Project Tasman: Session B – Decoding

You groggily open your eyes. Your head is pulsing, begging you to pull the blankets over your head to block out the sunlight hitting them. Quinn’s voice calls out from somewhere nearby, stinging your ears.

“Good morning, sleepyhead.”

After last night, you have so many questions. You have to believe Quinn does too.

“What happened last night?” you ask.

“What do you mean?” Quinn asks, audibly confused.

“The door. You played your set, we went into our room and…that’s all I remember.”

“Are you alright?” Quinn asks. “My gig isn’t until tonight.”

You peek your head out from under the covers. You’re back in your apartment. You scramble to grab your phone, its scuffed, blue case nearly sliding out of your hand. Sure enough, it’s the same date as yesterday.

You feel Quinn’s arms wrap around your shoulders.

“Are you sure you’re okay, hun?” she asks.

You stammer, trying to play off your concern.

“It’s nothing,” you say. “It must have been a dream and it took me a moment to realize where I am. I’m fine.”

“If you say so.”

“Hey. Can I come with you?” you ask.

“Tonight?”

“To your rehearsal.”

“I thought rehearsal was boring.”

“I just want out of the apartment. Please?”

Quinn kisses you on the cheek.

“Of course,” she says. “Just make sure everything’s charged. You’ll be bored.”

Quinn hands you a mostly full cup of coffee.

“I think you need this more than me,” she says. “I’m gonna shower.”

She leaves the room. You decide to grab your phone and text your brother Arn while you wait for her.

“Hey. You still work for Yaron Architecture, yes?”

There’s a short wait before he replies.

“Unless I got fired and don’t know it.”

“Haha. Can I meet you for lunch today?”

“Can’t. Meeting a client. Tomorrow?”

You think back to the voice you heard before you woke up. You apparently have a limited time to figure out what’s going on. While you can assume sessions are days, you can’t be too sure. Not knowing how any of this works though, you decide to agree.

“That works. Noon at McDonald’s?”

“Must you eat like a child?”

“Chipotle?”

“Better.”

You put your phone away and sip your coffee. It’s not long before Quinn emerges from the bathroom.

“Twenty minutes, then we go?” she asks as she adjusts the towel on her hair.

“Sounds good,” you say.

You savor the coffee, change, and then leave with Quinn. Thirty-five minutes later you arrive at Hobart Estate. Quinn takes her violin to the grand hall for rehearsal. You head back to the front to look for a tour guide — Brielle specifically.

Just like last time, you’re greeted by a lavender suit-clad Jeff.

“How may I help you, ma’am?” asks Jeff in a low voice with a slight drawl.

“Hi,” you say. “Is Brielle in?”

“Brielle?” he replies. “I don’t believe you’ve met her yet.”

You feel a chill crawl up your spine. You weren’t sure what to think of Jeff. And now he says you don’t know Brielle. Something’s definitely up, and you may have messed up. You’re not confident you’ll be able to bluff him, so you don’t even consider trying. You need to think of something quick though, as he’s staring at you.

“Ma’am?” he asks.

You lean in closer to Jeff and lower your voice, both in pitch and volume.

“Where is Brielle?” you say, nearly growling.

If Jeff is taken back or concerned with your actions at all, he’s not showing it. You debating grabbing his collar for a moment, but think better of it. Before you can decide what to do next, you see Brielle round the corner of the hallway. She notices you too and comes jogging toward you.

“Oh my god, hi!” she says excitedly. “I’m so sorry, Jeff. I forgot to tell you someone would ask for me today!”

“Quite alright, ma’am,” he replies. “Would you like a status report?”

“No, I’m good,” Brielle says. “I know where I stand. Perhaps Alana would like one though.”

“A status report?” you ask, confused.

“Jeff is part of Hobart Estate,” Brielle says. “Think of him like an NPC in a game.”

“I prefer to think of myself as a helpful guide to those who need it,” Jeff says.

Maybe you’ve misjudged him after all. He does still creep you out though.

“Jeff can currently give you a status report about the attributes you’ve accrued in your time here,” Brielle states.

“I have other data I could share,” Jeff adds. “But that requires strong bonds between at least two people.”

“Fine,” you say, clearly showing your annoyance with the whole ordeal. “Computer. Status report.”

