“I swear,” Eliza said for the seventh time as we trundled along in a Bearcat to the airfield, the sound of helicopters overhead, “I meant to tell you but I was freaked out that they were listening in! I mean, when Krieger butted in on my conversation with Father…”
I listened politely. Again. So did Krieger and the CampSec officers. “Eliza,” I said for the seventh time, “it’s ok.”
“I should have told you,” Eliza said, “but…”
“You told me eventually,” I said. Then I remembered something. “Actually, there’s something I need to tell you.”
“What?” Eliza asked.
“Um, you know that person you had me protect?” I asked.
“Oh good God, the little psycho didn’t contact you, did she?”
“No,” I said, “I just gave a friend a heads-up that she’s coming to see someone.”
Eliza sighed. “Please tell me that…”
“I didn’t tell him about why,” I said. “But he can pass it on to the people who…”
“Oh fuckin’ Christ, Nate,” she said. “D’you really think that… that…” she sputtered, shifting from glaring angrily at me to looking at Krieger suspiciously.
“It’s a lot better than them not realizing she’s coming,” I said. “I mean, can you imagine what happens if she gets…”
“Am I right in thinking that you are talking about Mubashir, Agent Hicks and this mysterious woman from Japan?” Krieger asked.
“You’d be right in thinkin’ we aren’t talking to you,” Eliza said. She then sighed and muttered, “Suppose they’d find out ‘bout Moob sooner or later. Anyway, ‘ow’s this handoff gonna go?”
“Very simple,” Krieger said. “We drive you two to the airfield, your dad picks you lot up, and maybe I have a little chat with him.”
“About what?” I asked.
“Well,” Krieger said, “I’d like to be left alone, obviously. I’d prefer not to have a lot a bunch of gobshites deciding to kill my students. If he can help with that, I’d be very happy. Also, there’s some things I want to ask him about this island. Things that the Blackmoor-Wards specialize in.”
“What do you think the Blackmoor-Wards specialize in?” I asked. “Because you’ve got a pretty good knowledge of spy stuff.”
“There’s stuff on this island,” Krieger said, “that just isn’t right. Not natural, I mean, and from what I can tell, it was a little weird here before Howell ever stepped foot on this island.”
I was about to say how I thought that was stupid. Then I realized that this was an island that, despite appearing insignificant geographically, strategically, and politically, had been somehow important enough for the Japanese to occupy during WWII and the US to expend enough shells and bombs to crater the landscape. During Hell Semester, I had made use of these craters frequently, as well as been bedeviled by them. To top it off, I had even heard stories of people accidentally setting off unexploded ordnance. That battle had occurred in the early forties, and NIU had been founded in the eighties. I closed my mouth.
“If there is something ‘ere,” Eliza said, “Father won’t tell you.”
“Well, I’m sure your dad has his-“ Krieger began.
“Father,” Eliza corrected. Her eyes misted up a bit. “Me dad died a while ago.” She then continued on, more annoyed. “Also, apparently, ‘e won’t tell me or Char what’s up with this bloody island either.” That was disturbing. He had told Eliza and Charlotte some highly sensitive information in the past. Like that they’d broken UNIX codes and I was working for them.
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Krieger said.
Suddenly, a voice crackled over the radio on Krieger’s shoulder. “‘Allo, boss,” a staticky voice with a French accent said, “are you there, over?”
“Yeah,” Krieger said. “I copy. What is it, Hollande?”
“Kowaleski and Obiozor are reporting some strange heat signatures around the airfield and Kassem is reporting something triggering the pressure sensors. Should we abort?”
“No!” Krieger almost shouted. Then he calmed down. “I mean, we’ve got a buncha bloody Brits thinking of wiping us off the face of the Earth over these two. Tell them we’ve got some guests and we need to do the swap a lot faster than we were planning. Maybe send a couple Bearcats to investigate. Krieger out.”
“Got it, boss.” As the French CampSec officer signed off, I could hear the whine of jet engines. The Bearcat stopped for a moment, I heard the sound of a metal grate open, we drove forwards a short ways, then we stopped again.
“Right,” Krieger said, getting up. “Here’s our stop. Oh, before I forget.” He reached under his seat and pulled out a bag. “Your weapons.”
As Krieger and the CampSec guards left the Bearcat, Eliza and I opened the bag. Inside was a Berretta 92 Inox, a two-tone SIG-Sauer P229, a chrome CZ-75, holsters for all the pistols, a G3KA4 modified with rails, vertical foregrip, EOTech hybrid sight, and several magazines for each weapon. “Holy shit,” I said, quickly moving to get my holsters on my belt and my pistols in my holsters, “I forgot I kept my G3 here.”
