"Perk up, man. It's finally happening. You're allowed to be pumped."
The voice of the man sitting next to Jaxon did little to dispel his reverie. Nate was right here, on the same boat now instead of spearheading the other side of the operation. They'd had their ups and downs over the years, Jaxon and Nate, and even though they'd been joking around again like there was nothing between them for a while now, Jaxon felt a little more comfortable having his squad-mate close at hand, and so Rachel was in charge of the second boat. Nate hadn't complainedhadn't even seemed that interested in team distributions. Nate had said that as he saw it, they'd get there before there were any real players and the AT as a whole would go down in flames, so he wasn't going to bother arguing for leaving anyone behind this time. Jaxon felt like there was something else there. There usually was with Nate.
Dane would know what to do. It was another nostalgic thoughta glum thought, a Zach thought, even. Dane had been dead for a long, long time, and when he died he'd been seventeen. He'd had some charisma, some natural ability to pull everything together and get disparate personalities to cooperate cleanly, to get Nate to shut up and play nice. Of course, that had been in one single high pressure situation. Who knew what would have come of Dane if he hadn't stayed to the very last, playing vanguard as the rest of the embryonic STAR got out? Maybe he'd be the troublemaker now.
"I am pumped," Jaxon said, replying a few seconds too late for it to sound at all natural. Nate laughed.
"You're pumped like a flat tire," he said. "Drink some coffee or something. I think we've got an adrenaline syringe around here somewhere if you don't mind getting pricked."
Jaxon waved his hand, trying to look cool and dismissive but feeling like he mostly just came off as edgy and exasperated. He was regretting having Nate on his boat, now, because the man made it much, much harder to keep his composure. He glanced at Nate, and that was a mistake too, because Nate cocked an eyebrow and wrinkled his forehead, and this made him look quite funny indeed, especially combined with the stupid goatee he'd recently cultivated.
"At least you're here," Nate said. "Waiting's gotta just be killing Zach. That's why you never want to become important. You're not allowed to have any fun anymore."
"I don't think anyone's going to have fun today," Jaxon said.
"Speak for yourself. Still wish the assault team would've taken me, though."
Jaxon shrugged, but privately he agreed with Nate. It didn't make much sense to keep one of the loosest cannons in the group aimed at his companions and the people they were supposed to be helping when pointing him in the general direction of the enemy was an option. Then again, Dax and Matt and CeeJay and the rest preferred to keep things on a very tight leash, and it really wouldn't do to have someone going off half-cocked in the most dangerous situations the crew faced.
"I don't really get why squads are even still a thing," Nate continued. "Like, Zach played eenie-meenie-miney-moe when he was trying to figure out how to get us off that island and now whatever we pulled is our job forever?"
"You know it wasn't like that," Jaxon said, and now it was Nate's turn to shrug.
Yes, getting Nate off the Defense Squad should have been a point of focus a long time ago. Just a week or two back, Jaxon had talked to Garnett a little about this, and about some of the other issues he'd been noticing recently, and Garnett had promised to look into them but had then gone and disappeared with Grossi on whatever their secret project of the moment was. That was another thing to add to the list: STAR always had so many balls in the air, and there were still these divisions, these suggestions of less-than-perfect trust. Most of the V3 kids had been shuttled away for their own little part in the proceedings, and while it had been framed in the most positive way, Jaxon knew it was more complicated. It didn't matter to him that they hadn't been there from the startneither had Grossi, and neither had some of the others who'd come into the foldbut there was something about the V3 survivors that had never quite fit. Maybe it was that they'd suffered something far more evolved and complicated than what the rest of STAR had been subjected to. Maybe it was that many of them had struggled to cleanly integrate, fighting their own demons well after most of the rest of STAR had come to terms with its baggage. It didn't really matter. They would play their part, insofar as they wanted to, and then if they wanted out, they'd finally get the chance.
