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V4 Epilogue: Peace Accords
Topic Started: Oct 5 2012, 10:00 PM (5,005 Views)
MurderWeasel
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July 19, 2008

Learning to play again is a bitch. Kimberly is lying on her bed, old acoustic guitar in hand, just like she used to on lazy days, but everything's going wrong. The guitar is tuned, sure, but the notes aren't coming out right. Her left arm is still fucked in troublesome ways. The callouses on her fingers have worn down some, and her coordination is shot. Changing chords is slow, and she's having trouble pressing the strings hard enough to produce proper notes rather than buzzing.

Her left arm and shoulder has decided to act up more than any other time in the past few days. This level of activity has been enough to irritate things, to get her aching again. The doctors have told her that shoulder injuries are very serious. They've told her nothing with the shoulder is ever exactly perfect again, even with stuff less serious than a gunshot. They've told her she'll probably be hurting on and off for the rest of her life.

The songs are also giving her trouble. For some of them, she's simply forgotten the notes. Others are trickier. Songs about war and killing don't seem so simple now. Slamming out a chorus about the hollowness of violence brings with it a little too much personal feeling.

All in all, rediscovering her music is enough of a pain in the ass to make her want to just say fuck it all and quit. The only reason she doesn't is that she's not willing to lose something else. The game has already stolen more than enough from her.
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July 29, 2008

As her grandfather's car pulled away, leaving Kimberly half a block from Felicia's house, she again found herself on the verge of reconsidering this meeting. Her grandparents didn't know exactly what her interest in Felicia was, or else they might not have been so willing to allow her to go. More than likely, had they known just what was going on, Kimberly would have landed in yet more therapy during this time instead. It was not too late to take that option, to back out, to dig her phone out and call and say she'd changed her mind.

What kept her from doing so, in the end, was her stubbornness and her desire to see the whole thing settled. She had heard that Felicia had been looking for her, had surmised that the girl had just maybe been hunting her, probably for what she'd done to Aislyn. That was not something to ignore, to turn away from.

It was time to face the music.

And so, Kimberly walked, slowly but evenly, down the block and then up the path to Felicia's font door. Ringing the doorbell, she hoped she wasn't making a terrible mistake.

A few soft footsteps jiggled the front porch, and the door to the Carmichael residence opened partially just a few short seconds later. Even given prior warning, Felicia still seemed somewhat surprised at seeing Kimberly, and paused for a short moment before opening the door the rest of the way.

"Uh... hey," Felicia sounded out in something of a dry and unworked voice, followed shortly by her clearing out her throat. The fellow survivor still looked to be dressed in pajamas; she wore a loose-fitting t-shirt with the Kiss logo on it and sweatpants with some sort of rabbit print on them, but no shoes or socks. With how messy her hair looked, she could easily have been woken up by the doorbell. "So, uh... what's... going on?"

For a moment, Kimberly was taken aback. This was almost too normal, like she'd come for a friendly visit instead of to deal with some very unpleasant unresolved business. Felicia didn't look like someone who was, at one point, holding a gun in some crazy death match. Maybe that was what was so jarring about this whole thing. Kimberly had not actually seen Felicia on the island, and so imagining her in that context was a stretch.

Didn't matter.

"I heard you were looking for me," Kimberly said. "Uh... before."

Felicia's mouth worked for a bit as she took in what Kimberly had said. There was another long, uncomfortable moment of silence where the girl's face betrayed little of her emotions before she stepped back and out of the doorway.

"Right. That. You want to come in, then?" Before there was much time to respond, there was a call from somewhere further inside the house.

"'Licia, hon, who's at the door?"

"Friend from school, mom," Felicia replied. Her voice fell a little flat as she talked. She didn't sound even remotely close to the girl who went to Bayview Secondary School, gossipping up a storm and generally exuding confidence and energy. The whole thing was a little bit disconcerting. The response, seemingly so simple and innocuous, possibly said a lot more, given the circumstances. How many friends from school did Felicia even have left?

One less than she should have, for sure. Kimberly was positive it had hurt the girl. She herself hadn't had all that many friends on the trip, not with how many in her social circle had managed to flunk out somewhere along the way, and she'd still been hurt by the deaths, by the loss of Reika and Hermione and everyone else.

"Thanks," Kimberly said, and she stepped inside, following after Felicia.

The door was shut following Kimberly's entrance, and Felicia led the two down a hallway that ran left from the door.

"That was my mom," Felicia explained, without turning to face Kimberly. "One or both of my parents are always around, these days; never a dull moment, right?"

She opened up another door, revealing a poorly-lit and somewhat untidy bedroom with the curtains drawn. Kimberly followed Felicia, not really commenting on her remark, though offering a nod to her mother. She tried to force a smile, but it didn't come off quite right, so she quickly abandoned the attempt. Once in Felicia's room, she felt herself relax a little. It was easier, in a way, dealing with someone else who had been on the island, even if Felicia was probably not feeling very positively towards her at the moment.

"Thanks," she said again.

"Light check," Felicia said quickly, flipping the switch near the door to bring some light into the room. "And thanks for what?" As the girl asked, she walked on over to the messy, unkempt bed in the corner of the room and fell into a sitting position on it.

"For seeing me, I guess," Kimberly replied, following after Felicia. She wasn't really sure if she was welcome to sit down next to the girl, but looming above her seemed like a worse idea, so she lowered herself down, leaving Felicia plenty of space. She didn't really want this to become any more uncomfortable than was necessary, than it already was.

"Oh, uh, one second. You can stay right there," Felicia said, getting up from the bed and going over to shut the door. On her way back, she pulled out a chair that was up against a computer desk of some sort, turned it to face Kimberly, and sat down in it. "So we can talk in relative peace, you know?"

"Yeah," Kimberly said. "Good idea."

She wasn't quite sure how peaceful everything was going to be. Felicia had kept herself under control remarkably well so far, but it could be no more than a matter of time before the anger came. Kimberly had plenty of experience with that sort of thing, with the slow burn before the storm. She wasn't sure she'd be able to recognize it in someone else, though. It wasn't important anyways.

"Where should we begin?" she asked.

Kimberly's host shifted in her seat, taking a few moments to get comfortable in a chair that seemed to be disagreeing with her. Eventually, she settled for tucking her legs underneath her and rested her chin on one hand, which was in turn supported by her other arm.

"You know," Felicia started, "I really don't know. A lot of shit happened, huh? It's like... where do we even start?"

That prompted a more genuine smile from Kimberly. She could relate to what Felicia said, could understand it perfectly.

"A lot of shit did happen," she said. "I think... I don't know."

"Of course you know," Felicia replied. "We both know, no matter how much pretending we want to do. No matter how much we wanna forget it. Right?" Felicia curled up a little tighter.

"I guess so." There wasn't much else to say. "I guess I do."

"Like... the fact that you and I, we both killed people?"

