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You've been counting stars, now you're counting on me
[ *  *  *  *  *  *  * ]
It was night, not that that meant much with the frantic pace kept up around HQ. The staff for the late shifts was slightly lower, though this was only because the majority of the students, still tied to their normal circadian rhythms, were fairly calm and stationary at night. Some prowlers developed, of course, and there was always a little action, but it was generally easier to monitor and prep for broadcast. The atmosphere was somewhat relaxed, especially since the troublemaker had finally been dealt with, though everyone was still badly overworked. Still, normalcy could resume with a collective sigh of relief. Everyone was at their jobs again, back in their proper places.

Everyone, that is, except one.

The tech called Sparky was at her workstation. She was typing away, like she always did, ignored by her colleagues. They were all tired, all nearly dead on their feet, after losing two of the most senior techs in the past days, Cecily to island repair duty, and Achyls to incompetence. Nobody had the time or the inclination to get involved in anyone else's duty.

Alongside an ever increasing stack of empty packages of caffeine pills still sat the gun Sparky had used to kill Achyls. Everyone had seemed remarkably uninterested in being anywhere near the thing. She'd avoided their sympathy, and they'd been content enough with the arrangements. The techs were a fairly reserved group. Lourvey still hadn't shared his reasons for working for Danya. Sparky hadn't shared hers, either.

That was definitely for the best. Whatever Danya had on Lourvey, Sparky was absolutely sure her secret was more dangerous.

She flipped back and forth between her work, monitoring a fairly uneventful section of the island, and her other work, typing away a series of seemingly-meaningless numbers and letters in an unlabeled document. A large number of the techs coded for fun. It was a stress reliever, a measure of certainty in a chaotic world. Of course, Sparky wasn't coding... not in the same way that the others were, at least.

The radio communications were ablaze at the moment. A lot of important things had gone down in the past day. Repairs were still underway. No one was paying all that much attention to the chatter.

The numbers on Sparky's workstation corresponded to letters. Not directly, of course; she was better than that. Underneath her bed she had a notepad, which contained doodles and writings and equations, jotted at apparent random. Every so often, she'd tear a page from the notepad and destroy it. She passed it off as a superstition. Bury your mistakes so they don't come back to haunt you.

In reality, her numbers were a series of one time code pads, corresponding to exactly one other set. As she needed each code, she memorized the algorithms for the cipher, then worked them for her messages. She had a fantastic memory for numbers. She hadn't made a mistake yet. It was why she'd been given this job. That and the fact she'd been willing to actually volunteer.

Tonight's message, though, was of unprecedented importance. Conditions had changed on the island where the game took place. The students had acted in unexpected manners, forced changes at HQ that her contacts would need to know about. This was the first chance she'd had to get the full story down, the explanation of Dorian's collar work and its implications, as well as the other little event that had gone down a day ago, which had slipped by nearly unnoticed. Certainly, Sparky wasn't about to be the one to point it out.

She'd been left unattended for nearly an hour now, though. Her message was finished. She waited for the next burst of interference, sent her report with a click.

Nothing happened, exactly like it was supposed to. She clicked out of the window and returned her full attention to the island. Nothing, nothing, and more nothing.

At least, two minutes of nothing. Then a voice broke the silence.

"Ah, Sparky, I thought you'd know better after what you saw—no, what you participated in the other day."

Sparky spun, nearly toppling from her chair.

"M-mi-er, Carter," she said. All of a sudden, the world was moving in slow motion. No one was looking her way yet. That would take a couple of seconds. For the moment, the severity of the situation was known only to her and Carter.

Carter looked at her with something that, for a second or two, might have been regret. A moment later, though, the black man's face returned to its stony seriousness.

"It's such a shame. When Wilson found out, I didn't want to believe it. Just got the confirmation, though."

She'd sent a quick burst during the afternoon, sharing the numerical designation of the key to tonight's message. No one had given the slightest inkling of noticing anything suspicious.

"I, uh, I have no idea what y-you're talking about," she lied transparently. Adrenaline was carrying her now. Sparky didn't even know why she was bothering to protest. The game was up, all she was doing was delaying the inevitable. At least she'd done what she was supposed to. Her role was done now, and she was expendable. She'd still been hoping to make it out, though. She'd known when she'd signed up that she likely wouldn't survive. She'd told herself she was reconciled to death. After all that had happened, it would be a mercy, especially in this circumstance.

