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Viewing Single Post From: V4 Epilogue: Peace Accords
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You've been counting stars, now you're counting on me
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The half dozen or so soldiers kept Kimberly moving until she reached a room that gave her pause even without their commands to the same effect. It was not like anything else she'd seen; if anything, it was rather homey. There were two plush chairs with a small coffee table between them. On the table were two saucers and tea cups, as well as a small platter of crackers and cheese.

The chair closest Kimberly was unoccupied. In the other sat a slightly scruffy looking man in jeans and a sweater, looking at her curiously from behind wire-rimmed glasses. His brown hair was tied back in a ponytail, and it looked like it had been a few days since he'd shaved. Behind the scruffy man's chair, slightly to the left, stood a very tall, cleaner-cut man with a scar running across the bridge of his nose. Like so many of the people on the ship, he was holding an assault rifle.

"Have a seat," the man with the glasses said.

Kimberly paused for a second, considering some sort of retort, weighing her pride against the half dozen armed men standing behind her, then sat. The man smiled and said, "I'm Jim Greynolds. It's a pleasure to meet you."

Kimberly didn't say anything. Greynolds cleared his throat, and the soldiers who had escorted her turned and left, leaving only three people in the room.

"It's a pleasure to meet you," Greynolds said again, sticking out his hand this time. Kimberly looked at it, recalculated the risks based on what she'd just learned of Greynolds' demeanor, didn't move. No way she was gonna be polite to this fucker unless he felt like making her life depend on it. He'd shown himself willing to be direct when he'd talked to her through the speakers. She doubted he'd change now.

Greynolds waited, frozen, for far longer than Kimberly had expected, leaving her to wait immobile as well. He just looked at her, face calm. The man behind him fidgeted a little, shifting his weight from foot to foot, but otherwise the room was still.

Eventually, Greynolds shrugged, then leaned back as though nothing had happened. Kimberly let out her breath.

"This is Matt Richards," Greynolds said. "He's here to make sure you don't try anything dumb."

Again, Kimberly waited in silence. A look of intense concentration ran across Greynolds' face, then he said, "You know, I hate to disappoint you, but you're not being original. Calvert tried the same thing."

"Who?" Kimberly spoke almost before she consciously decided to change tactics. It wasn't that the comment upset her, more that she was figuring out that Greynolds wasn't the sort to be phased by passive resistance.

"Bryan Calvert. He won two years ago. The guy you don't know what the fuck happened to." An edge of mocking mimicry entered Greynolds' voice as he spoke. Kimberly didn't like it one bit.

"Ah," she said.

"Have some tea," Greynolds said, gesturing to the table. "It's citrus. You can get a start on working off your vitamin deficiencies."

"No thanks."

"Suit yourself." He picked up his own cup and took a long sip. As he set his cup back down, Kimberly's eyes followed along, lingering for a moment on the crackers and cheese. There was no way the food hadn't been placed intentionally. Of course they knew she was starving, malnourished.

"Help yourself," Greynolds said.

"No thanks."

This provoked a long burst of laughter from the man opposite Kimberly. Like the silence when he proffered his hand, it went on quite a bit too long. Finally, recovering, he said, "That's what I love about you, you know. You're so willing to fuck yourself over just to throw someone else off their game. I told them not to blow your collar, you know, in the tunnels. I told them it'd be a waste of time, that sooner or later you'd catch a bullet in the head anyways. I told them it'd just make the girl madder, that it'd make her try harder, that she was gonna drop soon anyways."

Here, he paused for a moment, shooting a glance up at the other man, and Kimberly wondered for a second if she'd misjudged where the power in the room lay, whether perhaps Richards, who seemed almost to fade into the background, was really calling the shots.

"I guess I was wrong that time," Greynolds said. "Charmed life, the both of you. For a while, I mean."

There it was. Kimberly had a sinking feeling that everything was about to go wrong, that she'd just found the fishhook in her sandwich. There was nothing to do but press on now, though. She was out of her depth, but she wasn't going to give them the satisfaction of watching her try to wriggle her way out of trouble.

"Nothing lasts forever," she said. "I heard you caught up with her. I guess you weren't quite quick enough, though."

Kimberly felt her expression changing, felt a smile spreading across her face, and she knew everything was about to go straight to hell.

She found she didn't quite give a fuck.

"You guys lost," she said. She was aware of the hat she was wearing again, aware of the fact that she could be fatally wrong, could be pressing the wrong buttons, but it didn't seem so important. She was tired, hurting, angry, and the people responsible, responsible for everything she'd suffered, were sitting almost within arm's reach. She didn't feel awkward in her t-shirt and her shortened jeans, not anymore. She felt the fire rising again. She was starting to lose track of just what qualified as not worth dying for.

"You lost. You fucked up and people got away. You guys got hurt. Fuck, maybe you got hurt bad. Where's Danya? I thought he met the winners."

For just an instant, something almost like anger flashed in Greynolds' eyes. Then he chuckled.

"You're absolutely correct," he said. "Danya's dead. A lot of people got away. We're on the run right now, actually, from several governments.

"We also did get hurt, some of us more than others. Richards belongs to the category who got it a bit worse than the rest. Richards, did I ever tell you that Ms. Nguyen was the one who gave Polanski her gun?"

Kimberly couldn't begin to figure out at what point in the conversation Richards had looped around and taken up position behind her chair. She'd been too caught up in Greynolds' revelations, too focused on the implications, to catch the subtle movement. Now, though, the voice behind her made her start.

