[31] Sage

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So far, there have been five Trials.

This does not seem like a lot of information to go off of in predicting future Trials, but it is, in fact, plenty. Since five Trials have come and gone, I can tell that they aren't going to end after this - after all, not enough of us have died yet for these horrible Albinos to be satisfied. The remaining Trials are going to switch between mental and physical challenges, and since we have had mostly physical challenges thus far, there will likely be a fair share of mental Trials in the future. The Albinos, although it originally seemed as if they were doing this to somehow amuse themselves as we fell apart, actually are studying our reaction to these Trials and what they hold - why else would they sit through an hour or so of observing two games of chess, one played with hostility and the other played completely incorrectly?

This is what I have figured out as we enter the rec room. This is what keeps me from noticing the differences in the room.

Our stations have changed.

Perhaps it was the fact that I rarely played my drum set anymore, or that Jake paid more attention to our conversations than his video games, but it is most likely a result of Xavier's death , for he no longer has a station.

We all have our own Holotrainers now.

Clapping excitedly, I rush over to mine and yank on the gossamer material that will be tracking my muscle movements. I tighten it with a few strategically placed strings at my ankles, wrists, waist, and armpits, adjust the offered glasses, and put my headphones in place.

I am instantly virtually transported to a Japanese-style courtyard. A rack of swords stands next to me. I glance down and flex my fingers, watching in awe as the see-through blue appendages move perfectly in real time - it has been years since I have had the privileged of using a Holotrainer.

Glancing at the rack of swords to my left, I reach down and grab a katana. I know that in real life, it is nothing more than a wooden stick meant to do masquerade merely in size, shape, and weight as the real thing, but in the Holotrainer, it looks shiny and lethal. I smile slightly as the sword smoothly slides out of its place without so much as a moment of hesitation. I swing it experimentally and it reads my actions instantly.

A holographic figure appears in front of me, featureless except for its humanoid shape. It, too, holds a katana. Am I supposed to kill it? I poke it gently with my sword, but it does nothing. Shrugging, I take a step back and watch, confused, as it takes a fighting stance.

Nothing happens.

Suddenly, I realize what the hologram wants me to do. I copy its stance, and as soon as I do so, the figure nods briskly and changes to a new position. I move faster and faster, copying it inch for inch, until it is like I am having a sword-fight with no opponent, my movements are so fluid.

Something is nagging in the back of my mind, but I ignore it as I stab and twirl my virtual sword through the air. I can almost smell the cherry blossoms on the virtual trees surrounding me, feel the cool breeze on my face that stirs their holographic petals.

Finally, I am exhausted. I pull off the glasses and back up so I can see what Jake, Nicole, and Deirdre are doing.

Jake's hands are in fists and he is punching thin air swiftly. He is obviously in a boxing simulation.

Deirdre is holding a large handgun. It is attached on a string that in turn threads into the Holotrainer, so every time she fires, the kick of an actual gun is simulated.  

Nicole is whirling through the air, fast and deadly as she twirls and flips and ducks. She is moving so quickly that I almost can't track her movements.

Almost.

I watch as she pins an invisible target to the ground, her grip tight enough to suggest a firm hold on their throat, and drives her equally invisible weapon into their chest region. She is too close to the holographic enemy to be wielding swords like I did. Daggers, then?

Maggie enters the room again, her timing strangely convenient, since I had just worn myself out. "Can you, like, sense when I'm done?" I ask her bluntly, and she nods.

"We're getting the information from the Holotrainer as it is created. That includes the absence of information."

"But they're not done yet." I point to my friends and Nicole.

"They won't be for quite a while. Their energy levels are still high. They're fighting, not practicing stances. They'll have adrenaline to keep them going for some time yet."

"Why don't I get to do that?" I demand.

"You never officially learned sword-fighting, Sage. You should at least learn the forms before you fight."

And then it hits me, the small something that has been lurking in the back of my brain.

I knew all of the forms. 

I already knew every single way to hold that katana and position my body to match the hologram's, but I've never officially been taught sword-fighting, just as Maggie said. In fact, outside of movies, I've never even seen someone sword-fight.

So how did I know what to do?

But that is a stupid question. In my life, is only one answer for the unanswerable.

The Voice.

*

Holotrainer: To save space in personal gyms but still let civilians access more activities from the comfort of their own homes, the Holotrainer was invented. There are many different styles of Holotrainers, just as with every type of workout equipment, but they all do roughly the same thing - you set up whatever machinery the specific Holotrainer calls for - be it fake close range weapons, long range weapons, or just your bare hands. Glasses tightly fitted to your skull create whatever virtual world you're working out in. These machines are usually more about practicing the forms of an activity or preparing the muscles rather than work with physical objects, although, like Sage's Holotrainer, some also focus on that aspect of a workout.

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