“So,” John said as we got out of the plane at the Kloten International airport in Switzerland, “why are we doing this again?”
“Aren’t you just a little bit curious about the…” I said, then I paused. I was about to reference the fact that we had just lived through an attack by Nazis from across space had teleported lightyears to attack a school that was intensely secretive by nature. A school we happened to be enrolled at, by the way. Apparently, these Nazi dudes were running from something called The Dragon’s Teeth. Now, Nowhere Island University (the school we attended) had hired us to go and find out why North Korea had gone dark. From previous reports, it had to do with a mysterious group called (wait for it) The Dragon’s Teeth. Needless to say, this was not the kind of thing you wanted to just blab about in a public space.
“…You know, the thing,” I said.
“Yes,” a voice with a slight Chinese accent said, “I am curious about ‘the thing.’”
I turned around to see an average-sized Asian girl (which is actually on the shorter side for Wester people.) She had dull black shoulder-length hair and the build of a gymnast. All this was topped off by a very serious attitude. “Hey, Bai,” I said. “What are you doing here?”
“You two,” she said, “are worrying people who care for you. Eliza and I both know you had a conversation with the President. We also know that you’ve been avoiding everyone. And now, I discover that you two aren’t going home. Explain yourselves. Now.”
“The plane’s stopped for about twelve hours,” I said. “If you give us… say an hour, at most, we could find a more suitable spot.”
Bai gave me a calculating look. When Bai Feng gives you her calculating look, you always get the feeling that she hasn’t quite ruled out violence. This is made much scarier by how calm she is and the fact that she is the best martial artist I have ever seen. “Fine,” she said. “I will wait.”
It turned out not to take an hour. We quickly found the car that had been reserved for us, a cheap Mercedes (well, cheap for a Mercedes) sedan. As Bai closed the door and edged into the middle of the rear bench she said, “It’s private. Now talk.”
“Just a minute,” I said, plugging in my iTouch. After starting up a Fall Out Boy album, I said, “Ok, that should mask any bugs.”
“Jesus, man,” John said, “do you have to be so paranoid?”
“Yes,” I said. “I honestly should have seen the Nazis resurfacing. I should have seen… how we were set up. I’m not going to be blindsided again.” I took a deep breath. “Sorry. I’ve just… had a lot of things on my mind. Anyway, you know those people who invaded NIU last week?”
“Yes,” Bai said. “Nazis, I believe. The German prime minister had a very nice speech when we were in Chicago. Something about making Stalingrad look like a picnic. There are also reports of them in Argentina and the Southern United States.”
“What she didn’t say, though,” I said, as I started the car, “is that these guys aren’t Neo-Nazis. They’re actually members of the original Third Reich teleporting from the nearest habitable star system to try the whole world domination thing again.”
“And that’s why you’re in Switzerland,” Bai said. “The President did not take kindly to their uninvited visit. At least, that’s how I interpret burning several students who conspired with them to death.”
I had been there in person and the story had been hard to tell. President Newton-Howell seemed very reasonable, giving the people an opportunity to join with him. When they hadn’t, he had Campus Security douse them with gasoline. Then he tossed a match into the puddle. This wasn’t the first time he had been involved in the death of students. For instance, the students in the Academy of Military Science (or AMS) and Shadowhaven sub-schools had to undergo something called Hell Semester, something that was somehow less pleasant than the name implied. All three of us had been through that.
“Well,” I said, getting back on track, “he actually wants us to investigate what he thinks is the group they’re running from. A group called The Dragon’s Teeth.”
“Are you sure that’s what they’re called?” Bai asked. She had quickly cut in, and there was fear in her voice.
“That was what we were told,” John said. “Is that bad?”
“Excuse me?” I asked.
“You heard me,” Bai said. “There are foes that you simply can’t fight. If I am correct, these Dragon Teeth are far beyond that.”
“We actually are just looking for information,” I said. “We don’t want to fight them. Hell, I wouldn’t be opposed to making friends with them! Apparently, they’re fighting both Nazis and the North Koreans. And if they turn out to be worse than both, at least we’ll know.”
“Do you remember that prophecy Eliza and I were talking about, Nathan?” Bai asked. “It was a long time ago, but I hope you remember something of it.”
“Yeah,” I said. “There were apparently three people or groups with insanely powerful magic abilities. Also kind of vague. You called it the Final Prophecy, right?”
“Yes,” she said, “but I was hoping you remembered the reason it was so vague. It was due to how many people have foreseen the events… and how many different ways they’ve interpreted them. The thing that you need to concern yourself with is that my society’s version has… predicted these Dragon’s Teeth.”
“Really?” I asked. I noticed that John was looking kind of worried about something. I’d have to ask him about it later, but right now, I had to deal with Bai. “What does this prophecy tell you about them?”
