“So they’re gone?” Eliza asked. “May, Andy and that Timothy chap?”
It was the first Thursday in November, and Charlotte and Eliza were walking with me to a class. “Well,” Charlotte said, “they were the kind of people who don’t really need this place. I must admit, I am quite happy I was able to meet them. May and Andy were quite lovely.” She sighed. “I must admit though, Mr. Cheung is a little too good at selling your items.”
Eliza giggled. “Alright, sis, ‘ow many guns did ‘e convince Father to purchase?”
Charlotte sighed. “The bodyguards are going to replace the surplus SA-80s with the assault rifles you’re making?”
“You mean he’s already sold the Macabee?” I asked. “We’ve only sent it to testing recently.” I sighed. “Nari’s been pretty busy. I have no idea how she does it, but she’s already got the blueprints for three underbarrel weapons.”
“Really?” Eliza asked. “I thought it was just two.”
“Well,” I said, “I suppose shortening the shotgun so it can fit on the Ballpeen might not count, but the internals are radically different.” I shook my head. “That girl just does not stop. And these are probably going to be the best of the bunch.”
“Well,” Eliza said, “You did promise May you’d take a break, didn’t you?” She gave me a threatening stare. “And you are keeping that promise, right, Nate?”
“I am,” I promised. And I was keeping the promise. It was kind of hard, since the nightmares were still very bad. Yet I was getting sleep now. It wasn’t much, but among the time spent alternately trying to go to sleep and fighting it, the dream flashbacks, and the accusatory voices blaming me for more misery and death than I was willing to take stock of, there were now patches of nothing. These, I have to admit, I was eternally grateful for.
I was considering explaining the situation when we walked into the building our classes were going to be in (none of us had the same one.) I decided against it. After all, the last time I had admitted something like that, I had broken down. It wasn’t a very pleasant experience. My parents and my psychologist had been kind, but I had hated admitting my problem even more than the problem itself.
Plus, Bai had seen us. “Ah,” she said, standing up from one of the chairs next to the door, “I’ve been waiting to talk with you.”
“What about?” Eliza asked with a mixture of dread and exasperation.
“Something that won’t end with Nate and I screaming at each other.” Bai sounded business-like as usual, but there seemed to be a bit of wry, self-deprecating undercurrent. I may have imagined it, but it was probably the closest to an apology I’d get from her. Bai then indicated the other people in the reception area/common room a slight nod. “It isn’t the kind of thing that’s their business, though. Do you have a few minutes? I have a few places to go where we won’t be overheard.”
Ignoring one of the reporters on the TV talking about how Russia was still trying to take a more active role in Germany’s fight against the Grenzefrontier and another talking about what appeared to be a Chinese crackdown on dissidents near the Korean border, I said, “That seems like a good idea. I’ve got thirty minutes.”
“Eliza and I only have ten,” Charlotte said. “But if it’s important…”
“It’s important and it may be quick,” Bai said. “You may want to bundle up.”
We, of course, hadn’t even been able to unzip our coats. But that didn’t stop us from following Bai out into the wind and snow. The day was the coldest one yet, but seeing as it was only November and considering what last year had been like, the weather would get much, much more arctic-like. It was still awful with the wind howling occasionally.
“Nathan,” Bai said casually, leading us into an alley, “I assumed you became a bartender to pick up some conversations?” The alley in question was a constant wind tunnel. The howling I was hearing probably was mostly coming from that one place.
“Yeah,” I said, mentally bracing myself for the windchill. I didn’t brace adequately, and the gale cut through my coat like shrapnel. “Shame that no one at The Drunken Mercenary trusts me with their deepest, darkest secrets.” It was true. I had heard a lot about people’s feelings about how shitty the drinks were, opinions on my (perceived) background and origin, and plenty of interpersonal tidbits that would only be worth the tip they left if they came from celebrities.
“That was the same reason I became a janitor,” Bai said. “Like you, I didn’t learn anything interesting. Or at least I thought so.” As we walked further into the artificial vortex, Bai raised her voice to be heard. “The janitors are somewhat fraternal, and pass down all the best spots to avoid being heard. Apparently, in winter, the wind in this particular alleyway disables all the microphones. There aren’t any windows to see us from, either. Now, we just need to find a place shielded from the outside view and face the wall. Then no one can hear us.”
As we got behind a dumpster, I reflected about the not-so-secret order of janitors. Maybe the tradition of passing down certain points of interest was unique to NIU, but something told me I should keep in mind that janitors and other maintenance workers knew more than people thought. If I ever needed to investigate or assault a place, I should probably speak with a custodian who worked there.
“Dear God,” Charlotte said, “this place is frigid!” Already, our faces had begun to turn red and puffy from the biting wind. Charlotte pulled her fashionable wool-lined leather trench coat closer to herself. She was the only one of us who hadn’t double-layered.
Bai, who was visibly shivering, said, “That is a downside, yes. Anyway, remember how we agreed to keep an eye on Mubashir Mubarak?”
