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Justin - Chapter Sixteen

by Machelli

The first half of Justin's day was a literal pain. In addition to a surprising amount of physical involvement, Justin's leg was becoming increasingly bothersome. He was beginning to suspect that he hadn't been to a hospital at all and someone had simply taken a sewing machine to his wound.

But Sam and Derek had never left his side. They showed him how to operate the machines (though he already had a surprisingly good grasp of the concept behind them) and they helped him get from place to place. Justin simply would not have made it without them.

After a very, very long three hours (possibly the longest three hours of Justin's life) it was time for lunch.

All work ceased at the sound of a buzzer and every single Lunar piled into the mess hall. Most of the Lunars formed two lines on both sides of the hall and slowly passed by one kitchen or the other. Some people sat down at the tables and talked while they waited for the lines to die down.

After Sam, Derek, and Justin picked up their meal (which, as unappetizing as it normally would have been to Justin, looked surprisingly good) they made their way toward row seven, table five. As they neared their bench, Justin spotted Greg, already seated with a tray of food. Someone else, however, was not there and although all three of them noticed it at the same time, Justin was the first to speak.

"Where's Francis?"

The old, somewhat distracted man was no where to be seen and, judging by the looks on the faces of Sam and Derek, this was not normal.

"I don't know," said Sam. "He's usually here by now. He's usually here before any of us are."

The three of them sat down at table five, Sam and Greg on one side and Justin and Derek on the other. Greg looked at Justin intently and had been doing so ever since Justin had rounded the table and entered into the boy's vision. A thin-lipped, half-smile was growing across his face.

"I warned you, didn't I?" Greg said after a few moments of conversation less eating.

Justin, as well as the rest of the group, looked at Greg who continued to talk.

"I told you they'd find out. I just didn't know what they'd do when they did."

"Well," said Derek, interrupting the awkward mood that Greg had set. "I guess you don't have to live in suspense any more, do you?"

Justin got the sense that Greg and Derek were not exactly the best of friends.

After a few more seconds of almost painful silence, in which, no food was eaten, Sam decided to change the subject.

"You haven't seen Francis, have you?" he asked Greg.

"No. I haven't seen him all day," said Greg

Sam went back to eating but Greg took a deep, decisive breath and lightly bit his lip as though he had something of harsh importance to say.

"But. . . We may want to look at the obvious reason why he's not here," Greg said, suggestively.

Derek's eyes shifted from his tray to Greg's face without moving his head.

"And what's that?" he asked in a tone that was not contemptuous or sarcastic but just slightly off of suspicious.

Had Derek already heard what Greg was about to say?

"I think it's rather obvious," Greg continued "that Francis has been let out of the Plant."

"No," Sam said flatly. "He would've told us first. He would have told me."

"Why would he tell you?" Greg asked Sarah in a manner that implied that he knew more on the subject than anyone else. "Why would he tell anyone if the way he got out was . . . well, at the expense of someone else?"

"Oh, stop hinting and just out it, will you?" Derek broke in.

Greg frowned and, seeing as how his introduction was ruined, proceeded to tell the abridged version of his theory.

"I think he told Drake what Justin was trying to do in exchange for his freedom."

Both Sam and Derek looked appalled at such a suggestion. Justin, however, was interested to hear the rest of Greg's hypothesis, regardless of how improbable it sounded.

"Francis would never do that!" Sam argued. "He just wouldn't!"

"Are you so sure?" queried Greg. "He was old and he probably didn't wanna die in here. Perhaps Justin was going too slow for him."

"Oh, please!" cried Derek, amused. "A person doesn't reveal a self-involved plot to escape so they can get out! It's contradictory! Besides, Justin was so close to the answer that if that was what Francis did, then he was a little slow to blow the whistle if you ask me."

"But he wasn't that involved!" Greg stated. "He spent most of his time just staring at the walls! What was he thinking? I'll bet it wasn't about your little plan!"

Derek's eyebrows shot up in amazed fury.

"You know very well what he was thinking about and I'd say he has a right to do so!"

"But he's been in here forever!" Greg argued. "Practically half his life was spent in the prison colony and this place! Don't you think that after that much time a person would do anything to get out? I know I would! I've only been in the Plant for seven years and I'm already sick of it!"

"That's - why - we were trying to find a way out!" hissed Sam.

Justin sat back, eyes widening with amazement. Had he ever seen Sam get angry? Justin couldn't remember. He had shown plenty of other emotions but Justin could not recall one time when Sam had gotten mad at anyone. Apparently this was a very sensitive issue for him and Greg had gone too far.

