In the morning, the white-clad army arrived to administer further tests.
You were already awake when they came to collect you, had been awake for hours by your count, sitting in the low light of the room, swinging your legs back and forth and banging them against the table. You hopped down to the floor as soon as the door opened and smiled at the small group waiting on the threshold, hesitant but eager to be away from the solitary darkness.
One of the females placed a hand on your shoulder and shepherded you down the hall. She stopped at a pair of glass doors that opened at a wave of her hand. You reached out to touch the doors and then reached for her hand to determine the mechanizations of this new oddity. She patiently waited as you waved your own hands in front of the glass (nothing happened) and allowed you to grasp at her hand, turning it over, pressing and exploring knuckles and veins. Taking her hand in both of yours, you waved it in front of the doors again. Quickly, they shut. One more wave, and they opened again. You turned to her, bemused and delighted. You wanted to ask what the connection was between her skin and the door. But when you began to speak, she only reached out, put her arm around you, and led you through the doors into a long corridor.
She stopped you midway down the corridor and placed her hand against a black panel embedded into the wall. A door slid open, and she deposited you into a very small room. You could easily reach out to touch the walls with the palms of your hands.
You ran your fingers over the walls, finding them covered in small bumps that felt like sand, only softer and less grainy. The female A disappeared, the door slid shut, and the lights went off. You panicked and screamed, remembering the sensory deprivation of the trucks. The lights blinked on again. This time, they stayed on. The light provided you with a measure of calm but not enough to prevent you from swiveling back and forth in the chair.
The wall in front of you changed, becoming a window when a moment before, it had been gray and featureless. Behind the window sat the female A. On the desk in front of her was a panel of lights. She tapped on the glass to get your attention. Once assured of your focus, she pressed a button on the desk. Inside the room, a tone emanated from the left wall. You turned instinctively toward it. The female tapped the glass again, and you swiveled your chair back to face her. She hit the button again, and, as the tone sounded, she reached her hand out and mimed hitting the left wall. Another tone sounded, this time to the right. The female watched you. You reached out and slowly placed your palm against the right wall. She nodded and turned to speak to someone else in the room with her. She pushed two more buttons and the glass disappeared again.
Tones—sometimes loud, sometimes soft—sounded north and south, east and west. After each tone, you hit the corresponding wall. Enjoying this game, you began hitting the walls with increasing abandon. You slumped down in the chair when the window appeared in front of you again heralding the game’s end.
The door to the small room opened, and she pulled you out, handing you over to two males who guided you into a room across the hall.
The game they presented to you was boring. They showed you a line of symbols on the wall, and you had to draw them out with your finger on the table in front of you. The game’s only rule seemed to be that the symbols had to be placed in the correct order. The game’s only complication was that the symbols kept getting smaller and smaller. You started out drawing the sequence of symbols in a straight, horizontal line, but, as the game went on, you began drawing them vertically, then diagonally, then backwards. You knew you must’ve gotten all the answers right because, rather than berating you for making fun of their game, the two As in the room with you laughed, and one of them squeezed your shoulder with his small hand.
You were relieved when this game ended, and you were pushed another two doors down and placed in another room with a chair that did not swivel. In front of you was a black table with a shiny top. Another male leaned around you and woke up the table by pressing his hand into its right hand corner. It flickered to life, and an image was projected above the table, showing nine little boxes containing nine little pictures: a circle, a triangle, a solid oval, a solid rectangle, a star, a house, the rough outline of a person, a tree, and a flower. The box with the tree lit up in green. The male grabbed your fingers and pressed them lightly onto the box. It responded to your touch, lighting in yellow.
He stood behind you as you worked through this game. With every ten answers you got correct, the grid changed, substituting a book for the tree, an animal for the person, a hexagon for the rectangle. The matching had to be done faster in each set, and soon you had pushed yourself away from the chair and were standing, bouncing on the balls of your feet and using both hands to jab at the correct picture. After an undetermined interval, the game reset, the hologram disappearing and then reappearing.
