They never knew the woman's name, nor the name of her child. It was an unspoken survival method, among the island's inhabitants, not to interact more than strictly necessary among those they did not already know. Making new contacts, new attachments, could be dangerous not only emotionally, but physically. Loving others, getting close, could be the fastest way to end one's own life.

Kimora and Kaya had seen her perhaps three times in passing, and Kaya had flinched each time, her large, shadowed eyes speaking of her distress, though she never verbalized it aloud. Kimora knew her younger sister well enough to understand what bothered her; anyone with any undeadened feelings left would understand. The little boy was no more than two or three, so very young to be marked already. What would happen to him, if his mother were to be stricken first?

But that unspoken question turned out a mute wondering. It was the child, not the mother, who first drew the guard's watchful eyes into overt response.

The sisters saw the scene as they exited the public baths, headed for their assigned cottage. Kimora had long ago decided that she and Kaya would leave their quarters only when absolutely needed, for bathing, toileting, and eating. They would not risk further eyes upon them than necessary, nor exposure from the other islanders in closer contact. Their lives were already narrowed down to so little, enough that the girls sometimes felt their skin scream with frustration at their restriction, but even so, Kimora would not give in to their impatience. Safety, Kaya's even more than hers, came first.

But as brief as their exposure to the others, it could not prevent them from often witnessing scenes like that of the toddler's stepping out of acceptable behavioral boundaries, drawing the guards forward for the first time.

Kimora already suspected, before laying eyes on the child, that something could happen. She and Kaya heard the little boy crying even from within the bath house, the running of the water and the thick stone walls around them doing little to muffle his screams. She was no expert on children; Kaya was her only sister, and she had been so young at her birth, and Kaya such as calm, obedient child, that Kimora could not remember her ever throwing a tantrum. She could not be sure if the child was merely upset, understandable giving his forced way of life, or showing the first of symptoms of illness, a far more insidious possibility.

She hadn't planned to give that kind of assessment. Urging Kaya to hurry in her washing, Kimora intended to hasten them both back to the quarters she could never bring herself to think of as home, avoiding seeing or knowing of what would happen to the little boy if she could.

This proved impossible. The child and his mother were standing only two cottages down from their own, and Kimora could think of no way she and her sister could get to their intended destination without passing by.

"Keep your head down," she murmured, instinctively pulling Kaya closer against her and trying her best to avert her own eyes. "Just look straight ahead, at the cottage. Keep going, no matter what."

Kaya, her face paler than usual, bit her lip and nodded slightly in acknowledgement, her small fingers biting into Kimora's skin as she half hid herself beneath the taller girl's arm. Kimora responded by attempting to put her body in between any possible view that her sister could have, a blockade between the duo and Kaya.

She could not follow her own advice. As the toddler's angry cries continued, her eyes drifted, taking in the scene nearby.

The mother looked to be barely older than Kimora herself, no more than twenty, to Kimora's 17. Her features were nevertheless heavily lined with stress and anxiety, her eyes brimming with tears as she struggled to hold onto her solid-bodied child in her scrawny arms, attempting to contain his flailing arms and kicking feet.

"Shhh, shh, please, Garrett, please, calm down," she begged, her own voice too fear-filled to be of any comfort to the child. "Please, Garrett, please…"

Kimora saw the guards, only ten or twelve feet away from the pair, already tense with watchfulness, hands touching the guns holstered on their hips. She quickened her pace, cursing inwardly when Kaya stumbled at the faster speed and barely containing her impatience as she helped the girl right herself. It was enough delay in time that both of them saw when the child leaned in close to his mother's face, sinking baby sized but still sharp teeth into her cheek.

The woman's shriek of pain was stifled almost as quickly as Kaya's cry beside Kimora, as she struggled to conceal what her child had done. Cheek dripping beads of blood, she rushed to contain her child in one arm as her other hand flew up to cover her cheek in desperate effort to hide the wound. She made as though to run, but it was far too late, and she could never have been fast enough, never have been skilled enough to be able to escape the guards. Already they had started forward, guns drawn, two more joining the ones the sisters had seen as they surrounded her and the child.

The woman's face grew white with terror even as bright blood continued to trickle down her cheek. She clutched her child with fierce, protective desperation against her chest, cradling his head with her hand, heedless of any further possible attacks from him in her instinct to protect.

"No, please!" she cried, her voice high in pitch, almost as young and frightened as fourteen-year-old Kaya's when she woke, disoriented, from nightmares. "Please, it isn't what you think, he isn't sick! He's just upset, I swear to you, my baby isn't infected!"

