When I woke up again, I was in the Medical Building. Kyle was sitting on the bed opposite me, looking the worse for wear. His face was bloody and bags were under his eyes. Apart from that and a few cuts, the only thing wrong was him was how tired he looked. “Hey,” he said, “how’re you doing?”
“Honestly,” I said, “I feel way too good, considering I was shot… how many times in the stomach?”
“Twice,” Kyle said dully.
There was an awkward pause as I worked up the courage to ask my next question. “Did, uh, did Jared make it?” I asked.
“Yes and no,” Kyle said, still in a monotone. “May managed to fix the bullets that penetrated, she’s a genius like that.”
Kyle laughed bitterly. “A bullet bounced off a riot shield, and now he’s a fucking vegetable. Fucking one in a million chance and it happens to the last man I have left.” Somehow, he managed to sound even more depressed. “You know, he has a Do Not Resuscitate order, but the docs are arguing that they might be able to bring him back. Guess who gets to make that decision.” I winced. That did not sound like fun.
“Anyway,” Kyle said, “the President wants to talk to you. Should be soon, now that you’re awake.” He got up, presumably to go about his business. “By the way,” he said as he left, “don’t try to leave, ok?”
Shit. They knew. I wondered, would the President have me executed for espionage before or after he recognized my services to the school? Or was he sick enough to have someone slit my throat while another person pinned a medal on my chest?
To take my mind off it, I decided to get dressed in some clothes they had left me. Then, when that was done, I decided to turn on the TV. All the student-run stations were down. The only thing on was a message telling us to stay tuned and indoors until the President’s announcement. At least this meant the Nazis hadn’t won.
Out of curiosity, I decided to go look out the window. Unsurprisingly, I saw a lot of Campus Security patrolling around. Surprisingly, there were also a number of students in camo with them. I quickly realized that they must be AMS and Shadowhaven students conscripted into joining the mop-up.
“Thinking of jumping, boyke?” a voice with a South African accent asked. I turned around. There, an amused expression on his face, was Professor Krieger. “You haven’t even heard our offer.”
“Honestly?” I said, “That never even crossed my mind. Just getting some intel.”
“Formulating an escape attempt?” Krieger asked. “Very good. However, you might want to hear our offer. Please, follow me.”
Now intrigued, I followed him out of the Medical Building. As we walked, I noticed that all the Campus Security staff were still fully armored. It was also interesting to see that, while a few had cuts, bruises or bullets that had imbedded into their vests, there were very few occupied beds in the hospital.
When I got outside, I saw that the invaders hadn’t fared as well. All along the sidewalks, corpses had been dragged into piles. Also, either they had run out of body bags, or only students and staff rated human decency.
I was lucky in a way. I got to see a column of Nazi prisoners. They were walking behind us, being herded by a bunch of students. When I turned my head to see who was guarding them, I made eye contact with one of them. What struck me the most about him was how young he looked. The boy couldn’t be more than sixteen, yet he already looked like he had some form of PTSD. He shrunk back a bit after a bit. Now that I’d thought about it, a lot of the people I had been facing last night had been very old or very young.
I also noticed that one of his guards was Eric. He flashed me a grin and a thumbs-up. I returned the gesture and continued walking. “What are they going to do with the prisoners?” I asked.
Krieger shrugged. “It depends on how cooperative they are. Campus rules prevent non-consensual human experimenting, and torture is ineffective. We’re probably going to have some chats with them. If they’re helpful, we may even let some of the younger ones enroll in the University.”
“So, you wait for people to consent before you torture them?” I asked. “Very progressive. By the way, what happens if they don’t cooperate?”
“Depends,” Krieger said. “If they’d hurt us, they can’t leave. If we can’t keep them contained…” He then patted his gun. I nodded. It wasn’t exactly ideal, but I could accept it. For now.
