Quin sat in silence, absorbing what he had just read. His mother had warned Timothy’s brother not to enter the final phase of The Prism, but why? Who was he to Quin’s mother?
“Any idea what this may mean?” Timothy asked delicately.
Quin broke out of his daze and looked over at Timothy. “I don’t know, but I feel like we should figure it out before we start the next phase. Who knows how much time we will have after it before we’re faced with the final phase.”
“Quin, where would we even begin to figure this this out?” Blair asked.
Quin didn’t want to say it, but he knew how. He’d dreaded this day for years. He never even thought he would have to face it. After a few moments, he built the courage to speak the words he feared most.
“We’re… we’re going to pay a visit to my father,” Quin said, staring blankly at the ground. Blair rubbed his back gently. She knew how hard this would be for him.
“Can we even do that?” Jordan asked. “I don’t think we can just go somewhere and ask to see him. His department isn’t exactly in the public eye, and he’s, like, the head of the whole thing, which makes it that much more difficult.” She paced to the bedroom door and back again. She pulled the hair tie out of her hair, letting it fall to her shoulders, and pulled it to one side.
“We can try. If it doesn’t work, we can try something a bit more… sneaky, I guess. What’s the worst that can happen, they say no?” Blair said optimistically.
“She’s got a point,” Timothy agreed. “But I think it should just be Quin that goes. If we all go up demanding to speak to him, it’ll look like a small protest or something. They’ll shut us down before we even get there.”
“Why me? He gave me up. He hates me,” Quin said. He felt disappointed. Just the thought of speaking to his father again brought back every negative thing they had made him feel about himself. It all came crashing down on him like a tsunami on an origami city.
“I don’t think that’s entirely true, Quin,” Jordan said. “I saw his face when he read your name. That wasn’t hate, Quin, that was regret. He may not have been the best father, but I can guarantee he doesn’t hate you.” She stepped up and rested her hand on his shoulder. “Timothy is right. You have to go. You have a relationship with him. Whether it’s good or bad, it’s a relationship. If any of us go, they’ll just throw us out. You are the only one that has a chance of getting a word in.”
Quin knew she was right, but he still didn’t want to admit it. “Blair could go. He knows her, even liked her for that matter.”
Blair stopped rubbing his back. She reached and grabbed his hand. “Quin…”
“I know, Blair. I’m not saying you should go.” Quin squeezed her hand softly. “I’m just scared.” Silence filled the room for a few moments. “But I’ll do it.”
“Where would you even go to find him?” Blair said, concerned.
“Well, I’m not certain, but I have an idea,” Timothy said. “I think his office is on the auditorium floor. Remember that when he did the presentation, he said he was a fill-in?” Everyone shook their head in agreement, and he continued, “Well, it’s likely he was asked out of convenience. The presenter got busy, so they asked the closest person to fill in. His office could very well be right inside one of those doors,” Timothy said with pride.
“And if it’s not?” Quin challenged him.
“Then I think you may be screwed,” Timothy said. “That’s all we’ve got though.”
“Not to mention he would have to do it right after the Phase 2 announcement,” Blair added. “We don’t have access to that floor unless there’s a meeting there.”
“That could work to my benefit,” Quin said. “While everyone is exiting, I could just slip out of the crowd and go to the door. It’s the best plan.”
Timothy clapped his hands. “All right, then. It’s settled.”
“Just promise me one thing,” Quin said. He made eye contact with everyone, ending on Blair before continuing. “Promise me that if this goes bad, if I get caught or killed or whatever may happen, that you will all claim that I went on my own. Pretend you had no idea what I was doing.”
Nobody answered him. Quin didn’t expect them to, but at least they wouldn’t feel guilty if that’s what they chose to do.
Quin had about two days to figure out what he would even say to his father if he was able to find him. He didn’t think he would ever think of something. Even if he did, he would forget it the moment he stepped into the same room as his father and then just say whatever nonsense came out of his mouth. Until then, he would just enjoy the rest of the day and the next as if they were his last, because they just might be.
Quin, Blair, Timothy, and Jordan entered the auditorium on the day of the meeting for the second phase. The day before, they’d received a note on their door giving them the time they were supposed to report there. They’d gotten to the auditorium early so they could get seats close to the hallway that Quin would need to enter afterwards. They sat halfway up the section and as close as they could to the hallway they thought would lead Quin to his father.
There were only a few minutes until the meeting was supposed to begin. Quin looked around and thought it looked a bit bare. Everyone was quiet. There seemed to only be half of the people there, and a lot of people were bandaged in some form or another. Were they holding multiple meetings, or was that all who were left?
Eventually, the clock struck 7 P.M. The lights above the seating dimmed, forcing Quin’s attention to the stage in the center. Everything was silent except for a distant clicking that could be heard behind them, drawing nearer with every passing second. There was no denying who was making those sounds. Quin looked over his shoulder, into the hallway where the sound was coming from. A woman passed by below him. All Quin could see was the top of her head, her brown hair pulled back in a tight bun, but he knew who it was. His gaze followed her all the way to the center of the stage. Karen Ross looked around to each section before speaking, looking intently into anyone’s eyes who could muster the courage to look back into her icy blue ones.
