"You did it!"
Justin looked around, frantically. That voice, where had it come from? It sounded so familiar.
"You let them know!"
Justin quickly turned to look behind him. It was Derek. But why did he look so stiff? And where was he? There were no discernable characteristics about the room in which he now stood. Every time he tried to look at something, anything other than Derek, that portion of his vision would suddenly blur.
"You thought it was safe, but it wasn't! How could you be so stupid!"
Justin turned his head back at Derek, astounded at what he had said. Only it wasn't Derek. It was Sam. And he, too had an odd look on his face, almost as though he were wearing a plastic mask of his own head.
"What do you mean?" Justin asked. It hurt to be called stupid by Sam. Perhaps because it wasn't in Sam's nature to call him anything derogatory. But maybe the reason for his out-of-character actions was because the boy standing in front of him was no longer Sam. It was Greg.
That's impossible! Justin marveled. I could've sworn Sam was standing right in front of me just a few moments ago. And where did Sam run off to?
"I warned you," said Greg, solemnly. "I told you not to get involved."
"What are you talking about!" Justin protested. "What's going on? Where am I?"
"Where's Francis?" Greg asked back, changing the subject. "Maybe he betrayed you. I would've done the same thing if I was him. This place really gets on your nerves, doesn't it?"
"Greg," Justin said, shaking his head. "Greg, you're not making any sense."
"If I'm not making any sense, then what's that?" said Greg, knowingly as he looked behind Justin.
"Huh?" Justin turned around to see what Greg was looking at.
It was the alarm clock over his bed at his father's house.
"That's my alarm clock," Justin explained. "But you're still not making any sense, Greg."
"Focus, Justin!" Francis snapped.
"Francis?" asked Justin, confused as he looked around. "What happened to Greg?"
"I said focus, Justin," Francis repeated.
"I know, but what happened to-"
"Look," said Francis, pointing over Justin's shoulder. "Look at where we are."
Suddenly, Justin's surroundings became unnaturally clear. A bright light shown painfully off of fancy furniture and a big, wooden desk.
"Why. . ." said Justin. "Why, we're in my father's office."
"And what's that?" asked Francis pointing at something on the desk.
Justin stared carefully. Whatever it was, it looked like an answering machine.
"I'm not sure what that is," Justin admitted.
"When did you see your father use it last?" questioned Francis.
"Um. ." said Justin, thinking hard. "I was yelling at him, I think. And then. ."
Suddenly a bright flash of light revealed his father at his desk listening to a boy who was clearly very angry. It took Justin a while to realize that he was watching himself argue with his father.
"I know what you did!" the second Justin hissed. "You gave me that shot so I wouldn't talk to the Lunars anymore!"
Justin watched as his father sat back slightly. A variety of emotions – anger, pain, panic – quickly replaced one another on his face. Justin saw that his past self was preparing to unleash another volley on his father. He wanted to tell himself not to do it, that his father wasn't the monster that his past self believed him to be, but Justin got the sense that he could only watch the events unfold again. This show was not meant for audience participation.
"And I know why, too!" Justin's past self stated accusingly.
He noticed his father's eyes grew larger with surprise and, perhaps, fear. But not a fear of Justin discovering the truth. No, it was more a fear for Justin. As though his father knew that Justin would be in trouble if he took the argument too far.
"You're making weapons in your Plants, aren't you?"
His father was motionless.
The past Justin continued.
"And the East Americans didn't find them because you make them under ground and –"
Suddenly, Justin's father once again sprung forward in his seat and his hand came down forcefully, striking the answering machine-like object on his desk.
That thing looks familiar, Justin thought to himself. Where have I seen that other than in my father's office.
"I'd be careful if I were you," his father said through clenched teeth. "It isn't wise to lay all your cards out on the table."
"Let's stop it there," said Francis as the image froze and gradually faded into the background.
"Why did he say that?" Justin asked Francis. "Why isn't it wise to lay all my cards out on the table if the only person who sees them is my father. He's on my side, isn't he?"
