When John and I first saw the Blackmoor-Ward plane land, we were impressed, to say the least. For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Nathan Jacobs. Both John Marshall and I have spent most of our lives in the Northeast US, him in New Hampshire and me in Massachusetts. Our lifestyles were solidly middle-class. Sure, a lot had changed in the previous few months, thanks to the Hell Semester, but that was less “oh my God, this is how rock stars live” and more “so that’s what it feels like to be shot!”
Even after John and I got paid by our handlers, I had a sneaking suspicion that the plane Charlotte Blackmoor-Ward was flying us home in would still be out of our price range. In one movie, I had seen a private jet that was too small to fit a squad of mercenaries. Charlotte’s jet had room for two cars in the cargo bay.
“Posh, innit?” Eliza asked as it touched down, her green eyes flashing in amusement. Eliza Henderson was another person I had met during Hell Semester 2015. Apparently, when she was twelve, she had lost her family somehow and Charlotte’s father, Lord Blackmoor-Ward, had saved her from some nasty people. You could immediately tell Eliza was adopted by her red hair, freckled cheeks, and green eyes as compared to Charlotte’s blond hair and dark blue eyes.
There was also how they were dressed. Charlotte had a tendency to wear classy designer club wear and lots of makeup, calculated to emphasize her beauty and class. Eliza’s look was calculated in a different way. If a fashionista looked at her, they’d instantly dismiss her as quite classless, maybe even a little tomboyish. However, if someone with military training looked at her, they’d see that she was a soldier who had made a lot of concessions to femininity. For instance, the skinny jeans she wore were slightly big to allow things to actually fit in her pockets and give her a bit of mobility. Also, her messy hair was up in a bun, allowing her to let it down for special occasions. Similar compromises had been made throughout her entire wardrobe.
Also, under the hood, so to speak, Eliza’s a Parahuman. A Lupine, to be precise. She’s got these claws between her knuckles that she can pop out and sped-up healing that, from what I understand, also regenerates limbs . Also, in a rare twist, her ears were like that of a fox: mostly red with a black outline. The ears themselves were highly expressive, pretty much destroying any attempts she made at a poker face.
“Yeah,” I said, trying to hide my amazement at its size, “that’s a very fancy plane.” John nodded in agreement.
Eliza laughed. “Well then the look when you see their house’ll be priceless! I’ve lived with these wankers for six years and I still get me breath taken away when I see it.”
Charlotte, who had been talking to what appeared to be the captain, said to Eliza, “Well, the boarding stairs are in place. Let’s get our guests inside before they catch cold, shall we?”
“Right,” Eliza said brightly, “let’s get goin’, then!”
We got on the stairs to the plane. Charlotte and Eliza were first, I was after Eliza, and John was after me. When I got to the stairs, I reflexively flinched. “Are you ok, man?” John asked.
“I’m fine,” I said, silently adding, now that I’ve taken two advils. He was right to worry. During the climax of Hell Semester, I had been on the receiving end of a grenade. Several pieces of shrapnel from an M203 round had embedded themselves into my leg. In fact, that was most of reason I had been baked on painkillers for most of the brief chunk between now and leaving for Christmas break. The rest had to do with being shot three times, twice in the chest and once in the head. Amazingly, my body armor had stopped the ones to the chest and seriously helped my skull halt the one to my head. Between good old Kevlar, my freakishly thick skull, and the fact that NIU will always be years ahead of the rest of world technologically, and I was able to walk around with only mild pain in under two weeks.
“You sure?” John asked, as I made my way up the stairs. “You’ve been making faces every time you’ve put weight on your leg.”
“I’ll be fine!” I said. I took a step. To my surprise, there was no pain. “See?” I said, “No pain.”
“Yeah…” John said, sounding unconvinced, “whatever you say.”
When I finally got into the plane, I was again surprised at how luxurious everything was. Immediately upon entering, I came into a living room area right next to the cockpit, and surprise to see that it was all done in dark red wood paneling and black leather. “Is… Is this all real wood?” I asked as I got further into the plane.
“Of course it’s real wood,” Charlotte said, legitimately miffed, as she walked further into the plane. “I can’t imagine why anyone would use fake wood.”
I was about to say something along the lines of “to save money,” then realized that if you were buying a plane, especially a big plane, you might as well have real wood furniture. The intricate gold filigree on the sides, on the other hand, was a bit much. I mean, it was tasteful and subtly done, certainly, but really? Gold-encrusted furniture? On a plane?
