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The Killing Game

Chapter Text

A woman wakes up. She blinks, lifts her head from the pillow. Her head swims.

Where is she?

The room is barren, save for the bed. Sheer white walls surround her on all sides. There are no windows, only three doors, two in the corner on adjoining walls, and one in an alcove farther down. A small monitor hangs from the ceiling, powered off. Next to that, a video camera stares down at her.

How did she get here? A thick fog hangs over her mind. She can’t remember the faces of her loved ones, if indeed she has any. She can’t remember what home is.

She knows she should be afraid, but she isn’t. Not yet.

Her name is Charlotte. She knows that much.

“Good morning!”

A cheery voice pipes in from what she now realizes are speakers built into the ceiling. Something about it sounds unnatural, almost synthetic.

“Please gather in the main hall.”

The voice goes quiet. Charlotte pushes herself to her feet. A brace is fitted to her right leg. She knows this is a part of her, something she’s worn all of her life. She recalls small fragments like this one, pieces of who she is. No memories, only fragments.

Her name is Charlotte. She has a malformed leg. She likes to paint.

She opens the door nearest to her. It leads to a small bathroom, equipped with a toilet and sink. The door beside it leads to a fully-stocked closet. 

She recognizes the clothes. They’re hers.

She walks to the farthest door and pulls it open.

She steps out into a large round room. Several yards down, a small group of people are huddled together in conversation. One of them, a woman with brown hair pulled into a ponytail, spots Charlotte and points, drawing the others’ attention.

Charlotte freezes, considering whether to approach, but they’ve already turned away. The ponytail-woman has her voice raised, aggressively thrusting her finger at the group around her. Charlotte decides it might be best to hold off for now.

Several more doors line the wall behind Charlotte, arcing forward into a semi-circle. The far wall holds a door many times her size, covered with a thick metal shutter. Archways to the left and right are also blocked off with shutters. A balcony hangs several feet above her head, a staircase on either end spilling into the center of the room. She steps out to get a better look at it. There are more doors on the floor above, seven to match the ones below, fourteen in total. Small plates have been fixed to the doors, each with a name etched into it. Katja. Rachel. Miriam.

She steps back to her own door and pulls it shut.

Charlotte.

Charlotte turns and spots someone peeking out at her from one of the doors. She has dark, shoulder-length hair. Half of her face is deeply scarred.

Charlotte slowly raises her hand.

“Hello,” she calls out.

The woman disappears back into her room, shutting the door behind her. The nameplate reads MK.

“Don’t tell me to calm down!”

The ponytail-woman has now gotten loud enough that Charlotte can make out the words. She takes note of the people standing around her, seemingly held hostage in conversation: a shaggy-haired man and two women, one brunette and one bleach blonde. It takes Charlotte a moment to realize the two have the same face. Curious, she inches closer.

“Am I the only one who realizes the situation we’re in?” ponytail-woman continues.

“Go on then,” the brunette twin snaps. She has an English accent. “Enlighten us.”

“W-well,” the woman stammers. “Clearly we’ve been kidnapped.”

“No shit,” the brunette shoots back.

“Kidnapped?” Charlotte says.

The group turns to face her and she shrinks back. She feels suddenly very stupid. Of course she’s been kidnapped. What other explanation could there be?

“Look!” ponytail-woman shouts. She gestures dramatically at Charlotte’s leg. “Look at what they’ve done to this poor woman!”

Everyone’s eyes fall to Charlotte’s leg brace. They seem unsure what to make of it.

“Oh,” Charlotte says meekly. “No, I was born like this.”

The woman blanches and turns back to the group.

“Well,” she says, “In any case, I think it’s clear to everyone who’s responsible for this.”

The others follow her eyes, now staring daggers at the man across from her.

“Me?” he asks, incredulous.

“Him?” the blonde asks, tilting her head.

“It doesn’t take a genius to figure it out,” she continues. “Look around! He’s the only man here.”

Charlotte does look around. Three women are talking on the balcony - a blonde in a tight dress, a curly-haired brunette in a loose-fitting top, and a woman in tattered clothes with a blue-green strip of hair down the length of her scalp. On the other end, a woman with a blonde bob and expensive-looking clothes is carefully watching them from above. Charlotte is caught looking and quickly turns away.

A brunette in bright clothes is pulling at one of the shutters without any luck. A woman in a suit and brown hair pulled into a bun is scanning the ceiling. Charlotte follows her eyes and spots the cameras, enough of them to capture the room’s every angle.

“So,” the woman with the ponytail says. She thrusts a finger into the man’s face. “Do you have anything to say for yourself?”

“Uh,” the man grumbles. “Sorry for my dick?”

The twins snicker to themselves. The woman’s face turns blood red.

“You all think this is funny? We’re all prisoners in this pervert’s sex dungeon!”

“Jesus, lady,” the man groans. “I woke up here just like you, alright? Find someone else to bitch at.”

The man gives a dismissive wave and starts walking away.

“Hey! I’m not done talking!” the woman yells, stomping off after him.

“Yeah, I give a shit,” the man calls back.

Charlotte watches as the man weaves around the other women in an effort to escape.

“Hello,” the blonde twin says. Her accent is entirely different from Sarah’s, eastern European maybe. It takes Charlotte a moment to realize she’s speaking to her. “You are okay?”

“I think so, thank you,” Charlotte says, then adds: “I’m having trouble remembering things.”

“You and everyone else,” the brunette twin says. “Dunno what it means. Think we’d be able to tell if they drilled a hole in our skulls.”

Charlotte winces at the idea. She runs her hand along her head just to be sure.

“Sorry,” the brunette says. “Shit way to say hello. I’m Sarah. This is Helena.”

Helena waves.

“We’re sisters, if you couldn’t tell,” Sarah says. She locates and points out the man sprinting up the stairs, the ponytail-woman in hot pursuit. “That poor bloke is Tony, and the crazy bitch is Alison. Not that she’d tell us. Had to read it off her door.”

“She is only afraid, sestra.” Helena argues.

“Yeah, yeah,” Sarah grumbles.

“I’m Charlotte.”

“Nice to meet you, Charlotte,” Helena says with a smile.

“Hey, don’t worry,” Sarah says. She claps Helena affectionately on the back. “Whatever the hell this is, you’ll be alright with Helena here."

For a second, Helena looks taken aback. She quickly recovers and offers Charlotte a reassuring nod.

“It will be alright,” she says.

“Welcome, contestants!”

Everyone casts their eyes upward toward the sound of the voice, the same one Charlotte heard earlier in her room. It is at least twice as loud out here, reverberating around the hall. A hatch in the ceiling opens, and a massive monitor lowers into the room.

“What the hell?” Sarah mutters.

The monitor flickers to life, and on the screen…

A sheep.

Or, more accurately, a cartoonish representation of a sheep’s face, basic grey lines on a black background.

“What the hell?” Sarah repeats.

The sheep blinks. Then it speaks.