We were quiet for the rest of the trip. Finally, we got to the main square. As we walked around the square, I noticed we were leaving a large berth around a group of students kneeling on the ground, anchored to the ground by chains and handcuffs. “Are those… are those their inside men?” I asked.
“And a demonstration,” Krieger said. “The President wants you to see what happens next. The President wants everyone to see what happens next. But that won’t be for a while.”
We entered the President’s Mansion. Two Campus Security Officers armed with Mk. 48 machineguns opened the heavy wood doors (revealed to be metal doors covered in tasteful paneling by heavy gunfire.) We walked into the foyer to reveal that the once-fancy decorations had been trashed. The statues besides the two stairs leading to the top level had been shattered by gunfire, and there were a few craters in the floor. Judging by the tiny shards of shrapnel that had embedded themselves into various locations, those craters had come from frag grenades.
Right between the stairs was a line of sandbags. Behind those was a three-barreled minigun manned by two Campus Security Guards. Thankfully, the gun itself was aimed at the ground and the two guards weren’t really touching it in any way. Still, we prudently moved out of its line of fire.
That’s when I realized that directly opposite us were John and Professor Blunt. We didn’t have time to really say anything when President Anthony Newton-Howell came down the stairs. Surprisingly, he seemed to look a lot like Robert Downey Jr in a nice suit. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting him to look like, except maybe the devil.
“Sorry to keep you waiting,” he said genially. “This place is kind of a mess. Kind of expected when you set up an ambush.” He looked at one of the statues. “Damn it, Mr. Bitey’s dead? I really liked that gargoyle. Anyway, follow me.”
John and I followed him after a pause. Krieger and Blunt were right behind us. It wasn’t long until the President led us into a once-luxurious office on the third story. It probably was about four times the size of my family’s dining room, and had an excellent view of the central square, but it had been completely wrecked. Judging by the craters, bloodstains, and various shrapnel impacts it looked like someone had cleared the room with frag grenades. Once beautiful glass cabinets containing sculptures had been shattered, and an expensive-looking wood table had collapsed.
“Well,” the President said, taking in the damage, “that’s a little disappointing.” He went behind a rather regal desk to stand next to a sumptuous leather chair. He stared at it for a moment, then pushed it. There was a creaking sound, and the chair bent slightly to one side and began swiveling lopsidedly. Then it fell over.
The President said, kicking what I assumed to be the chair’s base away, “I guess that’s broken. Shame. I really liked that chair.” He sat down on the desk and indicated the two chairs in front of the desk. “Have a seat, please.”
We sat as instructed. John, a look of apprehension on his face, asked, “So… what’s up, Mr. President?” I looked behind me. Professor Blunt and Professor Krieger were standing by the door. We obviously weren’t going to get out.
“Oh, nothing much,” the President said, “just wanted to congratulate you two on your first year here. At least a ninety-five average in all your classes. Very good.”
“Most of the students in AMS and Shadowhaven get similar grades,” I said. “It just seems odd that you’d choose now to praise us for being average.”
“Just listing some of your qualifications,” the President said. “Because I need your help identifying something.” He then reached into his pocket and pulled out a thin object. “Campus Security found this camera in your room, gentlemen. Do you know what’s on it?” I recognized it instantly. It was the same kind that UNIX had issued to John and me.
“There is another one in the CSG computer forensics lab,” the President said. “It seems to have nothing on it… except your finger prints, Mr. Marshall.” John gulped. The President turned his attention to me. “Now, this one… not only did it have your prints on it, Mr. Jacobs, but it also had some very interesting pictures on it.”
“Have you heard that joke about what to say when your wife finds you in bed with another woman?” I asked.
“Sorry,” the President said, “but I believe my lying eyes this time. Just a hunch.”
“So,” I asked, “what happens now?”
“Now,” the President said, “we have a discussion about your future.” Already this was going better than I had expected. He hadn’t instantly decided to kill us. “Since the people you were selling information to are more to blame, I think that any potential termination should only involve expulsion on our part and refusal to contact you on your employer’s.”
