V4 Epilogue: Peace Accords

MW's Private Rank
Joined: February 18th, 2009, 7:01 am

October 6th, 2012, 3:00 am #1

Kimberly reached the docks perhaps ten minutes after leaving the town square, wheezing and coughing and aching. The time had done little to improve her disposition. She'd realized, more than anything else, that she didn't even know how she felt anymore. She was tired, hurting, scared. She had no fucking idea what came next. She'd never paid much attention to SOTF before; it had always existed in that part of her mind where particularly traumatizing horror stories were shelved and then carefully ignored. She knew of the first three winners, yeah, but who didn't? She didn't know their full names, that was for sure. She certainly didn't know who they'd been before the game.

She knew she wasn't having any of the bullshit the first guy had taken. She wasn't going back. Never. No way. Better to die. She'd make that clear if it came up, meet her end kicking and screaming if she had to, but she'd never go through it all again.

And then, of course, there was her location weighing on her mind. The docks were a place which held a lot of memories for Kimberly, and almost all of them were awful. She could see it, could feel it all over again, as she stumbled out of the bait shop and away from the corpse, that awful impression of having just crossed paths with death weighing heavy on her. She'd told herself she was fine. She'd pretended like it'd been just the same as back at the tunnels, back when she'd actually touched a body, but it hadn't been similar at all, not out in the real world. That had been the first time it had really been clear to her what she was up against, what she was hurtling towards.

Then it had all gone to hell. Steven, Will, Aislyn. It could've been alright. They could've had a little team, if Kimberly had been willing to swallow her pride and suck up to a psychopath. They could have gone their separate ways if she'd just done the smart thing and walked off as soon as Steven gave her the knife. There'd been no logical reason to goad Will, no tactical purpose behind showing him up. She'd wanted to. She'd wanted to and she'd lacked the self control to deny her urges and Aislyn had died for it.

No. Fuck euphemisms. She'd murdered Aislyn. It hadn't been self defense. She'd gotten scared and she'd murdered Aislyn and now, inevitably, she was back at the scene of the crime.

It was still dark out, still night. The smoke from the burning house was still visible against the stars, though it no longer impacted her overall vision. Kimberly's breathing had returned roughly to normal, unlike her gait. Even hurrying, she hadn't been able to manage anything above a hobble. Her ankle wasn't fucked up too badly, she thought, but it still hurt like a bitch every time she put weight on it.

As she got closer, Kimberly could see shapes moving near the docks, half a dozen of them. She squinted, and they resolved into bipedal blurs, then, as she moved closer and reached the point where her eyesight wasn't messing her up too badly, into people. While they were the first non-students Kimberly had seen in two weeks, they weren't as interesting as the changes that had taken place in the environment. Someone had gone to work on the docks with something nice and explosive, it looked like, and one of the protruding areas had been blown away nearly completely. Kimberly was pretty sure it was the same section of dock she'd stood on all those days ago, the same stretch where she'd stabbed Aislyn. The positioning relative to the bait shop was about right.

She certainly wasn't sorry to see it go.

"Over here."

The voice was calm, commanding, slightly understated. It was a woman's voice, drawing Kimberly's attention back to the figures. She could see now that there was something up near the beach behind them, probably a boat or raft of some kind.

The impulse to disobey and spite them was still present, but at a lower level than it had been back at the town center. This wasn't worth dying over, and Kimberly wasn't ready to stake her life on the idea that Greynolds wasn't going to hold her to the second he'd stated as her deadline. She picked up her pace as much as she could, trying to keep from grimacing with the pain. She could at least attempt to stay tough.

The group of people wasn't quite what Kimberly had been expecting. Five of them were roughly what she'd anticipated, men in combat fatigues holding large rifles. They all kept them trained on her, like maybe she was dangerous or something. She wanted to laugh. More than that, she just wanted to collapse, to lie down and go to sleep right there on the splintered wooden planks. She stayed steady, stayed alert, didn't waver. No need to fuck up now. Five of the figures were pretty boring. That didn't mean they weren't an immediate threat to her continued survival.

The one who really drew her attention for more than a cursory glance, though—the one who was different from the others, who was unexpected—was a petite woman in a knee-length black skirt and a long-sleeved white blouse. She had square-framed glasses, and she was very clearly Vietnamese. For a few seconds, Kimberly thought they'd grabbed her mother for some reason she'd never be able to understand, because the woman was nearly her spitting image. Squinting, partially to correct for her own nearsightedness and partially in the futile hope that it would help her make out details through the darkness, Kimberly noticed that this woman seemed a little bit too young, a little too beautiful in a detached sort of way.

The woman stepped closer, but Kimberly didn't get a better look at her features, because one of the men flicked on a flashlight and pointed the beam directly into Kimberly's face. She raised her right hand to block the light, but didn't close her eyes. She wasn't about to let these fuckers get her to do anything without directly ordering her around.

"Congratulations, Kimberly," the woman said. "My name's Sonia Nguyen. No relation, of course."

No shit.

"Search her."

One of the other men stepped forwards and patted Kimberly down. The check was fairly cursory; she figured they'd been watching her closely enough to know she wasn't carrying anything now. The man paid special attention to her boots, kneeling in front of her and running his fingers along the insides. Kimberly had a crazy urge to kick him in the face. He was lined up perfectly for it. She didn't know how to kick, but it'd have been really simple to just hook him under the chin with her toe and pull upwards.

She settled with imagining it. Not worth dying for. That was becoming her new mantra. This close to surviving, to going home, she wasn't about to fuck around. She had no idea what her future held, but it had to be better than a bullet in the head and a trip to an incinerator.

"Clean," the man said, standing.

"Good." Sonia sounded more bored than pleased. "Are you ready, Kimberly?"

For all her designs on survival, Kimberly wasn't planning on making things easy for them. She smiled, lowered her hand to her collar, and tapped it three times.

Can't talk, remember? Not until this comes off. Tell me, bitch, how much do you want an answer?

Sonia's face clouded for half a second, but she nodded. The man who had searched Kimberly stepped up again, this time withdrawing some tool from a back pocket. He stood behind her for a few moments, fiddling with something she couldn't see, then her collar made a few loud beeps. Kimberly stiffened, her eyes widening, the muscles in her legs tensing for a futile attempt to outrun the bomb attached to her neck, but the man grabbed her roughly by the shoulder, probably planning to hold her still.

Kimberly was too busy screaming to notice that the collar had fallen away from her neck. The man released her and jumped back, and she dropped to her knees. She knew she was crying. He'd grabbed her by her fucked up shoulder. Kimberly had wrenched her wound, had scuffed it against things, but never since her shooting had she received that sort of pressure to it.

For maybe a minute, she sat on the ground, sobbing and sniffling and trying to will herself back to coherency and failing. She didn't want to look weak in front of these people, didn't want to look like she was hurting and sure as fuck didn't want them to know she was afraid.

When she finally regained a little composure and self control, she saw that all the guns were pointing her way again. She couldn't read anyone's expression too well in the darkness, but she was pretty sure Sonia shot the man who'd grabbed her a dirty look.

"You alright?" one of the other men asked.

"The fuck do you think?" Kimberly spat. Now that the collar was off, she wasn't so worried about watching what she said. If they wanted her to shut up, she figured they'd tell her or hit her, not shoot her on the spot.

Apparently, her assessment was correct. The man who'd removed her collar stepped up again and hoisted her to her feet, this time with an arm under her right armpit. She made a token effort to shake him off, but it didn't do any good. She wasn't really sure she could've stood unassisted anyways.

They marched her down to the beach, where a small motorboat was up against the shore. In it stood two more men with rifles. Two members of Kimberly's escort helped her into the boat. They were paying a lot more attention to her wounds now, which had Kimberly a little nervous. She really had no clue how much trouble she was in. It hadn't seemed like such a pressing concern before. Even with this slightly ominous turn of events, though, she was pretty sure she wasn't dying—at least, not of anything more rapid than starvation and dehydration.

She didn't have to worry about the latter for long. Sonia passed her a bottle of water, already opened. She sat on a bench facing the rear of the boat, and Kimberly sat in a seat mirroring hers. Kimberly could tell now that the other woman was wearing boots that gave her a bit of a lift; without them, Kimberly was pretty sure she had an inch or two on the older woman.

Kimberly brought the bottle to her lips and swallowed down as much as she could, until, halfway through the bottle, her stomach cramped and she choked and coughed and dropped the bottle. Half a second later, she started gagging and heaving. One of the men helped her stumble to the railing, where she emptied her stomach, leaving a string of watered-down chocolate and stomach acid along the side of the boat.

By the time she got back to her seat, Sonia already had a new bottle of water ready.

After that, Kimberly drank slowly.

MW's Private Rank
Joined: February 18th, 2009, 7:01 am

October 6th, 2012, 5:00 am #2

The boat had been cutting through the water for about fifteen minutes before anyone spoke to Kimberly in any serious way. By that point, she was wrapped in a blanket. The offer had come after her shivering was noticed, and Kimberly had initially attempted to reject it but hadn't really felt ready to press the point. A little bit of unwanted aid beat being on the bad side of the people with the guns.

That it helped make her more comfortable did increase her resentment.

"I thought it'd be you," Sonia said, breaking the silence.

Kimberly didn't reply.

"We always talk, you know," the woman continued. "Make predictions. I had you pegged to go far as soon as you got over your naïveté. By the last ten, I was pretty sure you'd make it."

Kimberly stayed silent for a while longer. Sonia seemed content to drop it. Another few minutes passed before Kimberly worked up the nerve to talk.

"You're Vietnamese, right?" she said. "Is that why they sent you to pick me up?"

This time, it was Sonia who took a moment to reply.

"They told me you were a snippy little bitch," she finally said. "Dealing with those is my specialty."

"Lucky you."

Nobody else was saying anything. The smell of the sea was overpowering. It was something Kimberly was completely unused to. Minnesota's lakes had their own scents, sure, but nothing like this. She was feeling vaguely ill again. It figured. All the other shit she'd dealt with, and she discovered she got seasick to boot.

"I brought something for you," Sonia said after a little longer.

Kimberly considered brushing her off or laughing at her or firing back with some sort of snappy remark, but she couldn't muster the energy. The only thing keeping her eyes open was the fact that she was in a dangerous situation and was still in enough pain that drifting off wasn't particularly easy.

She waited a few seconds, then said, "What?"

Sonia nodded to one of the other men, who handed her something black and oddly-shaped.

"I thought you might want this back," Sonia said. "The repair team found it in the mansion and brought it back. For a while, it looked like you might be runner up, and it used to be tradition to leave a little something of the runner up's in the weapon pool next season."

Kimberly only half heard the words as she reached out and took the object. It was battered, bloodstained, dusty, but unmistakable.

She looked at the fedora and quickly bit her tongue so she wouldn't cry again.

No such thing as a lucky hat.

What happened, Jeremy? What on earth happened to you?

"Thanks," she said. It was an absurd reflex, the sort of thing she'd never have done had she been thinking clearly instead of choking down her emotions. She didn't owe these people thanks, not for returning her own belongings, not for trying to patch her up and dust her off and act like she'd never been through a hell of their creation.

She decided not to consider the implications of the hat's presence too closely. Sonia had said they'd found it in the mansion. Jeremy had supposedly died in the escape attempt. They'd closed off the beaches as danger zones after that, which strongly suggested that whatever had happened had happened there. Maybe he'd just lost the hat somehow. He'd wanted it badly, badly enough to hurt her for it, but maybe he'd gotten careless. He'd seemed a careless enough sort.

She could remember, so very clearly, the careless way he'd pressed the tip of the blade against her skin. It was all she could do to keep from retching again.

The terrorists didn't seem to notice. Maybe they just didn't care. Kimberly couldn't imagine there was a surfeit of empathy for her in this little gathering. That she was their winner was most likely seen by most as an unfortunate accident. From what she knew of the past versions, making it out had usually involved far more bloodshed than she had engaged in. It made no sense—no, more than that, it was counterintuitive that killing people would pay off. All it did was make the killers into targets. The thought of somebody like Lombardi actually managing to emerge victorious was laughable. He'd made too many enemies too quickly. Injuries added up. Kimberly knew that. She'd avoided getting hurt too badly after that first day, and she was still barely standing. She wondered how those boys had done it, how they had maintained and stayed sane.

One of the soldiers said something to Sonia, but Kimberly couldn't make it out over the wind. The woman took a radio from the man and spoke quietly into it for a few seconds. Kimberly pulled the blanket closer around her, suppressing a shiver. She hoped she wasn't bleeding anymore. Dying now would be worse than dying in the game. It would render everything else, all the sacrifices and death, completely pointless.

Kimberly also hoped she'd been right about other people surviving, though her reasons were far from altruistic. She didn't want the burden and guilt of being the only one. She didn't want the world's eyes on her, watching her all the time, waiting with baited breath to see what she did. She didn't want the pressure of being a legacy, of representing the fates of all the kids who didn't make it. She didn't want to be stalked by tabloid reporters, didn't want to read in the paper about where she was eating and what she was wearing and who she was fucking. The winner was always news, that she knew. She'd heard bits about the other three. That said a lot, given her disinterest in SOTF.

