BEEP BEEP BEEP…
BEEP BEEP BEEP…
The alarm’s persistence finally woke Quin from his slumber. He rolled over and kissed Blair gently on the cheek. She started to stir. Quin sat up in the dark and looked at the alarm clock. 6:30 A.M. Quin groaned and rubbed his eyes.
He started getting ready for Phase 2. He brushed his teeth, showered, then slowly put on his suit. He hated the suit. People had died in ones just like it. He had almost died himself. It was difficult to slide it on after having just showered. His moist skin stuck to the material, making it near impossible to pull the skin-tight fabric up over his legs. Quin looked over to see Blair having the same issue. Quin scoffed as he finally forced his foot through the last leg. He tied the arm sleeves around his waist for now, wasn’t ready to commit to the whole suit quite yet. Blair was more ambitious. Her suit was completely on except for the head cover, which hung loosely off the back of her neck.
Things had been quiet and stagnant since Quin came back from the visit with his father. Everyone, especially Timothy, was defeated by the news. Where could they go from there? Quin came back with practically less information than he went there with. Nobody blamed him, but it was discouraging nonetheless.
Timothy and Jordan had kept to themselves the last two days. They felt the only thing they could do now was play by the system. To them, there was nothing else that could be done, and the fight for answers had come to an end. The only real communication they had had with Quin and Blair was while they chose their group for Phase 2. They decided to stick with the same two groups that they had worked with in round one, Phase 1. Those groups were solid. Blair disclosed to Quin that they got really lucky in round one because they hadn’t had anyone else who was even half as competent on their team in any of the other rounds. Luckily, the other two groups had the same idea. Unfortunately, that put the entire group down two players with the loss of Niomi and Barry, though Quin was sure that a lot of other groups would be down players as well.
After they got ready, the four of them walked quietly to the cafeteria before their time slot for Phase 2. Quin was nervous about this phase. They were specifically told that it would be much more intense than Phase 1. It would require a higher level of teamwork, and right now their chemistry was imbalanced. Hopefully their breakfast with the others would lift the mood slightly.
They arrived at the cafeteria to find everyone else already there, either getting their food or sitting down and slowly picking at it. A few smiled and waved as they entered; others were still lost in a morning daze. Quin saw Alice getting some food across the cafeteria. He pointed her out to Blair, and the two broke off from Timothy and Jordan to approach her.
“I see you made it back in time,” Quin said. “I was hoping you’d be here. We need people like you.”
Alice stifled a laugh. “People like me? What, targets?”
“A leader,” Quin corrected her.
“Last time I checked, I thought you were the leader,” Alice challenged him.
“This isn’t a competition. We need strong people like you to help lead us through this. We need to work together.” Quin looked to Blair for backup.
“He’s right, Alice. You got unlucky in the first round. It could’ve happened to anyone. I knew the moment we met you that you were strong. You weren’t someone to cross. Now is your chance to prove it.” Blair smiled, genuinely.
Alice blushed and turned her head to avoid eye contact. After a moment she snapped her head back and her face was serious again, all vulnerability washed away. “You’re right. You do need me. We can do this if we work together.” She nodded at Quin, who reciprocated. She held up her fist.
Quin bumped his fist to hers, then proceeded to get his food and join the rest of the group. He sat down and focused on their conversation.
“So, what do we think this test will entail?” Sam asked. She sat in the middle of the table, across from Timothy and Jordan.
“Who knows, how could we? We will find out in less than an hour,” said Lauren, beside her.
“Okay, better question,” Clyde said from across Quin. “What happens when you don’t pass? What happened to all those people that they ‘escorted’…” Clyde used fingers quotes as he spoke the word, “… out of the building?”
“They probably kill them. Gas chambers or some shit,” Kevin answered.
“No way, they woudn’t… they couldn’t,” Davontaye said nervously at the opposite end of the table. “They’re government-contracted, no way would they be allowed to euthanize participants.”
“Of course, they could, and I bet they are,” said Alice. “They can do whatever they want. I bet that they could easily cover it up, too. Hell, if they killed me, no one would really notice or miss me. Maybe a few friends, but I essentially have zero serious ties to anyone, especially family.”
“Me neither,” said roughly half the table in unison.
Quin never knew silence could be so loud. Nobody spoke as they looked around at the other people at the table, eyes wide.
“Whoa whoa whoa, hold up,” Lauren broke the silence. “No one here has anyone waiting on them at home?”
Quin grabbed Blair’s leg under the table. He looked down the table to Timothy and Jordan, who finally seem to be engaged in the conversation.
“Raise your hand if you have no one seriously waiting on your return home,” Alice demanded.
Everyone raised their hand, everyone except Blair. The group noticed, and focused their attention to her.
“I’m close to my parents. They would be concerned if I didn’t come back after a while.” She shrugged nervously. Quin rubbed her leg to comfort her.
“Yeah, but she’s with Quin,” Timothy said through his teeth, just loud enough for everyone to hear. Jordan nudged him.
Quin leaned into the table to see him. “So? What does that have to do with anything?” Quin asked, although he knew why, and now everyone else would know why too.
“Because!” Timothy stood up, his chair slid across the floor behind him. “Because his parents work here. They’re part of running this death trap!”
There it was. His secret was out. They’re killing the losers. It all made sense. They chose people that they could dispose of with little risk. His mother got Blair into the Prism. She got Blair into The Prism in order to get him into The Prism, to kill him. She knew Quin wouldn’t come if Blair didn’t, or at least it would be less likely. She had to be sure. She hated him so much that simply cutting ties wasn’t enough. She had to wipe him out of existence entirely.
Quin stared blankly at the table as everything he had been processing during his time there finally came together.
“QUIN!” Alice yelled. Quin barely heard it as he remained lost in his thoughts. “QUIN, LOOK AT ME!”
Quin snapped out of his daze and looked up at Alice with a helpless expression.
“Start talking,” she demanded.
“I… I can explain,” Quin stammered softly. “I mean, I can’t really explain, but… yes, my parents work here.” Quin looked around as everyone stared at him, some with curiosity, others with rage. “But I didn’t know that until I got here, I swear.” Quins hands went up in surrender. “I haven’t spoken to my parents in years, since my change. They didn’t want anything to do with me. I’m sorry. I wish I knew more.” Quin put his head in his hands, his elbows sat heavy on the table.
“It’s true,” Blair defended him. “I’ve been with him for years, and he hasn’t had any contact with his parents.” She stood up and glared at Timothy, whose head sunk down as he realized his chair was out of reach. “How dare you do this? How dare you bring this up to everyone who doesn’t need to know? He has nothing to do with them. That’s why he didn’t tell anyone, not because he was hiding anything. Just because your brother died and you didn’t get the answers you wanted doesn’t give you a right to be an ass. So get your chair, sit down, shut the hell up and finish your god damn breakfast so we can finish Phase 2 like a team!” she screamed. She looked at everyone, daring them to challenge her. Timothy scurried for his chair and cowered in it. Nobody dared a rebuttal. A few other people in the cafeteria were watching like it was some sort of show.
It was the first time Quin had ever seen Blair snap. She had been angry before, but not with the fire Quin saw in her eyes now. It was the strongest he’d ever seen her, not that he had ever thought of her as weak, and it was to defend him.
Blair sat down and awkwardly pushed her food around on her plate as she tried to catch her breath. She grabbed Quin’s thigh under the table and squeezed it tight. Phase 2 was going to be interesting.