I was heading to Sun Tzu to get something to eat before my shift when Nari stopped me. “Mr. Jacobs,” she said, somewhat out of breath, “I happened to develop a theory about you this week.”
I looked at the tiny nine-year-old girl. She seemed… eager. “Does Sunny know you’re here?” I asked. “Besides I kind of need to eat, so…”
“This won’t take long,” Nari said, “and I’ll be back by curfew. That is, if you listen to reason.”
“Ok, fine.” I said. “What is your theory.”
Instantly, Nari’s enthusiasm increased exponentially. Leaning in close, she said quietly, “The guns you brought back, you’re trying to make an improved version.” When she saw my reaction, she jumped triumphantly, nearly headbutting me in the face.
“And?” I asked. “Where do you come in?”
Nari sighed. “I’m sorry,” she said, “but I thought it would be obvious. I want to be part of it. You know me. You know that this is the kind of thing I dream about, and the kind of area where I excel. You need me.”
“Fine,” I hissed, ignoring her whoop of triumph and scanning the area for potential listeners. “I just… kind of want to do the first draft myself.”
“I can understand that,” Nari said. “But I will be checking in.” She then did a little dance and said something in Korean. After that, she said, “I will speak with you soon. Have a good evening, Mr. Jacobs!” She then half ran, half skipped away.
“Well,” I said to myself, “that… is going to change things.” May had handed me a printout of what was in the bullets before my class. I figured I could make several of those by next week and tell Nari a bit about them. Then, I could move on to the pistol. I had heard that the FBI were looking for something to replace 9mm, due to a recent rise in Parahuman and Advanced Tech crime.
Still, that wasn’t something I could do today. What I needed to do was eat up and get to The Drunken Mercenary. It was going to be a long night from what I understood. In fact, it was going to get so crazy that we’d have to double up on bartenders.
I had some nice Korean barbeque that was being served that night. Luckily, I was pretty early, so not that many people were there. I could get my food, eat it and get to The Drunken Mercenary.
It was still pretty close, though. I had to eat so fast I got the hiccups, and even then I had to flat-out sprint to get to the pub. I noticed, with a little annoyance, that I’d have to get my stamina up if I wanted to do the Shadowhaven/AMS monthly run. The time I had spent recovering from my cracked rib had caused me to get out of shape a bit.
Pausing to get catch my breath, I raised my hand to knock on the door. It opened and a waiter I didn’t know ushered me in. We quickly began cleaning tables and setting up extra chairs and TVs. When I was behind the bar, I noticed that there were two Kel-Tec KSGs under the bar tonight instead of only one like normal. Made sense, there were twice as many bartenders, and we expected twice the amount of people. Therefore, we’d need twice the buckshot and twice the rock salt. I quickly checked to make sure that the rock salt and the buckshot were in the usual tubes. I didn’t want to fire off a round off and have buckshot come out when I needed rock salt, or vice versa. Instead, I found that the rock salt had been replaced with bean bag rounds. I shrugged. I’d have to ask someone who knew what they were talking about if there was a difference.
Finally, we were all set up. Everyone got into position, and the waiters and waitresses made sure that their pepper spray and batons were accessible and concealed. Despite being designed as a hangout for the AMS and Shadowhaven students (or maybe because of that,) only the bartenders were allowed to carry lethal weaponry, and even then we were only allowed what our employer issued.
We finished setting up well before the bar opened. To test that the main attraction worked, we turned on the TVs to the campus news channel, each TV set to a different language. I noticed that they didn’t set any to an Arabic version. My guess was because that most of the Arabic speakers in the AMS/Shadowhaven program were serious enough Muslims to not even consider going into a bar.
Soon after the TVs were turned on, I started paying attention to what the newscaster was saying. “In, uh, in other news,” one of the casters said, “China’s been making some rumblings about taking back North Korea.”
“The question is,” the other anchor said, with a somewhat prim middle-class British accent, “do the North Koreans want China’s involvement? The Chinese Government claims that the mysterious group known as The Dragon’s Teeth is an American-sponsored terrorist group, yet The Dragon’s Teeth, in the few messages to the outside world, have claimed they represent the people of North Korea. What do you think?” The way the second anchor finished her take, it sounded a lot like she wanted to ask who the first anchor was.
“Listen,” the first anchor said, “I, uh, I know I’m Canadian, but we know our neighbor to the south. Those guys aren’t backed by the USA. If the US wants to, uh, wants to invade a place, they just, y’know, go boom, we’re invading you. They aren’t subtle enough to actually do… whatever The Dragon’s Teeth are.”
“So…” the second anchor said, “you think they’re the Korean Army or some form of popular uprising?”
“Uh, no,” the first anchor said. “Can we uh, get that footage of the Dragon’s Teeth patrolling the DMZ?”
Instantly, footage from the South Korean side of a group of ten Dragon’s Teeth soldiers patrolling the 38th parallel popped up behind the anchors. They were in a five-by-two formation, and, despite the flickering footage, I could tell that there were two types of soldiers. The two in front and four in back were what I heard were called Legionaries, heavy infantry who carried the Pilum, with the two in front also carrying a SMG that looked similar to an MP-5K, ready to be brought up if their Pilums were inappropriate for the situation. Of all the types of Dragon’s Teeth I had run into while in North Korea, they were the most common. Their armor was dark grey and looked like a Helghast from the Killzone games had a baby with an ancient Roman Legionary. Based on a combination of the report I read, Nari’s advice, and personal experience, I had learned that their armor soaked up bullets disturbingly well, but weren’t that great in melee.
