???: Well, well, well! Look who decided to show their faces!
???: We were wondering if you guys would show up eventually…
???: It’s Guy! It’s Guin! Now the entire group’s together now!
...were all our friends.
The room was a tad smaller than the last, and nearly every inch of it was contained by someone. If I wasn’t so relieved to see so many familiar faces, I would’ve been thrown into a panic over how crowded it was.
...Though, I was already starting to feel the effects, as my breathing started to quicken a bit.
???: I’m so happy to see you guys~!
A sing-songy, cheerful voice rang out above the rest of the others. Suddenly, someone lunged themselves at us, throwing one arm across my neck and squeezing with all their might. They did the same with Guy, who didn’t seem phased at all by the sudden contact, mostly because this was a person he was accustomed to and even enjoyed being around. He pat her back, which was covered by her thick, curled red hair.
GUY: Hello, Nichole.
NICHOLE: Hello, hello! Guy! Guin! I’m sosososo happy to see you~!
She squeezed a little tighter, and I choked, gasping for air. Eventually, once I was almost presumed dead from strangulation, she let go and her entire attention turned to Guy (unsurprisingly). She held both of his hands within hers and bounced on her toes.
NICHOLE: I was worried you guys wouldn’t be here~! I mean, things just aren’t the same when you two aren’t around…
GUY: Well, don’t worry. We’re here now.
The tiniest hint of a smile crept on Guy’s face. The only time I ever saw him smile was when he was around her. She’s our childhood friend - we’ve known her since we were both in kindergarten. She was always more Guy’s friend than mine. I figured she obligated herself to being my friend solely because I was Guy’s sister.
I did feel that way about most of his friends unfortunately, but that was more my own interpretation of things.
???: Oh my god, GUINY!
Someone shouted my name, and before I could react, they had their hands on my shoulders and were shaking me back and forth. It wasn’t hard for me to recognize who it was - I could spot that pink streak in stark black hair anywhere.
???: D-Don’t shake her so hard! She looks exhausted!
Right behind her was a boy who I also knew well, with his bright red vest and ears punctured with several earrings I felt a bit more at ease knowing they were there, the tight knot in my throat dissipating once I realized who they were. They were two of my closest friends, and sometimes the only friends I felt like I had: Casper Latrey and Selica Delacroix.
Selica stopped shaking me after Casper scolded her and slapped her hand against her chest.
SELICA: Guiny, dearest! Is everything okay?
GUIN: Wh-Why do you ask…?
My voice resorted back to being nothing more than a murmur.
CASPER: Your eyes look a little puffy… Like you’ve been crying.
Oh my god my eyes look puffy I walked in here right after I cried like a bumbling baby and now my friends are going to be upset why didn’t Guy tell me my eyes were puffy why am I such an idiot.
I took a deep breath.
CASPER & SELICA: Guin!
GUIN: ...I-I’m okay. Just...a little shaken is all…
SELICA: Oh, yeah, that totally makes sense! I’d cry if I wanted too!
Casper patted my shoulder. He was much more gentle that Selica’s shaking, which nearly knocked my head off my neck.
CASPER: It’ll be alright! I’m glad to see you’re okay, Guin.
He paused for a moment, furrowing his eyebrows and scratching his cheek.
CASPER: ...I’d say I’m glad to see you here with us, but I don’t really know if that’s right to say… Especially considering I don’t even know what “here” is.
???: I know where this is!
We all turned to a girl who had a huge grin on her face and her arms crossed as she stood triumphantly among us. She was Ivee Ree, and she was always confident, no matter where she ended up...I guessed that included in a strange, metal facility.
IVEE: You remember that movie? Covenir, or something?
Next to her was her older brother, Victor Ree, who towered above the rest of us and stood much more dauntingly than she did a full foot below him. The difference between the two were night and day.
VICTOR: We’re not in a spaceship piloted by a rogue robot.
IVEE: You don’t know that! We could be the pioneers for another planet! Saviors of the human race!
VICTOR: ...You’re right. I’m a fool. How could I ever think it would be something that isn’t a movie you watched just the other night?
