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Intertwined

 

Intertwined

Table of Contents

 

[][]Prologue: Uh oh

Chapter 1: A.S.T.A.

Chapter 2: Simulator

Chapter 3: The Devil’s Game

Chapter 4: Asking for Trouble

Chapter 5: Pool Party

Chapter 6: Cheater

Chapter 7: The Climb

Chapter 8: Digging

Chapter 9: Sudden Death

Chapter 10: The Enemy of my Enemy is my Friend

Chapter 11: SWIPE

Chapter 12: Lost Memories

Chapter 13: Trying to Remember

Chapter 14: Fight, Fight, Fight

Chapter 15: Journey

Chapter 16: Diving for Answers

Chapter 17: The Return

Chapter 18: Final Mission

Chapter 19: Hello Mr. Dark

Chapter 20: Who are You Guys

Chapter 21: Game Time

Chapter 22: Wrapping Things Up

[* *]

Prologue: Uh oh

The man remembered all of our names and all of the little facts about us that we shared and the night actually turned into a very good one.

We were all dying with laughter over Jack’s misfortune of texting his mom that he wanted to kiss her instead of his girlfriend when sirens began to blare! The man jumped out of his chair suddenly young again, looking to and fro as if someone would burst through his front door any second! “Where are you boys from exactly?” The man shouted with an outburst of anger. His face turned from a scared to crazed in a moment! “You’re from the castle aren’t you? They won’t ever mess with my head again! Get out of here, you fools, you fools, you’ve doomed us all!” The man sank to his knees cursing us.

I felt cold, icy fear run through my body.

“Guys lets go, I know the way, Follow me!” Chris shouted as he burst out the door!

We sprinted hard! Branches whipped me in the face with sharp and painful stings! Adrenaline was running me, but I could feel my legs start to go!

I didn’t think I was gonna make it, and then it appeared! The giant fence looked very menacing with the red lights on top spinning, revealing the devastatingly sharp barbed wire that slithered beneath!

I was falling behind now; I couldn’t keep up! [_What am I going to do! _]

“This is it, here’s the hole! William, over here!” Jack was calling to me, but I couldn’t see him. [_Where is he? _]

The fence had disappeared now, and I was running blind through giant bushes when it appeared again! “BOOM!” I slammed face first into the electric monster!

The shock was life-shattering! A million volts of electricity slammed into me like a supersonic jet on a suicide mission!

Chapter 1: A.S.T.A.

The gate appeared. Its wrought iron bars curved slightly, shaping the magnificent barrier before me. In the middle of the gate the bars curved making a circle. Inside the circle were the letters A.S.T.A. Wrapped around the words was a snake. Its iron face smiled back, it’s lifeless eyes stared right past me.

The gate slid open, and we once again began to move. The bot didn’t talk much. It seemed to be a good driver, but beyond that it was useless. It refrained from talking, and so, I’d been secluded in silence for the past 4 hours.

As we glided forward, the bot kept the hoverer low to the ground. We followed a small gravel path that wound its way amongst a never ending forest of trees.

The trees stretched up into the sky towering above us. I tried to see past them but to no avail. The thickness of the shrubbery surprised me. How do they have this many trees, and this big? Where am I?

As the hoverer looped around a seemingly unimportant bend, it came into view! A castle! WHOA! Can it really be? Did I step into another world?

As we approached, gliding over the downward sloped path, the castle grew in size! It was real, and it was enormous! The bot stopped the transportation, before turning to speak to me. “This is as far as I can take you. Thank you for choosing auto travel, and please, have a nice day. With that, my door automatically popped open.

We were still 50 ft. from the door, but I gladly stepped from the old box I’d been confined in. This was it, I was here![_ _]It had been three weeks since I received the invitation, but I was finally at the test.

Sitting in front of me was the most astonishing sight I’d ever seen. It wasn’t really a castle, but it resembled one. It was made from strange transparent panels. The castle had an unorthodox feel, but who cared!

I grabbed my luggage turning to make my way towards the testing center, when I saw her! Whoa!

She’d been hidden by her hoverer’s privacy shield. As she walked from its seclusion, making her way towards the front doors and I was suddenly unable to breath!

She is beautiful!

She was more than beautiful, she was gorgeous! Her long blonde curls bounced happily off her shoulders as she moved forward! I wanted to follow and possibly catch up, but I couldn’t make my legs work! She had to be the prettiest girl I’d ever seen!

Her tanned legs and arms moved with rhythm and grace! I was so enamored that I didn’t even realize my bot driver had gotten out of the hoverer.

“Is everything alright, sir? Do you need help with your bags?”

“No, no, I’m fine. Thanks.” I quickly snatched my bags from where they’d fallen, and began walking down the path. As I got closer I saw a sign on the side of the building with giant lettering that spelled A.S.T.A. To the right of the sign there was a small trickling of water that resembled a waterfall. It ran down the wall and into a small creek that went off in the direction of a pond glimmering in the distance. Beyond the pond there was a fence line of trees that helped seclude the castle.

A large man came running up to me and snatched my luggage right out of my hands!

“Please follow me sir, right this way.” He boomed.

I complied. The girl had disappeared, but I was no longer focused on her. Our shoes crunched against gravel as we moved forward. However, with the beautiful scenery, looking where I was going no longer seemed important. Instead, I tried to memorize the heart stopping scenery I was now surrounded by. The sky was an intense blue and the grass was an almost emerald green. My nostrils were overwhelmed with the sweet smells that were so foreign to me. It was as if I’d entered heaven when I’d crossed through that gate!

I didn’t want to leave the warmth of the sunshine, but I knew why I was here. The man opened one of the two massive oak doors and ushered me in.

Stepping inside, the smells abruptly stopped. But the scenery was no less amazing. I couldn’t believe my eyes! Instead of an old, dusty interior, the hallway was very modern. The corridor curved gently showing off the expansiveness that awaited us. The floor consisted of cool tiles that made unique patterns. The walls varied in color, but all of them were very soft.

One side of the hallway consisted mainly of windows. Outside the windows, you could see that the castle wrapped around on itself concealing the hidden gem of water. What the heck, a pool? This is awesome!

The man I was with seemed unaffected by the sights and continued forward. Together our shoes made a strange melodic clapping sound against the tile as we moved harmonically through the hallway.

We came around a corner and into a strange hallway. I saw the girl from outside being led through a doorway that was immediately shut upon her entry.

“What’s happening?” I asked trying to get closer to the large man.

“You’ll find out soon enough.”

We passed the doorway the girl had taken and stopped at the one immediately following it. The man opened the thin door and once again ushered me in. “Right in here young sir. Further direction will be given shortly. Please, feel free to relax inside until the good doctor comes.”

I walked past him into the small starkly white room. “What about-”

“Whoosh, thud. Click.” The door closed abruptly followed by the clear sound of a lock being engaged.

“Hey, what the heck!” I ran to the door trying to open in. “Boom, boom, boom!” I pounded on the door that was now my prison.

[_Why would they lock me up? This can’t be part of the test, can it? Maybe it is! Should I wait? _]

With that in mind I laid on the small bed propped up in the corner. The bed was old, and the springs reached through the padding to poke me in the back. There was something about this room, it seemed familiar, but what was it?

I continued to think as time slowly ticked by. [_I wonder what Mom and Dad are doing right now? I hope Mom isn’t too worried, because I think I’m worried enough for the both of us. _]

It was only three weeks ago that I’d first gotten the letter asking me if I would like to participate in a test for the Agency of Science and Technology Advancement. It had said that in return for my participation, I would be well compensated. And seeing as how I’d hadn’t passed my higher learning test and had no chance to become an elite, I’d decided, along with my parents, that this would be the best option. Although now, I wasn’t so sure I’d made the right decision.

“Click. Woosh.” The lock disengaged, and the door once again opened!

Standing there was an older man. He had to be at least in his 60’s. He was followed by a middle aged women who was quite good looking.

“Hello Mr. Rose.” he said looking down at a techno board. “How are you?”

“What’s going on, what is happening?” I asked standing.

“Nothing, nothing at all. There is no need to be alarmed. My name is Dr. Madstein, and I am here to help you.”

“What do you mean?”

“I am here on behalf of ASTA. This is the first part of the test. Before you can participate in the test we need to do a small procedure on you.”

“What do you mean? Like make sure I’m physically fit?”

“Did you read the release paper before you signed it? The paper clearly stated that certain technical operations would be done before you could participate and be eligible for compensation. I assure you Mr. Rose that this procedure is completely safe. You’ll be asleep for a very brief period. Everything we’ll be doing is completely harmless. Please cooperate.”

“Why should I trust you?”

“I don’t think you have any other option. If you don’t let us do this, you’ll be sent home. Is that what you want?”

“No… I guess you can do what you have to do, but be careful.”

“Alright, thank you. I promise you have nothing to worry about. We’ll be done in no time. If you’ll please lay down on the bed in the corner, we’ll get started.”

Complying, I shakily walked back to the bed and laid down. Now the room’s familiarity clicked. [_It was an operating room! _]

The small black haired nurse that’d hung back until now, approached. “Please roll up your sleeve sir.” She instructed. I complied and she quickly jabbed me with the needle!

“OWWWWW! STOP, THIS HURTS!”

“Please stay calm sir.” She asked sounding very much like a bot.

She pulled the needle out just as quickly as she had stabbed it in, and blood began to rush freely from the small prick she had left. “Thank you for your patience sir.” She said staring straight ahead. With that, she turned and walked away.

Dr. Madstein turned to me and began to speak as the world around him began to lose focus. “We’ve just introduced an anesthetic to your body. You’ll be falling asleep shortly. You have nothing to worry about; we’ll be in and out in no time. Sweet dreams.” And with that, the world went black.

It seemed like no time at all when my eyelids once again fluttered open. But this time the scene was different. [_Where are Dr. Madstein and his nurse? Where am I? _]

The room was the same, but there was no one around me! I stood after determining I wasn’t hooked up to any tubes. I experienced no loss of balance or black spots. [_Did they actually operate on me? I feel fine. _]

I moved forward, reaching towards the door handle, but I couldn’t grasp it! Moving my hand back and forth the only thing that I accomplished was reaching through the door. I no longer had physical limitations! [_In fact, everything felt different! _]Looking down, I realized that my body was no longer there! When I moved, instead of walking I floated. [_What is happening? _]

I leaned forward and began to drift through the closed door when suddenly I was pulled backwards. Something had me! It pulled extremely fast! I had no control!

It pulled me back to the bed and slammed me down! Just as quickly as the sensation had started it was over! Suddenly, my vision blurred and the world was blotted out with black!

Everything went completely blank for a moment and then as if I’d been restarted, my brain engaged and my eyes flew open!

“You alright buddy? Everything okay?” Dr. Madstein asked slightly nervous. “Thought we might have lost you for a moment there.”

[_What is he talking about? Where am I? _]And then I remembered. I was at the ASTA testing center. [_Where had I just been? Had I died? _]

“Did I die?” I mumbled, my mouth dry.

“No, you didn’t die. But something did happen. We lost track of you for a moment.”¶“What?”

“Nothing, nothing. You’re fine now. Mr. Blackwood will explain everything in a short time. All you need to know is that you’re fine. If you’ll follow Ms. Decks, she’ll lead you to meet the rest of the testers.”

I stood, but this time I did get a little woozy. I steadied myself with the help of the doctor and after a moment of stabilization, I was able to follow Ms. Decks, the nurse, from the room. As we left the room, I heard Dr. Madstein talking into his holo watch. The only words I managed to get were, “He may have it, we’ll have to wait and see.”

Ms. Decks led me to the end of the hallway and to a set of double doors. Upon opening them I was shown into a room filled with at least a 100 other 16 year olds. Looking around, I realized I’d entered a spacious dining room. There had to be at least a dozen long tables made from wood that looked centuries old. The room was lit with giant chandeliers that hung looking like giant wales.

I was slowly moving forward amongst the crowd of other testers, when a bot’s voice sounded over the intercom. “Please sit and enjoy the food that is being brought out. In a few minutes you will be further directed. For now, please enjoy yourselves and eat all you like.”

I looked at a large clock hanging overhead, and realized for the first time that it was late! It couldn’t have been more than 12 o’clock when I’d arrived! 5 hours had passed! What did they do to me that had taken so long?

“You gonna eat?” Came a voice from beside me.

Turning, I was met with the stare of a boy slightly shorter than me. “The food’s free, you don’t have to worry.”

“Haha, yeah I know. I was just thinking.”

“Thinking is always good. What would you think about sitting by each other? I don’t know anyone here. How about we sit together so we look sociable.”

“Alright, sure. Sounds good” I said, following him to a nearby table.

He was about my size, had brown hair, and was pretty well built.

We sat far enough away from another group, so that we didn’t seem awkward, but so we wouldn’t have to talk to them. Looking down the table, everyone seemed to be pretty spaced out. [_Why so many testers? What exactly are we here for? _]

Side doors opened, and out came waiters interrupting my thoughts. They piled platters of food in front of us in a matter of seconds. I had never seen so much food in my life!

Steam wafted above the hot platters, lighting my nose afire with their sweet scents! This was going to be incredible!

“So, what’s your name?” The boy asked.

“William. What’s yours?”

“Chris, Chris Levinsworth. I’m from North Greenshire. Where are you from?”

“Nexington, it’s a small town next to-”

“Hey guys, mind if we sit here?” Two boys approached and sat down before we could answer.

“Hey, I’m Jack and this is my twin, Steven.” He motioned to a boy that smiled at me, and offered his hand. I took it and muttered my name through my food filled mouth.

“William.”

“That’s nice William, do you have a last name” Jack joked.

“I’d tell you, but then I’d have to kill you.”

Everyone chuckled.

“Well, one word is more than Jack could say for most of his childhood.” Steven poked at his skinny twin.

Everyone laughed.

“So, what are you guys doing here?” Chris asked.

“Nothing much, except getting free surgeries.” I joked, but then added, “Speaking of which, what was that all about today. What did they do to us?”

“I don’t know, it was so weird. Why didn’t they tell us about it before we got here?” Jack was clearly peeved.

Steven interrupted him. “Did they operate on your necks?”

I quickly reached back and felt along my neck. There seemed to be nothing, and just as I was about to pull my hand away, I felt it! There, at the base of my skull was something!

I felt closer, as did the boys around me. “What are they?” Chris said with a catch in his voice.

“I don’t know, but it wasn’t there when I went to sleep, and when I awoke it was-”

Steven continued to talk, but I wasn’t listening. [_What is it? Ash, it kinda hurts. Oh no, Mom’s gonna kill me for this. I should have been more careful. _]

Whatever it was, touching it sent a shiver up and down me. It hugged the base of my skull wrapping around it slightly. It jutted out, giving my skin a ridge where none had been before!

“Do you think they’re tracking us? Is it an explosive? Guys, what are they!?” Chris’s voice raised, as he flipped out slightly.

“Dude, be quiet, you’re attracting attention.” Jack shut him up.

“I doubt our own government would do any of those things to us. We have a purpose here, and I don’t think it’s that. Plus we have families, they can’t just do whatever they want, we’d be missed.” Steven’s words calmed everyone down.

“Although, no one would miss you much.” Jack poked at Steven once again which raised a few laughs.

“Says the one who hasn’t had a real girlfriend.”

“Haha.” Everyone’s moods began to shift.

Jack fired back with another joust, but I wasn’t listening. There she was! Her green eyes sparkling under the giant chandeliers caught mine! Her hair, which I could now tell was strawberry blonde, bobbed as she laughed. Her teeth briefly showed as she giggled with the group of girls she sat with her. [_She’s stunning! _]I couldn’t help it; I couldn’t take my eyes off her! She kept glancing at me and then looking away.

Every time she looked my way my heart skipped! I was getting more and more anxious as dinner went on and Jack, Steven, and Chris’s conversation was getting harder and harder to focus on.

“William, hello? Anyone home?” Chris said as he waved a hand in front of my face.

“Sorry, sorry something caught my eye.” I replied.

“What was it?” Chris said with a smile as he, Jack and Steven followed my eyes towards the girl that looked away shyly as the boys’ heads around me began to turn. ¶“Ooooooh, not a what, a who! It’s a girl! It’s the first day and William’s already looking for what’s important!” Chris laughed trying to hold all of the food in his mouth as he continued to shake with laughter along with Jack and Steven.

I felt a hot flush steam my face. All I could do was shake my head and rest it in my hands hoping that the testers around us would look away.

It never got old. You’d think 16 year old boys would be less likely to embarrass another guy for liking a girl, but some things never changed.

When I finally gained the courage to look up again, the group of girls had left and my new friends were still laughing their heads off at my expense. By now, the entire group of testers around us were looking at our group.

“You guys are idiots.” I only half joked.

“She was really pretty, too bad she left.” Chris said trying to suppress his laughing, but only managing to laugh even harder.

“You guys are acting like 12 year olds!” I said trying to change the subject of embarrassment.

Luckily, a woman walked to the front of the dining room and began speaking. She flipped on her amplifier to be better heard, and her voice instantly filled the room. “Good evening testers. I know today has been hectic and crazy; and out of respect for the overwhelming events that have occurred today, we are giving you the rest of the night off. Please feel free to socialize or go straight to bed. However, we would appreciate it if you would stay on the 2nd floor this evening where the rooms you will be staying in are located. Every door has two names on it. Your luggage has already been dropped off for you. The boys’ rooms are on the east end of the hallway and the girls are on the west. At 10 o’clock you must be back on your designated side. There is no cohabitation after this period of time, if any testers aren’t on their designated sides after 10 there will be consequences. Please, meet back here at 8 in the morning. And from me and all of the other ASTA agents we wish you happy dreams. Goodnight.” She said turning, shutting off her ear amplifier and walking from the room.

Jack snorted and them mimicked her, “there will be consequences,” To which we all laughed knowing what he meant.

“Maybe she got us mixed up with the preschoolers they teach down the hall.” Chris said jumping in.

I spoke up, “What do you guys say, we go find our rooms and then hang out? We can try and meet some new people.”

“What William really means is let’s find our rooms and then try and find that girl that he was staring at earlier.” Chris said nudging me playfully.

“Maybe I do.” I fired back.

“Alright then, let’s go get William his girl!” Jack said slapping me on the shoulder and standing with the rest of us.

“Sounds like a plan.” Steven said quietly. “Sounds like a plan.”

The four of us headed upstairs in search of our new bedrooms for the next couple of weeks. The staircase was old and steep, but we climbed it quickly nonetheless, and found the second floor.

The hallway where our rooms were located curved around, making a complete circle. Each direction had a small makeshift sign. One said boys and one said girls with arrows pointing down the left and the right. We turned left as directed. Jack and Steven’s rooms were located at the very beginning of the boys’ hallway.

“How about we get settled in our rooms and meet back out here in half an hour.”

“Sounds good,” Was the general consensus and the four of us split up to find our own rooms.

I walked alone down the carpeted hallway. The other three seemed to have found their rooms rather quickly, but I was having trouble finding my own. I almost turned back thinking that somehow I had missed my room when I came to the last door, only to find my name scribbled on a small paper sign.

I opened the door to a small but clean looking room. It couldn’t have been more than 12ft, by 12 ft. with two beds situated on each side. The ceiling was no taller than 8 ft. and was easily reachable for a 6ft tall boy like myself. The room was quite short compared to the hallways downstairs. On one bed lay my luggage. Directly opposing it was another bed with a pile of luggage on top. Most likely my roommates, [_but, where is he? _]I turned only to be greeted by an opening door.

Out of what looked like a small bathroom walked a small boy with red hair and a scraggly smile. “Hey man, what’s up?” He said puffing out his chest trying to act a little bigger than the tiny frame that stood before me.

“Nothing much man, how about you?” I returned.

“Well, I just got here and had to use the facilities. Were you waiting?”

“No, but thanks for that information. My name’s William, how about you?” I asked politely.

“The name’s Rasben, and I’m from Clovenheights, I like water hovering, tennis extraordinaire, and meeting new people.”

I interrupted what sounded like the start of a full history on himself. “That’s cool dude. Sounds interesting. I just forgot I have to meet with some people right now, so maybe we can continue this conversation later.”

“Oh, yeah, sure, later sounds good.” He said looking down shyly as he realized what I was really saying.

“Alright man, see you later.” I briefly replied before turning and rushing from the room.

[_I feel bad not listening to him, but that would have sucked! _]Don’t get me wrong, I like meeting new people and I’m not normally a mean person, but I did not want to learn about that kid’s entire life. [_Why is it that everytime I go somewhere I get stuck with the nerds? I hope that kid, Rasben, doesn’t turn out to be an annoyance. _]

These thoughts continued to run through my head until I saw Chris ahead waiting outside his door. “William, hurry up! The girls are hanging out in the commons. Jack and Steven are already there, let’s go!”

I didn’t have to be told twice. I practically sprinted alongside Chris to reach what he had called the common room. The room was quite expansive. It was located in the center of the hallway’s circular loop. The room itself was circular; following the curvature of the hallway. It had at least four transparency screens with magnetic hover chairs in front of them. [_I know where I’ll be hanging out in my free time! _]

However, what really caught my eye was the group of girls sitting in a circle giggling and talking over one another. Chris led the way as we wandered over to them.

Jack and Steven were seated amongst the girls and seemed to be blending in.

“Mind if we play ladies?” Chris asked trying to sound confident.

Heads turned our way. “Ooh, more boys!” A girl cried sarcastically.

“Sure you can, but only if you tell us your names first.” The girl, a brunette instructed.

I was freaking out! I felt like I was gonna have a heart attack, my heart was beating so fast! Did I mention I’m not exactly the best around girls and the fact that they were all extremely pretty didn’t help things. I began speaking with a slight tremor in my voice that I tried to cover up. “I’m William and this is Chris, do you girls have names?” I asked jokingly.

They all laughed sensing my uneasiness, trying to play along with my small joke. “I’m Shelby, and this is…” she said gesturing to the next girl in line, and just like that they all began repeating their names. “Hannah, Olivia, Annabelle, Isabella, Mia, Megan, Amelia, Zoe, Lily.” and then the last girl in line, the girl I had seen at dinner spoke, “and my name’s Jessica.”

What a beautiful name, to match such a beautiful girl.

She continued to talk seeming to take control of the conversation away from the other girl whose name was Shelby.

“If you guys wanna start sometime today, you can go ahead and sit down.” Her smile helped thaw some of my fears.

I looked over at Chris and could tell that he was just as nervous as I was, but we were in too deep, we couldn’t escape now! I walked over and Jessica and Hannah scuttled apart so that I sat right next to Jessica!

Sitting down, my heart was beating a million miles a minute! I tried to control myself, but as soon as my eyes met Jessica’s I could tell that she could see right through me. [She knew! _]She knew[ _]I was scared out of my mind!

The girl on my left, Hannah, began giving the game’s instructions. “The game Guess Who, is a getting to know people game. Everyone says three things about themselves, and then everyone else tries to guess which fact is false. Ready? Good, William, would you like to start?” She said glancing over at me.

I felt everyone’s eyes turn towards me waiting for my answer. I had only played this game once, and was still pretty confused but I had to go or I’d look like an idiot.

“I play basketball, I like cats, and I’m a ladies man.” I smirked.

“Oooh.” The girls turned towards the three boys as if expecting them to know the answer even though we had barely just met over an hour ago.

Chris spoke first, completely guessing and hoping for the best. “Is it the cat one?”

I love cats, but the pressure had become too much. I couldn’t turn back now and say that I liked cats, that wouldn’t be good for my image. “Correct.” I responded. “I don’t like cats.”

“Ahhh, you stink,” Jessica whispered to me. “I love cats. They’re the best!”

[_Are you kidding me! That’s just my luck. Say something perfect and then wimp out and get screwed! _]I wished so badly I could change my answer to my real one, but it was too late now, I was stuck with making the wrong decision and missing a great opportunity with Jessica.

Next up in the game was Jessica. “My three facts are: I come from a rich family, I did very well in school, and my brother made it into higher learning.”

Shelby was first to attempt guessing the falsity. “Your brother didn’t make it into higher learning?” She guessed.

“No, he did, that’s not the right answer. Anyone else want to take a shot?”

I don’t know what I was thinking, but I blurted out the first thing that came to my head. “I’m guessing you didn’t do very well in school?” I finished and instantly regretted it.

The entire room fell silent. I heard an audible gasp from someone. I felt a hot blush burn my cheeks as all eyes focused on me! “I mean…I mean…What I meant to say was…I didn’t mean that the way it sounded…” I blubbered, trying to make some attempt at recovering from the hole I had just dug myself. “What I meant to say was that you’re very pretty, and I thought you might not be…” I trailed off again, realizing my horrible mistake!

“What? You thought that just because I’m pretty, I must be a stupid blonde? You thought that just because I look the way I do, I had to have come from a rich family?” Her voice rose with sudden anger.

[_I think I hit a nerve! _]

Her face blushed a deep red with a combination of embarrassment and anger. “Let me tell you something, Mr…Whoever you are! I haven’t lived a groomed life, as you seem to believe! I’ve worked for everything I have, how dare you insult my intelligence!” Her voice raised to a volume that attracted every eye in the room. “How dare you!” She yelled, and with that, she was gone.

She turned on her heels and fled from the room!

Once she left, all eyes remained on me. Every girl seemed to be daring me to say something, so they could shove it back down my throat.

“What was that all about? Looks like somebody didn’t get enough sleep.” Chris tried joking.

“You boys better leave,” Shelby instructed coldly.

“Sorry,” I whispered, barely loud enough for anyone to hear.

I slowly stood, finding my legs of rubber and walked shakily from the room. I hadn’t gotten more than 15 ft. when Chris called out to me. “Hey, hold up, Will!”

Turning, I saw that following him with heads hung were Steven and Jack. “What are you guys doing, you can keep playing with the girls, it won’t offend me,” I said, still trying to find my voice.

“Not like that, they were all super pissed!” Chris said, throwing a tiny chuckle into his voice. “Man, you sure screwed that up. I don’t think you could have done a better job if you’d tried.”

“I’m sorry, guys. I know I ruined the night for you. I didn’t mean to offend her like that, I was so nervous I didn’t really think about what I was saying.” I stumbled with a slight hitch in my voice.

“Your good, man, it happens to everybody. Girls are like that. Granted you did manage to say every wrong thing possible, but you’ll get over it.” Jack offered.

“Maybe I should try going and apologizing to her.”

“No, do not do that, whatever you do. That would be the very worst thing possible. She was super worked up. If you tried to talk to her right now, we might not ever see you again breathing.” Steven joked.

“I can’t believe I managed to make that big of a fool out of myself. I screwed myself over pretty good.”

“That you did, that you did. But you’ll get over it. Plus, now you know that Jessica has a crazy streak and you got out before things ever got started.” Chris once again tried to reassure me, but his words, unbeknownst to him, only managed to cut deeper.

[_She had acted kind of crazy, but she was so beautiful, and the way she defended herself was astonishing. _]Now that I couldn’t have the forbidden fruit, I only wanted it that much more. [_I really wish I wasn’t such a screw-up! _]

[_ _]

Chapter 2: Simulator

I got to breakfast the next morning trying to keep my head down and hoping I wouldn’t run into Jessica. I headed towards where Chris was sitting and arrived at the same time as Jack and Steven.

“Hey guys, what’s up?” I asked, hoping no one would broach the subject of last night.

“Your good man, we’ve all been in that situation. Just calm down.” Chris said, seemingly reading my thoughts.

“I’d rather not talk about it.”

“You choice, man, just saying it’s really not that big of a deal. Just try not to think about it.”

I felt even worse about last night’s events which I had run through in my head over and over again. No matter how I thought about it, the same thoughts of me being a total idiot always surfaced.

These thoughts continued to run through breakfast. I don’t think I tasted one thing I ate. Jack, Chris, and Steven all talked, however, I remained silent. Finally, Jack turned to me. “You alright, William?”

“I don’t know what I should—”

“Please follow me!” Yelled the woman from last night.

Without waiting around, she took off. Everyone stood, completely confused, and began to follow. Breakfast had officially ended.

The woman led us down the large hallway just outside the dining room, down a small branching one and into a large room with many seats in upward rows.

“Please, take a seat.” She instructed politely.

Leaving the vast dining room and entering the tiny lecture room we had been directed to was a quite a contrast. Whereas the dining room had been large and completely open, this room was small, compact, and smelled of teens.

I followed Jack, Steven, and Chris towards the front row. And there she was!

She was sitting right in front of me, and I felt our eyes meet. I tried to pull my gaze but seemed caught.

Then I realized that her eyes had a cold tint to them.

“Guys, do you think we could sit somewhere else?” I asked.

“What? Why…” And then Chris saw who I was looking at and got what I was saying. “Yeah, sure no problem, let’s go sit near the back.” But just as he said it, a tall, distinguished looking man walked briskly in through a side door, “Will everyone please take your seats so we may begin!” He commanded to the few of us testers who were left standing.

Chris gave me a look of apology, as the three of them sat, and I was forced to follow. I sat slowly, taking my agonizing time.

The man flipped on his amplifier and began waving his hands for silence. “I would like to thank you all for choosing to come to ASTA. My name is Mr. Blackwood, and I am the head of this project. You may call me headmaster as I will be directing you and leading you throughout your time here. We are very excited to have you! This morning I will be talking to you about what exactly will be happening over the next few of weeks. I’m sure you are all extremely curious as to what happened yesterday and what is to come. I am happy to answer any and all questions after I am done speaking.” He paused briefly waiting as a few hands in the audience lowered. “What happened yesterday was not a trick. It was, in fact, real. You were all operated on and now have nano apparatuses. These mechanisms now locate below you skulls are vital to what is coming next.”

The man’s words trailed off, because no one was listening anymore. “Wait, what!” “What did he say?” “In our necks!” “This is outrageous!” voices from the crowd emerged.

“The machines we added pump and regulate micro nano sensors that now run in you.” He paused again as another gasp of horror went through the crowd!

How can they do this?” “There’s no way this is legal!” More voices.

Mr. Blackwood continued. “Oh, but it is. When you signed on you gave us every legal right to do what we have done. But there is no need to fret. These sensors are in no way harmful to you health. In fact, we have never once had a medical problem with them. You are all perfectly safe. Please stay calm!” He waved down the voices. “If you want to learn their purpose, I suggest you listen.” he once again paused as the crowd quieted. “These nanosensors travele through your bloodstream, through your brain and back again. Their purpose is to help you connect with our technological instruments. This connection between you and our technology is a major part of the test that you have all come here and agreed to take part in. I’m sure you’re all wondering what the [_test _]is. Well, it is quite simple. You will all be taking part in a series of missions. You’ll be assigned groups and take part in simulated missions with your team members. These missions will help us fine tune our instruments and determine what type of minds interact best with our micro sensors. In this way, we will be able to optimize our hardware which will eventually help us mass produce this technology to benefit the human race. Any questions?”

A boy in the front of me raised his hand so fast I barely had time to process that it was my roommate, Rasben. “How will you be able to tell which minds interact best with your software?”

The man seemed to get very excited by the question. “That is a great question! We have designed this trial as a competition to fully see which minds handle the nanosensors the best. The competitions we have designed are extremely difficult. You’ll all be assigned a senior leader and three team members. The leaders assigned to each group have worked for ASTA in the past and will be there to lead you every step of the way. They will help guide you and answer your questions. Every few days your teams will participate in missions. Based on your performance your teams will receive points. Things like tactical skill, teamwork, and problem-solving will all be analyzed and graded. The two teams with the lowest scores after each mission will have to fight it out to see which team will go home and which one will stay. These missions are designed to test you in every way imaginable. Some will be excruciatingly painful, and some will give you thrills you’ve never imagined! What is coming is going to be the ride of your lives!”

“Will we be safe?” A girl asked from off to my right.

The man’s face flashed with annoyance. “Of course you will. Our main job here at ASTA is to make sure that each of you are safe and protected. Your safety will always be first.” He finished as if repeating a memorized retort. “If there are no other questions, then we will be splitting you into your groups.” He said without actually looking to see if there were any other hands raised. “ Your senior leaders will now be introduced one at a time, and after they’re introduced, they will call out the names of the testers in their groups. When your names are called, please come to the front and follow your senior leader back to your base rooms.” He finished and walked to the side motioning someone standing in the shadows to come forward. A boy not much older than me, probably 20 or 21 walked from his hidden place and flipped on his amplifier.

“Hello everybody!” He said with a slightly shaky voice. “My name is Josh, and I am a senior leader. I have worked for ASTA for around 2 years and am very happy to be here. Please come forward when I call your name. William Rose, Rasben Blair, Rachel Starr, and Jessica Bell, please come forward.”

I froze! Jessica! She was in my group! CRAP, Crap, Crap! I can’t believe it. [_There is no way this was happening! I must be cursed! _]

I looked over at the guys and saw that they were trying to hold back smirks. “You’ll be alright man, everything will work itself out,” Chris whispered under his breath.

“Please hurry, we don’t have all day.” Came Josh’s irritated voice from the front.

I stood stiffly and began to walk past the few people between me and then end of my aisle. I could feel the group of girls behind me staring at me as I walked past.

I reached the group and realized that the little boy that was my roommate, Rasben, was also in my group. Luckily, last night when I’d returned he’d been asleep, and I didn’t have to hear his life story, but I wish I’d stayed and listened to whatever stupid thing he’d had to say instead of being with the girls and screwing myself royally.

“Please follow me,” Josh said before turning and walking towards the door.

We walked around the corner and up a small set of stairs. We immediately turned into the first door on our right. The room looked weird. Everything was white. The walls, the floor, the ceiling. Ever heard of paint?

“How’s it going, guys?” Josh turned to us. “So as you already know, I’ll be your senior leader. My name’s Josh, and I will be your number one source of answers, so any questions are welcomed. I know this is kind of sudden, but in about an hour we’ll be having our first mission. Any questions you have should be asked now, before I brief you on some key things, for the mission.”

As he talked, I looked over briefly at Jessica only to see that her focus was solely on Josh.

Rasben asked about what precautions we should take with the new nano sensor in our heads, to which Josh responded that everything would be just like normal, and if we hadn’t been told about the nano processors, we would never have known because they changed nothing. When no one else had any questions, Josh began the briefing.

“Alright, if there aren’t any more questions, then we’ll get on with the briefing. The first thing you should know is that we’ll be in the desert. You should also know that we’ll be in different bodies than our own and that you shouldn’t get freaked out.” He said pausing to make sure we all understood. “Alrighty then, our actual mission is to get a vial from a secret laboratory that will be heavily guarded…” Josh continued to talk, but I couldn’t keep my focus on him.

Jessica was too distracting! The way she bobbed her head agreeing with everything Josh said, as if she knew exactly what he was talking about, was cute. The way her strawberry blond curls flowed down over her shoulders and caressed her face was gorgeous! Her lips and emerald eyes sparkled!

She turned her head to look over at me. I realized I was staring and immediately jerked my head away. I felt her looking at me but was too embarrassed to look back. And then out of nowhere, Josh addressed me.

“William… Wiliam? Can you do that?”

All four of them were staring at me, and I had no idea what he was talking about. “Yeah, sure. No problem.” I sputtered hoping for the best.

“Okay then, we’re good. I think we’re good to head down to our team’s simulator room. Any questions?” Without really waiting for questions he turned and headed for the door only looking back once to make sure we were following.

I followed like a baby lamb, still with no idea what Josh had been talking about, just hoping it wouldn’t come back to haunt me.

We followed Josh down the hallway that curled slightly. I tried to keep my distance from Jessica hoping that if I didn’t make any more bonehead moves, she wouldn’t acknowledge me in the manner of last night.

As we walked, I realized that she wasn’t nearly as embarrassed as I was. She walked with purpose and soon was walking next to Josh at the front. I was glad she chose the front and not just because it got distance between us.

Did I mention she was beautiful? I couldn’t seem to take my eyes off of her as she moved with purpose and poise. Her hair was longer than what I’d imagined. It ran all the way to the small of her back where it swished back and forth. My eyes continued downward, past the tips of her stunning hair. Her hips moved gently from side to side, and her bottom swayed with skillful ease in her pair of tight, faded jeans. Her almost too perfect legs moved with grace and… I realized I was staring again, and tried to look away, but it felt like I was ripping off a band-aid and I just couldn’t do it! Every second I walked behind her made me realized how far she really was out of my league. [_Man, she’s gorgeous! _]

“This is it,” Josh announced.

We reached what Josh had called our simulator room and entered. This room, like the last one we’d been in, was completely white. And just like our previous room, it was quite small. Although unlike the other room this one had 5 beds lining the opposing wall.

“This is our team’s simulator room. Whenever we have a mission, this is where you need to head. I know it was kind of hard to find your way here, but as your time here is extended, you’ll come to know this place like the back of your hand. I know things are moving very fast, right now but it’s time for us to enter into your first simulation. If you will all please find a bed to lie down on the simulator will be starting shortly.” He finished and then turned studying some sort of computer readout.

I approached the first bed on the left and quickly laid down. Rasben laid down next to me and then Rachel and Jessica followed on the beds on the far end of the line.

Josh finished looking at the readout and took the bed between the girls and boys. “Alrighty then, everyone better buckle up, this is gonna be a bumpy ride.”

I was about to ask what he meant by buckle up but decided to act like I knew what was happening. “Beep, beep, beep.” a machine began haphazardly beeping! The beeping increased with volume and quantity! “BEEP, BEEP, BEEP!” [_What is happening! _]

BAM! I was slammed from my body! I flew out of my own skin and into some sort of vacuum! The vacuum sensation started slow, but began to suck faster and faster! I was spun and pulled in every direction! [_I’m gonna die! Crap! _] And then, all at once just as quickly as it had started it stopped!

I flew out of the tunnel of light I’d been sucked into and slammed into something, or rather someone! It felt like smashing into a hovercraft! (And trust me, I know what that feels like.) I instantly seemed to bond with the human and meld with it.

It took me a second to gather my bearings, and when I did, I was mystified. Things felt similar to the real world, but something was different this time. Things felt more real. I wasn’t just in another body, I was another body!

I had complete control! Looking down I realized that something was off. My skin wasn’t white anymore! It was brown! My body was entirely different! Instead of being a tall skinny, 16 year old white teen, I was now a smaller, middle aged man with golden skin and muscles in places I didn’t know were possible!

“Hey, William stop gawking at yourself and get over here!” Josh shouted from somewhere behind me.

Turning around I realized for the first time, that I wasn’t alone. I jogged over to a group of men and women who were just as confused as I was.

It was a relief to see that everyone was in different bodies and not just me. The man I was assuming was Josh seemed to also be very muscular beneath the robes of his tunic and the turbin resting atop his head. He looked Arabic, as did the rest of them.

“Alright, let’s get a face to go with everyone’s new body.” The man who was Josh asked the group assembled in front of him.

“I’m Jessica,” said a very tall Arab woman. Her skin was a baked golden brown, and her skin seemed to glisten in the sunlight. Her hair was brown now, from what I could see peeking out from behind a headscarf.

“I’m Rachel,” Said the girl to Jessica’s right. She was also Arabic like the others but seemed more exotic, almost like she was might be half and half.

As I tried to figure out what nationality Rachel was, I noticed for the first time that the person standing next to her was, in fact, another girl. You could hardly tell because of the way no part of her was left open to prying eyes, but her body definitely didn’t belong to that of a boy.

“Who’s the new girl?” I asked with genuine curiosity.

“I’m Rasben you idiot!” The new pretty brunette said with embarrassment.

“Haha! No for real, where is Rasben?”

“Shut up William, we don’t want to be heard!” Josh whispered, but it was too late!

A ray blast whizzed past him and sizzled the ground at my feet.

“Move, move, move!” Josh screamed panicking!

I dove to the sand looking for cover but finding none! Word to the wise, don’t get in a firefight in the desert because you will get shot!

I rolled down the hill of sand feeling million of granules of sand slip through my robes scratching my skin.

“Guys over here, run!” Josh shouted as he brushed sand off of what looked like a trap door! The door swung open!

“Hurry hurry, get inside!”

I sprinted as fast as I possibly could, but my feet seemed to sink further and further into the sand with every step!

I dove for the cover of the trapdoor as a ray blast smashed into the wood and splintered it everywhere!

I fell into the passage and on top of Jessica!

“Oww! Get off of me William!” She screamed with irritation.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t see you there.

She brushed my apology aside as Josh began shouting orders. “We have to move now, Follow me!” With that, he turned and began to sprint down the tunnel we were now trapped in!

“Who was that?” Rachel shouted with a slight accent ahead to Josh.

“There isn’t any time for explanations, we’re here to get a vial. Stick to what I told you in the briefing. If everyone completes their end of the mission, we’ll be fine.” Josh whispered in hushed tones.

We moved quickly and quietly through the tiny, damp and pitch black tunnel that provided secrecy from the outside world. Ten minutes later Josh unexpectedly opened another trap door, and sunlight ripped into my wide eyes blinding me briefly!

“Hurry everybody out!” Josh whispered frantically!¶I scrambled out ahead of the girl, who was Rasben, and was met by the sight of the craziest building I’d ever seen! There in front of us was a giant rock building that was absolutely amazing! It couldn’t be real! It looked like something straight out of a silver screen! One side of the rock looked like any giant rock should, but the front side had been carved into the shape of a building!

“We have to get inside that rock, and we have to move quickly and quietly,” Josh whispered urgently.

We reached the building, moving quickly in single file. Just before we entered Josh stopped us.

“This is where we’ll split up, you guys remember the plan right? Jessica and William are climbing up the second floor while Rachel, Rasben and I will breach from the ground floor.”

[_Wait, what? _]“What are you talking about, since when was I assigned to climb anything? I’m afraid of heights!” I asked trying to hold back my fear.

“What are you talking about William, when I asked you earlier you said that it would be no problem and that you would be fine to do it.”

“When?”

“In the briefing. You said: sure, no problem. Remember?”

“Well, I wasn’t really listening to you,” I whispered frantically beginning to feel a hot flush of embarrassment climb onto my face.

“We don’t have time to rearrange things, you have to climb. If we argue about this any longer, we’ll have no shot at completing this mission and trust me you do not want to have to compete in the deciding games.”

“What’s a deciding game?” Rasben asked in his high-pitched girly voice.

“Never mind, we don’t have time for talk right now, here is your gear,” Josh said as his hand produced a long rope, a couple of picks and what looked like two ray guns! Good luck.” And with that, he was gone along with Rachel and Rasben.

I stood there in complete and utter fear. [_Why does everything go wrong for me? I can’t climb, I have no idea how! _]

“Jessica, I haven’t climbed anything except for our rock wall at our school, and we were hooked up to harnesses so we couldn’t fall! there is no way in hell I’m gonna be able to climb this rock.”

“You ready?” Jessica asked completely ignoring my pleas, although the slight grin on her face was enough to tell me that she was going to enjoy this.

She jumped up a couple of feet with a slight grunt grabbing onto the rock and sticking to it. Then she began to scale the wall with effortless ease. When she got to the top, she seemed to run out of handholds and paused for a second. Then like a cat she sprang! She completely let go of the wall and stretched for the lip of a window carved into the rock. She dangled for a second and then pulled herself up and disappeared.

“Are you coming? Let’s go!” She yelled down sounding annoyed.

“What about the picks and the rope?” My voice was thick with desperation.

“They would only mess you up. Either climb this wall, or I’m gonna leave you behind!” She yelled back down.

I couldn’t take her egging me on, so I began to climb. My climbing was extremely slow, and it felt like at any second I would fall down the few feet I had traversed.

“Let’s go, gramps, speed it up!” Jessica called down again without any thought of people overhearing her.

[_I got this, I can do this, I just gotta believe. I just can’t freeze up. _]

And I didn’t. It took a while, but I finally reached the spot where Jessica had paused, and then I froze! Fear washed over me with a paralyzing grip.

“Jessica, Jessica!” I called up.

“What?”

“I’m stuck. What should I do?”

“Jump. Your only option is to jump. It’s not that hard. You can do it, William.” She said dropping all sarcasm from her voice, as she realized that I was actually in danger and desperately needed moral support. “If you overthink it, you’ll never do it. I’ll count to three, and then you have to jump. Okay?”

“Okay,” I whispered back with a trembling voice.

She began the count. “1, 2, 3, JUMP!”

I felt adrenaline surge through me as I pulled with my arms as hard as I could and pushed from the wall with my trembling legs. I got about 2 feet upwards before I ran out of momentum! I felt my body slow to a halting float as I grabbed desperately for the top lip, but all I got was a fistful of dirt!

“AHHHH!” I screamed as gravity took over.

The floating ended, and now I was going down![_ This is it, I’m going to die! _]And then out of nowhere, I felt two strong hands grab mine! My fall ended as I was jerked to a sudden stop! I felt something tear in my arm!, but it didn’t matter, I wasn’t falling anymore, anything was better than falling.

“Ahhhhhh!” I screamed as I hung there suspended by a pair of brown angelic hands holding onto my own.

“Stop being a baby and help me out! I can’t pull you up, you have to help me!” Jessica shouted between strangled grunts.

Hearing her voice pulled me back to reality. I pulled with my left hand and held on to Jessica’s hand with my right! Then I placed one dangling foot on the wall and began to push with everything I had!

Gravity seemed to shift in our favor, and I slid up! [_I’m gonna make it! _]And make it I did. Jessica pulled me up and into the tunnel!

We laid there for a second panting heavily on the cold rock floor.

“Thanks.” I gasped.

“Your welcome.” She said struggling to catch her breath.

I turned to sincerely thank her, and our eyes met! For a moment I saw something, it felt like everything would be alright between us, and then she quickly looked away. I felt a thrill run through me, [_I like this girl, I just gotta figure a way to prove myself. There’s gotta be a way. _]

She stood, and I followed. I felt all of the blood rush to my head and spots appear before my eyes. “Can you give me a second,” I asked as I tried to fight through the pain that had now surfaced in my shoulder!

“We don’t have time to waste; we have to move, follow me.” She commanded before turning and starting out in the creepy rock hallway we had entered.

Sneaking through the hallway turned out to be deceiving. The building looked small from outside, but inside the tunnel seemed to stretch forever. I decided not to tell Jessica about my shoulder, I didn’t want her thinking less of me than she already did, so I just clenched my teeth and held the shooting pain in.

As we walked, I kept thinking about last night, and I finally decided to broach the subject. “Sorry about last night.”

