Nowhere Island University’s Second Anniversary

A quick thank-you post on my personal blog.

t4nky

So, it’s been two years. Two years since this became a thing. I’m not going to say that this is the serial that changed everything, or will change everything. Honestly, if you go solely by numbers, NIU should have changed nothing. However, numbers lie a hell of a lot.

For instance, my life has been changed. Whether for better or worse, its hard to to say. I mean, I’ve only been doing this for two years. I can say that thanks in part to the internet, and thanks in part to whoever is reading my little ramblings, I am living my dream of being a world famous author. (Ok, definitely not famous, but people all over the world are reading this, and thinking about it gives me this wonderful mix of sheer panic and joy.)

Seriously, though, I would like to take this time to thank some people. I…

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Track 13: Too Late to Say Sorry

Shit.

That’s the last thing I had thought after the Escalade’s hatch opened. Lydia and Andrew threw the person face-first onto the pavement. The man landed face-first. As he lay face-first on the floor, I noticed that his legs were splayed at odd angles and the twist ties that bound his wrists were not only tight enough to cut off circulation, but they were also too tight for the old “dislocate your thumb and slip out” trick. I knew because both thumbs were broken, as well as both hands.

“Not so tough now, huh, bitch?” Andrew asked.

“Fuck you, monkey!” the man in the hood said in Japanese-accented English. I winced. I didn’t want to see what Andrew would do when pushed too far. “You think I’m scared of some scum American street sweepers failed to pick up?”

Instead, the woman with the burned face stepped in. Brutally, she ripped off his mask. Judging by the way he yelled and the marks on his face, some of his cuts had begun to scab up and mesh with the bag. Leaning in close, the woman said quietly, “Now this brings…”

She was interrupted by the man smashing his head into her face. Her sunglasses were knocked askew and she laughed. “Ha ha… this really does bring back memories!” She grabbed the man by the shoulder and squeezed. “Maybe you already figured it out by the accent, but I was an enforcer here.”

I suddenly realized what was going to happen. Not only was it going to be immoral, but it was going to be loud and it was going to be a freaking beacon for the cops. The problem was I didn’t want to undermine Jen. I didn’t understand the power dynamics at play. If I seemed to give orders, it could end up with Jen’s subordinates getting ideas or Jen shooting me to prevent the former.

I looked to Jen. She was staring at a point directly behind our captive, as if someone was there, trying to convince her of something. She frowned, obviously torn about something.

Meanwhile, her subordinate with the burned face continued her monologue. I swear, it was something she had rehearsed. “The first thing I always had to do with deadbeats,” she said, “was teach them respect.” As soon as she said “respect,” her hand burst into flames. The man screamed.

That snapped Jen out of it. “Kaori!” she said. “This isn’t the time or the place.” Kaori nodded sullenly. She turned to address the rest of her team. “Knock him out and put him back in the car. We need to get moving now.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Lydia said. She drew a tazer from a holster and shot the man in the back with it. He grunted and convulsed, then slumped down. Andrew drew a Glock, then he and Lydia both pistol-whipped the man in the head several times for good measure. Meanwhile everyone else piled into the Escalade. Luckily, there were eight seats in the monster. John and I sat in the rear on either side of Mayu.

“So,” I asked Mayu, “what the hell happened when we were away?” While I asked the question, I noticed Jen was busy texting someone from the row in front of us.

“Oh,” Mayu said, “the Defenders showed up.” I noticed she didn’t seem to be taking that too hard. “The Defenders seemed to have thought that they could use the same trick twice. I did not see how Kaori and Hiromasa restrained them. We just found them on the air vent at the top of the building.”

“What happened to the others?” John asked nervously.

From the front of the car, the burly man I assumed to be Hiromasa chuckled. “We made them disappear,” he said.

Doing my best not to shudder, I reached for my phone. Then remembered I had thrown it out a car window. I needed to tell John and Mayu what we were in the car with. John, seeing as he was from New Hampshire, probably had guessed already. Mayu, however might not have picked up how deep we were in.

Kaori and Hirosama Murakami had been indicted a little after I had started High School. They had been taken into custody after a member of the Minutemen, Massachusetts’s local hero group, had managed to temporarily unmask a female Fire Elemental working for the Kagemotos named Tatsu and get a picture of her face with his body cam. Then he had leaked it to the newspapers and police.

It was quickly determined that the person in the picture was Kaori Murakami, a woman who officially was a bodyguard to Mark Kagemoto. Her husband and fellow bodyguard, Hirosama Murakami was one of Kaori’s most vocal defenders… at least until a writer at the Globe pointed out that he was of similar build to another supervillain called Dokustsu. Then, probably under the advice of his lawyer, he shut up. Then the rumors came out that before he came to the US, he had been responsible for strange disappearances and his wife had been a particularly aggressive debt collector.

For a while, it looked like the Kagemotos were going to lose Tatsu and Dokustsu, two of their heaviest hitters. Then there were accusations that the image had been faked. The camera somehow went missing, and the leader of the Minutemen kicked out the member who had taken the picture. A few years later, it was reported that the member had gone missing. The Murakamis were somehow never indicted.

I looked at John. He seemed to realize the situation we were in, too. Mayu, meanwhile, just seemed her normally bubbly self. Then again, she had seemed her normally bubbly self while watching our prisoner get tased and pistol-whipped. It was obviously just an act, but I had no clue what was underneath.

Andrew probably was also wondering what had happened. “So, uh, Mayu, right?” He asked.

“Hmm?”

“You done this before?” he asked nervously, “I mean, I know Nate and John have done stuff like this before and… and I’ve known a lot of people in this business, but I’ve never seen anyone react like you, y’know?”

“Oh no,” Mayu said. “This is all quite new to me.” I doubted that. She was the last person to survive in a pocket dimension of assassins, the rest had been either murdered or had committed suicide. She must have sensed that people weren’t buying it, because she added, “I have spent a lot of time training for this. It is a shame that…” she paused, hand on her mouth, “…that the people who trained me wanted me to do something different then what I signed up for.”

I nodded. I knew what that was like. When I found out that the international Parahuman investigation agency UNIX had sent me to NIU just for me to die, I had become rightly pissed off. I had felt abandoned and betrayed. I also became a huge asshole and a danger to myself and others.

I was distracted by John saying, “Hey… do the seats seem kind of hard to you?”

I paused. John was right. The seats were harder than you would expect a luxury car to be. I wiggled my butt around and found that most of it was soft in some places. In other places, it was hard. The shape seemed familiar. Suddenly, it clicked. Oh shit, I thought.

