Prologue: The Founding Father
40 years ago...
"Erickson, I sincerely hope you understand the the magnitude of what you're proposing. That you managed to get over half of the board to support it is one thing, but the higher ups and media execs are never going to go for this."
The echo of footsteps filled the halls of the Erickson Global Broadcasting Network's central office. Sixteen floors above the street lay the boardroom as two men ever so slowly made their way towards the doors. One of them, dressed in a beige suit with his squared glasses resting comfortably turns his attention to the blonde man next to him. Opposition was to be expected from the get go, he knew, so Gabriel Erickson felt no surprise at the hesitation his associate was showing him.
"Matthews, we've worked together for years. You know that it's in no small part to your assistance that I've turned this company around into the most successful network in decades. This goes beyond just the company here. More than that, it's more than just ratings too. I have no doubt that you've stuck by me because you saw the enormous potential that the project has."
Alexander Matthews took a moment to stop as the waiting room stood just before them. He scratches the back of his head in thought, making sure not to disturb his neatly tied ponytail before briefly composing himself. It was true that as bold and daring as the plan was, there could be huge possible benefits for not just the Network, or even just on a National scale as well. No, this could extend beyond the country. If all somehow worked out, then in the future everybody would want their share. Yet, there were still undoubtedly going to be many who opposed it.
"Sir, I know that you're my senior when it comes to both age and your position, but even if we can get the support of the media, what about the Human Rights groups? Everybody agrees that the ever-increasing amount of criminal activity from the past 15-20 years needs to be controlled somewhat. It's just that you're essentially talking about luring them to one place with the promise of cash and prizes. People are going to have a hard time swallowing something that sounds like you're filtering out crime into some artificial city just for the sake of ratings and money."
The slightly older man adjusted his glasses as he gave a cold stare behind him.
"I'm planning on opening things up to everybody. If massive gang wars start to break out in the city...then at least people will find it interesting. And what they do once they're in there is up to them, not us."
"Listen to me Alex. Over these past few years, televised executions have become popular. We've seen live streaming of police chases, and even exerts from military battles be shown. People are starting to feel adrenaline from watching those operations of life and death to go along with their own fear of it. It's all about the presentation. We'll be presenting the possibility of crime from a safe distance to our viewers, and we'll give them all the heroes and villains they could hope for when we go into screening our 'contestants'."
With that, Erickson placed his hand on the nob of the waiting room door and opened it, motioning for his younger associate to follow him inside.
As if on cue, a middle aged woman in a light gray jacket rises from her desk to welcome them. While she brushes a strand of her light brown hair out of her face, Gabriel takes a moment to ponder just how much she may have heard from the earlier conversation. Nonetheless, he greets her with a soft smile and a kind wave. Even if she'd heard everything, what he and Alex had discussed would soon be all anybody wanted to talk about. He'd spent equal parts years and finances even getting to this point, and there was no doubt that it would take many more to fully make his vision a reality.
"Good afternoon. Could you tell them that we're here?"
"Of course, Mr. Erickson. I'll let you know when they're ready, so please wait here a moment."
With a friendly yet almost curious smile, she turned her back to the pair and walked towards the double doors that loomed at the end of the room. It could have been the anxiousness that Erickson felt building up inside the pit of his stomach, or it could have been the echoing of her shoes as the walked along the hard floor, but it had felt like forever by the time that Brantford disappeared behind the doors.
A glance over to his acquaintance only served to reaffirm the suspicion that he wasn't the only one feeling as he did. Alex had begun to scratch the tufts of blonde hair on his chin that formed a slight goatee, and it appeared as though he'd been trying to make sure the sky blue tie that he'd been wearing was as neat as humanly possible. Still, the younger man looked like he'd been trying to laugh it off while he was appearing to go over the pitch in his head until he noticed Gabriel's gaze.
"Well," he started, with a grin that seemed to be just as much for himself as it was for his older partner "looks like there's no going back now. We're in this together, one way or another. Don't forget to mention that there's already a location in mind, with the support of the hosting nation. Oh, and that you've got support from some military personnel. Or the economic advantages we and the host country get financially and with the amount or jobs with it. Uh...oh! The finances! Make sure they know there's going to be a way to pay for all of this! Nobody's ever tried anything of this scale before! I mean, well it's a city and all, so they're going to have questions and..."
