They still took the affair seriously, of course. Missing Announcement Day was a great way to end up in dire trouble indeed. A freshman named Spencer had missed it two years ago, after telling some of his friends that he was sure they'd be selected. They hadn't, but nobody had ever seen Spencer again. His family had left town without a word, and rumors about his personal fate still circulated to the present day.
The auditorium was old and slightly too small to comfortably accommodate everyone, so the students were packed tightly, organized by class. They murmured to each other quietly. There were a few soldiers around, but there were always a few soldiers around on Announcement Day; it was all part of how everyone was kept on their toes. A large screen at the end of the room opposite the class was showing nothing, but just when it seemed like boredom might overcome mandated decorum for the more antsy in the class, it snapped to life.
The General's face was familiar to all, grey hair and blue eyes and vaguely-timeless features. He somehow looked even more severe than usual today, however.
"Good morning, America," he began. "This is your General. You have all been through at least one Announcement Day before, so I trust that extended preamble is unnecessary. Today, a class will be chosen to participate in The Program, and one brave citizen will triumph. Our winners have come from many backgrounds and have followed many routes in their service, but one thing is true of each: they are all true American citizens, who passed the greatest test of patriotism ever devised.
"It is fitting that in these trying times, such a test must be greater than ever. This Program will be larger than many of you are likely used to. Do not be discouraged, however. The higher the hurdle, the stronger the opportunity to excel.
"I'll be turning the broadcast over to the officials responsible for officiating this cycle of The Program presently. But first, I will name the school and class selected:
"This Program will be fought by the students of National Summit Academy in Denver, Colorado. The senior grade has been chosen."
As the broadcast cycled to a new figure, a man with jet black hair in a military cut and intense eyes who was so well-built he was like power lifter in a uniform, a further murmuring bubbled up from the students, though this was soon hushed as more soldiers poured into the auditorium from every entrance and exit. Some of the seniors shifted nervously, some teared up, some stood stoically. The underclassmen milled anxiously, casting glances at their less-fortunate elders.
"Good morning, Denver," the new officer onscreen said. "I hope you're all ready. I know I am.
"We'll just go over the basics here, shall we? You're to participate in The Program. A number of you—a number larger than in the past, as our dear General insinuated—will be conveyed to an arena to battle until only one remains. You will be equipped randomly, and will be left to rely on your own wits and talents to see yourselves through. This time, you're bound for a little fishing village in the Southern Territory of Mexico. Isn't that exciting?
"You'll hear from us periodically, with reports on the killers and the deceased. Any insubordination or rebellion will be dealt with harshly. But let's try not to make that necessary, okay?
"As soon as you're called, you are to progress out of the room to the waiting transport. Any resistance will see you eliminated from contention. That means shot where you stand, capiche?
"You'll know I'm done calling when I stop saying names. So, with no further ado, let's get this show on the road.
"Our first contestant this year is..."