Track 19: Brighter Nights

Surprisingly, nothing new went wrong until we got back to base. Even more surprisingly, things didn’t go wrong for a while.

That’s not to say, however, that things weren’t completely fucked around us. Throughout the entire trip to the base, I could see scenes of destruction through the window of the Bearcat I was in. Planes of all shapes and sizes had crashed to the ground. Most of them were civilian airliners carrying people fleeing from the expected Dragon’s Teeth amphibious attack, but there were plenty of military and cargo planes as well. A few even appeared to be Dragon’s Teeth.

There was also the expected mass exodus of civilians and police and military frantically directing them. People were angry and scared, and the fact that we seemed to be “cutting” when we were traveling via evacuation route pissed a lot of people off. Most of the populated roads we were passing were in good shape, but some were blocked by fallen planes, collapsed buildings, and wrecked, broken or abandoned buildings.

Then you’d get to a place where there had obviously been some sort of battle. Apparently, the Dragon’s Teeth had been raiding the line of evacuees. We’d see hastily barricades hastily erected by civilians and cops and the remains of pitched combined arms battles. Apparently, the Dragon’s Teeth had tanks, too. Like the Charons, they looked a lot like stealth bombers. There were also Charons with missiles and four-barreled miniguns for AA purposes and what appeared to be their answer to the Hummvee, except disguised as a luxury SUV. When you looked at how many wrecks Abrams tanks, Bradleys, Strykers, and Humvees there were per equivalent destroyed Dragon’s Teeth vehicle, you began to realize that the only reason the Teeth weren’t in control of that area was sheer numbers.

The worst part, though, was seeing what the civilians had faced when the battles began. Trapped by the sheer number of cars, they were essentially in a shooting gallery. Many wrecks had to be pulled off the road and body bags had apparently run out, as many unlucky enough to be hit were pulled off the road and left for all who drove past to see. Occaisionally, I’d see a mixture of civilians, soldiers, and first responders digging mass graves and checking ID. Most of the time the manpower seemed to be needed elsewhere.

As we moved on, I noticed that I could always hear gunfire and explosions. Mostly it was the thunder of big guns and impacts of those and missiles. When I say big guns, I’m talking stuff like 120mm mortars and 150mm Howitzers, things that were making my chest rattle just by firing at distances so far I couldn’t even see them. And they must have been firing faster than intended. Occaisionally, we’d hear small arms fire chattering. Sometimes it was even disturbingly close.

However, the scariest bits were the blue-white flashes of light off in the distance. We couldn’t get a good look at them, but I could tell that it was from Dragon’s Teeth plasma weaponry. That could not have been a good thing.

Eventually, we came got to a Guard base. It wasn’t a real base, more like a hastily fortified town near the Arizona-Utah border. The basic layout was an irregularly-shaped town with various sandbag emplacements and vehicles around it. Traffic was so bad that you simply could not cut through it, so makeshift bridges had been constructed. A little ways away, planes were landing on makeshift runways. They were mostly big C130s, and they were dropping off supplies, vehicles, and soldiers and taking away VIPs and wounded. I hoped I was a VIP. I didn’t want to get captured by Dragon’s Teeth.

We staggered out of the Bearcat, having been standing for what felt like several years. We couldn’t get a chance to sit because we were instantly swept up in a tide of mostly uniformed people. Some were attempting to herd us in different directions, others were accidentally shoving us along like a stream. I can’t speak for anyone else in that Bearcat, but I went along with it mostly because I was dead tired. Every few seconds, someone would pull on my forehead to see if I had a mask. Eventually, I was placed where I was supposed to be: an office of some sort that had been converted to VIP area. I fell asleep instantly.

I woke up after a while. However long I had been asleep wasn’t long enough. I’m not sure what woke me up because nothing had really changed. The TV that was on had been on since I’d come in, the guns were still going, and vehicles were still moving.

Speaking of the TV, I was now awake to tell what it was saying. A bunch of talking heads were sitting around, saying stuff that was probably completely wrong. Behind them was a map of the United States. Much of it was blue. However, there was an L-shaped area of either solid red or cross-hatched blue that started at Washington State and Montana, then went down the coast. Once it hit Mexico, it then headed East, taking New Mexico, Arizona, Louisiana, and Florida as well as much of Texas and taking chunks out of states immediately to the North.

I blinked at the map uncomprehendingly for a few minutes until I realized what it was of. It was of the area the Dragon’s Teeth had taken. The four anchors on the screen were talking about the morality of the US breaking out the chemical weapons. My first reaction was outrage. Of course it was a good idea! I admit, normally I’d say the kind of stuff they were talking about was immoral, but if it was effective, then that was probably the only chance we had.

I was wondering whether or not poison gas would be effective (probably, at least at first, the Deets had this filter on their masks that could remove their own gases but not more permanent stuff,) when one of the anchors asked the question I should have asked at the beginning. “Hell yeah,” he was saying, trying to shout over the over three who were shouting over him. “We got-excuse me-we got all this stuff lying around and they ARE INVADING OUR COUNTRY! The only Goddamn question is why the hell aren’t we using our nukes?”

I paused. That was a good question. Why the hell weren’t we using our nukes? We had enough nuclear weapons at our disposal to end life on Earth and possibly break the back of the Dragon’s Teeth invasion. Were the people in charge hesitating to use them? Or could they not use them for some reason?

Either way, I was disturbed. My tired mind began racing with all the possibilities that could account for the lack of nuclear response. The best one was that the people in charge knew things I didn’t and the situation wasn’t that desperate. The alternative was they thought they knew things I didn’t and didn’t realize the gravity of the situation which was one of the worst options. Another was that they were worried about the political fallout as well as the other kind, or reports were so confused that they didn’t know where to aim. An even more disturbing possibility, looking at the map, was that the Dragon’s Teeth had found a way to destroy, disable, or capture the nuclear arsenal of the United States. At that point, I noticed that I was hyperventilating and made a conscious effort to stop.

A soldier, her gas mask and helmet off, wandered in. She began brewing coffee and when she noticed me staring at her blearily, she asked, “Y’all want some?” She looked to be in her thirties, but I couldn’t tell how many of those years had been added in the last few hours.

“Sure,” I said. I’m not a really big fan of coffee, but I was so tired it hurt and I wasn’t really able to go back to sleep. Since tea, soda, and hot chocolate weren’t on the menu, I’d be willing to try coffee. As she brewed, I asked, “So, how’re things going on outside?”

She laughed bitterly. “Well, I got my wish and went from a boring ass-desk job to this bullshit. You believe I wanted to be in the SEALs?”

“Careful what you wish for, sunshine,” Eliza said, opening her eyes a crack, “Y’just might get it.”