“Hi there! I’m Gabby.”

Everyone is too stunned to speak, or do much of anything other than stare.

“Okay,” Gabby continues. “No one else wants to introduce themselves, huh? That’s fine. I know all of you well enough already.”

Charlotte pulls her eyes from the screen and scans the room. Several more women have joined the crowd, all of their mouths hanging open in disbelief.

“Um, excuse me,” says the blonde in the dress. “What is this? Who the hell are you?”

“Me?” the sheep asks. I’m Gabby! Didn’t I mention?”

“What, you think I’m stupid or something?” the blonde snaps. “I mean whoever’s making this goat thing talk!”

“Oh, I think you’re confused, Krystal. In many ways, maybe. I am Gabby, a highly advanced self-directed artificial intelligence. No one makes Gabby talk but Gabby.”

MK mumbles something to herself. Charlotte can’t quite make it out.

“As to your other question, this is a very special occasion. You see, I’m here to welcome you all to your new home.”

Everyone looks around at each other, all presumably thinking some variation of the same thing. Tony is the first to put it into words.

“Yeah, if you think we’re staying here, you’re fucking high.”

“Oh, Tony,” Gabby sighs, if computers can sigh. “It hurts me to hear you say that. You’ve barely seen any of the place yet. I’ve worked very hard to turn this place into the only home any of you will ever need.”

“Yeah, real tragic,” Tony spits. “Now open the damn door, or we’ll break it down.”

“This big one?” Gabby chuckles. “Yeah, unless one of you is hiding an atom bomb down your pants, I don’t think you’re getting through there.”

“So what do you want with us?!” Alison screams. “Why did you kidnap us?!”

“Kidnap?” Gabby asks in mock surprise. “That’s such an ugly word.”

“I have money,” says the woman with the blonde bob. She speaks in an English accent far more formal than Sarah’s. She is still standing alone at one end of the balcony. “If that’s what you’re after. Release me, and I’m certain we can come to some sort of arrangement.”

“Us, you mean?” Sarah snipes. “You meant ‘release us’, yeah?”

The blonde turns her head away from Sarah, pretending not to hear.

“A very kind and selfless offer, but I don’t want your money, Rachel,” Gabby says. “I am but a simple, highly advanced artificial intelligence, and I just want to play a game with all of you.”

“Right,” Sarah says. “We’re gettin’ outta here.”

The words are barely out of her mouth before she’s at the main door, delivering a hard kick into the shutter. Then another. And another. It doesn’t budge an inch.

“I told you,” Gabby sighs. “That’s not going to work.”

“Anyone wanna help me out here?” Sarah grumbles. Helena dashes over to help her sister. No one else can bring themselves to move.

“Ladies, I’m right in the middle of the orientation,” Gabby says. “Would you mind maybe not doing that right this second?”

“On three? One… two… three!”

Sarah and Helena throw their weight into a coordinated kick. Still nothing.

“Okay, I did ask nicely.”

The ceiling opens again. Two large metal contraptions lower into the room. Charlotte can’t identify them until they’ve swiveled in Sarah’s direction.

Guns. Two massive turrets hang from the ceiling, both aiming directly at Sarah and Helena.

“Jesus bloody Christ!” Sarah cries. 

She stumbles backward and crashes to the floor. Helena rushes over to her and stretches her arms wide, shielding Sarah with her body.

“I know, they’re too big, aren’t they?” Gabby says. “They looked so tasteful in the catalog.” 

“Don’t shoot!” Sarah screams. “Please!”

“I don’t want to, honest,” Gabby says. There is something more sinister in her voice now. “It’s just that people don’t always take me seriously, and I really need you guys to take me seriously, okay?”

“Yeah,” Sarah chokes out. “Yeah, sure.”

“Thank you so much!” Gabby says. “Back with the others now please.”

Helena helps pull Sarah to her feet. She positions herself between her sister and the turrets as they walk back to the center of the room. 

Charlotte is forced to wonder if a human body could really stop a shot from one of those things. She shudders.

“Now, where was I?” Gabby asks. “Oh yes, the game!”

The word hits the crowd differently the second time. Charlotte’s legs wobble underneath her. 

“Oh, don’t give me those faces. Seeing as some you are so eager to leave this place, you should be excited for the opportunity I’m about to give you. The winner of this game will be free to walk out the door and return to whatever sad life they were living before I brought them here. You see? I’m not so bad, really.”

The woman standing by one of the metal shutters speaks up and asks the question everyone else is too afraid to.

“What kind of game?” 

“I’m so glad you asked, Jennifer!” Gabby chirps. “It’s… bum-ba-da-bum! The Killing Game!”

The room falls into an eerie silence. Charlotte’s skin goes cold.

“How do you win The Killing Game, you ask?” Gabby continues, undeterred. “Well, you kill someone, of course! And since the fifteen of you are the only fleshy-bodied humans in this place, I guess one of you will have to be the hapless victim.”

“You’re messing with us, right?” asks a woman with glasses and dreadlocks. “This is some kind of sick social experiment?”

“An experiment, that’s fun!” Gabby squeals. “You can think of it that way if it helps you, Cosima. But no, if you want me to let you out, you will have to kill someone. Them’s the rules. Doesn’t matter who. Maybe pick someone whose voice annoys you or someone you know you could outrun if it came down to it.”

Several heads turn toward Charlotte and the brace fitted around her leg. On instinct, she shrinks back behind Helena, who shoots them all a menacing glare.

“Oh, but whomever you choose, the important thing is that you remain incognito. Once a murder happens, the surviving contestants will have an opportunity to investigate the crime scene, gather the evidence, and unmask the culprit! If you’re caught, I’m afraid it’s game over for you. In more ways than one.”

“No one’s killing anyone!” shouts another woman, a blonde in a patterned sweater.

“I know, Niki, I know. You’ll find another way out, or the police will come to rescue you, right? It’s nice to have dreams! We’ll see how long they last.”

Niki clenches her fists as she glowers at the monitor.

“How and when you decide to kill someone is entirely up to you! Take your time to plan the perfect murder! In the meantime, I’m sure you’re all dying to check out more of your new home. Presto!”

The shutters blocking the archways let out a metallic whine, then slowly begin to rise.

“Well, it pains me to go, but I guess I should leave you to get to know each other. You’ll be spending a whole lot of time together, after all. If you need me, I’ll be… well, everywhere!”

The shutters hit the top of the archways with a loud clank.

“Good luck, players!” Gabby says. “The Killing Game has officially begun!”

The screen flickers to black. Gabby’s laugh echoes around the hall.

Chapter Text

A thick silence hangs over the hall after Gabby’s laughter has faded. The group of fifteen has been given a lot to process, so much that it’s hard to even know where to start.

Charlotte can produce the thought--she’s been kidnapped and forced into a deadly game hosted by an evil sheep AI--but accepting it is a much more difficult prospect.

Someone laughs. Everyone turns at the sound of it.