“Oh yes,” Jen said. “That reminds me, I still think we should make the meet.”

“Please, please, please,” I begged, “tell me you aren’t gun running as well.”

“No,” Jen said, her voice dripping with sarcasm. “Why would I, an upstanding citizen with no need for extra cash stoop to gun running?”

“Well,” John said while Mayu giggled, “she did say she wasn’t smuggling in guns.” I just glared at him. “Hey,” he said, “when I’m negative about everything, things still go wrong. I’d rather be positive.”

The car drove on in silence for quite a while. Eventually, we came to a farm. The car pulled onto the dirt road and parked behind some tall stalks of corn or wheat. Outside, the sun was starting to come up. “Everyone,” Jen said, “get the product out and ready for display. We have time, so also please remove our friend from the trunk as well. I would like to change into something a little more… imposing.”

“And… where is the product?” I asked.

“Just cut into the seats,” Kaori said.

John and I followed her directions. It didn’t take long for me to see the dust cases and ammo tins. The extremely familiar dust cases and ammo tins. “Jennifer,” I said, my voice dangerous, “how the fuck did you get these?”

“Not from you.” Jen said. “Really, Nathan, haven’t you heard of the Second Amendment?”

“Are they a special type of gun?” Mayu asked.

“Yes.” I said. “I made them.” There, in the back seat alone, were at least six Maccabee assault rifles, six Ballpeen SMGs, and twelve Uilon Mangchi pistols, plus several tins of ammo. “I also specifically set up distribution so that civilians couldn’t get them.”

“I thought Kagemoto-sama was a criminal,” Mayu said.

“She should have gotten them in the same way as a civilian,” I said. “In other words, she shouldn’t have been even able to put down an offer.”

“Normally,” Jen said, “you’d be right. However, the Boston and New York police accidentally over-ordered your weapons and ammo. I took them off their hands. It was quite the steal.” She laughed at her own joke.

“Any reason I should help you sell them?” I asked Jen.

“Our next safe house kind of depends on selling them.”

I let out a growl of frustration and slammed my fist down on a Maccabee dust case. There was a tense silence. Finally, I said, “Fine. Fine. Let’s just get this over with.” I also made a mental note to do an investigation into the BPD and NYPD when I got out of this.

In the meantime, I helped everyone unload the car of all the contraband. In the end, we had around six Maccabee rifles, eighteen Ballpeen SMGs, twenty-four Uilon Mangchis, and a decent amount of ammo. Plus, our friends seemed to have gotten out their own weapons. The Murakamis didn’t seem to have any weapons, but Hirosama was carrying a black case. Lydia and Andrew both had Glocks and tasers holstered underneath their jackets. Lydia had also taken the grease gun from Jen.

When the product was all unloaded, Lydia and Andrew opened up the rear of the car and threw out our prisoner. We watched him groan a bit for a while. Finally, Andrew asked, “Yo, you guys think she wants this asshole conscious?”

John and I shrugged. Hirosama said, “It is not our job to guess what she wants. Do nothing except watch him.”

“Doesn’t matter,” I said, “he’s just faking it.” His wrists were now bleeding and the zip tie was slightly frayed. “Apparently, this fucker found a sharp surface.”

The man opened his eyes to shoot me a dirty look as he got to his knees. I noticed that his eyes were different sizes. He said something in Japanese that I doubted was respectful. Even though my Japanese was terrible, I could tell that he was slurring his speech. He then spit at me. A spray of blood and a tooth landed halfway between us. I have to admit, I was impressed. Here he was, in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by Parahumans and armed thugs, wearing only his underwear, with both hands literally tied behind his back, and a concussion, yet he was still resisting.

Then the car door opened. Jen had changed from her street clothes into a dark red jumpsuit with bits styled to suggest or imitate Japanese samurai armor. A smooth, solid white mask with horns dangled from her hand. Our captive saw her and smiled.

“You know,” he said evily, “I think I met your brother.”

Jen just stared at him, her expression unreadable. Our captive continued. “The coward ran away when he saw us coming. When he died, he cried like a little girl.”

“Is there anything else you’d like to tell me about Brian?” Jen asked, squatting down so she was at eye-level with our captive. I was suddenly struck by how tired she sounded. No anger, no sadistic glee, just a bone-deep weariness.

“Just that I thought he was such a woman that I decided to shoot him in the balls,” our captive said.

“You know,” Jennifer said, “I think you have an understanding of what is going to happen next, right?” Our captive nodded defiantly. Jen sighed and began counting. “So there were my four jailors… the six, right?” She looked at John and me for confirmation. “The six who met us outside the apartment… and however many my bodyguards killed back at the hotel…”

“What are you counting?” our prisoner asked.

“The number of your friends who died,” Jen said, “because you killed the wrong Kagemoto.”

“What do you mean?” Our prisoner was suddenly suspicious. “Surely you want the fortress? You want to reclaim your…”

“Dude,” I said. “I was at your fortress. I talked to some people who maintain it. Not even your elders want it.”

“But…” he said, “the Kagemotos…”

“Haven’t given a solitary shit about it since my father killed grandpa,” Jen said, still in that tired voice. “Hell, Brian didn’t even want the empire we did have.” She smiled bitterly. “That’s why my father tricked you into killing him.” She suddenly made a sound halfway between a chuckle and a sob. “I honestly was hoping I could tell you how badly you’d been manipulated and you’d help me kill my dad, but things somehow got fucked and…”

She stood up, took a moment to console herself, and said, “My brother would want me to let you live. Failing that, he’d like to me to at least shoot you somewhere you’d die instantly.” She stood up, a look of genuine anguish on her face. “I’m sorry I can’t give you either of those things. Hirosama?”

“Wait, what are you…?” Our captive began to ask, but before he could, he began to sink into the ground. He tried to scream or beg, but dirt filled his mouth before he could finish a syllable. In less than a second, there was nothing left of him or any trace he had ever been there.

 

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Track of the Day

Track 11: Breaking New Gate

Before we could ask Jen what she meant, there were the screech of tires. John and I looked outside. There, between us and the early ‘90s era Honda sedan we had stolen, was a white Toyota van illegally parked in the middle of the street. Two subjects, probably male and in their mid-to-late twenties, most likely locals, were getting out from the front.

Every instinct in my body told me that this was not normal. John’s must have been screaming the same thing because we both opened fire in unison. There was the sound of bullets hitting metal and shattering glass and the man closest to us fell down. We could tell he was still alive because he began trying to cover his wounds and calling out in Japanese. I noted, with some degree of relief, that he had dropped a modernized version of a PM-9.

