by Joe Zabel

Chapter 14

The hallway was dark, but there was light up ahead, and several other halls branching off from this one.

She glanced briefly into each room, noting that they were unoccupied bedrooms, four beds in each. She was in the residents' wing.

She glanced down a short, dead-end corridor, concluding that it was also for residents. Then she dashed over to another corridor as she heard voices raised from the stairway behind her.

This hallway proved to be long and well-lit, with windows to the outside all along the left side Kathy began sprinting, pausing only briefly at each of the right side doors to glance in. These were small offices, empty. 'Lucky for me everybody's down at the lecture!' thought Kathy.

Then she came to an office with a man inside. He was peering through a window dow to the lecture hall below, was watching the speaker on the stage at the far end of the hall.

He spoke into a mike. 'The next one's Holly Ross. She's concerned about her weight, and low grades in school; mother and father live in Chi-town...'

Kathy heard approaching footsteps, and ducked into the room. She dropped into a crouch to conceal herself behind a desk.

A group of cultists could be heard running up to the door. 'Bob!' said a voice at the door. 'Have you seen anybody come this way?'

'No,' said Bob. 'I've been babysitting the lecture.'

'We need you to help us search-- we think we've got a deprogrammer roaming the compound!'

Bob protested, 'But I'm feeding Smitty lucky guesses!'

'He'll just have to wing it! Come on!'

Bob joined the search party and they moved on. When it was quiet, Kathy crawled out of her hiding place. She scanned the room for a weapon, or perhaps a disguise...

She noticed a PC that Bob had been referring to. It had demographics and comments displayed for Holly Ross. The screen even had a photo-reference of her. Kathy pressed the function key for 'back.'

A name query screen appeared. Kathy absorbed this information, then typed in 'Marriott, Jen' and hit the enter key.

The demographic screen appeared for Jen Marriott. The face of the dead girl stared at her from the screen. Scanning it, she noticed her own name listed as supervisor under the employer section.

Kathy noticed a red icon that hadn't appeared on Holly Ross's screen. It was labeled 'XREF.' She clicked on it with the mouse.

Another demographic screen displayed. The name on the screen was Jane Prescott, but Sally recognized the picture-- it was Sally!

Kathy tried to absorb the facts laid out on the screen; then she noticed a print icon. She clicked it and a laser printer in the corner of the office started up.

As the screen image was printing, Kathy noticed an icon that said, simply, 'Where.' She clicked on it, and a window appeared.

As she had desperately hoped, Sally was located in the compound!

Kathy collected the printout, cleared the screen, and ventured once more into the hallway.

The search party gathered in the corridor before the North wing. Chrissie, another woman, and several men comprised the party.

'Now that we've searched the East wing,' said the leader, 'we wanna make sure she doesn't get past us and go in there-- that area is top security! Duke--' he indicated the tallest and stoutest of the men, 'I'm posting you here. Nobody gets in, and you check out anybody who wants to leave. Got it?'

Duke nodded.

'Group leader,' said Chrissie, 'could I go lie down? My head is throbbing!'

The leader gently placed his hands on her shoulders and looked down sympathetically. 'I know, Chrissie, I know. But what's more important? Having a little bit of comfort, or making up for your mistake?'

'Yes, group leader,' said Chrissie quietly.

The search party hurried down the hall, leaving Duke behind.

Duke stood by the door with his arms folded over his bulging chest. He looked out the window next to the door. Snow-laden countryside stretched out as far as the eye could see. He scratched his nose and continued standing at the alert.

Then a buzzing sound came from one of the rooms down the hall-- BBZZZZZAAAAAAA...

He looked down the hall curiously, then went to investigate.

The buzzing was from an alarm clock in one of the resident's rooms.

He stepped into the room to turn it off. As soon as he was through the entrance, Kathy stepped out from her hiding place behind the door, and hurried out into the hall and down towards the North wing.

Duke heard nothing except the insistent buzz of the alarm. When he turned it off, there was a faint 'click' from the hallway. But when he went back out, the hall was empty. He returned to his post and continued his vigile.
Kathy proceeded along the corridor, ducking into rooms whenever she heard approaching footsteps.

The North wing wasn't quiet. A more or less constant murmur of moans and cries echoed down the hall, such as might be heard in a mental ward or a senior-citizen nursing facility. Attendants crossing the hallwayspaid no notice to the weeping and cries for help.

Kathy looked in on one room where a man was tossing and turning in his sleep, obviously having a nightmare. His head was encased in monitoring devices.

Further up the corridor, Kathy passed a lighted room with the door ajar.

'...That was the week my Aunt took me to Disneyland. We saw Abraham Lincoln... the Pirates of the Caribbean was still under construction...' Kathy saw that the speaker was lying on a couch, his eyes closed, as if he were in some kind of trance. His words were being recorded on a tape machine.

'Who else went with you that day?' asked a young man taking notes.

'My Uncle Ralph, and my cousin Denny...' the reclining man said.

Further up the corridor, Kathy heard another voice. '...That Fall, it seemed to be raining every day. That made it easy to stay inside and study, but I was becoming more and more depressed...'

With a click the voice cut off. Kathy peeked through the door and saw another entranced, reclining person, this one a young woman. She wore headphones, and apparently was continuing to listen to the recorded voice. Two female technicians stood over her.

'That's from the college years,' said one. 'She's got about four hours more to go.'

'Run her through all sixteen cassettes a third time,' said the other. 'Then we'll see how much she's assimilated.'

Kathy moved on. The room she was seeking was only a few doors down.

The door to room E67 was closed. Kathy silently opened it and peered within.

An attendant was sitting next to the bed, reading a text from the New Leaf library. In the bed, unconscious, lay Sally.

Kathy entered the room and closed the door. The attendant heard the door shut and turned, but Kathy was already upon her. She clamped her hand over the attendant's mouth, and dragged her over to a corner.

The attendant bit Kathy's hand, and managed to get out a shout for help, but Kathy wasn't worried-- in this hellish place, a cry for help would probably be ignored anyway.

The attendant wrestled away from Kathy and grabbed the telephone. She managed to get it off the hook and punch in a few numbers before Kathy got it away from her and hung it up.

Kathy stunned the woman with a punch in the stomach, and got enough control over her to subdue her. She gagged her with a towel, and used some lamp cord to tie the woman's wrists. She shoved her into a closet and shut the door.

Kathy raced over to the bed where Sally lay, still unconscious. Sally had a set of headphones on. Kathy pulled them off and listened.

It was a voice from the grave-- Jen Marriott's voice. '...That's when the newspaper and TV people started to call, and posted photographers outside my house...'

Putting the headphones aside, Kathy tried to rouse Sally from her trance. 'Sally! Come on, wake up!' But Sally did not respond.

'What are you doing?' demanded an attendant as she opened the door.

'You've got to help her! She's having a seizure!' cried Kathy, turning and pulling at the woman's arm. But once she had the woman in the room, she pushed her down and knocked a chair over on top of her.

Kathy picked up the tape player and smashed it to the floor. Then she fled from the room.


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