He awoke the next morning to a rush of memories: pressing close to Sam in the shower; grasping his back through Sam's wet shirt; stumbling from the shower to the cot; falling to the mattress; bliss... He also recalled how much they both had wanted to fall asleep, tangled together, but knew that relationships were generally frowned upon, and Sam didn't wish for Justin to receive any more punishment from Shawn as a result.
Shawn Radael and his younger brother, Tom, were busying themselves with their chore of waking people up. Justin, taking a page from Derek's book, pretended to put his shoes on until everyone had filed out of the room.
"Why do they do that?" Justin asked as he removed his shoes.
"What?" said Derek from the other side of the barracks.
"Why do Shawn and Tom boss everyone around like that?"
"Oh," said Derek, smiling as he usually did when Justin asked about something that he took for granted as common knowledge. "They're the Heads of the Barracks. In a way they are kinda' in charge."
"Huh," Justin replied.
Then, for one reason or another, his wandering mind stumbled upon a new topic:
Justin had forgotten all about them.
Reasoning that he should probably throw them out, Justin began looking for them on the floor. After that, he checked under his bed, on top of his bed, under the covers, and basically every other conceivable spot.
"What are you looking for?" Derek asked from across the room.
"The pills," Justin replied. "I can't find them anywhere."
"You didn't throw 'em out last night, did you?" Derek suggested.
"No," said Justin. "Last night I just tossed them on my bed and then I took I shower. I wanted to throw them out but I guess losing them will work just as well."
"Well," said Derek in a tone of voice suggesting that this was one of life's little lessons. "If you leave something like that out long enough then of course someone's gonna' snatch 'em."
"But why would anybody want painkillers?" Justin wondered out loud.
"There are some people who're addicted to them," explained Derek. "And there's some people that sell them to the addicts. I know Shawn's addicted and I think there's another guy in here that collects them for other people. Either one of 'em could have taken those pills."
Justin didn't like hearing that. He didn't much care to be responsible for fueling the addiction of someone, even if they had stolen something.
Justin's stomach rumbled.
"Maybe we should go to breakfast today," Justin suggested, changing the subject.
Derek sat up, said "sure," and began to tie his shoes.
Justin sat back down on his bed and put his shoes on as well, noticing as he did this that the familiar throbbing in his leg was beginning to come back.
The Mess Hall at breakfast time was just as crowded as it normally was but, by this time, the lines at the kitchens were much shorter. Both Derek and Justin grabbed a tray and stepped into line behind everyone else.
As they walked by the kitchen and received their food, Justin saw the television that Sam and Derek had talked about, not too far from where he now stood. Nothing of great importance was on it at the moment; a man was standing in front of a map, talking about the weather that Oregon was going to get that day.
Justin looked down at his tray on which was piled a substance that slightly resembled eggs. As he turned from the kitchen and looked up, a surprising sight met his eyes.
Francis Dekard was back and was once again sitting at table five.
"I guess that proves it," said Derek confidently as he walked toward row seven with Justin. "I'll bet Greg is disappointed."
"Yeah, I'll bet he is," Justin agreed.
From the looks of it Greg was, in fact, a little put off by Francis's reappearance. Sam, though, was all smiles.
"Hi Derek," he said, brightly. "Finally joining us for breakfast? Did Justin get you out of bed at last?"
Derek didn't say anything but simply smiled back as he sat down. Sam and Justin exchanged two barely-repressed, all-out grins, which were not lost on their tablemates. Greg looked from Justin to Sam, his brow furrowing before he looked down at his plate. Justin lay his tray on the table and sat down himself, noticing that back at his usual spot in front of the "in" door was Mr. Livel.
"Huh," said Justin. "Look who else is back."
Sam, Greg, and Derek turned their heads toward where Justin was looking.
"I guess they didn't replace him, then," admitted Derek. "Funny how all the other guards were, though."
After that, everyone turned back to their trays and began eating. Justin noticed that, despite being gone for one whole day, Francis was still the same, quiet person. Although, Justin thought he could detect a slight bit of happiness in the man's eyes. Almost as if he had received good news in his absence. Wondering if anyone else (especially Sam) noticed this, he continued to eat.
