((Claire Lambert continued from I Was a Teenage Hand Model))
Claire came to a halt on a small hill at the edge of the felled forest, panting, gasping for breath, sides aching, just in time to realize the bitter truth: she'd missed the boats.
She'd been running for them. The voice from the megaphone had barely reached her as she exited the swamp, had been carried loosely and lightly. She had, for a moment, considered the possibility of mental breakdown, a stress-induced hallucination to help her cope. But she wasn't crazy. It had been a perfect opportunity to achieve everything she'd wanted. Going home. Seeing her family again. Sparing them the pain of losing another child. That was the most important thing.
They would have let her on. She'd killed one person. Daniel Kensrue. It hadn't been murder. No way. A court would have let her off under normal circumstances. They'd have taken her, no questions asked.
But they hadn't stuck around long enough. The words had echoed throughout the island, and she'd gotten here as quickly as she could, and now she stood on a rise, watching the boat blast out to sea, watching a crowd of figures disperse. They'd all been left behind. That wasn't good at all. That meant they'd been refused passage as murderers or had chosen to stay behind. Either option was bad news. It meant that was a clump of players or wannabe players. There was no rational reason to refuse life. Remaining behind was tantamount to suicide. Anyone there would have a serious axe to grind with someone on the island, and more than a few screws loose.
Claire checked her pistols. Both still there. Loaded. Ready. The larger in her hand. The smaller in her back pocket, hidden by her shirt. A quick glance around. Caution. Awareness. Nobody yet.
She was trying to bury her disappointment in preparation. She'd been so close, so close to it. She could still see the boat. Maybe if she was less controlled, she'd have run right down that beach and tried to swim after them. That was just as suicidal as remaining behind, though. No. She couldn't grieve for lost opportunities here, couldn't let this overwhelm her. She had to keep together.
"Keep going. You aren't out yet. You can still do this."
Yes. Yes, that was true. She'd missed the boat. She'd missed a free ride home. That didn't mean she was dead, not by a long shot. She wasn't badly hurt. She had weapons. She had a bit of food left. She'd estimate that maybe twenty of her classmates had gotten to safety. She could be happy for them. Jealous, maybe, but she didn't begrudge them their luck. Either way, it meant less people here on the island, less people between her and her home and parents. Nothing had changed, except that a whole lot of complicating factors had been removed from the equation.
She wasn't going to become a player and shoot everyone, no way, but Claire was dedicated, more than ever, to surviving. Maybe the rescuers would return for another load. She wouldn't count on that, though. Maybe the some government would turn up in force, destroy the terrorists, and put an end to all of this. Again, not worth counting on. The best thing here was to be realistic, to stay strong and safe, to keep on living and to make it out of here in one piece. It was doable. It was definitely possible. It would take work and caution, but she could do it. Missing the boat was a setback. Nothing more. She'd already survived longer than maybe three quarters of her class.
So she held her gun and checked her surroundings again. Best to make sure the coast was clear, then get moving again before any of the rejects at the beach made their way in her direction.
No one. Good. Everything was clear. She'd just have to back off, find a better place, and hold out. Figure out a way to make it out of here. Survive, first and foremost. If there was a chance to escape, another opportunity for rescue, she'd jump on it. For now, though, she'd regroup, lay low, and keep doing what she'd been doing: surviving.
She headed off quickly, intent on avoiding any entanglements with irate players.
((Claire Lambert continued in This Will Eat You Alive))