Placing a hand on the media executive's shoulder reassuringly, a warm smile lines his face. His associate was always pushing himself to try and remember everything, but needed that extra little bit of confidence to trust in his own abilities every now and then. Either way, Gabriel wouldn't have picked anybody else to start this project with.
"I'm glad to have you helping me out, Matthews. Just remember what we've been working for here, and you'll be fine. This isn't going to be the end of all of our hard work, this is just the beginning, so keep your chin up and show some of that enthusiasm. We're 50/50 on this, so trust me a little here and I'll have your back even if Bronson and the others start to give you a hard time. Once we get this ball rolling, the rest is easy."
After a brief nod, Matthews began to give a response, only to be interrupted by the sound of the double doors opening once more and Brantford's return. Erickson hadn't even noticed her motioning them over before he'd starting walking in her direction.
"They said that they'll see you two now. Good luck."
Adjusting his collar and beige suit, he chuckled quietly to himself. 'Luck, huh? I guess everything comes down to that after all.'
As they made their way through the doors ahead of them, there was no question that both of them were going to put everything they had into making sure that this idea, didn't stay as just that.
30 years ago...
Construction had begun to slow down at a most unwelcome time. For the past 5 years, they'd begun using local employees and contractors due to the cost reduction from flying in additional workers from one country to another. It was true that they periodically received additional assistance and funding, but some of the compromises that had to be made in order to get the plan approved in the first place had been making things more complicated than was necessary.
Gabriel stopped his thought process momentarily and took a moment to survey the area around him. Even with everything put in place, the design schematics set up, and 8 and a half years of solid construction using more construction workers and planners than anybody could even begin to count, there had been roadblocks. The entire city-like area had required a wall on all 4 sides of it to be setup before building had even begun, and the whole region needed to be declared a "no fly zone". Even so, there had to be ways in and out set up. An entry point for the contestants and people inside once the game started had to be designed and be separated from the central gate of entry.
There was a road leading in from the south for bringing materials in via ground transportation, and there had been a man made river and docking area on the west end near their communications centre that led off into the ocean. Erickson had questioned spending the extra manpower and time on such things, but since a secondary means of transporting materials and personnel was a condition he had to meet, his hands were unfortunately tied. Still, the smaller buildings and the drop points they would need for supplies had been finished and set up. The larger ones would sadly require more time, the power grid would still need some working out, and the absolutely massive amount of cameras required to properly broadcast the program was going to be a long and tedious process. Truthfully speaking, it could take another 2 years before they were properly finished and the final stages could begin.
A deep sigh escapes the middle-aged business man as he removes his glasses and rubs his eyes. Without question, the past decade had been long and strenuous. Not just for him, not just for Matthews, who was currently over in the north end, but for his family as well. Now he had a 9 year old son of his own named Geoffrey to look after. Being away from him for such extended periods of time made Gabriel equal parts determined and lonesome. Whenever he was home and explained how he was making a program that would 'get the bad guys off the streets and make us all safer again', the boy just kept showing more and more interest in it. He knew it wasn't much, but being able to share something like that, and seeing the smile on his child's face only added fuel to the belief he was doing the right thing. It had to be so that everything would be worth it in the end.
His phone rang.
Removing it from his pocket and looking down, Erickson let out an ever so slight smile as he noticed Alex was trying to get in touch with him.
"Gabriel here. How are things coming along up there?"
"They're pretty much on schedule like you thought. Right now they're just making sure there's not going to be anybody blowing a hole in the walls. You know, all that safety mumbo jumbo."
He sighed at the last part. Yeah, he knew that having there be live ammunition and very real weapons or explosives in there meant the walls needed to be more than thick and tough enough to withstand it all, but they needed to trust him. They didn't skimp on any of the details when they started putting those things up, and there was more than adequate security in case people tried to stage a revolt and storm any of the entrances. Hell, when Erickson saw them finalize the kinks in what he best described as 'cash out time periods', a lot of the other execs second guessed whether or not people would try to take advantage of them.
As for finalizing the format and rules? Well, that had been a whole other pile of problems with endless safety concerns and tweaks that needed to be made.
"I know, they have to go through everything again just so they can pat themselves on the back after". As Matthews gave a slight chuckle to himself in response, Gabriel swore he could see his partner grinning, before continuing. "I've still got a headache over all the trouble they gave us when they thought we weren't going to let anybody leave. And dealing with all those medical personnel when we had to manage the knockout injections the bangles have? I wasted so much time letting them argue over the dosage just so they wouldn't start thinking we were going to poison people, or that the sensors could be tampered with. Alex, I think I'm getting too old for this crap."
