The bodies were identified, bagged, and conveyed to a large truck for later disposal. Disposing of bodies was an area in which the members of the cleanup crew had plentiful experience. There were fewer corpses than expected, and that was cause for some concern and haste, but the project went uninterrupted. The closest neighbors were over a kilometer awaySTAR had presumably picked the area in part for its isolationand none of them seemed to take notice of the traffic to the house. Perhaps they were used to odd comings and goings there.
Once everything of value that could be pulled from the building had been, most of the AT sped away. The remaining skeleton crew made a final sweep through the house, now not removing objects but rather placing them. Then, job complete, they too vacated the premises.
Ten hours later, in the middle of the night, the building was engulfed in flame as the timed incendiaries set by the AT activated. Due to the late hour and the distance from centers of population, it was some time before firefighters arrived, and very little could be salvaged. It did not take local authorities long to figure out that the fire had been no ordinary accident, and so the ASIO was called in and the area sealed off.
The press made brief mention of the fire, but no notable details were released, and the story died fairly quicklyafter all, the government was offering little in the way of cooperation, and since it seemed nobody had been hurt in the fire and the only damage had been the consumption of an isolated house officially owned by a foreign firm and allegedly unoccupied, the most interesting thing about it all was the silence from official parties, making it difficult to say much about it.
The Australian government came to suspect that the house had been razed either in the course of foreign espionage or organized crime, but details were scarce. Those parties usually involved in such activities showed no awareness of the incident, and nothing of strategic value was apparent about the location or timing. Stranger still, reports from those who lived nearby pegged those most often seen near the house as a number of men and women in their twenties and thirties, who rarely behaved in troublesome or suspicious fashion.
The investigation remained inconclusive, though privately those closest to it suspected they were dealing with national powers with major resourcesa spat between the Americans and the Russians, perhaps.
He was a couple hundred miles from STAR HQ by now. There was no word as to whether Garnett's fate had been discovered. Grossi doubted it, but he had been surprised, time and again, by the resourcefulness and resilience of his former wards. It was only a matter of time before someone went digging, and then they would come looking for him, no doubt with some very pointed questions. The only thing working in his favor, the only thing buying him time, was his and Garnett's propensity for independent operations with minimal communication. Even that would eventually wear thin, though, and he very much doubted any amount of explaining could get him back into the organization's good graces.
And so, it had come to this. It was another middle of nowhere meeting, and while Grossi knew what was coming this time, he didn't feel any better for it.
He was, after all, here to sell his soul once again.
He slipped out of the car (now more thoroughly cleaned of evidence of his crime), locked it, and moved up the road. The weight of the knife on his belt and Garnett's pistol in his jacket pocket gave him no confidence whatsoever.
Unlike the field where he and Garnett had parted, this was a park, one lush with trees and bushes. As Grossi moved further from the parking lot, he wondered how the area had been so effectively emptied. The only other person within sight was the woman he'd come to meet.
Sonia Nguyen sat at a picnic table, facing away from the table itself, towards the path Grossi was walking. She nodded at him as he approached, then gestured for him to join her on the bench. Grossi held up his hand, deferring.
"Suit yourself," Sonia said.
Grossi's palms were sweating. Even when he had leaned the driver's seat back and closed his eyes, he had found precious little rest. He'd imagined this meeting many times over, played out a thousand different ways it could go, and still he felt unprepared.
"Well?" Sonia asked. She smirked a little as she spoke.
"Well," Grossi said, but his lips and throat were dry so he had to swallow to properly find his voice, "well, what?"
"I'm actually surprised you came," Sonia said.
"You are?" None of the scripts had gone this way. Sonia had, in the course of their conversations, always seemed utterly certain of the inevitability of this conclusion.
"I am. I figured you'd give me what I asked for and then head straight for the border."
"You found me once," Grossi said. "I don't see any point starting off our... renewed relationship... on a bad foot."
"Certainly." Sonia chuckled. "It's already been far more dramatic than I'd hoped."
"Yes," Grossi said, "it has."
He tried not to think of Garnett. He tried not to think of Zach and the others, of how horrified they would be if they knew what he was doing, what he had done. He was trading their safety for his own. He was trading the lives of whatever class the AT next targeted for his own.