IVEE: There’s aliens on here waiting to eat us… Watch out!
Ivee shaped her hands into claws and roared at the entire crowd. No one budge...except me, of course, who just had to jump in utter fear.
???: I’m sorry, but that’s ridiculous.
A refined voice echoed. It was a blonde boy with a soft expression on his face, his stature poised and formal. That was Luca Abbot, a boy who attended my high school a grade above me and was renowned for his skills with the piano.
IVEE: Um, did I ask you?
LUCA: No, but I believe we could jump to many other wild conclusions without resulting to “alien kidnapping”.
IVEE: First of all, aliens deserve more respect than this. Second, let me have my fun, whitey!
LUCA: That’s racist.
A growl escaped Ivee’s throat, and she seemed like she was about to pounce if it weren’t for Victor securing her in place by holding the top of her head.
LUCA: Besides, I think you’re scaring little Lucia over there.
???: I-I’m not scared!
In the corner of the room was a person holding a girl in their arms. The person holding the girl had messy brown hair that covered their eyes, while the girl had short blonde hair wearing a fancy white and pink sundress. They were Rudy and Lucia Thayer respectively.
Lucia was the daughter of a famous family who owned a hospital while Rudy was someone who helped her get around, because…
LUCIA: ...Aliens...didn’t kidnap us, right?
IVEE: You don’t know… Maybe that’s why they didn’t give you your wheelchair… Boo!
Lucia squeaked before hiding her face in Rudy’s shoulder, arms wrapped around their neck.
RUDY: ...Stop it.
IVEE: Ufufu… ❤
???: I’m surprised… I didn’t take Lucia for the type to fear the extra-terrestrial.
A gorgeous lady wandered over to a frightened Lucia and pat her on the head. She was always someone I considered the pinnacle of beauty, as well as everyone else - she walked with grace, her hair seemed to sway in the air in the most perfect fashion, and everything that came out of her mouth was sophisticated and imperturbable. She was Aiya Hachimitsu, once a track star in high school and was now loved by everyone who met her.
LUCA: Well, can you blame the girl? She’s so small, she might be easy to gobble up!
LUCIA: I-I don’t mind aliens as long as them eating me is out of the question!
AIYA: Ivee, sweetie, don’t you think it’s not very nice to say that’s why there’s no wheelchair for her here?
LUCA: Yes, exactly. How shrewd!
Ivee stuck her tongue out at Luca.
LUCA: We’ll need to find a wheelchair for you as soon as possible, little Lucia.
LUCIA: It’s fine… I don’t mind! I like when Rudy holds me!
Lucia’s mood seemed to take a completely turn, for now she was pressing her cheek against Rudy’s with a huge smile on her face. Rudy was completely expressionless.
AIYA: Anyway, I believe it to be far too early to learn exactly where we are.
VICTOR: I have some idea-
???: Ummmm, can I say something?
Before Victor could finish his sentence, he was interrupted by the only person in the room that could challenge him in terms of height, even if he was nothing more than a long, lanky stick of a man. This bed-headed, thick-rimmed glasses-wearing of a boy was Florence Ashford, a close friend of Guy and Nichole’s. He was also Selica’s cousin. He was usually more social than this, but no doubt this situation has made him retreat back to his more meek side.
VICTOR: Oh, yeah. Sure.
FLORENCE: Sorry to interrupt you Victor, but I couldn’t help but notice this is all so...familiar.
AIYA: Ah, you’ve been kidnapped by aliens in the past?
FLORENCE: No, I wish! This reminds me of all the escape games in the past that I’ve played, especially the No Escape series! Though the puzzle in our rooms were dreadfully dull, the concept of a bunch of people being sucked into a strange location with no memory of how they got there is very reminiscent of it!
So much for being meek...
NICHOLE: Oh, yeah! Now that you mention it, it really does~!
IVEE: So, we’re just going through some off-brand version of a popular Japanese video game series?!
FLORENCE: Exactly! Don’t worry guys, I have a world record in- Ow, ow, ow ow ow ow!