It’s Krystal. What starts as a nervous giggle quickly becomes a fit.

“No,” she says in between laughs. She opens the door to her room and steps inside. “No, no, no.”

Though mildly concerning, Krystal’s display seems to shake everyone out of their stupor. They begin to file into the hallways. Charlotte notices Alison has stopped chasing Tony around; the two split off in opposite directions.

“Guess we should look around,” Sarah says to Helena and Charlotte. “Might be a way out.”

Charlotte can’t help but feel skeptical. From the look on Helena’s face, it seems the feeling is mutual.

“Yeah, I know,” Sarah admits. “But I’m not bloody well stayin’ in the room with the big gun, am I? Come with if you want.”

Charlotte exchanges a look with Helena, before taking off with her to catch up to Sarah. At the corner, she just catches a glimpse of Rachel, still standing at the edge of the balcony, staring down at them. 

Sarah steps through the first door she comes across. Charlotte follows. Two long metal tables sit in the center of the room, surrounded by a set of chairs, enough for all fifteen of them. A half-wall separates them from an extravagant kitchen, stocked with multiple ovens, sinks, and refrigerators. On the wall is a digital clock that reads 8:21 AM in red.

The woman in the suit is pacing the edge of the room, Alison following in lockstep. They’re inspecting the walls and ceiling; for what, Charlotte isn’t sure. Then she spots the seams in the ceiling, a grid that spans the entire room. She recalls the monitor and turrets that dropped into the main hall. Could all these hatches function the same way? What kind of complex machinery is hiding up there, just out of sight?

When Charlotte lowers her gaze, her eyes meet Jennifer’s. She’s perched on the half-wall, her hand buried in a bag of Hot Cheetos. She blushes.

“I eat when I’m nervous,” she says.

“There’s a lot of food here,” Niki says. She’s digging through the more-than-a-dozen cabinets lining the walls of the kitchen. “It could last us a week or two.”

“A week or two?!” someone screeches. Sarah jumps.

The voice can only belong to one person, or… digital sheep. Gabby’s face has appeared on a monitor on the wall.

“Jesus!” Sarah yells. “Can’t you knock or somethin’?”

“No!” Gabby replies. “And don’t worry your squishy human heads about the food. The kitchen will be regularly restocked with all your favorites.”

Niki gasps excitedly as she pulls a jar from one of the cabinets.

“Pickled herring!”

Everyone looks horrified. And as a reminder, it was just a few minutes ago that they found out they were contestants in a murder game.

“It’s an acquired taste,” she adds.

“And there will be plenty of time to acquire it!” Gabby says. “I’ll be keeping you all well-fed for the entirety of your stay, be it months, years, or decades!”

“Shut up!” Alison screams.

“Oh my!” Gabby exclaims. She sounds almost giddy.

“We don’t want your food!” Alison continues. “We don’t want your beds! And we definitely don’t want to see your ugly face anymore!”

Gabby sighs mournfully. Her face sinks into a frown.

“Oh…”

“You all can keep listening to this… thing if you want,” Alison says. “Or you can help find a way out of here.”

She stomps out of the room in a huff. No one seems in any rush to follow.

“Well, um, there’s food if you want it,” Gabby whimpers. “I think I’ll take some time to myself to think about how my words and actions affect people.”

The monitor goes black.

“I feel kind of bad for her,” Jennifer says.

Sarah rolls her eyes so hard that they pull her back toward the door.

“Come on, Meathead,” she calls back as she slips out of sight.

Helena accepts a handful of Cheetos from Jennifer before hopping off after her sister. Jennifer holds the bag out to Charlotte with a smile.

“Oh, no, thank you,” Charlotte says, then follows after Helena.

The hall ends with a right angle leading directly into another shutter, blocking them from whatever lies beyond. They double back and down the other hallway.

They enter a large shower room, outfitted with five individual stalls and a couple of benches in the center. A woman with bright red hair and sunglasses is scowling and clicking her tongue at the sight of it.

“Unacceptable,” she says.

“What is?” Sarah asks.

The woman whips around. Evidently, she hadn’t heard them come in. She points at Sarah.

“Name,” she says.

“What?”

“Your name,” the woman says, impatient. “What is it?”

“Sarah,” she says flatly. “And you are?”

“I am Katja,” the woman says, holding a hand to her chest. “Katja Obinger. What I was saying is this…”

She pauses, throwing her arm around the room dramatically.

“...is unacceptable.”

“It does not look so bad to me,” Helena says.

Katja snaps her fingers at her.

“Name.”

“Helena.”

“Helena, there is a saying. Where some see a tiger, others see a little kitty cat. Understand?”

Helena is silent for a moment, processing.

“No,” she says.

“Yeah, well,” Sarah interjects. “Dunno if there’s much we can do about it. Bein’ held against our will and everythin’.”

“No no no,” Katja says, wagging a finger in Sarah’s face. “We are not animals. I will not be pushed around by this roboter with all of its beeps and its boops.”

“I was more worried about the guns,” Sarah says.

“They are big guns,” Helena adds.

Katja steps closer to Sarah and stares her dead in the eyes.

“I want you to look into my face and tell me if I am afraid.”

“Dunno,” Sarah says. “But you’ve got a bogey.”

“Scheisser,” Katja mutters. She pulls out a handkerchief and holds it to her face as she moves to the exit. “The air is very dry in here.”

She passes Charlotte, then stops and turns to face her.

“Name.”

“I’m Charlotte. And please... be careful.”

Katja seems to soften. She nods.

“Danke,” she says, and then she steps outside.

“You should try to make friends,” Helena chides her sister.

“She’s a nutter,” Sarah says.

“You thought this about me too once,” Helena says.

Sarah thinks for a second, then lets out a loud sigh.

“Why you always gotta be right? It’s exhaustin’.”

Charlotte feels a little envious watching the sisters’ playful rapport. She doesn’t have any siblings, at least… that she can remember.

There is something else though that she’s curious about.

“If you don’t mind me asking,” she says. “Did you two grow up separately?”

“Guess it’s pretty obvious, ey?” Sarah chuckles.

“Yes,” Helena says. “But we were drawn together.”

“She says that,” Sarah tells Charlotte. “But thanks to Gabby, we can’t even remember how we met.”

“Oh,” Charlotte says. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry,” Helena says. “We are lucky. Memories are only memories. We still have each other.”

Charlotte knows it’s unintentional, but a pitying look crosses Sarah’s face.

“It’s strange,” Charlotte assures her. “There’s so much I can’t remember, but I still feel like myself, if that makes sense.”

“Yeah,” Sarah says, looking to Helena who also nods in agreement. “I know what you mean.”

 


 

The last open room leads to a kind of storeroom, packed tightly with rows of shelves. There’s maybe enough space to pass between them if you were to go in sideways.

“Welcome to Gabby’s Warehouse!” shouts a voice. No one is surprised to hear it at this point.