“Wish you’d told me that before today, ma’am,” the soldier said. “I’m Private Owens.”

“Don’t give me that ma’am bollocks,” Eliza said. “We might not’ve ever worn a uniform, but we’ve been in the shit before, an’ we’ll be in the shit again before this is all over.”

Private Owens considered this for a moment, then said, “Ok.” She held out her hand. “I’m Nadia Owens.”

Eliza shook it. “Eliza Henderson. And the zombie’s Nathan Jacobs.”

“Pleased to meet you,” I said. “How are things going out there?”

“I been fightin’ for about twenty-four hours,” Nadia said. “Those fuckers have been kicking our asses for most of it. I was lucky. By the time I’d gotten out there, we’d managed to get enough ground fire to make it possible to send up something.”

Eliza sat up, suddenly awake. “We got shot down by those fuckers. D’you know where they’re coming from?”

“Girl,” Nadia said, “We can barely even see those shits, you think we can find where they came from? Anyway, I watched several dozen of our birds fall right out of the sky. Meanwhile, I’m with the 19th Spec Ops like I’ve always dreamed, manning 249, which is-”

“A machinegun,” Eliza said, “I know, I’ve been shot at by one.”

“What’d ya’ll say you did?” Nadia asked.

“Things,” I said. “Anyway, how’d you guys stop them?”

Nadia looked at us for a while, trying to figure out what we were. Eventually she asked, “What makes you think we stopped ‘em?”

“You’re standing here,” I said, “and they aren’t.”

“By that definition I suppose you’re right,” Nadia said, shrugging. “I say I only slowed ‘em down. When we could get the A10s and Apaches in, they’d take out a few vehicles, then they’d get shot down. We didn’t get any real breathers until we dropped some mustard gas on ‘em. Takes about five or so minutes for the gas to seep through, then they start hackin’ their lungs out.”

“Sounds bloody awful,” Eliza said.

“The reason I’m back here,” Nadia said, “is because when we came back to base to change our air supply, some bleeding heart idiot told us to take a rest.  Complete fuckin’ bullshit, we need every person capable of shooting to get out there and shoot.”

“Trust me,” I said, “these people you’re fighting, they’ve got a lot of tricks up their sleeves. We haven’t seen everything, and you’ll need to be rested to counter it.”

“Is that just a theory,” Nadia asked, “or are you speaking from experience?”

“I’m not sure if I’m allowed to say,” I said.

“Mmm,” Nadia said, “well, let’s just say that the things I’ve seen so far make me really hopeful I don’t see any more. No new toys, and not a single Dragon’s Teeth fucker that hasn’t already been shot.”

“Have you seen the invisible people?” Eliza asked. “Well, not seen, but experienced?”

“Invisible Goddamned people?” Nadia asked. “They haven’t graced us with their presence. I’m pretty sure those planes are invisible, but it just ain’t right that they can give their people some Harry Potter-ass shit.”

“Use thermal imaging,” I said. “They light up like fucking Vegas on those.”

“I’ll tell my people,” Nadia said. “In the meantime, coffee’s just about…”

She stopped and stared at the door she had just came in. She had the coffee pot in her hands and it was shaking wildly, the coffee making waves. “Frank?” She asked. Eliza and I turned to look where she was staring. There was nothing there.

“D’you see them too?” Eliza asked.

Nadia turned. “Do I see who?” she asked, a note of dread in her voice.

“The dead people,” I said. “If you have, we’ve been seeing them as well. You should probably listen, they know more then we do.”

Nadia slowly and carefully set down the pot of coffee. “Well,” she said, “it was nice talkin’ to y’all but I’ve got to go now.” She then hurried out of the room as fast as possible.

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Track 18: 21st Century Warfare

We hunkered down as the dust trails came closer, the black shapes still hard to identify. Looking at the plane, I could see movement. The Marines must have seen or heard what I assumed to be Charons and were moving into firing positions. They must have known that four or five men with assault rifles didn’t stand a chance against four conventional APCs, let alone ones made out of whatever super space substance the Dragon’s Teeth.

Meanwhile, the civilians, FBI agents, and the pilots were taking off running. Some were heading towards us, which was smart. We had hiked up a hill that should have been impassable to wheeled vehicles like the Charon. The others were running along the relatively flat ground. That wouldn’t work. Charons could theoretically beat most sports cars on the track.

Their speed was demonstrated pretty quickly, appropriately enough. The vehicles came into range and the Marines began to open up. Unsurprisingly, they were ineffective and most of the vehicles simply ignored them. One cut off the people heading down the flat area. Twelve Dragon’s Teeth Legionnaires exited the vehicle and began controlling the runners. Two sped up to cut off the people heading up the mountain. When the dust cleared, I could see that they’d parked close enough that I could see that they’d parked perpendicular to us and opened their doors facing us, revealing their clinically white interior. Legionaries, in their Roman-inspired armor, were getting out and controlling the crowd. The last Charon, meanwhile, had slammed on its brakes, smashing into a Marine and enveloping itself in dust. When that dust cleared, it revealed six newly deployed Legionnaires who then proceeded to kill the remaining Marines. Then the Charon sped off to ride heard on the passengers from the plane trying to escape via the flat lands.

Meanwhile, we were lying down prone on the ground behind rocks and cacti. “Do you think they can hear us?” Watanabe whispered. Despite being about three hundred meters away from the soldiers, everyone else shushed him.

We watched as the Legionaries slowly herded the groups back towards the plane, occasionally firing off rounds. As they did, Eliza whispered, “Does anyone else ‘ear motors?”

“No,” I said. “Where are they coming from?”

Eliza pointed in a direction that was about thirty degrees off from where the Charons had come from. “‘Eavy vehicles, comin’ from over there. ‘Bout four, and they sound different from Charons. They’re goin’ slower an’ they’re usin’ petrol or diesel engines ‘steada electric.” She then turned and pointed behind us. “And some SUVs, plus a few other trucks. Bit more of them.”

“Hopefully that’s the National Guard,” I said. Then, from the first area Eliza had pointed, there was a gout of fire from a cannon’s muzzle flash and an equally impressive crack.  Something, probably a 105mm HEAT shell, smashed through the side doors of one Charon and kicked up a spray of dust. “Yep,” I said, watching the four Stryker Mobile Gun Systems (basically slower, less technologically-advanced versions of Charons with bigger guns) crest the hill, “it’s the National Guard.”

The Charon that had been was able to speed off in a cloud of dust. What I could see of it showed that, since the HEAT round had hit its doors, the damage was only cosmetic. Another Charon, however, wasn’t so lucky. I saw a HEAT round smash down right in front of it. Whatever the Charons were made out of must have been extremely lightweight, because it flipped over onto its roof, its gun turret jammed into the Arizona sand, rendering the vehicle disabled. It was a humiliating injury.

