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Credit to Clueless and MurderWeasel for writing the announcements, as well as the Liz Polanski incident and midmonth fluff.

The First AnnouncementEdit

In spite of it being the crack of dawn, the HQ of the terrorists was already bustling with activity. The game didn't wait for the night and there was always plenty of nocturnal action to be monitoring. Shifts of Danya's henchmen were watching cameras at all time, making sure nobody got up to anything, whilst the techs ensured that there wasn't anything untoward going on with the equipment. Since last year, the screws had really been tightened on that count.

Achlys stifled a yawn. He'd been up all freaking night watching a screen with the same set of diagnostics, barely fluctuating. It was boring as hell and didn't get any easier with tiredness. Were he not worried that one of the serious toadies would spot him at it, he would've been tempted to take a snooze. But no, bad idea with people like Cecily about, that bitch was cutthroat...

In truthfulness the veteran didn't really see the point in all of this. The reason the kids had managed to get their collars off last version was the result of a monumental fuck up by somebody at HQ, not because the kids had been particularly smart or adept. If the cameras hadn't been knocked out, they would have blown the collars in the blink of an eye. Achyls had seen the work Lourvey had done on the new models this time, he'd tested the technology himself. They were foolproof.

Yet Danya was Danya. Achyls hadn't navigated three entire versions of the game by not following his orders. There was a reason he was still alive when so much of the original crew was gone, and that was because he kept his head down. McLocke, Kaige, Rice, Grossi, Garnett...

"Sup?"

Achyls couldn't help it, he jumped. He looked around into the smiling face of Jim Greynolds, blue eyes bright and inquisitive behind his spectacles. Greynolds looked like your typical geek... and he scared Achyls shitless. Forget guys like Wilson (and to a lesser extent, say, Baines). Those guys were physically intimidating, but that was simple stuff. Greynolds was just... disturbing. He smiled constantly, no matter what manner of blood and gore was on the cameras, he...

The tech shook himself out of it, now wasn't the time. "Just..." he yawned. "Just finishing my shift off, Greynolds."

Jim continued smiling amicably. "Bet that wasn't too exciting, huh?"

Achyls managed a sheepish half grin, not expecting Greynolds to sympathise. "Yeah, pretty mu-"

Greynolds seized Achyls by the shirt and practically hauled him out of his chair. He was still smiling. "It's not designed to be exciting," he hissed. "Suck it up."

"Y-Y-Yeah! Sure thing G-Greynolds!" the other man immediately let him go, allowing Achyls to sink gratefully back into his chair.

"Go get some sleep," Greynolds told the tech, idly running a hand through his hair. "Lourvey's gonna be along in about five seconds anyway."

"R-right," said Achyls, gratefuly for any opportunity to get away from Greynolds. He hadn't seen any of the so-called 'big four' for some time up until then, figuring they'd be busy with other things. As Achyls scrambled to leave the room, he found himself wondering what had changed, for Greynolds to be back all of a sudden.

Heading out into the corridor, Achyls very nearly bumped straight into Mr. Danya, the large man looking rather tired himself.

"Watch it," Danya growled. "Just because you're a vet doesn't mean I can't toss you onto the island."

Danya moved on, heading for his 'control room', whilst Achyls surpressed a shudder and reminded himself for the upteemth time that he needed to find a better job.

--

For the very first time, the students from Bayview Secondary School were treated to the screeches of feedback that heralded the public address system coming online. All across the island, speakers were powering up, their number (and volume) ensuring that they would be audible almost everywhere. The sound that emerged from them once the noise had died down; a slow, deliberate clapping.

Then, Mr. Danya spoke. "Kids, I have to say that I'm truly impressed with your first day showing. Blood! Tragedy! Explosions! Mayhem! You've utterly smashed the record for first day kills; it makes an old man proud to see you all taking his instructions so thoroughly to heart! Congratulations to those of you that are still alive, because you've already outlasted 20 of your classmates."

Sitting at his desk, Danya smirked, knowing that the figure would cause considerable distress. This run was their biggest yet, and it seemed that the number of students was preventing as many hiders as they'd had previously.

"Our first elimination for the day was frankly a favour for the genepool. Children, remember when I specifically told you not to tamper with those flash little numbers around your necks? Well... the terribly intelligent Remi Pierce elected to try and remove his collar. Needless to say, it worked... just not without taking his head off along with it. Next up, we had score one for mother nature after Dallas Reynolds was stung by a hornet and had such a bad allergic reaction he freaked out and blew his collar too! Sorry Dallas, I told Dorian to leave you with that epipen, but you know, his little joke."

There was a slight choking sound behind him and Danya chuckled to himself. Right now he imagined that his lackey was in the process of turning green.

"Third to die, as a shining example of why you really ought to keep good hold of your weapon if you were lucky enough to get a half-decent draw, was Warren Brown. Omar Burton shot him in the chest with his own gun, which would really have been quite embarrassing if he wasn't dead and all. Anyway, Eric Lorenz was next to meet his demise, taking a tumble at the hands of Alex Rasputin and winding up getting impaled on a fence. I guess the stakes were too high for him."

Somebody somewhere, Danya considered, just took a shot.

"Fifth wasted was, uh... hold on, let me make sure I get this one right. Reika Ishida, you heard that kids? Reika, the one nobody really cared about. She made the mistake of startling Kris Hartmann, who took her out like a pro. Moving right along, the next of our femme fatales, Clio Gabriella, shot Chris Davidson right in the head. Needless to say, that was the end of the line for him, if not his corpse."

Danya grinned again, recalling the antics of a certain student and the body in question. Points for creativity, most definitely.

"Right after that, the other Ishida twin proved that the incompetence doesn't run in the family and scored not one but two kills. First, Reiko wasted Sally Connelly with a little assist... then she promptly rubbed out her helper, Cyrille LaBlanche too. It was all very emotional, I very nearly shed a tear. And by 'shed a tear', I mean 'fell asleep'."

The man in charge had a whole lot of experience behind him at that moment in time. Twisting the facts came naturally to him now. How he'd framed the kills of Reiko wasn't untrue... just not quite a hundred percent by the book.

"Hold on just a second kiddies, I'm placing an order. Hello? Is that the Nick Reid take out? Yeah, I'd like to order a number 23. That's right, the extra crispy Daniel Vaughan in the molotov sauce. Alright, thanks a bunch. Now, where was I? Oh yes, tenth to be wiped off the map was Petrushka Ivanova as Miss Gabriella chalked up her second kill of the day. What an utter lack of fighting spirit that girl showed, it was really rather disappointing."

Danya's eyes went to the next name on his list and he let out a little snort. This was priceless.

"We then had score two for mother nature. Apparently Megan Nelson picked the wrong cave to spend the night in, because she ended up having an encounter with our resident bear. I guess somebody didn't get the 'do not feed the animals' memo. Everett Taylor was our next victim, he died at the hands of Janet Binachi after a healthy dose of hockey stick."

He stifled a slight yawn. Jeez, he had to get used to getting up early for the morning announcements again. Wouldn't do to seem tired to the children now, would it now?

"Unlucky number thirteen was Keith Christoph. He got beaten to a pulp by Ivan Kuznetsov and trust me folks, it's one for the highlight reel! What do they say about the quiet ones, eh? Fourteenth was a true tragedy as our resident Nazi, Rob Jenkins, broke up a happy lovers' reunion by shooting Paige Strand... which I guess is what her boyfriend is now!"

Yep, somebody somewhere was definitely getting seriously drunk.

"Alex Rasputin proceeded to notch up his second head of the day after going all Texas Chainsaw Massacre on Robert Lerger. That'll make sure our ratings stay high, though I'll imagine that youtube immortality isn't much of a consolation for the deceased. Sixteenth to pass on was Brent Shanahan, who really picked the wrong guy to wind up. The track record of our hockey players has been pretty good over the years, and it looks like Staffan of the Kronwall brothers intends to maintain that streak. He shoots - he scores! Not content with that, Staffan went on to strangle Alicia Murazek to death too."

Danya looked to the list again. Almost finished, great. This was a lot of carnage to wade through. It was pleasing, sure enough, just tedious to announce it all. He'd watched the deaths first hand, after all.

"After giving us something of a show this morning, new fan favourite Maria Santiago was the next on the executioner's block, going down to Jackie Broughten's saw. Don't worry Maria, we'll remember you! Well... your body, at least. Eighteenth down was Tony Russo after Colin Falcone finished what he started with an 'accidental' injury."

You could hear the air quotes in Danya's voice. Twist upon twist.

"To round us off for the day, Kris Hartmann became the fourth person to join the two-kill club after gunning down Amber Whimsy. Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Trying to make nice with somebody pointing a gun at you ain't such a bright idea. Well, that's it for the kills, but stick around kids, this next part's important."

Which wouldn't nonetheless, stop some people going on to entirely ignore it. Idiotic danger zone deaths were almost obligatory.

"To keep you all on your toes, it's time for the dangerzones! Since a lot of dummies don't seem to understand this, let me put it simply: You go in zone. Collars goes boom. Got that? Okay children, listen close. As of this announcement, the Lighthouse, the Groundskeeper's Hut and Greens are now danger zones. If you're in any of those places, you'd better clear out pronto! Tick tock, folks!"

Almost as an afterthought, Danya continued.

"One last thing. We've been running our little poll and the runaway winner of today's best kill award is the one and only Ivan Kuznetsov! Congratulations kid, we'll be leaving your prize on the greens for you to collect. Don't worry, we wouldn't blow the collar of our MVP!"

Again, Danya barely stifled a yawn.

"Well, that's it for today. See you all in twenty-four hours! Well, those of you that are still alive, at least..."

The Second AnnouncementEdit

Tak. Tak tak tak. Tak tak... tak tak tak tak tak.

The sounds of rapid-fire typing hung in the air, a bulky keyboard rattling away under the nimble fingers of one of Danya's technical staff. One of the Dorians. One of the Achyls. One of the Lourveys. This particular young woman was known to most as 'Sparky', simply because she introduced herself as that to most and in spite of having been up most of the night, she was still alert and focused. The amount of empty packages of caffeine pills strewn around Sparky's workstation was a pretty good indicator of exactly why that was the case. Her computer was getting the benefits of an intense stare, and all anybody in the vicinity could hear was her working away. The others at their own positions weren't nearly as active, just making the odd adjustment here and there. Sparky was the one real centre of movement.

Tak tak tak. Tak tak. Tak tak tak tak. Tak tak.

A few minutes longer, then Sparky sat back, expression completely unreadable. Leaning back in her seat, she stretched both arms above her head and gave a little sigh. The cessation in typing caught the attention of one of her colleagues, or rather, her immediate superior. A muscular black man, who had been regarding the techs with a distinct lack of interest, his name, Melvin Carter.

"You done, Sparky?" he rumbled, glancing at his wrist watch.

Sparky stiffened up, arms snapping straight back down to her sides. She gave a curt nod and stared into her lap, brown curls obscuring much of her face.

Carter inclined his head. He was the quietest of the senior staff of Danya's group and when it came down to it, the most clinical and efficient. He was never going to throw an arm around anybody's shoulders or tell them good job, but he wasn't going to knife somebody in the back either. Not like Greynolds, who'd freely slip between both and do it with a smile. Everyone knew where they stood with Carter. Granted, as with any member of Danya's inner circle that could be 'staring down the barrel of his gun', but at least they'd know about it.

"What were you doing anyway? You must have been typing for hours. I was watching."

Sparky shot half a glance at Melvin, then looked straight back at her lap. She looked like a schoolkid asked to stand up in front of the class and when she spoke up... she sounded like it too. "I... uh. I..." Sparky stopped, frowned. "That explosion outside the sawmill... it uh, it wiped out a few cameras... knocked a couple more offline. Lourvey fixed those but we had some blind spots so uh... I calibrated them to get the best coverage. I, uh, I don't think it's perfect but... I think that's as good as I can get it. Um, Mr. Carter."

There was a snort from Carter. "I'm no mister. I'll say that much. I know you aren't used to us being around, but for me at least, you can make it Carter."

An indescribable look flickered across Sparky's face for a second, then she nodded. "Right Mi... I uh, I mean, Cater."

Carter looked at his watch again, then raised his voice. "Alright people it's announcement time. Clear out, your shift's over."

The techs sat back and began picking up their stuff, as across the island the sound of the PA system coming online boomed into the ears of the students for the second time.

~*~

"Do you kids know what makes Uncle Danya happy?" the voice of the SOTF coordinator was laconic, laid back. He sounded in a great mood. "Things like... fine cigars, roast dinners, quiet nights in with Mrs. Danya... those things make Uncle Danya happy. But what also makes Uncle Danya happy is when his beloved students are game for the competition."

"Ladies and gentlemen of Bayview secondary school. You are making me a very happy man indeed. Not content with your fantastic showing across day one, you decided to not only match but exceed yourselves! The second day of our little competition saw twenty-one students bite the dust, buy the farm and shuffle off their mortal coils! Kids... my hat is off to you."

"Alllllright. Let's get down to the gritty details, shall we? First to die, right after our announcement, in fact, was Dawne Jiang. Miss Jiang decided that she couldn't, wouldn't hold her darling boyfriend Rekka back, and opted instead to stick around in a dangerzone. They say love makes you crazy, I didn't realise that meant 'stupid' too. Next..." Danya sighed. "Honestly kids I don't know how to make this any more simple for you. A certain Rose Codreanu, managed, somehow, to fail to realise that she too was in a dangerzone. We're doing future generations a favour with ones like that, we really are."

Danya glanced back down to his list of names, then smirked.

"Well, after that, everyone's favourite midget, Reiko Ishida managed to score with another double kill. That's right kids, that puts her on four. First up was Tobias Elwin, who took a knife to the throat and then right afterwards, Raina Morales discovered that Reiko's boot was a lot harder than her head. Must've been a real kicker for her..."

"Kill number five was none other than Eva Lancaster, with R.J. Lowe showing her that it's the quiet ones that you have to watch out for... and their guns. Six and seven came in quick succession at the hands of Maxwell Lombardi, our new favourite Brit first strangling Augustus MacDougal to death, then taking advantage of what can be only described as the monumental stupidity of Harold Fisher to take his gun and shoot him with it. Thanks, Maxwell, for showing everyone that there's more to you folks than top hats and tea drinking."

Danya paused for a couple of seconds, looking at the next name on his list. Hs smile, if possible, grew even wider.

"You know what I love so much about SOTF, kids? Giving you guys the opportunity to... get back at each other. Stick up a big middle finger to those jocks that bullied you, or that bitchy group of girls that bellittled you. Well, the spurned Frankie Watson thought he'd give that a shot, but sadly he proved as incompetent in fighting as he had in love, and was stabbed to death by Ericka Bradley."

"Our number nine kill was one for the highlight reel, and apparently Sarah Atwell thought so too, because she filmed it herself! Take a bow, Eve Walker-Luther, for your starring role in Sarah's creative masterpiece. Oh and... my condolences to you, Octavia. At least your mommy got on tv, right?"

The big man gave a little snicker to himself, readily audible across the PA system.

"Speaking of the highlight reel, Maria Graham showed some real flair in taking out Francine Moreau. Let's just say that deep fried Moreau has joined Vaughan at our little take out. Eleventh to die was one Steve Barnes, who found out that Hayley Kelly losing her head meant him losing his. Following on from this, we had a good ol' SOTF classic. Jaclyn Krusche killed Charlotte Cave! Charlotte Cave killed Jaclyn Krusche! Everyone wins! ...Well, sort've."

"Moving right along, we had Theo Behr take a dirt nap, with Rachel Gettys being the one to put him to bed. God probably told her to do it or something. Death number 15 was Chadd Crossen, who showed to us all the limits of just how much one man can suck by falling off a cliff and having his collar explode. Allow me to be the first to say; epic fail. Next to go down was the one and the only Jonathan Jarocki, who somehow got it into his head that running around and yelling and firing his gun like some kind of cowboy was a good idea. Miss Madeleine Smith proved exactly why that was not the case."

Back to the list. Great, just a few more to go. He could really do with a nap...

"Our next victim was Vanessa Struthers, who was shot by David Matson. MUCH more entertaining was our next kill, with Nick Reid doing the honours by smashing Tom Guthrie's face into a fine paste using a rock wall, so for those of you keeping count, that's two for Mr. Reid. Violetta Lindsberg was the next sob story for the evening because in grief for her girlfriend, she blew her own collar. We too mourn, for the loss of potential girl on girl action. But we soldier on."

Danya gave a little mock sigh.

"Twentieth to go down was Trevor Duncan, taking a shot to the collar from William Hearst and finding himself ever so slightly deceased. Rounding us off for the day, Scott McGregor, showing yet AGAIN why you don't make any sudden movements around somebody with a gun, was shot and killed by Raidon Naoko. Although... seriously people, what is it with you guys and hats anyway?"

Scrunching up his list into a ball, Danya tossed it to one side and smiled, looking at the computer set up to one side of him. On the screen was a map of the island, a few areas greyed out. With the flick of a switch, he could make any of the locations into a dangerzone.

"Alright kiddies, all the current dangerzones are cleared. But, it wouldn't be any fun if we had none, so I'm going to go ahead and name The Infirmary, The Key and The Mansion as our latest dangerzones. Don't pull a Codreanu, folks - haul ass!"

"Our last order of business for this announcement is that perennial office favourite; the best kill award! Sarah Atwell, I hope you remember us when Hollywood gives you a call, because you're the winner of today's award! Please head on over to the Infirmary in a short while to collect your glamourous prize!"

"Wishing you all love, cuddles and violent murder, this is Danya signing off. Toodles!"

