CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX (draft)

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CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX

I have no idea how much more time passes, and I am getting hungry and thirsty. And yeah, I manage to use the toilet while awkwardly covering myself up with my jacket.

Eventually I lie down on the cot, on top of the blanket, and stare up at the ceiling.

At some point, the door opens again, and guards come to escort me outside.

This time I am led back through the corridor toward the front portion of the building. We pass the cubicle farm, where again every office worker stares at me, this time with reproach. Or at least it seems that way, from what I see in their eyes. We go through the glass double doors and outside into the very front portion, and then the lobby.

“Where are you taking me?” I ask, but the guards do not reply, only propel me by the arms, onward, and out through the main glass doors of the building.

Outside it is late afternoon. There is no sign of the morning overcast and drizzle, and except for a few patchy clouds, they sky is bright blue and turning to gold on the western horizon. Looks like I’ve been detained for most of the day.

As I look around, I see a bunch of people I know milling around. Both my brothers stand propped against the walls, and there’s Dawn and Laronda sitting on a ledge nearby. Hasmik is sitting down on the floor concrete slab with her feet stretched out before her next to Janice Quinn. Jai, Mateo and Tremaine and even Jack Carell are standing up talking in a semi-circle. My heart lurches because there’s Logan, next to my brothers, and some other guy and a few girls I barely know are with them, many of them sitting all along the side of the building with their backs to the wall.

Laronda sees me first. “Gwen! Oh, my God, are you okay?” She springs up, followed by Dawn and pretty much everyone else. They turn toward me, people scrambling to get closer.

But the guards stand between them and me, and they continue propelling me forward. “I’m okay, guys!” I say hastily, glancing back at everyone.

“Hey, where are you taking her?” George says loudly to the guards. “That’s my sister, where are you taking her? We have a right to know what’s happening!”

“I don’t know!” I cry back. “They won’t tell me—”

“No talking,” says one guard. “Keep moving. The rest of you, please stay back.”

But my brothers and my friends are now walking alongside us, and behind, keeping a short distance but keeping up—all of them, everyone’s coming along. In fact, other Candidates who are outside are beginning to stare. Some are starting to follow along also.

We walk past several buildings at a rapid pace, so that I almost stumble a few times to keep up with the guards, and each time it happens my brothers’ voices are heard from the back, “Hey! Slow down, don’t push her!”

Way to go, George and Gordie! I think gratefully, wanting to bear-hug them. But then I think of where I might be going, and my gut grows numb with cold.

We pass one more building, and there’s the airfield.

About a hundred feet into it, in the middle of the clearing, an Atlantean shuttle sits on the ground.

I stare, and there’s a group of people gathered around it. Some of them are clearly Atlanteans, judging by the radiant metallic hair that shines from this distance in the setting sun.

Before the guards even direct me toward the shuttle, I start to get an inkling of what might be going on here.

We enter the airfield that has been swept clean and pristine of any earlier debris from the disaster of a few days ago. “Keep going,” one guard tells me, propelling me firmly toward the grouping of individuals around the shuttle.

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