The Fear Trials

'Hello. My name is Shal. I’m ten years old, and I need to tell this before I either die, or curl up in a ball and never move again.'

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14. 14

 

   I was guided to the hospital, and left alone. I walked over to the bedside where Star was still lying. Why was I supposed to be here?

I glanced back at the official behind me, a silent question forming on my lips. He answered before I could even speak.  

    “She wanted to talk to you.” He nodded at Star, and then turned to leave.

    She’s awake?!

    I ran to her side, and sat in the chair next to her. “Star!”

    To my delight, her eyes flickered open, and she looked up at me blearily. “...Shal? Shal, are you alright?”

    I stared at her in disbelief. Here she was, lying on a bed, connected by wires, and she was asking if I was okay?!

    “Yeah, I’m fine!” I managed. “Are you… how are you doing?”

    Star blinked, studying me. “I’m… I think I’m doing better. I don’t… I don’t feel so good… but…” She looked at me with a suddenly haunted expression. “It’s still inside me, Shal. Those little vines… I can feel them.”

    I stared at her, a cold chill running down my spine. “What do you mean? The Trials… those aren’t… real… How can you feel it?” I felt guilty saying those words now. What if I was wrong? What if I was the one lying to her?

    She looked at me with something that might have been sadness or maybe even betrayal. “We don’t need to lie to each other,” she whispered. Making soft, pained sounds, she reached underneath her, wires bending. She pulled something out and held it to me. My heart nearly stopped. Reaching towards me, clenched between her fingers, was a single, black, twisted stick.

    “They pulled this out of my arm when they thought I was unconscious,” she whispered. The edge of the stick was a dark red. “Shal… we’ve been lied to. I’ve heard things… so many things when they thought I was out…” Her eyes were hollow. I’d never seen her look so weak or helpless before. “They said… so much…”

    I wanted to feel amazing. I wanted to be glad that I was right. I wanted to be happy that we might have a chance of escaping. But seeing the awful, broken light in Star’s eyes, I wished I was wrong. I was wished I could tell her everything was fine, and it was just another trick. But how could I? Not when she knew the truth. Not when I knew the truth.

    Her eyes sunk closed and she leaned back. “It’s too much,” she whispered. “We should be dead. Should be… dead…”

    “Star…” I began, but she had already fallen back into a state of semi consciousness. Our conversation was over.

 

     Somehow, that evening, I managed to get a visit scheduled with Lilli. In hushed tones, I revealed the discovery of the core cube, and Star’s revelation. Naturally, the concept of an all-powerful controlling cube excited her, and sparked several different possibilities in her brain. She rubbed her hands together, eyes sparkling.

“Theoretically,” she whispered eagerly, “if we got our hands on one of those, we could actually control the Fear Trials. All we’d have to do is figure out how it worked.”

“Lilli, Mar got rid of it,” I pointed out.

She nodded distractedly. “So? That doesn’t mean it’s the end. She said she’d be able to find it again.”

“Lilli, that thing is nothing but trouble. Ask Ala. It’ll just hurt us more if we try and use it. They’ll know. They could kill us.”

“But they won’t,” Lilli replied. “They need us. Clearly they want us for something. Just please. Think about it. If we control the Fear Trials, they can’t crash them. We can prevent it.”

“Only one landscape though, most likely.”

“One core cube is only the beginning, Shal,” she replied. “Think of what could happen if we get all of them. Or even use one to rig everything up. The Fear Trials would be ours. Nothing they could do would be able to stop us. We’d be free- and bring down their little messed-up scientific exploration behind us as we walked away. Think about that, Shal. We’ve never had a sure-fire way of getting out of here before, but now, with all this promise right there, dangling in front of our faces? For once in our lives, escape might actually be possible.” Her eyes sparkled with delight, and she reached out and took my hand, giving it a quick squeeze as she began to draw aimlessly with her fingernail on the table.