"Yeah." Kimberly had done a quick Google search on Felicia, soon after returning. She knew the girl had killed twice, knew that the first time had been in response to an attack, that the second was a little less conclusive. She wondered if Felicia knew what had happened after the rescue, what had happeend with Kris. She wondered if it mattered. It didn't stop her from speaking.

"We did," A pause. "No matter how much we wish we didn't."

"It's so alien, looking back on everything. Like... I don't know, I..." Felicia struggled with her words. "It doesn't make a whole lot of sense. I've spent a lot of time trying to make sense of everything, Kimberly. You know, like... most of our classmates being dead. My mom and dad made me go to a whole bunch of counseling; shit, they still are. Don't know why I used past tense there. Had Eiko here the other day; remember her?"

"Kind of," Kimberly said. Eiko had been one of Bayview's transfer students, from Japan or something. Looking back, Kimberly couldn't even remember if Eiko had been in the game. If she had, she certainly hadn't killed anyone. That was a strange thought. Kimberly wondered just what those who had missed the trip and been left behind had thought, whether they were counting their blessings or wishing they'd had a chance to help their friends. She wondered if the uncertainty would always eat at them. She frowned for a moment, then asked, "How's she doing?"

"Okay, I guess," Felicia responded while shifting once more in her chair. "She says that she lost her path in life. Told her that she still had a lot left to live for because she never even killed anybody. I think I still have a lot left, and I killed twice." Her voice showed a few hints of wavering, but she managed to steel herself near the end of the sentence. Felicia kicked her legs out from under her and stretched in the chair, eating up a good ten seconds between then and the next time she looked Kimberly in the face. "And you? You 'won' the game." Bitterness at that word. "What now?"

Kimberly tried not to laugh. It would have been, at best, impolitic.

"Winning," she said. "I don't know why they call it that, why everyone keeps calling it that. It's just playing into their hands, you know? It's using their words, and I don't think anyone who wasn't there even gets that."

She paused, rolled her shoulders, winced just a bit.

"I don't know what happens now. I don't know at all. I still have some things to do, I guess, some things I wanted to do, and I don't know what comes after that. I mean, I guess this is what comes now. I guess I've been taking everything one thing at a time."

"Yeah, I hear you. We both fucking lost." Some more of Felicia's bitterness was showing. "And now, what you've decided to do is come visit me? Seems a bit random."

Kimberly smiled again, though it didn't feel quite right.

"It's a little more complicated. I heard you were looking for me, on the island. We weren't good friends, didn't meet up there, so, well, there aren't that many reasons to look for people there. I got shot, you know. I got shot on the first day, by Kris Hartmann, and then I spent over a week searching for her. I told myself I'd do all these horrible things to her, because she hurt me and she needed to pay."

Her voice had leveled out, flattened. "I heard that you were friends with Aislyn, and I'm thinking, you know,"—a quick swallow—"maybe I was your Kris."

Felicia fell silent, a dumbfounded expression locked on her face at the revelation offered to her. Then, as a break to the silence, she began to laugh just a little.

"Well, shit, Kimberly. You're ruining my presentation", the girl chuckled. "Here, I was just about to ask you about Aislyn. About what happened." Felicia turned towards the computer desk and pulled on a drawer. She reached her hand in and, when it came back out, it was holding what was unmistakably a pistol.

Kimberly flinched, just a little, maybe just out of reflex. She stayed as still as she could, tried to keep her eyes on Felicia's face. Now was probably not the time for it, but she laughed a little too, just a nervous chuckle.

Felicia set the gun on the desk, but her hand never left the weapon. Her eyes set focus with Kimberly's for a second, as if daring her to take some aggressive action, but her words carried a different message entirely. "It's my father's. I snuck it out of their room when you first left me the notice about you coming. You're right, I was doing a lot of thinking. Ever since Aislyn died, I was looking for you."

Kimberly took a deep breath before replying.

"I'm not surprised."

She wasn't, either. She'd known there was a pretty good chance Felicia still hated her, and hated her strongly. That was, in large part, why she'd come. She'd known, even on the island, that actions had consequences, that hurting people carried with it a ripple effect, that she was hurting more than just those in her path. She'd just never expected to live to see the repercussions.

As for Felicia, she remained stone-faced as she continued to watch Kimberly, her hand resting on the pistol. "So... tell me what happened."

That made Kimberly wince, a bit. This was not what she'd wanted. Things were supposed to be easier than this, to not involve retreading the past, to not involve poking at the wounds that, unlike her shoulder, had not begun to heal all that well.

"I was at the docks," she said. "I'd just finished up with Polanski, and I went to docks for some fucking reason, and there was a body there, and then everyone showed up. Steven Hunt, and Will Hearst, and Aislyn."

Felicia made no remark at that, continuing to listen in silence.

"Aislyn was the one I got along with. Steven, he was talking too much, acting strangely. I think it was Aislyn who got him to say he'd turn over his weapons.

"Will, he'd killed. He'd killed, and I didn't trust him because he didn't seem like he cared, and he had a gun.

"We talked about making an alliance, but I didn't trust Will, not when he didn't react to a body at all." No need, she figured, to share all the details, the way she'd arranged that little incident. "So I figured I had to get the gun away from him. I grabbed Steven, and I said I'd gut him unless Will unloaded the gun and tossed it to me." Her lips twitched into a smile again. "I was going to throw it into the ocean, see what the fucker did then.

"The problem was, Steven called my bluff. He wouldn't shut up, and Will, he was crazy and he wouldn't budge, and everything was falling apart, so I lied. I told them that I was with Liz Polanski, and that that was why it was so important that the gun be put away, that getting everyone safe was most important, you know?"

"Not entirely, but go on." That time, Felicia's voice was almost a monotone.

"It doesn't matter." Kimberly blinked once, slowly, then continued. "I don't know why, but Aislyn tried to get the knife away from me. She came up behind me, and she hit me in the head with her elbow and grabbed for the knife, but she messed up somehow."

"... Finish. It's alright."

"I'm not going to say it was an accident," Kimberly said. "It wasn't. I don't think you can do something like that by accident. I was scared, and I wanted to get her away from me, and I stabbed her. She wasn't carrying her weapon. She'd left it behind her. I don't think I'll ever forget that she wasn't carrying her weapon."

Felicia shut her eyes for the last couple of sentences, but opened them once more when Kimberly had finished her story. "Alright, then," she said. "That's really all I wanted to know. I just... wanted to hear it from you, you know?" Felicia swallowed, then lifted the pistol and pointed it at Kimberly.

"That makes sense," Kimberly said. Her back was sweating. She could feel her shirt sticking to it, could feel the hairs on the back of her neck rising. She figured she might have a chance to dive and grab the gun, but decided it wasn't worth it. This wasn't like back on the island, not exactly, though staring down the barrel of a gun was almost sickly nostalgic. She wasn't sure what was about to happen, though she had a few guesses. She wasn't quite sure which to hope for. In the end, she just swallowed.

