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Being a degenerate is okay these days
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((Min-jae Parker continued from Five Finger Death Punch))

Jae and Vanessa had left the asylum behind as soon as possible after the awkward encounter with Trav and Cass on the rooftop. The other side of the island looked a lot more like civilization, at least going by the map, so they made the harrowing, faltering trip across the bridge and set up for the night in one of the staff dormitories. There were noises during the night, possible movement elsewhere in the building, but no one showed their face. Everything hurt more the next day, even with the effort Jae had taken to elevate his leg during the night, but it was back to their semi-aimless trek all the same. Time spent hesitating was time wasted.

They were somewhere between buildings when the speakers hidden around the island crackled to life for the first time.

Jae was religious, kind of. His mom's whole side of the family were Buddhist and when she started actively practicing in the home, he had gradually absorbed enough of the traditions to consider himself part of it. The whole putting it into practice bit was another thing entirely, but he tried to keep the principles in mind most of the time.

So in Buddhism, or at least the Min-jae Tradition of Buddhism, death had never been a particularly big deal. He'd never experienced it in close proximity. He'd been to a funeral, once, when he was four or five and his maternal grandfather had passed away. It was a vague, unpleasant memory for reasons entirely unrelated to the actual funeral and much more to do with thirteen-hour plane rides and the general strife that always existed between his maternal relatives. The concept of death was the equivalent of a time-out. This round's over, let's see how you did and where you end up in round two.

Jae had spent the early hours of the morning trying to reconcile that view with the steadily-growing dread in the pit of his stomach for the forthcoming announcement. Nobody in his school was probably going to end up in Hell. Even if they did, Hell was just another stop of the wheel, the equivalent of being made to sit in the corner and think about what you did before you get another chance. Most people would just end up right back where they started, in a metaphysical sense. Sorry guys, but this time around was a wash, have another go.

So there was the knowledge that everyone's soul would probably be okay in the end. It was hard to care too much about souls when you were still very much attached to the physical world and had so much that you still wanted to do.

It was hard to care about souls when every name Danya listed off with a hint of boredom was such a senseless waste.

Scarlett McAfee, there was a nastier shock than Jae had been expecting. He hadn't liked Scarlett; he'd been suspicious of her, and let's be totally honest here, he'd threatened her at the Sadie Hawkins dance. Vague threats more in the vein of social ruin than physical harm, but threats all the same. Thinking of the dance inevitably lead to a tangle of other things, other faces, and he tried to put them from his mind. There was the issue of Nancy, wholly unrelated to the rest of Jae's turmoil involving Scarlett. Nancy, whom he'd seen only briefly, running from him while he lay bleeding on the floor, had gone on to take a hatchet to Scarlett for no adequately explained reason.

Then there was Alvaro. Maybe Jae had expected to hear his name one way or another, but... Well, this made it real, didn't it. Alvaro had run into somebody else and had indeed succeeded where he'd failed with Jae. Barry Banks was less clear in his mind, but Jae had thought that he and Alvaro were soccer teammates. He would have assumed they were friends.

It just proved what Jae had already realized: Alvaro was fucking crazy.

He didn't feel particularly vindicated by the confirmation.

There was also the deeper realization, the more selfish one; given his nature, Jae knew of the people listed off, but he didn't know them. They were, to put it crudely, people he didn't really care about. People who might have died a year, five years after graduation in some freak accident or by a drug overdose or some terminal illness and he'd have gone "Oh, that's too bad," and moved on with his life because he wouldn't have been there with any of them when it happened. Time's up, on to round two. Scarlett stood out the most, and the entirety of their acquaintanceship was the incident at the dance.

And in a way, that made it easier. He could say Nancy and Alvaro were psychos, that there had always been something there, something fundamentally wrong with them, and of course they'd snapped. Of course somebody had gotten hurt. Isabel Ramirez? Grade-A bitch back in school. Loved hurting people for giggles. Of course she'd take it further. All of the killers, they were messed up from the very start.

So what did that say about Jae's certainty that if he ran into Alvaro again, one of them wouldn't be walking away from it this time?

By the time he and Vanessa reached the radio tower, he still hadn't come up with an answer.
"Art enriches the community, Steve, no less than a pulsing fire hose, or a fireman beating down a blazing door. So what if we're drawing a nude man? So what if all we ever draw is a nude man, or the same nude man over and over in all sorts of provocative positions? Context, not content! Process, not subject! Don't be so gauche, Steve, it's beneath you."
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