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I'm in LA dealing with the serious illness, possibly death of my best friend's mom. I'll be checking in at night, not sure when we're going back to the bay.

Michael Crowe
Welcome, welcome. I am Ruggahissy, I am your moderator for this profile. Apologies for the lateness here. Now before we start I've already read through the whole profile and written this critique so this first section is going to be stuff that I notice are issues that come up a lot during the profile.


Run on sentences: Try reading the profile aloud. If you can't read the sentence in one breath, it's too long. Also if a sentence has a comma between two independent clauses which could be sentences on their own, use a ; and not a , .

Tonal issues: These profiles are written from the point of view of an impartial, bored terrorist who doesn't care particularly about your child or the things that happen to him. The profile should have the formality of office paper work. Don't put in anything you wouldn't put in for a school essay.

On to the thing.


Appearance:

"He is moderate built muscularly,"

I think I know what you're saying here, but it's a little confusing. Is there are simpler way to say this?

"up Short sleeve"

"Short" does not need to be capitalized.

"Harley Davidson Shirts"

No need to capitalize "shirts" here.

"with his iconic leather bikers jacket, a patch on the back with a playing card spade, and a skeleton in a biker getup tipping a top hat inside of said spade."

Again, I know what you mean, but I think adding "with" before "a patch" will help readers so we know right away there's a patch on the jacket.

Otherwise: great job. Description can be rough, but I feel like I could make a police sketch from this one. Onwards.


Biography:

"Michael Crowe was born in November tenth, nineteen ninety six, "

It would help again for the ease of readers to put these into numerals.

"Cincinatti Ohio"

Comma before "Ohio."

"Joel Crowe was a 'Nam Air Force veteran, currently working as a Truck Driver for BP"

The terrorists are somewhat formal and the ones writing up these profiles. For formality, let's change "'Nam" to "Vietnam" and "BP" to British Petroleum, at least on the first reference. Also "truck driver" doesn't need to be capitalized.

"Mary Crowe, was a bus driver"

If she's still a bus driver this would be "Mary Crowe, a bus driver" rather than "was."

"half sister"

Should be "half-sister." Same for "half-brother" later in the same sentence.

"Michael's Dad"

Dad doesn't need to be capitalized.

"also being well off financially"

This is a bit weird considering we're talking about a baby. Might be more accurate to say the family is well-off financially. Also "well-off" needs a hyphen.

"Kingston Tennesee"

Comma between Kingston and Tennessee. Also "Tennessee" is spelled wrong.

- "Kerbella Shrine" is spelled wrong. Should be "Kerbela Shrine"

"Michael made friends, had people visit to play videogames with him, did alright socialization wise"

Socialization-wise would need a hyphen, but that's not really fitting with the tone anyway. Probably better to say that Michael makes friends easily, has friends over to play video games and socializes well.

Also: video games is two words.

"The Sopranos with his family, and on occasional nights, watch horror flicks "

"The Sopranos" should be in quotations and "horror flicks" is a bit casual. Probably should go with "horror movies" instead.

"Sci-Fi channel."

So, if you're just talking about science fiction in general, sci-fi is fine, but not capitalized. If we're talking about the channel on TV, they changed the name of the channel a few years ago and now it's the "Syfy channel." Stupid spelling, but if he's watching that channel, that's what it was renamed as in 2009 so that's what it would be.

"and well versed in reality for his age"

The wording here is a bit strange. Well-veresed would indicate someone has a lot of knowledge on a topic or a skill. I think this would be better worded as having a solid grasp of reality vs. fiction. Also not that it matters since I'm asking for it to be removed but well-versed has a hyphen.

"allowed him to watch it.Occasionally"

Need a space between the period and the start of the next sentence.

".Occasionally he'll get caught in class talking about some of the scenes, and teachers would frequently call his parents up worried, while his parents just considered it being a kid, they limited him to only watching them on the weekends, which after a while due to multiple re-runs, got Michael uninterested in it."

Holy sentence, Batman. This is a long one and could do with some breaking up into smaller sentences. That aside, "reruns" does not need a hyphen.

" Kingston Elementary was an alright place, except for his second and fourth grade teachers, who made his life hell. On top of that, kids would make fun of Michael due to his speech impediment, and while it didn't get to him at first he quickly went back into his bullying phase, pushing away the few friends he had."

Here we have a few more instances of informal tone. Things like "an alright place" and "made his life hell." Were kids not making fun of his speech impediment before? Did his parents consider speech therapy? Where does the impediment come from? Also I feel like this is the first time we've heard about him being a bully. Last I remember he was just not very good at sharing. How does he bully kids and does he ever get into trouble? What do his parents think of this? How does this affect his invitations to kids to come over to his house and play video games?

"Middle school is when it got rough"

Too informal.

"Around the time kids were talking about more mature subjects and puberty began hitting, where half of the kids were horny as all hell and the other half tried to act like they were, kids were talking about which girl they'd like to make out with or bang,"

Too informal.

- I just realized this now: Michael was born in Ohio, but in elementary school he's in Kingman. When did they move and why? I just noticed that your kid's family moved to Kinston, Tennessee.

" Michael had the rotten luck of mentioning why it'd have to be a girl in a conservative southern town. Immediately, by everyone's reactions he realized his speech impediment would be the least of his worries."

