We stared at the bulletin board for a while. I don’t know what Kyle was thinking, but I was trying to find some similarities to the reports I had snuck a look at last semester. Finally, I found one. One of the papers had four pictures arranged in a square in the top right corner. Three of the pictures had what looked to be quintuplets arranged on morgue slabs. The fourth image was just security footage of a group of giant Deet soldiers leaving a Charon APC.
However, it was the image at the top left that struck me. The three men there were short men, judging by how little of the tray they took up, with red hair and green eyes. I had seen these faces before. Skimming through the autopsy notes I had obtained from Secure Medical Records, I had seen many pictures of these men. However, the specimens May had been given usually hadn’t been so pristine.
I saw another paper with more pictures of these red-haired men. However, these ones weren’t in pristine condition. They seemed to mostly be scarred. However, I quickly noticed that these scars seemed to be in patterns, and the photos seemed to focus on these marks. Annoyingly, the lighting on these pictures were quite shoddy, and I couldn’t make out what the patterns were. I also noticed that there were several other pages behind it, indicating these images were part of a much longer report.
The next page was of a similar layout, however, instead of red-haired, green-eyed people, they were of more Asian descent. They also were similarly scarred, but the photos showed the patterns this time. It was a curious mix of Gaelic and Japanese symbols. I’d have to ask John about the Japanese ones when he could see. The Gaelic, however, was anyone’s guess. Also, each was marked on the back of the neck with what looked like a barcode.
“Mister…” Nari said cautiously, “My radio is farther over.”
I ignored her and continued flipping through the report. The next page was just text, and the page after that had images similar to the first two pages, though of men of seemingly Mediterranean descent. I supposed since they were clones they had never seen a Mediterranean country, but they could easily pass for Italian, Greek, or Arabic. The scars were similar, but I could see that there were also Roman numerals and phrases in Latin.
Then I got to the next page. “Oh my God…” I whispered. That page consisted only of tattooed Dragon’s Teeth soldiers. Some now had a cartoonish skull pattern permanently tattooed on their face. Others had what appeared to be long, complex poems or credos written on their arms in Latin, Japanese, or Gaelic, topped with Roman numerals and the title. Others had ornate scenes down their back in a strange mix of Mexican Day of the Dead art, Yakuza tattoos and Classical depictions of gods. In some ways, it was terrifying. In others, it was quite beautiful.
Kyle, misinterpreting my amazement said, “I know. How the hell does a seven-year-old get her hands on something like this?”
Nari shot to her feet. She then began to pull us away from the bulletin board, and yelling in Korean. Eventually, she realized a) we couldn’t understand Korean and b) we were too strong and heavy for her to move. So she switched to English. “No! Bad Americans! You aren’t supposed to see that!” After pulling on our arms a bit, she added, “Besides, I’m nine!”
“Well, that just changes everything,” John said, rolling his eyes.
Meanwhile, I had just realized what we probably looked like to Nari. In our group were three white people, one black person and two Asians, all of whom spoke English. Only Joseph had weapons that would normally be issued to us, but I doubted Nari would know that. Still, I wondered why she would bring us back here.
Deciding not to correct her misconceptions, I decided instead to ask, “Nari, why do you think we’re here?”
Nari paused. “Aren’t… aren’t you trying to take over North Korea?”
I shrugged. “I honestly doubt the US government cares about North Korea. Abroad, we have ISIS threatening to cut off our oil and kill our citizens and the Grenzefrontier invading our allies. Back home… well, let’s just say there’s enough drama there. Apart from your leader’s occasional rants and your attempts at rocketry, we kind of forget you guys exist. Sorry.”
“But did you…” Nari began.
“Ah, ah, ah,” Kyle said warningly. “We already told you a lot. Ki… Nate’s right. Our only two interests right now are understanding The Dragon’s Teeth and surviving.” He then crouched down, so he was eye to eye with Nari. “Right now, though, you seem to be the key to both interests. For example… how did you get into this room?”
“Mister,” Nari said, her eyes wide and her body shaking, “I need to pee…” For some reason, I doubted that. I don’t know why at first, but John gave me a reason pretty much instantly.
“You know,” he said, pulling a Makarov from his boot, “It’s amazing what gets lost under a sink sometimes.”
“Now,” Kyle said, “I want to know what this room is for. I want to know why you’re in possession of secret documents. I want to know why you were following us. And I want the truth.”
“And don’t tell us that this is a break room,” Sunny said, not even looking up from her work. “It has a refrigerator. Plumbers don’t get refrigerators in this country.”
There was a long pause. Eventually, I asked, “Nari, you’re a loyal citizen of North Korea, right? So why aren’t you behind the lines with the other civilians?”
“We were sent here by our teachers,” Nari said. “No one knew that the Dragon’s Teeth would attack here. We thought they were just terrorists from abroad and wreckers from the general population. Then an army shows up and…”
“Wait,” I said, “you were sent here by teachers? What kind of school do… did you go to?”