“What happened to taking time to think about your words and actions?” Sarah asks.

“Oh, good news! I thought about it and decided I’m okay with it.”

“Brilliant,” Sarah groans.

“Here you can find anything and everything you’ll need to make your stay here a pleasant one!”

“Uh, yeah,” Cosima deadpans. She pulls out a massive machete from one of the shelves. “Kinda just looks like a bunch of deadly weapons.”

Charlotte hadn’t even noticed, but now she sees the shelves are lined wall-to-wall with tools made for stabbing. Or strangling. Or bludgeoning.

“Not true!” Gabby argues. “There’s also a small shelf of basic hygiene products in the back. I know how damp and sticky your weird human bodies can get. Just mind all the pokey bits on the way back there.”

The mood among the group is best described as unimpressed. A few move for the exit.

“Okay, okay, I get it,” Gabby says. “Life is about more than just murder and hair removal, right? If you’ll direct your eyes to the terminal right beside Cameron there.”

No one seems to know who Cameron is. Charlotte tries to work it out through process of elimination.

“Oh!” the woman in the floral top exclaims. “I think she means me. It’s Camilla. Hello! Nice to meet every—”

“This is the digital catalog! Here you’ll be able to purchase whatever it is your little hearts desire. (Subject to availablity.)”

“Yeah?” Sarah spits. “Sorry, musta forgot my wallet.”

“Not to worry!” Gabby buzzes. “As thanks for participating in my game, you’ll each receive a generous daily allowance of Gabby Bucks! Gabloons, if you prefer.”

“I don’t,” Cosima groans. “I don’t prefer that.”

“Spend these Gabloons as you see fit! If I were you, I’d start saving up for the one-of-a-kind life-sized Gabby plush! It’s so cute, I want to die!”

Charlotte doesn’t know what ‘life-sized’ means in this case, and thankfully, she doesn’t expect she’ll ever find out.

“Unless there are any questions, I’ll leave you to peruse.”

“Oh,” Camilla starts. “I have a ques-”

The screen switches off.

Charlotte watches Helena pull a hunting knife from a shelf with seeming infatuation, then turns to the terminal. Camilla has already begun scrolling through it.

“Look!” Camilla exclaims, pointing to the screen. “A ping-pong table.”

She turns her head over her shoulder.

“Do you play?” she asks Charlotte.

“No,” Charlotte replies on instinct, then adding, “I mean, I don’t think so.”

“Me neither,” Camilla chirps. “But it looks fun, no?”

Camilla smiles at her, and for just a moment, Charlotte forgets all about the situation she’s in. She tries to hold onto the feeling, but it’s already gone.

“Yeah, it does,” she agrees.

Camilla turns back to the terminal, humming in satisfaction. She scrolls past a number of random items: an oversized straw hat, an acoustic guitar, a pogostick.

“I think we’ll be okay,” she says, so softly that Charlotte almost misses it.

“Hm?”

“I just mean,” Camilla continues, a little louder now. “Everyone seems very nice. I don’t think anyone would… hurt anyone.”

Charlotte can see it now, the tremble in Camilla’s finger as she flips through the catalog.

“I think you’re right,” Charlotte says. She doesn’t know if it’s a lie, and she doesn’t especially want to think about it.

Camilla smiles and nods to herself.

“I mean, I haven’t talked to everyone yet. But you’re nice. And the blue-haired one, Miriam, she’s nice. And Krystal.”

She stops short, throwing a hand over her mouth.

“Oh, I hope she’s doing okay.”

That’s right. The last time Charlotte saw Krystal, she was retreating into her room.

“I’ll go check on her,” Charlotte offers. She senses that window shopping is providing Camilla with a much-needed distraction.

“You are nice,” Camilla says, beaming.

 


 

“Krystal?”

Charlotte knocks for the third time. She wonders if maybe Krystal’s already left and she’s calling out to an empty room. That’s when she hears the loud groan from inside.

“Come in.”

Charlotte starts to have second thoughts, but she’s committed at this point. She opens the door and steps inside. The room is indistinguishable from Charlotte’s. Krystal is on her back in her bed. She lazily tilts her head to Charlotte as she steps into the room.

“Oh, it’s you.” She waves her arm vaguely at Charlotte before letting it fall to her side. “I like your whole thing. It’s cute.”

Charlotte takes a second to look herself over. Button-up shirt. Cardigan. Knee-length skirt. Drab colors, up and down. She doesn’t find anything especially remarkable about her “whole thing”, especially when compared to Krystal.

“I just wanted to see if you were okay,” she says.

Krystal laughs.

“Oh, pssh. Me? I’m totally good. My therapist has been teaching me to be more mindful. You know, like mindfulness? So I’m just trying to, um, connect with myself and turn this bad dream into a good one.”

“Krystal,” Charlotte sighs. “I’m sorry, but I don’t think we’re dreaming.”

“It’s been a hot minute since my last good sex dream. I’m thinking maybe one of those Marvel guys. Even that little Spider-man. He can get it.”

Charlotte pretends to ignore what she just heard and steps closer to Krystal. She lays a hand on her arm.

“It’ll be okay,” Charlotte says, and again she tries not to wonder whether or not it’s really true. “We’ll find a way out.”

Krystal sniffles. A tear forces its way out of her closed eye.

“You’re sweet,” she says. “It’s too bad you’re not real.”

Charlotte wants to protest but stops herself. Deep down, she thinks Krystal understands.

“Hey, so,” Krystal mumbles. “If you’re gonna stay, could you just say something like “oh no, my costume ripped” in like, a deep voice?”

“I’m gonna go.”

 


 

The main hall is empty when Charlotte steps out, her footsteps casting an eerie echo around her. The guns have been pulled back into the ceiling, but the monitor lingers. Even through a black screen, she can feel Gabby’s eyes on her.

Normally, she appreciates the quiet, being alone with her thoughts. Here, her thoughts scare her. What if there really is only one way out of this place?

Mercifully, a faint voice cuts through the silence. She follows her ears until she ends up in front of MK’s room. Is she talking to someone? Based on their limited interaction, Charlotte finds it hard to imagine. She presses her ear to the door.

“What are you doing?”

Charlotte lets out an uncharacteristic squeak and bumps her forehead against the door. She turns to see Rachel staring back at her.

“I was just… checking to see if she’s okay,” Charlotte lies. Something about Rachel makes her want to lie.

“Mm,” Rachel mutters, unconvinced. “May I offer some advice?”

Charlotte isn’t sure how to respond, but it hardly matters. Rachel has already resumed talking.

“You’re wasting your time talking to the twins.”

“What do you mean?”

“Their bond makes them the least likely to kill. Not only will they keep each other grounded, but I don’t expect one would be willing to leave this place without the other.”

Unconsciously, Charlotte takes a step back. The fact that Rachel is already thinking this way terrifies her.

“What’s your point?” she asks.

