I pass through the sliding door that leads to the cafeteria and stop dead on the other side. Something is different this morning. The cafeteria is always fairly quiet, but today the murmurers are almost nonexistent. The air feels thick with fear and apprehension – I can almost taste it. I look around the room and don’t see my attacker, yet I’m still on edge. Maybe that is a good thing.
After grabbing my breakfast from the buffet, a sad mixture of over-beaten eggs and burnt bacon, I saunter towards the 300 table. Nobody is talking. Nobody looks up. They all seem to be picking at their food, except Becky who gobbles down her food like it’s a race. She wears a hard look on her face.
Ava spots me first. Eyes wide, she jumps up just before I place my tray on the table in front of an empty stool. She races around the table and gives me a hug. I have known these women less than a week but our joint trauma has brought us closer together than many friends I have known for years.
“Psst! Ava, what are you doing?!” Emma whisper-yells from the stool next to me.
“I’m so glad you are okay” Ava whispers into my ear as she hugs me. So they told them? I can feel my face heat up with embarrassment. I feel like crying.
“Ava” Becky joins “sit the fuck back down before they notice us.” Ava complies, walking back around the table to sit next to Becky. I don’t know when Becky became the unofficial leader of our group, but she is.
“Why weren’t you here for dinner last night?” Becky questions in a whisper.
I look up at her. Isn’t it obvious? Does she want me to say it?
“I wasn’t hungry.” I look down at my food, pick up my fork, and begin to play with my omelet. They are starting to make me even more nervous. I feel like I am being inspected.
“We were worried” Becky states as Ava nods to confirm. That is sweet of them I guess. They are taking my incident hard, much harder than I would have guessed.
Emma reaches over and grabs my arm, “no you don’t understand…” I look up at her.
“The 500s are gone!” Ava says a little too loudly and then bites her lip looking down. She looks pale and slightly shaking. She looks terrified.
Several women at the table shush her at once. Not that life as a kidnapped human on an alien vessel was ever normal, but I swear whatever is going on this morning is even weirder.
After several moments of silence, while I glance around at the various women willing them with my eyes to explain what is happening, I see Becky clear her throat and finally explain.
“The 500s never came to dinner last night” Becky starts looking directly at me “One of the teachers said there was a suicide and they needed extra therapy sessions.”
Crap. I need to ask just to be sure…
“And they are not here today?”
“Do you believe it?”
“I’m sure it’s completely coincidental that they are taken away for extra therapy right when they were trying to spark an uprising.” Her voice is heavily laced with sarcasm.
I nod and my eyes widen. Shit. The Pinns clearly know more than they let on. Maybe we were foolish to even try anything. After all, if they have been kidnapping women for centuries as they said, they probably know all of the tricks. I wonder if the women are dead. I’m a realist; I see no reason why you would take them away for “extra therapy.”
With that awful thought, I push my fork into my omelet and mindlessly begin eating. My mind elsewhere, I was eating without really tasting. Not that I was looking forward to the food, it’s goopy and crunchy in all of the wrong places. If the Pinns were smart next time they should kidnap a chef.
Mid-chew something occurs to me. I hear a loud clang and look down to see that I have dropped my fork onto my tray. It causes those nearby to stop eating and look at me. Crap crap crap crap.
“I…I have um… an extra therapy session” I manage to get out looking directly at Ava.
“Shit!” Becky half yells while Ava starts shooting out questions as fast as she can. Someone next to me attempts to comfort me by rubbing my back. They confirm what had only been a hunch- I’m in serious trouble.
Once I get Ava to calm down, I explain everything. I nervously gloss over my run-in with the guard hoping they won’t ask any questions and over-compensate with details of my talk with Mr. Hertilz. I see pity in my friends’ eyes. Ava is holding my hand while Emma continues to rubs my back. Becky can’t even look at me.
After some silence, Becky takes a deep breath and lays out a plan. I appreciate she’s trying- after all I am hanging onto everything she says.
“We don’t know what the fuck will happen, but we do know that the 500s are gone” Becky states clearly and then glances around the table as various women nod at her. “Miranda and I” she points to a tough-looking woman with intricate black tattoos up and down her arms listening further down the table, “we will wait outside the psychology room and pretend to make conversation. Emma and Susan will wait just outside the cafeteria and watch that door”
“What door?” someone asks.
“The one all those shitty Pinns keep popping out of”
“Okay, and what happens if we see something?” Emma asks.
“If you see something bring it to me. Everyone else waits in the shower room.” She looks around the table before grabbing her fork and fisting it “and maybe bring a weapon”
“But shouldn’t we see if anyone else wants to help?”
Becky narrows her eyes and turns towards the woman and speaks in a low voice “I don’t trust those bitches. Someone betrayed the 500s”
With that everyone is silent acknowledging the likely truth of Becky’s words. I, myself, grow increasingly anxious as it’s clear that breakfast is over.
As everyone slowly begins to stand up I grab my dirty fork and shove it into my waistband. The cold metal presses slightly against my skin. As I slowly stand up, it slides down my leg to a small clang on the floor. Damn them and their aversion to pockets! I reach down and grab the fork off of the floor and shove it back into my waistband, glancing around the room to make sure no one noticed. Emily raises an eyebrow at me but luckily doesn’t say anything.
“See you later,” I say more out of habit than any actual belief that it will happen. I give a small wave and head out of the cafeteria and towards the psychologist’s room. I suppose the teacher didn’t say when exactly after breakfast I should see the psychologist, but at least if I do it now Becky and Miranda will be waiting outside the door. I can hear the small occasional squeak of their rubber soles on the dark grey floor as they follow me.
To say I’m nervous is an understatement. I press my lips together in a determination not to shake at the same time that I use my arm to hold the fork inconspicuously to my body. The sharp points dig slightly into my skin are my only comfort.