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There are four of us. Four. And we have one goal – to save the world. The door is locked. We get 2 meals a day. And we get anything we need – as long as it isn’t unrelated to our goal.
I’ve been here for 10 years. Some of us have been here longer, others shorter. I haven’t seen the sun since about 6 months before then. I was put in when I was 15. I’m 25 now, but I don’t even know what month it is. I can only guess year, and barely that. My I.Q. is the lowest in the room – only 180.
All of us are geniuses. So far we’ve invented nanos that cure cancer, food pills that supplement meals and have helped reduce obesity rates, and robots that clean up in every town – keeping disease at an absolute minimum. And those are just in the last year. Our involuntary contributions to society are I’m sure too many to count and well over 100.
Now we’re working on nanos to cure blindness and hearing loss. They’re almost complete – but another problem for us to solve will come through the wall soon enough.
“Come here, Amara. I need new eyes on the newest prototype.” Zane calls over, moving out of the way so I can see them.
I see the inner workings of the nano, but one of the microscopic circuits looks broken. I move the pointer built into the lens of the microscope and show Zane. “That one looks broken. I think it needs to be replaced. But other than that I think it’s ready for testing.”
Zane nods and sets about fixing the circuit. One of the other geniuses rouses, and I go over to his cot, pulling a chair up next to the cot, waiting for the boy to fully wake.
“Amara.” His voice is thin, like dry paper that has been cut at by harsh wind. He tries to sit up, but I put my hand on his thin, frail shoulder, pushing him back to lying down.
“Don’t try to sit up. You aren’t strong enough. Not yet, at least.” I say to him, and then look up towards a microphone on the ceiling. “Water! And some multivitamins, please!” A hole in the wall slides open, and a tray with a pitcher of water, a Dixie cup of pills, and a plastic cup comes through.
I take the tray, carrying it over to Daniel. He had been suffering a severe case of the flu – a mutated strand of the virus. It was already hard to beat, especially if you were 10 years old and hadn’t had fresh air in a year and a half.
I help him sit up, carefully, and then hand him the water and pills. He coughs, then swallows the multivitamins.
“Amara? Are the nanos almost done?” The nanos were Daniel’s idea – his I.Q. is 205. It was a very good idea, one that I could have never come up with at all, even with the help of 3 other geniuses.
“Yes. They’re being sent out today for real- world testing.” I answer, squeezing his hand. We’re all pale, but Daniel is paler than the rest of us. A fit of coughing takes over him. I feel his forehead.
“Zane? Can you get me the thermometer?” He hands it to me, looking worried. Once Daniel stops coughing, I slide the thermometer across his forehead.
“What is it today?” Zane asks, coming over and sitting next to me. Daniel sneezes a few times, then coughs again. I can tell he feels kind of nauseas, by the way he sits and the way he’s coughing. I hand him a bucket, then answer Zane.
“105.8°F.” I say, pushing back the boy’s hair from his face. He hasn’t vomited yet, but I can tell he’s about to. I move back as Daniel dry heaves, just brown bile coming up. He coughs, too, and I ache for him. When he’s done, he coughs and grips the bucket, thinking more will come up. He dry heaves more, and I move to his cot, rubbing his back. His hot skin almost steams through his pajama shirt.
Daniel’s eyes begin to droop, and I help him lay back down. Soon he’s fast asleep. He’ s such a sweet boy, I wish he wasn’t so sick.
Zane’s empty cot is soon full. He’s been up almost all night. I can tell he’s tired, so I take over fixing the nano.
“New eyes!” I say, loud enough to wake Miranda, but not loud enough to wake Zane or Daniel. Miranda sits up, blinking. Her older body, about 45 years old, slowly moved over to the microscope.
“Is this the final?” She asks, checking my work on the microscopic robot.
“Yep. Daniel’s idea was a great one – and it should work.” I respond, waiting for her response. She was the oldest of all of us, and she was here before me. With her husband Jeff.
“This looks final.” Miranda’s smooth voice was starting to get dry from almost 20 years lacking fresh air.
“Room! Nano ready for testing! Tray please!” I pick up the petri dish full of nanos and move it to the hole in the wall just as the wall opens. I place it on the attached tray, and just like that, almost 6 months of work is gone.
Miranda crawls back onto her cot, and I crawl onto mine. Soon, I can hear even breathing all around me – Zane’s, Daniel’s, and Miranda’s. But thoughts keep swimming in my mind. What if Daniel didn’t get better?