“What if it’s a trap?” I pointed out, catching her hand and stopping her. “What if she expected us to react like this, to draw us out? Or to tempt us to go for more, so that they could kill more of us off? Nothing is definitive, Lilli. We shouldn’t get our hopes up about this. It’s too dangerous. Think about what we could lose if we actually tried this. Our lives, Lilli. They’re ruthless- they’d kill us. We can’t do this. It’s not safe.”

“It’s our only hope,” Lilli replied. “You think I like being a lab rat? Do you think any of us do? Sitting here waiting for them to test us- find out how much fear we can take before dying. Putting us through this torment every day. Watching each other die. Dying ourselves. It’s not healthy for a person. It’ll drive us insane. We have to get out of here.”

“They’ll let us go, Lilli. They can’t keep us here forever. There has to be a time when they’ll let us go. There has to be.”

“Remember what Kira said?” Lilli pointed out. “They’re not going to. If she was right, and this really is a test, then the only way we’ll escape is either to pass or die. And only one of us can pass. The longer we wait, the more danger we’re in of losing lives. Think about that for a second. This- escaping- this could save lives. Instead of just one or a few of us making it out of here, all of us could make it together. Please Shal. Just… think about it.”

I hesitated, looking into Lilli’s wide, pleading eyes. She was desperate. She actually believed that this insane idea could work- and that if would save lives. I couldn’t argue with her. If her idea worked… I had to admit, it was clever. And at the same time, very very risky. But I wanted freedom. All of us did. And if anyone could figure this out, it would be Lilli. She was the smartest out of all of us.

I sighed. “Lilli… do you think you could figure out how to make these core cubes work? And stay quiet about it? If we want to really pull this off, I need your brain. You’re the smartest one out of all of us. If anybody can figure those things out, it’s you.”

She nearly burst with pride and excitement, I could tell by the way her position changed, and the giddy look on her face. “You can count of me, Shal. I can do this. I’ll figure those things out easily- no problem.”

“Thanks Lilli. Remember, we’ll all be counting on you.”

“I’ve got this,” she replied, squaring her shoulders confidently. “They won’t know what’s hit them. I’ll be into their little Fear Trials before they can stop me.” She grinned eagerly, obviously relishing the chance for a new challenge.

“Remember, Lilli, sh,” I reminded her. “The less people know about this, the better. It could just hurt them.”

“I’ll have to tell Mar.”

“Do you have to?”

“She had the… item. I’ll need her to get it for me.”

“Fine, tell her.”

“And Ala.”

“No,” I said instantly.

Lilli frowned. “Why not Ala? Shal, she’s like our mom. Our big sister. Our guardian. We need Ala. Why would I hold this back from her?”

“Ala would be the first one they ask. If she doesn’t know anything, they can’t hurt her. Otherwise she’ll hold back, and they could kill her. Don’t you understand, Lilli? It’s crucial that we leave Ala out of this. Anyways, she’d tell us it was too dangerous, shut down the entire plan here and now. We don’t want that.” I thought about how readily they’d hurt her when they thought she knew. I didn’t want to make it worse for her.

Lilli sighed in resignation. “Fine. I get that.”

I smiled gratefully. Only Lilli would understand my logic behind that. Any of the other girls would think I was crazy- and naturally insist that Ala had to know about this plan. I know I shouldn’t be taking the initiative- I was only 10, after all- but I needed to do this for my friends. And honestly? I wanted freedom as much as they did.

I nodded. We sat and talked about inconsequential things for the rest of the time we had. When the buzzer went off, signaling the end of visiting time, I left, giving Lilli a small wink, reminding her to talk to Mar about the core cube. She nodded back.

Back in my room-cage-thing, I thought about how insane this plan actually was. I mean, sure, it was crazy. Insanely so. But… we had a chance. And that was all that mattered. Because if we could be free of this place…

Then everything would change. Forever. For good.

 
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