Nari and I stood in the converted warehouse looking down at our factory from the supervisor’s office. Well, technically it wasn’t just our factory, May and Andy had controlling shares and Timothy also owned a significant part of the company as well. The assembly line producing May’s products was next door. After we stood looking down on the assembly lines, we each considered the rectangular pieces of paper in our hands.
“Well,” I said, “this is… very generous.” It wasn’t as much as the money I had stashed into a Swiss bank from my Korean adventures, but it was starting to get there. “I mean, a lot of it is going to go back to the government, but at least I’m going to be able to use it this time.”
“Wait,” Nari asked, frowning slightly, “how much am I going to have to pay?”
“A little over forty percent, I think,” I said. Nari frowned. “Hey,” I said, “more money than you’ve ever imagined a single person possessing minus around forty percent is still more money than you ever imagined a single person possessing.”
“True…” Nari grudgingly admitted.
“Plus, it could be worse,” I said. “You could have been working at McDonalds and discovered you still had to pay ten percent.”
Nari and Sunny had both applied for US citizenship as soon as we got into the US. It was decided that she might want to have an official country of residence, and since she was earning all her money there, the US was as good a place as any. Also, she basically told me that she’d be happy anywhere there was a decent metal scene.
“I wonder,” Nari said, “is there some way I can see you? I heard that the New Year’s and Christmas celebrations are quite glorious here.”
“Shouldn’t be a problem,” I said. “My parents will be glad I’ve brought a friend over who hadn’t recently been shot at, so that’s a bonus. Maybe May and Andy can drive you guys over.”
There was a knock on the door. “Come in,” I said. The door opened and in walked Timothy.
He had a smug smile on his face that I’d learned to interpret as his “I just got a new customer” face. “You were right,” he said. “Your hometown’s police were willing to switch to our weapons based on regional affiliation. Based on that, I was able to get full replacement for their pistols. And I got Boston and Worcester to do a full replacement of pistols and a partial replacement of assault rifles and SMGs as well. Plus, many law enforcement agencies across the globe have put in orders for the full-sized underbarrel shotguns. By the way, making the Maccabee and the Ballpeen compatible with M-4 attachments was a stroke of genius.”
We had recently completed the FBI’s contest for a next-generation pistol. It was a particularly difficult one. FN Herstal had, of course, fielded its Five-seveN and the 5.7x28mm round. Heckler & Koch had also dusted off their UCP concept (that, and their 4.6x30mm ammo was their answer to FN’s Five-seveN) and tweaked it around for the competition. Not wanting to lose one of its more lucrative customers, Glock had teamed up with VBR-Belgium to create a pistol that could use both 7.92x24mm rounds and 9x19mm rounds. Both Colt and Smith &Wesson had also wanted to get in on this, so they both had submitted models in 5.7 and 4.6. Needless to say, the competition was quite tough. In the end, the FBI decided to do a limited test run of the Glock-VBR and the Uilon Mangchi among SWAT units.
The reason we had been chosen is probably because of Nari’s theatrics. The other companies had put their prototypes in nice, sensible shock-padded dust cases. Nari had decided to strap one batch of our models with chains to the rear bumper of a car and let them get dragged the last ten or twenty miles. Another batch had been put fully loaded in a Tupperware container that was also filled with water. Every pistol from all the manufacturers had fired ten thousand rounds without malfunction. But only one had gone through a torture test.
The other thing that helped was our partial adoption was the sheer power of the round. There were certain types of conventional plate and soft armor that our round could penetrate that the others could not. It also performed much better against exotic one-off types than other rounds. We’d had to make a lot of concessions to actually controlling the round, and as such I think the weight may have thrown off serious military buyers.
“So,” I asked, “who was the first to fully convert?”
Timothy’s smile became even more smug. “Oh, I didn’t tell you two already?” he asked with faux innocence. “New York actually fully converted, provisionally. They bought almost everything: the Uilon, the Ballpeen, the Maccabee, and the shotguns. It hasn’t shown up in your paycheck because the first payment hasn’t come in yet.”
“What do you mean, ‘provisionally?’” I asked.
“Oh, they’re just not going to replace everything instantly,” Timothy said dismissively. “They’re going to do it slowly, and if they run into any problems, they’ll either ask us to make the necessary changes or just stop. In the meantime, guess how many Uilons we’ve sold in the first installment to New York alone.”
“I don’t know, a hundred?” I guessed.
“Well, if you multiplied it by ten, you’d be right.” I stared in shock. Timothy laughed. “We’ve got at least thirty-three thousand to go, assuming they don’t want to arm auxiliaries or expand. We’re rich!”
“That’s great,” I said. I paused for a bit, then asked, “Any military clients?”
Timothy suddenly looked a little shifty. “Any particular reason you want to know?”
“Well,” I said, “The reason I’m in this business is to stop The Dragon’s Teeth from steam-rolling the entire world. I can’t do that alone, and civilians and law enforcement don’t really have the level of armament to stop something like a Charon or those VTOL gunships the Deets have.”
“Well…” Timothy said, “…I have a client who’s a little closer to the situation than the US is. The problem is I can’t sell directly to them.”
“You’re selling to China,” I said.