When she said nothing, I tried again.“I didn’t mean what I said. All I meant was that you are very pretty and that you must have had a good upbringing.”

She turned around, and I knew instantly that I had brought up last night too soon. “What you mean is you thought that I was pretty because I’ve had an easy upbringing and that I must come from a rich family.”

“Well… I… I thought maybe you were…”

“What, you thought that I was a dumb blonde. You thought that just because I’m pretty, there was no way I could be smart and that I might have had to work hard for everything I have!” She began to raise her voice. “You thought that just because you had a hard life that no else’s could be that hard! Well, I have news for your William, my entire life has sucked! I’ve barely ever had any money, much less food, and I got cheated on the higher learning test just because of my economic status. So news flash, life is hard on everyone!” She said angrily stepping closer.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that the way it sounded. I’m sorry if I offended you.” I stumbled out an apology.

“Whatever,” She responded carelessly. “I don’t want to talk to you right now.” And with that she turned and walked around the corner, leaving me standing there feeling like a complete fool.

She couldn’t have been gone more than three seconds when “Ahhh!”

[_Oh no! _]I came around the corner full tilt and, BOOM! I was slammed by a wicked arm bar. I flew off my feet and slammed backwards onto the ground! All of the air was chased from my lungs and breathing became impossible! “Huh, huh, huh!” I gasped trying to fill my empty lungs. The pain in my shoulder doubled ten times to the point of a searing burn! “Ahhh!” I screamed out in between mouthfuls of air.  

“Haha, Madha Ladayna hna? .” The man laughed as he spits forth words in a foreign language that I somehow understood. “What do we have here?”

In his arms was Jessica, who was in what looked like a very severe chokehold.

As I lay there completely helpless, Jessica took over once again. She somehow spun out of the man’s chokehold and then shoved him away as he reached to grab her. He stumbled backwards and tripped on my helpless, extended legs. He fell backwards with a loud, “CRACK!” as his head smacked a stone jutting from the carved out hallway.

“You okay?” I asked in shuddering gasps.

“I’m fine, let’s move before anyone sees us.” She said looking down with pity in her eyes as she helped me to my feet.

Unknowingly she grabbed my injured shoulder, and I cried out inwardly. [_AHHH! _]Once I found my feet, She left me to my ends and began to move forward.

“We have to hurry, follow me.”

She drew her gun and cocked it with what looked like expertise. I have no idea how, since guns have been outlawed for over 20 years, but none the less it looked like second nature to her. I drew my gun with my still usable left hand but made no attempt to cock it.

She motioned me forward as a branch off tunnel appeared out of the shadows. The previous tunnel had been dim, but this tunnel was pitch black. I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face! I felt the hair on the back of my neck begin to prickle in anticipation.

At the end of the tunnel was a room that didn’t look like it belonged in a rock. Inside were two scientists and 3 giant men! All of them looked Arabic except one who might have been American, but I couldn’t tell because of his darker complexion. The room was very modern, and there were science experiment tools everywhere!

Jessica leaned in close and whispered in my ear. “On three, 1, 2, 3, go!”

We rushed inside, and Jessica began shooting! One of the giant men went down, as did a scientists while everyone else went for cover including myself.

I wish Jessica would have shot the guards first!

“If you would like to jump in that would be great!” Jessica shouted.

I cocked the gun as I had seen Jessica do and then lifted the gun over the table I was behind so I could fire blindly without being shot myself.

“Zing, zing, zing!” Came the sound of my gun as it fired laser rays at the enemy.

“Ahh!” One of the guards screamed!

I think I may have hit one of them! _]I kept pulling the trigger until, “Click.” Nothing was happening! [_I’m out!

“Click, click, click.”

“Ah crap, I’m out!” I shouted over to Jessica realizing that no one was firing so the only guard remaining had clearly heard me.

“Do you think you could have been any louder William!” Jessica antagonized as she put up one finger and pointed to her gun. “Create a distraction,” She mouthed.

I heard the giant guards footsteps approaching. I did the only thing I could think of.

Standing I threw my gun right at the giant man’s face! It was a pretty good toss, but as it closed in the man raised his fist and slapped it away!

He raised his own gun and “Zing!”

I fell backwards onto my butt and sat there for a moment feeling my chest for the opening!

[_Nothing’s there! I’m okay! _]I looked back up only to see the Arab fall to the ground! My eyes panned the room and off to my left knelt Jessica looking like a superhero, gun raised, staring at the fallen villain.

Her gaze quickly shifted to me, “Great distraction. I guess you really do act carelessly all of the time.”

She opened her mouth to say something else when Josh ran into the room huffing, and puffing gun raised.

“You guys all right?” he asked trying to catch is breath.

“Yeah, we’re fine.” I returned with sarcasm, but Josh’s focus was no longer on us.

He was looking everywhere as he began to look through supplies and pull drawers out. “Hurry up and look for the vile. We have to get out of here!”  

“I got it,” Rachel’s arabic body hollered from across the room where she had slipped past me without my knowing.

“Good, let’s go! Everyone follows me and be on the lookout for guards. let’s move!” Josh yelled with a slight tremor.

We got outside and a big arabic man I’m guessing, because he was wearing a turban, came barreling around the corner.

“Zap!” Jessica shot him without hesitation however, her gun had been right by by my ear. I felt the ray burn my ear slightly.

“You idiot! Why’d you have to shoot right next to my ear,” I screamed in pain.

“I just saved your life, and all you can do is wine, grow a pair.”

“Quiet down. We don’t want everyone in here to know where we are. I’m surprised you haven’t already been discovered.” Josh reprimanded.

We sprinted down a set of stairs taking two and three at a time just to keep up with Josh! Without waiting for us to catch up he burst outside!

“Why are we going to fast?” Rachel questioned.

“Boom! Zap!” A ray slammed into Josh’s chest as he turned briefly. The ray seared a hole right through him! “AHHHH!” He screamed as he stumbled falling to one knee.

Without thinking, I ran under one of his arms for support and began to run towards the trap door that would provide safety.

Rasben, Rachel, and Jessica all took off for the secret tunnel, and I was left dragging Josh to it as ray fire scorched the earth all around us.

Luckily Jessica stayed behind and held the trap door open for me. “Hurry William let’s get out of here!” Jessica pleaded as I carried Josh’s now almost lifeless body to cover.

I pushed Josh in first and than “Zing!” A ray connected with my shoulder and sent me tumbling in behind him.

I heard the door slam and Jessica run over too me. “Ahhh! It burns! I screamed in agony! “You’re gonna be alright, here let me help you.” Jessica did her best to help me to my feet as I screamed in pain.

“I know it hurts, but you have to come now, or I’ll have to leave you behind.”

“What about Josh?”

“We can’t save him; he’s almost dead anyways. The only people we can save now are ourselves.” She pleaded and pulled me gently forward by my hand.

I looked back and knew she was right. It was bad. He had been hit in the chest, and it looked like it had burned through one of his lungs. His body was a gruesome mess, and I quickly turned away only to hear him call for me.

“William.”

Jessica began to pull me further and further away, and with his final bit of strength, he shouted. “It’s all real. Everything is real.” And then he was silent as the life vanished from the young man who had only moments before been so filled with it.

“Their in here, follow me!” The weird language that I somehow understood rang from outside the door.   

Jessica took off, and I didn’t wait around either. It was hard to keep up with her. One shoulder was burned beyond recognition, and the other was sending jolts of pain throughout my entire body with every step!

“Hurry, they’re catching up William!” Jessica cried impatiently.

My legs were on fire! I could barely stand up much less jog! Everything seemed to be telling me to give up. I’ll never make it. I’ve doomed us both!

I looked back but couldn’t see the men yet. When I faced forward again, Jessica had disappeared! [_Uh oh! _]I continued to run until I came to the trap door that we had entered only and hour or so before.

Pushing out into the hot and warm air felt like stepping into a whole new world. I ran to my right and could hear the trap door opening behind me when someone started pulling me backwards!

“Shhh!” She whispered into my ear as she pulled me into a crevice between two rocks.

I looked back at my savior only to realize that it was Jessica, who had only moments earlier left me to die.

“Where are they?” Came a male voice very close by.

Jessica and I could barely fit into the small crevice, but we both squeezed in as far as we could setting my world afire as my burned shoulder rubbed against rock.

“Ahhh.”

“Shhh.” Jessica quickly shushed me.

The men continued to talk to one another, but their voices seemed to be getting further and further away. “Everyone divide up, and we’ll keep looking. We’ll meet back here in an hour.

[_Phew! _]I went to move out, but Jessica held me back. “We need to wait just to make sure.” I complied, and the two of us stayed pressed together in that tiny crevice for close to 15 minutes. Normally I would have been happy to be in such close contact with such a beautiful girl but as it was my entire body was screaming in protest at being smashed into such a small space. I felt blood begin to run down my back and side. [_This can’t be good. _] 

“Alright, I think we’re good.” She whispered before peeking her head out and looking around. When she deemed everything safe, she stepped out of the crevice, and I managed to push myself out and back into the sunlight. “Ahhh. It hurts.” I cried sinking to my knees.

“The quicker we get to the drop-off point the quicker we’ll get out of this simulator and the quicker you’ll be out of your misery.” She said without looking down at me as she gazed into the distance looking for possible threats.

“Jessica, I hate to break it to you, but there is no way I’ll make it, your gonna have to go without me,” I whispered barely capable of speech.

She looked down for the first time taking in the sight before her. “Fine, I’ll fix you up with some codeynex and ointment, but then we have to get moving.” She said pulling a small pouch from her pocket.

From the pouch, she withdrew a syringe and a bottle of some sort of ointment. “You’re gonna have to sit up William.”

I complied forcing my body to move on the brink of failure. And then she stuck me in the arm quickly and without warning.

“Owww!” I yelped.

The liquid within the syringe seeped into me and began to spread a warm feeling throughout my body. As the medicine moved, my pain seemed to vanish. “What is this stuff,” I asked only slightly slurring my words.

Without replying she began pulling my robe top off. “Whoa, take me to dinner first.” I slurred with the effects of whatever the medicine was that she had injected.

“Oh shut up.” She laughed lightly and began to spread the ointment onto my burn.

I looked up, and our eyes met. I know it wasn’t much, but I saw something in them. It wasn’t as though she’d forgiven me yet, but it looked as though she were beginning to melt. I could see her mind working on what to think of me as she gently massaged the ointment into my burn with her soft and caring hands. And then the unthinkable happened.

“Ewww! Gross!” Jessica pushed away from me. “Are you serious!”

I looked down in confusion only to realized that due to my excitement all of my blood was flowing to a certain area!

“Can you not control yourself at all!”

My face flushed with embarrassment “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean…” ¶“Oh, Shut up! I cannot believe you! You’re awful!” She began to walk away without looking back. “We’re not talking anymore, so you can keep your sorries to yourself. I’m leaving so come now, or die out here alone! And don’t get to close. I don’t want to look at you!”

I quickly grabbed my robe shirt tunic and began to run awkwardly after her.  

It took us two hours, but we finally made it back to [_the drop off point _]where the simulation was supposed to end. Jessica held true to her word and didn’t talk to me the entire walk.

I was so embarrassed that I was glad she didn’t speak to me. No matter how it happened I was truly sorry, and she would never know how entirely embarrassed I was.  

As we came over yet another hill, we saw Rachel and Rasben’s avatar women waiting near a lone tree. I felt the pain from my burn returning. It wasn’t bad, but if we didn’t hurry, I had a feeling the pain was gonna get a lot worse.

“Thanks for nothing guys,” I said as we approached.

They both looked away, and I was about to light into them for leaving us when speech suddenly became impossible!

I was once again ripped from my body! The sensation was extremely painful. I was pulled into a tornado of light that seemed to pull at me in all directions. I lost my sense of direction as my consciousness flew everywhere all at once and then just like before, “boom!” I was back in my body!

I melded instantly, but something felt different. I don’t know what it was, but my body felt more familiar. It felt easier to control, and it felt overall more comfortable. It was nice to be home.

 

Chapter 3: The Devil’s Game

We’d all waken in our normal bodies except for Josh. He just laid there while we looked on. With no idea of what to do, we’d waited. Eventually, a nurse had come, and we told her about Josh’s death. She’d looked very surprised and had sent us to our rooms.

We’d only had to wait there briefly before an announcement came over the small holo-speaker mounted in one corner of our room. “All testers, be please report to the dining hall immediately, repeat, all testers, please make your way to the dining hall immediately. Thank you.” and with that, the strange bot’s voice cut out.

“Alrighty then.” I stood, followed by Rasben and we both walked out.

Making our way to the dining hall was only slightly difficult due to all of the bodies we had to fight through to get there.

Upon our entering, we found a table and sat quickly. I didn’t see Jack, Chris, or Steven, but hoped I’d see them eventually. A tall woman entered with an air of authority. She tapped her amplifier on and began speaking. “Hello, boys and girls. My name is Mrs. Nasdin, and I will be taking you on a tour of our beautiful ASTA testing building. If you’ll all follow me quietly through the halls, you’ll get a glimpse of your home for the next few weeks.” With that, she turned and headed for the door.

I stood along with those around me and moved with the sea of excited people. The woman walked fast; I practically had to run to keep up with her. She lead us through many different hallways, all of which were mesmerizing. As we went, she announced the names of rooms and objects we passed. “Over there is the Library.” “Outside this door is the outdoor pool you’ve probably all seen.” “Down this hallway is all of your individual simulator rooms, which you’ve already been in today.” “Down this hallway are ASTA workers and Guards rooms, so don’t go down here.”

At one point a girl asked if we’d get to see the upper floors. To which the woman answered curtly. “The upper floors are off limits. You must not go up there. If you do, you will be sent home. You may be on the second floor and the ground floor, and that is all, am I clear?”

We all nodded in the affirmative and our tour continued. “Alrighty then, let’s head outside.” And so we did.

Outdoors, the strange woman showed us the magnificent pool, pointed out the towering trees standing gracefully in the distance, and even explained to us some interesting facts about the giant ASTA building. “The building is quite large, and so we like to refer to it as the castle. It is newly constructed, and those panels you see that it’s made from are coated with graphene. The Graphene helps us to absorb the sun’s rays and directly convert them into electricity to power the enormous building. It is quite ingenious and I would love to tell you more about it, however, we must keep moving.” And move we did.

We walked back inside where it Mrs. Nasdin explained to us that due to a lack of postal system we wouldn’t be able to write home to our families. “I know you were told in your letters from ASTA that you wouldn’t be able to write home, but just in case anyone missed that fact, I wanted to make it very clear that due to our remoteness we don’t have a way to connect you to you’re familes via holo call. Any questions?” When no one responded we continued to move.

However, we didn’t move far. We made our way back to the dining wall where the woman, Mrs. Nasdin dismissed us. “Alright, the tour is over. I hope all of you enjoyed it. You have two hours of free time, and then please meet back here for dinner. Thank you.”

I wandered back to my room and once there I thought about the lack of communication with my parents. The letter from ASTA had clearly stated no communication with family would be possible, but now the reality of being completely alone was starting to sink in. [_ I really wish I’d hugged my mom before I left. I hope she knows how much I miss her. I wonder what dad is doing. I wonder if he’s studying realism. Thinking of which, I wonder what Josh meant by telling me that everything was real right before he died. I wonder if he- _]A knock came as I lay on my bed. “Knock, knock, knock.” I was so caught up in my thoughts that I didn’t even realize someone was knocking.  

“Knock, knock, knock.”

Rasben opened the bathroom door which he occupied. “Fine, I guess I’ll get it since you seem unable.” He said annoyed as he hurried to open it and was greeted by a small woman who informed us that we were called upon.

“Let’s go Mr. Focus. The headmaster wants us.” Rasben called back.

We followed her down multiple hallways that transgressed from new and smooth to smaller and older looking. Eventually, we came to a small wooden door that opened into a rather comfy looking conference room. Inside Mr. Blackwood, and a woman were sitting on one side of the table and Jessica, and Rachel on the other.

“Have a seat, boys. Thank you for coming.” The headmaster spoke as if we’d really had a choice. “We are here to discuss what happened in the simulation today. So my first question is: what really happened in the simulation today?” ¶Rasben and I sat on the soft leather chairs sinking in a little bit. When no one else spoke, I decided to head things up. “Well, it happened rather suddenly. We were in the middle of escaping after getting the vile when out of nowhere someone shot Josh.”

Jessica cut me off continuing. “We tried to save him, but it was too late. His lungs had been burned to badly, and it looked as if his heart might also have been singed. We couldn’t do anything for him, and people were chasing us, so we had to leave.”

The room fell silent as Mr. Blackwood, the headmaster, pondered. Finally, he spoke. “Well, it seems as though we have quite the predicament.”

“If you don’t mind me asking, what happens to Josh now? Why can’t he just come back since he only died in a simulation?” I asked.

“Good question Mr. Rose, and the answer is simple. When someone dies in the simulation, we send them home. In this way, we thin the herd so to speak. Hence the test being a competition. And I’m sorry to say, but without a senior leader, we’re going to have to send you all home as well.”

“What!” We collectively responded confused.

“Well, without a leader things would be very difficult for you and you would probably be eliminated from the competition very shortly anyways.  

They can’t do this; I need this money. There has to be another way!

“I can do it, I can.” I blurted out.

Mr. Blackwood’s eyes, as did everyone else’s, turned towards me. “It seems as though Mr. Rose doesn’t want to be sent home.” He said to the woman from the tour, Mrs. Nasdin, sitting beside him with a slight chuckle.  

I looked over at Rachel and Rasben, and then my eyes met Jessica’s. Her eyes seemed to be spitting fire, telling me, “Don’t you dare!”

Mr. Blackwood pondered my suggestion for a moment before opening his mouth to speak only to be interrupted by his assistant, Mrs. Nasdin, whispering in his ear. He seemed to take her words into consideration as he thought once again in the dead silent room.

“I don’t know about this.” He finally uttered. “Although if we instructed you could probably get the job done, and we could see different reactions to the simulators based on different leadership. Oh, what the heck. Why can’t you be your team’s leader? You know what, that sounds like a good idea. As of now, you, William Rose, are your team’s new leader. Is that okay with everyone else?” He said scanning the faces of the other three.

It looked as if Jessica was going to say something, but she decided against it and stayed silent.

“Alrighty then, we have a new team leader. Your team’s member change will be announced at dinner and may your team have the best of luck.” With that, he stood and ushered us from the room. “Thank you all for coming please feel free to head directly to dinner which will be served shortly.

I stepped into the hallway and began to walk extremely fast hoping not to have a confrontation with Jessica, but by the sound of the footfalls behind me, that wasn’t going to happen.

I had just turned the corner when I heard, “William!”

I turned and was met by Jessica’s angry yet beautiful face.

“There is no way I’ll take orders from you!”

“Jessica keep your voice down,” I whispered soothingly.

“You don’t know the first thing about leadership! You’re gonna get us all killed. You’ll be too busy thinking about girls to lead our team. Why don’t you just walk back in there, admit that there was a mistake and tell Mr. Blackwood the new leader should be me!”   

“There is no way I’d take orders from someone who hates me! Like it or not you’re gonna have to listen to me. Otherwise, I’ll get you sent home!” I fired back hotly.

“I wouldn’t take an order from you if my life depended on it, you selfish bastard!” “WACK!” She finished as her hand connected with my face! I reeled and fell backwards against a nearby wall. She quickly turned and rushed off realizing a group of testers had been standing at the other end of the hallway watching our argument play out.

“Haha.” I turned my head only to see a group of testers laughing hard. “She slapped him so hard!” I heard a few whisper. “I wonder what he did?” came another whisper from the crowd.

I gathered myself and walked right at them and then through them. My face felt like it was on fire and I could feel everyone’s eyes on me as I walked towards the dinning hall.

“Are you serious, she slapped you?” Chris asked in amazement. “Dude she must really hate you” Jack jumped in. “I would just keep my distance from her,” Jack laughed as did the rest of them, but I stayed silent.

“You’ll be alright,” Chris said trying to calm me down. “Just try not to think about it.”

“Hey, at least you don’t have it as bad as Steven does.” Jack butted in.

“What do you mean. Where is he?”

“Supposedly since his team took last they have to take part in some sort of competition with the second place loser and whichever team loses the competitions is sent home.”

“What, are you serious?”

“Yeah, and-”

Just as Jack was about to speak the headmaster walked into the great dining hall. “I hope your dinner is satisfactory. Congratulations on getting through your first simulation, and good luck in the second part. He paused briefly before explaining the real reason for his appearance. “I am here to inform you all that there will be a simulation to decide the fate of the two groups who finished last. Robert and Julia’s teams are already preparing for the simulation. The rest of you are fine to keep eating while the two fighting teams get set up. Once you are done eating if you will please head towards the group simulation area. Oh, and William if you don’t know where that is just ask, Mrs. Nasdin, my assistant, and she will be happy to show you the way.” the headmaster finished, and everyone’s heads turned towards me.

Mr. Blackwood turned back realizing he’d forgotten me. “Oh, that reminds me. In the your first mission Josh, who was a team leader was killed. Josh has been sent home, leaving his team without a leader. However thanks to William, who graciously offered to stand in and lead, his team will be allowed to stay. Would everyone please give him a round of applause.”  

And just like that 100 teens began to slowly clap for me. I felt a hot blush burning my cheeks as everyone’s eyes now fixed upon me.

The clapping didn’t last more than 20 seconds, but it was extremely painful nonetheless.

“As you were.” Mr. Blackwood finished his briefing and walked out.

We made it to the large room filled with beds, only lit by small pinpricks of light.

“Please find a bed and prepare yourselves for the trip.” Came Mrs. Nasdin’s, the woman from the conference room, voice.

We responded, along with all of the other testers in the room. We stumbled and tripped over each other until we could find open beds in the crowded and darkened room.

“Alrighty, is everyone set?”

I quickly laid down on a springy and uncomfortable bed. _Here we go. _

Once again we were ripped from our bodies and thrown into a tunnel of light. However, the landing this time was different. I still slammed into another body, but this one felt almost like that of my own. [_Where am I? _]

“Hey, William, over here,” Chris called.

[_What the heck. _]“What’s going on?”

Chris happily answered. “Well according to my senior leader this is what is known as the deciding games. The two teams ranked last have to participate in some competition to see which one stays. Luckily for us, we get to watch.” He laughed and nudged me.

“Hey, guys!” Came Jack’s voice from behind us.

Turning, I saw that it really was him, he was dressed in the same odd fashion of Chris and I, but his features were the exact same as his real life body.

“Ding, ding, ding!” came a bell’s cry from somewhere overhead.

“Hurry, hurry! It’s about to start!” Came the frantic cries of men, women, and children who were all rushing past us now and into the giant coliseum that stood in front of us!

“Where’s Steven?”

“He’s in the match; he was on Julia’s team. If we don’t hurry we’re gonna miss the competition, come on let’s just follow these people.”

We rushed forward with the swirling mass of people kicking up tons of dirt. The large gait quickly came and passed as we entered. [_This place is huge! _]And huge it was. The giant arena that had to be thousands of years old was made of graying stone. Archways, benches, rows, walls, everything was made of stone and covered in dirt.

There in the center of the circular arena stood a balding man who was quite short. In his hand, he held some sort of cone. He placed it near his lips and his now booming voice filled the arena. “Today, ladies and gentleman, is a special day!” His voice rang out quite clear.

I was almost too focused on the sights around me to listen to him. [_Is this place a gladiator arena? _] Everyone was dressed in very old clothes. In fact, in the distance, I saw a castle towering over its kingdom high on a hill.

His voice once again flooded my ears. “Facing off in this contest of champions are Steven the wise and Matthew the monster! They have been deemed guilty by the magistrates and must pay for their crimes. As you all know, this is a fight to the death! Each contestant will be given a weapon by chance. Thereafter the fight will begin!”

Each contestant drew from a large bag. Matthew received a double-bladed ax and Steven, a sword, and shield.

“The wait for blood is over!” The announcer roared as did everyone in the stands. “No longer will these men be allowed to pervert the ways of our great empire! They must pay for what they have done! Who’s ready for justice!” The man screamed at the medieval people hungry for bloodshed. “Well then, let the fight begin!” He said ominously as he scampered off to safety and a man who looked like some sort of referee signaled his dirty hand.

Why was Steven being treated like a criminal, and why were there so many people here?

But my thoughts ended as the fight got under way. I felt the crowd around me lean forward, staring intently at what was unfolding before them.

The two boys circled each other and slowly began to close. Although both boys were 16 Matthew was well over 6 feet tall and seemed to tower over Steven like the castle in the distance.

“Boom!” Matthew’s ax rang as it slammed into Steven’s shield and just like that the fight had begun! Steven stumbled and almost fell but managed to regain his balance and swing his sword. It was an attempt to make some room but only made it easier for Matthew to knock his sword away from him! Now all Steven had was his shield! Matthew smashed Stevens shield again and again! Slowly forcing Steven into the dirt! Steven managed to roll away and pick up his sword from where it lay. Turning, he swung at nothing in particular! Matthew sensing his opponent’s weakness moved. In an attempt to counter the range of Matthew’s long ax, Steven moved in with his sword! However, Matthew countered with the butt of his ax flipping Steven’s shield away from him!

Everything was happening so fast! I could barely keep up! The sound of the weapons was quick and fast. “Boom, clang, wack!” As both opponents fought for their lives! And then it happened!

Now that Steven was shieldless, Matthew’s mentality of playing it safe seemed to change. After deflecting a failed swipe, he swung his ax around at top speed slamming Steven’s sword right out of his hands! He then brought up the end of his axe slamming it into Steven’s gut! Doubling over Steven was now completely defenseless!

Matthew swung his ax around in an arc of death! The blade seemed to slow down as it connected with Steven’s neck with a sickening, “CRUNCH!”

Steven’s head fell from his mortally wounded body!

“BLOOD!” The crowd went berserk. Everyone began screaming and jumping up and down. The people around me were utterly insane!

“We have to move, let’s get out of here!” Jack whispered urgently to us.

We had just begun to move for the large gate in an attempt to escape the crazed crowd when we were once more ripped from the simulation and back into the real world.

The ride was a little bit less hairy than before, but not by much. I was pretty disoriented when I got back to my body in the real world. [What is happening? _]It took me a second to figure out what was happening. _Someone is fighting. I rushed out into the hall along with dozens of other testers. There I found Jack confronting Matthew.

“Hey, what the hell man! Why’d you do that!” Jack roared over to Matthew across the hallway.

“Whatever man.” Matthew retorted, turning to walk away.

“What was that?” Jack shouted!

“Get over it!” Matthew fired back. “I did what I had to do to stay in the competition.

“You didn’t have to take his head!”

“No one cares, you need to calm down man. Your brother didn’t stand a chance! I didn’t mean to humiliate him, but it wasn’t that hard!

“You son of a…” Jack stepped forward and unleashed a right hook!

Matthew countered by throwing him into a wall and just like that a fight had started. I wanted to jump in, but it looked like Jack had things under control.

The two of them exchanged punches before falling to the ground and wrestling around!

“Fight, fight, fight!” testers began to chant.

Suddenly Mr. Blackwood flew in from nowhere.

He was furious! “Break it up, break it up!” he said with a fire in his voice. “What is going on here?”

When neither of them responded, so he turned towards the crowd that had gathered. “Will everyone please head to their rooms. Lights out in an hour. ” And with that, he grabbed both boys and led them away.

 

Chapter 4: Asking for Trouble

Thanks to the moon it wasn’t overly dark outside. Which would make our adventure a little bit easier.

Chris, Jack, and I had decided to sneak out and see what the grounds looked like. Luckily Jack had been let off with only a warning so the three of us would all be able to make the adventure.

“Hurry, hurry let’s move!” I whispered to Chris and Jack as we made it to the front doors.

“We’re all gonna get in so much trouble for this,” Jack said as he laughed and led the way.

“Like you have any room to talk.” Chris grinned.

I was genuinely surprised by the lack of security and that three boys who were joking and laughing could escape without being noticed.

We made it past the giant swimming pool that seemed to dance in the moonlight. It seemed almost too easy. We ran to a fence that was hidden behind a distance clump of trees. The trees were old and stretched up and into the moonlight. They were oak and a dark brown just like the ground around them. We ran in and out, dodging trees this way and that until we finally made it to an exorbitantly tall fence that encircled us.

The fence was hidden from the view of the castle. Looking at it now, the fence loomed like that of a top priority prison explaining why the castle seemed to have so little security. The top was lined with barbed wire and looked as if it were daring onlookers to climb.

“Here, look here, there’s a hole behind this rock!” Jack whisper excitedly. The hole was small, but we would definitely fit. “Make sure not to touch the sides; this fence might be electric,” Jack whispered as he crawled through.

I was next followed by Chris. On the other side, we followed what looked like an old game trail. As we progressed, the forest seemed to get thicker and thicker and the light from the moon was gradually blocked out making our surrounding almost impossible to traverse.

“Guys we can’t wander too far, or we won’t be able to find our way back.” Chris cautioned.

“Maybe we should turn back,” Jack added.

And that’s when I saw it! “Look over there! There’s a shack, and there’s smoke from the chimney.” I called.

We beelined for the shack illuminated with the moon’s gray beams. After walking around one corner, we came to a window. We looked inside to see a very small man walking back and forth in front an inviting fire. The man looked up, saw us immediately and surprisingly motioned for us to come in. When none of us moved, he walked through the front door.

“Hello boys, would you like to come in? I know this is seems strange, but you don’t know how long it’s been since I’ve had visitors. Please don’t be scared.”

We complied and wandered cautiously after the man into the tiny wooden home. The inside was nicer than I’d expected. It was quite pleasant in fact. The floors were all wooden, in fact, everything was. Everything was quite old, including the giant mounted moose! [_Oh no! _]Hunting had been outlawed at least 20 years ago! The animals cold dead eyes seemed to stare down making my skin prickle.

“Please sit, I would love to hear from you. I don’t get out much, and would love to hear how things are going.” When none of us seemed willing to speak, the man decided to forge on.

“I’ll go first.” He sat and began to speak as if we were old friends. I’m sure you must all be very confused as to who I am and what I’m doing here. My name is irrelevant. However, my life story may interest you. I have lived in this shack for many years, separated from the rest of the world. I’ve lived here for over 50 years, and know this land like the back of my hand. My wife died several years back, and I’ve been alone ever since. Your timing is impeccable, I don’t know how you found me, but it’s quite a pleasant surprise.”

Feeling a little bit more at ease by the man’s abrupt openness I decided to share. “My name’s William, and I’m 16. I’m an only child, my parents are great, and my life has been pretty good so far. I play basketball and compete in debate. I don’t get out a lot either.

With my lead, the sharing began. Slowly at first, but soon we were sharing things with a stranger that no child should. And so began a very fun night. It turned out that Chris was also an only child, Jack had been obsessed with girls his whole life, and that I loved sports. The man remembered all of our names and all of the little facts about us that we shared and the night actually turned into a very good one.

We were all dying with laughter over Jack’s misfortune of texting his mom that he wanted to kiss her instead of his girlfriend when sirens began to blare! The man jumped out of his chair suddenly young again, looking to and fro as if someone would burst through his front door any second! “Where are you boys from exactly?” The man shouted with an outburst of anger. His face turned from a scared to crazed in a moment! “You’re from the castle aren’t you? They won’t ever mess with my head again! Get out of here, you fools, you fools, you’ve doomed us all!” The man sank to his knees cursing us.

I felt cold; icy fear run through my body.

“Guys lets go, I know the way, Follow me!” Chris shouted as he burst out the door!

We sprinted hard! Branches whipped me in the face with sharp and painful stings! Adrenaline was running me, but I could feel my legs start to go!

I didn’t think I was gonna make it, and then it appeared! The giant fence looked very menacing with the red lights on top spinning, revealing the devastatingly sharp barbed wire that slithered beneath!

I was falling behind now; I couldn’t keep up! [_What am I going to do! _]

“This is it, here’s the hole! William, over here!” Jack was calling to me, but I couldn’t see him. [_Where is he? _]

The fence had disappeared now, and I was running blind through giant bushes when it appeared again! “BOOM!” I slammed face first into the electric monster!

The shock was life-shattering! A million volts of electricity slammed into me like a supersonic jet on a suicide mission!

All I remember is blue, green and red swirls. I seemed to float through a galaxy of mystifying colored cords. Every now and then I would hear people and see outlines, and whenever people came, the swirls seemed to be attracted to them. Voices came from different directions, and as they did, the colored swirls flew in all directions!

At first, it seemed as if the swirls were afraid of the people, but as I watched them more closely, the realization that their behavior was one of want and not fear became apparent. The colors ranged from dark to light and light to dark, but all were either red, green or sometimes blue.

Then, all at once, whatever spell I seemed to be under ended and the swirls dissipated! As the cords vanished, the real world zoomed back into focus frighteningly fast! A doctor was standing over me as I awoke.

“Hey, look who decided to end their nap.” The doctor smiled and motioned for someone to come in.

It was the woman from before, Mrs. Nasdin, who had led us on our tour.

She walked in, and I noticed for the first time that she wasn’t that old. She was probably in her early 30’s. Her high heels clapped against the floor. She had dark blonde hair done up neatly in a bun and high tech glasses that shimmered in the sunlight.

“How are you, William? You gave us quite a scare.” She said as she approached and grasped my shoulder. “Are you feeling alright?”

It’s weird to have those who don’t know you address you by your first name. It gave me an unsettling feeling. “I’m fine, what happened?”

“Well, it seems as though you and a few of your friends were out exploring when our alarms went off. And it seems that in the heat of the moment you ran into one of our electric fences. Fortunately for you, you managed to survive, and live to tell the tale. You have quite the stash of luck.” She knowingly smiled. “Would you mind telling me what you remember?”

[_I don’t know if I can trust this woman. _]“Well we went out exploring as you said, and we found an old house with a man living inside it. He spotted us and invited us in.

“Wait, slow down, slow down. What man?” She sputtered.

“He never told us his name, all he ever said was that he’d been living there for a while and he was a pretty nice guy until the sirens started to go off.” The woman was getting very excited at the mention of the old man.

“Do you know anything else about him?”

“No not really..”

“Tell me everything.” The softness in her tone had vanished and been replace with a sharp, steely edge.

This isn’t right, why does she want to know about an old man living in the forest?

Seeing she’d overstepped, she backed up.“I’m sorry, we can talk about this later when you’re feeling better. I know you must be feeling pretty awful right now.” The niceness had returned as she began treating me like I was four again. “I’ll be leaving now, if you remember anything else, please feel free to tell me.”

“Well actually…” [_Should I tell her about my weird color dream? Can she be trusted? _]

“What, do you remember something else?” She turned frighteningly fast.

“Oh nothing, I was just gonna say I dreamed about hover racing.” I finished realizing how stupid I sounded.

Her eyes told me she knew I was lying and they locked with my own.

Luckily, the Doctor came to my rescue “Alright Mrs. Nasdrin; we better let young William here get some rest. If you would like to talk to him more, he will be out of this infirmary in a few hours.”

Without responding she turned and made her way from the room. The doctor turned, “She looks like she’s got something on her mind, and if I know Mrs. Nasdin she’ll get to the bottom of it.”

I had also seen the look on her face, and it scared me.

 

Chapter 5: Pool Party

“Let’s go; we’re gonna be late!” Chris yelled to me from outside my door.

“You coming, Rasben?” I called into the occupied bathroom.

“I’ll catch up, you guys go ahead.”¶Chris and Jack were waiting for me outside my door. “I can’t wait for this party.” Chris exuded excitement.

“What you mean is, that you can’t wait to meet some people.” Jack laughed mischievously.

“I’m all about meeting new people,” Chris joked.

“Especially if they so happen to be wearing bikini’s.” I nudged.

We continued to joke as we practically sprinted down the hallway. Crossing from the inside to out was like entering a whole new world! What was drab changed to bright and colorful in the blink of an eye.

Girls were giggling and laughing as they ran around and jumped into the pool while the guys stood trying to act cool and show off their imaginary muscles.

The pool’s blue water sparkled in the sunlight. The high walls of the castle surrounded us, but they didn’t block out the sunlight that was now directly overhead. [_This is gonna be awesome! _]

“Hey, what’s up guys? Over here!” Rebecca, the girl Chris had his eye on, called us over. She was with a group of other girls who were all extremely beautiful. A few of the girls were already stretched out getting tans as other began to arrive with giggles and laughter. Ohh, this is gonna be good!

“Hey you, what have you been up too.” Jessica’s voice came out of the background. I turned hoping to see her, but to my dismay, she was talking to Matthew. The boy who’d killed Steven! Man, I hate this guy. Not to mention I was extremely jealous. He looked like he’d been chiseled straight from granite. Where he was built, I was not, and to top things off; he was tanned to a golden crisp. But my jealousy didn’t last long when my eyes turned to Jessica. Man could she rock a bikini! Her golden skin shined in the sun, and her luscious blonde hair cascaded gently over her shoulders like that of the small waterfall behind her.

I was so busy staring I almost forgot to look away, but even once I did, I could help but overhear their conversation.

“Hey, Jess! How’s it going! You look fabulous!”

“Thanks. Things are going pretty good. Wanna take a dip?”

At her mention of swimming, I tried my hardest to tune them out and try to keep my thoughts off of her.

I began talking to a girl named Alexis. She was pretty and was interesting at first, but she was huge on talking down on others, and so gradually our conversation became dull, and she left. I don’t know where Jack and Chris are, but I wish they were here right now. I feel like I’m gonna explode!

Matthew and Jessica’s giggling was starting to get under my skin. I get that she doesn’t like me, but she doesn’t have to force me to listen to her with somebody else! I was just about to explode when Jack found me.

“Hey William, you okay?” Jack patted my knee snapping me out of my angered trance.

“What? Oh yeah. I’m fine.” I responded shortly.

He glanced over my shoulder, and from the look on his face, I could tell he knew what I was thinking.

“You just say the word, and I got your back,” He whispered.

“You’re already in enough trouble as it is. I’ll keep my emotions in check; you can count on it.

In an effort to distract myself, I made the rounds. “Hey, what’s up guys?” I nervously asked a group of new people.

“Nothin’ much man, how ‘bout yourself,” Responded a boy with a girl on his arm. “The name’s Jeb. This is Rafael, Mindy, and Cecilia.”

“Cool, where are you guys from,” And just like that we struck up a conversation.

I learned that Jeb played basketball and Cecilia’s brother went to the same school as I had.

“Where did you go to school?”

“Oakville,”

“No way, my brother went to Oakville back in 7th grade. That’s crazy.”

I had almost completely forgotten about Jessica and Matthew until, I heard her voice. “Hey, get your hands off of me!” Jessica pleads with Matthew. “Please take your…” “Wap,” Matthew playfully grabbed her, but Jessica didn’t take this the right way and slapped Matthew hard! “WHAAP!” I knew what that felt like!

Everyone’s heads turned. Matthew stood up and pushed Jessica backward! She fell and landed on her back. “Ohhh.” Came the crowd’s response.

Matthew realized what he had done as did everyone else! The space was deathly quiet.

“Step away from her!” I stood up and shouted over to him! “Get back!”

“Whatever man, why don’t you go mind your own business, or better yet, why don’t you just go sit down and prepare for your next mission as a senior leader.” He joked which got a few forced laughs.

“You’ve got serious problems. ” I said as I walked over to help Jessica up.

Out of nowhere, I was blindsided! The fist connected solidly and sent me reeling! My entire world was rocked in an instant! I tried to see which way the attack was coming from, but I could only see spots dancing before my eyes!

People started chanting, “Fight, fight, fight!” This is about to get ugly. I was considering trying to calm things down when Matthew commented. “Go ahead help the girl that hates you.” At my confusion, he added, “We all heard about the way she slapped you. Why do you even care, she’s clearly out of your league.” He taunted as he approached. “Why don’t you just give up?”

But I wasn’t listening to him anymore. Green exploded from his head! Out of nowhere swirling cords erupted from his head! I reeled backward as cords began to rush from every direction! They swirled around everyone’s heads rushing around me! I stumbled barely able to stand. What is happening!

Then, out of the colors erupted Matthew! He grabbed me and began to pull me towards something! I couldn’t see 5ft in front of me anymore! I was in a blizzard of colors! And then the ground vanished from beneath my feet!

I was falling, falling, falling. “SPLASH!” I felt cool water rush into my open mouth submerging my body! I shut my eyes, now doorways to insane surrounding and resurfaced. Upon surfacing, to my joy, the cords had disappeared!

However, the testers gathered at the pool party had not. Instead, they were laughing at me. “Hahaha,” “Wow, what a fighter,” “Glad he knows how to swim.” I felt embarrassment rush through me and in that moment I felt smaller than I’d ever felt.

[_What am I supposed to do? _]Luckily, to my surprise and everyone else’s Matthew’s smirk became one of horror as he too was pushed into the pool! Standing there was Jack. The laughing from the crowd became even louder. “Haha!”

I quickly waded over to the side of the pool, in hopes of escaping my embarrassment, only to look up and see that Jack had vanished and been replaced by Rasben, my small roommate, and Chris. Together the two of them helped me from the pool. They waited around me to make sure I was okay. Everyone began to turn their attention back to what they’d been doing as Matthew got out on the other side and made his exit.

I stood hunched over trying to collect myself and then I heard her.

“Mind If I help you?”

Turning my head, I saw that my visitor was indeed Jessica.

“I’m fine,” I replied angrily.

“Men and their macho pride.” She laughed a little as she slipped under my left arm so I could lean on her for support. Chris whisperingly joked in my ear, “Don’t mess this up,” and with that, he slipped away into the crowd.

We made it halfway to the infirmary when out of nowhere blue colored spirals began to shoot from Jessica! [_Oh no! _]It was happening again!

This time, the spirals weren’t as overwhelming though. There were only a few, and they were all blue. Instead of having the negative effect they’d had before, they seemed oddly relaxing.

Jessica must have felt me tense up because I felt her arm slip around my waist. Realizing she thought I was hurting, I used this as an opportunity to lean on her a little bit more.

“We can go slower if you like,” Jessica said up to me as her hand stayed anchored to my waist.

“No, I can make it.”

“Alright.”

I made sure not to over exert her, but I wanted this to take as long as possible. I felt her body supporting me. I’m sure she was more than a little mad that I’d soaked her bikini, but she didn’t say anything. It felt good to be so close to her. I could smell her sweet perfume, and her skin was extremely soft. “Here we are, do you think you can make it the rest of the way?”

“Yeah, I’ll be alright. Thanks for your help.” ¶“You’re welcome and thank you for what you did for me out there. It was sweet. I hope you recover soon.” She thanked me shyly.

“You’re welcome,” I whispered to her back as she walked back down the hallway and out of earshot.

The doctor told me I was fine, but I could stay if I liked. I decided to head back to my room to try and sleep things off. But now, the colors were everywhere. They seemed to have died down in numbers, but blinking them away was no longer an option.

As I walked back to my room, the greens, reds, and blues streaked everywhere. They were so overwhelming I almost missed seeing the man.

[_Wait, is that really him? _]The man from the woods! He was walking right in front of me! He glanced over at me briefly but looked away instantly. I wanted to follow him, but one look at the beefy bodyguards directing him crushed that idea.

 

Chapter 6: Cheater

All I could think about was the colors. As I showered, the colors vanished allowing me a brief period of peace. I became so focused on thoughts of what I was going to do about the hallucinations that I didn’t even hear her enter.

“Hello? Hello? Who’s out there?” I started to panic as I heard footsteps closing in!

“Hey, it’s Cecilia!” I paused. Who is Cecilia? “From the party. My brother went to the same school as you. Remember?”

“Oh. That Cecilia. What’s up?”

“Rasben said he wanted to show me his coin collection, so I came to check it out. Is he here?” She asked clearly, already knowing the answer.

I stepped from the shower and quickly dried before wrapping myself and answering her through the door. “No, he isn’t, but he should be back soon I think. You’re good to wait if you want.” I finished, as I opened the door to see her staring back at me.

Suddenly self-conscious of the fact that all I was wearing was a towel, I hurried to my luggage case grabbing clothes quickly off the top.

“Are you shy, William?” She giggled as she walked closer to me. “You really shouldn’t be, you’re quite fit,” She complimented.

I felt a hot blush begin to burn. “It’s not that, it’s just that I have to get dressed, would you mind stepping outside for a sec?”

“I’d rather we talked like this.” She giggled once again and moved closer. I blushed harder and tried to move a little bit further away from her but tripped on my bed! Luckily it was there to catch me, but now there was nowhere to escape to!¶Don’t get me wrong, Cecilia was definitely a beautiful girl. She was a brunette with dark brown eyes and wore pants that didn’t leave much to the imagination. I should have totally been into her, but something in the back of my mind was telling me to stay as far away from her as possible.

“You were awesome today! It was so cool how you stood up to Matthew for Jessica. If he hadn’t blindsided you, I’m sure you wouldn’t have been beaten.” She continued to flatter as she sat next to me on the bed. ¶“Thanks, Cecilia. But to be honest, I really don’t know. Matthew is pretty strong. Although, it was kind of a cheap shot. My head is still a little shaken.”

“Oooh, you poor thing.” She soothed as she turned my head and looked at the damage. “Ooh, I bet that really hurts?” She reached over and poked my tender head.

“Oww.” I yelped.

“I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to.” She apologized profusely as she unexpectedly reached out her arms and embraced me in a soft and warm hug. The hug was so unexpected I didn’t pull away.

“You poor thing.”

I allowed myself to float for a moment in her embrace. It felt like I was floating on clouds. She quickly pulled away, but the damage had already been done. I couldn’t stop the sudden flow of emotions. I felt my heart begin to beat rapidly as blood rushed ten times faster throughout my veins. My arms trembled with a sudden excitement. Our eyes met, and my hands found her waist! We both leaned towards one another and our lips met!

Hers were soft, warm and tasted of cinnamon! The need for air seemed to vanish as I closed my eyes and let myself drift in emotions.

“Whoosh!” The door swung open!

“Hey William I brought you dinner since you missed…” Jessica said joyfully as she burst into my room! I broke my lips away from Cecilia’s looking up in shock! Her mouth was hanging open and she stumbled over her words “What the… what is… happening…what is going on!”

“Jessica it’s not what it looks like.” I tried instinctively.

I saw fire rush into her confused eyes. “Oh really, then what is it?” She asked as tears began to fill her soft green eyes.