The Third AnnouncementEdit

The break room was all but deserted. The jukebox wasn't playing, the TV showed nothing but a blank screen. The coffee machine, usually gurgling away, was silent.

Dorian Pello sprawled listlessly across one of the room's trio of couches, staring into space. His shift had ended some time ago, in the small hours of the morning, but he hadn't been able to get to sleep. He'd tossed and turned in his bunk for a while, before throwing in the towel and electing to stay up. Rest didn't come easy to Dorian at these times, never had done and in spite of the stress it put on him, he sort of hoped that it never would. Undoubtedly being able to sleep during the games would stop him being so fraught, but... what kind of person slept easily at a time like this?

People like his boss.

How'd he ended up this way? Dorian's employment under Danya had stretched to years now and... and well, he no longer had the crutch of his mother's sickness to justify himself. For everything he'd done, for the all the help he'd given Danya and the rest of his team with managing the technical aspects of the game. All his actions... and the money hadn't been enough; or rather it was the medical care that hadn't done the job. His mother had passed away, in spite of his best efforts. Dorian had tried... and he'd failed. But now... now, what could he do? Last time around, he'd been forced to make announcements, speak out to the world. People would know his voice, he had no choice but to stay. He didn't think that the courts would accept a sob story as an excuse for helping terrorists.

"I see you're as cheerful as always, Dorian."

Dorian's head snapped up, suddenly alert. The door stood open, a petite woman framed there.

"Sonia-!" Dorian scrambled for something to say to the Vietnamese woman. "You're looking... well?" he concluded lamely.

Sonia Ngyuyen stepped into the break room with a half-smile on her face at the remark. Dorian watched her as she sank into a plush armchair, studying the woman he hadn't seen for a year or more. She hadn't changed much, apart from her hair being unexpectedly braided. Same square glasses, same leanly muscled physique.

"Thanks, Dorian. It's been a while," Sonia reached for the TV remote and turned it on, flicking through channels until she found where V4 was being broadcast. At this hour, not a whole lot was happening. Most of the feeds were just showing the kids sleeping. Nguyen didn't really seem to mind, watching with apparently rapt interest. There was a long silence.

"Uh... Sonia? If you don't mind me asking... where have you guys been all this time?" Normally, it wasn't a question that Dorian would venture, but Sonia seemed very relaxed and since they were both off duty and everything...

Nguyen raised an eyebrow, apparently surprised at the question.

Then, she spoke. "Dorian, in our profession, you sometimes need a little bit of leverage over others to meet your ends. Sometimes, you're lucky enough to get some by chance... others?" there was a glint in Sonia's eyes, shining behind her glasses. "Well, others let's just say you have to make it for yourself. What Greynolds, Carter and I were doing was making... leverage."

A chill went down Dorian's spine.

~*~

"Doo doo doo da dee da doo doo..." Mr. Danya hummed a snatch of song to himself, rather tonelessly, as it happened. Contrary to his lackey, Danya had enjoyed a very good night's sleep, turning in early to account for having to get up at the crack of dawn to review his notes for the announcement. But then, when the game was running well, Danya's good cheer seemed to be endless.

Keying the PA system, a grin creeping onto his face, Danya cleared his throat. "Kids, when I first looked through the dossiers we have on you guys, I was thinking no way no how were a bunch of saps like you going to provide much of a spectacle."

"I'm ever so glad you've all proved me so completely wrong."

"Ladies and gentlemen, as of this, the third announcement, a further twenty-three of your peers have bitten the dust. Outstanding, kiddies. Simply outstanding."

"First up, yet another waste of time decided to opt out, Hermione Miller making it easier on all the rest of you by setting off her own collar. Guess she won't be appearing in any more photo-shoots anytime soon. Vera Osborne then showed everyone exactly why you don't interfere in the business of others, getting taken out by Maxwell Lombardi. Next of the morning, Kris Hartmann proceeded to notch up her third kill by offing Albert Lions. All I can say is Heil Hartmann. Keep it up!"

Danya sniggered to read the next name. This was priceless.

"Once AGAIN demonstrating that even the island is out to kill you, Samaya Boen-Hilstrand fell victim to a poisonous snake. Which bites, I guess. Fifth up - or rather down, was Jackson Ockley, who found that the kiss Ilario Fiametta gave him wasn't exactly the type he would have enjoyed. Nice work Ilario, daddy will be proud. Cody Jenkins was our next not so lucky customer, who had the genius idea of getting between Maxwell Lombardi, Maxwell Lombardi's gun, and Maxwell Lombardi's target. You do the math, children."

"Quincy Jones decided to stamp his mark on the game, putting an end to Max Neill, whilst Janet Victoriee-Ser gave us a show with her vibrator... although not exactly in the way we'd intended. I'm sure her death was as humiliating as it was painful. Fan favourite Sarah Atwell then showed that she's got some variety in her repertoire by stabbing Miranda Merchant in the throat. Hey, a good director has got to diversify now and then, right? Tenth to buy the farm was Edward Belmont, who invoked the wrath of god in the form of Rachel Gettys and took a rock to the head for his trouble."

"And the fun goes on. Hayley Kelly, having sharpened her skills yesterday, demonstrated her perfect beheading technique, this time on James Mulzet. Points for execution, if not originality. Charles Richard Dawson was the next man eliminated, falling victim to Clio Gabriella - yup, that girl again! Our unluckiest of the pack this time was Daniel Kensrue, who took a shot to the face from Claire Lambert. Welcome to the club Claire, you've got a lot of company!"

"Our fourteenth casualty was Deidre Paul, who took a tumble into the swamp and didn't come back out. For those of you keeping score at home, that's island four, dumb kids, nil. Next of the pathetic saps crew we had Simon Fletcher, who didn't even have the balls to off HIMSELF, and had to get Samantha Ridley to do it for him. Shame on you Simon, now Samantha has to live with shame and guilt tormenting her for the rest of her doubtlessly short life. Shame on you."

"Brock Mason finally found a gun that he could operate... although too bad for him it was pointing in the wrong direction. Seventeenth to be fitted for a coffin was Dominic Stratford, who after a long, hard struggle and a battle with Alex Seymour. Well. Uh. Died. Nice going kid. Next, that man Maxwell Lombardi popped up yet again, this time to put paid to Daniel Blessing. Count 'em kid, at least you don't have to worry about the clowns any more. Trying to keep pace for the top gun contest, Clio Gabriella stepped up to the plate and took out Luke Templeton for her fourth and our 60th kill of the competition."

"Cisco Vasquez took a page out of the ninja handbook in cutting the throat of Katelyn Wescott. Our twentieth kill was a little bit of justice, or at least, that's what the murderer, Julian Avery would claim. Omar Burton probably wouldn't agree though. Just an inkling. We then had the other Kronwall brother join team-killer by proving that fat people are not in fact bulletproof and offing Craig Hoyle. All I can say is TIIIIIIMBEEEEEEEEER!"

"To wrap things up, Lucas Lupradio boarded the boat to failville after tangling with Peter Siu. If that slash to the throat is any indication, he's reached his destination as the 23rd and final student to die on day three. Once again kids, I commend you."

Danya sat back, stretched, and gave a slight yawn.

"All but done, folks, but stick around kiddies, this part's important. The current dangerzones are clear, but it wouldn't be fun at all if we stayed with ALL access now, would it? The Warehouse, South-East Woods and the East Beach will now make you explode. And that would be bad."

"Oh, and Mr. Ilario Fiametta III? The viewing public was a big fan of your work. Stop by the warehouse for your fabulous reward!"

"Keep busting heads and taking names, kids, Uncle Danya's real happy! Ciao!"

Liz Polanski's Bounty AnnouncementEdit

The technician known as Sparky sat at her workstation and simply stared at the screen of her computer. She wasn't entirely sure that she believed what she was seeing. A couple of the others had picked up on one of the kids - the weird little goth that had smeared herself with gore and had been responsible for part of the swamp being set ablaze - had been gathering pieces of scrap. Tin cans, mostly. Lourvey had brought it up with Achyls, but the senior tech had dimissed it; nobody was going to break through a collar using a soda can. It wasn't worth monitoring.

Except, apparently, he'd been wrong.

Her eyes had to be playing tricks on her. There was no way that anybody had the balls to put themself through that much pain. Sparky blinked, hard, rubbed her eyes, but no, the sight remained. A girl screaming in pain, the hot aluminium she'd melted scalding her skin even as it did unknowable damage to the inner workings of the collar. Sparky was stunned, she was amazed, in a couple of small ways, she was even a little impressed.

For a good thirty seconds, the young woman watched Liz Polanski's agony, transfixed by the pain of a girl that she was barely a year older than. A few moments more, then there was a sharp intake of breath from behind her. Sparky turned.

All the colour had drained from Dennis Lourvey's face. "Is that...? Oh shit. Oh shit."

Achyls, working nearby, heard the other technician speak up and seeing his face, all but leapt out of his seat, knocking it over in the process. He'd been jumpy ever since he'd realised that the destruction of a camera in the Ranger's Station had effectively left them with a room-sized blind spot. Achyls had blown the perpetrator's collar personally, but Sparky had worked with him long enough to tell that the concern was eating away at him.

Achyls rushed over and the second he saw Sparky's display, he swore. "Blow the collar!" he barked at the woman, who snapped out of her daze for a few moments to enter the associated command. Nothing happened. "I said BLOW THE FUCKING COLLAR!" Achyls bellowed.

Sparky flinched back. "It-it... it won't work, Sir!"

The lead technician whirled around and grabbed Lourvey by the lapels before screaming into his face. "Get Danya! NOW!" his subordinate was out of the door in the blink of the eye.

Sparky looked back to the girl on her screen, others now on hand to help her. The young tech's eyes narrowed in thought.

~*~

The door almost burst from its hinges as the man himself, Mr. Danya, swept into the hub room. Behind him came Richards and Baines, both carrying assault rifles and wearing their best poker faces. Lourvey stumbled along after them, still deathly pale, although seemingly now with the makings of a black eye. Almost unnoticed, Jim Greynolds slipped in last, expression unreadable.

Unlike that of his boss.

Danya wasn't angry. His emotional state transcended mere anger. He was furious, so enraged that one could practically see the steam emerging from his ears. When he spoke, his voice trembled. It was obvious that Danya was having to put considerable effort into not breaking something.

The question was simple. "Who. The hell. Missed it?"

Silence. Danya made fists, took a deep breath. A red smudge was visible on his knuckles.

"Who saw the kid getting materials together, and didn't. Tell. Me?"

More quiet.

"There are five of you, and you're trying to say that not one of you saw what was going on? Don't insult my intelligence."

And then a voice. "It was Achyls."

Every person in the room turned as one... to Cecily Lacoste, twirling a blond ringlet of hair around her finger. She had the look of somebody that was very much trying to hide a smile.

"Explain," growled Danya.

"Lourvey saw what the girl was doing. Achyls told him not to bother with it."

The senior technician gaped, mouth opening and closing mutely, like some kind of fish. Danya let out a long, heartfelt sigh.

"Oh Achyls. All this time, all that experience, and now you spring this on me?" Danya looked up to the ceiling for a couple of moments, as if thinking. "I'm afraid that you're no longer inexpendable, Achyls. Such a shame. We had some times, didn't we?"

Achyls swallowed, his adam's apple bobbing noticeably. "So that's it? 5 years and that's all I'm worth to you? You're just going to kill me!?"

Danya chuckled, conveying absolutely no humour. "Oh no no, Achyls. I'm not going to kill you," Danya swivelled, gestured to Sparky. "She is."

There was a momentary silence, then Achyls, with a roared 'Fuck you!', launched himself at his boss, desperation granting him enough speed to... get cold cocked in the jaw by the butt of Richards' gun. He went down hard with a cry, clutching his face as he sprawled on the floor. Danya looked down on the technician for a moment, tipping Richards and nod, then returned his gaze to Sparky, who seemed stunned.

"I meant that, by the way," he favoured her with a grin. "You're the new girl, it's traditional," Danya considered a moment. "Not to kill one of us. Getting your hands dirty. Baines," he gestured and the blond man stepped forward, drawing a pistol and holding it out to Sparky. She took it gingerly.

Danya nodded. "Kill him."

Sparky looked down at Achyls. Her former superior looked up at her, still holding his broken jaw. There was little more then resignation in his eyes. Sparky hesitated for a couple of seconds, the gun an unfamiliar weight in her hands. A little longer, and Achyls spoke.

"Go ahead," he forced put, wincing as the action aggravated his injury. "Shoot. I'm just one in a long line that's outlived his usefulness," Achyls hauled himself to his knees. "Just remember that sooner or later, it'll be you th-"

The gunshot cut him off.

~*~

"I was under the impression, Lourvey, that you redesigned those things to be foolproof."

"With respect, sir, I didn't take into account that somebody might be willing to pour molten metal onto their own neck. I'm amazed the kid still has a throat. If that group hadn't been on hand to help her..."

"We don't trade in ifs and buts, Lourvey, it's vital that we prevent her from..." a smile crossed the face of Mr. Danya. A sick, sick little smile. "Lourvey, check the girl's dossier. ... I think we might have a friend of hers around the place."

~*~

Kwong Lei stirred and for the first time in four days, became aware of his surroundings. He'd been kept in a drug induced stupor for much of his time there, eating and drinking what he'd been given on autopilot, incapable of wading through his thickness of mind to formulate any thought.

Until now.

He was in a well-lit room, and he was sitting on - no, tied to a chair. He'd been positioned in front of a desk, upon which was a computer with a display he didn't understand, and a large microphone. Kwong tried to turn around, to see what was behind him, but found his movement too restricted by the ropes binding him to manage it.

There was a grunt. "Stop with the moving, or I'll start with the shooting."

"Don't be a moron, Baines," Kwong heard the eyeroll. "The big man will fucking murderise us if we hurt him."

"Murderise? Really Richards? Really?"

For a moment, Kwong was back in the classroom again. He had a strange urge to threaten detention. However, before his (still admittedly a little drugged up) mind could come up with anything foolish, the spell was broken.

"Children... children. I suffer from enough bickering at home, and the two of you don't strike me as eight year olds," muttered apologies, then somebody walked around to stand in front of Kwong. He stiffened.

It was the man who had introduced himself as Danya.

"Mr. Kwong," Danya said, seeming to savour the name. "So pleased to finally meet you in person. I'm afraid I'm going to be very rude here, but ...I'd like you to do something for me.

Something very important."

~*~

The PA system crackled into life across the entire island, sparking confusion amongst the students. This only intensified when the voice that began to speak wasn't that of Danya... it was that of Kwong Lei, their math teacher over years of education. Mr. Kwong's voice was uncharacteristically but surprisingly tremulous.

"Good afternoon, students. I've been instructed to read out a prewritten statement from Mr. Danya regarding an incident that has taken place on the island," he cleared his throat.

"And I quote.

It's come to our attention that one of your number has been interfering with their collar. This is clearly unacceptable," Kwong's voice grew a little stronger at this, beginning to drip with sarcasm. "After all, we wouldn't want anybody refusing to play ball, would we? The student in question is Liz Polanski, some of you might know here. I'm speaking to you in order to bring an offer from Danya.

Should anybody successfully kill Liz Polanski, they will immediately be awarded a weapon from our very own stash of best kill prizes as a bounty.

Miss Polanski. If you instruct anybody, verbally or by any other method, in your techniques, we will immediately detonate their collar. If we see you persisting in trying to break our rules, we will detonate collars at random. If you remain at large, we will send in a team to hunt you and anybody found to be allied with you down. We may also-" Kwong faltered. "We may also see fit to eliminate your beloved teacher."

There was a long moment's silence.

"It has also come to our attention that Miss Polanski has recklessly destroyed one of our cameras, as a punishment, we will now detonate a collar," there was an indistinct murmur across the PA. When Kwong spoke again, he sounded horrified. "What!? No! I - you can't make me-"

A heavy impact, followed by a gasp and a whimper. Somebody had struck Kwong.

"I... I will be commencing this punishment now," a second of silence and... "B148, Daisuke Nagazawa, eliminated.

This is your teacher, Kwong Lei, signing off. Kids I believe in-!"

We now return you to your regularly scheduled SOTF action.

Day Four's Third AnnouncementEdit

The atmosphere at HQ was tense. Everyone was on edge. It wasn’t every day that someone like Achyls, someone who had been with the group so long, was terminated. It had been terrifying to watch, not to mention uncomfortable. After all, even if he had warned the man, Dennis Lourvey had been involved pretty heavily in the collar department as well. He knew that any systemic problems would spell serious, serious trouble for him, and the fact that one person had managed to defeat their security meant that more could. The solution was simple—of course it was; the collars were too well engineered for anything too advanced to have much hope of working.

Some of the others had seemed confused when watching the footage. They couldn’t even begin to comprehend what had happened. Lourvey, on the other hand, understood perfectly. The Polanski girl had realized that removing the collars was hopeless, but had simply found a different method of dealing with things. The collar around her neck was still fully functional, still entirely armed and operational. She had simply found the reception ports for the radio signals and blocked them up with an impenetrable layer of aluminum. It was a logical solution, something Lourvey knew he should probably have anticipated during the design stage. Past contestants had been so set on removing collars, so set on ridding themselves of the symbol of their captivity, that most of the security efforts had been put towards making that impossible. Disruption of the signals was an entirely different matter.

Lourvey knew that it was possible for the situation to be replicated. There were many kids on the island. Many chances to find a little blind spot in the camera network. All it would take was for another person to play scientist, and Lourvey would be in serious jeopardy. It was absolutely imperative that he fix the situation, and fix it right away.