The man who had been shielded behind the car was also gone. John and I, not wanting to be pinned inside, but also not wanting to be shot in the open, moved into new cover behind concrete pillars outside. This proved to be a wise move because not only did the subject we lost contact with pop back up from behind the van’s engine to take pot shots at us with an SMG, but three people with assault rifles and a fourth with a shotgun began opening fire.

I looked at John, who was blindly returning fire with the captured assault rifle (I think it was a Type 89-f.) This wasn’t good. They almost outnumbered us two to one, and I doubted they’d run out of assault rifle ammo before John did. Luckily, we still had some of the toys Lydia and Andrew had given us. I began to come up with a plan.

Before I could signal this to John, I heard several pops of gunfire. There was a weird sensation, like I had been suffocating without realizing it, but now I wasn’t. I tried to look back inside, but some gunfire made me realize what a bad idea that was.

Instead, I motioned my plan to John. Basically, what I was communicating in sign language was a typical plan called leapfrogging. I’d open fire, making the people in the van get down. John would use that as an opportunity to get to a concrete pillar closer to the stairs. Then he would open fire while I tried to get to the bottom without being shot.

When John nodded, showing he understood, I leaned out and began putting bursts into the car. Behind me, I heard John run down behind me. I had managed to time my bursts with most of them reloading. As I fired burst after burst, I suddenly became aware that the downed subject wasn’t the only one screaming. The civilians in the surrounding area had obviously noticed. We needed to leave.

My ammo, understandably, ran out rather quickly. Even with the fifty-round magazine and my trigger control, it was still an SMG with a high rate of fire that someone had recently sprayed and prayed with. Luckily, John had gotten far enough. He glanced up at me, waiting for confirmation. I reloaded, dropping the magazine, then nodded.

In response, John threw one of our party favors. There was a heart-shaking thud, then John leaned out and started firing.

I ran. The explosion’s bite, while impressive, wasn’t as big as its bark. The wounded subject was still alive, trying to drag himself to safety. The van was relatively undamaged, though some of its windows might have not been shattered before the blast. There was a nice crater in the middle of the street, however, around which bits of flames danced merrily. Huh, I thought as I ran down the balcony to the stairs, must be some sort of super-thermite.

As I got to the stairs, I noticed that the gunfire had slackened. I then decided to get greedy and continue down the stairs. It was all going well until I got to the bottom and started running towards one of the parked cars. The subject with the SMG saw me coming, turned to aim…

…And his head split open. Based on how it shattered, it had to be some kind of large, low velocity round from behind. The sound of an M3 chattering away backed that assertion up.

I just ran the final bits to a nearby Subaru four-door. Making sure to get down behind the wheel arches, I took out one of grenades Andrew and Lydia had given us. I flicked it on and rolled it down the street to the van. There were a few seconds where there was a lot of gunfire, but no explosion. Like Marvin the Martian wondering where his Earth-shattering kaboom was, I peeked out from behind the debatable safety of a boxer four.

I was just in time to see the Toyota’s front end rise into the air on a cushion of flame. It fell back to Earth with a massive crash. Then its fuel tank exploded. I remained crouched for a bit as the van burned, waiting for gunfire to start up again. All I heard was sirens. They were actually getting a little too close for my liking.

I got out from behind cover and began walking towards the flaming wreckage. A living column of flame staggered out. I drew out my SIG and put a couple rounds in the flaming subject. After he fell, I began walking towards the subject who had been screaming.

The subject had stopped screaming and seemed to be losing consciousness. He looked up to see me coming and said something in Japanese. I couldn’t make it out, but it didn’t matter. I shot him twice through the heart and once through the head with my SIG. It was both to end his suffering and ensure no witnesses.

“You two are very good at what you do,” Jen said. “Shame that you won’t take my money.”

Ignoring the heart attack she had given me by jumping right behind me, I said, “Honestly, as much as I pretend the difference between us is moral, I sometimes think it’s because I refuse to shit where I eat and sleep.”

“Interesting theory,” Jen said. “I’ll have to keep it in mind.”

I turned around. Not only did I see surprisingly sober and very tired-looking Jen holding an M3 grease gun and a double-barreled shotgun, but I also saw John running down the stairs. “We need to go,” he said. “The cops…”

“At this point,” Jen said, “it would be better to remain here.”

As if to punctuate her sentence, a patrol cruiser turned the corner. Two officers got out nervously, shouting “Anata buki no o otsu! Jimen ni noru!” repeatedly. Based on the context and how they occasionally flicked the barrels to the ground, that probably translated to get on the ground. I noticed that they were armed with crappy revolvers and they weren’t shy about pointing them at us. Unless someone had made a rimmed version of the Uilon Mangchi cartridge and given it to Japanese law enforcement without my knowledge, there was no way in hell they  could penetrate the armor John and I were wearing. That didn’t mean they couldn’t get us in the stomach, face or legs, or Jen in the everything.

“Ima sugu sore o doroppu!” Even in the dim light, I could tell that the cop who had yelled that would fire soon. I was honestly surprised the two officers hadn’t already opened up on us. NIU campus security would have already ventilated us.

“Ok…” I said soothingly, holding my SIG by the butt with my thumb and forefinger and shrugging off my PM-9. “I’m dropping my weapons…”

“Yukkuri!” one of the officers shouted, pointing his revolver at John.

“Hai,” John said, “Yukkuri…”

Suddenly, Jen was on top of the police car. The cops had just enough time to make noises in surprise before Jen opened fire. One got both barrels of the shotgun to the back of his head, the other received a five-round burst to his back. Jen then casually tossed the shotgun away and jumped off the roof of the cruiser. “Always a pleasure to deal with law enforcement,” she said. “Especially ones not used to Jumpers.” She peered inside the cruiser.

“Jen,” John said, “what the hell?”

“What?” Jen asked innocently looking up from the cruiser.

“You did just kill two cops,” I said. “That’s going to cause some problems.”

Jen turned back to the cruiser. “Yes, but we won’t be here long enough for it to matter in the long run. Besides, the easiest way for my former hosts to have captured me would be to have outbid the police.”

“Still,” John said, “what the hell?”

Jen rolled her eyes. “Could you be useful and either pass me a bomb or get a car? I don’t think this car has a dash cam, but I do want to make certain.”

