For some reason, I was in a red-and-black sailor uniform. Not the military kind. That would be too normal, apparently. No, it was the kind of uniform a Japanese school girl wears, albeit a little more midriff-bearing than usual.
“What the fuck am I wearing?” I asked muzzily. It was a really good question. After all, I am a dude. If the beard and the flat chest wasn’t enough, the underwear was luckily tight enough to hide… other evidence, as well as be really uncomfortable. To be on the safe side, I quickly covered my crotch with my hands.
“Jacobs-san!” a perky voice called out. I looked up. Coming down from the sky was a woman dressed like a magical girl. Her color appeared to be blue. “You have been chosen to become the next Sailor Red!”
“It is a great honor Jacobs-san!” the girl said as she landed down in front of me, her stiletto heels clacking on the ground. “The Red Uniform has chosen you to fight evil.”
“I’m sorry,” I said, completely deadpan, “this is all so sudden.”
“It’s going to get faster! Cutie transformation red!” As soon as the strange woman said this (I keep saying woman, but she had to be around fifteen) the red schoolgirl uniform flew off and re-arranged itself into something very skimpy.
“You know,” I said, my voice a little higher pitched than usual due to the female-oriented G-string, “this is really not ideal.” I was now concerned that my hands were not covering my crotchal region well enough. It was made all the harder trying to balance on seven-inch heels.
“You’re right,” she said. She then snapped her fingers. My body started to change. My beard, armpit, chest, and… other hair started to fall out. The hair on the top of my head started to grow, however. Parts of me, like my chest, were starting to expand. Other parts…
“You unbelievable bastard,” I said, my voice changing for different reasons. “You bitch! You monster! Give me back my penis!”
At this, a distant laugh echoed. “It’s not funny!” I yelled, my voice now pretty much female, “Now give me back my penis!”
The laughing got louder. The magical girl said, “No, Jacobs-san, we have to stop Gingertron!”
“Fuck that,” I said, crossing my arms. This was harder to do than normal, considering that my new lady parts were rather cumbersome. “Give me back my penis and get me some sensible clothing, and I might consider helping you.”
“Oh, suck it up!” the magical girl said, “Look at what I’m wearing!”
“It’s a lot more that what I’m wearing! Now, would you kindly GIVE ME BACK MY FUCKING PENIS! I HAVEN’T EVEN GOT A CHANCE TO…”
As I yelled, the scene began to fade away, and the laughter increased. I realized that the reason it was fading away was because I was opening my eyes. I was really in a hospital room, lying on a bed with a needle hooked into my arm. I was right next to a window. Through it, I could see the sun rising.
However, that wasn’t the important part. What was important was who was in the bed directly in front of me, laughing her head off. It was, of course, Eliza.
“So you must be the Gingertron,” I said before I could stop myself. Eliza began to laugh even harder. At least she didn’t take offense to it. I looked around. There were six beds, three on Eliza’s side, three on mine. Eliza’s side seemed to be the girl’s side as Bai was in the middle and Oro was closest to the door. Oro was completely asleep, but Bai was sitting up, pretending to study the various medical equipment. It would have been convincing if the medical equipment was on or her face wasn’t bright red.
On my side, John had jammed a pillow over his head. It was hard to tell because he was on the far side of the room. Luckily he gave a clue to his identity by muttering something.
“Oh good,” I said, “Eric’s not here.”
What I didn’t realize was that the walls between the beds near the door were indented to have two bathrooms, and that Eric was in one of them. He burst out, bare-chested with a few bandages on his arms and head and some toilet paper stuck to his foot. As if this wasn’t funny enough, he then tripped. He then stood up and struck a super hero pose, legs spread apart, hands on his hips and his head turned at a dramatic angle.
“Did someone ask for The Entertainer?” he asked in a deep, commanding voice. I couldn’t help it. I wasn’t the only one. Eliza guffawed, and Bai giggled. Oro, however, just stared at him.
“Laugh all you want, citizens,” Eric said, as he began to march down the aisle, “But I am here to help all in need.”
As he passed John, though, John spoke up, saying something that sounded like “Watashi wa anata no subete o korosu tsumorida”
Eric gave us all a quizical look. “Was that even a language?” he asked.
“It wasn’t Chinese,” Bai said. She was pretending not to look at me or Eric’s muscular chest, but failing to be convincing. Or maybe she was pretending that she pretending not to look just to be coy, I don’t know. I’m terrible at girls and I’m terrible at spies, and Bai was quite possibly both.