She stood in the center of the stage. Her arms rested stiffly behind her back. “Welcome, everyone,” she said dryly. She clearly had no intent of continuing her charade of hospitality. “As you can see, there are much fewer of you here today than before. As stated in your introduction to the program, only half of all participants will continue on to the next round. Roughly half are sitting here now. A few are still in the infirmary watching us from there.” She paused, waiting for any outbursts or comments. None came, so she continued. “For those of you not following, if you are sitting here right now, you and your team are moving on to Phase 2.” The screens above her flashed the words “Phase 2” in a very dramatic fashion, as if it were part of a video game.
“What happened to everyone who didn’t make it?” yelled a girl from the section left of Quin. It sounded like Sam, but he couldn’t be sure.
Karen turned slightly to look at the section the voice had come from, trying to see exactly who asked it. “I am not at liberty to disclose details on those who did not qualify,” she said bluntly. It appeared she failed to pinpoint them, and she moved on. “However, they are being escorted out of their rooms as we speak and removed from the program.”
Whispers erupted around the auditorium. Karen waited patiently for them to die down. “Things will be a bit different from here on out. The next phase is going to require more than just basic combat and strategy skills. You will be tested on your logic and ability to think outside the box, or, perhaps, in the box.” She smirked as if that statement was some sort of clue. “You will receive details on the day you are scheduled to participate in Phase 2. I am here to tell you what you need to know to prepare up until then. For now, all you need to know is that there will not be multiple chances for you to prove your worth in Phase 2. You’ll get one shot, one chance to do your very best to move on. All winning teams will move on to Phase 3. In Phase 2, you will collaborate with two other teams. You may choose which two you would like to participate with. If you have no preference, then you will be matched with two teams at random. You have 24 hours to choose your teams. You can submit your choices through your Shells. A new menu has been added that should be easily accessible to you. If you have any issues, please ask staff for assistance. Any questions?”
Nobody spoke. Even if someone did have a question, they didn’t dare speak up. Curiosity was not a valued trait there. Everyone fortunate enough to be sitting in those seats were there because they were smart enough to know that. Smile and nod, that was the philosophy.
Karen pursed her lips and made a high-pitched, “Hmm. Okay then. Dismissed.” She turned and walked down the hallway that she’d come from, the hallway that Quin needed to go down.
Quin couldn’t follow directly behind her, but he knew he had to get himself set up quickly. A crowd started to form as everyone tried to funnel the elevator. Quin only had one chance. He had to hurry. He pushed his way down the stairs of his section and looked in the hallway. Karen was at the door. She stood in front of it for a moment until it unlocked. She turned the handle and pushed it open. Now was his chance. He sprinted down the hall, hoping she wouldn’t turn around. The door was slowly closing behind her. He ran as fast as he could. He wasn’t going to make it. The door was almost closed. Faster, faster, come on, faster, he thought to himself. He got to the door and placed his hand on it. He stopped it just millimeters before it would have clicked shut. He let out a sigh of relief. His heart was beating what felt like a million beats a second. He waited, making sure that Karen was long gone from the door.
He pushed the door open only slightly, without looking in yet. He waited a few more seconds to make sure that no one would come close it. When no one did, he assumed there would be no one to see him come in. He peered around the door and looked down a narrow hallway. It looked like a regular office building inside. Quin slid through the door and closed it quietly behind him.
He walked slowly down the hallway. Offices lined each side of the hall. Some had names on the doors, others did not. He reached a T and looked both ways. He darted back quickly as he saw someone cross the hall to the left. He instinctually held his breath, not fully knowing why. He looked back around the corner, and they were gone. He went down the other hall to avoid them. He had to be quick now. He walked as quickly and quietly as possible, but still slow enough to read the names on all the doors that he passed.
Quin started to get nervous. With every door he passed that wasn’t his father’s, the likelihood of him getting caught increased.
There. Quin thought to himself. Right in front of him, he saw a door that was slightly ajar. The light was on. As he got closer, the name became clearer, though he was already pretty sure what it said. “Harold Adams” was engraved on the plaque on the door. Quin quickly slipped in and closed the door, but no one was inside. Quin’s shoulders slumped. A feeling of disappointment coursed through his body. Why? He wasn’t excited to see his father. It should be a relief that he isn’t here, Quin thought. But it wasn’t. He was disappointed, which summed up his entire relationship with his parents, a big disappointment.
Quin looked around his father’s office. Bookshelves lined the walls, filled with encyclopedias and books on American history and war around the world. His desk sat in the center of the office, and a large, brown leather office chair was pushed slightly to the left behind the desk, as if he’d gotten up and forgotten to push it in. A few books and disheveled papers were scattered on the desk. Quin noticed a few picture frames lining the front of the desk. Quin walked around and noticed a doorway on the right wall. The door was open, but it was dark inside. From what Quin could see, it appeared to be a small living area.
Quin moved behind the desk and looked at the framed pictures. One was just a picture of his mother. Beside it was a picture of his father and mother smiling as they held a baby. At first Quin thought the baby was him, but it couldn’t be. Quin lowered himself into the leather chair. He pulled it closer to the desk and reached out to grab the photo. This photo was much too recent to be him. Tears welled up in Quin’s eyes. The baby in this picture was a boy, a baby he knew nothing about, his brother.
Quin heard a noise at the door. He looked up, startled, still holding the photo of his unknown brother. His father was pushing the door open and holding a cup of coffee.
“Hi, Dad,” Quin said softly.
His father stopped. He looked like a deer caught in a car’s headlights. He dropped the mug he was holding. It seemed to fall in slow motion before it crashed on the wood floor, shattering and splashing its dark brown contents all over his black shoes.
All his father could manage was a barely audible whisper. “Quincy.”