Sonia seemed to be done with her conversation, and Kimberly was done with her line of thought, at least done enough to need a distraction in the most immediate way, so she said, "You said you thought I'd survive. Why?"

Sonia considered for a long second. Kimberly became aware that they were the center of attention again.

"You seemed the sort," Sonia finally said. "You were crazy enough, driven enough, but weren't too far over the line. That, and maybe a little bit of lingering national pride."

She shrugged, then continued. "Really, though, I thought you'd toughen up when the chips came down. Instead, you got lucky. Same result in the end."

Kimberly considered that for the rest of the ride.

MW's Private Rank
Joined: February 18th, 2009, 7:01 am

October 6th, 2012, 6:00 pm #3

When they reached the main ship—what looked like a repurposed cargo vessel or tanker of some kind—the transfer became somewhat awkward. Kimberly was entirely unable to climb ladders, and, for that matter, had pretty severely limited mobility overall. In the end, two of the bulkier soldiers carried her in several places. She wasn't sure who found the situation most disagreeable, but everyone involved seemed united in their displeasure over it all. Sonia stayed at the front of the group, walking the halls without ever seeming unsure of the direction, though Kimberly couldn't discern any landmarks whatsoever.

The boat was a cold place, steel and grey and lifeless, and she found herself shivering more than she had on the boat. The blanket had been left behind somewhere, and even with her hat her ears felt a bit chilly. She tried not to show her discomfort. Bad enough she was relying on these people to survive. No need to also fall back on their pity. Even after everything that had happened, she wasn't that fucking weak, not yet. Kimberly made sure to walk wherever she could, even though it hurt, even though it slowed their progress.

Sonia seemed to be in something of a hurry, but she never complained when Kimberly faltered. The terrorist simply slowed her pace the bare minimum required to let Kimberly and her guards catch up again, then increased her speed once more.

It probably only took them five minutes to reach the small room where everyone but Sonia and one of the guards split off, but the journey felt interminable. Kimberly was still having something of a hard time coming to grips with the reality of her own continued existence. It wasn't something she wanted to ponder, not at too great length, not with the way everything had played out. At least the pain kept her from focusing too well.

It took Kimberly a second to realize that something was changing. She was almost too tired to care, but she'd be damned if she was going to make this easier on her captors than was absolutely necessary. She couldn't collapse, not yet. Maybe someday in the future, when her world included more than this ship and these people. That was her goal, now. She'd once wanted to die without regrets. Now it was time to swallow some destructive impulses and live. She wasn't going to make it easy on them, but she wasn't about to get herself killed just to piss someone off, not unless she thought she'd be dying anyways. Her life was rapidly becoming a series of situations not quite worth dying over. She just hoped this newest one would continue the trend.

The room was fairly uninteresting, just a metal bench against the wall and a few cabinets across from it. The walls were metal, lifeless, painted a sterile white. Nobody was moving anymore, so Kimberly just stood there, looking around.

"Have a seat," Sonia said. Kimberly sat. The other guard, a surly looking woman with a mole on her lip, stood to the side, gun at the ready. Kimberly was pretty sure she hadn't been there at the docks, but it was hard to say. It had been pretty dark, the woman was androgynous, and Kimberly's uncorrected distance vision wasn't good.

Sonia turned to the cabinets, fiddled around a little, and muttered something under her breath. Kimberly could catch enough to know it was Vietnamese, but couldn't pick out the words. She wondered if she'd missed a little show on her behalf, if Sonia didn't know to what degree Kimberly was fluent, or if it had just been a little habit of the woman's. No way to tell without context. When Sonia turned back, Kimberly realized she didn't much give a fuck. It was completely irrelevant compared to what the older woman was holding.

Scissors and a flashlight. Plenty to make the rest of Kimberly's life short and painful. She sucked in a deep breath, tensed, but didn't make a break for it. This wasn't certain doom yet, but pissing off the woman with the assault rifle would be.

Not worth dying for. Yet.

Sonia's eyes flicked from Kimberly's face to the rifle to the door. Her lips turned up a bit at the corners.

"Good choice," she said. "Play things right and you'll be fine. Now, focus on my finger."

Kimberly did as instructed, wondering what sort of torture awaited, but Sonia simply clicked the flashlight on and held it off to the side, shining it into Kimberly's eyes at an angle that, while not exactly pleasant, certainly did not qualify as painful. She examined Kimberly's eyes carefully, then reached out and pressed her hand to Kimberly's throat, feeling under her chin, almost massaging with her hand.

That was what finally sparked the vestigial memories that had been boiling under the surface in Kimberly's mind. It was as if the whole scene changed hues as she recalled visits to the doctor's office, strange little rituals that never made much sense to her.

With the realization that Sonia was probably trying to make sure she was okay rather than attempting to hurt her in some way came a surge of relief and what almost felt like gratitude. Kimberly tried to force it down by examining the woman's face more closely. It didn't help. She looked like a normal person, like someone Kimberly would actually go to for a checkup, not like a terrorist. She was the first of them Kimberly had seen in the light, in detail—at least, since the briefing, and there she hadn't been paying much attention. She'd been too focused on the words, the video, the teachers dying.

"What's the prognosis?" The words were just a further distraction, a way to force Sonia to respond and hopefully reassert herself in a way that would erase this momentary confusion.

The woman did not disappoint.

"You'll live long enough to attend the meeting we've got scheduled for you," she said. She started to say something else, but Kimberly cut in.

"I thought you were sending me home. I thought the winners went home."

Sonia's face darkened, and it wasn't so hard to remember she was a killer now, and then she said, "They did, and you will too. Eventually."

She paused there. Kimberly realized she'd just lost this round, that Sonia wasn't going to feed her any more information unless she asked for it. She considered going without, but she had never been a patient person, and now wasn't the time for self improvement.


Sonia's expression held a shadow of a smirk.

"Some things happened, so you're going to be spending a couple weeks here. Don't worry; we have one of the best field hospitals in the world. Comes with the territory. We'll make sure you get good treatment, and we'll make sure you get home. In return, you won't cause us trouble or do anything stupid."

"Right," Kimberly said. It didn't have quite the edge of defiance she'd hoped for. More than anything, the single syllable sounded flat and dead.

"I'm going to check your arm," Sonia continued. "If anything had gone too wrong, you'd be dead by now, but I want to make sure you don't need any more immediate treatment."

Again, Kimberly didn't thank her. In fact, as Sonia came closer, Kimberly tensed a little bit. She knew what was coming, had considered doing it herself a time or two, but that didn't make it any easier.

With quick, efficient movements, Sonia cut Kimberly's sweater off, then removed the bandages on her shoulder, checked the wound, and redressed it. Somewhere in there, she'd put on gloves. Kimberly hadn't noticed when. She'd been too focused on the loss of her sweatshirt. She didn't give a fuck that she was dirty, that she stank, that her sweater had been torn to fuck and soaked in gasoline, that it had been falling to pieces even before. It had been nearly a part of her, a sort of extension of her body, warmth and comfort in the nights, and now, without it, sitting in a plain black t-shirt, she felt horribly exposed.

"Calm down," Sonia said. "The clean up crew found your bag. You'll get new clothes after the meeting."

"Good." Kimberly spoke as though accepting an apology, and actually managed a smirk at that one. Fuck Sonia. Fuck this mess. Kimberly knew wordplay, knew how to take a little power back, and who gave a shit if it didn't matter in the long run?

This time, Sonia's face didn't so much as twitch.

"Give me your leg," she said. Kimberly stuck her right leg out, and with a few snips and a tug, Sonia removed the right leg of her jeans just below the knee, jerking the bottom edge from Kimberly's boots. It was Kimberly's first look at the wound on her leg, and it provoked a surge of adrenaline she didn't know she had left in reserve. Things looked worse than she'd imagined. The edges of the cut were raw, the scab barely formed, a small strip of skin hanging loose. It made Kimberly feel a little ill, but Sonia remained impassive as she said, "It won't kill you. Are you up to date on your tetanus shots?"

"The fuck do you need to know for?" Kimberly said.

"It's your health," Sonia said with a half shrug.

Of course, the reason was obvious to Kimberly. There was no reason to pour unnecessary medicine into her already-damaged system. Her reaction had sprung not from curiosity or rebellion but rather from a need to stall for a few moments to think. The horrible truth of it was, after the last two weeks, she could barely remember what Bayview looked like, never mind what had happened at a doctor's office sometime in the past three years or so. She tried to pull up the appropriate memories. She'd had shots in the last year, yeah, and her grandparents always worried about her health. She had physicals every year or so. Okay. Safe enough bet. It was disturbing as fuck that she had to think about this.

"Yeah," she said. "I am."

Sonia nodded, stood, gestured for Kimberly to stand as well. After that it was another march through more halls. As soon as they left the room, three more terrorists fell in with the group, clearly having been waiting outside the entire time. Kimberly was struck again with the odd level of security; they seemed to be prepared for physical resistance when she could barely muster the energy for slight meanness.

She didn't have long to reflect, though. It wasn't long at all before she found herself walking down a corridor that seemed subtly different from the others, just that little bit cleaner and warmer, somehow.

Sonia paused, said something to one of the guards, and then turned back to Kimberly.

"Good luck," she said. "I don't feel like dealing with Greynolds, so this is goodbye. Enjoy your reward."

"See you," Kimberly replied. It felt like a plea for reassurance. Something about Sonia's phrasing was very discomfiting.

"I doubt it. I've got a helicopter to catch." Then she was gone, stalking back down the halls.

Kimberly blinked as she realized that the woman's footfalls made almost no noise.

MW's Private Rank
Joined: February 18th, 2009, 7:01 am

October 7th, 2012, 6:00 am #4

The half dozen or so soldiers kept Kimberly moving until she reached a room that gave her pause even without their commands to the same effect. It was not like anything else she'd seen; if anything, it was rather homey. There were two plush chairs with a small coffee table between them. On the table were two saucers and tea cups, as well as a small platter of crackers and cheese.

The chair closest Kimberly was unoccupied. In the other sat a slightly scruffy looking man in jeans and a sweater, looking at her curiously from behind wire-rimmed glasses. His brown hair was tied back in a ponytail, and it looked like it had been a few days since he'd shaved. Behind the scruffy man's chair, slightly to the left, stood a very tall, cleaner-cut man with a scar running across the bridge of his nose. Like so many of the people on the ship, he was holding an assault rifle.

"Have a seat," the man with the glasses said.

Kimberly paused for a second, considering some sort of retort, weighing her pride against the half dozen armed men standing behind her, then sat. The man smiled and said, "I'm Jim Greynolds. It's a pleasure to meet you."

Kimberly didn't say anything. Greynolds cleared his throat, and the soldiers who had escorted her turned and left, leaving only three people in the room.

"It's a pleasure to meet you," Greynolds said again, sticking out his hand this time. Kimberly looked at it, recalculated the risks based on what she'd just learned of Greynolds' demeanor, didn't move. No way she was gonna be polite to this fucker unless he felt like making her life depend on it. He'd shown himself willing to be direct when he'd talked to her through the speakers. She doubted he'd change now.

Greynolds waited, frozen, for far longer than Kimberly had expected, leaving her to wait immobile as well. He just looked at her, face calm. The man behind him fidgeted a little, shifting his weight from foot to foot, but otherwise the room was still.

Eventually, Greynolds shrugged, then leaned back as though nothing had happened. Kimberly let out her breath.

"This is Matt Richards," Greynolds said. "He's here to make sure you don't try anything dumb."

Again, Kimberly waited in silence. A look of intense concentration ran across Greynolds' face, then he said, "You know, I hate to disappoint you, but you're not being original. Calvert tried the same thing."

"Who?" Kimberly spoke almost before she consciously decided to change tactics. It wasn't that the comment upset her, more that she was figuring out that Greynolds wasn't the sort to be phased by passive resistance.

"Bryan Calvert. He won two years ago. The guy you don't know what the fuck happened to." An edge of mocking mimicry entered Greynolds' voice as he spoke. Kimberly didn't like it one bit.

"Ah," she said.

"Have some tea," Greynolds said, gesturing to the table. "It's citrus. You can get a start on working off your vitamin deficiencies."

"No thanks."

"Suit yourself." He picked up his own cup and took a long sip. As he set his cup back down, Kimberly's eyes followed along, lingering for a moment on the crackers and cheese. There was no way the food hadn't been placed intentionally. Of course they knew she was starving, malnourished.

"Help yourself," Greynolds said.

"No thanks."

This provoked a long burst of laughter from the man opposite Kimberly. Like the silence when he proffered his hand, it went on quite a bit too long. Finally, recovering, he said, "That's what I love about you, you know. You're so willing to fuck yourself over just to throw someone else off their game. I told them not to blow your collar, you know, in the tunnels. I told them it'd be a waste of time, that sooner or later you'd catch a bullet in the head anyways. I told them it'd just make the girl madder, that it'd make her try harder, that she was gonna drop soon anyways."

Here, he paused for a moment, shooting a glance up at the other man, and Kimberly wondered for a second if she'd misjudged where the power in the room lay, whether perhaps Richards, who seemed almost to fade into the background, was really calling the shots.

"I guess I was wrong that time," Greynolds said. "Charmed life, the both of you. For a while, I mean."

