Chapter I - GREECE
“Lalitha! Lalitha! HELP ME! I’M IN TROUBLE! I’VE BEEN TAKEN! I DON’T KNOW WHERE I AM.”
“Helena! What is it? What do you mean you have been taken?” asks a startled Lalitha, as she abruptly awakens from the total blackness of a deep sleep. Her racing heartbeat, pounding from the accelerated adrenaline activation, sends gushes of blood flooding to her still sleep-hazed brain. Abject terror now grips her consciousness, amplified by the chill of the beads of sweat pouring from her forehead and streaming onto her neck and shoulders. She reaches unsteadily for the room night illuminator. She sits up with her eyes wide open, and gasps to see Helena’s empty and fully made bed. Her sense of dread now escalates exponentially.
“Wait a minute. Is this real or is it a nightmare?” she wonders. “It must be a dream! That is why I seem to hear Helena’s call for help. I am still asleep, and I can’t see that Helena is safely and comfortably asleep in the next bed. Yes, that must be the answer. This is only a dream. All I need to do is calm myself, and this morbid dream will change to a quiet peaceful setting.” That thought relaxes her, and a sense of order, stability, and solitude emerges.
Then she hears it. The sound elicits a renewed sense of terror: many flip flop shoes rapidly clicking at a distance against the hallway’s wooden floors. The hallway walls and ceiling magnify every click, destroying the otherwise stillness of the early morning hour. The sounds increase in intensity, urgently moving closer and closer to the door of Lalitha’s room. Her body stiffens. Now all is eerily silent outside her door. For what seems like minutes, but is really only a few seconds, she hears no sound at all. She is unaware that, temporarily and in anxious anticipation of what might come next, she has involuntarily stopped breathing.
Bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang! “Uh oh, this is definitely not a dream,” she nervously whispers to herself. “This is very real.” She shivers. “Whoever they are, they are very agitated and desperately want to get into this room, now.”
“L, it’s us! Open up!” Ashanti urgently implores.
With a sigh of relief, Lalitha recognizes her sister’s voice and starts to breathe again.
She quickly throws back the bedsheets covering her and swings her legs over the side of the bed. She moves to the door, turns on the lights, and confirms—with sadness and a profound sense of concern—that Helena is not in the room. She promptly unlocks the door, steps back, and, in a wide arch, swings the door open.
With wide-eyed looks and intense expressions on their faces, Ashanti, Wei, Immanuela, and Fredrika rush into the room.
“Definitely not a dream,” Lalitha says to herself.
“Somehow, in our minds, we all heard Helena’s distress plea to you and your attempt to get her to explain what was happening,” says Immanuela, in a perplexed tone, as she stands stiffly in the middle of the room.
Near the room’s window, now pacing back and forth, with her arms swiftly swinging up and down in 45° angles, an exasperated Wei asks, “What is going on? Where is Helena? And why do we all have these white color patterns in front of our eyes?”
Fighting an almost overpowering urge to give in to sheer panic, Lalitha tries to explain to her sisters, as calmly and as best she can, her limited understanding of what is transpiring. “All I know is that Helena is in trouble,” she says. “It looks like she never returned to our room from her walk with N’Kosi. We have to talk to him. Hopefully, he can shed some light on this dilemma. Fredrika, hurry. Go to Zeno and N’Kosi’s room and wake N’Kosi.”
With no hesitation, whatsoever, Fredrika, who is closest to the door, speeds away to get N’Kosi as fast as she can.
Several minutes later, the girls hear many hurried and anxious footsteps sprinting down the hall towards the room. The unlocked door is opened, and Fredrika quickly enters the room, followed closely by the boys, Zeno, Humberto, Omari, Petrov, and Olis.
“We have Big Problems!” Zeno slowly and pointedly exclaims to the group.
With a rapid collective intake of breath, Lalitha, Ashanti, Immanuela, and Wei freeze in reaction to Zeno’s ominous warning and his verbal emphasis.
“N’Kosi also never returned from his walk,” continues Zeno. “His bed is completely made. I tried to reach him on his NAPAV watch unit, but he didn’t respond. This is not at all like our two leaders.”
“A moment ago, I tried to reach Helena on her NAPAV,” says Ashanti. “She didn’t respond either.”
“I also tried to call H, to no avail,” says Immanuela.
“Did anyone try to use their NAPAV unit to pick up a signal locator from either Helena or N’Kosi’s NAPAV watches?” asks Humberto, grasping for even a small ray of hope.
“Yes, I just tried to determine their location using my NAPAV watch, but to no avail,” says Wei. “I am pretty sure their units are on, since NAPAV units can be activated or deactivated only by voice command of the owners, and neither Helena nor N’Kosi would have turned their units off. Something at the location of their units must be in use that is intentionally blocking incoming and outgoing EM signals. That possibility alone is a very bad sign.”
“All of this confirms the suspicion that each of us has by now,” says Olis. “Our two friends are in grave danger. Someone does not want them talking to anyone...”
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