It shouldn't have happened.
Though she didn't like it, Meera had accepted all of the deaths she'd heard Danya announce, accepted the fact that elsewhere on the island her friends, enemies, and pretty much her whole class were being forced to kill each other. But she could not accept what was right before her, what she didn't want to look at but couldn't hear her eyes away from. It didn't matter she could see the truth, because Joey Caputo should not be lying dead before her. He'd been so vibrant, so...full of life. It would have been impossible for her to imagine just a few minutes earlier that he would end up as lifeless and cold as Becca Everett.
And yet he was. They'd made one mistake, and now he was gone. Joey was dead, Rosemary was crying, and it was all Meera could do to hold it together herself. She wanted to cry, scream, hit something, but none of those things would bring Joey back, or help them in any way.
Paulo uttered a short string of expletives, otherwise lost for words. Meera was too stunned at the moment to even curse in shock. The moment Joey had died kept replaying in her head in slow motion, like a gory death scene in a bad horror flick. Except ten times more visceral, more real.
Meera should have stopped them. She knew she should have said something now. After what had happened with Becca, she should have had more reservations about trying again. But, swept away by the heat of the moment, by her fierce desire to see the collars removed. So she'd instead encouraged them to try it again, might've even volunteered herself if Joey hadn't right away.
I should've known better, she thought, eyes blurring with tears. The collars...it was a stupid idea from the beginning.
Joey's last words had been an instruction. He'd told them to find another way. If Meera had any regard for the friend they'd just lost, it was her duty to help Rosemary do that.
But she couldn't think about that right now. The wound was too raw, Joey was gone too soon, for her to think about any kind of long-term plan right now. She and Rosemary needed to get out of the streets, and fast. Wiping the tears from her eyes, Meera realized one hand was still clenched tightly to Rosemary's hoodie. She let go abruptly, then dropped to her knees beside her only remaining friend and ally on the island.
Meera found herself at loss for words. She wanted to reach out to Rosemary, tell her that Joey had wanted this and that none of it was her fault. But Meera knew that, however true those words were, that they would sound empty and useless. She herself felt guilty enough about what had happened, and she hadn't been holding the knife. She could only imagine what Rosemary was feeling right now, and the thought of being in her position was so painful that Meera found she had to stop imagining.
She forced herself to focus on the problem.They needed to get away from here, before the sound of the second explosion drew more students to the town. Meera couldn't face other people right now, even non-hostile students.
Oh, right. And Joey had been carrying bags, with rations, as well as some kind of curved knife. They'd have to grab those too before they left. Couldn't just leave them there for anyone to stumble upon. Mechanically she walked over to retrieve the bags, avoiding looking at Joey as much as she possibly could. She checked the bags and realized the knife was probably in one of his pockets.
Gritting her teeth, Meera forced herself to look at Joey's crumpled form as she reached into his pockets. The blood was drying, and his head and neck, what hadn't been blown apart, was an unrecognizable mess. Meera looked away almost at once, feeling a chill run down her spine. She closed her eyes, but she couldn't get the sight out of her head.
Meera's hand closed around the hilt of Joey's curved knife. She slipped it in a front pocket of her jeans.
"I'm sorry," she whispered to Joey, forcing herself to stare at the body one final time. Then she walked over to Paulo and Rosemary.
"W-we should probably get away from here," she said to them. "Anyone could have heard the two explosions and might be on their way to investigate."