Eric continued marching down the aisle, doing his caricature of a superhero walk. “Anyway,” he said, “why would you not want the aid of The Entertainer, world’s greatest super hero?” Man, was he hamming it up.
“How much of my, uh, sleep talking did you guys hear?” I asked nervously.
“Ever since y’got into the ward, Nate,” Eliza said.
“Wait,” I said, suddenly horrified, “I’ve been talking in my sleep for how long?”
“About ten hours and three minutes at varying intervals,” Bai said. “I found it was very…”
“Erotic?” Eliza asked, her Cheshire-cat grin now turned towards Bai.
Bai glared at her. “I would prefer,” she said, “that you not mention things like that. Otherwise, we will test out exactly how well your healing factor works.” Eliza and Eric just laughed.
“Look,” I said, “can we just… you know, forget about this?”
“I cannot,” Oro said. “I remember every single moment of my life since I was two.”
“Not talking about this would be just as ideal,” I said amiably. “I mean, don’t you want to forget what I’ve been saying all night?”
No one said anything, but I could read their faces clearly. Eliza and Eric were smiling like they had some stories that they could tell for the rest of their lives. Bai just kept blushing and trying not to look at me. Oro just looked bored.
Then, suddenly, John yelled out, “Watashi wa watashi no kioku kara sore o masshō suru koto wa dekimasen!” We all turned to look at him.
“See,” I said, “John didn’t think it was worth remembering!” I looked down at my chest. “Does me not having a shirt have something to do with the stab wound I got?” I quickly pulled the covers up.
“Think they forgot,” Eric said, shrugging a bit.
“Anyway,” Eliza said, “It’s not like any of you need, per se.”
Before I could think up a witty retort, Mary walked in, pushing a cart. “Glad to see you’re all up,” she said. “Now, how are we feeling?”
I prodded the bandages where I had been stabbed. “Surprisingly fine,” I said. “This healed really fast.” Everyone except Eliza and John voiced their agreement.
“First off,” Mary said, “according to my… according to the inventor, the surgical glue hasn’t healed you.” Here she gritted her teeth. “According to the people in charge, you should be back at the Freshman barracks later today.”
“Oh, speaking of the inventor,” I said, “how’s May doing?”
Mary looked at me for a moment, then said, “Oh, yeah! You’re her first patient. Yeah, May’s… probably madder than I am at the moment. Apart from that, she’s doing fine. Want me to say hi for you?”
“Certainly,” I said.
Eliza frowned. “’Oo’s this May person? She sounds like a Double-A from the med school.”
“What is a Double-A?” Eric asked.
This was actually something I knew. “Double-As,” I said, “are basically people who already know a lot about whatever field they’re studying, or learn really quick. Balancing the fact that she’s a sophomore doing her own research and this school is, well, this school, May might be a Double-A, or she might not.”
“So,” Eliza asked, “did this magic glue save any of… of me victims?” She was pretending to be nonchalant, but she seemed concerned.
“Most of them,” Mary said. “We can’t really save the ones whose throats you cut.”
“What about…” Eliza asked hesitantly, “the girl ‘oo was alive? And ‘oo prob’ly wished she wasn’t?” I winced.
“You mean the one whose guts you spilled out?” Eric asked.
“Yes, you insensitive bastard,” Eliza said, shooting Eric a murderous look, “that bloody one.”
“She’ll make it,” Mary said coldly. “At least you aren’t Ulfric.”
“Oh,” I said, trying to defuse the situation, “I don’t think I got a shirt. Do you know where I can get some?”
Mary said, “Don’t bother yet.” She booted up a laptop on the cart, then said, “stand here.” I did as I was told. I must have seemed a bit nervous because Eliza giggled a bit at me.
“Now,” Mary said, handing me a metal plate, “I want you to take this plate and hold it behind your back.”
“Ok,” I said. When I did, Mary took a small rod connected to the laptop by a USB and began to run it over my stomach. “What’s that?” I asked.
“Battlefield ultrasound,” Mary said. “It’s a quick way of seeing if there’s anything wrong with you internally.”
“That is actually really cool,” I said.
“There are some drawbacks,” Mary said. “It needs a hard, conductive surface, otherwise the sound waves don’t echo back right. Also, in its current state, we can’t really hook it up to tablets. Part of this is how processor-intensive doing this imaging in real-time is, the other part is that a lot of tablets don’t have ports that could handle the data it sends. Also, its battery life is something like fifteen minutes.”