So Tennessee is fairly conservative and also a Southern state, so it seems pretty strange that anyone would make fun of him for wanting a conservative Southern girl.

Additionally: if he's been going to school in Kingston since elementary school these are people who have known him and know about his speech impediment for years. Why would it start being an issue now? If it is an issue, it would be something he's been made fun of for years and years.

"Michael didn't understand why, he's seen adults do that sort of thing, it didn't matter to him much, he was confused. "

I'm a bit confused here. What is it that he's seen adults do?

"Why was it a problem? Guys loving each other should be better off anyways, they'd understand each other better. "

Too informal. No questions within the profile. If you're giving us insight into the character's thoughts then they should be labeled as such. Like "Michael thought..." ect.

"Him and his friends turned around "

This should be "He and his friends"

" Three on one never ended well. "

Too informal. Should be removed, but even if it stayed "three" does not need to be capitalized and "three-on-one" needs hyphens.

"He didn't tell his parents what he said for people to call him a faggot, and acted as though it was just random spite. It grated on him like a meat grinder, and it began taking it's toll on his self worth. "

- It really does appear to be random spite since he's not done anything to indicate he's gay. He has the lisp, but it's not mentioned as the reason that the other kids assumed he was gay. Might be interesting if that were the case and that makes the most sense. Meat grinders don't grate and the metaphor is too colorful for the drab tone, so go ahead and remove it. Lastly, "self-worth" needs a hyphen.

The paragraph starting with "Middle school" is massive. Try breaking it up into smaller paragraphs for easier reading.

"The bullying continued, and Michael stopped leaving the house, did nothing but played videogames, as it was the only escape he had besides watching the sopranos, the unhealthy effects got to him, he gained weight, and his hair grew out, to around mid-back level."

So the school hasn't done anything? His parents haven't done anything? Any reason why? Also, he needs to leave the house to go to school. Again, "video games" is two words, "The Sopranos" need quotes and to be capitalized and the sentence could use to be broken up into at least two sentences.

"His dad took him to Tae Kwon Do classes, as well as signing him up for the wrestling team."

Should be "and signed him up" since this is in the past.

"One day on the ride home from school, one kid kept pestering Michael, up until the part he hit him, Michael waited until the kid turned to leave, before wrapping his elbow and arm around the kid's neck, and nearly choking him out."

This doesn't sound right since martial arts puts a heavy emphasis on only using enough force to safely leave a situation. Also I was only ever a yellow belt in taekwondo, but a choke hold doesn't seem like something from this particular martial art since it's predominantly kick-based. Will check with our resident MMA staffer on this though.

- Also I assumed for some reason this was happening while Michael was riding a bike home. i didn't know until a few sentences later this had happened on a bus. Where the heck is the bus driver in all this? These kids should be in huge trouble, Michael especially.

" Michael was satisfied that day, certain nothing could stop him, he was invincible. Then came the very next day, the kid's older brother paid Michael a visit on the bus. Michael was only in the sixth grade, the kid's brother, the ninth. After various threats of killing Michael's pets to sexually assaulting his mom, Michael tried to stab at the ninth grader with a pencil. Michael was knocked senseless, given a contusion, half-golf ball sized bruises on his forehead and face, as well as two large cuts on his brow, humbling him. Michael was taken to the hospital right after coming home to take a CAT scan, and luckily he had no brain damage. Michael's parents went to press charges against the school, but due to the bus tape getting mysteriously deleted, they had to cancel it. At this point they decided to move, goodbye Kingston and good riddance."

Way too much detail. I don't care about most of this. This can be summed up with "The next day the boy's brother threatened Michael on the bus. He tried to stab him with a pencil, a scuffle ensued and Michael was badly injured."

Michael's parents should be considering suing the school and pressing charges against the boy. School busses don't typically have video tapes and there should have been roughly 30 witnesses to the event anyway since it's a bus full of kids. I'll check on all this stuff too with our resident staff school teacher.

"goodbye Kingston and good riddance."

Informal, remove.

"Around Summer break, Michael made it to Kingman Arizona."

Summer doesn't need to be capitalized. You need a comma between Kingman and Arizona. Also, why Kingman? Seems random. It's not close to his old town, not even in the same state.

"hillbilly hellhole known as Kingston Tennessee."

Informal. Also need a comma between Kingston and Tennessee.

"no mentioning of liking boys"

When had he ever mentioned that before? Is he actually gay?

" he's got a fresh start.He"

He "had" a fresh start; this is in the past. Also need a spar between the period and "He."

" peers.He "

Space after period before new sentence.

"making talk about how great it looked,"

Making talk?

"and even till today, people think Mike's a Jersey boy."

Should be "even until today people think..."

"People tried bullying Michael, and Michael retaliated, fighting back whenever possible. Eventually the fighting dragged Michael to become a bully himself "

Why are they bullying him? Has he learned nothing from the past times he's fought back? If he is being bullied why does he become a bully and who does he pick on?

"As school dragged on, Michael found himself and his friends, doing his best to treat them as well as possible, while going out of his way to make his enemies' lives a living hell."

We actually just heard this information. In the previous paragraph is said he'd made friends and enemies, so this is just redundant.

"giving it however he wouldn't take shit lying down."

No swearing in the profile. The terrorists don't care enough to be that invested.

