“So,” I said, dragging Sunny to her feet despite her moans of pain, “what is this plan of yours?” I hoped that whatever it was, it involved us leaving.
“Well,” Joseph said, “Plan A is not an option. For one thing, it involves traversing hostile territory. And for another, Sunny isn’t looking too good. Now, what we need to do… is go back the way we came.”
“Are you fucking crazy?” John asked. “The Koreans are using the tunnels to advance, now! Do you really want to be in the tunnels when the Deets figure that out?”
“Better than going out on the surface,” Kyle said. “The problem is, what do we do after that? The tunnels probably end at the city limits.”
“I said,” Joseph continued, “we’d go back the way we came. We take the Charon.”
“I thought you were worried that those things had GPS,” Kyle said.
“They can’t,” I said. I had just realized it, and said it again. “They can’t! They’ve blocked all the satellites over the country. They’d have to remove the entire block, and they could only do that if they knew we’d taken a Charon.”
“See,” Joseph said, “its sound. Besides, you really want to walk all the way back?” He paused, then gave us each a piece of paper from his shoe. “Keep this safe,” he said. I looked at mine. It had a bunch of numbers on it and a nonsense phrase. As I tried to make sense of it, Joseph said, “This is the NIU emergency radio hotline. You get in trouble on a mission, you call it. Once we get on a boat, someone needs to call it.”
I was about to ask why he was giving it to us, then I realized that he wasn’t sure he’d make it. In response, I said, “Don’t worry. We got this.”
We were distracted by the click of a safety. We turned and saw that Nari had picked up Professor Pak’s discarded pistol. “I wonder…” she said, “who was he working for?”
“I don’t know,” John said. “Now put it down before you accidentally shoot someone with it.”
“I thought you’d need an extra person,” Nari said. She turned around and I could see that the characters M&P were emblazoned on the slide in a large white font. “Besides,” she added, “I know how this works. It isn’t that hard.”
Joseph considered this. “Fine. But stay behind Kyle and me. Killer, take Sunny and take third place. John, you’re on the flank. Let’s move!”
We began to move out. As we walked, I tried to think about what groups used M&P pistols and SA58 rifles. The SA58 was, from what I understood, was usually used by small groups. I had once overheard some fellow AMS students who were FAL fans talk about them. Everyone had kind of heard of them and usually thought they were ok, but none of them went out of their way to collect them.
The M&P, however, was usually a law enforcement weapon. That was just one more weird thing about the whole situation. Apparently, the weaponry of the new players had been on John’s mind because he suddenly said, “Hey, Nate, haven’t we seen someone use M&Ps before?”
I struggled to think about it for a minute. “Outside of TV shows? Not really,” I said. I paused. “Say, didn’t Cross say he used some kind of Smith and Wesson as a burner?” Cross was our resident Mafioso person. He also was the kind of person who would find it funny to use a weapon that was primarily on the side of law and order to kill a cop.
“No,” John said, “Cross doesn’t use M&Ps, he uses Sigmas… and I swear I’ve seen someone we both know use M&Ps.”
I considered this, but drew a blank. The rest of the trip was in silence, with Nari occasionally making suggestions.
“How do you know the way?” Joseph asked.
“Well,” Nari said, “I memorized the map of utilities when I first got down into the tunnels… and I was actually the person who you almost shot when you made camp in that apartment building.”
“That explains how you found us,” I said. I had kind of been wondering about that.
The rest of the walk was completely silent. Eventually, we got to what Nari said was a manhole right in front of the building we had spent the night in. Nari went up first because she convinced us that no one would shoot a nine-year-old girl on reflex. I mean, we weren’t entirely convinced, but it did seem safer.
“It’s safe,” she said.
Joseph motioned for me to go up. Sunny, at that point, had taken some pretty heavy painkillers so she was kind of zombie-like. I handed her off to Kyle and my G-3 to John. Then, I drew my Berretta and began climbing.
When I got my head above the ground, I did a quick scan. Apart from the dead bodies and wrecked vehicles, the street had the same ghostly stillness as it had when we first came through. The only movement I saw was Nari, the M&P she had looted clutched tightly in her hand.
“Clear,” I said, moving into a sitting position.
“Ok,” John said, lifting up my G-3. “Now can you take this?” I nodded, holstered my pistol, and grabbed my G-3 by the stock.
The next person was Sunny. John and Kyle had to lift her on their shoulders and I had to pull her the rest of the way up. She still moaned in pain, despite the painkillers.
Everyone else, though, got out much easier. It still was pretty unnerving, standing in the middle of the street with absolutely no cover. When we were finally up, I picked up Sunny and we got back into our formation and began heading down the street. For a block or two, there were still the signs of the recent fights: dead bodies, bullet holes and casings, craters, and telltale bits of melted concrete wall.
Eventually, around about the time that the city became only one street wide, the signs of battle ceased. That meant the signs of the evacuation were easier to detect. Now that I knew what to look for, I saw that there were occasional loading areas for trucks or busses to pick up civilians and abandoned signs that a traffic policeman might use.
Nari seemed to be taking the whole thing quite professionally. She was still a scared nine-year-old girl who was walking through her war-torn home, but she wasn’t sobbing, she wasn’t crabby, and she never once screamed with horror at the sights around her. In fact, I was actually a little concerned that she was in shock.
As we rounded the last of the few angles in the road, we saw that there was now a line of several more Charons and Korean army trucks parked near the Charon we arrived in. We froze, straining to listen. Ahead of us, and behind one of the buildings, we could hear the sound of people talking.
We made our way slowly to the Charon we came on. While we were gone, it had apparently decided that it was going to just be black from now on. All the other Charons were settled on an urban multicam pattern. They were also all locked up.