He had told Sonia everything. It hadn't been as hard as he'd expected, in the moment, because she'd encouraged him by noting just how much she already knew. She'd promised him, when he was talking to her while still staring at Garnett's makeshift grave, that she'd make sure STAR was neutralized with the minimum force necessary. Destruction of equipment, she'd said, and a cutting off of resources from their sponsors. She'd explained that Tracen had no real interest in revenge, just in keeping things running smoothly. She'd told him things were different in the AT now, more focused and professional. There was no more reign of terror, no more summary executions.
And of course, Grossi hadn't believed all she said. He still didn't. He was prepared, prepared for the inevitable and likely painful interrogation sure to accompany his reintroduction into the ranks. He hoped he could hide his revulsion, but even if he couldn't, the truth was that he was taking the road that seemed most likely to lead to his continued survival and prosperity. He thought it likely his former foes could respect thatit was, he knew from his time with them, what drew so many to the organization in the first place.
"I'm looking forward to seeing how things have changed," Grossi lied. No time like the present to brown-nose a little. Sonia had, after all, sought him outif he could further cultivate her favor, she might be able to shield him from the brunt of the potential fallout. "I've been kicking myself for leaving for years. Only stuck with those kids so long because I didn't think anyone would trust me again."
Sonia nodded, her lips quirking up a hair more.
"I didn't see the car you took in the lot," Grossi said. "Should we take mine to wherever we're leaving from?"
"We're not leaving from anywhere," Sonia said.
She said it like it was just another idle piece of small talk, said it just like she'd said everything to Grossi since she first called him over a week ago, but the words landed like bricks.
"Oh Lucas," she said, perhaps reading the look on his face, "you really have been gone a long time."
"What do you mean?" he said, trying to push what he knew away even as he frantically attempted to come up with alternatives, contingencies, fantasies to get him out of the situation he found himself in or ways he could have dodged it.
"You're a liability," Sonia said. "All you care about is yourself. You sold us out, and then you sold those kids out to us when you thought that could save you. There's no room for that in the AT. Not anymore."
"So why?" Grossi said. He'd thought to perhaps stall and buy time, but found that he wantedno, neededto know the answer as well.
"You had something we wanted," Sonia said. "We got a certain small amount of information from one of your backers who experienced a change of heart. It wasn't much, but it was a start. We would have caught up with all of you eventually, but you represented an opportunity to expedite the process. Brandon's getting caught up in it was an unintended but fortunate coincidence."
"Why risk contacting me?" Grossi said. "If I told the rest, we could've vanished again."
"If you moved, it would offer us further opportunities to gather information and find you, and it would keep you busy when we needed you out of our hair," Sonia said. "Not that any of that really matters to you now."
"You brought Garnett back," Grossi said. He felt like he was pleading not with Sonia but with himself, with reality. He'd thought this through, had grappled with this, had damned himself, and now the shoddy prize he'd been offered was being ripped out of his grasp.
"That was how Victor did things." Sonia waved her hand. "It's why your lot found the success they did. It was stupid and inefficient, a clear recipe for disaster. Nowadays we tie up our loose ends."
And just like that, for the second time in the week, Grossi found himself grabbing the knife from his belt and lunging forward with the intent to kill.
He only made it two of the ten steps that separated him from Sonia. The gunfire came from his left, from behind one of those trees that surrounded the table, and it was mercifully accurate. As Grossi crumpled, he felt like he should feel something more altruistic, some horror at his killing of Garnett, some fear for STAR now that Sonia had showed her true colors, some revulsion with himself and his stupidity and selfishness, but all he found was that same fear that had propelled him so many times in his life, screaming at him one last time to save himself. The last thing he saw was Sonia looking down at him, shrugging.
"I can't believe he came." Christina Stockton stepped from her hiding place and slung the rifle back over her shoulder.
Sonia shrugged. "He was always susceptible to suggestion. It's why he clung to Danya so loyally so quickly, and it's why Garnett had such an easy time turning him. Some of us saw it at the time, but you know how Victor could be with his favorites."
Christina made her way towards Grossi's fallen form, pulling a pistol from her belt and keeping it trained as she kicked the knife from his limp grasp and then patted him down. She recovered a small revolver from the pocket of his jacket, snapped open the cylinder and let the bullets fall to the ground, then tucked it into the hip pocket of her fatigues.
"You think he really gave us good intel?" Christina asked.
"I don't think it matters," Sonia said. "Maybe we're lucky and Wilson and Tracen get what they want. Maybe our trap catches some flies. Maybe we just have another smooth version, and they're down two of their biggest assets."
