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"Inductees," the monotonous voice announces. I glance down the aisle of sterile glass boxes once more, jaw fully dropped. Every cell in my body is buzzing with shock, filled with shakiness. My eyes can't be fooling with me. They can't be.

Realizing my blatant expression, I quickly shut my mouth. It's second nature to monitor myself so I don't draw attention, yet I'm freaking out on the inside. As I rise to my feet, my palms flatten against the ground to push me upright. I barely process a word from the speakers. Mentally, I'm too busy sorting through what's reality and what's not.

Did I just see Stephen's tattoo? My heart rate begins to speed up dramatically, pumping so quickly I feel it through my fingers. He's alive.

"Inductees," the voice booms into my ears again. I rest my back against the clear wall, emotionally wrecked. Confusion rushes through everyone in sight, but for different reasons than mine. They're shocked to be back in the boxes, not because someone's back from the dead. My mind is running in a million directions.

The voice continues. "Inductees, congratulations on completing your first task. You may spend the rest of your day as you wish. Task two will begin tomorrow at 9 AM. Don't be late, or you'll be screened."

The elevator doors behind me hiss quietly as they slide open, calm as ever. I spin around, my feet flying to get me into the cab. I don't know how I'm going to confirm my hunch, but I have to do so now. Stephen has to be okay... he has to.

A panel of hovering controls appears near the elevator wall. I skim through the list of floors, finally finding the lobby. My pointer finger jets through the hologram, pressing the control as it warms my skin.

The doors close, and the elevator pulls to left. The heated hologram reminds me of the one in the cornfield. The hologram had burned my fingers, nearly singeing them. That can't be possible, yet I remember it so clearly like it's real. My limbs suddenly feel tired, and as I wipe my forehead, I realize I'm sweating.

What on Earth? What's real and what's not? My mind begins to sort through the mess of events. All I end up doing is mixing up the facts even more. Every second in the field felt so real, exactly as if I was awake, but was it a dream? A hallucination?

I absently rub the back of my neck, my fingers running over the lump injected there. Shuddering, I stop dead in my tracks, remembering my thoughts from earlier. The Screeners used syringes on us, just like in the Enhancement Project.

I cross my arms, the dark long sleeves of my outfit too tight. I'll never escape the Project when it expands time and time again. For all I know, the device in my neck could have been tested on people still trapped in their cells somewhere.

My chest tightens as the elevator doors open again. There is no hope anymore. The reign of control is too strong, and the rebels are long gone. I'm the only person left, forced to submit to the Screeners. It's frying my brain into uselessness.

I step into the lobby, first noticing the largeness of the space. Dozens of chairs and side tables scatter through the room. Every seat is empty, and I've never felt lonelier.

So I take a seat near the center of the lobby. Tapping my sneaker on the ground, I can't seem to focus. I pull out my AirPhone to check the time. It's nearly 8 o'clock at night.

What? I've been in the glass box for 12 hours? I look away from my phone, glancing around the lobby. A few elevators release inductees into the surrounding seats or the outdoors.

Out of habit, I unlock my AirPhone and swipe through the holograms. The phone app catches my attention, and I have a heart attack. I rush to tap it open.

"Call Stephen Moore!" I half-yell, too excited to sit down. My seat becomes uncomfortable, and I'm pacing around the room. My AirPhone rings for a few tense moments.

"Holland?"

I collapse in relief, clasping my Phone between sweaty hands. I sit down in a random seat, bearing every feeling in the world.

"Thank goodness," I say. "I can't believe it. You're okay."

"I don't know. That was really weird," Stephen says. His voice is heavenly, a fresh breath of air. "I've got to tell you what happened."

"I'm in the lobby, okay? Just meet me here, and we can go out somewhere."

"Gimme two seconds," Stephen replies. "I'm already on my way down."

I wait a moment, listening to Stephen's breathing. It helps me relax, and I finally know he's survived. Nobody hurt anyone yet.

The swish of shoes on carpet sounds behind me. I turn around, and there's Stephen, looking completely healed. No wounds or bloodstains dot his clothing.

Stephen's face breaks out into a grin, and I feel myself do the same. I rush over to him, locking us into a hug. My entire body feels better, safer.

"I've got a lot to tell you," Stephen says. His hands wrap around my back with familiarity, "and I want to know everything."

He leans out of the embrace and kisses me. I feel our love through every part of me, sweet and thankful. I lean my forehead against his. "Just thank goodness you're okay."

-- -- -- -- --

yay, happy ending of the chapter! i told you guys i'd resolve everything ;) but there are still a few tasks left and more plot twists!

the winning choice was confirm the hunch, meaning stephen was indeed alive the entire time.

Question: Choose a phrase: Bad twist, false alarm, or new obstacle.

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