"Of course he is, dear."
Justin turned from Francis to the new voice that had just spoken.
It was his mother.
"Mom?" Justin asked, bewildered. "Mom, why are you here? You're. . you're. ."
"Going to be late for my meeting, I know," his mother finished with a smile as she begin to walk down stairs.
Justin turned back toward Francis but was surprised to see that Francis was no longer there. In his place was his old bed and his old dresser and the familiar, curvy walls of. .
"My house!" Justin said in amazement. "I'm in my old house!"
"Of course you are, Justin," said his mother. Only she wasn't upstairs anymore. She was downstairs, which meant that her voice was coming from. .
Justin walked over to the wall closest to the door. A white intercom speakerphone was attached next to the doorframe. That's where his mother's voice was coming from. Justin recalled the times his mother used to call him downstairs for dinner and tell him to get up in the morning through the speaker. The intercom in his room had gotten a lot of use during the years it was installed.
However, Justin felt that he had not encountered this device solely in his house. There were other places that he had seen it. But where?
"Honestly!" said somebody behind Justin. "Do I have to show this again?"
Jeff was sitting down casually on Justin's bed with an exasperated look on his face.
"Show what again?" Justin asked. "And how did you get in here. Besides, weren't you not going to talk to me again?"
"Never mind that," Jeff said sweeping the air downwards with his hand. "Just look at this. It's so obvious. I mean, even I've figured it out by now!"
"Figured what out?"
"Just look, okay?" said Jeff.
Justin looked back towards the intercom. Only it wasn't there anymore. He was once again staring at the frozen image of his father hitting the small object on his desk.
"That . . looks like. ."
"Yes?" said Jeff, impatiently. "Yes?"
"It looks like the intercom on my wall. At least the top does. It seems to be a little thicker though."
Jeff threw his arms up above him.
"You've got it!" he bellowed in a congratulatory manner. "Now where else have you seen that thing?"
"Uh. ." Justin thought for a while and then he remembered. "My room at my Dad's house!" he exclaimed. "Except the one in my room is an alarm clock."
"Are you sure?" Jeff asked suspiciously.
"I'm pretty sure. . ."
However, as Justin thought about it, his certainty became uncertainty, and that slowly changed into doubt, and after a while that doubt grew into a certainty itself. Realization slapped Justin in the face like a freezing cold hand.
He couldn't believe it. And yet, all the pieces of an unanswered puzzle fit together so much better if his suspicion was true.
"Are you saying that the intercom in my room, the thing on my Dad's desk, and the alarm clock are all one and the same?" Justin asked.
Jeff beamed at Justin but, just before he was about to say something, his smile fell, and he turned around and started to walk away.
"I have to go now," Jeff said over his shoulder. "My Mom's calling me and she doesn't want me to talk . . to . . you. ."
But Justin had no time to lament over the second loss of his friend. His mind was too busy sorting everything together that he had missed before.
So that's why my father hit that thing on his desk! Justin thought quickly. He didn't want whoever was listening in to know that I had figured it out. And maybe his intercom is linked to the one in his house, which is why he knew I didn't like dress clothes. After all, I practically screamed that out while I was putting them on. And if he heard that, then. . .
Justin paused for a moment as the full magnitude of the truth became unveiled.
If he heard that, then whoever else was listening in would have heard everything I said in that room!
Images and memories of the voice drafter shot through his mind. It wouldn't have mattered if he had put ten false journal entries on that thing. He had said the true story, out loud, in his room, on his bed, right under the intercom! That's how his father had known that Justin had stood outside of his office door. He had practically told him in person. And if his father knew that, then so did any other eavesdroppers. They knew everything! Every lie Justin had tried to back up - it was all pointless because he had confessed the truth in his room!
"Follow me, Justin," said a voice that he immediately recognized as Miss Carten's. "It's time for your lesson today."