“Couldn’t you just do it wirelessly?” John asked groggily. While I wasn’t paying attention, he had sat up. He yawned and rubbed his eyes.
“Not sure,” Mary said. “I’d have to ask the guys who made this. They’re seniors, so I don’t really know them.”
“Might have something to do with how easy it is to jam a signal,” I said. “If something’s blocking communication, it would block these guys as well. Heck, if they’re sending a lot of data, they could end up jamming each other if you get enough of them.”
Mary shrugged. “That could be, I’m not really a tech person. Anyway, you’re done.”
“That was fast,” I said.
“That was just the recording,” Mary said. “Now someone has to spend a few hours looking at your stab wounds. By the way, how’s that doing?”
“I feel like normal,” I said, “your sister’s surgical glue really works.”
“For doing stuff like standing up, yeah,” Mary said. “She’s not so sure you’re in combat shape yet. Professor Zemylachka, however, wants to avoid any repeaters.” She turned to John. “Your turn.”
“Why am I being checked?” John asked.
“You got kicked a heck of a lot,” Mary said. “We want to make sure that there’s no internal bleeding. Also, try not to hit your head for a couple of months.”
“Ah,” John said, looking a little scared. “Here’s hoping I live, then.” I didn’t blame him. I’m not a doctor, but I know enough to be scared by concepts like “internal bleeding” and “second impact syndrome.”
Mary did a much more complete scan of Joh than she did of me. I only had my stomach scanned. John had his stomach, ribcage, neck, and head scanned. She also did both sides of him. After that was done, she said, “Ok, that’s done. Shirts are in the drawers behind your bed. Campus Security should come to escort you guys back to Freshman camp in the evening. In the meantime, you’ll probably be getting actual food for breakfast. If you’re bored we have satellite and Campus TV. The remote for the TV is on your bed’s arm rest.”
She left, and we began to turn to our own devices. We decided to watch the TV as a group. Eric and I both wanted to see if they had Cartoon Network or Nickolodeon, John wanted to go to sleep, and Bai and Oro didn’t seem to care.
Eliza on the other hand, wanted to try the Campus channels. “Come on,” she said when I asked why, “Don’t you want to learn more about this ruddy island?”
“Ok,” I said. “Why not?”
“Come on!” Eric said, “I thought we were going to see if Dexter’s lab was on!”
The people interested at the moment (me and Eric) gathered around Eliza’s TV. I, personally, stopped to put on a shirt. Eliza switched on the TV. It came on to the guide channel of the local channels.
“Well,” I said, “that’s a lot of TV.” Right on the splash page, the guide page bragged that there were fifty-five channels translated into up to seven languages each. The three most common languages appeared to be Arabic, Spanish, and English. After a bit of surfing, we figured out that if you wanted to get a specific channel in English, say channel 50, you would enter 50.3 on the remote. Not all channels were in all languages, and some were in only one. Those wouldn’t have a decimal place after them.
However, it was hard to keep track because Eliza kept flipping through the channels. “Come on,” I whined, “That AniPunk channel looked interesting. Can we go back to it?”
“No.” Eliza said.
“Seriously?” Eric asked. “They were playing Spongebob!”
“We’ve been in camp with no connection to the outside world,” Eliza said quietly, concentrating on what was on the TV instead of us. “We don’t even know what’s goin’ on ‘ere on the main campus and we run into it every damn day. Doesn’t that disturb you? At least a bit?”
“You’re right,” I said.
“Or you would be,” Eric said, “if that was not an episode of Spongebob I had never seen before.”
Eliza shot him a look, then turned back to the TV. Finally, we got to a news station in English.
“…sors Zemylachka and Blunt have announced the decided punishment for the rule breakers at the BTF,” a female student with a British accent was saying. A picture of the camp appeared behind her. “As usual,” she said, “Quarantine is in effect for the BTF and students learning there. However, the incident has made quarantine restrictions even tighter. Early yesterday morning, a group of students started an unauthorized fight, resulting in multiple deaths and injuries.”
“‘Unauthorized fight?’” I asked incredulously. “That’s what they’re fucking calling this?”
“Calm down,” Eliza said. “You knew what you were getting into.”
“I had an idea,” I spat. “I didn’t know how bad it would be. Seriously, over five hundred people have died this semester alone. This isn’t an education, it’s a fucking concentration camp.”
“Hey,” Eric said, pointing to the TV, “listen.”
Professor Zemylachka was now standing in front of the Administration Building, an old Gothic mansion-like structure. I didn’t like the look of rage on her face. She was speaking in Russian, but the words were being translated via subtitles.