Christina moved to check Grossi's vitals. When she was satisfied that he wouldn't be getting back up, she stood and gave the all-clear.
"Alright," Sonia said. "Let's get him packed up and move out. There's a lot of work left to do."
They had been living off provisions, and had made no attempt at leaving their hiding spot. Dera had reported a boat she thought might be the AT passing by the day after they holed up, and then again three days later.
They were somewhere in southern France. Much of their equipment had been damaged, destroyed, or abandoned during the evacuationJaxon had ditched most everything besides his weapons almost as soon as the shooting startedso the remnants of the STAR landing squad were subsisting on emergency rations and medicine while trying to figure out what to do.
Part of the problem was that the radio had been silent. There was no telling what had happened, what the situation in the outside world was, who was left. Jordan had made a few attempts at contacting someone else, but had found no luck. They had discussed their options, considered the pros and cons of moving on or staying put.
The biggest problem was they had nowhere to go and no resources to speak of. Nate had reported that they were miles away from anything. They would have to make the trek on footat least, some of them would. Jaxon and Jordan weren't mobile enough to go anywhere.
But now more than a week had passed, and the AT had not found and killed them, and food was running low. And then, right when it seemed critical that they act, the radio finally came to life.
It was Yun Choy from the Intelligence Squad, Yun who had been slightly disappointed to be assigned to handling the V3 survivors but had agreed without too much argument. They all clustered around the radio, around the makeshift cots Jaxon and Jordan lay in, and they listened. When she stopped talking and said she had to sign off, nobody spoke for some time.
What they had learned was this: STAR had not only been lured into an ambush, but had also faced a frontal assault on their headquarters, one which had resulted in the death or capture of Zach and almost everyone else present. This information came through Torrie Taylor, who had been shot at the start of the attack and left for dead by the AT, and had managed to make her way to one of STAR's stashed cars and slip away while all attention was focused on the ongoing fight.
So far as they could tell, all that remained of STAR was Torrie, Yun, Quinn, the V3 survivors, and the remnants of Jaxon's landing squad. Most of STAR's sponsors were refusing to respond to or even acknowledge the survivors, though one sympathetic backer had revealed that word on the street was that the AT had also caught up with both Garnett and Grossi.
"So," Jaxon finally said, when it became clear nobody else would, "I guess that's it."
Jordan groaned. Dera scratched at her head.
"I'm not quite sure I follow," Lulu said.
"We're not getting help," Jaxon said. "We have to figure out what to do now, how to stay safe."
"What we have to figure out," Nate said, "is how we're going to fuck up the people responsible for this."
Nate's goatee had been subsumed by a week's worth of beard growth, leaving him a more rugged but also friendlier appearance, but even that couldn't mask his scowl.
"I don't think so," Jaxon said. "Jordan and I can't walk. We don't even know where the others are. Everyone who's ever helped us is pretending they've never heard of us. Zach is dead."
"So what are you saying?" Nate's tone was cold, dangerous. It was the sort of tone he'd taken seven years ago, when he'd argued so long and hard that killers had to stay, but now there was nobody else to take his side, no string of facts or rationalizations that could sway Jaxon. There was only the truth, no matter how much it hurt.
"I'm saying STAR is done," Jaxon said. "Our best bet now is to find some friendly government and pray they can keep Danya from sending someone to shoot us in our sleep."
"I don't think so, Jaxon," he said. "This isn't over. This isn't even close to done. We've had setbacks before. Half of us died getting off that island. But you know, when things get tough, you don't quit. We don't quit. Not until every one of us is dead.
"When we killed Danya, did they give up and call it a day? Did they say, 'oh, damn, guess we have to stop killing kids now?' They did not. So pardon me if I'm not quite ready to pack it in."
"We have nothing," Jaxon said. "Maybe we can thinkthinkabout restructuring once we're somewhere safe. Only three of us could even walk a mile. You need to be real. We have no chance."
It hurt, to say this out loud. It hurt to acknowledge it, because Jaxon wanted Nate to be right, almost as much as he knew he wasn't. Glancing around, Jaxon could see on the others' faces that they knew it too. Only Nate looked unbroken.
Perhaps he sensed it as well, for when he spoke his voice was free of bluster.
"I'm not giving up," he said. "I'm going to see this through. Anyone who wants to come with me, well, let's go."