Unfortunately, this was a bit more complicated than it sounded. He’d spent most of the time since the surprise announcement staring at his monitor, willing a plan to form. It was all logistics. It wasn’t like they could put the game on hold, call all the students back for a hardware adjustment. There was no possible way to change the engineering of the collars now. Sure, for the next version he’d already come up with a dozen ways to avoid this. That didn’t do him much good right now, though.

He stared at the monitor, watching the text blur as his eyes defocused. Something. There had to be something. Some way to fix this mess. It was probably simple, too. One simple solution to counteract another. It was right there, on the tip of his mind.

“Hey, Lourvey, any thoughts on Best Kill?”

The words jolted him up, shook him out of his stupor. His initial reaction was anger. Like he had time to think about the Best Kill Award now, when his life was on the line. He tried to see who had called, disguising the movement of his head by wiping his brow, seeing if it was someone he could snap at for disrupting him when he was so close to the—

Click.

Best Kill.

It all fell into place.

“Get Danya,” Lourvey said.

Then, turning to the others in the room, he started speaking. It took a second to get their attention; over the past few hours, he’d become more a part of the scenery than an actual participant in events. Now, though, he had something to say. Something big.

“We can fix it now,” he began, hoping he was right, hoping he hadn’t missed something and just disturbed the boss without reason. Better to brief the others now, so if they spotted any flaws, any at all, he could BS some other reason for calling Danya.

“So, the collars need to receive a signal to blow them up, right? And she prevented hers from doing that. It’s a problem, but only because we can’t send that signal. The bomb still works fine, and she’ll still blow up if she tries to yank the thing off.”

So far, so good.

“Now, there’s one situation where we don’t have to send a signal to the collars to blow them up. That happens if the collar is in a danger zone. As soon as it realizes that, it starts a timer, and the person has three minutes or so to get out. A signal is sent to initiate the process, but after that it runs on its own. Once they are out, the tracking system realizes this and sends another signal turning off the danger zone timer.

“We can use this. Because, see, there’s another use. It only comes up once each day, but there’s one student protected from one danger zone every day. The winner of the Best Kill Award. Then, we broadcast a signal to their collar constantly while they are in the specific zone they are allowed access to, suppressing the countdown as long as the signal is received.

“That means, to stop another stunt, all we have to do is make the entire island a danger zone.”

Somewhere in there, Danya had turned up. Not good. He was quicker than Lourvey had thought. The boss had a surprising ability to turn up where he was least expected.

“Explain,” he said. His tone said more, said it had better be a good explanation. Lourvey gulped.

“W-well,” he said, his confidence flagging. “It s-seems like we could just make the whole island a danger zone. S-start the countdown on every collar. Then, we use the system normally used for the Best Kill winner to suppress the countdowns. That means that, if anyone else did the same thing Polanski did, or found a weak spot in the network, well...”

Danya was smiling. Lourvey had no idea if that was a good sign or an awful one.

“...t-their collar w-would start beeping,” Lourvey continued, “a-and they’d have about three minutes to get clear. Of course, if they’d disabled their collar’s ability to receive, they wouldn’t be able to do that, and...

“Boom.”

Danya glanced around at the other techs in the room, searching, perhaps, for signs of dissent, for the same problems Lourvey had hoped to iron out before this presentation. Nobody said a thing.

“Do it,” Danya said. “I don’t think this is going to be mentioned on the announcements. I think anyone clever’s going to have a little surprise today.”

That said, he stalked out of the room.

As soon as he was gone, a sigh went throughout the room. Someone clapped Lourvey on the back, causing him to cough.

“We’ll have to do a bit more manual work on DZs,” he said, “but it should all work fine. We should be able to get the computer set up to not broadcast the suppression signal to anyone in a DZ soon enough.”

Suddenly, the room was buzzing with activity again, as everyone got to work implementing the changes.

That evening, right before the announcement came on, the collars of every living student on the island—except one—gave a single beep in unison.

~*~

MR. DANYA, I THINK YOU'VE GIVEN ME A WAY TO WIN YOUR GAME.

Liz's hands wrote slow, painfully, cramped. She bit her lip until it was bleeding. It's a game. Just a game. Treat it like a game, and play to win.

She shivered, under all her sweaters. She was thinking emotionally, irrationally. There were things to do before she played chicken with Danya.

She sat herself in a blind spot, and made one hundred and three copies of Plan Faraday. One hundred and three. It was a lot. Hopefully enough. One hundred and three was a number that made her grit her teeth. It was nothing good, that number. If they knew about Mr. Kwong, maybe they knew what numbers she liked and hated too.

And they wouldn't think she'd make one hundred and three copies of any fucking plan.

Then, in her tiniest handwriting, she wrote a note that might save her life. It was a very small hope.

She sighed. Pocketed the plans, all one hundred and three copies on folded paper. Pocketed the two knives, the mirror, the pad, the paper, the pen, the net gun and her worn lipstick. She was getting ready to run. After this, there would be a lot of running.

No. That was the wrong order to do things in. She took the lipstick out of her pocket. Wrote on Winnie's sweatshirt, in big, inky letters COLLARS HAVE MICS. She wasn't sure this was true, but she assumed it was. Better safe than sorry. And anyway, it was better than any other explanation for why she wasn't speaking.

Then she took off Winnie's sweatshirt and lipstick-wrote the steps to Plan Faraday on Cyrille's yellow halter top. This meant getting briefly naked in the middle of the forest, which was troubling if someone tried to kill her. But no one tried to kill her. So she was safe.

The shirt was inked with words. It looked vaguely punkish. She tied it back on, and carefully zipped up Winnie's sweatshirt over it.

Then she showed the pad to the camera.

MR. DANYA, I THINK YOU'VE GIVEN ME A WAY TO WIN YOUR GAME AND MAKE YOU LOOK DUMB.

Flipped the page. New, blank, lined. She wrote large again, painfully.

TWO HUNDRED CAMERAS IS NOT VERY MANY CAMERAS.

Flipped the page.

IF YOU'VE BLOWN UP TWO HUNDRED STUDENTS, YOU LOOK LIKE A PUNK.

That one was hard to write. Flip the page. Keep going. Lie. Lying on paper is fine.

IF I'M THE ONLY SURVIVOR, I'VE WON.

She flipped the page again. Her thoughts were not coming in the right, chronological order. This was disturbing.

But there was only one more thing to say here.

LET'S PLAY.

She pocketed the pad and pen, took out her knife, and gouged the lens out of a camera.

And another camera. And another camera.

The PA system crackled to life. The voice of Danya was calm, laconic, at odds with what anybody would expect.

"Evening children... my aren't we having a busy day? It seems that one of your number has no regard for the rest of you. Gee, I tried to warn you about that Liz Polanski, but she just won't stop playing roulette with your lives. Much as it pains me to say this... somebody came up with the unlucky number.

G004. Lucy Ashmore. ... ... now where's that button? Oh yes, there it is. ... Eliminated."

And another camera. And another. Gouging out the lenses carefully. She could smash later. When she had more energy. When she had to run.

"But that's not all kiddos. Why, as we speak, little Liz is continuing her destructive ways, sabotaging my valuable equipment. Help me help you, children. If you take her out, then, well. My fingers won't slip again.

Oops. Like then. B045, Alex Rasputin, eliminated. Oops! My my, aren't I clumsy today? There goes B149, Trent Hunter as well!"

There was no use trusting him. He probably lied. She should have told him--should have told him she'd give herself up in exchange for Mr. Kwong's release. But it was too late now. Anyway, they were terrorists. And she wasn't smart, with people. They could double-cross her in an instant, and she'd probably never know, unless Danya laughed in her face about it.

He probably would.

That was a glum thought. She should have eaten before doing this.

Another camera. Another. This was easy. She could cut through them like butter.

"Well kids, that's it for now. Do try to get rid of that pest, hm? Next time, it could be your head. Oh, and, speaking of executions. Miss Polanski? I'm dangerously close to having a ... ahem. Word with teacher dearest.

Mull that one over for a bit, will you?

Sayonara!"

Now, perhaps, was time to run. She had to cover as many zones as possible before she--

Before I die.

Well, that wasn't a cheerful thought. But it was inevitable.

She had one-hundred and-three plans, plus one on her shirt, and one note that could hopefully buy her a little time. And she was full of energy now, energy that was probably unhealthy, considering how little she'd eaten.

But energy. That's what she needed.

She ran.

~*~

Sparky tried not to look at... well, most of the things in the room that weren't her monitor. The dark stain on the floorboards. The empty terminal where Achyls had sat. Her colleagues - not because she thought they'd resent her, because she didn't want their sympathy. They'd been here before (well, except maybe Dorian, but he'd had to work with Danya for longer than almost anyone), but Sparky didn't care for the understanding. She was shaken up, yes, but overall not in too bad a state.

It hadn't been her first time.

Things were quieter now, a little less busy after the frentic activity necessary to install Lourvey's countermeasures. He was a smart man, damn smart. Sparky wondered where Danya had found him, then if the big man had some sort of leverage over him, or he just enjoyed the challenge enough that he didn't care he was getting paid to ensure the death of kids. She'd never asked him, it was a no-go subject around the base. If somebody told you, then great, but you never, never asked why.

Sparky understood that well enough. Her reasons were her own, private. She certainly didn't want any of these guys to know of them.

There'd been talk earlier about sending some kind of team out onto the island. Sparky hadn't been able to catch much of the conversation, since it had been time for her shift and if they knew what was good for them, they weren't late... but it had been interesting. Naturally, it was Richards and Baines she'd overheard. Neither of those two knew how to keep their mouths shut.

Thing was, Sparky didn't know whether this 'team' was for maintenance or for law and order (so to speak). If the former... they'd be needing one of the technicians, a role Sparky very much did not want to fulfil. Out on the island... face to face with those kids. That'd be bad. Very bad. Operating from HQ was one thing, having to meet them personally... Sparky doubted she could handle that. On the other hand, if people were being sent out to martial some of the more disruptive students, they'd need quite some firepower. After all, the kids (...kids, jeez, some of these guys were probably her own age) were armed.

Sparky felt a slight note of unease. If a squad was dispatched, they'd wind up with a skeleton crew...

There was a snap and Sparky practically jumped straight in the air. A choked back laugh came from behind her and the technician whirled to see Melvin Carter behind her, a smile on his usually implacable face. The big man held up a hand and clicked his fingers. Sparky stared for a second, realising where the sound had come from, then hung her head.

"You were completely spaced out there. I have to admit, I wasn't expecting that. I just wanted to get you focused," he cocked his head to one side. "You're looking tired. I can get one of the back-up techs rotated in, if you want. A lot of people struggle with fatigue in their first version."

Sparky shook her head quickly and forced a smile. "M-my shift is over soon, Mi-... Carter. It's just been busy, I'll catch up on sleep soon."

Carter frowned and nodded. "If you're sure," he stepped back from her work area and took up his station in the corner of the room.

Looking back to her monitor, Sparky breathed a quiet sigh.

It was almost relieved.

The Fourth AnnouncementEdit

"Greynolds, we have a problem."

"...This may be the only time I've ever wished my name to be 'Houston'."

"You're a riot. Now shut up and listen."

"Sorry boss."

"It seems our threats aren't working."

"Polanski?"

"Yeah. She's still being a royal pain in the ass and frankly, it isn't worth the trouble to keep detonating collars. We could hit a real motivator."

"You could always just pick who to explode..."

"We've killed four already. If that didn't stop her, I doubt it's going to have any effect."

"She's ballsy, Danya, you've got to give her that."

"And a fucking pest too. I still have my fingers crossed for the bounty."

"I'm sensing an imminent 'but' here."

"Ding, have a biscuit. Now would you keep quiet for five damn seconds?"

"Sorry."

"Lourvey's fixed the problem of her method getting out to anybody else, but the fact is, her little stunt has left us with blind spots. Some of them are small, others are.. less so. That needs to change. Quickly."

"Repair job?"

"Exactly. Right now, the inland woods are the most badly affected area. We'll need to make them a dangerzone for now... unfortunate, but necessary for the repairs. And well... if we send a decent sized team out, cameras won't be the only thing they can fix, if you follow my meaning."

"Suitably enigmatic, boss."

"Quit being such a smartass and go get a team together, alright?"

"Wait, you're sending me out?"

"...Is that a problem?"

"Boss, it's an early birthday present. Consider it done."

~*~

"Good morning, survivors," Mr. Danya said, with a grin and a smile. "Yet again, you've managed to exceed my expectations. Twenty five more of you met their tragic and heart-wrenching ends yesterday, making it the best day yet. Of course, not all of that was due to direct kills, so I'm not quite sure if we should count it. Ah well, something for the fans to fight out online, I suppose.

"Anyways, first to die was Owen Rothschild, killed by Fiona Sparki. Mr. Rothschild seemed to have a death wish, and you know what they say: 'Axe and you shall receive.'

"Next off, Robert Herrmann got himself in a bit of a bind when the key was declared a danger zone. He managed to take refuge in the sea, but drifted just a bit too far away to actually make it back, so now he's sleeping with the fishes.

"Maxwell Lombardi terminated Simon Grey. Then, in a very touching little moment, Leila Langford put down Hilary Strand, helping her pull the trigger. That's right, kids, friends help friends blow their heads off. Speaking of, Lily Maclaughlin nearly lost her head when she encountered Jackie Myrie, but Ms. Myrie lacked the follow through to actually sever the thing. Shame; decapitations are wonderful for the ratings.

"The next death will be one for the highlight reel, though. Rekka Saionji was actually kicked to death by R.J. Lowe. You always have to watch the quiet— hmm... I feel like I made that one before. We'll have to call Mr. Lowe 'silent but deadly', then. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Sarah Atwell made Chris Carlson the star of her latest masterpiece performance. The tears, the betrayal, it was so very well, ahem, executed.

"Lily Ainsworth tried to strangle herself or something, but she put a little too much pressure on her collar. Kids, we aren't kidding about those things being sensitive. I really do wish you'd stop getting yourselves blown up. Speaking of, Ethan Kent decided to commit a little vandalism and broke some cameras. I'm afraid he won't be doing any more of that.

"Jackie Maxwell took an arrow from Samantha Ridley, making that Ms. Ridley's second kill in a short space of time. Then, yesterday's BKA winner, Ilario Fiametta, put his new toy to use, wasting Etain Brennan. We'll miss that accent; the ladies love an Irishman.

"Nick Reid used his head to eliminate David Anderson. That one must have hurt. Then, there was that little incident that cost Daisuke Nagazawa his life. I'm sure no one will need reminders.

"Tiffany Baker looked at Jason Harris wrong, which was the last mistake she'll ever make. Then Raidon Naoko went ahead and shot Alison Walworth and Madison Stone in rapid succession. I must say, Mr. Raidon sure knows how to bring some of that drama back to shootings.

"After a day of inactivity, Reiko Ishida returned to her two-a-day program, shooting Rizzo Vitoria and then strangling Carol Burke. Sebastian Decartes bashed Carly-Jean Dooley, before they executed a little Jack and Jill routine on a hillside. Only Jack walked away, though.

"Haruka Watanabe was chopped and dumped like old onions by Clio Gabriella. Then, proving that even a loser can turn things around, Jimmy Brennan killed Phillip Ward with a little moxie and a big stick. Jake Crimson painted the ground after taking a hit from Garry Villette. Took a while too. Is it mercy to let nature take its slow course, or is it better to finish someone quickly? I guess that's for all of you to decide.

"Finally, due to Ms. Polanski's stubborn nature, Lucy Ashmore, Alex Rasputin, and Trent Hunter all lost their heads. There's still a nice, shiny weapon waiting for whoever takes Polanski, kids.

"Speaking of shiny weapons, Mr. Brennan, there's one waiting for you at the Radio Tower, which will be a temporary danger zone. Everyone be sure to stay away from the Radio Tower, the Inland Woods, the Fun Fair, and the Southern Cliffs.

"Keep up the good work, boys and girls. Make me proud."

The Fifth AnnouncementEdit

The room was suffused with a tense silence. Its five occupants were dispersed evenly, one standing rigidly upright, one sprawled across a couch, one leaning against a wall, two seated in chairs. Even in the seemingly laconic members of the group, anxiety was evident in their expressions, tension in their posture. None of them were much inclined to break the quiet, suffocatingly oppressive as it was. When Jim Greynolds called you for a meeting in this organisation, it was rarely a laughing matter.

Well, maybe for Greynolds.

Matt Richards was one of the two that was just sitting down. His knuckles were white from clenched fists, his face drained of colour. Compared to how he was usually, the effects of the wait were written all over his face. He'd just come off his shift of guarding the prisoner (mouthy old bastard just wouldn't shut the hell up, always trying to be philosophical or some shit), when a hand had clapped him on the shoulder. Startled, Richards had turned... and seen the grinning face of Jim Greynolds. That was a smile that he never again wanted to see at such close proximity.

"Got a job for you Matthias. Go to the lounge as soon as you can. Bring your gear. And twinkies."

Not even wanting to correct the mistake, Richards had sprinted off to collect his equpiment.

Richards looked around, took in his companions. Shamino, Domino, Baines. Troopers, more or less, grunts the same as him. Part of the muscle of the AT, though the former two a lot more experienced. The fourth... she was the odd one out in this bunch. Cecily Lacoste, a technician for the most part. No Lourvey, but jeez, Richards didn't think anyone else could be anything close to that guy. Briefly, Richards wondered once again where the hell Danya had scrounged up that little ... crackpot? Genius? Maybe a bit of both. Still, Cecily didn't fit in with the rest of the team... which meant this was probably something big.