“My version of the prophecy says that the Teeth of Death shall rise in the Hermit Kingdom,” Bai said, “and, after the world has beaten off a great evil for the second time, they shall make their move, possessing weaponry far beyond what anyone else is able to make. They will steal the safeguards the world possesses against them and pave the way for the Master of Death, the first of the three harbingers of the end. In our version, Death is represented by a dragon.”
“Well,” John said, “what proof do you guys have that these prophecies are real? From what I’m hearing, your only proof is a bunch of guys who are all saying remarkably similar things.”
“Very well,” Bai said, “where’s your proof that The Dragon’s Teeth have come from space? Where’s your proof that the same thing that is driving the Nazis out of their new planet is also in North Korea?”
“We don’t, honestly,” I said. “That’s why we’re going there.”
Bai fell silent, considering this. She spoke up again when we pulled into the bank’s parking lot. “Why are we here?” she asked, suspicion evident on her face.
“The President is compensating us generously for this mission,” I said. “This is the bank where we pick up our down-payment.”
“And you’re siding with him?” Bai asked. “After everything he’s done? How smart is that?”
I paused. I wasn’t planning on siding with the President, just the opposite, in fact. The plan was to see if one of the teachers at the school was any better, then depose the authoritarian asshole. However, I wasn’t sure I wanted to say that in a car provided by our beloved academic administrator.
“Don’t worry,” John said. “He’s going to do something much more stupid.”
“Thank you for that vote of confidence, John,” I growled as I got out of the car. “I really wanted you to say that here.”
“Nathan!” Bai said sharply, bringing my attention back to her. She was glaring rather dangerously at me.
“Yes, Bai?” I asked, somewhat worried.
“Honestly,” she said, “I don’t know what game you’re playing, and I don’t care. Just bring back my boyfriend when you’re done with this.” Ah, so that’s why John had been nervous about Bai.
I nodded, recognizing the threat. “Will do, Bai,” I said. I turned back to John. “Come on, man, let’s get paid.”
We walked into the bank, a somewhat Gothic structure, complete with heavy wooden doors, a long flight of stone steps, and stained glass windows. “I wonder if anyone’s robbed this place,” I said speculatively. “I mean, this is a bank that keeps actual cash and safe deposit boxes held in a several hundred year old building. How secure could it really be?”
“Please shut up,” John said. “I really don’t want to be arrested by the Swiss police because they think we’re plotting a robbery.”
“Fair enough,” I said, walking up to a customer service kiosk. “But be honest. The past year has fucked you up so much that you were thinking about it as well.”
“Actually,” John said as I input the six-digit PIN the President had assigned me, “I was thinking about taking the money and just, y’know, running.”
“Seriously, or for pretend?” I asked, looking him straight in the eyes. “Because we want to defy President Anthony Carter Newton-Howell, we’d need friends. And taking the money and running would either alienate or cut us off from all the friends I know about.”
John looked away. “Yeah,” he said, somewhat embarrassed, “it was a stupid thought.”
“Hey,” I said, “It’s perfectly natural to want a way out. Oh, and speaking of friends, I didn’t know you and Bai were dating.”
“Yeah,” John said, “kind of forgot to tell you. It wasn’t really official until Culture Fest. I was literally just getting up to tell you when the campus locked down.”
“No worries,” I said.
“Hans Osterman?” a voice asked behind me. I turned around to see a woman in her twenties dressed formally in a black skirt suit with a white blouse.
“Yes? I mean…” I began, responding to my alias for this whole money collecting thing.
“Please,” the woman said. “I know that isn’t your real name. There is no need to fake a German accent. Follow me.”
Pushing my questions out of my mind, I followed the woman through the lobby and into a vault off one of the side corridors. Besides, this obviously wasn’t the kind of place where people would just answer questions like that. Maybe that was a reason that the place didn’t get robbed. After all, if you rob one of the few places that could hide your ill-gotten gains, why should the other potential safe spots help you?
The woman unlocked the door and directed my attention to an older man sitting at a desk in front of the rows of safety deposit boxes. “This is Albert Heinz, your personal banker, Hans. If you wish, you can set up an account here. While you discuss the details, I shall get the package from the safety deposit box.”
I took a seat across from Albert. “Hi,” I said. “What are you offering?”
“Right to business, I see,” Heinz said. “Well, first off, you should know that the bank is aware of your need for privacy. In this special kind of account, we take that into consideration. We have a system of discretely depositing money into your account in a way as to satisfy any inquisitive accountant. Secondly, we understand that you may wish… someone who isn’t Hans Osterman to have this money. If you wish to make use of this option, we have two slips of paper. On the first, write the name, nationality, and relative government identification number for… let’s say, the other you. On the second, write the name and current addresses of all the people you wish to inherit if you should perish.”
“Certainly,” I said. “Just… how much will all this cost?”