Nobody budged. Jordan groaned again. Nate shrugged, and set about filling a pack. Jaxon said nothing as Nate went through their equipment, selecting weapons and electronics, stuffing the pack to overflowing. When he'd finished, Nate looked at the rest and shrugged.
"Have a nice life, I guess," he said. "I hope you're able to live with yourselves." Then he made his way out of the cave, scrambled up the scrubby slope, and disappeared from sight.
"He'll be back," Jaxon said.
The others nodded like they believed it, but when the next morning came and Nate had not returned, Jaxon felt only marginal surprise.
Monica Brown was speaking to Greynolds and Tracen, and even though both already knew most of what she was saying, this felt important. Last time around, her job had been simple: make sure nobody wrecked the game. She'd performed admirably enough to land further responsibilities, with an eye towards ensuring the smooth operation of the program through the somewhat more proactive removal of a longstanding threat.
"STAR's headquarters was razed. Its leadership is dead. Its files are ourssome of them are wrecked, but the techs should be able to pull a good portion and patch a lot together, given some time. Most of STAR's manpower was eliminated in their attempt on the decoy island. The two most prominent defectors among their ranks have been eliminated."
Greynolds smiled. It was always just a little disconcerting when he did that.
"However..." he said, prompting.
"However, there were mistakes. One girl escaped the HQ raid, because someone didn't double check she was dead. Wilson has already handled the discipline, and it may even work in our favor to have a report of the action floating around, but it was sloppy nonetheless.
"Moreover, the organization of the decoy raid was troubled. Part of that is no doubt due to the number and experience of the staff dedicated to itwith the game also occupying attention, things slip through the cracksbut this still led to a group escaping and our loss of a handful of troops on the ground, plus a full helicopter crew.
"Finally, due to some sort of last-second change of plans that our primary sources were unaware of, all the survivors of V3 are unaccounted for. While they do not form the core of STAR's active force, they do represent a certain level of potential embarrassment should they surface."
"Hm," Greynolds said. "Tracen?"
Tracen seemed to think for a moment.
"Good enough," he said.
"It feels... I don't know. I'm glad." They were alone now, Greynolds and Tracen; Monica had departed to take up position monitoring the game once again, an energy drinkthe origins of which Tracen could not figure outalready in hand. The room was largely empty, with a handful of comfortable, padded chairs and a table too small to be rightly called a conference table, despite its use as such.
"Most of the people who had a hand in your father's death are gone now," Greynolds said. "The ones who aren't are on the run."
"The one who pulled the trigger isn't."
The only surprising thing about Dorian's departure from STAR was that they had only just learned of it.
"We could have him tracked down," Greynolds offered.
Tracen waved his hand. "No. No, it's over. Let Dorian cower in whatever hole he's crawled into. The same with the rest of them. There's nothing they can do to us now, so they're more useful alive. This way, they're a warning to others."
"Even the ones who got away?"
It was always hard for Tracen to tell whether Greynolds was testing him, seeking to understand him, or some combination thereof. He wasn't even certain Greynolds himself knew. The questions rarely grated, however, and Greynolds had a special knack for getting right to what Tracen needed to ponder.
"Even them," he said. "Maybe they'll stay in hiding. In that case, nothing has changed. If they resurface, though? All that does is get our name front and center again. What happened in 2007, it was nothing to what happened the next year. A minor blip. We've already proven our system repaired, and like you said, grudges aren't going to help us."
"Get some sleep," he said. "Have to be fresh for your radio program tomorrow."
"As you said, the people who led to my father's death are mostly dead," Tracen said. "I think I'll sleep better than I have in a long time."
Tracen set his mug of coffee down on the side of the desk, next to his notes on the previous day. Gently blowing on the drink to cool it down, re-read the final changes to his script he had made the night before making sure he was happy with what he had chosen to say. He checked the time and took a sip of his coffee before beginning the announcement.
"Good morning children. If you are hearing this, congratulations you have survived yet another day."
After a pause so he could take another sip Danya continued.
"I'm pleased to say that there's a lot of new people who have joined in the festivities today. It's always good to see people finally realizing that there's only one way to get out of this alive. Trust me kids, the longer you wait the worse your chances get so act now or you'll live to regret it."
He took another gulp of his coffee and absentmindedly played with the pen he had brought with him. He was letting the remaining students think about what he had said the more people they had participating the better it looked and the more shocking it was for those watching at home. It didn't matter in the long run though, they would only be left with one when the games ended.
