[43] Sage

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Maggie enters the cafeteria.

It is just her. She is unarmed, as far as I can see. She leans against the doorway and stares at Jake and me from across the room.

I want more than anything to send my plate shard flying across the room and embedding into her skull. But that could be part of her plan, to count on my anger to rid me of my weapons so I am useless when backup arrives.

Patience, Sage.

Finally, the Voice is back! I am not surprised that it does not want me to murder Maggie - after all, she seemed to like the fact that it was in my brain, so it must feel fond of her for sparing it - and frankly, its calming influence is just what I need at the moment.

Without even glancing down at him, I stand quickly and give Jake a swift kick. He wakes with an, "Oof," and scrambles to his feet. "What the - " Then he sees Maggie.

"You bitch," he spits, raising his arm to throw a plate shard. I grab his bicep to keep him from doing so.

"I'm sorry you feel that way, Jake," Maggie replies calmly. "But this is all for science."

"Killing Deirdre without a second thought was for science?" Jake hisses.

"Why, yes. We needed to collect the necessary information, not just from her, but from your reactions."

"Cut the crap. You just want to watch us play your sadistic little games."

Maggie smiles condescendingly and sighs, glancing down at her spotless white shoes as if to gather strength. "It saddens me that you truly think that, Jake, especially because I'm guessing Sage feels the same." She glances to me and I nod, clenching my teeth to keep from speaking. "What we are doing here is revolutionary. The deaths of your friends will allow us to know how to properly adopt human nature, so we may better blend in with you."

"Wh - what?" Jake has gone white and I cannot speak.

"Oh, we completely forgot to tell you." Maggie sighs and rolls her eyes with a smile, as if to say, silly me. "Using the data we collect from your reactions to these situations, we know how to look, how to act, how much knowledge we should pretend to have, what is ancient and what is new. We have no planet, Sage, Jake. We are homeless. And we do not intend to float about in space forever. It is sheer luck and chance that our bodies function the same as humans' - at least, in the most important aspects. Your planet's atmosphere will be able to support us. All of us. We don't want to wage bloody warfare on the humans. After all, you were there on your little blue and green planet first. We simply want to live among you, as you. Is that really so much to ask?"

"At the innocent blood of dozens on this spaceship?" I ask, finally finding my voice. "Yes, I'm afraid it is."

Maggie shakes her head sorrowfully. "We can't have any witnesses to complete the deception. You will participate in the final Trial, Sage. You both will. There's nothing you can do to stop it. After all, it's our most important test."

I feel my throat constricting as Jake asks, "Why us?" The pain in his voice tears me apart, and I want to reach a comforting hand to him - but I cannot show any emotion to Maggie. She would merely find a way to use it against me.

"Why not?" Maggie asks after a moment, obviously not understanding the question and not willing to admit it.

"Why a group of mentally damaged kids? Our data won't help you fit in, it'll help you get arrested," Jake points out, his voice evening and rising in surly confidence. I flash a smile at him to let him know that I agree.

"It's more of a way to know what...not to do," Maggie explains, turning and clapping her hands as if to summon something. Jake and I tense, plate shards at the ready.

The Albinos come pouring in.

Our plate shards do not cut their skin.

We are powerless.

*

The Albinos do not want to kill us, at least. They want to force us into the final Trial.

I am dragged by a group of powerful Albinos down the halls, screaming and struggling. I never stop kicking, trying to free my wrists, or biting at whatever metal-hard skin I can get to. The Albinos are unconcerned at all of it, which infuriates me even further, feeding my rage, giving me strength. It is a vicious cycle.

Jake is being dragged along behind me, and while I can't see him, I like to imagine that by his roars and the squeals from the Albinos' shoes digging into the hard floor that he's putting up a better struggle than I am.

After all, we are being dragged to our deaths.

We are shoved forcefully into our respective changing rooms. One of the Albinos - a male - orders gruffly, "Change or we will change you."

They do not turn away as I change as quickly as possible, with as many curses as I can muster and shielding all of my body that I can.

Then I am mercilessly shoved into the weapons room, held still while my katanas are strapped to me, and trundled into the main room.

The weapons room door closes as I whirl around to face it. I scream shortly, banging my fists against it in the darkness of this mysterious Trial room.

I know the door will not open, but that does not keep me from pounding on it until the bones of my fists ache and the lights snap on.

Jake and I are standing across from each other in a circular, bare room. Jake has more weapons than me - along with swords, he has dual guns in his belt holsters. Unfair.

And then I see them.

To our left, a panel of glass protects a group of Albinos who are watching us peacefully. Some are talking quietly among themselves. Maggie is staring at me, her gaze burning and fierce.

The intercom crackles to life in a way it hasn't before and a gravelly voice commands, "Fight!"

I glance at Jake, and it is at once obviously what they want.

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