SOTF: The Program is set in an alternate reality where America is under the control of an authoritarian military regime, headed by a mysterious dictator known only as 'The General'. Much of the legislation of the government concerns the military and its affairs, and it encompasses a significant proportion of the country's way of life. Two five year periods of military service are compulsery for all, and may be called it at near any point in a person's life. Furthermore, the US incorporates a draft system, making it possible for even those who have served their ten years to be pressed back into military service. Crime is punished not by jail, but by years of service. All that is done, is done for the good of the American war machine.
Amidst all of the red tape and beareaucracy surrounding the military, one particular scheme stands apart, distinct. This is known as only 'The Program'.
Taking place four times a year, The Program is broadcast live on TV for its entire duration, whether that be seventeen hours or eleven days, four hours (the respective shortest and longest records). What happens during The Program? Up to fifty high school students between 10th and 12th grade take part in a deadly game. Kill or be killed - wipe one another out until only one is left standing.
The participants are selected by lottery. First the high school, then the year of the students are chosen. After that, the names of those who will be taking part in The Program are selected, and the students concerned taken by the military for transport to the location of the game. This takes place on specific dates known as Announcement Days, where every student from every high school in America will assemble at their respective schools to hear the results of the lottery announced live, sometimes by The General himself. Not attending an Announcement Day, irrespectively of whether or not you are chosen for The Program is an offence punishable by summary execution.
Those hotshots in the military, they call it 'The Program'. Sure sounds impressive, huh? I guess that 'Thingy where we get school-kids to kill each other for fun and profit' just doesn't quite have the same zip to it. So how does it work? Jeez, are you some kind of rube? That stuff is pretty much common knowledge. After all, they broadcast it on TV - four times a year, regular as clockwork. Pretty much the highest rated show on the networks, and that's a fact. Course, the execs want it more often, but the brass put their feet down on that on-
O-oh, right, sorry. How it works. Well let's see. Once a season, like I said, there's this big ... let's call it a lottery. First thing they do is select a high school. The name of every last hi- huh? All of them? Yep, they sure do. Even the ones which the kids of the high muck-a-mucks attend. The Program... It's about as equal as things get in this country. After they choose the school, well then they select the year. Seniors, Juniors, Sophomores... the Freshies are exempt - good for them, bad for the smartasses that skip 9th grade. Once they've got the year, it's the same thing again. Yet another lottery to pick out who's going to play a role in this edition of TV's hottest show. What's that? They don't take the whole year? Hell no they don't! That could be hundreds of kids in some cases! The Program is important, but they don't want to spend that much on it. About fifty kids all told is what they pick out. Sometimes it's a little less, but otherwise fifty is the magic number.
How do they go about it? Jeez, what rock have you been living under? You never heard of Announcement Day? Every school across the country has it. Attendance 100% compulsery. If people get wind of the fact you didn't show up to an Announcement Day, it doesn't even matter if you weren't personally chosen for the Program -you are in the deepest of shit my friend. They don't care if you're in hospital, your favourite pet died, it's your grandma's funeral or you just broke your leg. You show for Announcement Day.
So... the big day itself. Well, it's actually relatively straightfoward. All of these schools, they have a live satellite uplink to either the General or one of his top brass. Hm? Yeah, the General himself - I shit you not. Anyway, they then announce the results of the lotteries on the air and to each and every one of the schools. That's when the military comes into play. They of course already know all the results, so they come storming in to take their fifty right then and there. The smart kids go quietly, and the stupid ones resist or run. They're early outs; no skin off anyone's noses except their own. At least if they actually participated in The Program, they'd have a chance. Course, it's not like it's an attractive idea to co-
Ah, sorry, there I go again. So The Program itself? That's actually fairly simple. The military pick a location for all of this to take place. Sometimes islands, sometimes they seal off urban areas, sometimes they opt for more rural locations... anyway the point is that they have a place for The Program to happen in. Once they arrive, they're briefed: your objective is to kill each and every last one of your classmates before they kill you. Hm? Yep, they lay it out just like that - balls to the wall. Kill or be killed, simple as it comes. Course, they don't expect the kids to do it without incentive, so they stick these collars around their necks. These things, they're filled with explosives, and they can be detonated at a moment's notice. How's that for encouragement?
Huh? With their bare hands? Nah don't be stupid! They get given weapons. Randomised stuff, mind you. They're given a standard issue pack with supplies; food, water, basic medical kit - that sort of thing, and then some kind of weapon. Well, I say 'weapon', but... hah, some of those guys in charge must have a pretty sick sense of humour. I've seen everything from assault rifles to shotguns to knives to swords to teddy bears issued and used in The Program. What was that? Doesn't that make it unfair? Well yeah, maybe, but life's not fair to begin with. Some people go in with innate advantages, the weapons are a wild card, they can balance these out... or tip the scales even further in somebody's favour. But hey, it's the luck of the draw. I saw some tiny little chick with glasses draw, get this, a toothpick and go on to win the entire thing. It's all in how you play man, all in how you play.
So there it is, all laid out. Ha, I see that twinkle in your eyes, you like the sounds of it, don't you? Tell you what man, you seem like a pretty stand up guy, why don't you come around to my place tonight? A bunch of my buddies are gonna watch the current game on TV. Yeah dude, they show it live every time! Don't worry, it's only a day or so in - I'll get you up to speed on all the contestants. Should be a good night. Yeah? Alright, bring some beer - we'll have a damn good time!
- A curious country-boy quizzes a barman about a show playing on the establishment's TV.
To: Colonel Adams
From: General Lakely
Subject: An exemplary idea!
David you've outdone yourself all over again! At first I thought that this was another of your hair-brained schemes and was thoroughly sceptical, but I should know by now that for every odd idea that comes out of your head, three more are excellent. The pilot run of your Program went so well, I think it broke several TV ratings records! I heard that poor Archy has been having to put up with network executives raving that we have to hold another edition ever since the first one ended!
It's to my understanding that the winner has been recovering well and taking to our indoctrination thoroughly indeed. He'll be the first recruit to our new unit, and here's hoping he'll have many to join him in the near future. A baptism of fire, for certainty - a rigorous application process, but one that I am sure will temper the recruits excellently. Of course, well, not every last one of the winners will be suitable for inclusion, but we must roll with the punches. If nothing else, it makes for excellent entertainment!
Again, my most heartfelt congratulations on your idea and your recent promotion. Please find alongside this note a personal gift from The General himself in recognition of your services to him. And also, a little extra something from me, which I believe you'll find rather more enjoyable.
Your friend, Lucas.
Program V2 is currently finished.