“I think that sounds pretty good,” I said. My face was passive, but internally, I was dancing for joy. God, this place was awful and I was stupid for thinking I could do any good here.
“Or,” the President said, “you could take my other proposal.”
Sure, I thought, and aliens could threaten to destroy the world. Seriously, at that point, I was done with all this bullshit. I just wanted to walk away.
“You see,” the President said, “I know a bit about your relations with your employers. Takashi and Brosnan like to play games and don’t really care who they hurt. We knew about their plan before you two did. By the way, how’d you figure out they were lying to you?”
John looked at me for guidance. I shook my head. After a while, the President shrugged. “Doesn’t matter. Anyway, it’s a damn shame. Usually, it takes UNIX decades to burn out our students. Those two almost did it in eight months. Krieger honestly thought that the waiting around was going to break you two.
“But then you impressed me.” This part was directed entirely at me. “You got caught up in an attempt to steal intelligence and assassinate a triple-A student. And what did you do? Not only did you and John pass the test and foil the attempt, but you…” He shook the camera in his hands at me. “You went for the extra credit.”
“You know,” I said, “that was all luck.”
“It was very lucky,” the President said, nodding. “Both of you, in fact, are very lucky. I’m not sure you’ve noticed it, but luck is in short supply around here. You also have something we need. Our previous double-agent, Richard Forrest Taylor, died in service of NIU last night.”
“Wait,” John asked, “Dickface was working for you? I thought he’d be working for the Nazis.”
“So did the Nazis,” I said. “UNIX also thought he was working for them. It’s confusing, I’ll give you that.”
“So…” John said, “he was also the fo… third UNIX guy on the island? Why didn’t he contact us?”
“Orders,” the President said. “UNIX thought he’d be least likely to get caught by us.” He shrugged. “Guess they chose wrong. We were using him to pass on information that UNIX needed to hear. We actually need someone to pass on… well, the very documents you stole. Among other things.”
“What kind of things?” John asked.
“Eighteen months ago,” the President said, “North Korea went dark. No news, in or out. But rumors of an insurrection came out. Increased radio chatter, military units moving all over the place, seismology readings indicating heavy bombardment going on, and for some reason, satellites couldn’t see anything in the country. When South Korea demanded an explanation, North Korea claimed it was conducting military exercises. Naturally we were curious.”
So was the rest of the world. I remembered that the speculation had been going on in the summer before I boarded the plane to this awful place. I wondered what could be the reason. Maybe I could do something. No, I thought, internally slapping myself, bad Nathan.
The President smiled. I swear he knew he had me. “So, we sent in a team. It was a week-long recon mission of six of our best students. It was at the outbreak of the crisis, so the team was expecting a popular uprising. Instead, they encountered advance elements of a clone army called The Dragon’s Teeth. The reports you acquired were from the autopsies on some of their soldiers.”
“Wait…” I said, “I heard about them last night. Richard said that one of the students working for them had been dropping hints about them all year.”
I also remembered Taylor Smith’s words. You have no idea what’s coming, do you? He had asked. That was actually one of the last things he had said.
“Maybe could be talking about another group?” John suggested.
“Before last night,” I said, “I didn’t even consider the possibility that Nazis, real Nazis, could come teleporting from outer space. It just wasn’t on my radar, despite the obvious signs. Right now, I don’t think we can afford to dismiss anything.”
“Ok,” John said, “Ok, you got me. But still, why should we work with him to betray UNIX?”
Both the President and Krieger began to laugh. “What?” John asked. “We both know that you’re going to ask us to hurt some people we know…”
“So,” Krieger said, still amused, “let me get this straight, boyke: you think that at some point, there’s going to be a big showdown, good versus evil, UNIX versus NIU! It’ll be big! It’ll be grand! But most importantly, you’ll be with the good guys.”