The moments passed in another lull of silence, made more uncomfortable by the gun's presence, not to mention the little fact that the weapon was pointed directly at Kimberly's face.

"Y-You know, I'm kind of brought back..." Felicia said with a slight stammer, breaking the silence once more. "This is only the... third time I've really pointed a gun at someone, and this was the only one that I had planned ahead." She sat up in her chair, both feet flat on the floor. "You don't know how long I've run this through in my... well, maybe you do. I've been thinking about this a lot, Kimberly. You really were... 'my Kris', you know? I promised I'd get revenge for Aislyn."

The talking, the nervousness, it threw Kimberly off a little. Maybe it was too close to home. This all would have been a lot easier if she hadn't been able to empathize with Felicia. It would have been a lot easier if she hadn't been able to imagine herself in the girl's place.

"It's hard, wanting to do the right thing for people," Kimberly said. She tried not to think about her words too hard, tried not to think about everything she was probably doing wrong right now. Had this been the right choice, coming here to face Felicia? Gambling with the payoff of the sacrifices so many others had made during the game seemed irresponsible, somehow, but living her life for others was intolerable.

"... See, that's just the thing." Felicia's hand wavered for a few moments. "I don't want it anymore."

The gun was set back down on the desk, and her hand removed itself. "I guess I made that decision when I first opened the door, I just didn't know it yet. What's the saying.... 'killing you won't bring Aislyn back'? It's pointless, on that and many... many more levels, you know?" There was a bit of silence as Felicia slumped in her seat and used her hand as a visor for her eyes, shielding them from Kimberly's view. "Sorry for... scaring you. If it helps... the safety was on the whole time."

Kimberly let out her breath, chuckled nervously again, wiped her brow. For a while, she just sat silently. The room felt hot, almost stuffy. She didn't know quite what to say, until, finally, she did.

"I caught up with Kris," she said, "and by the end, I didn't want revenge anymore, either."

She waited a moment, took a couple breaths, then spoke again.

"Thanks, for, well, thanks. And... for what it's worth, I think maybe you decided even before then. After all, you got on the boats." Again, Kimberly had to choke back a laugh. "I was asleep. Fuck, the only reason I missed it was that I was... never mind. Thanks."

"You're awfully nice after I just pointed a gun at you..." Felicia mumbled, which led to another, somewhat nervous giggle. "N-No problem, I guess? I mean, shit, what am I supposed to say? 'It's cool, I let people live all the time. Ain't no thang.'"

It was getting harder for Kimberly to keep her laughter from getting completely out of control.

"I'm, uh, I'm used to... used to being on the wrong end of guns now," she said. "It's been, fuck, I don't know how many times. A lot. I'm just crossing my fingers that, that maybe this is the last time. I think maybe it will be."

That maybe wasn't quite true. No matter.

"I hope so," Felicia said. "Let me... tuck this away, alright?" She let out another laugh, this time almost reminiscent of the days before the "game" ruined her life, and she stuffed the gun back into the drawer it was removed from. "I hope it's the last time for both of us."

By now, it was okay for Kimberly to laugh. It was okay to let the tension flow out of this meeting, to let it all drain away, to pretend for just a minute that they were friends having a sleepover, that they had never been taken, had never killed. It was okay to pretend that everything would be alright again.

Kimberly nodded in Felicia's direction, then pantomimed rasing a glass.

"Here's to the last time," she said.

"... Kimberly." Felicia turned her chair away from the desk again. "Now what are you going to do?"

"I'm going to live, I guess," Kimberly said, shrugging. "And I'm going to... to try to be a better person."

She sighed.

"But first, I'm... I'm going to go and talk to one more person."

"May... I ask who?"

She hadn't been planning on mentioning this, hadn't been planning to tell anyone. At this point, she was counting on Felicia to keep it quiet, at least for a day. That would be all the time she needed.

"I'm going to apologize to Aislyn's dad," she said.

Felicia only gave a nod of affirmation. That was all that was really necessary. "A-Alright. And maybe if you stick around in the area, and it's not too painful, come around again. If... I didn't offend you with the whole 'sticking a gun in your face' thing." A slight smile. "But... really. Just keep living, Kimmy. Keep living and don't feel guilty about doing it. That's the best way we can stick it to'em, right?"

"Yeah," Kimberly said. "I will. I'll try. I'll be around. And... and you too. All that shit that happened, don't let it get to you. We'll beat them."

Felicia bit her lip and nodded. "S-See you around."

Kimberly nodded as well. "Yeah," she said, rising from the bed. "See you, uh, see you soon."

Felicia got up and stepped to the door, opening it and the front one as well to show Kimberly the way out.

Kimberly followed Felicia out, finally pausing when she'd stepped outside. Turning back, she smiled and, one more time, said, "Thanks."

Felicia nodded, uttering a simple, "You too." There was a smile, and then the door was closed.
V7:
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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MurderWeasel
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October, 1999

Kimberly is nine years old, and she's crying in her room, and she doesn't exactly know why. It's career week at school, and the other kids' parents have come in to give presentations. Her grandparents do not know about this, because she neglected to give them the form about it. This is because she does not want her friends to know that she is different.

Sometimes her friends come over, and sometimes they ask her where her mom is, and Kimberly always tells them that she lives in South Dakota and comes to visit sometimes but not so much. When they ask where her father lives, she says he lives by the sea because she know it's true but she can't remember which city and doesn't like to think about it too much. He does not come to visit, but he sends her money every birthday.

It's not even that she misses them. She loves her mom, because everyone loves their moms, but she doesn't feel like she misses much by only seeing her a few times a year. Her mom is pretty and smart but not always very interested in talking. She sometimes doesn't know how to play games and she doesn't always want to know about school or the Goosebumps books. When she's around, her grandmother and grandfather are more distracted too, and when she leaves they get sad.

What hurts is that she's different, and she doesn't like that. Even if nobody in class ever says anything, even if everything is pretty good, she's not like the other kids, and that feels strange and bad.
V7:
Juliette Sargent drawn by Mimi and Ryuki
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July 31, 2008

It was late at night, midnight perhaps, almost a month after Kimberly had gotten back to the States. She'd snuck out. It wasn't so challenging. She'd been nothing but forthright about her plans and movements and actions for the last month. She'd gone to her checkups and her therapy and she'd told her grandparents every time she so much as went into the yard. She'd had tonight in the back of her head for a long time, had been figuring the best way to achieve what she wanted. There was a very specific reason she'd left this for last, after she'd taken care of everything else she'd felt the need to do. She'd reconsidered several times, had nearly wimped out, but that wouldn't have been fair or right, for herself or anyone else.

She'd taken a taxi, getting picked up a few blocks from her house and setting her drop off point half a mile from her destination. She wasn't dressed in a particularly memorable fashion tonight. It was warm enough for her to get away with a simple black t-shirt and a pair of blue jeans.