There it was. Kimberly had a sinking feeling that everything was about to go wrong, that she'd just found the fishhook in her sandwich. There was nothing to do but press on now, though. She was out of her depth, but she wasn't going to give them the satisfaction of watching her try to wriggle her way out of trouble.

"Nothing lasts forever," she said. "I heard you caught up with her. I guess you weren't quite quick enough, though."

Kimberly felt her expression changing, felt a smile spreading across her face, and she knew everything was about to go straight to hell.

She found she didn't quite give a fuck.

"You guys lost," she said. She was aware of the hat she was wearing again, aware of the fact that she could be fatally wrong, could be pressing the wrong buttons, but it didn't seem so important. She was tired, hurting, angry, and the people responsible, responsible for everything she'd suffered, were sitting almost within arm's reach. She didn't feel awkward in her t-shirt and her shortened jeans, not anymore. She felt the fire rising again. She was starting to lose track of just what qualified as not worth dying for.

"You lost. You fucked up and people got away. You guys got hurt. Fuck, maybe you got hurt bad. Where's Danya? I thought he met the winners."

For just an instant, something almost like anger flashed in Greynolds' eyes. Then he chuckled.

"You're absolutely correct," he said. "Danya's dead. A lot of people got away. We're on the run right now, actually, from several governments.

"We also did get hurt, some of us more than others. Richards belongs to the category who got it a bit worse than the rest. Richards, did I ever tell you that Ms. Nguyen was the one who gave Polanski her gun?"

Kimberly couldn't begin to figure out at what point in the conversation Richards had looped around and taken up position behind her chair. She'd been too caught up in Greynolds' revelations, too focused on the implications, to catch the subtle movement. Now, though, the voice behind her made her start.

"Did she really?"

"Yep," Greynolds said.

Kimberly could tell how this was supposed to go, could almost sense that she was supposed to apologize or try to backpedal, but she wasn't about to back down now, not after that moment where something had happened. She'd done something, had changed something. Perhaps she'd caused her own current predicament, though she doubted it; the whole thing was too constructed, too clean. It felt almost practiced.

"And?" she said.

"Richards took a hit," Greynolds said. "Got some nasty bruises. Had to pay a visit to the medical station. Now, it may not look it, but we've got some damn fine facilities. Nobody likes getting hurt, though.

"Now, Richards shot Polanski for it, but she wouldn't've been half as able to defend herself if she hadn't had a gun. It wasn't the same one you gave her—that got traded to another boy. Your friend's boyfriend, in fact. He murdered the guy you got the knife from with it. Funny how these things come around. Anyways, as I see it you're still indirectly responsible for Richards having an awful week. It might be time to apologize."

"Fuck you," Kimberly said. She knew she was fucking up, knew she was losing control and probably saying the exact shit they wanted her to, but she didn't care. "I'm glad I fucked up your day."

"Good for you," Greynolds said, as Richards leaned forward and grabbed Kimberly by the wrist of her good hand. He slammed her palm against the table. Somewhere in there he'd set the assault rifle aside; now he held a long knife in his free hand.

"I told Richards he could cut off one of your fingers every minute you didn't say exactly what we wanted to hear." Greynolds sounded cheerful but a bit uninvolved, as if his interest had already drifted elsewhere. "Riz felt uppity too. He lasted two minutes. You think you can beat his record?"

Kimberly had vague memories of the boy who had won last year, of missing fingers. She'd never paid much attention, not to SOTF, not to the psychopath who'd won. Not for the first time, she found herself regretting that choice.

"Now, bear in mind we're starting on your right hand," Greynolds continued. "That way you care. Your left, well, you're pretty much fucked there anyways, so no reason to give you five free minutes. Speaking of, I think you've burned through your first."

"Wait," Kimberly said. She didn't give a fuck if she was losing this round, not now. The stakes had just become too high for her. It was funny how perspective shifted when it wasn't so black and white, life or death. "I'm sorry. Fuck, I'm sorry. I didn't mean it."

"Good," Greynolds said. "That took about seventy seconds. I'll round down. Lucky you."

"Does the thumb count as a finger?" Richards said.

"Think so." Greynolds waved his hand carelessly. "Don't make too much of a mess. I want to finish those crackers."

The next seconds were confusion and chaos. Kimberly knew she was crying, knew she was probably going to die for what she was doing, but she didn't care. She'd been injured—no, crippled—once already. No way in fuck was she going to let it happen again, in such a permanent way. She thrashed wildly, trying to shake away the man who was holding her down. She wasn't in position, though. Richards had strength and leverage, and Kimberly was malnourished and tired and seated, and before she knew it she felt the blade of the knife brush the back of her thumb, felt the cold steel, not quite hurting but just a moment's pressure away from cutting into her. She was saying something, pleading maybe, screaming and begging, and the two men ignored her entirely.

"You have something to stop the bleeding?" Richards asked. Kimberly could hear him clearly, though his voice wasn't so loud. Greynolds glanced around, then slowly, casually, stood up. He stretched in an almost theatrical manner and wandered to the back of the room. Kimberly tensed, preparing to throw herself against Richards again, but he increased the pressure of the knife by a barely perceptible amount.

This wasn't fair. She hated the situation, hated herself for trying to fight it, hated everything and most of all hated the men who were doing this. She wanted to be cool, to be strong and tough and able to laugh this off like it meant nothing. She wanted to face her fate with a little dignity, to retreat into herself and maybe at least protect herself emotionally, but she was just too tired and scared. This wasn't like on the island, wasn't like looking down the barrel of yet another gun. This was calculated, personal, malicious, targeted.

"Found a towel." Greynolds walked back to his chair, still relaxed. He drew his arm back, apparently preparing to pitch the small square of pink cloth underhand, then paused. Kimberly had stopped screaming now, but could barely see through her tears. Still, she was pretty sure Greynolds was just now noticing that both of Richards' hands were occupied.

"Guess I'll have to help," he muttered. With a sigh, he pushed the tray of crackers to the side, then knelt down, hands on the towel. Kimberly groaned and tried to pull her hand away, but Richards tightened his grip on her wrist.

"Now?" he said.

"Sure," Greynolds replied. Kimberly tried to come up with something to say, some last minute way to save herself or forestall any action for just a few seconds more, but nothing came.

Richards pressed down, just a little more, and she screamed even louder than before, and she closed her eyes tight. Richards flicked the knife over her skin, and Greynolds quickly grabbed her hand in the towel, applying pressure, and she screamed for another few seconds even though her hand didn't hurt nearly as bad as she'd thought it would. Then Greynolds nodded and Richards released her hand, and she yanked it to her chest, holding it against herself, crying and gasping.

Her thumb was still attached. There was no cut, no blood, just an indent where the blade had been pressed like she might've gotten from pressing a finger too hard against a guitar string.

"It's dull," Greynolds said, gesturing to the knife, which was now lying on the table. "Thank you, Richards. That will be all."

"Any time, boss," the man said, then picked up the knife and stalked out of the room.

MW's Private Rank
Joined: February 18th, 2009, 7:01 am

October 7th, 2012, 5:00 pm #5

For the next twenty minutes, Kimberly sat and sobbed, hating everything more than ever, disgusted at herself for losing control and livid at having been tricked. She contemplated revenge, wondered if she could choke the life out of someone with only one hand, tried to guess how many guards were right outside the door and what she'd have to do to keep them from immediately opening fire. Greynolds finished his tea, drank hers, and ate all the crackers. Then he sat, watching her patiently. Kimberly barely moved. Eventually, slowly, she regained enough control of herself to force her hand to her leg. She locked eyes with him, and they just stared at each other. Greynolds blinked freely, maybe even a little too often. Kimberly tried not to blink at all, but it didn't work very well.

Some time later, when she'd become pretty sure she wasn't going to be killed, when her anger had subsided enough to preclude anything suicidal, she found words.

"What the fuck was the point?" she said.

Greynolds considered her for a moment, then said, "You'll have to be more specific. Are you being rhetorical? Questioning the universe? Your victory?"

Kimberly took a deep breath and wiped her eyes. There was a painting hanging on the wall, an abstract series of shapes and colors. She hadn't noticed it before. Richards' assault rifle was propped up under it.

"Why the game?" she said. Then, after a second, "Fuck, not... I mean, why did you have him do that? With the knife?"

"I thought you might appreciate it," Greynolds said. He yawned, then continued. "You certainly seemed to enjoy your own little games on the island. It's all okay as long as nobody gets hurt, right?"

She stared at him.

"Oh, don't worry," Greynolds chuckled. "I'm no moralist. Far be it from me to care if you empathize with the people you played with. I certainly don't. I understand. No, no, don't bother denying it. That gets boring. There is nothing in the world so boring as responsibility. Trust me, the last few days have been an absolute bitch. Sometimes, you've gotta just kick back and relax. I mean, fuck, you've earned it."

Kimberly took a deep breath and shifted. She did not look at the gun again. It was to her left, maybe four steps away. She doubted she could make it in time. She was terrified, ready to cut any deal necessary to get out of this room, to go back to the others, to sit on the boat or in the examination room, to be with anyone but the man in front of her.

"It's traditional to offer you a chance to join us," Greynolds said. "Then you refuse because you want to pretend you have morals. I don't really care. We're going to skip that part.

"I'm not interested in you trying to be defiant. We can sit here and score points off each other forever. Maybe it'd even be amusing, but it seems wasteful. I don't have that long to chat. I'd rather it mean something."

"Like what?"

Greynolds considered that.

"I guess I'll return the question," he said after a time. "Why the games you played?"

Kimberly considered lying or refusing to answer. She considered laughing in his face, spitting at him, screaming in anger. She was pretty sure now that Greynolds wouldn't actually hurt her. He still terrified her more than anything else she'd encountered, but she was beginning to get a better feel for him.

"I don't know," she said. "I've thought about it a lot, and maybe it made me feel better, but I don't really know."

It was getting easier to talk again. Her throat felt less restricted, and she wiped her eyes with the back of her good hand, then straightened her hat. The movement gave her pause. Funny. For all that her mind had forgotten the real world, her muscle memory seemed to be in pretty good shape.

Greynolds opened his mouth again, but Kimberly cut him off.

"My turn," she said, deciding in a split second to take a more active stance against her fear. She didn't pause, didn't give him a chance to cut in again. If she was going to move off the defensive she was going to do it wholeheartedly. "Why do you talk to the winners?"

"Tradition, mostly," Greynolds sounded almost apologetic. "Danya used to enjoy it. Maybe there's some value to it. You are, at the least, somewhat interesting.

"Now, my turn again. Why did you win?"

A pause.

"What?" Kimberly said.

"Why did you win? Why are you sitting here?"

She thought about that one for a long, long while. It was a question she wasn't quite ready to ask herself, one she didn't care to pry too deeply into. She suspected Greynolds knew that, and so she answered with the first somewhat honest thing that came to mind.

"I have no idea," she finally said. "Maybe because I'm selfish."

Once more, silence descended. It seemed like Greynolds was fine with the breaks, and Kimberly felt no need to disturb them. She was aware that she was tired, hungry, bruised and bloody and sore, but it didn't really matter right now.

"Your turn," Greynolds eventually prompted. Kimberly blinked. She hadn't been expecting him to offer her anything, much less to play the game she'd defined, and wasn't entirely sure how to approach it now. She wasn't going to let him turn the situation around, though. If he was giving her a chance to take some control, she was going to seize it and milk it for everything she could.

"What happens now?" she said.

"That's pretty broad."

"To me."

"Well," Greynolds said, "normally I'd threaten to throw you back into the game, make you squirm a little more. Of course, we won't actually put you back. What happened with Dodd, that was Danya's choice, and not one I agreed with. That's not how I set the game up. You win, you go home, just as long as you killed someone. You're alright on that front." Here he chuckled a little.

"I mean, yeah, you last killed someone three days ago or something. I lose track. Still counts. We've had to delay the broadcast, so you won't be back in the States until a couple weeks from now. In the meantime, we'll see that you get the surgery and medicine and physical therapy you need. I'd offer emotional support, but I think you'll do better elsewhere.

"Now, tell me, what's your favorite food? What are you gonna have for dinner when you get home?"

Kimberly blinked.

"The fuck does that have to do with anything?"

"Answer if you wanna ask." Greynolds' voice was nearly singsong. He leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. His eyes were deep blue, Kimberly saw. He looked pretty damn young.

"Pizza," she said. "Pizza with mushrooms, sausage, and black olives. Maybe add some red pepper."

"Interesting." Greynolds' voice said it was anything but. "Now, I asked because—"

"I changed my mind," Kimberly said. Her energy was building a little again. Her face felt warm. "I don't give a fuck why you care."


"Why did you pick Bayview?"

"Shit security." Greynolds yawned. "Your school was big enough, interesting enough, in a place where we had some assets. Nothing personal. I mean, Minnesota's a terrible state anyways. We probably did you a favor by taking you guys away from there."

As he spoke, he looked at the ceiling briefly. In that second, Kimberly's eyes flicked to the assault rifle again. It would take maybe half a second to dive for it. She'd never fired a gun in her life. That was a strange thought. All that time on the island, and somehow she'd never fired a gun.

"Why'd you quit smoking?"

"What?" Kimberly said.

"You quit," Greynolds said. "You gave your cigarettes away. Why?"

