2297: Walk With Me

Posted: April 26, 2009 by Kelly in fortress, stories

Walk with me

Walk with me my little friend
Take this promise to the end
Speak with me my only mind
Walk with me until the end
And make this forest turn to sand

– System of a Down, “Forest”

The first day of camp was hell, pure and utter hell. At the end of it I curled in a ball and wept pathetically under the blankets in my bunk where the cameras could not see me. They must have registered the jerking movements, but if there had been anyone watching, nobody had complained. At least, on the second day at breakfast I wasn’t the one who was voted off by the audience. That was a dark-haired guy named Leo and he went without comment, his jaw hardening. He must have been thinking of the money, as we all did.

The second day was more of the same, essentially. I got through my exercises and made sure that I didn’t end up last. They made me take shooting lessons, hand-to-hand combat, they let me run and crawl through mud, and when I begged for release they told me that I was weak and that I had to ‘give them fifty’. I obediently did my push-ups and bit back the excruciating pain in my shoulders and abdomen. I probably was weak, looking back at it. Even though I had always considered myself in pretty good shape, what they did to you in the training camp was worse than the army.

Think of the money, I told myself. Think of your sister. And so I went on. I do not even know where I got the energy for it, but I kept on going until I collapsed on my bunk and would have slept right through dinner if Sander had not brought me something. Sander was a cool guy. He never took anything seriously or personally. I had no idea why he was in the Game, but he wasn’t really volunteering information about his life at home or his reasons for joining. He kept to bantering and commenting on our surroundings, and I felt better just because he was there. We were friends from the beginning. He and I had arrived on the same bus and so we had talked a bit and decided to stick together for the length of training camp. We had locked into an alliance before camp had even started. The viewers at home got an eyeful of us being together and the forums were bustling of an assumed homosexual relationship between the two of us.

Sander just shrugged and waved it away with a devil-may-care grin. “That’s the way it always goes. Some people will hate us for it, other will fantasize about it. It doesn’t matter, one of us dies at the end of this anyway. Maybe both of us, but hey, at least some hormonal teenager got off on the idea of us together at some point, eh?”

I decided not to let any newscast or viewer opinion bother me and went my own way. I picked up the machine gun because of the long range and devastating qualities it had and trained my arms to withstand the backlashes it created. Training lasted for a hundred days, during which the audience voted out who they did not like until they were twenty contestants left. Sander and I stuck together and found to our relief and dread both that we weren’t voted out.

It was late in the evening on the seventeenth day that we were sitting on my bunk chewing on tobacco when Sander popped the big question: “Do you want our alliance to hold until the end, within the Game itself?”

I looked at him and smiled wryly. “If I am going to be killed anyway then it might as well be you,” I said thoughtfully. “You wield dual guns. We’d make a good team.”

Sander ran a hand through his shaggy dark blond hair and nodded. “Okay, deal. I won’t shoot you if you won’t shoot me.”

“Unless there’s no one else left to shoot,” I promised.

“Unless there’s no one else left to shoot,” he echoed. “If there’s anyone who I would not mind getting the money apart from myself, it’s you. Let’s kill every other bastard who thinks he has more right to it.”

That was our alliance. We used the remaining two months to sabotage each and every person who was proficient at weapon’s training. We’d challenge them into battles of wits, battles of fists, and battles in which we dared them into trying to kill us before the Game had even commenced, hoping they would be expelled. Two of them took up the challenge. One was a vicious dark-skinned bitch who went right before the throat and was shot right off me by the guards. The other was a guy that had been in jail for murder and wanted to start off a new life filled with money and popularity. It was laughably easy to get him into a murderous rage. This one nearly killed me, because we’d been in the communal showers, where they are no guards, just cameras. If I hadn’t been slippery with soap, he would indeed have killed me by smashing my head against the tiled wall.

But also he was taken out of the count and Sander and I rested more easily because of it, because this guy had been an eerily talented gunslinger. The girl had been a sniper, and snipers always creep the fuck out of me. The other two snipers in the game were always together, and I could not get between them.

I focused on the rising and falling alliances of the other contestants and exploited what I knew to turn people against each other. I tried to force out their weaknesses, prodding and poking their minds until they were sore and snappy and dropped clues. Sander was more quiet about it- he observed the others all day long and fed me bits and pieces of information of what they told him. While I pushed people around, Sander befriended them. How they did not know what we were up to, I don’t know. We were careful enough, but the camera’s registered everything and we were not shielded from the internet and the blooming conspiracy theories that floated around on the Net. Maybe he told them that all we did was fuck, not talk. I don’t know. Frankly I don’t want to know, either.

I tried not to think what my little sister would think of my dirty games out here and thought of the money. In hindsight, I don’t think I would have held out as long as I did if not for Sander. He was my sanity in camp. He gave me something to hold on to with his schemes and his manipulation. And yet to me he was a friend. He had given me his trust his friendship and I did not let him down.

At least, not until now.

I think of my tears in the dark as I am standing in line on the early morning of the Game, waiting to be called in. Fourth in line, only three contestants before me. One of the snipers is behind me. She feels like a storm of electric concentration behind my back, never talking. She just stares into space with a frantic look in her dark eyes and never even recognizes anyone. Kyle’s bitch, they called her. I never even spoke a word with her. Nor do I know her name.

I think of Sander. He is tenth, nine contestants will go in before him. Eight of them are supposed to be enemies. He trusts me, he said. Until there’s no one else left to shoot, then we will point our guns at each other.

He’s quicker than I am with those dual guns of his. He’s really fucking good. I’ve seen all the stats, heard all the lists, seen all the stakes on the bets. The two snipers are ranking the highest with their near-perfect accuracy rate, but Sander follows quickly after. He’s dangerous, and in a one-on-one with me he would emerge victorious. No doubt about it.

We both know that, I think. This is probably why he entered the deal with me; he knows that if it’s him and me, he’s going to be the one left. I will bite the dust.

I think of the odds that he will be the one to guard my arse until the very ending, and then shooting me after all. I think of my sister and how her hopes will be crushed in the end by Sander’s superior gun toting. I think of the money I need to earn for her. If I die, she will be left with absolutely nothing and she will die soon after. Liara is everything to me. She needs those damn medicines.

“Until there is no one else left to shoot,” I murmur.

My name is called and I enter the Fortress, rushing through hallways quietly, listening for sounds of occupation. I finally position myself behind a corner on a dead end. Sander and I had resolved to go to the west side of the building, so we might meet up.

I clench my hands around my machine gun and I wait. For Liara. For the money.

I’ve made my decision.

Sorry, Sander.

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