Somehow, I woke up. I think I had woken up several times before, but I didn’t count that in the same way I don’t count getting up at 2 AM to get some water as waking up.
The first thing I felt when I woke up was how much it hurt. I moved, and I could feel bits of my skin catch on the fibers of the bedclothes I was on. “Oi.” I looked up to my side. There sat Eliza in a hospital gown, head, left arm, and various other body parts wrapped in gauze. The parts that were visible had either first or second-degree burns. “You awake, or are you going to just going to go back to sleep again?”
“I might,” I said. My lips were sticking together. I wondered if that had something to do with me being out for however long I was out.
Eliza smiled. “I’d hug you, but you wouldn’t thank me. Just so y’know, we’re in Worcester. They detonated some sort of plasma weapon in Saint Louis and a few of the little bits munted us.”
“I know,” I said. “I remember that part. I take it that they didn’t use one of those personal launchers?”
“They ‘ave personal ones?” Eliza asked.
“Trust me,” I said, “they’re nasty, but nowhere near what that thing was.”
“We think it was a bomber,” Hicks said, barging into the room. He was badly burned, but not as burned as Eliza. “We managed to shoot down a couple, we meaning us, the Canadians and the Mexicans. We even shot down and secured the one that nuked Saint Louis.”
“How do you know?” I asked.
“Every time the government can get a news broadcast over the Dragon’s Teeth propaganda they’ve been bragging about it,” Hicks said. “They have to. Fourteen cities destroyed by a new weapon, most of Europe and Asia completely dark, allies chickening out, what the hell else can they do?”
“Wait, wait, wait,” I said. “What? What’s going on? Is the government nationalizing industry? The people in charge-”
“Mosta your reps got murdered around the time we were burning,” Eliza said. “They nearly took DC, killed damn near everyone in the White House, includin’ the President, Vice-President, and Cabinet, then ran ‘round breaking things in Capitol Hill before your blokes were able to stop them.”
“The… the president’s dead?” I said.
“He’s not the only one,” Hicks said. “Greg’s dealing with your lawyer’s real boss, just so you know.”
“Oh God,” I said. “Please tell me Ken isn’t dead. Jen’s going to-”
“Going to what?” Jennifer Kagemoto asked as she and a few bodyguards walked in, her green eyes flashing angrily and her ponytail swaying. “As people have constantly been telling me there isn’t anything I can’t do. I lose dozens of people killing my father, I lose even more when the Jade Empire and the Irish start sniffing around with their little rat noses, and now the Dragon’s Teeth are killing my people? My unarmed people. They’re going in the book.”
“Is that a confession?” Hicks asked.
Jen turned around to glare at Hicks. “You’re the only cop in the Goddamn building not on painkillers, in a wheelchair, and/or on the take, the district court’s a fucking refugee center, and I am extremely perturbed. Shut your trap, you arrogant, hypocritical, myopic piece of shit.”
There was a knock on the window. I turned.
I had only seen the woman floating outside my fourth-story window once in the flesh. If her long braid didn’t fall out of her Viking-style helmet, it would be hard to tell her gender from underneath the heavy breastplate and fur cloak. Everyone in Massachusetts knew her name. Valkyrie, the Champion-type Parahuman from the Minutemen, the state’s largest super hero group. Through the thick window, I could hear her ask, “Mind if I come in?”
Jen glared. “I don’t know if I can stop you.” Then, as an afterthought, she added, “Bitch.”
“I’m only going to force my way in if anyone’s in danger,” Valkyrie said. “But we need to talk.”
“About what?” Jen asked. “If you want in on the fixing, that’s about a few weeks too late.”
“We both know there’s more important things,” Valkyrie said. “If I was the one pulling the plug, I’d be looking for a fight, too.”
Jen snarled, drawing her twin Berettas and unloaded them into Valkyrie. Eliza and Hicks got down on the floor, and I tried to drill myself into the bed. The last time I’d been in a hospital bed, unable to move, with an unstable Jumper, it hadn’t exactly improved my recovery time. One of Jen’s thirty-two rounds (a guess, based on my own less fancy Berettas) ricocheted and hit me in the head.
“Please stop,” Valkyrie said, “before you actually kill someone.”
I couldn’t see Jen’s reaction because I was busy clutching my bleeding temple and swearing, but I could hear the fear and struggle in Jen’s voice as she holstered her pistols. “So, what did you want?”
