So as the figures closed in, he raised his rifle, pointed it, and squeezed the trigger. He knew immediately that none of his shots had connected; the first few were in the general direction of his enemies, but the kick from the rifle was strong and right now he was not. He tilted over, his bullets going mostly into the ground a good twenty feet from his targets, and almost toppled.
It was enough to get them to slow down and bring their guns up again, though. That sealed it, then. Jaxon wanted to close his eyes, but didn't let himself.
Before any of his foes could return fire, however, shots broke out from another angle. One of the terrorists yelped and stumbled backwards, clutching at his chest, and then something landed near them and they were all scrambling away, ducking for cover. A second later, there was an explosion, kicking up a cloud of dirt and grass and gravel, some of which pattered against Jaxon's face and chest. He blinked against the afterimage of the flash, looked around for his savior, and there he was: Nate running along the side of the fence, alive after all and en route to the pickup point himself.
"Come on," Nate said, barely slowing his stride to scoop Jaxon up under the armpits. The fence shook as the AT fired at them through it, but the shots went wide, and Nate pulled Jaxon along bodily, towards the slope. The rough handling, however, tore at Jaxon's wounds, cutting through some of the adrenaline fog he'd cultivated, and he screamed.
"Move," Nate hissed, tugging at him, and when Jaxon tried to slow his pace and favor his injured leg, Nate half-pulled-half-shoved him onwards. They made their way down the hill at altogether too fast a pace, and Jaxon stumbled about fifteen feet from the bottom. This apparently caught Nate by surprise, as the boy failed to support him, and Jaxon tumbled down the remainder of the slope, covering his head as best he could. Nate swore and chased after him, and everything was a flurry of activity during which Jaxon blacked out for a moment.
When next he returned to awareness, Nate and Mateo were dragging him to his feet. There was gunfire again, coming down from above, but with the support of the others he was able to hobble towards the boat. Nate leapt up and then helped drag Jaxon onboard, with Mateo pushing from below.
"Hold on," Dera shouted, and then the boat was moving, peeling away from the island. Nate moved to Jaxon's side, digging through a first aid kit, while Lulu attended to Mateo. Jaxon could see Jordan lying towards one side of the boat, groaning and clutching at bandages.
"How's everyone else?" Jaxon asked.
"Not good," Mateo said. "The Assault Squad's under fire. Still nothing from Rachel. I think she's gone."
"Get me the radio," Jaxon said, then hissed as Nate tugged at the fabric around the wound in his side.
The radio was passed his way, and after a few moments of fumbling with it, Jaxon was able to get it tuned as he wanted.
"Anyone out there?" he said.
"This is Dax. We're here," came the reply, barely audible over the crackle of gunfire near and far. "Don't know how long for, though. And HQ just stopped responding."
"Not sure if something went bad there or if they just cut us off somehow. Sort of occupied by the helicopter."
Nate did something that shot a stab of pain through Jaxon, but the conversation was actually helping a little, giving him enough horrible material to focus on that his wounds seemed a distant secondary concern.
"No sign of anything like that over here," he said.
In fact, pursuit after the initial launch had been negligible, and that made Jaxon uneasy. There had to be more boats out therewhatever had gone after Rachel, for oneso where were they all?
"Well, they'll probably be back your way after they're done here," Dax said.
And that elucidated things a bit. The AT weren't going all out because they didn't have to. They'd already gotten almost everything they wanted, and now they could mop up at their leisure. Where could Jaxon and the rest hide from a helicopter? Where could they hide in general? Somehow, everything had been thoroughly compromised. If HQ was in trouble, then there was a good chance that even if STAR made it to their extraction point, they'd just find more terrorists there waiting for them.
"Well," Jaxon said, "I guess that's it. I thought we had them this time."
Nate squeezed down, and Jaxon gasped and almost dropped the radio. He turned to see what it was that Nate was doing, but couldn't tell; it looked like the other boy had actually finished dressing Jaxon's wounds.
There was some muted discussion from Dax's end, something Jaxon couldn't make out. When the other man's voice cut in, though, he sounded much more cheerful than Jaxon felt.