"It this point, Michael became desensitized to bullying, simply considering it a part of everyday life, both in receiving it and giving it however he wouldn't take shit lying down. It was rather common for Michael to walk home covered in bruises from a bathroom fight right after school."

His parents aren't concerned about this? It seem like he moved all the way to Arizona, but not much has changed.

"His mind was always full of thoughts, and as he came together and learned more about himself, a few thoughts in the back of his head came back. They were short and Michael held them back, but eventually he couldn't do so anymore. As he went on the thoughts in the back of his head rationalized, and eventually the secret he was hiding all his life would have to come out. Despite his attempts of holding it in the back of his head, Michael knew it. He was gay, and while he was afraid at first, he slowly came to terms with it. Eventually he came out to his friends and anyone that would listen, but continues today to hide it from his parents due to their more conservative beliefs. It came as a surprise to the majority, but eventually it just became Michael. Despite his current hardships, and the hardships he faced as a child, he'd decide to move forward, the past was over, done and nothing could be done."

This is another area of a lot of words that can be parred down to be more succinct (this is my journalism background peeking in). Basically this is a long paragraph that says he thought about it long and hard, analyzed his emotions and came to the conclusion that he was in fact, gay.

It seems like he's accepting of this very very quickly even though it's been a source of pain, shame and conflict for most of his life. What made him realize this? How long did it take for him to come out to people? Did this make a difference in his bullying? How do his parents feel?

"it would grow on Michael. "

Past tense. It grew on Michael.

- There should only be one space between the motorcycle paragraph and the one starting with "Michael is typically happy go lucky."

- Speaking of: "happy-go-lucky" needs hyphens. Also this paragraph is another monster that could stand to be broken up into two smaller paragraphs.

"Michael's typically happy go lucky, with a slight amount of a fatalist view on things, whatever happens will happen. "

Replace the comma after "things" with a semi-colon. Any time you join two independent clauses that can stand on their own, use a semi-colon. It happens quite a bit in the bio.

" Non-existent "

Nonexistent doesn't need to be capitalized and can be made into one word, "nonexistent."

" and a lot of his jokes either come off as way too soon, or way too racist. "

This is odd phrasing. I think what you're saying is that he makes offensive and politically incorrect jokes. Has this ever gotten him into trouble before now?

"claim he's bullshitting, he also has a distaste for people using him."

No swearing, needs a semi-colon.

" on the chopping block"

Informal.

"t's not uncommon for him to take his closest friends out on trips to Universals in LA for a couple of days or for a day at the beach,"

Universals should be Universal Studios. Also, why Universal Studios specifically? There are a lot of places to go in LA (holler, I happen to be raised in LA)

" but on occasion taking his dad's truck when there's too many people"

"There's" is a contraction for "There is." So this would be "when there is too many people." Should be "there are."

"than the crappy dime a dozen ghost movies paranormal what sits"

Informal


ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES

Advantages:

"His ability to ride a motorcycle is moderate and gives him good reflexes on the road. "

Not a helpful advantage since there won't be any driving or roads or motorcycles to worry about.

"He's a good con-artist at times, spending his entire life making up a completely different life than the one he actually had"

Con artist feels like a bit of an overstatement. I'd probably just say he's a habitual liar, and lying is indeed an advantage.

Disadvantages:

"His fighting skills aren't up to par as many of the other students however."

Most of the other kids have no training in fighting. He's already got that on them.

"and while he can easily take a few people one on one, he can also be easily be outmaneuvered and taken down."

I don't think most of the students could take more than one person, if that.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

This is the first round of edits. This one was mostly trying to clean up a lot of the grammar and style and the next round will go a little more into the character. It's not a bad base though and you clearly have an understanding of the kind of character that goes into the game.

Post when the edits are made and we'll have another look!

Havana Escapade
'Yeah," he said quickly. "Yes. Let's do cake. Cake right?"

He looked at the box in Alba's hand and waved dismissively.

"It's box cake, we've got this. I thought this was cooking class, not a fucking- uh- cake walk class. A brain-dead monkey could make box cake."

He flashed a brief thumbs up, but didn't venture a smile. People seemed to think his fake smiles were off-putting and weird the few times he'd tried it, so he didn't bother.

He looked over Alba's shoulder and observed the stirring. In order to actually see the bowl he straightened his back out of his characteristic slouch, bringing him closer to his actual height. "If it's box cake, after you stir in the eggs and whatever, you just stick it right in the pre-heated oven. Someone preheated the thing, right?"



V5 Epilogue: Desiderium
It wasn’t very long before she fell into some kind of routine. She would wake up, eat what was left for her on her bedside table, then go to the doctor to get examined. A second man, surly looking, was present now whenever she went for her daily checkup. The doctor said he was an apprentice or something and asked if she minded his being there the first time she'd seen him, but it made no difference to her. Returning to the room, she would find a clean white tank top and a pair of gray running shorts. Who knew what happened to the clothes from the day before? She couldn’t explain why, but she had an idea that they burned the old outfits and they had some unending supply of white tank tops and gray shorts.

After the daily check up, she was free to wander as she eventually made her way down to the cafeteria for lunch. There wasn’t much to look at. Doors to sensitive areas were locked. Occasionally she would catch someone looking at her. When she did, they looked away. Besides Baines and the doctor, it was rare for anyone to speak to her.