"No," Justin protested. He wanted nothing more than to be left alone. He couldn't handle the combined mental effort of thinking about what he had just learned and the processing of words.
"But we have to finish our lesson on the Twenty four-hour War."
"But we've been going over that forever," Justin argued. "Why do we keep talking about it?"
"You have to understand your history," Miss Carten reasoned.
"Why!" Justin shot back. "Just leave me alone!"
"But the lesson-"
"I don't care anymore!" Justin cried out. "And where am I? Why can't I see anything but you?"
"Open your eyes, Justin," Miss Carten suggested.
"What are you talking about? My eyes are open."
"No they aren't. If they were, you would realize where you really are."
"And where's that?" Justin asked.
But before she could answer, Miss Carten and the entire blurry room around her disappeared, and Justin discovered exactly where he was.
Back in the Lunar Barracks.
He was on his bed, surrounded by the familiar gray, rippled walls of the Lunar Barracks. But the room was empty. He was the only person in it.
Was that a dream? Justin wondered. It was so confusing; everything was going so fast. It had to be a dream. But then, why am I in here? What happened to that plain, white room with the glass door? How did I get out of that?
As Justin recalled the previous moments of his life, one fact in particular stuck out in his head.
The intercoms! Was that part of my dream or was that real? Could I have figured them out in my sleep? Is that even possible?
But the more Justin thought about it, the more he realized that, dream or not, the theory for the true identity of his alarm clock and the device on his father's desk made sense. How else could his father have known all that he had? How else could he have found out?
I can't believe it, Justin thought. That has to be the single strangest way to uncover the truth.
His attention once again fell upon the complete lack of people in the room.
Where is everybody? he wondered.
A glance at his watch quickly told him the answer.
It was five forty five!
The Lunars had been in the mess hall for forty five minutes. But even as Justin jumped off of his bed to join them for dinner, something else on his watch caught his attention.
According to his watch, it was July twelfth. If that date was correct, then Justin had slept from lunchtime on Friday to dinnertime on Saturday!
Very bewildered, he walked out the barracks door and began the long trek down the hallways to the mess hall. It was different, making the journey without Derek to follow, but Justin found that after a while he came to familiar territory.
He passed the corridor that led back into the Plant lobby. This passageway was, not at all to Justin's surprise, being blocked by a completely different guard than Justin remembered from his trips into and out of the mess hall several days ago.
He found it hard to believe that so little time had passed since he had become an addition to the Plant's work force. Less than a week ago, Justin had been allowed to come and go as he pleased. His average day back then had been much less routine than the Plant's schedule.
As Justin entered the mess hall, he was struck by the familiarity of the sight before him. Thousands of people were seated and eating. No lines still lingered at the two kitchens. It looked just as it normally did when Justin had first accidentally come across the place.
He spotted Sam, Derek, Francis, and Greg at their appropriate table and walked briskly toward them. Maybe his watch had been wrong. Maybe he had just slept from lunch to dinner of the same day. He would have to ask them.
As soon as Justin got close enough, he was spotted by Derek who waved to him energetically. This caused the rest of the group to turn around and, upon seeing Justin, show an amount of surprise equal to that of Derek's.
"So," said Derek as soon as Justin walked over to the table and sat down. "I guess they finally let you out, huh?"
"We thought they were going to kill you, the way you were dragged out and all," Greg added.
"Actually that was more Greg's theory than anyone else's," whispered Derek as Justin sat down. Somehow he wasn't too surprised. Greg seemed to get extremely pessimistic when someone went missing.
"Have I really been gone for a whole day?" Justin asked, putting his fingers on his watch, preparing to change the date.
"Well," said Sam, taking Justin's hand and squeezing it gently under the table. "You left at lunch. Yesterday."
Then how much time did I spend in that white room? Justin wondered. But before he gave the issue too much thought, a loud rumbling in his stomach brought upon him another question.
"Is it too late to get food?" he asked.
"No," answered Derek. "But it might be a little cold."
