(For optional accompaniment: YouTube - (Requiem) 33 - Apostle 3 - Jacob Hectic Version (He Who Touches Heaven))
Peter watched with eager anticipation as, one by one, the players filed into the modified gymnasium. Nearly every one of them--regardless of their age, gender, background, and preconceptions of the Game--wore the same bewildered expression as the brilliant strobe lights and pounding techno beat assaulted their senses. In addition, the entire floor had been newly replaced, now sporting an enlarged map of the United States, ending with a small sliver of Mexico outlining the foot of the bleachers. All of the exits on that side of the gym had also been walled over.
Simon Peter had also taken the opportunity to indulge in the midst of his renovations, and installed the descending platform upon which he now stood. The small white disc was just wide enough for a single person to stand on, and illuminated Peter from below with powerful LED lights that splashed his white suit with a myriad of colors. Considering his pivotal role in the Game, he had long since deemed himself worthy of a little self-gratification.
As the platform lowered into the players' line of vision, Simon Peter spread his arms wide in a gesture of welcome. Gradually, in perfect synchronization with his descent, the frenzied strobe lights focused their colored streams upon him, extending and expanding to form colored spotlights. The music heightened to a feverish pitch as he spread his fingers and tilted his head high; the intense spotlights caused his reflective mask to gleam like the face of Moses. Wait for it... The platform was less than a few yards above the ground when at once it shot back up into the air, propelling Simon Peter through an Olympic front-flip, which he stuck the landing of perfectly. With a fixed smile, he greeted them with a Shakespearean bow: "My dearest participants, welcome to the preliminaries!"
The mirthful grin of the mask lit up in a myriad of colors with every syllable, illuminating the face of the portly young man Peter had happened to land in front of. "I hope you'll forgive me for the less-than-welcoming accommodations," he began without any hint of apology in his tone, "but as I just mentioned...this is only the Preliminary Round! Here, we're going to comb through this motley troupe to see just who among you has the makings of a true winner in you. Now, I know what you're thinking, players--but let's begin at Point A, then move to Point B, shall we? My name is Peter--Simon Peter, as I'm called." He gave them all another nimble stage bow with this announcement.
"I'd love to meet and greet each one of you in turn, but I'm sure that you're all willing to skip past a few formalities to get onto the million-dollar prize, no? This game," he said, walking amidst the crowd of players, "will test not merely your strategy or reflexes...nor is it solely physical work, either. The Ultimate Game requires skill sets of all kinds, some you might not expect..." He added a note of importance to that last clause, the metallic synthesizer adding a sinister edge to his voice.
"...However, the rules themselves are incredibly simple: The Ultimate Game is based off of the ever-so-popular classic, 'Simon Says'!" Peter laughed and gave one player, grave-looking young man with an odd pair of eyes, an overly-friendly pat on the shoulder. "I deserve just a bit of ego stroking, don't I? After all," he said, moving back to the platform and spreading his arms in a grand gesture, "I'm giving you all the chance to win one million dollars! The best of luck to you all, gamers! Be awaiting your first instructions shortly!" The circular platform ascended back into the shadows from whence it came, and the spotlights rearranged themselves to illuminate the map on the floor.
It seemed as though an hour had been condensed into the moment of silence that followed, but only a minute lapsed before a synthesized metallic voice came over the sound system: "Simon says...'Run for the border!'" Another moment passed before the vague order became all too clear.
Beginning from the front of the gymnasium--the location of the only exit--the newly-refurbished wooden floor practically disintegrated, snapping angrily into a thousand splinters. Like the honed fangs of some awful beast, metal spikes the height of a single-story building shot up from the seemingly bottomless pit left behind. The only pieces of the gym floor that remained were Mexico and a few odd states in between, the southernmost being just within jumping distance of a relatively fit person.
Simon giggled triumphantly over the intercom, "Let the games begin, my fellow showmen! Simon says 'balance'." To emphasize his point, a dark shape plummeted from the ceiling and onto one of the remaining states. While it at first appeared to sustain its weight, the platform quickly pivoted on its supporting column, sending the obscure mass down and onto the waiting spikes. As the shape was impaled by more than five different spikes, it could at last be identified: Black cloth tore away to reveal a dead body, its face and chest horribly mutilated--as though the person had been inserted face-first into a wood chipper.
"Two at a time, m'dears! I sincerely hope you don't disappoint...especially since you only have two hours to complete the Preliminary Round. After precisely one-hundred-twenty minutes, this entire school--roaches and all--will light up like an angry birthday cake!"
(For optional accompaniment: YouTube - Midnight Syndicate - Dark Forest)
Meanwhile, an email was simultaneously received at the nearest police station, from a randomly-generated address. It read as follows:
"To the Folks in Blue, a poem:
Good day and Salaam!
I'm not of Islam,
Or from Vietnam,
But you'd best call your mom,
Because I HAVE A BOMB.
You might think I'm a troll,
But the death knell will toll.
For if they leave whole from the deadly black hole,
They'll never escape from that old grassy knoll.
Simon says, "Search".