Suddenly, the woman who was standing next to Florence with a scowl on her face started twisted his ear. Victor seemed like a small puppy compared to her, what with her petrifying glare and her muscles that had a snake tattoo crawling up them. She was Candace Sandoval, and she frightened me to no end (she was close friends with Guy too, somehow, someway).
CANDACE: Stop downplaying all of this, you dolt.
Florence whined loudly like a child. She finally let go of him after some time, leaving him to rub his ears with tears budding in his eyes.
CANDACE: You all see calm considering all of this.
AIYA: It’s better than panicking, wouldn’t you say?
CANDACE: There’s a way to handle situations without turning them into games.
As much as Candace absolutely terrified me, she was right. A small part of me felt a bit aggravated at how calmly everyone was handling this… Mostly because I, myself, couldn’t find any way to downplay this entire situation, especially after escaping from my room, which Florence seemed to make no big deal out of…
...Really, no one did…
VICTOR: I was actually going to address that issue, if you’d let me-
???: There’s no reason to be afraid, actually! Because I know exactly what this is!
There was yet another confident voice, and it came from a certain boy with a mullet that Guy and I knew almost as long as we knew Nichole. He was Morgan Collins, the self-assured and slight flirt of the group, his fist held up jubilantly before him.
Next to him was his best friend, Oliver Wilde, who had part of his hair covering one of his eyes, sporting the usual scene look despite being the complete opposite of that. He clapped his hands together and stood in front of Morgan, looking almost apologetic.
OLIVER: I wouldn’t say “exactly”, but more “we have a general sense of”.
AIYA: And what would that general sense be?
MORGAN: Well, it’s only obvious that this is all a grand set-up for what could be the greatest-!
OLIVER: A surprise party.
MORGAN: Heeeey, I wanted to say it!
Everyone’s eyes bored into the pair. I swear I could see Oliver starting to sweat while Morgan was completely unfazed.
CANDACE: ...Are you stupid or just an idiot?
MORGAN: Come oooon, think about it!
CANDACE: There, I thought about it. You’re an idiot.
OLIVER: Imagine how much of a surprise this would be if it was a party!
MORGAN: Wouldn’t it be a big surprise to walk through those doors and see an entire party out there, shouting “Surprise!” after scaring us all to death like this?
LUCIA: A surprise party?!
Lucia clapped her hands.
LUCIA: That sounds like so much fun! Oh, but didn’t you ruin the surprise by saying it’s a surprise party?
Morgan slapped his hand against his forehead.
MORGAN: You’re right!
OLIVER: Now it’s just a regular party… And it’s all our faults!
MORGAN: This is the worst! I am an idiot!
CANDACE: At least he admits it.
AIYA: It can still be a surprise party if we act surprised! Teehee…
MORGAN: Aiya’s right as always!
AIYA: This could all be set up to be the theme of one of Florence’s silly little games!
FLORENCE: ...They’re not silly, Aiya. Those “games” changed my life.
I felt like I wanted to cry again. Here everyone was, taking this all with a grain of sand after having to go through that terrible room with the gas… I knew everyone here more-or-less was either confident or avoided stress at all costs, but this was over the line and made me feel silly for feeling terrible about it all…!
I muttered under my breath, but someone heard me speak. To be specific, someone behind me.
???: “Really” what?
I screamed for a good second before I realized who the voice was behind me. The blank, impassive face behind a pair of thin-framed glasses with her hair tied up into a tight bun… Felicia Wilde, Oliver’s little sister and the fourth person in me, Casper, and Selica’s little friend group. However, I wondered at times if Felicia even liked me…
GUIN: H-How’d you get back there?!
FELICIA: I walked here? How else would I get here?
OLIVER: Fee-fee, don’t sneak up on people like that!
FELICIA: Why not? It’s fun.
I sighed, any chance of good feelings bubbling up within the next hour completely shattered.
CASPER: I heard you say something… Is there something wrong?