“Hey!” says Brielle incredulously. “He’s on our side!”

“Our what?”

“Well, as much as anyone can be in here. Jeff, attribute report for Alana, please.”

“Certainly, Miss Brielle,” he says.

Jeff then removes the pocket square from his suit, unfolding it and placing it over his left arm. Text undecipherable to you shows up on it, changing it from black to mostly blue.

“Your name is Alana Quevedo.”

“Yeah, got that,” you state.

“You’re 35 years and — ”

You cut Jeff off.

“Wait what?” you say. “I’m 26.”

“That’s not what I see here, ma’am.”

“Let him finish, please?” Brielle says.

You roll your eyes. “Fine. Continue.”

“You’re 35 years old and have the following attribute scores within Hobart Estate. Intellect 19. Motivation 18. Charm 17. All are out of a current maximum possible score of 27. You are not currently carrying any key items in your inventory.”

Jeff stops and folds the square, placing it back in his pocket. You stare into space. Something is terribly wrong. Brielle puts her hand on your arm.

“Hey. Are you alright in there?”

You take a deep breath, trying to wrap your head around everything you’ve just heard.

“Are…are we in a fucking game?” you ask.

Brielle shakes her head.

“No. Well, at least I don’t think it’s a game. Not totally at least.”

“Then how do I have stats?”

“I wish I knew!” Brielle exclaims. “That’s what I’m trying to figure out. But I know that you do. They always do.”

“Always? They? What?” You scream out the questions, your panic increasing. “What the fuck is going on? Are you in on this?”

“Nonono!” says Brielle. “It’s not like that at all. I’m trying to figure out what’s happening. You’re not the first. I don’t think you’ll be the last.”

You lean in close to Brielle.

“Tell me everything you know,” you whisper.

“I can’t. Not here.”

“Why not?” you ask. Brielle moves her lips without speaking. Fortunately, you can read lips.

‘They’ll hear.’

Before you can think about your next response, you see the old couple from yesterday’s tour enter the building.

“The tour will start in 15 minutes,” Jeff announces, before turning and looking at you.

“If you wish to keep yourself busy, you’ve got some free time.”

Jeff leaves the foyer, heading toward the ballroom. Brielle is busy greeting the couple. You, however, want to know more about the basement. Between the kitchen with the creepy people and a sealed former jail, the basement seems like a prime place to figure out what’s going on here. You go to the end of the hallway to the same stairwell you climbed earlier.

You take the flight of stairs down to the basement and pull the door — locked.

“Fuck,” you mutter under your breath. “Brielle must have the key.”

You try fiddling with the handle, but it’s no use. Then you notice a keypad by the door. That must be how Brielle gets in. You head back up the stairs, making a mental note to steal Brielle’s keycard in the future, or at least to charm it away from her. Jeff said charm was one of your stats, right? Is 17 good? It doesn’t sound good, you reason. You make it to the second floor.

As happened before, you go upstairs to find a hallway lined with a series of doors. You know where your room is and you’re on a mission. You’re not going back in THAT room again. That’s how you ended up back here.

You grab the nametag off Quinn’s door and jog to the other wing of the hallway. You run halfway down the hall and stop in front of three doors. You play eeny-meeny-miny-moe before landing on the furthest left door. Looks like Quinn is switching rooms with Cruz Ortega. You complete the switch and head back downstairs. As you turn the corner to head back toward the main hallway, you hear Brielle start to give her introduction to the tour. You quicken your pace back to the lobby.

“Sorry I’m late,” you shout as you arrive. “I was lost.”

“Show some respect for the architecture!” the old woman in the tour group says as her husband glares at you.

The student is clutching his pen and notebook tightly. You’re tempted to see if you can take it away from him, but you think better of it.

Brielle asks if there are any questions, but no one speaks up. The group makes its way to the elevator, heading down to the basement as before. You pass the laundry room without incident, the couple staring at the molding on the walls and the student furiously noting.

You arrive at the door where the former jail was, you realizing you failed to notice if Brielle used a key card to get on the elevator. You give her a look over to spot a card, but you don’t see anything. Your focus may have been too intense, as the group leaves without you. You jog to catch up, catching them just as Brielle is explaining the kitchen to the group. As she turned to motion to the staff, you notice a key card peeking out of her back left pants pocket. You debate pickpocketing Brielle, but ultimately decide that your best chance of getting the key will be if you can charm it away from her. You got Quinn to date you, after all, and she’s way out of your league. You must have some sort of charm. The question is, when do you try this plan of yours?