"Makes no difference to me," said Justin dismissively as he stepped over the bench and quickly limped toward the kitchen.
He grabbed a tray and slid it over in front of the serving area. One of the kitchen staff eventually noticed him and walked out of sight to retrieve left-overs. While Justin waited, his attention turned to the television which was only barely audible above the din of the mess hall.
There were two men discussing something, sitting at a small table with their chairs turned slightly toward the camera. Justin strained to hear what they were saying.
". . .Yes, but the point is that none of this is a certain fact," said one man with wavy red hair. "I don't want to unnecessarily alarm anyone. After all, we are still unsure of their intentions."
"Will the satellite feedback offer enough information for you to make an accurate prediction?" the other man asked, who appeared to be the interviewer.
"Yes, I believe it will," replied the red haired man.
Then the interviewer turned to the camera.
"Let's check the progress of our surveillance satellite. It should be almost over the East American air base in question, shouldn't it?"
"Yes," agreed the red haired man. "It'll be directly over it in about thirty seconds I believe."
Suddenly the image of the two talking men was replaced by another picture that seemed to be a very slow-moving aerial shot of land. Then the camera zoomed in closer to what it was flying over and the speed at which it was moving appeared to increase. After a large stretch of forest, a small clearing came into view. In that clearing was a thin strip of road and several buildings off to the side. Then the camera stopped moving; the image was frozen on the screen.
"We're going to enlarge that, now," narrated the red haired man.
The picture of the clearing grew larger and larger until all that was on the television screen was a section of the now long strip of very wide road and one or two buildings. On what was by now clearly a runway, several planes could be seen.
"Well," the red haired man said, gravely. "That settles it. Those are bombers being prepped for flight."
The camera cut back to the two men.
"So, does this mean that the East Americans did find guns in the Evarb Plants?" asked the interviewer.
At that question, Justin stepped back in shock. They were talking about the inspection that had happened the day before. He had missed it!
"Well, not necessarily," said the man with the red hair. "But the way in which they left the Production Plants and their report of their inspection afterwards would point to that conclusion."
"So do we know for sure that these bombers are headed toward the west coast?" asked the other man.
"Given the current circumstances, I'd say yes," the red-haired man concluded. "There are no wars in any other countries to which East America would lend its services. Neither France nor Spain are involved in a military operation and China has not defended its boarders for years. It appears that the only reason to arm these planes is the current conflict between us."
"But doesn't East America know that even though those countries are its allies, all of them have applauded the Evarb Plants?"
"Oh, they definitely do, which is why it will be interesting to see what the East Americans-"
The television was suddenly blocked by the cook who had returned with Justin's food. Justin's first instinct was to step quickly to the side so he could catch the rest of the interview, but, remembering Derek's warning, he stayed in one spot while the cook ladled stew into his bowl.
Once the cook was finished the television came once more into view. Unfortunately, the program appeared to be over and the station was previewing what would be shown in the next few hours.
Justin hurriedly turned from the serving area and walked back toward his seat. Had the East Americans found the weapons? If so then how did they do it? Certainly Derek, Sam, Francis, and Greg would have known if the representatives had gone into the first level.
Justin had returned to the table and was met with Francis's wrinkly, concerned face staring back at him.
"What's wrong?" Francis asked. Obviously, Justin's surprise and consequent confusion was evident on his face.
Justin sat down.
"Did the inspectors come through yesterday?" Justin asked. The rest of the group was now looking at him, but Francis was still the one who answered.
"Yes, they did. Why do you ask?"
"They didn't come down to the first floor, right?" Justin inquired after swallowing a spoonful of stew (it was a bit cold).
"No," said Sam. "We would have seen them."
"Then how did they find out?" Justin asked himself.
"Find out what?" asked Derek.
"I just saw some of the news," he explained. "And there was this interview, and they were watching a satellite feedback. The satellite passed over some sort of air base, and there were bombers being prepped for launch, and they think that-"
"East America is gonna' bomb the Plants?" Greg finished.