Easy stuff, you only needed muscle, bruisers. A few guns to sort out the problem. If you needed a specialist along to join the party, well... Richards wasn't the smartest man in the world, but even he knew that a technical fault in SOTF was a big. Damn. Deal.

The door burst open, the quintet started in unison, even the normally unflappable Shamino. In sauntered Jim Greynolds, an assault rifle slung on his back, striking a stark contrast indeed to the faded grey hoodie he was wearing. If one looked closely, the outline of something bulky beneath the baggy top could be discerned. He might've looked casual, but Greynolds was definitely dressed for a fight.

Greynolds swept the room with a glance. "I see you're all here. Well... the boss man has us on a tight schedule, so I'll try and keep things brief. The reason I've gathered you here is not in fact because I want to see how well you model that body armour, or how mean you can look with a gun. We've got a job to do. I'm sure you all know about the little bitch that ruined her collar. If you forgot, then, well, Achyls is crying somewhere in heaven right now."

Jim smiled that unnerving little smirk of his. "Anyway, Lourvey managed to neutralise the loophole, but we can't get to the chick, because hers is already toast. Frankly I'm surprised she hasn't dropped dead of blood loss or infection yet, but she seems to have a charmed life. ...And she's insisting on making ours difficult. She's wrecked a hell of a lot of our cameras, and it doesn't look like she's slowing down at this point. We've already had to lock down one area as a dangerzone because our coverage was getting too spotty, we can't afford to let her dictate our playing field. So here's what we're going to do."

He looked at each of the five in turn, spending a long moment dwelling on each. "We're taking the chopper to the island, then, we're fixing things up as best as we possibly can. It's possible some of the damage will be irreparable, so we may need to bring along spares. To be honest it's unlikely w'ell get total coverage back, but if we can patch up the blind spots a little, then it'll be less of an issue overall. That's objective number one, and it's why we're bringing the lovely Miss Lacoste along, before any of you complain. Well, unless any of the rest of you feel like trying to wire a camera and then explain to Danya why we're behind schedule. ...No? Didn't think so."

Greynolds looked down at his feet, then back up again, now holding up two fingers. "Objective two is simple enough. We find this jumped up kid and we show her why you don't fuck with the game, and you don't fuck with Danya. We have more than enough firepower to do the job, and if anyone tries to cross us... well, they get exactly one warning. We're not going in there to play motivators, but we're not pussy-footing around either. They screw around and they're dead, simple as that. Nobody is catching a bullet just because we don't want to 'interfere'."

"Any questions, children? ... Good. Let's get this field trip rolling. The helicopter's waiting."

They all slowly began to fan out, focused to varying degrees on the task at hand.

"...Hey Matthias? Bring that twinkie?"

~-=-~

CLASSIFIED PERSONNEL FILES

NAME: Stockton, Christina "Domino"
AGE: 28
ETHNICITY: Caucasian
HAIR: Light Brown
EYES: Brown

HAND TO HAND COMBAT: Competent
MARKSMANSHIP: Good
EXPLOSIVES: Limited
LEADERSHIP: Minimal
TECHNOLOGY: Competent

SERVICE HISTORY: Member of Arthro Taskforce as of Test Run 8. Took part in that exercise and accounted for two kills. Primarily served in a support/preparation capacity during prior versions, due to potential emotional instability. Took an active role in island clearing for V4.
ANALYSIS: Stockton is a fairly reliable and effective member of the AT. She is generally fairly level-headed, though has shown a tendency towards emotional instability in times of stress. Since all of her outbursts have been focused outwards, this is not a major problem, though she should probably not operate independently. A good underling, but should not hold positions of independent authority.

APPEARANCE: A short (5'2"), somewhat stocky (135lbs) woman, Stockton is not by any means attractive in the conventional (or even the exotic) sense. She is plain, with a broad face and slightly crooked nose. She wears her hair at shoulder length, rolling it into a bun when on the job to avoid providing anything for attackers to grab.
PERSONALITY: Stockton is a vindictive woman, disgusted with humanity as whole, her family in specific, and herself to at least some degree. She is reliable as long as she has a mission to accomplish, but can become sullen and uncooperative if given too much free time. She shows a decent sense of camaraderie with her fellows in AT. Despite her fairly early induction into the organization, she keeps a low profile, and due to her lack of skill on the leadership front and overall lack of initiative, has never climbed the ranks. This does not seem to bother her in the slightest; in fact, she seems to prefer the relative anonymity of a lowly-placed jack of all trades.


NAME: Warhen, Shamino
AGE: 36
ETHNICITY: Caucasian
HAIR: Black, head shaved
EYES: Blue

HAND TO HAND COMBAT: Competent
MARKSMANSHIP: Competent
EXPLOSIVES: Limited
LEADERSHIP: Competent
TECHNOLOGY: Good

SERVICE HISTORY: Member of Arthro Taskforce as of SotF V2, albeit on reserve until V4 preparations. Took an active role in island clearing for V4. Took an active role in the acquisition of students for V4.
ANALYSIS: Warhen is a reliable member with skills primarily in the area of technology and acting. Generally respected by other members of the AT. Prone to practical jokes and humor when off duty, but never in a disruptive manner. Warhen is not an optimal leader, but can hold up passably if required.

APPEARANCE: A man of average height (5’11”) and fairly standard build (175 lbs), Warhen would be unnoticeable except for one thing: his sense of fashion when it comes to grooming. With his head shaved entirely bald, and a long black mustache, he has a fairly intimidating appearance, belied slightly by the perpetual sunburn on his head. He walks with good military posture, even during his free time, though he knows how to appear inconspicuous if he has to for an assignment. Warhen’s facial features are fairly smooth, though his nose is notably large.
PERSONALITY: Warhen is a strange man. Off duty, he is warm, positive, and aggressively friendly, spending time getting to know everyone on AT he can. He enjoys playing jokes, which, though largely harmless, can at times range into the realm of the mean-spirited. On duty, though, he is completely different, focusing with a single-minded attentiveness on the completion of his assigned goals. This is clearly a personal choice; he has proved an able infiltrator and actor where required, as during the kidnapping of the Bayview senior class, where he took the place of a bus driver. His real talents, though, lie in the field of applied technology; he’s no Lourvey, but he’s one of the go-to guys for setting up jammers and other electronic trickery. In combat, he’s no better than anyone of similar training and background, though his appearance can lead others to overestimate his skills, a fact he is used to exploiting.


NAME: Richards, Matthew
AGE: 27
ETHNICITY: Caucasian
HAIR: Brown
EYES: Green

HAND TO HAND COMBAT: Competent
MARKSMANSHIP: Good
EXPLOSIVES: Limited
LEADERSHIP: Competent
TECHNOLOGY: Limited

SERVICE HISTORY: Member of Arthro Taskforce as of SotF V2, albeit on reserve until V4 preparations. See also ESCAPE INCIDENT. Taking an active role in island clearing for V4. Efficient if unremarkable.
ANALYSIS: Richards, though prone to grumbling, is an effective member of the AT. Complaining should not be taken seriously, as he will still fulfil his orders to the best of his ability. Works well under instruction but struggles without guidance, though he can be counted on to at least perform adequately in charge. Useful but not to be overestimated, best used as a grunt.

APPEARANCE: Richards stands at a rangy 6'4", 190 lbs. Short haired and clean shaven, the most remarkable thing about Richards' appearance is a scar running across the bridge of his nose, extending underneath each eye. Otherwise, Richards looks decidedly clean cut.
PERSONALITY: Richards is a cynical, pessimistic individual, who has a tendency to complain about anything and everything. Whilst it's arguable if he is truly that dour, Richards remains entirely professional about his duties, following instructions and assigned tasks with 100% dedication, indicative that his grumbling may in fact be something of a front. Known for having a seemingly hostile relationship with fellow AT member Josh Baines, although given the pair partner off so often, it appears they are actually friends.


NAME: Baines, Josh
AGE: 26
ETHNICITY: Caucasian
HAIR: Blond
EYES: Blue

HAND TO HAND COMBAT: Excellent
MARKSMANSHIP: Good
EXPLOSIVES: Minimal
LEADERSHIP: Minimal
TECHNOLOGY: Competent

SERVICE HISTORY: Member of Arthro Taskforce as of SotF V2, albeit on reserve until V4 preparations. See also ESCAPE INCIDENT. Taking an active role in island clearing for V4. Somewhat lazy.
ANALYSIS: Baines is an oddity, for a soldier of his calibre, he is very laconic and laid back and has an overall poor attitude. Prone to barbs at his fellows, meaning most either enjoy his wit or are irritated by it. Works fine independantly, far too relaxed for leadership. Effective but not remarkable.

APPEARANCE: Baines is a small (5'8"), lean (142lbs) young man, whose adherence to dress code is minimal at best. His face has a youthfulness which belies his real age, something which constant blond stubble does little to allieviate. His hair reaches his neck and tends to be kept back with a headband. See also AT DISCIPLINARY CONCERNS.
PERSONALITY: As previously noted, Baines can be a troublemaker and bad influence and has a number of minor infractions on his service record. Known to be somewhat provocative whilst being very laid back and dry, rarely rising to the bait of others. Oddly enough best paired with Matt Richards, as their apparent hostilities towards one another can more or less neutralise their negative influence. Note that they appear to be friends.


NAME: Lacoste, Cecily
AGE: 27
ETHNICITY: Caucasian
HAIR: Blond
EYES: Blue

HAND TO HAND COMBAT: Competent
MARKSMANSHIP: Competent
EXPLOSIVES: Minimal
LEADERSHIP: Limited
TECHNOLOGY: Good

SERVICE HISTORY: Member of Arthro Taskforce as of Test Run 8. Took part in that exercise and returned several successful kills. Consistent service since then at HQ, has not been involved in many field operations. Ambitious.
ANALYSIS: Lacoste is a useful asset, if only due to the funding she helps supply through her connections. Adequate technician at HQ, and showed herself to be an effective if brutal fighter during the 8th test run. Also effective at gathering intelligence and smoking out moles.

APPEARANCE: Cecily is not a large woman, standing at only 5'2" and weighing 113 lbs. She has some definite sex appeal, and it would not be a stretch to describe her as beautiful, although Cecily wears scowls far more often than smiles, which has traced a couple of lines into her face. Her hair is very long indeed, and yet there never seems to be a hair out of place.
PERSONALITY: Lacoste is a very ambitious individual, with a ruthless attitude towards her position in our organisation. Commendably dedicated to her work, although this is no doubt due to her desires to rise up the ranks. Intelligent and shrewd, caution is advised in how much Cecily should be allowed to know.


NAME: Greynolds, Jim
AGE: 1337
ETHNICITY: Caucasian
HAIR: Brown
EYES: Blue

HAND TO HAND COMBAT: World Heavyweight Champion/Ninja
MARKSMANSHIP: Hawkeye
EXPLOSIVES: Hiroshima
LEADERSHIP: Genghis Khan
TECHNOLOGY: Haxx0r

SERVICE HISTORY: If you're important enough to be reading this, then you're certainly important enough to already know.
ANALYSIS: Epic.

APPEARANCE: Shorter than average (5'9"), Greynolds doesn't look like much (how little they know!), and certainly wouldn't appear to be a soldier at first glance. His slim figure hides deceptive strength, however, and Greynolds is built more like a runner than anything else. Jim's attire is far, far more casual than the vast majority of his counterparts, as he inclines towards jeans and hoodies; with his floppy brown hair and wire framed glasses, Greynolds looks more like a college student than anything else.
PERSONALITY: I'm hurt by the implication that I could be summarised such in a few short sentences.
Dammit Greynolds! Stop hacking into our database! Its integrity is of great importance!

~*~

"Once again, good morning, kids!" Danya spoke jovially, clearly. "I feel like we're really getting to know each other now, in a way. After all, all of you have made it five days. That's better than over a hundred of your peers. That's right, we passed the hundred death mark yesterday, so congratulations indeed on remaining alive. You've only got, well, a hundred and sixtyish people left to outlive now.

"Without further ado, allow me to begin the accounting. First, Nick Reid expanded upon his repertoire of blunt impact death-dealing techniques by killing William Sears with the wrong end of a sword. Next up, Darren Locke was evicted from his hiding spot via dynamite, courtesy of Staffan Kronwall. That particular story doesn't end there though. Staffan managed to shoot down Evelyn Reed and in a bout of sibling rivalry, his brother Nik Kronwall, but then Staffan himself wound up dead too, at the hands of Fiona Sparki. We can officially call that one a bloodbath, kids!

"Marybeth Witherspoon met her end in a particularly... special display of teamwork from Maxwell Lombardi and Clio Gabriella. That'll be one for the reels, if it's not already all over the internet.

"Ricky Fortino managed to kill Isaiah Garvey in a fairly slow manner, via head trauma. Then James Robertson left us with some truly touching and tragic last words, after Reiko Ishida filled his stomach full of lead. Ms. Ishida's schedule seems to be slipping, as that was her only kill today.

"Roman Jackson was stifled in his sleep by Acacia Salinger, Othello style. Then Sofia Martelli spent a lot of time building up to shooting John Smith, who managed to incorporate a cliff dive into his routine. The judges are in: 7.8. Pretty good, Mr. Smith, but the flailing needs some work.

"Marco Stonecastle proved that's it's a terrible idea to rush a known killer with a heavy gun by going after Maxwell Lombardi. Another one bites the dust, folks. Lombardi, seemingly not content, then went off and sprayed Duncan McMahon full of bullets.

"After this, Richard Han managed to topple off a cliff. That'd be another point for the phsyics, kids. Watch your step; you never know what you might land on.

"Hayley Kelly waltzed out of nowhere and blew Jennifer Romita away before she could blink, for our hundredth death of the season. Then Ilario Fiametta shot Timothy Skula, who hit his head on a rock. Those falls can be pretty nasty. You'd be amazed how many people get killed falling on concrete every year. Anyways, after that, Michelle O'Cain took a few bullets to the back from Martin Lovett. Just goes to show, you should pay attention to the people you're killing, not the ones falling screaming from the sky. Live and learn, or, well, don't.

"Someone finally managed to extract a little measure of revenge out of one of our big killers. Clio Gabriella is no more, shot by Tabitha Gweneth.

"We next had a pair of double kills, with Liam Brooks accounting for Raine Schwarz and Ridley Landon. Aren't couple who do everything together just the sweetest? Then Raidon Naoko killed Victoria Logan and Jacob Charles. Avoid Mr. Raidon if you're hoping for an open-casket funeral, folks.

"Hayley Kelly continued her trend of wandering the open areas before randomly blowing someone away when she caught up to Jason Clarke.

"Robert Jenkins chased down Lilian Hayes, showing that not everyone who only killed on the first day has given up completely. Finally, Ben Powell made the phenomenal mistake of painting Courtney Bradley, who in turn painted the ground with Powell's blood.

"We were awfully impressed by the work of Ms. Gweneth. There's a new toy waiting for you in the Town Center.

"Also, stay out of the Inland Woods (Still. You shouldn't be there right now anyways), the Ranger Station, and the Residential Area, including the Town Center. Ms. Gweneth is exempt from those last two for the time it takes to collect her prize.

"Talk to you tomorrow—well, some of you, at least."

The Sixth AnnouncementEdit

Late at night at the terrorists' HQ, Dorian Pello sat in the base's rec room, trying and failing to doze off. He had to have slept no more than six hours since this entire thing started. The fitful nights had started in the immediate preparation for V4, and steadily worsened, far more severe than ever before. Dorian was haggard, pale, dark circles etched underneath sunken eyes. He was running on fumes, and they were barely halfway into the game. What had happened to Achyls hardly helped matters. All of the technicians were on edge, watching out, straining for every little sign of another loophole. Not only that, but they had to ensure that the replacement cameras were up and running as the ground team installed them. All of this on a team two members down.

It would have been stressful at the best of times, and for Dorian, this most certainly wasn't that.

A hand fell on Dorian's shoulder and he started, sitting up on the lounge's sofa to turn and see...

Dark sunglasses. A severe buzzcut.

Steven. Wilson.

Wilson's expression was absolutely stoic, one hundred percent unreadable.

"A minute of your time, Pello."

It wasn't a request. Dorian nodded.

"This doesn't leave this room. A couple of your associates are in the loop, but it's unnecessary for you to know who," Wilson tipped his shades down his nose, regarding Dorian with dark, dark brown eyes. "I've been monitoring the radio chatter from Greynolds and our ground team, and there's been some very odd background noise. Nothing I could trace or figure out, but..." Wilson's eyes narrowed. "It seemed like somebody was piggybacking on our signal. I don't know if we're being listened in on, or there's some kind of broadcast going out, but I want that sucker nailed to the damn wall."

"W-where do I come into all of this? ...Sir?" Dorian added that last hastily as a response to Wilson's frown.

"Keep an eye out for any unusual interference across our channel. If you notice anything, track it. This is outside of my capabilities, but I'll be damned if I let this slide. It's sure not us causing that noise, and if it were an outside power, then we'd have squads of Navy SEALs up our asses right about now. That leaves some kind of third party, and third parties make me uneasy," Wilson pushed his sunglasses back up and turned away. "Stay sharp, Pello. If something slips through the net, it's ALL of our heads."

Dorian watched Wilson go. Where the hell had he been!? He hadn't even known that Wilson was on the base! Thinking on the cryptic instructions the Big Four member had given him, Dorian shuddered.

There went any chance of him recovering his sleeping pattern, that was for sure.


