The next stage of the journey was getting into another military cargo plane. We’d be flying to Kansas City. Then, depending on the amount of groundfire, we’d either drive to Saint Louis or get back on the plane. Seeing as the choices were either C130, military Humvee, or MRAP, I didn’t really have a preference.
However, other people did. “I just think,” Watanabe said, “that going by plane is a really, really bad idea. If we get shot down like we did last time, I don’t think we’re going to be as lucky.”
“And driving’ll be better?” Eliza asked. “Sorry, mate, but the only dif between travelin’ by air and travelin’ by car’s that we’re going to be in the car for longer, and longer travel time means more chances for fuckery.”
“Doesn’t matter what you think,” Hicks said laconically. “Air National Guard wants us off their plane. We’re going to hitch a ride with a supply convoy, then play it by ear.”
Kansas City was chaos when we touched down. On the approach, Barton looked out the window and said, “Look at all the cars…” We crowded around. Below was Interstate Route 70. There was a long line of cars that seemed solid from Utah to Maryland on one side and completely devoid of traffic except for a convoy of tanks on trailers and two-ton trucks on the other.
When we landed on the terminal, we were greeted by four National Guard troopers wearing thermal goggles. After checking everyone to make sure they weren’t wearing masks (which, of course, involved being held at gunpoint) and that there were no stowaways, we were bundled into an MRAP and transported to the FBI office. This office was more heavily guarded. SWAT operators and Guardsmen were stationed around the building with every Guardsman and many SWAT operators equipped with some kind of thermal vision. We were pinched on the forehead multiple times. I also noticed that everyone there seemed to mainlining caffeine and many people I assumed were FBI agents were wearing traffic vests.
Eventually, we were taken to the building cafeteria. “Here,” the guide of the minute, a female FBI agent slightly older than Agent Hick, said. “Rest. I’m going to get coffee, then I’m going to direct traffic for another twelve hours.”
“But you’re on the anti-fraud task force,” Agent Barton said. “Shouldn’t you be chasing down the profiteers?”
Our guide shook her head and laughed ruefully. “Ha. I wish. We’ve already had a bunch of locals get shot because of panicky assholes and Dragon’s Teeth fifth columnists. We’re going insane trying to keep these people moving. Wish they’d stay where they were.”
“They’re afraid the Dragon’s Teeth are going to get them,” Barton said. “If my family were there, I’d be trying to get them out as well.”
“Yeah,” Hicks said, “but they aren’t helping.”
“Amen,” our guide said walking off. “Especially when they run people over trying to keep them out of the Army lane.”
“Jesus Christ,” Eliza said. “‘S’all gone mad, innit? The ‘ell ‘appened?”
“I guess we got used to having the most advanced tech and the baddest motherfuckers,” I said.
“We still have the Marines,” Hicks said. Eliza and I exchanged glances. “You ever fought with Marines?” Hicks asked.
“Look,” I said, “I know you were in the Corps, but right now, our only hope is that the Dragon’s Teeth has miscalculated and we’re the one they didn’t throw enough bodies at. They’ve got better guns, better training, and I’m not sure they’re mentally capable of giving up.”
“Are you saying we should give up?” Hicks asked.
“The exact opposite,” I said. “I’m saying we have to bleed them. The basic law of physics says that they can’t keep what they’re doing up forever. The more resources they spend taking us down, the less they can spend elsewhere. If the world has any chance of beating them, this country, and every country they invade, needs to either become Stalingrad or the Khyber Pass.”
“And if we can’t?” Barton asked. “If we don’t have the resources or the will?”
“I think,” I said, “it’s possible for the Dragon’s Teeth to take this country. Staying in it will be another thing. And it’s not just this country that’ll fight back after being taken. I can’t imagine the British just going quietly into the good night, the French resistance probably formed an hour before the surrender came in, and I can’t imagine any former colony being too thrilled about giving up their independence. The Dragon’s Teeth have legitimately taken on an impossible task.”
“So the key thing’s bein’ alive to point and laugh when they fall flat on their fuckin’ faces?” Eliza asked.
“Basically, yeah,” I said.
We rested in the cafeteria as best we could. Eventually, I noticed that a bunch of people in costumes were coming in as well to get food, coffee and rest as well as FBI agents, police, and National Guard officers. When I pointed it out to Hicks, he said, “Local heroes and a few villains have been in the thick of it since it broke out. This is pretty much the only place that isn’t complete chaos at the moment.”
“Really?” I said. “Because every thirty minutes it sounds like they’re trying to repel a determined attack.”
“They are,” Barton said. “The invisible ones have made several attempts to get into the building.”
“When we get to safety,” I said, privately doubting that was even possible at this point, “what are you going to do with me?”
“Ask you not to leave the country,” Hicks said. “Then probably go out and direct traffic. I honestly have no idea.”
“Because I have a weapons factory,” I said. “And I make guns specifically designed to defeat Dragon’s Teeth armor.”
“Are you asking me for a deal?” Hicks asked.
“If the courts are still functioning,” I said, “talk to my lawyer. If they aren’t, well, I might as well give them away. Just give me the raw materials, and I’ll give you weapons and ammo.”
“I cannot promise you anything,” Hicks said.