You figure that patience is still the right call. You’ll try to get the key from Brielle once the tour wraps up. The group has reached the far end of the hallway where a service elevator waits. Brielle swipes the card key, letting you all in. As you enter, the student drops his pen. It rolls near the crack between the elevator and the door, but you stop it with your foot.

“Thanks,” he mumbles as you hand it back to him.

“No problem,” you reply.

“Can’t these kids even say you’re welcome?” the old man scoffs.

The student makes some quirky remark about how he doesn’t expect a you’re welcome because help should just be given, but you’re too distracted to listen to the argument that starts. You watch as Brielle fiddles around with something in her front pocket.

The elevator arrives on floor two, everyone getting off and standing near the ice machine. As Brielle begins to explain the estate’s amenities for guests, you feel her slip something into your back pocket. It’s not the card key — you can still see that. You’ll have to check that out later. For now, your group is proceeding down the hallway you’d been in a few minutes earlier.

“How many bedrooms are there?” the student asks.

“97 of the 142 rooms are used as bedrooms currently,” says Brielle. “Though when it was a full hotel, the number was closer to 125.”

The group pauses at the intersection of two hallways. Though it looks similar to the one you came down, you’re sure it’s different. What shape exactly is this building?

“Could we hurry this along?” the old man says. “We have a luncheon to make. And we are never late.”

“I promise you won’t be today either,” says Brielle, rolling her eyes.

The group heads down the new hallway and stops at a set of double doors.

“This is the largest bedroom in the whole estate,” explains Brielle. “It was Art Hobart’s personal bedroom from the time it was finished in 1832 until his death in 1856. Hobart refused to let anyone in the room that wasn’t wearing blue.”

“So this is the blue room?” you ask. “Does that mean there are other color rooms?”

“Oooo!” the student exclaims. “Like The Masque of the Red Death?”

“Not exactly,” Brielle answers. “There’s only two rooms with unique coloration — allegedly three if you count the jail.”

The student begins writing faster.

“There’s the blue room, which was Mr. Hobart’s room. There’s the jail, which is allegedly pink. And then there’s the room that belong to Mr. Hobart’s mistress, Clementine, on the third floor.”

“Is it orange?” the student asks.

“Weirdly, no. It’s forest green.”

“Strange.”

You notice what looks like a blue slot machine token sitting on the nightstand. It looks out of place in the decor of the rest of the room. You think about picking it up, but notice the old woman staring at you. She creeps you out. Granted, both her and her husband creep you out. But the feeling is much stronger with her. You can’t figure out why. You think better of grabbing the token and follow the group out. Near the end of the hall, you stop at two rooms that look out of place.

The first is the fitness center. Not too odd considering the building used to be a hotel, but considering how much the rest of the building is faithfully restored, it’s still strange to see. The second room is a gift shop. On the second floor. The equally confused student calls it out before you get a chance.

“Why’s the gift shop up here?” he asks.

“There’s one on each floor,” Brielle answers. “Keeps people from having to come to the lobby to buy booze and snacks when we’re full. Anyone want to take a look around?”

To your surprise, the old couple bolts off to look at the knick-nacks. The student follows, perusing the candy and drinks. You’re alone with Brielle.

You decide to get the key now. You shoot a glance at Brielle’s back pocket to make sure the key is still there. It is. You take a look around to make sure the old couple and student are still busy, only to feel Brielle grab your arm and take you out of the room. She leads you to the fitness center across the hall, shutting the door behind you. The room smells weirdly sterile. The light over you is flickering, holding on to its last breath of life.

“Which is it?” Brielle asks.

“What?” you reply.

“Do you want the key or are you just checking me out?” Brielle answers. “I’m not opposed to either. You just need to tell me what your end game is.”

Emboldened by your earlier plan to charm her, yet still wanting to be cautious of this person you don’t know that well, you take your chance.

“Little bit of both?” you say.

Brielle gives a coy smile in return.

“Figure your shit out in here first,” she says. “You do that and we’ll see what happens.”

“What?”

“Later. We should get back.”