~*~


Mr. Danya was not in the best of moods. By all reports, the repair work was going well, or at least as well as could be expected without doing a comprehensive sweep of the island to find EVERY busted camera. Greynolds had been in touch for much of the day, and of course there had been the helicopter trips back and forth, ferrying fresh camera units. But... for all that, the squad had been on the ground for more or less an entire day, and whilst they were closing up some ground, they hadn't managed to kill any of the troublemakers. Apart from that stupid Martelli girl, Greynolds' team had been very low key so far.

Not that he wanted them to disrupt the game... but there was a disruption that needed removing. Hopefully that was an issue that be dealt with swiftly.

Sighing gently, Danya reached for the PA, paused, then extended his hand past it, picked up an object. Danya brought it back, held it up close. A picture frame, within which... a Danya who was a little less stout, had a little more hair. A smiling woman was standing next to him, and Danya had his arm around her shoulder, looking down at the bundled up baby she held in her arms. Lilly had aged too since that day... but she was no less radiant to him. Between the two of them stood a teenager, hands in his pockets, his face neutral, but his eyes bright. Tracen never did like posing for pictures.

For a minute or so, Danya sat in his chair, staring at the picture. Then, with a little smile, he set it back down on his desk and keyed the PA system.

"Hey kids, it's Uncle Danya! You'll be very happy indeed to hear that in a few short hours, you'll have officially have survived until the halfway mark of the game. That's provided, of course, that you aren't one of the three unlucky souls that have to die for you all to reach that point. Keep it up folks, I can't tell you how proud I am of your spirit.

"With no further ado, let's get on to the juicy details. No fewer than twenty-two of your classmates were struck down yesterday. I must say that your rates have far exceeded our expectations.

"Our first man down was Alexander Seymour, who was stabbed by Remy Kim. The danger zone clock might have won the race with blood loss, but we're certainly crediting Mr. Kim for that one. At round about the same time, Feo Eleri Smith decided to go the way of her boy toy, stuck around the Ranger Station for too long, and got her collar detonated.

"Tyler Franklin tangled with the wrong cripple, and as a result, got a tire iron upside the head, compliments of Simon Telamon. Colin Falcone went down and out to injuries inflicted by Liam Brooks, although he did get a wonderfully romant- ... tragic? Romantic moment with his best buddy, so it's not all bad.

"We had a real mess at the infirmary after Sebastian Decartes decided to crash the slumber party that had been camping out there. He managed to do for Kayla McArthur, whilst Johnny McDowell... well, he practically did for himself, but Kayla WAS holding the sword the moron managed to impale himself on. Anyway, Mr. Decartes fell victim to Felicia Carmichael and at the end of it all, that infirmary wound up looking more like a charnel house.

"Maxwell Lombardi continued his red hot streak by taking out Cassidy Wakemore. Quincy Jones also notched up another kill, though he's got an awfully long way to go to make up the ground. Joshua Krakowski was the poor unfortunate. Charlene Norris was the next to get in on the action, shooting down Kyle Portman, who was dumb enough to take the bullet for Hayley Kelly... which means that particular love triangle just got a whole lot simpler.

"Yet another massacre ensued, this one once again in the Hall of Mirrors, meaning that yes indeed, it can now be officially classed as a graveyard. Bill Davis showed Logan Reynolds how not to go about killing players, then gave Marion Summers a quick math lesson before Rhory Anne Broderick did for Davis as well. Remember kids, glass is sharp. That's a building full of weapons waiting to be picked up!

"Moving on, Mike Jeffries made the mistake of turning his back on Nick LeMonde and took a - man I've always wanted to say this - hunga munga to the back of the head. In the big shock of the day, Aislyn McCreery's daddy did not turn up at the eleventh hour to save her from Kimberly Nguyen. Not long afterwards, Sofia Martelli opted out of the game after tangling with somebody she REALLY shouldn't have done and then realising the extent of her screw up.

"Hayley Kelly clocked her fifth kill onto the board by shooting Andrew Mitchell. Courtney Bradley then pulled what we at HQ like to call a Garraty special. AKA she blew herself up in a dangerzone. Intelligent. Next up, and after a short hiatus, we had a return to form for Kris Hartmann, who made messy work indeed of offing Janet Claymont.

"Maxwell Lombardi's run continued with yet another kill, this time knocking off Kevin Harding. Jamie Li was stabbed by Ericka Bradley, and to round off proceedings for the day, one of our resident bible thumpers, Jessie Anderson, fell foul of Peter Siu. In a church no less. You can almost taste the irony."

"That's it for the deaths. For the danger zones... steer clear of the Southern Cliffs, Mansion, and the North Beach.. For the time being, you can also give The Docks some healthy caution... as our best kill award winner, Rhory Anne Broderick, will be collecting her prize there in a short while! Oh and Rhory? Do please come collect it. Our last winner made a horrible waste of her reward and left it sitting in the town center. Her loss is somebody else's gain, I suppose!

"This is Danya signing off. Stay safe... although not TOO safe. That'd be bad for ratings."

The Seventh AnnouncementEdit

It was night, not that that meant much with the frantic pace kept up around HQ. The staff for the late shifts was slightly lower, though this was only because the majority of the students, still tied to their normal circadian rhythms, were fairly calm and stationary at night. Some prowlers developed, of course, and there was always a little action, but it was generally easier to monitor and prep for broadcast. The atmosphere was somewhat relaxed, especially since the troublemaker had finally been dealt with, though everyone was still badly overworked. Still, normalcy could resume with a collective sigh of relief. Everyone was at their jobs again, back in their proper places.

Everyone, that is, except one.

The tech called Sparky was at her workstation. She was typing away, like she always did, ignored by her colleagues. They were all tired, all nearly dead on their feet, after losing two of the most senior techs in the past days, Cecily to island repair duty, and Achyls to incompetence. Nobody had the time or the inclination to get involved in anyone else's duty.

Alongside an ever increasing stack of empty packages of caffeine pills still sat the gun Sparky had used to kill Achyls. Everyone had seemed remarkably uninterested in being anywhere near the thing. She'd avoided their sympathy, and they'd been content enough with the arrangements. The techs were a fairly reserved group. Lourvey still hadn't shared his reasons for working for Danya. Sparky hadn't shared hers, either.

That was definitely for the best. Whatever Danya had on Lourvey, Sparky was absolutely sure her secret was more dangerous.

She flipped back and forth between her work, monitoring a fairly uneventful section of the island, and her other work, typing away a series of seemingly-meaningless numbers and letters in an unlabeled document. A large number of the techs coded for fun. It was a stress reliever, a measure of certainty in a chaotic world. Of course, Sparky wasn't coding... not in the same way that the others were, at least.

The radio communications were ablaze at the moment. A lot of important things had gone down in the past day. Repairs were still underway. No one was paying all that much attention to the chatter.

The numbers on Sparky's workstation corresponded to letters. Not directly, of course; she was better than that. Underneath her bed she had a notepad, which contained doodles and writings and equations, jotted at apparent random. Every so often, she'd tear a page from the notepad and destroy it. She passed it off as a superstition. Bury your mistakes so they don't come back to haunt you.

In reality, her numbers were a series of one time code pads, corresponding to exactly one other set. As she needed each code, she memorized the algorithms for the cipher, then worked them for her messages. She had a fantastic memory for numbers. She hadn't made a mistake yet. It was why she'd been given this job. That and the fact she'd been willing to actually volunteer.

Tonight's message, though, was of unprecedented importance. Conditions had changed on the island where the game took place. The students had acted in unexpected manners, forced changes at HQ that her contacts would need to know about. This was the first chance she'd had to get the full story down, the explanation of Dorian's collar work and its implications, as well as the other little event that had gone down a day ago, which had slipped by nearly unnoticed. Certainly, Sparky wasn't about to be the one to point it out.

She'd been left unattended for nearly an hour now, though. Her message was finished. She waited for the next burst of interference, sent her report with a click.

Nothing happened, exactly like it was supposed to. She clicked out of the window and returned her full attention to the island. Nothing, nothing, and more nothing.

At least, two minutes of nothing. Then a voice broke the silence.

"Ah, Sparky, I thought you'd know better after what you saw—no, what you participated in the other day."

Sparky spun, nearly toppling from her chair.

"M-mi-er, Carter," she said. All of a sudden, the world was moving in slow motion. No one was looking her way yet. That would take a couple of seconds. For the moment, the severity of the situation was known only to her and Carter.

Carter looked at her with something that, for a second or two, might have been regret. A moment later, though, the black man's face returned to its stony seriousness.

"It's such a shame. When Wilson found out, I didn't want to believe it. Just got the confirmation, though."

She'd sent a quick burst during the afternoon, sharing the numerical designation of the key to tonight's message. No one had given the slightest inkling of noticing anything suspicious.

"I, uh, I have no idea what y-you're talking about," she lied transparently. Adrenaline was carrying her now. Sparky didn't even know why she was bothering to protest. The game was up, all she was doing was delaying the inevitable. At least she'd done what she was supposed to. Her role was done now, and she was expendable. She'd still been hoping to make it out, though. She'd known when she'd signed up that she likely wouldn't survive. She'd told herself she was reconciled to death. After all that had happened, it would be a mercy, especially in this circumstance.

That all rang hollow now, though.

Carter glowered.

"Cut the bull. You've got questions to answer. We're going to have a nice talk with Mister Danya."

Other people in the room had noticed by now. All attention was on her. She saw, for the first time, that, while Carter wasn't armed, three other terrorists standing to the side of the room were. They were pointing their weapons at her, all with good firing solutions. It was clearly a show of intimidation. Sparky could see cracks in the facade, though; Dunlop looked confused, unsure of himself. Clear pain was written across 'Ace' Warren's face—he seemed to feel genuinely betrayed.

The thing they didn't get, though, was that she knew they wanted her alive. That would slow their reactions. They were treating her like one of the kids, desperate to survive, shortsighted enough not to realize what lay at the end of the tunnel anyways. By now, though, Sparky knew she was dead. The only question was when. Like she was going to survive whatever was to follow after they took her. Achyls died for a single mistake, Sparky could only imagine the consequences of treason.

But that was something she couldn't afford to waste her limited time dwelling on.

She went for the gun by her workstation. Whatever Carter had thought or known, he clearly wasn't prepared for the sudden dexterity she displayed. Sparky snatched the pistol up, the weight feeling right in her palm as she sprung to her feet, aiming. Shock, followed by an iota of fear, flickered over Carter's stoic visage, then he went for his own gun. But his movements seemed to Sparky slow, leaden, like she had all the time in the world to do this. She pulled the trigger, the pistol jumping in her hand, the retort reverberating through the room. The bullet struck Carter full in the head and he went down in a spray of blood. Even as he fell, Sparky was still moving, strafing Dunlop, 'Ace' and the other. She was sure she saw another puff of red before the world dissolved in a hail of gunfire and pain. Looked like she pushed them past the point they were looking to take her alive.

The bullets slammed into her body, ripping through her stomach, her chest, her arms, tearing a sob from Sparky as she fell against her chair, pitching it to the floor with a crash. As she hit the ground, she could see Lourvey in a corner, just now diving for cover. A faintly fascinated eye noted that her blood was already pooling around her, the gun slipping from nerveless fingers. Sparky was drifting now, breathing shallowly, each inhalation an agony. She hoped things hadn't been compromised. Hoped they didn't know much. At least she'd gotten Carter. Bastard had had it coming.

One of the armed terrorists was standing over her, checking her. She didn't recognise him... wasn't sure she could recognise him. Everything was going grey, indistinct, blurred. He looked angry, probably because there was no way she was pulling through this. She'd intended that. Torture wasn't something she could guarantee she'd hold up to. Sparky gave him a defiant half-smile, blood showing on her teeth... and her eyes slipped closed.

What had Achyls said before she shot him?

She couldn't quite remember. It didn't really matter anymore, though. For Brynn Lovell, everything went black.


Mr Danya was livid, but he didn't let it show through in his voice. He was good at that by now. Whatever happened, the show had to go on. If the students caught wind of any problems, they'd start losing motivation. It was lucky, then, that they had such good motivation today. Also lucky that the island's most annoying student was no more. It nearly made up for the mess that had occurred in the tech room and the loss of one of his most senior associates.

"Good morning, kiddies," he said into the microphone, all performance now, the usual jovial tone coming as easy as always. "My, my, if we don't have a new record. That's right, twenty-nine of you perished in the past twenty-four hours. I'd crunch the rate, but, well, that's what the statisticians online are for.

"Carla Conners found herself in the wrong place at the wrong time and had her collar blown as a reward. So many of you have lost your heads this time. It's quite the disappointment for our viewers."

He didn't feel like explaining that the Connors girl had been detonated as an example. No use giving the troublemaker any more credit for these things. After all, he didn't need hunters anymore.

"Alex White made his shocking debut by shivving William Hearst and Rena Peters. Ms. Peters' death, by the way, was the halfway point of our little show. I'd have sent cheerleaders but, well, they're already there with you. The surviving ones, at least.

"JJ Sturn learned the hard way that shotguns trump words when he messed with Jimmy Brennan. His heroic last stand was one for the highlight reel, though, even if it proved entirely futile.

"Janet Binachi returned to the scoreboards by beating in David Matson's head. Afterwards, Kari Nichols killed Stacy Hart and Stacy Hart killed Kari Nichols. I love it when that happens.

"Ericka Bradley gave Remy Kim a bullet to the back of the head, then George Leidman took a leaf from pro wrestling and beat Gloria Benson to death with a chair. Take note, kids: there are weapons positively everywhere. There's no excuse for anyone being defenseless by this point. You're all part of the better half. Don't disappoint.

"Sarah Atwell's throat was slit by her erstwhile accomplice, Alice Boucher. The situation was too complicated to sum up, but we'll just say that Ms. Atwell became a star herself. Whoever wins can find the full story on the DVD. We'll make sure you get a complimentary copy.

"Nick Reid finally got a heart. It wasn't his own, but Martin Lovett won't have any more use for it. Afterwards, Liam Brooks killed Vivien Morin. You'll want to be careful around that one. Bridget Connolly managed to turn Mia Kuiper into a spitted marshmellow. Alas, we knew her... a bit, I suppose.

"Brendan Wallace joined the good list, putting a fatal bullet into Steven Hunt. Touching last words to Mr. Hunt. I'm sure the academy was pleased. Roland Harte picked the wrong killer to meddle with, taking a number of injuries from Naoko Raidon. I'm pretty sure it was the stab that ended things, though.

"Rein Bumgarner and Gareth Griffith managed to bury themselves alive under a mountain of boxes and screws. The environment's dangerous, everyone. There are so many classmates out for your blood. There's no reason to make it any easier on them by eliminating yourselves.

"Madelyn Prowers gave up all hope or something and blew herself up. Yawn. It's getting old. Then, Orpheus Campbell and Robert Jenkins neutralized each other in the most permanent of ways. It was quite a mess, too.

"R.J. Lowe just kind of... fell over or something. I'm sure an autopsy could explain it, but right now, there's a lively pool going online. We'll call this an act of God. Add him to your killer list if you want.

"Ilario Fiametta gunned down Kevin Warick, but didn't seem to find what he was looking for. Better luck next time, Mr. Fiametta.

"Winsome Clark died in a danger zone. Be careful, everyone. I mean, it's not like danger zones sneak up on you or anything. We do announce them every day.

"George Leidman strangled Dustin Royal, bringing an end to the ladykiller. I was rather surprised it wasn't one of his former flings, unless there's something Mr. Leidman isn't telling us. He certainly came at Mr. Royal with a vengeance. Oh, and a rock.

"It seems Ema Ryan has picked up the arbitrary point-and-shoot tendencies of her girlfriend, as she gunned down Sapphire McLeod. Then, Felicia Carmichael put a bullet in Tiffany Chanders.

"This next one is a special treat, kids. Liz Polanski's reign of terror is at an end. Some friends of mine caught up with her.

"Josie Vernon smothered Sierra Manning to death, after traveling with her for a week. Remember that video. This stuff happens more than you'd imagine. Finally, Teo Weinstock shot Maxwell Crowe through the head with a crossbow.

"You're almost there, kids. Twelve more deaths will bring you to the final hundred. I know you can do it. Well, actually, I know most of you can't, but to the lucky winner: keep it up. I'll catch you on the other side.

"Oh, and stay out of The Mansion, The Mine, The Parish, and The Greens. Also, you can mark The Tunnels off your list for the rest of the game. Ms. Polanski made a mess when she died, and it just doesn't seem worth the effort to put it all back together. Besides, the lighting was awful.

"And Ms. Boucher, please come to The Parish to collect a fabulous prize. Do show up this time. I'm starting to feel stood up. What's wrong with you killers this version? Don't you want a better chance at living?

"Danya, signing off."

The Eighth AnnouncementEdit

*ONE DAY PREVIOUSLY*

The face of Victor Danya held little more than a scowl. His mouth was closed, and the air hissed from his nostrils with a force that betrayed his towering fury. His gaze swept the charnel house that had been made of the technicians' room in the space of just a few short second.

Three corpses were strewn across the floor. One of the team he'd ordered come for Sparky had taken a shot to the chest and was lying spreadeagled on his back. Melvin Carter's head was a bloody ruin, the back of his skull decorating the carpet, blood and grey matter everywhere. Danya's eyes lingered on Carter for a while. This was one of his most trusted men, a hand-picked lieutenant of his organisation... and now he was dead. Killed not by some counter-terrorist, but one of - somebody who he thought was one of his own people.

Danya's smouldering stare settled on the bullet-ridden corpse of Brynn "Sparky" Lovell. She was even smiling, the little bitch, although how anybody with that much lead in them had managed to pull off a grin like that was anybody's guess. Gore was splattered everywhere, all over the floor, the chair, Sparky's desk... her work station had been completely destroyed by gunfire. Without question she was completely and utterly dead.

