REWIND: How To Commit Genocide in 48 Hours
I was being watched.
That prickling sensation. Maybe it’s on a subconscious level. You hear the smallest noise or feel the slightest shift in the air and it sets off your internal alarm. We’ve all felt it. A cold draft over the heart that makes you shiver.
Look. Look behind you.
I resisted the urge because if I looked away for even a second someone could very likely take the opportunity and push me off. Ten minutes is a lot of time, after all, at least when you know you’re about to die.
I locked eyes with the person closest to me, the girl with the scarlet hair. Neither of us moved like we were in a Mexican standoff, one waiting for the other to make the first kill.
But no one did. The businessman with the loose tie spoke up.
"So we… have to choose who to kill?"
The girl glared daggers at him.
"Just for saying that, you're first."
I waved my hands rapidly.
"Wait, no! Listen! That's not the solution!"
"Okay then, whizz kid! Tell us what we're supposed to do."
All eyes fell on me. The girl, the businessman, the kid in the gi, and the guy with the dyed hair. Not exactly my dream team.
"Okay… everyone sit down."
They complied and sat in a circle like a group of toddlers at school. The dyed-hair guy peeked over the platform. Dyed-hair is not a good nickname. Let’s call him Brownie.
"What the hell do we do? This is insane. Do we really have to kill each other? I didn't sign up for this-"
The pepper-eyed girl shushed him and pointed at me. That’s not a good nickname either. I’ll call her Peppers.
"Speak. Tell me."
I gulped, sweat tracing down my back. The urge to take off my fleece sweater hit me like a pile of bricks.
"Uh, well, I'm Kohei Kurosawa, and I think as of right now the time limit shouldn't be our concern."
The boy in the gi raised his hand.
Heat rushed up my face and the girl laughed.
This was just great. I was already not being taken seriously, or so I thought until the girl looked back at me like I was a teacher and she was ready to take notes at a moment's notice.
"Keep going, Kurosawa-san."
A surge of confidence enveloped me like a suit of armor.
"We have to assume that there's a solution to this, or else not only would there be no reason in killing each other, but there would be no reason in trying to win to begin with."
The blond man smacked his lips.
"Are you serious right now? Thanks for stating the obvious."
"Like I s-said, the time limit shouldn’t be our concern because five heads are better than one. We should only start talking about sacrificing people when it comes down to the wire. And we have that convenience, since she has a wristwatch.”
Peppers flashed her watch with a shy smile. The businessman pointed at something behind me.
“He’s been watching us for a while now.”
We all turned.
A few tiles away was a tall, pale man wearing baggy overalls with red straps. He had a striped shirt reminiscent of a prison uniform in cartoons, and with the dark eyeliner and a smile on his face, he reminded me of a street performing mime. He raised a disproportionately large hand to wave at us, his spindly fingers curling like spider legs. I shivered.
Brownie stood up and crossed his arms like some kind of gang symbol. But like I said, I don’t know anything about that stuff.
“Yo! Got a problem, bro?”
I noticed that none of the other four contestants on the mime’s platform were going near him. They were all huddled on the other half of the tile like he was a parent with a belt. Or an insect. I knew right then and there that I should tell Brownie to stop, or else… well, I didn’t want to find out. But I said nothing. The mime stood up.
“I don’t have any problem.”
Nothing like I’d imagined, his voice was pure elegance. The image of a mime waiter popped into my head. Would you like fries with that, oui?
“Then why you lookin’ over here, huh? Back off with that face, man-”
It happened so fast that by the time it was over I hadn’t even blinked. The mime raised a single finger at Brownie and a blast of light shot out, piercing his skull. There was no blood or dramatic-dying-breath. Brownie folded like a deck of cards and tumbled off the edge.
“Attention. Please don’t kill people on other platforms unless you are on that platform. It makes my job a lot harder. But for that, Asano has granted your platform an additional ten minutes of lifetime for the murder of Hanazawa. So be sure to thank him, uh… Akabane, Kurosawa, Sato, and… Renji. Really? No last name? Huh.”
There was a cough in the invisible loudspeaker as it went quiet, leaving the rest of us frozen in place like deer in the headlights. The mimic, Asano, examined us all one by one. This was the most intense game of duck-duck-goose I’d ever played. Eventually he sat down, one leg dangling off the edge of his platform and the other tucked to his chest, concealing the bottom half of his lips which were now curled in a smile.
The boy in the white gi stood up, fists clenched.
Don’t be stupid, kid.
“You… you killed him.”
Asano’s smile persisted.
“Yes, I did.”
The Renji boy flew into a rage and his entire body exploded with light, energy surging outwards in waves. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, this was just like an anime, this was just like-
“You killed him!”
The energy dribbled out but remained visible, and with inhuman agility the boy closed the distance in one leap to Asano, readying himself for a kick. Asano darted out of the way and Renji’s leg smashed through the cobble platform like it was tree bark, chunks spurting down into the open sky. Asano leaped off the platform with the grace of a professional diver and Renji followed him without hesitation.