“It was a special school,” Nari said. “I got in because I made various electronics when I was five. A clock here, a radio there… when I made a TV, our glorious leader, praise be to him, took notice. His agents took me to the school and began training me. He is angry that so many bright people from our glorious country are taken in by the corrupt west. Our headmaster would rail in particular about places like Harvard, Oxford, and Nowhere Island.”
At that last part, Sunny laughed. Nari looked at her curiously. “Did you go to Harvard?” she asked.
“She can answer that later,” I said. “Right now, I want to know how you got here and what happened to the other students.”
Nari looked away. “Does it really matter?” she asked. “They’re either dead or captured.” When she saw that we still weren’t convinced, she shouted, “We tried to get back to friendly territory and the guards opened fire on us! Is that what you want?”
I know that hit a chord with me, and probably with everyone else. Everyone on the team had lost someone to violence. We either knew what she was going through, or would because of what happened to Jeong.
“We were only supposed to be in this emergency shelter for a week,” Nari said, tears streaming down her eyes. “When Professor Pak went back to see what happened, to clear up the misunderstanding, he said if he didn’t come back by nightfall…” She broke down sobbing. “He said to assume I had been branded an enemy of the people! I’ve been trapped in here for days and you are the first people I’ve seen who haven’t tried to kill me!”
After letting her cry for a few moments, Kyle asked, “So, what’s with the documents? Why do you have them?”
“They were school projects,” Nari said. She was still tearful, but this line of questioning was perking her up. “We had to analyze various reports on the Dragon’s Teeth and make a report about them. I got to talk about the Charon!”
“We commandeered one of them,” I said. “They’re… pretty interesting.”
“Yeah,” John said, “the turret was controlled from the co-pilot seat and it seemed like they could change colors. They were weird.”
“Wait,” Nari said, “you were in one of them? What was the top speed? How long did it take to go from zero to a hundred kilometers? Did you test the armor? Did you use the weapons?” In one quick moment, Nari suddenly reminded me of May Riley, a close friend of mine. They both became extremely animated when talking about their area of expertise. However, it was apparent that Nari’s skill set was more in engineering, as opposed to May’s love of medicine. Nari also seemed to be better socialized than May was.
“I didn’t really open it up,” John said, “but it had pretty good acceleration. I go to these car shows near where I live. Got my hand on a late Sixties’ Camaro once and I’d say the acceleration was pretty similar. Apart from the speed, though, it handled a lot like you’d expect a tank to.”
“John,” Kyle said, “you never took the armored vehicle certification test. I was riding in the back, and it felt like something you could do a friggin’ handbrake turn in, not a tank.”
“Hey,” John said, “you never drove one.”
“The truth is,” Nari said excitedly, “even though I don’t know what a handbrake turn is, nor am I familiar with whatever sort of Western decadence a Camaro is, I do know that these Charon vehicles are constantly underestimated. Their armor is extremely weak for that class of vehicle, but their cannons and rockets massacred all but our heaviest vehicles. There is even an anti-air variant that has been responsible for downing a quarter of our air force.”
“Sorry to change the subject,” I asked, “but what was that giant thing that shot Joseph?”
The room immediately fell silent. “That was a Berserker,” Nari said. “For the first few months, the Dragon’s Teeth simply acted as terrorists and wreckers. We thought we could defeat them eventually. When they attempted to take the port of Kimchaek, we thought it was a move of desperation. Despite suddenly being introduced to the Charon, the Legionary, and some of their other anti-tank and anti-air weapons, we were pushing them back. We had identified most of their tactics, and were slowly crushing them under the weight of our numbers. Then they unleashed the Berserker.”
“And what does the Berserker do?” Sunny asked.
“We don’t know,” Nari said. She walked over to the bulletin board. “They are so deadly that that is the only picture of them that I have ever seen.”
“Is that all you know about them?” I asked.
She shrugged. “One of the boys was researching the tactics of Dragon’s Teeth soldiers. I haven’t had time to read his report yet and he wasn’t able to present it to the class because…” She trailed off, tears returning to her eyes. At that point, I didn’t really want to know what happened to this boy or the rest of Nari’s class.
“Wait,” I asked, suddenly finding a way to turn the conversation to something other than dead kids, “where exactly is this school located?”
“Close by,” Nari said, looking a little suspicious. “Why?”
Everyone else had looks ranging from dread to disappointment. “Nate,” John said with exasperation, “If you’re planning on doing what I think you’re doing…” He paused. “Just don’t, ok, just fucking don’t.”
“Look,” I said, “this information we have here is good, but it might not be good enough. The people we work for will want to see the documents these reports reference, just to double-check. Besides, there might be stuff they haven’t referenced.”
“Wait,” Nari said, “Are you planning to go to my school?”
“If there’s even a chance to collect more intel,” I said, “then yes. I’m going to your school.”