In Justin's mind, the only compliment that could be given to breakfast was that it was hot. He wasn't even sure if what he was eating was actually food. It was almost colorless. (Slightly off white, to be exact.) It was sticky, smelled funny, and had all the other basic characteristics of wall paper paste.
Nevertheless, Justin cleaned his plate.
After breakfast, as the Lunars crowded out of the mess hall, Justin was reminded of something that, oddly enough, had slipped his mind.
"I almost forgot," said Sam. "Happy birthday."
"Oh," Justin said, surprised that he had forgotten his own birthday. "Right . . thanks."
This day, instead of working on the second floor, Justin, Derek, and Sam descended a ramp-like hallway to the first floor, where the guns were made. The entrance-way to this new hallway was cleverly disguised to look just like the rest of the wall, rippled and slate gray. He imagined that this was probably one of the reasons why the East Americans had never found their way to the first floor.
Looking around some more, Justin realized that Francis and Greg were nowhere to be found. He hadn't seen them on the second floor the day before and he didn't see them in the crowd in which he now walked. Perhaps their schedule was the exact opposite of his.
The first floor of the Plant looked just as it had on the Plant walkthrough. Bright red walls cast their harsh, shimmering light on everything, creating the illusion that he was in an underworld populated by warped, grotesque metal monsters.
Justin took a step into the room and was immediately paralyzed by a bolt of pain that drove up his leg and into his spine. He winced and almost fell down but just before he lost his balance he took the next step. That action saved him and he was able to continue into the room.
"I don't believe this," he complained through grating teeth. "It's just my luck I can't have any painkillers."
"Actually, I'd say you're pretty lucky," Derek corrected. "After all, you survived that helicopter crash. You should've seen it on the television. It was all caved in and everything: crushed the pilot; dented the wall. And you're still alive. I think that's pretty impressive."
Justin paused for a moment.
He had never thought about that before. How could he have survived the crash? The helicopter had been heading straight for the wall and he and the pilot had been right in front. As close as they could possibly be to the wall without being strapped to the craft's nose!
And what about the M.A. ordeal? Somehow he had just happened to be the one person out of ten that resisted it. Wasn't that, in a way, kind of odd?
But Justin could not linger too long on such thoughts. He had to quickly learn a whole new routine before the day was through, and, from the looks of it, this floor was more complex than the last one.
Justin's leg continued to worsen throughout the morning, just as it had done the day before. In fact, the pain had gotten so bad that at one point Justin stopped what he was doing to check the wound in case it had opened back up.
Moving from one machine to another, Derek and Sam (guided by Justin) made their way to the opposite wall, on which was the entrance to the tunnel out of the Plant.
"Are you sure it's there?" Sam asked Justin. "It looks like just another wall to me."
"That's where it was," said Justin. "I'm positive."
"Well, how do you open it, then?" asked Derek.
"I'm not sure," Justin admitted. "I just walked through it on the computer. I doubt we can do that here."
"I don't think it's really a door anyway," Sam commented.
"Yeah," Derek agreed. "Looks like we'll have to bust through it. That definitely won't draw any attention now, will it?"
Suddenly, the machine they were working on began to shudder. They had been feeding long, metal poles into four orifices in the front of it, and now – suddenly – one of the poles refused to go in.
Thick black smoke rose toward the ceiling, and the pole began to shake violently back and forth in its place. Justin, Derek, Sam, and the other person that had been working at the machine moved back, cautiously.
As Justin did this, he stepped awkwardly on his left foot and was delivered another painful blast from his leg. Clutching his thigh, Justin fell over. The minute he hit the floor, the pole, which until now had been oscillating in an increasingly dangerous manner, shot out from the machine, flew over Justin's body with a heavy WOOSH, and cracked into the crimson wall behind him, sinking into it a little more than a foot.
As soon as the pole hit the wall, a high pitched alarm sounded and Justin could see, through the legs of people, uniform pants of guards dashing toward them. The guards surrounded the machine, bent down at all four corners and seemed to unlatch it from the ground with four low snapping sounds. One of the guards felt under the contraption and pulled down a set of wheels that locked into place. Then all four of them pushed it over to the large corkscrew in the middle of the floor that seemed to be rotating faster than usual and in the opposite direction.