Kimora heard Kaya's raspy inhalation, but she didn't release it out as she held her breath in fearful anticipation. She tried to tug her along, but Kaya's feet were slow to respond, and Kimora herself could not quite resist looking back at the scene playing out before them.

Two of the guards took the woman into a practiced, efficient restraint, their arms strong and all too skilled at how to hold someone in a manner that there could be no escape. As the woman continued to scream and plea, her child's wailing drowned out by her panic, the remaining guard's plucked the little boy from her grasp with ease, ignoring her sobbing efforts to persuade them into returning him to her.

"Please, please, I'm begging you, listen to me, please! He's only a baby, he's just a little boy! He's just having a tantrum, he's just angry and tired and- please, please, give me back my baby, please don't hurt my little boy!"

Unmoved and unresponsive to her outburst of emotion, the guards carrying the child continued to walk away from his mother, the man holding him carrying him in such a manner that he was outstretched from his body, unable to reach him with his teeth or his nails. The guard accompanying him held his gun pointed out at the boy, following closely. They took the child behind the building closest to them, just enough distance from the public street to disappear from view.

"Kiki…Kiki, they can't-" Kaya whispered, reverting to her childhood nickname for her sister, invented in a time when her full name was too difficult for a toddler's pronunciation. Her words were almost swallowed up against the older girl's side as she pressed her cheek into her, dark blue eyes straining to see around Kimora's effort to shield her view. "He's just a baby, they can't-"

"Kaya, come on," Kimora urged, giving the girl a strong nudge and catching her from crumpling to the ground in reaction. "We have to get inside. Move!"

She half pushed, half dragged Kaya the rest of the way into their quarters, slamming the door behind them. She would have locked it, had she possessed a key, but none of the buildings open to the island's inhabitants were able to be locked. There had to be a way for those inside to escape, should one of them suddenly change over into an infected state, but this was not the main factor behind that decision, Kimora suspected. The main purpose behind the inability for privacy and protection was not for the safety of the islanders, but rather to allow the soldiers and other officials access to them at any time, for any reason.

Leaning her back against the door not in effort to provide a blockade from intruders, but rather to keep Kaya from seeing out the windows, Kimora wrapped her arms tight around her sister, pressing her face into her chest in effort to shield her from what they both knew to come as to give comfort. Both girls shut their eyes, their bodies tensed and braced, but it was not enough to block out the sound of the gunshot, the reverberating shock it sent out through their frames, or the sick, terrible knowledge that passed over them as its noise faded away, leaving nothing but the mother's sobbing cries in its wake.

The island's population had just decreased by one. And this, the girls knew, was only the start of the day.

88

The illness started mildly, at first. It hardly seemed more serious than a cold, perhaps a flu, from the ubiquitous, common nature of the symptoms. Typically the first signs were nothing more than headaches, increasing in severity, along with some nausea and loss of appetite. The next step was muscle and facial twitching, occasional at first, then more frequent and intense until the person grew unable to speak normally. From there the illness deteriorated into hallucinations and psychosis, and often into severely violent behavior towards anyone close to their range of attack.

The strange, unnamed phenomenon was isolated in its occurrences at first, limited to crowded city populations in the most inhabited parts of the United States. As those affected began to rapidly increase in number, the illness spread into wider and wider parts of the country, until it seemed that only the most isolated of populations had not been affected. Public awareness and media coverage soared and exploded into panic, and soon hysteria broke out. Anyone suspected of being a carrier of the infection, with or without proof, became targets for just as violent actions as the genuine carriers themselves were engaging in. In a matter of months, the country became racked with violence, fear, and desperation as Americans, both the infected and the healthy, exploded in the number of physical assaults, abuse, suicides, and murders committed across the nation.

Little was known about the infection's origins or even the manner in which it was spread. This, of course, only contributed to the terror surrounding it, and within six months, the government had set in place an official and strictly enforced policy to control the outbreak and its effects.

Anyone known to be exposed closely to someone who was suffering or whom had succumbed to the infection was considered at high risk. Those at risk would be transported to various undisclosed locations, most of them unnamed islands, and quarantined until the infection was under control in the general population. And those determined to have been infected, until such a time when a cure had been devised, were to be executed.

It was on such an island that Kimora and Kaya had been relocated to; with their father one of the early victims of the infection, and their mother having only recently been executed after her succumbing, they had been deemed to be among those at high risk. Even now, they could not be sure of where exactly it was that they were, or how long a voyage it had been for them to arrive. This was necessary, the government had declared, for everyone's protection. Without knowing the locations of the quarantines, the healthy could not get in, and the sick or at risk could not know how to escape.