Eliza, taking in the looks of wonder on her guest’s faces, mouthed I know, right?
Charlotte, however, continued on, somewhat oblivious. “This is the parlor. There’s a lovely bar over there,” she said, pointing at a similarly done bar, “and beyond that are the beds and the dining room.” She then stared me, her dark blue eyes flashing dangerously. “Don’t say you’ll sleep on the couch. There are ten beds and nine people. You will accept our hospitality.”
“Yes, ma’am,” I said as I followed her through the corridor. Between the stern look in her eye and the fact that the advil I had taken earlier was wearing off, I thought that obeying Charlotte would be a good idea.
“Anyway,” Charlotte said, leading us through the passage, “you luggage will be brought aboard shortly. Once we get past this area here, we shall be in the kitchen.”
The kitchen and dining room area was much more subdued than the parlor. It was still done in fine-grained wood and leather, but it was a much lighter-colored wood. At the rear of the plane was a kitchen area and an exit to what I assumed was the garage and cargo bay. In the direct center of the room was a fancy table surrounded by intricately carved chairs. I noticed that there was a sort of wall on the edge of the table to keep the plates from falling off.
“Well, here’s the kitchen,” Charlotte said. “The cook wasn’t able to come on this flight, but there are plenty of various things we can reheat in the microwave. We also have crisps somewhere in the pantry. You do like crisps, right?”
“Actually,” I said, looking at the kitchen area, “we’ve got an oven, a microwave, ingredients, and internet connection. Who says we need a cook?”
“That’s the spirit, Nate,” Eliza said, grinning. “Let’s make some bloody breakfast, eh?”
Thus began our chief in-flight entertainment: making food while watching various anime that John had brought. Every once in a while, one of the flight crew or a bodyguard would wander in to chat and see if they could snag a steak or two. To answer that last question, yes they could, if by steak they meant “charred, leathery mass of meat.”
To be fair, we eventually managed to get something resembling a steak. The biscuits came out much better, but there was a bit of a delay making those due to a batter fight. It was me and Eliza (“the crazy assholes,” according to John) versus John and Charlotte (who Eliza dubbed “the wankers who started it.”) Personally, I think it was Eliza and Charlotte goofing off and dragging us into it. Long story short, we were all covered in batter. One poor guard walked in, right as Charlotte was throwing a large handful at Eliza.
“Sorry, Lady Charlotte,” he said. We all paused. The bodyguard continued on. “I seem to have come at a bad time. If you will excuse me…” He then turned on his heel and marched back to the parlor.
We stood there for a moment, horrified that we’d been caught. Then we erupted into laughter. After that, we continued on making the biscuits and watching Kill la Kill and singing along whenever the chorus for “Until My Body is Dry” came on.
Lunch was great. Yeah, the steak was pretty charred, but drowning it in mustard helped. The pilots, bodyguards, and the captain were pretty cool. Apparently, they were all ex-RAF and SAS (though some hints Eliza and Charlotte had dropped made me think the “ex” part was a lie) and really good storytellers. One of the pilots, in particular, apparently specialized in dropping into enemy territory and stealing planes. His stories were the best.
After the steak, we switched to baking pastries. We made chocolate chunk cookies (there were no chips, but there were about twenty packages of Godiva 72% cacao chocolate in the pantry,) then we made sugar cookies, and then we made lemon and chocolate hamentashen.
After that, we were all weirdly tired from just sitting around making and eating food. “Y’know,” John said, “funnily enough, I’m more tired after all of this than I ever was at camp.”
“I know what you mean,” I said sleepily. “I mean, you would think I’d be tired as fuck after the crater, but nope!”
Eliza laughed heartily. “That’s the power of doin’ nothin’ all day with friends,” she said, “versus the power of adrenalin. Quite nice in their own right, they are.”
“So,” Charlotte asked, “what happened in this crater?” I stiffened, John took a sudden interest in the view outside, and Eliza’s ears flattened guiltily. Charlotte noticed that the mood was now dead and quickly said, “I-I don’t mean to pry, I just was wondering. Eliza’s mentioned it once or twice and…”
“Maybe talking will help…” I said. After a pause, I cheerily asked, “So John, do you wanna start?”
He shook his head and said, “Fuck you, man.” It was hard to see but he was kind of smiling.