“This incident,” the subtitles said, “is unacceptable. University law prevents me from terminating or expelling so soon after Fight Night, but I am still allowed other methods of punishment. The safety of those in NIU is maintained and the students injured will move back to camp soon. Rest assured, though, that I will make sure they will know that their actions are unacceptable.”
“Well, that sounds pleasant,” I said. “We’re fucked.”
“Are we?” Eliza said. “She might treat us fair.”
“Really?” I asked. “She runs a concentration camp. These things are inherently unfair. She could end up doing that thing really stupid teachers do where they give both parties the same punishment, even though one person’s the bully and another’s the victim who just fought back for a change. Seriously, fuck her.”
“You do not seem to like her,” Eric said.
“I really fucking don’t,” I said. “Can we change the channel before I punch something?”
Eliza nodded. After a few minutes of watching the news, we went back to AniPunk. Spongebob was over, and instead we were watching a Powerpuff Girls-inspired show about scantily-dressed, foul-mouthed angels fighting ghosts.
“Why are we watching sperm dressed as WWII GIs trying to storm a vagina?” I asked.
“I have no idea,” Eliza said.
“Oh, you’re watching Panty and Stocking?” John said. He grabbed a shirt and ran over. “It’s a friggin’ amazing show.”
“There’s more room by my bed,” Bai said. “I’m watching it, too.”
“Ok,” John said. He seemed a bit disappointed because he knew me and Eric better than Bai. He did try to remedy that, though. I was too busy watching anime and cartoons to really pay attention to him. I did notice he was doing most of the talking.
However, a few shows later, around lunch, a couple of guards came in. They were dressed in black police officer uniforms and were wearing sunglasses. “Eliza Henderson, Oro Okoro, Feng Bai, Nathan Jacobs?” We each responded when our names were called. “Please come with us.”
“What is it?” I asked suspiciously.
“NIU owes you lunch,” one of them said. She had an Indian accent. That’s when it clicked.
“Oh, it’s you two!” I said, heading towards them. I turned to the other people in the room. “These guys saved my life. Well, I suppose the medical staff here were part of the process as well, but…”
“You were kind of out cold when they saved you,” the male one said. I noticed his nametag said Mendez.
We walked out into the hallway. I noticed Eliza and Bai stuck close to each other. We were in a hallway with several doors leading to what I assumed were other rooms on either side. On one end, there was a heavy steel door. On the other, there was a set of double doors which I assumed led out to some sort of foyer.
“Follow us, please,” the other officer said. Her nametag read Gupta.
We did as instructed. Mendez and Gupta lead us past the double doors and into the lobby area. The lobby area, I noticed, was not very busy at all. We seemed to be on the end of a square building, with an identical hallway directly across from the one we just left. I noticed each hallway had heavy metal blast doors that could seal them off. We must have either been in an infectious disease ward or a ward for very dangerous people. I personally guessed the former.
The lobby itself included a reception desk and some seats. Two Campus Security Guards in body armor stood by the door leading out, and a receptionist at the desk. The seats were empty. Eliza gave one a subtle shove while making eye contact with me. It didn’t budge. They looked comfy, though.
“Well, this group looks more cooperative!” the receptionist said. She looked like she could have been a student. She had an accent that I couldn’t quite place.
“Was Trollbjorn in it?” Mendez asked.
“Who?” the receptionist asked.
“They bring him out later,” one of the fully-armored guards said. She spoke with a Russian accent and was carrying a SCAR-H with underbarrel automatic shotgun.
“Who’s Ulfric?” the receptionist asked.
“’E’s the scariest bastard you’ll ever see,” Eliza said just before we walked out. I could tell that she was flashing her trademark grin.
“You really want to see the look on that girl’s face when they lead out Ulfric, don’t you?” I asked.
“Don’t you?” Eliza asked.
“Maybe,” I said, “but you have a tendency to troll everyone.”
“What does that mean?” Bai asked. “To troll people?”
I jumped. This was probably the first time in an hour Bai had spoken.
“’S when you hide under a bridge and grab people by their ankles,” Eliza said casually.
“Actually,” I said, “its saying or doing something that you don’t necessarily believe is right, but you think will get an amusing reaction out of people.”
We came into another lobby. This one had some elevators. It also seemed a bit busier with people in scrubs waiting around reading magazines. One of them dinged open.
