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You've been counting stars, now you're counting on me
[ *  *  *  *  *  *  * ]
Saint Paul, Minnesota
Jaxon Jeremiah was sweating as the plane approached the Saint Paul Downtown Airport. The logistics had been a nightmare, the secrecy in question at every turn, the chance of discovery immense, but now they had nearly done it. Every rescued student capable of being moved and willing to return to the United States was in the plane, and they were flying directly into an airport that housed a unit of the National Guard. Arrangements had been made to transfer everyone who still needed medical care to St. Joseph's Hospital. The rest would be free to return to their homes. The media had been apprised of the situation after the plane was already on its approach vector. Jaxon was fairly certain no news group would be able to organize anywhere near quickly enough to catch anyone who didn't want to be interviewed. At the same time, the news was already public enough that if anything happened, it would be a political catastrophe. The government would have to provide adequate security if its members wanted to keep their jobs.

Jaxon was still afraid that the National Guard would shoot them down and claim a technical failure or something of the sort, to spare the US the embarrassment of having been shown up by what was effectively a militia. He was afraid that the terrorists would get someone to gun everyone down as they descended the boarding ramp. He was afraid of many things, few of them plausible.

"Relax. After all we've been through, anything will be better." The speaker was the teacher, Mr. Kwong, whom Jaxon thought of by title even though he hadn't been of school age in years.

"You think?"

"Yes. You've done a good job."

The two of them were sitting at the front of the plane, which was sparsely filled. Jaxon was the only STAR member on-board. Nate had chuckled at the airport in British Columbia, had told Jaxon to enjoy his time as a hero and maybe sell some autographs to help pay for the rescue operation. Jaxon, however, had every intention of vanishing as soon as he'd seen his charges to safety. He was in a dangerous situation, and he knew it very well. He fully expected the National Guard to attempt to debrief him. They would have likely tried the same with the students, were it not for the threat of a scandal should the press catch wind of it. Maybe it would happen to some anyways.

Aside from the students, the only other passengers aboard the plane were a dozen nurses and doctors—who had volunteered to come along to make sure everyone was in passable health—and the actual crew of the plane.

Jaxon looked out the window and yawned to pop his ears as the plane began its final approach. Landings always made him nervous. He expected, on some irrational level, for everything to fall apart, for the plane to slam into the ground and explode in a massive fireball. No such thing occurred, and soon they were coasting. Some of the students were awake, glancing around in excitement or disbelief.

It was almost enough to convince Jaxon that everything really would be alright, that the students would be fine, that their lives hadn't been destroyed completely by this. He had hope, anyways, hope that time and extensive therapy would heal all their wounds. The government would have to help finance any care they required. Anything less would be a public relations disaster.

He wished he could stick around, could see how everything turned out. There was still a terrorist organization that needed to go down, though. STAR's victory had been a blow, but not a fatal one.

"This is your captain speaking," a voice said over the plane's intercom, as they coasted to a stop. "Welcome home."


Christina Stockton was standing in the office Greynolds now occupied, watching a replay of the news, along with Shamino Warhen.

"Succinct as always, Domino," Greynolds said. "You see the problem?"

"Yeah," Christina said. When Greynolds did not reply, she realized that he expected her to prove her understanding, and added, a little nervously, "They're protected now, and in the States, which means we can't touch them. That, of course, means they have no reason to keep our location secret. We have nothing on them now. The marines will be here in an hour."

"No," Greynolds said. "No, we can no longer threaten them. We do have something, though, something the government wants very badly."

He smiled a little. As always, he looked calm and collected, far too young and casual to be the acting head of an international terrorist organization. Even the slight traces of nervous strain that Christina had caught over the past few days seemed to have melted away.

"How does this sound?" Greynolds asked, and pressed a button on his computer. A voice began to speak, heavily distorted by static, but still understandable.

"Hello, citizens of America," the voice began. "In light of recent occurrences, this version of Survival of the Fittest has been temporarily put on hold. It will be called off, and the twelve surviving students returned to you alive, but only if you cooperate completely. If you attack our position, all collars will be detonated immediately. If you attempt to bomb us, anyone you don't kill, we will. If you follow our instructions, however, we will release the students in three weeks time, once we have relocated to a more... hospitable base.

"I know you have reason not to trust us. In the past, our leadership has been less than forthright. Rest assured, however, that there is no duplicitous intent. Should you take aggressive action, however, twelve more dead students will be the least of your worries."