That all rang hollow now, though.

Carter glowered.

"Cut the bull. You've got questions to answer. We're going to have a nice talk with Mister Danya."

Other people in the room had noticed by now. All attention was on her. She saw, for the first time, that, while Carter wasn't armed, three other terrorists standing to the side of the room were. They were pointing their weapons at her, all with good firing solutions. It was clearly a show of intimidation. Sparky could see cracks in the facade, though; Dunlop looked confused, unsure of himself. Clear pain was written across 'Ace' Warren's face—he seemed to feel genuinely betrayed.

The thing they didn't get, though, was that she knew they wanted her alive. That would slow their reactions. They were treating her like one of the kids, desperate to survive, shortsighted enough not to realize what lay at the end of the tunnel anyways. By now, though, Sparky knew she was dead. The only question was when. Like she was going to survive whatever was to follow after they took her. Achyls died for a single mistake, Sparky could only imagine the consequences of treason.

But that was something she couldn't afford to waste her limited time dwelling on.

She went for the gun by her workstation. Whatever Carter had thought or known, he clearly wasn't prepared for the sudden dexterity she displayed. Sparky snatched the pistol up, the weight feeling right in her palm as she sprung to her feet, aiming. Shock, followed by an iota of fear, flickered over Carter's stoic visage, then he went for his own gun. But his movements seemed to Sparky slow, leaden, like she had all the time in the world to do this. She pulled the trigger, the pistol jumping in her hand, the retort reverberating through the room. The bullet struck Carter full in the head and he went down in a spray of blood. Even as he fell, Sparky was still moving, strafing Dunlop, 'Ace' and the other. She was sure she saw another puff of red before the world dissolved in a hail of gunfire and pain. Looked like she pushed them past the point they were looking to take her alive.

The bullets slammed into her body, ripping through her stomach, her chest, her arms, tearing a sob from Sparky as she fell against her chair, pitching it to the floor with a crash. As she hit the ground, she could see Lourvey in a corner, just now diving for cover. A faintly fascinated eye noted that her blood was already pooling around her, the gun slipping from nerveless fingers. Sparky was drifting now, breathing shallowly, each inhalation an agony. She hoped things hadn't been compromised. Hoped they didn't know much. At least she'd gotten Carter. Bastard had had it coming.

One of the armed terrorists was standing over her, checking her. She didn't recognise him... wasn't sure she could recognise him. Everything was going grey, indistinct, blurred. He looked angry, probably because there was no way she was pulling through this. She'd intended that. Torture wasn't something she could guarantee she'd hold up to. Sparky gave him a defiant half-smile, blood showing on her teeth... and her eyes slipped closed.

What had Achyls said before she shot him?

She couldn't quite remember. It didn't really matter anymore, though. For Brynn Lovell, everything went black.

Mr Danya was livid, but he didn't let it show through in his voice. He was good at that by now. Whatever happened, the show had to go on. If the students caught wind of any problems, they'd start losing motivation. It was lucky, then, that they had such good motivation today. Also lucky that the island's most annoying student was no more. It nearly made up for the mess that had occurred in the tech room and the loss of one of his most senior associates.

"Good morning, kiddies," he said into the microphone, all performance now, the usual jovial tone coming as easy as always. "My, my, if we don't have a new record. That's right, twenty-nine of you perished in the past twenty-four hours. I'd crunch the rate, but, well, that's what the statisticians online are for.

"Carla Connors found herself in the wrong place at the wrong time and had her collar blown as a reward. So many of you have lost your heads this time. It's quite the disappointment for our viewers."

He didn't feel like explaining that the Connors girl had been detonated as an example. No use giving the troublemaker any more credit for these things. After all, he didn't need hunters anymore.

"Alex White made his shocking debut by shivving William Hearst and Rena Peters. Ms. Peters' death, by the way, was the halfway point of our little show. I'd have sent cheerleaders but, well, they're already there with you. The surviving ones, at least.

"JJ Sturn learned the hard way that shotguns trump words when he messed with Jimmy Brennan. His heroic last stand was one for the highlight reel, though, even if it proved entirely futile.

"Janet Binachi returned to the scoreboards by beating in David Matson's head. Afterwards, Kari Nichols killed Stacy Hart and Stacy Hart killed Kari Nichols. I love it when that happens.