Suddenly, to Justin's surprise, a large disc (possibly the very top of the screw) descended down the massive tube.
Justin then realized what he had just seen.
The screw had rotated the opposite way and, instead of staying in one place while rotating upwards, had driven itself down into the earth below the Plant.
The large, dining table-sized disc had finished its downward journey and had come to a rest at ground level. The guards wheeled the machine on top of it, hit the red button on the side of the cylinder and, much slower than it had descended, the corkscrew sent the disc and the contraption up the tube.
"What the heck was that all about?" Justin asked.
"They're bringing it to the second floor," explained Derek. "They'll take it out of the Plant from there and fix it. But I expect that won't happen until next week. It'll probably just sit up there for a couple of days."
"They sure were quick about it," commented Justin as he struggled to stand up.
Sam bent over to help him.
"You're lucky that rod didn't go right through you," he said once Justin was completely standing up. "If it hadn't been for that injury of yours you probably would have been dead by now."
Justin looked behind him – directly behind him – at the pole that was still sticking out of the wall. He shuddered at the fact that he had just narrowly missed the experience of having several feet of cold steel pass through his body.
Sam led them away from the wall, looking back himself as he did, at the potential entryway to the tunnel.
"What're you gonna' do when we get out of here?" he asked Justin. "Would you give your father a second chance?"
"What do you mean?" Justin replied. "Second chance at what?"
He couldn't really see how his father had messed his first chance up. After all, hadn't he told the truth in the end?
"As much as you think your father is better than you initially thought he was, the fact of the matter is this: If he had done a good job on his first chance, you wouldn't be in here right now," Sam explained. "You wouldn't be anywhere near Oregon, for that matter. You'd be as far away from this Plant as possible. But, in a way I guess it's lucky for us that he kinda' screwed up. Soon we'll be out of here and so will you, which brings me back to my first question; when we escape, will you give your father a second chance?"
Barely thinking a second, Justin replied.
"Good," added Derek, quickly. "Can we live with you, then?"
Justin grinned again.
Aside from the machine malfunction, the rest of the day was relatively eventless and after a while the by now familiar buzzer signaled that it was time for lunch.
Justin, Sam, and Derek fell into line, grabbed trays and slowly moved forward toward the kitchen with everyone else. When Justin was a few steps from the serving area he could once again see the television screen. On it was the same news lady he had seen in his father's house. She was saying something very important judging by the look on her face, but Justin was not yet close enough to discern words. Just a few more steps and. . . .
". . . left East America and will be arriving this afternoon to conduct their unannounced inspection of the Evarb Plant facilities."
The representatives! From East America! They were coming today!
Suddenly the picture on the television changed from the newswoman to a shot of Justin's father in his office.
"I am confident, as before, that they will not find any weapons, large scale or of any other nature," said David Evarb in his even tone of voice. "They can go through the Plants as many times as they want but, as I've said before, it is rather hard to find something that isn't there."
Justin stood cemented to the spot with wide eyes fixed on the TV and his mouth slightly open. He hadn't even noticed that the kitchen crew had put food on his plate until Derek nudged him forward, out of line.
"Did you see that?" Justin asked, incredulously. "Did you hear that?"
"Yes, I did," said Derek. "And I have to say that you were none to subtle about the fact that you did, too. You can't react so much. They might take it away."
Justin hadn't thought about that before. He realized that what he had done had been somewhat stupid. What if they did confiscate the television on account of him? He would look like quite the idiot if that happened.
"Don't worry, though," said Derek. "Your father was right. They didn't find anything last time and they won't find anything now. They don't even know the first floor exists."
Justin took comfort in that. Derek was right. The East American representatives could search the plant for as long as they wanted and they'd never find anything. Unless, of course . .
"Those doors?" asked Justin. "That open up to the first floor hallway? They're shut during the day, right?"
"Yeah," said Derek, sitting down at table five. "I guess they are."
"And what about that silver elevator?" Justin asked as he sat down close to Sam. "No one uses it during the day?"
"What silver elevator?" asked Derek.
That answers that question, thought Justin. But he explained anyway.
"You know the door to get out of the second floor? There's a button on the side that opens it."