The room was silent for a moment.

"It sounds awful," Shamino said, finally. "They'll never buy it."

"They will," Greynolds said, with an exaggerated wink. "They have to. Losing a chance to save some students themselves will be awful for publicity, and it is, after all, an election year."

"How are we going to keep them satisfied?" Christina asked. "Someone's going to want proof that they're still alive."

"It doesn't matter. In two days at most, we won't have anyone but the winner. The base is half packed already. We'll be gone. For now, though, I've cut the feed. The folks back home won't be getting any updates on their precious kids until three weeks from now. As long as they don't know that we've killed our hostages, they have to assume that they're alive."

Christina considered it. She didn't like it, didn't care one bit for a delay. Since the government had dropped its attempt at passing SOTF off as some sort of television drama, it was not broadcast except through internet feeds and on a couple obscure foreign channels. Some corporations still tried to capitalize on it, pretending to still believe in the government's old story (though Christina couldn't even begin to guess how many of them the terrorists actually controlled), and some sick individuals claimed to be fans of the "show"—proving to Christina exactly why people deserved to suffer through it—but for the most part doing so was social suicide. That said, the more exploitative news channels reported on SOTF and broadcast clips often enough that it could almost pass for a mainstream show. It would be damaging to the organization's reputation to seem to have lost control. She just couldn't see a better way to deal with it, though.

"One question," Shamino said. "Why are we here?"

Greynolds shrugged. "I needed an outside opinion, Richards and Baines are recovering and barely tolerable, and Cecily and Lourvey are otherwise occupied. Sonia and Wilson already agreed. I'm not trusting anyone else until we've had a thorough internal audit. We've had too many surprises lately.

"Now, I need you two to help get everything ready to move. I want everyone on helicopters out of here the second we have a winner."

"Greynolds here," the speakers across the island said. "Congratulations to those of you who are left, that is to say, all twelve of you. That's right: we're down to the absolute wire.

"So, the deaths. Ivan Kuznetsov shot Imraan Al-Hariq. Trying to bookend the game with your acts of violence, Mr. Kuznetsov? Afterwards, Aileen Borden was shot by Aaron Hughes. Ilario Fiametta wasn't one to be left out of the violence, putting a round in Claire Lambert.

"In a sudden burst of sadism, Ema Ryan crushed Meredith Hemmings' throat. Then Alex White was stabbed to death by Jimmy Brennan, but left his killer an explosive—and fatal—surprise. Of course, by that point it was probably redundant, given how much the fight had taken out of both of them.

"Next off, we had a pair of people who just couldn't hold it together. Josie Vernon shot herself, and Jason Harris swam out to sea. Blowing his collar seemed like a waste of effort, so we just let him drown.

"Nick LeMonde was shot by Ema Ryan, then Ericka Bradley gunned down Josée Trembley.

"Ema Ryan entered the charts again, shooting Peter Siu and pausing the shooting to slit Zach Jamis' throat. Points for speed, if not style or caution. Aston Bennet then plugged Saul Fetteralf in the back.

"Aaron Hughes punched a few holes in Erik Laurin. Then, one of our bigger killers, Raidon Naoko, succumbed to wounds taken in the earlier shootout with Ryan. Finally, in an act of utter pointlessness, Rhory Anne Broderick shot herself in the head.

"Since there are only a dozen of you left, we're cutting the playground a bit. Stay away from the Swamp, the Logging Road, the Sawmill, the Lighthouse, and the Parish. The Town Center is clear again, but since Jimmy never showed, we didn't bother even delivering a gun this time. You'll have to make do with what you already have.

"This is the last time I'll talk to all but a handful of you. Good luck, and keep your eyes set on victory."

And, the FINAL V4 ROLLS!
1. Leila Langford (karsk)
2. Reiko Ishida (Rocky) - (Geno, Roll Null used)
3. Aaron Hughes (KillerVole)
4. Ema Ryan (Chib)
5. Aston Bennet (Ciel)
6. Madeleine Smith (Rocky)
7. Tabitha Gweneth (Greg the Anti-Viking)
Three days for cards, and all deaths are due on October 31 (Halloween!). They absolutely must be in on time.

Alright, everyone! With that, we are at our final few characters. We are also opening Post-Game for the rescued characters. Please make sure to read the rules. Post-Game will be closing on December 1st.
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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