"Well, you make a run for it as best you can. Stay clear, stay cool, do what you can. We'll keep them as distracted as possible, waste their time for you, and then try to get out ourselves. Stay safe. I'll see you around."
Jaxon could tell something was up, but he was too scared and tired to parse it, so instead he just said, "Right. See you."
The relative silence of the boat's motor humming and the waves lapping against its sides returned, broken only occasionally by the moans of the wounded. Jaxon imagined he could hear the whir of the helicopter off on the other side of the island, but it was probably just fancy.
"What do we do now?" he said, to nobody in particular.
"We get out," Nate replied. "What else can we do?"
It had been quick. Too quick. That was what he told himself. He'd made his decision, and he'd decided to look out for himself, and when he'd been threatened he had responded as he'd been trained. It was instinct, muscle memory. It had to be.
He'd killed his friend. All those years with STAR, all those years first working for and then opposing the game, and it was only now that he was starting to understand what its victims went through. Some distant, intellectual part of him found that intriguing and almost humorous.
He'd run through a lot of emotions and thoughts in the half hour since he'd lunged. He'd replayed the scene, again and again, trying to imagine a different ending. In the end, Garnett had never even pulled the trigger. It had been a quick tussle, the two of them grappling for the knife, but Grossi had brought momentum and surprise and after he first made contact everything else had been blurred and quick.
Garnett lay slumped against the side of the car. His gun was now in Grossi's pocket. Grossi had, for the briefest moment, mulled over turning it on himself, but that was absurdthat would make everything he'd done a waste, would make him not merely selfish but evil maybe.
But what, he wondered as he wiped at his legs again, could the future possibly hold for him?
He couldn't go back to STAR. He could absolutely not look Zach and the others in their eyes and tell them what he'd done. He couldn't even lie to them. Sure, maybe he could attempt to spin the exact same story Garnett had planned to, but he felt like maintaining that facade for years would require a level of devotion and detachment bordering on the sociopathic. That had never been him.
So what would he do? Wipe the smear of blood off the side of the car and drive? Where? What was left for him? He'd thrown it all away in an instantno, it had been taken from him, taken by Garnett, by his overreaction. All Grossi had been doing was trying to save whoever he could, to find the best resolution, to gather information. Was he to be damned for that?
His sobbing had subsided, and now he clenched his hands and smacked his fists into the sides of his leg. The field was quiet and still. The sun was high. The back of his neck was probably burning. He'd dropped the knife somewhere as he stumbled away, and now it was lost in the vegetation.
Grossi turned his face upwards, looking to the sky, but no answers came. All he could think of, now, was that he was so much like those kids on that island. And what had they done, seven years ago, with those who had made mistakes, who had passed some point of no return? They had damned them, condemned them to death. Nobody on the exclusion list had left the island alive.
So that was it. He was, in his way, the equivalent of a "player" now. So much for his attempts to be a good person. So much for trying to turn himself around, to make his mother proud. It had fallen apart, and now he was guilty of murder, out in the middle of nowhere with a car and the body of one of his best friends. If he got caught by the authorities, there would be troublehe'd be imprisoned at best. Maybe someone in STAR would come for him out of revenge, make him the new Rizzolo.
But if there was truly no going back, if he'd been forsaken by or forsaken all he'd built his life around for these past years, there was still one person who might be able to save him, one person he could turn to, who might yet offer him an out and give him some future, no matter how pathetic and bleak. He first thought of it only as a distant option, a vague possibility, a thought experiment. It was, in a way, her fault that he was in this situation. And yet...
He let these thoughts distract him as he pulled Garnett into the field and loosely covered him with uprooted shrubs and grass. He let it occupy him as he took handfuls of dirt and scraped at the blood on the side of the car, smudging and covering it. He let it carry him as he shakily returned to Garnett's side and searched his pockets for the car keys.
By the time he dialed, it all seemed inevitable.
He got a response on the first ring.
"Sonia," he said, "I need your help. I'll do what you want, but I need your help."
The first punch caught Zach in the gut, and he stumbled back a step and dropped the gun. The second connected with his jaw, clacking his teeth together and sending a surge of pain through him not only from the impact but also from a corner of his tongue getting mashed between his teeth. He barely realized he was spinning into the dirt until he landed there, coughing and spitting a gob of bloody saliva.