“Technically,” he said, “we, as a weapons manufacturer, cannot sell weapons or the rights to build copies to certain foreign countries, China definitely not being an exception. But if we were to sue them for making unlicensed copies and they were to generously settle out…”
“Ah.” I said, “If that’s the case, I think Nari and I may have gone somewhat deaf after I asked my question. I think you said that we definitely were taking only legal measures to sell our product because I trust you implicitly, but I couldn’t really say. Especially in court.”
“But he said…” Nari began. I elbowed her. “Ow!”
“Anyway,” I said, “I’ve got some unpacking to do. My apartment won’t set itself up, you know.” May and Andy had decided to give everyone a sign-on bonus when the first sales from the surgical glue came in. It wasn’t a lot when compared to our first paychecks, but it was slightly more than enough to get myself a decent apartment and a twelve-year-old car. I’d just gotten most of my clothes, a mattress, a dresser, and a fridge in. Now, I wanted to see about getting my desk built so I didn’t have to crouch on the floor to look at my laptop.
“Ok,” Nari said, rubbing her arm. “Have fun.” I could swear I her add “jerk” under her breath.
I left them and got into my aging station wagon and headed towards the apartment. The car itself was actually somewhat sporty for a station wagon, but it had gotten pretty thirsty in its old age. Now that my paycheck had come in, though, I didn’t really have to worry about that. I could just pay for the fuel costs, or even see if I could repair or tinker with it to solve that issue.
I drove the car (my car, I actually had my own car!) through the streets of Worcester. The city had, in the eighties, decided that a boom was coming and that they’d start getting ready by building. Brick and concrete buildings had sprung up. Most were, at most, three or four stories. However, occasionally, a few almost-skyscrapers would loom up over their smaller brethren. The city must have planned that the coming boom would allow them to build many more. Over thirty years later, people were still waiting for the boom.
In the meantime, most of the buildings were somewhat seedy. Grates stood in front of glass windows, ready to closed on a moment’s notice to protect the grime-stained windows of low-rent stores, and these were some of the better areas. The day’s gray winter skies and biting cold only enhanced the disreputable air. Still, the people were friendly, and the vast majority of areas I had not only felt safe, but welcoming.
My apartment was in one of the several towers that had been built in anticipation of the boom. Parking was underneath the building, thankfully. Otherwise, I’d have to learn how the bus could get from the building to the factory and rely on my parents for transportation every time I needed to get out of the city.
Parking my car, I suddenly felt a chill run down my spine, and it wasn’t the cold. I turned around. I was the only one in the parking lot. Unsurprising. It was a little past two-thirty in the afternoon. The weather only made it feel like night. I scanned the empty garage. No one there. I reached for my Berretta, only to remember that I couldn’t legally carry it, so I’d given Eliza all my weapons for safe-keeping.
Nervously, I got out of my car and began to walk towards the elevator. Suddenly, I heard what I was convinced was a whisper. I turned around. Nothing.
Before I had discovered Mubashir was the Architect, I would have dismissed it as the wind. Now… I didn’t think it was the wind. I also didn’t think it was Mubashir. I had heard his Architect voices, and whatever that was wasn’t Mubashir.
As I walked towards the elevator, I considered what it was. It sounded very familiar, like someone else I had met. Then, I heard it again. This time, I realized it wasn’t one person, and it definitely wasn’t the wind. It was at least two people talking in hushed whispers. Again, when I turned around, they weren’t there. But, judging by how loud they were, I should have been able to see them.
I decided the best thing to do was to get in the elevator and hammer the up button. When it finally came, I rapidly punched the button to my floor. When the door finally closed, I breathed a sigh of relief and leaned against the elevator wall.
I must have closed my eyes to do it, because suddenly, right directly in front of me, was Richard Forrest Taylor. My first thought was that he couldn’t be there because I had seen him die. During the Grenzefrontier’s attempted takeover of Nowhere Island, he had died in a secret elevator trying to interrogate a Grenzefrontier mole. I’d been too late to stop the mole from shoving a piece of glass into Richard’s neck. If Richard had somehow survived that, he’d obviously not bothered to fix the wound or clean up the blood that had soaked his clothes.
Before I could process this, Richard lunged forwards and grabbed me by the arms. In this move, I could see his face had become much paler. “Listen, boy,” he said, his voice a raspy gurgle, “she’s coming!” Speaking of his grip, if he was a ghost, he was remarkably tangible. My arms felt like they were being crushed by vises.
I gibbered somewhat incomprehensibly, finally managing to get out, “Wh-who’s coming?”
“I don’t know,” Richard said, “but she… she won’t let me go! SHE WON’T LET ANYONE GO, DO YOU UNDERSTAND? SHE’S COMING AND WE CAN’T STOP IT!” He began to yell and shake me. “SHE’S BRINGING US BACK! HER GAZE IS FREEZING ME! IT’S TOO COLD! IT’S…”
Suddenly, his voice was cut off. It was like he was trying to shout through soundproofing. He suddenly realized that he had lost speech and began shaking me harder. Then he began to turn to dust and blow away. The last part of him to leave was his grip.
A few seconds later, the elevator opened with a cheery ding. Zombie-like, I walked out of the elevator to my studio apartment. I unlocked the door, took off my shoes and coat, then sat on my bed. Something told me I had just had my first brush with The Lord of Death.