2309: Sixty Minutes

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

There’s no reason
there’s no lesson
No time like the present
tell me right now
what have you got to lose
what have you got to lose
except your soul?

~ Slipknot, “Pulse of the Maggots”

Sixty minutes

I remembered my nightmares the moment before I woke up. They stood out brighter and more horrific then my last memories before I went to sleep, as if my dreams have been enhanced by drugs somehow. When I opened my eyes I knew for certain. They were not nightmares. And they weren’t just memories either.

The face hanging above mine, the prick of a needle, the soft sound of dripping, the brainscan.
The voices telling me that as per contract, I had given the Game all rights to jeopardize my life for the sake of viewer ratings. When tears trickled helplessly over my cheeks and I mumbled through a haze of drugs and fear that I didn’t remember ever signing up, that same voice had informed me that there was evidence of me signing up six years ago on a drunken night, on a dare. The evidence had already been okayed by a team of impartial attorneys.

The moment I opened my eyes I knew.

I rolled out of my bed and stood swaying on my legs in the middle of the hospital room, wearing only a hospital gown and squinting against bright sunlight. I saw myself reflected in the windows – a skinny girl with pale blond hair that looked unkempt, and a face that looked bloated with sleep. There were red spots all over my neck that stood out like lover’s bites. I didn’t know how they got there.

“Good morning Miss Summers,” the familiar voice of Game presenter Berntsson sounded over an intercom that I could not see. It was a voice that everybody in the world knew. He’d been one of the main presenters of the World League for years. “You are now live on channel 879,000 as a participant of the Survival Game. You have been injected with a virus that will sadly kill you by means of heart failure within the hour if you can’t find your way to the other side of the city. You will find the antidote in the Game studio’s. If you make it in time, I will hand you the antidote.”

Still, despite knowing, hearing it being said out loud was a shock in itself. My knees went weak and I sagged through them, biting back a whimper. “You can’t do this to me,” I said, trying to keep my voice steady, trying to breathe evenly. Stars were swirling on the edge of my vision. “I never signed up for this willingly. I was drunk for crying out loud!”

“I can assure you this is all very legal,” Berntsson said with a hint of sardonic amusement in his voice. “We wouldn’t be allowed to broadcast this otherwise, and Stender’s corporation is too intelligent to take such risks. You should know that, Daniella dear. I heard you’re a frequent watcher,” he chided. “Why don’t you get moving, hun? Time is ticking away, and people are watching.”

I’d seen the announcements that this stunt was coming all over the vids in the past few months. I had even anticipated the show, wondering what it would be like. And now I was a participant. “But I can’t /remember/ signing up,” I whispered, horror-struck, over bloodless lips.

And then of course I did. It had been under the influence of alcohol indeed. Me and the boys, countless pints of beer, talking about the Game. The boys had been saying that it was obvious that Chang Kun Wei had won the Asia League Championship once again. He had been the last one standing, killing off his media-hyped opponent, Li Nguyen. The Korean girl had been a terror in the Fortress, doted upon by the media and the viewers, and predictably it had been the two of them in the end in a bone-chilling finale that lasted over six hours. During those six hours the whole world had screeched to a halt, watching with fascination how this legendary showdown was going to end. I had called in sick at work, too. I’d watched it with the boys and silently rooted for Li. The boys in the end had said that Chang Kun Wei had won because he was, simply said, male. And males were obviously superior. We’d been utterly sloshed by that point. I had said that wasn’t true, that males and females were evenly matched, that I’d be a match of any of the three guys was with at any time. We’d all signed up that night, laughing uproariously when Stephan – my then-boyfriend – had messed up his signature no less than four times because he hardly could hold a pen. He’d vomited later too, when we had dragged him outside.