The Strykers, meanwhile, were pressing the attack. Every time a 105 fired, my chest would rattle like one of those big fireworks like the Fourth of July. The impacts of the shells were even more awesome. I felt like I was about to have a heart attack, it was so intense.

It would have been awe-inspiring if not for the fact that they weren’t hitting anything. A Stryker MGS is a platform with an anti-tank weapon given to people who are trained to hit broadsides of barns and not much else. They’re there to remove bunkers, fortified buildings of no strategic importance, and maybe a swarm of counter-attacking infantry. Expecting them to hit something as fast as a sports car is both unrealistic and unfair.

Charons, meanwhile, seemed to be designed for just this kind of situation. As soon as they took off, it became clear that any normal gunner couldn’t hit them without some sort of aim assist. Then they opened fire.

Their guns were around twenty or forty millimeters and fully automatic. The first time one of the Charons burped out some rounds, they exploded and bounced of one of the Strykers, causing the armor to crumple. The second time, they penetrated the armor of the cockpit and the vehicle swerved. Then another Stryker was hit, its front blowing out and its wheels collapsing. It coasted to a halt and lay there, smoke emitting from the holes.

Meanwhile, one Stryker got a miraculous hit on a Charon. The HEAT round must have impacted on the side-front, because the Charon’s rear raised up and it did an odd sort of pirouette on one of its front tires, its rear ramp falling open.

The two remaining Charons pulled up alongside their remaining attackers and released stunning broadsides. One Stryker had its front end seemingly melt from a long burst of the Charon’s autocannon. The last remaining Stryker, however, must have taken a round to its magazine or fuel tank. The darkening area was illuminated by multiple explosions from the stricken vehicle. It was then engulfed in flame and kept rolling, carried by momentum.

The Charons, seemingly unperturbed by the loss of half their team, slowly returned to patrol around the crashed plane. They’d been hit pretty hard, but I had to admit one was only due to surprise and another loss was completely due to either unearthly skill or a freak accident. Meanwhile, the soldiers they had disgorged were just finishing up herding the last few crash survivors back into the downed plane.

Then, from behind us, the missiles came. I’m assuming they were Javelin missiles, but I don’t really care. I just love the way they fucked up the Charons. Each one disappeared in a cloud of smoke and dust. One emerged, coasting along, smoke billowing out from a hole in the top, its front windscreens shattered and blood staining the hood and its turret spinning wildly. The other just stayed in its little cloud, explosions sending bits and pieces of it flying as its magazine exploded in a chain reaction.

I turned around. Soldiers, either National Guard or regular Army, were cresting the hill. They began firing their M16s, M249s, and M14s down into the somewhat clumped up Legionnaires. The Dragon’s Teeth should have been slaughtered.

Instead, that first wave of soldiers were mostly wiped out. They were good, but a lot of their shots missed. Again, at that range, in that light, with mostly just iron sights, it was understandable. And the shots that did hit were mostly stopped by the Legionnaires’ armor. The Legionnaires, meanwhile, had fancy optics, what was probably intense training, selective breeding, and genetic enhancements out the wazoo. They were slaughtering the first few to come over the hill.

Then two Stryker ICVs (like the Stryker MGS, but carries infantry and has machineguns instead of a cannon) and three Humvees crested the hill in V-formation. Three of the Humvees and the Strykers were equipped with M2 .50 caliber machineguns which seemed to be pretty good at knocking down Legionnaires in a way that made them unable to get up. The middle Humvee had an Mk. 19 automatic grenade launcher which didn’t seem to be as effective, but made me feel a lot better. Then, there was the sound of a 105 firing, and a group of Legionnaires disappeared in a cloud of dust and smoke. Apparently, there was a Stryker MGS out there that wasn’t as dead as the Charon operators would have liked.

Soon, there was little left of the forty-eight Legionnaires except corpses. Between the small-arms fire from the troops, the heavy machinegun fire from the supporting vehicles, and the formerly resting Stryker, the Legionnaires had been defeated. Barely. If half of those Charons hadn’t been taken out by the initial Stryker assault, or if the Javelins had missed, there would be a lot more US soldiers bleeding out on the sand and a lot less Dragon’s Teeth.

The soldiers advanced cautiously. Every time one of the Legionnaires twitched, the soldiers would open up again, raking the area with firepower. Eventually, their line advanced so far that one stepped on Watanabe. The soldier’s first reaction was to nearly blow Watanabe’s head off with an M16. Watanabe’s reaction was to let out a strangled cry.

“Jesus Christ!” the soldier said. “What the hell?” I noticed the soldier was wearing a gas mask. That explained why the Dragon’s Teeth wasn’t spamming hallucinogenic gas like they normally did.

Hicks, thinking fast, held up his ID. “It’s ok,” he said, “we’re FBI.”

More soldiers came over, training rifles on us. When there were about two or three soldiers for every one of us, one shone a light in our faces and checked Hicks’ ID. Another pinched our foreheads with his thumb and forefinger and pulled, obviously checking for masks. “You’ve been having infiltrators, too, huh?” Barton asked.

“How’d you find out about the masks?” one soldier asked.

“Some bastards with them,” Hicks said in annoyance, “managed to get into the Honolulu field office by wearing them and flashing US Marshall badges.” After a pause, Hicks said, “In retrospect, we kind of deserved that.”

“You guys can write up the after-action reports later, sir,” one of the soldiers said. “In the meantime, please stay here.”

We spent a while under guard while the Guardsmen advanced on the plane. I noticed that behind the armed Strykers and Humvees were two unarmed Strykers and two green Bearcat armored cars. The Bearcats sped past and approached the plane, running over the downed Legionnaires. I wasn’t sure whether or not that was on purpose. Some of the SWAT officers entered the plane, most stayed out and began checking the dead Dragon’s Teeth.

Then, the two unarmed Strykers moved in. One pulled up to the plane and the SWAT officers began bringing the civilians into the vehicles. The other collected the dead and injured Guardsmen, then pulled up next to the still-functioning Stryker MGS and began evacuating the people from it.

“So what happens now?” I asked.

“We get you guys back to base,” a Guardsman said, “and hope no more shit goes wrong.”

 

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Track 17: Badlands

“So,” I asked, as we boarded a military plane, “why are we leaving?” Several families and individuals, maybe other people in witness protection, maybe families of military brass, and some soldiers and FBI agents were also crammed in with us.

“Did you see the traffic on the way?” Barton asked.

“Kind of hard to miss it,” Eliza said. “We were bloody in it on the way to the police station.”

“Exactly,” Barton said. “It’s going to get a lot worse. Everybody on the west coast is going to want to get to the east coast.”