“Look,” John said, “UNIX aren’t angels. I get it. But they’re better than you.” I had to admit, I agreed with John. But I wasn’t going to say it. My plan was to accept the President’s offer, then use that to get more information for UNIX.
Krieger walked over to John. Leaning in close to John, but so he could also watch me, he said, “UNIX will never fight us. Have you ever heard of a symbiotic relationship?”
“Shut up,” John said.
“No, wait,” I said, “I think we should hear this.”
Krieger smiled. “It’s very simple,” he said, his voice friendly. “This bastard here wants to produce the best soldiers, scientists, businessmen and leaders the world has ever seen. Some organizations, maybe its UNIX, maybe a terrorist group, maybe a crime family, want the best training and tech for their employees that money can buy.”
“What are you saying?” John asked.
“Ah, you missed it, boyke!” Krieger said. “Takashi and Craig were here in September! While you two chumps were getting the shit kicked out of you during Fight Night, your handlers were having a bloody nice meal at the finest restaurant on our little island to celebrate all the people they managed to recruit.”
“Wait…” I said, “they come here to recruit?”
“More than that,” the President said, “one of the first graduates from here went on to found UNIX. They wouldn’t exist without us.”
“More to the point,” Krieger said, “they can’t bleedin’ function without us. Their best recruits come from this school. All the others need training, but even a regular NIU student is innovating on their first day. You see, we get fresh meat and a nice chunk of cash… and they get the nicest steaks they’ve ever tasted dirt cheap.”
“And we go through the grinder,” I said.
“I wouldn’t put it…” the President began.
Kreiger cut him off. “Exactly!” he said, pointing straight at me. Meanwhile, the President pouted. “Except UNIX has been getting greedy. They don’t want to be proactive about finding time bombs, no. What they want is the things that our students have made without having to pay them. You’ve seen the effects of surgical glue, power sludge, battlefield sonar and so many other technologies. Don’t you think that a hundred thousand would be a bargain for any one of these miracles?”
My fists clenched. One of the few things that had kept me from not dropping UNIX like a hot potato was that I’d believed they were going to take down this shit hole. Instead, they were feeding it. What’s worse, they were using me and three others to get a bit more slop on their own trough. I had been betrayed for the last time.
“Can I speak now?” the President asked Kreiger petulantly.
“They’re all yours,” Kreiger said.
“Anyway,” the President said, “I would like a chance to prove to you that I’m better than UNIX. I’d also like to find out what is happening in North Korea. So, right now, you have two options: leave this school and never come back… or go on one little mission and come back here with a full ride, plus five million each.”
“Five… million,” I said, not quite believing what I was hearing.
“US dollars, of course,” the President said. “I’m rich, I’m petty, and I think that you two might be a good investment. If you take the job, I’ll have a million up front.”
“And what will you do with this information we get you?” John asked.
“Well,” the President said, “a copy is definitely going to UNIX. I also would like to confirm or deny a few of my suspicions.”
“You know what?” I said, “I’m in. Fuck it, and fuck UNIX.”
John looked at me strangely. “Nate,” he said, “are you sure…?”
I stood up suddenly, knocking the chair back. “Of course I’m sure! UNIX comes in talking all this bullshit about Force Three events and unexploded bombs, and instead decides to use us as glorified bait while their real spies go and steal shit. We fucking bled for them… you bled for them, and they stiffed us. Why? Because we were supposed to die!”
John paused, taking in my outburst. “Ok,” he said finally, completely calm. “I’m in. But only because you need someone to stop you from losing it.”
I took a deep breath. “Ok,” I said. “You’re right. I may be taking this too personally.”
“Good!” the President said. “Now, I want to show you something.” He got up and walked over to the door. “Come on,” he said, waving us on, “you guys need to see this!”
Exchanging confused looks, we got up and followed the President out of the mansion, Krieger trailing behind us. We exited the house. It was then that I noticed that as well as the prisoners and Campus Security officers, there was now a small crowd of people, including a few TV cameras. “Wait here,” the President said to us, indicating that we should stay on the steps. We followed his orders, taking a seat on the marble steps.