“Into the elevator, billy-goats!” Gupta said. Eliza, Mendez and I chuckled. Bai looked confused. We got in, with our escorts making sure their backs weren’t to us. They didn’t seem too worried, but I guess they preferred to play it safe. I knew for a fact that Eliza could make them very sorry, and I suspected that Bai and Oro were at least as dangerous.
The elevator dinged again. The doors opened to a massive lobby, about two stories high. Instead of going out the front door, however, we went in the opposite direction. We eventually left via a loading dock.
That led us into an alley way. Across that was another loading dock, with two Campus Security Officers in patrol uniforms standing guard. I noticed that all of them wore sunglasses. The two groups exchanged friendly greetings, then the second pair ushered us inside.
We were in what appeared to be the back room of a restaurant, the kind reserved for private parties. There were several tables and booths. Sitting at one of the booths were Ricardo and Li, dressed in combat fatigues. Ricardo looked bored. Li was just sullen.
“Hola, amigos!” Ricardo said, “How are guys doing?”
“Really good, considering I was stabbed in the stomach,” I said.
“Yeah, man,” Ricardo said. “Good job pulling through.”
Li scoffed. “I hardly think,” he said, “that his effort had anything to do with his recovery. Only an idiot would believe he had anything to do with it.”
“What my brother means,” Bai quickly said, somewhat apologetic, “is that with the technology here, there is little likelihood he could die.” She then added, a little coldly, “At least, that better have been what he meant.”
Ricardo seemed to debate something internally, then decided to drop the subject. “That’s cool,” he said, “anyway, have a seat. We’re getting that meal they promised!”
Bai quickly moved to sit next to her brother, then Oro sat next to her. It seemed a little rehearsed. I sat down next to Ricardo. Eliza then sat next to me, blocking my escape. Now it made sense. I couldn’t prove it, though. Even the nod she gave Oro could have been misread. Or imagined.
“So it seems everyone’s here,” Ricardo said.
“Almost,” Eliza said. “The most enthusiastic potential member is still not ‘ere yet.”
Everyone looked at Eliza in shock. “You did not…” Oro said. “You cannot seriously think you can control him.”
“What are we talking about?” I asked. Whatever this was about, it couldn’t be going anywhere good, especially if the missing person was who I thought it was.
“If I was looking for people to control,” Eliza said testily, “I’d’ve never invited any one of you lot. We’d be equals. In fact, if anyone’d lead, I’d do my damndest to get out of it.”
“Why are we inviting… him?” Ricardo asked, looking over his shoulder. “Even if you’re not making an army, he’s too much of a liability. Hell, he’s too much of a risk to have at a dinner party.”
“I don’t see why we’re arguing. My sister can put him down if he gets out of line” Li said. “She’s done it before, and that was with a broken leg.”
“The only reason I won,” Bai said, “was because I had surprise on my side. He is smart, and won’t fall for it again.” She paused. “That being said, I think he would be a good addition, if only for the fact that I wouldn’t want him to feel…”
“Snubbed?” Eliza asked.
“I suppose,” Bai said, “Forgive me, but I do not know that word.”
“Uh, guys,” I said, “what are we inviting Ulfric to?”
“An unofficial school club.” We turned around. Ulfric had somehow managed to come in and close the door without us noticing. That seemed to be a common ability among scary people. He also seemed to be quoting Eliza, down to imitating her accent.
“If you don’t want to talk to El Diablo,” Ricardo said, “don’t say his name.” I was honestly a little glad Ulfric had shown up. I wasn’t sure how long I’d have to wait to get answers otherwise.
Everyone eyed him warily as he grabbed a chair and sat down at the head of the table. When he was seated, Eliza said, “Good, now everyone’s here. We can start.”
Then a door opened noisily. In walked a blonde woman built like a model. “Hallo,” she said, “I am Freya und I will be your waitress today. Do not worry, the school is paying for your meal.” She then passed out the menus to us. We all thanked her politely.
“She’ll be back in a minute, won’t she?” Eliza asked.
“Yeah,” I said.
“Might want to bring you up to speed when she leaves to get our grub. Apart from Li, you’re the only one’a us I haven’t told, and I’m sure Bai’s informed him.” Eliza said, glancing at Li for confirmation. When he nodded, she continued on. “Anyway, let’s look at what they’re serving. Seems to be yank-style.”
I opened it up and flipped through it. There was so much good stuff: burgers, steaks, noodles, pizzas, sandwiches and even ribs.
“What’re ‘ese waffle fries then?” Eliza asked. Everyone but me shrugged.
