Before May took Nari to the campus’s hospital, May forced us to agree on several new rules for production. The first rule was that no human (especially Nari) would be the first to fire. Instead, we’d have to get some sort of set-up that would allow us to fire the weapon remotely. The second rule would be that I had to sleep. No spending a week without sleep to get the next version done.
I agreed. Nari was a little harder to convince. We finally got Nari to agree when I said I’d take a shot just to test it. After all, the one time she had actually shot a gun, it was a nine mil.
Making sure I was wearing ear protection (seriously, that thing was loud) and making sure I was in a stance that would let me deal with the recoil, I pulled the trigger. “Whoah,” I said, laughing in exhilarated nervousness, “this thing is fucking crazy.” I lowered the gun and looked at May and Nari. “If we want this to actually be a combat pistol, we’re going to have to reduce the recoil. Maybe the sound, too.”
“Ok,” May said, somewhat aggravated, “can I get you to the hospital now, Nari? I’d rather have Sunny kill me sooner rather than later.”
“Just a few more things,” Nari said. “Mr. Jacobs, I need you to stay here and shoot a few rounds from the Uilon Mangchi and a few other firearms. This will help me figure out how much I need to reduce the recoil by. Also, make sure to disconnect my hard drive and get that and the plans back to me, please!”
“Ok,” May said. “Is that all?” Nari nodded. May nodded. “Alright,” she said, frog-marching Nari out of the room, “out we go.”
Just as the door closed behind them, I could swear I heard Nari ask, “Sunny doesn’t have to know about this, does she?” I sighed as the door swished shut behind them. Nari was way too enthusiastic about this.
Still, I had a job to do, and that was test the gun I had 3D printed. It wasn’t really a good test (to do that, you’d need to fire a thousand rounds of ammo and there were only twenty rounds of ammo for it in the world,) but the test was revealing, nonetheless.
The bad news was I had seriously messed something up with the firing mechanism. In the twenty times the Uilon Mangchi had been fired, it managed to jam three times. Also, while the slide did go all the way back on the last shot, it failed to lock. Also, the recoil made it slow to fire and hard to hit anything with. Compared to the Berretta M92FS and the SIG-Sauer P229, it was an almost uncontrollable, poorly designed, barely functional mess.
That being said, the six-and-a-half-mil the Uilon Mangchi fired almost made it worth it. On the hard armors, the first few rounds (at least, the first round that hit) seemed to penetrate the front plate with very little trouble. Occasionally, the first round would seem to bounce around inside the armor for a bit. In fact, some of the soft armored and all of the unarmored targets got off easier, as they only had six-and-a-half-millimeter holes in them instead of small caverns excavated by bullets.
By comparison, 9x19mm Parabellum and .357 SIG weren’t anywhere near as good at penetrating hard armor, but they were very good at dealing with unarmored targets. The SIG rounds were also tied with the new ammo in terms of dealing with soft armor.
As I packed up the weapons and unplugged Nari’s external hard drive and deleted the data off the main one, I wondered about how I would sell this new pistol. Based on the power it had, I didn’t really want civilians to have it, and I wasn’t sure how often law enforcement had to deal with targets in hard body armor. Also, I wasn’t sure how concerned the various militaries around the world were about The Dragon’s Teeth. This was a pistol that had been designed from the ground up to kill Deet soldiers at a time when people believed there were much bigger problems.
I was considering this quandary when there was a knock on the door. Hurriedly stuffing the remaining odds and ends into my pack, I went to open the door. There, standing outside, were Officers Gupta and Mendez.
I had had dealings with the two of them before, some bad, some good. Mendez, a Hispanic guy, and Gupta, an Indian woman, were both in their thirties. Their dark blue patrol uniforms hid their physiques quite well, making me wonder if there was some kind of soft body armor under it.
“Hey, Nathan,” Mendez said. “Is Nari here?”
“No,” I said, “she and May left a while ago. Nari’s been branching out into gunmaking and decided to try a more exotic model out. May had to take her to the hospital to check for a concussion.” Mendez and Gupta flinched and exchanged pained looks. “Why? What’s up?”
“The President wants to speak to everyone who came back from North Korea,” Gupta said. “I don’t get the feeling that you’re in trouble, but…” It wasn’t optional. Good to know.
As we walked down, Officer Gupta suddenly asked, “Do you remember the Chamber of Horrors… and what you found?”
“I don’t think I’ll ever forget,” I said. The Chamber of Horrors was a Hell Semester test. You were locked in a large, brightly lit room full of full of meat and unidentifiable sludge. Then wolves got released. The group I was sent in with were the only ones to realize that people who died in there weren’t taken out. Gupta and Mendez were the ones who removed us… and made sure the corpses stayed in. For a while, Gupta had defended her actions, which had caused me to avoid them.