At this moment, Justin noticed that no one else was talking, either. Sam was looking down at the table, seemingly ashamed of his outburst. Derek was looking at him with amazement clearly displayed on his face. Greg was sitting up straight, frozen with his mouth open in mid-argument. Sam seemed to have stunned everyone.

If that had come from anyone else, thought Justin. Derek, for example, or Greg, or even myself, those words would not have had half that amount of effectiveness.

"Sorry," mumbled Sam. "I didn't mean to - I'm sorry. ."

At the end of lunch, as the Lunars were returning to their jobs, Greg took Justin aside.

"Listen," he said, confidingly as he led Justin out of the crowd. "You don't know this place. People don't just disappear."

"Yeah, but. . ." Justin trailed off. He simply could not think of anything to say. He wanted to believe that Greg was wrong but he couldn't help but listen.

"It all fits too perfectly," Greg continued. "Francis leaves only to be replaced by you. And you shouldn't even be in here! Doesn't that bother you? I mean, where else could he have gone?"

Greg was either knowingly or unknowingly playing on Justin's own paranoid thoughts. He kept thinking that someone had to be responsible. Somebody had to have told Drake about the whole plan.

Who else could it have been?

Finally, near the end of the day, the other side of the argument was equally presented.

Sam had gone off to work in another section of the Plant, leaving Derek and Justin alone or as alone as they could be in a room full of people. It was at this point that Derek voiced his views on the topic.

"I hope you didn't buy into all that garbage at lunch."

"What?" Justin turned around. He had been absorbed in his own thoughts and, as is the case when someone is not expecting to use their ears, hadn't heard Derek.

"I said I hope you don't believe Greg," said Derek.

"Oh," Justin said as he picked up a dense tube and placed it in the size-appropriate pile.

"I don't even know why he's thinking about that," Derek said, bewildered. "I mean, I may not have been in the group too long but I could tell right off that Francis and Sam were like father and son. He simply wouldn't do something like that!"

"You think so?" Justin asked, attempting to add to the conversation. He noticed that Derek was performing his job with thoughtless effort, but Justin found that he had to devote a lot of brain power to what he was doing with his hands. The conveyor belt was moving rather fast and he had only a small amount of time to pick the small pieces out. Justin wished that he could go as fast as Derek but hoped that he wouldn't be in the Plant long enough to learn how.

"I know so," Derek asserted. "Besides, how do we know he's not in the infirmary? Maybe he hurt himself. You know, fell down or something. After all, he is kind of old."

"There's a hospital in here?" Justin asked, amazed.

"Yeah," said Derek. "But I wouldn't call it a hospital. It really is more like an infirmary."

"I should go there," Justin said. "After dinner or something."

"Why?" Derek asked.

"My leg," Justin explained. "It has this big, sewn-up cut on it and it won't stop throbbing."

"Oh," said Derek, seemingly embarrassed. "And all this time I thought you were just weak."

"Weak?" asked Justin, amused. "Why would you think that?"

"Well," Derek explained, looking off to the side at first. "You moved so slow and you had trouble standing up. You even fell down several times. I was beginning to wonder if outside kids don't get much exercise."

"That's funny," said Justin as he dragged a particularly heavy metal tube off the conveyor belt. "I used to think the same thing about you guys."

After another hour or so it was time for dinner. The same procedure that had been observed during lunch was followed now. Two long lines formed on both sides of the dining hall. When the group of four had all sat down at their table Greg made the observation that Francis was still nowhere to be seen. However, after a rather dangerous look from Derek, Greg fell silent and the issue was pressed no further.

"So," said Derek to Justin. "How'd you like your first day in the Plant?"

"It was. . . okay," Justin said, rubbing his sore arms.

"Good," said Derek. "Because tomorrow will be just like this one."

"What?" Justin asked, trying not to show just how tired he really was.

"Granted, we'll all be in the first floor but you'll basically do the same stuff."

"Really?" said Justin, disbelievingly.

"Oh, yeah," Derek agreed.

"What about weekends?" Justin asked.

"Weekends?" Derek repeated. "You mean Saturday and Sunday, right? We work every day. No stopping."

Justin's eyes widened.

"By the way," said Derek, looking down at Justin's watch. "I heard those things tell the date. What's today?"

"Thursday," Justin answered as he looked at his watch. "July tenth, fifty two. That means tomorrow's the eleventh, my birthday."

"Huh," Derek nodded his head, thoughtfully. "I used to know the date a long time ago. I caught it once on the television but I forgot it after a while. Maybe we can get the kitchen crew to stick a candle in your food."

