Every 6 hours, the announcements for The Program occur.
The wide open space in the centre of the school buildings of General’s Pride could be described as nothing less than a parade ground. Gathered there in neat rows, all facing one direction, were the students eligible to take part in this edition of the Program, the entirety of the Sophomore, Junior and Senior years. The focus of their attention, a huge white board, upon which was being projected a satellite uplink to the White House (the exterior of which resembled a nuclear bunker).
This was Announcement Day. In a few short moments, the fates of a select group of students would be decided. They would fight and die in the name of America. Just as everything the General decided was for the good of America. To think otherwise was treason. He was, after all, the General, how could he do anything else?
For the eldest of the students, this would be their tenth time standing facing that screen, more than likely, they would have witnessed the same spectacle many times before. The youngest kids, the sophomores, they’d only experienced this once. It still held plenty of fear for them, at least for those that hadn’t convinced themselves that the chances of them being picked were statistically tiny.
Before long, the projection flickered, phasing into an image of The General. The school, students and faculty both stood to attention as the stern, iron-haired man on the screen saluted them. Across the nation, the same video was being broadcast to thousands of schools. Naturally, it was pre-recorded, but they liked to call it live. Few ever tried to dispute it.
“Good afternoon, schools of America. This is your General. Once again, we reach that time of the year where we select those to take part in our most prestigious of events, The Program. I am sure that everyone who is selected will do America and myself proud in fulfilling their national duty. Oh, but one last thing before I begin. Some students in past years have proven treasonous to their country and attempted to avoid participation in the Program. In order to ensure that we have at least fifty students, we will be drawing a small number of additional names.”
The school selected for the forty-second edition of the Program is… General’s Pride, in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania.”
Events progressed rapidly from there. The sophomore year was chosen. Names were reeled off, some people cried, some people were hysterical and some stood in stunned silence. The squads that had been standing by swept in to take their designated targets, meeting with no resistance for once as they restrained and marched the students off. They were shepherded to an armoured bus with blacked out windows, there to be transported to the location where they would meet their fates.
Around three hours later, the bus arrived at its destination, a large compound which had been cleared out especially for the Program. Naturally, the students couldn’t see what was outside, but murmurs shot up amongst them as the bus drew to a halt, murmurs quickly curtailed with glares from the silent soldiers sitting in their midst.
The bus was still for ten minutes, and then there was movement at the front of the bus. The front door was opened and after seeking an ‘okay’ from somebody standing outside, the soldier that had been driving the vehicle gestured to his comrades. They acted swiftly, nudging the students into motion such that in a short while, they were all moving, filing off of the bus quickly.
Having been parked alongside it, stepping off the bus meant stepping into an enclosed tent of sorts, inside of which was a row of desks, facing a small stage, upon which was a lectern. Standing behind said lectern was a wiry man with a mop of blond hair and a lazy smile, complimenting boyish good looks. He wore trousers with a camouflage pattern, as well as a sleeveless, pale green shirt. If one were to mention he was a Brigadier General, they would be laughed out of the building.
His name was David Adams and the Program was his idea.
“Sup kids? How’d the bus ride go? Good I hope, though I guess those things aren’t built for comfort… maybe I should try and fix that. Oh but what am I saying, you guys don’t care, or ‘least if you do, you won’t be for long. Cause if you’re really bothered about that, well, you’ll probably get shot and shit, so yeah. Don’t worry about the seats is what I’m saying…”
“…Where was I? Oh right, sorry kids. So you probably all know this, but you’ve been selected for the 42nd edition of the program, good going! …Not that I’m happy most of you are going to die painful deaths or anything, naw, though it does always make for good viewing. Well, uh, anyway, the fifty…ish of you are about to be placed inside a large compound over yonder to kill each other to death.”
There was a pause. Adams seemed to consider his phrasing.
“…Either way, all of you guys go in there and only one of you comes out, that’s how it works. You each get a backpack, which will have rations, maps, a first aid kit, a compass, a flashlight and a randomly determined weapon inside. Everything needed for a weekend of fun camping out with your friends! …Except for all of that violent death and blood I guess.”