“It’s… a… nothing.” I stumbled trying to make up something believable.

“You’re a pig William, Just like the rest of them! You’re an animal!” She shouted, tears streaking down her face.

Not waiting for me to respond she grabbed one of the cookies she’d brought and hurled it at me! The cookie bounced off my shoulder and shattered against the wall behind me! Turning, she fled from the room.

I stood to go after her, when I remembered Cecilia. “I have to go, can you please leave and we pretend like this never happened.”

“Why?”

“I have to clear some things up. What just happened shouldn’t have. I’m sorry, and I’m sure you’re a great girl, but this can never happen again.”

“Just forget about her, we can pick up right where we left off.” She started to reach for me again.

“Stop, please just stop. That girl isn’t as crazy as she just looked. She’s smart, spunky, and funny, and that’s why I like her. She has a hold of me, and I just screwed up big time. Please leave.” I said slightly, raising my voice.

“Fine, be that way. Boys and their miss perfect’s.” Cecilia whispered to herself as she quickly fled from the room.

When she was out of sight, I immediately took off down the girl’s corridor. [_Which room is Jessica’s? _] I ran down the hallway hoping to see some sign of which room was hers. I was about to come to the end of the curved hallway when I heard a sob.

[_That’s her. _]Without thinking, I approached the door to my left and knocked softly. The sobbing inside halted and a small torn voice reached my ears. “Who is it?”

“Jessica, it’s me. Jessica please talk to me.” I begged.

“Go away.” She once more broke down.

“I need to talk to you.” I said, feeling completely embarrassed as girls walked past me staring as if they already knew what I’d done and should be treated like scum of the earth.

“You kissed another girl, there is nothing to talk about, all hope of there ever being anything between us ends here. I cannot believe you William!”

“I did kiss her, but it wasn’t on purpose. I hardly even know that girl. I just got caught up in the moment. I swear, she means nothing to me.”

“So you just go around kissing girls you hardly even know, and because that’s the norm for you that makes it okay?” ¶“I’m sorry. I did what I did, but how was I supposed to know you would care. You’ve barely even acknowledged me!”

Her crying increased.

Normally, the sound of someone cry bugs me to death, but hers was that of someone in desperate need. And I desperately wanted to bust down the door separating us and be there for her. I wanted to be her shoulder to cry on. I wanted to pick her up and make all of her troubles disappear, but how could I do that when I was the reason for her sadness! [_What can I do? _]

After waiting a few more minutes and thinking of nothing I could do or say, I made the slow and painful walk back to my room. _Oh, how I wish I could go back in time and fix my stupid mistake. _

[_ _]

Chapter 7: The Climb

“The mission is simple. We have to climb this mountain, get into a fortified building and grab a little device shaped like a small cube. Any questions?” Jessica wouldn’t even look at me.

[_I still felt sick to my stomach about what I’d done. How could I have done something like that and even look at myself in the morning. _]These thoughts of self-doubt had run through my head all last night and this morning at breakfast. The entire time Jack, Chris and even Rasben, my roommate, had tried to boost my spirits, but to no avail.

I was ashamed, and there was nothing they could do about it.

The mountain before our team only reminded me of what getting back on Jessica’s good side would take. The giant rock was covered in acres of snow. The only places devoid of the white freeze was the sheer rock cliffs. [_This mountain is really going to test my leadership. I think I’m screwed. _]

If anyone was going to get killed this was definitely the place it would happen. Granted, each of us were in the bodies of muscular sherpas, but none of us really knew what we were doing, so, the danger was still there.

“Alright,” I began again in the stony silence with my new garbled voice, “if there aren’t any questions let’s start moving. The other teams will also be climbing this mountain. So, we will be racing with them. We can’t lose; everyone ready?”

“Sure,” Came Rasben’s sarcastic reply.

With his words of doubt, we set off on a small game trail that seemed to skirt the majority of the obstacles. [_There is no way we can lose this; we must have the easiest climb because this is a piece of cake. _]

Then 30 minutes later, as if I was cursed, the trail disappeared before our eyes!

“Dang it, that sucks.” Rachel seemed impatient. “William you have the map, right?” He called through the hood of his immense parka.

“Yeah, give me a sec.” I reached in my bag and expected to feel the map I’d placed there, but my hand came up empty! Immediately I felt my stomach seize in panic! [_Where is it? I left it right here! _]

I brought my backpack from my shoulders and began to frantically search. Kneeling in the powder, my fingers dug through every pouch.

“Guys, slight problem, I can’t find the map.”

“What!” Jessica snapped and pushed me out of the way! She then proceeded to dig frantically through my bag. “Where is it William? You’re kidding, right?”

“This isn’t a joke, I honestly don’t know where it is, I put it there and now it’s gone.”

Jessica turned on me in a sudden fit of anger! “How could you be so careless, why didn’t you think things through? Why couldn’t you have thought about me?” She shouted, clearly not just talking about the map.

Then, like a cheetah her now dark Sherpa hands popped up and shoved me backwards! Briefly losing my balance, I stumbled backwards.

Seeing my unbalanced state, Jessica pressed her advantage and stood over me. “I’ll never forgive you William. You were careless with the map, you’re careless with your words, and you’re careless with your lips! When are you gonna realize that you aren’t fit to be our leader, you’re not even fit to lead yourself. This is all your fault!” She shouted, stepping closer to me!

“Jessica stop!” Rasben shouted, but didn’t move forward to interfere. His eyes were focused on something on the ground but I was too busy to see what it was.

“Jessica stop! I’m sorry about what I did, but you need to calm down.” I yelled; panic creeping into my strange Sherpan accent.

My words seemed to slightly calm down the hurricane brewing. “We would be better off without you. You’re just dragging the team down with your lack of integrity.” ¶“Jessica, I’m sorry, let me make it up to you. It won’t ever happen again. Please stop this.” I could see the anger in her eyes start to melt and she eased her grip on my parka’s lapels.

“Guys you have to get off of that ledge. It’s not stable” Rasben yelled panicking, as he stared at the ground in front of us and that’s when I saw what he was looking at!

There was a crack in the snow! This ledge was mostly snow and ice and it was breaking! I pushed Jessica forward right as the ledge started to break! I dove, but felt the ground give way beneath me! Uh oh.

“Ahhhh!” I reached for something, anything! But the snow gave way completely and I fell backwards! My stomach jumped out of my throat and pure and utter panic took over. This was it! [_This is the end- _]“Puff!” “Ahhh!” I landed extremely hard! “Poof!” Someone landed beside me sending up a cloud of snow!

From the snow broke someone’s head. “Ahhhh! Cold, cold, cold!”

Jessica! And judging by the contempt in her sparkling green eyes she was blaming me for this. The devil herself had made this journey to hell with me, great.

I tore my eyes from hers to scan our surroundings, which were quite beautiful. Mountains lay opposite us as did endless miles of frozen tundra that stretched out far below us. The view was unbelievable, but frighteningly so. Our breaths frosted the air in front of us. There was nothing around us, except a sheer cliff leading to sure death. We were trapped on a ledge that had no exits.

“This is your fault William!”

“I don’t see how it’s my fault, you were the one who had a melt down and started attacking me”

“That’s just like a…” she began before her voice was cut off by another.

“Hello?” The voice echoed from above. _Most likely Rasben from his Sherpa body. _

“We’re alive!” I desperately yelled!

It took a while but eventually Rasben responded. “Good… Do you have a plan?”

Jessica took over. “The only way back up is by scaling the cliff between us. We’ll have to wait till tomorrow before we can begin the climb!”

“Okay,” was the slightly quieter reply from Rachel’s avatar. “We’ll talk to you in the morning, good luck!”

Turning back to one another, I made my case. “There’s no way we’ll be able to climb back up! And if we die we’re out of the competition. We should just stay down here. Please don’t make me climb this.”

“It’ll be easy for me. I’m sure I can make it. You on the other hand may not, which wouldn’t be any tragedy for me.” She replied smugly.

“You’re insane.”

“I may be insane, if you mean insanely good at climbing.”

“Whatever.”

“Here!” She said as a granola bar smacked me in the back. “Have a granola bar.” She said chuckling lightly. Surprisingly enough the small granola bar box hadn’t been crushed and so we had a small dinner.

As we ate, an awkward silence grew between us that lasted for at least an hour. I finally laid down in the freezing snow as the sun fell from the now darkened sky. I wanted to break the silence between the two of us, but the task seemed daunting. She lay on the other side of the ledge, which was quickly becoming colder. Without the sun’s warmth the air temperature began to drastically spiral downward.

Looking over I saw Jessica begin to shake. I seemed unable to control my teeth. _Man click, click, click, it is freezing, click click, click. _

Eventually, I could no longer stand it. “Jessica, I know you hate me right now but we need huddle together in order to stay warm. If we don’t we may die.”

To my surprise, she did not object. “Fine, get over here.”

I slowly rose on creaking joints and hobbled slowly to her. She turned away as I lay next to her. As I put my arm over her I immediately felt her heat seep into me.

“Don’t you dare think of this as anything more than what it is.” She said trying to stay defiant.

“Why are you so hostile?”

“Let’s see, maybe because I walked in on the guy I liked kissing another girl.”

“Wait, what? You like me?” ¶She craned her head over her shoulder to address me. “It might be hard for you to notice since you’re so caught up with yourself, but I’ve liked you for quite a while.”

“Well, that’s not the message I’ve been getting! Every time I’m near you, you treat me like I’m some sort of disease! You make me feel as though you despise me all the time. How was I supposed to know you had feelings for me?”

As we talked I slowly snuggled closer trying to draw as much heat from her as possible.

Time seemed to tick slowly by as the stars overhead slowly lit up the world around us. Lying there silently, the moon rose as if beckoning us to gaze upon the beauty surrounding us. It glowed a bright yellow white that was truly beautiful, and in that moment, despite the problems promised by the following day, everything felt right.

I finally couldn’t help it, “Wow, this is overwhelming!” I whispered.

“What is?” Jessica replied confused.

“Laying here looking at the dazzling world around and aboce us and realizing that it doesn’t come close to the girl lying next to me. She tensed slightly at my words.

“Wow, you actually said something nice, but, you complimented the Sherpa body I’m in, and not my own. Thanks.”

“Well, I judge on more than outer beauty.

“So what do you like about me on the inside?” She asked clearly trying to trip me up.

“I like your spunk, I like your tenacity, I like your thoughtfulness, I like how you try and act tough but you have a sweet side.” I squeezed her a little bit. “I also like that you’re not afraid of things that most girls are, I like that you’re outgoing and nice, I like that you’re not afraid to be yourself and I like that you have a sense of humor.” I paused for a second. “What I’m trying to say is that when I see you, I don’t see your outside features, although those are beautiful too, I see you for something else. And I see you as someone I want to be with.”

“Wow.., I don’t know what to say, that was really sweet.” She turned her head to look me in the eyes. “You really do have a soft side. I can’t believe you’re so open about your feelings. I don’t know where things will go, but I want you to know that what you’re saying really means a lot to me. Thank you.” She finished shyly.

I leaned in for what I thought was for sure the “kiss moment” but she turned her head away and I awkwardly landed one on her cheek. “Don’t push it, Will.” She said as she faced forward again.

I tensed slightly.

“What?” She turned back.

“Nothing, it’s just, you reminded me of my parents and my past life when you called me Will.”

“Is that a bad thing?”

“No, I love my parents and the life I had. I wish I’d have never left.”

“What happened?”

“You want the long version or the short version.”

“I’ve got all night.” ¶“Alright, the long version it is. Everything started the night before I got my invitation. You see, I played basketball for my school, and my team was playing for the championship. Everyone was there to watch me, my mom, my dad, my friends, even my girlfriend.” I paused, but Jessica didn’t react. “Anyways, we were playing against the Mountain Ray Bulldogs. They were all super tall, and the game didn’t start well for us. I couldn’t get open and our team was struggling to move the ball. Going into halftime we were down 10 points. I helped pump the team up at halftime since I was the team captain, and we went back out onto the court. Everyone watching knew we needed to win this year because the majority of us were 16 years old and about to graduate and possible go to higher learning. We the players also knew that that game would be our last, and so we played harder than we’d ever played. We got back those 10 points, and got ahead.” Jessica sensing my excitement turned towards me.

“Did you win?”

“With 10 seconds left they scored and got up by two points, so coach called a timeout before sending us back onto the court. We ran a play where I run off two screens and get passed the ball. Anyways, the play worked. I got open, the ball hit me in the hands, I pulled up and shot. The leather spun from my hands and time seemed to slow. The ball floated towards the hoop and just as it looked like it was about to go in, the ball hit the back of the rim and shot out. We lost, we lost and it was my fault.”

“Oh.” Was all Jessica said placing her hand on my shoulder. “It wasn’t your fault.”

“That’s it though, it was my fault. It was and everyone knew it. No one would talk to me in the locker room except to whisper about me. I felt awful. That night on my way home from the game with my parents I was completely out of things. Both my parents tried to console me, but they couldn’t possibly. I would never play again, that was it, and I’d screwed it up. Now everything rode on me getting into higher learning. When I got home I found the test results letter. I completely forgot about the terrible loss and I ripped open the letter that contained my future. I remember what the letter said almost word for word: [_Dear Mr. Rose we thank you for all of your hard work and for your dreams of pursuing a higher education by taking the higher learning test. You scored a 155, and unfortunately the bottom line score this year was a 160. We are sorry to inform you, but you have been found unqualified to attend the higher institute of learning. We wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors. Sincerely, The Higher Institute of Learning. _]The paper slipped from my hands and floated downwards just like all of my dreams. I looked over and saw my mother crying, my dad had appeared and he tried to put an arm around me in an attempt to console me. Everything felt like a terrible dream after that. I went to bed, but couldn’t sleep. My entire life was crashing around me. Everything I’d worked so hard for was not out of reach. Now I was destined to end up just like my father working at a landfill with no hope of ever moving up in the world, thanks to the fact that only those who graduate the higher learning institute can move up. All night my mom cried for me. That night is forever seared into my memory.” My voice caught slightly.

Jessica, sensing my pain wrapped her arms around me. “I’m sure things didn’t all go wrong, did they?”

“Unfortunately yes, the next morning my girlfriend, Hannah, came over to break the news that she’d been accepted into higher learning. Upon finding out I hadn’t, she broke things off saying that we were going in different directions. What she really meant was she didn’t want to be with a loser. After she left I found another rare letter on paper that had been delivered. The seal was black and had the print of A.S.T.A. I opened the letter and started to read: [_Dear Mr. Rose, we are writing because we would love to have your help. We are undergoing a huge experiment for the betterment of our world and we need volunteers to participate. We believe you are just the right candidate for the job. If you decide to participate in this once in a lifetime opportunity then you will get to stay at the ASTA testing center for 6 weeks! During this time you will have the time of your life! You will meet many new people and experience many new things! The biggest prize of all is though isn’t what you’ll experience at the test; it’s what you’ll receive for participating. Every tester that finishes the test will receive $100,000! That’s right, $100,000! We would love to have you and can’t wait to hear from you. If you are interested please digi mail your response to ASTA. The details of the test will then be sent to your digi mailbox for you to read in discretion. Please respond within 24 hours to receive this opportunity of a lifetime! _]

I almost dropped the letter right there! I couldn’t believe it! $100,000. There seemed to be hope on the horizon. After finishing reading I looked over to my mother who’d finished reading the letter from over my shoulder. She wasn’t as happy as I was, but after some convincing she and my dad decided to let me go. Looking back now, I wish so badly something had gone differently. I wish I’d made that shot, I wish I’d scored a little higher on that higher learning test, but most of all I wish I’d picked a different girlfriend.”

This got a laugh out of Jessica. “Why though, she sounded like a real winner.” She joked.

“I still remember the last words from my mom. Be safe baby, I love you so much. No matter what, remember we’ll always be here for you! Promise me to be safe, and don’t do anything crazy. I love you so much honey.”

“She sounds like a great lady.”

“She is.”

With that, our conversation drifted off. The last thing I remember was how perfect Jess felt in my arms. She didn’t mind listening to me rant, and I liked that about her. Despite reliving my terrible past, Jessica had made me feel good. In that moment, with Jessica next to me, everything felt alright.

The next morning I woke up with Jessica’s hair in my face. She had rolled over and our faces were almost touching. Her eyes fluttered open and she looked shyly up at me, then, she yawned and sat up.

“I’m ready to climb.” She oozed excitement.

“Great.”

“Common Will; you can do this. It’ll be easy. You’ll be fine.” She stood.

“Maybe for you, but we have absolutely no climbing equipment, and I’ve always been bad with heights.”

“Just Remember to not look down. Always keep your eye on the prize and you’ll be fine.”

With that she handed me the second to last granola bar and we gnawed slowly on the now cold, hardened snack.

“Alright, let’s do this.” She turned to the wall and examined it as if looking for the hidden paths.

I was now trembling with fear! My hands felt like they were on vibration. I’m going to die! I’m going to fall and break every bone in my body! I’m going to die!

“Are you ready?” Jessica said as she turned back to my fearful face.

Noticing my trembling hands she leaned in and hugged me. “Good luck Will. Just follow me and you’ll be fine.” She whispered.

With that, she turned, leapt onto the wall and began the climb. I slowly found my first set of holds as I began the treacherous climb.

I climbed slightly to her left for safety. As we moved, Jessica gained considerable ground on me. Even with my gloves with every new hold, my hands got colder and colder. The cold from the cliff face seeped rapidly into my hands. Within minutes my hands barely had the functionality to grip the wall.

“Hurry up William!” Jessica called down.

I could barely talk at this point. Fear seemed to have hold over every aspect of my body. [_I’m thousands of feet up and losing control of myself! _]“Jessica! My hands are freezing up; I don’t know how much longer I can hold on!” I yelled up.

“You have to.” Was her response.

And that’s when it happened! “Woosh!” The rock I had place the majority of my weight on broke free! Uh oh!

My bottom foot also slipped and I was separated from the cliff! “Aaahh!”

I was falling! My stomach rammed into my throat in complete terror! The ground rushed up to greet me. Everything turned blurry as wind whistled around me and into my eyes! The ground zoomed up as I seemed to fall faster and faster! This was it!

“SPLAT!” The body hit the floor!

But it had happened right in front of me! I seemed to be looking at the bloody carnage from the outside. I must have died; what else could this be? _]The feeling of looking from the outside felt like the weird experience I’d had when I had my procedure on the first day of the test. I felt like I was still alive, but something was off. [_What am I?

I thought about movement and I moved! Left, right, backwards, forwards, everywhere! I had complete control of the psyche I now occupied.

[_This is awesome! _]I zoomed around, experiencing the joy of flight for a minute before I remembered. [_What about my team? _]I gradually started floating upwards! My speed increased and I flew upwards faster and faster! I reached a level area above the cliff Jessica and I’d been trapped on. What I saw there surprised me.

Jessica, Rasben, and Rachel were all huddled together, and if I’m not mistaken Jessica is crying. Whoa!

I zoomed into the middle of their huddled bodies. “Guys I’m right here, I’m okay.” But they didn’t seem to hear me. “Guys look behind you, I’m fine!” No one moved. All around them the little colored spirals that I’d been seeing zoomed around.

They seemed to not even notice me. “Guys, can you hear me?” I called, but without my mouth the call felt weird, almost telepathic. When no response came, I floated forward and right through Rasben!

I was a ghost![_ I must be dead_]. This is so weird! I wanted to comfort my friends but after several failed attempts I decided to take a look around.

Flying was incredible. I was no longer afraid of heights! I felt totally safe! I floated slow and fast and both felt strangely pleasing. I floated up the mountains seeing gorgeous views the whole way. The world seemed to have opened in an entirely new way! The snow sparkled and danced in the sunlight. Giant glaciers surrounded me with their bluish tints. I flew past and through giant rocks that jutted off the mountain. [_This is amazing! Being dead isn’t that bad, I can handle this. _]

And then I saw it. A giant military building appeared as I reached summit. There was a fight taking place. I flew over and ray blasts began to fly all around me. It was utter chaos.

The blue, red, and green cords of color I’d been seeing were much stronger here. They danced around those fighting as if feeding them! But I didn’t study the cords for very long as my attention was drawn to him.

Matthew was amongst the fighters! In fact, it looks as though his group was in a lock with some sort of military group. It’s the testers!

Leaving his group I made a speedy circle around the base and was very surprised by the result.

Matthew’s group wasn’t the only one. There were two other ray fights, both of which were caused by tester groups. And one of the groups appeared to be Chris’s. His group was the furthest and looked as though they were about to attempt breaching the facility.

As rays of light flew past me and through me I floated through one of the buildings walls! The interior was dark almost deafening so. However, red emergency lights flashed providing momentary glimpses of sight. Although this lack of sight didn’t last long. I felt a switch being flipped somewhere inside me, changing me from seeing to feeling. I could feel what was in front of and around me. What the heck?

I’d have to figure out what had happened later, I needed to move. I floated down the hallway and noticed a lot of little spirals coming to and from a doorway. Then, the door burst open and I could feel a dozen men running towards me yelling, “Let’s get em!”

I tried to move, but wasn’t quick enough. Luckily they ran right through whatever I was and continued on towards the fight. Seeing things from this new perspective was overwhelming. I could see more through feeling, yet the opposite held true.

No one could see me which was oddly freeing. I was free from the judgments of others; I was free to do what I wanted, which would have been great, except I couldn’t interact with the world around me.

I could feel the emotions swirling in me; fear, anger, guilt. People were dying and I could do nothing.

Well, I’m not going to stay here. _]I flew higher and higher, leaving the terror of those fighting behind. I gradually became level with the clouds! My sight returned as my need for feeling vanished. The clouds came into focus and they were there, yet they weren’t. As I flew amongst them I realized how crazy what I was doing was. [_I’m actually in the clouds. Talk about crazy!

And then, as suddenly as it had happened, it was over. I was ripped from my relaxed questioning state and vacuumed back into the simulation’s tunnel of light! However, this journey was different. Time slowed and the colors making the white lights swirling around me became visible. There were many colors. Some red, some green and other blue, and they looked exactly like those of the cords that I’d seen rushing around only minutes before. [_What are they? What do they do? Why am I seeing them? I need to figure out what is happening and a way to fix it. How hard can it be? _]

[_ _]

Chapter 8: Digging

I sat up abruptly! Where am I?

“Hey, why are you still here?” Rasben asked from somewhere behind me. “If you die, aren’t you supposed to be sent home?”

I turned around and Rachel, Jessica, and Rasben were all looking at me mystified. “I saw you fall, there’s no way anyone could have survived that.” Jess whispered.

I didn’t know what to tell them, how was I supposed to explain to them that I had been flying around while they’d all thought I’d been killed? “I must not have died.”

I could tell no one really believed me.

However, before they could question me further Mr. Blackwood entered. “William please come with us.” Behind him stood two large men.

“Okay.”

I left my group in our small room and followed the headmaster and the two guards. It didn’t take very long to get where we were going. We entered another small room, that had a large mirror stretching across one wall.

The only piece of furniture was a table with two rickety old chairs. Mr. Blackwood motioned, “Please take a seat.”

I complied, and the questioning got under way. “What happened out there Will?”

“I don’t really know myself.”

“Not even a little bit?”

“Well, one second I was falling and the next I was floating around. I thought I’d died, and was just stuck in the simulation with everyone else. I didn’t realize anything was wrong until I woke up. I swear I didn’t mean for any of this.”

An older gentleman entered the room.[_ _]It was Dr. Madstein. His short goatee and extremely white lab coat were hard to miss.

“Hello William, nice to see you again.” He approached and offered a hand.

I had no idea what to do, so I simply sat looking at his outstretched hand until he retracted it.

“I think that went out of style a little before his time.” Mr. Blackwood informed Dr. Madstein. Then he turned to me. “This is Dr. Madstein, our head scientist. You know him from when he gave you your operation, but he does quite a bit more than that, in fact he’s in charge of almost all operations here.”

The doctor nodded politely. “How are you doing today William?”

“I’m alright, just a little confused.”

“As am I, would you mind telling me exactly what happened and maybe we can get to the bottom this.”

“Well, as I was telling the headmaster; I don’t know. One second I was about to fall and die, and the other second I’m out of my body and looking down at the carnage.”

He looked at me questioningly. “What all did you see while you were out of your body?”

“I don’t remember. It’s all hazy. Why does it matter?”

“We’re just as confused as you are. Our equipment malfunctioned briefly and we lost track of everyone. When we pulled everyone from the simulator your name registered as alive. It’s all very odd, do you mind if Mr. Blackwood and myself discuss the matter in private.

“Sure,” I said unsure of where to go.

Luckily, the two of them got up and walked to the corner and began to discuss. I only caught snippets. “There’s no way. We need to solve this problem, he might have it. Should he stay?” They finally came to some agreement and walked back over.

“Alright William, here’s the deal. We’ve decided to let you stay; however, we don’t want you talking about what happened to you to other testers. Try and keep this quiet, okay? Also, since your team failed the mission, you all will be required to participate in the next deciding game.”

“Okay.”

“Alright then, you’re good to head back to your room. The deciding game won’t be till tomorrow, but you should tell your team tonight that they’ll be participating. Good luck.”

“Thank you,” I muttered as I made my exit.

[_Dang it! Why us! We got screwed. Well at least I’m still in this thing. I guess I should be thankful, but still this is gonna suck. I know everybody’s gonna be pissed. _]The thought of having to participate in a bloodbath for some simulated crowds entertainment seemed ridiculous. Why couldn’t we play something a little less gruesome? I had to find my team and deliver the terrible news.

As I walked back to my room I noticed that it was very dark outside. The simulator and interrogation must have taken quite a while. I got back to my room and Rasben was waiting for me. “You okay man, what happened?”

“I’m fine, just tired.” I responded hoping to brush him off.

“Well before you go to sleep, would you mind explaining to me what actually happened?”

“Rasben, I already told you what happened.”

“Yeah, you told me that you lived through a fall of at least 200 yards, which is impossible, no matter who you are.”

This kid had me figured out. I guess I could use an ally. [_But can he be trusted? I guess there’s only one way to find out. _]“Alright, I’ll tell you, but you have to promise to keep your mouth shut.”

“Sure, not problem, I do that most of the time anyways.”

“Okay, here it goes. Before I hit the ground I was somehow ejected from the body I was in. It felt kinda like the start of a simulation. Anyways, my consciousness was taken from the body and I saw my avatar Sherpa body smash into the ground inches in front of me!

Rasben cut in, “Wait, I meant for real. What really happened?”

“I’m telling you that’s what happened. After I was ejected from my body I just flew around in some sort of consciousness form.”

“Yeah right.”

“I saw all of you huddled together mourning me. And I know that Jessica cried some.”

His eyes brightened. “Wait, you saw that?”

I nodded, “yup.”

“Well, I didn’t cry, it was just Jessica. Girls are like that though. How’d you know that? What your saying can’t be true. Can it?

“I swear it is. But whether you believe what I told you or not, you have to promise not to tell anyone what I just told you.”

“I promise. I just can’t believe it. Did that really happen?”

“It’s really true.”

“Don’t you think we should tell the girls?”

“No, but I do think I should tell them that we’re going to be in the deciding game tomorrow.”

“What, really, are you serious? Dang it!”

“I know, it sucks, but regardless, we need to warn the girls.”

“They might already be asleep. It is pretty late. Maybe you should wait till morning.”

“It’ll be too late then. Plus Jessica would be mad if I waited until tomorrow. I’ll be quick.” I finished standing and heading for the door.

“Wait, I’m coming.” Rasben hollered as he hopped up putting on his shoes.

We snuck down the hallway but had to come to a halt when we discovered that a gate had been lowered preventing us access to the girls’ side of the hallway. “We’ll have to go around.” I whispered.

Without questioning Rasben followed. We took the stairs down to the first floor in hope of going back up on the other side where hopefully no gate would be lowered.

The first floor was creepy in the dark. Moonlight seeped through the windows giving the hallway a ghostly glow. Shadows were draped everywhere, which is what I thought I was seeing at first but then I heard voices. “We have to take him downstairs. Hurry it up.”

Rasben and I quickly dashed behind a small plant and watched as four humans passed by!

In the front was a woman. She directed two of the men behind her. The third man seemed to be some sort of prisoner! [_He looks pretty old, why is he here? _]

He turned his head and that’s when I realized where I’d seen him before! In fact, I’d seen him just the other day; it was the man from the shack in the forest!

“Rasben, I know that man. Let’s follow them.”

“What! Are you crazy?” He whispered angrily back. “You’re gonna get us both sent home!”

“You have to trust me. Just follow me!” I ordered darting off after the man that might hold answers.

Following the quadruplet wasn’t hard. They hardly ever looked back and when they did both Rasben and I were able to avoid their gazes.

We came to a hallway that was different than the rest. This one had large pictures lining it and seemed wider than any others I’d walked in. I paused as the woman leading turned towards a large picture. The group stood silently for a moment as the woman did something with her back turned. Then the picture swung open!

Hidden behind it was a passage! The four of them quickly entered. I waited until the picture had closed and then motioned for Rasben to follow me. I ran to the picture with Rasben following close on my heals. “William, this is insane. We should go back. If we get caught we’ll be in a lot of trouble.

Ignoring him I reached and pulled on the picture but it wouldn’t budge. I pulled harder, but it seemed to be glued shut!

Then I saw it. A little lever that was poking out. I pulled and,[_ _]“Woosh.” The picture swung back revealing a set of stairs behind.

“Hurry, and keep quiet.”

Together, we descended into the darkness. Down and down we went until the stairs finally ended and we were in what looked like catacombs!

“Hurry, follow me, we have to get out of sight.”

“I have a bad feeling about this.”

I didn’t have time to answer. I just continued to run. “Wait, wait up.” Rasben called from behind me.

I stopped at the end of the hallway and waited for him. The hallway had barely any lighting and was covered in years of dust. The pavement that made up the tunnel was cracked and chipped. The whole place looked like it might come down at any moment.

Rasben arrived and we cautiously looked around the corner and there he was!

The old man from the forest was in a cell!

“Who’s that?”

“You’ll find out in a second. Follow me.”

With Rasben behind me, I slowly made my way to the cell door. ¶“Well, what do ya know, it’s one of the boys responsible for getting me in this mess.”

“I didn’t think they’d capture you.” I blubbered. “I barely told them anything about you at all.”

“So, you admit it. You told them about me, how could you?” He said with a sudden anger

“Why do they want you anyways?”

“Because I know things.”

“What things? Do you know things about the test?”

The man sensing my urgency slowed down. He looked around the room as if pondering before moving his hand and releasing red colored cords. Upon seeing my reaction the man spoke once again. “So, you do have it.”

Suddenly, I heard a noise down the hallway. “He’s down this way!” ¶“Have what?” I whispered trying to get some clue as to what was happening to me.

“William we need to go.” Rasben whispered frantically.

“What do I have, tell me, tell me now!” I whispered trying to keep my temper.

“You have the sight.” ¶“What’s that, what is the [_sight? _]I have to know!”

“Things will be made known to you in time.”

I lost it and yelled, “Tell me now!”

Footsteps! They were coming. “Boom, boom, boom!” The footsteps were approaching faster and faster!

“Run, run!” The man screamed at me through the bars. “You can’t let them catch you!”

I turned, planting one foot on the ground and lunging into takeoff. I looked back one last time and that’s when I saw it! Something jumped out of the shadows! “We’re gonna die!” Rasben yelled leading the way!

The thing closed quickly. Time seemed to be standing still as I tried to run! I couldn’t outrun it! I zigged left and then right![_ This thing isn’t human, it’s way too fast! I can’t look back, I’m going to die! _]I had to focus on every step as the noise from behind began to catch up!

This was it, a corner! I jumped and put one foot on the wall, then another and then my left leg touched back down.

The beast misjudged the corner and ran headlong into the cement wall! “Yelp!” I ran left and then right, but Rasben was nowhere to be seen. [_Oh crap, where’d he go? _]

I continued to jog down hallway after hallway hoping beyond hope that the crazy beast had died. There were no signs of an exit. The catacombs had entrapped me in their hidden twists and turns!

Just as I had given up hope of ever escaping this timeless abyss, I heard a trickling of water! [_That’s strange, why would there be water? Where am I? _]

And then I saw them. A set of giant oak doors. I jogged over my feet crunching on the gravel strewn everywhere and began to slowly pull open one of the massive doors! “Creak!”

What is this place? A breeze brushed against me as the door slowly opened. I had to find a set of stairs and get back up stairs. But this room seemed to be the exact opposite of what I was hoping for. Everything was pitch black. I walked to my right feeling against the wall for some sort of light switch, _there has to be one. _

Luckily there was, and I flipped it. The giant switch turned started the hum of a giant generator somewhere overhead, and then, as if by magic, hundreds upon hundreds of lights lit to reveal the horror of the room!

Hundreds of bodies lay of tables! There were tubes running everywhere! Hundreds of human bodies lying in lines running off into the distance![_ I can’t believe my eyes!] All of the bodies looked real, [_but they can’t be, can they]? My legs suddenly felt incapable of movement. Everything felt like a nightmare in that moment!

[_This isn’t good, what is going on? _]

I reached the first row of bodies and was met with cold lifeless stares. I had never seen these people but I felt oddly connected to them as their dead eyes tracked my every movement. This is so freaky! _]I continued walking, I couldn’t help myself. There were so many of them, [_why are all of these bodies down here? Is this a dream? This can’t be real, it must not be real! ¶I walked to the third row and almost passed out! I felt my knees buckle as I lost my balance and fell to my knees.

They were here! Testers! The kids who’d been sent home! Something was terribly wrong! There had to be at least three dozen people I’d seen in the hallways above.[_ Why are they here, what’s wrong with them?_]

Their bodies seemed different than those I’d seen in the first row. Their eyes were lifeless and unmoving. They looked as though they were completely dead! Tubes ran to and from the bodies. Are they on life support?

Everything felt unnatural. Where am I? I looked down the rows that never seemed to end! There had to be thousands of bodies! Why are all these people here?

“BEEP, BEEP, BEEP! Intruder alert, Intruder alert!” An alarm began to wail! Red lights on the walls began to spin! Giant speakers screamed at me as I looked around desperate to find safety!

I could hear people running down the hallway! They were coming for me! [_This is it, there’s nowhere to go! _]

I ran down the row, but I couldn’t see any doors! I ducked down behind one of the tables as men ran into the room!

“Spread out and look for the intruder. They must not leave here alive!” A man shouted.

The sound of increased as men quickly approached where I was crouched. There’s nowhere else to go. I have to do it! _]I quickly slid under the table and directly beneath one of the almost dead testers. I didn’t dare move a muscle. The men passed over me and continued to search further down the rows. [_There’s no way this should be happening to me! These guys are shooting to kill! _] [_I don’t want this! I didn’t mean to meddle this much! I didn’t realize what I was doing, why do I have to be so curious!

Then, surprisingly a familiar voice rang out. The headmaster’s! “Find them! Find them now! We cannot allow the intruders to leave!”

His voice vanished for a few moments but then began again, but in a much quieter tone. He was talking to someone as they made their way down my row! “I assure you, we will find them and they will be taken care of.”

Then the other man spoke as they slowly approached. “I’m very disappointed in you Blackwood. I would have thought you’d have better security measures in place.”

“I assure you sir, we will find them.” Mr. Blackwood replied, clearly scared.

The two of them were practically standing on top of me now! I could see their shoes, but no more. And then, it happened again! The colored spirals appeared! I could see them flying in all directions, but this time was different! This time the spirals were a dark black!

The black spirals seemed to wrap me in a cocoon making my head feel like it was about to explode! I wanted to cry out, but self-preservation kicked in.

The headmaster continued walking but the other man stopped, almost as if he could sense me! [_Oh no! This cannot be happening! _]

“Why are you stopping, Mr. Dark?” Mr. Blackwood asked politely.

The man didn’t respond. I could sense him looking down at where I was hidden! This is it! This is where everything ends! I braced for the worst. “Clap, clap, clap.” His shoes rang out as he once again began walking.

“Nothing, I thought I saw something, but I was mistaken, let us continue our search.” The man’s quiet voice answered Mr. Blackwood.

The men walked off as did the search party of guards and I was left alone. Phew!

Eventually the sounds of the men searching died altogether and I decided to make a run for it.

I rolled out from under the table and quietly jogged back through the door I’d entered through. Everything was suddenly easy, [_what if they’re tricking me? _]

[It doesn’t matter; this is the only chance I have. _]Without thinking I pulled open the large door. To my relief no one awaited me on the other side.[ Phew! _]Thanking the heavens for a stroke of luck, I began to run, as silently as I possibly could, back through the catacombs from whence I’d come.

This time however I managed to find a staircase. [_What a stroke of luck! _]Taking them three at a time I quickly climbed back to the ground floor. I then climbed one more set to the boys’ hallway. Half walking and half running, I made my way back to my room. There I discovered that Rasben had also been fortunate.

“Phew, you made it! I thought for sure that beast thing ate you!” Rasben jumped up from where he’d been in shock.

“I’m fine, but something happened. I saw something. It was horrifying!”

“What, what was it?”

“Knock, knock, knock!”

With terror filled eyes Rasben turned, walked over and opened the door to reveal a very large guard!

“We’re just checking all the rooms to make sure everyone is asleep. There’s been a slight disturbance and we are just making sure everything is okay. Don’t worry though, we’ll be in the hallway all night, sorry to bother you.”

“Thank you,” Rasben managed.

Closing the door he turned to me.“Wow, I think we may have just dodged a very large bullet.” ¶“Don’t speak so soon. We should still play it safe.”

“What did you see?” ¶“I’ll tell you tomorrow, I can’t risk being overheard.”

“Alright, I’m just glad you made it out okay.”

“Me too… me too.”

 

Chapter 9: Sudden Death

We ate breakfast the next morning during which I’d told the girls our team would be in the deciding game. Neither was happy, but kept calmer than I’d expected.

Breakfast ended and we headed for the simulation room. “Alright everyone, find a bed. Those teams that will be participating need to take a bed in the corner and you will be transported immediately.” An old man similar in looks to Dr. Madstein ordered.

Boom! We were ripped from our bodies only to be sent flying into the simulation world. Once again I slammed into a body almost identical to mine, however, the setting in which I’d landed had changed.

Rasben, Rachel and Jessica all took control of their bodies around me in the dark damp room where we’d been sent.

“Uuhhmmm.” The headmaster’s assistant, Mrs. Nasdrin, cleared her throat. “Alright everyone, welcome to the deciding game! Unfortunately, you will be the entertainment and not the entertained. We don’t have much time, so I’ll be going over the instruction quite quickly. Today you will pick one person from your group to fight. That person will then be further instructed alone. You have 3 minutes to decide who will be your champion. She turned leaving us to it.

Wasting no time Rasben began. “I think you should do it William.”

“Wait, what? I don’t think so. I would probably be the worst option. I think we should consider everything before jumping to hasty conclusions.”

“You’ve got this,” Jess said placing her hand on my shoulder.

“We believe in you.” Rasben urged.

Since when did I become the scapegoat? This gonna suck, I’m gonna get killed instantly!

“You got this.” Rachel added.

Well that definitely isn’t true, but who else would have a better shot?

“Alright, fine but you all owe me for this.”

“Sure thing.” Rasben replied turning with Rachel as they walked out.

Jessica stayed as the others continued out. She then leaned in and whispered in my ear. “Good luck and be safe. Oh, and don’t lose!” She looked me in the eyes reassuring me and then turned and hurried from the room.”

“If you want to learn about what you’re supposed to be doing before the fight, I suggest you listen.” Mrs. Nasdin instructed.

I turned my attention away from Jessica’s fleeting figure and, to that of Mrs. Nasdin. “Sorry, go ahead.”

“Have you ever ridden a horse?”

“What’s a horse?”

“Wait, do you seriously don’t know what a horse is?”

“No, we didn’t exactly have access to a lot of things since I grew up with poor parents.”

Mrs. Nasdin just kept talking. “Well, you’ll be taking a part in jousting competition, and for that you’ll have to ride a horse.”

“What’s jousting?”

“Oh boy, this might go very badly for you. I guess I probably should have told your team what the game would be before you chose your competitor. But never mind that, it doesn’t matter now. You’re here and you need to know what you’re doing. Jousting is a very old form of entertainment. I’ll explain to you the rules, but you’ll need to put on your armor while I talk.” She finished ushering two men forward who carried many pieces of metal in an old timey wheelbarrow that instead of hovering rolled forward on a single wooden wheel. [_How far back in time are we? _]

I backed up to move out of their way, but Mrs. Nasdin corrected me.

“No William, this is what armor is. These men will help you put it on. You have to move quickly, the competition is about to start.”

The two old men walked up and began strapping pieces of awkward metal onto me. Each piece dragged me down closer and closer to the ground.

Mrs. Nasdin began, “Alright, the rules are simple. If you hit your opponent with your lance, you score. The more points you score the better. You score one point if you hit your opponent’s shield attached to their shoulder. You get five points if you shatter a lance and you get ten points if you manage to knock your opponent off their horse.” She paused for a moment as a square looking shield was attached to my shoulder.

I still had no idea what a horse was, [_this is going to go bad very fast! _]

“That is where you want to hit your opponent.” She said gesturing to the shield looking thing that had been strapped to me. “Also, make sure not to hit your opponent anywhere but that shield or you will be deducted points.” The last piece of armor was buckled down and Mrs. Nasdin’s final words were, “Don’t worry, it’s not like you’ll really die.” She chuckled as she pushed me towards a hallway with a small pinprick of light at the end.

I hadn’t even been thinking about dying and then she’d brought it up! This is going to hurt!

I was escorted down the dark hallway. The light got bigger and bigger until I hit the super dome in which Steven had been beheaded!

Thousands of people were screaming and cheering. “Whoo! Yeah!”

I walked out of the dark and into the giant dome of people as the bald man announced me with his weird cone amplifier.

“Entering on your left, William the Challenger!” The crowd went ballistic with excitement. People were screaming as if the world had just gone mad!

The screaming only increased as another tester, my opponent from Luke’s group, made his entrance. “Entering on your right is Charles the Undefeated!” The crowd tried to push over the rails to get a better look at the Champion even though neither of us’d been here before.

“Snuff,”

“Ahhh!” I gave out a yelp as something touch my back.

“Don’t worry lad, it’s your horse, there’s nothing to be afraid of. I turned to see a giant brown beast staring down at me! It had a monstrous mane of hair and had to be at least four times my size! “Huff, pwuuff.” It moved its lips rapidly as if laughing at me.

A man came around the animal! “Sir, the time is now, you must mount up and go to your starting position over there.

“What, now? On what?!”

“On your horse.”

“This is a horse?”

“Alright, very funny. There is no time for jokes. You have to mount up and get to the starting position right now!”

“How?”

“Get in the saddle. What are you, six years old?”

Feeling the man’s anxiety I complied putting one foot in a little loop and jumped up and onto the beast! I felt it shudder slightly beneath me. I grabbed onto the handle thing in the front with both hands desperately hoping the animal wouldn’t shake me loose! I’m riding a giant animal! How cool is this! More like terrifying!

“Don’t worry sir, Comet is a trained warhorse. He knows exactly what to do. Just let him lead. Oh, and here you’ll need this.” The man handed me a rod and the moment it hit my hand I knew I was in trouble. I could barely lift it! The tip sank back to the ground below.

“Put the end under your arm to help take some of the weight. Don’t worry, just remember to try and not get knocked off. If you do, there’s no getting up. Good luck!” The man yelled to me as Comet started to trot off towards what I assumed was my starting position. I was sweating buckets inside my casket of metal. [_I don’t think all this armor will help. Why me, why do I have to do this? I hate my life! _]

I could barely breathe or see through the metal faceplate thing! This is going to hurt!

I could feel Comet steady breathing through my legs.[_ Even he seems a little nervous!_] We came to a stop at what I assumed was where I was supposed to be and the announcer once again took over. “Who here is ready to witness history? Who is ready to see the power and strength of the men about to battle?” The crowd was roaring with anticipation.

The announcer uttered the fateful words clearly, “Alrighty then, let the match begin! Jousters ready?” When neither of us opposed, he continued. “Then let the competition begin. On your marks, get ready, CHARGE!”

True to his name, Comet burst forward! I could barely hold onto my jousting rod much, less aim! Charles came within range and lowered his rod. I tried lower the tip but only succeeded in almost dropping it! “Crack!” I felt his rod smack into my shield thing. Ow, that hurts!

“One point for Charles!” Came the announcement.

Comet stopped and began pawing in the dirt awaiting further instruction.

“Go you Buffoon! You have three rounds, there aren’t any breaks! You’re already behind! GO GO GO!” Someone instructed.

I kicked Comet and off we went on another catastrophic run. This time I felt my shoulder shield get hit with much more force and I heard a “Snap!”

“Charles’s rod has snapped; that’s 5 points for Charles!” The announcer boomed!

“Wait here for a second while Charles gets his knew rod!” Someone yelled at me.

“You got this William” I heard someone else yell from the crowd!” I looked around for a second trying desperately hoping that this was all just a terrible nightmare. “Kick his butt Will! Stop embarrassing yourself and start hitting him!” Chris yelled from somewhere in the crowd.

I can do this.I closed my visor, once again shutting myself in from the outside world as the announcer yelled: “Get Ready, Go!” This was it; this was where it really counted. I kicked Comet’s sweating body, and we were off once again! Charles was closing rapidly! 20,15 10ft. Dirt flew up behind him as his beast flew towards me! [_This is it! _]

I lowered my rod and pointed it at least toward where I thought Charles was and I felt a huge, “Crack! Snap!” And then my head being ripped backward!

I held onto my saddle with an iron fist refusing to fall!

The announcer squealed with excitement! “Ladies and gentleman William, the strong shattered his rod and Charles, made an illegal strike. You know what this means… It means that there will be a SUDDEN DEATH round! The score is tied!”

Wait, what? I felt someone rip my rod out of my hand. “Master William,” Came to a young boy’s frightened voice, “This is not good sir. The sudden death is not good at all!” His voice shook with fear.

I felt a heavier metal rod placed in my hand. [_Why does this one look so deadly! _]The point glinted in the sunlight revealing its razor sharp point!

“You all know the rules! Winner takes all including the loser’s life! This jousting match will be the last one for one of our contenders! Who’s ready for blood!” He screamed to the now crazed crowd!