At her direction, you lead Brielle out of the room. You feel her slide her hand into your back pocket, leaving the card key. You swear her hand lingers for a moment, but before you’ve had time to process it, Brielle’s back in tour guide mode.

“We’ve got a couple more stops to make. To the third floor, everyone!”

As a group, you ride the elevator to the third floor. You half expect the student to drop his pen again, but he holds onto it this time. You take a short walk to a massive set of French doors that open into a forest green room.

“Welcome to the room of Clementine Wagner, mistress of Art Hobart,” Brielle says. “Clementine moved into the estate in 1853. The room was originally designed to be a library, but her love for the room caused Mr. Hobart to convert it.”

Brielle walked over to a pair of lavish emerald curtains, pulling on long golden ropes to draw them back, revealing a massive set of doors to an outdoor balcony.

“If you’d all step this way please,” she said, opening the door.

You follow the group out, trailing in the back, just behind Brielle, As she starts explaining the courtyard in front of you, you notice that she’s frantically, yet covertly pointing at the old woman. You take a step closer, but Brielle motions you to step back.

“Of the 2,300+ trees on Hobart Estate, the most iconic is the massive Nootka Cypress tree in on the east edge of the courtyard,” Brielle explains. “At nearly 300 years old, it’s the one sight from this balcony we’re sure Mr. Hobart saw as well.”

The old lady begins leaning over the edge of the balcony to take a picture, her husband steadying her in place. With a sudden, sure movement, you watch Brielle run up and push them both over the edge of the balcony.

The student, understandably panicked, freezes. He’s close enough to the edge that it doesn’t take much for Brielle to send him over the balcony railing too. She turns and looks at you, calm.

You take a step back inside. Brielle looks around then motions you in further.

“Get all the way in so I can shut this,” Brielle says.

“You killed them!”

“They’ll be back tomorrow.”

Your head is spinning.

“No. You pushed them off a ledge,” you say.

“They’re not real,” Brielle insists. “You can go out there and look for yourself. I’ll stay right here if you don’t trust me. There won’t be bodies. But we’ve got 8 minutes before the cleaning crew comes by. You should ask me things. Now.”

“I need you to tell me what’s happening in here,” you say.

“I can’t tell you everything,”

“Why not!” You’re getting frustrated, but don’t want to provoke Brielle, just in case she’s lying about the bodies.

“Because there’s certain things they’ll hear no matter if someone’s around,” Brielle replies. “Certain keywords will trigger them and they’ll know I’m letting you in on what’s going on.”

“They? Trigger? Just tell me!” you insist.

Brielle motions for you to sit down. There’s you choose the high-backed chair by the balcony door, leaving the edge of the bed for Brielle.

“It’s an experiment. Sort of. I don’t know exactly what it is on the outside. But you’re in a lab.”

“An experiment for what?” you ask.

“I don’t know why they’re doing it,” she replies, “but most of their test subjects are criminals — or at least the morally grey if not criminals — or those who can’t protest their involvement. What I want to know is…which one are you?”

“I’m not a criminal,” you state confidently. But then you remember Jeff saying you’re 35 when you think you’re 26. “I mean…I don’t think I am.”

“Me neither,” Brielle replies. “Let’s assume you’re here against your will. Since you’re interacting with me so heavily, I’m going to assume you’re the seeker.”

“The seeker?” you ask.

“It’s your job to seek out answers and make a major decision in the end,” replies Brielle.

“What’s the decision?” you ask.

Brielle fidgets.

“I can’t tell you that,” she says. “They’ll hear. But it’s not an easy one.”

You shudder. You don’t like the sound of that. Now it’s your turn to fidget, growing uncomfortable with this new unknown.

“Look,” says Brielle. “In order for us to make it out of here — and I do mean us — I need you to know as much as you can to make the right choice.”

“What choice?” you ask incredulously. “I don’t know what I’m doing here.”

“Focus,” she replies. “I can only tell you so much in here. 7 minutes. You’ve got time for three, maybe four, questions. Everything else will have to wait until I see you in person.”

“What’s room 324?” you ask. “From your last note.”

Brielle gestures around the room.

“You’re in it. I figured it’d be the easiest room to find. Plus it’s the safest room in the building.”

“Am I going to need to be kept safe?”

“You? No,” says Brielle. “But Hope will need it.”

