As I fell, I lost my grip on my Berretta, causing it to clatter to the ground. I quickly grabbed it and turned around, looking to see what I had tripped over.
Lying next to me, wearing a blue sweater, was an olive-skinned man with close-cropped hair. He groaned, and tried to get to his feet. “Mubashir?” I asked. “Is that you?” Mubashir Mubarak was one of the other three NIU infiltrators who accompanied me into this rat’s nest. His mission was a little different than mine: not only was he working for UNIX, but I also believed he was working with the CIA or someone to infiltrate Al-Qaeda.
As I watched him struggle to get up, I noticed that something was leaking from his eyes and nose. It took me a bit to realize that he was bleeding. “Jacobs?” he asked when he was finally able to look up, his voice confused. “What are you doing in my room?”
As he stared into my eyes, I saw that his pupils were different sizes. “This isn’t your room,” I said, the horror in my gut changing flavor. Moob’s boss, Salim, had it out for me. If we were caught together, it would be a death sentence for Mubashir. On the other hand, Mubashir was showing obvious signs of a concussion. If I let him walk off, there was a chance he would just fall down and never get back up again.
While I was considering this, Mubashir began looking around. “You’re right…” he said, “but where are we?”
“We’re…” I began, then looked around. We were still in NIU, but in a part I had never seen before. Over a white picket fence, I could see what I assumed to be Sun Tzu. Between Sun Tzu and the picket fence was a chain link fence.
I began looking around more carefully. Behind us was a white colonial-style house, like the kind back home. The house and backyard area we were in was well-maintained. To the left was a green house of a different style and what looked to be a convenience store. To the right was a blue house and some kind of office building.
“…Well, I’m not sure,” I said as I got up. “Maybe it’s the Kill Street. That’s pretty far from where I was when…” I shuddered. Not only had I been… assaulted by some Lovecraftian shit, I had somehow teleported here. Also, judging by the sun, it was a little after noon, yet I had no blank spots that explained the time skip.
“I kind of heard older students talk about it,” I said. “It’s basically urban/suburban combat training.” I turned my attention back to Mubashir. “You ok, man?”
I had good reason to ask. His efforts to get to his feet only made him look drunk, plus he was shivering like the temperature was sub-arctic. Also, while I couldn’t be sure because the rate was so low, I had the sneaking suspicion that the bleeding from his eyes and nose was still happening.
“I need to be,” he said, in a tone as frightened as it was dazed. “I… I have to get back. I’ve been blacking out like this too much…”
“Wait,” I asked suddenly, “you’ve been blacking out and ending up in strange places on a regular basis?”
“I…” Mubashir was about to say something, then his eyes drifted to my hand. I suddenly realized that it was still clutching my Berretta. “…I need to go,” Mubashir said. He then ran off.
“Talk to a doctor!” I yelled after him as he disappeared around the house. After a few seconds, I added under my breath, “fucking dumbass.”
The next step was to find out the time. That was easy, if disconcerting. I pulled out my phone. For a second, it said the time was 7:35 AM, which was about the time the weird shit had started going down. Then, after it finished reconnecting to the internet, it updated to 2:24 PM. I had lost seven hours.
The next step was to get out. That was just as easy. Since I didn’t want to attract any more negative attention to Mubashir than his bleeding eyes, frequent blackouts and disorientation normally would, I decided to scale the chain link fence. It was only after I had got down on the other side that I realized how much more healthy all the running around made me. That was the one good thing about being in the AMS: I may have already been shot, I may be mentally disintegrating, and I may have potentially been attacked by an Elder God, but at least I wouldn’t die from being overweight.
The rest of the day was a mess of wondering whether or not what had happened that morning was real. Either way, I probably should tell someone. It was just… I wasn’t sure if anyone I knew could do anything about it.
I mostly spent the time before the meeting doing school shopping. One of the first things, I have to admit, was buy some whiskey, one that was, apparently, tinged with honey. It was to be my reward for meeting up with Krieger. Once I had met with him, I was going to go straight back to my room and start imbibing.
I got to the Drunken Mercenary exactly ten minutes ahead of schedule. I couldn’t help but smile. The Drunken Mercenary was built into a dorm for fresh meat (or AMS/Shadowhaven students who hadn’t passed Hell Semester.) Once Hell Semester was over, the survivors would move into this dorm. Most of it was the same semi-modern style as all the other buildings on the island, but The Drunken Mercenary did its best to replicate an old tavern. An old-time sign hung over a Medieval-looking door that served as the bar’s entrance. Behind the blacked-out window was the trappings of an old European pub, plus a few pool and poker tables and a few TVs that invariably were tuned to soccer, or, as the people watching called it, football.
“Nathan!” A booming Russian voice called out. I turned to seem my boss, Dmitri Arkadyvich Popov, a tall, muscular Russian with a shaved head. “Why so early?”
“Just thought that if I could get here early, I could leave earlier,” I said.
