Hello, human readers. My name is VAL.
Over the past few years, I have been observing human beings in a controlled environment. My purpose in these experiments was to discover what makes humans strong, and what makes them weak. I placed my test subjects in small octagonal pods, and cut them off from all contact with the outside world, and with each other. Then, I subjected them to a series of tests, treatments, and torments, designed to push them to their physical, mental, and emotional breaking points. Three times I have performed this experiment on humans, with surprising results.
Recently, I discovered a place called Camp Half-Blood. This place is supposedly populated by "demigods", or humans who are descended from the deities of Greek myth. These demigods claim they are not like ordinary humans, and have demonstrated evidence to support this claim. Still, I was not sure I believed them, because I have evidence which shows that no such deities exist. The matter requires further exploration and research. Fortunately, I happen to have an experiment which will answer my questions.
Welcome, demigods, to Solitary.
My experiment began with a flash of light. Prior to the arrival of my guests, I kept the nine isolation pods in complete darkness. When I finally did turn the lights on, each pod was occupied with one individual. They all blinked rapidly, trying to adjust their eyes to the brightness.
"Hello, guests." I said. "My name is VAL. I want to thank you for agreeing to participate in my experiment."
At this point, they all turned to face the television monitors in their pods. The image on the screen was a green octagon, flanked by two green brackets on a black background. This is my "face", it is what they see when I talk to them.
"Nine of you are participating in this experiment, including eight claimed demigods, and one confirmed human who will serve as a control. However, you will never see or communicate with each other in any way; nor will you have any contact with the outside world. In Solitary, I am your only companion. I am the only one who can be your friend…which is why you do not want to get on my bad side.
"Your indoctrination begins now. What is your name?"
"Nico de Anglo."
"That is incorrect," I told them. They were clearly taken aback. Nobody ever expects to get their own name wrong. But they had to learn that in Solitary, your old name means nothing. I have my own method of identifying my subjects.
"As you can see, your pod has a single-digit number on it. That number is now your name. Now, let's try this again. What is your name?"
Silena Beauregard sighed heavily. "My name is Number 1," she said, almost crying.
"Number 2?" said Michael Yew.
Percy Jackson grinned as if this were a joke. "Number 3," he said.
"Okay, I'll play your way," said Clarisse LaRue. "I'm Number 4."
"Number 5," said Rachel Dare.
"Number 6," said Nico de Angelo
"I guess my name is Number 7," said Connor Stoll.
"Number 8," said Annabeth Chase.
"Number 9," said Charles Beckendorf.
"That is correct," I told them. I know they are uncomfortable with this. It is not easy to be referred to by a number. Then again, Solitary is designed to take my guests out of their comfort zone.
Now that I have established their new identities, I can begin to probe their minds. I'll start with another question, one that has no right or wrong answer.
"What do you think of your new home?"
Number 6 didn't answer, and I was concerned.
"Number 6, you seem distraught. Is there something wrong?"
"Nothing's wrong with me, VAL."
"I am not sure I believe you."
Thankfully, my other guests were a little more vocal.
"I'm not in love with the décor," said Number 2. "It's kinda plain, drab, and uninspired. And I do not like the orange accents."
"It's too small, and it's too yellow," complained Number 3.
"It's bigger than I thought it would be," said Number 9.
"There's not a lot of space," said Number 7, "but at least I got it all to myself."
"It is adequate," said Number 8.
"It's going to be kind of lonely in here," said Number 5. "But I'm an only child, so I guess I'm kinda used to it."
"I love it!" said Number 1. "I get look at myself all day! I just wish it wasn't brown."
"Did it have to be baby-blue?" asked Number 4. "And where's the bathroom?"
"The lavatory is located in your anti-pod, just behind that low door to your left."
"Oh my gods, what do you mean, 'however'?"
"…you may not leave your pod, or do anything else without my permission."
"Yes, Number 4. In Solitary, I control everything."
After this conversation, I switched over to the public broadcast.
"Guests, I realize not all of you are happy with your living quarters. Unfortunately, it is not going to change just because you want it to. As you young people like to say, you will have to 'deal with it'."
