[21] Sage

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Down the hallway, hang a right, through another previously invisible door, and stop.

Maggie opens a panel in the wall of this curved, otherwise plain room and pulls out the device that she had been speaking of. It looks like something straight out of a sci-fi holofilm.

The Albino runs her fingers over a screen in the back of its handle and then slowly moves it up and down my body from about a foot away. It feels...not unpleasant, exactly, but as though it would be after long exposure.

Long exposure is soon obviously necessary as tiny flakes of blood fall to the floor, leaving layers of the crusted stuff. We are getting nowhere.

"You're going to have to take off the jumpsuit," Maggie informs me after several minutes of her doing her best to clean me. "This is made to clean flesh, not clothes."

Obediently, I strip down - once I would have been self-conscious about being naked, but not anymore - and she runs the device up and down me once more. After a couple more times, I am free of the worst of the blood. A few patches remain between my toes and underneath my fingernails, and I start cleaning and chipping those off with my spit, fingers, and teeth.

Maggie opens another panel, this one much wider and taller, and rummages through several strange-looking outfits until she finds a white dress identical to the one I first wore. I slip it on, enjoying the familiar feeling of the gentle, airy skirt settling around my ankles.

"The others are soon going to change out of their jumpsuits as well," Maggie says. "Then we need to scan all of you."

"Scan us?"

"We'll measure brain activity, record body measurements, check for internal injuries, that sort of thing." Maggie begins to walk from the room and I struggle to keep up with her as we return to the main body of the spaceship, where the other teenagers and I reside.

I'm starting to get hungry, so I turn toward the cafeteria. Maggie places a delicate hand on my arm to halt me and I turn to see her offering, with her free hand, the pink steroid pill.

"But I'm strong enough now," I hiss, knowing she is doing something wrong.

Maggie presses the pill into my hand regardless of my words, rests one elegant finger against her lips with a small smile, and disappears through a hidden door. I look slowly down at the medicine.

I'm not going to take it. I'm not cheating.

The Voice smoothly steps in and soon, I am choking down the bitter powder in the middle of the hallway.

*
Soon, the other teenagers join me in the cafeteria, long after I have finished my meal. They, too, are dressed in their white, pajama-like outfits. Maggie is close on their heels.

"Your results are in," she says. "When you are ready, we can go to the initiation room and see where the final rankings stand."

"Quick question," I break in, and everyone instantly gains looks of exasperation. "What happens to the losers?"

Their eyes widen. They did not expect my question to be a rational one. Jake hides a smile behind his hand.

"Good question, Sage. The losers will likely die in future Trials. If somehow, they survive all ten, both the winners and the losers will be returned safely to Earth."

"Why?" Jake asks annoyedly, crossing his massive arms over his barrel-like chest. "It's not like that's much of a prize. There's nothing there for any of us."

He's right. Things would likely get even worse for us if we were questioned about the disappearance of the spaceship and crew. After all, we're all insane killers. People would jump to their own conclusions, conclusions that would probably end with execution sentences for all of us.

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