“Which is going to be a problem,” Hicks said, “because the army’s going to want to get here as fast as possible.”

“Yeah,” Barton said, a haunted look in his eyes, “that’ll be a nightmare.”

“So,” Watanabe asked, seemingly trying to hold back his barf, “where are you going to keep my clients?”

“Can I make a suggestion?” I asked. Hicks made a grunting noise and nodded, which I assumed he’d listen, if not follow it. “My company’s factory has been experimenting with automated defenses for a while.”

“That shouldn’t be necessary,” Hicks said. “But New England might be a good place to lay low.”

“What if they win?” Watanabe asked, instantly sucking all the air out of the room. “There’s a good chance that the Dragon’s Teeth will win. They’ve already steamrollered most of Europe, including France, Germany and England. Russia won’t last the month. China’s already admitted it’s lost more people than it can replace, and India isn’t looking too good either.”

“Well,” I said eventually, “that’s actually somewhat reassuring. Hopefully, they’re spent. I mean, do you have any idea how much manpower all this is taking? Since the US spends more money on defense than Russia and China combined, we might be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.” That seemed to cheer up Watanabe and some of the people we were flying with.

“Do you really believe that?” Eliza asked in a disbelieving monotone.

“I don’t believe my theory is impossible,” I said, hedging. “I mean, it makes sense, doesn’t it?” The people became less consoled. A baby started crying. Even Hicks looked a little sick, and something told me it wasn’t because of the plane ride.

Watanabe, head in his hands, said, “Nathan, you realize you aren’t in a courtroom and can’t be sued for perjury as such?”

I shrugged. “Not like I can lie now. Anyone know where we are?”

“Probably around the Grand Canyon,” Hicks said. “Unless the Dragon’s Teeth are trickier than we thought, we-”

Suddenly, there was a loud thump and the sound of screeching metal. The plane began to fall out of the sky as warning lights blared. I would have said something snarky, but I didn’t think anyone could hear me above the new ambient noise. Also, most of the younger children were screaming now. Now was neither the time nor the place.

The plane, after what seemed like a millennia of plummeting to the ground, finally hit the ground with a crunch. One person, a weaseley man who’d been screaming louder than any of the children, hadn’t been buckled in and hit the ceiling of the plane with his head. As the plane skidded along, he turned into a projectile, narrowly missing a family, slamming his spine into someone’s knee, and breaking his neck when his head hit a soldier’s plate at a weird angle. Meanwhile, people were getting shaken up and loose items were being tossed around. I, like many other people, had my head slam into the wall. Then, while I was trying to get my bearings, a soldier’s M4 flew into my face so hard I could feel that the receiver and handguard left an imprint.

Then everything in the cabin became very, very still. After a prolonged silence, the children began crying, adults began panicking, and the FBI agents and soldiers who had their shit together began trying to restore order. Naturally, Barton and Hicks were part of that last category.

After our two FBI friends had wandered off, Watanabe asked, “You going to help them?”

“No,” I said dully, as a massive headache set in.

“Yeah,” Eliza slurred as she clutched the back of her head, blood leaking through her fingertips, “we’re just going to sit down ‘ere for a bit an’ let the professionals do their job for a bloody change.”

As we were talking, one of the pilots stumbled out of the cabin. I think he might have been the captain. “Listen up!” he yelled. We all turned to look at him. “You’ve probably figured it out already, but that wasn’t mechanical failure. We’ve called in to the Arizona Air National Guard, and it seems that something’s attempting to shoot down planes between the Sierra Nevada and the Rockies. We’re one of the unlucky ones they hit.”

“Who are ‘they?’” someone asked.

“We’re unsure,” the captain said. “Still, all we need to do is sit tight and wait for the National Guard to pick us up.” I rolled my eyes at the lie. If multiple planes were going down, then there was no chance it was anything other than Dragon’s Teeth. The only question I had was how? If it was via air-to-air, I had no idea how it had gotten here. If it was surface-to-air, then we could be in serious trouble.

“Hey, Hicks?” I asked

“What is it?” He asked softly, having just been comforting a sobbing child. For once I was glad I was in the mercenary and weapons business. There weren’t many screaming children, at least not the way I did it.

“Shouldn’t someone go scout around a bit?” I asked. “Just… to make sure things are alright? You know, get a good idea of where we are.”

Hicks considered this for a moment, then said, “Yeah, that’d be a good idea.” He got up, and, indicating the child and her mom, said, “Take care of them, ok?” He then left me alone for a few minutes of awkward conversation. I eventually ended up having to talk about how I appeared so calm. That involved lying about how I was still loopy from my head injuries and instead saying something about how panic wouldn’t help.

Eventually, Hicks came back. “You were pretty good,” he said.

“Yeah,” I said. I thought I was talking utter shit. “Anyway, what’s the situation?”

“Marines are going to form a perimeter,” Hicks said. “I’d like us to go up a hill, get a better look.”

“Ok,” I said.

The ramp at the rear of the plane opened and we began to leave the plane. The Marines headed out first, their weapons loaded, but hanging from their slings. Hicks, Barton, Eliza, Watanabe, and I continued up a hill. By the time we were at the first lip, the sun was starting to set. From there, we could see that several over planes had come down in the area. We seemed to be the only survivors.

“So,” Watanabe asked, completely out of breath, “what… what’s happening?” As he talked, we could hear an airplane flying overhead. I turned to look at it. At the height it was flying, I couldn’t really tell what kind of plane it was, other than some kind of jet. It looked big, but again, I couldn’t really tell from the ground.

“Good question,” Hicks said. “The people on-site don’t seem to-”

“Wait,” I said, pointing to the plane, “why’s that plane falling?”

“Oh fuck,” Eliza said. “That’s what I ‘eard.” I turned to her, and she said, answering my unasked question, “I ‘eard a bit of brrrt sound. Must’ve been gunfire.” She then pointed at the sky. “Think it was air-to-air. Look.”

I followed her finger. She was pointing to the plane’s contrails. There, much fainter, ran a parallel line. At a certain point, the falling jet’s contrails began to dip, but the other set continued on. As I studied it, I heard a large thump. Turning to the source, I saw a cloud of dust and debris rise up from behind a mountain. A few seconds later, I felt some clumps of dirt hit me and saw large chunks of metal fall within a few hundred meters of the plane we’d been on.

“So,” I said. “That was air-to-air with one plane being invisible.”

“Yeah,” Eliza said. “That’s… disturbing, innit? I mean, where the ‘ell did that come from? Either it’s got a big enough range and a fast enough engine to fly all the way out from the Pacific to shoot down a single jet liner, or it’s launched from somewhere much closer.”