As we moved towards our Charon, we noticed that behind the street, there was movement in the fields on one side. We could hear voices complaining in Korean and the occasional shout of a taskmaster. Silently, we agreed just to start the Charon and get out.
We quickly climbed in the rear ramp, making as little noise as possible. I lay Sunny on the ground, causing her to gasp in pain. While I was much better off than her, my knees and back were starting to hurt from carrying all my gear plus her for hours without a break.
Meanwhile, John and Nari had headed straight for the cockpit. John, checking that everyone was in, pulled a handle on the ceiling to raise the ramp. Nothing happened. He then looked at the control panel. “Oh, shit,” he said.
Joseph, who was looking out the side door in the direction of the voices, asked, “What do you mean, ‘Oh shit.’”
“None of the lights are on,” John said. “There’s no power.”
“Maybe they turned it off,” Kyle said. “Could you hotwire it?”
“I might,” Nari said. “I just need some time.”
“Time might not be something we have,” Joseph said.
Nari looked around the Charon for a moment. She walked towards a spot on the floor marked with a sign warning about electricity. She felt around on the dark black floor, then found some latches. She unlatched them and raised a section of floor like a trap door. I walked around to get a good view. There, surrounded by unplugged wires, was what appeared to be a giant battery, like the kind you’d find powering a Tesla. Nari began to work frantically.
Suddenly, in the distance, I heard someone speaking Korean through a very good intercom. “Sunny, Nari,” Joseph said, “I need a translation.” As he spoke, I was getting out my phone to record both Nari’s attempts to get the Charon working and the words being spoken.
“Busy,” Nari said, reading the symbols and words on the battery. The words themselves were English, but they were all engineering terms I couldn’t understand.
Meanwhile, Sunny gasped out, “He’s talking about some sort of change that’s happening in Korea. He’s… saying that soon the world will be reborn or will die and… That doesn’t sound good for his audience.” As she said that, the person using the loudspeaker stopped talking, and other voices began to beg and protest. Nari began working more furiously.
“What did he say?” John asked nervously.
“He just apologized that they won’t see the new world,” Sunny said, “and…” she paused, her face twisting in both pain from talking and confusion at what the person on the intercom had said, “…hopes his goddess favors them?”
“Exactly what he said,” Nari confirmed, inserting the first plug. “That should get the doors working.”
John tried the ramp control again. “Still not working!” he hissed urgently.
Nari began looking at the directions. “Excuse me,” she said, unplugging the cord, “I went in the wrong order.” As she spoke, the sound of gunfire suddenly erupted.
“You might want to hurry…” Kyle said.
“I’m working on it,” Nari said, plugging in a cable.
She had just plugged in several of the wires to one square and gotten up to go to the cockpit when a voice boomed over the intercom. “My brothers,” he said, “today, our Goddess smiles upon us and the Creators turn their sight elsewhere.”
In response, a group of voices called out in eerie unison, “HAIL THANA!” The voices themselves were disturbingly similar, like they were all the same voice.
The lead speaker spoke again as Nari began frantically searching the dashboard. “The Creators, those vile oppressors of all who live, have ordered us to deliver this land into their tightened fist. As long as their hold on our mind survives, we must obey these criminals.”
There was booing from the crowd. Meanwhile, Nari had found the button she was looking for. “Here,” she said to John, “flick these switches when I tell you. Also, tell me when the computer says I can proceed.”
“Ok,” John said.
Nari rushed back to her position. “Ok,” she said, “turn the one marked ‘Computer’ to ‘G2.’”
Meanwhile, the Deet priest had started again. “Yet, our Goddess hears her children cry out in pain. She sees the poor victims of the Creator’s campaign return to her, starving and in pain. She feels their need for closure. So she has accelerated her plans. Her return to us is imminent! Her ascension is nigh!”
Meanwhile, Nari was messing with one of the cables. I took a closer look. This cable had been deliberately frayed, and she was hastily re-tying the metal inside the plastic coating, a look of panic on my face. I stared at it. The damage had to have been deliberate, due to how fixable it was. They were letting us go.
The priest’s next part of the speech distracted me. “Our Goddess, however, has a task for us. The Creators must be distracted. To this end, we must disobey them as best we can. We must resist the scratchings at our mind, yet do it in a way as to not to make our odious overseers suspicious.”
“Switch auxiliary systems to generator two,” Nari said.
“Dammit,” John said, “do we really have to do this in literally the worst order possible?”
“I didn’t make this!” Nari said. “Now flick the switch!”
“I did,” John said. “Computer’s loading.”
“Yet,” the priest said, lowering his voice somewhat, “even beings as vile and perverted as our Creators and their former master have a place in our Goddess’ world. After all, they have been planning for the coming storm. They are vain, callous, and greedy, but also clever, wise and intelligent. We must undercut their cruel impulses and groom them to meet our Goddess’ cold, loving embrace, but also prepare for the Visitors.”
“Hey,” John said, “I can close the doors, right?”
Nari considered this. “Did the computer say you could?”
“Yeah,” John said. “It also said I could start up the turret.”
“If it says you can,” Joseph said, “Do it. Kyle, you get on the turret. We want to get out of here as soon as possible.”
“Also,” Nari said, a satisfied smile on her lips, “flip the switch marked propulsion.”
“Hell yeah!” John said.
As soon as Nari started speaking, the priest also resumed his speech. “Now, my brothers, we must return to our post. Glory to our Goddess! Glory to the Dragon’s Teeth! And glory to the Legion Vox Nox!” As he wished glory to each of the three groups, his congregation echoed him.
“It sounds like they’re coming this way,” Joseph said as the doors of the Charon closed.
“They are!” John said, looking out his window.