He turned to the man standing alongside him, an uncomfortable "Ace" Warren. The AT member still had his gun at his side, his expression still slightly hurt. Danya looked him up and down.

"Again."

Ace shifted uneasily. "Wilson picked up on the signal this morning. Sparky broadcasted... well, something. Unauthorised. When we got here... she had the gun on her desk, nobody thought to ask about it before... we've all got guns. She pulled it, shot Carter, Braden. We took her out."

Danya closed his eyes, took a deep breath, then opened them again and nodded.

"Understandable. That was ... unavoidable, I suppose," Danya took another look around the room. "We're starting to get severely goddamn short staffed here..." His eyes sharpened, focus suddenly returned to his face. "Somebody go grab Dorian, we'll need him. For once. We'll probably need Sonia too," one last look. "Clean this damn mess up."

Victor Danya turned and began to walk out.

Under his breath...

"How many fucking times have we done this? How long until we get through a version without screwing up...?"

~*~

"Good morning once again, kiddies," Danya said. He was trying to keep his voice cheery, though he was still was a bit shaken by the events of the past couple of days. Luckily, he had a lot of practice acting, and this was all set to be a short announcement. "Would you believe that there are less than one hundred of you left alive? Well, it's true. Congratulations to those of you still standing. You've come a long way. You only need to brutally murder a few more people, and then you'll be on a plane home. Isn't that a delightful thought? I bet you all miss your families. I'm sure they're rooting for you.

"Now then, those whose families will be mourning, instead:

"Alexander Campbell died of I-thought-it'd-be-fine-to-field-amputate-my-arm. This is a lesson: practice first aid before your wound starts growing green fuzz.

"Ricky Fortino and Francesca Fiametta both managed to get themselves caught in the tunnels, and exploded. Turns out wandering in the dark deep underground isn't such a great idea when you have to get out in a hurry.

"Mirabelle Nesa picked the wrong horse to bet on, and died defending Liz Polanski. That's what happnes to people who try to escape. Then, Harun Kemal and Rashid Hassan engaged in some touching buddy-to-buddy combat. Harun came out on top, and Rashid lost the top of his head.

"Timothy Questiare was stabbed to death by George Leidman. Then, Alice Blake sent Ash Morrison rolling down a hill. Spines are shockingly fragile.

"Peter Siu shot Jacquard Broughten, though it took her some time to die. Then, Joe Rios exploded onto the charts, using a scythe to rip and reap Mike Maszer and Alan Rickhall. Well, okay, the first was while he was trying to run, and the second was the result of the worst game of chicken ever, but we can pretend it was more exciting, can't we?

"David Meramac took a jog in a danger zone. Yawn. I swear, the collars and weapons are nothing but a formality and an expedient. If you kids went camping for a month, half of you would likely fall down crevasses.

"Milo Taylor and Melissa Li both were the subjects of collar experimentation, by Aileen Borden and Nick Reid respectively. Both died terrible, explosive deaths. You'd imagine after the fine example of our first death that you would have learned by now, but no. Then again, it's a pretty good way to kill someone. Trick them into thinking you're helping them, then give a little pull. Just be sure to watch your fingers.

"David Morrison just toppled over dead. Reviewing the footage, it seems he hadn't eaten in a while, so we'll put this down to dehydration. Or AIDS.

"Örn Ayers was shot by Liam Brooks, and bled to death. Finally, Samantha Ridley put a bullet in Adrian Staib.

"None of our kills today were half as interesting as Ms. Vernon's stifling of her friend yesterday, so we're giving her the prize. Step it up, kids.

"Ms. Vernon should proceed to the Gazebo to claim her prize.

"Everyone else, stay out of the Gazebo, the Warehouse, the Groundskeeper's Hut, the Destroyed cell Tower, and the South-Eastern Woods. In fact, you can leave the South-Eastern Woods alone for the rest of the game.

"Talk to you tomorrow, assuming you survive that long."

The RescueEdit

The last thing that went through Jack Dunlop's head was a burst of fully-automatic gunfire.

What was left of his skull smacked against the concrete wall of the building simply known as 'HQ' as he slumped to the ground, leaving a dark stain.

His watch partner had just about enough time to elect to choose self-preservation over sounding the alarm and raise his own gun before a high-calibre rifle round punched straight through his body armour, a gout of blood spouting from his back.

As the guard fell flat on his face, Dax Barrett looked up from the scope of his rifle and spoke into a microphone attached to a headset he was wearing. "Door's open. I'll keep watch out here. Good luck."

Calmly reloading his assault rifle, Corey Maslakow jerked his head towards the entrance to the building. "You heard him. Let's do it."

~*~

On Victor Danya's desk sits a picture.

It isn't overly elaborate, the frame is simple, the photograph within it faded with age. The scene depicted is simple, a family photo. Lillian Danya's smile is tired, very tired, yet for all that, proud. Held in her arms is a bundle of blankets, within which, just about visible, is a tiny little face. On the contrary, Victor's grin is an outright beam, couldn't be any happier if he tried. One arm is wrapped around his wife, and a paternal hand is on the shoulder of the fourth person in the picture; a teenaged boy. Tracen Danya is not smiling, but the fourteen-year-old is not the best at posing for photographs, so he is at least making an effort.

This small photograph is the only concession Victor makes to his life outside of Survival of the Fittest, the only hint to the man behind the persona of 'Mr. Danya', the man who takes a sadistic glee in tormenting the students his organisation kidnaps, the sick and twisted pervert. Victor Danya and Mr. Danya are not one and the same, though it would be foolish to suggest that there is no overlap whatsoever. Victor is not a pleasant individual, he is not a moral individual, but nor is all of the pleasure he supposedly derives from the suffering of others entirely genuine.

Many matters weigh heavily on Victor. Sometimes he vents his stress through his alter-ego, an alter-ego which extends even to his treatment of his subordinates and his demeanour around them. Perhaps if they knew everything, they would understand why he snaps so, why he gives such callous orders. Probably not. That is a solitary burden, something that cannot be shared even with the others that know of it. Mr. Danya is the centre of all.

Mostly, Victor's comfort is found in the picture. Its frame is smudged with a multitude of fingerprints. Many long hours have been spent in contemplation of it.

He is doing just that right now.

As gunshots rip through the air, startling him, Victor stands, hastily setting the photograph on his desk as he hurries out of the office.

It teeters a moment, tips, falls onto its face.

Down.

~*~

"WOULD SOMEBODY TELL ME WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON!?"

Predictably, Steve Wilson was not a happy man. The reports coming in were rushed, panicked, unsurprising for men and women fighting for their lives, exceedingly difficult for somebody trying to actually arrange a defence. All he could gather was that there was an unknown number of unknown assailants at an unknown location killing an UNKNOWN number of his fucking people! Wilson couldn't get even into contact with any of the patrols, whether those on land or forming a perimeter on boats. He was willing to stake his life that Sparky had something to do with all of this. They were being jammed, somehow.

Wilson's fists clenched tightly as he sat at his desk, messages spouting at him from every direction. He wasn't cut out for this sort of monitoring. He was a field commander, not a radio operator. Garbled messages emerged from speakers, all mingling and overlapping with each other.

"-Matthis is down! Matthis is down! We need to-"

"Quiet with your yammering! Stop running around like idiots, fall back and regroup!" Wilson allowed himself a tight smile. Sonia.

"Oh fuck, fuck, I'm hit!"

"-NEVER GONNA GIVE YOU UP, NEVER GONNA LET YOU DO-" ...

"Shit! All hands to the technical room IMMEDIATELY! We've got a serious problem!"

"Where the hell is Danya!?"

The burly terrorist slammed his hands onto the desk in front of him, seized his sidearm, and charged out of the room. No more waiting.

~*~

The sounds of raised voices and gunshot after gunshot reached the ears of Kwong Lei. He raised his weary head, barely able to even open his eyes. Even without the abuse his captors had subjected him to, he had been tied to a chair for more than a week. He'd been fed, watered, true enough, but he'd also been savagely beaten, at times it seemed almost for fun. Kwong, for a time, had given up all hope. This had happened so many times in the past, and it had taken the government months to even find the island, let alone traces of those running the show.

The almost gleeful fashion in which Danya reported the death of Liz Polanski to him had been the final straw, although even as the crushing news hit him, Kwong couldn't help but feel that there had been an edge to the man, a slight chink in the armour of confidence that had not been there the first time. Something had happened, something had gone awry in the man's plans. But to Kwong, well... it mattered little enough.

He was finished.

Yet now... Kwong felt the faintest stirrings in his chest. This was no live-fire exercise or training mission, this was a full-scale firefight. Who could possibly have done such a thing? Was it the government, finding their competence at last just in the nick of time? Another party? Some kind of internal dissension-?

The door to his cell opened with a clang and Kwong squeezed his eyes shut as the brightness of the light assailed him. He heard a sharp intake of breath.

"My god... those bastards. You... you must be Kwong," it was a girl, a fairly young one at that. Strong arms took gentle hold of him, and in a matter of moments, he was released from his bonds. Gingerly, the former teacher opened his eyes again to see a concerned face looking back at him. "My name's CeeJay Young. I'm here to help you."

A miracle.

~*~

Victor Danya was in the somewhat unique position of having a gun to his head.

Of course, he had been threatened before. The former winners of his game did have that tendency to pull weapons on him.

What he wasn't used to was being accosted in his own base, held in a chokehold and the barrel of a pistol pressed to the back of his skull. Oddly enough, he wasn't frightened.

There was no sense in it. He had better things to do with what time was left to him than plead or cry or rant and rave. If years of SOTF had taught Danya anything, it was not to waste those moments.

In any case, Danya wasn't dead yet. He might have had a burly youngster semi-choking him, but Maslakow had no apparent intnetions of killing him right now. And Maslakow's position was... precarious.

Danya had been en route to Wilson's post when he ran directly into several heavily armed members of the group he remembered all too well as STAR. The Taskforce had lost many during V0.8. Danya had put a bullet in one of their stomachs before taking a rifle butt to the face, something which he was fairly certain had cracked his jaw. From there, he had been bundled into the technicians' room, there to be greeted by a terrified huddle including Lourvey and Dorian.

Now, it was a stand-off. STAR had him, the AT had the numbers... just on the wrong side of the door. Bust in, and they risked harming Danya. Not an order he was willing to give, that was for sure.

Maslakow wrested Danya around and fixed a cowering Lourvey with a glare. The technician was sitting at the workstation that had once belonged to Sparky.

"Do it. Do it right now."

Lourvey shuddered and began to type away. Corey smiled, then spoke into his headset.

"Island teams... you are good to go. Repeat, you are good to go."

The Ninth AnnouncementEdit

"Hey, Greynolds?"

The voice, just about audible over the rotors of the helicopter, snapped Jim Greynolds from his reverie. Looking up, he gave the speaker; Richards, a cold, hard stare. The soldier held his gaze for a second, then dropped his eyes.

Greynolds was pissed. He'd had the situation relayed to him by Wilson, and from there, the decision had been his to make. Try to take out the boats? Make tracks back to base? Both paths had their pros and cons. In the end, Greynolds had tried to go for both and... so far it wasn't working out too well. The patrol boats he'd dispatched to intercept the rescuers hadn't got there in time. STAR hadn't even had to fight their way out - Danya's men had been left eating their dust.

That was a blow to the pride of pretty much everyone. Two versions running, students had made it out. Granted they hadn't managed it by themselves, but that anybody could compromise the security of the group made for a worrying pattern. If they somehow made it out of this mess, Greynolds was going to have to run a thorough check on any newcomers, maybe even the current roster, just to be safe. Fucking moles...

Greynolds keyed his microphone onto the pilot's channel.

"How long?"

"Hard to say, we're still a ways out from-"

"Fly. Faster."

"...Yes sir."

~*~

"You're all dead men walking."

Corey Maslakow looked almost amused at that. "Pretty big talk coming from a guy with a gun to his head, Danya."

Danya shrugged awkwardly, the movement difficult with the tight hold his STAR captor had on him. His eyes tracked Corey as he paced back and forth, back and forth. "You and your little crew are trapped in a room with only one exit, outside of which there is a group of my men that are more than capable of chewing you up and spitting you out. You've got balls kid, but balls alone aren't getting you out of this."

This time, Corey actually did laugh. Danya looked unimpressed as the STAR member held up a hand, still laughing.

"I'm sorry I'm sorry it's just - you sounded a hell of a lot like one of the guys we had to kill on the way to getting out of one of your hell holes a few years back."

"That was a fluke, just like this. You think you'd still be alive if you hadn't been lucky enough to run into me on the way here? You'd be six feet under a couple of hours ago."

"Two flukes starts to sound like a pattern to me, Mr Danya," Corey put deliberate emphasis on the 'mister'. "Talk about maybes if you want, but you're the guy who seems closest to dead to me."

Danya snorted. "Then have fun getting out of here. Difference between you and me is that I know that I'm staring down the barrel of a gun. You're smiling at it."

Corey turned away, unable to hide a smirk.

"Corey. Corey, you there? You getting this?"

He put a hand to his earpiece. "Yup. Loud and clear."

"Jaxon and Nate are pulling out. Greynolds and company seem to be heading back to you. Might be best to get moving."

"I understand. I'll pass that on," Corey fiddled with his headset a moment. "CeeJay, reading me?"

"I hear you. We're at the boats."

"Good. How's Kwong?"

"Holding up, just about. He's lucky to be alive."

"Aren't we all? Look, we'll talk more later, we need to get rolling."

"Good luck."

"Keep my seat warm," Corey looked over to the wall opposite the room's entrance. One of his people had been hard at work there ever since they'd busted in. "We're out of here. You'd better be ready."

A roll of the eyes told Corey everything he needed to know.

"Stand back everyone. Oh, and cover your ears," Corey shot Danya another cocky grin. "What do you do when the only exit to a room is blocked off? Make another."

The carefully directed explosives planted on the wall detonated, blowing it into rubble and leaving a conveniently placed gap, leading out into a corridor.

"Alright people, hustle!" Corey called. He turned back to Danya. "And as for you-"

"DORIAN NO DON-"

Lourvey's plea was silenced by a gunshot.

~*~

"WILSON! SONIA! UPDATE! NOW!"

Every eye in the chopper snapped to Jim Greynolds, whose headset had just erupted in a wash of explosions, yelling and gunfire. Cecily tuned her own radio into HQ's main channel, flinching at the ensuing cacophany. After a couple of seconds, there was a reply.

"Greynolds - don't exactly have time to explain here!"

"Give me a fucking status report!"

"I am being shot at! There's your fucking report!"

Sonia Nguyen cut in, far more calmly than Wilson. "STAR blew a hole in the wall, gave themselves a head start. We're trying to cut them off but they're running like hell."

Greynolds slammed a fist into the side of the chopper. "Fuck!" he spat.

"Oh... oh shit," it was the voice of 'Ace' Warren.

His tone was dull, filled with shock and horror. The leaden sound of it made Greynolds' blood run cold.

"Da-"

~*~

Dorian 'Jett' Pello lowered the pistol he'd snatched from the holster of his STAR captor and breathed out, long and trembling. He looked like he was on the verge of tears, but there was a defiant set to his shoulders.

There was a moment of silence as everybody in the room turned to look at the technician. A couple of guns were half raised, but with the singular shot out of the way with, Dorian apparently had no intention of firing again.

The quiet was broken by a strangled, bubbling laugh.

Danya.

Danya, whose shirt was blossoming with a spreading red stain.

Danya, whose hand was clutched to his chest and whose words were strung out with pain.

"You," he looked Dorian in the eyes and smiled. "Of all the people that it could've been, it was you? Guess... you grew a spine... after all," Danya dropped to one knee and started to laugh again before slumping to one side with a thump. He lay on the floor, motionless.

Everyone stared at his body for a moment. Then, Corey snapped out of it.

"We've got to move. Now," he gave Dorian an appraising look. "You can come along, if you want."

Dorian nodded, headed through the hole in the wall right on the tails of the STAR members Corey had brought with him. The other entrance to the room imploded in a hail of gunfire. Letting off a burst from his rifle, Corey stepped back through the hole and headed after his people. The AT burst into the room in time to see him disappear through the wall, leaving a thoroughly trashed room and a couple of terrified technicians in his wake.

~*~

"Lilly..."

Victor Danya's cheek was cool against the floor. His eyes closed.

~*~

This chair didn't feel right. It didn't feel like he belonged in this position.

Danya's desk was almost infused with the man, as if it somehow reflected his personality. Jim Greynolds sat in front of it uneasily. Miraculously, the PA system was still intact after STAR's attack. Most of the gear for that wasn't situated in the technical area, which had been well and truly fucked over. As for that side of things, well... that had been a complete write off. STAR had disabled collars left right and centre, and then wrecked the equipment that was left over as a nice little parting gift. For an hour or two, they'd had no coverage of the island whatsoever.

Greynolds had sorted that out, just about. They had a back-up system based around Wilson's listening post-slash-homebase. Naturally Wilson hadn't been using very much of what was installed there, but keeping the infrastructure in place had proved to be a good precaution. HQ was a complete mess but the show, such as it was, could go on. A lot of the cameras were shut off, but they'd manage to restrict most of those to the zones that were already permanently DZed. Their coverage was worse now, but they'd still be able to record everything important. The collars had been offline for a while, but as far as they could tell, they'd got them functional again.

...Which really showed the damage done by STAR. Almost thirty goddamn escapees. That hurt.

Not as badly as the damage done to HQ, but even so...

In any case. The game would continue. Battered and bruised, but it would continue. They'd regained power and regained control of the situation. Those that remained alive weren't getting a reprieve now.