“Yeah,” Eliza said, shooting Bai a side-long glance. “Did you confirm our theory ‘bout ‘im?”
“No,” Bai said, “but I decided to approach him as an intermediary between him and Nathan. I hope that is ok?” I nodded. “Good,” Bai said in acknowledgement. “Because he has something that he thought would interest you.”
“Is it about the IDRF?” I asked, suddenly curious. According to Alma Hebert, in 1985, the Nowhere Island University Interdimensional Research Facility had been boarded up and the people who had worked there had disappeared. She then had almost outright stated that the people who had vanished had something to do with The Dragon’s Teeth and their invasion with Korea. Apart from that, she had been annoyingly vague.
“Yes,” Bai said, somewhat surprised, “Mubashir found a file on it. But the file did not mention anything about The Dragon’s Teeth.”
“What did the file mention?” Charlotte asked. “It must have been something quite juicy for Mubashir to think it was worth our time.”
“Honestly,” Bai said, “both Mubashir and I think it is quite cryptic. We were not able to get a copy and I didn’t see it, and apparently much of it was heavily redacted. Yet it did reference some documents that might shed some light on the situation. But Mubashir was able to get the gist.”
“So?” Eliza asked. “Sounds like you’ve got a load of useless bollocks.”
“Or something you three are better able to guess than I am,” Bai said. “The document mentions two options: The Jason Project and United Fist. It didn’t say what they were…”
“Wait,” Charlotte asked, “did it say who was running United Fist? When was this document dated?”
Bai shrugged. “It didn’t say who proposed or ran United Fist, but the document did claim it was written in ‘97. Why?”
Charlotte now looked seriously worried. “Bai, Nathan, have either of you heard of a UNIX initiative called GNRF?”
Bai shook her head, but I said, “I think it stands for Global Nuclear Response Force? I heard about it when I was in second or third grade. UNIX was pushing America to join it, and my parents, despite being globalists, didn’t really want to join because of it. Does it really mean that UNIX could use the nukes of member nations?” I had remembered hearing that provision and thinking that couldn’t be real. I mean, how crazy would it be to give a foreign power only partially under your control access to your nukes?
“Yes,” Charlotte said. “It really does. Britain was the first nation to sign the accord. The idea is that if some device or natural anomaly gets too out of hand, UNIX can end it. The same year you yanks soundly rejected joining, Indian and Pakistani nukes ended a threat that I’m technically not supposed to know about. Today, Russia, China, the US, and North Korea are the only nations that haven’t agreed to the GNRF. The other five have to cover the entire globe themselves.” She paused. “If The President has some control over UNIX…”
She let the thought trail off. In my mind, visions of The President typing in a few characters onto his computer and locking out five countries from their own nuclear arsenals filled me with reasonable dread. I could tell that everyone else there was thinking it as well.
“Ah,” Bai said eventually. “I see. That could be… interesting.” The way she said made me think of the Chinese curse May you live in interesting times. “Do any of you know what The Jason Project is?”
Charlotte shook her head. “I haven’t the foggiest.”
“Actually,” I said, “in Greek mythology, wasn’t it Jason who raised an army…”
“…By burying the teeth of a dragon in the ground!” Charlotte said. “Nathan, if what you are suggesting is correct, then these Jason Project fellows are quite well read.”
“Mubashir managed to write down some notes after he saw the document,” Bai said. “He said the person writing the report’s main concern about The Jason Project was they had ‘command issues,’ and seemed worried about revolt. Their reason is that a test subject had hijacked whatever The Jason Project had been working on and caused a revolt.” She paused. “I think that if we want to know about The Lord of Death or this Goddess the Dragon’s Teeth worship, we should make an effort to find out about this first revolt.”
“I would also like to find out about Newton-Howell’s connection to UNIX,” Charlotte said. “My father’s organization works quite closely with them…”
“‘E doesn’t trust most of ‘em farther than ‘e can throw ‘em,” Eliza remarked. “I like the sound of a few of their people, but father makes the rest sound like the shiftiest lot you can find.”
“Well,” I said, “unless anyone has something to add, I think we can go back inside before we freeze to death.”
“There isn’t anything,” Bai said. “Let’s go.” Something told me that, despite choosing the location, she was just as anxious as I was to get out of there. It was probably her visible shivering that made me think that. “I’ll be heading off to my class.”
“If you see Mubashir,” I said, “tell him be careful. The President basically threatened me when I pushed him to investigate The Dragon’s Teeth at NIU.”
Bai may have said something, but in her hurry to get out, she didn’t fully turn to face me. Also, the wind in the alley picked up, drowning her voice completely. We waited for a few seconds after she disappeared, then we began walking back to the class.
“It was nice walking with you, Nathan,” Charlotte said, “but we really must be getting to… Nathan, what’s wrong?”
I had paused, halfway across the room to stare at the TVs. On them were pictures of tactical police and army units surrounding the capitol building in Washington, DC. Most of them were facing it. The banner for one agency proclaimed “Multiple shooters assault US Senate. More to follow.”
After a second of silence, Charlotte finally said, “Oh bloody hell.”