I nodded. “John, get the car. Jen, catch.” Making sure I hadn’t activated it, I tossed Jen a grenade. I have to admit, it was quite funny to see the look on Jen’s face when she realized what it was.

“I thought you were trained to be careful with explosives,” she said dryly once she had recovered. I would have been impressed if she had recovered instantly. Instead, she had planted the bomb and ran back to the car. As soon as she sat down, a mushroom cloud turned the cop car into a convertible. A huge chunk of metal bounced off the windscreen of our stolen car, causing it to crack dangerously.

John, who had just started the car and gotten his ski mask off, said, “Fuck this shit.” I suddenly began to rocket forwards, nearly hitting the car we were parallel-parked behind. I heard the screech of rubber. As we hurtled down the street, I noticed the speedometer was hovering around 130 kilometers per hour. “Fuck Charlotte, fuck, the Defenders of Fuji, fuck Japan, fuck this place in particular, and fuck you.”

“John,” I said, noticing the sign with Kanji and a giant 50 emblazoned on it, “speed limit.”

John growled in frustration and put on the brakes. Luckily for us, he was going at a reasonable speed when what seemed to be twenty cop cars drifted around the corner and began heading to the explosion. I breathed a sigh of relief. Jen’s trick had worked on those two cops, but if there had been four, things would have gone to hell.

Speaking of Jen, she had been swearing ever since John had stamped on the gas pedal. It had been loud at first, but now, she was just hoarsely whispering “oh shit” over and over again. I checked back to see how she was doing.

“Do you need a paper bag?” I asked. She nodded. I reached down to the floor where the owner of the car had left his lunch. I emptied the assortment of half-eaten food into the cloth waste basket in the center console and handed the bag to Jen. She took it, then began fiddling with something. It wasn’t until I heard the click that I realized she hadn’t been buckled in.

When she was done, she said, “So, do you mind filling me in?”

She then listened somewhat dazedly as we filled her in. “Do you want to know…” she said, with both a mixture of slyness and lack of breath, “…how Kage Fortress got its name?”

“Let me guess,” I said, “it was named after the Kagemotos. Specifically, your family.”

“Got it in one,” she said wheezily. She coughed for a bit. “My however-many-times great grandfather was lord of the mansion long ago. My however-many-times great grand-uncle, however, was obsessed with some prophecy or something. They had a fight, uncle dies, grandfather gets kicked out, and some creepy Rasputin-like asshole takes over the castle. Despite my family eventually running all the way to the new world, the grudge carried on until my father.” She laughed. “I’m actually surprised. I would have thought he’d have fought them just to have someone to hurt.”

“So,” I said, “why are they after you?”

“My father,” Jen said, in a dangerously conversational tone of voice, “didn’t like it when my brother left. So he lied to them and told them my brother was planning to start the feud again. I’m here to find the ones who murdered my brother, make them talk, then go back home and finally kill my father.”

“Why talk to them?” I asked. “Vengeance? Evidence?”

Jen laughed. “Evidence? I’m a gangster, Nathan. I don’t need evidence. I just need to prove I’d be a significantly better boss than my father or the Jade Emperor to justify killing him. Luckily, at this point, a potato could justify being a better boss than my father.” She shook her head. “Honestly, I just want to know why.”

“Well, now you know,” John said. “Can we leave now?”

I didn’t see Jen’s glare, but I could feel it. “Actually, considering all the property damage and murder, leaving may be for the best. Do you have any idea how we’d do that?”

Then, after a slight pause, Jen said the worst thing I had ever heard up to that point. “I thought you two had a plan.”

John groaned. “Fuck me, right?”

 

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Track of the Day

Track 9: We Have Words

We didn’t speak until we had left the keep, with me leading the group out of the castle and into the woods. Well, everyone except for Charlotte. For the entire time we walked, she was making comments on my rudeness. Finally, I turned around and said, “Do you realize how badly you fucked up?”

“Excuse me?” Charlotte said.

“You walked into a room with someone who’s clearly nuts,” I began, “with powerful people probably listening to every word you say, and told them a hell of a lot more than you should.”

“But…” Charlotte protested.

I cut her off. “Did I make a few mistakes? Yes.” I dropped my voice to a whisper in the vain hope that if someone were to eavesdrop on this conversation and the one we had with Mayu they’d miss crucial information. “That little picture of hers took me off guard…” then I resumed in a normal (ok, louder than normal) voice, “but what the hell were you thinking telling everyone you knew The Architect’s identity? And even worse, what do you think Bai would do if she heard that you…”

“That was a lie!” Charlotte said. “Do you seriously think me so low as to lie to a friend?”

“The question isn’t whether I believe you,” I said. “The question is whether they could make Bai believe it. Or anyone else believe it.” I paused, remembering how she hadn’t exactly convinced me when she had made the promise. “You have left it alone, right?”

“Well…” Charlotte said, “Mayu said it best. It would be irresponsible to just leave…” I tensed. If she said Mubashir’s name, there was a very good chance I’d kill her. “…our friend in the hands of people who had no idea what to do with him. I didn’t find him, I just laid a bit of groundwork.”

“Bloody ‘ell,” Eliza said. “You realize everybody’s going to be pissed with you now?”

“Only if they know the truth,” Charlotte said. “And even then, they would have to be rather unreasonable, wouldn’t they?”

“Ok,” John said, taking a deep breath, “what happens if Li finds out Bai told you who The Architect is? Do you think Li is reasonable?” He shook his head. “Not only that, but I don’t think Mayu’s even sane. There’s something seriously wrong with her.”

“Um.” We all turned to look at Charlotte. “The thing about Mayu… we think people in her own organization are planning on killing her. We… don’t want that.”

“Any particular reason?” I asked. Seeing that everyone looked at me with horror, I said, “Look, I know that all life is sacred and stuff. She’s also gotten a raw deal.”

“Fuckin’ A she ‘as,” Eliza murmured darkly.

I continued, “But to get her out, we’d need to kill a lot of people. Then what? What happens when she finds out we don’t want her anywhere near Mubashir?”

Charlotte cleared her throat, then said, “Actually, we may need her.” I raised an eyebrow. “You see, while we don’t need The Architect yet, we need someone who can put a stop to the Dragon’s Teeth and their Goddess… whether or not it they are related to prophecies, final or otherwise.”

“Ok,” I said, “but that doesn’t mean we need her. The Architect is in very good hands.”

“As far as we know,” Charlotte said. “That being said, any number of things could have gone wrong. His former caretakers may want him back, his new caretakers may find him unsatisfactory, he may leave in a fit of pique…”

“This is assuming that you have no resources,” I said. “But you do. You don’t need to take in Mayu.”