“You’ll be getting updates from yours truly every day, where I’ll tell all of you who died and who knocked them off, to keep you all on your toes. Maybe you can keep score or something, that’s what I do. It’s fun times. Well, probably less so when it’s your friends I guess but hey, you could always try keeping on the bright side!”
Adams surveyed the rows of solemn faces in front of him, some in tears, some in shock. He appeared to rethink what he’d said.
“Although I suppose it’s hard to keep cheerful when you’re more than likely gonna be dead in a couple of days, but eh, you gotta roll with the punches. Alrighty, anyway… it’s almost time… so all I’ve got left to say is to put in everything you’ve got for Uncle Sam! USA! USA! USA! …No? Alright, suit yourselves. Hit the gas.”
Adams pulled on a gas mask as the pavilion flooded with noxious white sleeping gas, laying all of the students out for the count. Very shortly, they’d be fighting for their lives. Underneath the mask, Adams grinned, a horrible, horrible smile...
The First Announcement Edit
6 hours was quite a long time. 6 hours was as many as 360 minutes. And that was terrible.
'That' being the fact David Adams had been watching V42 of the Program in an uncomfortable trailer for ages now, and only one kid had actually been killed. It wasn't exciting in the least. There'd been a couple of indications that people might have been about to actually kill somebody, an exchange of gunfire, and the Chalmers kid getting cold-cocked by Bryant something-or-other, but it had all been teasing, really. A prelude to the act itself.
Oh well... Adams had all day. And the next day. And the next day... and all the days up until it twigged for the kids that nobody was going to come along and commend them for their patriotism and discipline and hand out medals. Eventually, everything would come crashing down. Every fear would multiply, every paranoid thought balloon into full life... and it would be beautiful.
But not yet. For now, Adams had to be satisfied with one guy getting shot in the chest. ...Not that he hadn't enjoyed watching Chalmers getting beaten down. He reminded Adams too much of a couple of guys at his school, the ones that said he'd never amount to anything because he didn't pay enough attention to his appearance. Adams smiled. The month's suspension he'd been hit with for breaking one of their arms had been totally worth it.
The brigadier-general yawned and stretched laconically, eyeing the monitors arrayed in front of him on the off chance that anything interesting was happening. No such luck. Sighing, Adams stood and stepped out of the trailer, gesturing for a couple of techies to continue keeping an eye on the game. The broadcast would be starting round about now - six hours gave them plenty of leeway for any necessary editing, and a lot of families would be currently glued to it.
Dammit, this lack of action was going to hurt ratings...
Strolling over to a van bristling with dishes and electronic equipment, Adams opened the sliding door and stepped inside. This was the announcement van. Show time.
Minutes later, numerous hidden speakers crackled into life across the compound.
"Sup kids? This is your friendly neighbourhood Brigadier-General ...and I've got a very special song to play to all of you. Hahaha just kidding, I'm not a DJ. Although funny story I... oh nevermind, most of you will be dead in a couple of days. It's a good story though. Maybe I'll tell you later, if you haven't been violently murdered in the meantime.
"Where was I...? Oh right, yeah. Well kids, you can all breathe a sigh of relief at this, because none of you have suffered the humiliation of finishing in last place. Nope, that honour goes to Matt Gourley, who I doubt anybody liked anyway. Hey that rhymes... Adams Adams the rhyming man, rhyming rhyming fast as he can. Watching those kids, whatever will they do, kill each other is what's true!
"...*ahem*. As I was saying, Gourlay died, John Ferrara shot him, we all go home happy. Apart from the part where it'll be in a body bag for most of you, but anyway... that's the only kill for the time being. 54 remaining, see all of you in six hours or so.
And remember, Uncle Sam loves a patriot!"
The Second AnnouncementEdit
Business was picking up. That was good. Business being good meant more money, and money was the foundation of a good solid economy that promoted true American values like liberty and equality and apple pie and justice and...
He'd kind've forgotten where he was going with this.
Nevertheless, things were becoming one hell of a lot more interesting for Brigadier General David Adams. That was nice, he hated it when things stalled out. In truth the slow start had preyed on him a little, but it had all proven to be a false alarm. The killing had begun in earnest. The waiting game was bearable, but man was it boring...