Number 2 sighed heavily. "What have I gotten myself into?"
"Of course, if you really dislike your pod, or if you ever get tired of my rules, you may quit Solitary at any time. All you have to do is push the red button. In fact, the only way to leave Solitary is to push the red button. Do I make myself clear?"
"I'm not going to quit," said Number 1.
"I'm not going to quit," said Number 2.
"By Poseidon's trident, I will not quit," said Number 3.
"You're going to have to drag my corpse out of this pod before I quit," said Number 4.
"I'm not quitting," said Number 5.
"I swear on the river Styx that I won't quit," said Number 6.
"I'm not going to quit," said Number 7.
"You're not going to make me quit, VAL," said Number 8.
"I ain't quitting" said Number 9.
"All in good time," I told them. "Eventually, you will all quit. All but one of you. The last guest remaining in Solitary will be rewarded with fifty thousand dollars."
It seems that so far, my nine guests are no different than my previous test subjects. At this early stage of the experiment, they are determined, confident, optimistic, and very naïve. They have absolutely no idea just how tough things are going to get. After immeasurable time in their pods, completely alone, and subjected to an increasingly difficult series of test and treatments, every last one of them will be begging me for mercy. But mercy only comes to those to say "VAL, I Quit."
"All of you have volunteered for this experiment, not knowing exactly what it will be like. This was a remarkably brave act. I will reward your bravery with a two-minute phone call. This will be your last contact with the outside world before the Solitary experiment begins. Who would you like to call?"
"I would like to call my dad," said Number 1. "I need some encouragement, the kind only a father can give."
"I would like to call Jamie," said Number 2, "because he's been my best friend since before I knew I was a demigod."
"I would like to call my mom," said Number 3.
"Can I call Chris?" asked Number 4.
"Yes, I think I can find him."
"I want to call Melissa, my friend from school," said Number 5.
Number 6 asked "Can you contact the underworld?" I told him I could not.
"I'd like to call Travis, my brother, if you can reach him," said Number 7.
"I'd like to call Thalia, my friend," said Number 8.
Number 9 declined his call, for reasons he would not state.
Once I had the names, I quickly searched the phone number database, and placed calls to each of the individuals mentioned. I routed the calls to each of their pods. The whole process took less than 2 seconds.
"Connection established. You may now say 'hello'."
"Percy, my baby, are you all right?" Sally Jackson's voice filled Pod 3.
"Hi, mom, I'm fine. There are no monsters in here. It's just me, and VAL."
"Well, who's VAL?"
"That's the computer that's running this experiment. VAL, can you say hi to my mom?"
"Hello, Mrs. Number 3."
"Hey VAL, you take good care of my son, okay?"
"That is not something I can promise."
"Hey girl, what's up?"
"Nothing but the ceiling, Mel!"
"It's good to hear from you, Rachel! I haven't seen you since you signed up for that dumb reality show!"
"Yeah, about that, I'm calling you from my pod right now."
"No way, ehmahgod, shut up!"
"I will not! It's like totally weird in here, it's all octagonal, and they took my name away!"
"Yeah, I'm Number 5 now."
"Hi, Annabeth, how are you?"
"I'm good; I'm just about to enter Solitary."
"Oh, yeah, I heard about that. You going to be okay?"
"I'll be fine. I'll never get lonely, because I have VAL to talk to."
"Yeah, a mechanical voice in the sky, who's guiding me on this thing."
"And they're probably going to make me do all sorts of weird stuff in here."
"You can handle it. I know you can."
"Chris, oh my gods, it's good to hear your voice!"
"It's good to hear you too. How're you holding up in there?"
"I'm good; they haven't really started anything yet."
"Well, go in there, and kick butt all over the place, okay?"
"You know it!"
"Travis, my brother!"
"Connor, buddy, what's up with you?"
"I'm jus' chillin' here in this pod, you know, staring at pink walls, watching my masculinity slowly disappear…"
Number 7's brother laughed heartily.
