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Stark
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Nuts.
[ *  *  * ]
It wasn't that he didn't hear Mary-Ann's pleas. It wasn't that he didn't care. It wasn't that he was abandoning her. It was the exact opposite of any of that. He wasn't leaving her. No matter how far apart they were, he was never going to leave her. Never. But he couldn't tell her that. He couldn't vocalize it. He didn't have time to write it down. He just had to hope she found the note. That, and that she got away as quickly as possible. This was all for her. He wished he could tell her that. This was all for her.

He slouched toward Kris, slowly but steadily, sword dragging heavily along the ground. His gaze was fixed. Aston, who he only now had noticed was there, was behind her. He noticed out of the corner of his eye that she was closing in. He liked Aston, really, he did, but that idiot was going to get herself killed like this. Kris, meanwhile, was going for that box she was sitting on. That big, shiny, metal box. The kind arms dealers carried the tools of their trade around with in movies. Opened it. Pulled out its contents. He recognized it fairly quickly as an M79 grenade launcher. He grinned. Something she wouldn't shoot at him at close range. Better yet, something she didn't seem to realize wasn't likely to come pre-loaded.

It would take time to load the weapon. Time she didn't have before he closed the distance between them, and from the look on her face, she knew it. The discordant scraping of the steel against the cobblestones was jarring to anyone's ears. Normally he'd carry his weapon properly, but it would work to his advantage all the same. Tap into Kris' primal fears. Get her to make a mistake. The world seemed to blur around him, but it didn't matter. He was this close to putting an end to her. There was no stopping now, as each step forward seemed to last forever.

This time, though, they were just coming that slowly.

Two hundred seventy five students had a shot at surviving version 4 of Survival of the Fittest. However small, two hundred seventy five students had a tangible chance at returning home from the island. Some, like Maxwell Lombardi and Reiko Ishida, who had transcended humanity and become pure forces of nature, had the odds stacked in their favor. For some, be they fools the likes of Remi Pierce, or simply unfortunate, like Dallas Reynolds or Megan Nelson, had negligibly infinitesimal chances, but they had chances all the same. For most, they were just as likely as anyone to see the game through to its conclusion, but in the end, two hundred seventy five students had a chance at surviving.

It's worth noting, then, that two hundred seventy six students made the senior trip.

That one further student, Robert Jacob Lowe, sealed his fate the moment he stepped on the bus. From the moment of his conception on a cold February night in 1989, to this hot summer day in 2008, a long, impossibly complex series of chemical reactions shaped R.J. into the person he had been precisely three hours ago, the very moment his appendix finally gave way to its growing infection and ruptured. Had he stayed home, he could have caught it early, received appropriate medical attention, had the offending vestigial organ removed, and gone on with his life, empty though it might have been when his class never came home. Oh well. For want of a nail, they say.

R.J. dropped to his knees before Kris. It was purely a fluke of nature that they'd carried him as far as they had. He tried to raise the sword, perhaps fight her off from here. Tried, and failed. His arms didn't have the strength to lift the sword on the way back, so why would they now, when he couldn't even feel them anymore? Slowly, the blade slipped from his numb fingers, clattering on the ground. His extremities had been abandoned by any sensation. Everything else was pain. Roiling, searing pain. But he refused to show it. Even now, when it was so obviously an exercise in futility, he had to stay strong. It was all he could do. Just sit there, endure the agony, and show no weakness.

Just laugh it off.

He stared up at Kris, primed as she was to turn this entire town center into her own little charnel house in a bath of fire, and he smiled, letting out a raspy, voiceless chuckle. Of all the times for him to give out, of all the places, this is what it all amounted to. The light in those brown eyes of his began to fade. His eyelids were growing heavy. Whatever happened now, it was over for him. He glanced briefly back to Mary-Ann, smile still on his face, albeit a bit gentler now, and nodded her off. With a little effort, he was able to form a thumbs up for her. Let her know it'd all be okay.

This isn't goodbye, babe.

He turned his gaze slowly back to Kris. Breathed in. Out. In.

He would need every ounce of strength he had left.

Like a giant, hellish jack-in-the-box, he sprung up from his knees, diving straight for the girl with the grenade launcher. His left arm outstretched, his eyes focused on her neck, he made one last, desperate attempt at her collar. It was probably futile. He knew full well it would be. But in that last moment before he blacked out, he thought that maybe, just maybe, he felt the warm metal of that explosive neckband brush against his fingertips.

He was gone before he hit the ground.

But hey, at least he tried, right?

B119 Robert Jacob Lowe: Deceased






Mary-Ann,

As I write this, it's occurred to me that these stomach pains probably aren't from hunger. Truth is, they've been bothering me since before I ran into you that second night here. I didn't want to say anything - okay, wrong choice of words, I guess, but the thing is, I didn't want to worry you. I wanted to be strong, to protect you. I guess I wanted you to need me as much as I needed you. Funny how that worked out for us, right? All I can really do now is apologize, if I'm letting you down in any way. It's just that this is my time, I guess. Not a lot to be done about it. I've made my peace and said my prayers, and the rest is in God's hands now.

Some people might curse their lot in life if they were in my shoes. Personally? I think that's bullshit. I've been blessed with a family that loved me and cared about me, and I hope they always will. I've accomplished more in eighteen years than most people will in eighty. Sure, I didn't get to do everything I wanted to, but that's the best way to live life, isn't it? Be happy with what you already have, but never settle for just that or rest on your laurels. The only thing I can really say I regret is that I couldn't stay with you. When I told you I loved you, I really did mean it. There were other girls before you, we both know that, but you made me feel something I never knew I could. When you were around, I felt more alive than I ever had before. You're the kind of girl I could've honestly seen myself settling down and starting a family with. We'd have two kids, Michelle and Claymore, because no one messes with a dude named Claymore, and a nice house in the suburbs with a white picket fence and everything. It's just as well I'll never have any of it. I know now that I don't deserve it. But it was nice to think about for a while.

Before I die, I've got one last favor to ask. Since I couldn't be strong for you, I want you to promise you'll be strong for yourself. I reloaded the gun. You've got thirteen rounds left, so use them conservatively and aim them well. Be smart. Understand that some won't hesitate to kill you if it means going home. Respond to these people in kind. If a peaceful means of escape presents itself, seize it. If it doesn't, do what you have to. Much as I'll miss you, I don't hope to see you soon, so prioritize survival above all else. Go home. Hug your parents. Forget about me. Find someone better for you, and live your life like you always have. Anything less, and the bastards who did this to us have succeeded. And if it helps, remember that whatever the announcements tell you, I'll be with you every step of the way. If you're scared, I'll be here to hold you tight. If you need to cry, I'll be here to give you my shoulder. If your aim falters, I'll be here to steady your hands. If you lose your balance, I'll be here to pick you up. And when it comes time that you're strong enough that you don't need my help, I'll bow out gracefully, but as long as you need me, I'm right here.

Most of all, I want to thank you for everything. For giving me a purpose in life. For being there when I needed someone the most. For being you. And for all this rambling, thanks for listening. I really do appreciate it.
<Mimi>: You are much nicer than I thought you'd be!
<Stark>: Shut up, fatty.
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