"We have a new entry to kick things off today as Caedyn Miller hit Bridgette Sommerfeld over the head, when this didn't quite work she resorted to stabbing her...a lot. We'll put the messiness down to first time jitters."
"Elsewhere Jennifer Wallace and Leslie Price were both shot by Nancy Kyle who managed to notch up a quick double kill. The rest of you need to put more effort in."
He finished off the coffee and narrowed his eyes at the next time on his list.
"Looks like I have to explain something again to all of you. You aren't leaving this island unless you are the last one standing, trying to escape just gets you killed, if you don't believe me just ask Taranis Behzad. She found out that setting a fire and then beating herself into unconscious in an attempt to remove her collar wasn't the best decision, and then she didn't even have the guts to stick around, instead opting to eliminate herself. I want you all to know I hate quitters kids so don't let me down like Miss Behzad did."
He sat back and gave the remaining children a moment to process what he had told them.
"Back to business, Darius Van Dyke finally shut up after William McKinley put a bullet in his brain. So if you hated him, send your thanks Will's way."
Reading the next name a small chuckle escaped Tracen's lips.
"Time for another health and safety PSA kids. Be careful of rocks in case you trip and fall. They can cause head injuries that lead to your death. Bernadette Thomas found this out when Brendan Harte pushed her over."
"Irene Djezari was too slow on the draw and paid for it when Alvaro Vacanti put a bullet in her."
"Our next murder was a typical crime of passion as Toby Andreasson was stabbed to death by a furious Jeremiah Fury."
"And finally Asha Sur had her throat cut by Isabel Ramirez; meaning we have a two way tie for first place. I look forward to seeing who will make that extra push to snatch first."
"As for the danger zones today I'd advise avoiding the The Staff Housing Block if you like your head."
"Our final piece of business is always our Best Kill Award, this time won by Caedyn Miller, hopefully your reward makes sure that your next attempt at murder goes a little smoother. Your prize will be waiting for you in the Hunting Cabin."
"I'm pleased with how you're all coming along kids. I'll see you again tomorrow."
Weather: The sky has cleared up and the rain has ended but the temperature has continued to fall and now sits around 54 degrees f, 12 degrees C. The wind has also continued to pick up, with strong gusts present all the way across the island. It's five days after the full moon. The fifth announcement will come at 9 AM on May 11.
Of course we need rolls, and here they are for the current cycle:
#1. Junko Kurosawa (KamiKaze)
#2. Maria Cucinotta (Primrosette)
#3. Travis Lynch (Deamon)
#4. Astrid Tate (Pippin)
#5. Lili Williams (CrossbowPig) - Arthur Bernstein (CrossbowPig, Swap card used)
As always, three days for cards...
And then seven for deaths...
- [+] spoiler
- 11 mins ago
Nothing really matters
11 mins ago
Anyone can see
9 mins ago
8 mins ago
Nothing really maaateeerrrs...
3 mins ago
Who wants to die?
Okay now that the rolling list is updated (and copypastad here like so: http://s10.zetaboards.com/SOTF_V2/topic/9002001/1/#new)
Lemme do the test roll
V6 Murder Rolls's icon
V6 Murder Rolls
knghtrook rolled 1 400-sided die: 197
Deamon rolled 1 70-sided die: 57
Got it. I'll roll a 70-sides from now on, obviously.
I roll >: (
Ricky do you want to call out names
I can sit here and eat popcorn
Wow fine Deamon can be the lazy one
And you log, Slam.
2 mins ago
wouldn't that make you the lazy one
Enjoy your popcorn.
Deamon you're a bitch.
dea rolls you name
i write stuff
Here we go:
V6 Murder Rolls's icon
V6 Murder Rolls
Deamon rolled 1 70-sided die: 52
Junko Kurosawa (KamiKaze)
V6 Murder Rolls's icon
V6 Murder Rolls
Deamon rolled 1 70-sided die: 53
Maria Cucinotta (Primrosette)
V6 Murder Rolls's icon
V6 Murder Rolls
Deamon rolled 1 70-sided die: 27
1 min ago
Travis Lynch (Deamon)
V6 Murder Rolls's icon
V6 Murder Rolls
Deamon rolled 1 70-sided die: 41
Astrid Tate (Pippin)
(5 for announcements? Or 6?)
V6 Murder Rolls's icon
V6 Murder Rolls
Deamon rolled 1 70-sided die: 14
Lili Williams (CrossbowPig)
That's a wrap.
Condolences to the damned