I got out of the car and walked over to one of the Legionnaires. “Hey, uh, what’s happening?” I asked.
“Your backup generators were shut off fifteen minutes ago,” the Legionnaire said. “We thought that it was a bomb or technical failure, but we were rapidly able to determine that someone manually shut off the power.”
I froze in horror. “You mean,” I said, horrified, “someone came in to the factory, without tripping alarms, walked either into the courtyard or the basement, again, still no alarms tripped, and turned off the backup power. That’s guarded by the most advanced security system in several hundred miles.”
“Yes,” the Legionnaire said.
“You wanna maybe give me some idea as to how that happened?”
I turned and walked back to Eliza. “So,” she said, “sounds like someone’s testin’ our defenses.”
“What do you want to bet it’s our Japanese friend?” I asked.
“Everything I ‘ave,” Eliza said. “Which is basically my dad’s army jacket an’ th’ rest of my clothes. But I’m just concerned ‘bout ‘ow we can stop ‘er.”
“No idea,” I said.
We waited around a bit for the Dragon’s Teeth to signal the all-clear. As we did, I noticed that people were starting to mill. Between the deaths from the war and the rampant disease and starvation, the cities had emptied out. Worcester, for instance, had gone from around a little over 180,000 people to several million refugees to just under fifty thousand. Most of the people who were still there who hadn’t spread out to the surrounding areas to forage or escape disease were now working on what appeared to be emergency shelters. These people seemed to be on break or too weak to do heavy lifting, so they had gone scavenging.
“When’s the last time these people’ve eaten?” Eliza asked. “It looks like a bloody zombie movie, don’t it?”
“I don’t know,” I said. I only partially agreed with Eliza. Yes, these people looked skeletal and most had an odd, shuffling gait, but they were extremely silent. Not a one moaned. Instead, they looked at us with a restrained loathing, and there was a low, resentful muttering.
One of the Legionnaires raised his rifle and cocked it menacingly. “Shit,” I said, getting out of the car. “Hey!” I yelled, walking over to him.
“Oi! Nate!” Eliza yelled, “The fuck you doin’?”
I noticed that the other Legionnaires were cocking and raising their Pilum rifles, the hundred-round drum mags of 6.5mm caseless ammo more than enough to shred the crowd. I positioned myself between the Legionnaires and the crowd and said, “Stop. Think about what you’re doing.”
“Standard protocol,” one said. “Raise the stakes. If they refuse to disperse, open fire.”
“Great,” I said, “they taught you riot control on opposite day. No, you tell the crowd to disperse using your big boy words.”
Behind me, I could feel the crowd getting angrier. I could hear things like “Fuck you!” and “This is still America!” being shouted occasionally. The slogans were a little worrying.
“This isn’t a riot,” the Legionnaire said. “This is a potential follow-up to an attack-”
“Or it’s something unrelated!” I said. They paused. “Please,” I said after a few seconds, “try deescalating.”
There was a pause. During that time, I noticed that the crowd had become a bit less resentful and a bit more curious. Finally, the Dragon’s Teeth soldier said, “All citizens, this is an illegal gathering. Disperse in fifteen seconds, or we will open fire.”
There was grumbling. One angry civilian pointed directly at me and yelled, “Fuck you, snitch! We gon’ get you!”
“Disperse immediately!” a Legionnaire yelled back in response.
Meanwhile, another Legionnaire said, “Please enter the building.” He ushered me back into my Subaru and I drove into the factory.
After the Legionnaires and Picts that had made up the quick response force were all gone, I went to check out the security logs. Eliza followed me. “So I guess we’re collaborators or somethin’?” she asked. “And I guess you’re going t’pick at your flakin’ skin in front of a lady?”
“Sorry,” I said, stopping my fiddling with some of the burns I had experienced from America’s brief, tragic war with the Dragon’s Teeth. “It itches a lot.”
“Better than hurtin’ I guess,” Eliza said.