I reached out my hand, subconsciously hoping that the same would happen to me, that I would get my own power-up, but nothing happened, and the two figures disappeared into the marshmallow clouds. The invisible announcer laughed.
“What a turn of events! They both learned Sei so fast! Oh! I wasn’t supposed to say that… um, anyways, both of your plates get ten more minutes! Rejoice, Akabane, Kurosawa, and Sato! You’re in the lead for die-last-awards!”
Hand shaking, Akabane read out the time on her watch.
“Fifty-five minutes left.”
We felt along the underside of the platform for any hidden levers or clues, but it was smooth as a baby’s bottom. We’d even tried transforming, thinking about things that enraged us. I imagined fighting Dad or a school bully, but nothing happened. I even tried flexing really hard, but I just got the urge to use the bathroom. I flopped onto my stomach and sighed. The reality of the situation was setting in. If we didn’t find a solution in what was now ten minutes, we’d die. I resolved to not even think about sacrificing another person. It would make me just as bad as the rest of them.
Sei. That’s what the announcer had said. Sei. Was that this world’s power system?
I sat up.
“Akabane-san. Sato-san. In this old tale-”
Akabane shot me a sour look.
“You mean in one of your stupid anime?”
“None of those ideas will work. Idiot…”
She laid back down and covered her eyes as if shielding herself from the sun, despite the clouds. Five minutes before the end, something finally changed. The cobble in the middle of every platform clicked and whirred, stool-shapes emerging from the hidden compartments. Everyone backed away in anticipation. A new variable. A hint? Food? A toilet? But what revealed itself was the worst thing imaginable. A knife the size of my forearm, gleaming like the eyes of a rabid dog.
Maybe he tossed the decision around in his head like dirty laundry, or maybe he acted without thinking. I would never know. Sato grabbed the knife and charged at me. I went into autopilot as screams erupted on other platforms. A battle royale had begun. The knife came down; I dodged, tripped, almost fell, and dodged him again like he was a raging bull. He caught me the third time. We crashed to the ground. I grabbed his wrist, the knife was inches from my face. Sato cried out. Spittle flew from his mouth.
“It has to be you! I’m sorry!”
“Please no! Please-”
Akabane’s foot smacked into his skull. His eyes rolled up in his head. He flopped over. Was it over? No. He recuperated. Not fast enough. Akabane wrenched the knife away and plunged it into his chest. A sickening squelch. He coughed blood onto her face, rolled onto me. Warm liquid oozed down my arms. I shoved him off and scrambled away. As far as I could go. Akabane stabbed him again; this time the knife lodged in his back. He curled like a trapeze artist, moaned, and she pushed him. She yanked the knife out. Pushed him again. More. Harder. He went over, gone. She collapsed, chest rising and falling. Looked at me. I looked at her. Breathless. Breathe. Breathe.
Thus Akabane committed her first murder. It wouldn’t be her last. She pointed the knife at me, the knife drenched in another human being's blood.
"Stay where you are."
This wasn't how it was supposed to be. This wasn't like a super-powered fight. Sato hadn't been incinerated in an energy blast. He'd been stabbed to death.
She checked her watch.
"Twenty minutes. Don't move. Or I'll k-kill you too."
He adjusted his tie. She took off hers.
"So he calls you Black Mask, huh?"
"Looks like it."
"It's good. Memorable. Has a ring to it."
He plopped a piece of gel in his hair and ran it through with his fingers.
"I don't like it. It's tacky."
The woman in the seat stirred her whiskey, grew impatient, and poured it out. The ice cubes clacked as they hit the invisible floor, then glided along over nothingness like hockey pucks. The whiskey stopped mid-air as if it had frozen in time. She scooped it back up with the shot glass and gulped it down.
"You don't like anything… Black Mask."
He looked down at the stars below him and decided that this point in space was boring. Besides the giant sun burning in front of them, it was too colorless. The sun swirled yet he didn't feel an ounce of heat.
"You're right. And I especially despise these bodies. I don't know how much longer I can do this… isn't that enough whiskey for today?"
"Today, tomorrow, makes no difference, right? It's all happening at the same time."
"That may be so, but we have to maintain these vessels until the welcoming party. So don't let it die."
"Okay, hot shot."
Silence passed between them. The soft explosions of the sun were mellowed out by the invisible room they occupied. Even if they couldn't be seen, the walls were most definitely felt. Claustrophobia was the most primitive of all senses of touch.
"Black Mask - what was the name of the boy who defied you?"
"Kohei Kurosawa didn't defy me... for long. I showed him what he least wanted to see, and that's all it took. Though I admit I may have administered too much of a... personal touch."
"Afraid of the Mistress finding out, huh? But I'm nice. I'll keep it a secret if you treat me to drinks for the next hundred thousand years."
"Just stop calling me Black Mask."
She materialized more ice and swished it around a few times before dumping it. Ice got in the way of flavor. She laughed again.
"Kohei Kurosawa, huh? Cute name."