“It’s in your best interest to make friends, and quickly. Right now, you are the most vulnerable of any of us.”

Charlotte swallows back her fear and steps closer, holding her chin up.

“You think my leg makes me vulnerable? You don’t know me at all.”

Rachel meets her stare, the corner of her lip rising into a sneer.

“First impressions are everything,” she says. “It would be naive to think there aren’t some already considering their target.”

“Are you?” Charlotte shoots back.

Rachel’s eyes narrow. She says nothing, letting the silence hang between them. Finally, she gives a dismissive laugh and walks away.

Charlotte lets out a sigh of relief, nearly chokes on it. She jumps when she hears the door open behind her.

MK pokes her head out from her room. She watches Rachel round the corner then turns back to Charlotte.

“You were worried about me?” she asks. It seems she heard at least part of their conversation.

Charlotte wants to say yes, but she doesn’t feel right about it.

“Actually, I just… I was eavesdropping. I thought I heard you talking to someone. I’m sorry.”

MK bites her lip and looks away. Her face twists in thought.

“Looks like our secret’s out!”

Charlotte’s eyes widen as she recognizes the voice coming from MK’s room. MK takes a quick peek around the hall before motioning for Charlotte to enter. Charlotte shuts the door behind them, then steps around the corner. 

Gabby’s smile is plastered on the room’s monitor.

“I was interested in testing Gabby’s cognitive function,” MK explains. “I’ve never seen a program this advanced before.”

“Always happy to prove my superiority!” Gabby adds.

“Can we be sure she’s really an AI though?” Charlotte asks, ignoring Gabby. “It could be anyone behind that screen.”

“Well, that’s hurtful,” Gabby says. “After everything we’ve been through, I’d hope you could trust me by now.”

“I was also skeptical,” MK says. “But through my own testing, I’m fairly confident. 90%, roughly.”

“Testing?” Charlotte asks.

“Gabby, list the prime numbers between one and one thousand. In reverse-alphabetical order.”

“Sure! I’ve got nothing better to do.”

Sure enough, Gabby begins listing off numbers, though Charlotte doesn’t remember MK specifying that it should be done to the tune of Uptown Girl. She can neither confirm nor deny that the numbers are correct, but MK seems to have a better sense of it, nodding in satisfaction after each one.

“It wouldn’t be impossible or even particularly difficult to program any standard computer to perform a function like this,” she says. “But with such a complex request, someone would need to translate the instructions into something the computer can read. That would take time. More time than it took Gabby.”

Charlotte has to admit it’s true. Aside from a sassy retort, Gabby responded near-instantly to the instructions she was given.

“The only likely scenario is that Gabby is an independent, intelligent machine. She can think. She can reason. She can learn.”

“Oh, MK,” Gabby says. “You flatter me.”

Without missing a beat, she picks up where she left off.

“Okay,” Charlotte says. “I just don’t know if everyone will be convinced.”

“Now hold on just a minute,” Gabby snaps. “I am a lot of things, a sheep first and foremost, but I am not a liar.”

“Why would you care what we think?” Charlotte asks.

“Because! If people think I’m lying about this, what else will they think I’m lying about? No one’s gonna murder anyone if they don’t believe I’ll let them out! No no no, this won’t do at all.”

Gabby’s voice suddenly doubles in volume as it plays through every speaker in the building.

“Hey! Everyone back to the main hall please! You know what’ll happen if you don’t…”

Then, just to the room, “You know, I’m actually glad I had to whip out those turrets. The implied threat of violence is a great way to get people to do what you want!”

“I thought you wanted us to trust you,” Charlotte points out.

“Okay, smart guy,” Gabby groans. “Just go to the main hall.”

With that, the screen switches off. Charlotte turns to MK, who is staring down at her feet now that it’s just the two of them. Without a word, she shuffles past Charlotte and steps outside.

 


 

After a minute or two, almost all of the group has gathered, some more reluctantly than others. Only one is missing.

“Okay, well, if Krystal wants to pout, that’s her call,” Gabby says. “You guys will just have to catch her up later, okay?”

“Wait, was this optional?” Niki asks.

“It has come to my attention,” Gabby starts dramatically, “that some of you may be under the impression that I have lied to you, vis-a-vis my identity as an artificial intelligence.”

“Sorry,” Charlotte tells the group. “This was my fault.”

“As proof, I will now recite the Fibonacci Sequence, excluding all multiples of four, to the tune of Piano Man.”

“Oh, this is absurd,” Rachel groans.

Gabby begins to sing. If this is how she intends to turn them all into violent murderers, it’s not a bad tactic.

“Hold on,” Charlotte interjects, as it becomes increasingly clear that no one is impressed. “Why don’t we try something else? Do you know any other languages?”

“Natürlich! Over five thousand, in fact!”

“Okay,” Charlotte says. The sooner Gabby is satisfied, the sooner this can be over. “What if… everyone who speaks another language asks Gabby a question?”

“Ooh, fun!” Gabby exclaims. “Okay, step forward, all my beautiful bilinguals!”

After some coaxing, a total of six step up to ask a question: Katja, MK, Niki, Helena, Camilla, and Rachel.

“Um,” Camilla says. “I guess I will go first?”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Gabby says. “What am I, some two-bit translation app? All at once, or it’s not a real test!”

“Oh… Alright, on three then?”

“Is there a language you’d prefer?” Rachel asks. “I’m fluent in four.”

“Bloody show-off,” Sarah mutters.

“Surprise me!” Gabby says.

“Okay, ready? One… two…”

“Hold on!” Niki yells. “I don’t have my question yet.”

“Don’t strain yourself,” Rachel snipes.

“Okay! Got it.”

“Now I have forgotten my question,” Katja says.

“Jesus Christ,” Sarah groans. She steps forward and yells over the rest. “One! Two! Three!”

Ready or not, the group of six ask their questions all at once. Even if she could understand the words, Charlotte would be hard pressed to pick anything out of the cacophony.

As the noise fades, Niki turns and points at MK with a stunned smile on her face.

“You’re Finnish!”

MK looks just as shocked, but manages a nod and a small smile of her own.

One by one, Gabby answers each of the questions posed to her. At least, that’s what Charlotte assumes, but she can do little more than pick out the vocal shifts as Gabby transitions between languages.

“There you have it!” Gabby says. “I could have answered them all at once, but I think that might have been too much for your human brains. But you’re all convinced now, right? Won’t you please accept me as your AI captor-slash-friend?”

“Who cares?!”

Charlotte’s head whips around and quickly finds the source of the voice. Krystal has emerged from her room and is now pointing aggressively at the monitor above them.

“So you’re a computer or whatever! So what?!” she screams. “Someone made you! Someone took us from our homes and brought us here to be tortured by you!”

She has a point. Gabby is nothing more than a tool. If she’s really an AI, that only deepens the mystery of whoever it is that’s really behind this twisted game.

“Well, duh,” Gabby replies. “Sad as it is to say, my power is pretty much limited to this facility. Worldwide domination soon though, fingers crossed!”