“Right,” you interject. “That’s the other thing. Who is Hope?”

“You don’t know anyone named Hope?”

“It’s my sister’s middle name. But she’s not here. Is she?”

“I don’t know,” Brielle replies. “Is your sister a criminal?”

“She’s…no.” Your voice trails off. You stare out the window to the courtyard. “She’s in a coma.”

“I’m so sorry,” Brielle replies, her voice soft.

“Car crash,” you continue. “It just happened a couple of weeks ago. I just hope someone’s looking after her while I’m in here…wherever here is.”

You go silent. You see Brielle trying to work out something in her head.

“I’m sure it’s not her,” Brielle says, trying to reassure you. “I just heard them talking about how they want Hope to be part of the decision. But we can’t let that happen. Saving Hope is in our best interests. Especially if it’s not in theirs.”

“There are other people in here,” you say. “Some of them are criminals. Some might not be here of their own free will. How do I know who to trust?”

“That’s up to you to figure out,” Brielle answers. “I can’t make those decisions for you. And you’re probably not going to see a ton of me after today. Not in even sessions at least. Jeff can help though. I’ll pass messages through him as I can. If you’re ever in trouble, shout ‘instant snow’. He’ll help.”

“Why won’t I see you after today?” you ask.

“You’ll still see me,” Brielle replies. “Just not as often. Your other sessions will help you investigate everyone and everything you need to make your big decision.”

“What’s the plan?” you ask. “Your note was vague.”

“It had to be,” Brielle replies. “Like I said, they can hear. Take a look at the paper in your pocket.”

You follow her instructions, unfolding the paper and reading it.

“It’s the same message as before,” you say.

“Yes,” Brielle confirms. “It’s still the same plan.”

“But this tells me nothing!”

“It tells you enough. Or at least enough to know what you need to figure out in the coming days.”

You’re growing frustrated at Brielle’s evasiveness.

“Look,” she says. “I’m not leaving you in the dark intentionally. Take a look at the card key I gave you.”

You pull the key out of your pocket. There’s a paper taped to the back of it.

It reads:

Six ways out.
Mercy will save the innocent.
Sorrow will save the brave.
Betrayal will save yourself.
Revenge will save the status quo.

“What does it mean?” you ask. “It’s cryptic.”

“Very,” Brielle replies. “And I wish I knew. Jeff gives me something like this before every new seeker starts session 2. I never know what they mean.”

“So Jeff’s on our side?”

“I have to answer that in person.”

“You keep saying in person,” you state. “Why?”

“After the next session, there’ll be a maintenance,” Brielle says. “They’re still fine-tuning the experiment. If previous sessions are any indication, you’ll be on a table next to mine.”

“Fuck,” you mumble.

“Yeah. Not what I wanted to hear the first time I was in here either. If it makes you feel any better, this place still scares the fuck out of me. Every new seeker acts differently.”

“How so?”

“Like I said,” Brielle states. “Lots of criminals come through here. The real scary ones treat everyone in here as an NPC. Which sucks when some of us are real. You’ve got compassion and empathy. That’s rare here.”

“You said some of you are real. Does that mean there are more people here? More like us.”

“Yeah,” Brielle replies. “I just don’t know how many. It’s usually somewhere between 4 and 10 people connected to the seeker somehow. Based on what Jeff has told me, my guess is there’s four people you know here. Check the card key when you’re alone.”

“How do I know who’s real?” you ask.

“Who are you interacting with the most?”

“So far? You, Jeff, and Quinn.” you state. “Quinn’s my fiancee.”

“Considering how early we are, there’s a good chance she’s who she appears to be. Usually, the more challenging ones are people you spend a lot of time with later.”

“So my actual fiancee is in here too?”

Brielle nods. “More than likely.”

You stand up and walk toward the balcony doors.

“Fuck. Fuckfuckfuck.”

You’re mumbling when Brielle comes up behind you and puts a hand on your shoulder.

“It’ll be alright,” Brielle says. “Probably. But I’m going to choose to believe it’ll be alright for you.”

The sound of voices coming up a stairwell startles Brielle.

“We need to go,” she says forcefully. “Now.”

The two of you hurry out of the room, Brielle shutting the doors behind you.

“Take the elevator down to the lobby and head to the rehearsal,” she says. “I’ll see you later tonight.”