And so, she felt fairly confident in her relative anonymity as she wandered the streets, moving through a neighborhood of smaller houses. She knew which one she was looking for, had found the address in her student directory. Counting down the numbers, she tried to rein in her anxiety. This did not feel like a dangerous place.

The house itself did not look dangerous either. It was on the smaller end, with a garden in front, covered in flowers that looked like they had seen better care once upon a time. Kimberly paused for a moment, took a few deep breaths, and forced herself to calm down a little before moving up the path towards the door. It wouldn't do to be visibly nervous before she even started speaking. Not this time.

At the door, she stopped again for a moment. The house's inhabitant was probably sound asleep this late at night. It was her last chance to back out, to try again later, maybe call ahead and give some warning like she had with most of the other people she had talked to. But, no, if she left now, she was pretty sure she'd never come back, would never work herself up to this again. She was afraid, and fear didn't tend to abate if left alone. This already felt worse than she'd expected it to when she'd first gotten back.

Before the indecision could overtake her, she reached out and pressed the doorbell.





As a career Navy man, Lucas McCreery knew from firsthand experience that nothing good came from surprise late night visits. It was never good news when people were contacting you long after respectable citizens had turned in for the night. Maybe bad news arrived at night because people needed those quiet, dark hours to compose themselves before having to face the rest of the world in the morning.

In recent weeks, he had embraced the dark. No one bothered him at night. People didn't try to "help" him. There weren't well-meaning but intrusive conversations about how he was doing. He didn't have to answer idiotic questions about how he was feeling. At night, he could sit with a beer and not think about what he was going to do next. He could just sit and wait and hope that his request for a reassignment would come through. If the brass took pity on him, they would get him the hell out of this landlocked hellhole and let him go put down boots where he could do his job. Then he would be the bad news that visited people in the night.

With an irritated grunt, he answered his door. If it was another reporter, he planned on shoving his beer bottle in whatever orifice caught his attention. Who he saw stopped him cold.

He was unsure why this girl was darkening his door. Lucas took a drink to buy himself some time before speaking. "Well, you're the last person I ever expected to see," he admitted as he stared down at Kimberly. "What do you want?"





Kimberly saw the beer first. It was not a good sign. She didn't know exactly what she'd been expecting. Maybe she'd been ready to open the door and find Mr. McCreery still grieving, tears still fresh on his face. Instead, he looked surprised for just long enough to take a swig before he spoke.

Kimberly had been ready for anger, but she wasn't quite sure yet if that was what she was dealing with. She couldn't read Mr. McCreery at all. She knew a little bit about him, knew that he was career military, that Aislyn was his only kid, that he was a single parent. All that had been gleaned from an internet search and the student directory. She didn't really have an understanding of what his job was, though. She certainly didn't know if he'd killed people, or if he was the sort to carry a gun while off duty.

It didn't matter. Wasn't that what she'd told herself before coming here? She had a very simple goal in mind, and it was time to fulfill it.

Kimberly ran her tongue over the roof of her mouth, which suddenly felt pretty damn dry.

"I, uh, I came here to apologize," she said. The plan had been to be coherent, clear, forthright, but the words sounded almost mumbled to her. She wasn't feeling very sure at all.





Lucas raised an eyebrow at her words. She wanted to apologize? He shook his head and snorted. He probably knew better than most that apologies didn't fix a damn thing. Apologies didn't make up for missed time and lost opportunities. They didn't give you more time and they didn't give you any second chances. They sure as hell didn't make up for watching your only child bleed out into the ocean.

He clenched his jaw as the impulse to reach out and choke the life out of the girl crept up on him. But there wouldn't be a point in doing that. Like her half-assed apology, physically doing something to this kid wouldn't change anything or bring anyone back.

Instead, he squeezed the bottle as he took another sip of his beer. "Well, you said it. Feel better now?"





"Not really."

It was the truth. Kimberly wasn't feeling very good at all at the moment; in fact, she hadn't felt so small and bad about herself in weeks. She hadn't been expecting a gracious reception of her apology. She'd told herself she was here to do the right thing, to give Aislyn's family a chance at closure. Maybe that had been a lie. Maybe she'd expected something else, some measure of peace for herself. She'd have to deal with what she'd actually found, though.

In a way, it was almost nice. It was nice to not be handled like a victim, to not be treated with care and caution like she might fall apart at any time. Being met with this sort of reception, maybe it was exactly what she needed. Maybe blame from someone else, something she could rebel against a little, was a step towards forgiving herself. It certainly felt strangely honest. This was different from the forgiveness and kindness she had been met with everywhere else. It was different from being told she really was a good person deep down inside.

That was not what this trip was about. Now was not the time for self-indulgence.

"I fucked up," she said. "I fucked up and I think I maybe destroyed your life. That's... that's not okay."





At least this girl cut to the chase. Lucas had been afraid that she would be one of those girls, the ones who cried at the drop of a hat because they knew that their tears influenced people, forced others to concede things to them in order to shut them up. While he would never like this girl, there was at least something admirable in her honesty.

He tipped his bottle towards her in acknowledgment.

"You have most definitely fucked up my world. In ways that neither one of us can fully comprehend at the moment."

Lucas studied her expression for a moment, gauging how far he could go with her before continuing. "And since we're being honest, l can assure you that I probably know things about you that you haven't figured out yet. And I know because I've killed people, too."

Shaking his head, he let out a bitter chuckle as he leaned against the door's frame. "More people than I probably want to sit down and count. Like you, I've watched the light leave people's eyes as they've died by my hand. But we're different because I can sleep at night after what I've done. I don't ask anyone to forgive me. The people I kill deserve it. Sometimes I...."

Another sip of cool beer soothed his nerves while he searched for the right word. "I... regret that they forced me into that situation, but I'm never sorry I did it."





It was something to consider. In some ways, Kimberly suspected that she understood Mr. McCreery more than he thought. After all, what had happened with Kris, it had hurt, but not in the same way Aislyn had. Kris had been a menace, and she'd shown that she wouldn't stop, and from there it had just been a matter of working up the nerve to swallow her feelings and finally bring the violence to an end. She'd never apologized for what had happened on the mountain.

The difference was, what had happened with Aislyn, that had been entirely Kimberly's fault. Whatever had prompted Aislyn's attack, whatever had led to Kimberly having to defend herself, it had all been because she'd started the aggressions. She'd misread the situation, and the person who'd least deserved it had gotten hurt. There was no way to fix it, no way to undo it, no words to offer here to make things right. Part of her wanted to leave, to call it a good enough effort, but that wouldn't be right. She still had a few things to take care of.

Best to cut to the chase. Again, her voice betrayed her, left her sounding a little scared as she spoke, rather than cold and ready to face anything.

"Do I deserve it?"

It was the lingering fear, the thing she'd had a little inkling might have been hanging over her head ever since her return. Aislyn's father had killed people, like he'd just said. He had lost everything. She knew what had happened to Rizzolo, and was willing to bet it had been someone related to one of his victims. She didn't have quite so much to worry about in that respect, didn't have so much as a third of Rizzolo's victim count to her name, but she had no idea just how deep Mr. McCreery's hatred of her ran. Better to know now. Better to risk everything than to live with that fear.