“Blood, blood, blood!” The crowd chanted!

“On three, one, two, charge!”

I kicked Comet with everything I had! I felt his muscles bulge as if he could sense my urgency!

He shot off so fast I could barely stay on! I hung on as tightly as I could with my now burning legs! I felt myself being jostled free of the loop things my feet rested in! This is gonna hurt!

20ft, 15ft, 10ft, I leaned backwards desperate to hold my rod up. [_I can’t do it; I’m not strong enough! This is it! _]I used every bit of strength I had to raise the tip almost letting it slip out of my sweat drenched hand. [_Please don’t let me die! _]“Shink!” I felt my spear connect!

The rod smashed into and then slid through armor and into flesh!

I couldn’t let go of my tangled up lance and as Charles rode past I was pulled backwards from Comet! “Smash!” I felt all of my armor crunch onto me as the ground halted my progress downwards! “Whoosh!”

I can’t breath! “Huhhh! Huggh!” I tried to suck in air to fill my now vacant lungs; I was going to drown!

“AHHHH!” Charles screamed from somewhere behind me!

“And the winner is… William!” The announcement came, and the crowd went crazy! “Whooo! Yeah!”

“You did it, Will, you did it!” Came Jessica’s yell as footsteps approached at breakneck speed! The footsteps stopped, and my helmet was pulled free! “Ahh!” The sunlight was blinding!

There she sat smiling down at me, and all of my pain and fear seemed to vanish in an instant! For a moment I thought I had died and was looking up at an angle. But that can’t be true because even angels can’t be this beautiful.

Then Rasben shattered the moment as he ran up to congratulate me. “Way to go, William,”

“Yeah, great job! You did it!” Came Rachel’s panting voice from behind him.

“You had us worried for a minute when you didn’t even know that you were supposed to go back for a second round!” Jessica laughed but at the same time looked me in the eyes for a clue as to whether I’d actually know what I was doing.

“Thanks for the compliments guys, but I can’t breathe! Can you help me get this armor off?”

“Ohh, yeah, no problem,” Rasben said as they all looked helplessly down.

Luckily one of the men who’d helped me into it quickly ran up and released me from it’s treacherous grasp.  The second the large piece from around my torso was removed I felt like a free man once again! [_I did it, I won! I can’t believe it! _]

And then I heard him.

“Ahhhh! It hurts to bad!”

Charles. Turning I walked slowly over to asses what I’d done.

There was a trail of blood to the stretcher they had dragged him too, and he sat there holding in what was left of his bloody guts. There was no longer a metal rod sticking out of his stomach, but he was coughing up blood and crying in pain! “Make it stop, please make it stop!”

I began to approach to see what help I could give, but it ended! Just like that, I was gone; swirling into space amongst a void of color and trails that led me back to the modern testing castle from which I’d come.  

 

Chapter 10: The Enemy of my Enemy is my Friend

Getting back from the simulator was normal. I landed back in my body in the bed where I’d laid down. Rasben woke immediately after me, followed by Rachel and finally Jess.

“Hey, you alright?” Rasben asked.

“Yeah, I’m good.”

“You wanna talk about last night now?”

“Yeah, but we should go somewhere private.”

“Wait, talk about what,” Jessica asked as we stood and began walking out.

“Nothing,”

 “Yeah right, I’m coming with you guys.” She walked faster to keep pace with us.

“Fine, I guess it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if the whole team knew what happened. Hey, Rachel, you wanna come here for a minute.” I called over to where she and a couple of girls were splitting off.  

After she came over I turned back to Rasben, “so where would be a good place to talk about this.”

“Well I was gonna say the rec room, but now that I think about it, I think the library would be the safest.” ¶“Do you know how to get there?”

“Yeah, I found it a couple of days ago. I remembered its general whereabouts from our tour. I’m sure I can lead us there now. You all are lucky to have me. Please follow me; I know the way.”

Without a response to his sarcasm, the three of us followed Rasben down a dark hallway until we reached a large room that seemed much older than the rest of the castle.

 Inside the hollowed out cave of a room were tons of shelves covered with real books. Actual books! “Why don’t they have holo-books?” I asked in amazement.

“Guess they wanted to go old school,” Rasben replied as he lead us to a small oak table.

We all sat, ready to begin conversation, when out of nowhere Chris and Jack showed up.

“Hey, guys whats up?” Chris shouted across the room as they approached.

“Nothing much man, just sharing some stories.” I debated on whether or not to tell everyone about what I’d seen. [_The more people I told, the more people I’d have to help me. I think it’s worth it. _] 

“Well kinda. What we’re doing is talking about a secret. Can you handle it?”

“Sure yeah, go ahead.”

“Alright, yesterday night, Rasben and I were trying to get to the girl’s side of the hallway, to tell them we were in the deciding games the next day, when I saw the man from the forest!”

“Wait, the old guy in the shack?” Chris interrupted.

“Yes, him. He was being led somewhere so Rasben and I followed. They took him to a wall with a giant picture that opened into a secret staircase.” ¶ “Wait, what?”

“I know, I know, it sounds crazy. But it isn’t. It happened. We followed them down the stairs, and we found the man. He was in a cell.”

“Why?” Jack questioned.

“We aren’t sure; we only talked briefly before we were interrupted and forced to run. In

our frantic escape Rasben and I were separated, and I found something extremely secret.”

“What?” Came their eager voices.

“I know this is gonna be hard to believe, but I found a giant room, and it was filled with testers!”

“Wait, what? Why?” Rasben was just as confused as everyone else.

“Only they weren’t alive. The testers that were supposed to have gone home were in there. There had to be at least a dozen! They were hooked up to life support machines it was really freaky.”

“Are you sure you weren’t dreaming?” Rachel asked hesitantly.

“Guys I’m completely serious. This happened! Rasben back me up.” My voice rose as I tried to defend myself.

“Well, I wasn’t actually there. Are you sure?”

“Are you serious? Guys, I’m not making this up, it really happened! Disqualified testers were lying on tables. I know they weren’t faking it because they didn’t have colors flying around them.” I finished realizing I’d gone to far.

Chris jumped in, “what colors, what dungeon, what bodies? What’s going on?”

Jessica followed. “Are you sure you’re alright William?”

Then a voice came on over the holocom. “Please report. All testers, please report to the group front doors immediately!”

I tried one last time. “I’ll prove it to you. I just need you all to have a little faith. I’ll figure out a way to show you, just don’t tell anyone. It could mean the difference between life and death.” I finished.  

“I’m willing to trust you for a little longer.” Rasben jumped in saving me.

“Us too” Came the others’ responses.

“I promise you; I won’t disappoint.”

With that, we all hurried down the hallway and towards the front doors of the castle where we were met with a surprise.

Mr. Blackwood stood by the open door and quieted all of the testers gathered. “Please get in your groups and await further instructions.

Doing as we were told, Rasben, Rachel, Jessica and I found each other and huddled up.

Mr. Blackwood left his post by the door, entered and began issuing further instructions.  

“I know this mission is very sudden, but it is vital that we see how you react when caught completely unaware. This mission is one you will take part in as a collective unit and in the real world. Each of your groups will work separately, as you compete against one another to find an artifact that will be made known to each group when you get close to the city limits. Any questions? Good, let’s get on with it then. Please go outside and find an open downward rail cart. Hurry, hurry, time is of the essence.

Outside a row of tubes were waiting for us. “Let’s get the orange one,” Jessica said.

We hurried into the small compartment. We had to squish, but we all fit. “I wonder what we’re supposed to find?” Rasben asked.

“No idea, no idea.”

Stepping out of the tube I was just a confused as for when we’d gotten in 30 minutes prior. The tubes had taken us underground and then accelerated to the speed of sound. Everything passed in such a blur that I felt nauseous.

“Where are we?” Rachel woozily walked ahead of us.

“I have no idea, what is going on?” Rasben replied.

Before anyone else could speak, we were interrupted. A small fluttering sound began and a small black globe rose to greet us with a mechanical voice. “Don’t be frightened testers. I am here to help. Listen, and you will receive the help you are looking for. Your task is simple, over the next rise you will see a city. Make your way there and search for an item made from amorphous metal. Once you find it, make your way to the fountain located at the heart of the city. The last teams to arrive will be participating in the next deciding game. Good luck, and hurry.” It finished and flew off just as quickly as it had appeared.

“Alright, that was confusing, but I think we all get the point. You guys ready?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“Then let’s move.”

We quickly crossed over a rise quickly seeing the city that the holo bot had been talking about.

Even from this distance, I could tell the buildings were old and dilapidated. The city looked similar to the one I’d come from and starkly contrasted where I thought ASTA would be taking us.

We walked for close to a quarter of a mile before reaching the city outskirts. Once there, no one smiled at us or even acknowledged us for that matter. No one looked up or in our direction. I felt like a ghost. Everything seemed odd and out of place.

These people reminded me of the testers who’d been lying on the tables with lifeless stares.

“You alright Will, you don’t look so good. What’s wrong?” Rasben asked.

“Nothing, it’s these people. Don’t they seem weird, like there’s something wrong with them?”

“Maybe, but we can’t think about that. We need to focus on finding the amorphous object, so we don’t get put in another deciding game.”

“You’re right, does anyone see a place that might sell weird sounding objects?”

Looking around nothing seemed to pop out. Old skyscrapers no longer in use rose up all around us draping our faces in their shadows. The scene felt cold and sad. Why here? Why would ASTA bring us here? Why not a simulation, why real life? What’s wrong with these people? Why does everyone and everything look dead? This place is strange.

After walking a little while longer, we found a newer shop that advertised having the latest in technology. Upon entering an older gentleman, close to 60 years old, came out and greeted us.

“Hi children, how are you doing today?”

“Good, we’re looking for something cool and new. Would you happen to carry anything like that?” Came Jessica’s smooth reply.

“I have some very old and valuable diamonds that have already torched to a brittle beauty of nine.

“What about metal, do you have anything new made from metal.” I cut in.

The man’s eyes seemed to gain a sudden knowing. “Well yes, yes I do. In fact, I know just the thing.” He said turning and opening a password protected drawer.

He turned back, and in his hand, he held a silver globe. “Is this what you’re looking for?”

All eyes turned to me as if I would somehow know what amorphous was and be able to confirm with the man.

“Is it amorphous?”

“Ah, perhaps I was mistaken. Maybe you aren’t who I thought you were. My mistake. Would you by chance be interested in rubies?” He asked changing the subject as he went to put the small silver globe away.   

“No, wait. That’s what we are looking for. Can we see it again?”

“I’m afraid the time for your acquiring of that globe has come and gone. But as I said before I would be happy to interest you in something else.” He swooped his hand around the room.

“No wait, we need that-”

“Kind sir, won’t you please share your special trinkets with a more fitting group of children,” Matthew said jokingly as he entered with a baseball bat over his shoulder!

The rest of his group entered, but their senior leader wasn’t with them, and they were all armed with pieces of metal and wood! Now there was no one to control Matthew!

“Would you mind pulling out that artifact one more time?”

“Sir, as I was explaining to the others, I no longer feel that selling it would be right at this time.”  

“Haha, you think I’m asking, how sweet.” Matthew grinned.

And then he swung! He pulled the baseball bat from his shoulder and with a monstrous cry he smashed it into the old man’s head!

“Hey, cut it out, cut it out!” I yelled at him!  

But my yell only seemed to encourage the group. The four of them turned towards me, all with weapons raised.

“What are you gonna do about it, you couldn’t fight me without a weapon, how do you hope to beat four armed testers?” Matthew taunted.

His bat now dripped with blood! Looking past him all I could see was the crushed head of the now unmoving man!

“What have you done! You killed him!” Rachel shrilled suddenly bursting into tears!

The sound of sirens fast approaching sounded. “WEEEE OOOOH, WEEEE OOOOH!”

Matthew turned to his horde of crazed followers! “Everybody split up! Make your way towards the fountain! We’ll all meet up there! Let’s go!” Everyone followed his instructions and tore off their separate ways!  He turned back to me! “If my team can’t have the metal, then neither can yours!” He began to smash the set of drawers where the valuables were locked away.

“Hahahaha! You’ll never beat me!” And with that he was gone, running off just a police hover crafts appeared!

“I turned to my crew. “We’re gonna have to split up. Whatever you do, don’t get caught by the police! I have no idea where the fountain is, but try and find it. I’ll see you guys there, go, go, go!”

The police were outside now with a mega amplifier shouting something about coming outside with our hands up, or they would shoot, but with the new laws that’d been passed, we all knew they couldn’t.

My team scattered, but I remained. I have to get that globe! I rushed towards the now smashed drawers and began trying them. No, no, no, this can’t be happening! One of you has to open! The metal had been bent so badly there was no way I’d be able to get in there without a blow torch. And then I heard him!

“Ugh, ugh.” The man on the ground suddenly began to cough up blood. “Boy, come here.” He motioned.

I complied despite his horrid condition.

“Uck, uck, uck.” He continued to cough up dark blood that ran across the floor like syrup! “Take it.” His whispered opening his hand to reveal the silver globe! “Do with it what you must, but remember what happened here. Don’t be fooled by what your told. You must truly see to know. You must think for yourself, or those around you will do it for you. Remember me, remember what happened here, or you will be sorry…” The man’s voice faded as his eyes slowly glazed over.

I can’t believe it; he’s dead! Matthew killed him. I can’t think about this, I need to move, or I will get caught.

“Come out with your hands up!” Came the mega amplified voice once more.

Part of a plan formed quickly in my mind, and I began to act before I knew what I was doing! [_I have to try. _]I rapidly climbed a short set of stairs jumping out an upstairs window and onto a low rise rooftop! [_I can do it! Just don’t look down. _]

A shingle broke and down I went! “Smack!” My face connected with the rooftop and I immediately tasted blood! Ahh!

“He’s on the rooftop!” Came a cop’s voice!

I stood and began running despite the pain! Running with everything I had I began jumping from rooftop to rooftop! Luckily the old, decrepit buildings held, and I was able to stay above the convoy of pursuers. The roofs flashed by, red, brown, black, yellow! I began to slow as my legs started to burn. I don’t hear anything. Did I lose them? Yes, yes I did. I’m home free; I did it! Wait, is that Matthew?

Looking over I saw a boy. He was making his way down one of the streets with a slight gimp in his walk. I know I shouldn’t have, but anger seized me, and I changed course. That is Matthew, I know it is!

I made my way to the single story rooftop closest to him. I crept silently above Matthew. As I approached and made ready to leap he heard me! Abandoning all sense of sneaking I sprinted, placing one foot on the edge of the roof and launched!

The ground came rushing up to greet me, but luckily I slammed into Matthew, and we tumbled to the ground! Surprisingly he was still full of fight. “Ugh, ugh.” “Ugh, ugh.” We both grunted in an attempt to gain the upper hand.

Upon gaining the upside, I swung, but all I managed to hit was concrete! [_Ahhh _]I felt pain shoot up my arm! “Ahhh!” Matthew seized the opportunity!

“Haha, that’s what you get, now your going to pay!” He rolled on top of me and wound back his fist but stopped!

“Ow, oh no, not now!!” He fell off of me and began writhing and squirming on the pavement! “Make it stop, it hurts, make it stop!”

All I could do was look on in confusion. “Wait, is this some kind of joke. Are you playing around?”

It has to be. There was no way this is real. I stood and stepped closer to him and was about to kick the crap out of him when he spoke.

“The colors! What are they? Why are they attacking me?” He pleaded with eyes that told me he wasn’t lying.

“What?”

“It hurts so bad!” He continued to writhe on the ground in agony.

“Listen, Matthew; I don’t have time for this. Either tell me what’s happening, or I’m leaving.”

“It hurts so bad!”

“Alright, I’m leaving,” I said turning to go.

“Fine, walk away, leave me alone with them, I could never explain to you what’s happening!” He yelled at my back.

I turned now deciding to throw caution to the wind. “Maybe I do know what you’re going through. Maybe I’m going through the same thing. Maybe I can see the colors too. Maybe I’m the only person here who could help you.”

“How?”

“I know what you’re going through! If you’re talking about what I am, then I’ve been seeing them for weeks.”

“What! I thought I was the only one! Are you serious?” Matthew said with a sudden joy. “So you see them too, the cords of color?”

“Yes, some are green, others, blue and others red. And they fly around people right?”

“Well, mine always attack me. I don’t know what it is, but if I start to see them, they immediately attack me, what should I do?” he asked.

[_I honestly have no idea, and even if I did I’m not about to tell you, you’re a psycho who just bashed a man’s head in. Although, if he thinks I have the solution, what harm could it really do? Maybe he’ll leave me alone, and he might be helpful. Can I trust him though? _]“We can talk later, but if we sit here, we’re both going to get eliminated. We have to go now, or both our teams will suffer.” Matthew’s pain seemed to lighten a little, and with my help, he got up.

“You know what William, I may have underestimated you; you may not be such a prick after all.”

I secretly wanted to beat him right there, but something inside me told me I might need him later, so instead, I just smiled and held back.

 

Chapter 11: SWIPE

Dinner was good, but I still couldn’t get the bitter sight of the poor old man’s crushed skull out of my head. Except for that, the mission had gone fairly well. After Matthew and I had decided to help each other, we’d made our way to a weird fountain of cherubs spitting water at each other. Both of our teams found it odd that we’d walked back together, and now that we’d gotten a free moment after dinner my team crowded around me for answers.

“So what happened, what’s up with you two?” Jack asked annoyed.

How do I tell them we can both see strange color cords? I better not tell them what happened.

“It just happened. I found him, and we fought for a while before we decided our violence was futile and decided to call a truce.”

“Wait, your serious? Just like that? Now everything’s cool?”

“Yeah, we decided our fighting was getting us nowhere and decided against anymore of it.”

“You can’t be serious. I cannot believe what you’re saying!” Jack was suddenly angry. “He’s been a total jerk the entire time you’ve known him, and you just decided to be friends out of the blue? I don’t believe it.”

“Well I do,” Jess jumped in. “I think what you’re doing is very manly.” She said scooting closer to me. “You’re being the bigger man, and it’s very becoming.” Her eyes twinkled ever so slightly.  

“As do I.” Rachel agreed, but then instantly corrected herself. “About being the better person, not about the becoming part.”

“Sure, a bunch of girls would say that, but you’re not supposed to side with the girls, what’s gotten into you?” Jack continued to press.

“I hate to do this Will, but I agree with Jack, I don’t believe it. There was so much hate between the two of you.” Chris added.

“Well, I don’t need you two’s approval on my decisions.” I defended “I can make my own.”

With that, I stood and began walking away. No one followed although, I could feel all of their eyes as I wandered from the grand dining room that was filled with only a few testers.

I found my room quickly and had just laid down to sleep when Rasben entered. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to wake. You.” He apologized.

“You didn’t. But if you don’t mind turning out the light I’m about to hit it.”

“So early?”

“Yes.”

“You know they didn’t mean it. Jack and Chris just don’t want to be friends with Matthew, so they don’t want you to be either.”

“Well neither do I, but it’s for everyone’s benefit.”

“What do you mean, I thought you two worked things out?”

“If you call sharing a common enemy working things out.”

“Wait, what?”

“I can’t tell you now. It isn’t the right time. You’d never believe me.”

“Try me.”

“I’ll tell you this much; I don’t know what to think. I’ve been seeing things that I thought were impossible, but then Matthew said he was seeing them too. It was relieving to hear I wasn’t completely crazy.”

“What did you see.”

“Nothing.”

“Come on, I won’t laugh.”

“Fine, but I know you won’t believe me. For the past couple of weeks, I’ve seen colors. I know I sound crazy, but it’s really happening.”

“Wait, what? What are you talking about.”

“I mean it, I can see cords of colors flying around! They look sort of like snakes, and sometimes they fly harmlessly by, but others they attack me, and I don’t know why.”

“So you’re telling me that sometimes you see color snakes flying around you? Have you talked to a doctor?”

“I knew you wouldn’t believe me. No one does, but Matthew, and that’s why I need to be friends with him. I have to figure out what he knows and see if it can help me. I promise something is happening. I don’t know what it is, but I’m going to figure it out.”

“Whoa, slow down Will. I may not 100% believe you, but I’m not willing to throw your story out the window all the way. Tell you what, if you can come off with some proof I'll help you as much as I can.

“Thanks, man, that means more than you think. It feels good to have someone in my corner. I’ll figure something out.”

“Alright, I’ll be waiting.”

And with that, he turned out the lights, and we both fell asleep slipping into our own dreamworlds.

As I fell asleep, I couldn’t get the thought of the mysterious man, who’d walked passed me with Mr. Blackwood while I’d been hiding under the tester’s body, out of my head. . I’d only seen his feet, but he’d known I was there. [_Who is he and what was up with those black cords of color? I have to figure out what is going on. _]

I lost myself in thoughts, of who the man was and how he’d known I was there, eventually drifting into a fitful sleep. Just as I lost consciousness I was jostled awake suddenly.

“Wake up, wake up, follow me.” Jessica whispered as she pulled me from my warm covers. “I want to show you something.”

“Can’t it wait till morning.”

“No, it has to be now. Come on.”

I got out of bed and stumbled around until I found a pair of pants to put on. I threw on a shirt and stumbled after Jessica down the hallway. “Hey, we shouldn’t be out this late. If I get caught out after hours again, I’ll be in a heap of trouble.” I whispered ahead.

“So don’t get caught. Just follow me and keep it down back there.” I followed her until we reached the front doors. “Hey, where exactly are we going?”

“Just keep quite and follow me.I promise you; it’ll be worth it.”

I felt the hair stand up on my arms. This night was definitely taking a turn, [_for better or worse I don’t know. _]

We walked right through the front doors, and no alarms went off. I thought it odd that the security was still so lax but shook my doubts and continued to follow Jessica, who was hopping with excitement. We reached the grass, and she started to jog. The ground was wet, and my shoes were soon soaked. I followed her, and we quickly approached the pond, near the fence line of trees, I’d seen at my arrival.

“Why are we here?”

“I really want to find out what’s happening with you.”

“Wait, that’s it? Why here, why outside?”

“Well, maybe a little more…” She said with a sudden hint of playfulness.

“Well, we could have talked inside the castle. It would have been a lot warmer.”

“We could have, but then I couldn’t do this…” She said coyly as she crossed her arms grasping opposite sides of the bottom of her shirt then reversing direction and pulling it off!

Underneath lay a soft pink bra with frilly white lace perfectly accentuating her beauty! Whoa! The sight that met my eyes was completely stunning! I felt my heart miss a beat as blood began to rush through my veins at rapid speed! My brain seemed to suddenly be starved of oxygen as I choked on my words.

“I… I… don’t know… what to… what to… ”

“How about a trip in the water.” She coaxed as she leads me to the muddy edge. “Oops, silly me, what am I thinking, going into the water still clothed.” and just like that off came her Pj bottoms!

She pulled them down slightly letting them slip from her smooth hips and down her creamy legs until they lay gently at her feet! Now my heart was hammering! She’s gorgeous!

I couldn’t help but stare! My eyes traveled slowly back from her Pj’s now lying at her feet, up her legs, past the curve of her bottom, around her exposed hips, through her lush, scantily covered chest, up her long neck, past her full, smirking lips and all the way back to her mischievous green eyes that instantly locked with mine!

I was about to explode with anticipation! I could hardly contain the excitement that was bursting inside me!

“How about a swim?” She said playfully.

“I… I… I…” I replied barely able to from words at this point.  

She turned from me and slowly waded into the water. I tore off my shirts and pants and splashed into the only slightly cold water. She made her way to the middle where the water lapped around her stomach gently. I quickly followed but slowed as I approached. All I had on was my boxers! [_What am I doing? _]

“You can come closer if you like,” She encouraged

I moved haltingly with each footstep sinking into the mud below.

“I’ve been wanting to talk to you. What have you been so secretive about lately?” She inquired.

I was so nervous my voice betrayed me, “Nothing… nothing is wrong. Well, other than the bodies.”

“You mean the testers bodies you told us about the other day. The ones downstairs?”

“Yes, them, I can’t seem to get the sight of their lifeless stares out of my mind. It’s haunting.”

“Is that all. Is there nothing else bothering you? It seems like there’s something else on your mind.” She questioned as she moved closer reaching out and touching my shoulder!

I felt fire shoot through my body as her fingertips contacted my skin and an explosion of feelings shot through me!

“Well, I sometimes see colors.” I blurted.

“What do you mean?”

“I don’t know; it’s just that sometimes colors appear and swirl around me. I know you’ll think I’m crazy, but it’s the truth.”

Instead of being turned off as I’d expected, her attention only seemed to increase! “So they swirl around you? When did you start seeing them? What are they like?”

“I can’t really explain it, they’re just there. It started happening out of nowhere, and I can’t seem to shut it off.”

“Well, why don’t you tell me more about the room filled with testers.” she asked.

Jumping at the opportunity to share I began, “Well like I told you, after Rasben and I split up downstairs, I found a giant room. It was completely accidental, but the sight that met me was horrifying! When I turned on the lights, I was greeted by the sight of thousands of cold dead eyes! They were everywhere, and they were all on life support! It was grotesque!”

Her fingertips slowly felt around the waistband of my boxers; as if debating on whether or not to enter. “WOW! You’re so brave! I can’t believe you got out of there with all of those guards looking for you!”

I could barely contain myself. I could feel passion stirring inside me, but the misgiving in her words slowly began to register. She leaned in close; her water sprinkled chest rubbed against my arm! [_Oh how I want this, but what did she just say? _]

“Wait, how did you know about the guards chasing me, I never told you about that.”

She leaned in and whispered with a sudden passion, “Kiss me.”

As much as I wanted to, I couldn’t. There is no way she could have known about those guards! I pushed her away. “Stop! Stop it! How did you know about the guards!” And then I saw it!

A needle in her hand! I tried to get away from her, but the thick mud sucked around my feet and held me in its grasp! She wrapped herself around me and stabbed the needle into my neck! [_Ahh! _]The pain was searing and excruciating but only lasted moments before the drug stole my consciousness and I slipped into the dark muddy water below…

Everything was blurry and out of focus. There were shapes and sounds, but everything seemed to be coming from everywhere at once. It felt like I was under Niagara falls and a thousand of pounds of water was slamming onto my face!

Things slowly came into focus, and I realized that I was in an extremely dark room. A few doctors were roaming. I continued to scan, and then I saw him. The headmaster was standing off to the side looking at me deep in thought. When he saw that I was awake, he moved in.

“Hello, William. You, sir, are in a heap of trouble. I’m am usually one for leniency, but today you have crossed a major line.” His voice had a cold, steely edge. “How could you? We’ve given you everything, and you couldn’t help but stick your nose where it doesn’t belong” Fear was coursing through me.

What’s going to happen to me? This doesn’t look good. What are they doing to me! I was tied down, and I could do nothing to protect myself.

“Tell me about the bodies.”

“Mr. Blackwood he’ll never tell you.” Came a voice from the corner. Out of the shadows stepped Mrs. Nasdin, his assistant. “It’s not like he’s going anywhere. There is no need to give him a heart attack before he can tell us what we want to hear.” Phew a voice of reason, but the wait is that a scalpel? She had a scalpel in her hand!

“Why should we ask him questions when we can force them from him!” She squealed suddenly delighted!  

“I’ll tell you anything you want to know! Please don’t hurt me!” I yelled!

“Tell us about the bodies.” Mr. Blackwood hissed in a voice close to what I imagined the devil sounded like.

“I wandered downstairs by accident. I got lost and started to wander around. That’s when I found them.”

“Do you expect me to believe you just accidentally stumbled upon one of our most classified projects. Who told you about it? Who told you how to get down there!” Mr. Blackwood lost more and more of his composure with each word!

“No one, no one told me! I saw a guard open the door! I followed him, and then I got lost!” [_Please believe me, please! I can’t give Rasben up; I have to stay strong. _]

“What about the color cords you told Matthew about!”

I didn’t know what to say. [_How did he know about Matthew and my conversation? I don’t think I can lie my way out of this one. What can I possibly tell them? _]

“They started happening recently. The colors, they fly around in cords and follow people. It’s very strange; I have no idea what it means. I promise I didn’t do anything wrong. It just happened.”

“He’s lying! He knows why it started! Lets cut him up and find out what he’s hiding!” Mrs. Nasdin squealed once more.

She was now in a crazed state and was hopping around swinging her scalpel with the glee of a serial killer. “Lets cut him up and see what he knows!”

“Mrs. Nasdin control yourself! We need him! Mr. Dark would not approve. We should swipe his memory and put him back into the test. That way the others won’t start to wonder.” He began to pace back and forth. “If young Mr. Rose here, doesn’t tell them anything the issue will be put to rest, and we’ll be able to get back on schedule with the test.” Mr. Blackwood came to the end of his plan and began to talk to the doctor is more hushed tones.

“Take most of it, leave only the important parts, got it?”

“Yes, sir.”

“NO, no, no, no! You can’t do this. You can’t take my memory!”

They’ll never get it; I have to remember this! I can’t afford to forget; this can’t be happening!

“Goodnight Mr. Rose. When you wake, you won’t remember anything. Although I do hope you remember to mind your own business.” And with that, Mr. Blackwood turned and began walking away.

“You’ll never get away with this!” I screamed frantically! “You won’t; this is insane!”

“Who’s going to stop me! You? Haha!” He continued his evil laugh as he and Mrs. Nasdin departed from the den of heathens I now lay helplessly in.

The liquid entered slowly through an IV protruding from my hand! It was cold and thick. It began to freeze my veins as it made its way toward my brain! As it moved, it took away my ability to move. I couldn’t think! What is it that I was trying to remember? Why is this liquid running through me! What’s happening, where am I, who are all these people?

[_ _]

Chapter 12: Lost Memories

“Alright, guys, who’re ready to take care of business? Remember we ride into their camp quickly and efficiently. We have to get the notebook, and we need to get if fast. Any questions?” No one said anything, and so I kicked my horse’s sides, and we were off.

All of the jostlings of the horse made my already throbbing head feel as though it would burst. [_I drank a ton of water, why won’t this migraine leave? _]

I couldn’t afford to tell anyone, for fear of missing out on the mission and being sent to the deciding game. Rasben had seemed concerned with the state I was in, but I’d made him swear to not question my judgment.

Dwelling on my inner thoughts, only seemed to increase the migraine, so I took to scanning the terrain. However, there wasn’t much to look at. The terrain was empty. There was no life. There were no trees. There were no water bodies, not even rocks. The only thing for miles around was sagebrush. Miles and miles of sagebrush. I felt a little woozy as I scanned the horizon. Night was coming, and so we had to hurry.

Everything seemed to be happening all at once, I felt like I should be thinking about something, but I couldn’t seem to remember what exactly it was. As I racked my brain for possibilities, a small village appeared over a rise we summited.

_I guess all I can really do is focus on the mission. _

I slowed everyone with a wave of my hand.

The mission was simple, we were supposed to ride into a village on these horses and take out any opposition. We were armed with pistols and some kind of saber blade, and by the look of the village, we were going to need them.

“It’s so small. Is this it?” Rachel questioned.

“I’m pretty sure. It’s not like there are any other villages to choose from.”

All eyes turned to me, searching for words of leadership.

“It looks like there are only a few guards. We’ll ride in fast and try and get the notebook as quickly as possible. With any luck, we’ll be gone before they realize we’ve been there. Any better ideas?”

“Your call,” Rachel answered nonchalantly.

“Alrighty then, let’s go, move!” I kicked my beast and boom; we were off!

I managed to hold on as the horse, as the strange beast bolted! We raced down the hill and flew into the small village, I realized my big mistake. My head felt like it was going to burst! I heard a couple of guards yelling something, but we rode past them into the village.

Our entrance was so unexpected; no one had a chance to rise up and stop us. Our horses pounded down the dirt street as we flew past wide-eyed men! One man managed to raise his gun but was quickly shot by one of my team. “Zing!”

We quickly made it to the far end of the tiny village and to an all-glass building that stuck out like a sore thumb. We’d been told this is where the notebook would be, so I pulled up short trying to dismount smoothly, but my new avatar was quite clumsy, and all I managed was to fall flat on my face!

“Huff!” I breathed in a pile of dirt.

I shot back to my feet trying to play it cool, unluckily for me, judging by the smirking faces, all three of my team had seen and weren’t too impressed.

“You all stay mounted and protect the building. I’ll go in alone and find the notebook! Make sure no one gets it in, understand?” I ran inside the building with my small ray pistol drawn!

The small wooden entrance, which seemed as old as the small village, was no match for my new giant of an avatar’s feet! I was surprised by the strength of my simulation body. This is gonna be fun!

Inside was one man. He was hanging onto a briefcase in the corner and shaking with fear. “Why are you here? You weren’t supposed to be here for another two days! This isn’t right! Please leave my village in peace. We mean you no harm. We didn’t know what his plans were, I swear we didn’t, if we had we would have shut down his research months ago!”

“All I want is a notebook. I have no idea what you’re talking about. Just hand over the notebook, and we’ll leave in peace.”¶“No, it’s too dangerous. This type of power shouldn’t be harnessed by one man. It will corrupt whoever possess it. I cannot give it to you!” The man broke down crying with an eruption of emotion.

“Give me the notebook,” I said bluffed with my new growl.

The man, began to shake with fear believing fully that I’d kill him.

He broke instantly. “Alright, fine it’s in this briefcase. Just please give me my family back.”

I didn’t have time for whatever game this guy was playing. I took the case from him and opened it with one hand while keeping my small gun pointed in his direction.

Inside the case lay a small black notebook. This had to be it! I was about to open it for a peek when sounds of a ray firefight broke out!

“Zing, zing, zing! Crash!” One of the windows was hit with a ray and melted instantly!

“William, it’s time to go. They’re coming!”

I ran and jumped through the new window exit! I tripped over my giant feet but was much faster picking myself off the ground this time.

In front of me lay three dead men!

“What’ve you done?”

“You said to keep people out, so we did, did you get it?” Rasben responded.

“Oh,” I answered still shocked at the death around me.

“Zing!” A ray beam scorched the dirt at my feet!

“Come on William, lets go!”

My horse flew into existence, and I was on him in an instant.

“Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go!” I boomed.

We all kicked our horses as hard as we could as we made our hurried escape. Luckily the men seemed uninterested in following and let us go once we reached the village’s edge.

We rode over another rise and back out into the barren surroundings.

“Where’s the extraction point?” I yelled to Rasben over the pounding of horse hooves.

“We need to slow down.”

“Alright.” I waved my hand, and once again the group slowed their horses to a walking pace.

Rasben spoke. “It’ll take us a while to get there. We’ll follow this ridge for another 10 miles before we approach it and it’s almost dark, do you have a plan?”

Realizing that indeed the light had fallen from the sky, I assessed the situation. “I think we should camp here for the night. We should be safe seeing as how no one gave chase. We can rest for the evening and then start again at first light, any opposed?”

After deciding to camp in a secluded area between a few rocks that provided a small amount of privacy we ate.

“Everyone should have snacks in their bags. We shouldn’t start a fire in case we were followed.”

“I bet the real reason you don’t want to start a fire is so that you can snuggle with me again.” Jessica cooed as she approached.  

I was at a loss for words. [_What is happening? _]I turned to her and was met with by her new avatar’s brilliant brown eyes that sparkled with anticipation!

I noticed Rasben and Rachel’s avatars were looking at us clearly confused. I felt just as lost as they looked. What does she mean? [Why is she so flirtatious suddenly? _]I remember snuggling for warmth on the cliff, but to my recollection, it had been nothing more.[ _]I tried hard to remember what she was talking about on the cold cliff so many nights ago, but the memory seemed distant and foggy.

I stood abruptly leaving Jessica who’d been leaning in slightly off balance. I have to escape what is she doing? I could feel the judgment that Rachel and Rasben must be sharing. “I need to clear my head; I’ll be back.” And with that, I turned and headed for the edge of the rock circle.

“Wait, what’s wrong?” Jess ran to catch up. “I’ll come with you.”

“No, I think you should stay here, it’ll be safer.” I turned as she approached.

“I think I’ll be safer with you.” She patronized.  

“Okay Jessica, I don’t know what is happening, but you’re acting really weird.” I felt Rasben and Rachel’s eyes once again focus on us as if they new something was about to happen.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, since when have we been so close? Since when have you been this nice to me? Are you playing some joke on me? What’s going on?”

Jessica turned, like a scolded puppy, and walked away from me. Both Rasben and Rachel stood there looking at me and then at the ground awkwardly, so I broke the silence. “Wait, Jess. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it. Will you please tell me what’s wrong?”

“How could you not remember? It’s only been one day! I gave you everything! What do you mean, you don’t remember us being close. Why are you pretending like nothing happened last night!”

“What are you talking about? Since when did something happen last night?”

My words seemed to cut deep, and she turned and began walking.

“I honestly have no idea what you’re talking about.” I once again questioned her back.

Rachel followed Jessica from the small circle of rocks. Most likely to comfort her over whatever I’d done.

Rasben walked my way as if he could somehow explain to me what I was missing.

“Hey man, you wanna talk?” Rasben started to speak, but out of nowhere, the sound of horse hoof beats were all around us!

Horses! And men! They were everywhere! What’s going on? Where’d they come from?

“Halt! Do not move, or you will be shot where you stand!” A man, the leader, shouted at us from atop his giant white stead! “I believe you have something of mine! And I would very much like it back.” The man had slightly greying hair and cold blue eyes.

I knew instantly what he was talking about. [_The black book! They followed us! How could I have been so stupid, I shouldn’t have stopped, now we’re doomed! _]

Rasben nudged me from my stupor. “You should probably give it to them; it’s not worth it.” Following his counsel, I grabbed the small book from my inner pocket and tossed it up to the man.

“Thanks.” He laughed and raised his gun!

Both Rasben and I sank to our knees desperately hoping for mercy. “We’re sorry, we didn’t know. We honestly didn’t know!” Rasben voice cracked.

“Haha, how easily you scare. What is there to be afraid of? If I shot you, which I’m not, nothing would happen. You see, I know you’re not who you seem to be. You’re just doing what you’re told in hopes of being rewarded. My advice is not be surprised when your only reward is a stab in the back!” He seethed his eyes darkening.

And with that he whipped his reigns turning his horse, but just as he was about to leave I called to him.  

“Who are you?”

“I am Damian, and it would serve you well to remember that! One day it will be the only one that matters!” He kicked his horse leading the group of men following him from our midst just as quickly as they had joined it.  

Just as there horse streamed out of the small outlying rocks, that surrounded us, and into the dark from whence they’d come a crack of thunder sounded in the distance.

Jessica and Rachel came running back into the circle.

“Who were they?” Jessica asked as she ran to me, only barely stopping short.

“Not sure, but they have our book!” I yelled. “How’d they even get here? Did no one hear them? How could this happen?”

“It’ll be alright, and everything will be fine.” Rasben tried to calm me down.

“No, it won’t Rasben! Without that book, we’re screwed! Now we’ll have to take part in the deciding games, and we’ll be killed!”

“Are you afraid of, being sent to the room full of lifeless testers?”

[_What is he talking about? _]“What are you talking about. Since when has there been a room like that?”

“The one you told us about?” Rasben tried, now just as confused as I was.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about. Since when has that been a possibility?”

“You told us a couple of days ago that you saw all of tester’s who’d been killed in a simulation in a room, and they no longer had a bodily function.”

“Rasben, are you sure you’re not crazy. I never said that. If we get killed, we’ll just go home, that’s what they told us. You’re starting to freak me out.”

“You literally told us about this like two days ago,” Rachel fired back.

“Yeah, why are you pretending it never happened?” Jessica asked moving closer.  

“I have no idea what any of you are talking about?” I turned exasperated. “That’s it; I’m going to bed, just leave me alone you guys are freaking me out.”

I went to my horse, grabbed the small sleeping bag, that had been there since I’d entered the simulation, and laid it out a few feet away. I layed down and looked over my shoulder only to see the tree of them whispering and glancing in my direction.

[_What’s wrong with them? Since when has there been a room full of dead testers, and since when did I tell them that? They must be playing some practical joke on me. That’s the only explanation. _]

Jessica broke away from the others and walked over to me. “William, I think we should talk.”

“I’m done talking to you guys; you’re acting crazy.”

“Is everything okay?” She asked sitting next to me.  

“Why wouldn’t it be?”

“You’ve been acting strange tonight, are you sure you’re alright?”

“I would be, if any of what you were saying made any sense.”

“Do you honestly not remember what happened last night?”

I’d calmed a little bit so I thought back. [_I honestly can’t remember last night. In fact, the entire night is one big blank. What did happen? _]“Not really.”

“You don’t remember what happened between us? At the pond?”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

Jessica continued talking but now her voice was quiet and sincere. “Did anything happen between us? I remember taking our clothes off, but then everything is a little hazy. I can’t remember everything that happened, did we do something?” She tensed slightly.

“What are you saying? Since when did any of that happen?”

“Did we do anything we shouldn’t have?” She seemed afraid of my answer.

“Jessica, I have no idea what you’re talking about, but from what you’re insinuating, I’m appalled. You know me, I would never do something like that. Nothing happened last night. I think this conversation is over.” I turned over, relieved when her footsteps started, signaling her exit.

 

Chapter 13: Trying to Remember

“You told us you would tell us about the bodies and the color cords you’re seeing. What’s wrong?” Chris asked confused.

Everyone seemed a little confused, but not as much as I was.

“Why won’t you tell us? You’re the only other person that can see the colors; I need your help.” Matthew begged.

All of their voices had me screaming inside.

We’d finished the sim and made it back to real life. It was evening, and we’d just finished dinner and been given free time to prepare for the deciding game the next day. Rasben had brought me to the fireplace in the library where Jessica, Rachel, Chris, Jack, and even Matthew had gathered. They all had questions about things I supposedly had told them about. Matthew was questioning me on colors trails that I was supposedly seeing! What’s going on? Whose life is this? What is everyone talking about?

“What bodies, what colors, what are you guys talking about? I don’t have a clue what is happening!” Luckily out of nowhere Mr. Blackwood came over and rescued me. “Hey, guys, what’s going on here? You’re in the library; you need to keep your voices down. Mr. Rose if you wouldn’t mind coming with me, Dr. Madstein, our head of medicine, would like to talk to you.

I gladly followed Mr. Blackwood happy to escape the current nightmare I was now living. We walked briefly before reaching a small room on the other end of the hallway leading to the library.

Upon entering the room, Dr. Madstein fervently greeted me. “Hello William, it’s nice to see you again under more pleasant circumstances.”

“How so?”

“Mr. Blackwood, sensing my confusion took this as his opportunity to leave. “I can see you have your hands full doctor I will leave you too it, and get on with my duties. If you’ll excuse me?”

“Yes, yes, of course.”

And with that Mr. Blackwood was gone, leaving me alone with the good doctor.

“Won’t you please have a seat, William?” Dr. Madstein asked stepping aside to reveal two comfortable looking chairs made of plush leather.

“I feel as if we’ve needed to talk for quite some time. Are you struggling in any way?” He asked concerned.

“Well, I have been very confused. Everyone keeps questioning me on things that I’ve never heard of. It’s very frustrating. I feel like I’m missing something.”

“Well, that’s what I wanted to talk to you about. You see, the other day, you hit your head very hard. The other testers don’t know, but it seems as though you might be suffering from mild amnesia. What kind of questions are they asking, maybe I can fill you in?”

[_This explains so much! No wonder I’ve been so lost, phew! _]

“Wow, that’s a relief, you don’t know how good it is to hear that. I’ve been so bewildered lately. I thought for sure I’d gone crazy! I keep getting asked about bodies I supposedly saw, and color cords flying around that only I could see, but I have no idea what anyone’s talking about. Does any of that ring a bell to you?”

“Those are some strange questions. Honestly, all of that sounds like nonsense. Are you sure they aren’t tricking you?”

“They seem genuine.”

“Well, then I would suggest reevaluating your friends. They seem like a distraction for you. You need to remember to stay focused on the test and to not let yourself become overwhelmed trying to figure out what those kids are talking about. To be completely honest with you William. The group of kids asking you these questions don’t sound like the greatest friends. I would think about where my priorities lie and consider who my true friends are.”

I don’t really know these guys anyways. Why am I friends with Rachel, Chris, Jack, or Rasben? _]I can’t remember. [_Jessica’s hot, but she’s acting weird and Matthew was never my friend, to begin with, so why am I even worried about him or his color seeing? Now that I think about it, my friends really don’t seem that great.

“Thank you for your help Dr. Madstein. What you’ve said has really struck a chord, I think I’ll take your advice.”

“Glad I could be of help,” he said reaching out once more with the same awkward hand gesture as before.

Unsure of what to do, I once again started.

“My apologies I forgot that your generation no longer uses this.” He said pulling his hand back. “Well, I’m glad we got this opportunity to talk. Good luck on your task of evaluation, and hopefully I can check in with you later?”

“Yeah, sure, that sounds good. Thanks for the advice.”¶“You welcome, see you later.” He gestured to the door, which I then proceeded to exit from.

For the first time in 24 hours, I was feeling back in control.[_ I finally know what’s going on, well at least a little bit._] It looks as though I have some catching up to do.

With this new feeling of peace, I headed back to my room. The hallways seemed barren, my own footsteps echoed following me all the way back to my room. Upon opening my door, I found Rasben staring at a large book.

“Hey man, what’s going on? Are trying to read the biggest book ever written. Haha.”  

Rasben didn’t waste any time. “What happened, where were you.”

“Meeting someone.”

“Who?”

“Dr. Madstein.”

“What’d you talk about?”

“Nothing, Dr. Madstein just shed a little light on a very dark subject. It was quite an informative talk.”

“What’d you talk about?”

“He informed me that I hit my head a day or so ago, and that’s why I don’t remember anything you’ve all been talking about.”

“Wait, what? Who said that?”

“Dr. Madstein.” ¶“William, I’ve been with you for most of the past two days, and nothing like that has happened. Plus when I’m not around usually your with Chris, Jessica, or Jack, and none of them said anything. I would have known about that.”

“Well, you must have missed it. I have mild amnesia, and that’s why I can’t remember.”

“Don’t you see, you this wasn’t an accident, this had to be ASTA. They did something to you because you were getting close to something. Can’t you see that. Please tell me you’re not fooled, you have to see that you’re being played.”

“If ASTA did something, I’d know it. It must have been me, that’s the only explanation. I don’t see why ASTA would do something like this to anyone anyways; you’re blowing things way out of proportion.”