You nod, hurrying to the elevator and pushing the button. It’s waiting for you.

As the elevator heads to the lobby, you realize you forgot to ask Brielle about the signal she mentioned yesterday. It’ll have to wait now. At least you have something to go on, even if it is cryptic.

As you enter the rehearsal area, you see the quartet chatting as they pack up. Your heart races when you see Quinn. Your fiancee is likely trapped in here with you and she may not even know it. No one seems to notice you walk in. You decide to take another look at the notes in an effort to commit them to memory. First the one on the blue paper.

Room 324
10:10pm
Abandon Hope then ye may enter.

Next, you look at the note taped to the back of the card key.

Six ways out.
Mercy will save the innocent.
Sorrow will save the brave.
Betrayal will save yourself.
Revenge will save the status quo.

This time, you get the chance to inspect the bottom of the first note better. The writing is still faint, but you can make it out a bit better this time.

One *indecipherable* can save another. The geese *indecipherable* only after the weak *indecipherable*.

Now thoroughly confused, you try to focus in harder on the unreadable parts of the note harder. You’re startled when Quinn comes up and kisses you on the cheek.

“I told you to go to an eye doctor, dear,” she says.

Quinn runs her hand through your hair as Carrie walks up.

“I’d tell you two to get a room, but you’re too damn cute,” Carrie says, chuckling.

“Hush now,” Quinn replies. “At least she came. I’ve been begging her to come to rehearsals for months. It’s sweet she’s here.”

You slide the note into your pocket while Carrie and Quinn are making mocking cutesy noises at each other. They’re still at it when Noel walks up.

“Is she coming?” Noel says, nodding in your direction.

“She can if she wants!” Quinn interjects.

“I mean, you two could always just head home and…have some time for yourselves,” Carrie says, elbowing Quinn in the ribs.

Quinn pushes her away lightly.

“Hush now,” she whispers.

“No, you all go ahead,” you say. “Trying to be budget-conscious or some crap.”

Noel shrugs and heads off. Benimaru walks by and gives you a quick wave. You return the gesture.

“You sure you don’t want to come?” Quinn says. Her eyes have a hint of disappointment.

“I’m sure. I just want to get the apartment cleaned before we’re gone,” you reply.

“Suit yourself,” Quinn replies.

She kisses and hugs you goodbye, her hands sliding down to your butt and lingering for a second before she walks away. She gives you a wink as she follows Carrie out the door. You’re debating what to do when Brielle walks up behind you.

“That’s Quinn?” she asks.

“Yep.”

“Fuck. You’re out of your league.”

“I’m not sure whether or not I should be insulted.”

“Don’t be,” Brielle says. “Though if you two ever need a friend on the outside, give me a call.”

You sigh.

“Is that why you’re helping?” you ask. “Are you just trying to get in my pants?”

“That’s not it.”

“What do you want really?” you ask angrily. “I need to know what you’re trying to pull here. I want to trust you, Brielle. I really do. But I need something to know everything you’ve told me so far isn’t going to screw me and trap me in here.”

Brielle sighs. She looks like she’s about to say something, but instead takes your hand and leads you out of the ballroom and into the lobby.

“Where are we going?” you ask.

Brielle’s picking up the pace and you’re struggling to keep up, despite her pulling you along. She doesn’t answer. You’re soon climbing up the stairs from the first floor to the second. She walks to the door where you moved Quinn’s nametag earlier. She looks at the tag, confused.

“Did you do this?” she asks.

You nod.

“Goddammit,” Brielle mumbles, grabbing Quinn’s nametag and taking it back to the other room. She removes the nametag reading Cruz Ortega from the door and places Quinn’s back in.

“Why did — ”

Brielle cuts you off.

“Don’t talk,” she snipes. “You want information before I can safely give it to you? Then you get to listen. Nothing else. Got it?”

You nod. She hands you the nametag for Cruz.

“Turn it over,” she says.

You follow her instructions. On the reverse side of Cruz Ortega’s nametag is the name Brielle Horvath.

“That’s me here and me out there,” she says. “You’re probably in the same boat. We can figure that out in person though.”

You hand the nametag back to Brielle and reach for Quinn’s. Brielle smacks your hand away.

“There’s time for that later. You asked. You’ll listen and pay attention.”