“You don’t know what waffle fries are?” I asked. “You should try them. They’re kind of like normal French fries, but spicier and fused together in the shape of a hashtag. They’re pretty much the king of fries.”
“How many things do Americans cover in cheese and bacon?” Li asked. “Even some of the salads are covered in cheese and bacon!”
Ricardo suddenly asked, “So apart from me, how many of you guys have eaten American food before? I mean, like at an actual American restaurant.” I raised my hand. No one else did, but Ulfric giggled which could have meant anything. Ricardo smiled.
The waitress walked back in. “So, are we ready to order?” Everyone nodded. “Ok, you first, big man,” she said to Ulfric. “What would you like?”
We all ordered. Ulfric somehow managed to communicate he wanted two Double Back-Home Burgers (a double burger with cheese, bacon and onion rings.) There was a bit of a tense moment when he was told he couldn’t have beer, but he just changed it to water. Oro ordered a salad, Bai and Li both ordered Italian sausages with fries and a side salad, Eliza ordered Fish and Chips (technically Fish and Waffle Fries) and clam chowder, Ricardo, through fits of barely suppressed laughter, ordered a plain burger, and I ordered a rack of ribs with a double side of waffle fries. I also had a fancy bottle of root beer, making me the only person to have something other than water to drink.
“So,” Eliza said, once the waitress was gone, “I suppose it’s only fair that I bring Nate ‘ere up to speed.”
“You have my attention,” I said. At this point, my curiosity was killing me. Whatever it was, I was pretty sure that I should (and would) turn it down. Ulfric, Eliza and Bai scared the crap out of me, and I was pretty sure I should be scared of the others as well. However, I didn’t want to appear rude. Better listen first, find some excuse not to join, then spend the rest of my college career avoiding every single one of these people.
Li then immediately gave me my excuse. As soon as I was done talking, he slammed his fist down on the table. “Why are we considering him?” he asked. “We know he is a spy! How do we know he won’t report on our conversations?”
Bai nodded at this, Eliza looked… displeased. But before I could take the opportunity, Ricardo spoke up. “Man,” he said, “this guy, this guy I think I’d trust more than any of you guys.”
“Really?” Oro asked. I couldn’t tell if she was skeptical or interested. Whereas Bai was reserved and Ulfric was… unwell, Oro was downright unreadable.
“Yeah,” Ricardo said. “this guy I trust because I know he’s a spy. Just by saying that, he knows that we know, and that if he snitches on us, we’ll come to gut him. He’s also a shit spy, ‘cause I had him pegged from day two.”
“He’s still a spy,” Li grumbled.
“Yeah?” Ricardo asked. “What are you here for, huh esse? The only way you even hear about this fucking place is if a school employee or alum recommends you. Who recommended you and Hermana, huh? And why did they send you here?”
“Those,” Bai said, “are the kinds of questions that gets you killed.”
“See?” Ricardo said. “For all I know, you could be spies as well!”
“Enough.” It was Oro who spoke. When she was sure we had calmed down, she said, “Let us first hear Eliza’s proposal. Then, after the main course arrives, we will play a game.”
“Thank you Miss Okoro,” Eliza said, still a bit angry. “I think that is an excellent idea.” She took a deep breath, then continued. “Anyway, this whole idea is sort of a support group. You see, most of us at the mo are in a rather bad spot. At Fight Night, we all made more than a few enemies. Enemies who’ve got access to weapons and training on how to use them. We start work on pistols in a few weeks. If one goes missing, we could be in a right state of bother.”
“Maybe for you,” Li said. “I could wrestle it away.”
“That’s assuming they pull it on you up close and give you plenty of time to react,” I said. “They could easily shoot you in the back from twenty feet away.”
“Or they could pre-cock it before they pull it,” Ricardo said, playing with his steak knife, “or they could find some way to spike your food. Personally, I’d stab you in the shower. Much less noise than a gun and easier to get. I could cut your throat before you even realized I was there, make it look like a suicide, then walk out before anyone realized what had happened.”
“You’re not helping,” Eliza said.
“Sorry,” Ricardo said. “This guy just gets to me.”
“Anyway,” Eliza said, “the point is, no matter how good we are, the people we might ruck with are smart, outnumber us, and only have to be lucky once. Nate could probably tell you that better than I. If it hadn’t been for the group ‘e’d be dead.”
That was true. Eliza, Ulfric, and Oro had saved my life. “Didn’t some of my other friends help?” I asked. “I mean, you guys really saved my ass, but you had some help.”
Oro nodded. “A group of people did come in. I believe Eric was the leader. They are quite effective.”