Time was known only by the rising and setting of the sun, with weeks and months blurring together without meaning. For all Kimora knew, she and Kaya could be fifteen and eighteen now, without their knowledge of their birthdays' passing. Perhaps they were, but it didn't really matter. Kimora had been judged even at seventeen to be close enough to adulthood to be responsible for the sole guardianship of Kaya on the island, and the girls had been assigned a cottage to themselves.

The death of their parents had ceased to carry any feeling for Kimora, beyond a dull, aching hollowness in her chest for the brief moments she allowed herself to think of them at all. She could do nothing to take it back, had been unable to do anything then to protect them, and daily life now was such a struggle to get through that she could not waste emotion or energy in mourning them. Her focus now could only be Kaya, her life and her safety. She was all that Kimora had left in the world, and if she could not save her parents, she would protect her little sister to her own death.

Any rights to privacy had been forfeited the moment its new inhabitants stepped foot on their new home. The living quarters assigned to them were surrounded in brick walls, twelve feet tall, with guards stationed on both the inside and outside of their parameters. Those dwelling within were given small, one room cabins for each family or group, with little more than a bed and a wardrobe for clothing and those personal belongings allowed of them inside. There were cameras installed in each cottage and in every location that the island dwellers were allowed to enter, and each was regularly monitored and viewed. Bathing, toileting, and eating areas were public, with even this private aspect of life no longer allowed to be carried on out of the open view. And with no doors allowed locks or barricades, the guards stationed were allowed to enter and search the cottages at any time, for any reason that they deemed necessary.

To Kimora, they had merely left one hell to arrive at another.

88

Kimora lay awake, watchful, her eyes open the dim lighting of the cottage's interior. It was difficult to sleep, most nights. The streets outside her window were brightly lit, lest an islander make an effort at escape in the dark, or slipping past the guards' view in an attempt to overpower them or another of what Kimora sometimes thought of as the condemned. That was how she felt, when her darkest, most despairing moments came; she and Kaya were condemned, without any hope for their future or prolonged survival. If they were not already going to carry out their parents' fate from exposure to their illness, then they may very well succumb from exposure to the other islanders who may be already infected.

She never voiced this to Kaya. She wanted her little sister to have as much strength in optimism as was possible, as much of a chance that could be afforded to her. Without any parents or any others looking after them, Kaya had only Kimora on her side, and Kimora owed it to her to be as strong as she could be, to show no signs of doubt or fear when possible.

She lay motionless, body tensed in preparation to hear shots in the night once more. It didn't happen every night, but it did happen often enough for her to be ready and to lack the startled response she had once shown. Sometimes, a whole day might go by without an elimination, as she had heard the guards call the shootings among themselves. Sometimes, there might be several deaths in a single day, or even in the course of an hour. On an island holding perhaps 400 people, Kimora estimated one or two deaths per day. She had lost count of the number of kills, had stopped making an effort to keep track. With new islanders being brought in periodically and a steady flow of islanders eliminated, it didn't seem practical or possible to try.

The guards called the shootings elimination, but Kimora knew them to be murder.

Releasing a slow breath, then swallowing hard, Kimora made an effort to push away her thoughts, opening her eyes to check in with her sister, curled close up to her in their narrow bed. Although they had been provided with two beds, one for each of them, in the cottage, Kimora and Kaya always slept in only one of them. Kimora told herself that this was a practical measure, to provide Kaya with a sense of security and safety and to improve her rest, but the truth was that she herself felt better with her sister close, that it gave her a false sense of control, an illusion of the level of protection she could provide for her. She too felt a sense of comfort to feel the warm solidity of Kaya nearby.

Kaya lay on her side, her legs bent in a manner that gave her a near fetal appearance, her forehead resting lightly against the side of Kimora's shoulder. Because her eyes were closed, Kimora was able to watch her with all the intensity she might have attempted to conceal if Kaya were observing. She stroked the younger girl's back slowly, mindful of the heat her body gave off beneath the layer of her shirt. Was she warmer than usual? Was that a concerning sign, if she was?

Kimora could feel the unevenness of her sister's breathing through her back, a slight hitch to her exhalations causing her to fear that Kaya was either frightened or in pain. The one comfort she could focus on was that her sister's back was turned towards the cottage's camera, and it therefore could not pick up on her facial expression.