But six kills inside of the next six hours? Adams smiled.
Yeah, this was shaping up to be good.
Adams hopped into the broadcasting van, humming to himself.
"How goes folks? This is your buddy Adams reporting in with the news headlines... or who got wasted. I can tell you that too if you'd like. Let's go with that.
First off, we had a," there was the sound of a deep intake of breath "DOUBLE KILL! ...Well, sort've. It's catchier than 'Two guys killed each other' anyway. If you've got anything better send your answers on a post card. Vaughn Pearson and Chanel Martin did the dirty deed to one another. Uh... killed each other, that is. You're too young to be worrying about sex."
He sang the entire thing over the PA.
Adams... was not a good singer.
"Resident ...patriot... douche... psycho... uh, Harris Van Allen was the next to go. He too suffered death by hot lead, this time from Benjamin Latimer . Next down was Nichole Campbell, who was setting a terrible example by getting all drunk... uh nevermind I issued the supplies... nope. Kami Steele did for her."
"Lastly, good ol' Henry Barren learned why you should never trust a clone. Or twins, I guess. Stephanie ... or, was it Sophie ... uh, well one of the Mason twins busted a hole in his skull. If you go into the officers' quarters, please try not to slip on any chunks of blood and brain, those are a bitch to get out of the carpet."
"Well... that's it from me. Do Uncle Sam proud. 48 remaining."
The Third AnnouncementEdit
Things had really been picking up. For such a slow start, this was really surpassing Adams expectations. Ratings would be soaring, and Uncle Sam was undoubtedly proud. Well, as much as Uncle Sam existed outside of being a face on a piece of paper...
The amount of blood and gore flashing from the television screen in Adams trailer had become larger and larger, mayhem and death more and more frequent. Within the span of the first announcement, one had died. And then six. Now ten. It was almost enough to bring a tear to an old man's eye.
Well, except for the fact that showing weakness would be Un-American.
But beyond just the one monitor showing the action live as it occurred, there were two more, one on either side of him. One showed a chart that he actually found a little hard to read as it updated every ten seconds. A label against a blue background, titled simply "Ratings". Still climbing skyward. In fact, this was shaping up to be one of the most watched Programs in history. The third showed Internet chatter regarding the Program. Every once in a while a comment would pop up that was... simply uncalled for. No worries, their names would go on a list to keep an eye on.
But the good reviews were like music to his ears.
The PA system cracked to life once more, signaling the 18 hour mark of the Program to those who still stood.
"Well hello there Kids. This is your friend Adams. What, did you expect anyone different? It's that time again, the carnage report, sponsored by good old Uncle Sam himself! And you've been quite busy being good little patriots, haven't you? That's right, we have ten more dead in the past six hours. I really had my doubts about you kids when this all started up, but you've really turned it around."
"First to die was Wendy Fischer, who tried to be the next Thi... Tha... Er... Buddhist monk dude. News flash, we're stronger than that. Well, your little classmates might not be, but that's a different story. And it wasn't even peaceful either! Chris Mitchell died in that same fire about five minutes later absolute tops."
"Next up, it was the Attack of the Clones again! One of the Mason twins filled Logan Sorenson full of hot lead. She didn't last much longer after that at all. Quickly afterwards, Sihoban McCarthy took a bullet from the end of Madeline Harris' gun, as did Alex Thornton from Luke Mendoza."
"Now for one of the most Brutal kills I've had the pleasure to watch in quite some time!" The clapping of a pair of hands, followed by the crinkling of paper was barely audible in the background during the Brigadier General's pause. "Sherilyn Schachter took a bullet to the brain, but not before dispatching both Sean Tucker and Sydney Cole with a good old fashioned Louisville slugger. Shows you just how durable good American products are. Anyways."
"And finally, we had one for the Darwin Awards folks. Allison Greene took a digger off of the helipad and lost most of her blood. Don't let this happen to you."
"This is Brigadier General Adams, signing off. I'll be in touch in another six hours... At least with those of you who are still alive."