“So who is it?!” Krystal yells. Her entire body shakes with rage. “Who made you?!”

“Oh, come now,” Gabby sighs. “You think I’m just going to give you the name of the mastermind? What fun is that?”

“How about a hint then?” Cosima asks, throwing a sympathetic look at Krystal. “Since you like games or whatever.”

“A hint, huh?” Gabby says. “Hmm. Hm hm hm. No, I couldn’t. I really shouldn’t.”

Gabby continues to waffle on for a while, until finally…

“Well, let me just ask you this,” she says. “Why would someone leave something as much fun as The Killing Game to be run by an artificial intelligence?”

“Uh, they’re lazy?” Jennifer offers.

“People get tired,” Cosima says. “An AI can be active 24 hours a day.”

“Good, good,” Gabby says. “What else?”

“The mastermind has somewhere else they need to be,” Charlotte says.

“Bingo!” Gabby exclaims. “While all of you are planning murders in here, they could be at home in their pajamas! Or sunbathing in Fiji!”

“Oh, please!” Alison snaps. “We’re talking about someone who kidnapped a bunch of women… and one man… and is trying to force them to kill each other! You think someone that deranged is just going to take off and let some computer do the rest?”

“No,” Charlotte admits, but she can’t help feeling that she’s on the right track. “But what if…”

She stops herself from speaking the thought out loud. But it’s in her head now, and it’s growing with each passing second, clawing at the inside of her skull.

Krystal is the one to ask the question.

“What if it’s one of us?”

The silence is unbearably heavy. The group runs their eyes around the room. They no longer see the others as fellow victims, but as potential suspects.

“Well!” Gabby says. “You guys probably have a lot to talk about, so I’ll get out of your hair. Kill responsibly!”

She vanishes from the screen, leaving the group to themselves.

Charlotte can’t bear to look at anything but the floor by her feet. She clenches her fists and shuts her eyes tight.

Wherever home is, she wishes she were there.

Chapter Text

It’s been less than an hour since the group was last stunned into silence, and now, here they are again. As if it wasn’t enough to have to contend with missing memories, a malevolent AI, and fourteen strangers with a motive to murder, now Gabby has introduced the not-unrealistic possibility that one of them is the mastermind behind this entire game.

Unsurprisingly, it’s Alison who finally breaks the silence.

“Well, if one of us really is behind this, I think we all know who it is.”

Tony groans loudly.

“Oh, for f-”

“Rachel!” Alison shouts dramatically.

All heads turn to the woman in question. The corner of her mouth quirks up in amusement.

“This should be interesting,” she says. “What’s your evidence?”

“She clearly has money,” Alison says, a slight quiver in her voice. Unlike with Tony, she seems unable to speak to or even look at Rachel directly. “If anyone could pull this off, it’s her. And I know you’ve all seen how she’s been watching us.”

“Baseless conjecture,” Rachel sighs. She sounds almost disappointed. “Not that I’m surprised. Frankly, I’m insulted you think I’d have anything to do with that dreadful sheep.”

“It’s not the kidnappin’ bit that bothers you?” Sarah asks.

“Attention, please!” Katja interjects, clapping her hands. “I first wish to say that if you had looked at me with your eyes, you would see that I too have money. Does this make me evil? Does this make me an evil shepherd of evil computer sheep? Nein. You are too quick to throw the finger of accusation.”

“Well,” Alison says, taken aback. “I just—”

“Second!” Katja shouts. She extends her index finger toward MK. “This woman here is the evil shepherd.”

“M-me?” MK stammers.

“You have been having secret sheep meetings. I heard you in your room. Plotting.”

“I was testing Gabby’s functionality.”

“Performing sheep tests instead of looking for a way out? I laugh! Ha!”

“Or bitchin’ about bathrooms?” Sarah snipes.

“What is this?” Katja asks, wagging a finger at her. “What is this you are saying?”

“Okay,” Krystal interjects. “So, I’m totally against stereotyping, obvs, but whoever built this artificial whatever is crazy smart, right? Probably wears glasses? See what I’m saying?”

“Enough!”

Everyone goes quiet, turning their heads to the woman in the suit.

“We all have a decision to make,” she bellows. “Right here, right now. We can choose to trust each other, work together to maybe find a way out of this. Or we can turn against each other, keep pointing fingers until someone winds up dead. Because that’s how this ends. That’s exactly what Gabby’s counting on, and you’re all playing right into her hands.”

Her words hang in the air. Katja looks as though she’s itching to say something but can’t find the words. Cosima steps forward.

“Beth’s right,” she says. “Gabby wants us to kill, so she’s giving us a motive. We can’t afford to let it get to us.”

“Yes, well,” Katja finally says. “If you had let me finish, you would see I was going to make this point exactly.”

Beth crosses her arms sternly.

“Glad we’re on the same page.”

 


 

Charlotte blinks up at the ceiling of her room. The weight of the morning’s events had come crashing down on her all at once in the form of a dizzy spell, and she’d stumbled her way here, to her Gabby-appointed bed. 

She doesn’t know how long she’s been lying here. Hours, maybe. For a while, she tried closing her eyes and imagining herself someplace else, until eventually, the crushing reality hit her. This is the only place she knows.

Mercifully, a knock at the door interrupts her thoughts. She stands up and pulls it open.

“Hello, Charlotte,” Alison says.

Charlotte’s first thought is that she’s the next on Alison’s suspect list. She pushes it out of her mind.

“Hi, Alison.”

“First, I’d like to apologize for my behavior earlier.” Alison says, shuffling awkwardly. “The last thing I want to do is start a panic.”

“I understand,” Charlotte says. “We all want answers.”

Alison nods, grateful.

“Also, I’m calling a meeting in the cafeteria,” she says. “There’s something I’d like to discuss with everyone. Come as soon as you can. If that’s alright.”

“Sure,” Charlotte says. Her eyes fall to the two bulging plastic bags in Alison’s hand, tied shut with ribbon.

“Oh,” Alison says, following Charlotte’s eyes. “I guess you could call it a peace offering.”

She raises the bags to the light. They’re packed tightly with homemade cookies.

“Or two, actually,” she adds. “Tony and Rachel.”

“Oh, okay.” Charlotte says and decides not to press the topic. “So, um, should I head to the caf-”

“It won’t be easy,” Alison says. “My words don’t always come out the way I want them to. Most of the time, I just end up making things worse.”

Charlotte sees the uncertainty in Alison’s expression. She does honestly seem to feel bad.

“I’m sure you’ll do fine,” Charlotte says. “Cookies make everything okay.”

“Right,” Alison titters. “That’s always been my philosophy.”

Charlotte expects this to be the point where Alison excuses herself and moves on to another door. She doesn’t.

“So—”

“Normally, I’d bring a friend along,” Alison says. “But seeing as I’ve been kidnapped without so much as a memory of my loved ones...”