There was a room of confiscated materials she would amuse herself for the first half of the day after the doctor's visit and before lunch. In it were three bookshelves full of books and a few that appeared to be diaries. The diaries were mostly mundane, some of the books were alright. One tattered black notebooks had some names in it towards the end. Mara had turned to the first page and saw “Pandora” written in a childish, curly font.

Mara headed down to the cafeteria on this day, a special day, for lunch as she always did. By her estimations she'd been with the terrorists for a week or so. After mostly dining on mild rice dishes and porridge, she had finally gotten the OK to start having calorie dense, complex foods.

A man wearing an apron and a woman had emerged from the back of the kitchen as she waited. Both smiled and watched her. “Go ahead and tell us if you have any requests,” he said.

This reminded her of the on-call chef at home. At home, she wasn't given much choice though; it was low calorie salads mostly.

"Ahhh....eggs benedict."

She thought they might have told her that wasn't a lunch food item, but they went to work and came back presently with a dish with two portions of eggs benedict.

She cut a piece and stuck it in her mouth. The flavor was a shock, but presently she settled into a glowing happiness. Mara sucked down the entire plate and with a slightly distended stomach, slowly walked to the rec room where she watched television every afternoon with Baines.



“Why do you always pick police dramas?” she mumbled, draped across the sofa. She was sleepier than usual, probably from the extra workload her digestive system had picked up. The lights were dimming in preparation for night. Criminal Minds was crackling in the background.

“Why do you fall asleep on the couch?” Baines asked back.

Mara hugged the couch and shifted her legs. “It’s the noise,” she said with her eyes closed. “I can’t fall asleep in my cell without any noise. The sound of talking makes me feel like I’m not alone.”

“Are you the one who carries me to bed every night?” she asked quietly with one eye opened slightly.

“No,” he answered firmly.

It wasn’t the answer she was expecting, but she didn’t press further. The television chatter about "unsubs" filled in the gaps and switched from background noise to the foreground.

“I think people here are getting used to me. It seemed like they were afraid of me.”

Baines snorted derisively. “No one here is afraid of you, girl. Hardly anyone talked to the winners before we started the tape delays. They don’t know what to do, though, you earned a touch of goodwill from messing up Cecily. Folks actually think that was pretty funny. The girl we held last time was tight lipped. She didn’t want anything to do with us and that was just fine.”

“I wanted to be that way, but I can’t.” she yawned.

“Why’s that?”

“It’s the same reason I need the TV to fall asleep.”

Mara meant to ask him how he happened to end up doing this job, but before she could remember she'd fallen asleep.

Havana Escapade
(Start Caleb Diamond)

Caleb was wandering down the hall, looking out the window at the bright sunshine. He shielded his eyes with a hand and squinted. His math class was on a short break before transitioning over to homework after lecture and he'd taken the opportunity to stroll.

His attention was drawn by a slight commotion in the closest classroom. A blur he vaguely recognized as Alba rushed in to the room, which he noticed smelled really good. He looked left and right briefly and followed her in.

In the commotion she'd caused, he'd gone unnoticed. He grabbed an apron off a counter, leisurely started munching on a square of baking chocolate and hovered near Alvaro's cooking station to look like he was a part of the class.

I need some ol' buddies ol' pals!
I think my (as of not yet apped >_> ) lady, Kat, might like Michael. She is similarly loud and colorful. She'd probably find some of his stories interesting.

There's a short description of her here: http://s10.zetaboards.com/SOTF_V2/single/?p=9155171&t=7497962

Caleb Diamond
DONE

V5 Epilogue: Desiderium
Mara was seated on a cold metal table in a sterile room. She was about halfway done counting the number of cotton balls in a jar on the desk when an older man with wavy blond hair and a white coat walked in.

“Hello Miss Montalvo. I’m Doctor Kelley,” he said as he flipped over some pages attached to a clipboard. “I’ll be your primary physician while you’re here. If you could go ahead and slip off your shirt, we’ll get right to work. How are we feeling today?" he said as he studied whatever was written on the pages.

Mara pulled the t-shirt she’d been sleeping in over her head and hugged herself. His manner and the room was familiar enough that it could have been a check up back home, except for her considerable injuries. The doctor tipped her chin up with his pen and inspected her bruised neck.

This was the first time she’d left her cell since she’d spoken with Danya. She spent her time sleeping, waking up with a start, thinking about their talk, wondering about her decision, sleeping and then doing it all again.

The terrorists had given her a little room with a bed, a bench and a bathroom. There were all of the amenities of a bathroom with toilet, shower and a mirror. She had soap and shampoo and a nail file but no clippers, no razor, nothing sharp.

“I get woozy. I feel tired all the time,” she replied while he unraveled the bandages on both of her hands. The doctor took a look at her right hand, turned it over, then re-wrapped it.

“Not too deep,” he mumbled. He looked at her left hand for longer, running his fingers near the new stitches. “You’re lucky you didn’t get an infection in this one. Wasn’t the best stitching I’d ever seen, but your sewing held up. Did you do needlepoint back home?

“No….my sister did.”

The doctor moved down her hand and bent her wrist forward. Mara yelped and he looked at the wrist more closely.

“Bruised and sprained wrist,” he observed.