A pill. A pill could fix that. A pill could make Daniel as healthy as any of us – maybe even any of us in the outside world, outside of these grey walls and locked doors.
I get up, grabbing the nearest laptop. Since most of us are asleep, the smart room is dark. But the laptop’s screen illuminates my face enough for me to see.
I go to Google and type in ‘flu cures’. 100,000+ articles come up, mostly home remedies. But 5 of the ones on the first page are scientific papers. I read all of them at lightning speed, my photographic memory memorizing each and every word.
Then I start my own paper, typing at over 70 gwam. All my ideas spill out on to the digital paper, in Times New Roman font. Soon, a new pill is designed. A pill designed to cure the flu.
“Zane!” I whisper sharply, shaking his arm. He groggily sits up, blinking at the bright backlight of the laptop.
“What? I’ve had like 2 hours of sleep! What’s wrong? Is Daniel OK? Miranda? You?” Zane, even half awake, is constantly worried about everyone in the room, especially Daniel.
“Everyone’s fine. But I need you to look at this.” Zane sits up, taking the laptop from me and setting it on his lap.
“What is it?”
“A flu cure. For Daniel. Does it look good? Do you think it’ll work?”
“It should work. We can get Miranda’s opinion in the morning.”
“But not Daniel’s opinion.” I interject, hoping Zane will agree with me. “If we can cure him…”
“It should be a surprise.” Our voices are hushed, so the boy a few feet away won’t discover our life- changing plans.
Zane went back to sleep, and slowly, I slept too. My sleep wasn’t deep, but I couldn’t remember my dreams. It would have to do for now. We had work to do.
Daniel slept almost the whole next week. When he was awake, he was worse and worse – the flu was not done with him. But he could still beat me at The Game of Life and Monopoly. When he was asleep, Miranda, Zane, and I worked non- stop on the flu pill.
Then one day, Daniel didn’t wake up.
“Room – we need an I.V. please! With full supplemental fluid in an I.V. bag!” Miranda yells at the smart room. “STAT!” The hole in the wall opens up, and Miranda, the only one of us with a medical degree, quickly starts the I.V. in Daniel’s arm.
Daniel was fidgeting in his sleep, coughing and throwing the blankets off. Miranda managed to tuck him in tightly, and keep his arms from thrashing about and ripping out the I.V.
Zane helps sedate him, making him sleep peacefully. Miranda loosens the blankets, but not by much. Miranda puts a cool cloth to his head, and Zane talks to him, trying to tell him old fairy tales and things to keep him alive. I go back to working on the mixture for the pill.
“It’s done! Room! Have the outside make this into a pill!” I separate the mixture into two bowls, and then carry one of them to the tray, which starts to close. “ASAP!”
The mixture in the second bowl is enough to make another pill. But I take an empty I.V. bag and a glass of water instead, pouring the water into the I.V. bag. I then dump the mixture in, using a clean stirring rod to dissolve the cure into the water, turning it into a strange, psychedelic color.
“Miranda!” she looks up, and sees the I.V. bag in my hand. “Can you start another I.V. on Daniel? its liquid form of the cure – he needs to be strong enough to take the pill when it arrives.”
Miranda starts the cure, and Daniel’s color starts to come back, just a little bit. I can see a miniscule bead of sweat on his forehead.
The hole in the wall delivers the pill, and Daniel wakes up at the sound of the tray coming through.
“Here.” I say, handing him a glass of water and the pill. Daniel eyes it, looking nervous.
“What is it?” his voice is a little less thin, but he’s not strong enough yet. His hand is shaking so hard he almost spills the water. A coughing fit takes him over, and I can tell he needs more liquid cure before he can take the pill.
“Increase his intake of the cure by I.V. He isn’t strong enough to take the pill.” I say, and Miranda follows my instructions. More color comes to Daniel’s cheeks, but he’s still coughing. “It’s a flu cure. We designed it last week to cure you.”
“Can we get out?” Daniel asks, his hand shaking less.
“What do you mean?” I ask, giving him the pill. This time he takes it, draining the glass of water.
“The door’s locked. It always has been. But is there even a chance we can get out? I hate it here. My mom died when I was little, and I never had a dad, but I’ve been outside. I’ve been sunburnt. I don’t want to never feel the wind again.” He falls into a fit of coughing. Daniel’s sweating, so I know his fever is breaking, but he’s still sick.
“I will try. I will try so hard. But none of us are here by free will.” I say, getting up.