“What about control?” Charlotte asked. “If we need Mubashir, how do we control him?” I was about to say something, but Charlotte cut me off. “Oh, don’t tell me how we don’t need to control him. He bloody well admitted to not being able to control himself when his powers were activated. You even saw what happened when his powers manifest on two separate occasions.” It was more like three, but I didn’t feel that was important. Plus, I had only seen the aftereffects of the second time. “If he is provoked again… Well, from your own admission, his episodes seem to be getting bigger.”

I considered this. The first time I had experienced his powers, nothing dramatic had really changed. Yes, I had been felt up by millions of hands in a way that had traumatized me for life, and yes, a brick wall had been subtly altered, and yes, time and space had been bent to hell, but nothing really bad had happened. The next time I had actually witnessed his power in action, I had watched as three people had been turned into gym equipment. Also, thinking about it, I was now unsure if the bunker Mubashir had found had been there before. If it had been there before, I seriously wish Eric and his team had found it during the Hell Semester final.

I also considered something else. “If I’m going to help you,” I finally said to Charlotte, “I need to know, when Mayu told you that The Architect was a chance to make the world perfect…” I paused, because what I was saying sounded insane to me. “…how much did you believe that?”

“I think she’s exaggerating a bit, honestly,” Charlotte said.

“A bit?” John asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Well, a little more than a bit,” Charlotte admitted, “but I think she sincerely believes that The Architect could be a greater force for good than anything else. Between cultural differences and desperation to be part of something bigger than herself, one could be forgiven for thinking she lied.” The problem with that statement was that I didn’t believe Mayu thought she was lying or exaggerating.

“That isn’t what I was asking,” I said. “What I’m asking is how far are you planning on going with that line of thought.”

“Only as far as our friend wants to go,” Charlotte said. “I promise.”

“I will hold you to that promise,” I said. I wasn’t sure how, Mayu was right about how Charlotte was so powerful. After all, she had brought with her a significant chunk of the UK’s special forces. But this… I’d need to take a stand on this.

“Oi!” Eliza said. “You don’t get to threaten my sister!”

I took a deep breath, but John said, “Yeah, well, she doesn’t get to lie to people and then ask them to trust her. Oh wait! She’s been doing that for almost a year!” He stared directly at Charlotte. “If Bai asks if we kept our promise, I’m either going to have to lie to her or betray you, you understand that, right?”

“I do hope you’ll do the right thing,” Charlotte said.

“You don’t get it,” John said. “There is no right thing! I’m probably going to just flip a coin.” Even for me, someone who was extremely annoyed at Charlotte, this wasn’t good news. I wanted to know exactly what he’d do.

“Konbanwa!!” a bubbly voice behind us said. Charlotte, John and I turned around.

Eliza, who had been facing from the direction the voice was coming from, said, “Bloody fuckin’ ‘ell.” I also heard her flick off the safety of her CZ.

I didn’t have to turn around to know who it was. “Mayu,” I said, “we were just talking about you.”

“Oh good!” She said, her smile growing to the eye-closing one I had seen before. “I hope you have found my proposal acceptable.” As we talked, I heard Charlotte call some of her bodyguards, giving them directions to bring a car. I also noticed that Mayu was bleeding from the eyes and nose.

“I’m actually a bit curious about how you managed to get out, actually,” I said.

“Yeah,” John said. “You were in the basement, and I’m pretty sure the entire building is jump-shielded.”

“I read about that while I was away…” Mayu said, putting a finger to her lip and staring off speculatively. “They work by flooding the area with particles to stop us from jumping… I wonder, did their machine create a less dense concentration? Maybe that’s why it felt like I was slipping through a crack? And why this jump was so costly…” Again, I noticed the blood running down her face like wet makeup. She smiled again, one of her big ones, and held up a small scrap of paper. “Or maybe I was just lucky! Just like how Charlotte warned me that the Defenders wanted to kill me!”

“I didn’t think she’d come now!” Charlotte said frantically. “I thought that the note would tell her I was working on convincing them not to, and I’d tell her if…”

“If you’d waited,” Mayu said in her innocent, girlish voice, “the faction that wanted to kill me would have done so, and no one would have been able to prove anything.” She gave one of her big smiles. “I could go back if that’s more convenient for you.”

“No…” Charlotte said. “It would be impossible to get you out then.” She turned to John and me. “You two… get her to Jen. She’ll know where to hide her.”

“And then?” I asked.

“We’ll contact you,” Charlotte said.

“And if you can’t?” I asked. “What do we do then?”

“Please…” Eliza said, looking uncomfortable, “can we just go with the plan? This is… we’re wastin’ time. I’m surprised that the alarm ‘asn’t sounded yet.”

Mayu nodded eagerly. “Yes. They should have sounded it by now.” She then looked at John and me. “Even if I wanted nothing to do with the plan, I would want to be far away from what is about to happen here.”

Check and mate, Nate, I thought to myself. Mayu had finally found my button, at least in this instance. I didn’t like her. She was too manipulative for my liking, and Charlotte seemed to have a profound weakness for her. I also didn’t like the fact that she could get to me.

“Fine,” I said. “You win.” For now. “I’ll take the car, and then John and I can stash her with Jen… If that’s ok with you, John?”

I was inherently when John glared suspiciously at Mayu and said, “Sure. I’ll come.” I nodded gratefully at him. I really didn’t want to be alone with a manipulative assassin who wasn’t quite stable. Especially seeing as how our interests didn’t align even in the slightest.

We were interrupted by Charlotte’s Maybach pulling up on the road nearby. One of her bodyguards got out. “Well,” Charlotte said, “as Miss Nakashima suggested, you three should probably get a move on. Again, we will contact you.”

We got into the car. Mayu, I noticed, got in the back. That defeated my half-fantasized, half-realized plan of wrapping my arm around from behind her and squeezing. You could be wrong, I reminded myself. She might not be evil. Still, I decided it wouldn’t be a bad idea to check the rearview mirror every few seconds to see if she was trying something and lock the doors and windows just to be safe.

“Hey Jen…” I said as we started the car, “if you can hear us, please help. We’re kind of in deep shit.” We waited. “I got my cPhone, John has his, you gotta have one of our numbers…” Nothing happened.

“Who is Jen?” Mayu asked. I looked in the rearview mirror, partly to see her reaction, partly because I was due. John, to my satisfaction, was checking Mayu as well. Mayu, for her part, still had her typical smile.