“Do you at least remember the colors! Matthew told us about how he sometimes sees colors flying around just like you told me. Willaim, please tell me you remember telling me about the colors shaped like snakes. Do you?” ¶“I have no idea what the heck you’re talking about. I don’t see why you’re so worked up about this. It’s only slight amnesia, I’m sure I’ll remember everything with time, and I don’t think you should be criticising ASTA so much. Without them, you wouldn’t be here.

“If only,” Rasben whispered to himself.

“What was that?”

“Nothing, I need to find something,” and with that, he left.

He stood and walked from the room quite suddenly. [_I really wish he’d be more helpful, but why should I care? The Doctor had said to evaluate my friends, and my new evaluation of Rasben was that I should keep an eye on him and try and keep my distance.  _]

With this in mind, I showered, brushed my teeth and crawled into bed all without Rasben coming back. Deciding he’d get back eventually, I closed my tired eyelids and was overtaken by the weight of the crazy day, quickly drifting into dreamland.

My dream was strange. I was on a path. The path was dark with trees rising on either side. Their limbs reached across the path almost as if they were trying to grab me as I walked. The ground was rocky and hard to traverse in the dark. I continually stumbled and almost fell several times, but I continued on. A slight breeze whipped around me as I continued finally breaking free of the thousands of trees and into a clearing.

The clearing was large, and even with a full moon shining overhead it was still very dark and pale in comparison to the sky. The sky was bright with stars. Everything seemed peaceful, but my skin prickled. [_Is someone watching me? _]I could feel eyes watching me from the forest. I couldn’t pinpoint where, but I felt them. They seemed to be watching, studying, waiting for the opportune moment. And then the out of a bush hopped a little man!

“Hello, stranger. Welcome to my clearing.”

The man was tiny and had a small beard. He hopped over to me delightedly.

“I don’t know why I’m here. I’m lost, can you help me?”

The man’s voice was high pitched. “You’re lost? You didn’t want to come here? How did you get here then?”

“I don’t know, where is this? Who are you?”

“I am the keeper of the key. In order to find what you seek, you must first pass through me.” He grinned clearly pleased with himself.

Then, I heard it! “Boom, boom, boom!” The forest crashed as something began to move!

The little man’s temperament changed quickly, to that of terror. “We must hurry, he’s coming!”

“Who, who is coming? Why?”

“That doesn’t matter now! In order to defeat the beast, you must first open the box!” He pointed to what looked like a small rounded box that was sat in the middle of the clearing!

The chest shook as if whatever it contained were going to escape at any moment!

“We must hurry! You must give the answer to my riddle in order to open the chest and reveal the box’s gift!”

“Wait, what is happening?”

“Be quiet and listen! You must answer this riddle are your ready?”

“Yes but-”

“Alright, here it goes: I can bring tears to your eyes; resurrect the dead, make you smile, reverse time. I form quite quickly and last for ages, what am I?

The crashing was thunderous now! The beast was closing; it was almost here!

The tiny man hopped up in down in a panic! “What’s your answer! Give me your answer, or we’ll both die!” The little man screamed frantically! “We’re going to die! Tell me your answer! Think of something, anything!” ¶I couldn’t think! I couldn’t process what was happening! I didn’t even remember the riddle! [_What resurrected people!  _]

“God. Is the answer god?”

“NO! No, you buffone! You’ve doomed us; we’re going to die!”

“RRRROAR!” The thing was ripping through the forest!

Trees were ripped from the ground and thrown hundreds of feet in the air as the beast forged it path straight for us! The earth was shaking with each monstrous footstep of whatever monster was coming! This is it!

“Wake up, wake up!” My eyelids flashed open only to find Rasben shaking me. “You’re just having a nightmare! You’re fine.”

“God, the answer is god!” I sputtered as I was torn drearily from what had quickly become a nightmare.

“Willam, you’re okay, you were having a nightmare. Everything is okay. Snap out of it.”  

I was awake now, but I was drenched in cold sweat. “Phew, this is a relief. I thought I was a goner for a second.”

“Why, what was happening? What was your dream about?”

Just as I was about to explain a knock came at the door. “Bang, bang, bang.”

Rasben left my bedside and answered the door quickly. After a few brief words with whoever was standing there, he turned back to me. “There’s someone who wants to see you. Right now.”

“What? Who?”   

“I don’t know, but you should hurry, it looks important.”

“Alright.” I threw on my shoes and walked to the door. Waiting for me was a guard.

“Hello sir, I’ve come to take you to a very important man. He would very much like to discuss some things with you.” ¶“It’s the middle of the night, can’t it wait till morning?”

“I’m sorry sir, but it has to be now, please follow me.”

Without even giving me time to get dressed he left, and I was forced to follow. Our trip was slow. He was pretty big, but he seemed quite young to be a guard. [_He can’t be much older than me, but I guess looks can be deceiving.  _]

We climbed multiple sets of stairs. We might have been on a sixth floor for all I knew. [How many floors does this place have? Wow, this is odd. _]The hallway[ ]was very different than the rest of the castle. It resembled something that felt familiar, but I couldn’t place my finger on it. The floor was made of something like brick, and the walls and doors were made from wood covered in small amounts of paint that were now stripping away. [_Did I step back in time?]

We walked around the hexagon shaped hallway, past five sets of doors, stopping at the sixth.

“This is it. When you are done speaking to him, come back out, and I will be here waiting to take you back to your room.”

“Who is he?”

“You’ll see.”

I gently pressed on the thin wooden door, and it swung open before me. I cautiously walked into the room, and to my surprise, saw no one. There was no light. The room was shrouded in darkness, but I had the feeling someone was watching me.

“Hello? Hello, is anyone here?”

Suddenly the room was lit by spirals of color! Red, blue, and green spirals came at me from all directions at once!

They flew all around me overtaking me in moments and all at once I was lost amongst a storm of color! Oh no!

And then a voice echoed through the walls of color. “Hello, Mr. Rose, and welcome.” I spun in circles looking for the voice. Where’s it coming from? What’s happening?

“I wanted to speak to you privately, what do you think of my small friends?”

“Who are you? Where are you? What is this? What’s happening?”

I rushed forward desperate to be free of the tormenting colors. The wall of colors and the spirals parted giving me a clear path! I’m free!

Before me stood the man from the woods! [_What is he doing here? _]

“Hello, it’s nice to see you again.”

[_I only met him once on that night of exploration with Jack and Chris weeks ago, why does he want to talk to me? _]

“How are you here? What was that, is this a dream?”

“You seem confused, what happened? These are the colors you asked me about in the dungeon just a few nights ago. ” The man seemed intrigued my lack of knowledge.

“What are you talking about? I’ve never seen anything like this. What night? I haven’t seen you since that night in the forest.”

“So you don’t remember the colors?”

“Well maybe I did, but I hit my head, and I have slight amnesia. Dr. Madstein told me it would pass.”

“Ah, very interesting.” The man whispered suddenly deep in thought. “I see Mr. Blackwood is keeping a tight ship.”

“What are you talking about? Why am I here?”

“I brought you there tonight to explain some of your questions about the sight, but it seems as though my explanation would be wasted on you in your current state.”

“Wait, please tell me something, I feel as though you can help me. I’ve been out of the loop lately. Could you tell me anything that might help?”

“Well our time is limited, so I’ll tell you what I had you brought here for. You have a gift called the sight. Even though you don’t know what I’m talking about it is truly an amazing gift. You are one of the few to chosen for this gift.” He paused seeing my confusion. “The colors you just saw were strands of electricity. Regular people wouldn’t have been able to see what you saw. The gift allows you this opportunity and grants you the ability to be different. With the sight, you can do things others can’t. In time you will learn to harness your gift and use it in ways you never thought possible.” The man was absorbed in his words of wisdom almost as if he were focused on something else entirely. `

“Wait, what. What are you talking about?”

“Here’s the simplest way to explain it. Everyone’s brain runs on electricity. Your gift allows you to see people in action. You can tell what people are doing and what they are about to do. With time you will be able to use what you see and apply it to your future. All you need to know is that [_the sight _]is an incredible gift, you are truly blessed. With this ability, you will be able to act in ways others can only dream of!”

I was beyond confused at this point. I decided not to even ask questions for fear of their answers.  

“You need to go now. Just remember, use the sight, let it take over. The more you give in, the more you will feel the power that flows around you. Eventually, you may even be able to see the world through the eyes of those around you.”

“Why me? Why do I have the sight? What do you mean, give in to it?” I was reeling with questions, but the window of opportunity was closing!

“All will be revealed in time. For now, let the sight guide you, it will show you the way. If you focus, you will gain the power to truly become yourself.” The man finished and swirled his hands.

Suddenly the colors that seemed to have frozen, shielding us from the world, began to once again whip around in a crazed tornado! The man took a few steps back, and the colors cracked releasing him from the curved storm I was now enveloped in!

“Until we meet again.” And with that, the colors closed like a bizarre curtain.

The greens, blues, and reds melded together until I could no longer see any individual color. Everything around me seemed to melt as the colors swirled faster, and faster and faster!

And them BOOM! The colors vaporized. The storm that had almost overtaken me was gone as though it had never even existed.

The door I had entered through opened, “Ahh!” I screamed!

“Mr. Rose, this visit is over. If you will please follow me I’ll show you back to your room.” The guard instructed choosing to ignore my scream. ¶I scanned the room that was now lit with a small amount of light from the hallway, but the man was nowhere to be seen! He had vanished along with his colors! There was no one in the room with me! Was that entire experience a hallucination? Am I losing my mind or do I really have what he called the sight?

[_ _]

Chapter 14: Fight, Fight, Fight

It was a dark and dreary morning with sleet raining against the window. Back home it would have meant there would be little to do outside, but as a tester our lives wouldn’t be affected by the weather. Today was another deciding game, and thanks to our encounter with the group of men after our last mission, our team would be forced to compete for the second time.

Breakfast was cut short by the call for all testers who would be in the deciding game to go to the simulation room early.  

“Testers from group’s, Margaret, Jackson, and William please come forward and head to the group simulation room.

“Good luck today guys.” Chris offered as both Jack and I stood and headed for what might be our demise.

“Thanks.” I managed.

No one was happy. Today had no happy ending. Either my team of Jack’s would be going home, so this was going to be our last sim together.

“I can’t believe it, this isn’t fare.” had been the general consensus at breakfast.

Now that we were walking neither of us talked, instead focusing on what lied ahead. As we approached the group sim room, I finally breached the silence. “Good luck today. I can’t believe it has to be this way.”

“I know, this is going to suck. Best of luck.”

And with that, we entered the simulation room, gathered in our groups and laid down for the start of the sim. My team was starkly quiet as we all explored our varying fears of losing.

Zoom! I was once again in the tunnel of lights heading towards the game that would decide my fate.

Boom! I was rocked as I slammed into my sim body. The room I was in was the same one we’d been dropped in before my jousting experience. Hopefully, this goes well. I hope wherever Jack is he isn’t as nervous as me.

Mrs. Nasdin immediately began talking. “Alright, today three teams will be in the deciding game instead of one. What you may not know however is that today’s match is a girls only. So, either Rachel or Jessica is going to have to compete. You can talk amongst yourselves for a few minutes but make the decisions quickly.” Mrs. Nasdin finished speaking and turned around to give us privacy.

The four of us turned inwardly, awkwardly waiting for one another to speak. Finally, Rasben broke the silence. “I think it should be Jessica.”

“I think it should be Rachel.” Jessica fired back.

Rachel didn’t seem to have an opinion, so they all turned to look at me. “What do you think William?”

“I know you’re gonna hate me, but I also think it should be you, Jessica. No offense Rachel, but Jessica is more athletic and stands a better chance of winning.”

Jessica definitely wasn’t thrilled with my decision, but she took it well. “Fine, I’ll do it, But you all owe me if I get us through this.”  

“Alright, have you made your decision?” Mrs. Nasdin asked already knowing our answer. “Good, then you three can follow Walter,” She pointed to a young boy waiting by the exit, “while I instruct Jessica.” ¶The three of us turned to go, but I couldn’t leave. I had to give her something, she looked scared, I don’t know what it was, but something inside me felt the need to comfort her.

I walked closer to her. “You can do this. You just gotta believe. I know you can win, no matter what happens.” I finished feeling awkward and turned to leave.

“What no goodbye kiss?” She asked from behind me. I turned and even though I knew she was kidding I stepped back and took her in my arms.

Our embrace was tight, and we stayed in each other’s arms for a few moments. Our cheeks rubbed as I nestled my head in her hair. It felt good to feel her pressed up against me. I felt her body tremble slightly with an inward fear for what was to come. [_I wish this didn’t have to happen. More than anything, I just want Jessica to be okay. Wait, why am I thinking this? I don’t know, but I do know that this girl means something to me, I need to stop pushing her away. _]

“Everything is going to be okay,” I whispered in her ear. “I believe in you.” I squeezed her tightly.

“Thank you.” She whispered back with a slight quiver.

And with that, we separated. “You’re gonna ring their bell miss Bell.” I said hearing how stupid I sounded only once my words had come out.

“Haha.” She laughed quietly. “Thanks, Will.”

“Your welcome.” And with that, I left as Mrs. Nasdin began her instruction.  

I followed the long tunnel out into the arena where a different boy, dressed in old-timey clothes, similar to my own current apparel, was waiting. “Please follow me, sir.”

I obeyed, and he led me to a small odd booth for testers with teammates participating in the event.

“Right in there sir.”

“Thank you.”

The booth had no glass due to the old world in which we were surrounded, but the fact that there was a booth at all was pretty cool. It was just a small wooden box, but the concept was ahead of its time. Inside waited all the members from the teams participating.

Jack walked over barely able to contain the anger that had been building over the fact that one of us was going home, or possibly both due to the three groups participating.

“I can’t believe that this is it, it seemed like the test would go on forever. Sorry, you guys got your object stolen from you, that’s rotten luck.”

“I still can’t believe it happened. It isn’t fair. Neither of us deserves to be here, and yet we both might be going home.”

“Dong, dong, dong!” Came the pounding of metal from below signaling the beginning of the match.

“Hello, ladies and gentlemen. Today we have a special treat, and we are excited to share it with you!” The same small announcer boomed from below. “Without further adieu, let us proceed with our main event!” He paused waiting for the roar of the crowd to die down enough to be heard. “Today, you all have the privilege of seeing a woman’s cage match! This event is one of our most gruesome, so I advise all of you to prepare for blood!” He waited again as the crowd rocked the stadium with excitement.

“Whoooo! Kill, kill, kill!”

“It is time to introduce the fighters!” He pointed to the tunnel on the left. “Coming out of the challenger’s tunnel is Jessica the Brave!” He paused and pointed at the larger tunnel opposite Jessica’s. “Coming on from the right tunnel is Margaret the Ferocious and Agatha the bull!”

“Whooo!” The crowd roared in surprise at the sight of Agatha!

She truly was a bull! She had to weigh at least 300 pounds! She stood over 6 ft and had quite a girth! I’d only seen her a few times, but now she looked larger than before! Jessica’s odds didn’t look good.

The announcer continued, “The rules of the cage match are simple! Try to stay alive!”

“Haha!” The crowd roared with laughter.

After chuckling the announcer continued. “The winner is either the last girl standing, or the one who escapes the cage, any questions?” He asked the girls.

Jessica looked absolutely terrified! I felt terrible. [_Why did I recommend her for this? How could I have been so awful? _]

“The bloodier, the better!” The announcer’s voice tore me from my thoughts.

The entire crowd was going crazy now! “Blood, blood, blood!” People outside the booth were screaming at the top of their lungs!

“Fighters please get to your positions!”

All three of the girls entered the cage, and each went to a corner.

The prospect of Jessica winning by escaping would have been nice, but despite the small area of the cage it had to be at least 20 yards tall! [_If she tries to climb, it’ll be suicide. What is she going to do? _] The tops of the cage bars were honed to a razor point so if one were to get to the top, if they made any wrong moves instant death would follow!

“Fighters ready? Begin!”

All three girls came to the center dirt-floored cage as if to shake, but it was a trap! Agatha grabbed Jessica and threw her to the ground. Margaret, the girl from Jack’s team, punched Agatha squarely in the face, but nothing seemed to happen! Agatha looked as though she’d absorbed the punch as if Margaret had just given here a friendly hug!

Margaret looked on stunned as Agatha returned the shot with a supersonic slam! Her fist seemed to go through Margaret’s face and into the air behind her head!

Margaret’s feets left the ground, and she was airborne! She flew across the cage and slid into a wall of bars! She didn’t move. Her body looked lifeless; it looked as though she were dead.

Agatha turned from her victim with a look of joy spreading across her face! She laughed viciously and charged Jessica who’d only just stood and witnessed Agatha’s bone-crushing abilities.

“Wham!” Agatha ran right into Jessica looking like a rhinoceros.

Jessica landed heavily and didn’t look like she was getting up! “Come on Jess!” I screamed. “You can do this!”

She stirred from whatever pained fog she’d been taken hold by standing slowly. Agatha turned like a waking giant and charged Jessica at full speed! The entire stadium seemed to shake with each of Agatha’s earthshaking steps! The crowd sensed blood, and everyone stilled as the distance was quickly closed!

But then Jessica flipped the script! She dodged out of Agatha’s deadly path and sticking out one leg and tripping her!

Agatha crashed to the ground and slid a couple of feet burying her face in the dirt. The audience gave a collective gasp! “Ohhh!”

Agatha tried to find her feat, but Jessica ran over to her and began to rain down punches! She was giving it everything she had! [_She might do it! _]Her punches, although numerous, barely seemed to phase Agatha! Slowly Agatha rose to her feat making the clear height difference apparent.

“Wack!” Agatha landed a huge backhand that sent Jessica reeling! I tried to keep myself from yelling but I couldn’t. “RUN!” I shrieked. She’s going to die; she has to run!

Jess fell to the ground, unmoving! It was over! The announcer raised his makeshift megaphone, to call it, but then Margaret got up from the place where everyone assumed she’d been lying dead.

As she stood she let loose a mighty, “Roar!” and charged.

The fight was back on, and it was going to be a fight between the giants.

Margaret wasn’t too shabby in the weight department. She had to weigh at least 200 pounds, which was still a 100 short of Agatha but she had at least 75 pounds on Jess. The two hefty girls began to duke it out with monstrous blows! Both were screaming and yelling obscenities at each other, but my attention was still focused on Jessica. Her body seemed void of life, but then I saw it!

Just a flicker, a twitch, but she’d moved![_ She’s alive!_] She raised her head and looked over at the other girls still engrossed in battle.

Jess rose from the dirt slowly, painfully, and began making her way to the wall of the cage! NO! NO! She couldn’t be thinking what I thought she was thinking! That would be certain death! But as if she wanted to spite me she began to climb!

She moved slowly at first but gradually gained speed! Hand over hand she moved and the crowd, who finally tore their attention from the fist fight saw her, and gasped! “Ohhh!”

Everyone in and out of the box was flipping out! “Can you believe it?” “What is she doing?” “That’s suicide!”

I couldn’t believe it myself! I felt myself urging her on in spite of the fear coursing through me! “You got this! You can do it!” I screamed looking like a total idiot.

She reached the top! But paused as if unsure of what to do! She felt one of the spikes and immediately pulled her hand away as if she’d been stung by a bee! She moved to the very top and lifted one leg over but immediately pulled it back with a loud “Rip!”

[_Come on Jess; you got this! _]As if she heard me she tried again! This time, she put her weight on her handholds simultaneously swinging her legs over the top and briefly letting go of the cage entirely! Her body swung up and over the top!

But she was falling! [_Oh no! _]This was it! I was going to see her fall to hear death! But then, like the climber she was, she reached out and grabbed onto the bars! As if her hands were made of glue she stuck to the bars and held! [_She made it! She’s over! _]

Quickly and efficiently she lowered herself foothold by foothold. When her feat hit the dirt the announcer’s voice reached us again from the megaphone type cone he used as an amplifier.

“And the winner is…” He took a second to figure out what her name was and then screamed, “Jessica, Jessica the Brave! Winner by the climb, an impossible feat, is Jessica the Brave. We applaud you for your bravery, Jessica, what a show!” He encouraged the stunned crowd. The announcer continued, but I wasn’t listening! I flew down the stairs three, four, five at a time! All I could think about was her! Something clicked inside, and I realized that despite my memory loss I still had feelings for her. I had to be there for her; I had too!

I sprinted across the sand and towards where Jessica stood hunched over! She saw me about halfway, and a huge smile broke out across her face.

When we met, I picked her up and swung her around! I had her; everything was going to be okay! I felt so free at that moment; I never wanted it to end! I set her back down and squeezed tightly! “You were great out there,” I whispered.

“Thanks.” She whispered back. “What’s with enthusiasm?”

“I’ve never been more scared for anyone in my life, simulation or not. I just wanted to let you know how I feel about you.”

“And that is?”

“Deeply,” I whispered softly in her ear.

I pulled back and our eyes locked! I felt myself slipping back in for a kiss, but then Rasben and Rachel ran up and ruined it.

“Great job out there Jessica!” Rasben said sounding embarrassed as he realized what was happening. “Yeah, great job!” Rachel echoed a she arrived.

Jess opened up one arm signaling the other two to get in on the group hug. They quickly obliged and the next thing I knew I was in a hug of four. It felt right that everyone should be a part of this moment.

“Are you okay?” Rachel asked.

“I’m okay, but-”

“The two of them continued to talk, but my attention was drawn to Jack walking out of the arena!  

“Jack wait up!” I called running after him.

[_This is it for him! He’s out of the test, and it’s partially my fault. I wish things were different. _]

“Hey Jack, wait up!”

He slowed and turned back to me. “Hey William, congrats.”

“I wanted to talk to you before you left.”

“About?” ¶“I just wanted to let you know you’ve been a great friend and I’m really sorry to see you leave.”

“Are you gonna tell me about the bodies in the room so that I can prepare.” He replied without bothering with pleasantries.

“I honestly don’t know what your talking about. I already told you at breakfast that the reason I can’t remember is because I hit my head. I don’t know why I would have said that but I was probably playing a joke, you’re going to be fine.”

“I wish you’d tell me what you know; I thought our friendship was more important to you than what ASTA could offer. I guess not.”

He was very angered by my unwillingness to talk, so he turned and began to stomp off.

“Jack, I’m gonna miss you!” I called to him.

He turned, and something seemed to change in his expression. “I’ll miss you too Will. If you ever figure out what’s happening, I would appreciate your help.” He walked towards me and gave me a brief hug. “I hope we see each other again.”

“I bet it’ll be sooner than we think,” I said trying to sound uplifting.

“I hope it will; I hope it will.” He echoed to himself as he walked away.

Once he was out of sight, I turned and walked back in the directions of my group. However, the whole way over I couldn’t get his last words out of my head. “I thought our friendship was more important than what ASTA could offer.”

I did value his friendship, but he sounded insane. [_There’s no way what he’s saying can be true. He seems truthful, but he has to be lying, doesn’t he? He did look genuinely scared, what if I’m wrong, should I have listened to him? Are bad things really coming? I really hope his last words doubting our friendship don’t haunt me. _]

But somewhere inside me, I knew they would.  

 

Chapter 15: Journey

I couldn’t sleep. That entire night I tossed and turned. I couldn’t get Jack’s last look out of my mind. [_What should I do? _]

Finally, around 2 a.m. I couldn’t take it anymore. I rolled out of bed, placed my bare feet on the cold wooden floor, stood and snuck out into the hallway.

Looking out the windows, everything was still pitch black. The hallway was almost impossible to navigate. However, the darkness only encouraged my brooding state as I walked on without direction.

Jack’s words of my betrayal kept running through my mind. I wanted to do something to ease my sense of guilt, but no solutions would surface. Jack’s final words had registered with me, and yet I had no recollection of seeing a room full of lifeless testers! I wish I could remember. Did I really hit my head, or was I just forgetting? I wish something would make sense.

As I continued to walk the words from the old man the other night began running through my head. “You have the gift of[_ the sight_].”

The sight, what was the sight? [_Since when had I been able to see colors strands? And why did that man know about it? Something must be wrong with me, but what? _] 

As I continued to dwell on the events of the past few days and my visit with the old man, and an odd thing happened. A weird feeling came over me. It felt like a pair of glasses had been slipped over my eyes and suddenly everything changed!

Colors appeared spontaneously before my eyes! I could see them! Everywhere! The color splashed around me as wispy cords flew this way and that! I felt like I was actually seeing for the first time!

The cords seemed to be hurrying up and down the hallway. Where are they going? [_Are they carrying something? _]Whatever they carried looked to be moving!

I reached out and tried to grab a bright green cord, but it flew right through my seemingly nonexistent had! However, the cord seemed to sense my presence and slowed just enough that I was able to see that it was carrying some kind of transparent screen. [_What the? _]Something flashed across the transparent surface, but I it was to quick! The cord, satisfied with it’s pause, bolted off!

As I looked back down the hallway from whence I came, I realized that the cords were all going into testers rooms! Why?

I moved quickly to catch up with a small red cord that was passing me, but something felt different! My walk wasn’t normal! I looked down, and to my shock, I had no body!

I’d been so focused on following the stream of color, that I’d forgotten to bring along my body! I spun around in a panic, only to lock eyes with it! My body!

It’s cold dead eyes seemed to be void of emotion! The corpse that I’d only moments before occupied stared straight through me!

I jumped backwards, but everything felt weird! Instead of jumping I floated! What’s happening? How am I moving! Is this a dream?

But it wasn’t a dream, I knew it! This was real. I was flying; I was floating, I was free!

Oddly enough, the feeling felt like deja vu. I couldn’t place the feeling, but it was familiar. [_ _]But who cared, I was free, I felt as though I was finally liberated. I had no body, and yet, I felt as though I’d been given a new control! [_Why am I thinking about this so much, I just want to fly! _]

And fly I did, I flew through walls and around hallways with absolute exhilaration! I can’t believe this is happening; I feel so alive!

Then I noticed them again. Even without my body, I could still see the color cords flying around. [_Maybe I can follow one? _]And so I did. One such cord, a green one, lead me back to my room! I followed the cord, passing right through the once solid door and into my room.

There lay Rasben, fast asleep, completely dead to the world. The cord I’d followed didn’t  slow, instead it flew directly for Rasben and then, right into his head! I can’t believe it! [_Did it just fly into his head? No way! _]

Curiosity got the better of me, and I decided to follow! I  approached Rasben’s head slowly ready to stop if things got messy, but when nothing stopped me I slipped right through his skull! It felt just like the door, completely nonexistent!

I could fly through anything. I guess that in the spirit like the form I now occupied, the laws of physics no longer applied to me! I can move however and through whatever I please as a consciousness, this is awesome!

As I came through the other side of his skull his brain appeared! It was huge! My consciousness seemed to have shrunk, upon entering making his brain seem massive! The enormous pulsating muscle before me was slick with rivers of goo![_ Eww!_]

I moved forward with the utmost caution, fearful of being attacked by the monster before me. I slowly moved forward to touch his brain only to find that I was incapable of such an action. All I managed to accomplish was moving halfway into his brain before bolting out of the gooey mess as fast as possible! [_Gross! _]

Realizing that touching his brain was a futile idea I instead circled it, studying the foreign mass. After a minute of so of this, I’d decided to leave and was just about to, when I saw it!

The transparent surface the cord had been carrying! It was in a crevice of Rasben’s brain! [_What the heck? _]I moved closer to get a better look and what I saw was unimaginable!

The screen was moving just like that of a silver screen! In fact, it even looked like a movie! [_Could it be? Yes, yes it is! It’s a dream! How can this be possible? How can I possibly be inside another human’s head looking at their dream! This had to be a dream of my own! How could it be real? _]

I wanted to leave, I swear I did, but the images flashing across Rasbens dream screen caught my attention! I couldn’t resist, I moved in for a better look.

Rasben was sitting atop a giant creature, called a horse. He wore a white cowboy hat and was chatting nonchalantly with an absolutely gorgeous woman! How desperately I wanted to hear what was being said, but to me, an outside viewer, the dream was void of sound.

Rasben said something and the girl laughed! She said something back, and they laughed together even harder. He was in the middle of saying something back when a puff of dirt flew up by his horse’s hoof!

Was that a bullet? Could it really be? This must be an old dream.

Rasben jumped from his beast, going for his gun only to freeze as his eyes picked up something out of the screen!The camera of Rasben’s mind panned, and the man shooting appeared!

He had a rifle trained on Rasben and he shouted something angrily! Rasben shouted something back and when the man didn’t respond Rasben pressed his advantage, and kept speaking. The man seemed to take offense to what Rasben was saying, but instead of blowing Rasbens brains out he threw his rifle to the ground and from my limited lip reading ability said something like, “FINE!”

As if clockwork, the girl held up her fingers without missing a beat and began counting down! “3, 2, 1!” Her last finger fell, and Rasben went for an ancient 6 shooter hanging from his hip! Sparks flew and smoked erupted as he fired his deadly bullet, as they were called. He stood looking like part man, part god with the sun shining on his back as the evil man trying to take his women fell to the ground mortally wounded.

Rasben turned, from the man whose life he’d taken to the beautiful girl who stood looking on in shock. He said something, to which she replied and then he leaned in gently pulling her to him! Their lips met in a victorious embrace, and even though the moment was glorious for Rasben I laughed!

I couldn’t help it. The entire dream was so beyond the realm of possibility! I couldn’t help it I began to laugh uncontrollably. However, laughing was different without a body. I felt the laugh run through my consciousness and then I started to roll while floating around unable to control myself!

Unable to stop laughing I rolled into his brain, and that’s when I felt it! Rasben’s brain paused as if it had felt me, or maybe heard me? I looked over at the dream screen only to see that the images were stuttering and skipping around as if his dream were beginning to shut down! Uh oh!

[_He’s waking up! _]My laugh died instantly, and I flew right out of his head and back into the world like the bullet from Rasben’s dream!

I flew back through the door and out into the hallway. I flew down the hallway and back to where my body stood looking dumbstruck.

I swooped back towards my head, but I couldn’t get inside! What the! I just kept bouncing off some invisible force field! [_Crap, what’s wrong? _]

I repeatedly flew into the invisible force that was protecting my mind from outside invaders. “It’s me you, big dummy!” I screamed inwardly.

But my brain seemed unable to comprehend anything without its master inside telling it what to do! I was stuck between a rock and a hard place. [_There’s no way I can leave. Without me my body is nothing! I have to get back inside! Without my body, my life is over! But how do I get back in? _] 

I was about to try ramming it again when the old man’s words from a couple of nights before sound in my head. “Remember to focus, focus, and you will become one with yourself.”

What had he meant? I am focused, but my body still won’t let me in! Why couldn’t he have told me this would happen instead of sounding wise and mystical.

Focus, focus, focus. _]The word flashed through my mind repeatedly. [_Focus on what? [_What had the man meant? _]

[_Focus, focus, focus. _]I could only think about getting into my body, so I decided to focus on that. I shut my consciousness’s eyes and looked inwardly. I thought about how nice it would be to be in my real body. I thought about how warm and comfortable my body was, and I thought about how if I was in my real body I would have the use of my brain and I would be able to think and problem solve for the future.

I continued to think about why it would be great to be back in my body for the next few minutes, but I still felt the same. Nothing was happening. This is bull crap! Screw that old guy and his crazy philosophy. I’m just gonna have to live like this from here on out.

I opened my eyes, but what I saw stunned me! I didn’t open the weird consciousness eyes I had closed a moment ago. Instead, I opened my eyes! My real eyes! I’m back! I’m home! I’m in my body again! Phew, that was scary. I almost freaked out for a second.

I kept feeling myself just to make sure. Upon the discovery that I was, in fact real, I began the short walk back to my room.

The entire way back, I couldn’t shake the sense of flying. Walking felt so drab now, all I wanted was to feel free, without the limitations of a body. I wanted to go back.

These thoughts of flying and seeing Rasben’s dream coursed through me as I opened my door. I slowly made my way back to my bed in the dark and was almost there when a light flipped on!

“What are you doing out of bed?” Rasben sat up.

“Thought I heard something.”

“What was it?”

“Nothing, it must have just been my mind playing tricks on me.”

“You and me both, something feels wrong. I feel violated. You know that weird feeling you get when someone’s watching you? Well when I woke I felt it, and you weren’t here, so it’s that much weirder. Do you think there are cameras in here?”

“I think your crazy and you’re jumping to conclusions because of a serious lack of sleep. We can talk about this later, but right now, I think we both need sleep.” I soothed.

Rasben weighed my words and seemed to conclude with my reasoning. “You’re right; I’m overloaded with stress. I can’t think coherently right now. Sleep sounds good, but we should talk about this tomorrow.

“Sounds good.”

“Alright, goodnight.”

“Goodnight.”

And with that, he rolled over and flipped off the lamp. I crawled under my covers feeling like a kid who’d just spied santa leaving presents. I don’t know how to explain it, but I felt like I knew something that would get me in trouble. I have a gift. I can see things others can’t, I can do things other can’t, and I can be things others can’t. Wow!

“Everyone is waiting in the commons area. You coming?” Rasben called from the open door.

“Yeah, I’m coming.” I rose from my bed and followed.

I’d decided to tell the group about my out of body experience and see if something like this might have happened before my accident.

As we passed Matthew’s room the thought that he might have something to add to the conversation occurred to me. “Rasben hold up a second.”

I turned to the room I’d seen Matthew enter on occasion, knocked once and then opened the door. The sight that met my eyes sent me reeling!

They were kissing! Matthew and Rachel, kissing, what the!

“Ahh! Haven’t you guys heard of a sock on the door, or for that matter, a lock! “Man, I did not come here to see that! My bad.”

I closed the door quickly pausing to get my bearings.

“What do you want?” Came Matthew’s voice from inside.

“Nothing, nothing at all. Sorry about that.” I responded back through the door.

“Alright.” Was his short answer. I turned, without waiting to hear if he had anything else to say, and left pulling Rasben along with me.

“Hurry, we need to get going.” ¶   “What, what was he doing?”

“Let’s just say that neither he or Rachel will be joining us.”

We hurried the rest of the way to the library. Walking in I was almost blinded by the mid day sunlight blasting through the windows scattered throughout the library.

“Hey, mister you’re late,” Jessica said as she skipped over to me and grabbed onto my arm. At first, I thought it was her way of flirting, but then I realized she was only grabbing me to steer me towards a table at which Chris was seated.

Rasben, Jessica and myself each pulled out one of the light, opposite magnet, floating chairs and took a seat.

“Thanks for coming, how’s everyone?”

“Good, but I’d be better if we could do this meeting thing later. Why’d it have to be so early?” Chris asked amidst an enormous yawn.  

“It’s noon, are you serious? Anyways, what I’m about to tell you is a very touchy subject. Do I have everyone’s promise of secrecy?”

“Yeah sure, but what about Rachel, or you new friend Matthew, aren’t they coming?”

“They were supposed too, but there indisposed at the moment. It doesn’t matter though, what I have to be said needs to be said now. Something freaky happened to me last night; I thought you guys should know. Do you want to?”

Jessica scooted closer, “Yes.”

“Alright, last night I couldn’t sleep, so I went for a walk. I paced through the hallway and then something weird happened! Cords of color appeared. The cords flew past me in every direction and into testers rooms! There were blues, greens, and reds. It was crazy they were awesome…”

I told them about how I had then started to fly around without my body. And how my consciousness had left my body and how free I had been.

“It was incredible! I could go anywhere I wanted. I could fly through walls and even people. In fact, I flew into someone’s mind and saw their dream!”

“Are you serious? Is this a joke? You’re kidding right?” Chris asked incredulously.

“No, I’m completely serious! It happened! At one point I even saw the cords of color carrying dreams!”

“Are you serious? You don’t expect us to believe you, right?” Jessica said losing all sense of the smile she’d worn.

I’m losing them.

“You can’t honestly expect us to believe you. There is no way that happened.” Rasben stated popping all of the air out of my already faltering balloon. “Is this what you brought us down here to tell us; that you saw colors and people’s dreams?”

“It happened, I know it sounds crazy, but it’s the truth,” I said frantically whispering. “I can prove it. I’ll show you what I did!” I said as an idea flashed through my head.¶“Do what exactly, see people’s dreams?” Rasben asked.

“You’ll see! I’ll read your minds!” I said barely able to contain myself.

[_They’d see. I’d slip out of my body fly into one of their minds and figure out what they were thinking. It’s a fail proof plan. _]

I squeezed my eyes shut and thought of faraway places. I thought of my home and school hoping to escape into the world of last night.

I opened my eyes tentatively, but it hadn’t work![_ I’m still in my body! Why didn’t it work? _]

“So… Were we supposed to see something?” Chris questioned.

I slammed my eyelids shut again! “I can do it! I know I can!”

I can do this! _]This time I thought about last night, I thought about Rasben’s dream! [_Please let me escape my body. _]But when I opened my eyes I was still the same! I hadn’t left, [_I’m stuck!

Now the three of them were starting to get angry. Jessica stood beginning to lose all patience for my antics. “You can’t be serious! You had me come to the library just to tell me some outlandish story that no one would believe. Why would you do that? I thought you might have matured a little, but then you go and pull a prank like this? I don’t have time for this.” With that, she turned on her heel and walked briskly from the room.

Then Chris stood. “Did you honestly expect us to believe a crazy story from you after you’ve been acting so weird lately and not remembering anything? It seems as though you like making stuff up, it’s not cool man.” And with that, he left.

“Rasben, you have to believe me, I’m telling the truth.”

“There’s no way that happened.” And with that, he disappeared out the oak doors!

Loneliness washed over me. I was completely and utterly alone! No one believes me or cared. I guess being alone is the story of my life.[_ All of my girlfriends had left me, my dad was never home, and I ended up taking care of my mom instead of the other way around. I’m always stuck fending for myself and wondering what it would be like if someone cared._]

These thoughts of self-pity circled and absorbed my attention, so much so that I missed Dr. Madstein’s entry.

“Hello, William, how are you?”

“Not super great. My friends won’t believe me, and everyone seems to be abandoning me. No one will take me seriously anymore. I feel as though I should be able to reassure them, but I can’t think of anything to prove my story.

“Well, they don’t sound like very caring people. They sound too self-centered to listen to your troubles. I just want you to know that I’m here for you Will if you need me.”

His words seemed sincere, and in that moment I wanted to tell him everything. I wanted to tell him about my crazy dream the other night with the riddle that I was still trying to figure out. I wanted to tell him about my out of body experience, and I even wanted to tell him about my girl troubles. Everything seemed psychotic, so I decided to start with the most recent event.

“Well, last night something unbelievable happened…  I left my body!”

Dr. Madstein leaned forward in his chair as quick as lightning! “Wait! What?”

“I know it sounds crazy, but I did. I left my body and just flew around! I don’t know what happened, but it felt real. It was awesome! I know I sound crazy, but I’m not making this up, it happened. You have to believe me; no one else will.”

Dr. Madstein looked like he was going to burst with excitement! “I do believe you, William, I do believe you! So it happened, you left your body?” He asked very excitedly.

He sounded happy about something, but it definitely wasn’t for me. His mind seemed to be on something else completely.

“Are you okay Dr. Madstein?” I asked trying to gain is attention from whatever far away place he was now at.

“Yes, yes everything is more than okay! Everything is great! How did it happen, when did it happen?

“Last night, out of the nowhere trails of colors appeared flying all around me. I tried to follow them, but I accidentally left my body! When I looked down I outside of it, I know it sounds beyond crazy, but I swear it happened.”

I know I sounded crazy, but Dr. Madstein seemed to have the opposite standpoint. _In fact, he looks very excited. _“Thank you so much, William, I can’t wait to have another one of our talks, but right now, I need to be somewhere. Thank you for sharing, and I can’t wait to discuss this more with you.” With that, he was up and on the move!

He magnetic repellant chair flew into the table as he practically ran from the room!

I couldn’t help it; I had to figure out what the heck was happening![_ What is he talking about, what is anyone talking about?_] Dr. Madstein seemed to be the only one with answers, and so I followed.

I stood trying to seem as nonchalant as possible and began to follow the good Doctor…

He wasn’t very hard to follow. He was so focused on something; he kept whispering to himself and getting lost. He was so focused on whatever it was that had gotten him excited that even if I would have been very obvious he probably wouldn’t have noticed me.

He moved quickly and so did I, with him leading, whispering to himself and myself following closely on his heels. I used the shadows and walls to stay hidden. If any cameras were in commission, I would surely be thwarted, but I pushed all doubt from my mind.

[_I have to figure out what Dr. Madstein knows! _]

He walked around a corner and by the sudden voices I guessed he was talking to someone. I carefully peeked around the corner and hurriedly pulled back out of sight!

[_All three of them were there! Mr. Blackwood, Mrs. Nasdrin, and Dr. Madstein. _]I barely caught snippets of what they were saying, but I didn’t dare move closer, for fear of being detected.  

“The boy has done it!” Dr. Madstein reported.

“We need to tell him about it.” Mrs. Nasdin jumped in.

“I’ll tell him, just try and keep it quiet for now.” Mr. Blackwood told the group.

Then they all moved closer and whispered something, but I couldn’t quite make it out! [_It’s important, but I can’t risk getting caught. _]

Their whispering ended shortly and their footsteps told me that they were splitting up. One set of feet seemed to be moving my way![_ I can’t run, they’ll see me! _]I shoved my body back into a small crease in the shadow covered wall and waited!

Mr. Blackwood turned the corner and thankfully continued right past me! [Phew! _]His attention seemed elsewhere. He’d whispered to himself something about telling [_him, _]about William.[ _]I had to find out the who he was talking about was.

I slipped from the shadowed corner and began to, every so slowly, follow Mr. Blackwood. [_I have to know what’s happening! _]

He hurried through hallway after hallway occasionally looking back, but not seeing his stalker move from shadow to shadow of the poorly lit hallways. [_I’m actually pretty good at following people. _]As long as they weren’t paying super close attention, I was able to stay close enough not to lose them, but far enough to stay out of sight.

We went up several flights of stairs and to the floor where I’d met the strange man from the forest.

The hallway was home to far fewer shadows, due to several windows, which increased the difficulty of following. I was so concentrated on staying out of sight that I almost missed Mr. Blackwood opening a tall coal colored gray door!

After waiting a few moments, I approached. “Click.”

Dang it! It’s locked! All of that work only to get shut out at the very end! Man do I have terrible luck.

I turned to leave when I heard footsteps! “Click, clack, click, clack.”

[_Where should I hide? _]I began to run; [_I have to find somewhere! _]And then I saw it! A small door seemed to beckon to me! I tried it and “Creak,” it swung open! [_Yes! _]I quickly shut the door, before sneaking into the corner and sliding downward into a sitting position.

To my surprise, no one followed.[_ I’ve lost them! _]Even so, I couldn’t afford to peak my head out and be spotted, so I waited. The time ticked by as I sat on the cold wooden floor shrouded in darkness. I couldn’t see much of the room, but it didn’t look like much anyways. It had no windows, and the walls were bare.

With nothing to do but think, I began to think about what had been happening. I thought about the night before and how I’d slipped from the confines of my body! I can’t believe it!  I’d flown through walls and even people, and I even saw a brain and a dream! Last night was beyond belief. It was awesome! _]I tried to wrap my head around this, but couldn’t, [_could it have been a delusion? No, it couldn’t have. It had been so surreal! The way I’d felt was indescribable! It was better than any drug, and it was truly incredible!

I shook myself from these thoughts, content with the amount of time I’d waited, however when I opened my eyes to leave, something was different! It didn’t feel like I’d opened my eye lids. [_Could it be? _]

[_Yes, yes it was, It’d happened again! _]

I was out of my body! [_I’m floating! I’m loose! I’m free! _]

I swooped around the room in a complete frenzy! Then I danced from side to side with exuberance as an insane pleasure rushed through me! I’m back baby; I’m back!

Then it hit me. [_I’m here to find out something, and now I can do it! _]I’d been so excited that I almost missed the opportunity right in front of me.

I zoomed at the wall and burst through gliding to an abrupt halt! [_Whoa. _]The room, which resembled that of a barely lit old timey study, held Mr. Blackwood and another man and they were deep in conversation!

“We can’t control him; he might be stronger than we thought.” Mr. Blackwood finished.

The man, who was draped in shadows, seemed very angered by Mr. Blackwood. “Are you really such an incompetent fool? You’re telling me you can’t control a boy with no idea of what is going on! How weak are you?” The man’s shout became a bellow of absolute fury! “He is only a boy, with no knowledge, and yet you are unable to restrain him!” As the man continued, something began to happen!

Dark, black tendrils of color materialized from his spindly fingers! What the heck!? _]The cords seemed different than the ones carrying dreams the night before. These were more controlled! They were more scary. [_Uh oh! They seemed to obey this man’s command!

They moved in, wrapping themselves around Mr. Blackwood, slowly tightening around his neck! The sight reminded me of an old horror movie about an extinct animal called an anaconda!

“Accck, accc!” Mr. Blackwood flailed trying desperately to hold on to life!

I could see color cords fleeing from his brain! They were dark blue and they rushed after one another, trying to escape the poisoning effect of the black tendrils wrapped around their master’s throat.

Mr. Blackwood was being strangled!

“You good for nothing, weak, disposable piece of…”

[_Wait stop! _]I called inwardly.

The man stopped mid-sentence and his head turned!

Mr. Blackwood slowly sunk to his knees trying to pull the tendrils from around his neck! “Uhhh, uhhhh!!” He choked trying to fill his lungs with air!

I was so focused on Mr. Blackwood that I didn’t realize where the other man was looking!

“Huhhh, huhh, huh!” Mr. Blackwood choked in air as blood dribbled from his mouth.

“Get up you fool. It seems we have a visitor.” The man said eerily calm, as his eyes bore into my floating consciousness.

Mr. Blackwood looked utterly bewildered, but the other man knew I was here, [_he knows! _]I was suddenly completely naked and exposed! [_He knows who I am! He’s going to catch me! _]

“Get him!” the man shouted as he put his hands together once more and thrust them towards me!

The black pythons of color materialized and rushed toward me! I spun around and took off!

I flew as fast I could possible fly! I rammed through wall after wall! I couldn’t change directions, I can’t slow down! [_The cords are gaining momentum! _]I could feel them catching up with me! They were latching on!