Zane is over at the work station, cleaning up. I remember the day I met him, the day a brave 15 year old boy and a terrified 15 year old girl were shoved into an un-labeled room, where they met a nice lady and a kind man, who were there for the same reason.
“Hey.” Zane says, his voice tired. I help him clean, not looking at his face. I don’t want him to see my tears – the fact that I just promised an innocent little boy something I could never give him.
“Hey.” I finally choke out, but I don’t sound like myself. Daniel’s fallen asleep again, his fever almost broken. I can hear Miranda tucking him in, making sure the I.V.s continue to run.
“Something. I’ve known you for 10 years – you’re a terrible liar.”
“We’re never getting out.”
“Of course we are.”
“No. We aren’t. It’s been 10 years and a hundred inventions later we’re exactly where we started, except we’re older and we have different people here. We’re in a locked room, Zane. And it has never been unlocked.”
“Don’t say that.”
“It’s true!” We are never getting out.”
“We will find a way. I promise.”
“How can you promise that? How can you promise something that huge?”
“Because I just did. Because… I love you.”
I’m taken aback. He loves me? What? I mean, I’ve known him for 10 years but… He loves me?
I sob, and run to my cot, jumping in and covering myself with my blanket, like I used to when I was little and sneaking a book to bed. And I think I love him right back.
Half an hour later, Zane climbs into his cot right next to mine. Where his cot has always been. Right next to mine.
“I love you, too.”
He scoots over on his cot, letting me crawl in beside him. With Zane next to me, for the first time in over 10 years, I feel like I’m not alone.
The next morning, something seems different in the air. Zane and I hang around each other a lot more, and for the first time in a month, Daniel actually walks around the room.
Miranda even notices the different feeling in the room. Her lined, dark face looked happy – something I hadn’t seen in a long time. I don’t think I’ve seen her that happy since Jeff died.
The day is spent plotting our escape – designing a lock- breaker. First we all disable the microphone on the ceiling. Then Zane and Miranda work the morning. Daniel and I work the afternoon.
In the evening, Zane and Miranda take over again. Daniel’s eyes are drooping at around 10:00, and I can see he’s still recovering with the help of the cure. The cure is still killing the virus in his system, letting his body take a break from the fight.
“I think we can build it.” Miranda says, going over the final blueprint.
“Let’s hope so.” I say, sitting down next to Zane. He wraps his arms around me, pulling me closer to his radiating warmth. Butterflies try to break free from my stomach, but my happiness clips their wings.
“Let’s hope so.” Zane repeats.
? One Month Later ?
“Today’s the day!” Daniel almost shouts, leaping from his cot. By now he’s as healthy as I’ve ever seen him, and Zane and I have been talking about adopting him when we get out. If we get out.
“Calm down, Daniel. We all know what today is.” Zane says, sitting Daniel back down and handing him black clothes. Zane’s dressed in black jeans, a black t- shirt, and black Converse.
Miranda hands me a similar outfit. Black jeans, a black quarter- length sleeve shirt, black fingerless gloves, and black Converse. She has on almost the same outfit, without the gloves.
Once Daniel and I are dressed, we grab everything we came in with – which isn’t much. We put them in black drawstring bags, wanting the memories of our lives before we were stuck in this room. We also grab one laptop each, knowing we’ll need one in the real world.
Zane grabs the lock- breaker, checking the laptop we’re leaving. It’s almost noon. He checks it every few minutes, until it’s exactly noon.
He points the lock- breaker, which looks like a gun, right at the doorknob. And then Zane pulls the trigger.
The door explodes outward, fluorescent lights flooding our silhouettes. I almost cover my eyes, but Zane squeezes my hand, so I stand where I am.
“Let us out.” Zane’s voice sounds strong. All the men and women outside the door are dressed in white. Zane drops the lock- breaker, and we walk out of the room for the first time in years.
Miranda and Daniel follow, but no one tries to stop us. As I look back, I see more rooms, at least 3, grey doors, unmarked. Locked. And once we’re outside, I look back at the building. The sign says ‘Syndrome’.
And I realize that there must be thousands more rooms, even more people, locked inside.
Locked inside Room Syndrome. I squeeze Zane’s hand, but I know he realizes it too.
We thought there were four of us. Four. We thought it was just us, being forced to try and save the world. We thought there was only one locked room. Only one Room Syndrome. We thought our I.Q. was the highest of the high.
“We have to save them, Zane.” I say, squeezing his hand again.
“I know, Amara. I know.”