The plan was not simple, but it could be distilled to a handful of basic elements. The Defense Squad, bolstered by members of the Intel and Recon Squads, would land on the island, do its best to stop the violence, and corral the surviving students. The Assault Squad, along with members of the other squads and working off the advice of a handful of specialists STAR had been able to contract, would take out the terrorists' HQ using a large amount of explosive material. Upon receiving confirmation of the destruction of the AT and the rescue of the students, a third branch headed by a couple members of the Intel Squad would distribute this information to the public, at the same time revealing the origins of STAR as victims of an SOTF test run and the survival of a number of students presumed dead after V3. Throughout all of this, Zach and a skeleton crew would hold down base and Garnett and Grossi would do... whatever it was they were doing.
It sounded so easy. They'd gotten information from all the usual sources. STAR had known something was coming for monthsbased on movements of known AT resources, fluctuations in certain market prices, and intelligence from contacts they and their backers had cultivated in the appropriate fieldsand for all the terrorists had learned to cover their tracks at least a little, it was hard to disguise a class of high schoolers vanishing off the face of the earth. STAR had been on standby since March, and so it was a huge relief to finally deploy, but also hard to believe that just seventy-two hours ago they'd all been anxiously waiting for something to happen.
And now, the island was in view. The darkness of the pre-dawn morning made it hard to pick out much, though Jaxon had seen old photographs. The buildings were blocky against the skyline, ugly and grey and predominantly concrete, and Jaxon wondered what this place had once been. A shipping outpost? A scientific station? The information had been incredibly scarcelikely the reason the AT had chosen it.
"Pretty ugly, eh?" Nate said. "I sure wouldn't want to die here."
"You can say that again," Jaxon said, before adding, "but don't."
Nate smirked, and Jaxon turned to look over the rest of the crew. The half dozen faces displayed a range of emotions, most seeming to fall somewhere between his nervousness and Nate's eagerness. One, though, looked positively crestfallen.
"You doing okay, Mateo?" Jaxon knew what the answer would be, but he asked anyways.
"Mostly, but we just lost another." Mateo Greenway nodded at the tablet he was carrying, and Jaxon made his way over to the man, moving slowly to keep his footing against the rocking of the boat. On the screen was a wireframe schematic populated by dots, each one corresponding to a signal that matched the frequencies expected from the collars. Mateo tapped the screen a few times, and the projection rewound. He point out a cluster of three of the dots, one of which winked out a second later.
"Look like someone giving up, or do we have some sickos on our hands?" Nate called.
"I think" Mateo started, but Jaxon cut in, "Can't really say."
"Sure," Nate said. He scratched at his leg, right below his holstered pistol. "Sure."
"Under no circumstances are we going to make any trouble with the students," Jaxon said.
"Of course," Nate replied. "But if anyone opens up on you, and it's you or them, pick you. I don't want to lose anyone."
"They won't shoot at us," Jaxon said.
"Then there's no problem with what I said," Nate retorted.
Jaxon considered firing back, but decided it would just lend credence to Nate's paranoia. Instead, he directed his attention to the others.
"Look sharp, and quiet down now. We're on final approach. We should have the easy job. Remember, if everything goes to plan, we're staying here until the marines or someone turn up to relieve us, but if it doesn't we're doing another smash and run and may have to make it past some patrol boats on the way out. But our big goal is to keep the kids calm and organized. We're just here to help."
It could be one of the sponsors calling to make an offer or a complaint or try to uselessly steer the organization. STAR had its backers, most of them private, many of them loosely trustworthy at best. He expected that, were they all to become aware of each other's identities, half of them would immediately sever all ties with the organization. A good number were either altruistic or nursing hero complexes, and truly were in it to save the children. Some were out for revengeespecially those with connections to some of the international students and institutions targeted in the early days of the program. But of course, among the backers of STAR also numbered those delighted to watch the organization give the United States government a black eye, by accomplishing what officials had so conspicuously failed to do for years. He tried not to lose any sleep over itafter all, they were saving lives, and weapons and equipment didn't pay for themselves, not to mention the costs inherent in housing several dozen otherwise-unemployed people.