She peered into Kaya's face, searching for any tension in her features. There was a small wrinkle in the girl's eyelids, and lines on her brow only intensified Kimora's worry. She wasn't sure if Kaya was merely stressed or afraid, or if there was a deeper, scarier reason for the signals of discomfort that her body was sending out. Was Kaya in pain?

Kimora put her lips against Kaya's ear, pitching her voice as low as possible in effort to prevent the cameras from picking up on her words. She feared her sister's answer to her question even as she asked.

"Are you having headaches again? Tell me the truth."

She could feel the hesitation in Kaya's body as much as she heard it in the silence between her response. When Kaya whispered back to her, her answer was a qualification as much as a true reply.

"It isn't bad, Mora."

"Kaya," Kimora said, her voice as stern as possible while still pitched at a whisper. "I mean it. The truth."

"It isn't bad," Kaya insisted. "I'm okay, Kiki. Please don't worry."

Her arms moved to embrace Kimora, and she gave her a tight squeeze, as though seeking to distract or reassure her with her touch. But Kimora remained rigid, unable to trust or accept Kaya at her word. This wasn't the first time, and it was not likely to be the last. Kimora was terrified that it would not be the last, that the continued headaches would eventually be picked up on by a guard- and perhaps, deemed serious enough to be considered a symptom of the infection. It was even possible that they could be correct.

It was also possible, of course, that the headaches could have a much more ordinary, run of the mill origin. They could be caused by stress and strain, by lack of restful sleep or even too little food. Kaya had always been a sensitive girl, emotional and empathetic, affected by others' moods and misfortunes. Their life on the island was truly a stretch for her to adjust to; it was reasonable that it would be, given that Kimora herself felt the extremity of the pressure and trauma they were undergoing. It was all too logical that the emotions Kaya was exposed to and experiencing would be enough to give her headaches. Hell, it was enough to drive her crazy.

But the guards might not see it that way, if they started to notice. And there was always the terrible possibility existing that they might be right. If they were willing to shoot a toddler in the middle of a tantrum, on the dubious possibility that he could be infected, Kimora knew without a doubt that they would not hesitate to shoot her sister, for any aberration in behavior that they deemed suspicious.

It could happen, any time now, if Kaya slipped up just once. Thinking of this, Kimora found her thoughts drifting away yet again, struggling, for the hundredth time or more, to come up with a way to save them both- a way that they could escape.

The thoughts had started out as a mere daydream, at first. It didn't seem possible for them to be able to get off the island or to hide from the guards, not with the cameras ever present and the very real threat of what would happen to them both, should they be caught. There was only one way off the island, and that was by the same ship that she and Kaya had arrived on. It left on regular intervals, carrying guards off to pick up new at risk people to bring onto the island, and bringing needed supplies for those already on it. Over and over, she had tried to come up with a plan for how she and Kaya could manage to stow away on this ship, on how they could conceal themselves long enough to be able to escape back to their home country and go into hiding. The more time she had thought on it, the more far-fetched and desperate escape seemed- and the more necessary.

Kimora curved her hand over the back of Kaya's head, as though to unconsciously seek to take out the pain the girl was feeling with her touch. She remained quiet for several minutes, struggling against her racing thoughts and her dread of putting them out into the air, making them active and known to Kaya, and all the more potentially dangerous to them both. Eventually she put her lips as close to Kaya's ear as was possible, and barely breathed her thoughts into her ear, as low in volume as she could manage. She could only pray to a deity she did not believe in that the camera could not pick up on her whispering, either the words or the act itself. She could not afford to bring unwanted attention or suspicion their way now.

"We have to go soon, Kaya. The first moment we can manage. We're not safe here. The only chance we have is to get away."

She could feel the immediate increase of tension in Kaya's body against hers, the instinctive resistance the girl felt. There seemed a physical, tangible shift of the air around them, as though Kaya's fear was a thick smog in the air.

"I'm not sick," Kaya breathed back to her, her arms tightening around Kimora's back. "I swear, Kiki, I'm not sick. We can't talk like that, we don't have to do that."

"It doesn't matter," Kimora countered. The more she forced them both to consider the idea, the more vital and unavoidable it seemed to her. It was as though by putting the thought out there in spoken words, she had managed to accept it as their only possible course of action, their only chance for survival, however slim. "All that matters is that they could notice you, and they could think that you might be, or the risk of doubt is too much."

"No," Kaya whispered back, shaking her head. "No, Kimora. It's too dangerous. We can't do that. We shouldn't even talk about it."

But Kimora was determined now. With a harshness she had never used before when speaking to Kaya, she hissed her next words into the younger girl's ear.