“I hope it’s from one of the carriers in the Pacific,” I said. “Because if it’s land-based, there’s a much higher chance of us getting company soon.”

“Does that answer your question?” Watanabe asked, pointing. In the distance, heading towards the downed plane, were several trails of dust. Squinting, I could see what appeared to be solid darkness speeding towards the planes.

 

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Track 16: The Person on the News

“So,” Hicks said, rubbing his temples, “why, exactly, was this friend of a friend digging in national wildlife reservation at three am on a Monday?”

Before I could answer, Ken Watanabe, the Boston lawyer that Jen had sent us, cut in. “Mr. Hicks,” he said in his mostly Texas accent (with a creeping intrusion of Boston Townie,) “I fail to see how this is relevant to the conversation in any way.” Ken Watanabe was a slightly comical man with Asian facial features, short stature, and a penchant for cowboy clothing mixed with expensive suits. He was also Jennifer Kagemoto’s lawyer, which made me wonder how ridiculous he actually was.

“I’m just wondering,” Hicks said, “because that particular reservation isn’t open to the public at that point.”

“And that,” Watanabe said, “is why our friends wish to remain anonymous. Y’all are gonna harass them over minor infractions, despite the fact that they’ve been very helpful to us.”

“Much as I doubt that’s they were doing was minor,” Agent Barton said.

“Without any evidence,” Watanabe muttered under his breath.

“We have more important things to do,” Barton said, pointedly ignoring Watanabe. “And we need to contact these people. There’s a lot of very disturbing things that they’ve seen and we need to find a way to collect and collate the information, assuming it isn’t too late already.”

“I understand the gravity of the situation,” Watanabe said, “but I need to do what’s best for my client. That’s my job.”

“Maybe,” I said, “we should take a break?” We weren’t in an interrogation room, thankfully. Instead, we were in a little suite of apartments in what appeared to be a hotel. However, something about the perky female receptionist who’d had one hand under the desk when we’d checked in and the man at the bar who drank nothing but water seemed to suggest that the clientele wasn’t exactly normal.

“Yeah,” Hicks said. “Sounds like a good idea.”

“Ok,” I said to Watanabe as soon as Hicks and Barton were gone, “How likely is it that Hicks is going to nail someone if I give him the opportunity?”

“Hundred percent,” Watanabe said. “Maybe not immediately, but it’s in his nature. Barton’s too. You want to protect your friends-”

“Who are also yer clients,” Eliza said. “Or do business with yer clients.”

“That has no bearing on the situation,” Watanabe said. “If you’ll excuse me, I need to make a few phone calls.”

“Sure thing,” I said. He stood up, we shook hands. “I’ll see you later, I guess.” As soon as he had left, I said, “He’s going to call Jen, isn’t he?”

“Possibly not,” Eliza said. “They’re probably bugging him.”

“Like he doesn’t know that,” I said. We considered our problem. “Calling Jen was a mistake, wasn’t it?”

“Well,” Eliza said, starting to count off options, “we could’ve decided not to ‘ave a lawyer. That’d be just as dumb. We could have hired another lawyer and stonewalled, but time’s of the essence. We also don’t know any other lawyers in this country. We might be able to hire a lawyer for a second opinion, but I got a sneakin’ suspicion ‘e’ll end up with a bullet in the back of his head. Also, we don’t know any bloody lawyers in this bloody country.”

After a few silent moments of me considering Eliza’s wisdom, I said, “Fuck, you’re right.” Eliza mad a noise of agreement, then there were a few more moments of silence. Finally, I said, “So, you want to watch the news?”

“No,” Eliza said, “but it’d probably be better than worrying about what the hell will happen next.”

We turned on the news and began watching one of the major networks. There were several stories about missing journalists, a new defensive pact including US, Mexico, Canada, and several other countries, and a few scientists talking about how close a space object was getting and arguing whether or not it was a spaceship that contained life or an asteroid. Of course, the thing they mostly talked about was how Hawaii was under Dragon’s Teeth control and how nobody had heard anything about it since the invasion. I estimated ninety percent of the conversation was pure speculation.

Then, during a piece on the seedy world of super hero/super villain fight betting and fixing (I noticed that some Massachusetts heroes were mentioned, much to my distaste) when it was announced. “We interrupt this segment for an important message,” one of the anchors said. “We’re just getting word that two fleets of warships are heading towards the US coast. We now have footage.”

When it came on, my heart sank. “Shit,” I said. “I recognize those ships.”

“Yeah,” Eliza said. “Those carriers and landing ships were at Pearl Harbor, weren’t they? And there’s some English, Australian and Indian ships as well.”

“No,” I said. “I mean, I’m sure you’re right, but that ship the camera person is getting close to? That’s a ship that was at that Russian port.” I squinted. “And yep, those are Deets on deck. You can sail away now, camera person. I really don’t want to see you die.”

The anchors, who had seen the Dragon’s Teeth a second after me, and realized what they were only a few seconds later, had the exact reaction. As they clamored and begged for the sailor with the shitty phone and a streaming service to get closer, I began to realize I hated them. Then the close-in weapons system opened up. Despite being a hundred and fifty meters away from the ship, the roar from what appeared to be three six-barreled 20mm turrets was loud enough to cause the microphone on the camera to crackle. I saw a brief glimpse of red tracers, the deck splintering and the water going from calm green to roiling, frenzied-piranha white, then the feed cut.

One of the anchors said, “We apologize for the disturbing footage. We.. we will be back after the break.” As the camera switched to an overhead view, I heard what I assumed the producer shouting and the anchor say, “Dammit, I know! I know Rob! But I can’t. I just can’t.”

Then the door opened. In walked Hicks and Barton. “We’re leaving.” Barton said. “Now.”

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Track 15: Calm Before the Storm

I hadn’t even been mulling over Alma’s statement a minute when Eliza came back in. She was paler than usual and she sat down heavily. “What happened?” I asked.

“It’s fallen,” Eliza said.

“Really?” I asked. “I mean, I know Hawaii probably wasn’t prepared, but…”

“No, not Hawaii,” Eliza said, “The UK.” We shut up, me mostly because I was stunned. “Though Hawaii probably’s going down soon.”

“What do you mean, ‘England’s fallen?’” I asked. “England doesn’t just fall. They aren’t fucking Denmark.”

“I bloody know, mate,” Eliza said. “But they’ve got our silos, Buckingham’s in their control, and pretty much every major city and military base from Edinburgh to London’s got a nice ol’ infestation of Drake.”

“But…” I said, “but how? Yesterday they were on the other side of the channel!”

“Probably has something to do with their gateways,” Eliza said. “But yeah, that was record time for them. From what we can gather, they put a huge amount into this one. Seemed to be a higher ratio of Dragon’s Teeth to defenders than normal. And they were a lot less concerned with civilian casualties.”