“From the island,” she mumbled. Though she didn’t want to admit it, she was terrified of Tracen. This doctor was on his payroll, he likely wouldn’t care that he’d injured her, but there was still a fear he’d be unhappy she told on him.

“It looks fresh.”

Mara grabbed her hand back from him.“So you remember every single injury I came in with?” she snapped.

“That would be my job, yes.”

He looked at her, but she wouldn’t meet his gaze. He sighed, took the hand back and re-bandaged it. “Have you been eating and drinking water since waking up?”

He moved her hair out of the way off her face and gently prodded a bruise on her temple near her right eye.

“Mmhmm. They give me soup and bland stuff that’s not hard on my stomach, but it’s a lot better than those calorie bricks,” she responded, flinching when he hit a tender spot.

The doctor smiled at the answer and moved now to the large bandage spanning across her chest. With nimble fingers, he unrolled the gauze from around her small frame. He looked over the wound and then quickly replaced the bandage with a new one. She pulled her shirt back on over her head while he fixed a blood pressure cuff around her arm.

“Let me know if the dizziness persists. All things considered, you’re in good shape. I’ll let the kitchen know they can start transferring you over into a greater variety of food. You’ll make a full recovery on your wounds as long as you rest. In the meantime I’m going to prescribe TV.”

“TV? Like, television?”

“You’ve been moping in that little room for two days," he said, pumping air into the cuff and studying the dial.

“Two days…” she repeated. She checked to see if it was another unfunny joke, but this man seemed sincere.

“Medicine is my primary function here, but I know a thing or two about head shrinking,” continued the doctor, removing the device from her arm. “Stewing isn’t good for you. Go out into the common room, eat some candy and watch TV.”

Mara’s mouth set into a frown and she crossed her arms. “I kind of want to be alone. In my room.”

“Well, if you don’t want to go out and watch TV with the others then we can always arrange for you to go on a movie date with Mr. Danya instead. I've heard he's very fond of musicals,” the doctor retorted while scribbling on the clipboard.

She felt her face go cold and she hopped off the chair. Dr. Kelley chuckled deeply and opened the door.

“It’s the same threat I give everyone here when they don’t want to follow my advice. They all react exactly like you. Go down the hall and take the second left.”

She followed the doctor’s directions and shortly found herself in a rec room. There were a few tables, some shelves with cards and games and a couch facing a large television. Seeing only one other person in the room, Mara decided to sit on the opposite end of the sofa and flopped onto the sinking cushions. That one other person was a man with long blonde hair and a bit of stubble. He looked over at her when she plopped down, looked to NCIS on the screen, then looked back. He held out his hand to her containing a few apple slices and cleared his throat.

Mara sat up and looked over. She saw the offering, but hesitated. He nodded. She put her hand in his, feeling deja vu creeping in. She took a slice and nodded back.

“You’re that SWAT guy?” she said cautiously.

He took back the apple slices and began munching on one while watching TV.

“You woke me and helped me stand up didn’t you?”

The man looked back at her and for a moment it seemed he would say something else to her. Instead he folded his arms and put his feet on a table in front of them and returned to the show. She wasn’t sure what to make of that.

“I’m Baines.”

An introduction. A short one, but the first person she’d encountered who seemed equally at a loss as to what to do in the situation, which was oddly comforting.

“Mara.”

She sighed, feeling slightly more at ease and leaned into the couch where she spent the rest of the day watching procedural dramas with Baines in silence. At 10pm she stood up, yawned and stretched.

“Same time tomorrow?" he asked abruptly.

Mara stopped mid-yawn when she registered he’d spoken to her. The afternoon hadn’t been so bad and it was the first authentic person she’d spoken to, even if it was just a few words. She studied Baines. The memory of him helping her to her feet softened her judgement.

“Mmm, I don’t have other plans,” she said, rubbing her eyes. “Night.”

V5 Epilogue: Desiderium
“You will be an outcast because your society hates facing ugly truths about themselves. You are now a walking reminder of everything people fear,” he said as he rose from his chair and wandered to a bookshelf. “Those who don’t fear you, will pity you. And to some more creative individuals you’ll be something else, a symbol of whatever they want to project on you, but you’ll never be treated like a person again. I think the pitying might be the worst,” he said darkly to himself.

“We understand and we don’t judge,” he resumed addressing her now. He spoke in soft, hushed tones. “You can have a new life here.”

It was another thing that she hadn’t given a lot of thought to. Other kids must have fantasized about home. They dreamt of rushing back to their parents’ arms and petting Fido. All she had thought of was how hollow everything in her old life really was. The game had pulled the curtain away and showed her how trivial and meaningless her life had been. What would they think of her? She looked up and Tracen Danya was at her side with one hand on the chair, behind her neck.

“B-but. I…” she turned to look at Greynolds. He looked bored, shrugged at her and kept eating sandwiches.

“...I...don’t-”

“You don’t what?” Tracen placed a reassuring hand on her shoulder. His long fingers rested on her collar bone.

He made it sound very good and even though he’d threatened to torture her just moments ago, the offer was compelling. Mara tapped her finger to her lip while she thought. It would be easier to stay. Mara had no doubt she could learn to become a permanent part of the game, this time with control.

“Is this some kind of Last Temptation test?” she said in a distracted manner.

