It took some time to convince the others. I think what did it was me saying that I’d do it on my own. Then they began to try to convince me to at least taking someone with me.
“Look,” I said, “You guys have been saying it yourself. This is an extremely dangerous mission, but it’d be less so if just one person went. That way, if that one person fucks up, you guys can start making your way back to safety. After all, the mission is technically complete and…”
“So why are you planning on going on this suicide mission?” John asked. “What the fucking hell do you gain from it?”
“These guys,” I said, for what felt like the hundredth time, “are just warming up. I can feel it. From what Nari has said, they’ve been using this place as a testing bed. If they wanted, something tells me they could have instantly taken the entire country. Instead, they’re slowly introducing new soldiers, tactics and equipment in the only country that could, and would, keep this kind of unrest a secret. They’re going to go bigger, and we need to know everything about them before that happens.”
“This is stupid,” John said. “How can they go bigger? They’re wasting huge amounts of manpower in one of the most backwards countries in…”
“Are you sure?” Nari asked. “Ever since they first started operations, our Great and Beloved Leader has been saying that they are almost broken.” When she mentioned her leader, I noticed that she looked around nervously, as if there may have been something listening, ready to report her to the country’s secret police. Considering the room she was in, she was probably right. “But…” She was desperately trying to think of a way to say something in a way that wouldn’t get her arrested.
Sunny, smiling a bit, said something to her in Korean. She then made what I assumed was a rude gesture at the ceiling. Nari looked worried and continued on. “He was wrong. The situation kept getting worse.” She looked directly at me. “I’m not sure I agree with you that they’re using my country as a testing ground, but I think you would know better than me. I do know that it can always get worse. Especially when my government and these monsters are involved.”
Kyle smiled. “Well, I guess you’re right, Killer. After all, knowing is half the battle. Still think you should take someone with you.”
“My take,” Sunny said, “is that we should sleep on this and let Joseph decide on it when he wakes up. You’re tired and likely to make mistakes.”
“Ok…” I agreed reluctantly. “I’ll wait. Want me to take first watch?”
“If you are planning on going on this little adventure,” Kyle said, “you should get some rest. Especially if you think you’re doing it alone.”
Reluctantly, I agreed. It was time to get some sleep. Hell, even I realized that my plan was somewhat reckless. That being said, I was sure it was necessary. The Dragon’s Teeth were a quite real threat to every country on Earth. They could strike anywhere and anytime with no warning. Even more disturbingly, there was no way to predict their attacks. To put it in terms of a murder investigation, we had a lot of information about the suspects and their methods, but no idea about their motive. In order for us to prevent a future attack of this magnitude, we needed to know why they were doing this.
Needless to say, I spent what was left of the night tossing and turning. Part of it was because of the sheer insanity of what I was planning on doing. The other was the idea that an army Dragon’s Teeth could suddenly appear in the US. If that happened, what would happen to my family? Not even the Marathon Bombings three years ago could prepare the people of Massachusetts for the kinds of things that would follow. Hell Semester hadn’t prepared me for whatever that ball of light was.
However, the real reason I couldn’t sleep was the nightmares. For some reason, they had returned. This was the first time they had haunted me during combat. This was also the clearest they’d ever been. Everyone I had killed, or had helped to kill, was haunting me that night. The figures from Hell Semester were first. My first victims, burned, bludgeoned, blown up and shot, yet somehow back, were chasing me through the forest where I had killed most of them.
That forest became the fishing village. I decided to hide from them in the factory, but the Koreans were waiting for me. Finally, I managed to get to the sewer. Closing the manhole cover behind me, I let out a sigh of relief. I smiled and turned around. There, standing in front of me, was the massive Dragon’s Teeth soldier with the glowing eyes.
“It’s interesting, isn’t it?” he asked nonchalantly, as a dark mist swirled behind him. As he spoke, the shapes formed into Dragon’s Teeth soldiers, still not fully materialized. “Our mistress breaks down the veil between life and death.”
I began backing away. The giant soldier simply shook his head in… annoyance? Sympathy? “Don’t bother,” he said. “Nothing here matters. The souls of your victims are lodged in you, meaning you can’t run…”
I’m not sure what he said next. I’m not even sure if it mattered. I just know that eventually I woke up. As I opened my eyes, I heard Kyle say, “Joseph… trust me. I know we’ve had our differences, but this is an extremely bad idea. We’ve got a dependent in tow, you’re injured, plus we’ve already lost Jeong. What could we possibly gain from this?”
“Haven’t you ever read a mystery?” I asked, not really opening my eyes. I had fallen asleep on the swivel chair. “We need as much information as possible, otherwise we might make stupid mistakes.” I opened my eyes. Everyone had been looking at Joseph. They were now looking at me. “After all, it is entirely possible that the North Korean government didn’t give access to every single piece of information about the Deets to a bunch of kids. No offense, Nari.”
“Yeah,” John said, “but these are…”
“Actually,” Nari said, “they made it pretty clear that they didn’t do that.” At that John groaned. Nari continued. “The principal kept a large amount of files on his hard drive. If we thought we could solve something, he would ask High Command if we could access said files.”