“A person,” I said noncommittally.

“Are you seriously going to be that kind of asshole?” John asked.

I sighed. “Jen is… basically the only other person in this country we know. I’ve avoided her because even knowing her makes things… complicated.” Well, hopefully that wouldn’t be the case now. I mean, if she hadn’t ever gone to Japan before, the local law enforcement wouldn’t be watching her… right?

Then my phone beeped. Not wanting to crash, I pulled the Maybach over to the side of the road and pulled my phone out. It was a text from an unfamiliar number. I sighed. It could be Jen, so I took a look. After I stared at it for a moment, John said, “Judging by the look on your face, I’m guessing it isn’t good news.” I nodded. John sighed. “Fuck me, right?”

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Track 25: Bad, Bad News

“You know,” John said, looking at the fountain that had once been Salim. “I actually don’t think we had that before.” He noticed the new lockers. “Or those lockers.” There was a pause. “Also… wasn’t the décor sort of Asian fusion and not kind of Middle Eastern?”

Mubashir, Bai, and I took a look around. “Uh, Moob,” I asked, “you really don’t remember…?” My mind blanked and my voice trailed off. I had no idea how to put what had just happened into words.

“Never mind that,” Bai said, “I don’t know how you got away from Salim, but unless you killed him, we need to get you out of here. And if you did…”

“So he did inject something into me,” Mubashir said. “I thought it had to be him. Or an NIU employee.” He then distractedly asked no one in particular, “Wonder what he gave me?”

“Well,” I said, “according to the man himself, about two hundred ccs of Heroin.”

Everyone turned to me. “Wait,” John spluttered, “That… that should’ve killed him! That should’ve killed a horse!”

“But is Salim… alive?” Bai asked. “I saw him dragging Mubashir into the student center while John and I were… a little busy.” She suddenly looked a little uncomfortable, then she shot John an annoyed look. “Sorry we’re so late by the way. Someone didn’t tell me you two were supposed to be meeting, so it took me a little while to put two and two together.”

“He told me not to tell you!” John protested.

“Guys,” I said before Bai could start yelling at me, “We’ve got bigger problems. Mubashir’s the Architect.” Bai and John froze, trying to comprehend what I just said. Bai reacted first, raising her Glock. “No no no no,” I said, grabbing her Glock by the frame. “That’s a bad idea.” Bai, in response, began to struggle with me to try and aim the gun at Moob. Bai’s gun went off in the struggle. Luckily, my grip on the pistol’s slide was tight enough to stop it from chambering another round.

“What’s going?” Mubashir asked over the sound of Bai’s grunts and my pleas to get her to stop and listen to reason. “What’s the Architect? Why am I not dead? Why’s Bai trying to kill me?” In response, John shrugged and made a noise to indicate he had no idea what the hell was going on.

In response, Bai said, “It means he’s going to kill everyone!” She paused for dramatic effect. “…And I’m the only one who can stop him.” She then kneed me in the balls. I let go of her pistol and doubled over.

After a brief pause, I held up the slide and barrel that had originally been on Bai’s gun. “Looking for this?” I wheezed. Fending off Bai’s sudden attempts to steal it, I said, “Dammitt, Bai, fucking listen to me!”

“Why are you doing this?” Bai asked as she tried to grab at the missing part of her gun. “You, of all people, should know what he’s capable of!”

“Salim already shot him!” I yelled.

Bai stopped trying to grab the slide. “He did?”

“Yes,” I said, straightening up. As I did, I noticed everyone was looking at me with varying degrees of confusion, shock, and fear. Also, Mubashir was slowly backing away. “He put a three-round burst into his skull. Then, while he was turning into a rather tasteful fountain, one of his friends put a few rounds into Moob’s chest!”

“So that’s why we have a fountain,” John said, breaking the understandable stunned silence that followed this statement. “Thanks, Moob.”

Mubashir sighed. “Well, at least someone’s happy about all this.” He paused, then suddenly yelled, “Why can’t I ever remember when this kind of thing happens?”

“Wait,” John said, “you’ve had… more than one incident where you have no idea where you are?”

“Yeah,” Mubashir said, “and it’ll be up to two hours later and I’ll be in some weird place with some out-of-place furniture that probably wasn’t there before. Or I’ll doze off for a minute or two and something will have changed slightly.”

“That’s… disturbing…” Bai said.

“Well,” I said, “if it makes you feel any better, you seem to… have a different personality when you’re doing this. It’s almost like you’re sleepwalking.”

“That… is even more disturbing,” Bai said.

“Agreed,” Mubashir said with a shudder. “How was that supposed to make me feel better?” I opened my mouth to think of an answer. Then I closed it again.

“Well,” Bai said, “I’m sorry, Mubashir, but you need to die.”

Before I could protest, Mubashir asked, “Do you have any suggestions? Because at this point, I’m out of ideas. I tried blowing myself up. I tried eating an AK round. I tried drowning, poison, defenestration, and electrocution. Hell, the first thing I tried after Al-Qaeda came to take me away was cutting my throat.” He shook his head. “At first, I thought Allah was just punishing me for my suicide. Now, I’m starting to wonder if he’s punishing me for telling Him I could do a better job.”

“Uh…” I said, “…Aaaanyway, how about we come up with a plan that doesn’t involve Mubashir dying because we like him and that might not be physically possible.”

“You realize,” Bai said, “he’s a time bomb at the moment. He has no idea how to control his powers.”

“Would your… organization be willing to teach him?” I asked.

Bai shook her head. “If they did, other organizations like the one Charlotte and Eliza have joined would be… displeased. If they found out, we would need his protection. Plus… while I would trust my elders with almost anything, this power is so great could corrupt anyone.”

“He made a fountain.” John said. “And two lockers. I’m pretty sure people could resist that level of unlimited power.”

“Yeah,” I said, “he’s prophesized to be about a third of how the world will end, and from what I’ve heard, I kind of think it’s true.”

“Wait…” Mubashir said, “I’m going to end the world?”

“Well,” Bai said, “you’ll be one of three forces.”

“And the prophecy was kind of vague on how fucked the world would be, right?” I said. “I mean, it didn’t specify whether it would be life as we know it changes fucked, Nuclear war except without nukes fucked, or the Earth physically does not exist anymore fucked. For all we know, you get that power under control, and humanity might end up surviving… right, Bai?”

“Or he could finish off the entire universe… But you are right, I suppose,” Bai said with a shrug. “Do you want to take that risk?”