“Oh, one of my favorite-” began Danya, but Mara held a hand up to stop him. She’d done it because she didn’t want him to start going on about another movie or book or something that was supposed to impress her. Honestly, she was mildly surprised it had worked at all, and then was more surprised, thinking that his response was the same one she would have had before the game.

She felt him squeeze her shoulder slightly. If someone offered her an out from Survival of the Fittest at the start in exchange for having to work with the terrorists would she had taken it? Two weeks ago, undoubtedly. Now, unsure. If she worked with them, how was she supposed to view her time on the island? Mara and Hansel had formed an unspoken agreement at the end to stay together as friends rather than fight and fall the last inch down to the level of the terrorists.

Before she knew it, tears were trickling down her cheeks.

“Tell me what you’re thinking,” he murmured like a concerned loved one.

Staying was the easy thing to do, the quitter’s way out. If she stayed, what would that say about the game as a whole to everyone at home? A complete victory for the terrorists, but did she even care if they won or not? She shifted and her bare foot dipped into a puddle of tea. What was it that Finn told her? As he lay dying he told her that she had to win.

“I can’t...I can’t lose,” she whispered.

“You’ve already won.”

Mara decided that she did care. The only thing that had ever been honest about her old life were how much her friends cared for her and how much she cared for them. Staying and killing more would be a betrayal and even if the remainder of her life was very short and fairly miserable, at least she could remember them in peace.

“I would like to be sent home,” she said with a wavering voice, but head held high.

Slowly, Danya trailed his hand from her collar bone down her bare arm, breaking the contact at her elbow.

“It’s your choice” he said with shrug.“Stubbornness is sometimes admirable, sometimes foolish. I hope you think about that decision, you’ll have plenty of time. In any case, thank you very much for indulging me and taking the time to chat.”

Mara looked up at him, then looked to the other man who made an upward nod with his head. Tracen pulled her chair out. He went to take her hand to help her up, but she jumped up on her own, ignoring the gesture. He held out his hand.

“It was a pleasure meeting you. You’ll be staying with us for a little while as we wait for the broadcast to finish, people back home are only finding out now that you weren’t killed in a plane crash."

“So….we were doomed from the very start. No one would have ever rescued us.” she thought out loud, remembering her first day, being so sure someone would come.

“I’m afraid so,” he nodded. “If you have any more pressing questions or concerns, feel free to ask for me.”

“Alright,” she said simply. Mara didn’t move to take his hand. After a few more seconds he cleared his throat, hand still out.

“We can hug if that would suit you better,” he said, contracting his fingers twice.

Mara grimaced. Her hand shot out and clasped his, shaking it once before letting go.

“Father would have loved you,” he said, amused by her reaction.

Sonia opened the door as if on cue and led Mara out. As she looked back one last time, Tracen Danya waved cheerfully.

V5 Epilogue: Desiderium
She squeezed her eyes shut and tried to turn away. Tears rolled down her face and her fingers slowly unfurled and extended. The teapot hit the hardwood floor with a crunch and cracked down the side. Liquid pooled around it.

He held on an additional moment. It seemed like he might say something else while he had her, but instead he released her with a shove as if he was disgusted having touched her. He brushed the palms of his hands against his shirt. Mara fell roughly back into her seat and hit the back of her chair. A flash of white pain sparked from her numerous injuries from the sudden rough treatment. She wheezed pathetically as she cradled her freshly sprained wrist close to her chest.

“I don’t mean to be harsh, really. If you behave nicely I’ll return it in kind,” he said, handing her a handkerchief. She was pale as soap, but took it in her shaking, uninjured hand.

“There we go. No tears,” he reassured softly. “I’ve always liked your ingenuity. I think that’s why you won,” he mused as he straightened his shirt out and sat down. “The snow globe, the glass, the rock, even the hook sword. I don’t think in all of our years of doing this anyone has ever threatened my father with boiling tea. You evolve and that is exactly what makes you the fittest.”

“Is what Cecily said true?” she asked through gritted teeth. “You wanted Hansel to win?”

Tracen picked up one of the uneaten sandwich triangles and took a bite while he considered the question.

“I think Hansel would have been a good winner. He would have been a perfect winner in terms of ideology. He is someone who stripped themselves of everything to win. It’s a perfect illustration of how people are willing to compromise themselves for themselves. People do it all the time in the normal world, selling off pieces of their soul little by little for things. His transformation was particularly interesting. However, you are the much better conversationalist,” he said, running his hand over the side of his jaw.

She stared in shock, mouth slightly agape.

“I still have a few more questions,” he said quietly.

“I eagerly await them,” she grumbled.

“Do you know anything about the other winners?”

Mara had never thought about it much. She’d never watched the other Survival of the Fittest incidents and she only knew that an Asian girl named Kimberly had survived along with some other kids who had been rescued.

“No.”

“Then this will be a history lesson. Our first winner, Adam Dodd was quite tenacious. So much so in fact that he came back a second time. Regrettably, he died during his second round with us. It was very tragic. Second winner, Mr. Bryan Calvert, went home and was never seen or heard from again. Our third winner was killed not too long after his victory and our fourth winner, Kimberly, survives to this day along with about 30 of her classmates who escaped in a bit of a….bookkeeping oversight. Now, do you know what that means for you?”

She looked around the room, trying to think what the right answer might be.

“That life expectancy for winners isn’t very good?” she ventured.