Eventually, we got a ride. An army truck was heading East to pick up supplies and could give us and a bunch of wounded a ride to Saint Louis. We were pressed in towards the front of the cab with the injured soldiers near the front. In the center, there was enough room for stretchers. You could put two side by side and three top to bottom. The people on them were either suffering from hallucinogenic gas, horrifically burned but stable, or both. The other injuries included amputations, burns, paralysis, neurological damage, deafness, and blindness. They could sit on a bench in a bouncy truck for long hours without dying, but that was about the closest to physically being combat-ready they could be. A few were physically and mentally capable of holding a P90, MP5, MP5K, Tommy gun, or M3 that had been broken out of the reserves. This made them feel like they could still fight.
I felt sick looking at them. The hodgepodge of museum pieces, military police weapons, and conscripted law enforcement equipment wasn’t given to them to assuage their ego. It had to be because they felt that there was no one else to guard the transports and even something as plentiful and basic as an assault rifle was desperately needed elsewhere. So here we were, with men almost literally scraped off the battlefield in pieces with a hastily assembled mish-mash of inadequate weaponry. If Dragon’s Teeth attacked us, a trained marksman at the top of their game with an MP5 or P90 might be able to hit them at two hundred meters reliably, but even a P90’s 5.7mm ammo wouldn’t have a prayer of piercing their armor. The charitable explanation was they weren’t there to stop the Teeth, but instead panicky, angry civilians who might think we’d be carrying supplies.
It happened almost as soon as Saint Louis came into view. I felt everything fall away from me. My seat, the truck, everything. Suddenly, I, and what seemed to be everyone else on Interstate 70, were now standing in infinite whiteness.
“Greetings!” a voice thundered. Towering above us was a giant. His race appeared to be Mediterranean or Arabic, but something told me he was Dragon’s Teeth. “I, Nero Mortus, am the commander of the Dragon’s Teeth in the Central US Heartland. By the bidding of my creators, I am told to give you a message. Surrender. What has already happened is child’s play. What shall happen next is a demonstration. If you have not surrendered after this, we shall continue to unleash hellfire upon you. You have been warned”
Instantly, I was back in the truck. I was lying on my legs, I ached all over, especially around my lap belt like I had been knocked around, and there was a strange dusty smell. Everyone else had been thrown around. The two medics, who hadn’t been seat-belted, were the worst off. One had landed against the backflap of the truck, her neck at a strange angle. The other had several compound fractures on one arm. His screams and the bones poking out through his formerly green fatigues were nightmarish to say the least. Several of the more damaged soldiers seemed to have external and internal wounds re-opened. From the cab, I could hear someone panicking.
“We need to get out of here,” I said, fumbling with my seat belt.
“No. Safest place to be in an accident is a car,” Barton said. “If we get hit again-”
“Agent Barton,” I said, looking pleadingly into his eyes, “as the person with the most knowledge on the Dragon’s Teeth, I am begging you to help me get everyone out of this truck.”
“Why?” Hicks asked.
“Instinct,” I said. I truly had no idea why I thought this. I had no idea what about that hallucination told me that staying in the truck was a bad idea, I just knew.
Not even taking a moment to consider my reasoning, Hicks barked out, “You heard the kid! Everybody out of the damn truck!”
“And if you’re able to walk,” I said, “we need all the civvies out of their cars and off the highway!”
Where we were was not ideal. We were in what was essentially a dirt field. Around us were the crop fields that you typically associate with the heartland, but we were in the only barren one for what had to be hundreds of miles. For what seemed to be hundreds of miles of highway, cars, trucks and armored vehicles had crashed. Most had been going under five miles an hour, so most people were realatively unhurt. Further from where we were, I saw an obvious exception where a Bradley APC with a smashed turret had run over several civilian vehicles.
The only people in the truck who were physically capable of aiding the evacuation were Hicks, Barton, Watanabe, one of the drivers, and me. Luckily, most of the nearby civilians and five Marines in a nearby Humvee were able to help. The marines hadn’t needed our prompting, their leader, an elderly colonel, had the exact same idea as I did. “Move those people farther from the road!” I yelled as I helped an elderly woman out of a Jeep and over all the cars.
“Larson! Daniels!” the colonel yelled in a voice that had obviously been subjected to a pack of cigarettes a day for the past forty years, as he, Hicks, and the second-highest ranking Marine (a corporal) were passing young children out of a school bus and over cars, “I want an air raid trench! Give that lawyer with the stupid hat an entrenching tool and make him useful!”
Then, from the direction of Saint Louis, there was a flash of bluish-white light and the temperature had to have increased from ninety degrees Fahrenheit to a hundred and twenty. I knew what that meant. “WE’RE OUT OF TIME!” I screamed. “OFF THE ROAD! OFF THE ROAD!”
Everyone panicked. People started running, the temperature kept rising, and the light got brighter. “DON’T GO INTO THE CORNFIELDS!” I yelled, dragging the old woman towards the barren field. “STAY ON THE DIRT! STAY ON THE-”
Then there was a roaring sound and the wheat field behind the dirt farm we were on went up in blue flame. A wave of heat hit me hit me like I’d opened an oven that had been broiling for an hour People screamed in terror and everyone began panicking.
“Young man,” the old woman I was helping along said, “please, save your-”
Then blinding bluish-white light and intense heat washed over us.