After a few tranquilizers and pain killers, I was lying on my side on a bunch of blood-stained plastic garbage bags. I still hurt, but whatever I had been shot up with was so good that I didn’t care. To celebrate this rather nice feeling, I began singing a song about sweaters and the unraveling thereof that played a lot on a local Alt Rock station. It was a terrible rendition, sung wheezily with long pauses in odd places when the pain got too much for the painkillers to block out. At the time, though, I thought it was great. Not even someone asking, “Can’t we just knock him out?” could convince me otherwise.
I eventually came to my senses somewhat. Key word being “somewhat.” I muzzily said, “Heyyy… this isn’t the farmhouse…”
“We told you,” Hirosama said, “we’re in an abandoned industrial office park.”
“You did?” I asked, then began coughing. I looked around. I suddenly realized I was lying on my side in what appeared to be a reception area. My shirt and vest were off and I was wearing an oxygen mask.
“Is he lucid?” Jen asked, coming in through the door. Her mask was pushed up over her face, but apart from that, she was still in costume. “Or is he still high?”
“The two aren’t mutually exclusive…” I wheezed. I giggled. That hurt like hell, but I was so high, I didn’t give a shit. “Hey… does everything like crappy phone speakers… or is it just me?”
“Ugh,” Jen said, “you’re having a bad reaction to the meds, aren’t you?”
“Naw…” I said. “This isn’t bad. Like, I literally don’t give a shit.” I giggled, then coughed in pain. “It’s like magic.” I then began humming another song.
“Can we give him something stronger?” Kaori asked wearily. “He’s going to blow his lung. Again. And he’ll have driven me insane in the meantime.”
Jen groaned and sank into a waiting room chair. I noticed that the gloves were wet. “Ugh,” she groaned, burying her face in her hands, “what the hell did I do to deserve this?” She raised her head. Her face was covered with a sticky red liquid. “Ok,” she said, “we can’t leave him here. We’re going to have to move him.”
I suddenly realized that the liquid staining Jen’s faces was blood. Probably mine. That sobered me up extremely quickly.
“We can’t move him.” That sounded like John. His voice came from behind, so I turned around. A desk was in the way. I guess I wasn’t as sober as I thought, because for a horrible second, I thought he had been turned into a desk. Trust me, that’s possible. Just as I figured out that John was just behind the desk, he said, “Look, none of us were doctors. It was a fucking mistake to move him out of that van without a stretcher.”
“Then what are we going to do with him?” Jen asked.
“Leave me,” I said.
“Unacceptable,” Jen said.
“Yeah,” John said. “Remember rule number one of combat tactics? No heroics.”
“This isn’t heroics,” I said. “If they find you, and I’m traveling with you, it’d be another shootout and I’d probably die.”
“They won’t find us again,” Lydia said. Everyone turned to look at her and Andrew. They quailed. “Well,” Lydia admitted, “it’d be highly improbable.”
“But if I stay here,” I said, “and someone finds me… well, I’m not in any shape to fight, and I’m pretty useful alive.”
“You know,” John said, “we could split up. Some of us remain behind to guard you…”
“And basically be sitting ducks if the police or Defenders or Dragon’s Teeth show up.” I paused. “Wait, did I tell you that the Dragon’s Teeth are here? Because I had a really weird conversation with Jeong and Richard.” At Richard’s name, Jen froze like I had insulted her.
“Who?” Lydia asked. I heard Kaori make a noise suggesting she didn’t know.
“Uh…” John said, “If you’re talking about who I think you’re talking about…”
“Yeah, they’re dead,” I said. “That’s how they were able to contact me. Like, the Deets have this psionic network and…”
“HE’S DEAD!” Jen yelled. “SHUT UP!” Everyone stared at her. “Sorry,” Jen said. “But dead is dead, and if they can come back, they should either come back immediately, or leave me the hell alone!”
“You… you ok?” I asked.
Jen sighed. “No,” she said. “I’m not ok, I never was ok, and I never will be. I hate my life, my father killed my brother, my best friend was killed by her own family, the first person I ever tried to save cut her own throat right in front of me… And now the dead are talking to me. Did Richard say anything to you?”
“Wait,” I said, “you know him?”
“We bonded over having psychotic family members,” Jen said. “It was before we came to NIU. His sister was my best friend, she was dating my brother, and she’s… she was one of the best people I have ever met. Needless to say, her parents and my father wanted her dead. Anyway, what did Richard have to say to you?” Her slight emphasis on you conveyed how rude she thought it was that Richard had contacted me and not her.
