Did I Hear You Say This Was Victory?
A Battle Royale fanfic/songfic
You see me now, a veteran
Of a thousand psychic wars…
When I was recovered, they threw me out in the street. Oh, they gave me some things--a free ticket back home, a card I can use to cover my expenses--but that was it. Not much of a reward, you might think, for surviving the Program. Unless you count my life. Like I say, not much of a reward.
I've been living on the edge so long
Where the winds of limbo roar…
The train ride back home was an interesting experience. I was in my old school uniform--filthy and torn and bloodstained--and I'm sure I looked a right fright. I could see mothers holding their children more tightly as I limped by, and nobody wanted to sit too close to me.
At one point, a group of kids my own age boarded. They took one look at me and spent the rest of the trip giggling and whispering about me behind their hands. I was tempted to tell them how I'd come to be this bedraggled, but I left them to their innocence. I was like that, once…it seems like a million years ago, sometimes. Other times, it seems like only yesterday I was a happy ninth-grader with no bigger worries than the next test, or catching that certain someone's eye.
And I'm young enough to look at
And far too old to see
When the train pulled into my station, I hauled myself to my feet, cursing that bullet I'd taken in the hip which'll cripple me till I die, and disembarked. Walking along the familiar streets of my home district was rather like being a ghost returned to the land of the living. People who saw me either turned away, disgusted by my derelict appearance, or stared at me. The looks of horror, I could deal with. What got to me was the pity I saw on many faces. The blocks between the station and home stretched on forever.
All the scars are on the inside
I'm not sure that there's anything left of me…
I dreaded an encounter with one of my classmates' parents or siblings, but luck was with me for a change, and I reached my home un-accosted. Reaching into my pocket, I pulled out my housekey and let myself in.
The house was empty. All of our family's possessions were still there, though. I called out: "Mom? Dad? It's me! I'm home!" Nobody answered--not my parents, not my siblings. A funny chilly feeling went down my spine as I began searching for clues.
As I searched, I noticed the little things. A layer of dust was on everything, and in some places, it was rather thick. That, alone, told me a great deal--Mom was a fanatical housekeeper and very house-proud; she'd have never let that happen. In the front foyer, I found a big pile of mail. Taking it back to the front room, I began sorting through.
It appeared that Mom and Dad had been taken by the authorities. I could just imagine the scene; the soldiers dragging them out as they screamed and protested, demanding that I be released from the Program. They had told us that our families had been notified that our class had been selected, but I hadn't thought about what that meant until that moment. The postmarks on the mail I found started a day or so after our class had been taken.
"Did you really think it would do any good, Mom, Dad?" I murmured, my voice seeming loud in the echoing stillness of what had been my family's home. "Did you really think you were the first parents to have this happen to them?" I knew them both; they were fiercely protective of me and my sibs, and when they were notified, their response would have been an instant attack. Not smart, when you're unarmed, and going up against twenty or so men with guns.
However, that didn't account for my siblings. I knew enough about the Program to know that Mom and Dad would have been notified in the evening, and that meant that my siblings would have been present. While we'd had the usual sibling spats and disagreements, I knew that they had loved me, and they wouldn't have taken the news quietly. All that remained was the question: Were they in prison, an orphanage, or dead?
It was drawing on toward evening; the shadows were lengthening on the floor, and I could smell the neighbors' cooking. Reminded that I hadn't eaten since the previous day, I went scavenging, coming up with enough non-perishable snack foods to quiet my stomach's sounding alert. The power was still on, but I didn't want to show any lights--I didn't want to face the neighbors' curiosity. When I'd eaten, I went to my room and went horizontal--I was out a second after I'd laid my head on the pillow.
You ask me why I'm weary
Why I can't speak to you
When I awoke, at first I thought that the whole Program had been a nightmare. Then I remembered. I shook for a few minutes, half-expecting that hateful voice to come booming over the loudspeakers, telling me who'd been killed and what areas were now off-limits. When I mustered the courage to feel my neck, to feel that the horrible collar was finally off, I realized that being home again wasn't a dream.