“I suppose so, but that wasn’t really the point. It means that you are the only winner alive who is completely alone. There is no one for you to stand with. It’s going to be so interesting to watch you go back,” he said, squinting his eyes at her and resting his head in his hand. “That is, if do you go back.”

Mara’s breath caught in her throat and her eyes widened.

“What do you mean? You said I had to go back alive. You said it was important,” she sputtered. Maybe he would kill her after all.

“Now comes the most important question,” he said, folding his hands in front of him. Danya seemed very official now, like she was here for college interviews and he was on the board of admissions. “It is customary to invite the winner to stay here. We’ve never had anyone accept, but really I don’t think that my father and the team would have wanted any of the past winners to stay. It was more for tradition’s sake. For you though, it might be a good fit.”

She was starting to feel dizzy. Her heart started pounding in her chest and Mara suddenly felt she couldn't control her breathing. Her chest was rising up and down quickly and she gasped in a large breath of air to try and get it under control. Part of her felt she might pass out soon, another part felt that she should pass out, but the strongest part willed her to stay sitting upright in her seat. "What are you talking about? Stay here?" she asked as evenly as she could manage.

V5 Epilogue: Desiderium
“This is Jim Greynolds,” he said quickly, tilting his head towards the second man. ”So what would you like to talk about? Dad always said the weather is a good place to start.”

“Whatever you want to talk about, I guess,” was her dumbstruck reply.

“Wonderful. Thank you for making this easy. I have a bit of stage fright in front of big groups, but now that we're alone I’m feeling much more relaxed.”

“There’s...no need to be nervous,” she said trying to navigate the surreal situation. It was absurd. She was comforting this man who was evil, but her brain wasn’t processing the information.

“I have some questions if you’ll indulge me. I think you might guess the first one.”

She was silent for a moment before answering slowly. “Why did I kiss Cecily?”

“Why did you kiss Cecily?” he repeated, resting his head on his interlaced hands.

“I….” she started, then faltered. It was the first time she’d properly tried to remember what had happened. Mara stared into her tea as she pieced the moment back together.

“I saw her,” she said more to herself than to Tracen. “She was looking down at me- like- like I was, a rat or something. I saw this...bovarism in her that it- it reminded me of…”

“Of you?” he urged gently.

“Yes, of me. And you,” she said looking up at him suddenly. “She was so haughty, so sure. I wanted to bring her down to my level and feel some of what I felt. I wanted to get her dirty with my blood and filth. For whatever little I could do, I wanted her to know that just because it hadn’t happened to her, that doesn’t mean she’s untouchable. Does that make any sense?”

Tracen nodded. “It does. I understand it wholly. Who would more than me? I run this game and one of the reasons is to show what people are at their core, stripped away of niceties imposed on them by society. Society told you that you were spoiled and shallow, but you’re much more than that.”

She was getting mixed up now, shaking her head with eyebrows furrowed. “No, that’s- I mean yes, but that’s not-.”

“What was Finn really? Selfish and petty. What was Zubin really? A bumbling narcissist. And Summer, your cherished friend. She was so desperate for love that she would kill you for a kind word.”

Mara felt her blood boil. The heat was spreading over her cheeks and down her neck. In an instant she was standing with the teapot in hand, leaning forward.

“You asshole. If you say her name again, if you mock me, I’ll throw this whole pot of boiling tea right in your goddamn face!”

Tracen arched an eyebrow and looked slightly to her right. Mara followed his eyeline and saw the barrel of a gun near her temple, before glaring at Tracen again.

“You did that to her. You killed her. And for what?!” she spat. “Just shoot me, I don’t care anymore.”

Tracen sighed deeply. It was the first time since she’d entered that he’d looked anything less than a kind host.

“It’s important for us to keep you alive and return you home. However...” The man by her side, Jim, moved the gun barrel down to her shoulder.

“‘Alive’ leaves a lot of room for interpretation.”

He stood and for the first time she realized how much taller he was than her. Tracen leaned across the desk to meet her. With one hand he grabbed her chin and with the other he took hold of her wrist, twisting it painfully and making it difficult to hold up the teapot. She squeaked and tried to wrench out of his grip, but he was deceptively strong. He seemed totally undisturbed by her squirming.

“This is my office. I will say what I like and mention any person I wish," he whispered, looking straight on at her. "I have been generous until now. You are a guest and if you don’t behave as such you will see how loose my interpretation can be."

Mara looked up at him, eyes shining with tears of rage and fear as his grip tightened. He moved his head near her ear.

Now, drop it.”

V5 Epilogue: Desiderium
“‘Immortal Amaranth, a flower which once in paradise, fast by the tree of life began to bloom,” he recited quickly, as if trying not to forget the passage. “Paradise Lost is one of my favorites. It makes mention of these mythical amaranth flowers that never die. That’s a very lucky name you have.” He looked at her expectantly. She stared dumbly at him and after some silence he cleared his throat.

"Please, sit down."

There were two men in the room. Mara carefully looked at the second man sitting on the side, then back up to the one offering her a seat. She slowly lowered herself into the chair and he pushed it in gently. Mara smoothed her dress out while he walked around to sit behind the desk.

"Are you thirsty? We have tea, coffee, milk, water, some sodas somewhere if you prefer that."

"Tea is fine, thank you," she responded lightly.