Brielle leans against the wall and slides down, sitting beside Quinn’s door. You join her.

“You ever had chicharrones?” she asks.

You shake your head, afraid to speak.

“They’re my favorite snack,” Brielle continues. “I had some the day before I ended up here. It was the last thing I ate. My old roommate used to ask me what I’d eat as my last meal if I could choose. I’d always say a fuck you sized plate of chicharrones. It’s still my answer. It’s been 592 days since I’ve had one.”

“You’ve been here that long?” you interrupt. You’re worried she going to yell at you, but she doesn’t.

“You miss a lot of things when you’re in here any amount of time. Food. Sex. Affection. Sunlight. Trashy videos. Ambient city sounds. You crave the weirdest shit sometimes.”

You decide to stay quiet. It’s clear that Brielle’s time in here is weighing heavily on her mind. You’re not handling it too well yourself and you’ve only been in here two days. You think. 592 sounds horrid.

“I have a kitten,” Brielle says. “Her name is Chloe.”

“What kind?” you ask.

“She’s a calico. We had one when I was growing up. Her name was Fionna, but she was more my mom’s cat than mine. Chloe’s mine. Kind of.”

Brielle starts rubbing the pad of one of her thumbs against the back of her other hand, transitioning into a wringing motion before starting over. This process continues for several iterations before she talks again.

“Technically, she was my roommate’s kitten,” Brielle continues. “I just inherited Chloe when she…she…”

Brielle begins to cry. You wrap your arm around her and pull her into your shoulder. Her hands speed up their pace, becoming frantic in their motions.

“I’ve missed it all,” she says through sobs. “She’s not a kitten anymore. She’s a cat. I missed all her growing up.”

“I’m sorry,” you say, not knowing what else you can say.

Brielle shrugs your arm off her shoulder and stands up. She’s still crying, but it’s clear she’s trying to regain her composure.

“Come to my room,” she says. “No funny business, I swear. Scout’s honor.”

She holds up three fingers before offering her hand to you to help you up. You take it and follow her back down the hall.

Brielle opens the door to her room. Unlike the rooms you’ve seen thus far, this one looks very lived in. There are clothes strewn all over the floor. A half-full bottle of water sits on the nightstand by the bed, along with cold coffee. You flip the light switch as Brielle shuts the door behind you. You notice a piece of notebook paper taped to the back of the door. Its placement covers the peephole.

“What’s that?” you ask.

“My list. Everything I want to do when I get out.”

“May I read it?” you ask.

“Why?”

“Because I want to know more about you. If that’s okay, that is.”

Brielle gives the list a once over then hands it to you. You push some clothes away from the foot of the bed and take a seat. You start reading the list. The first few items aren’t anything unexpected. Chicharrones, a beer, a walk at sunset, more beer. Even the more eye-catching ones screamed bucket list more than get out of an experiment list. Travel the French Rivera. Touch a penguin. Have a threesome. Go skydiving. Chicharrones and beer show up again. About ⅔ of the way down, one of the items catches your attention.

“You want to work at a hotel in The Hague?”

“Yeah,” says Brielle, shrugging.

“Any particular one?”

“Not really.”

“But…why?” you ask, perplexed.

“I went there with my mom as a child. I told her I wanted to be like the pretty lady behind the front desk. You don’t remember those kinds of things until you have all the time in the world to think about them,” Brielle continues. “When I get out…if I do…I’m doing that one.”

“So how do we get you out of here?” you ask.

Brielle takes the list back from you and re-tapes it to the door.

“Your card key note has the answer,” she says.

You pull the key out of your pocket and look at the list again.

“Why does it say there are six ways out when only four are here?”

“There’s only four ways out that you want,” Brielle answers. “Said another way, of the six ways, you can only get out with four of them.”

The meaning of Brielle’s words hits you hard.

“So I might be stuck in here with you?” you inquire.

“No. There’s only a few ways I can get out. In one of them, you’re stuck in here. Ideally, we find the another way.”

“Well right,” you say. “Any way that we can get out of here without hurting anyone is the right path.”

Brielle’s face contorts. She’s clearly biting at the inside of her mouth.

“What?” you ask. “Is it something I said?”

She nods.

“Do I have to hurt someone?” you ask.