"Yeah," said Justin. "That's what they said."
Greg looked away, a wave of deep concentration passed over his face as he grimaced.
"But how did they find out?" asked Sam. "They never entered the first floor. Ever!"
Justin thought for a moment. They couldn't have used anything like the x-light he had used in the walk-through because the first floor had that funny coating around it. How could they have seen anything that would have tipped them off?
Then it struck him.
The machine that had broken down yesterday! It had been sent up to the second floor!
"Do you think that machine that jammed up was still up there when the inspectors came?" asked Justin.
Both Derek and Sam were about to answer 'yes' when they too made the connection.
"They must have seen it," said Sam. "And you know, I think that one made barrels for really big guns. Like the kind that would be mounted on a turret. I imagine that probably got their attention."
"But they wouldn't bomb the Plant with us in it, right?" asked Derek.
"Why wouldn't they?" countered Greg.
"I don't think they could if they wanted to," Justin said, hoping that this would reassure them. "A lot of people in the Americas talk about you guys. You're the issue of at least a little controversy and neither side of the argument wants to see you die. And I just heard on that interview that the allies of East America also feel the same way. Nobody hates Lunars. I think we're safe. If they do bomb the plant, they'd probably take out the manufacturing part and that part only. They couldn't risk having their supporters turn against them. They'd lose whatever fight they started."
Kind of like the Twenty-four-hour War, Justin recalled. East America would lose France, Spain, and China as allies and would be left to fend for them. It would be East America against the West and whatever countries were supportive of the West. If that happened, then the war would probably not last for more than a few days.
"You know, Justin," said Sam. "We might want to try that tunnel soon."
"I don't see when we'd have a chance to use it," Justin replied. "I think the guards might notice if we start to bash away at the wall. And besides, doesn't an alarm go off when the wall gets broken? It did when that pole went through it."
"I'm not sure if that was for the wall or the machine," Derek said. "But it did seem to start when the wall got hit."
"That's right," Greg agreed. "How would you break through without alerting someone? Plus Francis and I are on the second floor, so don't go thinking that you'll leave us behind."
"Why can't you just go to the first floor instead of the second?" Justin asked.
"They keep a tally," explained Derek. "We're separated by barracks. It's so there's an even number of people on both levels."
"But would they really notice just two people?" Justin persisted. "Why not try it tomorrow? I don't think they'd miss you. The worst that could happen would be them telling you to go back upstairs."
"They could put them in one of the detention rooms," said Derek. "That's probably where they put you, right Justin?"
"Yeah, probably," Justin agreed. He couldn't think of a more appropriate word for where he had been during the last day. "But that's not so bad either," he argued. "Just try it tomorrow, okay?"
"Alright," Greg agreed.
Francis nodded his head.
"Good," said Justin. "We'll meet in the hallway and go in together."
At this point he stood up and, like most of the Lunars in the mess hall, went over to the kitchen to return his tray and exit the large room. Once through the mess hall doors, a hand grabbed his arm, and he was led from the crowd by Greg. They walked toward the hallway wall, out of the current of people streaming out of the mess hall. Justin was beginning to wonder what exactly was going on.
"Listen," said Greg earnestly. "I need to tell you something. I probably should have done it sooner, but. . ." he trailed off as though what he was about to say required more thought than his explanation. "Anyway, we might be leaving this place tomorrow and I wanted to tell you before that happened so –"
Suddenly, they were interrupted by Derek, who had called out to him from the river of Lunars. Derek walked over to the wall, and Greg began to look a little uneasy. It seemed that whatever he was going to say was not meant to be heard by Derek.
"Um. . I'll talk to you later, okay?" Greg half stated, half asked.
"All right," said Justin. And Greg disappeared back into the crowd.
"What was that about?" Derek asked as he looked over his shoulder, suspiciously.
"I don't know," Justin admitted, bewildered. "He didn't finish."
