to include. . .
"What do you mean, 'something that a lot of people can't do'?" Justin asked Derek. "You mean they can't write?"
"Nope," said Derek. "Not a word. I can't write too well, either. And you already found out I have trouble with adding."
"Multiplying," Justin corrected.
"Whatever. Math in general."
"So how'd you learn?" Justin asked Sam.
"Francis taught me," explained Sam. "He taught me a lot of things about a lot of subjects. I guess I'm pretty lucky that he agreed. He wasn't exactly a 'people' person when I met him and there's not too many people in the Plant who know all the things he does."
Strange, thought Justin. In here an education is almost like a prized possession, something that has to be sought after. I guess it's not exactly given away either.
"Anyway," said Derek. "You were pronounced dead on the news, which means that officially you are. No one's gonna believe that you're really Justin Evarb, especially the guards."
"But they saw me come in from the lobby just a few days ago!" Justin protested. "They'd remember that, wouldn't they?"
"Nope," said Derek. "The guards at the doors were changed yesterday."
"Even Mr. Livel?" Justin asked.
"Especially Mr. Livel," Derek agreed. "If I was Mr. Evarb that's the first guy I would switch."
"He's too nice!" Derek explained. "Most of the guards think they're better than us but not Mr. Livel. You'd think he was still a Lunar."
"But the guards were Lunars themselves, weren't they?"
"Right," said Derek. "But once they get promoted, you wouldn't believe they were ever Lunars. They're only loyal to Mr. Evarb!"
"Actually," Justin corrected. "It's probably Drake who they're more loyal to."
"What do you mean?" Derek and Sam asked at almost the same time.
Now it was Justin's turn to talk.
So, for the next few minutes, while he was leaning up against the wall, Justin proceeded to inform Sam and Derek about his father's apparent lack of any authority whatsoever. They were, to say the least, a little surprised.
"I don't believe it," said Sam. But it was obvious that he did. "So Drake is more in control of this Plant than your father?"
"Basically, yeah," Justin agreed.
"I guess that makes more sense," said Derek. "I wouldn't have thought any parent would have sent their kid to his death."
"But that's practically what he did!" Sam argued. He was clearly more shaken up about this than Derek. "I bet he didn't even lift a finger to stop it."
"He probably didn't know," Derek pointed out. Suddenly, an out-of-place beeping noise interrupted their brief argument.
"What's that?" asked Sam, looking down at Justin's wrist.
"Oh," said Justin. "It's my watch." He brought his wrist up to chest level. "It's nine o'clock."
"Well then," said Derek, lightly clapping his hands together. "Better get to work. Especially you."
Derek eyed Justin.
"Alright," Justin gave in. He still found it hard to believe that he was actually inside the Evarb Plant, working! He couldn't shake the oddly false impression of the whole experience. It was like he was in a startlingly realistic nightmare.
Only, he wasn't.
It was real. Frighteningly real. And there was no way that Justin was simply going to wake up from it. He was stuck.
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