"No, Kaya. The time for hesitating and waiting around for a miracle is over. It doesn't matter if you're sick, it doesn't matter if you're well. Nothing matters but what they think could be. Remember the little boy. Remember every old person they've taken down for being just a little confused, every feverish child who got no doubt or mercy. Remember the woman dying naked and alone in the bath house with us, without any dignity or respect for who she had been once. Remember all the blood you've seen run through these streets, and you tell me again that we should stay. The time for following the rules is over. It's time for you to step up and be brave."

She could feel the tension in Kaya's small frame shift to trembling, could hear the girl's teeth actually chattering with her fear. A part of her wanted to embrace Kaya, to shield her from her own terror, to tell her that she took it all back, that she would protect her from anything and everything, that there was no possibility of her death or Kimora's. She wanted to tell her that if they continued to be quiet and stick together, the guards would see that they were no threat and would somehow, miraculously, see that they should return back to the United States to live their own lives.

But she couldn't say any of that. It was all lies, and Kimora could not lie to the one person who trusted her, the one person left who loved her.

"We have to leave, Kaya," she repeated, softer, but no less convicted in tone. "We have to at least try."

Kaya's response was so long in coming that Kimora thought she would never answer at all, that she had retreated into some corner of thought that would allow her to put reality aside in favor of dreams. But eventually the girl did answer her. As timidly as the words were spoken, they filled Kimora with a rush of pride for her, because they spoke of the depth of love and trust her sister had placed in her.

"How will we do it, Kiki? And when?"

"The next ship sets out the day after tomorrow," Kimora reminded her, giving her a squeeze in wordless gratitude at her acceptance. "We'll find a way to stow away on it. We'll figure out a way to divert attention away from us, or maybe we can find a time that the guards are distracted enough not to see. If we have to fight or kill to get on board, we'll do it. We'll do whatever we have to, Kaya. We're talking about our lives here. Once we get on the ship, we'll hide away until they reach the states. Then we'll just take off. We'll make a life for ourselves, somehow."

The more described her plan out loud, the more fantastical it seemed. There were so many unanswered details, so many obstacles to overcome, so many ways it could all go wrong. She had sketched out a basic hope and dream more than an actual plan of action. But Kaya accepted Kimora's words. If she too heard the lack of detail, she didn't mention it or confront her on it. Perhaps she needed to believe that Kimora knew what they would be doing, or she would not have the courage to make an effort to follow.

"Okay," she breathed, nodding faintly against Kimora's shoulder. "Okay."

"We can't take anything with us," Kimora murmured, thinking aloud. "The camera would pick up on us packing and someone would think it was suspicious. We have to just make a break for it when we see an opportunity. It's going to be hard, Kaya, and we'll be hungry and tired the whole time. We might get hurt. I can't…I can't even promise you that we have a good chance of it working out. But it's the only chance we have, and we have to take it."

Kaya nodded faintly, giving Kimora a tight, brief squeeze around her waist. Although Kimora could feel her heartbeat, fast and fearful in her chest, she knew that her sister was putting her trust in her, believing that if there was any chance of it, Kimora would make things work for them. Kimora would save them both.

But Kimora herself, however she presented otherwise to Kaya, had not just doubts, but fears, vivid, terrifying, and all too realistic ones of all the many ways she could fail them. The truth was that she could not know for certain what would be more dangerous- to make a break for the unknown, with only the slimmest possibility of success, or to remain in a slow, inevitable crawl towards elimination.

It didn't matter anymore. She had spoken the words aloud, put them forth as planned action into Kaya's mind, and she couldn't pack down from this verbal commitment. She and Kaya would leave in two days' time…if they could make it for that long. If they could find a way to slip past the cameras, past the guards' ever watchful eyes. If, if, if…

888

It was more important than ever that Kimora and Kaya continue their usual routine, their usual behavior, in the next two days, no matter how strongly they wanted to do otherwise. They couldn't betray any anxiety or impatience, or even isolate themselves more than they normally would. Everything must seem normal and mundane to anyone watching, because this was the only chance they had of continued anonymity.

Kimora made sure that Kaya was aware of this, and she kept a diligent watch towards her, ready to redirect her if Kaya faltered, as well as remaining very firmly in control of her own feelings. She took her to the eating area along with the others at the usual times, to the toilets and bath areas, and neither rushed nor dawdled in their time. She didn't even glimpse towards the cameras or guards, not wanting them to think that she was giving them notice or making any effort to hide herself or Kaya.

She knew that Kaya too was making this effort, following Kimora's lead and doing everything her power to remain strong and focused. But no matter her valiant efforts, Kimora could see the small shifts in Kaya, the cracks in her firm exterior, and this worried her immensely.