Kimberly waited on that one for a few seconds, rolling it over in her mind, before she began to chuckle. She knew the angle he was coming from, knew what he was really asking.

"I just didn't wanna die an addict," she said, the slight laughter dying completely and instantly. "That's it. Besides, she needed them more."

No need to name Rhory now. It felt disrespectful to speak of the dead by name to one of those responsible for their fates. Kimberly had a vague idea that maybe her failure to launch some assault on Greynolds constituted some sort of betrayal of their memories. Here she was, across from one of their tormentors, across from a man who had psychologically tortured her and countless others, and she was willing to let go of everything and swallow her pride just to go on living. She glanced at the rifle again, not even bothering to hide it this time. Her decision on that front was made. She'd thought some grand rebellious gesture might be a good way to die, back before the abduction and before the last few days on the island, back when she'd still been able to think of things like good ways to die with a straight face. Now it just seemed silly. Dead was dead, and having it your way was nothing more than a consolation prize.

"Who got away?"

Greynolds frowned at that one, and Kimberly saw a movement on his hand, the possible twitch of a knuckle.

"Too many to list," he said. "I'll make sure someone tells you before you go. The girls you talked to, the boy who beat you up, the girl who was looking for you because you killed her friend. Oh, do be careful about that when you get back. Riz got murdered a few days ago. You probably don't have as many enemies, but it only takes one."

"Someone was looking for me?" That made Kimberly's stomach twist up a bit. It had to have been one of Aislyn's friends. Kris had been after the rescue. It was a horrible thought. Aislyn could have gone home. If Kimberly had held herself together, if she hadn't gotten bored and crazed, if she hadn't fucked around to prove that she was tougher than a bunch of people who died, then maybe everyone could have gone home again. A part of her screamed that they all might have died, that Will might have gunned them down. It didn't really matter.

Greynolds smiled, but he didn't answer her question. Instead, he said, "How did getting your revenge feel?"

"It wasn't revenge," Kimberly said.

"What was it?"

"Someone was looking for me?"

Greynolds' smile broadened. He interlaced his fingers, crossed one leg over the other at the knee, and leaned back.

"Felicia Charmichael. She turned up right when you ran from the docks. She actually distracted Will. You should've seen how pissed she was when she found out.

"Now, if that wasn't revenge with Kris, what was it?"

"Someone had to stop her from hurting more people," Kimberly said. "Turned out it was me."

She wondered how true that was.

"Why do you call everyone by their first names?" she asked.

"You get to know people when you watch them," Greynolds said. "Also, it looks like it pisses you off, Kim. Does it piss you off?"

"Yeah." She took a deep breath, trying to force the irritation out of her voice. In a way, vocalizing it forced her to come to grips with just how grating she was finding this whole thing. It wasn't as bad now as it had been earlier. Whatever game he was playing at, Kimberly had some control over herself again. She knew the danger was no less real, knew the man in front of her could kill her on a whim even if he seemed unlikely to, but that wasn't half as scary as the thought of being held down and systematically crippled.

"What happens to the people who got away?" she said.

Again, Greynolds' knuckles twitched. Kimberly tried not to look like she'd noticed.

"I'd love to say we're gonna go after them and throw them all back next version," Greynolds said. "We won't. We don't have the manpower and I don't care enough. They're free to live or die however they want. I imagine a good number of them are already working on spinning this so that they'll never have to work again, like Mr. Rizzolo did."

"Then fuck them." It wasn't what Kimberly had expected to make her snap, and by the look on Greynolds' face it wasn't what he'd been prepared for either. Kimberly realized she'd leaned forward there, that her face was twisted, and so she forced herself to calm down again, to sit flat. She tried to file away her resentment for the people who'd gotten out early, to leave that unpleasant little rock in her soul unturned for now.

"Why the strong reaction?"

Greynolds wasn't going to make it easy on her. She tried to focus on something else, on the dull aches and stings from her wounds, but by now they were familiar to her. She was sitting in a fairly comfortable chair. Compared to everything else from the past two weeks, this was living the high life.

"A lot of them left people behind," she said, telling only half the truth. "Capitalizing on their friends' deaths seems pretty fucking cold."

She didn't say that she was jealous. She didn't say that she was resentful. She didn't say they should have been left in her place.

Kimberly's mood had turned dark enough that she was about ready to start slamming Greynolds' buttons again. She looked down at her lap, straightened her fedora, and forced a smile. Looking back up, she said, "How did Danya die?"

Greynolds sighed.

"You were doing so well, too," he said. "I thought maybe I'd been wrong about you."

Kimberly didn't speak, just watched. This was something new. Greynolds picked up his empty teacup and looked at it.

"I really thought I'd been wrong about you," he said.

Then something smashed into Kimberly's face and she screamed again, her good hand flying to her cheek. The object had fallen into her lap after impacting, and she was just able to register that it was Greynolds' teacup before he was standing in front of her, looming over her. He wasn't tall, and that made it all the worse.

"Oh well," he said. His face was twisted, scrunched up with rage, but his tone was completely unchanged. His arms were pressed to either side of Kimberly, keeping her fenced in, virtually pinned to the chair. Her hand was still in front of her face. She didn't know if she was trying to comfort herself or ward off another blow.

"Oh well. I guess that's how it goes sometimes," Greynolds said. "Maybe you'll even be happy. What was it you said to that boy on the dock? You're fine with liars? That's a good philosophy. Everyone lies.

"Why, I've been lying this whole time. Everything I told you today was total shit. How's that feel?"

Kimberly wanted to be tough, to laugh and tell him to fuck off, that she'd been lying too, but that part of her was being outweighed by the part that just wanted to survive. Fuck dignity. Fuck pride.

Don't kill me. Please don't kill me.

"Please," she mumbled, but Greynolds had already whirled away. His movements were jerky, manic, but almost painfully precise. She watched as he picked up the assault rifle and pointed it at her.

"You could've grabbed this, you know," he said. "I left it for you. The first guys, they snuck knives in. I gave you a gun." His voice was rising, almost cracking. "I thought it'd be right. Tradition. You were just too fucking weak to go for it. Too bad for you. You just flunked your last test."

Kimberly had made it off the chair as he spoke, toppling the coffee table and sending the saucers, platter, and remaining tea cup clattering to the floor. She was crouched behind the chair now, panting, slowly becoming cognizant of just how completely and totally fucked she was. For the second time in less than an hour, Greynolds had her helpless and scared and alone, begging for her life. It was the beach all over again, wanting nothing more than not to die. She couldn't believe it, couldn't possibly believe that she had misjudged the situation and Greynolds' personality so badly.

It clicked just as Greynolds began to say something else, and Kimberly actually started to laugh.

"Come on," she said, standing up. "Come on. Do it."

At this, Greynolds looked genuinely surprised. Then he lowered the rifle.

"What are you doing?" he asked. His voice had the slightest quiver to it.

"It's the same trick," Kimberly said, just as soon as she could force words out over her laughter. "It's the same thing as with the fucking knife. You just wanted to see if I'd fall for the same trick."

Greynolds smiled again, and the malice that had colored his features was gone.

"You're clever," he said, pointing the gun straight at her. She saw his finger flex, but the trigger didn't move. Kimberly let out her breath. Greynolds started to chuckle too, and they laughed together for a second before he flicked something on the side of the rifle, twitched his aim a fraction to the left, and fired a burst at the wall. Kimberly dropped to the ground, screaming, scrambling for cover again, her ears ringing with the aftershock of the gunfire and with Greynolds' laughter.

"Not half as clever as you think you are, though."

He waited a few moments, then flicked something on the gun again and set it down. He was talking very loudly, but Kimberly could hardly hear it over the ringing in her ears.

"I think we're done," Greynolds continued. "You're going to walk out of this room. You'll be escorted to the medical bay. You'll spend about three weeks there. You'll get the best of everything, surgery, physical therapy, all that shit, because that's how I made the rules when I came up with this game. Then you'll go back to the States and waste your life however you want. Meanwhile, I have other places to be. You'll never see me again.

"Any questions?"

Kimberly pushed herself to her feet and slowly shook her head.

"Get going," he said, so she did.

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Joined: February 18th, 2009, 7:01 am

October 8th, 2012, 2:00 am #6

"Those were blanks, you know."

Kimberly's escort to the medical bay turned out to be Richards and a much shorter man with shoulder-length blond hair and a good amount of stubble. He looked disconcertingly youthful and wore a bandage on his right hand. He was the one who'd spoken.

"Shut up, Baines," Richards said.

Both men were armed again. Kimberly was having trouble standing straight. Her ankle felt worse than ever. The urge to shake or vomit was nearly overwhelming. She just considered herself lucky to not have pissed herself at any point there. Looked like dehydration had a couple upsides after all.

"Blanks are, like, bullets that don't actually shoot anything. Did you notice that they didn't make any holes in the walls, or ricochet around and kill you both?"

Kimberly didn't say anything, just kept up her stagger. Baines was standing behind her, while Richards was taking the lead. Already Kimberly found the pair grating. Their banter was constant.

"Did you know they were blanks, Richards?"

"Of course I knew. You think I wanted to be in there with a dull knife and fucking blanks? I mean, aside from my pistol and the other knife."

"Poor you," Baines said.

"I know Greynolds doesn't like running everything, but I mean the least he could do is take this serious—" Richard's complaint, however, was cut off when Baines made a hissing noise.

"Later," he said. "When we're done with her."

Kimberly tried to pretend like she wasn't there. She wanted to sink into the floor, to fall asleep and wake up to something better, to no longer be in the charge of these people who'd caused so much wrong. She didn't want to hear them joke with each other like they were friends, didn't want to know that they didn't all agree with the people in charge.

The rest of the walk passed in silence, except for the noise of three pairs of boots against the metal floor.

Finally, when they reached the end of their walk, Richards gestured to a door and said, "Right through here. Try to relax. They really do know what they're doing."

Baines had already started moving, back the way they'd come. Richards waited a few moments, allowing some distance to accumulate, then leaned down and mumbled to Kimberly, "It wasn't anything personal earlier. Good luck."

"Thanks," she said, again realizing what she'd done just a second too late.

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Joined: February 18th, 2009, 7:01 am

October 8th, 2012, 5:00 pm #7

Waking up was a bitch.

Kimberly's memories of what had happened after she'd entered the medical ward were much sharper than her understanding. It didn't really matter. They'd ended up putting her under for the surgery. They'd told her that they were fixing things, that her arm was probably fucked up in all sorts of ways she hadn't even realized, that the damage could be pretty severe. They'd told her they'd try to get any bullet fragments out, but no promises. They'd told her she'd be eating through a tube for the most part for at least a couple days. They'd told her not to worry, because she definitely wasn't going to die.

Now, Kimberly was very glad that they (and who was "they"? She remembered at least three nurses and a doctor. That they had all decided to devote their lives to keeping the members of this terrorist organization in good health was a little bit disturbing) had reassured her that she wasn't in any mortal danger. Otherwise, she'd have assumed she was going to keel over at any second.

Whatever had been keeping the pain at bay enough for her to remain functional on the island and in the meeting that followed it had faded from her system. The pain she was feeling was intense, emanating primarily from her shoulder. The worst of it was that she knew she was drugged up on painkillers. She couldn't even imagine facing this without them, and that hurt in a way as well. Kimberly did not like dependencies, did not at all care for altered states of consciousness not of her own choosing. The current situation was about the worst possible time for her not to have full control of her faculties. Everything felt a little hazy, but she was aware enough to know that she was not fully aware, and that made it all the worse.

Kimberly kept expecting someone to come and interrogate her, kept thinking Greynolds would come back for another shot at tormenting her, but nothing of the sort happened. She was in a small, white, sterile room, on a comfortable bed, hooked up to an IV drip. She was wearing clothes that were not hers, some kind of pajama type shit, in horrible pastel pink. Next to the bed was a table upon which rested her fedora and the scrunchie she'd retrieved from the ground. Next to the table, on a chair, was a pile of clothes that she vaguely recognized as her own—not the clothes she'd been wearing on the island, but the clothes she'd abandoned in her personal pack back on the first day. The pack itself was next to the chair.

She looked at it all for a long, long time. Then, at some point, her fatigue overcame her pain and she drifted back to sleep.

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Joined: February 18th, 2009, 7:01 am

October 9th, 2012, 12:00 am #8

It was hard to tell how long had passed. Kimberly's room was bereft of calendar and clock. It had been a few days since her first awakening, she thought. Life had acquired a strange sort of routine.

The tube was gone. She was eating on her own again, eating canned soups and buttered toast and scrambled eggs and, at regular intervals, a mountain of pills that seemed to be getting a bit smaller each time it appeared. She was doing other things, too, like taking showers in the bathroom that adjoined her bedchamber. The bathroom did not have a mirror. That didn't matter. Kimberly had examined herself as thoroughly as she could when she'd felt able to cope with anything she found.

The results had been a strange mixture of horrifying and relieving. Her shoulder was bandaged, though she'd seen the stitches when the bandages had been changed (another part of the routine by which she marked the passage of time). They were regular, professional, in black thread. She had also seen the scars from Sarah's makeshift job, and the scars at the edges of the puncture wound. Her shoulder was looking like it was going to be a massive mess of scars. Somehow, she didn't much give a shit anymore.