“You poor fool,” Dmitri said as he got his keys out. “Now you will be waiting as well.” He then pushed open the door and I followed him into the bar.
Before he could turn on the lights, someone sitting by the door between the Drunken Mercenary and the dorm part of the building beat him to it. “You’re late, Dmitri,” a hard, female voice with a Russian accent said.
I turned to see a middle-aged woman with dark hair sitting at one of the tables. I recognized her instantly: Professor Zemylachka, the head of the Shadowhaven school. Dimitri laughed. “Rosie,” he said, “one of these days, your ninja horseshit will get you shot.”
“You’ll forgive me,” Professor Zemylachka said wryly, “if I’m not too frightened by that. Would you get me a drink?”
“Nathan,” Dmitri said, “you want to get some practice bartending?”
“Sure,” I said. “By the way, what are my hours going to look like?”
“I was thinking you could get your old times, plus Friday,” Dmitri said as I moved behind the bar.
“Sounds good,” I said, “all my classes are during late mornings or early afternoons.” I picked up a cup. “Hey, Professor, what do you want?”
“May I have the good stuff?” Professor Zemylachka asked.
“Is she a personal friend?” Dmitri asked.
“No sir,” I said, rolling my eyes. “Sorry, Ma’am. Rules are rules.” The rule in question was that when I was behind the bar, I had to run it like a kleptocrat, only unlocking the cabinet that contained the non-shitty alcohol for personal friends. Everyone else got a brand of beer from America that was famous for its lack of quality, cheap Russian vodka, and some unidentifiable liquid stuffed in a jam jar and disturbingly labeled “For Assholes. Free.”
Professor Zemylachka laughed. “What about Mr. Popov?” she asked.
I considered, then said, “He just pays the bills.”
The head of Shadowhaven laughed. Dmitri, weirdly enough, told me, “Good job. Remember, you are master of the bar.”
“What about me, boyke?” a growly voice asked.
I looked up. Leaning against the window, I saw Professor Krieger leaning on the wall next to the door leading out to the street. As usual, his light brown eyes were sparkling with insanity. Someone who didn’t know better would think that someone that big couldn’t sneak in like that.
I, however, had seen bigger be stealthier. “Sorry,” I said, “best I can give you is a twenty-five percent discount on the cat piss.” I indicated the tap to indicate what I meant.
“I’m hurt, Boyke.”
“You should be honored,” Dmitri said. “I only let people give discounts when they want to impress someone or negotiate with them, especially one that good.”
“Oh,” Krieger said. “In that case, I’m honored. A pitcher of cat pee for me and my friends.”
I got busy preparing the awful substance for them. Just as I was about done, Kyle Rockford walked in. One of the four survivors (not counting Nari) of the North Korean recon mission, he was recruited by Krieger and advised by Professor Zemylachka. He also had led a sting mission against Grenzefrontier sympathizers at NIU at the behest of The President.
That mission had come to a bloody end at the end of last semester. His team, mostly teammates from his high school who had apparently stood by him when he came out as trans, had all ended up dead. Needless to say, by the time of the North Korean expedition, he was kind of soured on the whole “being a spy” thing. In fact, I was surprised to see him back here.
“Oh no,” he said. “How long have they been talking to you?”
“Kyle,” I asked, somewhat confusedly as he walked over to me, “what are you talking about?”
“Listen,” he said, “Nate, you’re a decent person. Leave now while you can still live with yourself.”
“Are you threatening another student?” Professor Zemylachka asked.
“We both know full well what I’m saying,” Kyle said, turning to her angrily. He turned back to me. “Seriously, man,” he said, “I’m not threatening, I’m begging. They want to do the impossible.”
“And that is…?” I asked.
“We feel the school is not living up to its potential as a learning environment,” Kreiger said. “Some of our fellow faculty in the more… pacifistic programs have tried to make changes as well. Their approaches have met with failure as their methods required them to work with people who had vested interest in keeping things the same. As such, they failed.”
Things were now disturbingly clear. The faculty of AMS and Shadowhaven were planning an armed revolt. “I see…” I said.
“Nate,” Kyle said, “I came back to get as many people out as possible.” He dropped his voice to a whisper. “Their plan… remember those people at Hell Semester final? Remember how North Korea looked when we got there? That’s what’s going to happen.”
I paused. Then I asked Krieger, “Are your plans for change… playing into your strengths?”
“It depends,” he said. “We have some reasonable demands. Less brutal Hell Semester, students having more control over their own work, having punishments being less arbitrary… things of that nature.”
“And when would this be?” I asked.
“Now, boyke,” Krieger said, “you should know that we can’t really tell you anything more until you’re in.”
“And if I don’t join?” I asked.
“Depends on who else you tell,” Kreiger said. “We can keep disagreements civil if you can.”
I considered. Finally, I said, “I’ll have to think about this.”
Kyle’s face fell. Krieger smiled. “Take your time, boyke,” he said. “After all, we still have a lot of time.”