The Fourth AnnouncementEdit
The Program had now been going for a day. Twenty-four hours. It was just getting better and better. These kids had been a total bore at the start. It had looked like the season was going to be a flop. Now, though, it was a scramble to keep up with everything. Just when they thought things couldn't get better, they did. Brigadier General David Adams was completely energized. He hadn't slept in a bit, because he didn't want to miss a moment. Hell, if stuff kept up as it currently was, he'd be fine not catching another nap until the end.
So, all the good little patriots were running around, talking with each other and shooting each other and beating each other with bats and killing each other with wrestling moves and such.
It was hard to remember what being bored felt like.
And now, it was time for announcements yet again. Adams was on his way to the van, pondering witty turns of phrase and forgetting them instantly, barely able to avoid breaking into a run. He was really excited about this. After all, it was an important announcement for several reasons.
The announcements were preceded by the first fifteen seconds of "Hail to the Chief," as Adams hit the wrong button. After that, they dissolved into a few seconds of blaring static, before finally resolving themselves into the Brigadier General's voice.
"Whoops. Sorry 'bout that, everyone. Hope no one was trying to take a nap. Not that I can see how you could, since—oh, wait, right. Announcements.
"We had even more deaths than last time. That's right, folks: eleven dead. Impressive, huh? So, without further ado, here's the list:
"Rena Bellaire got plugged by Kami Steele. Well, shot. I've never understood the term plugged, you know? I mean, it's pretty much exactly the opposite. Bandages are more like plugging. Well, whatever the reason for the term, Brett Torres also plugged some people: Durriken Lovel and Priscilla Sawyer.
"Madeline Harris took up the bat and smashed in the face of Jethro Stuarts. Then Bryant Carver—you know, the guy who did that thing with the shovel?—shot Benjamin Latimer with a shotgun. It was less exciting than the shovel, but only a bit.
"After this, Luke Mendoza killed Joanne Seguin and Matthew Payne. It looked quite painful. Hahaha... right, yeah, Luke, buddy, you gotta start actually using your gun. I mean, it's your choice, but man, those were some close calls. Axes and shards of broken junk are cool and all, but... ah, whatever. I don't actually care that much.
"Finally, Madeline Harris killed yet another person, this time shooting Abby Erickson.
"So, that's it. Good luck, all of you. Or whatever."
The announcements clicked off.
Twenty seconds later, they snapped back on.
"Right, forgot to tell you. You're halfway there now. Only twenty-four people stand between you and sweet, sweet victory."
The broadcast cut out once more.
The Fifth AnnouncementEdit
It had been inevitable. After losing over half of the contestants in the course of a day, it had been mathematically certain that the death rate would slow pretty soon. Brigadier General David Adams still felt a little disappointed, though. Things had been rolling along so smoothly, so wonderfully. Still, at least they hadn't seen a repeat of the abysmal first six hours. That had been one of the most excruciating boring experiences of his life.
Adams sat in the broadcasting van, a mug of hot chocolate resting on the control console, between Adams' boots. He was leaning way back in his chair, but was completely focused on not kicking over his drink. He was also watching a screen, paying only half attention, waiting for either another death or the time for the next announcement.
Announcement time got there first.
"A big hello to all of Uncle Sam's little nieces and nephews," Adams began. "I hope you're doing well. Today's show will be a bit shorter, since you haven't been as busy. Tut tut tut.
"So, here's the low down. True patriot and budding tactician Brett Torres shot some nice holes in Michael Maxwell, in a wonderful display of using positioning and terrain to your advantage. It reminded me of a few times in my early tours, only with less blood.
"Claire Heartland got herself shot by John Ferrara, marking his second time on these charts. I mean, well, yeah, second time, even though he was kinda responsible for those other two deaths way back—whoops.
"Anyways, in the least exciting moment ever, William Chandler shot himself in the head. We gave you a perfectly good gun, and you used it on yourself? How ungrateful. Well, if anyone wants a slightly bloodstained TEC-9, you just have to track down Chandler's body. It'll be like a treasure hunt! Exciting, mm?
"Our last death for the day came when Ryan Montoya shot one of those Mason twins. I still don't have a clue which is which. The one that didn't do the beating died, I think. Maybe. Anyways, there's only one left. It'd be lovely if you, say, turned to look at the camera and said your name. Future announcements will be so much easier, now that there isn't any confusion.