The caller could be a member of the organization, in a hurry to tell him something had gone wrong. That wasn't so common these daysthe uncontrolled actions common among the V3 survivors had largely tapered off by now. There weren't many goings-on in STAR that could surprise Grossihe was, if anything, the one keeping secrets. Garnett still gave him grief about it from time to time, told him he should never have orchestrated the logistics for Rizzolo's assassination unilaterally, told him he presumed too much when he was just as new to the organization as those V3 students, talking as if he had been there any longer. It was funny, in a way, how Grossi and Garnett had gotten along more smoothly when they were in the AT together. Maybe it was because Grossi had been in charge, whereas now the shoe had somehow ended up on the other foot. But of course, the studentsno, Zach and the rest, he had to remind himself that they'd not been students for yearsnever heard a whisper of it. That was one place where he and Garnett agreed completely: anything one said in public, the other would back up to the end of the world, no matter how much they might privately disagree later. They had to be a unified front.
The caller could be one of any number of intelligence assets updating him on preparations or, more importantly, letting him know that the switch had been flipped and the game was starting. They all knew it was coming at any moment, but not, Grossi thought, on a Saturday. Still, it could always be something truly unusual, a church group kidnapped or some extracurricular sports trip hijacked. He expected a shift from the senior trip plan; senior trips were barely a thing anymore, thanks to the AT. Still, Grossi doubted the AT could gather a decent number of students on the weekend; all of the contingencies he could come up with would leave them with a miniscule roster, and that would in itself be a major victory for STAR.
All these thoughts that flashed through his head in an instant, however, were dispelled when he answered. The person on the other end of the phone should never have been who it was.
"Hello, Lucas," she said. "It's been a while."
Instinctively, Grossi let his free hand drop to the long knife he'd taken to wearing on the back of his belt. He should have hung up, called Garnett, and had the entire organization piled into jeeps heading into the outback ten minutes later. Maybe if he'd been thinking clearly, that's exactly what he'd've done. Instead, he said, "Oh. Hello. It has."
"How've you been?" Was that actual concern, or a mocking edge?
"Not getting too bored or lonely, hiding out for years on end? But then again, I suppose you get out more than the rest."
"Whyno, how are you calling?" Grossi had by this point pulled himself together enough to let go of his knife and start walking back towards the large isolated house that served as the STAR headquarters, but he was still a mile or so away along largely-empty roads. Still, he let his voice drop to almost a whisper.
"I know things. I always have. It's my job." The woman laughed. "As to why... I have some things you might be very interested to know. A bit of professional courtesy, for a former colleague."
"What makes you think I won't hang up on you and disappear?" Grossi said, realizing as he did that that was in fact exactly what he should do.
"It won't matter to me either way. It would have absolutely no bearing on anything."
"Okay." Grossi had slowed his pace, finally coming to a stop next to a scraggly bush, shaded even from the illumination of the stars. "What do you want to tell me?"
"I'd like to offer you a chance to get out. You were loyal to Danya for a long time. You were trusted for a reason. You threw that away."
"Of course I did," Grossi growled. "How could I sit still while we mur"
"I know you had your reasons. You think this makes you a good person, even though you're now taking money from people with far more blood on their hands than you've ever had. You think you're doing the right thing for the kids you shepherd around, even as you hide them away and deny them any chance at a normal life."
"I'm going to hang up," Grossi said.
"I'm not looking to hurt anybody who's not looking to hurt me, Lucas. And I know you're hurting. You probably miss your family. I know you're not living the high life. And I know you want to protect those in your care. If you work with me, that can happen. Otherwise, well, I reached you. What makes you think others can't?"
"You're operating on your own?" He let the incredulity sound loud and clear.
"For now. This will be a lot bloodier if that changes, Lucas. Neither of us wants that."
He said nothing.
"Now, if you're feeling receptive, I have a proposition..."