"Ericka Bradley gave Remy Kim a bullet to the back of the head, then George Leidman took a leaf from pro wrestling and beat Gloria Benson to death with a chair. Take note, kids: there are weapons positively everywhere. There's no excuse for anyone being defenseless by this point. You're all part of the better half. Don't disappoint.

"Sarah Atwell's throat was slit by her erstwhile accomplice, Alice Boucher. The situation was too complicated to sum up, but we'll just say that Ms. Atwell became a star herself. Whoever wins can find the full story on the DVD. We'll make sure you get a complimentary copy.

"Nick Reid finally got a heart. It wasn't his own, but Martin Lovett won't have any more use for it. Afterwards, Liam Brooks killed Vivien Morin. You'll want to be careful around that one. Bridget Connolly managed to turn Mia Kuiper into a spitted marshmellow. Alas, we knew her... a bit, I suppose.

"Brendan Wallace joined the good list, putting a fatal bullet into Steven Hunt. Touching last words to Mr. Hunt. I'm sure the academy was pleased. Roland Harte picked the wrong killer to meddle with, taking a number of injuries from Naoko Raidon. I'm pretty sure it was the stab that ended things, though.

"Rein Bumgarner and Gareth Griffith managed to bury themselves alive under a mountain of boxes and screws. The environment's dangerous, everyone. There are so many classmates out for your blood. There's no reason to make it any easier on them by eliminating yourselves.

"Madelyn Prowers gave up all hope or something and blew herself up. Yawn. It's getting old. Then, Orpheus Campbell and Robert Jenkins neutralized each other in the most permanent of ways. It was quite a mess, too.

"R.J. Lowe just kind of... fell over or something. I'm sure an autopsy could explain it, but right now, there's a lively pool going online. We'll call this an act of God. Add him to your killer list if you want.

"Ilario Fiametta gunned down Kevin Warick, but didn't seem to find what he was looking for. Better luck next time, Mr. Fiametta.

"Winsome Clark died in a danger zone. Be careful, everyone. I mean, it's not like danger zones sneak up on you or anything. We do announce them every day.

"George Leidman strangled Dustin Royal, bringing an end to the ladykiller. I was rather surprised it wasn't one of his former flings, unless there's something Mr. Leidman isn't telling us. He certainly came at Mr. Royal with a vengeance. Oh, and a rock.

"It seems Ema Ryan has picked up the arbitrary point-and-shoot tendencies of her girlfriend, as she gunned down Sapphire MacLeod. Then, Felicia Carmichael put a bullet in Tiffany Chanders.

"This next one is a special treat, kids. Liz Polanski's reign of terror is at an end. Some friends of mine caught up with her.

"Josie Vernon smothered Sierra Manning to death, after traveling with her for a week. Remember that video. This stuff happens more than you'd imagine. Finally, Teo Weinstock shot Maxwell Crowe through the head with a crossbow.

"You're almost there, kids. Twelve more death will bring you to the final hundred. I know you can do it. Well, actually, I know most of you can't, but to the lucky winner: keep it up. I'll catch you on the other side.

"Oh, and stay out of The Mansion, The Mine, The Parish, and The Greens. Also, you can mark The Tunnels off your list for the rest of the game. Ms. Polanski made a mess when she died, and it just doesn't seem worth the effort to put it all back together. Besides, the lighting was awful.

"And Ms. Boucher, please come to The Parish to collect a fabulous prize. Do show up this time. I'm starting to feel stood up. What's wrong with you killers this version? Don't you want a better chance at living?

"Danya, signing off."

You know the drill. Three days for cards and DZs, seven afterwards for deaths.

Rolled characters are as follows:
#1 Harun Kemal (GeneralGoose) - Rashid Hassan (laZardo, Hero Card used)
#2 Jackie Broughten (T-Fox)
#3 Ash Morrison (ET.Requiem)
#4 Annaliese Hansen (Betaknight) - Timothy Questiare (zombiexcreame, Hero Card used)
#5 Rosa Fiametta (Clue)
#6 Adrian Staib (Randomness)
#7 Rhory Anne Broderick (karsk) - (faceinabook, Roll Null used)
#8 Milo Taylor (Sean)

Also, congrats to faceinabook and CaseyNuge for writing the best deaths of the month. They each get a Roll Null.
Juliette Sargent drawn by Mimi and Ryuki
Alton Gerow drawn by Mimi
Lavender Ripley drawn by Mimi
Phillip Olivares drawn by Ryuki
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