Putting Daria back together

Murali signed one final instruction to Anya and Elizabeth: "Anya, you pick up the head, and Elizabeth and I will carry the body. We're heading to the campus infirmary."

Elizabeth looked at him questioningly, but he stared her down. She glanced at Anya, who was looking back and forth between them, biting her lip, deathly pale. Her giggling fit was a thing of the past, it seemed. She'd moved on to the "abject terror" portion of the program.

Murali put his finger to his lips, then signed: "No talking."

Elizabeth and Anya nodded. Satisfied, Murali opened the bathroom door and moved back out into the main room. Elizabeth followed him to Daria's motionless, headless body. Anya stepped gingerly to the place where Daria's head lay.

Murali crouched at Daria's truncated neck, Elizabeth at her feet. Murali put his hands under the shoulders, nodded a one-two-three count, then heaved himself to his feet, bringing Daria's rather substantial form up with him. Elizabeth rose in concert, her hands gripping the back of Daria's ankles.

Elizabeth could feel how heavy Daria was, and she was only holding the legs. Murali was handling the greater portion of the android's bulk, and from the look on his face, he didn't relish handling it for too long.

Anya was still staring at the head on the floor, her eyes glassy, her right hand pulling at her bottom lip. Murali began to move in her direction, Elizabeth following step for step.

He stopped right beside Anya and waited for her to look up at him. When she did, he glared hotly at her. Anya swallowed hard, then crouched to gently lift Daria's head off the floor. With a deep sigh, she stood again. She looked even a shade paler, if that were possible.

Murali jerked his head back towards the door. Anya understood immediately, and began to move in that direction. She had to precede them, as she was the only one who could free up a hand to use a doorknob.

Murali was breathing heavily now, and a line of perspiration was beginning to form across his hairline. He looked at Elizabeth again, nodded, and began to move backwards towards the door.

Elizabeth wondered who they might run across outside the room. She imagined seeing some of the other "students" and saying to them, "Oh, Daria's had an accident. We're just taking her to the infirmary for treatment." The insanity of the scenario nearly made her dizzy.

Anya opened the door, and the three of them--well, four of them, actually--stepped out into the corridor.

The place was eerily quiet. Elizabeth also noticed that the lighting was different. She looked around, her eyebrows nearly meeting in her deep frown.

Murali caught her perplexity, then caught her eye. "Night time," he mouthed.

Night time? How long had they been in there? It seemed like...

But then, she realized, a lot had happened in the last few... minutes? hours? Her time sense had completely abandoned her in the intensity of what she'd just been through.

She sighed, partly in astonishment, partly in relief. At least the likelihood of running into anyone else was somewhat diminished.

They reached the main entrance of the "building"--Elizabeth was still trying to get her head around the enclosed campus with its simulated outdoor environment--and Anya opened it to let them out into the faux nighttime.

"So far so good," Murali whispered, though it sounded more like a grunt to Elizabeth. "The infirmary's not far."

Elizabeth took a deep breath and allowed herself to fully experience the moment. There they were, in an artificial outdoor environment, transporting an artificial person to a real infirmary.

On any other day, that might have seemed strange...

The End

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