They'd slipped the perimeter ships really, really easily. Well, it had been a little more complicated than that, but that was mostly the Intel Squad's doing. They'd managed to pull some strings to get a few ships diverted close to these waters, and just like they'd hoped, the AT had scrambled their guard ships to go chase off some Chinese fishing poachers. This had let the smaller boat with all its lights cut make its way towards the HQ ship.
The AT hadn't used it as their primary base during V4, and that had been a blessing and a curse. It had been a whole lot easier to get going with a largely ground-based attack, but on the other hand they could just blow a big hole in the side of the ship and laugh as it sunk and shoot anyone who tried to evacuate. That was what the C4 and all the Assault Squad guys with guns were for.
With no light and a motor a lot smaller than what the old tanker the AT was using had, they were getting nice and cozy and so far seemed to have passed undetected. So now, all they were waiting on was the signal that the Defense Squad was in position to land on the island and try to stop the killing.
So Matt held his breath and tried counting and glanced back and forth at the others. He wiggled his eyebrows at Dax, trying to get him to crack and laugh, and Dax shot him a glare so fierce he almost started giggling and had to turn and look out at the water instead.
Soon, he'd hear that click over the radio. Soon.
And then, there it was.
As Greynolds spoke, Tracen glanced up from the papers covering his desk. Greynolds stood in front of the small window at the back of the room, silhouetted against the first rays of the rising sun. It was almost time to give the first announcement of the game, and Tracen had been reviewing the notes taken, especially those that came courtesy of the newer recruits. Some of them had a real gift for humor and turn of phrase. He'd been so absorbed in his work that he'd almost forgotten Greynolds' presence in the room.
Of course, truth be told, he was intentionally letting the task distract him from everything else going on. As usual, Greynolds had seen through that.
"It does," Tracen said. "A little, at least. But it's not like I didn't have choices. I'm here because I'm needed here, and I trust that everyone else will do their parts."
Greynolds' head moved slightly as he looked Tracen up and down, and then he stepped to the side of the window, letting Tracen get a better look at his face. Greynolds was smiling, a quiet little smile unlike what he usually wore, but one that Tracen was familiar enough with from days past.
"I'm glad to hear you say that," Greynolds said.
"It's what Victor always struggled with," Greynolds elaborated. "He was a great man, with great ambitions, but part of that was that it was always personal for him, to some extent. He liked to make examples."
Greynolds fell silent for a spell, but Tracen said nothing; he could tell that there was more coming, and this musing on his father was unusual for Greynolds. He knew there had been moments of tension between the twoboth had, at various times, let hints of frustration with each other color their interactions with himbut they had by and large never revealed any specifics.
"We thought he was making a big mistake back in V3," Greynolds said. "That was getting personal in a way that was bad for everyone. Bringing someone back onto the island went totally against our message, and forcing a traitor back into the ranks made no sense. His decisions were not good for morale. Now that you've seen how things here work, I'm sure you can figure out why."
"Yes." Tracen spoke immediately, because it was true. He expected it to feel like a betrayal, like a repudiation of his father, but the simple fact of the matter was that Greynolds' analysis was correct.
"Sonia and Steven and Melvin and I got assigned far from the island during that version, mostly by our request," Greynolds said. "Insistence, really. Sometimes I wonder if that was a mistake. If we'd been closer, maybe things wouldn't have gotten so far out of control. Maybe we could've stopped the snowball before V4."
He shook his head.
"I don't mean to dwell. I guess what I'm saying, Tracen, is that I'm proud of you. You have perspective, and you know when to put what you want aside. There's a reason people follow you."
"Thanks," Tracen said. He turned back to the papers, thinking to prepare for the speech he'd be giving in just a few hours, but now that his thoughts had started to wander, he found them drawn inexorably to an island far away.