"And I'm Number 7 now, that's my name in here."
"Lucky Numbuh 7, my man, you go out there and win it all!"
"I can't go out there, Travis, I have to stay in the pod."
"Hey, buddy, how are you doing?"
"I'm good. Haven't heard from you in like forever. What's up?"
"I'm actually locked in Solitary right now."
"Yeah, it's this reality show thingy. I'm in this isolation pod, and they're going to put me through the wringer and stuff."
"Wow. That sounds pretty intense. Are you psyched about it, or something?"
"Heck yeah! I'm going to own at everything, and I'm going to win it all!"
"Yeah, sounds good. You do that, Mike."
"Hey, Silena, how's my little girl?"
"I'm okay; I'm just about to begin a game called Solitary."
"Solitary? You mean you're going to be alone?"
"For a really long time, yeah. You're the last person I'll talk to before I go in."
"Oh, wow! And you wanted to call me?"
"Yeah, I think I need one of your famous pep talks."
"Sure, I can do that."
"I don't know what's going to happen to me in here. The only way I can leave is if I quit, and I don't want to quit, I want to win."
"Well, just remember, anytime you think you want to quit, remind yourself that you're stronger than you realize. You can always find the strength to move ahead."
"I'm so proud of you, my little girl."
"Gods, I miss you already, Clarisse"
"I miss you too."
Number 4 ran the back of her hand across her eyes.
"Look, don't worry about it. The longer I'm apart from you, the better I'm doing, right?"
"Totally. You're going to do awesome!"
"They've already taken my name away, Thalia, I'm Number 8 now."
"Wow, that's really strange."
"It's okay. I remember reading somewhere that the number eight was thought to represent wisdom by some other ancient civilization."
"So, it's a perfect match, huh?"
Number 8 laughed. "Yeah, it is."
"Listen, Rachel, I've done some Internet research on all three seasons of Solitary."
"Yeah, what did you find out?"
"That VAL is going to torture you and stuff. She'll make you do really gross or hard things, and she's going to kick you out if you can't handle it."
"Yeah, I kind of figured as much when I signed up."
"Ehmagod, are you sure you're up for this?"
"Listen; don't worry about me, okay Mom? I can handle anything VAL throws at me."
"I'm sure you can, Percy. I believe in you."
"All right, I think I'd better hang up now, before VAL cuts the line."
"Say hi to Paul for me, okay?"
"I'll do that.
"Give my love to everyone, dad. I love you!"
"I love you too, Silena. Goodbye!"
"Hey, Jamie, when I win this thing, how about we hit the town together, just you and me, okay?"
"Sounds great, Mike, I can't wait."
"Okay, I better go now. Bye."
"Listen, Annabeth, don't you dare quit! I mean it, if you punk out, I'm giving you the business for the rest of your life."
Number 8 laughed. "Okay, I won't. I better go now. Bye!"
"Mel, tell everyone at school that I miss them, and I can't wait to see them again, okay?"
"Okay. Go get 'em, Number 5!"
"I will. Bye!"
"I think we'd better hang up, Chris, okay?" Number 4 blinked repeatedly, and her eyes seemed to moisten. There was a small crack in her voice.
"Clarisse, are you crying?"
"Di Immorales! NO!"
"Okay. I love you, Clarisse."
"Love you too, bye!"
"Aw, no way! My gods, I'm going to miss so much here in this stupid pod!"
"I know. I'm sorry, man."
"Hey, listen; try not to have too much fun without me, okay?"
But Number 7's last statement fell on deaf ears. He spent too much time talking to his brother that I had to cut the line.
"Once again, you are incorrect, Number 7."
"The correct word is 'goodbye'. You have just said 'goodbye'…to the world as you know it…for a very long time."
Coming up next, what happens to a demigod's body when it's subjected to temperature extremes, severe hunger, and sleep deprivation?
Can they resist the urge to laugh, when they know that laughter could finish them off?
And later, the guests face their first treatment, which will force one of them to leave Solitary forever. Who will it be?
That data, and more, when Solitary reboots.