"Right," said Derek. "I know that."
Justin noticed that he now had the attention of everyone in the group. Even Francis was listening.
"Well, if you click that button twice, this big, shiny elevator rises out of the ground. And if you get in it you can go down to the first floor."
Justin suddenly realized that what he had said was just a little bizarre. Derek, Sam, and Greg were all looking at him with what could only be described as amusement on their faces. Justin couldn't really blame them, though. If he had been on the receiving end of that information he would have responded in the same way. Francis seemed to be the only one who was actually considering his previous words.
"How did you find that out?" asked Francis. Justin noticed again the drawl in Francis's speech.
"It was in those disks that I found in the Library," Justin explained. Though he immediately realized that this explanation had done no good whatsoever. He had never told any of them about the disks in the first place. "The disks had something kind of like blue prints on them," he continued. "Only they weren't really blue prints; it was more like I was walking through the Plant by myself-"
"A walk-through?" Francis asked.
"Yeah, that's right," said Justin. "And I was in the second floor and I was trying to get out. So I went over to the door on the left of that corkscrew thing and I accidentally double-clicked the open button. Then this elevator just came up, out of the ground. The top of it looked exactly like the floor, which is probably why none of you have noticed it before."
"Huh," Derek said, thinking about what Justin had described.
Everyone in the group seemed to be doing that – thinking over Justin's words, wondering if it was in fact possible for such an odd thing to have existed right under their noses forever. Then Derek broke the contemplative mood by leaning over the table, toward Justin and Sam.
"Y'know," he said, conspiratorially. "You guys can tell us."
"Tell you what?" Justin asked.
"That you two are together – an item," replied Derek, motioning with his fork.
Justin and Sam shared a look between them, then turned back to Greg, Derek, and Francis.
"Well," Justin began, embarrassed. Derek and Francis took on an amused expression. Greg did not. "I guess we did...kinda'...uh......what?"
Their expressions had turned from amusement to surprise as the three of them shifted focus to a point behind Justin's head.
"What is it?" Justin asked, slowly turning around to see what had caused his friends' reactions.
But before he got a chance to look, he was lifted bodily out of his seat by a pair of hands. His legs slid over the bench and Justin cried out when his left pant leg tightened as a result.
Grasping the hands, Justin looked up to see who it was that had interrupted his lunch.
The stronger, much older boy set Justin gruffly on the ground in a standing-up position. Recovering from the initial shock of the event, Justin found the energy to speak.
Shawn didn't seem to hear him. In fact, Shawn didn't really seem to see him either. His eyes were acutely focused on absolutely nothing and were pointing only vaguely in Justin's direction.
"I noticed," said Shawn, lazily. "That you don't have any points, yet. I find this hard to believe, seeing as how you worked all day yesterday."
Shawn clutched his stomach and grimaced. He looked ill. Maybe he was going to throw up. Justin began to hope that their meeting would be brief, for he was standing right in front of him.
"Unless, of course, I'm mistaken," Shawn continued. "Maybe you just spent the whole day in bed and thought I wouldn't notice."
"No he didn't!" Sam protested from the table. "He worked the whole day! I should know! I was-"
"Shut up, Sam!" Shawn yelled sideways. "I'll get to you when I'm ready!"
Justin could see Sam slowly sink back onto his bench. Apparently, Shawn was not someone to argue with, which was a good thing because Justin did not feel like arguing.
Shawn slowly turned his head back towards Justin and continued his lecture.
"Now I know that you were in a lot of trouble at the other Plant," said Shawn, falsely sympathetic. "But you've started out on a clean sheet here and you're running out of chances to make a good impression."
Shawn then paused to shove something small, white, and green into his mouth. During a particular involved string of words, Shawn's lips parted wider than normal and Justin realized what it was that he was about to swallow.
Shawn had taken the pills from Justin's bed! Either that or he had bought them off of someone, but the fact of the matter was that Justin's pill, the supposed high strength painkiller, was now making its way through Shawn's body!
Has he eaten both of them? Justin wondered. Was this the second one he had taken today? What if they are poison? I have to say something!
"Shawn!" Justin blurted out. But Shawn, who now had both hands clutching his stomach, would have none of it.
