Lauren dropped the paper on the ground. No no no no no! If there were cameras in the room that would look suspicious, would defeat the whole purpose of...
But then, if she didn't pick it up right now. If she didn't seem to notice.
She ignored it, and began to search the room again. A moment's search, and she found a pen, cap still intact. She took a moment to scribble atop the paper to make sure there was still ink, then replaced the cap. This would be for later, when she'd worn down her pencils. For now...
She took another cursory glance around the room. She couldn't see any cameras, but that didn't mean they weren't there. You could make small-ass cameras, she knew that much. However, it was impractical to think a terrorist organizations would waste their entire budget on miniature cameras they could constantly monitor. This was a major operation, and she did not underestimate the people who'd put it into effect, but they were still people. They weren't a large operation, or they'd be much easier to find. They were powerful. They were intelligent. They were thorough. But they were neither omnipotent nor omniscient.
The real danger, however, was how in the dark she was. She couldn't know where they'd set up cameras. She couldn't know how good their monitoring equipment was. And she couldn't know when she'd garner their attention.
So. How was she to beat them?
The first thing was to defeat the collars. She had a handful of ideas on that front, but nothing she could be sure was viable. The collars were micced, and they allowed the kids to be tracked and controlled. The whole game hinged on them, so she needed to find a way to get around them.
Maybe Lauren had known? Unlikelyif she was, she was playing her hand even closer to the chest than Karen was, and Karen doubted anyone could be that paranoid. So she needed to find someone with technical expertise, and she needed to do it fast.
She'd have to develop a persona. Be constantly, nervously writing notes, so that when she passed them along to others it didn't look like part of a larger strategy. The idea of passing letters along to others would suffice for first contact purposes, but it would get more complicated afterwards. If she could guarantee first contact (and she thought she could) and get away from the cameras, she could fake a conversation while passing notes. But that requires the creation of a safe zone...
She was also worried because any cursory look at Karen Idel would reveal her to be strategically-minded. Their intel on the students had to be superficial at best, whatever they could glean from a cursory look. If they had the resources to monitor them more closely, she was already fighting a losing battle. But such close monitoring of a large group would surely have been noticed.
Of course, even a cursory look at Karen Idel would reveal too much. Her physical therapist and the school counselor might have kept records, after all, enough to develop a thorough psych profile. And even if they hadn't, Karen was known for being into strategy.
She had the map they'd given her out on the desk, and was studying it, hoping to find some hint, some clue, some idea of what to do next. And as she looked at it, she began to grow more and more afraid that they would realize what she was doing, and her chest got tigther and tighter and...
Wait. That was it. Develop the persona.
Oh God, she whispered, tears dripping from her face and onto the journal. Oh God oh God there has to be somewhere safe has to has to has to... She pawed at the map feverishly. Somewhere safe somewhere safe...
Any cameras on her would record desperation and fear. Good. She wanted them to see that. She wanted them to think she was just another frightened student. And while she was afraid, she wasn't going to die easily, and she wasn't going to hide.
Because what she was really looking for was her counterattack. A way to challenge them. If she couldn't beat the collars this was all moot, but she had to know her limitations and the hardware on which these collars operated was among them. But planning how to do it? How to make their attempt appear innocuous enough to get by anyone who might be watching them, and then what to do when they did
beat these collars? That she could do.
So. How to proceed.
First off, she'd need to assemble a team, and she'd need to do it quickly. Good weapons would be superb, but she was less concerned with weapons and more with expertise. She needed a team who could improvise, and who could think. She needed someone familiar enough with technology to possibly beat these collars. And she needed someone other people would follow.
No one would follow Karen Idel. She understood this implicitly. It didn't matter how smart she was. The only people who would willingly obey her commands were computer constructs. But if she could find the right leadersomeone smart enough to recognize her wisdom and charismatic enough to command the respect of othershe could start putting together a proper army.
Beating the collars would be gruesome work, too, because the only safe way to do it was to experiment on a) the collars of corpses (if those didn't blow as part of a safety precaution) or b) the collars of people deemed expendable. They'd need to be hard and ruthless to get this done, because they were up against terrible enemies.
And they'd need to do it secretly, and with maximum misdirection. When the collars were first broken, it had to look like the kids were dyingby tampering with their collars or getting shot or something. It had to be as secretive as possible. Because the moment the terrorists realized that kids were loose, they would do everything in their power to destroy them. Deploying their own soldiers, however good they were. Blowing the collars of any students they approached. When the collars were beaten, this would stop being a sick game and become a full-fledged war between the powerful and the powerless.
Once misdirection had been used to its fullest potential, however, there would be a need to discard any pretension of it, and retreat, destroying all visible cameras along the way. And based on a cursory inspection (and what she knew of nuclear safety), she suspected this former reactor might provide an ideal fortress for an undermanned and underarmed guerilla force.
So. Beat the collars, through secrecy and technical expertise and cold-hearted ruthlessness. Do as much damage as possible before the enemy caught on. And then retreat, and hope to find a way to escape. Because once the collars were gone, it would be a grim battle between two forces with finite resources, racing against the clockthe terrorists to kill the students, the students to survive and wait for a rescue that had to come.
And that was it.
She closed her journal, with all the notes she'd made inside. She folded up the map, and put in her bag along with most of the pencils. She slipped one pencil and one pen into the journal, which she kept out. Then she took a deep, teary breath.
Safe, she whispered, stumbling away. She stopped and stared at the note on the ground, then sank to her knees. "Noooo!" she moaned, picking it up with shaking hands. "N-no. M-m-mom. D-dad. I'm sorry. I wanted to..." She lifted her eyes. "FUCK YOU, LAUREN!" she howled. "Y-y-you're s-supposed to s-s-survive and...!"
She broke down in sobs that were only half-fake, because by god this plan was dangerous and she could die at any moment and the truth was that she probably wasn't going to survive even if the plan worked because she wasn't strong and she was unarmed and a thousand other things...!
Sobs turned to sniffles. She slipped the note into her pocket, still sniffling, and got to her feet, slinging the bag over her shoulder. So heavy. God she ached. But...
But she had pencils, and paper, and a plan. She might not survive, but that didn't mean they were going to win.
Not a single god damn safe place, but I'll make one and I'll beat you, even if it kills me.
She stumbled back out onto the island.
(Karen Idel advancing on to Level 3