CHAPTER FIFTY-TWO (draft)

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CHAPTER FIFTY-TWO

The first one comes as the biggest shock. A boy's waterlogged body washes up through the opening in the floodgate. We know he's a Candidate, because he is wearing the grey uniform, and there's a red armband on his sleeve. He's floating face down in the current.

"Oh my G-g-god! There's someone d-d-dead in there!" a girl cries through chattering teeth, seeing him first as he tumbles out of the gate opening.

And those of us who are up in the front, crowd in closer to see.

"Anyone want to check if he's dead, for sure?" says a boy from Blue, straddling his hoverboard.

"How can he not be dead?" Derek says meanly. "Come on, he's been in a water-filled tunnel for the last half hour at least, probably longer. You wanna touch him? On the other hand, move over, hey, maybe he's got something useful on him." And Derek actually gets off his board, wades through the incoming water and kicks the body with his foot, then bends over and goes through the dead boy's backpack.

While Derek's looting, the rest of us get on our hoverboards and plunge into the tunnel. The nightmarish mood of despair has just gone darker by at least another degree.

"Did you see that?" Laronda whispers. "What happened to him?"

"Probably fell asleep, fell off," the guy behind us says. I believe his name is Jack, and he's got a blue armband. "I didn't see any blood in the water, or on the body. So probably just fell off, maybe got knocked unconscious."

"Everyone, stay alert, people!" a girl directly in front of us says. I've been staring at the deeply grooved hot pink rubber soles of her running shoes for the last three hours at least, as she's lying on her board in front of me.

And then, as we watch the water, more bodies float by. A girl with long pale hair, which fans in the current around her, passes right underneath my hoverboard. She is young, looks a bit like Gracie, which sends a stab of pain through my gut. And then she floats away.

Pretty soon, there's a body every ten minutes, it seems. . . .

And then the tunnel we're in widens suddenly, and we find that we are in a huge natural cavern. The cavern is even taller than the one we entered in the beginning of Finals. And there are several smaller chambers stretching in multiple directions, and the current is flowing haphazardly here. Hard to tell where it's coming from.

"Okay, this might explain the bodies," Jack says behind us. "This place is huge, and people got lost and could not find the next floodgate in time! Crap!"

"You're right," Emilio says up ahead, as we break formation and sort of sit there, levitating, staring around us. "I have no idea which cavern or tunnel is the right one. Where do we go?"

"Usually, the direction from where the water is flowing should tell us," I say. "But it kind of does not seem to be flowing from anywhere at this point, it's standing like a lake. Or at least, hard to tell."

"Whoa, look up, guys!" A girl says, lifting her face toward the ceiling, and directing her board to rise a few feet. "Check out the amazing stalactites! Those are the biggest I've ever seen!"

"You just keep checking out junk on the ceiling, and you'll end up floating face down in the water too," Claudia says from a few feet away.

I glance at her with a frown. For a moment our gazes lock, and ugh, Claudia has a fierce expression on her face. . . .

"I think we need to break up into small groups or pairs and go check out each of these sub-caverns," Jack says.

Meanwhile I am staring at the very still water below us, and the three or four additional bodies floating in it. There's no current, no movement.

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