Harry found Umbra in his closet that morning. He had no idea why she was in his closet, but could not find the words to voice the question. He settled for a confused grunt and quirked head.
“Don’t worry about it.” She had said. But Harry worried anyway. She looked tired, and walked through his room to get to the kitchen. Breakfast was a simple affair. Ms. Reed had told them to eat pretty much anything they wanted, and to just not make a mess. Umbra was cooking. Something smelled delicious. It sizzled on the pan, and filled his sensitive nose in way he hadn’t experienced before. And he was suddenly ravenous.
“Hungry.” He grunted out. Umbra nodded in reply.
“I’m hungry too. Bacon’s almost done. How do you want your eggs?”
“Bacon?” What was Bacon. And what did she mean by that question?
“Yeah, you can’t smell it?” Umbra said, and flipped whatever was sizzling in the pan. “I think I managed to not burn it either. I’m not used to cooking on an actual stove.”
Now Harry was really confused. Then again, a lot of things had been confusing him. Like the idea of the Hallway. Apparently, you could walk through one room, and get to many rooms. The first time he could remember seeing another place was when Mr. Jove had saved him. The journey to the real world had been harrowing. And Harry distinctly remembered almost passing out in the submarine. Pressure changes were hurting his head. At least, he was told that afterwards.
He was still a bit wary of all the space he was now allowed to roam in. But at least the basment level they were staying on was fairly spartan. Not as spartan as his cell, but still enough that it felt familiar. And this place had pillows. And cold blue drinks that made his head hurt.
And, as Umbra turned around with a plate laden full of… something delicious smelling, it became clear that this place was much better than he had left.
“You kinda spaced out on me, so I just made them sunny-side up. Hope that’s ok.”
He inhaled deeply. The meal before him steamed softly, and he inspected the food on it. He thought it was food. It made his stomach growl in a way that he couldn’t fathom. In his cell he could only remember slop in a bowl, and sometimes a piece of meat that was basically raw.
This was nothing he had ever seen before. Two conjoined white circles, with smaller, puffed out yellow circles in the middle. And four strips of… that sharp-smelling thing Umbra had been cooking earlier. Bacon? Was that what that was? Or was the bacon the white circles?
His sense of smell told him this food was good. And his stomach told him he was much hungrier than he realized. The red and white strips were the first consumed, and he grunted happily. The white and yellow food was much more moist, and juicy, and he made a noise of surprise when the yellow circles burst on his face and rolled down his chin. It got all over his white shirt that he had been given, and he craned his neck to lick at the mess that was left of his breakfast.
Umbra stared at him with an expression he couldn’t read on her face.
“My cooking isn’t that good.” She said, and handed him a small square piece of cloth. “Here, use this to clean yourself up. You have yolk all over you.”
“Yeah, it’s all…” she motioned over the lower half of her own face with a hand “everywhere.”
Some time later, Mr. Jove and Willis got back from California and Willis’ therapy session. Whatever that was. And only a short time after that, the rest of the student started to assemble. They were talking about something that he had no idea what it was. A ‘movie.’ With stars. He knew what stars were. One of the other prisoners had drawn stars all over their walls, and he could just see them from his own room. The guards washed them away when the prisoner was ‘expunged.’
He hoped that the students didn’t wash away these stars, stars were pretty.
The training session went well, or at least, he thought so. He had been paired with Mason. They had completed the course, which had some puzzles and a lock that needed to be unlocked while blindfolded. It took the better part of an hour. But they had gotten it when Harry found the key after it had fallen out of the box they were supposed to carry it in.
But they had finished the test. Harry did not get any blue drinks this time. Instead, Harold and Jennifer had.
“Blue!” he had said, and Jennifer looked at him strangely, and held her drink closer to her. Harold took a sip of the beverage, then made a face.
“Ugh. There’s way too much sugar in this.” He sighed, and held the drink out to Harry. “Here ya go champ.”
“Blue?” He asked, holding a hand out to take the offered cup.
“Yep. Take it.”
Harry pulled his hand away. He knew what happened the last time he had tried to hold something when someone said that. He didn’t like that feeling.
“What’s the matter Harry?” Harold asked, holding the cup out again. “I said you can take it.”
No. He wasn’t going to get zapped again. No. No. No. He shook his head and got up from his chair, leaning against the wall of the room instead, hands out, crossed at the wrists. Hopefully they wouldn’t zap him. He didn’t like being zapped.
“Harry, what the hell?” Harold set the cup down and sat in a chair at the kitchen table. “You ok?”
Fortunately, Willis spoke up then.
“Harry, no zaps. It’s ok. No one’s going to zap you for taking the drink.” He said, and pushed the drink towards Harry’s abandoned seat.
“No zaps. It’s yours.”
Harry wasn’t sure. He’d been told that before. The guards always said no zaps. Then they zapped him harder. Stupid mutt. That’s what they said when did that. Stupid fucking mutant mutt. Not even human.
He stayed against the wall. Eventually, the debreifing happened, and Mr. Jove and Mr. Carpenter started arguing about something. But then the students left. Umbra made dinner. Something called a pizza. It had that bacon stuff on it. The blue drink was still on the table, with a big ring of water around it. No one had touched it.
He looked to Umbra, who was cleaning the counter. She was taking the ’don’t make a mess’ instructions to heart it seemed. But she wasn’t looking at him. Willis was holding a lightbulb in one hand and was staring at it intensely. The harder he stared, the more his face turned red, be eventually the thing in the bulb that made light started to glow. Willis grinned and stared harder, not at Harry. And Wormwood was reading something in the study. He liked reading.
No one was touching the drink. He reached out a hand and touched the plastic cup.
Success! The blue was his. He started to sip through the straw, and was sad that it was warm now, and didn’t have that head-hurting after feeling. But it was still sweet and blue-tasting and it was his.
He liked that part the best.