When it was time for me to get back to NIU, I was more than ready. At home, not only was there no work, but most of my leisure activities weren’t open to me. Anything with gunfire made me tense up at best and try to take cover at worst. Even worse, I now felt naked without a weapon. Between that one incident on Main Street, and how used to having a gun with me when I was at NIU, I felt like I needed one.
It was a relief when I finally got to Logan airport. It wasn’t like I thought of airports of some beacon of security. In fact, my second firefight ever was in the airport at Providence, Rhode Island. No, apart from getting back in the saddle, the thing that heartened me was seeing John Marshall.
“John!” I said striding over to him. “How’s it going, man?” He was looking well. He had been a hockey player before enrolling at NIU, and it showed in his short, wiry frame. Well, I say short, but he was only an inch or two shorter than me.
“Pretty good,” John said. “I’m just a little tired. I mean, I had to drive all the way down from New Hampshire to get here by six with one of my friends.”
“So,” I said, “ungodly tired?”
“Better than how I was feeling a few months ago,” John said. Ah yes, the North Korean mission. We had all stayed up pretty late and gotten bumps and bruises, but John had gotten shot in the chest several times at close range. I had been, too, but none of those bullets had penetrated my armor. John had been in placed into critical condition. If not for our medic, some life-saving tech, and a prompt evac, he would be dead.
With that in mind, I asked, “Speaking of that, any lingering pain?”
John shrugged. “A bit, but my knee hurts worse from all the hockey I’ve played. You?”
“My knee twinges a bit from where I hurt it first semester,” I said, “so does my chest from vacation. It doesn’t slow me down, so I can probably deal with it.”
I looked up. The lounge for this terminal airport was pretty empty, as well as the rest of the wing, so it was easy to tell when someone entered, and someone had. Jennifer Kagemoto, fellow NIU student and Massachusetts resident… as well as a supervillain working for the Boston Yakuza. Seeing as she probably had something to do the drive-by, I wasn’t too keen on talking to her. Plus, she was kind of creepy.
We made only some minor chit-chat after that, mostly about what we had been doing over the break. Apparently, John had been doing much better in that regard than I had been. He just had been having the nightmares, and (at least according to him) they were going away. No uncontrollable reactions whenever he heard the fake gunfire in movies or videogames. I have to admit, I was jealous.
While I was talking with John, I watched Jen out of the corner of my eye. She was playing on a Pokémon-themed 3DS. From the sound of it, she was playing a Fire Emblem game.
Eventually, the plane landed. It was an hour late. We finally got on, me clutching a cup of hot chocolate and a box of doughnuts we had split. The plane, like the last time I had been on one, was mostly empty at this point on the trip. After stowing our luggage, we sat down on a group of four seats with two facing the other two by the window.
“Excuse me,” a low feminine voice asked, “mind if I sit down?” I looked up, not surprised to see Jen standing in the corridor. Her constant femme fatale thing was kind of her signature. That, and wearing red and blue. As usual, her hair was done up in a simple, yet regal ponytail with hair framing the side of her face and her light brown eyes were twinkling with sly amusement, like she knew something no one else did. Not surprising. She literally was a supervillain and regularly fought a woman who could shrug off tank shells like they were Nerf balls.
“Sure,” I said. “Want a doughnut?” Now that we were on the plane to NIU, there was no practical reason for kicking her out. Besides, she wasn’t exactly the kind of person I wanted as an enemy. That didn’t mean I didn’t have words for her.
“Thank you,” she said, sitting down next to me and reaching for a chocolate-frosted one with rainbow sprinkles. “I forgot to have breakfast today.” She bit into it. “You know, these are actually pretty good when you aren’t being interrogated by cops,” she said, her mouth still full. She then swallowed, and asked, “So, may I ask how your vacation was?”
There was a sort of faux-innocence to her voice when she asked that question. My guess was she knew something about our little trip to Korea. Not a lot, just enough to be curious. Still, I had a bone to pick with her.
“Not much,” I said, somewhat caustically. “Oh wait, my town just had its first drive-by shooting! You wouldn’t happen to know anything about that, would you?”
Jennifer sighed. “Ugh,” she said, “That. I admit, that was probably a Kagemoto hit, but it wasn’t mine. I prefer to either deal with the actual business or doing the fun things.”
“Wait,” John said, “what do you mean by actual business? Aren’t drive-bys part of doing business?”
Jen rolled her eyes. “I suppose, but only if we need to expand. I, personally, think there’s a lot of room for growth without having to fight The Jade Empire.” She turned back to me. “That being said, The Jade Empire is being… troublesome. Again.”
“So they started it?” I asked.
Jen looked at me for a second, then she brought out a slip of paper. “They recently intercepted a shipment. On the left is what was in it, on the right is what they took. Tell me you wouldn’t have considered killing one of their top leaders in that situation.”
I shrugged, expecting to see a list of drugs. Then my mouth dropped. Apparently, someone had brought in a massive cache of what seemed to be WWII-era weaponry. I then remembered that after the car had passed, Jaime had been waving around what looked like a Broomhandle Mauser. According to the sheet, most of what they had stolen were pistols, submachineguns, and Sturmgewehr assault rifles, but they had taken a few heavier weapons, including a couple bazookas and Panzershrecks, as well as an M2 .50 caliber machinegun.
