Over the next few weeks, I fell into a routine. I was woken up, by that obnoxious alarm every morning at seven. I'd have breakfast and get ready before doing my mandatory morning work out until
lunch. After lunch, I'd participate in whatever testing Wescott wanted for the day, have a few free hours outside and then go back to my room for dinner and to relax before lights out at
I despised that I was getting used to it, but I really had no choice.
I wasn't going along blindly, though. I made Wescott prove to me, every morning that my mom was fine.
He wound up setting up a surveillance camera facing into the kitchen window, so I could see her for myself.
Of course, I knew he wasn't above lying and telling me she was fine, using old footage and slapping today's date on it, so I demanded more, sometimes.
It was getting funny to watch him come up with plausible excuses to have someone knock on the door, so I could be sure what I was seeing and hearing wasn't fabricated.
But it broke my heart to see my mom the way she was. I was really all she had left. My dad died a few years ago and even though she had other family, she wasn't very close to any of them.
Now whenever I saw her, she just seemed so lonely and broken. She didn't exactly mope around or go catatonic or anything, she just seemed so sad. Her eyes had a sort of hollow look and whenever I heard her speak, she sounded exhausted.
I usually couldn't bare to watch her for more than a few minutes, just to ensure that Wescott hadn't done anything to her.
After I was satisfied that she was, indeed, safe, Wescott would proceed to threaten me, by telling me I better cooperate completely before telling me the unpleasant and/or inane tests he had in store for me today. He also assured me that he had a pretty good idea of what my results should look like and if they weren't at least in the ballpark, he'd assume I wasn't cooperating.
It became part of my daily routine. I'd demand to see my mom and he'd threaten me.
The testing hadn't been too bad, really. That first week, I'd been running laps and doing other types of exercises, testing my speed and endurance. Then it had been puzzles and things, testing my logic and sequencing skills.
Now I was onto some hands-on tests. Taking things apart and putting them back together, that sort of thing.
Thankfully, that was over for the day. It wasn't difficult, really, just boring. I'd much rather be doing the mind puzzles than the mechanical stuff.
I was sitting outside, in the courtyard, during my free hours, which was really a joke. None of my time was free. I couldn't even opt to stay inside for my supposed free time. I was forced to at least sit outside to get sun.
It was pretty cruel, I thought - being so close to the highway, yet not being allowed to go near it. There wasn't even a fence to hold me here. Just three or four guards hovering around me and surveillance cameras trained on me.
Most days I'd just sit and stare at the road, fantasizing about my escape. But of course, it was completely impossible with so many people watching me.
Now that I'd sort of become resigned to staying here, at least until some miraculous circumstance arose, I started noticing that many of the guards looked familiar. I realized that I'd been seeing them all my life. Not that I ever met any of them, they'd just been hanging around in the background of wherever it was. Some of them I could place, others I couldn't.
The tall blond guy had been one of my coworkers at my summer job at the super market, during college. The petite red-headed girl had been a camp counselor when I was about twelve. Another man had been the guy I always assumed was homeless, who I saw when I would walk to and from my car at one of my jobs a few years ago.
It was crazy how many people I recognized. I really had been watched my whole life. Creepy.
"Where do I know you from?" I asked the guard standing a few feet to my left. He looked to be about my age. He had black, wavy hair, brown eyes, and was fairly short for a guy. Unlike alot of the guards around here, I noticed he seemed to be relatively human. He never made rude comments or looked at me like I was beneath him. If I wasn't mistaken, he actually looked like he felt a little sorry for me.
Not that pity was something I necessarily wanted, but decent human contact wasn't very easy to come by here.
He looked a little startled that I actually spoke to him. Usually I just ignored everyone.
"I was at Princeton with you," he said after a few seconds.
"Ah," I said. "You're the guy who would always avoid looking at me or talking to anyone."
"Yeah," he said. "Not really allowed."
"Right," I nodded. "So was it worth it?"
He looked at me curiously.
"I hope you were paid well," I said sarcastically. "By the way, what is the going price of a conscience these days?"
He seemed flustered. "I didn't...it wasn't..."
I raised my eyebrows.
"It wasn't really like that," he said.
"Yeah? What was it like?"
"I didn't know about you," he said. "I didn't realize you were..."
"Human?" I supplied.