The four in the center were a type I had only seen once, and that had been in a dark alley. I believe, based on the glance I had given of a certain file, that they were called Picts. They carried weird SMGs that looked like P-90s, but three of them had their triggers moved back to the rear of the gun and what looked like underbarrel grenade launchers on the front. Their armor was much lighter and more subdued, being designed for quickly breaching buildings. However, it was painted in a black so dark that it was almost impossible to make out any details.
“Pause and zoom in,” The first anchor said. The camera did, and I got a better look at the guns. “Ok,” the first anchor said, “zoom in.” He then proceeded to talk about his time as the son of a Canadian diplomat in North Korea. Some of it was actually pretty insightful. The anchors presenting in other languages seemed like they were all going in different directions, but, being an ignorant American, I couldn’t understand what they were saying.
Meanwhile, outside, a line was forming. Eventually, someone opened the floodgates and dozens upon dozens of people began swarming in. All of them rushed the bar. It was like a train wreck in a zoo. I had to deal with five people I didn’t know at all who wanted access to the good stuff, dozens of people who were paying with cash instead of the phone pay (which made it that much harder because I had to convert from the campus’s currency to currencies I didn’t even know existed,) and one absolute fucker who tried to pay with some computer-based currency called DogeCoin. I actually had to aim the shotgun and switch to buckshot to get him to leave. It was so busy, I couldn’t even tell when the Hell Semester program had started.
The Hell Semester-related programming eventually ended around eleven. That caused a large chunk of the patrons to leave. However, the bar didn’t close for another three hours, and a good chunk of the people from the initial rush had stuck around to discuss the fresh meat over a pint. Plus, a few people who just wanted a drink were starting to filter in. Why anyone would want to drink the cheap cat piss here was beyond me, but they were keeping me employed, so I didn’t give a shit.
Still, there was mostly a net loss of customers. That was making things much easier, and was allowing me to listen in to a few conversations. One mixed group (two Asians, three Latinos, and an African-African, all female) were talking about one of the new recruits. Apparently, the recruit in question had been one of the group that had been forced to fight my Hell Semester class. She had actually escaped the island by stowing away a plane during the firefight.
Apparently, the point of contention was whether or not she was complicit in the crime that had led to that group of people being punished. From the sound of it, the people on her side had evidence on their side. Her detractors had blind rage. I felt sorry for the person they were discussing.
Around the time I was listening to a group of Russians talk to the only two Arab guys in the bar about one of the few Americans, I was interrupted. “‘Ello, Nate,” a female voice said. I looked up. There, sitting at the now mostly empty bar, was Eliza.
“Of all the bars in all the world,” I said jokingly, “you had to walk into mine. What’s up, Eliza?”
She sighed, all her usual mischievous energy draining from her. “Two of my best friends in the entire world are fighting.”
“This is about me and Bai, isn’t it?” I asked resignedly. Eliza nodded. “You need a drink?” I asked. “Based on my boss’s cryptic discount rules, I can get you anything from the secret for free.”
“You got any scotch?” she asked.
I opened the cabinet. “No, but I can give you a free shot of a hundred-sixty-five-dollar a bottle Tennessee whiskey that was brewed in honor of some dead celebrity.”
“Y’know,” Eliza said, “I never knew I wanted somethin’ like that before now. Price is right, so why not? Give it to me neat.”
As I poured the bottle, I said, “Look, I’m sorry Bai and I are fighting. She blames me for John getting shot and thinks I need to make all my decisions based on some prophecy.” I slid it over to her. She caught it while I continued telling my side of the story. “Personally, I think that the fate of the world is too important to just blindly entrust to a prophecy.”
“What about what happened with John?” Eliza asked.
I shook my head. Eliza began sipping the drink. “I don’t know,” I said. “Part of me blames myself just as much as Bai does, maybe more. Another part says there was no way I could have stopped it, what happened at those docks was a freak accident.” As an afterthought, I muttered guiltily, “Then there’s that third part…”
“And what does that third part say?” Eliza said.
“Maybe, even if he died, it would have been worth it.
Eliza stared at me in shock. I have to admit, the words I had spit out like piece of food brought up via the Heimlich Maneuver deserved shock and probably a bit of disgust as well. “But…” she said, “…but ‘e’s your friend, innit ‘e?”
“I know,” I said. “That’s why I hate myself for thinking it. But if it could save millions, perhaps billions, of people, shouldn’t I be able to sacrifice one person? No matter how much I care about him or her?”
Eliza thought it over. Finally, she said, “I honestly don’t know, mate. That kind of thinking’s too ‘eavy for me.” She looked back at the glass of whiskey. “You and Dmitri were right. This is good stuff, and I do need it.” She then threw it back.
“Another?” I asked.
“Yes, definitely,” she said. As I poured, she said, “Back to questions I can answer, I think I can find a way for you and Bai to be friends again.”
“We never were friends,” I said, cutting of the stream of expensive and potent alcohol a bit before it began to flow over the glass. “We were barely on speaking terms.”
“I think,” Eliza said, cutting off my incoming rant, “that I just need to moderate any further discussion between you two, maybe brief Bai on your thoughts a bit. I just need to ask John’s side of the story first.” As she spoke, she took the occasional sip.
“Sure,” I said, “but I reserve the right to walk out of this little session.”
Eliza sighed. “Fine, but I want this resolved before the next meeting of the Seven.” She gulped down the remainder of her drink. “Anyway, nice talkin’ with you. See you soon, ‘opefully.”
She got up, and left. As I watched her leave, I wondered exactly what I would list as the justification for Eliza having two free shots of expensive whiskey. I decided, eventually, that the answer Dmitri would respect the most was, “Because I could.”