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The Cavalry Arrives; See Midmonths
Topic Started: May 18 2011, 06:37 PM (11,109 Views)
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Jaxon Jeremiah, STAR Defense Squad, stood on deck on the small boat. He was doing his best not to show it, but he was a bundle of nerves and fears at the moment. The island was in sight. By now, the Assault Squad would be in the base, doing as much damage as possible. With luck, they'd level everything, kill Danya and his crew, and put an end to this game once and for all. Counting on luck was a terrible strategy, though, so the Defense Squad was providing a little extra insurance, a little distraction to give the terrorists yet another worry.

Of course, their goal wasn't entirely noble. Jaxon wasn't quite sure how he felt about things. It was quite a moral dilemma. They'd talked about it again and again in the past hours, ever since receiving Brynn's communication.

Originally, a rescue hadn't even been on the cards. Danya took great measures to prevent such a thing from being possible. The actual location of the island was known only to those members of the terrorist group who were responsible for ferrying people to and from it. Secrecy was maintained fairly well, given Danya's penchant for having those who caused trouble killed on the spot. STAR had tried to find out which island was being used. They'd figured out that the operation was based out of an area near Alaska, in the same general vicinity as the terrorists' current HQ. They'd had no luck getting anything more specific, though, until one group of students had fed them the exact latitude and longitude.

The other big problem had been the collars. Danya was not the sort who enjoyed losing. The STAR planners had been pretty sure he would blow every collar on the island rather than let anyone escape. That, too, had been resolved, though. A girl on the island had done something to her collar, forcing adaptation of the system. Now, a signal was sent preventing the collars from exploding. Brynn had sent them the details on that signal, and they had gear on the boat to reproduce it and override anything from base. As long as STAR was around, collars wouldn't explode unless they were yanked off. Garnett and Grossi had given them some tips on removing them, too. The design had changed, but not that much. Not enough to stop them from removing the collars using Brynn's inside information.

They were going to grab as many students as they could, knock their collars off, and then run. Give Danya a big old black eye, assuming he survived the attack. True, there would be patrol boats coming soon. They'd been diverted earlier, though, back to base to deal with the attack. The estimate was that they had three hours for this operation.

It was plenty of time to get some students. Not all of them.

But then, not all of them were welcome anyways.

This was the part of the plan that had caused the most debate.

The goal of STAR, first and foremost, was to put an end to the Survival of the Fittest program. To that end, sometimes sacrifices had to be made. There was a chance that Danya would blow all the collars somehow. They had decided that that was a risk worth taking. It was one extra death, in return for striking a huge blow against the game.

That same reason was what led them to decide to exclude players from the rescue.

Jaxon looked at the list in his hands, at the faces next to the names, at the indexes of crimes committed. In the end, he believed they were all innocent. He didn't think you could hold kids accountable for things they did under threat of death. After all, hadn't he nearly done the same?

But the argument made all too much sense.

People played because they wanted to live. It was the only reason to do it. Remove that reason, and you left no motivation to play, no justification for killing. STAR had chosen to leave the players behind as a statement to the kids next season, assuming that they would fail to utterly destroy the program. The message was simple: By playing, you are actively reducing your chances of survival, because we won't come save you.

It was indirect warfare. A psychological trick. Jaxon wasn't sure he liked it at all. They'd all agreed in the end, though. If it worked, if it led to future classes refusing to play, it would all be worthwhile. If it even slowed things down and damaged the program, it would be worth it. He kept telling himself that.

Besides, some of these people, to blame or not, had done positively horrible things to their classmates.

Jaxon still didn't feel very good about it, but he wasn't going to mess things up. They would present a unified front.

The boat closed in. It was a small vehicle, capable of getting very close to the shore. They had a small raft to ferry the students from island to escape vessel. As the boat came to a stop, Jaxon glanced over the materials, triple-checking that everything was in order. It was. They had the tools to disable the collars. They had a megaphone hooked up to a powerful amp and a small portable generator. They had four members of STAR, armed with assault rifles and wearing armor. Their equipment wasn't as good as what the terrorists had. They were a ragtag militia, but they had drive. They'd thrown everything they had, and a great deal they'd been forced to beg, borrow, or steal, into this mission. It was the moment of truth.

Jaxon hopped into the raft with his four armed friends and another boy, the one who would be working the tricky technology.

The entire ride over felt tense. Sweat was pooling in Jaxon's armpits. He was going back to an island. There would be bodies on this beach, bodies of students killed by their peers. He was a part of the horror once more.

He'd beat it again, though. He had to. They had to.