“Jesus…” I said. “What the hell?”

“I know,” Eliza said. “D’you think they’re gonna stop there?”

“No,” I said. “I wish I could say they would, but I’d be willing to bet I’m going to figure out first-hand what you’re experiencing soon.”

“Oh, by the way,” I said, “I lost my phone.”

Eliza groaned. “Jesus Christ, now those bastards have a direct line on everyone in your contacts.”

“Yeah,” I said. “Can I borrow your phone to give them a heads up?”

“Better do that,” Eliza said.

As I was texting everyone possibly affected, I said, “By the way, you remember Alma Hebert?”

“My creepy first year roommate?” Eliza asked. “Yeah, definitely.” She shivered theatrically. “You know she hung around with Ulfric? Saw ‘em together multiple times. Guess they were off in the same ways.”

“She’s the Death Goddess,” I said.

“Fuckin’ ‘ell,” Eliza said.

“And I think that Ulfric might be Dragon’s Teeth, now that I think about it,” I said. “I actually saw a few guys that looked a hell of a lot like him.”

“I refer you to my previous statement,” Eliza said. Then she groaned. “Gah, how the fuck didn’t anyone realize this?”

“I get the feeling that there wasn’t much coordination between the guys who made the Dragon’s Teeth,” I said. “The Jason Project, that’s what they’re called…”

“‘Course they are,” Eliza said,

“…Couldn’t really be in regular contact with the President at the beginning, plus there was plausible deniability and then they went rogue.”

Eliza laughed. “Fuckin’ typical, innit? Goddamn conga line of betrayal. The President hires some people to make monsters to take over the world for ‘im, they make the monsters and decide they don’t need to follow orders. Then the monsters start tryin’ to revolt.” She paused. “‘Ow’d you figure out that Alma was…?”

“She contacted me with her psychic powers,” I said.

Eliza groaned something about “not signing up for this” and threw her head back in exasperation.

“My life,” I said, “is just so incredibly strange right now.”

“Warn the people your weirdness might rub off on, weird boy,” Eliza said.

“Getting on it right now,” I said.

John Marshall was the first person I called. He had been my fellow UNIX infiltrator (well, one of four, but he had been the one I had made contact with in Hell Semester) and we had been close for a while. The problem was that John wanted out, and I may or may not be an addict. When he went to North Korea, he had ended up getting shot in a firefight with South Korean police. Then there was Japan, and John had decided he was out.

After listening to my explanation, he said, voice dangerous, “So, basically, because of you, I might have been doxed by the Dragon’s Teeth?”

“Potentially,” I said. “In my defense, this was not my fault.”

“You had my number in your phone,” John said, “despite the fact that you knew people could hack it. But yeah, completely not your fault.” He then hung up. You can’t really slam a cPhone, but if he could, he would have.

“Well fuck you too,” I said. Then I called Eric. Eric, Ray-Gun, the Monk, MC Disaster, and Doc were some former African child soldiers I’d met in Hell Semester. My knowledge of their days back home was sketchy. For instance, I wasn’t entirely sure which country they were even from. I did, however, know that they’d done something to piss off a local warlord.

“Thank you my friend,” Eric said after I had filled him in. “I will tell the rest of my crew.”

“Thanks,” I said. “I’ll call Cross next.” Croccifixio “Cross” Castellan was another buddy from Hell Semester. He was from New York and was the son of some sort of mobster.

“Excuse me a moment,” Eric said, then yelled away from the phone, “Cross! Stop fucking Doc in the ass for a few minutes! Nathan needs to tell you something!” Turning back to me, he said, “He got back here a few hours after we cleaned up from the Dragon’s Teeth attack. Whenever he and Doc want to have sex, they kick everyone else out.”

From inside the room, I heard Cross yell, “Fuck you! We weren’t doing anything!”

“I will refrain from your kind offer for the moment,” Eric said.

“I didn’t mean to interrupt whatever it is you’re doing there…” I began, but I heard the door open and Eric hand off the phone to Cross. “Hey Cross,” I said.

“‘Sup?” Cross asked.

“So I lost my cPhone and it had your cPhone number on it,” I said, “Plus a Deet got a good look at it. Now it’s sitting in the FBI Honolulu office, waiting for invading Dragon’s Teeth to find it.”

“How the fuck did… never mind, I don’t want to know,” Cross said. “Those assholes just show up everywhere. That’s why my dad sent me to school. We’ve been hearing shit in New York for months now.”

“Really?” I asked. “How come I haven’t heard anything?”

“Look,” Cross said, “I don’t mean to diss newspapers, but they don’t spend hours talking to bums and crackheads unless they have some bullshit ‘human interest story.’ They don’t poke around abandoned buildings and bumfuck-nowhere wilderness looking for stories. People I know? They’re interacting with those people and going to those places every fucking day.”

“And what are they noticing?” I asked.

“Activity.” Cross said. “One guy of ours was burying a corpse in his favorite spot. Then he struck this hunk of prime rib. Few feet beneath that? Fucking junkie with a hole through her heart that looked burned around the edges. That’s how it started.”

“Yeah,” I said, “those injuries sound like something only Dragon’s Teeth can make.”

“Basically, they’re setting something up,” Cross said, “and the junkies and bums are accidentally stumbling on it ‘cause they’re looking for places to sleep for the night or get high. We’re hesitant to tell the cops ‘cause, y’know…”

“Why were you digging a hole there?” I finished. “Why were you talking to that guy?”

“Exactly,” Cross said. “We don’t want to tell the police because that’s gonna fuck things up. Even if leaving things as-is will fuck things up worse.”

“What about the super heroes?” I asked. “I mean, isn’t this the kind of stuff that-”

“Nate,” Cross said, “here’s a tip: capes don’t give a fucking shit. Maybe some of the noobs do, but most of these ‘heroes’ are just in it for the fame and… and the fucking, I dunno, Sprite deals. You should know. You live in Boston.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked.

“Vast majority of those guys,” Cross said, “fix their fights. Your girl Jen was probably the last to fix hers.”

“Why?” I asked.

“I dunno,” Cross said. “Probably because she needed the cash like all the rest.”

“No,” I said, “why didn’t she think of it first?”

“Jen’s weird,” Cross said. “Smart, good at business, but weird.”

“Speaking of Jen,” I said, “I actually need to call her about this.”

“Yeah,” Cross said, “You definitely should start in on that.”

As soon as I hung up, I had an idea. “Hey, Eliza,” I said. “You know how I don’t know that much about lawyers?”

“Yeah?” she asked, her eyebrow raising suspiciously.