He nodded. "I didn't really understand what I was getting involved in," he admitted. "It was this ideal job. I'd get paid to go to Princeton and be guaranteed this well-paying job for at least five years after graduation with great benefits. I couldn't turn it down."
I just looked at him. Were people that naive? Things are never so easy.
"Once I got in...there wasn't any getting out," he looked at me seriously. "I mean, I can quit if I want, but I'll never really be free again. I'll be monitored forever and if they suspect I'm about to do something...undesirable, well..."
I nodded and looked down, understanding the rest. If Wescott thought he was going to tell anyone what he'd been a part of, he'd either be killed or something equally bad would happen. I guess I wasn't the only one who was trapped. Although it wasn't nearly as bad for him.
"I sent your mom a letter," he said suddenly.
I looked up at him curiously.
"I just..." He flushed. "I just said I knew you from school and that I heard about what happened. I told her how much you loved her and if she needed anything...well..." He shrugged.
I half-smiled. "Thanks." I guess that was as close as giving my mom actual closure as I could hope to get.
He blushed and looked down.
"What's your name?" I asked.
"Mark." He looked back at me.
"Well, Mark," I said. "I can't really say I appreciate what you're doing, but it's nice having a decent person to talk to for a change."
He gave me a small smile. "I know it doesn't help, but I'm sorry," he said. "If I could..." He looked around nervously, afraid to even say it. "Well, you know..." He glanced to the highway.
"Thanks," I said. He was right it didn't help anything, but at least one person knew how messed up this all was and would help me if he could.
"You're not trying, Abi!" Wescott ranted after I failed a second time, to complete his stupid test in the time he wanted. I was trying to reassemble a particularly complicated motor.
"I'm not perfect, you know," I said irritably. "Sometimes things take a few tries."
He narrowed his eyes at me, trying to figure out if I was telling the truth or just trying to annoy him.
"Why would I try to screw things up now?" I asked, annoyed. "Don't you think I remember that my mom's in jeopardy every single second? You remind me often enough."
He just watched me for a few seconds. "We'll pick this up tomorrow," he said before turning to leave the room.
I rolled my eyes, looked down at the pile in front of me, and couldn't help smiling. I might not have done it on purpose, but it was fun when I succeeded in frustrating him.
I started cleaning up the smaller pieces in front of me, putting them in the designated box, when my eyes landed on the small metal tool I'd been using as a screw driver.
It must have been an oversight. Wescott never left me alone with tools. It's not like I could really do much with them, it was just a precaution so I'd be completely helpless all the time.
Not knowing what I'd be able to use it for, I quickly shoved it in my pocket before I continued cleaning up the other stuff as if nothing was out of the ordinary.
By the time the guard came in the room, I had everything put away and I got up to be escorted outside.
It was very hard not to put my hand in my pocket to make sure the little tool was still there. But I knew if I did, I'd only draw attention to it and they'd take it from me.
I didn't know why it was so important that I got to keep it. It wasn't a gun or anything terribly useful, but it just felt good having it. It was a small rebellion. One of the only things I could really get away with.
I spent my free hours talking to Mark. I discovered he had this shift pretty much all the time. I got to know him and he'd give me updates from the real world.
Even though talking to Mark was, sadly, the highlight of my day, I was itching to get back to my room.
Once I finally got there, I nonchalantly went into the bathroom and took the little tool out of my pocket, needing to make sure it was really there.
After looking at it for a minute, I started looking for a place to hide it. Obviously anywhere in my room was out of the question, since whatever I did in there, was on camera.
It had to be somewhere here, in the bathroom.
I looked around, disappointed that there didn't seem to be any place to put it. There wasn't any furniture in here - no cabinets or anything and I couldn't hide it behind the toilet because it would be too visible to whoever came in to clean.
I looked up, noticing the air vent.
I watched it for a minute, wondering if I stuck it in there, if I'd be able to get it back, when it hit me.
The air vent, stupid! I could get out through the air vent!
It was screwed to the ceiling, but thanks to my new little treasure, that wouldn't be a problem. The vent was more than big enough for me to fit through. The only problem would be actually getting up into it. I could reach if I put one foot on the tub and one on the toilet. I'd just focus on pull-ups in my work out for a little while, until my arms were strong enough to get me up there.
I smiled and felt hope for the first time in more than a month. I was getting out of here.
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