"Did she really?"

"Yep," Greynolds said.

Kimberly could tell how this was supposed to go, could almost sense that she was supposed to apologize or try to backpedal, but she wasn't about to back down now, not after that moment where something had happened. She'd done something, had changed something. Perhaps she'd caused her own current predicament, though she doubted it; the whole thing was too constructed, too clean. It felt almost practiced.

"And?" she said.

"Richards took a hit," Greynolds said. "Got some nasty bruises. Had to pay a visit to the medical station. Now, it may not look it, but we've got some damn fine facilities. Nobody likes getting hurt, though.

"Now, Richards shot Polanski for it, but she wouldn't've been half as able to defend herself if she hadn't had a gun. It wasn't the same one you gave her—that got traded to another boy. Your friend's boyfriend, in fact. He murdered the guy you got the knife from with it. Funny how these things come around. Anyways, as I see it you're still indirectly responsible for Richards having an awful week. It might be time to apologize."

"Fuck you," Kimberly said. She knew she was fucking up, knew she was losing control and probably saying the exact shit they wanted her to, but she didn't care. "I'm glad I fucked up your day."

"Good for you," Greynolds said, as Richards leaned forward and grabbed Kimberly by the wrist of her good hand. He slammed her palm against the table. Somewhere in there he'd set the assault rifle aside; now he held a long knife in his free hand.

"I told Richards he could cut off one of your fingers every minute you didn't say exactly what we wanted to hear." Greynolds sounded cheerful but a bit uninvolved, as if his interest had already drifted elsewhere. "Riz felt uppity too. He lasted two minutes. You think you can beat his record?"

Kimberly had vague memories of the boy who had won last year, of missing fingers. She'd never paid much attention, not to SOTF, not to the psychopath who'd won. Not for the first time, she found herself regretting that choice.

"Now, bear in mind we're starting on your right hand," Greynolds continued. "That way you care. Your left, well, you're pretty much fucked there anyways, so no reason to give you five free minutes. Speaking of, I think you've burned through your first."

"Wait," Kimberly said. She didn't give a fuck if she was losing this round, not now. The stakes had just become too high for her. It was funny how perspective shifted when it wasn't so black and white, life or death. "I'm sorry. Fuck, I'm sorry. I didn't mean it."

"Good," Greynolds said. "That took about seventy seconds. I'll round down. Lucky you."

"Does the thumb count as a finger?" Richards said.

"Think so." Greynolds waved his hand carelessly. "Don't make too much of a mess. I want to finish those crackers."

The next seconds were confusion and chaos. Kimberly knew she was crying, knew she was probably going to die for what she was doing, but she didn't care. She'd been injured—no, crippled—once already. No way in fuck was she going to let it happen again, in such a permanent way. She thrashed wildly, trying to shake away the man who was holding her down. She wasn't in position, though. Richards had strength and leverage, and Kimberly was malnourished and tired and seated, and before she knew it she felt the blade of the knife brush the back of her thumb, felt the cold steel, not quite hurting but just a moment's pressure away from cutting into her. She was saying something, pleading maybe, screaming and begging, and the two men ignored her entirely.

"You have something to stop the bleeding?" Richards asked. Kimberly could hear him clearly, though his voice wasn't so loud. Greynolds glanced around, then slowly, casually, stood up. He stretched in an almost theatrical manner and wandered to the back of the room. Kimberly tensed, preparing to throw herself against Richards again, but he increased the pressure of the knife by a barely perceptible amount.

This wasn't fair. She hated the situation, hated herself for trying to fight it, hated everything and most of all hated the men who were doing this. She wanted to be cool, to be strong and tough and able to laugh this off like it meant nothing. She wanted to face her fate with a little dignity, to retreat into herself and maybe at least protect herself emotionally, but she was just too tired and scared. This wasn't like on the island, wasn't like looking down the barrel of yet another gun. This was calculated, personal, malicious, targeted.

"Found a towel." Greynolds walked back to his chair, still relaxed. He drew his arm back, apparently preparing to pitch the small square of pink cloth underhand, then paused. Kimberly had stopped screaming now, but could barely see through her tears. Still, she was pretty sure Greynolds was just now noticing that both of Richards' hands were occupied.

"Guess I'll have to help," he muttered. With a sigh, he pushed the tray of crackers to the side, then knelt down, hands on the towel. Kimberly groaned and tried to pull her hand away, but Richards tightened his grip on her wrist.

"Now?" he said.

"Sure," Greynolds replied. Kimberly tried to come up with something to say, some last minute way to save herself or forestall any action for just a few seconds more, but nothing came.

Richards pressed down, just a little more, and she screamed even louder than before, and she closed her eyes tight. Richards flicked the knife over her skin, and Greynolds quickly grabbed her hand in the towel, applying pressure, and she screamed for another few seconds even though her hand didn't hurt nearly as bad as she'd thought it would. Then Greynolds nodded and Richards released her hand, and she yanked it to her chest, holding it against herself, crying and gasping.

Her thumb was still attached. There was no cut, no blood, just an indent where the blade had been pressed like she might've gotten from pressing a finger too hard against a guitar string.

"It's dull," Greynolds said, gesturing to the knife, which was now lying on the table. "Thank you, Richards. That will be all."

"Any time, boss," the man said, then picked up the knife and stalked out of the room.
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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