“And now,” Krieger said softly as the President walked across the lawn, “you get to see why I think Anthony Carter Newton-Howell is the devil.” Both John and I stiffened at this. “The problem,” Krieger continued, “is that he can’t be removed externally. Too many benefit if NIU stays in business. If only there was some sort of internal challenge to his rule…”
Meanwhile, the President was standing in between the inside men and the Nazis that they had guided in. “So, boys,” he said, still very friendly. “I would like to explain the one true rule of this school. There are a bunch of others, but they’re really more like guidelines for when I’m away.
“Now, this one rule is very simple: do what I say and you get rewarded, go against me and you get punished. Since you did not know this when you invaded, I will give you some slack. You are going to be sentenced to your own rooms, but they’ll have showers, beds and entertainment. You’ll have guests, but they’ll only be pre-approved. As time goes on, you may earn more privileges through giving me what I want.”
He then pointed to the group of students who had let in the Nazis. There weren’t many of them. “These people, however, knew the rules. I mean, some of these guys are seniors! They’ve had at the very least eight months to memorize the student handbook. However, today I am feeling generous. If one of these guys renounces white supremacy, they can join you and perhaps earn their freedom. Unlike you, they don’t have a chance at enrolling again, but they’ll get to live and they won’t be tortured. I think that’s fair.” He turned fully to the captured students. “Would any of you like to take my offer?”
There was silence. Finally, one of the Nazi sympathizers laughed. “Follow you? There are dead people I’m more afraid of. Heil Hitler!” Instantly, both the captured Nazis and the sympathizers broke out into racist catcalls and boos.
The President just sighed. “Going once…” he said, pacing the assembled students, “going twice… going twice… going chicken soup with rice…. Gone.” Finally, he ended back where he started. “Shame,” he said, motioning for something, “some of you were good students. We obviously didn’t teach you well enough. It’s probably my own fault.” He seemed contrite, but I had a strong suspicion that it was an act.
“What are you going to do?” one of the sympathizers asked. “Do you think shooting us will intimidate anyone?” He didn’t notice the Campus Security officers bearing red plastic cans walking up behind him. He did, however, notice when the officers began emptying the cans over the assembled students. “What the hell is this?” he asked. “Water?”
“You idiot,” another student shouted, “its petrol!” Instantly the jeers turned to begging and panic. It only increased when the officers stepped away, satisfied with their work. I felt sick. I didn’t want to see this.
The President struck a match. Instantly, everyone shut up. “I suppose,” he said, “I can teach you one last lesson.” He began to inspect the flame on the match. “I don’t smoke. I’m not really a pyromaniac. However, despite being constantly exposed to new inventions, that, frankly, are genius, I have to say, fire is mankind’s greatest discovery. I mean, it has so many uses. Cooking, forging metal, creating electricity… Hell, it can even clean up certain messes.” Everyone held their breath. The President smiled. “Yep,” he said as he casually tossed the match into the pool of gasoline, “fire is a wonderful thing.”
The scariest thing about it? He was completely calm while he did it.
The flames quickly engulfed the captured students. The screams were instantaneous as their flesh began to burn away. The smell of burning flesh assaulted my nose. I could only imagine it was much worse for the Nazis. After all, they were barely ten feet away from the bonfire that used to be human beings.
The President, meanwhile, turned back to the captured Nazis. “So,” he asked, “how was that for a commencement speech, huh? Welcome to Nowhere Island University. Security will show you to your new rooms.”
“You heard the man!” one of the officers shouted. “Get the fuck up!”
As the prisoners were led away, I said to Krieger, “It’s a shame that this internal challenge doesn’t exist. I would definitely like to join something like that.”
“Good,” Krieger said. “I knew I could count on you, Killer. Always ready to save the world, eh?”
Also, Book 2 is dead. You killed it. Read the Post Mortem here.