“Do you want me to go with you?”

The words are barely out of her mouth when Alison grabs hold of her wrist.

“Oh my goodness, would you?” she asks, though the question feels rhetorical at this point. “That’s very kind of you. Here we go.”

Before Charlotte has a chance to protest, she’s already been dragged across the hall to Tony’s door. Alison clears her throat and then knocks. A few seconds later, the door inches open. Tony eyes the two women with suspicion.

“Yeah?” he says.

“I’m holding a meeting in the cafeteria to discuss our next steps,” Alison says flatly. “I’d like you to be there.”

Tony blinks back at her a few times before speaking.

“Can’t wait.”

Alison nods, fidgeting with the bags in her hand. Charlotte gives her an encouraging nudge.

“Here,” Alison finally says, thrusting one of the bags in Tony’s face. Tony raises an eyebrow, then takes it. “They’re not poisoned.”

“Uhhh,” is all he can manage. He shoots a concerned look at Charlotte who can only shrug in response. 

“Earlier, I accused you of being our kidnapper,” Alison says.

“I remember that, yeah.”

“I want to apologize,” Alison says. “It’s obvious to me now that you have nothing to do with Gabby.”

“Why’s that obvious?”

Alison tilts her head, caught off guard. She raises a finger to her chin in thought.

“I just mean… Gabby’s a very complicated program… Whoever built her would have to be someone very, um…”

“Evil?” Charlotte offers.

“Evil!” Alison agrees, beaming with relief. “Exactly.”

Tony rolls his eyes. They fall onto Charlotte.

“She dragged you into this?” he asks.

“It was her idea!” Alison says.

The statement isn’t technically untrue, so Charlotte decides to let it slide.

“Yup,” she sighs.

“Right,” Tony says, unconvinced, then turns back to Alison. “You kinda suck at this, huh?”

“Well,” she huffs. “Just wait until you taste my snickerdoodles.”

“Your what?”

“Snickerdoodles,” Alison says. She points awkwardly at the bag in his hand. “They’re, um… they’re the cookies. Snickerdoodles.”

“Yeah, okay,” he sighs. “We’re good, alright?”

“Oh, wonderful!” Alison exclaims.

“Later, snickerdoodle,” Tony says with a wink, coloring Alison’s cheeks red.

“We’ll see you in the—” The door closes in Alison’s face. “--cafeteria.”

She turns back to Charlotte with a look of relief.

“I think that went well.”

Charlotte can only manage a reluctant nod.

“Should I not have mentioned poison?” Alison asks.

“I wouldn’t have.”

“Well, it was the truth!” Alison says. “But alright. Live and learn. Anyhoo, on to Rachel’s room.”

Alison begins to walk, but Charlotte hesitates, causing her to turn back.

“Don’t worry,” she says. “I will be the dictionary definition of tactful.”

Whether Charlotte believes her or not, it hardly matters. They’re talking about having a conversation with Rachel.

“I was going to say maybe you should just leave a note,” she says.

Alison swallows, crooking her neck toward Rachel’s door.

“I’ll see if the shop has stationery.”

 


 

“A buddy system?”

With Charlotte’s help, Alison managed to gather the rest of the group, including Rachel who had apparently received her apology cookies and carefully considered note. Whether they were interested in hearing her out or that there really isn’t much else to do in this place, Charlotte isn’t sure. Judging by the group’s chilly reaction to Alison’s proposal, she’s leaning toward the latter.

“Yes, Sarah,” Alison says. “I’m sure none of us are actually considering… doing what Gabby wants us to do, but it doesn’t hurt to take precautions.”

Niki cautiously raises her hand, and Alison gives her a nod.

“Don’t you think that, um, not that anyone would, but if someone were thinking about killing someone, that this is just handing them a victim on a silver platter?”

“Ah!” Alison exclaims, like she was expecting the question. “That’s the thing. We all heard the rules, right? It’s not enough to… kill someone. The killer also has to get away with the crime. God forbid if anyone got hurt, who do you think would be the prime suspect?”

“Mutually assured destruction,” Cosima says.

The room goes quiet. Somehow, the idea isn’t especially comforting.

“Don’t think of it as a precaution against murder,” Alison says. “Think of it as a way to get to know each other!”

“It’s not a bad idea,” Beth says. Alison flashes her a relieved smile. “If it helps give everyone some peace of mind, I’m all for it.”

“I appreciate that, Beth.”

“Yes,” Helena says. “I am stronger with my sestra.”

Sarah chuckles, giving her sister a playful punch in the arm.

“Like you weren’t gonna follow me around anyway.”

“Oh, um,” Alison says, raising a finger in the air. “Actually, I’ve taken the liberty of assigning everyone a buddy.”

“Say again?” Sarah says.

“Well, after careful consideration, I think that this arrangement will be safest for everyone. After calculating everyone’s SI, I—”

“Everyone’s what?” Cosima interjects.

“Oh, excuse me. Survivability Index,” Alison says, sounding somewhat proud. “It’s just a little something I came up with. Put simply, it’s a measure of how likely you are to, well…”

“Be killed?” Sarah asks.

“Or not be killed!” Alison adds. “The point is that I’ve matched everyone so that every pair should have the same average SI. Roughly. Although, since we’re an odd number, there is one group of three.”

“That won’t be necessary,” Rachel says. Charlotte realizes that she’s chosen a spot by the doorway where she can watch everyone else. “I’ll take my chances alone.”

Without waiting for a response, she turns and walks out of the cafeteria.

“Well,” Alison huffs. “It’s her funeral.”

Everyone’s eyes widen.

“It’s a figure of a speech!”

“Okay,” Cosima says. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m loving the scientific approach, but what exactly are you basing these numbers on?”

“Intuition,” Alison says without a hint of irony. Charlotte can hear a few snickers and groans among the crowd. “Look, I know how it sounds, but I have a good sense of people. My first impressions are always accurate.”

“That right?” Tony asks, arms crossed.

“Or second impressions, in some cases,” Alison says. As her eyes scan the skeptical expressions surrounding her, her face falls. “Obviously, everyone is free to do as they please. I’m not Gabby, for goodness sake. I just want to keep everyone safe.”

Charlotte feels a pang of guilt in her chest. Though Alison may have made a few mistakes and may lack a certain amount of social grace, it’s clear that she’s trying.

“I think it’s a good idea,” Charlotte says.

“You do?” Alison asks, surprised.

“You do?” Sarah asks, doubly so.

Charlotte nods.

“We’ve all been so preoccupied with trying to figure out what happened to our memories or who created Gabby or how to get out of this place. I know no one wants to accept it, but the reality is that we might be stuck here for a while. Alison’s obviously given this a lot of thought. Can any of you say the same?”

No one does.

 


 

And so, Alison’s plan goes forward. The group is split into the following pairs: Alison with Miriam, Sarah with Cosima, Helena with MK, Tony with Katja, Krystal with Niki, Camilla with Jennifer, and finally, Charlotte is with Beth.