I’d forgotten all about that night until now. Now it all came back to me – I’d completely blocked out the aftermath of that legendary Wei-Nguyen battle. “So I hope I will win some money then, if I get my hands on the antidote,” I said bitterly, stripping out of my hospital gown and into a pair of jeans and a t-shirt that were lying on a chair next to my bed. There were millions of people watching, but they’d probably seen me drool in my drug-induced sleep too, so I wasn’t too bothered about trying to save face. “I didn’t sign up for just the fight for the right to live.”

“There is 40 million involved, if you would be interested,” Berntsson’s voice reassured me. “You won’t ever have to work again if you get out of this. You are our first test subject, so we don’t know whether you even stand a chance, with the virus we injected you with. You might be allergic or something. We ran some simulations of course, but that’s nothing compared to the real thing, good as our AI might be. Still, you should be alright in regards to that. It’s the rest that’s going to be the true challenge.”

I looked up as I tied my shoelaces hurriedly. “What is so hard about getting to the other side of town in an hour to get an antidote? I’m in St Miguel’s Hospital, right? That should be doable.”

Berntsson chuckled. “Oh, I didn’t tell you, did I? We’ll be trying to stop you, of course.”

My hands froze for a moment. “So I’m poisoned AND I could be shot?”

“Yup. Better run, Dani. You have roughly fifty-seven minutes to live.”

Bile was welling up in my throat. “I hate you.”

“I know,” Berntsson replied, sounding strangely subdued. And then, on a more worrying note: “They’re here.”

“What?”

“Our people, here to stop you. If you want a shot on life, you better get your cute ass out of here.”

And the pounding on the door started, people shouting my name, shouting for Daniella Summers to show herself, that I was to be contained to this room as per regulations of the Survival Game.

Strangely enough, this was the moment that reality was starting to sink in. They were going to kill me unless I didn’t do anything about it. And I was a participant in a new variant of the Game. The Survival Game they called it, and I would have to fight against people with monitors, camera’s, eyes everywhere – while the world watched, hungry for blood. What kind of sick game was this? At least the League worked with convicts and people who signed up for glory – they were trained warriors. I was not. I was a network technician for crying out loud! “No,” I whispered over bloodless lips. “No, no, no.”

The pounding on the door continued and I looked around, to see if I could find something, anything to get out of here. There was the window, of course. I opened it with a wild swing and found that I was at the second floor at current. It was a bit of a drop, but it should be doable, I judged.

“We’re coming in, Miss Summers!” someone shouted as I worked myself out of the window and onto a ledge. I turned around and lowered myself until I was hanging from the ledge, rough concrete biting my fingers. I tried not to think about the drop I would make as I let go off the ledge and crashed onto the pavement of the alleyway below. The blow rattled my teeth and made me fall over, but I thought to bend my knees properly so I didn’t break my ankles.

My heart was thundering in my throat as I got up. One glance upwards, where curtains were billowing in the afternoon breeze out of my open window, before I decided I didn’t want to see that they saw where I was going. I had to run. There was a poison in my veins, and it was killing me. So I did.

“Well done, Dani,” Berntsson congratulated me. He sounded close, as if he were whispering in my ear. They must have built speakers and camera’s into my clothes – or perhaps they’d given me implants. I’d probably never know. I didn’t answer him, so he just continued. “Once you’re out of this alley, you’ll be entering the mall. You can either choose for the metro station, which we’ve closed off for you by the way – your metro chip is malfunctioning so I don’t think you’ll be able to ride the metro legally, or you can try and find the road to see if someone will take you to the studio. What will it be?”

I bit my lip and just kept running until I found myself in the busy street. Shops, bright lights, and people were everywhere. Some of them were looking at me. What was it going to be? I didn’t waste any time. I ran. My metro chip was not working, and the studio’s were over twenty miles away, on the other side of the city. It was too far to run, so I needed something or someone to bring me there. As my heart thundered in my throat and I ran through a sea of colours and impressions, I decided to go for all or nothing.

I was a technician, and I’d sooner trust computers to take me somewhere than people. Even if said computer was programmed not to let me in. There was the entrance. I hurtled down the stairs, dancing out of people’s way, squeezing myself through, and jumping over initial scan ports. Those only were as high as my hip, and thankfully I was enough in shape to avoid those. I saw people watching me, startled, but they didn’t come into action… yet.