I spun; shaking their grip while trying to keep flying! I burst through another wall, but this time I was met with outside air! I have to go faster!

I weaved left and down! The ground came up to greet me but I pulled up at the last second grazing blades of grass, but continuing on!

And then, I saw him! A guard and his guard dog! They were standing in front of the main entrance completely oblivious to my peril! [_Help, help me! _]

I altered my course, making a beeline for the pair. The tendrils seemed to fall behind as if slightly confused as to what I was doing.

My plan was to fly into the guard’s head and hide there, but at the last second, something changed my mind. [_Dogs are a man’s best friend, so why not hide out with a beast that loves me? _]

I was flying so fast, I barely changed my course in time! I slammed into the oblivious dog at supersonic speeds, colliding with his brain without slowing! And that’s when everything clicked.

I hit the dog’s brain, but instead of passing through it, I stuck to it! In fact, I was it! [_I am the dog’s brain, I have control of the dog, I am a dog, I’m an animal! _]

Through my new dog eyes I saw the tendrils approaching! There was nothing I could do, [_this is it! _]

They approached faster and faster, and then… [_They passed me! They’d missed me! They’d gone by without a clue as to where I’d hidden! _]

I turned my new, smaller head to see where the cords had gone, but they had vanished! [_This dog saved me! Can this world be any more bizarre? _]

[_ _]

Chapter 16: Diving for Answers

I eventually found my way back to my own body and made my way carefully back downstairs, to ground level, trying not to be detected. Glancing out the windows it looked as though several hours had passed.

My head was still reeling! I had no idea how the world worked anymore![_ What is real? _]My life now seemed limitless. [_What is really possible? _]

These thoughts of potential greatness flooded my brain all the way back to my room. I tried not to wake Rasben, but once again, I failed.

“Hey, what are you doing up?” Rasben asked as he jerked awake. “Why are you always out of bed?”

“Thought I heard something again, why are you in bed so early?” I tried.

“We were told to get in bed early, and you really expect me to believe that lie again?” Rasben replied sarcastically. “You heard something? Did you hear Jessica down the hallway?”

“No, what are you talking about?”

“I bet you were with her. Why else would you be out in the middle of the night? I don’t care about what you guys have done, but you need to stop. If you get caught sneaking around at night you’ll probably get sent home, and if it’s with a girl, you have no chance at staying.”

“None of what you think is happening is going on.”

“Whatever, I get that you don’t want to confess. Just don’t get me in trouble when you get caught.

“Are you really worried about the fact that I’m sneaking around, or do I sense jealousy?” A look of confusion passed over his face as I pressed him. “So that’s it! You’re jealous. You’re jealous because I actually have a girl and all you can do is dream about them.”

Rasben’s eyes focused on mine. “What, how… How did you know that I…” Rasben stuttered.

[_Uh oh. Well, I guess I can’t turn back now. _]

“There’s no way you could know about my dreams.” Rasben tried to reassure himself.

“Don’t freak out, but you know how I told you about what happened to me the other night and how I had that out of body experience. Well, I may not have told you everything. What I forgot to mention was that the cords of colors that flew around me carried dreams.” Rasben now looked completely lost. “Well, anyways, I followed a cord and it led me back to you. What I’m saying is; I saw your dream where you shot that guy in a duel.

Rasben continued to stutter in disbelief. “There’s no way that happened! How could that have happened? What the hell is going on! I must have been talking in my sleep! There’s no way you could have seen my dream, that’s impossible! This is utterly preposterous!” Rasben shouted while racking his mind for some sort of argument, “I’ve got it! If you actually saw my dream, what then was the color of hair did the girl I liked have?”

“Dark blonde, almost brown.”

Rasben continued to fire questions, “What color was the man’s hat?”

“Black.”¶“What was the name of the saloon behind us?”

“The only thing behind you was a ghost town.”

Rasben was at a loss of words. Finally, he found his voice and began to speak again. “Well, if this really is true, then you’re the reason I felt like I was being watched. You’re what I felt in my mind! You’re why I felt like I’d been violated! I can’t believe this, are you tricking me?”

“I’m not lying, it’s the truth! I’ve been trying to tell you for days now. I don’t know how I can prove this to you anymore than I already have. Rasben, if you believed me, I’d finally have someone on my side. Just think about it, there is no way I could have known about your dream unless I’d seen it. You have to believe me!”

A minute or so of him staring at the floor passed. Finally he looked up and spoke, “I don’t completely believe you. You haven’t completely been honest about everything up to this point, but I do know that something doesn’t add up. I’ll take your word that you somehow can see things others can’t and I’ll take your word that you saw my dream, but I’ll need more. I’ll need some sort of proof. I suggest we talk more about his tomorrow. If you can prove to me with a surety that you’re telling the truth then I’ll get behind you 100%.

“Alright, I’ll think of something.” our conversation ended.

We both laid down and shut off our lamp illuminators. I was actually pretty ecstatic that I had someone halfway convinced that what was happening to me wasn’t fake! If I can convince someone else that what is happening to me is true, then maybe, I can convince myself that what’s happening is authentic!

Crazy ideas of how to show Rasben that I was telling the truth about jumping out of my body continued to run through my head as I fell into a very fitful and short sleep.

“Wake up, wake up, wake up!” I was shaken awake by a woman in an all-white uniform. “It’s time to go! You have to get up!” She shrilled.

I could barely see. My eyes were blurry and out of focus. I could barely see the alarm clock but I could tell it said 5 am on it! “What are you talking about? It’s 5 in the morning! Why the heck are you in here? There’s no way we have a mission right now!” I said rolling over to go back to sleep, but to no avail.

The women pulled out a whistle and began shrieking on it! “Get out of bed right now!”

Rasben and I leapt from our beds and practically changed clothes instantaneously! No more rebellion was going to be tolerated.

The women led us down the hallway and into a small room that Rachel and Jessica were both already in. “Nice of you to show up.” Jessica said sarcastically yawning.

“Everyone lay on separate beds! Hurry, hurry, hurry” The woman ordered.

As we laid down; the woman began scanning a monitor. The mattresses were cold and quite uncomfortable, but we were quickly launched into a simulator.

Zoom! I buzzed through the sea of colors as I had done so many times before, but this time the colors stood out. Each of them making their own trail as they spiraled around crazily.

In the middle of my close scrutiny, I was yanked from the tunnel and thrown back into the world.[_ I have to get my mind focused on what is coming and try to get these thoughts of colors out of my mind. _]

Boom! I slammed into my avatar body and felt myself connect with it! The feeling was similar to that of my dog takeover which sent a feeling of deja vu rippling throughout me. I flexed my fingers to make sure everything was in order and then began to scan my surroundings.

There wasn’t very much to look at. Instead of being outside as I normally was, I found myself looking at my new team lying lifeless in a small dark room that surrounded us.

Slowly, all of the other bodies were taken over by my team and the confusion only grew. “Where are we?” “This can’t be right, can it?” Commented Rachel and Jessica.

“What’s that?” Rasben asked pointing up to what looked like some sort of doorway. “There’s only one way to find out.” I replied. “Rasben, help me lift Jessica up.”

I cupped my hands as did Rasben and we both hoisted up one of her feet. She was extremely light in her new asian avatar. We lifted her and she managed to break the seal with a single pull. With that, she quickly disappeared into the darkness above.

“Send up Rachel.” Jessica’s voice echoed down.

Imitating the same procedure, we lifted Rachel, also asian in stature, up into the new exit. She also disappeared. Next up was Rasben.

The lifting was a little bit harder with just me, but I managed. Up he went, leaving me alone in my suffocating, dark surroundings.

Just as I’d started to panic, a small rope was lowered. After ascending the rope I too reached the above space where my team was located.

To my surprise, the small circular door didn’t lead to the outside world as I had hoped. Instead, we’d emerged into a place completely foreign to me. [_Are we in a submarine? _]

Outside the small windows was water. Miles and miles of it in every direction! Judging by the small amount of light that reached us it looked as though we were submerged considerably deep underwater.

The subs small windows near us and expansive ones near the front looked as though they would crack under the water pressure any moment. “Are we safe? Will the windows hold?”

“Sure they will, I’m guessing they’re coated in graphene which will make them ten times stronger and able to resist the pressure from the millions of gallons of water.” Rasben answered with sudden knowledge of underwater adventure.

After Rasben’s reassurance, I momentarily became fixated on the marine life swimming around our motionless sub. Fish swam in all directions in great schools of color that transformed our surrounding with their every move. It was quite mesmerizing!

“William, William.” Jessica waved her hand getting my attention. “Do you know what we’re supposed to do?”

“No, I don’t have a clue. I too, am completely in the dark on this one. I have no idea what our mission is, or how we’re supposed to accomplish it.”

“Well, that’s great. I can’t believe they wouldn’t tell us. Why are they doing this?” Jessica said exasperated.

“My guess is that they wanted to see our reaction when put in a perilous situation. If we are left clueless, then, they might be able to more accurately judge our performances. And speaking of performances, I may have found a solution to our problem.” We all turned intently to hear Rasben’s idea.

“It seems as though the navigation system is already set up and is ready to take us somewhere on autopilot.” Rasben answered as he studied a hollow panel that popped up with the flick of a switch. “That has to be it. I think we need to let the sub take us where it’s programed. Are you guys ready for an adventure?”¶“Rasben, maybe we should think about this.” I questioned. “Are you sure this is right?”

“No, but there’s only one way to find out, so, if you would all take your seats, Captain Rasben is going to lead us to the promise land!” He commanded with a sudden thrill before jumping into the pilot’s chair and starting the propeller engines.

Reluctantly, I sat, following Rasben’s instructions. Jessica complied as well taking the seat next to mine. Rachel sat next to her, and the sub jolted forward at Rasben’s command.

The submarine moved silently, propelled by thin metal blades that spun the water into millions of bubbles as we gradually descended.

We moved further and further into the black pit, that was by the looks of it an ocean. With every few feet of dissension, the sub’s walls complained more and more. Creaking and moaning, the solid metal sent shivers running up and down my back. [_This won’t end well. _]

Sensing my discomfort, Jess took my hand in hers and held it. Looking at her was all of the comfort I needed. Her soft green eyes seemed to invite me into their pits of warmth.

An understanding passed between us and we continued to sit with our hands intertwined. We sat like this for around 15 minutes when suddenly, the sub stopped.

Rasben unbuckled himself from the pilot’s chair and made his way back to the three of us huddled in fear. “You guys are gonna want to see this!”

We followed him back towards the front window that wrapped around to provide more visibility to the captain. My eyes followed the sub light all the way to the ocean floor. Lying there was a wrecked ship! [_Whoa! _]

“I think whatever we’re supposed to do has something to with the wreckage.” Rasben oozed enthusiasm. “Let’s look below and see if we have any scuba gear!” Rasben once again lead the way back to the trap door we had entered through. He jumped, and after declaring it was safe we all followed. “Ping!” I landed on the subs bottom in my much lighter avatar, which, by all estimates seemed to be asian.

Rasben was already rummaging through a bin of lockers, pulling out weird looking suits and fins! [_NO, no, no, this can’t be happening! Why does crazy stuff always happen to me? I’m going to go out there and get instantly crushed by the ocean’s monstrous weight! _]

After finding four suits, Rasben gave us each one. There were two for the girls and two for the boys judging by the colors of purple and green. All of the suits were quite small, seemingly too small to fit in, but my new body’s smaller dimensions granted me access to the suit that would most likely lead me to my death.

I slipped on the feet, and then the arms. Despite my eyes unwillingness, I managed to look away from the girls as they changed.

The suits were a simple mesh material that would do nothing to protect us from the bone crushing effects of the millions of pounds of water pushing down on us.

“Rasben I think we should hold off for a minute. If we leave this sub we’ll all be killed! There is no way we’ll survive this! There is too much water pressure out there for the human body to survive. We will die if we do this, maybe the real mission is to not do anything at all?” I asked hopefully.

“I’ve read about these types of suits. They’re built for extreme pressure. Before we leave you’ll need to hit the small button on your chest. Hit that and the suit will expand into what feels like a bullet proof vest. The suit consists of multiple layers of graphene with a small layer of air in the middle that together create a bubble of protection. However, keep in mind that if your suit is in anyway punctured you will be instantly crushed. So, whatever we do, we must take the utmost precautions.” Rasben finished his lecture, put on his own suit and then handed out helmets and fins.

The helmets were very weird looking. They had been made out of clear, reinforced plastic all the way around, and had a respirator type thing over the mouth.

“Where are our tanks?” I asked confused.

“You don’t need one. These respirators break the water down giving you the oxygen and releasing the hydrogen back into the water.” ¶“How do you know all of this?”

“I do a lot of research. Also, my grandpa used to be a marine biologist before the new laws, so, he would tell me stories about his dives and the adventures he had. His stories inspired me to research and luckily I did, or this mission would have been close to impossible.”

“Well, if we die, we’re holding you accountable then.” Rachel half joked.

“Haha. Well, at least it’s just a simulator; otherwise I would never do this.” Rasben laughed as he went to pull a lever.

“Wait, what!” I shouted, but it was too late.

The floor dropped out from beneath us releasing us into a swirling tirade of water! I pushed the button on my chest as I was sucked into the water! “AHH!” I yelled for a moment before realizing that I was perfectly fine, sinking slowly downward.

“If you’re done freaking out, we can get on with the mission.” Came Rasben’s voice crackled through some sort of speaker in my helmet.

“Haha!” The girls laughed at my scaredy cat moment.

“I’m so glad we have such a brave leader.” Jessica prodded through the com system.

“Whatever, it wasn’t that bad.” I fired back. “I thought we were about to die.”

Jessica swam past me in her newly expanded suit. “Follow me fearless leader, unless you’re afraid the water might attack you? Haha!” The three of them all laughed at my expense.

“Alright, whatever, haha.”

Rasben interfered with the joking. “Alright guys, I think we should get back to the mission at hand. If you tap the button next to your temple a light will turn on.”

We all followed Rasben’s lead and switched on our helmet lights which only slightly illuminated the darkness we now swam in.

“Alright guys, remember; stay sharp and whatever you do don’t let your suit get compromised.” And with that he began to kick in the direction of the wreckage.

As we approached, Rasben’s voice once more cracked across the coms. “Alright guys, look for anything odd, we might have to get a lot of stuff and just hope we get the right thing. Also, be careful, we don’t know what sea creatures might have taken over this wreckage as their home. If anything attacks, get away as quickly as possible.

“Let’s split up and search the wreckage separately.” I added.

Rasben veered off first to look at the front of the boat. Rachel and Jessica took the middle leaving me with the back. The front had a lot of holes that I’m assuming Rasben would be checking out. The middle had a couple of cargo containers that lay everywhere and the back had the captain’s tower.

The ship looked like it had been a cargo ship of some kind and the wreck looked fairly recent judging by the lack of residue.

I approached the tower that had almost no glass left due to the water pressure that I was feeling pushing at me from all sides. I kicked my way into what looked like the captain’s deck. The room was quite large but had no dead bodies inside. I glided in with my sleek fins making my way cautiously around the room, just in case anything was lurking.

When I found nothing, I began to search for clues as to what might have happened or what I might be looking for. I made my way slowly around the room scanning with my headlight, looking for anything out of the ordinary. The captain’s chair still stood intact and so I swam over and floated atop it for a moment. As I sat, I replayed what might have happened in my head but could think of nothing special. [_What happened to this ship? What was special about it? _]

I pushed off the chair moving slowly towards the back wall. There, in the center of the wall a safe was located. However, it’s been crushed by the immense water pressure.

I side stroked away from the unbreakable safe and began to move back towards the captain’s chair, but something felt off. Why do I feel like something’s watching me? _]My hair stood on end as the prying eyes continued to study me. [_Where are they?

I scanned around me before gradually looking up only to be greeted by horror!

There, looking back at me, were cold dead eyes! Sailors’ eyes! Their bodies floated above, shredded as if by animals. Their eyes were so bloodshot they looked ready to burst! Their skin was beyond white, where they still had it, and from what I could make out from their clothing they were military members. I finally ripped my eyes from the gruesome sight no longer able to bear the looks of horror on their faces, but was unable to shake the sight of their mouths, still open, screaming for air. Now, forever silent.

[_Maybe these men have something to do with why I’m here? No that can’t be, I refused to believe that. _]Thoughts began racing through my mind of the bodies waking for revenge, and so I hurriedly headed for the exit window.

I reached the window and was just about to swim through it when I saw it! A giant shadow passed over the window covering me entirely!

With speed I didn’t know I had, I hurriedly kicked my way back and out of view of the window![_ It’s big! Is it a shark? Either way, I have no weapon, and if it comes in here to eat these dead guys it will kill me too! Why didn’t I listen to Rasben, now I’m gonna get eaten alive! _]

The shadow circled back, getting larger and larger as the predator moved in! I couldn’t see what it was because the light of the submarine was shining directly in my eyes! [_This is it, I’m gonna die! _]

“AHHH!” I squealed!

“Hahahaha!” Jessica’s voice began sputtering laughter across the comms system.

“It’s just me, you big goof ball. Did you think I was a monster coming for a snack?”

“What the heck is your problem? You could have given me a heart attack!”

“Haha!” She continued laughing and I could hear muffled laughter from the other two over the comms.

I pushed off of the ground where I’d been in a fetal position ready to die. “You freaking suck! What’s wrong with you! Who does that? You’re insane!” I shouted at her over the comms and all I heard was more laughter from the three of them! ¶“Come on Mr. Defensive, we think we found it, and we wanted your help getting it out.” Jessica muffled her laughter as she swam forward grabbing my hand and pulling me after her.

“Wait, you really found it?”

“Maybe.”

We swam down to what was left of a blue cargo container that was missing its doors. Rasben and Rachel were waiting outside for me and Jess to arrive.

“Nice of you to join us.” Rasben said with a new air of authority.

“What is it?” I asked hesitantly.

“We don’t know; we were waiting for you to lead us by going in there and getting it.”

I couldn’t very well back down since I’d already been humiliated twice. If I didn’t go and investigate the three of them would continue to make jokes, so I cautiously kicked myself inside.

“Fine.”

Inside lay a small black box no bigger than my hand in either direction. The black cube lying before me shimmered with the light from my helmet. The sides were partially see through and by the looks of it the cube contained some sort of liquid.

Ducking down I reached out and slowly removed it from its motionless state. Luckily, I didn’t trigger anything, and when I brought the cube up to my face I saw that it did in fact contain a liquid.

“Phew!” I let out an audible sigh of relief when the box didn’t blow me to smithereens. “I think this is it.” I slowly kicked my way back outside of the container making sure not to make any sudden moves for fear of setting off a possibly highly explosive material.

“This has to be it, what do you guys think?” I asked as the four of us converged.

“Can I take it?” Rasben asked with the curiosity of a child.

I gladly handed over the mystery box and watched as he meticulously studied the mysteries within.

“This has to be it. I think we should get it back to the sub.” Rasben suggested.

“Sounds good, let’s go.”

And with that we began to kick our way back and up to the submarine. However, we didn’t get far. Within twelve yards, we saw them!

Sharks! There were circling our sub in a frenzy of at least a dozen! They were in the act of repeatedly approaching the sub’s main light, curious as to the new creature they had found. Rasben reached out and stopped all of us. “Remember to keep your suit protected. They shouldn’t attack us if we don’t provoke them. They won’t attack unless they feel threatened. We just need to slowly swim around them.” But Rasbens words stuck in his throat as the sharks turned! Oh no, this is not good!

They had to be at least 15 feet long! I felt my heart start to beat uncontrollably fast! Blood started pumping through my veins at a million miles a minute! My fist clenched and my muscles began to stiffen! What is happening?

I looked down only to have my mind blown! My hands were sparking!

I had yellow sparks spitting from my fingertips! What is happening to me? What the heck is going on? ¶My brain suddenly felt as if it’d been caught in a fiery inferno! Something is different! I felt capability running through me! I couldn’t hold it back! A yellow bolt burst from my hands and into the sand below!

[_Is something wrong? Yes, something is definitely wrong, am I going crazy? _]

Jessica was looking at me now. “Are you okay? Is something wrong?”

“Did you see that? Please tell me you saw what just happened.”

“See what? What happened?”

I felt another surge coming! I raised my hands towards the sharks slowly approaching and let loose! “Zing!” A bolt shot out of my hands and hit the lead shark directly in the snout! The shark spun around and swam backwards several feet! “Haha! I got him! Did you guys see that?”

I looked from one face to another, and they each were looking at me like I was a lunatic! “Can you guys see this yellow stuff coming out of my hands?” I asked hopefully.

This only seemed to make them more perplexed! “What are you talking about, are you insane?” Rasben voice had become one of total and utter fear. “We need you right now and you’re acting like a crazy person! What is wrong with you?”

“Rasben, you need to trust me right now! Remember what we talked about last night? I can see things other can’t, I need you to trust me right now!” I shook him trying to get my point across.

“You better not get us killed.” He meekly responded.

But I didn’t know if I could promise that. [_Can I trust myself? I guess there’s only one way to find out. _]

I didn’t have time to think, the sharks began to attack! The one I’d hit looked angry, turning and swimming towards us with frightening speed! I can do this, I know I can. Can I? _] It looked as though I’d only have one shot! [_I can’t afford to miss!

“Guys, when I say go, you all need to swim for the submarine! On my mark.”

Jessica began to say something but I shut her out and turned to face the oncoming monstrosities. I knew one bolt of the yellow cords wouldn’t subdue them, but I had something else in mind! I’d use one of mother nature’s tricks against these natural disasters.

The stingrays were only 20 yards away! I began swirling my pointer finger! The yellow color cords that emerged blended together making a tornado! [_This might work! _]I threw my wrist and then my entire arm into the motion! My tornado grew before my eyes! The stingrays had closed the gap and were practically on top of us!

I threw my fearsome whirlwind, hoping beyond hope that it would work! The shark’s jaws opened wide revealing deadly rows of razor sharp teeth and then my typhoon smashed into them, discharging them all over the place!

“Go!” I yelled into my helmet mic!

Without waiting for a response, I took off! I swam harder than I’d ever swum before! Every kick and pull were ones that might save or end my life! This is it! I reached the submarine throwing open a lever that looked similar to the one that Rasben had pulled inside earlier! Rasben and Jessica both raced past me and into the sub! I quickly followed but[_ where is Rachel? _]

I turned back to see Rachel was struggling to make it! A look of absolute fear was frozen on her face!

The sharks had regrouped and were chasing her! She’s not going to make it!

The lead shark had her! I didn’t see the bite land, but judging from the look on Rachel’s face it had hit its mark! [_NOOO! _]

I didn’t want to, but I knew what I had to do. I pulled the inside lever shutting the doorway between Rachel and safety.

“Open it, open it! You have to let her in! She’ll die! Let her in!” Jessica screamed turning on me!

“It’s too late. She’s gone! If I opened the lever it would only end badly for all of us!”

But Jessica was having none of it! She grabbed onto me and tried to pull me away from the lever. “Let her in, she’ll die out there!”

“Rasben, a little help please?”

Together Rasben and I managed to subdue Jessica.

“Jessica, it’s over, she’s gone, we can’t save her.” Rasben explained.

“No, no we can save her, she’ll be alright, I know we can save her.” Jessica broke down sobbing.

“No we can’t Jess. She’s gone… she’s gone.”

 

Chapter 17: The Return

We sat in the library together, just the two of us. One side of the library held two couches one of which we occupied. We sat very close sharing body heat in the expansive, chilly library. It’d been Jessica’s idea to come to the library together and talk about Rachel. I had agreed and after dinner she’d found me and lead me to this hidden set of couches.

I didn’t think it would be very cold, but someone must have forgotten to fill the giant fireplace because it was quite chilly.

Jess leaned in close. “Can you hold me?”

“Sure, what’s up?” I replied as I smoothly reached my arm around her and squeezed her closer.

And then out of nowhere she began to shake with heart wrenching sobs.

Her body shook with each sob as she leaned in closer but remained silent. [_What do I do? _]I had no idea what was happening, but this felt like a good moment to just listen.

She continued to cry in my arms for 5 minutes. Finally, her head came up and conversation began again.

“I’m sorry, I’m such a mess. I didn’t mean for tonight to go like this. I can’t believe Rachel is gone. I’ve felt so strange lately, everything that’s been happening has been so confusing.” her eyes glistened, reflecting light and creating one of the most exquisite sights I’d ever seen.

I waited a moment before responding. “You know you’re beautiful when you cry, right?” She laughed shyly and ducked her head. “No I mean it, you really are. I knew you were gorgeous, funny, and smart, but I didn’t know you’re also a cute crier.” She laughed shyly again.

I could feel her worry and tension begin to melt, so I pressed on. “I know losing Rachel’s been rough and this whole experiment has been really weird, and I don’t know exactly what you’re facing, but I know you’ll figure something out. You work harder than anyone I know, so whatever it is, I know you’ll face it head on. I’ve never seen you back down from anything. Just remember that whenever you need someone to talk to, I’m here for you.”

In response she wrapped her arms around me and laid her head gently on my chest. It felt good, for the first time I felt as though I were truly in tune with someone else. It seemed, for a moment, as if our hearts beat in unison.

The moment seemed almost too good to be true. We stayed still; neither of us moving. As time fell away I felt her breathing slow against my chest as she slowly slipped into sleep.

A few more minutes passed before I too lost consciousness. However, the world I went to was anything but a dream.

I fell into my dark and mysterious dream world, but surprisingly something about the nightmare I now occupied seemed familiar. [_I remember this dream. I’ve been here before! _]

The dark path that lay before me was one I’d walked before. I followed the path, already knowing where it went.

I walked around a bend in the path, and into a clearing. It was the same one from before! [_There’s the small box and it’s still shaking from whatever wants to escape. But where is the small little man with the riddle? _]

“There you are! I was wondering when you’d bother to show up again.” Came a squeak from the bushes.

I spun on my heal, and there he stood!

“Where am I?”

“We’ve been over this; I don’t have time for your questions. Last time you were lucky, you escaped the wrath of the demon, but this time you won’t be so lucky. Even now he stirs as your presence is made known to him.”

And then, as if on cue I heard it! “Boom, boom, boom!” Footsteps!

“Do you remember what you’re doing here?”

“No, I’m so confused! What is happening?”

“We went over this in your last dream! You have to answer my riddle in order to open the box which contains the ability which you must attain in order to escape the beast’s wrath! Do you remember the riddle?”

“No, no, I thought that I would never need it again so I didn’t think about it!”

“Boom, wham, slam!” The monster ripped through the forest much as he had last time, laying the ground to rubble behind him as trees flew in the air and the ground shook with his approach!

“You must focus! Are you ready?”

“Yes, yes give it to me!”

“Alright, here it is: I can bring tears to your eyes; resurrect the dead, make you smile, reverse time. I form quite quickly and last for ages, what am I?” He said his voice quickening as the monsters approach grew in volume!

“Slam, Boom!” The beast was closing now! Its steps were getting louder every second!

I couldn’t think! I remember trying god, which had sounded right according to the first four descriptions, but what formed quickly and lasted for ages? I have no idea! [_What can reverse time? What can bring tears to my eyes but also make me happy? Is this a trick questions, is there no real answer? _]

And then the trees at the opposite end of the clearing parted and there he stood! The demon!

The beast was here! It was over!

“Give me an answer! Say something, say anything!” The man screamed in desperation!¶I couldn’t give him an answer though! I had nothing but complete and utter fear running through my brain! I closed my eyes and tried to think of my parents and how much they had loved me! I tried to think of them when I said goodbye to them and the looks on their faces, and then the answer hit me!

Memories! [_Memories were bringing tears to my eyes, making me smile, reversing time and they could resurrect the dead! _]

“Memories!” I blurted out! “Memories is the answer!”¶“Yes,” the man said in surprise.

Then with a snap of his fingers the box that’d began to shake violently with the sudden closeness to the beast burst open!

Out of it floated a body! However, this was no ordinary body! It was transparent! In fact, it looked like only the halo of a body. It was completely empty and had no human features other than being shaped like one.

As the body materialized, the beast began to move faster! It was now full on sprinting! The ground shook and I could barely stand! [_This is it; I’m going to die in a dream world! _]

The two of them approached in unison! The body from one direction and the demon from the other! But I couldn’t focus on both! [_How is a transparent ghost going to help me? _]The body floated towards me, and as it got closer and closer it didn’t look like it was going to stop!

The beast converged and leapt in the air, its giant mouth opened to reveal a set of glistening fangs! I took a small step backwards realizing it was too late, but then it happened!

The halo joined me! It became me! It flew into me, instantaneously spreading throughout me! As it did, I felt something return. [_What the? _]

The monster’s mouth snapped shut, but only on the air where I no longer stood!

I was ripped from the nightmare and began to fly back towards reality! As I did, I felt something fluttering back into existence. [_Memories, memories are returning! But why? _]

I felt memories of me being shocked with a million volts of electricity in my attempt at escaping capture, I remembered finding the testers bodies, I remember Matthew telling me that he too could see the colors and then, just when I thought all my memories had returned another one flew back into existence.

The memory of how I’d lost my memory to begin with! [_Jessica, it was Jessica! Jessica had betrayed me! She had lured me away and then drugged me! She’d been the one who had told Mr. Blackwood about the testers bodies I’d found. She’d told him that I could see colors. She’s the reason my memories got swiped! It’s because of her I’ve been living a nightmare! She’s been playing me this whole time! _]I can’t believe it!

My eyes snapped open and the world zoomed back into focus only to reveal Jessica, the backstabber.

She’d been shaking me away. “Are you okay Will? You were having a nightmare.” she asked concerned.

“It was you!” I shouted angrily as I pushed her away. “You drugged me! You’re the reason nothing’s been making sense. You’re the reason everything has been going wrong, how could you do this to me? I thought I meant more to you than this! How could you?” I yelled feeling my face flush with anger as I stood!

“What are you talking about? I don’t have an idea of what you’re talking about.” She replied confused.

“So you’re gonna play it that way. Pretending like you have no idea what I’m talking about, pretending to be sweet and innocent! Well, it won’t work! I never want to see you again!”

Her eyes began to glisten over with tears as a few people poked their heads out from between shelves to see what was going on. Feeling slightly embarrassed, I turned and rushed out.

I quickly made my way to Matthew’s room. I had to make it there before Jessica told someone and I got my memory taken away again.

I sprinted up to the second floor and pounded on Matthew’s door quite loudly! “Matthew, Matthew, I need to talk to you.”

I couldn’t hear anything. I tried the handle and it twisted in my hand. It was open. “Matthew, I remember our conversation. I think we should talk about the colors. Where are yo…” But the words trailed off in my throat as I saw the gruesome sight before me!

He was dead! Matthew was dead! “Creak, creak, creak.” The rope that held his lifeless body groaned in protest as Matthew swung gently to and fro. His face was a chilling dark clouded with cold. His eyes were wide open but with nothing in them. His body now resembled that of a rag doll.

It was horrifying! I couldn’t stand the sight! I turned away wanting to both cry and puke as I found the trash can, when something out of the corner of my eye caught my attention.

An envelope! I hadn’t seen one of these except in old movies and in my invitation from A.S.T.A![_ Why is this here? _]The letter sat on the desk as if waiting for me to open it! I moved closer only to realize that there were two envelopes. One addressed to me and one to Rachel. Scooping it up mine I looked for a way to open it; unable to find a way I decided to tear it open.

As I was pulling Matthew’s last words from their white coffin a girl entered. “Hey Matthew, how does your head feel, you ready to come play some games with…” She stopped mid-sentence completely confused and at a loss of words! She looked from me to Matthew and then back again! “Ahhh!” She screamed and fled from the room! I could hear her screaming from the hall. “He’s dead, he’s dead! Someone help, Matthew’s dead!”

Her voice got quieter and quieter as did her footsteps, but I knew people would be coming to investigate so I quickly left and ran the opposite way.

I reached my room sitting quickly down on my bed trying to read the note before prying eyes could. “Dear Will, I hope this letter finds you. I doubt it will considering what really goes on here, but I don’t have time to tell you everything. I wrote this to you to explain some things that I know you’re confused about. First, you need to know that there are others like us. There are others that can see electricity! I’ve met someone in this simulator missions. They know things. I hope you get the chance to talk to them and figure out what is wrong with us. However, in the meantime you should focus on the gift. The gift can be very dangerous, and if you don’t learn to control it you’ll end up like me. Everyday the colors attack me! I can’t figure out what I’m doing wrong, but whenever I try and use the sight I attract the colors. They attack my brain and have been causing me to have especially dark thoughts. Rachel was the only light in my ever increasingly dark tunnel. Without her my last hope was snuffed out. I know I sound crazy, but without her, there’s no reason to live. I know she’s out there somewhere, but without her here the colors have overwhelmed me. I no longer possess the will to live. I hope that these thoughts will not consume you. Whatever you do, do not let the darkness in, it will drown you.”

The letter continued on like this for a few more paragraphs, but I couldn’t finish them. I folded these precious last words from a boy I’d never thought much of, but now was having second thoughts about. Was he really so bad? Probably, he’d killed others without thinking [_and had never been especially nice to me, but this letter sounded like he might have had a better side. Maybe Rachel changed him? Either way, I wish he was still here, he was someone who might have some of the answers that I so desperately need. _]

With these thoughts of sadness I gently let go of the paper and watched it float to the floor. Unexpected tears began to roll. I don’t know what it was, but something inside me felt sorry for Matthew. That was a real life. He had so much to live for, and now he’s gone. There’s no coming back from what he did. With the others, I now know they are below in a vegetable state, [_but at least they’re still alive. Matthew won’t ever be coming back. _]

I could’ve stopped this! I should have talked to him, I might have helped him! I wish I could go back.

“Knock, knock, knock.” Someone’s knocking ripped me from my thoughts.

I hurriedly grabbed the note, hid it in one of my many pants pockets and rushed to open the door. There I was met by Mr. Blackwood.

“Hello, Mr. Rose, may I come in? I have a few questions for you…”

He didn’t ask much. All he’d wanted to know was what I’d seen and why I’d went to see Matthew. I’d answered that I went there to talk to him about our last mission and how his team was doing. Mr. Blackwood accepted my lies, and told me he might need to talk to me later. Upon the conclusion of our talk he left quickly.

I’d fallen asleep close to an hour later. I woke to the morning sunshine streaming in only to realize that Rasben had already left. I assumed for breakfast, but I didn’t want to run into Jessica so I stayed in my room. Minutes turned into hours and hours into the rest of the day. All I could think about was; What if what Matthew said is true? Am I really seeing electricity? Could it really affect me in such a negative way? What did he find out, and why hadn’t he told me?

These questions and many more continued to swirl throughout the day but were interrupted by a visit from Chris and Rasben. They both tried to cheer me up but I remained cold. Matthew’s cold dead eyes kept haunting me. Why’d I have to see that? I’ll never get those horrendously gruesome images out of my head.

As I continued to drown in panic at the possibility of suffering the same fate as Matthew, the light from the small dorm window turned dark.

I heard a knocking at my door waking me from my stupor. “Knock, knock, knock.”

It must be Rasben, but why is he knocking? Maybe it’s Mr. Blackwood back to ask more questions?

However, as I opened the door a quite different person appeared, Jessica.

“I don’t want to see you; I thought I’d made that clear.” I said trying to close the door on her.

However, she stuck out her foot preventing me from doing so. “I just want to talk, we need to.”

“Why don’t you go talk to Mr. Blackwood or Mrs. Nasdin, you seem to like that.” I replied as my voice hardened.

She pushed past me unwilling to give up.

I was suddenly embarrassed with her in such close proximity and myself shirtless in an extremely messy room.

“Jessica, I don’t want to talk to you. Please leave.” ¶I could tell my words stung even though she tried not to show it. “William please listen to me for one minute. I’m extremely confused. The other night things were going great and I felt like we were finally understanding each other, and then out of nowhere you flipped out. I have no idea what you were talking about! What did you mean I was the reason for your memory loss? Didn’t Mr. Blackwood tell you that you hit your head?”

“I can’t believe you’re still acting like you have no idea what is going on. I know you’re the one who drugged me so that my memory could be swiped! You thought I would never remember and you would escape punishment, but I got my memory back and I know what you did, you can’t pretend like it never happened!”

“What do you mean you got your memory swiped? What are you talking about?”

“So you’re trying to tell me you have no recollection of when we went to the pond, you asked me questions and then out of nowhere you STABBED me in the neck and knocked me out!” I raised my voice. ¶“You have to be making all of this up! There is no way any of that happened! You know me Will, I would never do any of what you just said! Why would I want your memory swiped? If anything I want the exact opposite! I want you to remember you and the good times we’ve had together.” She argued.

“Sure, play the sweet and innocent card. Pretend like I’m imagining everything! Make me look insane, but I know what really happened and no matter how much you deny it, I know what you did!”

“William, if you would just look at all the facts, you would see that none of this makes sense! I would never do that to the boy I love!” She shouted with tears suddenly glistening in her eyes.

I was taken aback! [_Wait, what did she just say? She has to be lying, right? She’s just trying to capture me and use me for her personal gain; I won’t fall for her tricks again! _]

“You’re lying! You’re just saying that!” I said more for myself than for her. “And you know what, I don’t want to hear any more of your lies. I’ll never trust you again. You stabbed me in the neck, but it might as well have been in the heart! I don’t want your love, and I’ll never feel the same!” I yelled trying to contain my inner self that desperately wanted to believe her.

Tears were now flowing down her beautiful face and carrying with them mascara. My words had found their mark. She was a burst dam and I was the cause. She looked at me briefly with her stunning shimmering eyes, and without a word she stood and fled. “Wham!”The door flew shut behind her!

She never looked back.

 

Chapter 18: Final Mission

I felt terrible, but eventually hunger took over and I headed downstairs for dinner. Seeing no one to sit by; I sat alone. A plate was immediately brought to me, but everything felt weird. Just a few nights ago I’d sat at the same table with a dozen others, all of us talking and full of life. Now I was by myself, alone and empty inside. The once full dining hall was now barren and all I could think about was how many more people the secret room below now held.

Jessica was nowhere to be seen as I’d expected, which made me surprisingly made me feel even worse. Chris was at another group with a girl, which I couldn’t really blame him for because of how gorgeous she was. Unexpectedly, Rasben, like Jessica, was nowhere to be seen.

I was in the midst of my own thoughts, eating slowly when Mr. Blackwood entered the room. He cleared his throat and flipped on his small ear amplifier. “Ladies and gentlemen, I hope that the food is satisfactory and that you are enjoying yourselves. I’m here to talk to you about your mission tomorrow.” This piqued everyone’s interest. “Tomorrow will be your final test, and only a handful of you will make it through. However, those of you that will do have a very big surprise waiting for you! You must be prepared for tomorrow. It’s do or die, and I mean that quite literally.” He said with a smirk. “Tomorrow’s mission will be different than you last missions. You will face this mission as a collective group. I suggest that you all try and get as much sleep as possible tonight, you’re going to need it.” Mr. Blackwood turned and left abruptly.

[_It’s strange that we’ll all be in on this mission together. There has to be at least 30 of us left, how can this possibly be our last mission? It doesn’t feel like this is the end. Tonight feels just like many other nights. How strange that the end snuck up on me. I wish I had paid closer attention, now everything seems slightly out of control. Jessica hates me, Chris is with girls all the time, Rasben is always studying, Jack is out, and Matthew is dead. Things have spiraled out of control. I wonder what will happen next. Well, if I die, I might not ever see my parents again. I must win at all costs. If not, I’ll end up like Jack and Rachel, far beneath the floor I now stand on. _]

Walking back into my room after dinner concluded I was welcomed by Rasben and a enormous book sitting on his lap.

“Hey, what’s up?”¶“Nothing much, what are you up to? We missed you at dinner.” I asked nonchalantly.

“Oh really, you and who else?” He, immediately picked up my lie and tore it apart. “Most of our group is gone now and since you and Jess had your falling out, and Chris has been with Miss. Gorgeous, I’ve been your one and only friend.”

[_I have to admit he’s right. I am pretty lonely. Rasben is the only one that’s still hear for me, which surprises me since we didn’t exactly started out on the best foot. I never thought we would grow to be this close. _]

I was just about to thank him for everything in case I didn’t get to, when I saw the slip of paper nestled in the crevice of his book in an attempt to hide it. I reached out and grabbed the paper! “Hey, what’s this?” My voice turning annoyed in an instant. I knew right away what it was, it’s Matthew’s suicide note!

“It was laying on the floor; I just wanted to see what he had to say.” Rasben tried to pretend like he had been doing something noble. ¶“Keep your dirty hands off my property. I can’t believe you’d do that!”

Rasben cut me off. “Would you just let me explain what I found? I think I might have figured out what he meant!”

“What are you talking about?”

“It might help you understand what exactly is happening to you, and if what I learned is right, then, what you told me about seeing colors isn’t as outlandish as I thought!”

“What is it?”

“Well, in his letter Matthew mentions that he talked to some people who referred to the colors as electricity. That got me to thinking, so I grabbed some books on new technology and on the human mind. What I found was incredible. You have to promise not to tell anyone what I’m about to tell you. Do you promise?”

“Yes, yes, tell me what you found!”

“Well, you said you’ve been seeing colors which made no sense. But if what you’ve been seeing is electricity? What if your mind is somehow seeing the different wavelengths and presenting them to you as colors? I know it sounds far out, but human minds use electricity! What if what you’re seeing is actually different frequencies of electricity people are using to power their brains?”

“Whoa! That’s awesome! But why now, why didn’t I start seeing the colors until I got to the test? Shouldn’t I have been able to see them my whole life?”

“I don’t know everything yet. That’s why I’m still reading. I’m trying to piece together what’s exactly happening.”

“Also, what was up with me escaping from my body and floating around?”

“The first conclusion that came to my mind was that you’re crazy, but with this new information you might not be. I don’t know how you left your body, but I’m betting it has something to do with electricity. Hopefully, I can figure out what is happening before the competition ends”¶“Thanks Rasben, your help really means a lot. I feel like I’m stuck in a giant jigsaw puzzle and can’t get out. Knowing just a little bit more really helps.”

“You’re welcome, and since I so graciously helped you, maybe you can explain to me what is going on with you and Jessica?”

“Maybe some other time man, I really don’t feel like talking about her right now.”

“Come on Will, I helped you and you can’t even share a little bit?”

“Fine, if you really must know, she’s responsible for my memory loss.”¶“What? No way!”

“Let’s just say that neither of us feels like talking to each other.”

“But, did you talk about it?”

“What’s to talk about? She betrayed my trust, and now she’s pretending she doesn’t know what I’m talking about. If she would fess up, I might be a little less angry. ¶“Are you sure it was her, this doesn’t sound like the type of thing she’d do.”

“Without a doubt, and I don’t want to talk about it anymore. I know what she did and I won’t forgive someone who lies for personal gain.”

“I know you feel like you could never forgive her, but I honestly think you need to talk to her about it again. You two were perfect for each other. Anyone who saw you could see the way you guys looked at each other. I wouldn’t let something like this get between you without looking at it from all angles. Maybe Jess had a different motive.”

“I’ll think about it. But not right now. The feelings are too fresh. I need some sleep.” And with that I turned abruptly, ended our conversation, turned off my lamp and crawled under my covers.

But even in the darkness, I couldn’t shake off the thoughts of Jessica. [_Why did she do something like this? Maybe her feelings have changed for me and she really does love me now? No, I can’t let her off the hook that easily. She broke my heart and I won’t forgive her for that. I won’t ever be able to trust her again. _]

The next morning passed quickly. Rasben and I ate quickly and headed into the big simulation room that was only used for deciding games.

Once we all laid on our individual beds, we entered the simulation world. Entering the simulation was almost a routine now, and no one complained about the nauseating effect once they reached their simple bodies. However, this landing was different than the rest.

The feeling of being in another body was the same, but there were quite a few new faces that surrounded me. This is gonna be very different than being in a group of four.

We’d been dropped into a valley surrounded by towering mountains on every side. The meadow we were in was beautiful. The grass was green and warm sunlight seemed to warm me to my very core.

Just as I began to study those around me; it happened. Just like the feeling of putting on glasses, like the flip of a switch, the colors appeared.

Colors swirled amongst the throng of testers’ avatars around me. There were about 30 men and women around me filled with the remaining testers.

A man in the front spoke up. “Hey guys, it’s me, Jason. I’ll be in charge of this mission, so, if you could all listen up for a moment that would be awesome.” He paused, waiting for the few conversations to stop. “Alright then, our target is just over this ridge in front of us. We need to stay together and move fast. We’ll converge on a town, and if we don’t move quickly we’ll be susceptible to ray fire. Once the firing starts we’ll need to break into our individual groups, so, please find the remaining members of your group and stay with them. Any questions? None? Alright then, let’s find our groups and head out.”

Out of the crowd a tall man and a women appeared and walked over to me. “Is that you Will? It’s me, Rasben, and this is Jess.” I acknowledged them with a nod but refused to speak.

When the crowd ceased moving, Jason waved one hand, turned and began leading us to whatever lie ahead.

We came over the ridge at full speed and into a small ghost town, but no one was there. Jason pulled up short as did everyone else to look around in wonder. “I don’t understand, what is this? What’s wrong?” Jason asked, as nervous mumbling began to spread throughout the ranks.

[_The town looks kind of like the one Rasben had been in in his dream. The town’s western looking, complete with old saloons, old hotels, and wooden sidewalks just like Rasben’s. The streets are dirt without a hint of hover surface in sight. Wow, this place is old. This couldn’t be right, why are we here? What’s going on? _]

“Zing, zing, zing!” ray guns opened fire!

“Scatter!” Jason yelled just as a ray tore into him! “AHHH!” Leader down!

People were going down left and right! “Zing, zing, zing, zing, zing!” Machine guns opened fire and the ground around me began to melt!

A hand grabbed me and began pulling me backward! “Ahhh!”

“Shut up, it’s me!” A woman’s voice I didn’t recognize shouted in my ear!

She pulled me into what looked like a saloon where I lost my balance and went tumbling to the ground! “Everybody get down!” she yelled.

I looked up to see my savior only to realize it was Jessica! Dang it!

Two other men, presumably testers judging by their lack of animosity stood with us. I scrambled to my feet looking for a weapon. “It’s on you belt.” Jessica commanded irritably

Much to my embarrassment, it was. Drawing it, I flicked the safe switch and turned to one of the open windows.