Valkyrie climbed through the window. “In case you haven’t heard, the Minutemen aren’t on the job anymore.”
“Really?” Jen asked, her voice brightening a bit. “What happened?”
“Some,” Valkyrie said, “are heading off to Canada. Others are joining some national groups who’re taking advantage of the cease fire to do God-knows-what to stop the Dragon’s Teeth. I’m trying to put together some capes to do something more productive.”
“And you’re desperate to come to me for help,” Jen said. “Why?”
“Because people like you know things about this state I’ll never figure out in a million years,” Valkyrie said.
“You could ask the FBI,” Hicks said. “And we’re not unstable.”
“If I thought the FBI knew the things she did or had a tenth of the capabilities it did six months ago,” Valkyrie said, “I would be talking to Massachusetts’ Field Director. Hell, if he was still alive, I’d be talking to him. But he’s dead and ninety percent of you are on traffic detail now.” She pointed to Jen. “We need people like her, Agent Hicks.”
Jen’s eyes narrowed at Valkyrie. “I’ll think about it.”
“That’s all I ask,” Valkyrie said.
As the hero started to leave, Jen called out, an exceedingly fake smile on her face, “By the way, it would be nice if you’d keep me informed as to who’ll be in this little club.”
After the hero flew off, Hicks said, “I don’t like it.”
“What part?” Jen asked sweetly. “The part where the country’s burning or the part where someone admitted that your agency is completely ineffective? Because honestly, I’m not really happy about either as a tax payer.”
“So, in other bits of news about resistance,” I said, trying to stop things from getting heated, “has anyone taken me up on my offer for weapon upgrades? I know from personal experience that the current stuff the US has can’t penetrate the standard Legionary armor that well.” That had been a bit of an overstatement. They had fallen down from my G3, albeit after what felt like twice the normal amount of bullets at half the average range. Berserkers, infantry with even heavier armor, were an even tougher nut to crack.
“Do you know how much it takes to replace a standard piece of equipment?” Hicks asked. “Even if we were able to just magically buy them all-”
“Not magically,” I said. “I just want the materials.”
“Yeah,” Hicks said rolling his eyes. “I’m no economist and I wasn’t a quartermaster, but I know enough about logistics to know that little request’s going to be an absolute nightmare.” I had no solution for that. “Then, you have to deal with training every soldier how to use the damn things.”
Yes! There was a problem I’d actually designed the weapons to side-step. “That shouldn’t be a problem,” I hurriedly said. “The Maccabee and the Ballpeen mostly use bits of the AK and AR-15 platform, so-”
“So they’re basically neither,” Hicks said.
“Well,” I said, “I suppose you could look at it that way.”
“And I have five bucks that the internals are nothing like an M16,” Hicks said.
If I was Nari, I would have immediately veered off that previous point and dissed the mechanical forbearers of our weapons and creators thereof. Instead, all I could say was, “They’re a lot better than what we have currently.”
“Whatever,” Hicks said, getting up to leave. “We literally don’t have enough resources to put you in prison, and I doubt we’d have a leg to stand on, seeing that you haven’t done anything in a country that’s in a position to extradite. Stay here until you’re healed or whatever, then give your bed up to the next poor bastard who needs it.” Judging by the tone of his voice, if there weren’t a lot of people in line right now, there would be soon enough.
Still, the Maccabee assault rifle, the Ballpeen SMG, and the Uilon Mangchi pistol could all pierce Dragon’s Teeth body armor of all kinds according to our computer simulations. The as-of-yet unnamed dual-belt-fed machinegun I’d made could do the same, except you could hold down the trigger for a lot longer. The sniper/anti-material rifle Nari had made could theoretically combined the anti-armor capabilities with something like a Barret M82 (but increased to possibly pierce Charon armor) and the range and accuracy of a more traditional sniper rifle. These could make a serious difference.
Jen had waited a bit while Hicks left. When he finally did, she turned back to me and said, “Such a shame. Those guns were quite excellent from what I saw.”
“Mm,” I said noncommittally. While in Japan, I had found out that Jen had managed to get a few crates through her police contacts. She only had seen the Uilon Mangchis, Maccabees, and Ballpeens, thanks to helping me test them and using some to shoot our way out of a nest of angry cultists.
“Imagine,” she said, “what would happen if you found people who could use them. People who were very, very good at blending into the woodwork.”