He hadn't heard any news of any parts of their plan going wrong. They had to assume it was all working. They had to try.

They landed and set everything up. Jaxon shifted nervously. He was running this side of things. There was another boat elsewhere on the island, grabbing other students, but they weren't in contact. Safer that way. Better. It spread out their coverage and increased both the numbers of students that could be retrieved and the odds of at least one boat actually getting away. From here, it would be a very tense ride to the rendezvous, on another nearby island, where a few helicopters had been stored.

Jaxon shook his hair out, forcing himself to focus. It was time. The part of the beach he was standing on was totally empty. He looked up at the sky for a moment, then picked up the megaphone. He made sure the speaker was pointed away from him. This was going to be loud.

"Hello, students of Bayview Secondary School," he said. "My name is Jaxon Jeremiah. I'm here with a group of people who can get your collars off and take you home, on one condition: that you have not been murdering your classmates over the past week. If that describes you, and you want a lift, come to the beach as quickly as you can. We won't be here for long.

"If you've been playing, I'm sorry, but you're too much of a risk. We're armed, and we will not hesitate to open fire and send you away. All I can suggest is that you hold out and hope we tear this game to the ground. Should that occur, we will come back for you too."
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It wasn't long before a girl turned up, panting, out of breath, but real and alive. Jaxon hadn't been sure anyone would come. He'd had this horrible suspicion that they would think it a trap, would stay away. Would die.

But a girl was here, one he didn't recognize from his list of faces and names. It didn't mean she was entirely innocent. Jaxon didn't care. Leave the tough love to the others; he'd take anyone he could get his hands on, so long as he hadn't promised not to. So he gestured to one of the people manning the equipment, who scurried over to the girl and got to work. The collars were complicated, as always, but they had more than enough inside information, thanks to Brynn.

Another girl had turned up, asking for death or salvation. Jaxon recognized this one. They'd discussed her. A real borderline case, but, in the end, nothing she'd done could be considered murder. Highly questionable assisted suicide, but not murder. So he just nodded at her, smiled, and said, "No bullets today. Get in line and make sure to hand over any weapons, and you're in the clear."

There was a beep as the first girl's collar released.
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Jaxon took the bag from the girl in front of him, nodding at her. He turned to one of the armed STAR members and handed the bag over.

"Toss it into the raft," he said. No point leaving guns lying on the beach to be picked up and used in the ongoing slaughter. No need to give the remaining players any help at all. The girl he'd handed it to nodded and moved to follow his instructions, while at the same time the boy handling the gear moved to tend to the latest arrival's collar.

A few seconds later, there came another beep, as the collar released. So far, so good. Jaxon had been a bit worried that something would manage to go wrong despite their preparations, that the readouts would be incorrect and the collars would actually explode. It seemed everything was fine, though. As long as the HQ assault didn't get messed up, as long as the terrorists didn't get the time needed to fix things from their side, everything would be fine.
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New people arrived. It was exactly the situation Jaxon had hoped to avoid. Not people turning up, of course, but rather the identity of one of the newcomers. George Leidman. He'd identified himself with complete candor. He seemed a reasonable enough boy. He was responsible for at least two unprovoked murders, two cold-blooded killings of innocent classmates. He had strangled a boy in the swamp.

He was on the list. Of course he was on the list, and of course Jaxon was going to obey the list. Anything else would be a disaster. Anything else would render the entire point of the list moot. More than that, it would render pointless the deaths of all the killers who stayed away because of his initial announcement, of all the killers closer to Nate's boat. Sparing this one boy, despite his earnest appeal, would be spitting in the face of the deaths of so many others. It would be sabotaging their own point, removing their justification. It would do nothing but open the floodgates next game.

He deserved to hear it straight, though. Wishy-washy speech had its place, but not when pronouncing a death sentence.

"I'm sorry, George," he said. "You killed three people, two of them flat out murder. I'm going to have to ask you to leave the area."

One of the other STAR members who was not preoccupied with the collar-removal gear leveled his assault rifle at George. Had George been wounded to the point of incapacitation, it would have been different, of course. Jaxon would have made sure he got to leave on his own terms. Right now, though, George was a serious threat. He could be armed, could react violently to his denial. They had to be ready for that.

Jaxon left George's expulsion from the area to his friend, turning to the two new girls who had arrived. Alice and Yeliza-something. Neither on his list. Good enough.

"You're both clear," he said. "As long as you're leaving, we can get your collars off in a jiffy. Just get in line over there." He gestured to the boy who had just finished with Samantha's collar.