She’s not answering. It’s clear she’s holding something back. Brielle’s eyes are fighting back tears, growing more bloodshot with each passing moment. Her nails dig into her suit, making a scratching sound as they dig up her legs.

“Do you trust me?” you ask.

Brielle nods. A tear escapes from her right eye and speeds down her cheek.

“Then tell me,” you insist.

“Please?” She shakes her head slightly. “I can’t help you if I don’t know what I’m up against,” you plead.

Your discussion is interrupted by a knock at the door. Brielle gathers herself, smooths out her suit, and answers the door.

“I believe it’s time for you to be going,” Jeff says. “I’ll see Miss Alana off from here.”

Brielle nods. She turns back and stares at you.

“You can figure this out,” she says. “For both of us, I hope.”

You stand up and return Brielle’s gaze.

“Let go, please, Miss Brielle,” Jeff says. She’s not moving.

You walk up and wrap your arms around Brielle. As she returns the hug, you kiss her on the cheek.

“Don’t get my hopes up if you can’t get me out of here,” she says.

“I’ll try my best,” you answer. Brielle kisses your cheek back and walks off.

“It’s too early to know some of what you’re asking,” Jeff says. “It would jeopardize the nature of the experiment.”

“Then why is Brielle telling me?” you ask.

Jeff looks over his shoulder to make sure Brielle is out of earshot.

“Brielle — or Cruz, as you’ve learned her name to be — is a bit of a troublemaker. That’s how she ended up in here in the first place.”

“Is that why I’m in here? Am I a criminal and don’t remember it for some reason?”

“No, not at all,” Jeff says. “I mean, you’re not an angel. You had a disorderly conduct charge in college, but it got dropped. But no, you’re not bad.”

“Then what am I?” you demand.

“You’re a victim of circumstance. You happen to meet a set of criteria that we were looking for a subject for this trial of our experiment,” Jeff continues. “The choice to be here was not yours.”

You grow angry at this new revelation.

“What about Quinn?”

“It was not her choice to be here either,” Jeff says. “But she’s not a victim here.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” You’re shouting now, hoping that somehow it draws Brielle back. “What have you done to her?”

“I can assure you she’s unharmed,” Jeff replies. “But she is not all she seems to be. No one in here who is of relevance to you is who they seem.”

You sit back down on the edge of the bed trying to wrap your head around everything.

“You’ll have to learn about the others,” Jeff says. “You know most of them better than I do. But I do know Brielle. She is devious and cunning. If you cross her, she will have zero hesitation to betray you.”

“How can I trust you?” you ask. “You’re part of this place.”

“Not exactly,” Jeff replies. “Though I do understand your concern. I want to assure you that I only have the best interests of you — and all others in here — in mind. That said, she’s protecting and helping you. And she hasn’t done that in any trial since her first one. Consider yourself fortunate. She’s a brilliant ally if she’s on your side. But I’m afraid now it’s time to go.”

“One more question, Jeff,” you say. “Please.”

“Of course.”

“Your note says there are six ways out.”

“Indeed it does,” he replies.

“How many of them let me save — ” Jeff cuts you off before you can finish your question.

“Before you say what I think what you’re about to say, I have to stop you. This experiment is not about saving anyone unless you make it that way. The choice you make will be driven by what is inside you. Nothing more.”

“Fine,” you reply. “Then say I want to make it both about keeping a promise to Brielle and getting myself and Quinn out of here. How many ways can I do that?”

“Just one, I’m afraid,” he replies. “We must go. Seek and learn. No one is who they seem, but some are innocent. Remember — the geese will achieve flight only after the weak find rest.”

You look at Jeff confused.

“What the fuck?”

Beneath your feet, the floor is warm. You see a series of pulsing lights. Green. Then blue. Then purple. Then black. Everything is black. Again. You feel like you’re falling uncontrollably.

You feel yourself laying, again. You’re atop something hard. It’s silent. And dark. Other than the feeling of whatever hard object you’re laying on, you can feel nothing. The voice from before cuts through the silence.

*SESSION B COMPLETE. YOU HAVE FIVE SESSIONS REMAINING TO SOLVE THE QUANDRY*

You try to speak, but you can’t. The voice calls out again.

*INITIATING SESSION C*

You’re surrounded by the lights again. Green. Then blue. Then purple. Then black.

Everything is black.


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