July was a busy month. Of course, all months for me had been busy, especially the ones spent at NIU. Whether I had been talking to captured Grenzefrontier (a few of which had been surprisingly cooperative, even after I revealed myself to be Jewish,) trying to make a new weapon to justify my position in my own company, see Eliza more often, and also maintain my grades. It was tough, but it was completely worth it.
Then, when I got back, I had to help out with the company. First, I had to help Andy Sebaldi (our company’s production line designer) and Timothy Cheung (our marketing guy) produce and sell the thing I’d created last semester. The semester before last, I had created three weapons and two ammo types that worked reasonably well by stealing designs wholesale and/or pasting them together like Frankenstein’s monster. Then, last semester, I decided that made me qualified me to make a dual-belt-fed machinegun.
Nate’s Fuckup, as the project was known as internally, ended up being heavier than an FN Minimi, despite the fact that the NF used advanced materials brought to this world by dimension-hopping Nazis and the Death Goddess-worshipping clones that were trying to kill them. There was also the problem of operating the thing. At the end, it had two cocking handles, and the chain had to be ejected via what looked like a magazine well. Also, to take the most advantage of its dual belts, you’d need three operators, one to fire and two to load. The boxes on either side also prevented the use of folding stocks. Luckily, the design could use a bunch of parts and the ammo from the Maccabee assault rifle. It wasn’t my finest creation, but it worked. Mostly. Nari was also helping to iron out the kinks.
While I was doing that, I also was the only one able to train armorers in our products. Sure, Nari was just as familiar with the designs as I was, but she was only ten. I could ask potential customers to learn how to maintain their purchases from a girl. If they didn’t like it, well, that would be good for them. Making them learn from a ten-year-old of any gender with a bit of an ego complex… Hell, if I was getting annoyed doing that, I couldn’t ask my clients to.
There were also the more conventional problems that came from making weapons. The first raised its ugly head. Foolishly, I assumed that selling only to law enforcement would help prevent controversy. Instead, a client police department gave one of our pistols to an officer who shouldn’t have been entrusted with a butter knife.
What happened next defied all common sense. On his first mission, the cop in question reported to a routine domestic dispute. Things began to go wrong when he pulled up in front of a house five blocks away. Then, claiming he “saw something moving” put half a magazine through the door of a random house. Several of those rounds hit an innocent bystander who had been vacuuming. He died almost instantly. Before the police could even make a statement, Twitter erupted with information about how the police in that town had a history of abusing local minorities.
Meanwhile, somehow our guns were getting shipped to unapproved buyers. The national media hadn’t picked up on it yet, but several unsavory groups (Parahuman Separatists, gangsters, and a white supremacist group) had somehow obtained a few of our weapons. Annoyingly, the serial numbers had all been filed off. I had checked our sales just to make sure Timothy wasn’t breaking our “law enforcement and military only” rule. He hadn’t. Every address he shipped to was to a legitimate customer.
I was busy waiting for the idiot police to make their statement and desperately trying to track down every weapon my company had ever created when there was a knock on the door. “Yeah,” I said to the police officer in charge of the armory on the other end, “I’ll call you back when you do the inventory.” I put down the phone and walked to the door.
When I opened up, I saw a blond woman wearing sunglasses, riding boots, wide-brimmed straw hat, and a sundress. Everything about her was expensive. Behind her was a red-haired woman with green eyes and fox ears. The red-haired woman had an umbrella propped against her shoulder, and under her old British army jacket, I could see a bulge under her shoulder that indicated she was carrying a gun.
“Charlotte! Eliza!” I said. “This is quite a pleasant surprise!”
Idiotville’s police chief suddenly interrupted me. “While we admit that Officer Clark may have acted inappropriately, without the penetration power of our new sidearm, Mr. Walker would still be alive today. We need to have a serious conversation about the equipment law enforcement officers are allowed to use.”
I whirled around to face the TV. “You fffff…” I suddenly remembered my audience. Shutting the TV off, I said, “Anyway, please, sit.” I gestured to the two chairs in front of my desk. “We haven’t seen each other since the semester ended!”
“Certainly,” Charlotte, the blond one, said. She took off her glasses as she crossed the threshold to take the indicated seat. As she did, she took in my cramped office, a mixture of disapproval and pity on her face. Charlotte Blackmoor-Ward was the daughter of English nobility and not exactly used to offices only able to sit three people, a desk, and a TV. This was a woman who had gotten a Maybach for her sixteenth birthday.
“So, what are we interruptin’?” Eliza asked in her Cockney accent as she closed the door behind her. Eliza Henderson was Charlotte’s adopted sister. Before the Blackmoor-Wards had adopted her, she had lived her life in complete poverty. She hadn’t completely assimilated into the Blackmoor-Wards, and I loved her for it.
“Some idiot,” I said, “didn’t check his targets. His superiors decided to blame the gun. The gun I sold to them.” I gestured to the papers as I sat down. “And, if idiot customers weren’t enough, weapons are ending up in unauthorized hands as well. I’m trying to figure out how before I get in the news for that.”