"Don't move," the surviving AT member called, somewhat redundantly. As he spoke, the other terrorists, the ones who had been pursuing Zach and Ki and Yu, came charging around the corner behind them, weapons leveled. Zach saw Ki glance from the newcomers to Wilson and his companion to Zach's position in the dirt. Zach gave his head a slight jerk. Ki nodded, lowered his hands, let his gun drop to the ground.
Zach's vaguely positive feelings about being near some sort of action had now entirely dissipated. His stomach and jaw were aching, his vision still slightly blurred, and as he pushed himself to a kneeling position, the slowness and care of his motion was from more than just a desire to avoid spooking the people training guns on him.
"Steven Wilson," Zach said, then paused to spit more blood into the dirt to his left. "I'm flattered."
"Don't be," Wilson said. The man had taken a step or two back and was standing at ease, but Zach could sense the energy and readiness about him. "I'm just here to make sure this is done right."
"Still. I never saw Danya on the ground," Zach said. His heart was racinghe knew this because of the throbbing in his jaw which beat in time. Ki had backed up a step, further away from Wilson but closer to the people who'd been chasing them.
"I'm not Danya," Wilson said. He didn't elaborate.
"Well, I'm glad about that." Zach took a deep breath to center himself. He'd been hit before. He'd been in danger before. There was probably no way out of thisnot a clean one, at least. He and Ki were caught, and the only question remaining was what would happen to them.
He assumed they weren't going to be killed on the spot; they were, after all, still alive. That meant that the AT had something else in mind for them. Maybe they'd be dragged off and tortured or interrogated. Maybe they'd be tossed onto the island, in some sort of grand statement about the futility of resistance. There was a chancea chance so small as to almost make musing on it uselessthat they'd be kept alive as a bargaining chip of some kind. It had happened beforeSTAR had rescued that teacher back in 2008but since then all intel suggested the AT disposed quickly and quietly of extraneous captives.
"I'm a little surprised to find you running," Wilson said. While his face was mostly impassive, his hands were still held in tight fists. This both perplexed Zach and gave him hope; if he could get under Wilson's skin, maybe there was still a chance.
"I wasn't exactly going to win a fight," Zach said.
"No," Wilson said. "You weren't. None of you."
"What's happening to everyone else?" That was Ki speaking, breaking into the conversation and snapping Zach back to full awareness of his situation. His flicker of optimism died. It didn't matter if he could goad Steven Wilson into slipping up in some fashion. There were still half a dozen guns pointed at them.
"All dead by now," Wilson said.
The blunt, casual nature of the reply caught Zach off guard, and he closed his eyes tight, squeezed them until the pain and pounding almost overwhelmed him, just to push away the thoughts of the faces, of Dax and Rachel, Yu and Jaxon. Of Torrie.
"Not easy, is it?"
Wilson's voice was exactly the same, the statement another blunt and curt one, but it didn't read to Zach as mockery or knife-twistingnot principally, at least. Zach noticed Wilson glance over at the fallen AT member right after he spoke. The man Zach had shot was now being checked by his uninjured comrade.
"You'd know, I suppose," Zach said. He knew bits and pieces of the stories of many of the prominent members of the AT, Wilson among them. Wilson was unusual in that there was no clear reason for him to have fallen in with the terrorists. He wasn't pinned to the wall, wasn't desperate, wasn't, so far as STAR's intelligence had been able to discern, particularly psychotic or delusional. They were pretty sure he had a very successful military career behind him.
"I do," Wilson said. "You've been responsible for your share of it."
"You have to fight for what you believe in," Zach said. Next to him, Ki started moving slightly, but the rustling of one of the terrorists shifting his rifle stilled the man.
"I don't suppose someone like you might have a change of heart," Zach said. "All of you. You really think killing high school kids is worth risking your lives for? Being hunted around the world?"
"It is." Wilson spoke quietly. "You think we'd do thisdedicate all this time and energy to this project, see so many people die over itif there wasn't some meaning behind it?"
"I don't understand," Zach said.
"You wouldn't be able to."