Ah, so that's what this visit was about. The girl wanted to know if she needed to be worried about him. Lucas slowly stood up straight, a humorless grin creeping across his face.

"Oh, little girl, it's not that easy. This doesn't get to be over that quick. That concern you have, that need to know if you should watch over your shoulder?"

Leaning forward, he invaded her personal space. "That's the price of the game. The worry that one day, when you least expect it, I'll be there. Or maybe one of my friends."

The temptation to just reach out and snap her neck was terrible. But it would be over so quickly, and where would that leave him? He reminded himself that it was better this way, that the girl could never forget who she was and what she had done. Guilt and fear would be her constant companions.

"One day, I will even the scales. You owe me so much, and I will take it from you. But not today. You don't have anything of worth right now."

Lucas McCreery took a measured step back into his house, his eyes never leaving Kimberly's. "One day, I will take everything from you and shatter your world. And just like you've done for me, I'll make sure you have a front-row seat for the carnage. You have my word."

There really was nothing more to say. Lucas closed the door and locked it before draining the rest of the beer. Three more of its friends were in the 'fridge, and it would be hours before he would be able to doze off to some infomericals. He smiled as he wondered how well that girl slept at night.





"Fair enough," she said to the closed door.

It was not what Kimberly had wanted. It was, if anything, the exact opposite. She'd come here hoping to let the weight be lifted from her shoulders in some fashion, to just get everything off her chest and get everything finished. She'd had this strange thought that, just maybe, Mr. McCreery might kill her. She'd thought herself ready to face that, had thought that she'd done everything she'd wanted to do with herself, everything that had really been imperative in her life. She'd been pretty sure he wouldn't act violently, but she hadn't known for certain, and had figured that maybe if she survived the night she'd get to live unafraid.

Tough shit.

It was almost funny. Kimberly would have done exactly the same thing, at one point in her life. She knew there was a decent enough chance Mr. McCreery even meant it. It was hard to think about that, about what it meant for her. There were a lot of people she cared about. There was a lot she still felt like doing with her life. How far was she willing to push? How much was she willing to risk? Just how wrong could things go for her and those she loved?

More than scared, the encounter made Kimberly angry. She tried to force it down, to use her understanding to dim her resentment. It wasn't working so well.

Fuck this. She'd tried, had given an honest effort. Aislyn's father deserved better than he'd gotten, and Kimberly knew she hadn't been the epitome of tact and sensitivity during their brief exchange, but it didn't make her any less livid at someone trying to hurt her. The urge was mounting to scream something at the house, to kick the door, to raise a scene.

She didn't.

Mr. McCreery had given her a lot to think about, but Kimberly wasn't about to spend the rest of her life cowering in terror. Time would tell if he'd make good on his threats. There wasn't much else she could do about it until then. That stung, but it didn't bother her quite as much as it once might have.

"Catch you later, then," she mumbled, before turning and stalking back into the city. It was a long walk home, but she'd be there before her family awoke to notice that she was missing.
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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.
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Hello. My name is Kimberly Nguyen, and in the spring of 2008 I survived the terrorist program known as Survival of the Fittest. Since then, I have had a lot of time to think about what happened. I have considered at great length whether sharing my story would be moral or responsible, and, as you can see, I have come to a decision.

What you are about to read is how events happened, or as close to that as I can reconstruct from my perspective. I have made no attempt to whitewash or excuse my actions. Due to my choices, two girls died by my hand. The knowledge of that is something I've lived with every day, and it's something I will continue to bear for the rest of my life.

My account of events is being published online, unedited by anyone besides me. I'm sharing it in the hopes that it may help people understand and come to terms with the incident. I know that the attacks have been traumatic to the United States of America as a nation, just as they have been to the students of the targeted schools and their relatives as individuals.

Before you read anything more, I would like to make one thing crystal clear: the story of Version Four of Survival of the Fittest is not my story. It's the story of two hundred and seventy-six teenagers. It's the story of six teachers. It's the story of thousands of friends and relatives. It's the story of countless human beings, none of whom will ever be the same. I can offer my limited view, and that's it. Some of my classmates have shared their views, as is their prerogative. Others have remained silent, a decision I respect.

What I have written is available for free download, for anyone who is interested. Pass it around through torrents or whatever. As I see it, this is an alternative to you going and watching the damn tapes yourselves. We can't afford to forget what happened, but we can afford even less to fetishize it. I have not written at length about gore and death. If that's what you want, fuck yourself and die. The world doesn't need people like you.

I'd just like to make clear once again that I am not seeing a penny of profit from this writing. It is not my goal to prostitute myself and my story for fame and fortune. Others are far better at that than I. If reading this inspires you, if you find what I have written to be worthwhile, perhaps you could send $27.95 to a worthy charity organization. I believe that is approximately the going rate of a hardcover these days.

I would also like to take a moment to dedicate this to everyone who did not make it off that island.

This is for:

Lily Ainsworth, Imraan Al-Hariq, David Anderson, Jessie Anderson, Lucy Ashmore, Sarah Atwell, Julian Avery, Örn Ayers, Tiffany Baker, Steve Barnes, Robert Barron, Celeste Beaumont, Theodore Behr, Edward Belmont, Aston Bennett, Gloria Benson, Janet Binachi, Daniel Blessing, Samaya Boen-Hilstrand, Aileen Borden, Alice Boucher, Courtney Bradley, Ericka Bradley, Etain Brennan, Jimmy Brennan, Rhory Broderick, Liam Brooks, Jacquard Broughten, Warren Brown, Rein Bumgarner, Carol Burke, Omar Burton, Alexander Campbell, Orpheus Campbell, Christopher Carlson, Charlotte Cave, Tiffany Chanders, Jacob Charles, Nathan Choultard, Keith Christoph, Winsome Clark, Jason Clarke, Janet Claymont, Rose Codreanu, Sally Connelly, Carla Conners, Jake Crimson, Chadd Crossen, Maxwell Crowe, Chris Davidson, William Davis, Charles Dawson, Sebastian Decartes, Carly Dooley, Violet Druce, Charlotte DuClare, Trevor Duncan, Tobias Elwin, Colin Falcone, Saul Fetteralf, Francesca Fiametta, Ilario Fiametta, Rosalia Fiametta, Harold Fisher, Simon Fletcher, Ricky Fortino, Samya Franklin, Tyler Franklin, Clio Gabriella, Isaiah Garvey, Rachel Gettys, Kitty Gittschall, Maria Graham, Simon Grey, Gary Griffith, Tom Guthrie, Tabitha Gweneth, Richard Han, Annaliese Hansen, Kevin Harding, Jason Harris, Stacy Hart, Roland Harte, Kristina Hartmann, Rashid Hassan, Lillian Hayes, Roland Hayes, William Hearst, Meredith Hemmings, Robert Herrmann, Craig Hoyle, Aaron Hughes, Steven Hunt, Trent Hunter, Reika Ishida, Reiko Ishida, Petrushka Ivanova, Roman Jackson, Zach Jamis, Jonathan Jarocki, Mike Jeffries, Cody Jenkins, Robert Jenkins, Dawne Jiang, Quincy Jones, Thea Kairos, Hayley Kelly, Daniel Kensrue, Ethan Kent, Remy Kim, Joshua Krakowski, Niklas Kronwall, Staffan Kronwall, Jaclyn Krusche, Mia Kuiper, Ivan Kuznetsov, Cyrille LaBlanche, Claire Lambert, Eva Lancaster, Ridley Landon, Leila Langford, Erik Laurin, Morgan Leftowitz, George Leidman, Nick LeMonde, Robert Lerger, Jamie Li, Melissa Li, Violetta Lindsberg, Albert Lions, Darren Locke, Victoria Logan, Maxwell Lombardi, Eric Lorenz, Martin Lovett, Robert Lowe, Lucas Lupradio, Jasper-Declan MacDermott, Augustus MacDougal, Lily Maclaughlin, Sierra Manning, Sofia Martelli, Brock Mason, Michał Maszer, David Matson, Jackie Maxwell, Kayla McArthur, Aislyn McCreery, Johnathan McDowell, Scott McGregor, Sapphire McLeod, Duncan McMahon, David Meramac, Miranda Merchant, Hermione Miller, Andrew Mitchell, Raina Morales, Francine Moreau, Vivien Morin, Ash Morrison, David Morrison, James Mulzet, Alicia Murazek, Daisuke Nagazawa, Raidon Naoko, Max Neill, Megan Nelson, Mirabelle Nesa, Kari Nichols, Charlene Norris, Michelle O'Cain, Jackson Ockley, Autumn O'Leary, Vera Osborne, Deidre Paul, Jessica Pentangeli, Rena Peters, Remi Pierce, Elizabeth Polanski, Kyle Portman, Benjamin Powell, Madelyn Prowers, Timothy Questiare, Alex Rasputin, Micheal Raynor, Evelyn Reed, Nicholas Reid, Dallas Reynolds, Logan Reynolds, Alan Rickhall, Joseph Rios, Jimmy Robertson, Neill Robertson, Jennifer Romita, Owen Rothschild, Dustin Royal, Tony Russo, Ema Ryan, Rekka Saionji, Maria Santiago, Trent Savage, Sunil Savarkar, Raine Schwarz, William Sears, Alexander Seymour, Brent Shanahan, Peter Siu, Timothy Skula, Feo Smith, John Smith, Madeleine Smith, Fiona Sparki, Adrian Staib, Maddy Stone, Marco Stonecastle, Hilary Strand, Paige Strand, John Sturn, Dominic Stratford, Vanessa Struthers, Marion Summers, Everett Taylor, Milo Taylor, Luke Templeton, Josee Trembley, Ma'afu Tuigamala, Daniel Vaughan, Josie Vernon, Janet Victoriee-Ser, Garry Villette, Rizzo Vitoria, Nancy Wainright, Cassidy Wakemore, Eve Walker-Luther, Alison Walworth, Phillip Ward, Kevin Warick, Mary-Ann Warren, Haruka Watanabe, Frankie Watson, Teo Weinstock, Katelyn Wescott, Amber Whimsy, Alex White, Helen Wilson, and Marybeth Witherspoon

You all deserved better.

Rest in peace.

For me, the game began when I woke up on a beach...
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Summer, 2010 - Fall, 2010

After that, things got a little bit better. The press regained interest in Kimberly for a few weeks, but she was in a condition where she could deal with that. She spoke about what had happened, spoke against those she saw as profiting from the incident, and generally composed herself as well as she could. The whole time, she was half expecting to be cut down by a bullet from the crowd, to find herself flat on her back, bleeding to death again, but no attack came.

Again, life settled down. She faced new worries and hassles, but there was nothing insurmountable. Nothing felt like a big deal anymore. In many ways, that was good, but something in the back of her mind was always reminding her that she was dying day by day, just like everybody else. Some days, she wondered if, at twenty years old, she could have possibly lived out all the adventures of her life.

The possibility hurt more than she'd been prepared for, and so she started to put money away and think about travelling.
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April 17, 2012

Setting foot on the island again was not quite what Kimberly had been expecting. She'd been prepared for a jolt of fear, a sudden need to flee. She'd been prepared to call the whole thing off, to just stay on the boat, tell closure to go fuck itself, and go back home as quickly as possible. She'd watched the island grow with a strange sense of detachment, but now, stepping onto the beach, what really hit her was an emotion that came very close to nostalgia.

Off to the south, the remains of the docks lay. In the four years since Kimberly had last been here, they had splintered and corroded and crumbled, no doubt weakened by the explosive damage Kimberly had first noticed when she was being picked up. It had been Kris that had caused that, Kimberly had learned. Kris had destroyed the docks, had taken one more thing from Kimberly. The place where she had made the biggest mistake of her life was no more.

She hadn't felt particularly torn up about that when she'd first found out, and her impressions on that front hadn't changed at all.

"You okay?"

The man who spoke to her was one of the photographers assigned to the project. The others were still unloading their equipment. Kimberly was standing off to the side, staying out of the way. She was a guest, after all, allowed along as a courtesy. She didn't want to cause any trouble. It was easy enough to imagine how awkward her presence alone could make things.

"I'm fine," she said.

She was travelling with a crew from National Geographic magazine. In the four years since the incident, the island had been sealed by the United States Government. From Kimberly's understanding, the army had descended en masse as soon as the finale was broadcast. Finding nothing whatsoever, they had declared the island off limits to the public for the sake of national security, had checked up on it occasionally to make sure nobody was treating it as a macabre tourist attraction, and had otherwise left it alone. They hadn't recovered anything notable from the ruins, nothing more than a few forgotten cameras and a lost gun or two. The bodies had been gone. She didn't know whether that had included those that had been buried. She liked to imagine that nobody had checked.

After so long without attacks, National Geographic had managed to coax the government into allowing it to come and do a feature, showing what had become of the island, figuring the tragedy was far enough in the past that such a thing could be tasteful. They had invited Kimberly along, quite possibly because of the very public fashion in which she had decried some of the more exploitative works about the attack. The idea had probably been that offering her a spot would lend the excursion an air of legitimacy. The team had seemed a little bit surprised when she'd taken them up on their offer.

So, once again, she was on the island. The breeze from the sea ruffled her hair, and she reached up to hold her hat to her head. It was the only article of clothing that revealed her as the same girl who had been here so long ago. She was wearing sneakers, tight blue jeans, a white tank top under a grey denim jacket. By now, her blond lock was long gone, though she had not altered the length of her hair much since high school.

