Tess followed slowly behind Dr. Young. He seemed nervous. He kept wringing his hands together behind his back and he often checked back to see if she was still following.
He led her down a couple long hallways until he stopped in front of dimly lit office. He turned to Tess and forced a smile.
“The Creator likes to check up on his competitors. I’ll be back for you when you’re done,” Li said.
He opened the door for her. The Creator’s office was revealed to her, but it was a lot nicer than she imaged. She saw a big wooden desk across the room and to her left was a lit fireplace with armchairs pointing away from the door. She eyed the large bookcase next to it. Everything seemed excessive.
The door closed behind her once she stepped inside.
As she moved closer to the warm fireplace, she saw that The Creator was sitting in the left armchair, smoking a cigarette. He motioned toward the empty chair, but didn’t look at her. He continued to stare at the fire.
“You’re very quiet, aren’t you?” The Creator said after letting out some smoke. She watched as it climbed to the ceiling where there was an expensive looking chandelier. “You don’t say much. I’m not even sure I really know who you are or what you want.”
“We’ve only met once.”
He finally looked at her and raised an eyebrow.
“But why are you so quiet?” He asked.
She shrugged. She hadn’t always been that way, but after her accident there seemed to be an urgency to keep her mouth shut. Her father got quiet, so she did too. She had to learn from someone.
“What should I talk about?” Tess asked. “What does it matter?”
A smile finally came across his face and he leaned forward in his chair to toss his cigarette in the fire.
“I just want to let you know that it does matter in this game,” The Creator explained. “Every single competitor has a voice. Being poor means nothing here.”
“You’re the one who said money fixes everything,” Tess reminded him. She thought of the strange conversation in jail. “What about that?”
He folded his hands together.
“I’m very happy you made the decision to compete because I really think it could help you. Never World gives everyone a level playing field. In Never World, it doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor. You can make your own way in the game. I hope to have this all available to the public within the year and I will help people gain access if they can’t afford a system.” He paused. “I said money fixes everything because through my wealth I’ve come up with a solution. I’ve come up with a way to end the separation between the rich and poor. No one will know in Never World.”
“That’s great for you,” Tess said, standing up. “But what about the real world? How is my father?”
“We are providing your father assistance while you’re in the game. Once the show goes live, they’ll be a lot of attention on the contestants and their families. Your father is in good hands and if you win, he’ll be in even better hands. Being involved in this game is only going to benefit you.”
Tess tried to find something to argue about, but he was right. Her father was safer because she was in the game. It took a little weight off her soldiers.
“Thank you for taking care of him. He’s the only reason I’m doing this,” she replied.
The Creator nodded and pointed back to her seat.
“Now sit down. There’s one other issue I need to discuss with you. Since all eyes will be on you during the next few weeks, there’s something I need to show you. It could be a problem, but maybe you can help us clear it up.”
The Creator pressed a button on the side of his armchair and a large white screen came down from the ceiling above the fireplace. The lights dimmed and a video started playing.
Tess held her breath as she saw herself on screen. It was the back of her head, but she instantly recognized that day. It had been lingering in her head since it happened.
She watched herself snatch her father’s medication at the pharmacy and sneak through the aisles as the store owners were preoccupied. The camera switched and focused on The Dark Hand approaching her. He grabbed her arm.
The camera zoomed in as The Dark Hand whispered something in her ear and then bolted. The video cut out once she headed out into the alleyway.
“Tess,” The Creator said, staring at her. “Did he say something to you? He’s a criminal. This could look very bad—”
Tess froze for a moment. She took a deep breath as he waited. She had to stay calm.
“He just said he was going to die,” Tess said.
She knew this wasn’t good. The Dark Hand had been an extremely wanted criminal. She was sure people were still looking for those working with him.
“He spoke to you several times. What did he say in your ear?”
Tess glared at him.
“How would you know whether or not that’s what he said?” Tess argued. She suddenly felt very defensive. “I didn’t do anything wrong.”
“Calm down. I’m just trying to help you. I can make this go away, but you need to tell me the truth. I can stop the press from getting a hold of this video…if they did, you’d have more problems than just me asking questions.”
Tess took a deep breath and leaned back against the armchair. Her fingers dug into the fabric.
“I didn’t hear him,” Tess lied. “I don’t know why he spoke to me, but he did. I think he just wanted to let someone know he was going to die.”
The Creator looked at her for a few moments before standing up. The screen returned to its place inside the ceiling.
“I don’t think you’re lying, but you can always tell me the truth. I’m trying to protect you.” Tess opened her mouth to speak, but he raised his hand up. “You can go if that’s all you have to say. I’m deleting the video.”
“That’s it,” she said, trying to force a smile. She didn’t know how it looked because she was trembling. “I just want to compete and win. I’m not trying to hide anything.”
He smiled back.
As she stepped toward the door, The Creator grabbed her arm. He leaned in close.
“I’m glad you’ve been honest with me. Secrets always have a way of coming out one way or another, especially when you’ll have such a huge audience watching you. This must feel like a big weight off your shoulders.”
Tess looked at him one more time before heading to the door, but he was already staring back at the fireplace.