She also had stitches on her right leg, on the mystery cut. It had been deeper than she'd thought. Her legs were somewhat hairy. It had been at least two and a half weeks since she'd shaved them, probably a bit longer. She'd always been pretty lax about keeping up with that as long as she wasn't dating anybody or taking gym class. She wore jeans every day, so who the fuck could tell if she'd shaved her legs recently?

There were hygiene items in the bathroom, but no razor. She did have a toothbrush, floss, mouthwash, and a nail file. No clippers. It didn't matter. She'd spent a long time filing her nails back to a reasonable length. It hadn't been easy, especially since her left hand wasn't working so well yet, but she'd been stubborn.

She was sure they were still watching her, but for the most part she was alone. The nurses came and checked on her fairly regularly, and the doctor made appearances now and then, but everyone seemed relatively content to let Kimberly stew on her own. That was fine with her. She didn't like interacting with anyone involved with the terrorists, especially people who seemed fairly reasonable. It was easier for her when she could imagine them all as faceless agents of malice, or as violent maniacs like Greynolds.

Kimberly had been ready to cut her hair short just to get rid of the tangles, but while she'd been provided with a brush, there were no scissors. She'd spent what felt like over an hour working all the matted bits loose, and had ended up tearing out a large number of strands in the process, leaving her scalp somewhat sore. It didn't matter. She could run her fingers through her hair again. There was shampoo and conditioner in the shower, so her hair even felt smooth. They brought her clean clothes every day, and she'd figured out how to get changed without aggravating her shoulder. She'd left her clothes from before alone in favor of the button down pajama tops and baggy pants the terrorists seemed to have on hand in endless supply. They were easier to get on and off. She wondered after their origin for a time, but decided not to press the matter, realizing it was all too likely she was wearing shit they'd looted from some dead kid's bag.

The rest of the time, she read. Among the belongings of hers they'd retrieved and returned were her books and her journals. After what had happened, Stephen King wasn't exactly comforting, but it beat sitting bored. More than that, nightmares about supernatural terrors were almost a relief from the dreams about the island. Kimberly had never remembered her dreams very well, and was even now left with little more than vague impressions and snippets of images upon waking, but it was enough to stir memories, to keep her brooding on all the things she didn't want to recall or deal with.

Her own writings were worse. It was the same stupid, angsty shit she'd occupied her time with when boys and parties had been worth getting pissed off over. The self pity she found and remembered now inspired anger. She wasn't anywhere close to acknowledging anything about her time on the island as positive, but she was pretty fucking glad her head had been pulled out of her ass when it came to the subject of pain and suffering.

Other times, she'd just look at her hat and the scrunchie. She hadn't touched either. Both had blood on them. She wondered who Ivan's girl had been. She couldn't even remember the name Greynolds had read now, which meant she couldn't conjure an image at all. She almost wanted to ask, but she wasn't sure she wanted to deal with the face that would have certainly brought to mind. Kimberly had known most of her classmates by sight.

She wondered how many she'd ever see again. The rescued kids, plus all those lucky fucks who'd gotten sick or had flunked out or shit like that, they'd all still be around. There were probably more than she'd expect. She wondered if they'd gone ahead and run graduation for those who were left, wondered what all those families who'd been planning to come into town for the weekend had done.

Her dad had been coming. Her mom, too.

She hadn't seen either in what felt like a long time. Trying to remember was tough. Mom was Easter, a shit holiday none of them celebrated except insofar as it was an excuse to get together and have dinner. Dad, that had been more like a decade. She'd been looking forward to having him around again for a weekend, catching up and figuring out just who he was now that she was old enough to understand.

What were they doing right now? She didn't know what anyone in the outside world knew. Maybe they thought she was dead. Maybe she really wouldn't ever see them again. Maybe they wanted to pretend she'd never existed, after all the shit she'd done and said. Maybe they'd met up and talked and agreed to pretend they hadn't fucked up and had remembered to use a condom.

About all she was sure of at the moment was that she wasn't going to die on this boat unless something went seriously wrong. The terrorists had invested way too much time and energy in her health to kill her now.

Time was slipping away again. Had she been thinking for five minutes or several hours? She was only snapped out of her reverie by the sound of the door opening. Glancing up, Kimberly saw the doctor, a rather squat man who appeared to be in his late thirties, with a head covered in incongruously thick, long, wavy blonde hair. Aside from that, he was the picture of formality, in a suit and white coat. Kimberly hadn't learned his name. She pretended he didn't have one.

"How are we feeling today?" he asked.

Kimberly shifted, sat up a bit straighter in bed.

"Fine," she said.

"Good, good. Anything unusual? Any pains to report? Food staying down alright?"

"Fine," she said. "I'm fine."

He scribbled something on the papers he carried. He was always writing on his stack of papers, keeping the clipboard carefully angled so Kimberly couldn't read any of it. She wondered if he was actually writing anything of consequence. It wasn't like this shit was gonna go in her medical records back home.

"Good," he said. "We're going to do something a little different today. We're going to start your physical therapy."

"You're qualified for that?" Kimberly's question was mostly spite. She wasn't about to turn down help, not when it came to getting her arm working again.

"Actually, yes." He took some more notes. Perhaps he was moonlighting as a psychologist as well. "And, on a cursory assessment, I'd say you'll probably make a good recovery. You were very lucky, you know. The bullet didn't totally destroy your shoulder joint. It didn't hit any blood vessels or destroy your nerves or pulp your muscle too badly. I mean, that's why you're alive."

He chuckled. Kimberly didn't like it when he chuckled. He sounded far too friendly, like he really was a general practitioner chatting with his regular patients.

"In fact," he continued, "I think you may even recover sixty to eighty percent mobility."


He repeated himself, but Kimberly didn't hear. That wasn't right. Sixty to eighty percent mobility? That wasn't how things worked. She was supposed to go home, to recover, to maybe have a scar to hide but to otherwise be unscathed. She wasn't supposed to be fucked up for life, wasn't supposed to be qualify for a handicapped sticker before she even got her fucking driver's license.

"Are you ready to begin?" The words startled her, and she realized that she'd been ignoring the doctor for more than just his repetition of her prognosis.


He sighed, scratched on the papers, and explained again, detailing the exercises she was to do and their benefits, telling her how far was too far to push. Kimberly listened and registered the information and did her exercises, but the whole time those five words were bouncing around in her head, preventing her from concentrating.

Sixty to eighty percent mobility.


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Joined: February 18th, 2009, 7:01 am

October 9th, 2012, 6:00 pm #9

Time became slightly more defined after Kimberly started her rehabilitation. The doctor or one of the nurses would walk her through her exercises after each meal. Sometimes one of the nurses, a fairly handsome young man, would attempt to engage in small talk with her, trying to tell her about his baby son or sports or some novel he was reading. Kimberly held herself aloof, hating that everyone was so difficult to hate.

The positive side of everything was that she could tell she was getting better, albeit rather slowly and nowhere near completely. She hadn't come anywhere close to coming to terms with the fact that she'd never be fully better, but she figured she'd not panic just yet, that she'd maybe get a second opinion from someone who knew their shit well enough to get a real paying job instead of selling their talents to a group of international terrorists. It helped keep her calm, even if she knew on some level that the hope was false.

She could make a fist without pain now, could mostly bend her elbow just fine. She was only taking a few pills every meal at this point, and she was pretty sure at least one was a multivitamin. She'd also put on some weight. She did some basic exercises whenever she had the energy, crunches and sit-ups, anything that didn't fuck with her shoulder much, and she paced the room for long periods of time. She wasn't getting winded as easily now. It was obvious to her even at a glance that she was not in the same sort of shape she'd been in before the island, but she no longer felt like she might waste away.

She finished her books and read them all again. One of the other nurses, a middle-aged woman, offered to bring her more, but she refused. Kimberly considered writing something in her journals, but she figured anything she did would probably get seized and examined in case she was trying to smuggle out secrets or something, so she left them untouched.

One day, when she had nothing better to do, she cleaned her fedora off in the bathroom sink. It took an unreasonable amount of time, but she managed to get rid of the bloodstains and remove some of the sweaty residue from the inside. After that, she took to wearing it again.

She left the scrunchie as it was.

Some other day, they told her that her stitches were coming out, as if she'd celebrate. Kimberly nodded and tried to sit quietly but ended up crying as they were removed anyways. She still had some scabs, but they weren't so bad. That she had been wounded was still obvious at a glance, but it was equally clear that she was healing.

Five meals after that, Kimberly found three strange pills on her plate along with her usual stuff. The doctor delivered her meal personally, accompanied by a man with an assault rifle. She hadn't seen one of those in what felt like a long time.

"What are these?" she asked.

The doctor glanced at the man with the gun, who shrugged. They seemed more at ease than they had when Kimberly was fresh from the island. It struck her as odd. Back then, she couldn't have done any damage even had she been motivated. Now, well-rested and adequately-nourished, she figured she might pose more of a threat if she cared to throw her life away.

"Sleeping pills," the doctor said. "We're moving you out today. You need to be unconscious for a little here, for security purposes, and this is less risky for your nervous system than gassing you again. Of course, if you don't want to take them..."

It didn't take Kimberly long to mull that one over.

"Fine," she said. "Just fuck off and let me pack first."

Both men paused, seeming a bit unsure how to deal with that statement.

"Look," she said, "if I don't take the drugs, you'll know and you'll do something else. No one wants that. I just want to get changed and get my shit packed, okay?"

The man with the gun stepped out of the room, leaving Kimberly and the doctor to look at each other awkwardly. He was not gone for long, though; maybe half a minute later he reappeared, clipping a walkie talkie to his belt.

"Fine," he said. "Be quick."

Kimberly didn't reply to that, just turned away and packed her books and journals back into her pack. The scrunchie went in there too. Then she gathered her own clothes, the ones she'd brought all that time ago when she still thought she was going camping, and stepped into the restroom, very grateful that her apparent escort didn't decide to take issue with her having a little privacy. Changing wasn't such an ordeal anymore, though she felt stupid and absurd in her old clothes.

It wasn't that they looked bad. What bothered Kimberly was that she had a matched outfit, black t-shirt and skinny black jeans and another big old sweater. She'd planned her outfits for every fucking day. She'd had such a clear idea of it all back then, such a set plan, and now she was one of the only ones left alive.

Fuck it all. That wasn't how the world was supposed to work.

Kimberly went back to the other room, nodded at the two men, ate her meal, and took the sleeping pills. The next half hour consisted of her awkwardly trying to doze off while the two men awkwardly waited for the drugs to take effect. It didn't help that her mind was whirling with thoughts, with fear and excitement. It was finally time. They were sending her back to the States. Nothing else mattered. The world she had come to know over the past span of time was about to be replaced by reality once again, and Kimberly couldn't fucking wait. She was so sick of the confusion she'd been feeling here, so tired of having no one but enemies to interact with, so over letting her mind drift to fantasies of what would happen to her on her return instead of actually just living through it.

She'd never taken sleeping pills in her life, so she had no idea what to expect. Maybe they wouldn't work, and she'd end up getting gassed after all, brain damage or whatever be damned. She tried to force herself to relax, closing her eyes and trying to loosen her focus on reality, but she still seemed completely a part of the waking world.

It wasn't too long before the drugs did kick in, though, and after that everything probably went a lot more smoothly.

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Joined: February 18th, 2009, 7:01 am

October 10th, 2012, 1:00 am #10

The next thing Kimberly knew, she was in a van, sitting in the back seat, buckled in. The world was blurry, even more than the amount she'd become used to in the past few weeks of glasses-free living. Everything was dark. There were no windows, but she could tell they were moving. A man was sitting across from her, a pistol in his lap. He was dressed in jeans, a windbreaker, and a baseball cap. If Kimberly hadn't known her situation, she'd have assumed she'd been kidnapped by a couple wannabe gangsters, not a group of terrorists. Apart from her and her captor and the seats they were on, the van was completely empty. It looked brand new.

The man glanced at her, then did a double take.

"You're awake?" he said.

"Yeah," Kimberly replied. So close to the end, it seemed like a smartass response would not be the proper choice.

"Damn." He took a deep breath, glanced at his lap, then looked back at her. "When I tell you, close your eyes, okay? Then pretend you're just waking up when we move you. Can you do that?"


The world was coming into better focus. Kimberly rubbed some gunk out of her eyes, using her right hand. Even with the exercises and the surgery and the medicine and all that shit, her left was still barely usable for fine manipulation. They'd told her it would be better in time, that she'd have to go in and get a bunch of check ups and shit, that she'd never be the same again. As it was, she was so used to using her right for everything that it was hard to reintegrate the left even for the trivial stuff it was good for.

The man rubbed his own eyes.

"Just be really quiet when I tell you," he said. "Knocking you out again seems like a waste of time. We're almost there."

"Where are we going?"

He paused at that, seemed to think really hard before he replied.

"We're in Saint Paul," he said. "There's an old, empty warehouse. That's where you're supposed to wake up. It's easier than throwing you in front of your school or house or whatever. Security's getting tougher these days."

"Right," Kimberly said.