I could feel everyone’s eyes turn to me since my entire body started to heat up under their stares. I kept my lips tight, pressing them together so hard they nearly hurt, afraid to speak out to everyone around me. But, I knew I would have to speak eventually since they were all waiting for me. I glanced at Casper for a quick moment, who gave me a reassuring smile and nod. That was enough to get me to swallow down some of my anxiety and speak out.
GUY: It just seems odd is all.
Of course, Guy spoke over me. It was better than me speaking and stuttering, making a fool of myself, so I resigned.
GUY: How can you all act so calm after what happened in the rooms?
NICHOLE: What happened in the rooms?
LUCA: Waking up in them was a bit creepy, but it doesn’t completely discredit that it could be part of some sort of elaborate party.
FLORENCE: That equation wasn’t too rough either. I solved it in no time!
MORGAN: R-Really? It took me at least a half hour…
FELICIA: Because you’re an idiot.
SELICA: That’s how long it took me, too!
FELICIA: Because you’re also an idiot.
SELICA: Um, Fee-fee, that was the part where you were supposed to compliment me-
GUY: Did...none of you experience the toxic gas leaking in?
When Guy said that, it suddenly made sense. Why else would everyone else take this so lightly? If you take away the toxic gas, you wake up in a strange room and find your possessions in another… While this can be creepy in itself, as Luca said, tying it with some sort of surprise party or the like downplays the severity of it. As long as your life isn’t shown to be in immediate danger, you can also conjure up scenarios on how this situation isn’t scary.
...But, Guy and I…
The vibrant, carefree air in the room seemed to dissipate the minute Guy mentioned the words “toxic gas”. The excited light in everyone’s eyes seemed to disappear, leaving behind a dull sheen filled with worry.
NICHOLE: Wh-What do you mean? “Toxic gas”?
GUY: In my room, toxic gas started leaking in. I had to solve that equation to both get out and save my own life. Same was the case with Guin, right?
GUY: It was green and it burned upon inhalation. Well… It burned upon simply touching it.
Everyone stared at Guy in complete awe, fear...possibly disbelief. It only confirmed what Guy said - they didn’t experience the gas coming in and burning them, thus why they could take this all much lighter than we could. There was only one person who spoke up after Guy explained the gas:
AIYA: Oh, my dears… Are you two alright?!
GUY: We’re fine. Guin’s a little shaken up, is all.
I wished Guy didn’t call me out like that. But, I found myself distracted by something else rather than the subject at hand. I had been so consumed with this strange place and finding all of our friends here, stuck with us, that I completely glossed over the fact that everyone else had something wrapped around their necks similarly to Guy and I. When Aiya spoke, my attention turned to a singular blue light that illuminated from a gray collar rather than her eyes. Some of the others had a blue light on their collars as well while others had a red light, like Guy’s. But, the difference between his and theirs…
SELICA: This is absolutely terrible! We completely ignored Guiny and her brother, and now they’re upset! This is all of your faults.
LUCA: Our faults?
SELICA: Yes. None of you informed me that they were in trouble. This is Casper’s fault especially.
CASPER: My fault? I was second to arrive here behind you!
SELICA: Yes, which means you were first to commit the sin.
While I was flattered that Selica was worried about me in her own dramatic way, there was still the issue of…
GUIN: I-I have…
LUCIA: I’m sorry… It was a bit of a struggle getting out of my room… But that’s a bit of a selfish excuse, huh…?
LUCA: Oh, look what you did! You made Lucia cry.
FELICIA: Not being able to walk isn’t much of an excuse.
RUDY: ...It’s not your fault, Lucia.
Lucia gave Rudy a big smile.
MORGAN: So, I guess this isn’t a party?
AIYA: Oh, I thought you were kidding about that?
MORGAN: Y-You weren’t taking me seriously?!
IVEE: Well, well, it is completely possible that we’ve found ourselves-!
CANDACE: We haven’t been kidnapped by aliens.
I slumped my shoulders. I figured there was no point trying to fight against the prattle amongst my friends. I’d be restating the obvious, anyway. No doubt everyone else has already noticed the collars, even though…
Nichole’s face was suddenly inches away from mine, making me shriek and jump back. However, her eyes weren’t on me - they were on my collar.