"And with that, this is Brigadier General David Adams, signing off."
The Sixth AnnouncementEdit
Brigadier General David Adams was drinking hot chocolate, yet again, and watching the tapes. There had been that little incident earlier, which had annoyed him greatly. People often ranted at the cameras. Sometimes it even made it to broadcast. It spiced things up a bit, and, really, who'd buy it if nobody complained? The more people raved and showed themselves as un-American, the more justified everything looked to the viewers.
Still, it was getting down to the wire. Fifteen students left, and two of them pretty clearly on the way out. The remaining contenders were a good batch. Maybe not the best he'd ever seen, but certainly better than many seasons. They still had a good number of active killers floating around, and even those who hadn't done much yet were the sorts who could be pushed to action. There were a disconcerting number of dissidents, but even that was okay, sometimes.
So it was time for the announcements again. These were getting a little boring, losing a little of their appeal. Adams was all ready to name the final four and be done with it. Still, a little more patriotic death to come first. At least that would be interesting.
He flicked the switch, and the broadcast began again.
"Greetings again, students of General's Pride High School," Adams said. "Have I told you all how apt that name is, by the way? You truly have done the General proud, for the most part, and his lowly brigadier general as well. Keep up the work, friends, and soon you will be the next Paul Reveres. Or something of the sort.
"Kami Steele managed to start a firefight she couldn't win, eventually taking a shot to the head from Bryant Carver. At that point, it was really a mercy kill. Of course, since he gave her the injury that necessitated mercy-killing, maybe it's not quite so noble. I'll leave you to decide.
"Jessica Vogel learned the hard way that camping can have its hazards, when the flimsy trapdoor she'd been sitting on since the start of this game gave out and pitched her all the way down the watchtower. She broke her neck, and, well, pretty much everything else.
"Madeleine Harris again killed someone, this time stabbing Kendra Gregory to death.
"Finally, one of our contestants, Tyler Blake, managed to offend dear old Uncle Sam enough to provoke retributive action. We have snipers on call for that sort of thing. Oh, did I forget to mention that earlier? Oops.
"Anyways, don't be like Blake, my fine patriots, and you may live through this yet.
"As always, this is Brigadier General David Adams, signing off."
The Seventh AnnouncementEdit
The first sound that echoed through the speakers was slow, methodical applause.
Brigadier General David Adams was pleased - very pleased, in fact. For all that this game had been a slow starter, his hunch had turned out to be correct in the long run; this Program had turned out at least as exciting as any of the others. It certainly hadn't been a damp squib, which he was decidedly glad for. The boring ones were fun for nobody, especially him, who had to sit around all day in his broadcasting van.
Sure, there had been one or two minor hiccups, but for the most part it had all gone smoothly, as per usual. He would've liked to have dealt with the Blake incident a little more promptly, but that was something to consider for the future. He'd been silenced easily enough. It had surprised Adams that it hadn't been say, a Watanabe or Carver that had launched that kind of rant. They'd each had their moments, of course, but nothing quite so flagrant.
Oh well, if everything went according to prediction, then there would be no interest, would there?
Adams cleared his throats.
"If you're still alive to hear this, folks, then congratulations. You have officially made it into the final ten of the Program! ...Well, final seven, technically. Just six more to go, and then you've got a ticket outta here and the admiration of all America. We're all counting on you guys."
"First to fall at the final hurdle was Ryan Montoya. Louis Johnson went into stabbity stabbity mode and left her looking a little like swiss cheese. If, y'know, swiss cheese were all bloody and such. John Ferrara, after looking so promising the entire time, decided on a bitch move and offed himself. Seriously John? SERIOUSLY? You are this version's official bitch, I hope you're happy. Oh wait. You're dead. Never mind. ... Bitch."
"Next... well, all I have to say is that Sophie Maso- ...wait, did I make a mistake? Aw nuts. I've just been yanking your chain! I've known which one was which this entire time! Psyche! Anyway, Sophie Mason can take a bow. Four kills. In a row. Spectacular. Karl Chalmers was first to go, after getting shot in a firefight, then Luke Mendoza was killed, followed by Alex Tartaglia and perennial fan favourite Bryant Carver later in the day. Can't give you too many marks for creativity, Sophie, but I can say.... MMMMMOOOOONSTEEEEER KILL!"
