Dr. Young brought her back to her room so she could have lunch. There was a steaming hot plate of food waiting for her when she arrived and she was left alone to eat it. Part of her wished that she had some company, but it was nice to have some alone time after living in a community home for so long. She did, however, wish she could see Cameron and her father.
She trusted that her father was safe because her life was going to be in the spotlight fairly soon. Reporters would want to talk to her father if she made it far and perhaps interview him at some point. It would be nice to see him get some attention and hopefully get the help he needed, even if she didn’t win.
After lunch, Tess was brought to a room with a large mat and some exercise equipment. Dr. Young told her it was to ensure the competitors got the exercise they needed a few times a week, but it still felt like she was trapped in a box where no one else existed except for The Creator and Li.
Tess stretched herself out on the mats and then ran on a treadmill for a little while. The back wall in front of her changed landscape as she ran and it looked like she was in a dense forest with green constantly flashing past her. She hadn’t been much of a runner, besides when she was trying to get away from the cops, but she sort of enjoyed it now. After about an hour of alternating between walking and running, Tess sat down to stretch out and rehydrate. Just as she was wondering when someone would come get her, the door slid open and Dr. Young was waiting for her.
“We have one more task to complete today,” Dr. Young said. His voice was shaky and something seemed wrong, but he tried to hold his composure. “Then you’ll have free time until tomorrow.”
“What is it?” Tess asked, stepping forward.
He held a hand up and stepped back slightly.
“One moment please.”
The door closed again, so Tess waited. Dr. Young’s unexplained nervousness only made her nervous. She wrung her hands together as the minutes ticked by.
When the door opened again, Dr. Young was nowhere to be found. There was, however, a new young man waiting for her. He looked slightly younger, with light blonde hair and thick black eyebrows. He was wearing a white lab coat like Dr. Young had been. The name tag pinned over his left pocket read Dr. Tucker.
He pointed to it, following her gaze.
“Now you know who I am. I’ll be your programmer from this point on,” he said. He stuck out his hand, but brought it back down when Tess didn’t shake it. Instead, she lifted her right arm to remind him of her hand.
“Where’s Li?” She asked.
“Sorry,” Dr. Tucker said, clearing his throat uncomfortably. His face flushed red. “I didn’t realize. I wasn’t fully briefed yet. I didn’t mean—”
“Dr. Young never offered his sympathies and you shouldn’t either,” Tess said sharply.
Dr. Tucker straightened up. His tone changed once more.
“I’m not your friend like Dr. Young. He’s been assigned to a different competitor. You will no longer see him. I will be the only programmer you’ll have to communicate with,” Dr. Tucker explained. “We’ll have a professional relationship.”
Tess tested his patience.
“But why?” She asked. “Dr. Young and I had the same relationship.”
“It has nothing to do with you,” Dr. Tucker said. “It’s what needs to happen. There are more pressing issues to deal with.”
He stepped aside and motioned for her to follow him, which she did. She just wanted to be out of the exercise room.
Once they arrived to her room, he stopped and turned to face her.
“You’ll have free time for the rest of your day and then tomorrow you’ll get a tour of the compound and your pod orientation.” He paused. “I think it’s important to let you know The Creator is pleased by your progress. He’s impressed by the character you’ve designed.”
“Then why did he punish me?” Tess asked.
“Why do you think you’re being punished?” Dr. Tucker asked.
“Because he reassigned Dr. Young.”
“And you think that’s your punishment?”
Tess said nothing as Dr. Tucker opened her door. She walked inside and waited for the door to close, but nothing happened. When she turned around, Dr. Tucker was watching her.
“The Creator described you as quiet,” he said. He smiled slightly “What happened?”
“I’m not quiet. It’s just that I only talk when I need to,” Tess explained.
“How would you describe yourself, Tess? There has to be more to you than that.”
Tess thought for a moment. She never took a lot of time to think about her personality because it never seemed too important. She had always worried about staying alive and not much else.
“I’m a survivor.”
Dr. Tucker smiled again.
“Well, you see…that’s not good enough, Tess,” Dr. Tucker said, leaning against the door. “Because everyone else in the competition is also a survivor. You better think of something more honest quick. Time is running out.”
Tess stared back at him as Dr. Tucker closed the door and locked her in. She stood there for a little while before peering down at her right arm.
For the first time in her life, being strong and being a survivor only made her blend in with everyone else. If she was going to win the game, she’d have to figure out who she was.
She knew she had to figure out there was more worth fighting for than just her father, as important as he was to her.
She’d have to figure out why her life was also worth saving.