He stood again and briskly poured a cup of tea from a tea service on the table. She pulled the drink close and cupped her hand around it, peering down into the shiny, honey colored liquid. The man sitting on the side had already started in a platter of sandwiches also on the desk, grabbing them in his meaty fists. Mara lifted the cup to her lips, but was stopped by the man behind the desk.

"Ah ah....it's hot. Wait for it to cool." It was said sternly, like a warning one would give a child. She acquiesced and he smiled.

"My name is Tracen Danya and I am more than happy to finally speak with you, Miss Montalvo. I've waited quite a long time to meet you."

“You’ve waited a long time,” she echoed. She tilted her head. He looked so normal. He looked like someone who would be working at a bookstore or someone who would fix your computer, maybe even a doctor. She squinted, trying to see if there was anything physical that hinted at cruelty or insanity. He was tall, graceful with stylishly messy black hair and a dimple square in the middle of his chin. The only thing amiss was the eyes. They looked just like hers, black.

“I was afraid you would never wake up. You were out cold when you arrived and you stayed that way for nearly two weeks."

“Two weeks?!” she gasped. “Are you serious?”

“No, I’m not,” he said with a laugh. “It’s been two days. I read that jokes can help break the ice in awkward situations. Did it work?”

That was still a very long time. It probably wasn't healthy, either. She thought about how it seemed like she’d just been on the island. Days were years in island-time. That was the only sort of time that had mattered.

"Oh,” he said and flattened down his hair self consciously. “It’s grown a bit since we saw each other last. I would say that it's rude to stare, but I think in this case an exception can be made." She snapped out of her thoughts and looked instead at the polished desk. "You've been through a lot, so a few manners can be dismissed. I hope it doesn't bother you if I say that I'd been studying you as well. I didn’t notice you in particular when this all started in the auditorium, so it’s like I’m meeting you for the first time. You're much more beautiful in person"

"Thank you," she said hoarsely and somewhat bewildered.

Tracen turned to the man who was eating. "I thought you said these talks were unpleasant," he said jovially.

"Give it time."

V5 Epilogue: Desiderium
Mara stood in front of the door, studying the unremarkable wood. Her eyes shifted to Sonia who nodded a fraction of an inch. She put her hand on the doorknob, slowly turned it and pulled. Before she could get the door open there was the sound of hurried footsteps and the door snapped shut.

To her right stood the blonde woman, Cecily, palm flat against the door.

“He doesn’t want you,” she hissed.

Mara blinked slowly at Cecily, confused but silent.

“He’ll say he’s so happy you’re here. That’s what he does. He makes everyone believe he wants them around, but he doesn’t. He never wanted you to win," she said in a frantic, rushed way.

“Cecily,” Sonia warned.

“He’s pissed. He was hoping that Hansel would finish you off when he had the chance-”

Cecily,” came a sharp voice from inside the room.

She looked at Mara for another moment before reluctantly backing down and allowing the door to open. Mara took a deep breath. She stepped inside, leaving both women in the hall and heard the door shut behind her.

V5 Epilogue: Desiderium
Mara took a step forward, but the footfall was silent. The picture became clearer after a moment, like an old television turning on. Sitting there, eating and chatting, were her friends. She couldn’t hear them; it was as if the scene were on mute. There was Naomi having an intense discussion with that Owen boy who’d helped her. Naomi thought he was a good guy, not like that other Owen. Summer was nodding enthusiastically at whatever Finn was saying and Stacy was twirling a piece of blonde hair around her finger while Kat gesticulated wildly.

At the very end of the table was Miranda, the only one who noticed Mara’s presence. She appeared to excuse herself and walked to where she stood, taking both of Mara’s hands in hers. She looked gorgeous in all her red-lipped, winged liner, pin-up luster.

“R-randa Panda.”

Mara held onto her hands, but they didn’t feel right, not quite solid.

“Please say something, Miranda,” she begged.

But the other girl said nothing, gazing sadly.

“I miss you all so much,” she said as the tears started to well up. “I just need you to talk to me so I can hear your voice. I- I’m starting to forget what it sounded like.”

She threw her arms up around Miranda and hugged her as tight as possible, but it wasn’t the satisfying hug she’d imagined. It wasn’t warm.

“JUST SAY SOMETHING.”




Mara looked up at an unfamiliar ceiling, sterile and white. She reached up to wipe her face and found her hands were expertly wrapped in clean bandages. She looked at her hands, touched her face and felt her hair. She was all clean without a trace of the blood and dirt she’d been caked in when she was knocked out. Gingerly, she sat up, hissing from the pain as she moved. Her torso was mostly bandages with a flesh colored band across her chest, probably for modesty’s sake.

“Welcome back, sleeping beauty.”

Sonia, the laughing woman from the beach, was sitting on her bed. She reached to something on the floor and handed it to Mara.

“Don’t push yourself. Normally we’d give you some of your own clothes, but all of yours are ashes. New clothes, compliments of Danya,” she explained as Mara inspected the package, turning it around in her hands and shaking it like a Christmas present.

“Is this going to explode?”

Sonia smiled. “Probably not.”

Mara opened it and held up a yellow sundress with wide straps and a squared neckline. The fabric felt thick and of good quality.

“What? No shoes?”

“You’ll live.”

Giuliano Giovanni
Enjoy pre game! (no refunds)

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