[8] Sage

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"What are the Trials?" Nicole demands again, raising her voice as if the alien's refusal to answer her question the first time was due to a lack of hearing.

"I cannot tell you that quite yet. You are, however, free to explore the spaceship at your leisure. Please be aware that we will be able to locate any of you whenever we so desire due to chips implanted in your necks."

Jake slowly raises his hand to his neck with a sickened expression. I don't react nearly as strongly as he does. I already have another tracker chip in me from the mental hospital, although I doubt it functions anymore.

"Will we be allowed to go home after...all of this?" Xavier asks hopefully, although I don't know why someone from his background would be looking forward to returning to it.

The Albino is already standing before the section of the wall through which he entered through. The hidden door swooshes quietly open as he turns his head slightly and smiles a dark smile.

"Whoever survives is free to leave."

The door slides smoothly shut.

*

Deirdre follows me down the hall like a faithful puppy. Well, she's technically following Jack, since I am carried in his arms, and he's following Nicole and Xavier. Okay, I might just be flattering myself in thinking the child's trailing me.

The Voice is being scarily complacent. I can sense a current of unease within it, so I know the same something that was bothering it before is still there, but it also feels...victorious. Like it succeeded.

Succeeded in what?

Deirdre prances along behind me, regaling me with stories of her time spent living in the forest after her court case. "So, I just lived in the woods and shot rabbits and squirrels with my air rifle - pew!" she exclaims, pantomiming shooting a rifle and providing her own sound effects. "It wouldn't usually kill them, though, so then I'd have to go over and break their necks. I didn't like that part because sometimes they'd be squealing." Deirdre frowns, stopped in her tracks suddenly, and for a brief second I catch a glimpse of the little girl she could have - should have - been.

"Why'd you shoot them?" I ask her quietly."Your family?" I know it is an incredibly inappropriate, Voice-like question, but my brain is wholly mine. Plus, I've discovered that it's easy to use insanity as an excuse for a lot of awkward question-asking.

Jake sucks in a breath and forcefully exhales it out again. He doesn't stop me, but his face is etched with sorrow. On what feels like a reflex reaction, he hugs me closer to himself.

Deirdre is silent for a second as she mulls the question over. "Mommy was an accident," she whispers finally, sounding like a much younger child, the five-year-old that got her hands on a lethal weapon and ruined her own life in mere minutes. "I found the gun and I wanted to pretend we were in the movies that I had seen. Daddy watched a lot of those scary movies. The people with guns were always the best. I thought Mommy was playing when she started shaking her head and asking me to put it down, so I giggled and pulled the trigger...and she fell and didn't get back up." Deirdre bit her lip and sounded like a world-weary adult with her next sentence. "I was a dead center shot even when I was five." She doesn't sound nearly as proud of this "achievement" as she has of her other crimes.

"Daddy was mean. He made me watch awful horror movies and laughed when I cried or told him I didn't want to watch them anymore. Mommy didn't know about the scary movies, he lied to her about everything, so I shot him, too, when he ran into the kitchen.

"My brothers were just like him. They tortured little animals for fun. Not like killing with a gun, it wasn't over quick and easy. They came into the kitchen last and I shot them, too. They were most useful in court. I told everyone that I thought we were playing a game and then I got scared. Thought they were attacking me. I told them about everything that Daddy and my brothers did, and cried a lot while I talked." Deirdre gets a faraway look in her eyes. "I thought it was a game when I shot Mommy, that's true. But I wasn't playing a game with my daddy and brothers, and I sure as hell wasn't scared of them. I have never been as calm and happy as I was then. It felt like I was finally taking control when the world was big and scary and awful." Her voice is rock hard, cold as ice. Even I am taken aback by how quickly she fluctuates between a suffering five-year-old to someone very mature and very, very screwed up.

I imagine forcing a sobbing, pleading little girl to watch gory movies and can't bring myself to, even after everything I've done. Like Deirdre and her animals, I killed my victims as quickly as possible. After all, my personality was still trapped deep in my mind, and I hated the bloody murdering, the broken sobs of pain and fear. Luckily, the Voice is tampering with my emotions enough at the moment that I don't feel the total horror or disgust that I probably should.

"So, why'd you do it?" Deirdre asks me, obviously eager to focus on someone other than herself for the time being.

"What is this, Girl Scout murder camp?" Jake snaps suddenly, his first contribution to the conversation. "Are we just gonna share our tales of murder now?"

I pat his chest - it's like patting stone. "Calm down, big guy. It's therapeutic," the Voice assures him.

Deirdre repeats her question after a few tense seconds.

"It's complicated," I reply. The Voice doesn't like that answer. "Guess I'm just bat-shit crazy!" I exclaim, wriggling in Jake's arms. He almost drops me before holding onto me tighter, as if wary of letting my limbs get loose enough to do real damage. The Voice sits back again, and I can almost imagine it brushing off its nonexistent hands as if saying, My work here is done.

When will its work here ever be done, if it even will ever be done? It's done enough damage already.

"I know that's not why." Deirdre meets my gaze solemnly, refusing to be fooled. "Sometimes it's like you forget you're crazy. You're covering it up by pretending to be crazy when you're asked something you don't like. Why would you pretend to be crazy?"

The Voice flares up furiously, battling valiantly past the force - me - that is pushing her back. "Put me down," I hear myself command Jake. "Put me down!" Please don't put me down.

Jake hesitates and I punch him. His jaw tightens, no visible damage done, but he sets me down carefully.

I do my best to stand, but can't for any longer than a second. My legs fold and I collapse. Growling, I hurl myself forward towards Deirdre with what little core strength I have and I realize with a cold dread what I am about to do. I am going to kill her with my bare hands. My first murder victim in years and it is going to be a child.

Deirdre, not fully sensing the danger, sidesteps me disdainfully and stares down at me. "You're making a fool of yourself," she tells me calmly. "You can't reach me - I could be halfway down the hallway in the time you've clawed yourself a few feet forward."

The Voice knows it is true but it is also furious. And the last time the Voice got this angry, people died by my hands. Violently. Painfully.

I had thought I had accepted the Voice taking up permanent residence in my head, but now I remember why I fought back all those years ago. I remember that there are things worth fighting for, parts of myself I cannot bear to lose in letting it win.

I grit my teeth, close my eyes, and force...it...back. A groan seeps through my teeth, then a scream.

I...can...fight it. I...will...fight it.

I take deep breaths and, using the last of my mental and physical power, I hurl the Voice to the back of my mind.

My actions are mine again.

And I promptly pass out.

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