The tiled metro walls were a blur as I squeezed myself through the crowd. It was rush hour, about five in the afternoon, and as hellishly busy as it usually was around St Miguel’s station. I turned a few corners and then found myself near the implant scanners. In the end, it was pretty easy to manipulate them. I’m a network technician, and the metro network was one of the things I was responsible for. I know their flaws. So as a man of middle age was getting himself scanned to enter the platform, I stood next to him and hit the dead man’s switch. It wasn’t a switch, but more like a code that could be punched in if for some obscure reason someone’s implant was malfunctioning. Like mine. Only staff could do that, and I was staff. Well, remote staff, but I knew the codes anyway.

I briefly wondered if Berntsson knew, and then I figured he might because someone shouted: “Hold that woman!”

Back on the run, through crowds. Thankfully the metro arrived the exact moment I ran onto the platform. A woman looked me straight into the eye the moment I squeezed past her – it was a look of recognition. “Please,” I mouthed, giving her a desperate look. Her dark stare lasted for another moment. I looked at her face, at her shabby clothes, her unwashed hair, and I wondered if she might be jealous that I was on TV, or perhaps if she wondered if she would get a reward if she’d bring me in.

A drop of sweat trickled down my neck. I was feeling lightheaded, and my neck was itching.

The metro doors closed, trapping her and me and thousands of other people into a cabin that would race through the city.

And then she winked at me, laying a finger on her lips.

I smiled at her, absurdly grateful. The metro began to move and I scratched at the red spots in my neck while trying to avoid the eyes of the other metro passengers. It was a ride that should take ten minutes by metro. Surely it couldn’t be this simple?

“You’re lucky so far, Dani,” Berntsson suddenly said in my ear. I nearly jumped with the shock of it. “The metro is eating away the distance to the studio’s, and the poison is eating away at you. I think you might be allergic after all, with all the spots that are appearing over your body. I have your vitals right here, and you might want to hurry.”

My heart, already beating erratically since I started running, skipped a beat. “You’re fucking with me,” I whispered.

“Am I?”

“You must be. I’m not being held up as you hoped I would be, so you’re just making me scared now, hoping I mess up.”

“Am I?”

“You are.”

Soft laughter in my ear. He was famous for that laugh, Jorn Berntsson. That throaty laugh had earned him his fame as a presenter. Sure, he wasn’t Stender himself, but he was a viewer favourite. “You really think you’re so smart. I’m almost /not/ sorry to prove you wrong.”

“Fuck you.”

“You should be nicer to me, Dani. Don’t forget I hold your antidote and I hold all the informations on what your vitals are doing,” he reminded me blithely. The metro cabin was hot, there were people pressing against me and the scent of sweat permeated the air, but I didn’t notice anything of it. There was just me and Berntsson and the situation. “Never mind that I could alert the metro patrol.”

“You could,” I agreed. “But would that be good TV?”

“You won’t believe the viewer ratings. You might want to say hi to the viewers at home.”

“Wouldn’t want to disappoint them, would we?”

And to think that once Berntsson had been my favourite presenter. I had loved his throaty laugh. Now I wanted to kick him for it. Kill him, maybe.

The metro stopped, let people out and in, and left again. I was getting closer to my goal, but the minutes were ticking away and I couldn’t stop scratching. My neck was not the only place itching now. I noticed spots appearing along my arms as well now, as well as my legs and back. It felt as if whatever was in my bloodstream was being carried all the way through my body, spreading slowly like the poison it was. I scratched at my wrist and left red marks. Just imagining that stuff spreading through my brain as well made me feel uneasy. I wanted to scratch the poison out of my veins. I couldn’t help but think the damage it might do up there, and hated Berntsson, hated my life, hated my fate.

Sweat trickled down the side of my face, in my neck, matting my hair.