“Ahh!” One of the African American avatars screamed out as a ray burned through a wall, penetrating deep into his chest! His friend turned to help him but by the amount of blood pooling underneath him, there was nothing he could do.

[_Why do we only have pistols, while the bad guys have machine guns? We’re going to get mowed down! _]“These pistols will never be any match for those machine guns!” Jessica yelled to everyone.

“We have to try!” I yelled back. “We can’t just stand here and do nothing!” ¶“I agree with you!” Yelled the man who was tending to his friend. And with that he stood and began firing!

“Fwap!” a ray slammed into the man’s chest almost instantly and threw him backwards! His body lay still!

“Another one of your brilliant ideas William!” Jessica shouted over to me.

I chose not to respond but instead peeked out the window. “Zing!” A blast whizzed past my ear at lightning speed!

I quickly ducked back, holding my pistol and fired blindly!

“You’re just wasting ammo!” Jessica complained.

“What do you suggest?” I asked.

“Me and Rasben should spread out and fire from the windows in each corner. That way they can’t focus their fire on one area.” ¶Her idea made perfect sense. I hated to agree with her, but she was right. “Then, why are you still here?”

The two of them moved quickly staying out of sight as they rushed towards firing positions. I began firing once more, mostly blindly, every now and then peaking over but I couldn’t see anything! [_Where are they shooting from? _]

I just started to reload when a man dressed entirely in black ran in! He raised his gun and, “Zing!” he fell to the ground!

Behind him stood Jessica, ray gun sizzling, looking just as sexy as the first time she’d saved my life. Our eyes met and something seemed to pass between us when “Fwack! Splat!” A ray smashed into Jessica’s avatar’s head exploding it everywhere!

“Jess, nooooo!” I screamed sprinting to her!

I got to her lifeless, bloody body wanting to look away, but unable to. [_She’s gone! It’s over, she’s dead! _]I couldn’t tear my eyes from what was left of her until I heard the shooting start to intensify outside. The sound of firing increased to a fevered pitch before suddenly dying off.

All shooting ceased entirely. I heard a man yelling something from the street but couldn’t make out what he was saying.

Then a group of men burst into the bar! I raised my gun as two giant men entered followed by an older looking man.

He had no body armor or uniform. He had a white gray beard sprinkled with grey, and when he took his dark sunglasses off I instantly recognized him!

He’s the leader of the group who ridden in on horseback and stolen the little black book from my team! Because of him Jess had been forced to fight in a deciding game! [_His face was clearly the one I’d seen, but why was he here? _]

Probably to kill me! _]Well, I wasn’t about to go down without a fight. I pulled my weapons trigger, or at least I tried but nothing happened! I looked down to see blue electricity running across my hands and then flowing back into the man’s hand! [_Oh crap, this isn’t good!

“Hello Mr. Rose, we’ve been looking for you.” The man said coolly as he studied my eyes.

I didn’t know what to say, [_am I about to die? _]Just as I was preparing for everything to end, it did! My consciousness was ripped from my body, and flung into the air! [_What’s happening, where am I going? _]

Boom! I slammed back into a familiar body. [_Am I home? Am I alive? Phew, this is a relief. _]I slowly sat up and looked around. As did only six other testers.

Dr. Madstein burst into the room! “Is everyone okay? What happened out there?”

Dr. Madstein had been very fearful and had insisted we tell him everything. Which we had. We told him that everything had gone awry and we’d been blindsided. More than half us had been killed and those of us remaining had been about to. Dr. Madstein took this news with absolute surprise and immediately called Mr. Blackwood who arrived shortly with Mrs. Nasdin at his heels.

After being briefed by Dr. Madstein, he turned and addressed us. “It seems as though the simulation went slightly worse than expected. However, not to worry. Those of you that survived will be moving on to next round. I know you all must be very shaken up, so the rest of the day will be yours to relax with. Tonight at dinner I will be giving a very important announcement so, everyone must be there. Is that clear? Good.” And with that he left.

I proceeded to follow the other few testers upstairs and back to our hallway. The mood was quite dark. No one’s friends were alive and their absence was visibly felt. Everyone was in a very foul mood.

I split from the group and headed back to my room followed closely by Rasben. Upon entering our room, I flopped onto my bed welcoming any sleep that would come. However, none would.

Rasben also exhausted didn’t speak, and so we lay there completely silent. I can’t believe she’s gone. I think I may have felt something for her before she died. She’s always been there for me. She’s always helped me except for that one night. Why would she do that to me? I still can’t believe it. Maybe I should have listened to what she had to say? No, I must not think that way. [_She attacked me; I have nothing to feel sorry for. I need to stop thinking about her. _]

For the next few hours I slipped in and out of sleep. The light from outside darkened and the announcement came shortly that it was time for dinner and tonight it was mandatory. Begrudgingly, Rasben and I pulled ourselves up and stumbled to the dining hall.

The hall felt so empty. Everyone was gone. Sitting through dinner felt similar to a funeral. Everyone sat quietly staring emotionlessly at their food.

I wanted to stand up and shout what I knew about the testers being kept beneath us, but I couldn’t. [_Not if I ever want to see my parents again. _]And so, I just sat and ate my dinner like everyone else until Mr. Blackwood marched through the big double doors that swung silently aside to allow him entry.

“Good evening everyone!” he said cheerfully. “Why all the glum faces? You are the final competitors. Now, there all only 7 of you competing for the grand prize!” He waited a moment as a few faces managed to muster smiles. “And tomorrow, we’ll be traveling to the Capital!” His voice rose with excitement!

People began to whisper, “No way!” “That’s awesome!” “I’ve always wanted to see the Capital!”

Mr. Blackwood waited for the whispers to quiet a little before he continued. “Not only will you get to visit the Capital, but you will all get to meet Prime Chancellor, Sebastian Neo!”

“Whoaaa!” a few testers mumbled and the volume of seven suddenly became quite loud. “No way! That’s awesome!”

I’m going to meet Chancellor Neo! The man who’d lead our country for the past ten years! Thanks to the chancellor my entire life had sucked, but I was still going to get to meet the most powerful man alive!

“Tomorrow at 8:30 everyone must be outside and ready to board an Airbus that will be taking us to the Capital where your final test will be held.” He ended very ominously and left the room as my fellow testers began to whisper about the possibility of meeting [*The Sebastian Neo! *]

[]

“This will be our last night here Rasben, we have to do something to help them!”

“You’re crazy William! There is nothing we can do, if you wanted to rebel you should have tried earlier. Now you have no one to back you up! If you try anything concerning all of the dead testers, you’d only be joining them! The best way to fight this is to not to. The only way you’ll get to see your family again is if you play along.” Rasben argued.

“So that’s it, you’re just going to give up on them! You’re just going to pretend you never met those people and that you don’t care what happens to them! There’s got to be some part of you that is telling you this is wrong! Why won’t you listen to it?”

“Because it’s insane! What you’re suggesting is completely insane!”

“I can’t believe you right now!” I gave up exasperated.

“I know this isn’t about saving people. None of those people meant that much to you, except Jessica. Is that it? Do you want to wake them up so you can save Jessica?”

“No,” I lied.

“Well, it’s too late; you should have listened to me earlier and tried to work things out. If you would have, she might not be downstairs and a lost cause! You might have even been able to escape together, but you never listened to me. Well, this time you have to! If we follow orders and do everything that is asked then we might make it out of here alive. Please tell me you see that.”

“Do you really think we’ll make it out of here alive? If no one else has been allowed to leave, why do you think that once this competition is over we’d be set free?”

“I have to believe in something! If I give up hope then it’s over! I’m just holding on to the belief that I’ll see my mom again and my dad and my little sister. I can’t stand the thought of never seeing them again!” He shouted as his eyes began to glisten and his voice got choked up.

I held my next words back and just sat beside him. “I’m sure we’ll see them again. After all, we’ll be the winners and they can’t very well kill the winners. Also, why would they be taking us to meet the Prime Chancellor if they were going to kill us? It doesn’t make any sense.”

“You’re right, you’re right. They must plan on letting us go. I hope your right Will.” Rasben said with a new glimmer of hope shining in his eyes.”¶I moved away from him and climbed into bed. Night was complete now, and as much as I wanted to go and save all of the other testers, I knew it would be impossible. They had posted guards outside our doors and our windows were at least 20 feet from the ground. The more I thought about my own family, the more I knew I had to see them at least one more time.

[_I feel deeply for Jessica, and I want to save her and find out what her real intentions are, but I know the best chance at seeing her again is to do what I’m told. If I’m declared a winner and set free then I can tell people and return to the castle, that now entraps me, with help. Then, maybe if I’m lucky I’ll be able to free the girl I’ve grown to love. _]

[_ _]

Chapter 19: Hello Mr. Dark

The next morning, we woke early, ate breakfast, packed and then filed out onto the lawn. The air that had been so inviting just a couple of weeks ago had turned cold and stung as it whipped across my skin. The surroundings that had been enticing and full of possibility now seemed bland and non-existent.

The seven testers who remained were quiet, myself included. Both Rasben and Chris stood nearby but no one talked. Instead we all looked on in silence.

The silence remained unbroken for five minutes until it came. A giant airbus. The monstrous contraption appeared and flew sluggishly towards us.

I had only seen a couple of airbuses in my life. With everyone having a hovercraft, there was no longer a need for airbuses unless you were going on a long trip overseas. Traveling had lessened with all of the new governmental restriction and so the world had grown apart. The rich stuck with the rich and the poor with the poor and the extremely poor were left to fend for themselves. The prime chancellor Sebastian Neo had promised change when elected but none had occurred. In fact, things had only deteriorated. Tribute had increased and privateers had vanished; replaced by the government who seemed to have taken over everything and made all the decisions for its citizens.

I was excited to see the most powerful man alive, but only so I could put a face to the name of the man who’d ruined my life.

It was sad because my parents had felt as though he would change the world, but instead he’s flipped on almost everything he’d promise, surrendering values for profit. And after his first selection, voting had been replaced.

Now, only elite politicians were allowed to vote, which made even the rich angry. In all reality our society was turning back to the one it had fought to abolish in years past. Now, all people could do was hope that things would somehow miraculously get better if they just sat down and followed orders.

I, unlike most, had built a plan to change the way things worked. I’d planned to revert to the old ways where people had a voice and everyone had opportunity.

The least I can do is give my parents a better life for their remaining years. That’s all that really matters.

However, all those dreams of change had come to a standstill when I’d been denied higher learning. Thanks to that stupid test my plans are now out the window, and I’m just like everyone else. I’m a lamb being led to slaughter.

These thoughts of my total lack of hope continued to rush through my head as the airbus finally landed in front of us. Up close the bus was quite magnificent! It had four giant engines powering four blades that spun in a circular blur! Thanks to new technology, airbuses now had four copter blades making them easier to pilot and maneuver.

“All aboard!” The captain shouted over the rushing blades.

Moving quickly forward we all entered the ship, wary of the massive blades spinning perilously close. I didn’t see Mr. Blackwood, or Mrs. Nasdin, but assumed they were somewhere nearby, keeping close tabs on their precious cargo. Once seated, the airbus lurched forward and took off.

A voice, I assumed the captain’s, came on over the intercom. “Please remain in your seats throughout the flight. We will be arriving in just over an hour. Thank you and enjoy your flight.”

The trip passed rather quickly. Soon we were passing over Trinity, the city closest to the Capital. Buildings sprawled over the vast hillside and down into the city. We flew by large skyscrapers, memories of the past.

The skyscrapers now sat lifeless and alone. No one worked or lived in the once grand feats of human architecture. With the drop in economy and the transformation to cyberspace, skyscrapers were no longer needed.

I remember asking my mom why they still stood and her saying, “Because no one will get off their butt’s and tear them down.”

I’d doubted that was true but had taken her answer and had moved on. Now looking at the city her words might have been more truer than even she’d known. The entire city was completely desolate. Every building was old and decrepit. Billboards only half hung, paint was stripping from walls and entire walls and roofs were caving in. A few people wandered the streets, but none looked happy in their miserable surroundings.

We continued on passing over the hillside caressing Trinity and into a barren stretch of land. However, it didn’t take long for the landscape to change into that of beauty!

What lay before us was mesmerizing! The Capital appeared, and it was huge! It was a monstrous city booming with color! There were hundreds of buildings that spanned across the new landscape! Each building looked like it had been constructed yesterday! People were everywhere. They bustled in and out of buildings, up and down streets, to and fro! They seemed to have energy and each moved with purpose.

The numerous buildings transformed into fewer larger ones as we continued on. [_These have to be the government buildings! Wow! _]

The walls curved in unimaginable ways and windows glinted in every direction! Light came from every nook and crevice making the Capital glow!

Although something about the glow and joy of the people seemed unnatural. It was as though the capitol was trying too hard. Everything vibrated with richness and superiority. The houses were huge, exorbitantly so, and the hover vehicles shimmered in the bright sunlight! I couldn’t tear my eyes from the completely unimaginable world that lay before me!

[_Our leaders are living outrageously, while we remain shackled to our destitute and forgotten neighborhoods. We live in ruin while these people, considered “elites,” lead lives of complete luxury! Things have truly worsened beyond my wildest nightmares. _]

These thoughts would’ve continued to run but I was momentarily interrupted by an opening that appeared suddenly out of the sprawling landscape. There in front of us was a landing pad.

Just as quickly as the pad appeared, our airbus closed the gap and landed on it with a slight, “umph.”

I looked around, viewing the other testers complete bewilderment. They, like myself, couldn’t believe their eyes!

Can this really be real? Is this only a figment of my imagination, or are we actually standing in a city untouched by the poverty across the world?

I exited the airbus and was overwhelmed by the unreal fresh air. It’s so clean, it’s beyond clean! I can’t get enough of it! I filled my lungs with the pure richness! Next came the sun. I was almost blinded by its power but when I found my sight again I was even more overwhelmed! The buildings rose up casting their shadows down over us! This is the life I’ve always wanted, could the prize possibly be living in this wonderland? Could this be what my future held?

[_No, get rid of those thoughts! Remember all of those people trapped. They probably had the same thoughts, and look where it got them! I’m here to find answers and try and make it back to my family. Even if it means I have to live the rest of my life living the way they’ve had to, at least I’ll be happy knowing I have people who love me. _]

Mr. Blackwood appeared from a side door of the airbus. “Isn’t this incredible? This is what you might someday accomplish if you work hard and follow the rules of our great society! This great nation of ours is built upon the backs of the people within this Capital; we owe them a great debt of gratitude! Make sure to be on your best behavior and show respect to those you meet. You will be given a short tour of the political houses and then you will be shown to your rooms where you will be given time to rest before our big dinner with the Prime Chancellor Sebastian Neo!” he finished and walked away as excitement began to once again grow at the opportunity to meet the most powerful man alive!

A woman appeared where Mr. Blackwood had stood only seconds prior. “My name is Mrs. Prix and if you’ll please follow me, I will be guiding your tour.” She asked with only a slight hint of computerism. .

It really was quite rare to hear a bot that spoke English nearly perfect. Back in my city, I’d only ever seen a couple bots and they, like my bot driver who’d taken me to the test, were very poorly constructed. They didn’t have outer skin that hid their automations within, like this one. And they’d used small hovers to move, whereas this one walked, and nearly flawlessly.

We all moved anxiously forward. I felt a burst of nervousness and excitement at seeing the giant buildings. [_This is going to be awesome! _]

We came around to a small paved walk way that gently curved. As we banked around a small patch of trees the first assembly building came into view! The bot, Mrs. Prix, began her lecture. “This is the main judiciary building. Anything that needs a ruling comes here.” But her words seemed like a distant waterfall as I became engrossed with the enormous beast before me!

It truly was a giant! It may not have been a skyscraper, but it more than made up for that in its width and the way it looked down on me with complete power! It had giant white columns surrounding it and walls made from solemn gray bricks. The building was about 3 stories high and was truly magnificent.

Mrs. Prix’s voice once again became existent. “The building is only used by arch judges. These men and women help decide many things in your everyday lives. Thanks to them we live in the great world we currently do.” She finished very monotone as though she didn’t even really believe what she was saying. “Alright, let’s keep moving.”

And move we did. We had a lot of ground to cover so we were forced to walk very fast. We reached the authoritative building in no time at all.

This building was a dark blue that had faded over many years and now was close to gray. This building had no columns and in fact, seemed to be supported by nothing at all. The walls curved to make the building circular and giving it a hollow look.

“This building was built over a decade ago and can only be used by the highest code makers. It is only open at night, so right now it is empty. On a longer tour you would get to see inside, but today we need to keep moving if we’re going to finish on time.” Mrs. Prix informed us. “Please follow me.”

And with that we were off again. Along the way we passed a giant fountain made from what looked like gold and silver! Giant dolphins shot water at each other, forever frozen in their happiness. However, we didn’t stop. As we passed the fountain, the sound of our shoes on pavement reverberated off of the cool water that lay beneath the golden dolphins combining to make a crisp echo as we passed.

“Next, we have the decree building.” Mrs. Prix made a wide swoop of her hand revealing a tall and pointy building.

The building wasn’t black, but the dark windows and lack of outside lighting gave it a sharp contrast to those building surrounding it.

“This building is where the law overseers meet and come to decisions…” But her words faded as my full attention was drawn to the building towering over me.

[_This is where it happened! This is where all of the laws that held the world in a standstill were created. This is where the laws that had forever corrupted our leaders had been passed! This was where my parent’s fate had been decided. Because of this building, or rather the people in it, my future had been decided for me before I was born! _]

“Alright everyone,” Mrs. Prix’s voice once again registered. “Now onto our final stop.” She turned and began walking without looking back to make sure we were following.

We all followed like the obedient lambs we were, at a breakneck pace. Our path was that of twists and turns. We turned off of the main path and onto a smaller path that surprisingly looked very clean.

Up we walked. Up and down, but mostly up. Our path carried us up a small hill and the sight at the top left me breathless!

Behind a tall pointed fence lay a shining driveway! Beyond that another fence, and beyond that [_his _]house! It had to be the chancellor’s house!

“We will not be allowed to enter, but the sight alone is magnificent, isn’t it? It truly is wonderful that our dear leader in these times of danger is treated so fairly. It must feel good to know that your parents helped pay for this house and by doing so, in a way you too are responsible for the magnificent feat of architecture standing before you…”

I once again stopped listening to her.[_ I can’t believe my parents hard earned money went towards making this absolutely vain house! How could anyone get away with this? _]What had started out as a cool and fun tour had darkened for me. Looking around at all of this wealth was sickening! [_These awesome buildings and city came from the people these people are supposed to be serving. How does the public not know about this? Oh, how times have changed, and not for good. I have to figure out a way to do something about this! _]

But I could think no further. My head was spinning just looking at all of the riches around me. What could I possibly do to somehow topple the men and women who held all of this wealth?

Mrs. Prix once again began talking. “Please make your way back down to the bottom of the hill where your transportation will be waiting to take you to your lodging. Thank you for your time, and I hope you’ve enjoyed the tour.”

We’d been taken quickly to our rooms after reaching small hoverers parked on the street below the Chancellor’s house. The rooms were great. They were ten times what I was used to back home. We each received our own luxury suit. Upon walking in, I’d been dumbfounded! My room had a giant whirlpool tub near one wall and a huge transparency screen on the oher! [_Am I in the right place? This has to be it, it doesn’t it? _]

At this point, I really didn’t care. [The people in the Capital lived like this every day, and it won’t matter to them if I try it out for one day. _]With that in mind,[ _]I grabbed the remote and flopped down onto the oversized king size bed!

It was awesome! I almost sank right through the mattress! I didn’t move for a minute, trying to memorize the feeling of floating on a cloud. With practiced ease, I opened my eyes again and flipped the button for the transparency screen. The imaging lanterns spun briefly before instantaneously creating a screen of colors on the far wall.

[_Finally, something I’ve seen before! I’m finally going to be able to watch television. _]The first station, and the next few were political propaganda, so I kept flipping until I found a sports channel which were hard to come by nowadays. This one, however, was one of the newer and more difficult sports to follow. It had something to do with trivia and soccer, but it only made me confused. [_What is happening? How is this supposed to work? _]

And then as if I was at home a knock came at my door. For an instant, I thought: Mom? _]But no, [_it couldn’t be. I ran to the door opening it swiftly only to be greeted by Rasben and Chris.

“Hey man, what’s up? Can you believe this! This is crazy! Have you lain on our bed yet? It feels like you died and went to heaven! I feel like I’m in a dream!” Chris oozed excitement.

“I have.”

As if he hadn’t heard me Chris continued. “Plus the size of these walls makes the transparency screen so big! I can’t wait try out my whirlpool tonight! What’s your view look like?” He asked as he headed over to my wall facing the capital. He pushed a button that I hadn’t seen, and a pair of blended curtains slid apart to reveal the wonder behind them!

In front of me lay the massive buildings of the Capital’s downtown! They weren’t skyscrapers, but they were at least 4 or 5 stories tall. Their walls, made from various moon materials, curved this way and that.

All of us were stunned for a moment. “Can you believe this? It feels like a dream! This is awesome!” Chris continued.

“Considering they used our money so they could live like royalty I would say it’s more of a nightmare than a dream.” I fired back unable to hold back my pent up anger.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, that is isn’t right. They shouldn’t be allowed to live like kings and queens while we’re forced to live like animals. This isn’t what I want to be funding for the rest of my life. This isn’t right.”

“Oh, get off your high horse William. You’re not as perfect as you want to believe, and these people aren’t that corrupt. Why can’t you just savor the moment before it’s over?” Chris asked, clearly irritated.

“I don’t know where you lived by my life was hell! My parents have no shot at gaining a life like these people, and neither do the rest of the population! This isn’t right, and you know it!”

“Well, life isn’t fair!”

Rasben interjected. “Guys, guys. Come on, you both need to calm down.”

“All I’m saying is my parents shouldn’t have to live like they do while these people live like this. Something is definitely wrong with the system.”

Chris also calmed down before responding. “I hear you, just not now. Don’t screw this up for everybody. If you do, none of us will get what we want.”

Rasben once again interceded. “Alright, now that we have that out of the way, Chris and I came to tell you that we’re leaving in half an hour for our dinner with the Chancellor.”

“How do you know?”

“Mrs. Nasdin came by and told us. She also said that we have suits in our closets that we need to dress in before we leave. They’re pretty cool actually.”

“Alright, I’ll be there. See you in 30.”

And with that, they left only pausing briefly to wish me good luck before closing the door.

I walked to my closet and opened it to reveal a silver animated suit that looked as though it belonged on the moon.

This night was going to be interesting…

I trotted down the stairs looking snazzy if I do say so myself. The suit’d scanned my body and then covered my bare skin with a shiny white, almost silver material. The computer generated cloth, which I’d only worn once before, made me feel exposed and self-aware. I’d hated wearing it at prom, but Mom said it looked good, so I’d worn it. However, that night had gone poorly, and I hoped that it wouldn’t be an indicator for tonight.

As I approached the remaining testers who’d gathered in the lobby, I realized the boy’s all had on neck bands. [_Where were those at? _]

“Hey, William, nice of you to join us!” Rasben turned jokingly.

“How did you guys all get neck bands?” I cut in afraid I’d be sent back.

“They were in the closets, did you not have one?”

“I didn’t see one. Do you think I’ll get in trouble?”

“Only if you get caught, hurry let’s get to our transportation.”

We all hurried outside. The limo resembled those I’d seen in movies. However this one had no top. Whoa!

“Hey guys!” Chris called to us from the back of the Limousine! “Come sit back here!”

We complied and quickly made our way to the back of the limo. “This is gonna be awesome! Can’t wait!”

“You sure it’ll be safe.” Questioned Rasben.

“Sure it will, don’t be such a downer. This is going to be so cool!” Chris responded.

Needing no further reassurance we both sat and awaited the roller coaster that was beneath us.

“Zuup!” The airlocks from the engine cleared and all of the sudden we lifted into the air!

The blades shifted direction, and we were off! We moved only feet from the ground weaving between buildings, our speed increasing with every second. “Whoohoo!” A tester shouted with joy from the front.

I think we were all pretty happy at that moment. The sweet, clean air rushed into our nostrils bringing with it the coolness of evening. Rasben tried talking but was drowned out by the wind, so instead, we all just sat quietly enjoying the new sensation as we moved closer to seeing the most powerful man alive.

The only thing that was strange about the trip was the city’s lack of nightlife. In fact, there was no one outside. We passed no clubs or anything of that nature. People were nowhere to be seen. The streets were completely void of life. [_Well, this is weird. I guess since the city is compiled of elites they have no need for parties, but wouldn’t their jobs make it more likely for them to drink to relieve the stresses of their days? _]

My reasoning must have been flawed because no matter how hard I looked I never saw anyone. And just as I began to think maybe they were all asleep, we arrived at our destination.

We’d passed by many buildings, but this one had to be the strangest. It was triangular! It was shaped like a pyramid! I’d never seen a building this tall shaped in this way, is this real? It has to be. _]The pyramid was completely lit up. Light came from every neck and crevice giving the building the appearance of a star amongst the darkness of space. [_Are these people really so rich that they can make pyramids just for the heck of it?

“Hello everyone, it’s so nice to see you made it here safely,” came Mr. Blackwood’s voice from the front. “I’m so excited for you all to meet the Prime Chancellor. If you’ll all, please follow me.”

We followed and he led us into the massive pyramid that was our destination. As we walked in everyone stopped what they were doing and stared.

Upon our entrance, we were greeted with curiosity. There had to be at least 100 people inside, and they were all staring at us! Mr. Blackwood and Mrs. Nasdin herded us to a table that was slightly larger than those surrounding it. We sat trying to avoid the stares of the politicians that looked like they were seeing teens for the first time.

A woman chef walked up upon our sitting down. “Dinner will be served shortly; there will be three courses, which we hope you will enjoy. If there are any problems, please feel free to…” Her voice trailed off, and her eyes got big!

We all turned to see what she was looking at.

Sebastian Neo! It was the Prime Chancellor!

He walked up followed closely by a staff of bodyguards. “Hello, children. How is everyone this evening?”

“Good,” came the shocked reply.

“So you are the few amongst the many. It is great to finally meet you. I have been informed of your progress and have been very excited to meet you for some time now.” he greeted energetically.

I couldn’t believe I was standing face to face with the man that had changed my life so drastically. I both hated him and feared him, and kind of felt the need to like him. His smile seemed genuine and reached into his eyes. He looked genuinely happy to meet us. He was younger than I’d expected with a small amount of stubble that had begun to gray.

“I’m very impressed with each one of you and am excited to hear from you!” he talked as he began walking around the table shaking hands.

It was strange. Even though I wanted to hate him, I felt the need to somehow impress him. He reached me, and his eyes seemed to click with recognition. Our hands grasped, but it felt different than it should have. Instead of his hand being warm and energetic like his face, it was cold, and its temperature sent chills through me! The hand felt completely alien as if it didn’t belong to the man standing before me.

Just as our hands separated my sight flipped on! As if a switch had been hit, colors appeared dancing before my eyes. The imaginary glasses slipped on, over my eyes and colors from the many people around me burst to life!

It was too much! [_They’re everywhere! _]I was overwhelmed! My knees buckled and I almost fell!

The Chancellor looked at me quizzically, then turned and moved to the next tester, Robert, and began shaking his hand. “How are you, what’s your name?”

The colors were still overwhelming me, and I could barely stay standing. Everyone seemed to have an extra amount of electricity running, and it was quite overwhelming. The added electricity from the politicians at all of the other tables was drowning me as dozens of electrical snakes flew around haphazardly!

[_Stay strong William! You can’t be found out, you can do this! _]I gave myself a pep talk and willed myself to focus on the Chancellor and leave the colors behind.

My strategy only half worked. As I focused on the people in front of me, the colors became less overwhelming, but they were still there. I couldn’t seem to switch the [_sight _]off! My eyes traveled around the room and came all the way back to Sebastian Neo, and then I noticed it. Sebastian Neo didn’t have any color running to or from him! He was void of color strands!

“Please sit,” Neo instructed as he eased himself into a lush white chair.

“I’m famished, let’s get some food over here!” He said laughingly to the rest of us.

One of his guards snapped, and waiters appeared with food immediately. A sea of white appeared as the dozens of waiters approached with heaping platters of food.

“Finally, something to eat,” Neo said with a hint of annoyance.

But I didn’t focus on him for long. All I could focus on was the food! It was delicious! There was some sort of meet drizzled with gravy and next to that was a sweet fruit I’d never had before. The flavor exploded in my mouth! My taste buds felt as though they’d died and went to heaven!

Even in the castle hadn’t had food like this. With meat being the rarity that it was I’d only had it twice in my life. It was so good I practically inhaled it! I couldn’t stop stuffing my face!

“Whoa there! Someone was hungry!” Neo said looking at me. “Is it that good?” He asked looking at his untouched portion. “We can get you some more if you like,” he asked jokingly. I was tempted to say yes, but realized he’d only meant it as a courtesy and so I shook my head in the negative. “I hope Mr. Blackwood here has been feeding you all enough,” Neo said as he eyed Mr. Blackwood who shied from his gaze.

I answered quickly. “He has, this is just so good I just can’t slow down, my apologies,” I said hating myself for apologizing.

“It’s perfectly all right, Mr. Rose. There’s plenty more where that came from. No need to apologize. How do the rest of you like it?” He asked, and everyone nodded their heads in the affirmative.

And that’s what the conversation turned into. Sebastian Neo asking polite questions and we, the testers, answering with short, shy responses.

Finally, the conversation got interesting after we finished our second course.

“So, what have you learned through these tests?” Neo asked.

No one spoke as a sudden tension built.

“Anything? Did you learn anything?” He said with a hint of agitation.

I could see a tic start in his jaw, so I quickly jumped in. “We learned how much technology has increased. We learned how to work together and help one another.”

Chancellor Neo just stared back at me trying to read me. I quickly looked away trying to stay off the grid by holding my tongue. I couldn’t let is slip that what we’d really learned was how to kill each other and look out for ourselves at all costs.

“Is that the best you’ve got.” Sebastian Neo said letting a hint of irritation enter his voice.

“Your government put billions of dollars into this research, and all you can say is that you learned how to make friends and work together! That’s all you learned?”

I tried to think of something to say before he blew his top off, but one of his guards did it for me. He tapped on The Prime Chancellor’s shoulder before whispering something to him. I couldn’t hear a word of what was said, but Sebastian turned and rose to his feet. “Excuse me, there is is a matter I must attend to. Please enjoy the rest of your meal.” he turned to leave but only took a few steps before “Boom!” the doors burst open!

“Zing, zing, zing!” Ray fire!

In came a flurry of people! They rushed towards us guns raised! “Stand down!” called a gigantic man from the front.

Sebastian Neo suddenly looked very scared. “My men have you surrounded. You would be wise to follow your own advice.”

And then an older familiar looking man stepped forward. “Why that’s no way to greet someone, Neo. I only came to see the children. How are you, children?” He said turning towards us.

I looked over to Chancellor Neo only to see that the color had drained from his face. “You know you’re not welcome here.” Neo said trying to stand firm but looking more afraid by the minute. His guards had taken positions around the room, and I realized we were caught in the middle of a standoff!

I felt like I was in an old western! Neo stared at the man who gazed nonchalantly back. All of the guards had their fingers on their triggers ready to fire at any moment!

The standoff couldn’t have lasted more than a minute, but it felt like an eternity. And when it did end, it was the Prime Chancellor who backed down first. “I’ll allow you to stay and visit with them for one hour, and not a second more. Do we have an agreement?” ¶The Chancellor leaned forward now desperate for the other man to accept his terms.

I don’t know why he’s so scared. Neo clearly had more men, and more are probably on the way, what’s he afraid of?

The other man smiled without a care in the world. “Alright Chancellor, but if anything should go not according to plan, there will be hell to pay.” His voice had a cold edge.

Neo turned to us. “Alright testers, it seems we have a visitor who will be visiting with us tonight. He is the head of ASTA and a very important cog in the governmental wheel.”

A few of the testers smiled in an attempt to ease tension, however, their levels remained high.

Dining resumed by the politicians at the tables around us. The stranger approached giving his own introduction, and that’s when I realized it; [_it’s him, it’s the man from the forest! _]I looked to Chris and could tell that he also knew exactly who this man was! I couldn’t believe it, this was the man who had helped me figure out that I had the “sight.” [_is he be here to save me? _]My hopes raised only to be struck down as the man gave his name!

“Hello, ladies and gentlemen, I am Mr. Dark.”

What! Is this real? What is happening? This has to be a nightmare! My world spun quickly out of control. All of the colors once again took center stage and the sudden news of who the evil man behind everything sent me falling to the ground!

Just as I was going down a hand reached out and caught me!

“Whoa there Mr. Rose, are you okay?” He said with a mischievous glint in his eye. [_He knows my name! I don’t get it, how could the man who had been helping me, be working for the government? How can the man who’s been my small source of guidance be the same man who almost killed Mr. Blackwood and myself? _]The world of good and evil seemed to have flipped in an instant!

After pulling me back to my feet, Mr. Dark shook my already grasped hand. “I don’t believe we’ve formally been introduced Mr. Rose, my name is Mr. Dark, and I am the reason you’re here. You see, I am the mastermind behind this great experiment that you’ve all been taking part in.” He said turning to the other testers. “I am the man you should all be dying to meet. As you will soon come to know, I’m the man with all of the answers. If you will all sit, I will be happy to answer any and all questions you may have.”

A tester named Abby tentatively raised her hand. I looked over to Chris. He seemed to still be reeling in disbelief.

“So what comes next?” Abby asked.

“My dear girl, what comes next is truly amazing, but I cannot spoil it. It is simply so splendid I cannot bring myself to tell you.”

This seemed to satisfy Abby, but it only spurred anger in me. “Mr. Dark, that’s all well and good for us, but what about the other testers?” I asked.

“What other testers?”

“You know, the ones kept below the testing castle. The ones hooked up to life support that were supposed to be sent home. What happens to them once this is all over?” I asked knowing full well things were going downhill quickly. But I couldn’t hold back any longer. This had been the man walking with Mr. Blackwood when I’d been hiding under one of the testers lifeless bodies. I remember Mr. Blackwood referring to him as Mr. Dark. This was the man who’d almost killed Mr. Blackwood and then sent his black snakes of color after me! This man had been in on everything from the beginning! Why did he help me if he’d been working against me the entire time? What has he really been doing?

The room had gone deathly quiet. He sat there staring coldly down on me. “Mr. Rose, I’m so glad you asked. I think everyone should know the truth. You see, everyone, when you die in a simulation, you aren’t sent home like we’ve lead you believe. In fact, you don’t come back at all. Your consciousness is lost in the abyss of the universe unless we decide you’re needed and bring you back. You may be wondering why I’m telling you all this, and the answer is quite simple. A few weeks ago Mr. Rose here stumbled upon our secret, and we’ve been attempting to cover it up ever since.” He gazed out across everyone confused and stunned faces. “What I’m saying is, if you die in a simulation you’re also dead in real life. We could wake you, but why would we? We don’t want word of our tests reaching the public. Plus, who knows, we may need you later. Our attempt to hide these facts from you is irrelevant now seeing as how tonight is your last night to live.

“What!” “Oh no!” This can’t be right!” Voices sputtered around the table.

“That’s right, tomorrow everything stops for you. You see, there really is no winner of this test, only losers.”

My worst fears are confirmed! There really is no escape! This is all a hoax!

Chancellor Neo jumped in, “Mr. Dark, I really don’t think you should be telling all of them what is going to happen. This wasn’t what was agreed upon.”

“Why shouldn’t they know? It’s not like they’ll ever have the chance to tell anyone. They are merely pawns in the very dangerous game that we play.” He laughed with a sudden glee.

Everyone sat in shock. No one could believe the words that were being spoken. [_We’d never walk, talk, or breathe again? How could this be! _]

I’d know something like this might be the end result, but those around me looked as though breathing had become impossible.

Mr. Dark continued. “You should know that your bodies will be used for the greater good. You will continue to serve the public long after you’ve gone. For that we are grateful.”

I couldn’t believe it, [_we’ve sealed our fate! This so-called “test,” is our demise! Well, I’m not about to be used as a puppet in someone else’s game! _]I stood, my chair falling backwards, slamming onto the cold tile!

All eyes turned towards me! “There’s no way any of this is possible! You’re lying!” I denied.

“Oh, it’s extremely possible, why do you think your dearly beloved Miss Bell turned on you? I’m afraid that was us using her, as we’ll soon be using your body in a similar fashion. It took me a while to figure out how to manipulate you and then I realized the best way would be through the one you trusted the most. If only you’d listened to her. She tried to tell you, but you wouldn’t listen. It really is too bad. You had the opportunity with her, but now you’ll only be able to forever think about what might have been.”

[_Is he serious? Is this really true? Was Jessica controlled into sedating me! Maybe I really have something to fight for then! I can see her again, I have to get out of here! _]

And then I felt it. The power! My clenched fists suddenly burned! I looked down and to my surprise yellow was sparking from them! [_It’s happening again! I have control of the electricity! It’s time to get some revenge! _]

I thrust my hands forward and yellow burst free! “Ssss!” The colors burst free at an insane speed headed directly for Mr. Dark, but suddenly they stopped! They weren’t moving! [_Oh crap! _]A few of the colored cords twitched slightly, but the rest remained unmoving!

“Haha!” Mr. Dark laughed as everyone ran to a nearby wall unsure as to what was happening. I realized I’d made a grave mistake!

His laugh wasn’t evil though, it was one of genuine amusement. “Ooooh, scary. I think I may have wet myself just thinking about that monstrous attack. Is that honestly the best you’ve got? Why don’t you try again?” He mocked me trying to control his laughter.

I complied, but this time the yellow barely emerged from my hands before stopping midair.

“Yellow, you use yellow. How pathetic is that, I thought you’d be stronger than a yellow.” He pointed a finger at me as he doubled over with laughter. “Hahaha!”

“If you’re wondering why I was helping you, it’s quite simple.” He paused to check my reaction before walking toward me and lowering his voice. “I told you all of those things to see if you truly had the gift. It seems as though you do, even if it is one of the weakest I’ve ever seen. Now that I see you for what you truly are I realize all of my time on you was a waste. However, I’m still willing to let you help me. I could train you, and maybe with time, I could make you strong. I could give you more power than you ever thought possible. Even though you work with the weakest frequency, you would still be stronger than everyone around you.” He whispered his case into my ear as he got within inches. “I could teach you to control people like I did with Miss Bell. In fact, I have a plan for that. If it works, more people will be at your disposable than you ever thought possible.” he continued getting more and more excited as he mentioned his master plan.

This guy is crazy. Why would I want to control others? Especially not the girl I might be in love with. Who did this guy think he was! People deserve to believe what they want and make things happen for themselves. Who was I or any other human to take that away from them!

“You could be a ruler of men. No one would argue with you. Your parents, Rob and Jacklyn, would be so happy to see their son rise to such heights. You could show them how much smarter than them you are. You could help them escape the miserable lives they’ve given you.” He gradually moved back and increased in volume.

As his volume rose, my inner voice rose to match it. [_How dare he insult my parents! How did he even know who they were? It was because of him my dad had to work himself to death to provide for his family! This man was the reason my mother couldn’t receive the medical treatment she so desperately needed! It was because of the lunatic standing before me that my entire life had been horrendous! My life should have never played out the way it had! This man is a monster, and I can’t allow him to infect anyone else! _]I felt a hot wave of anger crash over me!

“So what do you think William? Do you want to join me and be more powerful than you ever thought possible, or do you want to live like your parents; the lowliest of the low?”

That does it! “I’ll tell you what I think Mr. Dark! You can go to hell! How dare you insult the people who raised me, how dare you insult those who gave up everything for me, and how dare you use others for your personal gain!” I shouted directly into his face.

He took a step back a look of confusion passing over his face! And then I burst! I let loose my fist and felt it connect solidly with his face! “Wack!” He flew backwards, skidding on the slick tile!

He lay still for a moment, but only a moment. His head slowly raised, followed by the rest of his body! He stood slowly, never letting his eyes wander from me.

[_This is bad; this is very bad! _]I tried to produce the yellow from my fingertips, but nothing would come! Nothing was happening! His fingers, however, were alive and ready to exact vengeance!

Blackness swirled producing billowy clouds around his arms and then around his entire body! “How dare you! I’ve given you the opportunity of a lifetime, and this is how you respond! Well, you’ve made a grave mistake!” He raised his hands and blackness burst into beams that screamed forward and slammed into me with the force of a toppling building!

I remember being dragged to some vehicle and being driven to a hospital. I don’t remember staying there for long, but I was in and out of consciousness the whole way. I remember the doctor saying I’d had minor nerve damage and was very close to having a stroke, and then I lost consciousness again. I finally woke up to a dark room. This time I wasn’t hooked up to tubes. I couldn’t see much, so I decided to stand, however, that to was difficult.

Standing felt like someone was stabbing needles into my mind! [_It hurts so bad! _]

I couldn’t move for a couple of minutes. Once I had regained by stability, I was able to raise my head and then my body and then take slow, cautious steps towards where I was assumed an exit was. As I got closer my eyes adjusted I realized that the wall didn’t hold and exit, it held a cage door! Am I in prison?

Someone had locked me up! What was going on? Why was I here? And then my memories came flying back!

I remember Sebastian Neo having me arrested for hitting the head of ASTA but telling his guards to take me to the hospital first. At the hospital, the doctors had come to a very quick synopsis and had me taken away. From there I’d been driven to some building where I assumed I was now. [_I can’t believe I was arrested! _]I knew I shouldn’t have hit him, but I couldn’t stand to be near that insane man a moment longer.

[_What have I done? _]Thanks to that incident, I’d probably never see my parents again. And if I didn’t spend most of my life behind bars, then I’d probably be just a lab rat in one of Mr. Dark’s crazy tests.

I heard rattling outside of my cell. [_A guard! _]“Hey, where am I?” I called out.

“You’re in the Capital Penitentiary.” He replied.

“Why?”

“I’m not allowed to talk to the prisoners. Here is your dinner. Lights out in 20 minutes.” With that, he turned and left.

I looked at the gruel in front of me, but couldn’t muster an appetite to eat it. I felt sick just thinking about what the future held.

As promised the lights, in the cold, damp, cement encompassed room, flickered out in 20 minutes. I laid down in the pitch black hole and began tossing and turning. After half an hour or so I fell into a fitful sleep.

My dreams were crazed. Everything seemed to blur together. And then, out of the craziness, my brain stopped, and everything became focused. I was back in the clearing where I’d been forced to answer the riddle before.

I looked around for another small person for another riddle, but instead, I was greeted with the cold, dead stare of the beast from before! Oh no!

The same beast that had been so close to eating me alive! Should I run? He looked back at me coolly. I was screaming on the inside, but tried not to show it! This is it; I’m going to die!

His eyes were lifeless, but they weren’t black like the rest of his body. Instead, they were a bright yellow.

“William, it is nice to meet you finally.” Came a voice from the beast, sharply contrasting its horrid features.

“I have been waiting quite some time for this moment. I’m sure the little people have been telling you about what a terrible creature I am, and how I’m here to kill you, but that simply isn’t true. I can see you’re scared, don’t be. I came to enlighten you before it’s too late.” The beast paused, waiting for me to catch up what he was saying. “We don’t have much time. I’m here to teach you a few things. First of all, you should know that you are stronger and more powerful than you know. You may feel weak and useless now, but you have the ability to help change the world. You are your own destiny. All you have to do is believe. You’ve been told your whole life you’re not good enough. You’ve been told that you aren’t worth anything, but I am here to tell you that that isn’t true. You may be thinking why am I taking advice from a demon in my dream, but I’m here to tell you to listen because I’m not just any monster, I’m your monster. I’m your good demon. The other part of me whispers to you every day that you aren’t good enough, that you’re not strong enough, and that you’ll never amount to anything. But what he tells you are lies, none of those things are true. And although you don’t often hear me, if you listen now you’ll hear what you need to know. You see, I know things that you don’t know. If you listen intently you will learn and grow, although if you chose to ignore my council, then you will become filled with-” The demon trailed off as his eyes began to change colors! They began to swirl this way and that as if something was trying to emerge from within it!

“We don’t have much time, my evil half within will soon burst forth! Listen to me now, if you retain anything from this conversation it should be this: listen to those around you. You are stronger when you unite with others. When you have the world at your back, you can accomplish anything. You’ll become the chief ruler over your destiny. If you choose to ignore this however and forgo the help of others on this journey, you will become weak and powerless. You will be that of a wave driven by the surging winds that surround you. If ever you need to overcome obstacles look to those around you and your problems will become solutions. Follow my advice and the answer you so desperately seek will be made known to you.”

“But-” I began to question when suddenly he screamed out in agony. “Ahhh! It hurts! I can’t hold him back any longer; you must go! Go before he takes over and ruins everything! Wake up William, wake up!” ¶As he screamed in agony his eyes changed from their bright yellow into a marble black. I stumbled backwards! I didn’t know how to get out of the dream world! What was I supposed to do?

The beast rose to his full height and roared! “Hello, William how nice of you to visit. I like things easy, but this is almost overly so. Haha!” He cackled with a deep, booming voice.

I slipped and fell backwards! “Smack!” My head connected with a rock and just like that my eyes fluttered open into the world of reality!

I sat up sweating all over and screaming! “Ahhh!”

I quickly cut myself short and sat still, slick in my terrified sweat. And then I heard a clinking coming down the corridor.

It can’t already be morning, can it? It doesn’t feel like I’ve been asleep that long, but who can really tell? Within this jail light eludes me.

I was prepared to make my way to the door to grab my food when suddenly it burst open! Standing there were several people with masks on!

One of them hurriedly approached. “Hurry, move, we don’t have much time!”

It became apparent that her gender was female as she pulled me to my feet.

“What, who are you? What is happening?” I asked bewildered.

“There isn’t time for questions. Follow us if you want to live!” She whispered fervently, pulling me after her, and back into the free world!

 

Chapter 20: Who are You Guys

The room was very secretive. It had no windows, instead, lots of monitors.

Our trip hadn’t been long. It couldn’t have taken more than 8 minutes to reach the secret room by hoverer.

