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You've been counting stars, now you're counting on me
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August 1, 2008 - Mid-Summer, 2010

Life went on. It was not always easy. It was not always nice. The memories of what had happened never faded. Kimberly's arm never entirely stopped hurting.

Things did get better, though. The nights when she woke in a panic, the mornings when her grandparents found her huddled in her closet with a steak knife, the days when she never got out of bed and just lay there and cried, they all came less and less frequently. Over time, her gut-level revulsion for the press weakened. She managed to say a polite word or two in public, to avoid exploding into profanities when recognized on the street. She managed to talk, to talk to her therapist and to her family and to her friends. It was funny, in a way. A lot of her friends hadn't been on the trip. Passing class hadn't been such a priority for them. Kimberly found herself with less to talk to them about, though, and not only because they hadn't been on the island.

Pretending didn't seem worth the effort anymore. Acting had lost its appeal. Certainly, there was nothing to be said for writing poetry about the bleakness of her life. Every single morning was a fucking blessing, a gift, a thing to be treasured. Every meal, every shower, every moment of joy and happiness was one that she was acutely aware that two hundred and forty-six of her classmates would never experience.

She let her bleached lock of hair grow out, didn't bother dyeing it again. She varied her wardrobe a little more, added some splashes of color. Being even a little less distinctive made a surprising difference. Saint Paul was a big city, and people didn't pay much attention to strangers on the street. Most of the time, she didn't attract stares unless people took a second look and then studied her a little more closely.

She didn't have all that much contact with most of the rescued kids, didn't pay attention to what happened to them, whether they lived or died or succeeded or failed. It was easier that way, easier to clamp down on the residual jealousy and anger, easier to avoid saying exactly what she thought to those who used what had happened to their own benefit. It was better, better for everyone involved. The ones she did still talk to, she didn't mention the game to. It was enough for them all to know what they'd been through.

As the months passed, Kimberly also managed to relax a little bit about her own safety. As day after day went by without any attacks, with no sign of Aislyn's father or some wannabe vigilante or an agent of the terrorists, Kimberly managed to, little by little, stop living under the assumption that she'd be dying soon.

At some point, she started writing.

Initially, it was just a journal, a log of her thoughts and feelings, of life's day to day challenges and triumphs. Before long, it began creeping into the realm of the retrospective. She had not set out to write about the game, or about the island, but one day she found herself writing about the teachers.

It was funny. All game, and so few people had said anything about the teachers after the first few hours. Kimberly sure hadn't much given a fuck. Her teachers at Bayview had registered as people, of course, but she'd never been able to get over their professional relationship. She'd never been the sort to spend too much time talking with them, not by her choice. It would have completely fucked up her image to be seen as actually caring about learning. Only, all of a sudden, she'd found herself thinking about one day when she'd been sitting in English class, and Mrs. Bishop had gotten there early for once and had taken a look at the book Kimberly'd been reading.

"Frankenstein?" she'd asked, sounding more than a little surprised. "Who assigned you that?"

"It's for fun," Kimberly had said, and Mrs. Bishop had smiled at her, and that had been the most personal moment to ever pass between the two, and Kimberly had just realized, just for the first time really realized, that Mrs. Bishop's head had been blown off for real, that she hadn't gotten a happy ending any more than Erik or Dutchy or Ivan had, that her family had probably been messed up and hurt and torn apart just like anyone's.

From there, everything else had come easily. Kimberly had abandoned her journal in favor of her computer. She'd spent long stretches hunched over the keyboard, awake at all hours of the night, typing or reviewing facts online. At first, she hadn't quite known why it seemed so important that she get her thoughts down. As she worked, though, she found that it made her feel better. Writing helped her deconstruct things, helped her revisit her feelings and experiences with some distance. It helped her come to terms with everything she'd done.

She never felt entirely right about everything had had transpired, but she never entirely felt that she'd been wrong, either, excepting one little situation.

By the time May 2009 rolled around, Kimberly had written a lot. She put everything aside for a few weeks, though, and dealt with the resurgence of interest. She took a few calls, said a few words, and waited with the rest of the country to see which class would have the misfortune of sharing the fate of Bayview's seniors. When none materialized, the country breathed a sigh of relief, and Kimberly felt her apprehension mount. Every day, she wondered if it would turn out that everything had been a lie, wondered if she and all the rescued kids would wake up to find themselves back in collars, back on the island, told to finish things properly now that they'd had some time to rest and recuperate. She was acutely aware that Dodd had been taken again, that he had died that second time. It didn't matter that she had been told that she wouldn't need to worry about sharing his fate. She could never entirely believe it, could never truly be sure that she wouldn't have to live it all over again.

She wondered what she would do if she found herself back in the game. No matter how hard she mulled it over, no answers came. Her imagination, so strong in other areas, simply refused to process the possibility. It was probably a mercy.

More time passed, and she started writing again. Money wasn't such an issue. The government was right there, covering her medical expenses, offering to pay for further education for her, depositing a pretty generous sum in a bank account for her every month. Kimberly didn't like it. It felt too much like being bought off. She took to working part time, just to keep herself busy and pretend that she could have a normal life again. She moved out of her grandparents' house, got a little apartment on her own, took a little of the government's help to keep rent paid and groceries in the pantry. She gave whatever she didn't use to charity. Someone told her, somewhere in there, that they'd given Dodd a literal blank check, and that made her laugh, because clearly some government bureaucrat had taken one look at her file and realized that she'd have used that sort of treatment to make whatever point she felt like as strongly as fucking possible.

When May 2010 came, she braced herself while the rest of the nation by and large assumed that nothing would happen. To her great surprise, the masses were proven right. It was almost enough to let her believe that it was really over, that something had happened to Greynolds and the others. She didn't dare hope, though.

Still, a second summer of peace was what finally convinced her to publish what she'd written. It took a few phone calls to arrange, but she was still a big enough deal that it wasn't so hard. Some media corporation or other lent the server space, no doubt hoping to score public relations points. Kimberly didn't care. All that mattered were the results. In mid-July, 2010, her project went live.
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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