An older man with a professional-looking suitcase in his hand and an expensive watch around his wrist looked me in the face suddenly and said: “Are you alright, miss?”

I forced myself to smile at him and said: “I’m on my way to pick up medication. Thank you for your concern.”

“If you need any help, I’m a doctor.”

I closed my eyes for a moment. “Thanks. I don’t think you can help me though. As soon as I get the antidote I should be fine.” And here I gave myself away. I should have said medication, not antidote. I was handing him my poisoned state on a silver platter.

He blinked slowly, once, twice. Realizing. “You’re the Survival Game girl,” he blurted out.

My heart chilled in my chest. “Please do not-”

But others had overheard, and ripples of awareness spread through the metro. And someone hit the emergency brake. The metro screeched to a grinding halt. We all fell over, but strangely enough there was no one who broke my fall. People made space for me. “Oh please,” I shouted. “You can’t do this to me! Do you /want/ me to die? Are you getting paid for this, you motherfuckers?” Whoever had gone for that emergency brake might have sentenced me to death right this instant. I climbed up and pressed myself against the window, looking at their staring faces, panic tightening my throat. Now what? Would they do something to me? Would they detain me? Would I die, writhing in pain, poisoned, in a crowded metro? How the hell had Stender even gotten this cleared with the authorities?

The suitcase in the doctor’s hand was metal. And I was standing next to a window.

I used the two seconds of confusion and excitement around me to grab the suitcase and smash it against the window with as much strength as I could muster in my limited movement space. Glass shattered around me. People screamed, pushed against me. Someone tried to grab me but I shook the hand off my arm and somehow I got myself out of the crowded metro, onto the tracks. The tunnel was dark, and I was bleeding from a scrape on my arm, but I was running. The light of the halted metro lighted my way enough until the next turn.

I wanted to scream while I was running, screaming out with the injustice of this. I didn’t want to die, I wanted to fight, I wanted to hurt someone for what was happening to me. This couldn’t be happening. I’d had nightmares that went like this: me running, time running out. I didn’t even know what the hell I should do once I reached the next metro station. How would I go on? The metro was obviously off limits and I still had some ways to go until the broadcasting station.

It was easier not to think, but to run. So I ran through a tunnel that became eerier with every step I took. There were orange emergency lights blinking on regular intervals, often drowned out in the pale green light of the magnetic field on which the metro operated. It added to my feeling of living in a nightmare. And through it all, with the onset of fatigue and panic, the lightheadedness increased until there were stars swirling at the edge of my vision. I had to stop regularly to catch my breath. I stumbled ahead, keenly aware of Berntsson watching me. The millions of viewers were irrelevant somehow, the knowledge that Berntsson was so close and watching me was enough to be maddening.

His laughter rang through my head even though the only sound I heard was of my own ragged breathing.
“Fucking bastard,” I whispered, through bursts of breath. “You can’t do this to me, I don’t want to die.”

“Keep running then,” Berntsson advised me. I wondered if I was imagining his voice or maybe he was real, because he did not elaborate.

I thought for a moment how he would feel if the roles were reversed – sixty minutes, and then you die. What do you do? /What WOULD you do, Berntsson? Would you laugh that horrid laugh of yours? Would you hate like I do?/

Turning another corner, I found myself on another metro station. Stender Station – how delightfully ironic that was. I didn’t even know the founder of the Game had a station called after him, despite having lived in this part of the Compound for most of my life. I would have laughed if I would have had any breath left. As it was, I just made my way onto the platform and cheerfully ignored the people already standing there. As long as I acted if nothing was wrong, they would think the same.

I found that I was still clutching the briefcase of the doctor. I wondered what might be in there, and if I could use something as a weapon. Coming to a halt in one of the lesser crowded hallways of Stender Station, I took a few seconds to check. It was mostly papers and an expensive-looking organiser in there. Undoubtedly there was some priceless patient information on that thing, but that didn’t interest me in the least. What was much more interesting was the keychain that was in there. It featured a pocketknife that was surprisingly sharp. Running my fingers over the blade, I felt it bite in my skin.