“I think I know who does.”

“Fucking Christ,” Eliza said. “It’s Jen, isn’t it?”

“Do you trust Hicks not to arrest us as soon as we touch down in LA?” I asked. “I mean, I like the guy, but he’s a cop.”

“Fuck no,” Eliza said. She sighed. “Call her, I guess.”

 

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Track 14: Whispers

Around three hours into our flight to California, Eliza left the room to get something to eat. “I’ll be back as soon as I can,” she said.

“Don’t worry,” I said, “I’ll be fine. Or as fine as someone with a concussion can be.” Eliza looked at me hesitantly, then left.

Then everything became strangely sepia-toned and the edges of things began to flow like waves, like still-wet ink. Outside, the view of the sea was replaced with a familiar display of millions of lights, each a different color. The door opened and in walked two familiar people.

“Nathan,” Alma Hebert said. “It’s been a long time, hasn’t it?”

“Yeah,” I said, making contact with Alma’s dead gray eyes, but occasionally I looked at the huge man who’d come in with her. Ulfric Trollbjorn’s tall and sturdy frame was so huge he had to duck and twist to get through the door. Since he was wearing a long-sleeved shirt and long pants, I couldn’t see his muscles, but I’d remembered them. They were big enough to be intimidating, but small enough for him to be as much dancer or runner as weightlifter. “It’s been a while, hasn’t it?”

“You know, don’t you?” Alma asked. As I stared at her, I noticed that occasionally there was a bit of a flicker where she went from appearing to be a healthy (if extremely pale) teenager/young adult to a more skeletal figure.

“I’m not entirely sure what you’re talking about,” I said. Alma looked at me like I was an idiot. Then I remembered where I had seen those colored lights before. “Fuck. You’re their death goddess, aren’t you?”

“Yes,” Alma said. “The question is, what are you going to do about it?”

“Right now,” I said, “nothing. This is a hallucination, right? Nothing I can do here.”

“Hallucination is a good enough term to describe what this is for your purposes, I suppose,” Alma said. “And, as near as I can tell, there’s a decent chance you’re right about not being able to do anything here.”

“Only decent?” I asked.

“The people at the IDRF,” Alma began slowly, as if not really being able to believe what she was saying, “the best and brightest Nowhere Island University had to offer in all their fields ruled physical methods pretty early. From what I can understand, though, this state can cause psionic backlash if I’m not-”

“What do you mean, ‘ruled out physical methods?’” I asked.

I was suddenly struck by a literal cold rage. The cold burned me and the impact of the literal waves of emotion radiating from Alma could be measured by my stomach turning. “They killed me,” Alma said, her voice even more monotone somehow. There was also a tightness about her face. “Starved me to death, then dropped my corpse into an incinerator. One of their few acts of mercy.”

She stopped. “Sorry, but I had a bad time with them. The question is, are you going to help?”

“Is this about the Architect?” I asked. “Because I’m not going to help you knock off one of the other thirds of the Final Prophecy.”

Alma was visibly confused. “What prophecy?” she asked.

I laughed. I couldn’t help it. It was wild, hysterical laughter. Ulfric and Alma stared at me like I had just gone insane. Honestly, though, I’d probably lost it around Freshman year and people were just now realizing. “You really don’t know?” I asked. “Five hundred years, this has been around, and you’re telling me that you don’t even know what the hell I’m talking about?”

“No,” Alma said.

“Apparently,” I said, “there’s three people or entities that are coming. They’re going to have this big fight, and in the process, the whole world gets fucked. You’re number two.”

“I’m not trying to end the world,” Alma said, “I’m trying to save it. If the prophecy says anything else-”

“I believe you,” I said, “but your Dragon’s Teeth buddies? Those hallucinations that people around the world are getting? That doesn’t make you seem benign.”

“I’ve made mistakes,” Alma said, “but it’ll be worth it. If you’re smart, you’ll see someday.”

“Is this where you tell me I’m either with you or against you?” I asked.

“No,” Alma said. “This is where I tell you what I need. I need Mubashir.”

“How do you…? Why?”

“I’m psychic,” Alma said. “You, Mubashir, and his Al-Qaeda buddies walked into the Sun Tzu boy’s locker room. The Al-Qaeda terrorists are still there to this day.”

“Wait,” I said, “they’re… alive?” I remembered how those Al-Qaeda operatives had been twisted into tasteful, Arabic-inspired decorations.

“In a sense,” Alma said and shivered. “I can still feel them. One of the reasons I’m leaving NIU.”

“And why do you want Mubashir?” I asked.

“They’re coming,” Alma said. “There’s a reason the President created the Jason Project. Originally, I was just going to kill him, but when I got here, I found he couldn’t sleep. He’s spent his life running from something. That’s why he’s created the Jason Project, UNIX, the University… plans within plans, contingencies for contingencies… He’s scared, so I’m terrified.”

She leaned closer and touched my hand. It was as cold as a corpse’s “I need Mubashir. If I’m not strong enough, the world could end.” She got up and headed towards the door. Ulfric held it open for her. When she was at it, she turned towards me and said, “All you need to do to help save the world is make one introduction.”

“Is this where you pretend to walk out?” I asked.

“No,” Alma said. “I have things to do and I’m pretty sure you won’t help me. Yet.” Then both Ulfric and her walked down the hall, the world slowly fading back to normal. Her voice floated back to me, distorted and echoing. “Don’t worry, I’ll know when you change your mind.”

The room changed completely back to normal and suddenly I realized the tactic Alma was using on me. It was the same one that UNIX had used to get me to go to NIU. It was the same one Charlotte had used me to go to Japan. Then and there, I made the decision to not to give in. Every time I’d given into self-importance, I’d just brought more misery on myself.

Still, deep down, I wondered if Alma had  some other way of convincing me. Or if she even needed to.

 

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Track 13: Boot to the Head

“Hey,” I asked an FBI HRT operator as I was being rolled away on a stretcher, “how long was I out?” I sounded a bit congested, and something was leaking from my nose. As if from a muffled distance, I could hear people shouting orders or screaming in utter terror.

“You weren’t,” the operator said, somewhat concerned.

“Oh,” I said. “Is that my blood and vomit all over my shirt?”

“Most of the blood belonged to your friend,” another operator said.

“Oh, good,” I said. Then a light went off. “Just so you’re not angry, I don’t think he liked me either.”

“We figured.”

I was going to ask him why they blew me up. Then wondered if they just didn’t care. If they’d come to my conclusion about the bombs being a (probable) bluff, they’d have to choose between my life and being able to say they’d eliminated all hostiles in under an hour. I didn’t like it, but I understood.

Amongst the other people yelling, I heard a familiar voice say, “Be calm? Fuck you, mate!”