The van lurched as it drove over some irregularity in the road. Kimberly tried not to cringe. The man didn't so much as blink. He wasn't holding the pistol. It seemed like the terrorists had basically given up on the idea of Kimberly causing them any sort of legitimate trouble. That was a bit disappointing, in a way. Hurting them felt like a victory, even if it was petty shit like making a few grunts waste their time on escort duty. Then again, they weren't all such bad people, at least externally. That was still the most upsetting thing she'd learned.

The ride lasted a while longer. The man started whistling to himself. Hound Dog, by Elvis Presley. Not a song Kimberly much cared for, despite her taste for older music. She wondered if she'd get clubbed unconscious if she asked him to stop and decided not to risk it.

Finally, the van slowed, then stopped. The man looked at Kimberly and whispered, "Act asleep," so she closed her eyes. Twenty seconds later, the door ground open, and she heard footsteps on the metal floor of the van.

"Everything go alright?" It was a woman's voice, one Kimberly didn't recognize.

"Yep." The man, this time.

"Good. Let's move her and split. I don't like this."

More footsteps. Kimberly decided to leave her eyes closed. No reason to antagonize this new woman, who already sounded like her grasp on self control was fairly tenuous. No reason to die this close to the end.

Someone leaned over Kimberly and undid her seatbelt. Then they were hoisting her up, and she figured it was safe to blink, but she couldn't make out much because she was at an awkward angle, supported between the two people. They dragged her out of the van, and she stumbled a bit as she took the step down to the ground. Her hat tumbled off her head, but she didn't say anything. A few seconds later, she was shoved forward, onto an old mattress on the floor.

"Stay put," the woman said. "We're going outside and we're driving away at some point in the next half hour, but not right away. You look out too soon, we blow your head off. You got that?"

Kimberly grunted assent, despite the fact that the woman was clearly spewing bullshit. They wouldn't kill her now, not after putting so much work into getting her here and not for such a petty reason. Kimberly's best guess was that these two were expendable and that the woman at least knew it well. They wanted to keep Kimberly out of commission for too long for her to call the cops or something. Fine, whatever. She wasn't going to go chasing after two nobodies while howling for revenge. That wasn't worth dying for, not at all.

"Yeah," she said, clarifying her position.

She didn't even look up until she heard a heavy door slam shut, followed by a second slam from outside and the hum of the van's engine receding into the distance. Once silence had returned, she moved slowly, not quite convinced despite all her own logic that nothing bad was going to happen.

The warehouse was fairly small, illuminated only by a single fluorescent light, and totally empty except for the mattress Kimberly was lying on and her bag and her hat. The bag was next to her on the mattress, on its side, and the hat was on the floor, probably where it had fallen. She scrambled over to it and picked it up.

A piece of paper was tucked into the band. She frowned, pulled it loose, and examined it.

The note read, "We may not have mentioned it before now, but the broadcast got delayed, so the world won't know you're alive for another twelve hours or so. I wouldn't spoil it if I were you. It would make things a lot more complicated for both of us in the long run. Good luck with life. – Jim Greynolds"

Kimberly looked at it for a long time, read it again and again, tried to parse out how much of it was warning and how much implicit threat, then decided she didn't give a fuck. In the end, she was free. She was back in Saint Paul, back home, and she had half a day to figure out how to deal with things, to hide from the media or prime her family or check herself into the hospital or any of that shit. She turned the note over in her hands, thinking, and then realized that there was more writing on the back. It took her a moment to realize it was just a list of names.

"Kaitlin Anderheim, Allen Birkman, Alice Blake, Felicia Carmichael, Anna Chase, Bridget Connolly, Raymond Dawson, Jeremy Franco, Isabel Guerra, Eiko Haraguchi, Jay Holland, Garrett Hunter, Alexandria Jackson, Joss Joiner, Harun Kemal, Peter McCue, Michael Moretti, Jacqueline Myrie, Jennifer Perez, Andrea Raymer, Samantha Ridley, Acacia Salinger, Mizore Soryu, Sarah Tan, Simon Telamon, Cisco Vasquez, Yelizaveta Volkova, Brendan Wallace, Sarah Xu"

Nearly instantly, she knew it was Greynolds' promised list of the rescued kids, the lucky ones. He'd provided it late enough that it no longer mattered, minutes before she'd have free access to all the information it contained anyways. It was basically useless. Just another little joke.

Except, maybe it was good for one thing.

Kimberly had half a day. It was plenty of time to prepare to weather the storm of whatever was to come. Maybe she'd even do it. Not now, though. At the moment, still shaking a little, still unsure of what had happened in her absence, of what had changed about the world, Kimberly could already think of a few more pressing uses for her time.

She put her hat on her head, hoisted her pack, and headed towards the side door, the one next to the big metal sheet which covered the exit the van must have driven through. It felt like it had been half an hour, or close to it, and the terrorists had been lying anyways. Kimberly's steps slowly grew more steady as she regained her balance. She opened the door, blinking for a moment at the first real sunlight she'd seen in nearly a month and coughing as she inhaled the air, so different here in the city, with its edge of pollution.

Then she set off. She had things to do, things to start planning even now. She had people she needed to talk to. She had business to settle.

Her boots crunched on the asphalt. There was nobody around. It was warm out. She knew this place. She'd never been here before, but it was on the way to school. Sometimes she'd stared out the window, eyelids half-closed and mind not at all ready to be awake, as her grandmother ferried her to school.

It was close to the halfway point. Her grandparents' house was maybe two miles away.

She took a few deep breaths and then coughed.

Fuck it. She'd catch up with people later. Now, it was time to go home.

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Joined: February 18th, 2009, 7:01 am

October 11th, 2012, 3:00 am #11

July 2, 2008
What is waiting at home to greet Kimberly is not what she expects. She knocks on the door hesitantly, aware that there's a good chance she will not be welcomed, but when her grandmother's face appears, it wears a look first of shock and then of relief, but never of anger. The older woman shouts into the house in Vietnamese, calling her husband, and then sweeps Kimberly into a hug.

For a time, for the evening, for the four hours until they drive Kimberly to the hospital, nothing else matters. There will be time for apologies and explanations and sorting out how everything about their lives will change. There will be time for everything, now, time for everything they all thought lost. Kimberly's grandfather arrives, running from the living room, and he embraces her as well, and the family just stands and cries for a time.

Everything else can wait.

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Joined: February 18th, 2009, 7:01 am

October 11th, 2012, 3:00 am #12

July 2-3, 2008
All too soon after Kimberly's return home, she'd found herself in the car, speeding towards Saint Joseph's Hospital. She'd protested, had said she was fine, she'd been treated already, she hadn't died in the past month so clearly there was no big rush, but it hadn't convinced her grandfather. What had followed was a litany of tests and prodding and examinations in the emergency room. She'd at least managed to convince her grandfather to go home and get some rest in case she needed a ride in the early morning, though it had taken about an hour to get him to see the logic there. Maybe she hadn't been arguing very well. After so long away from her family, the last thing she wanted was to be separated from them again, but her grandfather wasn't exactly a young man, even if he was far from venerable.

Of course, while Kimberly had spent a good while being checked out, it had turned out she'd been pretty spot on in her assessment. The doctors on call had told her she was pretty much as fine as one could be about a month after getting shot and starved. She was the object of general interest for a time, as the end results were of the game had turned up online around the same time as she'd turned up in the hospital, but the staff managed to keep her presence from leaking to the media. Kimberly knew that she would have to deal with the press sooner or later. She also knew that the government would almost certainly want to talk to her at length. A big advantage to being dropped off before things had entirely been revealed, however, was that nobody had their shit together enough to give her any trouble yet.

Before long, Kimberly had found herself dozing off in an examination room. It was probably technically morning now. It was hard to say. Her sense of time was still completely broken. She heard a few people talking outside, chatting idly with each other. Nurses, maybe, or orderlies. It didn't really matter.

What did matter was what they were saying. They were talking about her, about how they'd heard she'd been hurt in that awful game. That didn't matter. They were saying how tragic it was, though, how it hurt so many people, like the poor girl down the hall who'd lost her brother.

That was enough to get Kimberly's attention. She waited until the coast was clear, then slipped out of the room and made her way along the corridors, reading the names outside the doors. While she was trying to be a bit sneaky, she was dressed in clean clothes from home, so she didn't stand out too badly. Still, she was pretty sure visitors weren't allowed here, at least at this time of day. Getting caught would be pretty awkward to explain. It would probably win her some time getting psychiatric help.

She was lucky. A name outside one of the doors stood out early into the expedition, and well enough for her to feel fairly certain she'd gotten it right: Natalie LeMonde.

Kimberly hadn't known Nick particularly closely, but she had known him. It seemed hard not to. He was friendly, helpful, kind. She couldn't remember what had happened to him on the island. The announcements and the deaths she had not personally witnessed seemed like another lifetime now. All she knew was that he hadn't been one of the lucky ones on the boats.

She considered leaving well enough alone, but she just couldn't turn away, not now, not when confronted with another little piece of the pain and destruction sown by the game.

Slowly, she opened the door, checked for a nurse, and—seeing there was none present—slipped inside.

In the room was a row of beds sporting clean white sheets, like so many other rooms in the hospital. The room seemed to be scarcely occupied at first glance, with only an elderly woman in a bed near the door. For a moment, Kimberly entertained the notion that it might not be the right room after all. However, upon closer inspection the sheets of the bed furthest down the hall and closest to a high window were lumpy with the shape of a slight figure. Covered entirely by the starchy hospital blanket was the fetal shape of a curled up person, whose evidence of life was a slight up and down motion of the blanket.

Kimberly moved quickly but quietly through the room, hoping she looked enough like she belonged that the old woman wouldn't raise an alarm. Looking down at the shape, she wondered for a second just what she could say. "Sorry you lost someone, but, hey, I made it"? That would be about the worst thing possible.

She settled for saying, "Are you alright?"

Her voice was quiet, a near-whisper, and still the figure flinched. A bandaged hand came out from the sea of white and pulled back the cover enough for some tangled red hair and a pair of puffy eyes to be visible. The figure's long fingers curled around the edge of the sheet and it—no, she—tried to speak, but her voice cracked and her eyes teared up.

"N-n-no," she sputtered. In a flash she pulled the sheet tightly back over her head.

Kimberly considered that. She'd said much the same to Erik, back on the mountain. The honesty of the response almost brought a smile to her face. As it was, though, she was feeling a little bit awkward, like maybe her own emotional damage was keeping her from realizing how badly she was fucking things up. She didn't want to be traumatizing this girl. If anything, she thought she could maybe do some little bit of good, make some token effort at righting some shit. It wouldn't make up for anything she'd done, not in any real way, but that didn't quite matter.

"I'm sorry," she said. She paused only for a moment before continuing on. "I, uh... Is there anything I can do to help?" She then realized that, just maybe, this girl had no clue who the fuck she was. Fuck. How to explain? There was no easy, gentle way. It seemed better to just jump in with both feet.

"I heard you lost someone. I was, uh, on the island." Not graceful, perhaps, but informative enough.

It seemed to work, at least. The girl reemerged, and now her whole face was visible. She sniffed and wiped her eyes. "The i-island?" she asked. As she said, it her body contracted even closer into itself. She straightened out for a moment and wiggled until she was in a half seated position. She looked at Kimberly for a moment, as if searching for recognition. Her head was tilted to the side, studying Kimberly intently.

"My brother... he d— was... on an island," she responded quietly. She seemed to get her handle back on speech, though tears were streaming down her face. "The same one?" A pause. "Do I know you?"

"Uh," Kimberly said, trying to figure out what order to tackle things in. "I, uh, went to school with your brother. I don't think we know each other." She took a deep breath, swallowed, then continued. "Yeah. That island."

She had to fight an urge to take a few steps back, to cast her gaze anywhere but on the girl before her. Kimberly had not really expected to be embarrassed by what she had been through, but now, inexplicably, she found that was the feeling most prominent in her. She found herself hoping the old woman was asleep.

"I just got back," she mumbled.

"W-wu-welcome back," Natalie pushed out. The girl took a few sharp breaths and hastily passed her hands over her cheeks, making their damage more evident now. Slight spots of red had stained some parts of her wrapped hands. She pulled her knees up and hugged them.

"I'm glad you made it back, I am, though I don't know you. I don't know why you're here talking to me, I haven't spoken to anyone since I last saw my—my brother on the TV... I guess we don't have a TV anymore. I broke it."

She buried her head against her knees, letting out a slight whimpering which tailed into a soft exhale.

"I would break everything if I could. I don't want to go home. I can't imagine going home. I can't imagine that such a big part of my life is just gone like that. W-we didn't always get along or hang out and I thought he was a dork who used up all the milk before I could get to it, but he worked the snack counter at all my volleyball games and I can't imagine even just looking down at the little cup on the bathroom sink and only seeing my toothbrush. It'd be like..." she trailed off. "...if the stars went away. They're not something you think of much during the day or even really notice when they're there, but sometimes if you remember and you look up, they make you feel happy. They're just up there and you never think of a world without them because that's just stupid and if there wasn't stars in the sky at night it wouldn't be the same place. I probably don't make any sense," she said, her voice shaking.

Kimberly considered that, considered the girl in front of her with her bandaged hands and her pain which so clearly had nothing to do with her physical injuries. She wasn't sure what to say for a moment. Her stomach felt twisted.