Zach didn't have anything to say to that. All was quiet, except for a faint rustle of wind, or perhaps it was cars on the road far away. Ki looked tense and anxious. Zach knew he wanted to do something, take some action. It was an urge he understood completely.
Zach took a breath and came to a decision.
"So what now?" he said.
"What now?" Zach got the impression Wilson was peering at him, even though the sunglasses prevented him from meeting the man's gaze. "What now is we're here, and there doesn't seem to be much room for you to maneuver."
"Obviously." Zach pulled himself up to a crouch, swallowed the welling blood instead of spitting, then stood as straight and tall as he could. He'd never had bad posture, but now he tried to keep his back ramrod stiff. "Which leaves what happens now largely in your court."
"Well," Wilson said, "I guess that means we're going on a trip together."
"I don't know about that." Zach was pulling away, distancing from himself, trying to reclaim that almost euphoric sense of purpose, to push any musings on Wilson far, far away. Normally, he told himself there would be time for such things later, but just now he wasn't very sure of that. "I don't much fancy being dragged back as Danya's prize. I'm sure that wouldn't end well for me."
"Probably not," Wilson admitted.
"What might happen"and despite Zach's surety he swallowed here"if I told you I wasn't going to come along nicely?"
Ki inhaled sharply. Wilson raised an eyebrow.
"You'd probably get knocked out," he said. "I'm not really much for shooting unarmed prisoners."
"How about you toss me a gun?"
Wilson lowered his head just enough to lock eyes with Zach, peering over his sunglasses for the first time. Then he kicked the pistol towards Zach with the toe of his boot.
The time the pistol took to slide towards him through the dirt was perhaps a second, but in it Zach weighed his options, realized that he was being given a choice, and accepted the inevitability of the forgone conclusion. He dived forward, scrambled for the gun, scooped it up and turned towards Wilson, and before he could fire a shot Wilson drew his own pistol and shot Zach twice in the chest and once in the head.
In the split second before that last bullet hit, as beside him Ki turned and lunged at one of the terrorists behind them even as the man opened fire as well, Zach was torn by rage and hate, by the burning knowledge that he was right and they were wrong, but worst of all by the slightest stirrings of gratitude for the way it was all cut mercifully short.
The helicopter's first pass was the most tense. It came in low, quick still, skimming right overhead. The wind from the rotors kicked up a spray around the boat and nearly ripped their makeshift flag off its pole. Matt crouched low, half expecting them to be immediately blown out of the water, but the bullets didn't come. That was good. Whatever happened now, no matter whether anything they tried succeeded or failed, they were buying more time for Jaxon and the rest to get away. That was a pretty sad consolation prize given how everyone else was pretty much dead or captured and they hadn't blown up the AT's headquarters or saved even one student, but you took what you could get, and Matt and Dax and the rest had it in mind to grab just a little more if they could manage.
Matt wondered what the terrorists' stance on the Geneva Convention was. They probably didn't follow it particularly well, and Matt really only knew the basics of it anyways. He was pretty sure that months of torture culminating in cutting someone's eye out and forcibly reconscripting them was a no-no, though. Or did the rules not apply to Garnett, since he was technically a defector from the AT's own forces?
Really, though, Danya Jr. was probably rubbing his not-yet-fat-but-Matt-could-pretend hands together and getting off imagining throwing them all into collars. He was probably wondering how their lofty ideals would hold up, whether they'd all sit and wait to die or whether one would crack and start the whole inevitable process just like some teenager always did.
And after all, it wouldn't be easy to say. Test Run Eight had been different. They hadn't been forced to fight each othernot exactly, at least. They'd been thrown against members of the AT, though in the chaos and confusion plenty of students had hurt each other too, many thinking that they might somehow find escape or acceptance by doing so. Matt remembered one night, when Jaxon had had an uncharacteristic number of drinks and had mumbled that he'd almost shot Zach when he first saw him. He said he'd been scared, and he'd had this crazy idea that the AT would take him into their ranks if he just started playing on their side. He said he'd been scared to die, but at the last second he'd figured out there was something else that scared him more, and then he'd been quiet, and Matt had never brought it up to him again and sort of wanted to call him and say something about it now, but it was too late and besides he didn't know how to phrase it.