One of his other helpers had intercepted a crew of boys in the meantime. Jaxon groaned internally. This was going to be trouble. This particular member of his team would have been better off with Nate. He was all too ready to bounce the killers, all too unaware of what that actually meant for their futures. He was hassling the newcomers, even while tending to the unconscious boy the other students had been carrying. Jaxon would have intervened, but another boy turned up. They were getting quite the crowd, and every new face he saw that didn't match his list raised Jaxon's spirits a bit further.

"Good to see you, Jojo," he replied when the boy introduced himself. "Get in line, and we'll have you sprung just as quickly as we can."
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Jaxon's face stung from the girl's blow, but he didn't complain, didn't say a thing after wishing her good luck. He stepped back, letting someone else deal with the new arrival, another boy who didn't stick around for some reason. Jaxon pressed a handkerchief to his cheek, soaking up the blood from the light gashes, sorting through his feelings.

He shouldn't have agreed to the exclusion list. He was regretting it, wishing he'd fought harder, wishing Nate had seen reason. The list made sense, perfect sense from the perspective of their goals, but that did nothing to make it moral. He could remember his own time in this game, remember the cool weight of a pistol in his hand, back before he'd known a thing about guns. He could remember drawing a bead on a girl, taking a deep breath and preparing to pull the trigger, preparing to take that step towards home.

He remembered the snap, the crack of a stick behind him, could remember spinning and not being able to figure out what had made the noise, being unsure if it had been an animal in the bushes or another student preparing to do to him what he'd planned to do to the girl. After a couple of seconds, he'd realized that nobody was going to shoot him, that nothing was coming. He'd turned back to his task, but the girl had vanished. He'd never seen her again. Someone else had gotten her, and Jaxon had poured all his energy, all his weak justifications, into that one attempt. He'd not had the heart to try for anyone else.

It didn't change the fact that he'd been a second away from being in the same sort of position as George or Raidon.

He glanced back up the beach, removing the handkerchief. The bleeding had stopped already. The boy who'd left was out of sight. A new girl stepped forwards and collapsed. The boy who had been tending the unconscious guy ran to the girl, looked at her, and shook his head.

Someone had died just short of the boats. A little defeat added onto all the other things Jaxon wasn't feeling good about.

The boy with the gear for the collars was looking overworked and stressed, moving among the people who had confirmed their intent to leave, removing collars as quickly as they could. Only the people leaving on the boat would be having their collars removed. Those staying, by choice or force, were going to have to live with the bombs around their necks. It was for the best, though. On the extremely unlikely off chance they could launch a second run, things would be massively complicated by another hunter-killer squad rounding up everyone whose collar they had removed. More than that, being hunted by the terrorists was, if anything, a worse way to die than many of the other options.

Jaxon still couldn't quite believe students were lingering on the island for ideological reasons. It was a death warrant. They were committing suicide in solidarity with killers, or in the hope that they they could save friends somehow, never mind the size of the island and the limited nature of the rescuers' time. It was noble, but it was illogical. It was painful to see happen. He wanted to scream at them, to argue with them, explain that their friends would want them to live.

But there would be time to think about that later. For now, there was a new trio. Jaxon recognized one of them at once. Reiko Ishida. It was just his lucky day, getting yet another person from the reject list. As he stepped up to them, one of the other girls, the non-murderers, said they wanted to go.

It seemed like everything happening was specifically designed to punish Jaxon for his choices, for his inability to argue harder. He sighed, and said, "I'm sorry. Ishida can't come. You two are fine, though."

He had his hand on the pistol at his waist, but didn't have it drawn. He was positive he could beat Ishida to the punch if he had to, but equally hopeful that things would not progress further. After a second of thought, he added to the other two, "If you still want to come, I mean."
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The girl was arguing again, following the same lines of logic as before, with an added dose of entitlement. Jaxon was sick of it by now. He was so incredibly sick of hashing out the same points. He was starting to resent these players for turning up despite his admonitions, to resent their guardians, those people who felt the urge to sacrifice their lives in pointless solidarity. The most frustrating part of it was that, at the end of the day, he agreed with them. He agreed entirely. Well, mostly. They had to face some consequences. Institutionalization sounded pretty good.

But what actually managed to piss him off here was the sheer, unbridled stupidity of asking for operational details while they were all standing on a beach, with Danya's cameras still rolling all around them. He was forced to fall back on pointless platitudes, on meaningless buzzwords, and all because anything else, any actual accounting of this operation and why it had been secret, would put innocent people at incredible risk. Danya had connections within the United States. He smuggled close to three hundred people out of the most heavily armed country in the world, and he had warded off all attempts to shut down the program for over half a decade now, three times with things very, very public.