“Bloody ‘ell, Nate,” Eliza said. “I thought things’d be simpler ‘round you when you quit spying and started selling guns to cops. Next you’ll be tellin’ me that…”
“Yes, yes,” Charlotte said, cutting off her foster sister. “Pleasantries are all very fine, but…” She paused and took a deep breath. I watched her warily. If Charlotte was skipping pleasantries, shit was getting real. “Nathan, we have a problem.”
I knew it. There was no way Charlotte would suddenly fly across the Atlantic Ocean to turn up in my office without any warning under normal circumstances. There was only one thing I could think of that would make her do something like this. It had to be something related to The Final Prophecy.
The Final Prophecy apparently foretold of three great forces that would end the world. The first force was the Lord of Death. I had met some of her followers, on a trip to North Korea, known as The Dragon’s Teeth. When I had been there, the North Koreans had been losing. Now, The Dragon’s Teeth were globally acknowledged to be in control of Korea.
The next one said to exist was called The Architect. I had actually met him. His name was Mubashir. He was pretty chill when he wasn’t subconsciously warping the very fabric into whatever he wanted. I had watched someone literally blow Mubashir’s brains out. In response, Mubashir went into this odd, subconscious state, somehow reabsorbed his expelled gray matter and skull, then turned the shooter into a tasteful fountain. He remembered none of that.
The other group, sometimes called The Angels of Vengeance, other times The Fire Angels, well, I had no clues about what they were. All I knew is if they were anything like the other two, I didn’t want to meet them.
“What is it?” I asked, dreading the answer.
“Well,” Charlotte said, “One group of people who believe in The Final Prophecy called the Defenders of Fuji somehow sealed a group of highly trained warriors in a sort of… pocket dimension, I think. This group, called the Heralds of The Architect, have been trained since birth to seek out The Architect and convince him to save the world from the other Three.”
“Wait,” I said, “a… pocket dimension? How does that work?”
“People’ve been asking for a thousand years, apparently.” Eliza said.
“Apparently,” Charlotte said, “this… technology has been around for thousands of years. The means to obtain it… have always been astronomically expensive in the most literal meaning of the word. The materials required are not found naturally on Earth. The only way to get them is to hope an asteroid bearing them falls into your land. Then, you need to run an extremely powerful current through the space materials and the items you wish to transport. Eventually, the items come back. Don’t ask me how it works, nobody knows.”
“You realize,” I said, “that this sounds insane.”
“You know a Jumper,” Charlotte said reasonably. “How different is this?” Jumpers were Parahumans who could “jump” between two points in our dimension by going through a different one.
“Yeah,” I said, “but that literally happens every day. I never have even heard of something like what you’re talking about, unless you’re talking about science fiction. This is… this is…”
“As weird as The Architect?” Eliza asked.
I thought about it for a moment. “Almost,” I finally said, “and thankfully, nowhere near as fucking terrifying.” At least whatever this was couldn’t turn you into tasteful furniture while you screamed until you no longer had a mouth or lungs.
“Anyway,” Charlotte said, somewhat annoyed by how off the rails the conversation had gotten, “the point I’ve been trying to make is that the Defenders of Mount Fuji say that their pocket universe is about to break down. When that happens, the team they sent into the pocket dimension will come back.”
“Sounds like they don’t need our help,” I said. “What do they need us for?”
“The team went in five hundred years ago,” Charlotte said. When she saw my shocked expression, she continued on. “Apart from the culture shock, there is the problem of communications only being one-way. The Defenders of Fuji have only been able to send supplies in. There are reports of Aztecs surviving in these pocket dimensions for hundreds of years, and in 2012, a group of Mayan Parahumans were released from a pocket dimension as part of the Long Count cermony. The thing is, all these groups ingested a type of brew that slows breathing. In other words, they were comatose when they went in, and apparently were comatose for their entire duration. This elite group was supposed to spend the entire time awake.”
“I don’t fancy that,” Eliza said. “I ‘eard a story Father… er, Lord Blackmoor-Ward, not me biological dad… tell about a guy ‘oo volunteered for testing back in the eighties. Poor bastard thought ‘e’d be goin’ in for a few minutes. The scientists got it wrong and ‘e was in that place until ninety-four. We thought ‘e’d died, so we didn’t send anything after ‘im. When ‘e came back, it was right in a box in an archive. Everyone had just gone ‘ome for the weekend, so ‘e spent two days screaming.” She shuddered. “Poor wanker almost died in that box from suffocation. ‘E also can’t talk for some reason.”
“So,” I asked, “are we coming in as a rescue mission, first aid, or something else?”
“It depends,” Charlotte said. “Nobody knows what they’ve seen or done in there. But the Defenders of Fuji are worried that they’ve given these Heralds of The Architect ‘an inaccurate picture,’ to use their exact words and they might go rogue. Considering they’ve been given the opportunity to modernize their techniques…”
“And how many are there?” I asked, a sinking feeling in my stomach.
“One instructor,” Charlotte said. “Plus fourteen Jumpers. You can see why this might be a problem, can you not?”