I turned back to Charlotte. “So, the thing is,” I said, “is that it’s kind of hard to understand why we’re so upset about this. After all, that fight was the equivalent of the big army coming in to kill the heroes, and the heroes kicking their asses.” I paused, remembering the enemy casualties, burned, dismembered and dying. “But the thing is,” I said, “it didn’t feel like we had won a fair fight. It felt like a massacre.”
“You thought that was a massacre?” Eliza asked. “If you had been bloody conscious, you’d have seen one. Bunch of the poor bastards decided that they’d had enough. Their bloody ‘friends’ were waitin’ to go Order 227 on ‘em. A few of them survived the ambush, but…” She paused. “I wish I didn’t have to kill the survivors. Everyone else keeps tellin’ me they’d’ve wound up dead anyways, but maybe I could’ve convinced one of ‘em…” She stared off into space, tearing up. “I’ve done this too bloody much.”
Charlotte nodded. “You don’t have to do this, dear.”
Eliza smiled at her adopted sister. “And let you run off inta danger like a bloody yank?” She asked, her tone desperately imitating her usual playfulness. “Honestly, you’d be worse than Nate.”
“Oh, like you’re any less impulsive!” Charlotte said, laughing. “Weren’t you the one who decided to sneak out of school through the boy’s locker room to play hooky?”
“Wasn’t impulsive…” Eliza said, blushing furiously. “Anyway, that’s ‘ow you met Marco, innit?” Charlotte and I laughed.
John, however, just had to kill the mood. “You’d be surprised,” he said, “at how it’s both so hard and so easy it is.” We turned towards him. He saw our confused expressions, and said, “Killing people. It’s just so weird.” He pointed to his chest. “One small bullet here and you’re dead.” He moved his finger slightly. The distance was small enough that we had trouble telling he had moved it. “A larger one here and you might be screaming for hours.” He turned to look at me. “There was this guy. I think he was one of the first to get the forty-eight.”
“Think the machinegun Rambo ‘ad,” Eliza said to Charlotte.
“Was this guy one of the ones who got cut in half?” I asked, wincing a little.
“Wait,” Eliza said, “this gun cut someone in half?”
“Yes,” John said, answering us both. “Except she was a girl. I could tell by her screams. I saw her go down. When we left, she was still moving.” He shrugged. “Never thought I’d see that when I left New Hampshire. Or people burning alive”
Charlotte shuddered. “Good lord. No wonder you don’t like talking about this.” There was a pause. During that, I realized that Charlotte had gotten the sanitized version. She didn’t know that any of the people set on had run into their friends, setting them on fire as well. She didn’t know how many had just been rendered incapable of fighting from the gunshots. She didn’t see the aftermath of the battle, and I wasn’t sure I could describe it to her even if I wanted to.
“I’m going to turn in for a bit,” I said. “Wake me up when something interesting or not depressing happens.” I walked off and opened the door to the room where one of the bodyguards had put my stuff. It was small and had barely enough room for my stuff and a very comfy bed. I fell on it, but I couldn’t get to sleep. It was a combination of my advil having worn off long ago and flashbacks to various things. Having to curb-stomp Richard (a white supremacist asshole,) bashing in Amir’s head with a rock (the leader of an Al-Qaeda cell,) having his second-in-command stab me in the gut, watching one of my friends executing a prisoner, and a dozen other terrible moments from the Hell Semester played through my head. Eventually, I managed to fall to sleep. It was a fitful sleep, but it was sleep and that had been hard to come by for me recently.
Eventually, Eliza knocked on my door. I woke up, blearily. She didn’t wait for me to open the door and slid it open herself. I noticed she was holding a FAL clone with wooden furniture, probably an L1A1, and wearing a flak jacket. “We’ve got a problem,” she said.
“What is it?” I asked.
“Normally,” she said, coming further into the room, “we go to private airports. Then we hand off security to a local team, usually private contractors. Saves us the trouble of having to bloody register our weapons in a foreign country or dealing with customs as much.”
“Let me guess,” I said, “they’re redirecting you.”
“That,” Eliza said, “and our contractors aren’t answering the damn phone. Do you know anything about an airport called TF Green?” She saw the look of confusion on my face. “It’s in a place called Providence.”
“Yeah,” I said, comprehension dawning. “My family takes it every time we need a plane.”