I ignored the thick red blood trickling over my hand and dropped the suitcase, ready for the final stretch to the broadcast studio’s.

“What are you going to do with that blade, Daniella?” Berntsson inquired. There was curiosity in his voice.

I didn’t reply, lest I would threaten him physically. If he knew I was coming right for him, I would most certainly never make it to the studio’s alive. I wanted to live very badly, but I was starting to boil with bloodlust. I wonder if it was a side effect of whatever vile stuff they’d injected me with. I never was a very violent person to begin with, but the thought of killing was becoming rapidly very appealing. And killing Berntsson for his laughter, for his disdain – that could be very, very sweet.

“How long do I have?” I asked, instead.

“Thirty minutes, give or take,” he said. “I have some experts looking into the spots that are appearing on your body. They said you should start to experience the effects of the potion about now. Dizziness, shortness of breath.” He chuckled. “From here on it’s going to get /real/ interesting.”

I was on the move again before he finished talking. People looked at me go, but thankfully no one tried to stop me. My feet hit the tiled hallway floor in a steady, staccato rhythm. I stumbled twice, bloodied hand sliding over a tiled wall. Once I sprawled all over the floor, but I was standing on trembling legs again within three heartbeats. I was counting my heartbeats now, wondering how many I had to go until my heart would give out like Berntsson had promised. My heart was hammering feverishly in my chest at a fluttery 140 beats per minute or something, and the minutes were running out. I wiped hot tears from my face and stumbled my way to the exit of the metro station.

Blinking in the pale late afternoon sunlight, I took in my surroundings. I had never been in this part of town – above ground, the upper part of the Compound. It was mostly made up from apartment buildings and bridges that connected them. The buildings rose up tall and grimey against a steelgray sky, slashed through with the green light of the magfields up above. There weren’t many people, most of them were on their way from one place to the other – riding pods both on the ground and floating on the magnetic fields – all of them were on various forms of transport. I needed transport too.

And badly. My hands were shaking so badly by now that I had a hard time holding onto the pocketknife I’d stolen. /Thirty minutes, give or take./ Was I really allergic? Was I dying sooner than anticipated? Fuck, I wished they’d found someone else to test their new Game on. Why me? It was not fair. What did I do to deserve all of this? I wasn’t a convict. I wasn’t a contestant by free will, goddammit. I was sure that if I could get my hands on a lawyer I might be able to talk my way out of this.

Yet for now, there was poison eating at my veins – at my /brain/ – and I had thirty minutes to find a way to live.
So I ran over to a pod distributor, waited a few seconds in line, and then illegally hopped on the first pod I could find. It was an open one, made up of only a platform with a bench one’d have to strap himself in, and with a roof to shield against rain. A budget pod. The current inhabitant was a young girl in her school uniform. She looked vaguely Asian and she was barely in her teens, I judged, as the girl asked me: “What the fuck are you doing? This is /my/ pod.”

“I’m hijacking it,” I told her friendly, as the pod began to tremble slightly in its ascend. “You can either drop me off where I need to be, or I can kick you off.”

“Why?” There wasn’t quite contempt, but there was a lot of distrust in her. A twelve year old girl riding the pods alone in the afternoon in the Compound had to be. I had not forgotten what it was like to be her age.

I decided to be honest with her. “Because I /really/ need to get to the broadcast studio, or I’ll die. Have you heard the announcements of the Survival Game?”

Her dark eyes suddenly widened. “I wanted to watch that! Has it started yet?”
“It’ll be over in half an hour if Berntsson gets his way.” I showed her the spots and the bloody scratches on my arm. “I’m dying. Please. Will you reprogram the pod to bring us to the studio? You could be a hero… what’s your name?”

“Lisa.”

