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You've been counting stars, now you're counting on me
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Kimberly reached the docks perhaps ten minutes after leaving the town square, wheezing and coughing and aching. The time had done little to improve her disposition. She'd realized, more than anything else, that she didn't even know how she felt anymore. She was tired, hurting, scared. She had no fucking idea what came next. She'd never paid much attention to SOTF before; it had always existed in that part of her mind where particularly traumatizing horror stories were shelved and then carefully ignored. She knew of the first three winners, yeah, but who didn't? She didn't know their full names, that was for sure. She certainly didn't know who they'd been before the game.

She knew she wasn't having any of the bullshit the first guy had taken. She wasn't going back. Never. No way. Better to die. She'd make that clear if it came up, meet her end kicking and screaming if she had to, but she'd never go through it all again.

And then, of course, there was her location weighing on her mind. The docks were a place which held a lot of memories for Kimberly, and almost all of them were awful. She could see it, could feel it all over again, as she stumbled out of the bait shop and away from the corpse, that awful impression of having just crossed paths with death weighing heavy on her. She'd told herself she was fine. She'd pretended like it'd been just the same as back at the tunnels, back when she'd actually touched a body, but it hadn't been similar at all, not out in the real world. That had been the first time it had really been clear to her what she was up against, what she was hurtling towards.

Then it had all gone to hell. Steven, Will, Aislyn. It could've been alright. They could've had a little team, if Kimberly had been willing to swallow her pride and suck up to a psychopath. They could have gone their separate ways if she'd just done the smart thing and walked off as soon as Steven gave her the knife. There'd been no logical reason to goad Will, no tactical purpose behind showing him up. She'd wanted to. She'd wanted to and she'd lacked the self control to deny her urges and Aislyn had died for it.

No. Fuck euphemisms. She'd murdered Aislyn. It hadn't been self defense. She'd gotten scared and she'd murdered Aislyn and now, inevitably, she was back at the scene of the crime.

It was still dark out, still night. The smoke from the burning house was still visible against the stars, though it no longer impacted her overall vision. Kimberly's breathing had returned roughly to normal, unlike her gait. Even hurrying, she hadn't been able to manage anything above a hobble. Her ankle wasn't fucked up too badly, she thought, but it still hurt like a bitch every time she put weight on it.

As she got closer, Kimberly could see shapes moving near the docks, half a dozen of them. She squinted, and they resolved into bipedal blurs, then, as she moved closer and reached the point where her eyesight wasn't messing her up too badly, into people. While they were the first non-students Kimberly had seen in two weeks, they weren't as interesting as the changes that had taken place in the environment. Someone had gone to work on the docks with something nice and explosive, it looked like, and one of the protruding areas had been blown away nearly completely. Kimberly was pretty sure it was the same section of dock she'd stood on all those days ago, the same stretch where she'd stabbed Aislyn. The positioning relative to the bait shop was about right.

She certainly wasn't sorry to see it go.

"Over here."

The voice was calm, commanding, slightly understated. It was a woman's voice, drawing Kimberly's attention back to the figures. She could see now that there was something up near the beach behind them, probably a boat or raft of some kind.

The impulse to disobey and spite them was still present, but at a lower level than it had been back at the town center. This wasn't worth dying over, and Kimberly wasn't ready to stake her life on the idea that Greynolds wasn't going to hold her to the second he'd stated as her deadline. She picked up her pace as much as she could, trying to keep from grimacing with the pain. She could at least attempt to stay tough.

The group of people wasn't quite what Kimberly had been expecting. Five of them were roughly what she'd anticipated, men in combat fatigues holding large rifles. They all kept them trained on her, like maybe she was dangerous or something. She wanted to laugh. More than that, she just wanted to collapse, to lie down and go to sleep right there on the splintered wooden planks. She stayed steady, stayed alert, didn't waver. No need to fuck up now. Five of the figures were pretty boring. That didn't mean they weren't an immediate threat to her continued survival.

The one who really drew her attention for more than a cursory glance, though—the one who was different from the others, who was unexpected—was a petite woman in a knee-length black skirt and a long-sleeved white blouse. She had square-framed glasses, and she was very clearly Vietnamese. For a few seconds, Kimberly thought they'd grabbed her mother for some reason she'd never be able to understand, because the woman was nearly her spitting image. Squinting, partially to correct for her own nearsightedness and partially in the futile hope that it would help her make out details through the darkness, Kimberly noticed that this woman seemed a little bit too young, a little too beautiful in a detached sort of way.

