“And so she arrives. You must be the last,” I heard Gabe say from his seat by the door. My head snapped up from the word search I was doing, and saw a girl who looked completely out of place standing in the doorway. I was struck by her presence, fascinated by the contrast of her bright red hair to the the dusky brown of her captor provided sweater. She was short, and curvy, and I was drawn to her.
“The last?” She spoke, closing the door behind her as she walked over to the only empty chair left in the room, just a few feet from mine. “Where am I?”
Gabe only shrugged in response, and returned to his book. “Don’t mind him,” I said. “Gabe doesn’t speak much. I’m Devon.” I held my hand out to her, but she just sat there, eyes staring blankly at the door she entered through.
She shook her head, as if to shake herself back to reality, and looked at me. “Sorry,” she took my hand in hers, and it felt like electricity pulsed through my body. “I’m Danika. Call me Nik.”
I smiled at her, “So, you’re the last to awaken. How do you like your new home?”
“My new home?” Her eyes widened almost comically, “What do you mean new home? Where are we? What is this place?”
I laughed, laughed harder than I had laughed since my arrival. “Your environment. We each have one. Even Samantha.” I pointed my head towards a girl with straight black hair, mindlessly picking at her nail polish. “Samantha, you gonna say hi to our new friend?”
Samantha lifted a single finger in response and I rolled my eyes. I could see the corner of Nik’s mouth quirking, and she quickly covered her poorly hidden smile with her hand. “I don’t know where we are,” I told her. “I was the first to awaken, almost a week ago now. Sam was next, and then Gabe just yesterday. And now you.”
Nik frowned, her left hand suddenly in her mouth as she chewed on her nails. “So you don’t have any more answers than I do.” She stated bluntly.
I shook my head. “Nope. I’m just as clueless as you are.”
Nik stared straight into my eyes, as if trying to judge whether or not I was telling her to truth. She must have decided she believed me, since after a few moments she slumped in her chair and sighed, seemingly defeated. She glanced over at me, and saw my puzzle book, and her eyes lit up brighter than a christmas tree. “Did they give that to you?” she asked.
“It was in the chest,” I pointed to an old wooden trunk Samantha had her feet propped up on. Nik walked towards it, and with a glare pushed Samantha’s feet off.
“HEY!” Samantha yelled indignantly. “What’s your problem?”
Nik kneeled in front of the trunk as she started digging through the books, puzzles and writing tools contained inside. “Are you saying you would have actually moved your feet if I asked you nicely?” She looked up at Samantha over her shoulder.
“Well… no.” Samantha replied, pouting her lips. “But you still should have asked.”
Nik grabbed a book with Sudoku puzzles, found a pencil, and shut the trunk with a loud thunk. “I knew asking would be pointless, so I didn’t bother.” Sam stuck her tongue out childishly and Nik just laughed.
I returned to my word search as Nik walked back towards me, hoping she wouldn’t catch me watching her. She plopped into her chair again, and looked at her pencil with utter disgust before starting a puzzle. I couldn’t help but smile at her antics.
“Nice to see you are all getting along, my pets.” The Voice spoke to us. “Since you are all awake, well, and have passed your first test, I believe it is time to give you all some… guidelines, for your stay with us, before I release you to your mess hall for breakfast.”
Nik and I made eye contact, and I half shrugged at her. I wasn’t any more aware of what was going on than she was.
“I would first like to thank you all for joining us here at the compound. We are grateful for your presence. But we would like to ask you all to just follow a few simple rules. Rules, well, the make any place better. I would first like to ask that you do not communicate with anyone but myself, and the others in this room. We like to keep our visitors separate from the rest of the community. Besides, I don’t think they have much to say to the group of you…” the Voice paused, for effect, I suppose. “Others. Next, I suggest you follow any directions given. Listening, will make your stay with us much more pleasant. We ask that you do not remove food from the mess hall, and that you leave all equipment in the recreation room, which you are in now.
“I don’t wish to keep you from your breakfast any longer, as I’m sure you are all quite hungry right now. Danika, I would like to congratulate you on your test, you did quite well. That is all. An escort will be there shortly to guide you to your eating quarters.” A loud click resounded in the room, and the voice was gone.
“Do you believe what it said? That they like having us here?” Nik turned and asked.
I wasn’t sure what I believed. “You ask a lot of questions,” I deflected. Color rose in her cheeks, and Nik ducked her head, her hair shielding her face from me. “I don’t mean to embarrass you. It was just something I noticed.”
Nik mumbled something, but before I could ask her to repeat herself, the door opened and a round creature walked in. It didn’t have any distinguishing marks, I could only assume it was the same one that lead us each here. “I guess that’s our escort.” I muttered to Nik, as I rose from my chair. I held out my hand to her, and she took it with a small grin. Her hands felt small in comparison to mine, her creamy, freckled skin a vast contrast to the deep browns of mine.
“Off we go,” she stated playfully. I was surprised at how well she was taking this. It makes me wonder if this bizarre place with rules and tests was somehow better than whatever life she came from.
Nik dropped to the back of the group as we followed our escort, and she tried to engage in conversation with Samantha. But Samantha must have been holding a grudge from earlier or something, because her mouth seemed completely sealed, and Nik was doing most of the talking. I laughed to myself and shook my head. There is something about that girl that is so intriguing.
Gabe grabbed my arm and we fell to the back of the group. “What was with you?” he asked me.
I shrugged out of his grip, “What are you talking about, what is with me? What’s wrong with you? You wouldn’t even look at the new girl. I’m just being friendly.”
He stopped, and grabbed at my arm again. We locked eyes, and I could see fury, and a hint of something else in his. “I don’t know that we can trust her. She’s new. Could be one of them.”
All I could do was shake my head with disbelief. “She’s just as out of place as we are. You have no reason not to trust her.”
Gabe looked at me seriously, “I have no reason to trust any of you. We shouldn’t trust anyone right now, not even each other.”