Kaya seemed paler than usual, her features pinched and strained, and her sleep was more restless in the night. Her walk was slower, her feet shuffling more than lifting up in her steps, and Kimora suspected it was only because of her protective arm around her that the guards did not detect this, with her own body serving as a distracting shield. Kaya seemed to be eating less than usual, though Kimora wordlessly urged her to finish her portions, and Kimora could not be sure if this was nervousness, or something more that limited her appetite- something far more concerning.

She seemed to be taking longer with her business in the bathroom, and she seemed visibly thinner to Kimora in the baths, her hands shaking as she washed herself. Kimora itched with her urge to take over for her, to wash her sister's body for herself and give her rest, to make certain no one would notice her tremors, but this would be a big change in behavior, drawing more attention to them than Kaya's weariness itself.

"What's going on?" she breathed in Kaya's ear as soon as she got the opportunity, making certain to hold her body in such a way that it blocked the motion of whispering from view. "Kaya, what's wrong?"

Kaya shook her head, as minimal a gesture as she could manage while still completing it. She made a brave attempt at a smile towards Kimora, but her lips barely twitched, even this effort seeming to strain her energy.

"I'm okay, Kiki," she murmured back. "I guess I didn't sleep well. I'm just tired."

But it wasn't true. Kaya had slept soundly last night, without stirring even slightly. What was more, Kimora had noticed that Kaya slept more and more now, not just at night but in the daytime too, and yet her more frequent and heavy sleeping didn't seem to be enough to bring her rest.

It scared Kimora, for what it could mean. No, scared what not a strong enough word to convey what she felt. It petrified her.

"Let me wash your hair, little sister," she said in a normal volume, enough that the camera was able to pick it up. "Like when we were little. I know how you like me to play with your hair."

It was true enough, though not something that had occurred often between them since Kaya was old enough to care for herself. Yet Kaya did not question the request, or show curiosity at what motive may be behind it. She simply moved to give Kimora the space she would need, moving in such a way that she was facing the cameras, her back hidden from their view.

Ah, so perhaps Kaya was still thinking quickly enough to guess Kimora's intentions after all. Perhaps the unspoken understanding of each other still existed, however much Kimora was struggling to feel it from Kaya's side.

She wet and lathered Kaya's hair, taking her time with it, and with her index finger, she slowly, deliberately spelled out words into Kaya's scalp and neck as she washed her hair, taking care to form the letters in broad strokes, so that Kaya would be able to feel and therefore read what they formed.

Have to go. Tomorrow. No matter what. Too dangerous now.

She gave Kaya time to catch up and process, delaying the hair washing as long as possible in case her sister gave her some kind of signal that she hadn't fully understood. But when Kaya tilted her chin forward, just enough for Kimora to recognize the movement as a nod, Kimora exhaled out, knowing she did understand and was showing her agreement to follow Kimora's lead.

It was all up to her now. Her planning, her timing, her full responsibility, to save herself and Kaya both. But if she made any missteps, the failure and its consequences would fall down not just on her own head, but on Kaya's as well.

88

The rest of the day seemed to pass all too quickly for Kimora, each moment gone in double, perhaps even triple the time that it normally would leave her. It seemed she had barely gotten out of bed in the morning before she and Kaya were retiring for the night once more. The next day, she knew, would be the climax of everything they had endured in their lives up to this point in time. It would either begin a new, fully unknown life for them both, where they could depend only on their own resourcefulness and quick thinking…or else it would be the last day they spent living.

Truthfully, Kimora could not be certain which outcome might be the better one. Were they to be found out and eliminated, it would certainly be painful and frightening. It would be a brutal, derogatory ending to lives that had already been wrought with more pain and dehumanizing than anyone should ever be forced to endure. It was not the way that Kimora had wanted her life to end, and not the last memory or legacy she would have left behind. It was certainly far beneath what Kaya deserved.

But if they did both survive, how could she know that it would be any better as an outcome than death? A life of hiding and fear, of barely eking out a survival, perhaps simply prolonging an inevitable death that would be no better than that they could expect on the island?

If they were to die tomorrow, they could at least have an end to everything, some sort of conclusion. Kimora did not believe in life beyond death and carried no hopes of paradise or spiritual existence, carried no real expectation for reunion with her parents or others she had lost. But although she did not believe in continued existence beyond her death, or being sent to any "better place," she at least would have a resolution, a finality that she could predict and perhaps find peace in its nothingness. Was she wrong, to deny herself and Kaya this? But how could she not fight to keep them both alive?