“Eliza!” I said, somewhat muzzily. “You’re still here.”

There was a bit of commotion. I could hear Eliza yelling angrily, and the operators telling her to stay back. Then other voices came in and the operators backed off. I couldn’t really tell what was happening, because everything sounded too echoey and everything was too blurry. Eventually, I was able to focus on Eliza. “…Nate. Oi, Nate. Say something, bloody ‘ell.”

“Hey,” I said, looking up at her concerned face, shrouded a bit by a rebreather. “How are things?”

Meanwhile, I could hear what sounded like Agent Hicks yelling at an operator. “…only lead in the Nakashima case, and you decide to blow him up? And potentially set off a bomb?”

“Oh,” Eliza said, with forced cheer, “pretty swell. Just still handcuffed, dealing with FBI assholes, the usual.”

“Branch director’s orders,” the operator responded to Hicks. “Look at how crazy everything is. We can’t have a hostage situation in an FBI building.”

“Yeah,” I said, “things are pretty insane. Getting stopped by the FBI, dealing with Mayu again…”

“And you blew up a suspect we were supposed to protect,” Barton said. “We were screwed either way, but word of this getting out could be more damaging.”

“Fucking Mayu,” Eliza said. “‘Eard all about that. You were right, should ‘ave blown ‘er bloody ‘ead off when I ‘ad the chance.”

“I think,” I said, “I think that the people who took me were Dragon’s Teeth.”

Everyone turned to stare at me. “How would you know?” an operator asked me.

“If you believe him,” Hicks said, “He’s one of the few people to have fought them and lived.”

“And do we believe him?” an operator asked.

“Evidence points to him being right,” Barton said.

“And my gut says he’s right,” Hicks said.

“I think,” I said, this talk about the Dragon’s Teeth bringing back a vague feeling, “I think that Pict was stalling.”

“Yeah,” Hicks said, “he didn’t want to get blown up.”

“That’s not it,” one of the operators said. “These guys… they left one of their buddies behind. When we finally got into the room, he’d blown his own brains out with a shotgun rather than get taken alive.”

“Invasion, maybe?” I suggested. “I mean, they’ve got a teleporter.”

“They can’t,” the operator said. “They have to be stretched too thin.”

“Do they?” Barton asked.

“What are you guys talking about?” an authoritative female voice asked. “And why are these prisoners still here? That guy looks like he should be in the hospital.”

“Mrs. Patchett,” an operator said. “These two think the Dragon’s Teeth might be responsible for the second attack and that it may be a prelude to something bigger.”

Patchett considered this for a moment, and even I could tell she was getting more worried. She then took out her phone, a Blackberry, and began calling. “What is it?” Barton asked.

“The Third Fleet has two carrier strike groups and its expeditionary strike group moored in Pearl Harbor,” Patchett said. “If they wanted, they could re-enact the Japanese attack there, except worse.”

“This just keeps getting better and better,” Barton said. “Look, if this guy is even half the expert on the Dragon’s Teeth that he claims he is-”

“I just thought them multiple times,” I said. “I’m not an expert!”

“You copied their weapons, you great tit!” Eliza said incredulously.

“Then we need to get him out of here.”

“More importantly,” Hicks said, “the Dragon’s Teeth want him. That’s good enough for me to want to get him to a safe house.”

Patchett held up a hand as her call went through. “Ralph, this is Linda. I need you to put all military posts on high alert, lock down all bases and break out all the thermal imaging devices you have. The Dragon’s Teeth are making a move, and I think… They’re here already? …Put some guards around the ships. It seems like… Yes, I know they’re over there, but that could be a diversion. Be careful, I’ll call you again when things calm down.”

“Let me guess,” Hicks said, “they’re here.”

“Yes,” Patchett said. “They’re here, and they’re digging in in the less populated areas of the island.” She shook her head. “I don’t like it.”

“Yeah,” Hicks said, “me either.”

I tried to think. It was harder than normal. Understandable, considering that I had been blown up recently. Patchett and Hicks were both in agreement that something else was coming, and maybe Barton too, and I knew they were right. But why did I think that? I shrugged and got on. Maybe I could sleep.

I must have done so, because Eliza was shaking me awake. “Nate!” she said, “Oi, Nate. We need you to walk.”

We were back in the hangar with the Blackmoor-Ward jet. FBI HRT and SAS operators were staring at each other warily. I also notice that at one corner of the hangar were a collection of dead bodies wearing high-tech body armor. From inside the plane, I could hear Lord Blackmoor-Ward, Barton, and Hicks talking about something.

I got up. Instantly, I felt sick to my stomach and began to sway. “Right,” Eliza said, putting my arm around her shoulder, “off we go.” She was trying to be confident, but could tell it was just an act. The trip up the stairs were extremely nerve-wracking. I almost tripped and vomited many times during what seemed to me to be a nine-hour trip.

“Good God!” Lord Blackmoor-Ward said as soon as he saw me. “That man is concussed! Why isn’t he in a hospital?” I noticed that he wasn’t looking that well himself. He was lying on one of the couches, his fancy silk suit completely burned away and bandages on his chest. I also noticed that there were several patches of burns on his skin, some quite intense. Another thing I noticed in the luxurious plane were two body bags strapped to the floor.

“The Dragon’s Teeth were able to infiltrate an FBI facility and would have walked out with him if a Jumper who can ignore anti-jump fields hadn’t attempted to assassinate him,” Barton said. “We need to get him to a secure facility to debrief.”

“I’m going with him,” Eliza said.

“You are?” I turned to see Charlotte, a look of shock on her face.

“Listen,” Eliza said, “You’re with the SAS and father. You don’t ‘ave a concussion.” She shot a suspicious glance at Hicks and Barton. “And you aren’t going to be interrogated day and fuckin’ night by relentless arseholes.”

“But what about you?” Charlotte asked.

“I’ll be fine,” Eliza said, “as long as I can stop this idiot from bein’ a fuckin’ idiot.”

“Eliza,” Lord Blackmoor-Ward said, staring at the two FBI agents on his plane, “would you please buckle Mr. Jacobs in one of the back rooms? We will have lift-off soon.”

Eliza nodded. “Right,” she said, helping me down the hallway. I was placed on a chair facing a window in a bedroom with a soft thump. Eliza moved to buckle me in, but I waved her off. A few minutes later, the plane was taxiing down the runway. Soon we were lifting off.

As we were flying by Pearl Harbor, Eliza said, “Oi, you see that?”

I followed her finger to see that she was pointing at some of the warships moored in the harbor. “See what?” I asked.

“There’s these flashes of light on the decks of a few,” Eliza said.

I looked closer, but by that point, we were already past the harbor and heading east to California.

 

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