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"After all, we wouldn't want anybody refusing to play ball, would we? "

Liz had never heard Mr. Kwong be sarcastic before.

He's alive. He's alive. I thought they'd killed him. Why is he alive?

She was frozen, pen down, perfectly white.

"…should anybody successfully kill Liz Polanski, they will immediately be awarded a weapon from our very own stash of best kill prizes as a bounty. Miss Polanski. If you instruct anybody, verbally or by any other method, in your techniques, we will immediately detonate their collar. If we see you persisting in trying to break our rules, we will detonate collars at random. If you remain at large, we will send in a team to hunt you and anybody found to be allied with you down."

Why did they keep him alive?

"We may also-" Mr. Kwong faltered. "We may also see fit to eliminate your beloved teacher."

Liz's neck felt weak. She dropped her head to her knees. No, no, no, no.
Danya was apparently effective in his terrorism. Why do they have him? Why do they-why do they-why do they--

Liz hated when her thoughts interrupted themselves like that. It was Mr. Kwong, of course, who had taught her how to manage it. Count factorials--start at eleven--or no, powers of three--

"It has also come to our attention that Miss Polanski has recklessly destroyed one of our cameras, as a punishment, we will now detonate a collar," there was an indistinct murmur across the PA. When Kwong spoke again, he sounded horrified. "What!? No! I - you can't make me-"

Don't! Liz tried to yell. It came out as a choked whisper. No intelligible sound. And pain. I'll stop--I'll stop--don't hurt him--please--

There was a thud over the loudspeaker. Liz dry-heaved.

"I... I will be commencing this punishment now," a second of silence. Mr. Kwong's voice was pained. "B148, Daisuke Nagazawa, eliminated."

Boom, Liz thought. And somewhere, someone's collar exploded.

This is your teacher, Kwong Lei, signing off. Kids I believe in-!"

And the cutoff.

Kids, I believe in--

An echo, pounding at her forehead. Liz, I believe in you. He had said that so many times. So many times. Liz, I believe in you. I would never give you a problem you could not solve. Liz, you're brilliant. These universities don't know what they're getting. Liz!

She was holding her forehead, squeezing it to get the sound out. Her face felt drained.

And there were people around her. They had saved her. Go away, go away, go away!

"Er, scratch what I said earlier... This is some shit you've gotten us into, Lizzy." It was Dave, the big football player, looking down at her. "Now, to be honest, I'm gonna pass on the whole 'Kill Liz and recieve a fantastic prize' deal, but sorry, I'm not gonna stick my neck out to protect yours."

Not going to stick out my neck out to protect yours. Liz gulped. She hadn't thought of people trying to protect her. You're a douchebag, please leave.

He dropped something beside her. Something heavy. A knife. Said some words. She could keep the sweater, apparently. Good. It was less noticeable than Cyrille's red hoodie.

Isabel Guerra, the big Spanish girl, was next. “Sorry." She looked pained. "But I can't stay with you. Take this. You'll need it more than I will."

She dropped a tin of crackers by Liz's lap.

And Charlie, the cheerleader, dropped a mirror.

Liz picked it up. I can use it to look around corners, I guess.

Their expressions were funereal. Ugh. Go away, go away, go away. Too much human emotion around her. She needed to think.

Dave dragged Winnie away. Charlie and Isabel left droopily. Helen Wilson was the last to go; Liz had to look at her and mouth "please leave" before she took the hint.

Heart pounding, echoing the trees. Her throat had never hurt so much. Her rescuer's steps faded, obscured. Liz watched them gone, eyes focusing till it hurt. Go, go, go. Go. Please go.

And then they were gone. Liz's head could stop pounding now. The message--she could remember most of the message. She went through the contents, word by word, line by line.

I would never give you a problem you could not solve.

If she could think of it as a problem, she could solve it.

This meant she had to figure out what solving it entailed.

I want to escape, and to live.

That had been her old goal. Now, with third-degree burns on her throat and a bounty on her head, it seemed far-fetched. And, to be honest, it seemed tiny. If Danya had decided she was enough of a threat to pull out blackmail, a math teacher, and a new announcement for her, presumably he thought she was more of a threat than a single escapee would warrant.

I want Danya to lose the game.

It was true. She hadn't cared about Danya until just now; he had been a deterrent to her goals, not a human, not an opponent.

Now she hated him.

It was a game for him. For her, it was more than variables. It was her body, her life. Mr. Kwong, his life. For the first time in her life, she understood what people meant when they called someone 'callous'.

And Danya knew that. That's why he had used Mr. Kwong on her. For her, it was more than variables.

Then make it variables.

A game would be comfortable. Liz Polanski was unfortunate in real life. But she rarely lost games.

So what did Danya want out of this game?

He wants us to all kill each other, until there's only one of us left, for the entertainment of television viewers everywhere.

He lost if the game stopped being entertaining, if the terrorists lost control of the island, or if more than one person survived.

Liz closed her eyes. It was hard to breathe now. Thinking analytically was important. Thinking emotionally would kill her.

What the hell is Danya doing?

He wanted control of her. She had something--powers, information--and he wanted control of it. And it was important enough to him that he made a special announcement, offered bribes, revived a math teacher, and began detonating collars in order to establish that control.

Must suck for him. Detonating collars. One less unit of entertainment value.

She stored that thought away for later. Concentrated on breathing. Eyes still shut. Powers of six, now.

What is Danya assuming?

He was assuming that she was benevolent. That she didn't want collars detonated. He was assuming that she was benevolent. That she cared about Mr. Kwong dying. He was assuming that self-preservation was her secondary goal. There's probably a reason for that. He was assuming that she would and wouldn't do certain things.

He wants to scare me as hard as he can. He wants to trap me with my own personality.

There were math problems, Liz's favorite kind, where if you looked at them one way, they seemed impossible. Unsolvable. Nada. Zip. It was only when you played with the assumptions, did something clever, thought of (-cotx cscx) as dy/dx (cscx) or cotx as 1/tanx, that suddenly the problem came clear, easy, slippery, solvable. Liz's mind lived on those problems.

And this was one of them.

He lost if the game stopped being entertaining, if the terrorists lost control of the island, or if more than one person survived.

Easy. Easy. Easy, easy, easy.

She picked up her pen, the one she had dropped when Mr. Kwong's voice had come on the loudspeakers. Rubbed it painfully with her fingers.

If you let emotion get involved now, you lose.

Picked up the pad. She couldn't stop herself from writing slowly.

MR. DANYA, I THINK YOU'VE JUST GIVEN ME A WAY TO WIN YOUR GAME.

(Liz Polanski continued in another thread)
--------


Alice Boucher was a liar.
Liz Polanski played with fire.

And who the hell is Radio Asuka?
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