Some of what Natalie said made a lot of sense. Kimberly knew what it felt like to want to take something and destroy it, to set the world on fire to make the hurting stop. She knew what it was like for things to change in an instant, for everything to be turned upside down and stop making sense. She didn't know what it was like to lose a sibling—fuck, she didn't know what it was like to have a sibling—but she could understand the loss of a friend, a constant part of life.

She didn't say that. She didn't want to condescend to this girl, to tell her that they were anything alike. It probably wouldn't help anyways, not in the long run. At some point Natalie might look her up, might find out what had happened on the island, what Kimberly had done, and that might not be a positive experience for the girl at all.

"I'm sorry," Kimberly said instead. "I'm... I hope it'll be alright, someday."

She marshaled her thoughts, then continued.

"Breaking stuff helps, sometimes, for a little. You just have to make sure you don't break anything too important. And... the world is changed, yeah, and maybe it's not as good, but it's still there, you know?" She didn't know if this was helpful, didn't know if it was even true. She hoped she wasn't being entirely useless. The last thing the world needed was one more victim of Survival of the Fittest.

"I broke a big screen LCD TV," Natalie said shyly. "And an antique glass side table," she added, sniffing.

After a moment of silence, Natalie nodded a bit, then continued. "Yeah. I guess. I don't feel like I'm ever going to stop being sad though. You-your friends died? On the island? How do you deal with that? How do you stop being sad?"

"I don't know yet," Kimberly said. She wanted something better, some words of wisdom, some way to make what had happened to Erik and Dutchy and Roland and Hermione and Peter and all the others make sense, but there was nothing. "I guess maybe you never stop feeling sad all the way. You just try to keep going, because that's what they'd want you to do. They wouldn't want you to suffer forever just because they couldn't be with you."

Again, Kimberly wasn't quite convinced of her own words. She'd thought a lot, about the game and the deaths, but she'd been focused on other things as well. She'd spent her time in the terrorists' care not quite sure she'd live to see each morning. She'd tried to hide her own pain, to push it aside and deal with it later, maybe once she really believed she wasn't going to be dying soon.

"Just because they couldn't be with you," Natalie echoed. She considered that for a moment.

"You're right," she said, a bit surprised. "Nick never wanted people to be sad. He was always happy and sometimes I thought it was annoying, but he just wanted everyone to be happy too. That's why he was always helping people. He's up in heaven and he'd want me to remember him with love, and he wouldn't want me to be sad because that was his least favorite thing. I have to try really hard on remembering the really nice things about him and be grateful for the time I got to spend with him and see him in all the things around that make me cheery, because it's what he'd want."

Natalie was still tearful, but now she was smiling as well. She scooted to the edge of the bed and gently hugged Kimberly.

"You're really nice. I'm glad that you made it. I'll think of you in my prayers."

Kimberly awkwardly returned the hug. She didn't say anything for a time, didn't elaborate on her own thoughts, her doubts and misgivings. She hoped once again that she hadn't done damage here. She bit back the urge to protest that, fuck no, she wasn't nice at all. She choked down her natural inclination to decline the offer of prayers. She'd probably need all the help she could get in the coming weeks, and having someone thinking nice things about her, no matter how temporary or religiously-tinged it was, well, that was something positive. It was something to remember, to hold close to her.

"Thanks," she said. "And... and I'll think of you, too. You're a very strong person." She paused for a moment, realizing that she wasn't supposed to be here, that getting evicted was probably not the right final impression to leave.

"I should probably let you and your roommate get some rest. You'll need your energy."

Natalie blushed and looked down. She slid back down into her bed, becoming engulfed in the sea of white once again. She rolled onto her side and held the sheets tightly, then sighed deeply and looked at Kimberly just before closing her eyes.

"Try to remember that you aren't on the island anymore, and I'll try to remember that you weren't just a morphine dream," she said softly.

Her breathing was deep and her look was peaceful.

"Thank you."

Kimberly nodded, considered, and finally said, "Thank you too."

Then she slipped back into the hall, back to her own room. Luckily, no trouble came of her jaunt, and it wasn't long before her grandfather returned to pick her up and take her home. This time, she was going to be staying there for some time.

MW's Private Rank
Joined: February 18th, 2009, 7:01 am

October 11th, 2012, 5:00 am #13

July 2, 2008
It's half an hour before they're going to head to the hospital. The anxiety mounts from the moment Kimberly's hand touches the telephone. She's not sure how to do this, what to say. She's made a mistake by saying she wants to handle it herself.

The numbers are easy. It's funny how simple it is to remember a telephone number, even after a month without so much as seeing a phone. Her fingers still recall exactly how to dial. She glances around, sees her grandparents watching, waiting. They'll have a lot to say, too. She takes a deep breath. Once again, there's no telling what the reaction will be, no matter what her grandparents have told her.

She holds the phone to her ear, listens to the ringing. The space between rings seems interminably long. She counts them. Four. That means it's going to the answering machine after the next one.

The fifth ring truncates halfway through, and a woman's voice—groggy and confused and a little too flat—says, "Hello?"

For a moment, Kimberly freezes, unable to think. Her breathing speeds up. The world seems smaller, closer. The temperature in the room seems to have risen.

"Hello?" the woman says again.

"Hey, mom," Kimberly says. Then she has to hand the phone to her grandmother for a while, because she can't stop shaking and she can't figure out what to say.

MW's Private Rank
Joined: February 18th, 2009, 7:01 am

October 11th, 2012, 5:00 am #14

July 10, 2008
It had been a little bit difficult for Kimberly to work herself up to the idea of seeking out surviving classmates. She knew who was left, of course. She'd run over the list in her mind, had matched names to faces as best she could. What was most shocking was how few survivors there were. Twenty-nine kids getting rescued sounded like a lot, until compared to the number who had set out on the trip in the first place.

From the ranks of the twenty-nine, it hadn't been hard at all to figure who needed approaching first. So much had happened since that day near the start of the game when Kimberly had left the group. Two of its members had died. The three survivors had each faced their own battles and trials and losses. Kimberly couldn't begin to guess how Sarah was feeling after all that had transpired. To have been left in suspense for so long, to only find out the fate of a loved one after the fact, must have hurt greatly. Kimberly wasn't entirely sure what sort of reaction she could expect. She had not parted with the other girls on good terms. More than that, there had been negative feelings flying everywhere later on. She'd resented them so badly after their escape, had hated them for things that they had done and for things that they had not done.

She knew now that a lot of that had been misplaced. Everyone had made mistakes. She'd also been so very jealous. That might not win her any points, though, not with the little present she'd left them in the recordings. The awful thing about being taped was that you could never escape your choices, could never revise your own personal history. Kimberly liked being honest with herself most of the time, but some of her actions she felt she could do without.

She could live with it. She'd have to. And, now, she had to talk with Sarah and Bridget, to figure everything out and try to get some closure for everyone.

She approached the house slowly. She wasn't sure which girl's family it belonged to. That didn't really matter. She was showing a little trust by coming to meet them on their territory. At the very least, she was proving that she didn't expect Bridget to attack her or something.

So she stepped up to the door and knocked, loudly and clearly. It was time to get this meeting underway.

Sarah laid in bed. Her eyes were red from crying and she hadn't left the comfort of her blankets since waking blearily that morning. Thoughts of all the people she'd failed and the friends she'd lost circled in her head, same as they had every morning of the past week.

Despite being distraught from her experience on the island, leaving Reiko behind, and being twice held down and heavily sedated during the "rescue", she'd somehow managed to will herself through the time between her return to Minnesota and when she'd heard the news about Reiko. She'd stumbled to the front door, collapsed into her mother's arms, sobbed for several hours, slept off the overwhelming fatigue and drug-induced drowsiness, had tea for the first time in weeks, and got to work.

In that time, she'd attempted to contact anyone with even the remotest chance of increasing the possibility of a rescue. To be honest, it was nothing her parents hadn't already done weeks before, but—unlike them—she'd known the general area the island was situated in since day two. And now there weren't any collars to stop her from sharing it.

First she contacted people in her own government. She received some sympathy, but no promises from anyone who wasn't already arguing for intervention. At that point, there seemed no reason to hope for a wholesale change of heart from the group that had failed them for weeks, and their predecessors for years.

She called the Chinese consulate, and the Canadian, Japanese, Korean, and Russian ones as well. All were close enough to act, and she did all she could to encourage them to do so. All had words of pity, sympathy, condolences, apologies, but no-one wanted to risk getting American blood on their hands now that the terrorists had made their ultimatum.

She contacted every relevant protest group she knew of, finding support from both old comrades and surprising allies. The people who knew her told her she should be resting after her ordeal, that they were glad she was safe, to leave it to them and that they were doing all they could. For others it came totally out of the blue, but words of support were appreciated despite the political gap. She even, barely, managed to make some use of the paparazzi, at least when family members managed to shut them up long enough to speak. She wasn't able to make much in the way of speeches, but the message was simple, though as time passed it became more and more desperate: "Do something. Please."

When screening started again, she knew it was too late. For a few more days she clung to the hope Reiko had survived, and when that one, small, remaining hope was taken from her, she crashed. Hard.

She'd come close to taking her life several times since then, stopped short each time by fear or thoughts of her family and Bridget, who'd since taken it upon themselves to keep her company in turns. She hated herself even more for being a burden on them, Bridget especially. It was her fault Raina was dead, and she didn't understand why Bridget thought she deserved looking after. It was her fault Dutchy, Roland, and Reiko were dead. Her stupidity, her weakness, her failures. She'd tried to do everything right, tried to protect them, and in the end, she'd been completely useless. She didn't deserve to live. And yet here she was, lying in bed being a useless burden on those around her, too pathetic and cowardly to even remove herself from the equation.

There was a knock on the front door, faintly audible through the quiet air of the house. Bridget got up to leave. Sarah didn't move.

As the door opened, Kimberly took a deep breath, still not entirely sure she was ready to face this. It was far too late to back out, though, so she instead tried to keep as close control of herself as possible. Still, she could not quite manage to blank her face.

She was met by a woman whose resemblance to Sarah was clear even at a glance, who, by her age, could only be Sarah's mother. The woman was slightly lighter-skinned than Sarah, and a bit more slender, but she had a similar spark of intelligence about her features. It was impossible for Kimberly to tell whether the expression the woman wore was pity or wariness, and for a second Kimberly was afraid she would just shut the door, but a moment later she welcomed Kimberly inside.

Kimberly followed the woman, feeling a little bit like an intruder. They'd only gone a few steps, however, before she was distracted by the sight of someone else moving down the hall in their direction.

It felt like it had been a long time since Kimberly had seen Bridget. They'd parted ways only a few days into the game, and the game itself felt like a past life now. Kimberly realized how uncomfortably different her perception of events probably was from that of the rest of the world; things she had lived through nearly a month ago had become known to the others only in the past few days. She'd had a lot of time to come to terms with everything, but for Bridget and Sarah the wounds would most likely still be quite fresh.

"Hi," she said. She didn't want to take it much further than that, not without knowing what Bridget had seen, what she knew. The girl had agreed to meet her, but that didn't tell her much about where they stood, whether they were friends or enemies, whether any old grudges were still valid.

"We should probably all talk together, if that's alright," she added. She didn't want to go through an awkward series of greetings, to have to guess again and again and to recap everything when she saw Sarah. Better to rip off the scab all at once. Her phrasing included Sarah's mother as well, if she wanted to be present, though Kimberly privately hoped she didn't. It would be easier to talk openly if it was just among those with the shared experience of the island.

Everyone seemed to agree, and they walked further into the house. They soon cleared the stairs and came to a door: Sarah's room, judging by the posters and the sign hanging at a 10 year old's eye-level. Thankfully, Sarah's mother seemed to feel the same as Kimberly and spoke as she opened the door for the two.

"I think it's best I left you three alone," she said, smiling tiredly at the room's occupant. "I'll be just outside if you need me." Kimberly had the feeling that last portion had been directed more at Sarah and Bridget than herself.

Sarah was sitting at the side of her bed, affixing her glasses and pushing hair out of her face. She looked terrible, distracted and poorly-rested. It wasn't hard at all to guess why.

Sarah tried to say something as Kimberly entered the room, but choked on her words before she could even stammer a greeting. She'd tried to work out what to say in the minutes before, but when she was actually faced with the girl who'd left their group weeks before, her brain tripped over itself trying to reconcile sorrow and fear and the lingering, senseless resentment she felt that it was Kimberly who'd survived, and not Reiko. She hated herself for feeling that jealousy, even fleetingly; Kimberly had been through far worse than she had, and that she could slip into resenting her survival for even a moment disgusted her. At least Kimberly had helped Reiko through to the end. Sarah hadn't even been there.

Sarah really couldn't handle those thoughts without getting upset, and she rose unsteadily as she felt her tears welling up. She crossed the short distance between them and hugged Kimberly tightly just as the crying overtook her. Unable to string together more than "I'm sorry", she muffledly said it over and over again through racking sobs. She was sorry for Kimberly, for all she'd been through and all the undeserved blame she'd have placed on her; for Dutchy and Roland and all the others she'd failed and lost; for not saving anyone, for failing, for her indecision, for her stupidity, for her uselessness, for her undeserved escape, for STAR fucking up their chances of a real rescue and leaving Reiko and Kimberly and the others behind, for their being on those buses in the first place, for the way the world was and for failing to change it in time, for it being them, and not some other school group, as horrible a thought as that was.