“What’s it like?” Eliza asked, “I mean, how bad’ll it be if we get into a firefight? I’m not being paranoid, just cautious.”
“No worries,” I said, “it’s definitely a trap. There’s no cover on the runway, and none in the terminals except for a few display cases showing off how awesome Rhode Island is. I’m not sure it’s much different from Logan, but it might be further from your guys on the ground.”
“Bloody perfect,” Eliza said. “At least you already closed the curtains in your room. Go into the dining room, make sure Charlotte doesn’t leave.”
“No problem,” I said, getting up. I paused, and grabbed her arm before she could run off. “Don’t do anything crazy,” I said.
“Same to you,” she said, matching my gaze with equal intensity. “No bloody heroics.”
I headed into the dining room. I noticed that heavy curtains had been drawn, but light shone between the gaps. It seemed like it was noon. Charlotte and John were crouched in a corner. I noticed that she was wearing soft body armor and carrying a huge revolver, a WWII-era Webley, I think. She noticed me staring at it.
“A proper lady,” she said, “uses protection.”
I took a look back in the parlor. Eliza was talking in low tones with the bodyguards. They were loading L85s, green and chrome British-made assault rifles with their clips located behind the trigger. They were definitely not legal for private persons in Massachusetts.
“Is your protection… legal?” I asked.
Charlotte shrugged. “There’s some debate,” she said. “According to British law, this plane is Britain, just like an embassy. The laws in some countries may disagree. Violently.”
“I see.” John said, taking in the scene in the parlor. At this point, the pilot and the captain had come out. The pilot, the one who had been stealing airplanes, carried an Uzi. The Captain, an older guy, carried an MP-5K. John raised an eyebrow at this and asked, “You realize, we’re probably going to just have to deal with cops, right?”
I shook my head. “Law Enforcement would have just rolled up when we parked in the private hangar with a warrant. Less civilians, more evidence to find.”
“Why do you have to burst my happy bubble?” John asked.
“Don’t know, don’t fucking care,” Eliza said, walking back into the kitchen. “Strap in, we’re going to be landing shortly.”
“Hey,” John said, “just out of curiosity, what’s the likelihood that we’re landing in a trap?”
“Same chance as having two air traffic control operators in America having German accents,” Eliza said.
“Ok,” John said as we buckled up, “it’s a fucking trap. Call the police.”
“We have been,” Eliza said, checking her rifle, “but we couldn’t get through until recently.”
I judged her weapon check to be more nervous fiddling than something actually necessary. Speaking of things to fiddle with, I was noticing how vulnerable I felt without hard Kevlar or a weapon. “Hey, guys?” I asked my hosts, “You got any spare weapons? Or body armor?”
“Nope,” Eliza said. “Told you you should’ve brought your kit.”
I remembered winning it. Everyone who had been in the crater with me had gotten their pick of weapons from the people we had killed. I’d chosen some nice stuff: a P229 with silver slide, a Berretta 92 Inox, and a G-3K. They were very nice guns, but they were back at Nowhere Island University, which was the other side of the world. “Sorry,” I said, “but my parents wouldn’t be very understanding if I came back home with a small arsenal.”
“Buckle up, everyone,” the pilot said. “We’re on our final approach. Let’s see what Fritz has in store for us.”
After the plane landed, we all got unbuckled. Eliza quickly moved to the side of the arch, signaling us to get back. The bodyguards in the parlor began to exit the plane, L85s in easy reach.
“I hear a vehicle outside,” John said. “Sounds like a car of some kind.”
“Shhh!” Eliza whispered, holding up her hand and her fox ears facing fully forwards. “Keep. Bloody. Quiet!”
We did. Outside, the vehicle seemed to stop outside the plane’s entrance. Then the conversation began. “Can you hear what they’re saying?” Charlotte asked.
“Not with you gabbing,” Eliza whispered back angrily.
Conversation continued for a few minutes more. Then suddenly gunfire broke out. It ended just as suddenly as it started. I heard steps on the stairs out of the plane, seemingly heading down the ladder. There was more gunfire.
“What happened?” I asked.
“No bloody idea,” Eliza murmured.
“We need to get out there,” I whispered. “We need to know what happened and make a plan.”
Eliza whipped around, still keeping her gun aimed down the hallway. “Did you hear someone shout ‘clear?’” she asked angrily. “Because I am not moving until I hear someone say we’re all bloody…”
She was cut off by the rocket hitting the plane.