The man nodded at her, then moved away, returning to the other crew members. People still gave her a wide berth most of the time, and that suited her just fine. She was prepared to be ignored for the most part. It would probably make this smoothest for everyone.

As the crew got its equipment ready, Kimberly wandered down the stretch of beach near the docks, half convinced that at any moment she would trip over an abandoned duffle bag or hear a familiar voice shouting from behind her. Instead, there was nothing but the wind and the call of sea gulls and cormorants. Kimberly frowned a little. She couldn't recall seeing a single animal on her last visit. Maybe she'd just been too focused on other issues. Birds made the island seem like a part of the real world, like it was connected to everything outside. That didn't match her memories well at all.

It wasn't long before the photographer who had spoken to her before retrieved her, informing her that they were heading out. With a nod, Kimberly followed him, moving away from the beach and deeper into the interior of the island.
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April 17, 2012

It was amazing, how much had changed.

Over the three days the crew spent taking pictures and documenting the island, Kimberly found herself continually marvelling at details small and large, things that, inexplicably, nobody else seemed to ascribe much significance to.

A third of the residential district had burned to the ground. The buildings had collapsed, fallen in on themselves. Pools of melted glass were embedded in the ground. Blackened beams and sections of walls stood at odd angles. There was very little soot; years of wind and rain had eaten it all away. Still, the destruction was impressive and immediate.

I did that. I caused that. I burned it all down. There was nobody to put it out.

As they walked, Kimberly found other things grabbing her attention as well. The most notable was not a thing; it was, in fact, the absence of something. There were no cars. She realized, with a sudden feeling of unease, that in all her time in the game she had never seen a car on the island. Trucks, sure. There were trucks near the sawmill. Never any cars, though. She tried not to wonder what had happened to them all. The roads looked large enough for them.

As it happened, she had a chance to examine the now-terribly-rusted vehicles which were around, because the logging road was the next stop. The wound their way along it, and Kimberly kept her eyes open, looking off to the north, searching for a specific log she had rested against until Rhory had forced her to stand. It was completely hopeless. The sea of dead trees, many now rotten or crumbled, stretched as far as she could see. There was no telling where she had rested. It was disappointing. Only a little, but disappointing.

Kimberly refused to enter the sawmill. Even after someone told her there were no bodies, no bloodstains, she chose to wait outside, leaning against the building, remembering that this was the last place on the island that she had slept in. She looked up, above her, at the mountain. It was so immediate, so powerful. She could clearly recall twisting down it, Erik at her side. He'd been trying to be strong, trying to ignore or downplay the fact that he'd been shot.

Kimberly went back to the boat for the day after that, while the crew photographed parts of the swamp, the mountain, and the key. She didn't have any real need to visit those places. They meant nothing to her, and she didn't feel quite ready to confront new parts of the island.

She joined the team again the next day, walking through the woods. Kimberly's memories of them were twisted, lost in large part to imaginings and emotional impressions, to memories of running, of searching, of hating. At about midday, they came upon a clearing that had clearly sustained serious fire damage in the past. Between the burned trees and splintered stumps, however, countless wildflowers grew, bathing the area in color and beauty. It was a good place to take a lunch break. Kimberly had a feeling she'd been here before, but didn't say anything. The crew took a lot of pictures, so she figured they knew their location too.

Kimberly had little interest in the fun fair. The house of mirrors had collapsed entirely. She told the others that she was heading back to the boat, but she made a little detour along the way.

The groundskeeper's hut had not changed much. The damage was about the same. A few animals seemed to have made nests inside, and the mattress was torn to shreds, though Kimberly saw no sign of life as she stepped through the door. She looked around, glancing up into the corner, searching for the little black box. For a moment, she thought it was still right there, waiting for her to give another speech, but a blink dispelled the illusion. She raised her hand to her throat, brushed her fingers along it, and shivered. Outside, a bird called out, and another responded some distance away. Kimberly tipped her hat at the empty corner and went back to the boat.

The last day was the toughest. They spent a large part of the time searching through the tunnels. Kimberly fell twice, scraping her palm the second time. She wondered how she had ever navigated the corridors before. Even with large, powerful flashlights, the tunnels felt claustrophobic and confining. She could smell plant growth and earth, and sometimes she thought she could detect a faint hint of blood and decay, but whenever she tried to concentrate, it disappeared.

In the late afternoon, the crew informed Kimberly that they would be finishing up underground, then taking night shots, and that they planned to leave in the morning. She said that was fine.

As they continued their investigation of the tunnels, Kimberly excused herself. Rather than returning to the boat, however, she set about climbing the mountain.

The walk was longer than she had remembered, though it was also easier. She wondered if, perhaps, she was taking a different path now, if she had gotten lost before. It didn't really matter. She observed the trees, the vegetation, the dusty trail. At one point, she came across a cairn. She frowned at it, wondered who had taken the time to pile stones during the game and what had happened to them. She knew that she could find the answers when she got home, just like she knew that she would choose not to. She had not reviewed the tapes since she had completed her writing, and had no intent to ever delve into them again.

When she reached the summit, the afternoon was fading into early evening. The sun was still entirely above the horizon, but that seemed likely to change in the next twenty minutes or so. Kimberly took a step forwards, towards the bench that still stood unchanged, when she felt something give a little under her foot. She stepped back, then knelt.

There on the ground, half buried in the dirt, was a pair of square-rimmed glasses. They were twisted horribly, the left lens missing, the right scratched to near-opacity. Kimberly picked them up, stared at them. She carried them with her over to the bench, where she sat.

It took only a few minutes to twist them back into a roughly proper shape. She popped out the remaining lens, then removed her new pair of glasses from her face, tucking them into the pocket of her jacket. She slid the old, bent pair on, adjusting them a bit more. They sat awkwardly on her nose, pinched behind her ears a little, but they still fit.

The world was a blur. Her prescription had worsened since high school. It was hard to make out anything but colors and rough shapes. The sky was orange and purple and red, the colors of the coming sunset.

For a moment, she could pretend that she was still seventeen. She could put herself back in the moment and feel something of what she had felt then, not the pain and horror and fear, but the hope and the love and the friendship she had known, the kindness and the caring of others that had seen her through it all in the end. She could close her eyes and imagine a boy sitting next to her on the bench, joking about how being sane at this point would be a clear mark of insanity. She could imagine the crunch of gravel as a blond girl with a large gun limped up the path behind her, and she could see herself turning, and she knew that this time it would not end in blood, because this time she wasn't carrying a knife and she wasn't carrying any hate.

When she opened her eyes, the sun was starting to go down. Kimberly took the old glasses off her face, folded the arms neatly, and laid them down next to her on the bench, knowing that she would not be bringing them back with her.

She put her new glasses back on, and she watched as the sun set, and she watched as the stars came out, and she sat a long time after all other light had gone.