Greynolds keyed the intercom.

~*~

"Hi there. My name's Greynolds, I'll be your announcer for the time being. Danya's taking a break. Gets tiring calling the action for all of you. Now that the introductions are over, let's just get straight into this, shall we?"

"Maria Graham fought long and hard, but ultimately, she gave up the ghost. It's a marathon, not a sprint, people. She took too many injuries and paid the price. Annaliese Hansen and Rosa Fiametta were next to go, both at the hands of Alex White. Alex apparently decided that variety is the spice of life - or death, in this case - and opted for a quick bullet for the former and slowly carving up the latter. I have to say Alex, that was pretty horrific. ...If I were Danya I'd probably now commend you, but I'm not, so I won't."

"Nick Reid went down the hard way to Maf Tuigamala, making himself into a kebob in the process. Michael Raynor was tenderised by Kitty Gittschall, whilst Jasper-Declan MacDermott decided to test out whether we were bluffing about not being able to swim off island. We weren't."

"Roland Hayes was reduced to ashes by Kris Hartmann. Amazing what a point-blank range explosion can do. Gracie Wainwright was beaten to death by Simon Telamon, who somehow managed another kill by flailing his arms around blindly. Who knew? Charlene Norris was next to go, offed by the prolific Hayley Kelly. Helen Wilson learned that field surgery isn't the greatest of ideas, cutting herself open then somehow being surprised when she died of blood loss."

"Next up... well kids, let's just say that this next part is why you don't try and escape the island, alright? The following individuals were killed trying to make a break for it. Jacqueline Myrie, Samantha Ridley, Joss Joiner, Alice Blake, Peter McCue, Yelizaveta Volkova, Alex Jackson, Raymond Dawson, Kaitlin Anderheim, Cisco Vasquez, Allen Birkman, Isabel Guerra, Mizore Soryu, Sarah Tan, Bridget Connolly, Sarah Xu, Brendan Wallace, Anna Chase, Felicia Carmichael, Andrea Raymer, Garrett Hunter, Harun Kemal, Simon Telamon, Jeremy Franco, Jay Holland, Eiko Haraguchi, Acacia Salinger, Michael Moretti and Jennifer Perez."

He let the list hang in the air for a moment. "Yeah, kids. We aren't playing hopskotch here. You plot against us, and you get burned, no ifs and no buts. As of now, the Northern and Eastern beaches are permanent Danger Zones. The best kill award... well frankly we decided there wasn't anything much to separate Kitty and Alex. We're dropping the prize outside the mine, which is now a temporary danger zone. Have fun with that, you two."

"See you all. Same time, same place, kids. I'll be here for all your announcing needs."

He signed off with a click, then sighed.

These were big shoes to fill, and ones he'd never wanted to step into, besides.

"Dammit Victor... it wasn't supposed to end like that," Greynolds stood up, calling out to the pair of guards stationed outside the door. "I have a couple of phone calls to make. Private ones. Let Wilson know I'm not to be disturbed and that I will personally carve a hole if anybody so much as walks past this room, got it?"

"Yes sir!"

Greynolds knuckled his forehead. The official business could come later, first... there was a number he needed to dial.

-

"Oh, uh, hey Amora! It's uh, it's Uncle Jim! Ah yeah, I'm doing fine, sweetie. Listen, uh... is your mom home? Cool. I need to speak to her about something."

June Midmonth RollEdit

British Columbia, Canada

Jaxon Jeremiah sat outside the hospital, alert and cautious, watching the infrequent cars which slipped past. None of them stopped. Good. If any vehicle turned up unannounced, things were going to get really hairy. Jaxon wasn't armed so heavily anymore, though he still carried a Glock and wore a protective vest under his windbreaker. He could pass for a complete civilian, at least from a distance to the untrained eye. He'd still give any attackers hell.

He kept checking the hospital, kept fearing that there'd be a roar of engines or a whine of rotors, followed by explosions and death, yet more death. As if they hadn't had enough of that. As if the survivors didn't deserve a little peace, a little time to pull themselves back together and recuperate from it all. They were scared and scarred, and some still didn't quite seem to believe it was over. Jaxon knew the feeling. All these years later, he was still waiting for the axe to fall.

His dread had eased just the littlest of bits, though, when he'd heard about the results of the assault team's run. They hadn't gotten everything done. They hadn't had time to destroy the gear keeping the collars going, hadn't been able to remove all the ranking personnel, but they'd accomplished a damn spot more than Jaxon had been expecting, and with only moderate casualties. Of course, that was just as of the last check in, right as they'd all fled. They'd been out of contact since then. Safer for everyone. The entire assault team could be dead, for all he knew.

A car in the distance flashed its headlights and turned towards the hospital. Jaxon's hand slipped into his pocket. His fingers found the grip of the Glock.

The car pulled up alongside him. Old. Red. The right car. The right driver. Jaxon was tempted to pull the gun anyways, but he'd expressed his displeasure enough already.

The door opened, and Nathan Caudle stepped out. The boy was wearing dark sunglasses. They nicely hid his black eye.

"Anything, Jax?"

"Just a murderer in shades. You think I should shoot him?"

Nate just laughed. Jaxon wrinkled his nose.

"Anyways," he said, "how did it go? Any luck?"

"A little. Looks like the folks at HQ are still scrambling to cover their asses after what we did. There's no sign of anyone looking for us. I think they're writing this one off and hoping that broadcast confuses people for a while."

Jaxon nodded. They'd been expecting a better forgery on the part of the terrorists, but what had been aired had been sufficient for most of the newspapers to proclaim the attempt a failure, and the STAR members and rescued students dead. No one had even come close to figuring out the identities of the mysterious force that opposed Danya. Someone had clearly been pulling strings at the major news services. It was totally irrelevant. Jaxon was pretty sure they'd still be able to accomplish their end objective.

"What took you so long?" he asked.

"Communications were a bitch," Nate replied. "Plus, goddamn, man, we had to land in the one town in the world without a fucking Mickey D's? I've got promises to keep."

It wasn't enough to coax a smile.

After a second of silence, Nate actually looked sheepish and continued. "No, I talked to people. We have some people in place to help us, to spring the story and all. I think it'll work."

The plan now was pretty simple. They had to blow open the story of the survivors, and they had to do it in such a way that they couldn't be suppressed or killed by the terrorists. This might have been hard, except for a few key decisions they'd made.

First and foremost, they hadn't told any of the students anything about their organization. Nate had claimed they were North Korean irregulars; Jaxon had simply refused to answer questions. They hadn't shared a single piece of information about Danya, SOTF, or the terrorist organization. They were not going to repeat the mistakes of Version Three.

Back then, the students had freed themselves, but, in so doing, they had spent a long time poking around Danya's files. Whatever they'd actually found, they'd potentially gotten their hands on information that would be absolutely devastating to the SOTF program. With the risk of, for example, the identities of his contacts and sources within the United States potentially jeopardized, Danya had put a good amount of resources into hunting them down. STAR had also been slow on the draw. By the time they'd been in position to repatriate the students, Rizzolo had already been home free and mechanisms had been put in place to prevent any word from being leaked. Danya had still held all the cards.

It was why time was of the essence now. It was why they were trying to get the kids transferred home within the week. Well, not home, not exactly. They would all need time, need time in the hospital in some cases, in intensive psychiatric care, as a whole. This was the sort of stuff that made therapists rich. They would need to be debriefed at length. Information would surely trickle back to the terrorists from that. They were counting on that fact, counting on the students' total ignorance and the fact that the terrorists were still reeling to keep those rescued safe from reprisal.

And some of them might not even want to go home. Jaxon was hoping they'd be able to accommodate any wishes in that respect, but it was pretty much the least important item on his list of priorities at the moment.

"You really think this is all going to work out?" Nate asked.

"I do. Wish it could've worked a bit better, but I think we'll make it."

Nate didn't reply.

Jaxon sighed, and examined his hands for a moment. Finally, he spoke again.

"You really still think we did the right thing?"

"Damn straight. Can you imagine what it'd be like in that hospital with Lombardi roaming around, trying to stifle them with pillows or shit like that? And they will think more next time before shooting each other. They'll have to."

"Maybe."

They watched the traffic pass. Nate scratched his head a little, rubbed his eye.

"They'll make sure everyone gets home safe," he said.

"They?"

"The good old government. It is an election year, after all, and President Bridges' numbers aren't looking so hot. Fuck, I don't think even this'll save him, but they'll damn well try. I'm tempted to go live with an endorsement for whoever's opposing that fuck. Then maybe we won't have to do all the work ourselves next time. Get someone competent in the big seat."

"Let's just hope you're right," Jaxon said.

And he did. He hoped it would all come out alright, but he wouldn't believe it until everyone was home again, until he saw the headlines and the tearful reunions. Maybe he wouldn't believe it even then. They'd come back for Dodd again, after all. This was the sort of thing you never really left behind. No matter what became of SOTF, Jaxon would always glance behind him at night when he heard a strange noise, would always tense up when he entered a plane or a bus. But it was all worth it. For what they'd managed this time, everything they'd suffered was worth it.

The Tenth AnnouncementEdit

The appropriate calls had been made. The appropriate individuals spoken to.

Some of the conversations had been, to understate it, a little more difficult than the others.

Telling the wife of one of your oldest friends that her husband wasn't going to be coming home... that was difficult.

At the very least, this painfully long game was going to be over soon. Not long left now.

Then? Once it had finished?

Well, then it would be up to Greynolds to pick up the pieces. Analyse things to try and see where it all went wrong.

But right now, the whole project tasted like bitter ashes.

These wounds would take a long time to heal.

Greynolds sighed, rubbing at his temples.

Time to continue.

He keyed the PA system.

~*~

"Greynolds here, again. It's time for roll call.

"First to die was George Leidman, whose neck was snapped by Maxwell Lombardi. Next off, Josie Vernon shot Morgan Leftowitz full of holes.

"Kris Hartmann continued her explosive kick by blasting Sunil Savarkar to pieces, along with a good portion of the dock. Kitty Gittschall shot a hole in Autumn O'Leary's head, then waltzed away. Showing that it's never too late to randomly murder a second person, Ema Ryan killed Ma'afu Tuigamala and then butchered his corpse.

"Maxwell Lombardi killed... wait, no, Maxwell Lombardi was killed by Raidon Naoko, who did a pretty good job of it. The eventual cause of death was the fall from the cliff, though I'd be remiss not to mention that it wasn't that simple. Following the pushing trend, Ericka Bradley shoved Thea Kairos into the tunnels. Not quite a kill, but still a death.

"Kitty Gittschall was torn to pieces by Garry Villette. Then, Alice Boucher was shot in the chest by Julian Avery, who died himself shortly thereafter, from wounds sustained in his earlier tangle with Lombardi. Then, Aston Bennett shot Quincy Jones in the head. And a couple of other places too. Finally, Robert Barron hit upon the genius idea of fucking with his collar, so it fucked with him. Better."

"Since there are less than fifty of you left, it seems a good time to rein things in a little. For the rest of the game, you should stay out of both sides of the Felled Forest, the Northern Cliffs, the Key, the Greens, and the Warehouse.

"Also, the Hall of Mirrors is off limits until tomorrow. Mr. Villette has a prize to pick up there.

"As always, I've got things covered. We'll speak again tomorrow."

The Eleventh AnnouncementEdit

It had been two days since the attack. The base should have been back in order, at least to a major degree. They had sustained a lot of damage, but nothing irreparable. No, the critical damage had been to morale. The fact that the game was proceeding as well as ever did nothing to shatter the pall that had been cast over the base. It was almost as if they'd lost, as if they'd been entirely defeated. In a way, perhaps, they had.

Christina Stockton certainly didn't feel good about things. The loss of some of the students was something she could accept, something that, on some level, she could even come to believe might not be all bad. The identity of the attackers, though, was much, much more worrying. She was one of the members of the AT who could still remember everything that had happened all those years ago, back when she'd been new on the job. Having something out of the past blindside her was not her idea of a good time, especially not on the tail of a grueling mission. Their defeat of the problem causer and their repairs of the cameras all felt pretty damn hollow right now.

She was sitting in the tech room, filling in for the depleted staff, watching endless shots of the island. It was all excruciatingly boring. She'd taken to counting the corpses she recognized from her own sojourn ashore. It was all that was keeping her awake. She almost envied Lourvey. At least redesigning collars involved mental work. For all she knew, though, he found it totally tedious and repetitive.

She didn't realize she was being watched for close to a minute. It was only the subtle shift of shadows as the person standing behind her fidgeted that tipped her off. She turned around slowly, expecting Wilson or Greynolds ready with some new task. Instead, she saw Shamino Warhen, gesturing for her to follow him. She stood and walked out of the room, glancing nervously behind her. The techs pretended to be engrossed in their work. They had lost all curiosity when it came to each others' business. The bloodstains nobody had quite managed to scrub away provided plenty of continuing unpleasantness. There was no need to pile on any more.

In the hall, Christina said straight away, "Did I do something wrong?"

"No," Shamino replied. "You looked like you needed a break to stay sharp. Besides, I have news."

Released from her nervousness, Christina pulled a pack of cigarettes from her pocket, selected one, and lit it.

"What have you been doing?" she asked Shamino. She had barely seen him since the attack, a notable oddity while everyone else was pulling double shifts.

"Intelligence," he said. "Trying to figure out what went wrong, what the fallout is. Lots of time on the phone, connecting with assets. We're pretty sure we've found the general area where they took the missing students."

That elicited a raised eyebrow.

"And?" Christina prompted after a few seconds.

"And nothing. We only have a rough picture, but it's enough. They got them inland, got them guarded, and we're understaffed. If they'd hidden somewhere isolated, maybe. As it is, time to cut our losses. Keeping them watching their backs means keeping them hidden, means keeping our own location quiet."

And that was that. Forget almost thinking it was okay that there were survivors, Christina was mad about this. She also knew that they were making the right call. It would be a total waste of resources to hunt down the rescued students. Besides, what would they do with them? Throw them back into the game, with all the advantages that came with even a day of rest and proper nutrition? Kill them? They couldn't afford to fixate on revenge. As soon as V4 was over, she imagined they were going to have some serious restructuring to do.

For the moment, all that was left was to ride this out, to make sure there were no bugs in the final days of the game. Soon, V4 would be nothing but an unpleasant memory.

"I have to talk with Greynolds now," Shamino said. "Back to the monitors, Domino."

She sighed, flicked her cigarette at a trash can and missed, and turned back to the door into the monitoring room as Shamino stomped it out for her. Nobody commented as she entered and returned to her seat.

--

Greynolds was almost beginning to understand the routine of the announcements. Almost. It all still felt uncomfortable, but at least now in a familiar way. Maybe after V4, things would be different. They would pretty much have to be.

For now, though, there were deaths to read. Quite a number of them, in fact.

"Greynolds here," he said through the speakers all across the island. "Another announcement for whoever's left.

"First off, Celeste Beaumont decided to spend some quality time in a danger zone instead of leaving when I told her to. Bad move.

"Garry Villette was blown up by a grenade fired by Kristina Hartmann. She didn't have time to savor her latest kill, though, since she was stabbed in the back by Kimberly Nguyen.

"Next off, we had quite the serial performance. Rachel Gettys, Neill Robertson, and Nathan Choultard were all shot fatally by Liam Brooks, who was killed in turn by Jason Harris.

"Reiko Ishida opened fire on Joe Rios, killing him. Then, Jimmy Brennan crushed Samya Franklin under a stack of shelves. He also shot her. Overkill, much?

"Jessica Pentangeli couldn't take it anymore, and threw herself off a cliff. Hayley Kelly killed Janet Binachi in a firefight, Madeleine Smith shot Trent Savage, and Aaron Hughes blew away Fiona Sparki. Peter Siu then gunned down Mary-Ann Warren. Notice a trend, survivors: guns are actually fairly useful. It might be something to consider if you plan to continue living.

"Ema Ryan brought an end to a wounded Hayley Kelly. That's the third notable player to die in one day. Finally, Charlotte DuClare eventually died of blood loss due to wounds inflicted by Raidon Naoko, and Teo Weinstock managed to blow himself up with a backfiring stolen gun.

"Since there are only twenty-eight of you left, we're going to have to condense the rest of the game a little bit. As such, you all need to head for the northern section of the island. Everything else will become a permanent danger zone. We'll give you a little extra time, since it's not possible to do that all in ten minutes, but don't lag or you'll lose your head. To be clear, the Coastal Woods, the Mountain, the Fun Fair, the Inland Woods, the Ranger Station, the Southern Cliffs, the Mansion, the Gazebo, the Destroyed Cell Phone Tower, the Mines, the Groundskeeper's Hut, and the Hall of Mirrors are all permanent danger zones. Those traveling between the Swamp and the rest of the island are advised to stick very closely to the Logging Road. Finally, we were impressed enough by Mr. Brennan's performance to replace the weapon he lost. It'll be waiting for you in the Town Center. Everyone else, stay out of there for the day.

"Until tomorrow, then. Keep it safe. Greynolds out."

August Midmonth RollEdit

British Columbia, Canada

It had been a long, long trip. Kwong Lei had been rescued, not by the crews of the boats dispatched to the island, but rather by the group who had launched the attack on the terrorists' headquarters. The event itself was a blur of smoke and gunfire and faraway sounds, all lost in the haze of the drug stupor he had been kept in. He still couldn't figure out why they had kept him alive, unless perhaps they had planned to interrogate him as to the tangential role he had played in affairs.