NICHOLE: Wooooah, Guin and Guy have collars too! But, they’re different…
Nichole’s voice resonated through the room much better than my voice ever could, so everyone stopped their individual conversations and turned to us. Their gazing eyes made my cheeks burn up once again.
AIYA: Oh, they are… They have several lights on them instead of just one.
NICHOLE: Eight to be specific!
Nichole jabbed her finger into each light on my collar, counting out loud. I stiffened up with each touch.
After she was done counting, I quickly slid my turtleneck's collar up my neck, my face heating up from all the eyes towards my direction.
OLIVER: They’re also different colors too… Guy’s is red while Guin’s is blue. Like some of ours…
I scanned each person’s collars, taking note of who’s lit what color. The blue collars were Casper, Selica, Felicia, Luca, Aiya, Lucia, and Rudy. The red collars included Guy, Nichole, Candace, Morgan, Ivee, Oliver, Victor, and Florence.
SELICA: Ugh, first someone kidnaps us, then they put collars on us like dogs?!
LUCIA: Are we truly sure someone kidnapped us…?
FELICIA: Duh. Why else would we end up in this death metal trap, stuck in this sweaty room?
Morgan scratched his eyebrow.
MORGAN: Is this place like, uh...a warehouse then?
CANDACE: Doubt it, considering the rooms we just escaped from. Especially considering the twins’ near-death experience.
AIYA: Maybe if we can figure out what this place is…
GUY: Have you all tried leaving this room yet?
AIYA: No. The door’s locked.
That’s when a voice that hadn’t spoken for a while rose up.
VICTOR: May I interject?
IVEE: Vic’s been waiting for his turn for a while now, guys!
AIYA: Oh! I apologize. Please, say your peace.
VICTOR: Thank you. I may have an idea where we are.
LUCA: Oh? And you waited this long to tell us?
Victor simply stared at Luca for a long while, boring his stern, stoic gaze straight through the pianist. Luca simply chuckled as he hid himself behind Florence.
VICTOR: I recognize this sort of set-up at least. If the room after this is what I believe it to be-
SELICA: Then that means you’re the one who kidnapped us!
MORGAN: Victor kidnapped us?! Dude, what the hell?!
VICTOR: ...Yes. I kidnapped you. I’m the big bad guy. Boo.
Morgan and Selica screamed. Morgan ducked behind Oliver while Selica threw her arm in front of me and Felicia.
SELICA: I won’t let you hurt Guiny and Fee-fee, fiend!
MORGAN: OLIVER HELP ME
OLIVER: H-How?! Dying myself?!
CANDACE: Can you people let Victor say two words without making fools of yourselves?
NICHOLE: Beeeesides, why would Victor kidnap Ivee and himself too~!
Victor scratched his chin, one eyebrow arched as though he wanted to continue.
CASPER: So, you can’t say for certain it’s what you think it is?
VICTOR: ...I can make an assumption, though it could be proven wrong. It’s possible we might be in-
Before Victor could finish his thought, there was a click that echoed from the other side of the room. Everyone’s heads turned towards the door we had yet to go through to find it opening, bright white light leaking into the cramped gray room we were in. Some of us shielded our eyes, the light illuminating so blindly into our eyes, while others gazed as it revealed what was waiting for us beyond.
What was waiting for us...was something out of a dream.
The room we stepped into was massive - I believed it to be the size of a football field if you made one circular. It was completely barren of any sort of furniture or...anything, really. The floors were polished metal, ends of screws barring down the corners of each tile every foot or so. But...the vast emptiness of the room wasn’t what was spectacular. About a few feet above our heads sat a glass dome on the walls that stretched up dozens of feet more. The dome was paneled, paneled with glass and each corner had a light that illuminated everything above it. And beyond the glass... was water. The dark depths of water laid out beyond the glass dome, and each light illuminated some strange or colorful or horrifying or majestic fish that fluttered by, little air bubbles flittering from their gils. Nothing could be seen beyond the water and the schools of fish. The surface wasn’t visible.