“Well,” John said, “if what Moob said, it’s not like we have another choice. Problem is, this doesn’t seem like a good place to keep a person who can allegedly end the world.”

I shuddered, thinking of The President finding out how about Moob. On the one hand, he might have a better chance of killing Mubashir. Loathe as I was to kill someone who had helped me in cold blood, in Mubashir’s case, it might actually be for the best. Or, The President could find some way to gain control of Mubashir, reality-warping and all. That thought was enough to give me nightmares.

“And if I go to the CIA, I’ll run into a similar problem,” Mubashir said, obviously thinking along the same lines I was. “Shame. Apart from the people who run it, the US seems like a nice place to live.”

“Wait,” I said, “maybe the CIA won’t find out about this.” Everyone looked at me askance. “Think about it,” I said, a plan forming as I spoke, “the CIA mostly deals with other spies and terrorists. Bizarre shit like… whatever Moob is, is more a UNIX job. But since UNIX deliberately sold you out, it would seem they’re not speaking.”

Moob nodded. “I suppose…”

“And,” I continued, “whatever you are, I don’t think it’s something the CIA is looking for. If you contact them and say, ‘Hey, Mr. Handler, I think UNIX sold me out and the rest of Al-Qaeda is on to me,’ they’ll dump you into their version of the witness protection program. No one who knows you’re The Architect will know where you are and no one who knows where you are will even bother to look for you. I’m not going to say it’s perfect, but it could work.”

There was a pause where everyone else considered my idea. “Come on, guys,” I said, “You’ve got to have thought of something I’ve missed. There’s got to be something.”

“So…” John said, “what are we going to tell Charlotte and Eliza?”

“We tell them that Mubashir’s the Architect,” I said, “and we’ve decided the safest place for him to go would have to be someone who doesn’t know he’s The Architect. We just won’t tell them that he’ll be going somewhere courtesy of the CIA.”

“And that will work because…?” Bai asked.

“Well…” I thought about that for a second. “Charlotte thinks similarly to how you do in some ways, right? You both live and breathe this Final Prophecy stuff. If you’re going along with this, Charlotte might as well. And if Charlotte agrees, Eliza will too.”

Bai considered this. Finally, she said, “You’re right. It’s the best chance we’ve considered so far.” She collapsed onto the bench. “Ughhhh… why can’t anything be simple?”

Mubashir shrugged. “I don’t know. I guess it comes with thinking for yourself.”

“Well self-determination is overrated,” Bai said. “It was so much easier when the elders told Li and I what to do. No need to question, just doing what we were told.”

“You know,” John said, “I think even those guys aren’t all-knowing. I mean, if they thought they knew everything, why’d they send you here instead of training themselves.”

“That actually scares me quite a bit,” Bai said. “They’re supposed to be infallible, or at least Li and I always thought so.”

“That’s one way of putting it,” John said. “Or maybe they trust you two enough to compromise between their ways and… whatever method NIU is trying to teach us. Personally, I think it’s a pretty big vote of confidence.”

“You know, John,” Bai said, “you can almost always make me feel better. Thank you.”

“So are we doing this?” I asked. The answer was a unanimous yes.

Breaking the news to Charlotte and Eliza was a little trickier. Sitting in the couch across from us, Charlotte leaned forwards, resting her chin on her hands to study us. Eliza stood behind her, obviously feeling awkward. Of the people discussing this, only Mubashir was not present. He seemed to be afraid that one of us might steal him away, which was actually somewhat reasonable.

As Bai explained our reasoning, Charlotte’s frown grew deeper. Finally, she said, “So… I’m supposed to let you send off The Architect on his own, to a place known only to him… and he can’t even control his own powers? This seems like planting a landmine in the Buckingham Palace gardens in the hopes no one important will step on it.” She shook her head. “And what’s annoying is that you don’t trust me enough to tell me who’s taking him in.” She then had a horrible thought. “He does have a patron of some sort, no? He isn’t just going to wander the globe, hoping no one comes looking for him?”

“No,” I said. “He does have a patron, but…”

Bai cut me off. “I’m sorry Charlotte,” she said, “but I’m not sure we can even trust ourselves with this kind of… responsibility. I’m not even sure I could trust some of the people I respect the most with this. There is also the possibility that taking in The Architect could cause a war between several of our societies.” She made a bow while still seated. “Please forgive me.”

“Well,” Charlotte asked, “what’s to stop them from declaring war on whoever’s harboring Mubashir?” It was a good question.

“We aren’t going to tell them,” Bai said. “We’re going to leave Mubashir to his friends. No one will know The Architect has even been revealed.”

“Assuming I don’t tell on you.” Charlotte’s eyes narrowed. “You know, I would much rather he be with someone, anyone, learning to control his powers, rather than just waiting around hoping he doesn’t turn his neighbors into a cup of tea instead of fixing them one.”

“It seems to be a stress-related issue or physical defense mechanism,” I said. Personally, I didn’t like Bai’s insistence that her both own people and Charlotte’s be kept in the dark, but no plan would work without Bai’s consent.

Evidently Charlotte realized this as well. “Fine,” she said. “You have my word.” She was obviously lying.

Bai, probably picking up on that much more easily than I did, said, “I… appreciate your understanding. Thank you.” They stood up and shook hands. John, Eliza, and I breathed out sighs of relief. This was going to get interesting.

 

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Track 16: Tonight’s All Right for Fighting

After the awkwardness of Nari and May having to be in the same room for the tutoring session, I went to Krieger’s office to brief him on what I was using the various materials for. He was only available this weekend because he was teaching Hell Semester again. Luckily, Krieger is kind of a work machine and was able to meet me at his office.

The office was in Sun Tzu, which meant less walking. I knocked on the office door.

“It’s unlocked, boyke,” a South African-accented voice said behind me. “Just walk on in.”

I turned around. There, looking as lion-like as ever, was Professor Karl Krieger, his mane-like beard a little less well-kempt than usual. He had changed out of his drill sergeant uniform and was wearing cargo pants, Hell Semester t-shirt, and a raincoat. Judging by how dry the raincoat was, he had been waiting for me.

“Actually,” remembering about Mendez and Gupta, “I was thinking we could talk outside.”

Krieger raised an eyebrow. “Of course,” he said. “It being such a lovely day and all.” To punctuate this, there was a clap of thunder. Also, since we were on the top floor, we could hear the sound of rain pattering down on the roof.

As we entered the elevator, Krieger asked, “So, why were you requesting so much raw material? And why was much of it explosive?”

“Nari Lee and I are entering the firearm business,” I said. “May Riley and Andy Sebaldi are also in on it, May very reluctantly.”

