When Tess woke up, she saw that she was in a hospital room. She reached up to touch her head, but there was gauze wrapped around it. She cringed when a stabbing pain nearly blinded her.
A girl in a blue jumpsuit, similar to her Never World clothes, came in with a glass of water. She smiled at Tess and sat down on the edge of her bed. Tess took the glass.
“You’ll be fine,” she said. “I think you’re just exhausted and dehydrated. And your wound wasn’t so great.”
“Are you a doctor?” Tess asked.
“No. I guess I’m sort of a nurse. We have one doctor and he’s teaching me what he knows. Unfortunately we didn’t have too many medical professionals want to break away from the government.”
“What is this place?” Tess asked. She motioned to the hospital beds and the cabinets of medication. It was set up just like an examining room. “How’d you get all this stuff down here?”
“It was already down here. This is an old government funded fallout shelter. We could fit about 50,000 people in here. Right now we have about fifty.” She laughed. “We could live here until we all die and never run out of supplies.”
“Don’t they know about this place?”
“Only a few people knew because they didn’t want the general public to think we actually needed a place like this. The workers are long dead. It was a well kept secret,” she said. She outstretched her hand. “I’m Zeba, by the way.”
“I guess you know I’m Tess.”
“I thought you were going by Tetsumi now.”
“Yeah…Tetsumi,” she replied.
Zeba placed a hand on her shoulder. She looked to be in her early twenties, with dark skin and curly black hair.
“Sorry about what happened. Nate will be here soon. He won’t leave you alone,” she said.
Tess propped herself up.
“Is he okay?”
“We don’t know yet. The level isn’t over.”
Tess nodded. Scott crossed her mind, but it was too painful to think about. She tried to push the hallucination she had the previous day of him. She hoped those images wouldn’t linger.
“Look…” Zeba started. “This place is massive. You’ll get your own room. We all have jobs, but you can relax for a bit. I think you’ll like it here.”
She wanted to ask more questions, but her head was pounding.
Zeba stood up and headed to the door. She turned back to Tess right before she stepped out.
“And keep your secrets to yourself. It will keep you alive.”
Tess watched her leave and rested her head back on her soft pillow. After about an hour, she was able to fall back asleep again. When she woke back up, the lights were dimmed. It must have been the middle of the night.
She pulled back her covers and opened the door that led out into the hallway. She glanced around and saw she was standing in a long hallway that looked over a massive room down below. It looked like a cafeteria and a common room, but the doors in the hallway wrapped around the entire outside walls.
Tess carefully walked over the sturdy bridge that jutted out over the room below and headed to the hallway across from it. As she walked along, another big room was revealed to her down below. She peered over the edge and saw shelves and shelves filled with an endless amount of boxed. Supplies. Food. Medicine.
Her mouth gaped open.
She started her walk back to the hospital room, but stopped when she saw a figure moving down below in the cafeteria area. It stopped and peered up at her.
Tess sighed when she realized he looked like Scott. A hallucination. A ghost.
She looked away and headed back into her room. Maybe she could see more tomorrow when the lights were all turned on.
The silence reminded her of being in her pod, but it was a different kind of silence. It was relaxing.
The next morning, Tess dressed herself in some of the clothes from her backpack and tied her long hair up in a bun. Zeba came for her shortly after.
“Ready for a tour?”
Tess followed her all throughout the hallways where she was told most of them slept and then brought her down into the cafeteria to get breakfast. The ceilings were so high and the shelter was so massive, she never felt trapped. She felt like she was in a gigantic hollowed out cave.
A few other people were around when they grabbed breakfast. They mostly had packaged muffins and cartons of yogurt, but it filled her up. Zeba made sure to give her a packet of daily vitamins.
“We don’t see sun very often and these are here, so why not?” Zeba said. They sat down at one of the tables. “The level is still going on. We get it in one of the entertainment rooms if you want to watch. I figured you might not want to.”
“Not yet. I don’t want to jinx it,” Tess said.
“I understand. I don’t watch,” Zeba said. “We have all the tapes available if you ever want to check them out.”
A few people came up to greet Tess and tell her she did a good job, but she did notice some lingering stares. She couldn’t tell if everyone didn’t trust her or if they though she would bring trouble. Tess tried to ignore it.
After they ate, Zeba brought Tess into the supply area and showed her the forklift. A guy and a girl were searching through a box and stopped to say hi. Zeba told her they worked to keep track of inventory.
Zeba took her to a room that was filled with computers and people sitting around in headsets. They were watching Nate in the game, but some of the others were keeping an eye on the hallway cameras. They had been watching her the whole time.
“What are they looking for?” Tess asked.
“Clues about where we can find The Creator. Anything that will help us understand Never World,” Zeba explained. “It needs to be shut down.”
“I agree,” Tess said.
“Then you’ll fit in here nicely.”
Zeba left to go to her training for the day and Tess was able to wander around for a while. She headed to the video room that Zeba had told her about and turned on the television. Nate’s level was playing.
He was in another beach type level and he was sitting on the sand, looking out into the ocean. Tess wondered what he was doing, but she wasn’t sure what was going on in the level. Maybe he could see Robert on his map.
The camera switched to Robert who was in a cave somewhere, sharpening his knife on a rock. He paused for a moment, probably to check his map, and then resumed working on it. For anyone who didn’t care who lived or died, she was sure it would be very boring. But at that point most viewers were emotionally invested.
Tess watched until the contestants were done for the night. She looked above the door, expecting there to be a red light, but obviously there was nothing. She wondered how long she’d be doing that for.
She popped in the first tape of Never World and fast forwarded it until she had met up with Anton. It showed her hiding in the closet and then focused on Scott and Nate entering the room. She kept the tape on the whole night as she curled up on the couch.
This was the only way she was going to see Anton and Scott again.
She wasn’t sure what time it was when she started the second tape, but in the middle of it she fell asleep. Her mind was riddled with nightmares about being trapped in the pod and seeing Scott dead in his room. She could still feel the weight of her body in her arms and the look in his eyes as the game ended.
When she woke up, Scott was staring back at her. She jumped up and scrambled to the other side of the couch. He was holding a blanket.
It was dark.
“Who’s here?” Tess asked.
“It’s Scott,” his voice echoed. “You know me.”
Tess got up and hurried to the door. She hit the light switch and let her eyes adjust. It was Scott, but she still wasn’t sure it was real. How could it be?
“It’s me. It’s really me,” he said.