Quin woke up on a hard surface. He couldn’t move his body. All he could manage to do was look around him. There were multiple doctors standing over him in full scrubs. Two of them wore headpieces with microscopic goggles on. The light that bounced off the goggles made them look bright white. One of the doctors noticed Quin staring and nudged the doctor to their left.
“He’s awake, Doctor,” she said.
“Give him one more dose of anesthetic,” he replied in a deep, monotone voice.
The woman turned around, and Quin heard her walk across the room. He heard the small clang of a metal pan as she picked something up off it. She shuffled back, and Quin saw a syringe filled with clear liquid in her hand. She stuck the syringe into the side of his neck and pressed the plunger. Quin felt the pressure as the liquid was released inside him.
He didn’t fight it. He just wanted it to end. He closed his eyes and succumbed to the darkness.
Quin woke up again, this time on a much more comfortable bed. He heard beeping all around him, which came from multiple monitors in the room. He looked around and saw that there were ten beds in the room, two rows of five across from each other. The beds beside Quin were empty, but they were the only two vacancies in the room. Most people were fast asleep, but the person directly across from him wasn’t. She looked at him with cold eyes. She was being supported with a back brace. It was Alice.
“You’re awake,” she said bluntly.
“Yeah. How long have you been here?” Quin asked.
“Same as you, plus a couple hours.” She tried to shrug but winced at the pain.
“How long have I been here?”
“Nine days,” she said with sad eyes. She slowly turned her body to look at her monitor. She turned back to Quin and continued. “They’re probably finishing up the final round about now.”
“Nine days?” Quin shouted. His voiced seemed to echo through the silence in the room. He looked around guiltily, hoping to not have woken any other patients. He made sure that he was quieter when he asked, “We missed the rest of Phase 1?”
“Sure did,” she said with attitude. “I’ve been sitting here, helpless, and my team has been out there, a man down, trying to pull the weight of four. So has your group.”
“Do you know how they’re doing?” Quin sat up. Panic was evident in his voice.
“Thanks to you and your team, I think we’ll scrape by to Phase 2. But we won’t know until the day after tomorrow, when they make the announcement,” she said.
Quin wasn’t sure if this was her way of saying thank you or not. “How much longer do you have here?”
“I should be out by tomorrow, hopefully. Maybe the day after. I’m still a bit bruised, but my back should be healed. That bullet broke my back. The shock wave vibrated my spine so intensely that it shattered three of my vertebrae. At least that’s what my doctor said. It was an extensive surgery and took a long time to heal, even for their advanced technology,” she said, irritated again.
Before Quin could ask any more questions, a doctor walked into the room. One Shell was activated, and his other eye looked directly at Quin.
“Quincy Adams,” he said.
“It’s Quin, but yes,” Quin replied.
“You’ve been out for a long time, we got a bit worried. That shock wave did a number to your brain, and it put you into a small coma. Luckily, we were able to repair the damage, and you are good as new.” He spoke quickly, like he was trying to get through this as fast as possible. “Your clothes are beside you, and you can change and return to your room whenever you’re ready. Now that you are conscious and cleared, you must be out in two hours.” He looked blankly ahead as he managed something in his Shell. When he finished, he turned around and briskly exited the room.
Quin found some clothes on the stand behind his bed with a note on top. It was from Blair. It read:
If I’m not here, then I’m in the final round. Don’t worry too much, we’ve done well and should make it to Phase 2. It’s been tough, but I think we got this. I’ll be right back when it’s over. I’ll stop by the room first in case you happen to wake up before I’m done. I hope you do because I miss you so much. I love you. I’ll see you soon.
Quin put the note back on the table and picked up his clothes. His suit was folded neatly underneath them. He changed and noticed a small trash can beside the stand with a few crumpled-up pieces of papers inside. He took one out and uncrumpled it. It was another note from Blair. He took out the other pieces as well and found similar notes that she must have written for him every time she left the room. Quin smiled and took all the notes with him. He exited the medical wing and made his way back to his room.
“Oh, my God!” Blair rushed into the room and gave Quin a tight hug, knocking him backwards onto the bed. She followed with a gentle kiss. “I was so worried about you. Are you okay? What did the doctors say? Are you –“
“Blair!” Quin interrupted her. “Relax, I’m fine. I think I should be the one asking questions. I’ve apparently missed the entire first Phase.”
Blair tightened her lips and gave Quin a look of sympathy. She rolled off him onto her back and stared at the ceiling as she talked. One arm rested across her stomach while the other rested on her forehead. “I think we’re going to make it. You really gave us a huge advantage in the first round. We lost our way a bit in the second, but we definitely pulled through in three and four. You would’ve been so proud.” She smiled, guiltily.
“What aren’t you telling me, Blair?” Quin asked, impatiently. “What about the last round?”
Blair turned her head slightly, just enough to catch his eye. She lifted up her shirt to reveal a large bruise on her ribs. “We got knocked out in the first ten minutes of the last round. It’s going to hurt us a lot in the running. I’m sorry, Quin. It’s going to be close.”
Quin ran his hand delicately through her hair. “Don’t be sorry. It’s not like you did it on purpose. I’m the one that should be sorry for not being there.”
“Quin, that’s not all,” she said. “I think Timothy should be the one to tell you. Timothy!” she called.
A few seconds passed before the bedroom door cracked open. Timothy peeked in. Jordan stood right behind him.
“Nice to see you, Quin. Glad you’re all right,” he said quietly. He was acting strange too.
“Thanks, but can someone please tell me what’s going on?” Quin said with growing frustration.
Timothy and Jordan slowly walked into the room with the same look of worry that Blair had. Timothy reached into his pocket and pulled out a small piece of crumpled-up paper.
“During the second phase, I got an injury that required minor treatment. Shortly before I got released, the girl in the bed next to me died.” He slowly uncrumpled the paper in his hand to reveal it was a ripped portion of a larger piece. “I waited for them to take the body before I left. I was able to follow them and find out where they store the dead bodies,” Timothy paused. He looked blankly at the torn, wrinkled paper in his hands, as if he were reliving the story. “I hid outside the room until they left. Inside, on the walls of the room, there were a lot of metal doors with name tags on them. My brother’s name was written on one of them. I opened it to find his body laying naked on the table. They didn’t even have the decency to cover him up. I grabbed the paper in his hand and left. I didn’t read what was on it until I got back here to tell Jordan and Blair.” He broke his dead stare and looked at Blair and Jordan. “We got the missing piece to the letter.”
Quin sat up. His heart began to race. Every hair on his body stood up in anticipation. The only word that could come out of his mouth was a faint, “And?”
“The last sentence of the letter says: ‘Don’t enter the final phase,’” he said.
Quin was confused. That was it? “Okay?” Quin said, scrunching his eyebrows. “Is it a threat? A warning? I don’t get why you guys are acting so weird. I mean, yeah, this is big news, but I feel like I’m missing something.”
“It’s not the rest of the sentence that’s the concern,” Jordan said. She gestured to Timothy to hand Quin the letter, which he did after some hesitation.
Quin took the paper and flattened it as best his could before reading it. “Oh,” he said. He understood why this was a big deal, why they were so nervous about telling him what was on the paper. Quin had a sinking feeling in his gut as he stared at the piece of paper, and he read the bottom about five times before really comprehending what he was seeing. The bottom of the paper read:
– Francesca Adams
“Francesca Adams,” Quin whispered. “My mother.”