“The discrete deposit fee and account setup cost, including the emergency reauthorization, have all been paid by your benefactor,” Heinz said. “Now, would you like to discuss investment…”
“Wait,” I asked, “can my benefactor see my account?”
“Of course not!” Heinz said, sounding somewhat offended. “He may have paid for your account, but he can only see the information you provide. He won’t even know the routing number until you send him a check. If you don’t believe us, I will list some other banks that provide the same service as this one.”
I considered it. On the one hand, I wasn’t sure if I could trust that. On the other, I had no plans to accept payments from people I didn’t want the President knowing about. It would also be nice to have proof that I wasn’t taking payments from people he didn’t know about.
“Ok,” I said. “I’m satisfied.”
“Now,” Heinz said, “I would like to get back to types of accounts. Can I assume that you don’t want a credit card account?” I shook my head. Heinz nodded. “Ok, then. How about checking? Figured not. Investments? The average savings account does not earn very high interest rate. We also manage the account ourselves, and only take cuts from the profits.”
I considered this for a moment. If what Bai had told me was true, then things would get much worse. “Ok,” I said, “put twenty-five percent in savings, and seventy-five into military and medical.”
“Military and medical?” Heinz asked. “You are aware that these Nazi bastards are expected to be defeated by the end of next year. Weaponry will probably fall after that, you understand.”
“That’s what people always say at the start of a war,” I said. “Iraq and Afghanistan were supposed to be over within a year, World War Two was going to end with the defeat of the French, and the American Civil War should have ended at Manassas. Trust me, things are going to get a lot worse.”
Heinz looked at me, somewhat disturbed. “Do you have some idea on what’s going to happen?” I must have seemed startled or something because he quickly regained his composure. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to pry. It’s just that… well, we live so close to the fighting, you know?”
“No worries,” I said. “And no, I don’t know anything specific… I just have a feeling, you know? Like the worst is yet to come.”
The rest of the conversation was somewhat dull. Eventually, the woman came back with a case. Inside the case was the million dollars as promised and directions to a hotel where we had a suite. Before I left, I took a fake passport and a ten thousand dollar untraceable pre-paid credit card. I was then led back upstairs where I meant up with John again and we walked back to the rental car.
“So,” I asked John, “how big do you think this room is?”
John shrugged, but Bai commented, “Knowing him, he’ll probably give you the best room in the hotel. It’s a very old tactic. If you get someone used to the finer things, they tend to become much more compliant.”
“Honestly,” John said, “I don’t think a night in a luxury hotel would be enough to change my mind. I’m not sure how long I’m going to stay at NIU.”
“Are you sure?” Bai asked. She sounded kind of hurt.
“If this was a normal school and you were here,” John said, “I would stay. I mean, Bai, you’re actually pretty awesome. And Nate, you’ve been here for me since day one. But… I don’t know how much longer I can do this.”
I was about to agree with him… then a little voice in my head asked, Do you really hate all of it? Can you really say that there’s a part of you that loves the adrenalin rush? Or that you aren’t attracted to the idea of saving the world?
Looking in the mirror, Bai was also looking away. I wondered if she was having a similar reaction to me, or if she wanted to agree with John. Finally, she said, “If I had a choice… I would run away with you. But I have a duty. My life is sworn to it.”
John nodded. “I know. But if you do get a choice… come find me, ok? Even if I’m not still, y’know, romantically available, I’ll be there for you.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Bai said, smiling sadly. “Who knows, we may be lucky enough for my duties to come to an end.”
“That’s the good part of you being right, right?” John said jokingly. “The world might be slightly fucked, but at least we can be together when the dust settles.”
“Assuming we’re still alive,” Bai said, “yes, we would probably be able to spend our lives together.”
When we got to the hotel, we were directed to the penthouse suite. While Bai was giving us an “I-told-you-so” look, I was chucklying to myself.
“What is it?” John asked, looking up from the room service menu.
“Your identity…” I said, holding back peals of laughter. “Pepe Le Guinn? Are you serious?”
“Hey,” John said, “I didn’t pick it. Now stop laughing and tell me what you want to eat.”
“Maybe a steak,” I said, “with shrimp and a baked potato. How much does that cost?”
“Don’t worry,” John said. “I’m paying for it. Oh, by the way, do you mind if Bai and I go for a walk?”
“No problem,” I said. “I’m going to use the opportunity to shower, change, and watch TV until I pass out on the couch. Of course, I might just skip the TV part and head straight to bed. Have fun!”
“Sure thing!” John said. “We’ll make sure the food is here by eight.”
As they left, I swear to God Bai was actually smiling at John. It wasn’t a particularly big or happy smile, just a small, contented one. Once they closed the door, I suddenly realized that was the first time I had seen her smile. “Y’know,” I said to myself, “I hope those two make it.”
I then proceeded to claim a room and shower, hoping to wipe the grime away. There wasn’t that much time before I had to get back in the cramped and smelly airplane, and I intended to make the most of it.