It was these thoughts that kept her up, far past the point that Kaya had bid her goodnight with her usual tight embrace and whispered sentiments as she curled herself in Kimora's arms to sleep.

"I love you, Kiki," Kaya had told her, her words to her soft, but fervent in their emotion. "We're going to be okay. I know it. You'll protect us. You always have."

As her little sister had closed her eyes, giving over nearly immediately to sleep, Kimora had stared down at her, choked with mute, anguished denial at what had been said. Her sister believed in her, trusted her with the complete faith of a young child, with the innocence that she still clung to in spite of everything. And Kimora knew she was not worthy of it, that nothing she had done or planned to try warranted Kaya's belief in her.

She knew that she too should sleep. It would not be very smart, and she certainly wouldn't be as mentally sharp as she should be if she had not had enough rest for the day to come. Yet sleep seemed somehow more foolish than rest tonight for her. It would mean giving up hours of time spent watching over Kaya, hours that could very well be the last few she had left with her sister at all.

She looked down at Kaya with all the intense love and fear of a mother monitoring the breaths of a sickly newborn child, holding her in a grasp both protective and tender in its touch. Her hand stroked slowly over Kaya's fine hair, and she noticed that several strands came loose in her fingers, sticking to her skin.

Kaya's hair was falling out. She had been losing weight as well, weight she could not afford to lose. Wiping the stray hairs against her thigh, Kimora swallowed, her fear rising higher, a thick block in her throat.

She stroked a hand over her sister's forehead and then down her cheek, feigning simple affection or soothing in the gesture, but in reality seeking to check the younger girl's temperature. Kaya's skin was very hot, enough for Kimora to suspect fever, but she was not sweating, and the room itself felt cool enough to Kimora. She had noted the twitching in Kaya's muscles last night, and she saw, sickened, that this was continuing tonight, even more frequently and noticeably than before. The girl did not murmur or speak in her sleep, but her eyes moved beneath tightly shut lids, and her lips parted, wordlessly mouthing syllables Kimora could not hear.

She looked as though she were in pain, both physically and emotionally. She looked as though she were struggling with someone or something in her dreams, or perhaps with the weakening condition of her own body in her sleep. She looked diminished, both in her physical appearance and in her emotional and mental endurance.

Kimora watched her sister, and she saw for the first time that Kaya resembled their mother, as the woman had appeared in the first stage of her infection. She watched her sister, and she could not deny that Kaya looked sick.

Kimora watched her, and for the first time, she let herself understand the reality of their situation. Whether by the infection or some other, more ordinary diagnosis, Kaya was sick, and there was no chance that the guards would not notice, or that they would allow her the chance to recover on her own accord. There would be no margin for error allowed, no possibility of doubt. Kaya was sick, and that meant that the moment it was noticed, she would be taken away from her, likely right in front of Kimora's eyes.

Kaya was sick, and that meant that she would die.

As this reality sank in, Kimora allowed herself to realize the truth of the foolish futility of her dream for escape. They could not. Kaya would barely step outside of their cottage before the guards would notice the change in her. They would drag her off and shoot her without any more mercy than they had shown the toddler and his mother. If she and Kaya managed to evade them enough to get anywhere near the boat leaving out, they would either be caught and killed in an effort to board, or they would be thrown overboard to drown, if they were to manage to stow away for any length of time. They would starve, and Kaya would no doubt sicken worse for the conditions.

Kaya was going to die. Whether in circumstances of prolonged agony and fear, or by the hands of guards who saw her as less than human, she surely could not survive longer than weeks, at the most. Kaya would not go anywhere, and there would be no escape for her, except for the release from life into death. And that meant that there was only one option left for Kimora, one final action she could take. One last showing of her love for Kaya, of her vow to protect her over all else.

It wasn't a choice. It was a mandate, the only action that her love for Kaya would allow her.

Kimora swallowed hard, struggling to regulate her breathing into something slow and soft enough in rhythm that it would not awaken her sister from her sleep. She could not risk that now. If Kaya's time had come, the least she could do for her was to make certain she was unaware and unafraid, that she would not suffer.

One trembling hand reaching out, she lightly smoothed her fingertips over the sharp angle of Kaya's cheek, noting the clamminess of her skin to her touch. Kimora touched the girl's wispy hair, brushing it out of her face, and then leaned in to kiss her forehead, careful not to give too much pressure in her touch or to otherwise let her body rest with any force against Kaya's.