"Looks like I'll have to call that nursing home early, won't I?" Matthews teased, taking note of the 52 year old's groaning response. "Just try to calm down a little bit, would you? The streets, the buildings, the walls, even the cameras and all this tech, it's all thanks to you. We're only a couple of years away from getting the worldwide premiere we always wanted. Hell, it almost makes up for you letting them name it."
"You know how marketing people are. They just wanted something catchy, and your ideas were a little...lacking, Alex. Let them do their whole 'wealth lord' thing if it makes them happy."
"Yeah, yeah. I know, Gabe, you just compromised on stuff to keep them off your back, don't be so serious. Try not to get too impatient, though. Hang in there a little longer, things are only going to up from here."
25 years ago...
Finally, the day Gabriel Erickson had spent the last 23 years of his life working towards had arrived, and for the first time in as long as he could remember, he was nervous. The other Network executives, the current Board Members, the Media Representatives...all of them composing his inner circle were there, waiting to see how the world would react. Each of them were holding baited breaths as the clock moved ever closer to showtime. The office room was eerily quiet, but it was more than just tension that filled the air. It was accompanied by its fair share of hope, uncertainty, and the desire to believe that the response leading up to it would hold, that everything leading up to this point in time wouldn't be for naught.
Even though 'Officially' airing hadn't begun, filming had started 5 days ago, to give the contestants time to acclimate to their surroundings. Erickson also knew the necessity of making sure they could scrounge together enough material to give a promising preview of what was to come. Truthfully, even with a majority of the people currently in the city being comprised of the expected blend of criminals, thrill-seekers, delinquents, and prison inmates, a surprisingly large amount were made up of something else. An alarming amount of homeless men and women had signed up for the experiment. Nobody truly knew what to make of such a development when it first occurred.
In between steadily working to drum up media attention for the moment of truth, Matthews had passed along his theory that people who had literally nothing would gladly jump at the chance to have a place to some kind of shelter and food, even with the high risk scenario they'd be putting themselves into. Gabriel lightly bit his lip as he recalled the thought process one of the Assistant Producers had been open enough to share with him.
"This works out great for us. The story almost writes itself, sir. 'From rags to riches' in the most basic sense of the term. People won't be able to help but get behind one of them."
With all the cameras recording footage, and the people in the city, they still had to be the ones in charge of how everything was presented to the general public watching at home. Things had to be kept interesting and entertaining each and every show, but there was a delicate line that couldn't be crossed. The integrity of fairness within what was ultimately a competition had to remain as intact as humanly possible. If that integrity broke, if the audience started to question the authenticity of it and suspected the network and producers of playing favourites, then everything would start to go downhill from there. Ultimately, this experiment was going to boil down to matters of life and death on a grand scale. It wasn't so simple and straightforward as kicking people off some island back to their every day lives. Some of them wouldn't have the same lives when they left, and chances were that more of them wouldn't be lucky enough to get to leave at all.
His gaze falling on the ever growing number of executives in the room and glancing at the timer that approached zero, Gabriel pushed his glasses back up the bridge of his nose. They were fully committed now, and one way or another, this would be the culmination of his life's work.
The screen flickered on with almost a clicking sound.
This is it, he thought. All or nothing.
The executives, both older and younger gradually stopped their casual discussions as time approached.
Erickson takes the last moment to think about his son Geoffrey, and how he's about to start high school in the coming months. All of Gabriel's hard work had led to this, and while he hadn't been able to be the father he'd hoped all the time, once things got underway, that would all change.
The picture on screen pans across a production truck, showing countless displays portraying visuals from the cameras throughout the entire city, before making its way to a younger Television Host standing on a sound stage. Behind him is what appears to be almost akin to a commentators desk of sorts, as he brings his hand down from the earpiece on the right side of his head and greets the audience with a warm smile.
Looking to be in his mid-20s, his short reddish brown hair is in a nicely kept brush cut, while his dress shirt and slacks are kept in almost a laid back and casual way. Eagerly, as if the pressure was entirely nonexistent, he parts his lips to speak.
"Good evening ladies and gentlemen. My name is Darren Koetzer, and I'm proud to welcome you all...to Kuber's Compound."