The girl leading the group of people in masks hadn’t talked to me. The entire team had moved very quickly and effectively. The prison had been a maze of hallways. However, the masked bandits seemed to know where they were going and we’d quickly found an exit. The exit led to an alleyway where we’d boarded a hoverer, I’d been blindfolded for 15 minutes, and when it’d been removed, I stood amongst a plethora of monitors and high-tech gadgets.

[_Where am I? _]The circular shaped room buzzed with technology and people in a crazy blur! Everyone was swarming everywhere. People were constantly talking on their ear communicators. The room resembled that of a hive of busy worker bees.

Their goal, although unknown to me, seemed to have something to do with monitoring something. As we approached, I could see that the transparency screens were showing footage from all around the capital and all around the testing castle! I can’t believe it, were they spying on us?¶Then I noticed the man. He slowly turned from his command position overlooking all of the workers and their monitors.[_ It was him! It was the man from the simulations! It was the man who’d taken the black book from me! He’d been in my last sim! _]

“Hello Mr. Rose, we’ve been expecting you.”

He began making his way down to where we stood. “My name is Damian and this.” He said making a wide gesture with his hands, “ Is a small part of the rebellion.”

I just stood there, unable to find words that might fit this situation. Sensing my uneasiness, Damian began to speak again, “Believe it or not, we stand up to the government. Those you see around you are those brave enough to fight against the oppressive government that now rules us. Those you see before you are the ones trying to make a better life for themselves and those they love. I have only one question: are you interested?”

When I said nothing, he beckoned me forward and began to walk leading me past the many transparent screens and data processors. No one talked as we passed by. Instead, everyone stood at attention upon seeing Damian. Clearly, this was their commander and a respected one at that.

Damian began talking over his shoulder. “This is the head of command. This is where the magic happens. We have been studying you and what you can do. We think we may be of assistance, but first, we need your help.”

“For what?” I finally found my voice.

“I’m glad you asked. Please follow me, and I will explain to you what Mr. Dark is about to do to the human race.” He whispered darkly, turning and motioning for me to follow.

We left the busy hive and entered a much smaller room through a set of old automatic curtains. Inside was the girl who’d saved me from prison judging by her outfit, and a boy who looked oddly familiar. Is that…?

“Josh, is that you?”

[_How can it be?, I saw him die in our first sim, he should be in a coma like the other testers I found. _]The boy turned toward me and his face lit up. It was him!

He walked to me and unexpectedly hugged me! “Hey, it’s good to see you, William. How ya doin buddy?” He said letting me go with a giant smile.

I found my very startled voice and began to try and piece together the shattered puzzle before me. “How is this possible, I saw you die. How are you here, and with a rebel group?” I stammered.

“We don’t have much time, so I’ll give you a short synopsis.” ¶“Okay.”

“Alright, here it goes. You see, I’ve always been a rebel. My position at ASTA was purely an assignment. My job was to try and warn a few testers about the truth, about what was happening and hopefully cause a mutiny. However, I was discovered quickly, and so I was forced to escape. I had to pretend to die so that I could get back to my body and escape with my life and consciousness still intact.” ¶I was still in shock. “You knew all along?”

“Of course I did, why do you think I told you it was all real before I died. I was trying not to waste everyone’s time completely, and efforts spent getting me ready for that mission. Luckily you listened even if you didn’t really understand me, and you’re here today. You found out more that I’d ever hoped, it’s great to have you here.”

“Where is here exactly?”

“Damian will explain everything to you in a minute. But first I’d like you to meet Felicia, a new and upcoming member of our rebel force.” He said while pulling the girl, who’d lead the group responsible for saving me, over.

“Thanks for helping me escape.”

“No problem, anyone would do it for the good of the rebellion.” She said without breaking her staring contest with the wall behind me.

I didn’t really care that she didn’t seem to acknowledge my presence, although it was weird how emotionless she was.

Just as things were becoming unbearably awkward several men and women shuffled in. They were all older, so I assumed they were some sort of leaders.

Combined with their the new arrivals there were about eight of us in the room.

Damian quickly addressed them completely forgetting me. “Thank you all for coming. I know you each having very busy schedules. However, this is a matter of vital importance. As you all know the test is over and Dark is about to do something extremely dangerous. According to new intel, he has some sort of device. We think it some sort of nuclear weapon, but we aren’t sure. All we know is that we have to stop it. Our plan is to have Felicia escort the [package _]to the meet. Once their, her group will disperse amongst the crowd gathered for Mr. Dark’s big announcement. He invited citizens from Trinity, and their coming by the hundreds. We believe his true purpose is to test his new weapon on them. John,” Damian said turning to a man near the front. “I need your group on standby and ready to deploy. If things go wrong, I don’t want your team in harm’s way, but if we are successful, we’ll ll need reinforcements ready to evacuate the _package.

“Sir, yes sir,” John responded formally.

Damian continued. “As for the rest of you, I want your groups on standby as well. However, keep your teams well clear of the possible blast radius. Felicia, your team will be in the direct line of fire if we are unable to disarm Dark’s weapon, are your soldiers prepared?”

“Sir, my team is ready and willing to lay down its lives in the fight for freedom.” She responded completely emotionless.

“Alright, thank you for everything you do. We’ll be monitoring closely, and if things go awry, we’ll hopefully be able to send in an evac and get you to safety.” He paused, and she nodded curtly once more without emotion. He turned back to his audience and continued. “Alright then, if their are no questions, this meeting is adjourned. All we need now is the commitment of our package.” He said as he turned towards me. “The rest of you are free to leave. I would like to brief William alone.”

Everyone got up and exited the small colorless room except for Josh and Felicia. Damian walked over and put a shoulder on my hand before he began speaking. “William, what I’m about to ask you is going to sound insane. But I would ask that you hear me out. Will you do that?”

“Yes.”

“Let me start by saying, I know how much you’ve suffered. I know how much you’ve watched people around you suffer, including your parents. And I know that you don’t want that life for yourself or those close to you.” He paused looking into my eyes to see what emotion he had evoked.

All I could think was: [_how does everyone know so much about me?  _]

Damian continued. “Earlier when I was speaking to the commanders, I mentioned a [_package. _]This [_package, _]as we called, it is actually a person and we’d like for that person to be you.

I immediately cut him off. “What! That’s a nuclear bomb! You want me to get close to a nuclear weapon? No way, you’re insane!”  

Damian rebuffed. “If this weapon takes out as many people as we think it will, it will take out the Capital as well as all of the surrounding cities. Furthermore, Damian has invited arch judges, as well as the overseers, and the code makers. Don’t you see what I’m saying? If Dark is successful, then there will be no one left to oppose him. Things are bad now, but if Dark seizes power things will drastically spiral into oblivion. ¶I see where he’s coming from, and I want to help, truly I do, but I’m not about to give up my life so that I can stop Mr. Dark from killing people I’ve never met.

Josh, seeing that I was torn, spoke up. “Will, I know this is a tough decision, but you should think about those around you. If Dark takes over no one will be free. You parents, your friends, anyone you love. If you don’t do this, we’ll all suffer.”

Suddenly memories began fluttering through my mind. Images of my loving parents hugging me before I left for the test, Jessica helping me walk to the infirmary after I got the crap beat out of me at the pool party, Jessica saving my life multiple times, Jessica’s sweet smile, Jessica’s tender laugh, Jessica, Jessica, Jessica. Images of her stunning endless green eyes took over my thoughts. I can’t let Mr. Dark keep her from me. I have to save her. If I don’t, I’ll never be able to live with myself.

“I’ll do it!” I responded rashly.

Damian, Josh, and Felica all looked at me like I was crazy. Damian broke the silence. “You don’t even know what we’re asking of you yet.”

“I’ll do whatever it takes,” I replied boldly, partially hating myself every moment.

“Awesome, that’s what I like to hear,” Damian said sounding very, please. “Your task is simple. You’ll be escorted to capitol square where Mr. Dark will be holding his announcement. If you can get their safely, you’ll need to get close to Dark. Then you’ll need to cause a distraction. If you can get him distracted Felicia and her team can sneak in and steal the nuclear device. After that, your only focus will be to escape. You must get away from Dark as quickly as possible, or he’ll kill you with his black magic. What do you think?”

As Damian talked, I became more and more anxious. I’m gonna die! My hands had begun to shake just thinking about what I was being asked to do. “Why would he be there?” ¶“Why would who be there?” Damian asked.  

“Mr. Dark, why would he be there if he was about to set off a nuclear weapon?”

“That’s the one thing we’re not sure about. We hope that what we’re doing is right, but we don’t know what he’s planning to reveal to the thousands of people gathered. All we know is that we need to be there to stop it, whatever it is. Will you be there with us?”

“Yes,” I said weakly wishing I could take my words from the earlier back.

Damian put a hand on my shoulder and led me away from the other two. “Listen, William, I know what we’re asking is difficult, but we both know what you can do. You have the [_gift. _]You need to use it to your advantage. Try to stay calm and remember what’s important. You can do this; I know you can.”

“Thanks. I guess I’m as ready as I’ll ever be…”  

Chapter 21: Game Time

This is awesome! We’d been given hover bikes to ride for our mission, and they were awesome! The bikes were light and responded to every touch. Cornering was insane! If you turned hard enough, you’d drifted through the air, gliding effortlessly around sharp corners! There was no need to break, because the bikes handled everything you threw at them with ease!

Skyscraper buildings rushed past in a blur of color. People, trees, dogs, everything moved so fast. The wind whipped in my face bringing with it the freshness of the capital. I felt completely free.

Cold, hard pavement looked up at me from below, and the sharp, beautiful blue sky looked down from above. However, neither seemed to matter much at the speeds I was traveling. This is incredible! _]I could feel the growl of my engines grow louder as I revved back the throttle stick! [_Wow!

I let off the throttle, but instead of quieting the motors, they seemed to increase in volume! [_What the? _]The sound increased in volume almost as if something was approaching! [_What is that? _]I looked over my shoulder and was met with a shocking sight!  

Hover Disks! They were right behind us, and they were closing fast! Disks were legendary! Only the richest of the rich could afford a disk. They’re insanely fast and have tons of mobility! Disk racing is one of the most popular sports,[_ it’s incredible!_]

Felicia’s voice from my earpiece brought me back to reality! “William, I need you to listen to me. Are you?”

“Yeah, yeah, go ahead,” I said still enthralled the glorious feats of human engineering catching up quickly.

“We’ve got to take evasive action or those disks will kill catch us in seconds!” She shouted through the earpiece with a sudden fear in her voice.

“What are you talking about? Why?”

“Those are government disks! They’re here to kill us! You need to follow me and try to make yourself as hard to hit as possible! If you get hit with one of their orbs, you’ll be immobilized, and fall to your death! If you can’t evade them, you will die! Let’s move!” She yelled and wrenched back on her throttle!

I followed, but couldn’t resist a look over my shoulder! The disks were now practically on top of us! A voice from the lead disk’s megaphone boomed. “Stop, or you will be treated as hostiles! Stop now, or you will be terminated!”  

If we are caught, there won’t be any way to save anyone, but more importantly, I’ll be dead! I really don’t want to die, but if I surrender now, I’d know I’d either be locked in prison for the rest of my life or sentenced to death. I have to keep going!

With those thoughts pushing me onward I pulled back on the throttle as hard as I could. I felt a slight jolt as the hover engines hit their highest range! The engines in the front and back began to scream in protest! I was barely keeping up with Felicia darting in and out of buildings that lay in our path! I thought for sure I was about to meet my maker when I heard Josh come in over the coms. “Felicia, I’m behind the disks with the part of the troops you requested stay behind for backup. Permission to open fire?”

“Fire, fire!” She yelled desperately.

“Zing, zing, zing!” [_Ray bolts! _]

Suddenly ray fire was flying everywhere! I glanced back, to see the battle, but to my horror, all that greeted me was a rogue disk had slipped away and was zooming towards me!

“Buzz, buzz, buzz!” The disk began to fire with its orbs of immobilizing electricity. The orbs whizzed past me and took out a rebel who’d been escorting me!

“Ahhh!” he screamed over the coms and fell off his bike rickoshaying with the ground at well over a 100 miles an hour!

The impact was too quick for me to see, but I assumed all that was left was a bloody streak on the pavement below.  

The disk continued to fire as two of my other escorts slowed down to try and shield me from the incoming orbs. Another man was shot with a heart-wrenching scream! “Ahhh!”

I can’t do this! I can’t let these people die for me! At this rate, we’ll all die! There’s no escape!

As if sensing my thoughts Felicia yelled, “We’re almost there, just hang on!” right as she turned back my other escort who had dropped back to shield me was hit! “Ahhh!” he screamed before tumbling to the ground towards certain death.

Now it’s only Felicia and me! Josh appears to have distracted the other disks with the rebels he has command of, but it isn’t going to matter, the one disk that slipped away is aiming right at me! This is it!

At the last possible moment out of nowhere Felicia threw here to bike in reverse and flew backwards right at the disk that was about to fire! She flew under the disk attaching something to it’s underside! Just as it let loose an electricity bolt, the entire disk was yanked backwards!

It’s being dragged away! Felicia did it; she saved me!

[But I can’t stop for her. This is my moment; I have to use her distraction and get to Mr. Dark! _]I twisted back on the throttle to keep going, but nothing happened! I had no power! I looked back only to realized that my rear engine was on fire! Flames and smoke trailed my lifeless machine. The bike shuddered as if it finally realized what had happened.[ The last shot from the disk connected! I can’t believe it! I’m powerless to change my fate! _]

The ground rushed up to greet me! I pulled desperately back at the directional stick while throwing the front engine into reverse in an attempt to slow down, but I couldn’t!

As I flew out of the downtown area, I saw a large crowd of people gathered! My bike was headed right for them, and their was nothing I could do! This is it! I’m going to die, and I’m going to kill 100’s of people on accident!

My remaining engine in the front blew with a resounding “Boom!” and I dropped from the air like a dead bird! “Smack!” I pushed away from my bike, and we skidded apart with the screech of metal and bone on pavement. “Swwwwiiiiiiiicccckkkkkk!”

When I finally came out of my skid, my body flipped out of control repeatedly rolling and then slamming into a large object! [_Ahhhh! Everything burns! _]

Everything was on fire, but outwardly I could only groan because screaming hurt to badly. “Uhhh.” I felt myself gasping for air, but I felt oddly disconnected from the reality of what was happening. [_I must be in shock. _]I heard cries from people behind me at the horrendous sight in front of them. The only thing I could focus on was the sky in front of my eyes that I’d been lucky enough to land facing. [_It really is beautiful. Is this the last time I’ll see it? _]

And then, suddenly, a tiny bit of feeling came back, and with it an enormous, horrendous burning! Everything suddenly was alive and on fire! My skin felt like it’d been coated with lava! My bones all groaned in protest as I tried to roll over! I looked down over my shoulder only to see most of the skin gone and muscle and bone looking back at me![_ I must have been going at least 70 mph! How am I still alive?_]

I knew I was in shock. I didn’t dare look at the rest of my body for fear of seeing the remainder of it. I knew I was in serious trouble, the only thing I could feel was burning sensation coming from everywhere inside and outside my body. I looked over, and to my shock and disbelief, thousands of people were looking back at me! I turned my head the other way, and there stood Mr. Dark!

He gazed at me with a little bit of interest and something that looked like pitty. His feelings didn’t stop him from ripping away a blanket to reveal his weapon!

He then dropped the blanket and slowly approached me. “Look who decided to join us!” He said addressing both the crowd and me. “Mr. William Rose as I live and breath! Although, it seems as though you won’t be doing either of those things for much longer. Haha.” He laughed at his joke. The crowd, however, did not. Everyone was dead silent. “Could you not wait a moment longer to see what ASTA built?” he asked loudly before changing his tone to only address me. “You could have been here standing by my side! You could have been the one to reveal it to all of these good people.” He said gesturing to the people who were all gazing back with confusion, as to whether I was part of Mr. Dark’s act or if I had just unexpectedly dropped in out of the sky. A few of the people began to get restless with anxiety and fear and began to back away from my mangled body, however not too far.

Mr. Dark leaned in for a private conversation. “Before I kill you I’d like to show you what I created.” As he spoke, blackness appeared from his hands and swiftly funneled into my brain.

Energy flooded throughout me and miraculously I was able to find my feet! He’s powering me!

Mr. Dark moved towards his cube like device, and so did I. I tried to move away, but he had complete control.

The energy made it possible for me to move but it didn’t take the pain away. In fact it only seemed to increase with every step I took on my battered and bloodied legs. I wanted to turn and run away! I wanted to run as far as I could and try and reach my parents so I could talk to them one last time! I wanted to tell them I loved them! I wanted to thank them for everything they had done for me despite their having to give everything up to do so. I wanted to see the proud looks on their faces whenever I’d won a game. I wanted to see the way they both had comforted me when I’d been sick and helped me figure out my homework as a child. Most of all, I just wanted to see them one last time, hug them, and hear them tell me; _everything will be okay son. _

But, I couldn’t. I couldn’t move the way that I wanted to, I’d been forced into submission, and so I followed Mr. Dark until he stopped in front of the strange device.

He began speaking to me as if we were learning in a museum, as if this box was an incredible discovery and should be rejoiced over. “This Mr. Rose is a Frequency Connector! This is what we have been building out of the objects you brought to us in your tests. You thought that the objects you retrieved were only for the test, but in fact they were what we were truly after. You see the test had a much larger purpose than you could’ve ever comprehended. What you didn’t see while testing was that you were actually helping us get all of the parts and plans we needed to build this Frequency Connector.” He looked to me and I just stared blankly back. I wanted to say something, anything to the madman standing before me, but I couldn’t find the strength to make words.

Sensing my questioning, Mr. Dark continued, “You may be wondering; what is a Frequency Connector? And that’s a valid question. As you may have figured out, the colors you see are electricity, however, what you may not know, is that the different colors are the different frequencies people run on. You know that I can control people using the gift that we both have; however, controlling some people is harder than others. You see, everyone runs on different frequencies depending on their level of intelligence. Those with a higher level of creativity are harder to control. The purpose of the Frequency Connector is to change everyone’s brain to the same frequency.” He looked again into my eyes that were completely bewildered. “The Frequency Connector will connect everyone to a frequency that I control, thereby giving me control of all these people and many more across this great land of ours. You’ll never know how much you and your fellow testers have helped me. Without you, I would have never been able to make the device you see before you. Thanks to you, I’ll be more powerful than anyone alive! I will rule the world and I will rule it with an iron fist! My every whim will be accomplished and there will be no more wars. No one will be able to fight me; once I control them all and show them the way to happiness. I will be a god, and if anyone tries to rebel they will be crushed. The only people to live will be the strong. The world will become a breeding ground for perfection. Never again will people look at me in disgust or distaste. Everyone will look up to me, love me and desire to fulfill my every command. I will truly gain happiness!” He began to shout like a madman.

I finally found the power of speech and whispered out what measly words I could muster. “You’re… insane.”

Mr. Dark leaned in, “What was that? I couldn’t hear you.” He said cupping his hand around his ear.

I leaned in and whispered with everything I had. “You’re insane… There is no way you’ll get away… with… this.”

Mr. Dark got my message loud and clear this time and it was one that he did not appreciate. Blackness appeared and shoved me backwards! The burning sensation intensified a thousand times as Mr. Dark’s magic retreated into him, leaving me screaming and in complete agony. “Ahhhh! Make it stop! It burns!”

But it wouldn’t stop. I wanted to die so badly right then. I knew that the original plan of trying to steal the device had been ruined when most of the team sent here to get it had been killed on the trip over. There was no point to live anymore! I was in complete agony and everyone was going to become this madman’s slaves. There is nothing for me to live for anymore!

But then, out of nowhere, as if by miracle, I saw her! Jessica!

She emerged from the crowd! Is this actually happening? She looked like an angel floating gracefully towards me! Maybe I am dead. Am I just imagining this?

But then, Rasben and Jack also emerged from the throng of people, stopping on either side of Jessica. [_What is happening? _]And then, as if floodgates had opened; testers began to stream through the crowd to stand behind my friends. Every one of them, all of the testers who’d been killed and put to sleep as well as the few who’d survived stood defiantly shoulder to shoulder!

I couldn’t believe it! They’re all here! Everyone is here! I looked back to Mr. Dark whose face showed complete shock. “What… how… how are you here?” He questioned in disbelief!

Without answering, Jessica began running towards me with bright tears running down her beautiful face! But as she closed the gap; abruptly, she stopped! Everyone did! And then I saw them. Black cords were binding them!

All of them! Mr. Dark had encircled them with immobilizing blackness! They all stared helplessly on as I lay completely powerless on the unforgivingly cold ground.

I tried igniting some yellow electricity, but I was too weak, the yellow appeared but dissipated instantly as it hit the air. Mr. Dark turned to the group of testers and addressed them. “I’m glad you could all make it, even though you weren’t formally invited, this way you’ll get to see William die.” he looked directly at Jessica, “He’ll be killed right in front of you where you won’t be able to miss it. This is how we treat rebels! They are the filth of the earth, and soon you will all come to see them that way.” he shouted, spittle flying as he raged!

“I want you all to see what happens to those who cross me!” He screamed! And then thrust his left hand in my direction.

Everyone else probably thought he was a complete nutcase, but to me, it was terrifying! Black cords of death formed into their deadly spirals circling around each other, reaching up like the buildings behind them. [_This is it, I’m going to die, and the last thing I’ll ever see is this moment. _]

The cords propelled towards me! They seemed to be taking their time, almost as if they were going to enjoy killing me and wanted to savor the moment.

I looked over to the testers in hopes of seeing Jess one last time! Her beautiful eyes shined with tears as they found mine and stared back hard. I tried to convey that everything would be alright. This is it, I couldn’t convince myself otherwise. There was no coming back from this; this was the last time I would get to see Jessica, or anyone for that matter. I laid aside my burning agony and tried to drink in the experience of seeing everyone for the final time. And then all at once, the words from the beast that’d been in my dream echoed in my head. “If ever you need to overcome obstacles, look outward to those surrounding you and you will find the answer you so desperately seek.”

I looked to the group of testers almost 100 strong, gathered and unable to move, and suddenly their colors became clear! Greens, blues, and reds all came into focus. They swirled above and around their masters, every which way, as if unsure of what to do. [_There masters couldn’t move, so what were they supposed to do? _]

Then, as if sensing my need for help a few cords of color began to fly towards me! They moved like the crashing waves of an ocean! Their colors dazzled, and the frightening world around me seemed to fade. They were truly spectacular.

However, it seemed as though whatever help they might’ve provided would come too late as Mr. Dark’s black cords reached me first. The cords began wrapping around me, slowly ever so painfully, tightening their grasp. The Light all around me began to fade as their grasp became too much! The world was losing focus and I was losing life! _Goodbye sweet world. _

And then as if by magic, Greens, blues, and reds began flying into my body from all sides! With each cord my strength built. What had been a death grip only moments before, now seemed weak. I pushed the black cords that had encircled me away!

I felt more powerful, and strong than I’d ever felt!

With newfound strength I stood! I stood and looked to Mr. Dark who looked back eyes wide! “What the… what is happening?” He mumbled; taken aback!

And then it happened, my color changed! I looked down at my hands and it happened before my eyes! My once yellow cords turned gold. But not just any gold, this gold was a dark and rich gold! It looks powerful!

The gold rushed through me giving me strength beyond imagining! My veins seemed to glow with power!

I didn’t know what was happening, but it felt good! I felt like I was better than those around me, I felt all of my troubles fall away! [_Nothing can stop me, I’m indestructible! _]

Looking down on the once powerful Mr. Dark, he looked just as small and weak as everyone else.

He screeched. “How is this possible? This isn’t supposed to happen!”

He tried another burst of black electricity but I slapped it away effortlessly! The once binding power, now felt like a bag of feathers.

I walked towards him now, I had a mission, and that was to destroy the truly evil man before me.

With every step I took towards him, the once powerful and all-knowing Mr. Dark seemed to tremble more and more. “This isn’t right! I’m sorry. I’m sorry for everything I said. You can be on my side! You can rule over all people. If you let me live, I can teach you, I can make you a god with more power than you could ever wish for!” He fired off pleadings.

“I don’t need you Mr. Dark! I would never choose you over the people I love. How can you even ask of such a thing? You’ve always been the one with all of the power and answers, how does it feel to be on the other side? I’m going to finish you, so that the world never ever again has to deal with an insane man who desires to control it!” I shouted at him with a sudden power behind my voice.

Seeing that I was going to kill him, Mr. Dark dropped to his knees. “If you’re going to kill me then you should know that there are others like me and they are closer than you think. They will want you dead, and they are far more powerful than you could ever imagine! When they come, and they will, you will suffer the same fate as me. You will beg for your life, and they will deny you it. Then, you will remember me sitting here pleading for mercy. Then you will wonder why you did not grant it. Because in your heart you’ll know that I could have helped you become ready. You’ll know that together we could’ve defeated them and only then, when you are about to die and those you love are about to die will you truly feel the repercussion of what you are about to do.”

I knew he was stalling;[_ he’s trying to save his own skin, he has no intention of ever helping me, or does he? What if there are others like him? Could I stand up against them, do I need Mr. Dark?_]

Mr. Dark seeing my pause pressed on. “I can help you. Together we can become more powerful than anyone alive. We can rule together! It will be only you and me, and together we will live like gods! We will be treated royally and no one will dare to insult us! We’ll have everything.”

I’ll never be like him! I don’t want to be worshipped, [_I wanted to worship. I want to worship Jessica and fulfill her every need. I don’t want more power than I could ever dream of, I just want to wake up in the morning and know that I’m loved. I want a life of trials and rewards; so that when the good times come I can enjoy them that much more. This man is evil, and it’s time to relieve the world of its burden. _]

I stretched forth my hands and golden light shot forth! It rushed towards Mr. Dark only to be met by his full resistance. He put of a black shield but my golden light surrounded it and pressed down on it with tremendous force! The blackness was vanishing, and along with it Mr. Dark’s protection. His face showed that of dread.

He let his shield go, and my golden light swooped in and zapped him instantly! His body fell to the ground lifeless. The lifeless shell fell without so much as a puff of dirt. A whisper of blackness may have escaped, but I couldn’t be sure.

A few silent moments passed, as the gathered crowd stared at Mr. Dark’s lifeless body in shock, but it didn’t last long. Like a crashing wave, chaos broke loose! The testers once again could move and their cords of color escaped from me, returning to their owners. Without the golden power that came from many cords working together, I fell to the ground and my immense pain returned! The burning sensation was back, and my open wounds began to sting as if needles were being poked in them!

Guards rushed in trying to capture the testers and disperse the crowd. I’m guessing they were planning on taking vengeance for their fallen leader. But there was nothing I could do! I couldn’t move, I couldn’t run, I couldn’t do anything but lay on the ground in complete agony!

The guards pushed forward and were surrounding us! They were almost on me when another group of armed men and women ran in and began firing upon the government guards! An all-out ray firefight broke out and I could only watch in horror as men and women on both sides were struck with cries of pain.

[_This has to be Felicia’s squad, but where is she? _]It didn’t look like the rebels protecting me had enough people. They were being overrun by the overwhelming amount of guards that seemed to be spawning everywhere!

Suddenly, Jessica appeared above me. Her eyes filled with pain as they gazed down at my torn and battered body. She kneeled beside me cupping my head in her hands. “Oh, William, you’ll be all right. You’re going to be okay.”

“I’ll be alright, but we need to get out of here first.” I said trying get to my feet but to no avail.

She placed her hand on my chest, “You can’t, you’ll just hurt yourself.” She whispered down to me in broken and heart wrenching sobs. “I should have been here for you, I’m so sorry.”

“Then, they could lay us in body bags together. What happened was unpreventable, I’m just glad you’re okay. I should have listened to you, I should have believed you. It’s too late now, but you can still get to safety. You need to go, run, get out of here! Save yourself; I’ll find a way out, I promise.” I said, choking; as I began to cough up blood amidst the ray fire fight surrounding us.

She wiped her eyes and put on a look of steely determination. “I won’t let you die on me William Rose! Either we both get out of here, or we die together!”

I looked into her eyes and realized that I loved this girl. She means more to me than anything the world can offer. I wish I could lay in her arms forever. But I knew I had to convince her to leave me and escape. She couldn’t die because of me, I wouldn’t have it!

The guards were suddenly very close! The rebels had been pushed so far back, that ray fire was landing all around us! If I didn’t get Jessica to leave she would die.

“You have to go, if I mean anything to you, you’ll leave now. I can’t come with you, but I’ll still be with you. Just promise to remember me. Please leave, and know that I loved you.” I finished and looked into her eyes, willing her to leave.

Instead she leaned forward and wrapped my broken body in her arms. “I love you William. I’ve loved you for a while now. I wish things could have been different for the two of us.” Then she leaned in and kissed me!

Our lips met and everything broke loose! Feelings of passion overwhelmed my body and drowned out the pain. I found enough strength in my battered arms to wrap them around her. Her lips tasted salty from the warm tears she’d been shedding for me. Her warm, soft lips pressed against my own, lighting my world afire. The world seemed to stop, and despite the chaos around us everything felt perfect. I could’ve stayed in that moment forever.

Then she pulled back slightly, letting her lips linger for a moment before pulling away.

Stray ray fire landed only inches away from us. “I love you Jessica, you’re the best thing that ever happened to me. If I get through this I will find you.” She leaned in, and our lips brushed once more.

“We’ll see each other again William, I know it.” With renewed tears, she stood, turned, and slipped away from my almost lifeless body. She ran without looking back.

The last few rebels fell, and I was surrounded. [_This is it! Farwell world! _]

“Zing, zing, zing” Ray fire from the sky abruptly tore into the gathered group of guards, sending them running! [_What is happening? _]I thought, suddenly woozy and unable to look around me. I gently laid my head down unable to support it, and that’s when I saw it! A giant disk hovercraft swooped past me!

“Boom, boom, boom!” Ray fire slammed into guards and cement, sending rubble raining down on burnt bodies flying everywhere! Everything seemed surreal. What is going on, where am I?

The disk landed quickly and its back door lowered slowly. Standing there were Josh and Felicia. [_Why are they here? _]They each held ray blasters and began firing upon the unsuspecting guards. After firing for a minute, Felicia noticed me lying there.

Now, keeping my eyes open seemed nearly impossible. No matter how hard I tried I couldn’t seem to focus. My pain seemed to have vanished, replaced by an all-encompassing tiredness.

I hopped I’d been seen, but it didn’t look like anyone was coming for me. It didn’t really matter anymore, [_I’m dying! _]I felt very cold, and could feel the life inside me slipping away. Darkness began to set in and my eyes closed like a giant cell door shutting, for the last time.

 

Chapter 22: Wrapping Things Up

Color returned to my world in an instant. The sunlight from a small window blinded me briefly. The room although small was definitely some sort of medical one. Instruments lay everywhere and the smell was unmistakably antiseptic. A bell gave a short buzz, and a nurse came hurrying in. “He’s awake.” She yelled over her shoulder. She continued walking until she got to my bedside. “You sure took your sweet time waking up.” She said jokingly as she began to check my vitals. “Everything seems to be in order. “You are doing pretty well, considering you should’ve died.”

I wanted to ask her; [_where am I, what is happening, where is everybody? _]But the questions died in my throat as Damian walked through the small white door.

“He’s alive, it’s a miracle.” He shouted raising his hands. “How do you feel?”

Finding my voice was hard. My throat was very dry and tasted of blood. “I’d feel a lot better if someone would tell me what was going on.”

“Do you remember anything?” He asked.

“I remember taking down Mr. Dark and then about to die. I remember a disk swooping in and shooting all of my attackers. Am I missing anything?”

“Phew!” He was clearly relieved. “I’m so glad I don’t have to recount the story of your heroics back to you.” He chuckled grinning from ear to ear.

I felt a slight blush fill my cheeks. “It was nothing, anyone would have done it.” I replied trying to shake off the embarrassment of being complimented.

“That is where you are wrong. I doubt anyone had the courage to do what you did. You have true bravery and for that, the entire rebel force is truly thankful.”

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate the fact that I’m being complimented, but I feel like I need to change the subject and get the spotlight off of myself. “Speaking of the rebel force, where is everybody?”

“I’m sorry, we couldn’t all be here, but the war with the government has grown very heated in your absence.” He looked at me again and saw that I clearly hadn’t meant his rebels.

“Oh, you mean your friends. My mistake. Unfortunately, the news isn’t great; we couldn’t find Jessica or Jack after the ray fight and it seems as though Chris may have joined the government forces and now fights against us.

“What? Why… How… why would he do that? He was one of my closest friends! There is no way that he would go with them willingly!”

Seeing my clear anger over the injustice, Damian tried to calm me down. “We don’t know for sure if he went with them willingly, we will have to do some research, and as soon as you’re feeling better we can work on a plan for freeing him if that becomes the necessary course of action.”

[_I can live with that. _]“So, what exactly is wrong with me?” I asked crossing my fingers.

“Not much now. The first few days you were in critical care, but you have come a long way over the past week.”

“I’ve been in here for a week?”

“Well, actually a little over, but you’ve made quite the recovery. The doctors have been able to cast the few broken bones you suffered, and with the use of extraneous ointment the majority of you road burn and shredded skin has healed. The main cause for concern was that you suffered a punctured lung. Luckily, the doctors were able to re-inflate it and they told me you will be healed in record time. You were quite lucky.”

“I can’t believe I’ve been here for over a week.”

“Well, in that time, your name has become a household one. The world saw your incredible feats of mystically defeating a government official who was both hated and despised.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, thanks to a news crew that snuck past guards to film Mr. Dark’s “revealing,” all of your acts were broadcasted live to the world. Everyone saw your exchange and how you somehow overpowered him with your mind. The world saw Dark’s lifeless body and it’s mystifying everyone! If they aren’t talking about you, then they don’t own a transparency screen. You are as close to a celebrity as anyone has been in the past few decades.” He paused briefly, letting the magnitude of what he was saying sink in. “I hope you aren’t mad, but we’re using you as the face of the rebel group. The people love you, they love that you had the courage to stand up to the oppressive government. You’ve helped them believe that they too can stand up and fight back. Thanks to you, our rebel numbers have increased dramatically and we now have more support from the citizens. What you’ve done is truly amazing and I thank you for it, but enough talk, I’m so glad that you’ve awakened, and I want to let you rest. Although, before I leave I want to know if you’d be willing to help the rebels strike while the iron is hot? I believe that with the people behind us, we can succeed.” He paused, waiting intently for my reply.

“I would be honored. I share your feelings and believe that now is the time to fight for change. My main goal is to make the world better for everyone including my parents.”

“The reminds me, would you like to see your parents? I could set up a hologram visit. “

“Are you serious? Yes, yes, yes! I would love to see them!”

“Well, alright then, I’ll get on with setting up a secure network. However, while we set that up, I thought you might like to see your friend Rasben who we did manage to save after the ray fight.”

He motioned, and in came Rasben! [_No way! _]“Rasben is that really you?”

He approached and we embraced so hard I almost disconnected a few tubes in the process.

He pulled back. “Hey man, how ya doing? I thought you’d never get done taking that long nap of yours. It’s about time you decided to wake up.”

“Haha, you’re hilarious. I’m doing pretty good actually. I don’t know what kind of doctors they have here, but they did a good job.”

“Well, seeing as how we’re in a rebel base, I guess your compliments would be going to the one doctor that they have in their infirmary.” He laughed.

“Wait, you’re serious. They only have one doctor?”

“Yes, I’m dead serious. They couldn’t risk taking you to a hospital, because of your popularity. You’d have been recognized instantly. Luckily though, they have this place, where you’ve been for over a week getting better while the rebel force prepares for the government’s backlash. It’s nice to know that the face of the rebellion is alive and breathing. Maybe you can inspire the troops a little bit.”

“I doubt it, but I can’t wait to get back in the fight.” I said standing up slowly but sitting quickly as my eyes went spotty with the sudden unexpected blood flow.

“Easy buddy, don’t get back in the fight to early or you might disappear from it altogether.”

“Speaking of disappearing, what happened to Chris, Jack, Jessica, and Rachel? I questioned.

“Unfortunately, I was the only one who got picked up with you. Jessica ran off before the disk arrived, as did Rachel and Jack.”

“What about Chris?”

“Well… he uh…”

“What happened?”

“He was never with us to begin with. He refused to escape with us.”

“Escape, do you mean the near dead testers below ground? By the way, how did that happen?”

“It’s a long story. I’d tell you now, but there isn’t time. All you need to know is that we broke into the castle and freed all of the knocked out testers. When we went to escape, Chris refused and tried to sound alarms. Luckily, we subdued him and were able to escape. Supposedly, he’s with the government now. I honestly don’t know what happened to him.”

“Well, it looks like we have some work to do Rasben. If you’re willing, I’d appreciate your help in finding all of them.”

“But mostly Jessica.” He laughed. “I saw you two having your little farewell kiss. While you were doing that I was trying to keep people from shooting you two, but it looks like things are finally looking up in the love department.” He said grinning.

I felt a deep blush again. “Well then I guess, Thanks for the assist. I owe you one, and yes Jessica, I have to save her, but we need to save all of them, are you with me?”

“Just like in the test; commander, your wish is my command.” He gave a smirk and fake salute and then added with sincerity. “But really, I’m with you, we need to find them and I believe we can do it.” He paused to check his hollow watch. “However, right now I have a very important date that I gotta get to, but I’ll see you later okay?”

“Alright, see you man.” I barely had time to utter as he rushed from the room.

Once he left I was left to think by myself. I knew what we needed to do. We have to save them, we have to. They’re like family, and nothing gets in the way of family.

The hologram lanterns lit; and their standing before me were my parents! “Mom, dad!”

“William! How are you honey? My mother almost shouted.

“I’m good mom.” I said choking on unexpected tears.

“How are things, why haven’t we heard from you? Did they hold you against your will?”

“Well, let’s just say that you were probably right that I shouldn’t have come, things have been pretty crazy.”

“Are you feeling okay though?” My mom asked as tears began to rush down her’s and my dad’s faces.

“Yes mom, I’m fine. I know I may look a little battered, but I’m recovering.”

“What happened? We saw you on the news. It said that you’re a wanted criminal and that you killed a government official. What is happening down there?”

“It’s all a lie; you can’t believe what is being said.” If my parents don’t know who I am then how will anyone else.

“The government sanctioned test that I was here for[_ _]was actually just a test run to see if they could control people. When the results came back positive a man named Mr. Dark used the research to try and take over the world. I tried to stop him and things got ugly. I know things don’t look good, but I’m fighting against the government to help make you guys’ lives better.”

“What! Why would you do something like that? Now you’ll be hunted down like a common criminal.” My mother interjected as tears once again began to stream.

“Mom, just listen to me for a second. The government wants to take control of everyone! The people I’m with are the only thing between us and a total take over. I’m with them so I can protect you.”

“Son, why don’t you come home and we can work this out together.” My dad interrupted.

“You don’t understand; this is where I want to be! This is where I need to be! If I don’t do this now, there will never be another opportunity. If I fail to act I’ll never be able to live a better life and help you guys. The least I can do is give back a little bit of what you’ve given me.”

“Honey we don’t care about a better life, all we want is you. Please come home darling.” Mother pleaded.

“Mom, if I come home now there won’t be a home for very much longer. If we don’t fight back against the government pretty soon we won’t be able to enjoy each other anymore. I have to fight, not only for us but for people across the country.”

Mom began to speak but then Dad whispered something in her ear. Her expression changed from one of fear to something resembling pride. “Okay son, if this is what you have to do then we believe in you. But always remember that your father and I will always be here for you no matter what happens.”

“Thanks mom.”

Dad jumped in. “I’m very proud of the man you’ve grown up to be son. I’ve always known you were going to do something special. Always remember that your mother and I believe in you. No matter where life takes you; whether it be up or down remember we love you. When you are faced with tough decisions, which I’m sure you will be in the days to come, try and think back to what we tried to teach you. When you’re down in the gutter remember that nothing can keep you there but yourself. And remember that even when you’re soaring high above those around you; remain humble and help those in need. If you stay strong you can accomplish anything.”

This is the man I so dearly love. This is the man who’s been there for me whenever I’ve fallen down. This is the man who tries to make every moment a teachable one, this is the man that’s held my hand when tough times have come my way, and this is the man that will forever impact my life in ways I’m sure I’ll never comprehend. And the women standing next to him, is the woman who has never failed me. She’s always taught me the true meanings of giving and helping. This is the woman who has been with me through every step of my life teaching and comforting me. She’s made me feel like nothing can ever stop me. I am forever indebted to them both. _They will never truly know how much I love them and cherish their influence in my life. _

I wanted to reach through the hologram and hug them both. I desperately wanted to go home in that moment, but it would never last. It would only injure them more than me being apart from them for so long.

“I love you guys.” I said with tears now freely running down my face. “I know I can make your lives better. I can’t wait until I get to see you in person again. I know I can make a difference.”

Mom was now sobbing. “My beautiful little boy is growing up. Baby, I know you can change the world for the better, the only thing I ask is that you stay safe while you’re doing it.” Her eyes showed a smile underneath the tears.

“I promise mom.” I gestured with my pinky finger to her holographic image.

Then I turned to look at my dad’s imaged. He stared back for a while before he spoke his words of wisdom. “Remember son, don’t be afraid to ask for a little help every once in awhile. I love you son, and no matter what happens know that your mother and I will always be with you wherever you are.” He finished as a lone tear broke free and traveled slowly down his face.

Now, all three of us were crying knowing that this might be the last time we would have the opportunity. With upcoming resistance their safety as well as mine would most assuredly be put in jeopardy. I tried to ingrain this memory in my head. I had to make it stick forever!

“I love you guys so much!” I managed between sobs.

“We love you more!”

The live feed was cut short and their loving, tear streaked faces vanished; leaving me once again alone in the chaotic world I was now entrapped in.

I sat on my bed for the next couple of hours staring blankly at the wall opposite me trying to remember my parent’s final words. The words got jumbled in my head, but it didn’t matter, because the only important ones were, “I love you.”

I was deep in thought when Felicia, walked in.

“Hey, you made it.” I said with surprise at seeing the person I least expected.

“Yes, but no thanks to you.” She laughed sarcastically.

“Haha, I was a little bit busy crashing, but I’m glad to see that you didn’t.”

She sat gracefully on the foot of my bed as if she owned the place. “That was awesome what you did William. I can’t believe you survived that wreck much less managed take down one of the most powerful seers we ever encountered. You saved everyone; you’re truly a modern day hero.” She said making me blush a little bit.

“I did what anyone with a heart would have done. And without your heroic act of pulling that disk off my tail I wouldn’t have made it to Mr. Dark’s big revealing in the first place. I’m truly grateful.”

“You’re welcome for saving your life, but I’d say I did a pretty crappy job of it, in your present condition. I’m just glad you survived.”

“What did you mean when you called Mr. Dark a seer?”

“I called Mr. Dark a seer because that’s what you guys are called.”

“What do you mean all of us? What exactly is a seer?”

“It seems as though you have a lot to learn about yourself. Don’t worry though, there will be time for learning about your gift later, right now we’re going to move you to a more secure location.”

“Why? You mean now? Why not tomorrow, when it’s daytime.”

“We can’t risk losing the face of the rebellion, so we have to move now. I’m sorry, but Damian wants it this way. We can’t spare the manpower to protect you here. We need to get moving within the next half hour. Can you be ready?”

“I guess, but why so soon?”

“The quicker we act on orders the less time enemies have to prepare. I’ll give you a few moments to grab your stuff and put on some clothes. Someone will come and get you in 30 mins. Sound good?”

“Yes, I’ll be ready.”

With that she left and I began to dress from a pile of my clothes that looked like they were the ones I had brought with me to the testing. [_No way, my own clothes! _]Man was I happy not to have to wear animation clothing again.

I put on a comfortable pair of jeans and an old grey t-shirt. I grabbed my bag

and began heading for the door, but I felt something poking me in the leg. Dropping my back I reached into my pocket and withdrew a sharp piece of paper.

I glanced down at it ready to throw it away when I realized it was Matthew’s suicide note! I turned it over in hands debating on whether to throw it away or not when I noticed something! Faint lettering on the backside:

“I’m not dead! I know my body probably is at this point, but my consciousness is alive and well. I faked my suicide! Right now I’m most likely floating around somewhere in my consciousness form. I need you to find me, and help me. I have no idea how to take control of a body and I am most likely lost and alone right now. I wrote this letter to you William; because you’re the only person I can trust. I found some things out; some very frightening things! I can’t write them here, it’s too risky. Please find me and maybe we can figure things out. You need to keep a close watch on those around you, especially Damian, no one can be trusted! The knowledge I hold may be the key to your survival, if you want to live you must find me, and quickly!

Your future friend

Matthew.

P.S. Hurry!”

I was in shock! [_He’s still alive, and out there somewhere! _]

With the sudden excitement, yellow electricity unexpectedly began seeping from my hands! What the! This time, however, something was different about it. It didn’t feel right.

It definitely wasn’t golden, but it the cords weren’t only yellow! They had a small amount of black mixed in! I felt something… I could feel Mr. Dark’s power running through me! I felt stronger, I felt more powerful than before, [_what happened? _]

“Hey, you ready William?” Rasben called from outside my door.

“I guess,” I whispered to myself as I began walking for the door that would most likely lead me on a suicidal journey for freedom.

I knew what I had to do now: I had to save Jessica, Chris, Matthew, Jack and Rachel and I had to do it fast. I also had to save the world from being taken over by the corrupt people who lived in it. My journey was definitely going to be tough, but I felt stronger than before, I felt more capable than I had in the past, but I felt something else too. I felt a seeping darkness beginning to grow within…


Intertwined

When William fails his higher learning test and has no hope of ever escaping poverty he thinks all is lost, but then he receives a letter from A.S.T.A. (The Agency of Science and Technology Advancement). William jumps at the opportunity to be paid for something as simple as a government test. However, things are not quite what they seem. What exactly is A.S.T.A doing? Why can William suddenly see things others can’t? What is the point of the simulation games, and where do the losers go? This novel is a mix of action, romance and adventure. Will William win over the heart of the girl he may love? Will he figure out how to escape the imprisoning world he is now entrapped in? Will he be able to save his parents from the mysterious man named Mr. Dark? As the novel unravels, many secrets are revealed, leading the reader deeper and deeper into this engrossing thriller!

  • Author: Cooper Eaton
  • Published: 2017-06-24 21:20:18
  • Words: 82531
Intertwined Intertwined