With the new game, you were shown a set of eight unconnected two-dimensional gears. The gears had to be moved and snapped into place, each one interlocking with the next. You were unsure of the point of this game until the male leaned around you again and put the gears into motion with an impatient swipe of his hand, creating a small fragment of music. You clapped your hands and started rearranging the gears in order to create a different song. You weren’t able to create anything pretty with your first three tries. Before you could get too far into your fourth try, the male A yanked you away from the screen and motioned for you to wait by the door. He placed both hands, palms out, on the hologram and spread them apart, creating multiple screens. Initially, they surrounded him on three sides, and he appeared to be standing in a glowing box. Then, he pressed at the corners of each screen, turning them from vertical to horizontal and allowing the gear images to become three rather than two dimensional.
He pulled you forward again and showed you how to adjust the gears by cupping your hands around their outer edges and turning them until they connected. You found that you could also pull the gears apart from each other, leaving them hovering in mid-air until you found a home for them. By opening up the multiple screens, the male A gave you six sets of gears to play with and the opportunity to create harmonies. It took you a little while, but eventually, you managed to build a song. In the middle, the melody became briefly discordant before brightening to a pretty chord. You stopped and rewound this portion multiple times to hear the shift over and over again.
The male finally prompted you to play the song through in its entirety so he could record it on a small tablet he held in his hand. Following the recording session, he swiftly closed down the game and then, ignoring you entirely, made notes on his device, using a pen he pulled from the pocket of his white coat. You sat on the floor, clenching and unclenching your hands in the fabric of your shirt. When he finally noticed your continued presence in the room, he clamped his teeth together and narrowed his eyes, and you flinched away from him. But rather than reprimanding you, he stomped down the hall and returned with another white-coat clad male who helped you up and ushered you into another room that was empty except for a chair leaning against the far wall. You expected another game but instead were greeted with a snack and water. You hadn’t been aware of your hunger until you were presented with the bowl of oatmeal. You ate quickly and soon felt drowsy enough to slide off the chair and curl up on the floor.
You were shaken awake by a female A. You expected her to pick you up and deposit you in another room, but instead, she sat down on the floor with you. She placed a small tablet between the two of you and brushed her fingers across its surface. A small floating image appeared. She pressed her whole hand against it, and the room changed. Rough outlines and shapes appeared above your head. She reached out and selected one, a house, bringing it down to you. With her fingers, she changed this rough shape into a castle with balconies and towers. You reached out to the image, and at her nod, added a spindly tower of your own.
Once you were done, she collapsed the image with her hands and erased it, but she pulled down another image, a tree, and pushed it toward you. You enlarged the image, stretching it above your head, adding on branches that split and split again and drawing leaves and buds on the branches. At a juncture between two branches, you added a nest and drew a bird frozen mid-flight. By the time you finished the tree, you discovered the female A was no longer in the room. Unconcerned by her absence, you built a world around your tree. In the end, it looked disconcertingly like your home village, and the wound of your lost home reopened. You destroyed your picture, clumsily crumpling and collapsing each part.
The female pulled you from the room before you could destroy anything real.
She brought you to a room with four beds, and a window high up on the wall with a metal grate in front of it. By bouncing on the beds, you could see outside, not enough to get a clear picture, but having access to daylight made you feel better. You were still jumping when the door opened again, and another B, a dark-haired boy smaller and younger than you, was shoved inside. You studied him for a moment before climbing down from the bed and wandering over to him.
“Hello,” you said with your hand outstretched toward him.
He responded with a word you didn’t recognize but wrapped his hand around yours. You led him over to the beds and helped him stand on one. He copied your movements when you started jumping and laughed when he got his first glimpse out the window.
Two other children were delivered to the room, a blond haired boy and girl who looked enough alike to be siblings. Their arrival prompted a confused flurry of greetings; they did not speak your dialect either. But they did develop a new way of looking out the window. The girl, significantly smaller than the boy, was able to climb on his shoulders and haul herself up on the window ledge to peer out. She described what she saw to him in great detail. He did his best to translate her words to you and the other boy. All you really understood was that there were tall buildings.
Dinner came, and the four of you ate in a circle on the floor. The blonds chattered ceaselessly to each other. The dark-haired little boy engaged you in a game. You didn’t quite understand the rules (it involved odd clapping patterns and weird hand movements), but you were more than eager to play. The blonde pair eventually got involved, and the dark-haired boy laughed when the three of you ended up more or less entangled in each other.
Rest came easier that night. While you still wished for the noises of outside, having the bodies of the others near you and hearing their soft sounds of sleep helped you create a facsimile of home.