“It does that, too,” I said, “and I don’t think I can get painkillers anymore. The Jason Project didn’t feel that giving their creations painkillers was economical-”
“Yeah, I know, and plus the painkillers, and the means of producing more, are pretty much gone,” I said. “As for me being a collaborator, well, I’ve given up. You were there, weren’t you? You saw what all my bullshit amounted to in the face of them. Nothing.” I paused, “Plus, we’re one of the few sources of food left. Parts of the Midwest are still burning. I don’t collaborate, and even more people starve.”
“‘Ow many people are starving?” Eliza asked grimly, obviously not wanting to know the answer.
“Have some of the Dragon’s Teeth taken off their masks around you?” I asked. “Because sometimes they do around me, and you can tell that they aren’t eating that well. In fact, it’s easier to list the people who aren’t dying of malnutrition.”
Eliza suddenly looked very guilty. “I’m not sayin’ we were in a five-star ‘otel,” she said, “but I’m pretty sure we got at least three meals a day. At least, we got that when we weren’t in isolation.”
“Hey,” I said, “don’t feel guilty about eating. I’ve bartered with people who’ve done a lot worse than I thought possible to get booze and I don’t judge them.”
“What had they done?” Eliza asked.
“I… I don’t want to talk about it,” I said. “Some people, when they hear or do horrible things need to talk about it. Others need to avoid talking about and…”
“I understand,” Eliza said.
We sat in silence. “I’m gggoing t’check the factory,” Eliza said. “Make sure our friend hasn’t left us any surprises.”
“Go ahead,” I said. “Scanning the security logs might take a while.” The factory, being entirely automated by Andy, was a thing of beauty and the security system was no exception. It didn’t cover against Jumpers, Parahumans who could teleport or “jump” short distances, but they could be blocked by certain radio waves (unless their name was Mayu Nakashima) and only a select few could do a jump to place they didn’t have line-of-sight on without suffering horrible consequences. What the factory did have were a series of laser trip-wires (invisible and full-length lattice weave so that if something tripped it, it would be identified and classified,) atmospheric sensors that could “smell” poison gas and explosives, automated turrets, locking blast doors, 360-degree cameras, discrete metal detectors, dedicated lines that used to go to the Worcester PD department and now went to the local Dragon’s Teeth HQ, and, at the center of all of it, an AI that interpreted everything and made decisions. Badly. Before the Dragon’s Teeth had shut them off, I had only turned the ones with arcs of fire outside factory grounds on when the Teeth had come knocking and we hadn’t installed any interior ones. We also had turned many of the systems off because normal factory operations and literal bugs would cause the system to freak out and act like we were under attack.
Another problem with the system was that there were so many data points I couldn’t even begin to see what was going on. I would probably need a year to decipher it. Andy had been highly pressed for time, so everything was a basic command-line system and organized haphazardly. Many commands were broken and/or unintuitive.
As I was fighting with the interface, I heard Eliza come running back. She threw open the door to the security room, her hair askew and a piece of paper in her hand. “Nate,” she said, “you need to see this.”
I looked at the paper. It was actually an envelope with odd black stains on it, and smudged Japanese characters in what appeared to be…
“…Is that blood?” I asked.
“The moon script? Yeah,” Eliza said, “and it smells like Miss Nakashima’s.” I kicked myself for forgetting Eliza’s Lupine powers included enhanced smell. “It’s slightly differen’ but I’d wager it’s ‘er’s. That’s ‘ow I found it. Like she knew I’d be released and left it out so that only I’d find it.” She cocked her head. “Don’t know what the black stuff is. Grease paint, maybe? Smells like it, but I have no clue why it’d be there.”
“Don’t know either,” I said, “but the Hiragana spells out Nakashima.”
“Didn’t know you passed Japanese.”
“I didn’t,” I said, “but I learned some things. Anyway, what does it say?”
“If it’s in Japanese,” Eliza said, unsealing and extracting the letter, “we’re probably screwed.” She opened the letter and her face fell. “Oh. Well, at least we know what it says.”
She turned the letter around. I never really learned cursive, so reading the beautiful calligraphy took a few seconds.
I know where he is. You will help me.
After I read it aloud, I said, “We’re still pretty screwed though.”