“You could be a hero, Lisa. You could be my hero and every viewer that’s watching me and rooting for me right now.” The ground was now several stories beneath us and the pod was starting its trek through the afternoon sky. I could have looked into the windows of high-up buildings if I would have cared to. I could have fallen to death if I wanted to. “You’re on live television. Will you let me die?”

“There are rewards,” the girl said. “It could pay off my study loans. School is expensive on my family. They’re bleeding to let me go to this school.”

My heart sank. Money in the new World Order; was there a magic or a technology more powerful? “That’s wonderful of them. I’ll be sure to make a donation to your study funds if I get out of this alive. I’ll be thankful, I swear. Will you please help me?”

She eyed me for a moment more and then grinned a shit-eating grin. “Sure,” she said. “I guess it’d be rather neat to be a hero.” She reached over to the console and ran her fingers over the screen, working in a new destination. “How much will you pay me?”

“If I get out of this? How about a few million? That should cover you for the rest of your life.” I stumbled and my bloodied hand found the railing of the pod. My hand was slippery with half-dried blood though, and I slipped and fell against the railing. I blacked out for a few heartbeats there and then, I suppose, for I found the girl standing over me.

“Are you dying?” she asked me boldly. “Because I would like to get that money.”

“I sure hope the fuck not,” I said, touching the back of my head. I wasn’t bleeding, but it felt mightily bruised under my hair. I blinked against the light, which suddenly seemed too bright for my eyes, and reeled. The world swayed drunkenly before my eyes. The next moment I was hanging half out of the pod, puking my guts out while Lisa held me back from falling. I didn’t see where it would hit people, but I didn’t really care. When it was over, I rolled back into the pod and lay on my back, looking up at the gray-and-green sky where the roof of the pod didn’t cover my view.

“Did they inject you with radiation sickness?” The girl asked, kneeling next to me and looking concerned. “They taught us about it in class today.”

“I don’t know,” I said, squeezing my eyes shut against the intruding light. “I just know that I don’t have very long.” Vaguely, I wondered why Berntsson was so quiet. He had not said anything in a while, even though I knew he must be tracking me, controlling the various camera’s in the Compound to follow me. I’m sure he had hacked into the camera in the pod now, and that millions of livingrooms were watching me and the girl Lisa.

“I tried to set the pod into the highest setting,” Lisa said. “Estimated arrival time is in seven minutes.”

I took that as a cue to black out some more. I must have, because I lost a few minutes there. When I came to again, I hated myself for wasting those possible precious last minutes of my life unconsciousness, but it wasn’t as if I had a choice in the matter. My body was shutting down on me. I didn’t itch anymore, but I had problems keeping my eyes open and the world was swaying every time I turned my head.

“Are you sure you’re able to get into the studio like this?” Lisa asked. “I checked the Survival Game on the nets and it said they were going to try to stop you to get to your goal.”

I held my head in my hands as I sat up. Swimming, swaying. I wanted to retch again. “I don’t know. I suppose I would need a weapon or something. They might not let me in if I don’t fight for it.” I didn’t think I’d stand a chance, with whatever weapon I could conjure between here and the studio. But I wanted to hurt something, anything. I wanted to hurt whoever was responsible for my predicament. A weapon sounded great. Pity there was no way I could get my hands on one right now. /Motherfuckers!/ Why did they do this to me?!

“If you give me more money, then I could maybe help you,” Lisa said. Her young face, still sporting some babyfat and not yet entering the lanky teenager stage, looked determined. “I carry a stun gun. My mom gave it to me, because I have to ride the pod alone every day to school. So I can defend myself.” She took the bagpack she had slung over her shoulder – pink, and full of written love and kisses from her best friends, and dug a honest to god stun gun out of it. “If you keep your promise, I want you to have it. Use it wisely. I want you to live.”

And then suddenly, from out of nowhere, Berntsson spoke. His voice came out of nowhere, quietly speaking from speakers that must have been installed in the pod somewhere. How he had hacked his way into them, I had no idea. But he spoke. And he spoke horrible words to the girl. “Lisa Che Man, I have it on authority of the Game that we will double whatever monetary offer Daniella just made you. All it would take is one shot with that stun gun, and all that money will be yours.”