Jaxon was carrying a megaphone, an assault rifle, a sidearm, a knife, and some electronic equipment he didn't fully understand that was supposed to at least interfere enough with the collars to stop the AT from blowing them en masse. Mateo had the main gear, trading all armament except a small pistol for a bulky backpack containing a toolbox, a computer, and a large number of cables and adaptors. Nate was decked out similarly to Jaxon, but while Jaxon held his megaphone and left his rifle slung over his back, Nate's primary weapon rested comfortably in his grasp.
The beach was scraggly, covered in rocks and driftwood and trash, and an asphalt road full of potholes led away from it and wound upwards towards one of the first stocky buildings.
"Looks like we've got five of them in there, three more in some sort of shack a couple hundred feet to the side," Mateo said, showing his tablet to Jaxon. Jaxon took a look, noting that the larger concentration was closer to where the light had blinked out earlier.
"Nate, can you grab someone and go check the shack?" he said.
"Sure thing, chief." Nate put extra emphasis on the last word. Jaxon didn't much care for his tone of voice, but then, Nate seemed set on regressing to the exact way he was back in 2008. Whatever. If everything went to plan, this was it. There might well be no more need for STAR after today. Nate could take his resurgent attitude problems somewhere else.
"Mateo, let's head for the big building. Keep an ear out for anything from Rachel. Dera, stay with the boat and be ready to head out hot if we have to."
Dera Sterling gave a nod. The rest of the squad started moving. Jaxon stuck close to Mateo, sneaking glances at the tablet. It looked like most of the island was still asleepsome of the dots were moving, but most of them were stationary. This was another benefit of their timing. If most of the island was unaware of what was going on, STAR would be in a better position to either keep everyone calm and stop any killing or to grab those they could and get out quickly and safely.
"Looks like they've got one guy on guard," Mateo said, pointing to one of the dots marching a perimeter inside the building.
As the group made their way up the hill, Nate peeled off to the side, one of the others in tow. They moved quickly and as quietly as they could, keeping low to the ground. By now, the terrorists would be well aware of what was going on due to the cameras, but they'd similarly have their hands full with the assault on their ship. In any event, they clearly hadn't been able to blow the collars; it seemed that either the gear STAR had was working or the AT wasn't quite willing to give up on the season.
Reaching the door, Jaxon took up position on the hinge side, Mateo behind him. The others moved to cover for him. He watched, and then, at the point where the patrolling student was furthest from the door, Mateo gave a nod.
Jaxon jiggled the handle of the door and then, finding it locked, gave it a hard kick. The door flew open.
"Nobody move," he called. "We're here to help you. Stay calm."
But as one of the others flicked on a flashlight, Jaxon saw that there were no students in the building at all, just four collars strewn across the floor and a fifth attached to a small box on wheels, rolling circles around the room.
No matter how many times Tracen Danya told himself that, it never quite rang fully true. At times, he felt like the child prince scrambling to climb onto the throne of the king.
Some throne, some crown.
Tracen sat, checked the digital clock on the desk one more time, and then hit the button controlling the island's PA system.
A moment later, his voice rang out across the entire area.
"Good morning ladies, gentlemen and those of unspecified gender. If you're hearing this, then congratulations. You're still alive. I'll let that sink in for a moment, because if you can put two and two together, you'll conclude that means some of you aren't."
Tracen took a deep breath. Exhaled.
"So with no further ado, here's the butcher's bill.
"Our first casualty of the festivities was Jennifer Su. Friendly reminder not to play on the edge of bridges, guys.
"Florentina Luz found herself with a second smile when she ran into Isabel Ramirez in a bad mood; let's give a warm round of applause for the first person to bite the bullet and take someone else out."
He didn't try too hard to inject enthusiasm into his voice. The very first killer? That had enough impact all on its own.
"Up next, Nancy Kyle took it upon herself to take an axe to Scarlett McAfee. Ten points for guessing what happens when hatchet meets human body.
"If you ever wondered who would be a bad person to run into in a dark room, well, you have your answer in Kimiko Kao. You have Cristóbal Morales to thank for making that discovery for all of you. I'll pass his corpse your regards."