“What if we decided that what happened there was wrong?” Gupta asked.
“I wouldn’t know what to say about that,” I said, “but I wouldn’t tell anyone who took offense to that opinion.” I would, however, tell Krieger. He probably would want to recruit some campus security officials for his coup.
The rest of the trip to the President’s house was done in silence. Finally, we got to the massive building on the main rotary that the President called his “house.” It wasn’t as big as the Newton-Howell Student Center next door, but it was comparable.
On the outside, it was a Victorian-style mansion, an (apparently) wood building surrounded by brick and mortar. However, thanks to the recent Grenzefrontier invasion, several bullet holes revealed what appeared to be cinderblock and Kevlar plating underneath.
To get into it, we crossed the field in the center of the rotary. It was the same field where The President had made Campus Security pour gasoline on some Grenzefrontier sympathizers. After delivering a calm, reasoned, and seemingly forgiving speech to the captured students, he had tossed a match onto them. Months later, the grass still hadn’t entirely grown back. I knew because we walked over it like it was just ground.
Gupta and Mendez then handed me off to another pair of guards standing by the mansion’s main entrance. They marched me into the house, taking me up the grand central staircase and into the room that The President had used to convince me to go to North Korea. Along the way, I noticed how the repairs to the house were still ongoing. Sheets covered the walls, once-luxurious floors were ripped up, and a few bullet holes were still visible. From deeper inside, I could hear the sound of power tools and people working.
The security guards motioned me inside. I walked in to the large office, immediately noticing that the makeover, at least in this room, was complete. The desk, table, and chairs had all been replaced, as well as one of the gargoyle busts behind The President’s desk that had been completely destroyed. I also noticed that there were now several pieces of electronics equipment scattered across the room, most notably a large TV on the wall opposite The President’s desk. On it was a picture of the inside of a Dragon’s Teeth Charon.
The President himself was standing by the TV. As usual, he looked exactly like Robert Downey Jr. However, unlike normal, he was visibly tense. One had was gripping his chin like he expected it to unscrew off his body of its own accord, the other was on his hip. His foot, meanwhile, was tapping uncontrollably.
“Ah, Nate,” he said, finally noticing me. “Sit down. I need an eyewitness account.”
“Sure,” I said, sitting down in a chair that I felt was indicated. “But I thought that we were waiting for the rest of…”
“No, no, no,” The President said, his voice dripping with sarcasm. “It’s not like this is important. We’re only talking about information THAT’S THE GODDAMN DIFFERENCE BETWEEN CHINA WINNING AND LOSING AGAINST THE DRAGON’S TEETH!” To punctuate his sudden outburst, he slammed his fist into the table. He grunted in pain, then kicked the table. “Motherfucker.”
I watched in nervous fascination. I had never seen The President display emotion other than mild annoyance. I wondered how big a threat The Dragon’s Teeth were to him personally. He then began pacing.
Suddenly, the door opened. “WHAT?” The President yelled, turning around to focus his ire on the hapless Campus Security Officer.
“Sir, the other two are here, sir,” the officer said. He was a large, muscular man, dwarfing The President, but he was obviously terrified by what he was seeing.
“Sorry, Officer Sahleanu,” The President said, making an effort to bring them down. “Please, bring them in.” As Officer Sahleanu ushered Sunny and John in, The President said, as cordially as he possibly could, “Oh, and if it isn’t too much trouble, could you please lock the door and seal the soundproofing? Sensitive material is going to be discussed, and I don’t want anyone to listen in.”
The officer acknowledged and left as quickly as possible. When he was gone, The President turned to Sunny and John. “Some people,” he said, still trying to keep calm, “forgot to keep their phones charged and on their person.”
“Listen, sir,” Sunny said, “I was about to charge it when…”
“I understand,” The President lied, “but you need to understand that when the president of China’s security advisor calls me, in person, and asks me how to deal with The Dragon’s Teeth because he has meeting with his boss in…” he checked his watch, “…let’s see, two hours, I get a little agitated.”
“So why don’t we get started,” I suggested calmly. This was interesting. I always suspected that The Dragon’s Teeth had somehow originated in NIU. Also, despite his dismissal of the idea that The Dragon’s Teeth originated in his university, I had a strong suspicion that The President was personally involved somehow.
The President paused and stared at me for a moment. The pause was barely perceptible, but it was just enough to send a chill down my spine. After that brief, uncomfortable pause, he said, “Yes, you’re right.” The way he said it, however, sent shivers down my spine.