But now, after two days of secret travel and furtive phone calls and a barrage of friendly yet pointed questions, Mr. Kwong's return to the surviving students had been arranged. It was supposed to be a joyous occasion, a celebration, but for some reason he couldn't quite see it that way. There were so few of them left, and the majority of the names on the roster he had been shown were not ones that he knew. It felt petty and wrong to be upset that his favorites—his math stars and his debate team and the students he personally tutored—had, by and large, not been among those rescued. He felt that he should just be thankful that there were still students, that Bayview Secondary School still had something of a class of 2008. It defied the odds in an exceptional way.

The whole thing still felt very bitter sweet.

The boy who was escorting him now, through the halls of the hospital, seemed nice enough. He had been explaining things, the situation and their hopes and the condition of the students, which varied wildly. Mr. Kwong was only half listening, the part of his mind that focused on debate and rhetoric noting how studiously the boy avoided sharing any concrete information that would not be immediately obvious from a bit of observation. They all seemed wrapped up in their secrecy. He didn't care. After all they had done, anything was acceptable.

They turned a corner, and walked towards another door, at the end. A small wing of the hospital had been reserved for the rescued students, to isolate them from the other patients. While many of the students had recovered enough in the past day or so to at least move around some, some were still bed bound and in varying degrees of discomfort. Besides, that only touched on the physical harm they had received. Mr. Kwong suspected that many of them would still be in therapy years from now. For that matter, so would he.

He reached his hand out, ready to open the door, when footsteps, from behind, at the tempo of a light jog, caught his attention, as well as his guide's. The young man turned, slipping his hand into his pocket faux-casually, but instantly loosened up a bit when he saw that the person coming was one of his allies.

"Hey, Jax," the newcomer said, breathing a little hard and smiling a little too wide. "They seen him yet?"

"Not yet."

"Good. Can he wait a sec?"

"I can wait," Mr. Kwong said. He decided that he would not have liked this boy if not for his role in the rescue; he was far too willing to speak as though Mr. Kwong wasn't even there.

"Great. Jax, over here."

The two of them disappeared down a side hallway, leaving Mr. Kwong standing awkwardly, feeling out of place. He could hear murmurs, but couldn't make out the words. He hoped it was good news, but he doubted it. At this point, he wouldn't be at all surprised if things went wrong, if some hit squad was even now on its way to clean up loose ends. It would just make too much sense for the hope to have been in vain. He shuffled his feet a little, forced himself to straighten up and assume a better, more formal posture, like he was about to lecture his Calculus students again. Whatever was happening, he would face it with dignity. He examined the posters on the walls while he waited, reading and rereading medical trivia he had known for years, just to trick his system into not going into overdrive. SO far, it was working. He wasn't sweating too badly.

But when the men came back around the corner, they were both smiling, and the one who was called Jax said to him, "It looks like we won't just have one piece of good news today."

And from the tone, from the expressions, Mr. Kwong could just about believe, for the first time, that everything truly was going to be alright.

The Twelfth AnnouncementEdit

Saint Paul, Minnesota


Jaxon Jeremiah was sweating as the plane approached the Saint Paul Downtown Airport. The logistics had been a nightmare, the secrecy in question at every turn, the chance of discovery immense, but now they had nearly done it. Every rescued student capable of being moved and willing to return to the United States was in the plane, and they were flying directly into an airport that housed a unit of the National Guard. Arrangements had been made to transfer everyone who still needed medical care to St. Joseph's Hospital. The rest would be free to return to their homes. The media had been apprised of the situation after the plane was already on its approach vector. Jaxon was fairly certain no news group would be able to organize anywhere near quickly enough to catch anyone who didn't want to be interviewed. At the same time, the news was already public enough that if anything happened, it would be a political catastrophe. The government would have to provide adequate security if its members wanted to keep their jobs.

Jaxon was still afraid that the National Guard would shoot them down and claim a technical failure or something of the sort, to spare the US the embarrassment of having been shown up by what was effectively a militia. He was afraid that the terrorists would get someone to gun everyone down as they descended the boarding ramp. He was afraid of many things, few of them plausible.

"Relax. After all we've been through, anything will be better." The speaker was the teacher, Mr. Kwong, whom Jaxon thought of by title even though he hadn't been of school age in years.

"You think?"

"Yes. You've done a good job."

The two of them were sitting at the front of the plane, which was sparsely filled. Jaxon was the only STAR member on-board. Nate had chuckled at the airport in British Columbia, had told Jaxon to enjoy his time as a hero and maybe sell some autographs to help pay for the rescue operation. Jaxon, however, had every intention of vanishing as soon as he'd seen his charges to safety. He was in a dangerous situation, and he knew it very well. He fully expected the National Guard to attempt to debrief him. They would have likely tried the same with the students, were it not for the threat of a scandal should the press catch wind of it. Maybe it would happen to some anyways.

Aside from the students, the only other passengers aboard the plane were a dozen nurses and doctors—who had volunteered to come along to make sure everyone was in passable health—and the actual crew of the plane.

Jaxon looked out the window and yawned to pop his ears as the plane began its final approach. Landings always made him nervous. He expected, on some irrational level, for everything to fall apart, for the plane to slam into the ground and explode in a massive fireball. No such thing occurred, and soon they were coasting. Some of the students were awake, glancing around in excitement or disbelief.

It was almost enough to convince Jaxon that everything really would be alright, that the students would be fine, that their lives hadn't been destroyed completely by this. He had hope, anyways, hope that time and extensive therapy would heal all their wounds. The government would have to help finance any care they required. Anything less would be a public relations disaster.

He wished he could stick around, could see how everything turned out. There was still a terrorist organization that needed to go down, though. STAR's victory had been a blow, but not a fatal one.

"This is your captain speaking," a voice said over the plane's intercom, as they coasted to a stop. "Welcome home."



"Damn."

Christina Stockton was standing in the office Greynolds now occupied, watching a replay of the news, along with Shamino Warhen.

"Succinct as always, Domino," Greynolds said. "You see the problem?"

"Yeah," Christina said. When Greynolds did not reply, she realized that he expected her to prove her understanding, and added, a little nervously, "They're protected now, and in the States, which means we can't touch them. That, of course, means they have no reason to keep our location secret. We have nothing on them now. The marines will be here in an hour."

"No," Greynolds said. "No, we can no longer threaten them. We do have something, though, something the government wants very badly."

He smiled a little. As always, he looked calm and collected, far too young and casual to be the acting head of an international terrorist organization. Even the slight traces of nervous strain that Christina had caught over the past few days seemed to have melted away.

"How does this sound?" Greynolds asked, and pressed a button on his computer. A voice began to speak, heavily distorted by static, but still understandable.

"Hello, citizens of America," the voice began. "In light of recent occurrences, this version of Survival of the Fittest has been temporarily put on hold. It will be called off, and the twelve surviving students returned to you alive, but only if you cooperate completely. If you attack our position, all collars will be detonated immediately. If you attempt to bomb us, anyone you don't kill, we will. If you follow our instructions, however, we will release the students in three weeks time, once we have relocated to a more... hospitable base.

"I know you have reason not to trust us. In the past, our leadership has been less than forthright. Rest assured, however, that there is no duplicitous intent. Should you take aggressive action, however, twelve more dead students will be the least of your worries."

The room was silent for a moment.

"It sounds awful," Shamino said, finally. "They'll never buy it."

"They will," Greynolds said, with an exaggerated wink. "They have to. Losing a chance to save some students themselves will be awful for publicity, and it is, after all, an election year."

"How are we going to keep them satisfied?" Christina asked. "Someone's going to want proof that they're still alive."

"It doesn't matter. In two days at most, we won't have anyone but the winner. The base is half packed already. We'll be gone. For now, though, I've cut the feed. The folks back home won't be getting any updates on their precious kids until three weeks from now. As long as they don't know that we've killed our hostages, they have to assume that they're alive."

Christina considered it. She didn't like it, didn't care one bit for a delay. Since the government had dropped its attempt at passing SOTF off as some sort of television drama, it was not broadcast except through internet feeds and on a couple obscure foreign channels. Some corporations still tried to capitalize on it, pretending to still believe in the government's old story (though Christina couldn't even begin to guess how many of them the terrorists actually controlled), and some sick individuals claimed to be fans of the "show"—proving to Christina exactly why people deserved to suffer through it—but for the most part doing so was social suicide. That said, the more exploitative news channels reported on SOTF and broadcast clips often enough that it could almost pass for a mainstream show. It would be damaging to the organization's reputation to seem to have lost control. She just couldn't see a better way to deal with it, though.

"One question," Shamino said. "Why are we here?"

Greynolds shrugged. "I needed an outside opinion, Richards and Baines are recovering and barely tolerable, and Cecily and Lourvey are otherwise occupied. Sonya and Wilson already agreed. I'm not trusting anyone else until we've had a thorough internal audit. We've had too many surprises lately.

"Now, I need you two to help get everything ready to move. I want everyone on helicopters out of here the second we have a winner."


"Greynolds here," the speakers across the island said. "Congratulations to those of you who are left, that is to say, all twelve of you. That's right: we're down to the absolute wire.

"So, the deaths. Ivan Kuznetsov shot Imraan Al-Hariq. Trying to bookend the game with your acts of violence, Mr. Kuznetsov? Afterwards, Aileen Borden was shot by Aaron Hughes. Ilario Fiametta wasn't one to be left out of the violence, putting a round in Claire Lambert.

"In a sudden burst of sadism, Ema Ryan crushed Meredith Hemmings' throat. Then Alex White was stabbed to death by Jimmy Brennan , but left his killer an explosive—and fatal—surprise. Of course, by that point it was probably redundant, given how much the fight had taken out of both of them.

"Next off, we had a pair of people who just couldn't hold it together. Josie Vernon shot herself, and Jason Harris swam out to sea. Blowing his collar seemed like a waste of effort, so we just let him drown.

"Nick LeMonde was shot by Ema Ryan, then Ericka Bradley gunned down Josée Trembley .

"Ema Ryan entered the charts again, shooting Peter Siu and pausing the shooting to slit Zach Jamis' throat. Points for speed, if not style or caution. Aston Bennett then plugged Saul Fetteralf in the back.

"Aaron Hughes punched a few holes in Erik Laurin . Then, one of our bigger killers, Raidon Naoko, succumbed to wounds taken in the earlier shootout with Ryan. Finally, in an act of utter pointlessness, Rhory Anne Broderick shot herself in the head.

"Since there are only a dozen of you left, we're cutting the playground a bit. Stay away from the Swamp, the Logging Road, the Sawmill, the Lighthouse, and the Parish. The Town Center is clear again, but since Jimmy never showed, we didn't bother even delivering a gun this time. You'll have to make do with what you already have.

"This is the last time I'll talk to all but a handful of you. Good luck, and keep your eyes set on victory."

The Thirteenth AnnouncementEdit

It was time for the final sweep of the buildings that had been home base for the Arthro Taskforce for the past several months. Christina Stockton was walking the halls, keeping an eye out for any stray pieces of paper, any loose notes or files or anything that could even possibly leave clues for the people who would inevitably be here before long to scour the island for evidence of the terrorists' future plans and hideaways.

Of course, that was assuming there were plans for the future. Greynolds had kept very quiet for the past half day, ever since the message was sent out. He'd spent half the time in a closed-doors meeting with Sonia and Wilson. No member of that trio was particularly approachable. Were Carter still alive, Christina might have tried to coax him into sharing some information, but the spy in their ranks had taken that option, along with so many others. It was hard to even say what the organization would look like in a week. With two vacancies high up in the command structure, and with countless other holes, particularly among the techs, things were looking rather grim. Worse, Christina had the feeling that Greynolds didn't particularly care for fronting things entirely on his own. He'd always been a loose cannon, even among the "Big Four". While he certainly had enjoyed a good relationship with Danya, stability and consistency had never seemed to be among his recommending qualities. That he had avoided blowing up so far was a minor miracle.

She sighed as she passed a line of bullet holes in the wall. Even the decorations that some of the terrorists had put up had been removed. They were trying to leave nothing whatsoever behind. Past evacuations had been hurried, but never like this. Even after V3, when they had lost so many people—more, now that she thought about it, than this time—things had seemed better, because the structure had remained intact. They had had everything planned, everything under control. Now, she didn't even know what the status was on the island. The techs had been the first ones moved, on board the big tanker that served as a mobile command post. They were monitoring things from there, crossing their fingers that the game would conclude before anyone decided to call Greynolds' bluff.

Finally, once she had checked every room she was assigned, once she had made doubly sure that there was not a single object left behind, Christina radioed in her success.

"Nice timing, Domino," replied the voice from the other end. "Get back to the group. We're down to five, so it's time to get them together."

Christina picked up her pace, winding for the last time down the corridors of the base. She passed one of the crews wiring it with explosives without a second glance. The final security measures didn't concern her. She'd done her job. She was far more interested in what had occurred back on the island. Last time she had checked, there had been a dozen students left, in extremely varying circumstances. They had a pool going, like always. Christina had ten bucks on the Bennett girl. She seemed to have the right armament and was certainly developing the proper attitude. Christina had asked Shamino for his assessment, and he'd just shrugged and said it was too far out to call. She knew he'd put his money on someone, though. Come payoff, she'd find out.

The betting didn't matter. It was just a way to depersonalize what was happening. The money involved was inconsequential, and all of them knew it was a coping mechanism, a way to make it easier to stomach. That made it all the easier to get caught up in it, though, and Christina absolutely hated to lose.

She stepped outside, into the evening, and saw one of the others waving to her.

"Over here," he called. "It's just starting."



Jim Greynolds sat in the new command room, on the biggest boat in the modest fleet that was currently priming to transport the terrorists away the second the winner's foot hit the deck. Time was of the essence. It was evening, nearly half a day before he was scheduled to address the students, but they didn't have time to wait around. The five remaining survivors were for the large part spread out fairly well. They could take a long, long time to kill each other, or even to narrow it down to four. Besides, there was no hard and fast rule about where to begin the finals. Version Two's last announcement had occurred with five left, too, though the Johnson girl had died before they reached the final arena.

V2 felt so long ago, now. Still, it wasn't time to reminisce. Greynolds picked up the microphone, pressed the button, and began the last listing of deaths for V4.

"Good evening, everyone. Greynolds here. I know it's a little early, but bear with me. It's down to five of you now. Congratulations. You've all made it far. The only question now is, what next?

"But I'm getting ahead of myself. First things first. Here's everyone who didn't quite manage to hold it together:

"Violet Druce learned what friendship truly means when she was gunned down by her former pal, Madeleine Smith. Not too long afterwards, Aaron Hughes killed Aston Bennett. Kudos to Ms. Bennett for figuring out that trusting anyone this late is suicide. No props for whatever happened to her gun, though. Everyone left, you may want to check for jams and make sure the safety's off.

"Madeleine Smith was next to die, shot by Ericka Bradley at just the right time to manage tenth place. Afterwards, ninth-place finisher Ema Ryan taught us all about winning the battle but losing the war. After her little massacre yesterday, she died from blood loss. We're going to assume it was the leg wound inflicted by Saul Fetteralf. Congratulations on striking from beyond the grave, Mr. Fetteralf. At least you got your revenge.

"Aaron Hughes was shotgunned into eighth by Ivan Kuznetsov, but not before he managed to fatally wound Tabitha Gweneth. She died shortly afterwards, at seventh. Tough luck, Mr. Kuznetsov. There were only five left besides you two.

"Finally, in sixth place, Leila Langford managed to walk into a danger zone. Smooth move. Saves us a waste of space in the finals, at least.

"Now, as always, we're going to make sure you all know who you are up against. It seems only fair that everyone walk into this informed. In numerical order, then:

"Ilario Fiametta, you've come a long way, and you've killed a lot of people. The question now is, can you maintain that momentum? With your sisters dead, do you even want to? I can't quite figure you out, but I do expect you to try your hardest. You've got some pretty stiff competition, but that hasn't stopped you yet, has it?

"Moving on, Mr. Ivan Kuznetsov, you just lost everything, didn't you? How are you feeling? You know what they say: time heals all wounds. Can you do what it takes to buy some more for yourself? Last time we had a bereaved lover in the finals, he came out of it intact. Do you have it in you to follow in his footsteps? Of everyone left, you have fewer kills than all but one. Can you bring yourself to even things up a little?

"Reiko Ishida, your name isn't new to these announcements, but you're finally in sight of what you must have been fighting for this whole time. You know you can stomach killing, but can you hold yourself together physically? The past days haven't been easy on you. Keep your chin up, though: you're almost home. I'm sure your sister would be proud.

"Our fourth finalist is our least prolific killer, Ms. Kimberly Nguyen. I have to be honest, after what Hartmann did to you on the first day, I figured you for an early out. You've more than proved your survivability since then, though. The question now is, can you cut it in the big leagues? You'd better hope so, if you want to see tomorrow.

"Finally, our list is rounded off by Ms. Ericka Bradley. Ericka, you've done what you needed to every step of the way. You're armed and steeled, but can you know that you'll win a real fight against competent opponents? It's been a long time since your first kill, when it really was self-defense, hasn't it? Your tactics have been fairly good, but do you think you can beat out the other four, now that they know you're coming?

"We'll find out soon enough. I'll be seeing one of you later, I suspect. Otherwise, this is goodbye. You are all to report to the Town Center as quickly as possible. Once everyone has arrived, every other area will be a permanent danger zone. As a reminder, the Town Center consists of the fountain, the open area around it, and the closest ring of houses. You'll have a little cover, if you want it. You'll know if you step out of bounds because your collar will beep for a few seconds. If that happens, get back before you explode. Nobody, after all, likes an anticlimax.

"Good luck. It's been a pleasure. Greynolds out."

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