Mostly, it was a matter of pushing the right buttons. Tracen's opinion on what he was saying didn't really matter. He wondered, sometimes, if that was the same rationale behind his father's theatrics when he'd sat in this chair. He hoped so.
"Speaking of playing around in high places, Barry Banks stepped a little too close to the edge and Alvaro Vacanti gave him a helping hand over it. Whoops.
"Abigail Floyd was our next to die. She opted out by slashing her wrists, making it just that little bit easier for all the rest of you.
"In a fun little turn of events, Conrad Harrod got twitchy and in short order Harold Porter got opened up. Harold didn't hold on for much longer than that, and bled out. However, I suppose he can take some posthumous consolation from the fact that Isabel Ramirez guaranteed Conrad didn't outlive him by much. Two for two for Miss Ramirez."
It sounded good, for their purposes, to root for someone who was doing it 'right'. What mattered was that it sounded good.
"Alex Tarquin got on the board when he went Rambo and slashed a piece out of Rea Adams. Nice form, Mr Tarquin.
"Lastly, we lost Joshua Bracewell - more swordplay on the menu from Cochise High after Jasmine Reed impaled him through the shoulder. If I'd known we were in for a fencing display, I might have just assigned a sword to every one of you."
How many of them, Tracen wondered, would hear that and curse his name, threaten his life and limb and everything in between?
He'd find out soon enough.
"You'll want to listen close to this next part, everyone. For the next twenty-four hours, the Supply Depot will be considered a danger zone, meaning anyone in there will have their collars blown. You have ten minutes from the end of this announcement to leave.
"Last, but by no means least, the guys in the office were a big fan of Kimiko Kao out there and are pleased to announce her as the very first winner of the V6 Best Kill Award. Come along to the Helipad to collect your well-earned prize."
Tracen tapped his fingers on the desk.
"See you all tomorrow, kids. Try not to die until then."
He hit the button again, pushed back from the desk, the chair scraping along the floorboards, let out a ragged breath.
Long live the king.
Finally, no announcement is complete without rolls, and here are the rolls for this cycle:
1. Rene Wolfe (Aura) - Mitch Settles (Brubaker, Hero Card used)
2. Amanda Tan (Randomness) - Jane Madison (Rorick Skyve, hero Cad used)
3. Jaime Schanbacher (decoy73) - Sabrina Luz (decoy73, Swap Card used)
4. Kiziah Saraki (General Goose) - Bradley Floyd (General Goose, Swap Card used)
5. Alvaro Vacanti (Yugikun) - Jasmine King (Yugikun, Swap Card used)
As always, three days for cards and danger zones and a further seven for deaths. Please remember all the rules summarized last time, and particularly to not PM anyone for death rights unless they explicitly request such PMs in this thread.
- [+] Spoiler
Here we go.
V6 Murder Rolls's icon
V6 Murder Rolls
knghtrook rolled 1 97-sided die: 29
Rene Wolfe (Aura)
2. //roll-dice 1-sides 97
V6 Murder Rolls's icon
V6 Murder Rolls
knghtrook rolled 1 97-sided die: 95
2 mins ago
Amanda Tan (Randomness)
V6 Murder Rolls's icon
V6 Murder Rolls
knghtrook rolled 1 97-sided die: 10
Jaime Schanbacher (decoy73)
V6 Murder Rolls's icon
V6 Murder Rolls
knghtrook rolled 1 97-sided die: 95
knghtrook rolled 1 97-sided die: 36
Bart Cappotelli (Aura)
Aura's been rolled
V6 Murder Rolls's icon
V6 Murder Rolls
knghtrook rolled 1 97-sided die: 41
Kiziah Saraki (General Goose)
1 min ago
V6 Murder Rolls's icon
V6 Murder Rolls
knghtrook rolled 1 97-sided die: 64
Alvaro Vacanti (Yugikun)
Five dead kids
Ah ah ah