LUCIA: Is this...an aquarium…?
Part of me said it wasn’t. A part of me was several parts of me overshadowing a small sliver of myself who wanted to say it was. A hammerhead shark floated by the glass, unaware of the tiny, miniscule dots of humans that gawked below it.
IVEE: Th-This is the fanciest aquarium I’ve ever been if it is one…
AIYA: The strangest as well…
VICTOR: I understand… So it is where I believed us to be.
Victor spoke up, and it took every ounce of energy in my body to look away from the sight above me.
GUY: It does?
VICTOR: Yes. This is a military base. Or, I shouldn’t say that… This base isn’t specifically designed for mass military use, but it serves as one nonetheless.
OLIVER: Oh, right… You’re in the military.
VICTOR: Reserves, but...yes. After our initial training, recruits are taken to one of these bases to tour and remember history in short.
FLORENCE: I didn’t think the military still used these bases, though?
VICTOR: No, they don’t. After the Isle of Japan bombed and destroyed the main base off in the Pacific in 2007, the government shutdown the remaining 26 bases to prevent any more tragedies while war was ongoing.
Victor scratched his head.
VICTOR: They have been considering reopening them, however. Since times are peaceful now.
CANDACE: Do you know what base we’re in right now?
VICTOR: Exactly? I can’t tell. I know this isn’t one that would typically house troops, though.
CANDACE: They differ?
VICTOR: Slightly. Some are used as hospitals, research laboratories for scientists, a place to store prisoners…
Morgan repeated the word that was all on our minds. The air become frigid.
MORGAN: Do you think...maybe…?
IVEE: What, that we’re prisoners in some abandoned military base? None of us have broke the law! The worst thing someone here’s done was when Candace blew cigarette smoke in the principal’s face!
GUY: Look what you’ve done, Candace. You’ve taken us all down with you.
Candace flicked Guy’s nose.
Guy rubbed his nose.
SELICA: Besides, we can’t be prisoners! What would someone like me be doing here?!
While out of anyone else that would’ve been a snobby comment, coming from Selica raised an important question. Before we met her, she was a child celebrity, a singer whose fans ranged from all ages and genders alike. She ended up retiring during our sophomore year, which was when Casper and I met her, but she was still stopped frequently on the streets by fans and loved by most.
LUCA: And let’s not forget me as well.
Luca wasn’t much of a figure amongst our generation but rather the older ones...the older ones on the other side of the world. He was raised from a young age by his grandparents to be a pianist unmatched by anyone his age - the only things who could recreate his work were computers and robots. He also retired, albeit before Selica, and decided to attend Rodchester’s starting his junior year.
LUCA: Would they truly lock two people beloved by most in a place like this, branding them as criminals?
SELICA: Maybe you, since your base is probably dead by now.
LUCA: Oh, says the child star whose fame dropped when she-
NICHOLE: Guuuuuys! Let’s not fight!
Nichole hopped to the center of the group and threw her hands up into the air.
NICHOLE: There’s no use in panicking, yeah? Maybe this is all some kinda… I dunno…
She pursed her lips and pressed in both cheeks with her fingers. Then, she smacked and jumped in the air.
NICHOLE: Oh! We don’t even know if that glass stuff is real! It could be a hologram!
CASPER: What do you mean, then…?
NICHOLE: It could all still be a party~! ☆
CASPER: This is a really elaborate party, then…
Nichole clapped her hands together.
NICHOLE: Let’s not worry, yeah? There’s other doors here! I’m sure we’ll find the party or a way out somewhere~
???: Unless ya know how to swim, lil’ missy, I wouldn’t suggest that!
A shrewd voice echoed throughout the elephantine room. I would’ve thought it came from some sort of intercom, but I didn’t see speakers anywhere, nor did the voice sound muffled in the slightest.
IVEE: Wow, one of you guys sure is good at voice acting!
AIYA: I don’t think that was one of us, though…
???: It ain’t! Why don’t I go on and show myself then, eh?