"Huh," said Derek, thoughtfully. Then he put his hand on Justin's shoulder and started walking down the corridor, bringing Justin along with him.
"So," he said, dropping his hand once Justin was walking along side him "you think that East America is going to bomb the Plant?"
"That's what it said on the news," stated Justin. He didn't want anyone to think that he had concocted the whole idea by himself when in fact he was just reporting what he had seen and heard.
"Right, right," Derek said, dismissively. This clearly wasn't the point of the discussion. "But if they do bomb the place, you said that they'd only take out the manufacturing part, right?"
"Right," Justin agreed. "Otherwise East America could lose all its support. The guy on the news said that East America's allies all like the Lunars. They may not like the Plant, but they love you guys, so I think it's a given that just the weapons part of the Plant would get destroyed."
"Exactly," said Derek. By now it was obvious that he was going somewhere with this conversation. "And if those two levels get bombed then we'll be stuck here, won't we?"
Justin started to ask what Derek meant, but before he opened his mouth he began to understand.
If the first level was destroyed, then so would all of their hopes of escaping. The tunnel would be blocked and, as a result, they would be stuck with all the other Lunars and would probably be transferred to another Plant.
"My point," Derek continued. "Is that we had better hurry up and get out of here before East America blocks our exit."
"Yeah, but when?" Justin asked, making the same point he had at dinner. "How would we pull something like that off without the guards noticing?"
"I'm not sure," Derek admitted. "But would it really matter? If we got through quick enough couldn't we just make a dash for it?"
Justin hadn't expected to hear such a crazy idea come from Derek's mouth. He usually was full of common sense in the extreme. Perhaps the prospect of escaping was the cause. Indeed, Justin also found it frustrating that the doorway to their freedom was so close, but the means to open it – the metaphorical doorknob – was just out of their reach.
"I'm not sure if that would work," Justin replied. "I mean it might, but the tunnel is pretty long; I think they'd catch up to us after a while."
"Well we have to try it sometime," Derek countered, bringing his voice down to a whisper. They were entering the Lunar barracks and Derek, like Justin, was unsure of what would happen if word got out that they were planning an escape. "What's the point in knowing the way out if we never use it?"
"I know," said Justin, becoming frustrated as well. "I know. . ."
As they walked toward the back of the room where their beds were, Justin noticed that a few people, most notably Tom Radael, were looking at him apprehensively, as though they expected him to, at any moment and without warning, dash at them, fists flying. He supposed that they had yet to learn the truth behind the incident and that he could not be the one to tell them. They would never believe him. Justin's testimonial of the ordeal would most likely be treated as a lie.
Oh well, Justin thought. If it's all the same I don't feel like defending myself right now anyway.
He then turned to Derek.
"We can visit other barracks until nine o'clock, right?"
A quick glance at his watch revealed that the current time was six twenty.
"Yeah, that's right," said Derek. "Who are you going to see?"
"Greg," answered Justin. "He wanted to say something to me in the hall but he never got around to it."
"Okay," said Derek. "He's in room thirteen. I guess I shouldn't come with you, then; Greg always clams up whenever I get within ear shot."
"I guess you're right," Justin admitted. He would've liked to have Derek accompany him, but Justin too had noticed Greg's lack of comfort in Derek's presence.
"Be back soon," said Justin as he turned toward the door. But before Justin got any farther, he was stopped by Derek.
"Listen," he said. "Be careful around Greg."
"I know Greg's a little weird, Derek; I can handle that," Justin replied.
"No," said Derek, earnestly. "He's weird to everyone…but you…I feel like he hates you. I dunno why; I haven't been with the group that long, but you should see some of the looks he gives you."
Justin knew where Derek was coming from. Greg did seem a little cold toward him in particular, but surely it couldn't be as bad as Derek was implying.
"I'll be fine," he reassured him. "Don't worry."
He turned back toward the door and walked into the hall, looking for room number thirteen.