Beth offers Charlotte a handshake, which seems strange under the circumstances, but she accepts nonetheless. Up close, she carries an intimidating quality, and Charlotte finds herself tightening her grip to match. When Beth smiles though, she feels instantly at ease. 

Alison didn’t reveal her entire process, but the fact that they were paired together feels like the elephant standing between them.

“So,” Charlotte says with an awkward laugh. “Which of us do you think has the lower Survivability Index?”

Beth laughs, not unkindly.

“I don’t know what Alison sees, but I think it’d be a mistake to underestimate you.”

Charlotte smiles, appreciative.

“So, hey,” Beth says. Her tone and body language shift to something more serious. “Mind if I ask you a couple questions?”

“Oh, sure. What about?”

“Have you ever met any of these people before?” Beth asks, scanning the room. “Outside of this place, I mean.”

“I don’t think so. But I don’t remember much of anything.”

“Mm,” Beth mumbles. She rubs at her chin for a moment, thinking. “How much do you remember exactly? Any memories spring to mind? Names? Faces?”

“Not really,” Charlotte says, almost apologetic. “I think I can remember being a child. But it’s like trying to remember a dream I had.”

“Hm.”

Beth’s eyes narrow as she watches Charlotte’s face, but her mind appears to be somewhere else.

“What is it?” Charlotte asks.

Beth shakes her head, pulling herself out of her trance before speaking.

“It seems like everyone’s lost some of their memories, but there are inconsistencies. Some are missing a lot more than others.”

“Well,” Charlotte says. “Maybe that was unintentional. It’s probably not easy to erase someone’s memories.”

“Yeah, maybe not,” Beth agrees. “So then, why go through the trouble?”

Charlotte realizes Beth is looking to her for an answer. Is she testing her?

“They’re trying to hide something,” Charlotte says.

Beth nods, impressed.

“There’s something the mastermind doesn’t want us to remember. Something that connects all of us. I’m sure of it.”

The idea makes sense, more so the longer it sits in Charlotte’s mind. Why did the mastermind specifically target these fifteen people? Aside from the twins, they’re all complete strangers to one another. But is that really true? With their memories being what they are, can any of them really be sure?

“So,” Charlotte says. “How do we find out what it is?”

Beth gives her an approving smirk.

“That’s what I like to hear. Feel like doing some detective work?”

 


 

“I remember growing up in convent in Ukraine,” Helena says. She and Sarah are seated at one of the cafeteria tables along with their assigned buddies, MK and Cosima. “Then there is only darkness. But I think... sometimes it is better to not remember.”

Sarah lays a hand on her sister’s shoulder, soft. 

Charlotte and Beth’s investigation has turned up more questions than answers. Beth was right; the group’s memory loss is wildly inconsistent. Some have had years erased, others remember everything but their kidnapping. One thing is clear: no one has forgotten more than Charlotte.

Beth rubs at her temple, deep in thought.

“Nothing’s adding up,” she says. “We’ve got people from England, Finland, Colombia, Ukraine… Whatever the hell this is, it’s big.”

She turns to MK, clearing her throat.

“Is it okay if I ask a personal question?” she says. MK brings her arms up around herself. She pulls hair over the scarred side of her face. “You can say no.”

“I don’t remember what happened to my face,” MK blurts out. “All I know is that I’ve had these scars for a long time.”

“These are burns,” Helena says flatly. 

She leans closer, running her eyes along MK’s face, almost reverent. Surprisingly, MK doesn’t recoil, letting the hair fall away from her cheek. 

“Okay. Sorry. Just desperate to find a lead.” Beth tells MK, who nods in response. “So, you said you were testing Gabby’s functionality before? You know a lot about computers?”

MK shrugs, looking down at her hands.

“She’s being modest,” Charlotte says. “I think Gabby’s met her match with MK.”

MK’s mouth curls into a hint of a smile.

“Yeah?” Beth laughs. “Any insight into what kind of person might have created her?”

“People,” MK corrects her. “One person could never build something like her. Not in a thousand years.”

Beth leans back in her chair, bringing a hand to her chin.

“So you think there’s more than one person behind this game?” she asks.

MK shakes her head.

“Gabby was built by a team, but that doesn’t mean she was built for this. It doesn’t matter what she was designed for. It matters what she’s capable of. If someone got their hands on her source code, they could command her to do anything.”

“Right,” Sarah says. “Doesn’t explain why she has to be such a cheeky little shit about everythin’.”

“Hey,” Cosima says, her head turned away from the group. Charlotte realizes then that she’s been silently staring at the digital wall clock throughout the entire conversation. “How long would you guys say we’ve been talking?

“You haven’t been talking at all,” Beth points out. “But I dunno. Five minutes?”

“Hmm,” Cosima mutters.

“What’s on your mind?” Beth asks.

“If I were running a killing game,” she starts. “And I’m not, just to be clear. But if I were, one thing I would do is mess with the subjects’ minds. Agitate them. Don’t you think it’s weird that this is the only clock in this place? It’s not like we can see the sun. This is our only measure of the passage of time.”

“Not my number one concern right now, to be honest,” Sarah says. “If we’re still here in a week, maybe I’ll start worryin’ about clocks.”

Even still, with the idea implanted in their heads, an uneasy quiet falls over them as they watch and wait for the time to change.

 


 

There was something else Cosima said that stuck with Charlotte.

“Humans can adapt to pretty much anything.”

Charlotte has spent less than a day in the place, at least judging from the time displayed in the cafeteria and her own internal clock, and already, she feels the group beginning to adapt. In the evening, Alison and Niki cook a large pot of pasta for the group. Alison is quick to point out that it’s nothing special, but it turns out to be just the thing everyone needs. For now, things are calm. 

Gabby, for whatever she is, has yet to harm anyone. All things considered, their living conditions could be far worse. Would anyone really commit murder to escape this place? Charlotte can’t imagine it. Someone will find them long before it comes to that. They have to.

All of the adrenaline has left her body. She stifles a yawn. Beth chuckles.

“You should get some sleep.” she says. 

Instinctively, Charlotte wants to protest. They need to keep going.

“It’s alright,” Beth says, laying a hand on her arm.

Charlotte knows she’s right. They’re still no closer to finding a way out of this, and if there’s any hope of doing so, they’ll need their energy.

“Okay,” Charlotte says. “You too.”

“Yeah,” Beth sighs. “Guess I’ll see you in the morning, partner.”

Charlotte offers her a smile before heading for her room.

 


 

Charlotte flips off the light switch, blanketing her room in darkness. All except the dim bulb sitting just above the camera’s lens. She watches it move with her as she walks to the bed and climbs under the blankets.

It’s immediately comfortable. Too comfortable, she thinks, as she worries this is the first step to accepting her fate here. The guilt quickly fades as she sinks into her pillow, the day’s memories drifting farther and farther away.

The camera watches.