The helicopter spun around again. Matt looked to Dax and was about to waggle his eyebrows again, this time to keep the fear down for both of them, but Dax was leaning over someone who looked pretty dead so Matt just swallowed instead. There was no point trying to help anyone injured on the boat at this stage. They both knew that, but maybe this was how Dax helped himself feel better just like making funny faces kept Matt calm.
The third time the helicopter came around, it moved slowly, eventually hovering right above and to the left of the boat. A spotlight came on, and Matt raised his hand to his eyes, trying to block the blinding glare.
"Drop any weapons you're holding," came a voice, amplified by a megaphone or speaker or something. Matt wasn't holding any weapons, but he heard a clatter behind him, so someone else must've been.
"We can take anyone injured off first." There was that amplified voice again. Matt could faintly see three people standing in the bay of the helicopter, one manning the spotlight, one holding a device to its face, and one pointing a gun. The shapes were indistinct; aside from the glare making it hard to make out details, he was pretty sure they were wearing helmets. Their genders were indiscernible via voice or sight. He imagined one or two more were lurking out of sight, plus the pilot.
"You need to come closer," Matt yelled. "We've got some pretty hurt people."
They probably couldn't hear him over the rotors, he realized, so he waved at them, gesturing them closer. As he did, his heart started pounding.
He'd thought it was a mix of Christmas and a birthday, and then the first day of school, but he'd been wrong on all accounts. He'd been trying to keep what was happening out of his mind, to push away the endgame here, but the truth was this was definitely Thanksgiving: a bunch of people who didn't like each other forced into proximity and made to suffer together.
As the helicopter scooted that little bit closer, Matt turned and looked at Dax and this time he did wiggle his eyebrows. Dax's eyes had been closed but he opened them just in time to catch the gesture. It looked like he'd been crying, just a little, and Matt felt kind of shitty then, but Dax shot him a smirk and raised one of his own eyebrows, and Matt nodded, and then Dax raised his hand up, and in it was the controller for that shitload of C-4 they'd planned to use to make the terrorists' ship do its best Titanic impression.
Yeah. Thanksgiving. Matt was thankful that someone might get away. He was thankful that he wouldn't find out what the AT had planned for them. But most of all, he was thankful someone else was going down with him.
The atmosphere on the boat was tense, nervous, somber. Jaxon kept expecting some sign of further pursuit, the whir of a helicopter or the roar of an approaching boat, but there was nothing. Everything was still and largely quiet.
The sun came up, but by then they were far enough away from everything that there was nothing to see. They'd steered off course, but that wasn't such an issue; they decided not to go back to either their launching point or their designated backup.
It was mid-afternoon when the boat landed on a small beach on the mainland. They'd chosen somewhere rocky and isolated, but even with that they moved quickly, pulling the boat ashore and covering it with a tarp. Jaxon's contribution was limited; in fact, the bulk of the work was handled by Nate, Dera, and Luluthe only ones who'd escaped relatively uninjured. Mateo had caught a shot in the back at some point, and Jaxon felt horrible to have not even noticed during the fighting. He did his best to help keep Mateo and Jordan comfortable, in those moments when he wasn't overcome with his own injuries.
As night fell, they made their way into a small cave systemclosed to the public due to dangerous surfaces and erosion, Dera said, translating the faded French textand settled in.
They had no idea if the AT was coming after them. Their supplies were limited, especially those not intended for use in an assault. They were battered and out of contact with the rest of the world. But they were alive, at least for the moment.
Danya grinned at that one. He knew that would rile some of them up.
"We have a good mix of new and familiar faces for you today. Always good to see more people taking the initiative."
Again stirring the pot, the angrier they were the better.
"It shows in the results as well. They're alive while some of you, not so much."
"We start off today with a tale of true love as Caleb Diamond declared his after Kimiko Kao slashed his throat. It was more romantic than it sounds."
"Cameron Herrig took a pickaxe to the stomach courtesy of our newest challenger to take up the game, Alessio Rigano. Way to go, I look forward to seeing more of your work. I hope it meets this standard."