Still unable to put her reasons into words, she expressed her sorrow physically, continuing to hug Kimberly as she apologized.

Kimberly returned the hug stiffly, trying not to let her discomfort show. She had been prepared for many things, but not for this. She could not tell if Sarah's actions were born of forgiveness or of ignorance, and the distinction between them was very important. She didn't want to open this up in one manner only to fuck Sarah's life up even more a few days down the line when she watched the recordings. The last thing she felt the need to do was cause more pain to these girls.

Kimberly took a few deep breaths, then shifted a little, trying to signal that she was ready to be released.

Sarah broke off the hug, speaking as awkwardly as if she'd just mindlessly committed a faux pas.

"S-sorry," she said. "I shouldn't have... sorry."

She retreated the step or two backwards to the edge of the bed, clasping her hands as her tears continued to roll gently.

Kimberly regarded the girl who was trying to pull herself together for a few moments, then began to speak, carefully and deliberately.

"After you left, I said some... rash things. Things I don't really mean."

Sarah had managed to stem her crying momentarily, and a Kimberly-wards look of blank lack of understanding had intermingled with the grief-stricken expression she'd had since Kimberly first entered. After a moment she looked to Bridget, who had an expression on her face as if she'd been keeping something from her, then back to Kimberly, oblivious still. It was quite apparent that Sarah had no idea what she was talking about.

"You haven't seen it?" Kimberly asked.

Sarah shook her head ever so slightly, still confused.

"Good." Kimberly chuckled a little bit, almost nervously. "I'd feel better if you kept it that way."

Sarah had the feeling that whatever Kimberly had said, she'd probably deserved it, and the way she transparently avoided Kimberly's gaze made it obvious something was up.

Kimberly frowned.

"You okay?" she asked.

Sarah remained silent, emotion and tears quickly welling up as Kimberly showed concern for her. Her care was more than she deserved, and even such a small gesture of kindness was enough to set her crying again in earnest.

Kimberly's frown deepened.

"What's going on?" she asked.

Sarah could barely get the words out, starting and stopping several times between sobs before finally stuttering, "I-it's my fault."

"What is?"

"E-everything... Dutchy and Roland and the rest... they d-didn't... I-i c-could have..."

Kimberly caught her lower lip with her teeth and said nothing for perhaps a half second too long. Still, she managed to speak fairly coherently.

"You didn't kill them," she said. "And, you know, could you have done something? Probably, yeah. I could've too. The police could've stopped all this shit from happening. They didn't, because nobody can see the future. It's easy to look back now and come up with all the shit we'd've done differently, but, you know, what matters is that you did your best at the time. That's all anyone can ask."

"I guess..." Sarah tried to agree out of politeness, wiping her eyes as much to conceal them as to stem her tears. But the tone of her voice betrayed just how little she believed that reasoning.

Kimberly's face went blank for a second, then settled into a frown.

"You guess?" she said.

Sarah tried to conceal and keep her thoughts to herself, her blood rising as the facade crumbled despite her wants.

"I-It's nothing." She couldn't look Kimberly in the eye.

"Bullshit," Kimberly said. "Come on, Sarah. You're better than this. You know what you think, and you know how to say it, and, fuck, you know what's true."

Pressured, Sarah began to show the first emotion other than depression since Kimberly had entered the room. Clamping her teeth and digging her nails into her hands, she tried to think of anything to say apart from how much she hated herself and her incompetence. She stopped and started several times before she finally gathered words together and they spilled carelessly from her mouth.

"I-it's my fucking fault. I don't deserve to be alive. Dutchy and Roland are dead because of me. Everyone from day three on could've lived if I'd taken one fucking risk and not tried to save my skin first like a fucking coward."

She'd risen to her feet without thinking as her anger boiled over. Sarah was practically shouting at herself now, though her eyes were focused on Kimberly's.

"And if I'd listened to Roland and campaigned we could have avoided the whole fucking thing al-to-fucking-gether but no, I didn't listen to him, and we got kidnapped, and now he's dead. And I ran off on a wild goose chase, and I lost Dutchy and Roland, and I let everyone else die and I couldn't even protect Reiko because I was too fucking stupid!" By the end of that Sarah was almost screaming the words, but finally she came to a stop, tears streaming and catching her breath heavily.

Kimberly considered that for a second. When she spoke again, her voice had gone calm and quiet.

"So?" she said. "So, I think you're wrong, but let's pretend you're right. Let's say you fucked everything up. Well, what the fuck comes now? You can't just sit here and feel sorry for yourself. I mean, if you do that, you're wasting your life just as bad as if you'd died, and that's disrespecting everyone who wasn't as lucky as we were. You wanna feel like you're a bad person, or do you want to be someone better? If you're going to waste your life, at least spend it doing something that'd make them proud."

That pretty much killed the conversation. Everyone went silent, Kimberly shifting a bit and glancing back and forth between Sarah and Bridget, unsure if she had perhaps stepped over one line too many, while Sarah was too exhausted and too uncertain of her position to formulate any kind of a rebuttal. Finally, when the tension seemed to be on the edge of breaking, Kimberly took a deep breath and then said, sounding almost regretful, "Well, thanks for seeing me."

Kimberly turned, about to leave, but stopped short as Sarah spoke once more, quiet again.

"Uhh." Sarah looked down to the floor for a moment, collecting her thoughts before she started to talk uncertainly.

"Bridget... Bridget said you were with Reiko before, an-... Thank you."

"I tried," Kimberly said. "It was the least I could do. You were with me."

And then, just like that, she'd turned and was on her way out. She'd figured that would be it, but it wasn't quite so simple. It seemed like nothing ever was. Bridget followed Kimberly out of the room, passing Mrs. Xu and leaving Sarah behind. Kimberly had a pretty good idea that Bridget knew a lot more about everything that had transpired. She thought, just maybe, that there were things that lack of ignorance might make tougher to ignore.

Better to be straightforward, to get things out of the way.

"If you hate me, that's fine," Kimberly said.

Bridget couldn't help but grin wryly at the bluntness of Kimberly's statement. It would be so easy to hate her, to push her away and never have to deal with her again, to say all the words that had popped into her mind as she watched things proceed in the game. It would be so easy, but she wouldn't take the easy path.

Bridget said nothing right away, merely walking down the hallway and down the stairs. Kimberly fell in behind her and followed, her steps unhurried and her facial expression muted, despite the strong language she'd used.

Upon reaching the bottom of the stairs, sure that she was out of earshot of Sarah, Bridget turned back to Kimberly.

"I don't hold you accountable for anything you said while out there," she said in an even voice, trying not to betray any hint of emotion. "I know what the island can do to a person. It changes you. Usually not for the better."

Taking a deep breath, she continued.

"I lost my best friend to that island. Raina Morales. Known her all my life. She was killed by Reiko sometime during the first few days. I thought of Reiko the same way I'm sure many people thought of her. I thought she was a monster, a murderer who was taking the opportunity to kill with glee. I spent many hours plotting ways to kill her once I met her. Even did some things that I'm not very proud of to get closer to Sarah, since I knew that if I followed her I would eventually get my chance to get to Reiko."

As she spoke, Kimberly simply stood, her face neutral. Bridget continued after a brief moment to gather her words.

"At the time, I focused on nothing else. When Dutchy and Roland came on the announcements, the names just kind of washed over me. Maybe I could have done something to prevent their deaths. Maybe I would have just ended up a corpse next to them. In the end it was my blind desire for revenge that lead me to push them aside."

Bridget paused again for a moment, half-expecting some sort of response. Kimberly stayed quiet, however, so Bridget allowed her thoughts to run their course.

"When I finally met Reiko, I realized she was just a scared girl who had lost her sister and was trying to get home. It wasn't easy, spending all that time thinking of revenge and when I finally got there realizing that the person I had been plotting revenge on was not the same one who stood before me. If I can forgive the person who killed my best friend, then I can forgive someone for saying some things. After all, they're just words."

Kimberly chuckled, having to work to restrain herself, to not crack up completely. It wasn't the time or place. It seemed, though, that a few odd little truths were rather more universal than she'd imagined. So that was why Bridget had done what she'd done. It made as much sense as anything on the island. It was so strange, hearing thoughts and impressions that she had felt voiced by a girl she'd at turns respected and loathed. It was funny to think how, in the end, their paths had not been so different.

"Revenge is overrated," Kimberly said. "Or, shit, maybe it's what they say about the journey meaning more than the destination."

She paused for a moment, then decided to keep going.

"You're right about the island. I think what matters now is remembering how to come back, you know? That's the way to beat it.

"And... I'm glad that you're here with Sarah. I think she'll need you. She needs to remember how tough she is."

Bridget turned and opened the door, holding it for Kimberly. As Kimberly stepped through the entryway, Bridget nodded. "See you around."

"See you," Kimberly said, shooting Bridget a smile and a nod. She wasn't sure if she was telling the truth. She'd lied a decent amount today.

She considered what had been said as she headed down the block, towards her pickup point.

The idea that the island changed people, well, Kimberly was pretty sure that was bullshit. It was an excuse, and she could maybe understand why Bridget fell back on it. It wasn't so nice to look in the mirror and see a malicious little shadow staring back. Really, though, what the island did was let people reveal themselves. It took away all the little restraints which kept people behaving like civilized individuals for any reason besides personal preference.

Whatever. Bridget could rationalize however she wanted. What mattered was that she do the right thing now, and it seemed like she was going to. Kimberly would have to settle for that. Maybe, if she got a chance, she'd check in again. Maybe she'd have some choice words if the girls veered off course. For now, she was content that all of them were trying. They'd all fucked up badly, but maybe that could stay in the past. Maybe the future would be brighter.

When Bridget returned, Sarah was sitting at the side of the bed again, quietly resting her head on her mother's shoulder. Bridget couldn't tell whether she looked calmly thoughtful, or thoroughly defeated.

"You okay?"

Sarah nodded, a small, tired noise affirming her confirmation. And, for once in a long time, she kind of meant it. She felt spent, but at least she was thinking a little more clearly now.

Kimberly was right, of course, and she knew that. Really, she should have understood those things already; she probably would have said similarly a few weeks before, but she'd been too wrapped in mourning and self pity to think her way out of that dead end.

Confining herself to bed and contemplating suicide, whether justly deserved or not, wasn't doing the friends she'd lost any good. Anything was better than selfish pity, and as much as she felt it was unjust of her to live, she couldn't imagine those friends condoning her self destruction.

She didn't know what she could do, though. It still felt like she'd already failed them absolutely. No matter how much she begged, she couldn't go back in time, couldn't bring them back to life or sacrifice her life for theirs in a way that was meaningful anymore... Or maybe that wasn't entirely true. She couldn't bring them back, but she had a mind and a body, and if she could put them to some use, live her life in homage to them, maybe she could fulfill some small part of her duty to those she'd failed.

Her mother squeezed her gently, comforting her as well as she could. It wasn't fair on her, the rest of her family, or Bridget either. She had to progress for their sakes as well, and even though she felt undeserving of their love and care, she didn't want to imagine her parents having their daughter taken from them a second time. Annihilating herself was only betraying all of their efforts and rendering them in vain.

And, well, if Bridget and Kimberly could continue functioning then she had to at least try.

She sighed and began to speak, sounding quietly exhausted. "I'm sorry."

"It's okay." The tone of her mother's voice was caring, and it took all her effort not to start crying again. It was harder still to say the next few lines.

"And, Mum, I... think you're right. I'll talk to a psychologist."

"Good." Her mother squeezed her again and kissed her forehead affectionately. "I'll make us some tea."

MW's Private Rank
Joined: February 18th, 2009, 7:01 am

October 12th, 2012, 1:00 am #15

Early Spring, 2008
People are laughing, bustling around, getting drunk. It's a party. Justin Corrigan's? Alex Campbell's? One of the myriad other parties from Kimberly's past? Who the fuck knows? She is not dancing, because the music they are playing is not cool. It's modern, meaning it's basically trash, catchy beat or no. The singer is rapping, which means the whole thing's probably misogynistic to boot. Kimberly has no tolerance for music younger than her, and has very little respect for bands founded after the seventies.

She does not have a date. She does not want a date. She's already told a guy who got into her personal space to go fuck himself if he's that desperate, and now she's getting a wide berth from everyone else. This should be fun, but it isn't. Nobody cool is here.

She's put up enough barriers that now she's casting a pall on the proceedings. She's been acting up because acting up is her image, only it really isn't so fun when there's nobody around to enjoy it with. Fighting the world is no good at all alone.

So, after a while, she wanders into a corner and loosens up a little. She tries to dance to a song that isn't quite as bad, and she stumbles a lot because her stockings are slippery on the hardwood floor, but she can laugh at herself a little bit. That makes things just that tiniest hint more fun.

Overall, the party isn't good. She doesn't make any new friends. She gets in a huge argument when the same boy tries to dance with her without permission. The evening is mediocre at best. Still, for a few minutes, it's enjoyable. She doesn't know what to make of that at all.