Survival of the Fittest Version Four:
Concluded
V7:
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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MurderWeasel
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You've been counting stars, now you're counting on me
[ *  *  *  *  *  *  * ]
And that is a wrap. It feels strange, sitting here at the end of a version of SOTF. In a way, the close of V4 lets me finally feel like I'm not a newbie anymore. My first version is now in the past.

While I have everyone's attention, though, I'd like to take a moment to say some things. First off, a huge thank you to everyone who powered through the epilogue. I know it's rather hefty. I hope you've enjoyed it, and if you've got any feedback, you can always feel free to share it in the thread about endgame and the epilogue, or by PM, or whatever. I know parts of it probably aren't everyone's cup of tea, and that's totally cool.

Next, and more importantly, I've got a few more specific thanks to hand out. These are in largely random order, and some people will be on here more than once. I'm sure I'm forgetting a ton of super awesome people I owe thanks as well, and for that I apologize. All of these people have my major gratitude, though:

Thank you to my proofreaders and editors, Elena, James, The Burned Handler, and Rose. You guys helped me slap the first section of the epilogue into much, much better shape than it would have otherwise been. Thanks also to Mimi, for some pretty great help on a specific tricky bit.

Thank you to my collaborators/the creators of the characters featured in the epilogue, Elena, Geno, Greg, Inky, Little Boy, Ricky, Rocky, Rose, Ruggahissy, Solitair, TDS, and Tre. You guys were a blast to write with, and helped make this epilogue something I feel good about. Back when I was still proposing my ideas, I said I wanted V4's ending to be about more than the winner, and you guys really made that happen.

Thank you to the finalists, Ricky, Rocky, Rose, and TDS. You guys were a joy to work with, and the planning process was one of the most harmonious and pleasant bits of preparation I've been involved with in my time on SOTF.

Thank you to D/N, for making this post. The sage wisdom contained therein was something that really helped shape my writing on SOTF, and the philosophies you espoused helped me succeed on the site. It stuck in my memory for years, and I think it's still one of the best bits of advice for new folks.

Thank you to Grim_Wolf, for being a cool fellow, and for being so incredibly cool with several of my less-than-shining moments on staff. Also, you toned down Raidon's profile of your own free will, and you threw a character to the terrorists for the sake of the story. That deserves some pretty major commendation.

Thank you to Elena, for being awesome, and also for going, "Can I PM you? I think Kris is about to do something you might not want her to do."

Thank you to Ciel and storyspoiler, for bailing me out twice in V4. You guys are both rocking people and writers. Both of your work inspires me to aim for the very high bar you've set. That you enjoyed my stuff enough to lend me a hand is truly flattering. I would not have ended up writing this epilogue without you.

Thank you to Ricky and Rose, for being awesome writing partners and friends from near the start of V4. Can you believe we all wrote that silly chess thread together?

Thank you to Ricky for shouting BBBBRRRROOOOTTTHHHHEEERRRRR! every time I come into chat.

Thank you to Rose for actually, yes, referencing that Face. That my crazy free-association was right is something that still amazes me to this day, and I knew you rocked from the moment I found out about it.

Thank you to Aaron, for being an awesome staffer and friend, and for being something of a mentor when I first joined the site. I don't know if you remember giving it, but I still use some of your writing advice today.

Thank you to Jonny (aka Balthazar), for endless hours of LARP and writing discussions, and for being so awesome in every way. Also for not embarrassing me terribly when it was discovered you were in the same RL club as one of my high school buddies. It's a very small world sometimes.

Thank you to Mimi, for chatting about stuff at great length and for being one of the first people to really latch onto one of my characters and make me think I could do something special.

Thank you to Tre for helping me stay sane with staff stuff, and for always being there for advice when I so desperately need it.

Thank you to penguin_alien for being such an involved, longtime reader of SOTF stuff. Not everyone has to write characters to make a really positive impact on the site.

Thank you to Aaron, Cyco, and James, for writing Trish, James Brown, and Dani respectively in V3. I think I tell this story too much as is, but it was your high quality writing that got me to get serious about SOTF.

Thank you to Dodd, Cyco, and Dan for paving the way with your work on the epilogues of V1-3. I borrowed a lot of your sets, and I read each of your winners. It was awesome work from all of you. Trying to live up to that was kinda nerve-wracking at times. Special thanks to Dan for excellent advice when I was just starting on this.

Thank you to Theseus, for writing Lenny. It wouldn't be an OOC post from me if I didn't include a note about just how awesome I think Lenny is. Actually, Kimberly ended up with more than a couple things I think I may have subconsciously picked up from him.

Thank you to Cyco, for somehow coming up with all the earth-shattering revelations I have about SOTF years before I even joined the site. I poke through the archives from time to time, and always discover that you were way ahead of me.

Thank you to Pigeon Army, for being a great writer and for giving my some situations to react to that I'd never anticipated. You helped make the game special for me, and I hope you stop by again sometimes, even if just to say hi.

Thank you to Tythanin, who invited me to the first real thread I understood and enjoyed. It was a large part of what got me to stick around.

Thank you to Rattlesnake for being an awesome writing partner and also for the absolute best Hero request ever. That it did not yield fruit is one of the many mysteries that will always baffle me.

Thank you to Fioriboy, for being one of the best sports ever about criticism. We may not always have the same taste in writing or rules, but, man, I have mad respect for you.

Thank you to everyone who created characters I borrowed while dealing with the terrorists in the epilogue. I'm pretty sure Bukowski created Greynolds. Elena refined him, and created Richards and Baines. Sonia is Megami's (I think). Also, thanks to The Burned Handler for offering Wilson should the situation arise in which he'd've made sense.

Thank you to everyone who I've stolen writing tricks from. I'm not gonna list 'em (it'd be too long and probably embarrassing), but, yeah, SOTF has done wonders for my writing abilities.

Thank you to all the SOTFers who introduced me to music I ended up being really into. I'm probably missing some, but right now I know Stef introduced me to the Fleet Foxes, Mimi introduced me to the Killers and fun., Dan introduced me to The Gaslight Anthem, Inky introduced me to Imogen Heap, James introduced me to The Decemberists, Tre reintroduced me to Nickel Creek, and Keaka introduced me to MGMT.

Thank you to everyone who's participated in the Read-A-Thon or has filled out some Plastic Hammers. It's awesome to know that people are actually reading and sharing in this big crazy story we have.

Thank you to Irene for tolerating me working on this stuff so obsessively. I love you, and you rock.

Finally, thank you to every handler, active and past, who contributed to V4 in any fashion. Whether you were there from the first day of pregame to the final half dozen, or whether you wrote in pregame for a few months and then lost interest, or whether you wrote a profile and never posted and had your character killed or adopted, it doesn't matter. Whether I loved your writing or wasn't a big fan of your character, it doesn't matter. V4 was what it was thanks to all of you. Guys, this version, it's something really special, and it's not because of anything any one writer did.

I think that's it. See you in V5. :)
V7:
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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Misty Browder
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