“You have /got/ to be kidding me,” I whispered.

Lisa’s eyes widened again. She nearly dropped the gun and bit on her knuckles. “They weren’t kidding on the Nets when they said the Game would try to stop Dani from reaching the studio.”

“This is my offer for you, Lisa,” Berntsson nearly crooned. I hated him more than ever. “Never would you or your family lack for anything. You don’t have to kill her, just keep her there. We will take over when you reach the studio grounds.”

“STOP that!” I screamed at him. That disembodied honeyed voice, stealing my only ally away from me. He couldn’t do that to me. “Fuck you!” I wanted to scream more, but my voice broke and I was sobbing now. Desperate tears were streaming over my face and I couldn’t keep my head up, I was so dizzy and the world was silvery stars and insanity.

“Oh,” was all Lisa said. She was biting her knuckles and staring at me with those wide, innocent eyes. She was tempted, I could see that. “But I don’t want her to die, you say I won’t be responsible but I will be.”

Berntsson hummed. “You would have watched her die on the vids otherwise. It’s not your decision, sweetheart. It’s up to fate. But in this case, you’d be taken care of. You and your family, you would have riches to burn.” He sounded so reasonable. So friendly. I wanted to kill him, but all I could do was cry. “All you have to do is either to shoot her with the stun gun, or to keep her at gunpoint…. and turn her in to us. That’s all it takes.”

“Please don’t let me die. What is twenty or forty or eighty million?” I whispered. “It’s more you can spend. What do you want in life, Lisa? Study? A nice life? A cute guy? Some great sex and lots of cute children?”

“I… I….”

A mechanic voice cut in right then. The Pod. “You have reached your programmed destination. Have a good day.”

“Please,” I sobbed pitifully at the twelve year old girl that held my life in her hand.

As the pod docked, Lisa was still standing with the gun in her hand, hesitating. Outside the studio, I could see the reception party waiting for me. Berntsson and a dozen enforcers with guns, ready to welcome me home. What would they do? Pin me in place and wait for the poison to run its course, only to die with my eyes fixed on the antidote in Berntsson’s hands? Wasn’t that horribly unfair? Wasn’t that inhuman, and illegal?

I couldn’t wait anymore. I had to go for that final lunge.
So I took Lisa’s decision for her. Somehow, I found myself on shaking legs and grabbing the gun from Lisa’s hand. It felt oddly heavy in my own hand, much heavier than a stun gun should be. As I sprinted out of the pod on legs that felt like water, stumbling into viewing (and shooting) range of Berntsson and his party, I thought about what I knew about stun guns. Six bullets, all to stun. It wasn’t enough to take out the enforcers. Perhaps I could stun myself so I wouldn’t feel death as it would come in a few minutes. It would have been an option, if I wouldn’t have felt so angry.

And then a voice behind said me: “I lied. It’s not a stun gun.” Lisa’s voice sounded cold, and much, much harsher than a young girl’s voice had any right to be. “You have six bullets. Make them count.”

Six bullets might have given me a chance to go for the antidote. I was too angry though.
My eyes fixed upon Berntsson; the announcer of the Survival Game and the prelims for the Fortress and countless other Game Arena’s. This was a man that had cheerfully announced the demise of countless people and would smile just as much when announcing mine. His face burned in my mind; just a man nearing his middle age. Dark eyes with the laughing lines around them, the square jaw. His dark hair, tied back in a tail.

Jorn Berntsson.

I looked him straight in the face and raised the gun. It felt right and true in my hand, even though I never had taken many shooting lessons beyond the basic courses they offer at school. I hated so much. And it felt so right.

So I pulled the trigger.
And thus it came to be that I killed Jorn Berntsson.
I watched coldly as the bullet tore his handsome face apart, in front of the eyes of the enforcers, Lisa, and millions of viewers at home.

And I still don’t regret anything.

—-

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