[14] Sage

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All of us travel slowly to the cafeteria and collapse in the chairs. This journey is most difficult for me, because Jake is carrying Deirdre. My arms are hooked around his neck and he drags me across the floor, seemingly able to move and breathe completely fine despite my chokehold - although I do have to admit that I am not exactly trying to hurt him, either. Xavier walks haltingly, as if not wanting to use his metal legs. Nicole's lips are pressed together tightly, as if to hide her teeth from the world. She has finally stopped bleeding, but the drying blood on her chin and clothing make her look like she walked straight out of a horror movie.

Soon, boredom settles in - for me, anyway. I still can't quite understand what was so different about my experience than that of the others. There was nothing painful about the process whatsoever - but it seems like things were very different for them.

I wonder if something is truly, deeply, fundamentally wrong with me, broken beyond repair. Maybe the Voice has left its permanent mark on me. Will I never be able to feel guilt or regret again? Or any emotion, for that matter? Even these existential questions are viewed with an apathetic curiosity rather than with any real weight.

Jake recovers the fastest, being the first to have it done to him. He is cradling Deirdre gingerly, rocking her slightly. I can see the broken look that remains rooted deep in his eyes, however.

Nicole is curled in the seat next to Xavier's, not quite touching him, sucking in deep, shuddering breaths. The boy is staring at his legs, tracing the metal curves and occasionally shivering violently. Is he remembering their fleshy counterparts? Is he regretting his gruesome choice? I wouldn't. It would be much easier to kill people with metal legs, and there wouldn't be a risk of injury of those crucial limbs.

That was a Voice thought, that was a Voice thought, that was a Voice thought.

The Voice does seem to be even stronger after that memory extraction. Somehow it seems to actually have emboldened her.

I do think that these aliens know what is wrong with me. Or at least, understand it in part.

Maybe if I win these stupid Trials, they'll fix me.

No, the Voice thunders in my head. We do not want to be fixed. We do not want to escape. We are one. We are singular. We work together.

That's right. I'm being silly. How could I forget that? Silly, silly.

Jake sighs loudly, jolting me from my thoughts - or are they the Voice's thoughts? I can't tell anymore.

I don't like all the negativity in this room. The sorrow, the remorse, is so thick I could cut it with a knife.

A rusty knife.

I giggle at the Voice's macabre joke. None of the others even bother to look at me disgustedly anymore. They're obviously accustomed to my insanity.

I'm not sure how I feel about that.

"What now?" I finally ask, breaking the silence. If the others want to sit around being emotional fools all day, fine. But I can't move around on my own and I want to go somewhere.

"Practice walking or something," Jake mutters in reply. I try not to be taken aback by his flat tone. He's usually kind or at least patronizing to me, but I can hear the dull apathy in his voice right now.

I shrug and slither to the floor. Then, using my chair, I heave myself up and walk a few hasty steps before falling, cracking my shoulder painfully against the ground.

The doors slide open as I sit up, massaging my shoulder and wincing. The Albino woman steps into the cafeteria. I turn to my companions, interested to see their reactions to the person - excuse me, alien - who caused them such mental agony.

Jake is glaring at her, cold fury on his face, fists clenched. Deirdre is still sitting in his lap, avoiding looking at the woman by examining her own knuckles. Xavier is clenching his metal knees in his hands like he means to tear them off and go to town, and Nicole is baring her teeth once again.

"I find it interesting that you all, deep down, regret your murders," I suddenly note, gesturing to Xavier's painfully obvious legs, Nicole's exposed teeth, and Jake's tensing muscles with one big sweep of my hand, "but the second most messed-up person in the room after yours truly is the only one that I can see not actively restraining herself from attempting to kill this woman." I meet Deirdre's surprised gaze levelly.

Jake turns his fiery gaze on me and then closes his eyes, relaxing his tensed muscles and taking a deep breath. Nicole presses her lips together and Xavier releases his legs, hugging himself tightly. They all look ashamed.

"Yeah, that's what I thought," I say quietly as the woman walks over and helps me up. Clinging to her for support, I ask in a much peppier voice, "Where we goin'?"

"Physical therapy. You cannot compete in the Trials if you cannot even walk."

"She gets more special treatment?" Nicole is on her feet, shaking with rage. "First you take away the pain of...of making her remember that stuff and now you train her against us?"

"This is physical therapy. All she'll be learning to do is walk. No new skills," the Albino explains calmly. "Also, we did not tamper with her data session whatsoever. Her own mind did, however, and it isn't as if we can control that." She taps my forehead lightly and grins down at me. I feel a flash of fury before the Voice quickly makes me complacent.

"I just can't believe that," Nicole growls in response, careful not to show too much of her teeth despite how livid she is. Even while she's angry at me, she heeds my words, because they ring true. She wants nothing more than to kill the alien and yet she's ashamed of ever killing at all. They're all hypocrites - except for Deirdre, strangely enough.

"It is of no matter to me whether or not you believe me," the Albino replies cooly. "None of my people care about any of you. We only care about the results of the Trials." Turning carefully, mindful of my added weight, she drags me from the cafeteria.

I don't want to have to touch her. I don't like even being near her. But the Voice is interested in her, and so I remain calm during our journey. The alien seems skinny and frail, but I am absolute dead weight and she still is able to pull me around the spaceship without so much as sped-up breathing. She doesn't seem to be tiring, either, moving at a constant, rapid pace for the entirety of our trip.

"Our gravity devices are made slightly weaker in the physical therapy rooms, but we can turn up the gravity levels as you become stronger."

This really does seem like she's giving me a huge advantage - I thought she was simply going to be helping me re-learn how to walk and lift things, after all. But the Voice - and my own selfish desire to once again be in control of something - keeps me from pointing this out.

We need to win the Trials.

Of course. Of course we do. I should take every advantage I can get. Silly me. I'm being so silly.

The Albino leads me through a door that, like many of her entrances, was previously disguised. Then it's down another hallway, taking a sharp right turn that bends slightly to take us gradually back in the direction we have just come from. Finally, we stop in front of another (this time clearly defined) door. "Welcome to physical therapy," the woman announces says, and the door slides open.

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