"I love you, my little sister," she whispered, the words thick and foreign to her own ears on her tongue. "I have always loved you. So much. You are all that mattered in my world."

She swallowed, tears clogging her nose and throat, and forced them to remain tightly under wraps, held back from any release. She could not cry now, could not afford the selfish venting of feelings when Kaya needed her to maintain calm. Kaya needed her in control. Kaya needed her to be thorough, fast, and above all, efficient, and strong emotion would risk her being unable to accomplish any of this.

"I love you," she repeated, knowing that she could not say this enough, could not stress or convey the strength of her feelings in words, but hoping that Kaya would feel it all the same, somehow. "So much, Kaya. Too much to let them have you…and enough to let you go."

There was little time now. What had to be done must be done quickly, and it must be done away from the watchful eyes fixed on their cottage's camera. Kimora would not allow any but herself to witness her sister's last moments in the world.

She stood, easing herself apart from Kaya carefully, and kept a watchful eye on her sister to make certain she stayed sleeping in spite of her movements. Picking up the blanket Kaya had earlier kicked off of herself onto the floor, Kimora spread it over the camera's lens, blocking it from recording what would happen next. She knew that in probably less than ten minutes' time, guards would be bursting in on them, intent on seeing and likely punishing the scene that she had kept them from watching over. She had to finish this, and it had to be fast.

With a final mustering of what inner steel and strength remained within her, Kimora slowly slipped their shared pillow from beneath Kaya's head, eyeing her steadily to insure that her sister remained unconscious and unaware. When Kaya's sleep continued on, Kimora raised the pillow just above her face, adjusting it to the extent of its full length. With one last, gulping breath in, she thrust the pillow down over her sister's face, pushing down with all the force she could muster.

She could feel the immediate responding rigidness of Kaya's body, the feeble attempts she made to buck Kimora's body off of hers, to push back against her. She was smaller, weaker, not quite awake and far from healthy, and perhaps she herself did not really want to make a true effort to fight back for her survival. Perhaps Kaya too knew the fate awaiting her, understood Kimora's intent to prevent it, and so only in instinct rather than in mindful intention made gestures to resist.

Kimora could feel Kaya's face moving beneath the pillow, could hear the muffled sounds of her struggling against its fabric, fighting for breath. She pressed the pillow even more firmly against her mouth and nose, blocking out her airways, vaguely aware of the silent tears streaking down her face as she murmured to her, her voice shaking in contrast to her soothing words.

"Shh, Kaya, shh….it's almost over, please don't fight it, please just stay still. I love you, little sister, I love you, it will all be over soon. Shhh, shhh…"

It could not have taken more than three minutes, perhaps four or five at the most, but every second that passed to bring Kaya closer to the end of her life felt stretched out into an eternity to Kimora's view. When at last she could feel the girl grow still, limp and unresisting beneath her, she did not remove the pillow from her face. She could not be sure that Kaya was not simply unconscious, perhaps even comatose, but still clinging onto life. She had to persevere until she was absolutely certain that no life remained in her, until she could no longer detect even the faintest beating of her heart.

When she felt the warm dampness of Kaya's bladder releasing, Kimora cautiously lifted a hand from the pillow, even as she used the other to maintain her pressure on the younger girl's face. She touched her palm against Kaya's chest, then put her ear against her heart, listening for even the faintest beat. She counted to thirty, giving space between each number, and strained her ears for any sound.

Nothing. Kaya's heart had stopped. There was nothing left now of her sister, nothing but the shell of the body she had left behind.

A final tear fell, dampening the fabric of Kaya's nightgown directly over her breast, and Kimora let her head come to rest against her, covering Kaya's body with her own. She allowed herself to come to rest against her, closing her eyes. Dimly aware of her own slowing heartbeat, she lay motionless, waiting.

The guards would come soon, perhaps only moments from now. They would want to know why she had covered the camera, and when they saw her sister, dead beneath her own body, and realized what Kimora had done, they would not take the risk of allowing her to live. It was not likely they would eliminate her in the cottage, as there would be too much of a clean up, and there were always more islanders coming, in need of quarters for their brief shelter.

But Kimora hoped, however unlikely, that the guards would eliminate her where she lay, so she could die within grasp of her sister, perhaps even while in contact with her body against her own. It seemed fitting that she leave the world in the same place that Kaya had.

She lay, awake, waiting, but with less trepidation than she had felt throughout the evening. She could hear the hurried footsteps outside the cottage and knew they were coming for her, that her life now measured in minutes, and she felt no fear. Soon, Kimora would join her sister into nothingness, and she could think of nowhere else she wanted then to be.

End