The things she said that really infuriated him, though, had to do with the killer next to her. Smug little Ishida. Truth was, she'd murdered. Maybe not that often, but she was every bit as bad as any other killer. Worse, perhaps, in that she could stand there with a straight face and act like it was all okay. Jaxon had sympathy for the players. He felt pretty terrible about sending George and Raidon their ways, about condemning them to death. The thing was, they had at least been honest. They'd messed up, and they both knew it. They didn't have anyone arguing that they had somehow redeemed themselves, never mind that from what Jaxon had seen Raidon had done a lot more good than Ishida could have dreamed of.

So he let loose. He took off the kid gloves and told the girl exactly why she was wrong about any supposed redemption. And she just kept arguing, and she just kept missing the point.

This wasn't about morality.

This was about putting an end to SOTF. It was about introducing a new variable into the equation. Killers, as the girl so astutely pointed out, killed because they wanted to survive, for the most part. Aside from perhaps three or four of the people in this version, that was true. If it was proven that killing did more harm than good to your odds, there would be less killers. Some people would panic. Some would kill from sadism. But people would think twice. That was what they were debating.

And for all that, Jaxon still thought the plan was wrong. He felt like he'd been assigned the wrong team in a classroom debate, forced to argue a side he couldn't at all believe in.

But the whole thing was just pathetic. The attempt to mathematically prove some sort of moral superiority was disgusting. The claim that he was somehow forcing her to stay, that it was impossible for her to leave without a murderer in tow, was ludicrous. So Jaxon insulted her. He goaded her and provoked her. His rationale was simple: if she was going to stay, going to die for the sake of a murderer, she might as well do it feeling like she hadn't missed anything. If she was going to stay and be tortured to death, be shot in the back by the very girl she'd fought to protect, he didn't want her to feel an instant of regret. He didn't want her to question her choices. It was a small mercy, quite probably a flawed one, quite likely also self-indulgent on his part, but it was all he could think to offer.

When she stepped closer, her friend held her back, and one of Jaxon's friends stepped up, rifle in hand, warding her off. He felt no inclination to take another blow, not from someone who could honestly justify seven murders without questioning them, not from someone who would be trying to hurt him as nothing more than an outlet for anger.

So, when they left, Jaxon just sighed, turned to the man next to him, and said, "You feeling like a hero right now? I sure as fuck don't feel like a hero."

A new group of students had turned up in the meantime, and a good number of them had already had their collars removed and had been directed to the raft and boat.

And then, it all went straight to hell. He barely caught sight of one student grabbing another, dragging her towards the boats. He was about to intervene, about to make him stop, but it seemed things quieted down. More than that, there was a more immediate problem at his feet, quite literally. Two boys, bearing the protesting girl from before, the one who had hit him. She was unconscious. She'd clearly been knocked out by Raidond and this other guy.

Jaxon sighed, and shot them a look.

"Normally," he said, "I wouldn't force her along." He made eye contact with the killer she'd been supporting. "I don't think she'll be happy when she wakes up. I don't know what she'll think of you."

He lowered his voice, speaking only to the two in front of him.

"But... I think you did the right thing. So... thanks. And sorry."

He sighed, and glanced at STAR member next to him. "She's unconscious. I don't know if it's serious, but we can't leave her, especially if her skull could be damaged. Get her aboard."

It was bullshit, and they all knew it. Nobody said a word, though.

Some more boys had left, maybe hoping to find someone else. Jaxon checked his watch. No way they'd make it back. He hoped someone had warned them. It was chaos. Too much to handle. Too much to deal with.

And then he noticed the girl asking something up to the boat, the one who'd dumped a gun in the water or something. He'd only vaguely paid attention to her before. He walked over, though, telling someone else to handle the main batch for a moment.
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Things hadn't gone quite how Jaxon had hoped. There had been many more killers than he'd wanted to deal with, many more reasons to question the whole stupid exclusion list all over again. Peter Siu and Raidon Naoko had both pitched in, helping see those who could still be rescued safely off the island. Jaxon was so tempted to break the rules, to back down and let the boys on. At this point, though, he couldn't. Not after the scenes people had made. Not after what Nate had probably been doing.

There was something going on further down the beach. He heard a shout, a warning. Something about grenades. The explosions. Screams. Gunshots. Fuck. At the same time, his radio buzzed. The girl next to him lurched forwards, but he caught her, held her back. Another boy jumped clear too, and ran to a girl in the water. She looked to be bleeding.