Justin grinned.

After dinner, Sam agreed to accompany (or rather lead) Justin to the infirmary. So, instead of following everyone else down the main hall, Justin and Sam took a side route. It was by no means empty but was much less crowded than the main hall. After passing a few barrack doorways they took another turn to the right.

"During lunch," said Justin, carefully trying to introduce an obviously sore topic of conversation. "Derek said that Francis had a right to think about something. What was it?"

". . . .Hmm," Sam mumbled, contemplatively. He seemed to be trying to organize his thoughts, as though the explanation was too important to start half-cocked. "Fifteen years ago, Mr. Evarb - uh. . . your Dad - started shuttling us off of the Moon. By then, from what I'm told, the prison colony was not exactly stocked with a whole lot of food. In fact, I don't think it ever really was. But I don't remember anything before the shuttles. That's my earliest memory, actually. Everyone trying to get on the shuttles, trying not to be left behind. I guess they didn't know that the Evarb people were going to get all of us eventually."

Sam paused for a moment. Apparently his thoughts hadn't been as organized as he had wished. He shook his head slightly and started again.

"So, anyway there wasn't a lot of food and that had most people scared because they were afraid of being left behind, you know? Without food? Stuck on the Moon while everyone else got to go home."

Suddenly, Sam breathed rather quickly in a manner that was very much like a scoff. He looked around him at the hallway they were walking down.

"Home," he repeated, sarcastically and then looked back at Justin. "Would you believe that I've never actually been outside?"

Justin didn't feel that he should answer. The question seemed more rhetorical than anything else.

"Anyway," said Sam, once again boarding his train of thought. "After several loads of Lunars had been taken, the remaining people were starting to get anxious. Bear in mind that it took your father - er. . the government ten years to get the last of us out of there. So you can imagine how tensions were rising after a while. People began to worry, as I've said before, that they'd be left behind. This continued for some time before the inevitable finally happened. A riot broke out."

"A riot?" Justin repeated.

"Yeah," said Sam. "When the shuttle came to pick up the next load of people, everyone just went crazy. They all tried to get on at once. I was only four at the time so I wasn't there. I didn't see it. But I was told that it was just plain gruesome. People getting trampled to death and so on. A lot of people died that day and a lot of kids lost their parents, including Derek, Greg, and me."

"Your parents are dead?" Justin asked, surprised. However, as he thought about it, he realized that he should have seen this earlier and on his own.

After all, he thought. Why had Sam and Greg eaten with Francis instead of their mom and dad? Wouldn't it make more sense to not only eat but spend time with family members in a situation - a place - like this? That would also explain Sam's attachment to Francis. He really was like a father to him.

Suddenly, Justin's thoughts took another turn. Of course he wouldn't believe that Francis had left him, even if it was the truth!

Justin looked at Sam, carefully and began to wonder how connected he was to Francis and if Derek shared the same relationship that Sam did, for it would only make sense for him to defend Francis's character. Justin was beginning to question just how reliable their testimony was on the subject when Sam continued with his story.

"I'd like to think that my parents were on their way back to our cell," he said. "I'd like to believe they weren't trying to get on that shuttle like everyone else, you know? That they weren't going to desert me. But I don't know this for certain. It's just something I've told myself over the years. After all, who would want to believe that their own parents would leave their child behind just to save themselves, right?"

"Right," Justin agreed.

What is that like?he wondered. What is it like to go through days, months, years convincing yourself - that's what he was doing, convincing himself - that your parents hadn't forsaken you? To want to believe something but still have enough doubt to argue the opposite?

At first, Justin couldn't fathom it. But then, suddenly, he made a personal connection.

I'd like to believe that my father didn't know about or authorize the helicopter crash but I don't know for sure.

"But what does all that have to do with Francis?" Justin asked.

"Francis had a wife up there," explained Sam. "But not really a wife. I guess as close to a wife as you can get seeing as how we didn't have any actual weddings in the colony that I can recall; there wasn't exactly an abundance of priests, you know? But he was basically married. And when the riot broke out, he and she were one of the few people on the shuttle that were actually supposed to be on it. But she got trampled to death when everyone tried to get on. Both of them were seated right next to the door and when it burst open she had her harness on but he didn't. Francis got pushed to the back of the shuttle and had to watch people bulldoze over his wife. It's kind of like a ghost story or a legend, now. Everyone's heard it. Everyone knows."

Suddenly, Sam stopped.

They were at the infirmary.

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