Joseph considered this information carefully. Finally, he said, “Sunny, I don’t want Killer going alone. He doesn’t speak the language and even though he’s a natural, he’s still green. Would you be up for this?”
I waited with bated breath. What happened next could be the difference between victory and defeat. Finally, Sunny said, “Sure. Gives me something to do other than listening to Killer try and talk us into this.”
“Thank you, guys,” I said. “How much time do I have?”
“It’ll be five hours before I can take the painkillers,” Joseph said. “It should take an hour for them to kick in. If you guys aren’t back before then, we’re leaving you behind, mon.”
“Got it,” I said. “We’ll be back.”
Before we left, we made sure everyone had copies of all the evidence we had recorded. That way, if one of us died and we couldn’t recover the cPhone, we’d still be perfectly fine. We then set a timer to remind us when it was time to leave. After all that was done and the mattress was removed, Sunny and I began the trek to the school.
Nari was right, the school was only about a half an hour to forty-five minutes away. The only problem was that we had to walk through a dirty, diseased sewer to get to it. There was still a foul smell in the air, but at least the sun shone through holes to the surface.
Strangely enough, there weren’t as many rats as I expected. Maybe they realized that there were better pickings on the surface, now that all the humans were busy killing each other. Speaking of the war, the sound of gunfire was echoing from up above, and occasionally the ceiling would shake, causing bits of debris to fall to the floor.
Eventually, after traversing the maze-like sewer, we came to the thing Nari had told us to look for: a black electrical box secured with a padlock. I nodded at it as if to ask “Is this what we’re looking for?”
In answer, Sunny slung her AK over her shoulder and removed a pair of bolt cutters from her bag. The metal tube part of the padlock snapped in half. Sunny then removed the padlock, tossing it into the polluted water. Then she opened the panel, revealing a keypad, several switches, and a lot of wires. She laid the bolt cutters against the wall and began to work on the contents inside.
While she fiddled with that, I covered her. It took her much longer than I thought necessary, but then again, any amount of time standing out in the open with no cover in a combat zone is longer than necessary. Besides, it was my fault we were here in the first place, even if it was necessary.
Eventually, there was a beep. Then, machinery began to whir and one of the concrete slabs in the wall slid down into the floor like something out of a bad horror movie. We quickly moved into room. As the door slid back up behind us, we realized that we were in a small hallway. On the left-hand side was a corridor filled with several doors. On the right was a staircase leading to the ground level.
Again, according to Nari, the principal’s office was at the top floor. Not wanting to spend a lot of time searching the downstairs, we began heading up the narrow staircase, moving as quickly and quietly as we could. We came out on a landing, surrounded by walls and a door on one side.
After counting down from three, we silently burst into the room. A quick inspection revealed it to be a sort of common room. Despite the fact that all the windows facing the front were shattered and a dead Korean soldier was lying by an archway, half his face smashed in with what looked to be buckshot, the room was actually quite nice. The shattered windows looked out onto a lovely lawn surrounded by a concrete wall with a kicked-in fence. The sofas, while not luxurious by any stretch, looked comfy. The TV was perfectly functional, and was still playing a Korean news channel. There was even a pool table, albeit one that was stained with blood.
It did look like the people there had been a hurried evacuation. Someone had left a bag of some sort of snack on the chairs, and there was a drink that had been spilled, its contents pooling over the floor like a bloodstain. There were other telltale signs of use, like a whiteboard with a date from a week ago and what looked to be some sort of schedule.
We didn’t stick around to examine it. Instead, we exited the room into a main entrance hallway. There was a security room right across from the common room, with several weapons lockers still opened and the door kicked down. A soldier was slumped out of the reception desk in the wall, small, tightly grouped holes in his chest and a Skorpion submachinegun dangling from his fingers.
To our right was the main entranceway. An improvised barricade of a pool table and a couch had done literally nothing to stop bullets from ripping through several guards. Two other guards had been standing by the door. One was slumped against the wall, his crotch, legs, and stomach perforated by shrapnel and a single bullet in his head. The other had fallen back, buck shot having torn up his uniform.
To the left was a grand main staircase leading to the second floor. Behind the stairs was an L-shaped bend. According to Nari, there was another staircase that led to the top floor where the principal was. That one didn’t have windows.
When we finally got up those stairs, we moved at a crouch. The high wall that had made shielded us from view on the ground level was no longer there and we were surrounded by buildings of a similar height. All we had to do was get to the door, connect a cPhone and start the drive reading software, then get the hell out.
The principal’s office was on the far end of the hall. Surprisingly, it was unlocked and the door was ajar. The room was only kind of an office. There was also a TV, coffee table, and a couch, as well as a desk, all somewhat luxurious and all Western. Also, there was a door leading to another room. We quickly checked that room. It was a bedroom, again with a bed.
As we went back into the office and started pulling down windows, I said, “He has a bedroom next to his office? That is fucking creepy.”
“Please…” Sunny said, “Just don’t. I don’t really need to hear about this at the moment.”
“Ok,” I said as I set up the download. “Probably best to remain silent anyway.” I looked at the screen and sighed. The ETA was an hour. This was going to be, at the very least, really annoying.