"Wait 'till I'm done talking, you little –"
Shawn paused. He seemed to be having trouble breathing. He was taking his breaths in raspy, laborious gulps. Clutching at his throat, Shawn leapt away from Justin, crashing into the table behind him as he did. Food trays and table scraps flew into the air above them, and Shawn, now digging his fingers into his head as though trying to relieve some sort of unbearable pressure, began thrashing around on the floor.
Justin ran over to him, careful not to get too close to Shawn's flailing limbs.
"Spit it out!" he yelled. "Shawn, spit it out!"
But Shawn didn't hear him. Shawn was beyond hearing. He was beyond seeing, beyond feeling, and beyond hope. He was now simply an animal in the last stages of life, struggling frantically – fruitlessly – to escape an invisible predator, a predator inside him, a poison quickly flooding his body. To stop this, Shawn was powerless.
His struggling form slowly came to a stop. Blood flowed lazily out of self inflicted wounds. Shawn had dug his fingers deep into the flesh of his head and his flailing legs had caught several table legs in the process. He looked as though he had just been through a particularly rough fight with someone twice his size. And had lost.
Suddenly, Justin was shoved roughly in his ribcage and he half staggered, half slid off to the side. Shawn's brother, Tom, who had just finished pushing Justin out of the way, now knelt down on the floor of the mess hall.
"Shawn?" Tom asked, hoping his older brother would answer him.
Shawn's eyes remained fixed on the ceiling, his mouth partway open with frothy saliva at the edges. He said nothing.
Tom looked accusingly at Justin.
"What did you do?" he asked, his lower lip trembling. "What did you do!"
Justin wanted to speak up, to say something to Tom, because he couldn't help but feel that, in a way, this was mostly his fault. If he had just thrown the pills away last night like he had planned then none of this would have happened. Shawn would never have gotten a hold of them and would still be a living, breathing drug addict right now.
What made the whole situation worse was the look on Tom's face. It was an expression of confusion, despair, and pure anger all mixed together. It was as though he was mourning the loss of his brother, whose death he didn't understand, and at the same time was condemning Justin with every ounce of his soul. It was very clear that if Tom had the strength, he would murder Justin on the spot.
And still, no consoling words came from Justin's mouth. As a matter of fact, no words of any sort came from Justin's mouth. He just stood there, held to the spot by the overwhelming amount of thoughts and emotions that were swirling around in his head. Also, just as Shawn's eyes were glued to the ceiling, Justin's were glued to Shawn.
That could've been me, Justin realized. If I had taken those pills I would've been in Shawn's place, just like how I was almost the wall a few hours ago when that pole shot out of the machine. If Sam hadn't been there when I got those painkillers, I probably never would have noticed.
Maybe Derek was right, he thought. Maybe I am just lucky.
Suddenly, Justin's view of Tom and Shawn was obstructed by a mass of navy blue. A group of guards had left their posts at the doors and had surrounded Justin. Intermittently, he could catch glimpses of Tom who was pointing at him and screaming.
Justin was even more confused now.
Had Tom been doing that for a while? Justin asked himself. Could I possibly have been so absorbed in my own thoughts that I didn't notice that? I can't even hear what he's saying!
However, as Justin concentrated more of his attention on Tom, he could begin to hear words, harsh words, that cut through his confusion like a knife being driven into his body.
"He did it!" Tom was yelling. "He killed Shawn!"
Justin was shocked. That wasn't the truth! He had to say something. He had to defend himself. He tried to open his mouth. He tried to form his thoughts into a coherent argument but he was too amazed to speak.
The guards grabbed him under his arms and began to pull him out of the mess hall. Justin could see Sam, standing up, yelling at them to stop, trying to tell the guards that Justin hadn't even touched Shawn. But his efforts were wasted as the entire crowd of Lunars stood up from their seats as well, struggling to see what had happened. Those that had were explaining it to others and those that didn't were yelling at the guards. A roar of voices fell over Justin like a tidal wave and obscured everything else but the sight of Sam, standing above the crowd like a lighthouse, like the last symbol of hope that was slowly growing more distant.
And then, almost as if Justin actually was being swept under the ocean, he blacked out.
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