“You’ll notice,” Eliza said, smacking a magazine into her pistol and chambering a round, “that you have three different guns, one of ‘em bloody ‘uge, and I’ve only got one pistol.”
“You realize,” I said, “that you’re the one who always carries around a FAL, right?” I grabbed a G3 mag, realized I couldn’t put it in my pants pocket, so I shoved it in my sweater. I was only able to fit three in each, plus one in the gun. That was three G3 mags I couldn’t carry with me. I sighed, and slung it over my shoulder by its broken strap. Then I headed outside to wait with Eliza.
When I got out, I saw we were at the airfield. Lights were illuminating the approach as well as the landing strip and hangars. Parked outside the gate to the airstrip were two Bearcats disgorging heavily armed CampSec troops. A third Bearcat was slowly driving off across the moonscape of overgrown craters, a floodlight on its turret dissolving the night like acid. Beyond that moonscape was the forest. Not even the floodlights made a dent in it
Surrounding the airfield was a tall chain link fence topped with barbed wire and reinforced with sandbags and Jersey barriers. Groups of four patrolled, the interior and there were a series of towers with either floodlights, heavy machineguns, or snipers. I noticed that the ones with floodlights weren’t manned.
“OI, NATE!” I turned around. Despite Eliza yelling, she was being drowned out. The sound of the jet engine was much closer. She was standing near Krieger and surrounded by the CampSec that had been on the Bearcat. “DID YOU LOAD YOUR…”
The jet noises were getting so loud my ear drums felt like they could implode any second. I looked up. Hovering above us and slowly descending was what looked like a private jet modified with VTOL capability. Assuming Eliza wanted me to load my pistols, I did so.
When I looked up again, the VTOL had descended dramatically. The distinctive angel wing pattern of flares lit up the night and the smoke trail of a rocket had whisked past the plane, barely missing it. Meanwhile, many were flinging themselves to the floor and shouting for others to do the same.
Of course, I didn’t realize any of that at the time. I just stared at the plane gormlessly. It wasn’t until a familiar bluish-white light flashed behind me with the accompanying heat surge that I realized what was going on. We were under attack, most likely by the Dragon’s Teeth, and they’d brought one of their bouncy balls of plasma death.
Before I could get down, something grabbed me and forced some sort of cloth to my face. I instinctively held my breath, but still got a whiff of whatever it was coated with and began to feel woozy. As I struggled, I saw a CampSec officer who had been lying near me get up and open fire. I noticed that she was using her scope (which appeared to be a thermal one) and yelling something into her throat mic. Her fire was also very calm. Two shots to my right, then she shifted her aim and fired one to my left. Each set caused a man in futuristic armor to fizzle into existence and fall down, bleeding. I recognized the uniforms. They were Ninja, Dragon’s Teeth units that could literally go invisible. They have shimmery outlines if you shine a light on them and are paying attention, but the best way to spot them is to use thermal imaging. That must have been what the bulky scope on the CampSec guard’s SCAR-H was.
She was aiming for the one holding me when suddenly her head was sliced off mid-neck. Steam smoked off.
Meanwhile, I had drew my P229 from the holster on my left hip, pushed it against where I thought the head of the Ninja was, and pulled the trigger. The Ninja shuddered, tightening his grip temporarily, then collapsed. I followed a second later as leads shot out from an invisible point and hit me in the chest. There was a crackling noise and I blacked out.
I came to, I’m not sure how long, Eliza throwing me over her shoulders like a sack of potatoes and fucking booking it to the now-landed VTOL, Krieger yelling encouragement. Or at least running as fast as she could with a hundred and eighty pounds of dead weight on her back.
I took the opportunity to look around and saw that things were kind of fucked. Several of the watch towers were burning and sagging from the intense head of the Dragon’s Teeth plasma weaponry. Streams of tracer fire raked the cratered area of the field around the airstrip and the forest. Then a rocket arced up from the ground back towards the place in the sky the deluge of gunfire was coming from.
I then had the frustrating experience of being able to feel Eliza talk, but not be able to make out the words. I then suddenly realized I couldn’t hear anything. I could feel Eliza speak, I could feel the backwash of the choppers, but I literally couldn’t hear anything except an annoying ringing in my ears. I guess shooting off one of my pistols had finally deafened me.
Then there was a resounding thump-thump-thump as rockets streamed from the sky onto the ground below. A Hind and a Blackhawk helicopter sporting glow-in-the-dark NIU logos flew directly over our heads, both strafing the ground.
Soon we reached the VTOL. A group of people dressed in fatigues and carrying M4 clones ushered Eliza up the ramp. Once inside, she collapsed.
I rolled off her. “Eliza,” I said, somewhat loudly in case she was deafened, “What you did was amazing. Thank you.” Then I lapsed into unconsciousness.