Despite it being a school day, and me having been one of the best-behaved, most studious students in my class, I didn't go. Instead, I fished some casual clothes out of my closet, and went out to buy some supplies. The non-perishable food was almost all gone, and I needed to get something to eat.
You blame me for my silence
Say it's time I changed and grew
The store I went to wasn't a place we'd patronized…before. I was avoiding all such places. The man behind the counter might never have seen the sort of card I presented, but he filled my needs with no chattering, which suited me perfectly. I was in no mood to talk.
Unfortunately, when I left, I was recognized. I heard steps coming up behind me, dropped the bags and whirled, to find myself confronted with the mother of one of my classmates. Reflexively, I grabbed for my waistband, before I remembered that I was unarmed. They're not nearly stupid enough to let any of us Program survivors out on the streets armed. Oh, we get a stipend that'll support us, and help finding a place to live if we need one, but it had been explained to me in words of one syllable that even taking an interest in martial arts styles that used weapons would land me in a world of hurt.
She looked like death warmed over--like she'd been in Hell. Or, for that matter, like she'd been in the Program. She cocked back her fist to take a punch at me, but dropped her hand very quickly. One of the very few benefits of being known as a Program survivor is that anybody who's aware of it is very reluctant to start a fight.
However, she still could talk. "How can you be here…how can you be walking around when my baby's dead? How can you live with yourself? How can you be alive? You're a murderer!" She shook with rage, screaming "Murderer! Murderer! Murderer!"
But the war's still going on, dear
And there's no end, I know
I remembered her daughter. In school, she'd always been the shy, mousy kind of girl--I don't think that I'd exchanged three words with her in all my life, despite having known her since we started school. In the Program, though, she'd shown another side. She'd been one of the most lethal people in our class. I'd managed to sneak a peek at the final results, and that girl had killed more of her classmates than almost anyone.
For a second, I debated telling her the truth about her daughter, but decided not to. She was obviously crazed with grief, and in no mood to hear anything I'd say. In any case, what would be the point? I just stood there and let her rage, until the police came and dragged her away. As they hauled her off, she screamed and screamed at me, spittle flying from her mouth.
And I can't say if we're ever
I can't say if we're ever going to be free
The rest of the day, after I got done shopping, I wandered around. It was a weird experience; I kept expecting to see familiar faces, only to remember that they were dead. In some cases, I had seen them die--or even killed them myself.
I passed the playground where we had all played together as small children, and for a second, I thought I'd see the old gang there. There were small children there, playing just as we had, and I felt like I was watching them through a thick glass window; like my face was pressed against a window separating me from everybody else in the world. Had I ever been that innocent?
You see me now a veteran
Of a thousand psychic wars
Being of school age but not in school on a school day got me some attention; once or twice a policeman asked me what I was doing, only to pale and let me go my way when I showed him my ID card. I didn't have school to go to. Not any more. I wanted to miss it--I knew I should miss it--but the place where that feeling should have been felt like a giant chunk of ice inside me. Just like the part where I should have been mourning my classmates.
My energy's spent at last
And my armor is destroyed
When I returned to my empty home, I had some mail waiting for me. It was from the Greater East Asia Republic government. They had found me an apartment in a nearby city, and had enrolled me in a different school, starting at the beginning of the next term. How very thoughtful of them.
There was also a certificate. Signed by the Dictator (or so it appeared), it congratulated me on my "victory."
Riiiight. I'd been in the Program. To survive, I'd killed, and killed, and killed again. At the end, it had come down to me and the one I loved--who hadn't been as good a shot as I was.
I have used up all my weapons
And I'm helpless and bereaved
Wounds are all I'm made of
And my prize--my punishment--was to live on. To live on, and remember. To remember how the Program strips away all pretenses--how it shows its participants what they really are.
Did I hear you say this was victory?