The atmosphere at HQ was tense. Everyone was on edge. It wasnt 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 simpleof 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 couldnt 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. Hed spent most of the time since the surprise announcement staring at his monitor, willing a plan to form. It was all logistics. It wasnt 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 hed already come up with a dozen ways to avoid this. That didnt 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
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, hed 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 hadnt 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. Its a problem, but only because we cant send that signal. The bomb still works fine, and shell still blow up if she tries to yank the thing off.
So far, so good.
Now, theres one situation where we dont 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, theres another use. It only comes up once each day, but theres 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 theyd have about three minutes to get clear. Of course, if theyd disabled their collars ability to receive, they wouldnt be able to do that, and...
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 dont think this is going to be mentioned on the announcements. I think anyone clevers 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.
Well 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 islandexcept onegave 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.
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?
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.
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.
(1st section credit: Killer Vole
2nd section credit: storyspoiler)
Apart from the Danya dialogue, the second part was all Spoiler. Thought I'd clarify. Give her hugs.
-- This announcement can be considered to take place on the evening of day four.