The woman stepped closer, but Kimberly didn't get a better look at her features, because one of the men flicked on a flashlight and pointed the beam directly into Kimberly's face. She raised her right hand to block the light, but didn't close her eyes. She wasn't about to let these fuckers get her to do anything without directly ordering her around.

"Congratulations, Kimberly," the woman said. "My name's Sonia Nguyen. No relation, of course."

No shit.

"Search her."

One of the other men stepped forwards and patted Kimberly down. The check was fairly cursory; she figured they'd been watching her closely enough to know she wasn't carrying anything now. The man paid special attention to her boots, kneeling in front of her and running his fingers along the insides. Kimberly had a crazy urge to kick him in the face. He was lined up perfectly for it. She didn't know how to kick, but it'd have been really simple to just hook him under the chin with her toe and pull upwards.

She settled with imagining it. Not worth dying for. That was becoming her new mantra. This close to surviving, to going home, she wasn't about to fuck around. She had no idea what her future held, but it had to be better than a bullet in the head and a trip to an incinerator.

"Clean," the man said, standing.

"Good." Sonia sounded more bored than pleased. "Are you ready, Kimberly?"

For all her designs on survival, Kimberly wasn't planning on making things easy for them. She smiled, lowered her hand to her collar, and tapped it three times.

Can't talk, remember? Not until this comes off. Tell me, bitch, how much do you want an answer?

Sonia's face clouded for half a second, but she nodded. The man who had searched Kimberly stepped up again, this time withdrawing some tool from a back pocket. He stood behind her for a few moments, fiddling with something she couldn't see, then her collar made a few loud beeps. Kimberly stiffened, her eyes widening, the muscles in her legs tensing for a futile attempt to outrun the bomb attached to her neck, but the man grabbed her roughly by the shoulder, probably planning to hold her still.

Kimberly was too busy screaming to notice that the collar had fallen away from her neck. The man released her and jumped back, and she dropped to her knees. She knew she was crying. He'd grabbed her by her fucked up shoulder. Kimberly had wrenched her wound, had scuffed it against things, but never since her shooting had she received that sort of pressure to it.

For maybe a minute, she sat on the ground, sobbing and sniffling and trying to will herself back to coherency and failing. She didn't want to look weak in front of these people, didn't want to look like she was hurting and sure as fuck didn't want them to know she was afraid.

When she finally regained a little composure and self control, she saw that all the guns were pointing her way again. She couldn't read anyone's expression too well in the darkness, but she was pretty sure Sonia shot the man who'd grabbed her a dirty look.

"You alright?" one of the other men asked.

"The fuck do you think?" Kimberly spat. Now that the collar was off, she wasn't so worried about watching what she said. If they wanted her to shut up, she figured they'd tell her or hit her, not shoot her on the spot.

Apparently, her assessment was correct. The man who'd removed her collar stepped up again and hoisted her to her feet, this time with an arm under her right armpit. She made a token effort to shake him off, but it didn't do any good. She wasn't really sure she could've stood unassisted anyways.

They marched her down to the beach, where a small motorboat was up against the shore. In it stood two more men with rifles. Two members of Kimberly's escort helped her into the boat. They were paying a lot more attention to her wounds now, which had Kimberly a little nervous. She really had no clue how much trouble she was in. It hadn't seemed like such a pressing concern before. Even with this slightly ominous turn of events, though, she was pretty sure she wasn't dying—at least, not of anything more rapid than starvation and dehydration.

She didn't have to worry about the latter for long. Sonia passed her a bottle of water, already opened. She sat on a bench facing the rear of the boat, and Kimberly sat in a seat mirroring hers. Kimberly could tell now that the other woman was wearing boots that gave her a bit of a lift; without them, Kimberly was pretty sure she had an inch or two on the older woman.

Kimberly brought the bottle to her lips and swallowed down as much as she could, until, halfway through the bottle, her stomach cramped and she choked and coughed and dropped the bottle. Half a second later, she started gagging and heaving. One of the men helped her stumble to the railing, where she emptied her stomach, leaving a string of watered-down chocolate and stomach acid along the side of the boat.

By the time she got back to her seat, Sonia already had a new bottle of water ready.

After that, Kimberly drank slowly.
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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