It stood before her in pristine condition, completely identical to its organic counterpart. The doll, illuminated by the beam of her flashlight, wore his slender face, wild brown hair, and soft brown eyes. Even his hair clips, dog keychain, and piercings were present. It blankly stared ahead with lifeless eyes and an unmoving neutral expression. Sara raised a trembling hand to the side of the doll's face, letting her fingers ghost over what felt like genuine human skin. It was both comforting and extremely unnerving, the latter feeling being amplified by the stillness of the laboratory.
For a split second, his hallucinatory counterpart flashed across her vision. She flinched and took a step back, withdrawing her hand.
Allow me to show you a wonderful function that will let you become closer to this doll.
Tia Safalin's malicious grin had made her sick to her stomach back when they were on the second floor, and it didn't fail to do so now either. Had Keiji not intervened, the temptation to slap it off her face would have been too great.
Her train of thought was interrupted by a sultry, familiar voice. "Evenin', gorgeous."
Sara turned around and softly groaned in disappointment and frustration.
"Oh come on, don't be like that with me!"
What little space that remained between Sara and the nearest wall was now gone. She had no other choice but to glare up into his brown and red eyes and his awfully smug grin. They were too close to the real Joe's for her comfort.
But then again, it is technically him too, she thought.
He wore a crimson buttoned-up vest stained with splotches of bright red. Only the right side was tucked into his black trousers. The graphite-colored upper half of a skull sat atop his head like a tilted crown. A deep indent ran from the edge of the eye socket down to the end. The golden lower jaw of the skull rested right beneath his own. A thin trickle of fresh blood consistently dripped down the side of his face and pooled into the skull's lower jaw. Where it drained was a mystery to all. The way the trickle would just barely miss his eye often left everyone uncomfortable. His tie was made out of shiny golden fabric. It had the same checkered pattern as that from his uniform.
What disturbed her the most about his appearance were the grey tubes piercing through him. One was attached to the back of his neck. The hole was covered by his long hair. Another tube looped around his torso and ended by fading to crimson and sneaking through the v-neck collar of his vest to pierce his heart. A third one pierced through his clothed leg. There was no stain, save for a red ripple.
The second Main Trial had already been daunting enough. First, they had lost Alice. He and Sara had never been friends, but helping him return Reko's bongos to her (even if unsuccessful) closed some of that gap. Reko never cared to show it, but she was still mourning. Then, the survivors had been forced to watch vines and roots pierce through Kanna's bones and flesh, uprooting her from the ground. Even four days later, her shrill screams still rung loud and clear.
By the time they'd woken up on the third floor, all she cared about was having a day to not think about those they'd left behind. Instead, the Killing Game provided her with the most repulsive sight she'd ever known. That same sight was now mere inches away from her with a hand on the wall beside her head. She couldn't tell if he was trying to flirt with her, mock her, or a sick combination of both.
"Glad to see you've finally found this place, but a pretty girl like you shouldn't be out this late," said the Floor Master in a voice smoother than silk. "Sleep is the most important kind of beauty rest." He looked her up and down while wearing the first sacrifice's soft, reassuring smile and playing with loose strands of her hair. Everything that came out of his mouth made Sara sick to her stomach.
She slapped his hand away and kept her silence. You're not worth my breath. She tried to maneuver herself away from him, only for him to push her back onto the wall.
The Floor Master looked visibly hurt by her rejection. "What exactly do ya think you're gonna get out of this?"
She looked away from him, flashlight still pointed to the ground, and refused to answer him.
"You think you can just plug my AI into this doll and everything'll be back to normal?"
"How dare you say that like you're him!" Sara growled through gritted teeth. She hadn't considered it in great depth, but she knew that she would have to eventually explain their situation and the nature of the trials to him. "I know what I'm doing."
He shrugged. "Maybe I am, maybe I'm not. But I think the real question here is-"
As he brought his face close to her ear, Sara tried to repress the uncomfortable blush creeping onto her face.
"-why would I want to cooperate with a remorseless murderer in a killing game?" he whispered. He returned his face to its original position, leaving mere centimeters between them as he fondly grabbed her hands, leaving her feeling nauseous. "And such a beautiful one too? That makes things real complicated, ya know-"
Sara harshly shoved him away as he tried to close the gap between them. He stumbled back, genuinely surprised for a moment.
"There's the violent streak we all know and hate," he grinned wickedly.
"Why can't you just leave me alone?" she cried.
"Why would I ever leave my best friend alone?"
She couldn't stand to keep looking at him.
"That would require you winning the Killing Game. Should be easy for someone like you."
He sounded exactly like Joe, and it sent a shiver down her spine. "Keep dreaming, jackass."
"Blah blah, 'gonna end the Killing Game', blah blah, 'you're not Joe'. Did I get your next words right?"
She glared at him, clenching her jaw and balling her fists.
"Anyway, don't let me hold you back." He moved toward the Joe doll, hoisted him over his shoulder with surprising ease, and carelessly dropped the doll onto the experimentation platform. Its limbs jolted in strange directions and angles.
Sara winced at the seemingly-painful thud. "What are you doing with him?!"
He didn't look up at her. "You should go to bed. Can't afford dark circles under those lovely eyes, can we?"
She stood her ground. "I'm not leaving."
He laughed. "Good one, Sara."
Several seconds later, he looked back up.
His grin faded to a frown when upon seeing that she was still there.
"Do I look like I'm joking?" she hissed.
He was now visibly irritated, eyes narrowed and brows furrowed. He placed the tool in his hand down onto the platform with some force and walked over to her. Sara took a few steps back, ready to defend herself. Instead, he placed his fingers underneath her chin, motioning for her to look into his eyes. He brought their faces together again and spoke venomously. "You know what I think would be absolutely beautiful?"
She made the mistake of letting her head follow his finger. Her body was nearing its trigger for a fight-or-flight response.
"If he knew how you felt about him. Then, he'd really think you're a sick fuck."
Her stomach dropped.
"But then again, you kinda are."
"You can't possibly know what he'd think," she forced out.
"God, Keiji's really been carrying ya through those trials, huh? Don't worry, Sara-", he placed a kiss to her forehead.
His voice was suddenly gravelly and choked.
"Everything comes around."
For a brief moment, she saw her red tormentor. She pushed the Floor Master away once more and ran off.
He admired her from a distance, opting to brush off anything on his trousers instead of trying to stop her. When he knew that she was gone, he made his way back to the doll.