“But they almost didn’t make it,” Eliza said. “The more people you’ve got watching your back, the less likely it is to be stabbed.”
“Yeah, but how do I put this without offending all of you…” I began.
Ricardo shrugged. “Just tell it like it is, man.”
I took a deep breath then said, “I don’t trust you guys. I know next to nothing about most of you, except that you’re really good at killing people. Then there’s Ulfric. Apart from what you already know, publicly being in an alliance with him would just paint a bigger target on my back. Bai and Li barely even know me, yet they’re convinced I’m a potential threat. Seriously, Bai, the first time I met you, I felt like you were trying to figure out how to kill me and get rid of the evidence.”
“Can you blame me?” she asked.
“No,” I said, “but I do think it’s more than a little premature. Then there’s Eliza.”
“What did I do?” she asked.
“There’s the… surveillance.” I said. “It’s another set of eyes watching me. To make it worse, I can’t tell whether you’re a friend or foe. With Richard or Salim, I would know. But you’re so hard to pin down. Remember our conversation we had before the award ceremony? That was a good example. You come up from behind me, scaring the shit out of me.”
“The conversation was nice, though, wasn’t it?” Eliza asked.
“It would have been,” I said, “but I wasn’t exactly at ease. I mean, how many people did you kill the night before? I know it was a lot. Then, I made a mistake. I’ll admit, what I said was rude, but you looked like you were going to kill me over it.”
“I wasn’t…” Eliza said defensively.
“But I didn’t know that!” I said. “I’d like to think that I could join you guys and we’d all be friends and hang out and eat ice cream together and stuff. But I don’t know what your deal is. Until these issues are resolved, until I feel I can deal with you all on a daily basis without getting an ulcer, I want to be as far away from all of you as possible.”
“That,” Oro said, “is what my game should address.”
“Also,” Eliza said, cagily, “there are …other benefits to this group. I think we all want to know what’s going on ‘ere. No reason why we can’t share a few tidbits with each other once in a while.”
There. That was why I didn’t trust her. I was sure the same thing could be said about me, but she had the tendency to try and eliminate all possible outcomes until the one she desired remained. She also seemed to be better at it than I was, and I was still unclear what her goals were.
I was about to explain this when the waitress came back in with the salads, soup, and drinks. “I am sorry,” Bai said, her eyes wide, “but we ordered the side salad, not the main course size.”
“That is the side salad,” the waitress said. She then set down Oro’s salad. “This is the main course size.” Oro’s eyes widened.
“It’s not that big,” I said, pointing at Oro’s salad. “Are you sure that’d be enough?”
Eliza stared at me. “Are you serious, mate?” she asked incredulously. She wasn’t the only one who seemed surprised by the comment. Even the waitress was looking at me strangely.
Ricardo, however, was laughing. “You guys have never been to be Texas, have you?” We all shook our heads. “Huh,” he said when he saw me shake my head. “I thought you would have been there. Anyway, I actually got that far north once and ate at a restaurant. The sizes are bigger there.”
“Sizes are bigger in Massachusetts!” I said.
“That’s famous for its seafood, right?” Eliza asked, starting in on her bowl of clam chowder.
“And its tech industry, being instrumental in The Revolutionary War, having some of the first factories in America, the Transcendentalist movement and pretty much everything to come out of Boston.”
“So you’re just a budget version of New York, then?” Eliza asked innocently.
“Nope!” I said, “We’re actually an improved, less pretentious version.”
The banter went on for the rest of the wait for the food. Bai even joined in a bit. However, I think we were all waiting for Oro to start her game.
Finally, the food came. Oro then waited for the waitress to leave, then said, “All right, it is time.” She gave us a look over to make sure we all were paying attention. “The object of this game,” she said, “is to tell us why you are here as much as possible without telling us something you don’t want to know. You can choose to skip, but that means you cannot be a member. If we find out you have lied to us, including omitting important details, we will punish you.”
“Fair enough,” I said, “do you want to go first or should I?”
“Why you?” Oro asked. “You don’t seem to join, anyway.”
“This way,” I said, “certain parties may be persuaded to not kill me anyway.”
“If it makes you feel safer…” she said.
“My hope is it makes everyone feel safer,” I said. “Anyway, my name is Nathan Jacobs. You know that already, but if you were wondering if it was a fake name, it isn’t. Senior year of high school, I was approached by two agents of… a non-American law enforcement agency that specializes in super stuff. Heroes, villains, mad science, that stuff.”
