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There is nothing but me.
I float through… I don’t know what I float through. I am the only thing there is. Darkness stretches out from all directions… or is it light? I do not know.
“Help!” I cry. My voice bounces around the space, echoing. I try to Manipulate the oblivion, but nothing happens. I have never come across anything that I couldn’t Manipulate. You may wonder how we Manipulate, but I myself don’t know the answer. Most of the time, all I have to do is concentrate on what I want, and it just seems to happen. But sometimes, Manipulation happens on its own. Sometimes it is so instinctive that I don’t even realize I’m doing it until I see the momentary blank stare on the face of the other person, or, if I am not Manipulating a person, the effect it has on the other thing.
A girl my age with a long black ponytail suddenly appears in front of me, also floating. Her eyes are green and bright and… pleading. Her skin is milky white from lack of sunlight.
She is me.
“Please,” she whispers, using my voice. “Please don’t do it.”
I hear a loud, monotone, echoing voice blast across the nothingness. “Manipulate her.”
I stare blankly ahead like some oblivious idiot. “Huh?”
The voice continues, “The girl. In front of you. Manipulate her.”
“But…” I stammer, “she’s me. She is me.”
“MANIPULATE HER!” The monotonic voice has been raised to a shout. I flinch backwards.
Manipulate her to do what? She looks scared… maybe I’ll make her feel at ease.
I silently direct my Manipulation towards her.
I see a faint, yellow line of light moving from my head to the girl’s head. Normally the Manipulation is invisible, but now I can see my Manipulation shooting towards her. As soon as the light hits her temple, her expression relaxes.
And mine does, too.
I feel less suspicious, less… anxious. I feel like a thread has just yanked away all my worries and fears. Relax, I tell myself. You’re safe. Don’t worry.
I am being Manipulated, because it was myself I was Manipulating. The girl before me is me. We are one and the same. I will not Manipulate her. I will not Manipulate me.
Just as I think these thoughts, the girl- me- disappears.
Replacing her is a disk of metal.
The voice returns. “Manipulate it.”
I frown. “Manipulations bounce off metal. Everyone knows that.”
“Manipulate it!” the voice shouts. “Make it move to the left! Manipulate it to move to the left!”
Not knowing what else to do, I obey.
I Manipulate the metal, seeing a thin, pink line move towards it. The second it connects with the metal, it bounces back to me as I expected. The line- the Manipulation- hits me square.
Move to the left, something tells me. Do it.
As much as I want to follow it, I resist the Manipulation.
I stay put.
Suddenly, everything is gone.
I open my eyes, seeing I am back in the room, strapped to the table.
I feel like the literal definition of exhausted.
My limbs are like jelly, my brain fogged up. Just to breath feels like an exercise.
A guard cmes into the room, holding a cup of pink liquid. It takes all my willpower to speak. “What is tha-”
He presses the cup between my lips before I can protest. I swallow a mouthful of the stuff, grimacing at the sour taste. As soon as I drown the contents, the guard starts undoing my shackles.
I feel energized after the pink drink, somehow replenished. My energy has flooded back in a wave. I sigh in relief as the shackles lose their tight grip on my skin. My wrists have been rubbed raw. “What was that? Oblivion?” I ask the guard.
“A sim,” he says. “A sim designed to see if you can resist Manipulations. You clearly can.” He pulls me off the table and shoves me towards the door. “Go join your friends. It’s lunch.”
“Nuh uh!” I argue. “It’s hardly been 20 minutes!”
The guard raises an eyebrow at me. “Time flies in the sim. Now go.”
Rolling my eyes, I make my way towards the dining cavern.
I plop down next to Jade and Andi. “How was it?” Andi teasingly asks.
“Delightful,” I snarl, my voice laced with sarcasm. “I’ve had it. I’m escaping.”
The teasing smile is wiped from Andi’s face. “You can’t just- these things take planning, Wolf. I get that none of us want to stay here and be experimented on, but-”
“But?” I scoff. “But what? Everyone here shares three things in common: we are all Manipulators, we are all prisoners, and we are all basically being experimented on!”
“I agree with Andi,” Jade says. “If you just escape with no plan, then it’s basically suicide. All you’re doing is getting yourself a beating.”
Infuriated, I stand up. “What is your point?” I shout. “We should stay? I don’t want to live a life of sims and beatings and gruel!” My cheeks are red and warm. I know I am going to get slapped for standing and screaming, but rage causes me not to care.
“Sit down!” Andi snarls. “Sit down before you get yourself-”
A fist cracks across my shoulder. I plop back down, rubbing the dull ache on my shoulder.
*******, Wolf!” Andi sighs as I blink my vision back into focus. “This is what happens when you act before you think!”
I bite my lip.
Lunch today is a stick of bland cheese between two pieces of stale bread. Compared to the morning’s gruel, it’s the literal definition of a feast.
“Were you able to resist the Manipulations?” Jade finally asks. “The ones that they made you do to yourself?”
For a second I am silent. Is it good that I could resist? Or does that put a target on my back? I’ve seen Evils and guards kill people for what seemed like no reason.
Finally I decide on a lie. This ability to resist may be dangerous, and I don’t know who I can trust with the knowledge. “No. I couldn’t.”
Jade nods. “Good. No one has resisted since Janie.”
My eyes widen. “That girl who was killed a year ago?”
Andi nods. “It’s good that you couldn’t resist. It keeps you safe.”
“How long did Janie last until she was killed?”
Andi shrugs. “About a day after she entered the sim, she was executed.”
I resisted the Manipulation, just like Janie did. I was able to resist.
This obviously means that I am next.
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