After I explained the entire conversation I had had with the two ghosts, John groaned. “So, basically, we’ve been living with Thana or whatever the Dragon’s Teeth call her or it right next to us? Fuck me, right?”
“But this could all be Nate’s drug dreams,” Andrew said. “How do…”
“I’ve been seeing them too,” Jen said. “They’re really full of themselves.”
“You guys need to get out of here,” I said. “They’ll find us.” I paused to get my breath again. “Only way we survived last time was to get mobile. Can you even get me to the car?”
Jen looked grim. “I’m not sure,” she said. “I took a few classes at NIU in first aid because… I know how my life works. I also know you need a real doctor.”
“Ok,” I said. “Take my weapons and get out of here.”
“But…” Jen protested.
“Look,” I said, “if they come while you’re gone, the second-best scenario is to get captured, not die in some heroic last stand. Not having any weapons would aid in that. I’ve given Charlotte as much as I could, she doesn’t think I’ve done enough, then she doesn’t have to pay whatever price the Defenders of Fuji are asking.”
“Fine,” Jen said, “but you better be here when we get back.”
“Will do…” I said. Even in my drug-addled state, I knew better than to move. The pain was deadened, but it was still noticeably there. When everyone left, I realized I had forgotten two important things. First, I had forgotten to request additional painkillers when the ones I was on wore off. Second, I had forgotten to ask for some sort of entertainment. Now, I was in a boring room with increasing pain, unable to move, with my only source of entertainment wondering what the hell the Dragon’s Teeth were doing.
So, that’s what I did, because I needed an ulcer to go with my collapsed lung. There was so many things that they could be doing. I knew they were in Russia, Germany, France and India, but had no idea how they were doing. Also, did they really think that the world would just sit back and watch? I mean, I get that Russia had been really straining its relationship with the rest of the world, but it still was a country that did business with everyone. India also did business with everyone, but had much better neighbors and was a UNIX member. Germany, due to an influx of Grenzefrontier, had NATO forces and was also a UNIX member. France also was a NATO and UNIX member. In fact, it was where the headquarters for UNIX was.
In fact, all of these countries were the exact opposite of North Korea in terms of industrial development, global relations, and military modernization and strength. These weren’t countries that existed at the whim of some superpower. Hell, one of those countries was the kind of country that propped up psychotic dictators. Plus, unless they were really dedicated to avoiding pictures, every single piece of their tech and a lot of their tactics would be recorded.
Then there was the fact that it had taken so long for them to take down North Korea. North Korea, a backwards country struggling to industrialize, where the people starved, mostly due to the corruption of their leaders, had held out against the Deets for at least a year. That did not speak well to their ability. Either that, or they were just testing things. That, however, seemed like a huge waste of resources. Plus, North Korea’s one friend was China. China had a multi-million man army that could have crashed across the border and kill every single person the Dragon’s Teeth had sent in.
Of course, there were still a bunch of Dragon’s Teeth running around the city. Plus, I was possibly the first to have killed a type of Deet soldier called a Berserker. I hoped they weren’t vindictive enough to risk a few soldiers to kick me in the chest and/or torture me.
Suddenly, there was a knock on the door. “Who’s there?” I asked.
“It’s me,” a female voice with a slight Chinese accent said.
“Bai!” I said happily. “Great to see you!”
“And me,” a voice said sullenly.
“And Li!” I said, my happiness now faked. “How… wonderful.”
“Are you armed?” Bai asked as she and her twin brother edged cautiously into the room. I noticed that their hands were on their guns, ready to draw them out of their holsters.
Suddenly, despite the pain meds, alarm bells were ringing in my ears. “No…” I said as they entered the room. “I thought Jen would have told you that.”
“Jennifer?” Li asked. “Jennifer Kagemoto? What is her involvement in all of this?”
As he said this, I heard a voice say something in Japanese. Four men in surgical masks, dress shirts, combat backpacks, khakis and Kevlar moved quickly, calmly and quietly into the room. Each of them carried assault rifles with holographic sights and laser/flashlight combos. I could feel the red dots on my chest and head like little bugs crawling all over.
Instantly after, Hiro Nakashima came walking in, his arm dangling by his side and clutching a Taser. “Kagemoto-san,” he said, “has apparently been a pain in my organization’s ass for the past year.” He squatted down near me. “And you, Jacobs-san, have only magnified that pain.” He extended his arm until the less-lethal device was almost touching my chest and asked, “Do I need to use this, or will you come quietly?”