"Get moving," a voice from the radio, one of the intelligence people, said. "You're gonna have company soon. Looks like a couple patrol boats decided there was something more important to do than saving the boss."

Too much chaos. Too much conflict. the wounded boy, The one they'd been trying to help, had stumbled off. No time to retrieve him. Jaxon had probably let half a dozen students slip through his fingers, doomed them to death because his group had been overworked, hadn't been able to properly baby sit a bunch of half-starved, shell-shocked high school kids.

He wasn't going to sleep easy tonight, that was for sure. This was not how it was supposed to go. For a second, he was in perfect agreement with Nate. He wanted nothing more than to track down whoever had decided to start shooting now. He wanted to plug the idiot right between the eyes. It was stupid, illogical, petty. It was a sick little kid throwing a tantrum because someone else got better toys. Didn't the players realize that everyone who left the island meant less competition in their stupid death game?

He wondered if the tech crew would be able to blow a specific collar.

No.

No, they were not Danya. They didn't blow people up, even monsters, even if they probably could. If they made it back to the island, though, if they somehow finished Danya and dealt with these patrol boats, if some legitimate military got its act in gear at the eleventh hour, then there would be a reckoning. Until then, he'd just have to count on the good people to do what had to be done.

"Come on," he called. "Everyone in the boats, now. As quickly as you can. Get the wounded right now. We're going. Keep your heads down, and be ready for a rough ride. We may have some company."
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The chaos continued. The boy, the one who had leapt clear, made it back, though. They got him into the boat. Everything was a mess. People could be dying. They were too pressed. Jaxon wanted to stay, to help sort things out. He could suddenly see exactly why some of the students were hesitant to leave. There was so much left to do here.

They couldn't linger, though.

The patrol boats should be too far away to cause problems if they got moving right away. They should be able to make it to the other island, to the helicopter, to the clinic they'd been able to bargain with at the last second. Of course, everything could explode in their faces, could come crashing down around their heads. They could all die within the hour. The odds of that happening increased dramatically every minute they waited. It was past time to be gone.

So many things had gone wrong. How many more would?

They'd see. No time to worry.

"Come on," he shouted again. "We're leaving. Right now."

And, through some miracle, they were able to cram everyone in. Half a minute later, they were gone, roaring through the sea, pushing the boat's top speed, leaving the island a rapidly-fading speck.





Of course, the rescue attempt and its aftermath were not broadcast live. The terrorists still had enough control to cut the feed. When it did air, half a day later, the only shots were from an extreme distance. It was hard to tell what was going on, hard to identify the students moving around. The boat was nearly invisible.

The film cut to another shaky shot, clearly from the deck of a boat, of a pair of distant explosions, though what exactly was blowing up was impossible to discern. Text scrolled over the screen:

"An attempt was made by a military organization to rescue some of the contestants in this season of Survival of the Fittest. The lives of many students were lost as a result of the actions of your governments. Any future attempts will be met with an immediate and total detonation of all collars."

Then, a list of block red letters scrolled over the screen, lasting over a minute:

G125, Jacqueline Myrie: DECEASED
G047, Samantha Ridley: DECEASED
B128, Joss Joiner DECEASED
G085, Alice Blake: DECEASED
B008, Peter McCue: DECEASED
G014, Yelizaveta Volkova: DECEASED
G046, Alexandria Jackson: DECEASED
B056, Raymond Dawson: DECEASED
G048, Kaitlin Anderheim: DECEASED
B140, Cisco Vasquez: DECEASED
B121, Allen Birkman: DECEASED
G105, Isabel Guerra: DECEASED
G122, Mizore Soryu: DECEASED
G106, Sarah Tan: DECEASED
G001, Bridget Connolly: DECEASED
G003, Hui "Sarah" Xu: DECEASED
B042, Brendan Wallace: DECEASED
G010, Anna Chase: DECEASED
G082, Felicia Carmichael: DECEASED
G077, Andrea Raymer: DECEASED
B138, Garrett Hunter: DECEASED
B142, Harun Kemal: DECEASED
B041, Simon Telamon: DECEASED
B105, Jeremy Franco: DECEASED
B132, Jay Holland, DECEASED
G079, Eiko Haraguchi: DECEASED
G018, Acacia Salinger: DECEASED
B073, Michael Moretti: DECEASED
G005, Jennifer Perez: DECEASED
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Just for the record, Laz had been okayed for a post yesterday. There was slight confusion with regards to timing, but he's a-okay. Thread is now closed.
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