by kbk

The light on the camera blinked out, and Oneesan allowed her smile to drop. She did not join in with the round of applause which rippled around the small studio. Instead, she stepped out from behind the table and walked, calm and poised, to the nearest ladies' toilets, where she locked herself in a cubicle, sank to her knees and threw up.

"I just made a video encouraging a class of school-children to kill each other," she said when she was finished. It didn't sound any better out loud, but her voice was eerily calm. It barely sounded like her at all. Perhaps, she thought, she could pretend someone else had done it. It wasn't as though it would have a wide audience, after all. And even less viewers would survive to tell of it. She felt the wave of nausea at the thought, and bent over the toilet bowl again.

When Oneesan felt she could maintain the appearance of calm, she rinsed out her mouth and went to the wardrobe department. She suppressed her shudder of distaste as she unstrapped the thigh- holster and laid it carefully in its box. The rest of her outfit came off as quickly as she could remove it without drawing any attention, and she almost sighed with relief as she stepped into her own clothes -- a dress suitable for a celebratory dinner with friends. She didn't know how she would make it through the evening without breaking down, but she would have to. It wouldn't do for them to think she was anything other than loyal to the state.

"Oni-chan!" cried Shabu, rising from the table to greet her as she entered. Oneesan turned her grimace into a smile, and kissed the air on either side of the older woman's cheeks. They settled comfortably at the table with several others involved in the project, and greetings were exchanged all round. "So, Oneesan," asked one of the men -- Shabu's husband, she thought, trying to remember if he was in Accounting or Selection; she was sure it was something to do with statistics, at least -- "happy to have been in at the finish?" "Well," she prevaricated, "it isn't really finished yet, is it?" "Oh, don't worry, Oni," interjected another, younger man, "that's why Kira's late -- she's finishing up the editing. Once that's done, all that's left is the actual event." None of the smiles faltered for a fraction of a second, and Oneesan forced herself to respond in a jolly tone, even while she silently debated whether the use of the word "event" instead of "slaughter" was enough to disguise the fact of their guilt from these people. She decided it probably wasn't. They either just didn't care, or had been brainwashed by their own propaganda. In a way, she hoped it was the latter.

Later that night, Oneesan lay on her pallet, wishing that she had drunk more alcohol with her dinner -- though, the state she was in, she would likely have broken down crying her shame at the table, and that would have been most inconsiderate, not to mention dangerous. It might have allowed her to go to sleep. Instead, she lay awake, her brain far too active for her liking, running scenarios and listing regrets, telling her that she was in too deep now, that there was no getting out now, that there was no way for her to repent and no way for her to redeem herself and no way that she was innocent of complicity in mass murder.

And underneath it all, a litany of names -- forty-two of them, running quietly but incessantly through her mind. She knew she would hear them for the rest of her life.


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