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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19. 19

 

Everything seemed to happen in slow motion. 16’s empty, emotionless face as she pulled the trigger. The bullet shooting forwards with a soft whistle as it buried itself in Ala’s chest- quickly followed by a spray of blood. Ala’s own choked scream. Star, falling from her arms to the ground, and Ala collapsing shortly after.

And then Sim- joking, good-natured Sim, who had, in the past few minutes seen both her best friend and now Ala be shot, exploded.

“YOU LITTLE BITCH!” she screamed, lunging for 16’s throat. She struck her, and the two fell to the ground fighting.

I ran to Ala’s side. Her breath came in weak gasps, and she reached out, finding Star’s hand.

“Go…” she whispered. “Run… Star… a doctor… find her a doctor.”

For the first time I got a good look at Star. When Ala had been carrying her, she had been rather still. I had assumed she was unconscious. But now…

Ala was gripping my hand, her eyes dull and begging. “She needs a doctor. We can… we can save her.”

I nodded, not having the heart to tell her that Star had gone still and silent- and that the hand she was clutching was cold and dead.

I turned, in time to see Sim, her face screwed with fury, on top of 16, her hands locked around her throat. 16’s dark cheeks were beginning to flush red as she gasped, choking.

“Sim!” I yelped.

Sim turned, her murderous expression never wavering.

“This isn’t what you want! Killing her isn’t going to solve anything. You’ve done enough. Now let’s get out of here.”

Sim hesitated. “But-”

“Just let it go, Sim. She’s not following us. It’s over. Let’s just get out of here.”

“Is it?”

I jumped. I hadn’t realized that Sim had slackened her grip, but apparently 16 could breathe now. She coughed, and tried to sit up. Instantly, Sim put her hands on 16’s shoulders, slamming her back into the ground. 16 let out a soft, pained moan, shaking her head dazedly.

“What do you mean?” Sim hissed at her, their faces inches apart.

“There are still the higher levels. The dangerous levels. You’ll never… never make it. You’ll all die. Ripped apart, like that friend of yours would have been.”

Sim looked about to go on the attack again. But Talia took the initiative. She stepped forward, snatching the gun that 16 had dropped. “The tunnels,” she said simply. “We’ll bypass them. And you’re going to show us the way out.”

“And if I don’t?”

Sim looked like she was ready to slap 16. She even drew her hand back, but Talia caught her wrist and then leveled the gun at 16 with an expression even colder than Sim’s.

“I shoot a hole in your head.”

16’s shoulders slumped with defeat. “Fine.”

Talia turned back, taking Ala’s hand. “Ala… can you walk?”

Ala looked up at her, hand pressed to her bleeding chest. Slowly, she shook her head.

Talia scowled stubbornly. “I’ll help you. C’mon, stand up. When we’re free, I want you to be there with us.”

Despite Ala’s protests, Talia helped her to her feet. She handed the gun to Sim, who kept it trained grimly on 16.

16 showed us through several passageways, and finally, to a key code door. Lilli pushed past her, punching in the code.

The light that hit us was blinding. I squinted up at the sky- the sky, because that’s what it was- and saw something round, shiny, and bright. The moon. The sky was dotted with stars. We were in the middle of a forest. A breeze caressed my cheek.

We all froze as we spilled out of the tunnels. This may sound insane, but none of us had seen the real sky before. The moon was almost too bright to look at, and the stars were like little balls of fire.

But it was real. Real. We could escape. Finally. Free from the Fear Trials! Free from whatever torture had been planned! No more death. It was over.

That’s when 16 made her move. She spun, slamming her elbow against Talia’s face. Talia gasped, rearing back, and 16 slammed her fist into Talia’s gut, and then snatched the gun from her hands. Sim tried to stop her, but she ducked under her distracted blow, and rolled to the ground, coming up standing a few feet away and pointing the gun at the rest of us.

And then, going from bad to worse, the spotlights hit us.

I winced, throwing a hand over my eyes. The others did the same.

“Freeze,” a calm voice said from above us. “Drop any weapons you might be carrying and surrender.”

Lilli moved carefully, dropping the gun we had stolen from the guards. 16 scooped it up and aimed it at us as well.

I nearly wanted to sob. We were this close to freedom, only to be stopped at the last minute. We’d go back to the trials, to be slowly killed off, one by one. And our friends would have died for nothing.

A strangled choke came from Ala. Then words. “Lilli… Don’t-

It was too late. She yanked out the capsule she had stolen from the guard, and pressed a button. It began to blink red, and she glared up into the beams in defiance, before throwing it. There was a beep- then a loud explosion. Then fiery shrapnel rained down around us.

“RUN!”

I’m not sure who yelled it, but we took off towards the woods. We made it into the trees, and I turned to look back, in time to see a terrible sight.

Lilli was on the ground, the explosion having knocked both her and 16 off their feet. As I watched, a guard in a dark uniform approached, yanking her up. Holding a gun to her head, he pulled out a needle, and injected it into her arm. Her eyes rolled into her head, and she collapsed. The guard caught her, and headed back towards the building, gesturing for 16 to follow. For a brief second, her gold eyes met mine. I saw a flicker in them- something that looked like what might have been longing. Slowly, she lifted her gun in a slow salute to us. And then she turned away, following Lilli back into the building. The doors slammed, and the helicopter turned away, seeming to have lost interest in the rest of us. They were gone.

 
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