[34] Sage

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It's fairly obvious what type of environment we will be heading into as soon as I see my outfit. I make sure my Water Lenses are tightly secured to my face to protect my eyes and that my breathing mask is comfortably and snugly fitted over my mouth and nose. Then, I pick up the heavy vest and strap it on. I can't quite remember what it is called, but I do recall that divers use it to sink quickly to the bottom of their dive spots to save their strength for whatever task they have to do once submerged. I would guess our scenario in this next Trial is going to be very similar. Once I am done dressing, I step into the weapons room.

I get nothing but a spear.

Sighing, I grab the weapon and, seeing no sort of holster to hold it in, let it dangle loosely from my fingers as I wait for the door before me to open. Once that happens, I carefully poke a toe into the blackness and feel around. I don't feel any water...was I somehow mistaken?

I take as tiny a step as I can and inch out of the weapons room. When the door slides shut behind me, I am very eager for the lights to come on. I hate this part of the Trials especially, waiting to see what will face us. Especially now that I am expecting the solid ground beneath me to give out at any moment and send me tumbling into a watery abyss.

Then the lights come on, and I see what this room has transformed into for the seventh Trial.

I am standing on a platform that is about two feet by two feet. It has no sides, rails, or anything similar to keep me from falling off of it - I am very glad I didn't take large, trusting steps out of the weapons room.

Beyond my platform, the room is in a cylinder shape. The others are also standing atop platforms, identical to mine.

Below us is the water.

The surface is still except for the occasional tiny ripples as the spaceship moves in minuscule ways impossible to feel, even by the Voice. I cannot tell how deep the body of water is because it is dark, but not dirty. It looks clean to me.

I bend down and dip a hand into it before I can think through it too much. I take the fact that my hand doesn't melt off or get devoured by a monster to be a good sign.

"It's all good," I call to Jake, Nicole, and Deirdre. "It's lukewarm, and it's not acid or anything, so it's fine."

Deirdre is staring at the unfathomable body of water with sheer terror and horror on her face. Nicole looks like she's battling the same feelings, and while Jake doesn't share quite their panic, he doesn't look too thrilled, either.

"What's up with you guys?" I ask before remembering that they can still feel fear. What a disadvantage.

"I'm scared of sharks," Deirdre offers nervously when the other two teenagers remain silent.

"The likelihood of sharks on an alien spacecraft are very slim," I point out. "Unless the Albinos kidnapped them, too. Or bred them for the Trials. Oh, wait. That actually seems like something they would do." I fall silent, thinking about the likelihood of sharks being in the body of water before us. Deirdre visibly swallows, her nervousness heightened.

"I've never been a strong swimmer," Jake explains as Nicole continues to shift nervously - and silently - from foot to foot.

"That's why we get these vests - so we just sink straight to the bottom," I inform him. "And once we're finished, I assume we take them off and then shoot back up to the surface."

Jake nods, looking a bit better.

"My stepfather tried to drown me when I was eight," Nicole whispers, still staring into the inky depths.

"Okay, I can't help your deep-seated psychological issues," I reply after a moment of awkward silence, "but I don't think we'll be battling screwed-up stepdads down there." 

Nicole just glares at me, fury replacing the nervousness on her face.

"How do divers do it?" I ask curiously, turning around and falling backward. Before anyone else can say or do anything, I'm plunging into the water and beginning my quick descent to the bottom.

It takes a second for the breathing mask to begin working, which can cause panic in inexperienced divers. I just hold my breath - to the count of five for good measure - and then exhale what little air I have left in my lungs before sucking in a good-sized breath. This also helps get the air circulating.

At first, it is a struggle to draw breath. I know that this, too, is normal and is another leading cause of panic among newbie divers. I just keep forcing air in and out of my body until it comes as naturally as on land.

The only reason I know how to properly dive and work any of my outfit is due to the fact that one of the men I murdered was training to be a deep-sea diver and had a tablet sitting on his bed with a training manual on it when I broke into his apartment. I casually read it while I waited for him to return.

Good times, the Voice whispers fondly.

I watch as the others splash into the water far above me. As I suspected, all of them thrash and flail as they find it difficult to breathe. I wonder if any of them will die before the real Trial even begins. 

Jake is sinking the fastest, so he eventually catches up with and passes me. Nicole leaves Deirdre behind and eventually slowly passes me as well.

I see them all begin to relax as their breathing masks begin working properly, and realize I probably should have warned them about the dangerous parts of that experience. As it is, it's much too late now, and they all survived, so I have no reason to feel guilty.

I wriggle around so that I am facing downward and slowly rotate so that my body is pointed downward. Then, I begin to slowly kick my legs with broad, unhurried strokes to speed up my descent.

As I near the bottom, I see shadowy, still shapes awaiting us. When Jake lands on the bottom of what is beginning to feel like a giant fish tank, I am close enough to touch the top of one of the objects and see what they are.

Buildings.

Is this some kind of Atlantis simulation? I wonder, quickly counting the buildings. There are only five, and they are all in pretty bad shape - run down, with holes in the walls, shattered windows, and caved-in roofs.

Nicole and Deidre land next to me and I take a few experimental steps. Then I attempt talking, but immediately choke as the air flow is consequently jacked up. I take a moment to focus on breathing and fix the air circulation in my mask. 

What's the point of this Trial? I wonder too late, as I suddenly realize I might have fallen into the water before we were given our goal.

So, no goal - at least, to my knowledge. No communication.

And I'm only armed with a spear as the creatures start pouring in.

*

Water Lenses: two thick pieces of glass that have an adhesive material around the edges. You center them over your eyes and press them down for several seconds so that they secure to your face. They do not hurt to remove and reduce the irritation of goggle straps digging into your skull.

Breathing Mask: this doesn't need much explanation, but if you've ever seen the movie Avatar, it's the kind of masks humans use to breath in the Pandora atmosphere.

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