I paused for a minute. “I can’t tell you which one, but I’ve given you enough to guess. I’m afraid if I tell you everything, you’ll find the other two people I’ve been sent in with. That being said, the agency I’m working for is probably more interested in the school’s parahuman and research divisions. If you’re not planning on blowing up the world, I think I can simply not mention you.
“You see, they’ve apparently dealt with a lot of mad science and superdickery that can be traced back here. They didn’t out and out state anything, but they’ve implied that they’ve averted Force 2 and higher events that tie into this place. They’re also worried that there could be time bombs made by this place just waiting to go off. We do not want those bombs to go off.”
I paused. “Any questions?”
“What if…” Ricardo asked, “we had some… indiscretions in our youth. Maybe worked with the Cartels?”
“Then I don’t need to know,” I said. “Also, unless there’s something we need to know, I think we can count this as your turn.”
Ricardo thought for a moment, then said, “I don’t think I’ve ever been in a fight against a parahuman on purpose. I try to avoid killing them, especially the ones that travel in packs. Does anyone have a problem?”
Most people shook their heads. Li, however said, “This actually does not work for us.”
Bai elbowed him and said something in Chinese. They had a brief argument. Finally, Bai said, “We have some involvement with parahumans. Have you heard of The Final Prophecy?”
I shook my head. Eliza, however said, “Yes.”
“For those of you who don’t know,” Bai said, “around five hundred years ago, when parahumans were making their resurgence, seers across the world had a vision. In five hundred years, three powerful entities would come to the world and change it forever. Violently.”
“I see.” I said. This, in my opinion, was not in my job description.
“There are differences between the versions,” Bai. “But there are some similarities. For instance, every version of this prophecy states that one will rain fiery vengeance on humanity from the sky, one will raise an army of the dead, and a third can rewrite the very fabric of existence. They shall become gods.”
“My version said the one with army’d also have hollows or something,” Eliza said.
“Our version claims the Fire Angels have come to punish humanity for their future sins,” Li said. “The prophecies tend to have different details, but they have all the same basic parts.” He turned to me. “We will find these people mentioned in the prophecy, and we will deal with them.”
“Do you really think that they’re going to find these three parahumans here world-ending parahumans here?” I asked.
Eliza shrugged. “Personally, I don’t think we’re gonna find ‘em any-bloody-where. It’s like the Second Coming: some bloke says its imminent so everyone should come an’ do what ‘e says.”
“Maybe,” Bai said, “But if this time we are right, and they are here, this is one of the more likely places they’ll end up. We want people who have an idea what they are up against to fight one of The Three.”
“If these things are real,” Ricardo said, “you can deal with them all you want. I want no part of it.” He considered it, though. “Nathan’s employers might want in on it, and I can’t really speak for Oro or El Diablo over there.”
Ulfric and Oro both shook their heads. I said, “I’m pretty sure my employers want solider forms of information than a hundred-year-old prophecy.”
“Good.” Bai said. “This does not concern them.”
“That being said,” I continued, “If you should find one of these super-powerful parahumans and take a swing and miss, I will tell my employers what’s happening. I’m not going to fuck around with the end of the world. Hell, I might even contact them before you make your move so they can get a team on standby. Is that acceptable?”
“It is… much more assertive than you normally are,” Bai said. “And it is only barely acceptable.”
“Sorry,” I said. “I don’t fuck around when it comes to the end of the world.”
“So, you’re joining?” Eliza asked.
“Fine!” I said. “If it means keeping the world from ending, I’ll join the Seven Supreme or whatever we’re calling ourselves.”
“Kind of comic book-y, innit?” Eliza said. “I like it.”
Oro nodded. “My turn.” She said. “My story’s probably similar to a lot of people’s. I was in a bad part of Africa and became a child soldier. I left, and made a bit of a name for myself.”
“That does sound familiar,” I said. “Eric and his crew had basically the same story except…”
“He implied some sort of daring escape and that he’d taken a large amount of money?” Oro asked.
“Yeah,” I said. “Are you saying it didn’t happen like that?”
“You are probably imagining something less dramatic,” Oro said. “I, on the other hand, left on the strength of my reputation alone.”
“Same here, chica.” Ricardo said, laying on the smooth. “Want to… swap some stories later?”
“If by stories, you mean bodily fluids, then no.” Oro said. “Ulfric, why are you here?”
“I like hurting people,” he said. “Someone realized I was good at it.” He then giggled.
“Yep,” I said, “that sounds about right. I’m going to eat my food before it gets cold.”