He tapped his fingers lightly on the desk, assessing how the tone of his daily monologue was coming along. There had been a danger of everything becoming routine, but luckily the previous day had offered some more diversity to work with.
"A little PSA about drugs, specifically tranquilizers. Always make sure to check what the correct dose is based on what you need it for. The last thing you want is to end up in a permanent slumber like Mia Rose did thanks to an overdose administered by Kaitlyn Greene."
He paused for added effect.
"And to answer your question Mrs. Greene, no, we don't do deals."
He smirked at that. Sowing some distrust and paranoia was a trick his father had never used enough in his opinion. Another mistake of his.
"Tessa Mabel Cole died to teach you all an important lesson. We value our cameras quite a bit around here, after all if we lose one that's a lot of money down the drain and another angle for the adoring public at home gone. So when she smashed one we blew her collar. Just like I said we would."
He let the rest of the threat hang in the air unsaid.
"Next up, in a display of poor sportsmanship Wayne Cox threw himself from the asylum roof. An opportunity for someone to earn a prize gone."
He sighed dramatically for the microphone.
"Oh well, he's made sure you're all one step closer to winning."
"Henry Spencer got to live a horror movie courtesy of Alessio Rigano who is making good strides in becoming a real life monster. Great work, I didnt expect to see your name again so soon."
He slowly clapped to sell the comment.
"Our next returnee has kicked things into high gear recently as Isabel Ramirez punted Steve Dobson off the helipad then stabbed him to make sure the job was done. I personally loved the passion and flair for the dramatic displayed."
"Jasper Bustamante was executed by Alvaro Vacanti. It's too late to say sorry Alvaro. He can't hear you over a bullet in his head."
"Finally Oskar Pearce went cliff diving. It turned out about as well as you would expect."
"In other news that's important for you all, the Peaceful Meadows Crematorium is a danger zone for the next twenty-four hours. For those of you that don't know what that is it's the building with the lovely garden around it. If you like your heads on your shoulders I'd suggest staying away."
"And in the news you've all been waiting for, we decided that even if we don't make deals we can reward the ingenuity in trying to make one. As such congratulations Kaitlyn Greene on winning our third Best Kill Award. Your prize will be waiting for you in the crematorium."
"I'll see you all tomorrow kids. Remember to play nice."
Finally, no announcement is complete without rolls, and here are the rolls for this cycle:
#1. Wade Cartwright (shotgunkid) - Leslie Price (shotgunkid, Swap card used)
#2. Bernadette Thomas (Muninn)
#3. Toby Andreasson (Namira)
#4. Junko Kurosawa (KamiKaze) - Jennifer Wallace (KamiKaze, Swap card used)
#5. Astrid Tate (Pippin) - Bridgette Sommerfeld (backslash, Hero card used)
As always, three days for cards...
...and a further seven for deaths.
Also, remember all the rules regarding death PMs, as well as to not gloat about not getting rolled.
- [+] Spoiler
- Doing 5 rolls ranging from 1-79
Dea rolls I'll validate and Ricky witness
3 mins ago
V6 Murder Rolls's icon
V6 Murder Rolls
Deamon rolled 1 79-sided die: 49
That was a test roll yes
cause it worked
Starting rolls now
2 mins ago
V6 Murder Rolls's icon
V6 Murder Rolls
Deamon rolled 1 79-sided die: 71
71. Wade Cartwright (shotgunkid)
V6 Murder Rolls's icon
V6 Murder Rolls
Deamon rolled 1 79-sided die: 9
9. Bernadette Thomas (Imehal)
1 min ago
Need to update the list with Muninn as her handler
Yeah a lot of the naems are out of date
Don't sweat it right now
V6 Murder Rolls's icon
V6 Murder Rolls
Deamon rolled 1 79-sided die: 51
51. Toby Andreasson (Namira)
V6 Murder Rolls's icon
V6 Murder Rolls
Deamon rolled 1 79-sided die: 57
57. Junko Kurosawa (KamiKaze)
V6 Murder Rolls's icon
V6 Murder Rolls
Deamon rolled 1 79-sided die: 45
45. Astrid Tate (Pippin)
That's a wrap