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You've been counting stars, now you're counting on me
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The hug lasted for a while. It was good. It was nice to just be close to a friend, to feel safe and happy, even if it was no more than a fleeting illusion. Jennifer knew that someone could turn the corner at any second and open fire. She and Melissa could be torn apart by death at a moment's notice. Even worse, someone could figure out a new exploit in the system, and they could begin anew the torturous process of determining whether the troublemaker would be cowed by Danya's killing of random students. Jennifer had been trying to avoid being too exciting. This was a bad survival tactic where detonations were concerned. She was surprised her collar hadn't been blown in the first round of example deaths. She strongly doubted she'd live through a second.

They were living moment-to-moment, all of them. Jennifer managed by trying not to allow the reality and meaning behind her thoughts to sink in. Anything else would lead to insanity or depression.

Melissa was talking, crying, hiccuping. Jennifer wasn't sure what to do, except to simply be there for her friend, to try to be as comforting as she could.

The words were about the past. They were about better days, and Jennifer nodded and said, "I'm, um, glad I met you too."

And then, the conversation turned dead fucking serious, because Melissa started to talk about what they'd do as the game wore on. It wasn't a new topic to Jennifer. It was something she'd thought about again and again, something she'd worked and reworked in her mind, trying to find a satisfactory solution. In the end, though, she knew. She'd known since the beach. She decided to hold her peace until Melissa finished, though. It gave her time to steel herself, to prepare a little, to plan her words. This was not a topic to stumble her way through.

She parsed things, sorted them into the key questions, prepared them in her head. Readied them all to deal with in turn.

And when Melissa fell silent with a final hiccup, Jennifer spoke, slowly and carefully.

"I, um, I don't know what's going to happen to us. But I... maybe we have a chance to live. But, um, not much of one."

Too blunt. Too horrible. Too true.

"If... I don't know what I'll do. And, um, I don't know what I'd do to Maxwell. Melissa, I, um, I didn't get to tell you this, but..."

Fuck. She'd just strayed from the script, wandered off into an unpleasant little diversion. She'd set it up too much to back out now, though. Best to muscle through it.

"I, um, at the beach, I was with, um, with Phil when he... when he died. I got, um, distracted, and Jimmy Brennan murdered him. And, um, and I lost it. I went after Jimmy. And, um, and he came after me, and I, um, I disarmed him, and I knocked him down, and... Melissa, I could have killed him. But I... I just let him go. And he won Best Kill for that, and, um, and he could be out there killing more people right now.

"I don't think I could kill Maxwell."

That was probably sounding pretty fucking self-righteous. On to the next part, then. This was the part where she sounded like a monster instead.

"But, um, but I wouldn't think any less of you if you did. I... I, um, I don't even know what's right and wrong anymore, Melissa. I... with Nick... I don't even know if he's wrong. Isn't that twisted? I can't even tell if killing people is wrong, because everyone's just trying to survive. All I know is it scares me, and, um, and I don't want to kill anyone, and I don't want to be killed, but I can't do anything about it. I just want to go home, Melissa, but I can't kill anyone, and, and I don't want you to, and I don't want Nick to, but I'll still care even if you do."

She'd messed things up badly, gotten lost in her own words. She was sure she'd missed a bunch of important things. It would have to do for now, though. It would have to suffice.

"I don't want you to leave.

"I, um, I want to be with friends, and if... and when I die, I want to be with friends, and I want you to, um, to keep going, okay?"

She wondered if she was making a mistake in taking it for granted that Melissa would outlive her simply because of her friend's willingness to fight. People died all the time, now, including the strong ones, the fighters. There was no guarantee at all that Jennifer wouldn't find herself in the finals somehow, still unharmed.
Juliette Sargent drawn by Mimi and Ryuki
Alton Gerow drawn by Mimi
Lavender Ripley drawn by Mimi
Phillip Olivares drawn by Ryuki
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