"Madeline Harris went out next because she - get this - accidentally pulled the pin out of a grenade. Now that's just embarrassing. Finally, in a horriblly sentimental scene, Brendon Arrington shot his 'friend' Megan Jacobson. Because that's what friends do right, Brendon? THEY SHOOT EACH OTHER IN THE FUCKING HEAD!"
"Keep on keeping on young Americans, you'll be home in a few hours!"
Adams signed off.
The Eighth AnnouncementEdit
Things had tapered off a little bit since the last time Brigadier General David Adams had addressed the compound. There were only four students left alive, and they had all managed to separate from each other. The storm had largely subsided. That would have been just fine if three of them had been bleeding to death. Right now, though, there was still one last little bit of violence to wring out of the season. All of these delays had Adams pondering some small changes for the next time around. It was simply no fun when people coasted through by just sitting in place while everyone interesting killed each other. That wasn't the type of winner he was looking for at all.
So, in the broadcasting van, Adams prepared to give what he seriously hoped would be his last speech to this particular batch. He drained his cup of coffee, leaned forward, and pressed the switch. It was exactly noon.
"Good afternoon, America," he began. "To all you patriots out there, I truly wish you the best. And I also wish well to the four patriots still engaged in a deadly struggle for the benefit of our great nation—er, for a certain value of wishing well, that is.
"Yes, that's right. There are only four of you left now. That would have been impressive if more than three had died in the last six hours. As it is, your effort is somewhat lacking. Such a disappointment. It's almost like you don't want to dress up for dear old Uncle Sam's annual holiday visit.
"Here's how it went down: Melinda Schenn decided to finally actually do something. She came down from her ivory tower to interact with the common folk, and got immediately shot to death by Sophie Mason. Elitism isn't patriotic, kids. You have to mingle, make connections, you know. That's how you get ahead in life.
"Marilyn Williams finished off Juliet Watanabe next. You know it's down to the wire when even the minorities turn on each other. Williams sure took her time, though. Can she possibly make up for it now?
"Finally, Sophie Mason shot someone else: Louis Johnson. The drama was enthralling. So many questions: would Louis' friend catch her? Does anyone other than Mason even know how to pull a trigger?
"I guess we're about to find out. Just as a little reminder, here's who's left:
"Sophie Mason, you've lost your sister, your decency, and your mind! What happened to that calm and plotting side of you we saw at the start? What happened to playing it smart? Who the hell cares, as long as you can shoot everyone you have to? You're tied with Ms. I-can't-even-manage-to-not-blow-myself-up as the top killer this season. One more bullet, and, live or die, you prove yourself more competent than a girl who made out with a moldy corpse.
"Marilyn Williams, until your run in with Watanabe, I actually forgot you weren't shot on the first day. Your subtlety knows no bounds, or you're just a coward. You can't run and hide forever, not with nearly everyone who isn't a dangerous killer dead. You worked up the guts to shoot once, but can you do it again? I really don't think so but, hey, no skin off my back if you manage it. It takes all sorts, even the useless ones.
"Speaking of, Brendon Arrington, how does it feel to have succeeded in saving all your friends? Wait, what's that? You totally failed? The only person you 'helped' was the one you shot in the head? You didn't even manage to hit the people you actually wanted to kill? Good thing you've watched your share of action movies, 'cause you're sure never gonna be in one. But, hey, prove me wrong. Show us what a real patriot can do. I... damn, there was some quote. I'll get back to you on that.
"Brett Torres, you're America's only hope. You've made it this far by actually playing it smart. You know strategy. You have tactics. You're fairly sane. Yeah, you wussed out a time or two, but we all have our failings. Can you maintain? Can you keep going? Only three left. Can you make it? I doubt it, now that you've left your little hole, but I'm rooting for you.
"I'm rooting for all of you. I mean, except the ones I can't stand. You know who you are. Anyways, we'll get this show on the road. Again. Do it, kids. Do it for me. Do it for yourselves. But most of all, do it for America. Track each other down and end this.
"God bless. Brigadier General David Adams, out."