He then made an effort to revert back to his genial self. It didn’t work as well as he thought it did. “Anyway, before I start asking questions, I’d like you to take a listen to a particular video you recorded.”
He pressed play on the remote. Instantly, I realized the context. It was when the remains of the recon team was trying to start a Charon while a group of Dragon’s Teeth Legionaries executed some people and had what seemed to be a prayer session. I noticed, as I had at the time, that this prayer session made several references to a death goddess of some sort.
After the video finished with Nari getting the engine working and the Charon accelerating away, The President said, “So, anyone have any thoughts? Any at all?”
John spoke up instantly. “Yeah,” he said, with a mixture of realization and dread. “They sound exactly like spoilfags!” Noticing our looks, he quickly added, “Sorry, that’s the 4chan name for them. Reddit and Tumblr mostly call them rigbots or trollbots. You may have heard about them. They basically go around attacking various candidates in the US election and trying to reduce the overall tone.”
“I’m not sure they needed to,” The President remarked dryly. “But it is something I will look into. Anything else?”
John shrugged. “Not really, only that they refer to their deity as Thana. I think that’s a shortened version of Thanatos, the Greek or Roman god of death.”
“Miss Lee, what about you?” The President asked. “Anything you noticed?”
Sunny straightened up. “As a matter of fact, yes. I believe they specifically targeted the armor plates of the vehicle. I think the only reason they eventually destroyed it was to hide evidence of deliberate negligence from their creators. I would actually be interested in seeing if we could get their creators to see the evidence. Maybe we could start some sort of witch hunt or purge.”
“The creators most likely leave intelligence gathering to their creations,” The President said. “They have… well, Mr. Jacobs, what do you think? What is your take on this situation?”
The previous exchange had provided a wealth of information. First of all, I now knew Sunny’s family name was Lee (though she still was probably unrelated to Nari.) Another thing was that The President had reason to believe that the creators of The Dragon’s Teeth trusted their creations enough to let them be their eyes and ears. Finally, something about The Dragon’s Teeth upset him… maybe even scared him.
However, I did not let any of this show. Instead, I asked, “What part would you like me to focus on? A few of my friends…”
“If you mention a prophecy, final or otherwise,” The President said, massaging his nose as if a headache was coming on, “I will scream.”
I nodded. “Honestly, I feel the same way, sir. There’s also these creators and… how did the Deets refer to him as? Their former master, that’s it. I think it would be illuminating to make a list of…”
“I am pursuing it from that end,” The President said, “I’m just having more qualified people do it.” He sighed. “You are right about one thing. I should narrow it down. Does anyone have any idea who this Thana person is?”
In that instant, I knew The President had ideas, and he liked none of them. However, I could give him nothing. Neither could any of the other people there.
Eventually, John hesitantly supplied, “…Thana is a derivation of…”
“Thank you, Mr. Marshall,” The President said. “I think that will be it. You and Miss Lee can go. Be sure to ask the other Miss Lee about our friend Thana, ok?” Sunny got up immediately, but John hung back. “Don’t worry,” The President told him, “He’ll tell you what happened.”
John left, The President following him as he left. In turn, I watched The President. He was now visibly calmer than when he had begun. When John had finally closed the door, he turned back to me.
“Now, Nathan,” he said, sitting down across from me, “I like you. You’re a natural at your specific field, you’re highly focused, and you’re ambitious in that cute way that ‘superheroes’ are without anywhere near the arrogance those guys have.”
“Very high praise,” I said.
“The problem is,” The President said, “unless someone steps in, you’re going to die before you graduate. Oh, don’t give me that look, you’re not that stupid. You probably already knew on some level, didn’t you?”
“And what does stepping in entail?” I asked in a neutral voice.
“Just two pieces of advice,” The President said. “The first is friendly. Your friends Bai and Eliza? The ones pushing that final prophecy? When you’re as powerful as I am, they’re just annoyances. But on your level, if you get sucked too far in, it’ll end badly, whether they want to hurt you or not.”
“And the other piece of friendly advice?” I asked.
The President’s face darkened. He leaned in closely and almost snarled, “It isn’t friendly.” He then continued, his voice low and controlled. “Listen, Nate, I know it’s hard to get things through that oddly thick skull, but there are things I don’t want you to know. And while you’re a very good wet worker, you suck at spying. Don’t pry into things here that don’t concern you. If you do, I will find out, and I will be very upset.”
“I understand,” I said.
“No,” he said, leaning back, “You don’t.” He waved me away. “Now get out of here.”
I nodded, and got up. Looking back on it, he was right. Before he had even finished telling me not to poke around, I had already begun to think of ways to circumvent The President’s scrutiny.
Like he said, I’m an idiot.