“What is it?” John asked. I handed him the list. He looked it over. “Oh,” he said, reasonably terrified. “Well, at least for some of this stuff, especially the German and Russian equipment, they’ll have a hard time getting ammo.”
“Yeah,” I said, “they’ll just have to make due with selling it for more modern weaponry.”
“Turn the page around,” Jen said. I groaned, already knowing that John’s optimism had jinxed us again.
John did. “Oh. Oh wow that’s a lot of ammo.” He looked up from the manifest. “Where the hell did the original person find all this stuff? Were they preparing for World War Three or something?”
“And,” Jen said, “to make it even better, no one knows where the hell they put all of this. I wanted to go in there with my team. That would get them to talk and send a message. Besides, drive-bys are a terrible way to kill a specific person.” She leaned back. “To use your language, I could get the package and get out without hurting bystanders. It’d also boost T-shirt sales.”
Jen’s plan didn’t exactly make me feel more secure and I wasn’t sure I agreed with the logic behind the whole merchandising thing, but I had to admit, it was tactically and strategically sound. If it worked, Jen would have crippled an enemy and avoided the outcry the two dead would have cause. Also, it would have been shuttled off to the Minutemen… who weren’t exactly the best superheroes ever.
That was the thing about Massachusetts. Until the Jade Empire showed up, we didn’t really have that much crime, superpowered or otherwise. Meanwhile, places like New York had only just managed to clean up sixty-year-old crime waves in the Eighties and places like Compton never had those crime waves stop. Still, neither John nor I really knew that much about super crime, and I was curious.
“So,” I asked, “what is it like being a supervillain?”
“I’m sorry,” Jen said, “but before I speculate on that, I’d like to talk about where you two went for vacation.”
I thought about it, then said, “I actually kind of owe it to Eliza to tell her first. By the way, how did you find out I was gone?”
“Easy,” Jen said. “You were on a different plane than the one I used. I didn’t exactly have to be Sherlock Holmes to figure that out.” She looked up and smiled. “Oh, by the way, you might not have to wait as long as you think before you tell Eliza.”
I turned around, craning my neck to see a tall redheaded girl with green eyes and fox ears staring down at me from other the seat behind me, her hair in a messy bun. It was Eliza Henderson herself. I had met her when I was at Hell Semester. We… didn’t exactly hit it off, but we did eventually become friends. Her adopted sister, Charlotte Blackmoor-Ward, also went to NIU, but was in a program that didn’t require Hell Semester. Funnily enough, the reason I knew Jen was because she had been Charlotte’s roommate last year.
“Eliza…” I said. “How are you doing? Is Charlotte…?”
“No,” Eliza said, walking around to sit with us, her voice low and menacing, “my sister’s not ‘ere. I’m just a mite worried that one of me friends went off ‘alf-cocked again.”
Jen’s look of perpetual amusement faded. I think she sensed a spat. “Excuse me,” she said, “I need a bathroom break.” After excusing herself, she hurried off, somehow still maintaining her aura of cool.
“She’s probably still listening in,” I said. “I mean, she is a Jumper after all. Oh well, she’s probably going to find out about this anyway.”
“Just like I bloody well did,” Eliza said. “Seriously, Nate, I played straight with you and then you go running off to North Korea without telling me? And what’s worse, one of those people worked with someone ‘oo actively tried to kill you. I was worried sick about you two.”
“Do you know who we were working for?” I asked. If she knew President Anthony Newton-Howell had hired us, she might be more sympathetic. Or she might think I was even stupider for trusting him.
“Yeah,” Eliza said, “I was the one ‘oo sent Bai, remember?” Bai Feng was a scarily talented martial artist, John’s girlfriend, Eliza’s best friend, and one of the reasons I had been so scared of Eliza. She had come to berate us for being stupid enough to be hired by The President to go into North Korea. Also, there was something about a prophecy that Eliza, Charlotte and Bai all believed in. “Next time, bring me along, ok?”
“We got some good work done,” I said. “Remember those Dragon’s Teeth who revealed themselves by…”
“Yeah,” Eliza said, “kind of hard to forget watchin’ some poor bastard bein’ dragged off to ‘is probable death.” She sighed. “Christ, you’re just like Char, always runnin’ off on some damned crusade.”
“We came out of this alright, didn’t we?” I asked. Only after I said this did I realize what I had said, and who I had said it to.
John, understandably, exploded. “You know what, Nate?” he said, “Shut the fuck up, you fucking addict. Maybe we did a good job. But you ended up with a cracked ribcage because someone shot you at point-blank. Me? My armor didn’t stop the bullets meant for me.” He leaned back into his seat. “The only consolation I have is at least things can’t possibly get any worse,” he grumbled.
I groaned and Eliza shook her head. I think both Eliza and I had suspected that things were going to get much worse, but John saying they wouldn’t definitely jinxed us. Again.