“And the explosives?” Krieger asked.

“We’re making our own ammo,” I said. “I… saw a need for something that can reliably penetrate Dragon’s Teeth armor when we were in Korea. Our weaponry wasn’t quite up to par.”

“And your plans on advertising and distribution?” Krieger asked.

“Well,” I said as the elevator dinged open, “there was a contest for a new FBI firearm because…”

“Because .40 S&W was having trouble penetrating exotic armor,” Krieger said, rolling his eyes. “I heard. I also heard that you need a recommendation to get in. You also need to be able to produce a hundred for testing purposes, plus ten thousand rounds to put through each gun for testing purposes.”

“Oh,” I said. That was one plan down the drain. As we headed towards the door, I added, “the first part, I have no idea how to do. The second part, well, that’s why we have Andy.”

“Even if you did get a pistol out,” Krieger said, “and the Dragon’s Teeth invade, the program is limited deployment. Only a few agents will get assigned one, mostly Parahuman investigations, HRT and FBI SWAT. And even then, you realize it’s just a pistol?”

“I was kind of hoping that would lead to others adopting it,” I said. “And also building a following that I could sell the SMG and assault rifle I’m designing to.”

“Still,” Krieger said, “those are just personal weapons. They might kill a few of the foot soldiers, but how are you going to deal with their vehicles? I recall you were also quite impressed with them as well.”

I shook my head. “Someone else will have to deal with that.”

Krieger laughed. When he was done, he said, “You’re learning, boyke! In the meantime, I have some friends who have… an understanding with the FBI. They could use an armor-piercing pistol, caseless or otherwise.”

I looked around. No one was coming. “In other news,” I said, just loud enough to be heard above the rain, “if you’re still annoyed by the way things are going, Officers Gupta and Mendez might be sympathetic.” When I saw Krieger nod, I raised my voice. “In other news, I feel kind of bad for dragging you out here. Do you want me to get you a drink?”

Krieger accepted, and we got something called a Caribou Lou. Let me just say, if you like rum, pineapple juice, and getting pretty sloshed, you’ll like a Caribou Lou.

The next week wasn’t anything special. I had schoolwork, of course, and I was busy trying to make the SMG. Meanwhile, Andy was finding a place to put his assembly lines other than Sunny’s basement. He was also working with Krieger to get the first order completed.

It went on like this until Fight Night came. As I was putting on the suit I had brought (by the way, thanks, dad for making me bring it,) my cPhone beeped. I picked it up, seeing it was a phone call from Eliza. “Hello,” I said.

“I just realized,” Eliza said breathlessly, “it’s Fight Night, innit? And you work at The Drunken Mercenary. You can’t make it, can you? Oh God, I’m a right…”

“Eliza,” I said, interrupting her, “The Drunken Mercenary closes on Fight Night.”

“Really?” Eliza asked incredulously. “Why the bloody ‘ell’d they do that?”

“I asked Dmitri the exact same thing,” I said. “Apparently, the first Fight Night after it opened, a few fights broke out and there were pretty serious casualties. Think about it: you’re wasted and someone from Britain gets his head bashed in by Ulfric. Then you hear some… I don’t know, French people laughing at it. What would you do?”

Eliza paused for a bit. Finally, very grudgingly, she admitted, “…I’d fuckin’ cut ‘em up.”

“Apparently,” I said, “what finally caused The Drunken Merc to close on Fight Night was the Fight Night Riot of ’94. All I know was that it had something to do with the Rwandan and Bosnian Genocide and it… got ugly after that. Plus some Parahumans decided that they didn’t like other Parahumans and…”

“Say no more,” Eliza said. “I’ll just fix me makeup, then I’ll meet you there.”

The Veranda was on the border between Rogue and Business territory. A good decision, as the Rogues and Business majors were typically the only ones who could afford to eat there regularly. As I walked, I noticed that a lot of businesses, specifically the ones that distributed alcohol, were closed. Also, Campus Security was out in force around the AMS/Shadowhaven areas. I saw four Bearcats and several checkpoints manned by Security officers in combat gear. The last time I had seen Security carry such heavy equipment carried openly was when the Grenzefrontier had invaded the campus.

When I finally got into the building the Veranda was located, I saw Eliza was waiting by the elevator. She was wearing a beautiful dress that was a bright, soothing green to match her eyes. She was also tottering a bit on heels, and she seemed a bit nervous. Behind her, guarding the elevator, were two female Campus Security Officers. They weren’t in full combat gear, but they both had slightly heavier vests on, and one had a SPAS-12 and the other had a P-90.

“Oh, there you are!” she said, moving towards me as fast as her heels would allow. “Finally! These blokes ‘ere were gettin’ a bit nervous!” One of the guards, a somewhat tanned-looking woman carrying the P-90, waved awkwardly. She looked away when Eliza embraced me. “Apart from that, you’re actually a little early. I was just nervous because, well, I’ve never done anythin’ like this before.”

“Me neither,” I admitted. “I’m glad I’m doing it with you.” We stood there standing awkwardly. “Uh…” I said, motioning towards the elevator, “do you…”

“Yeah…” Eliza said. “Yeah! Let’s go do that.”

“If you’re going to go up there,” the guard with the SPAS-12 said, her voice tinged with amusement, “we’ll have to check you for weapons. This is the only place on campus tonight serving alcohol, so you can’t be armed here tonight.”

After surrendering our weapons (I had my Berretta and my SIG, Eliza had a CZ-75,) we took the elevator up to The Veranda. Oddly enough, it was quite empty. I guess, since the Veranda didn’t have any TVs, people just stocked up on booze and watched Fight Night with friends.

Speaking of The Veranda’s interior, it reminded me a lot of how the Blackmoor-Ward looked. It was, in short, expensive. Everything, from the scented candles on the tables and the romantic lighting, to the intricately carved, yet surprisingly comfortable chairs, screamed that it was expensive as it was tasteful.

The most wonderful thing about the restaurant, though, was the view. It was located on the top two floors of one of the taller buildings on campus, with only the hospital being taller. The Veranda made use of its prime location by having glass exterior walls and ceilings, giving the diner an amazing panoramic view of the island. The effect was lessened on us due to the torrential rain reducing visibility, but from where we were seated, I swear I could see the outline of the Hell Semester Barracks in the distance and the lights they were using to illuminate Fight Night.

“Fucked up, innit, mate?” Eliza asked, following my gaze. Her ears were flattened, and I could tell she was remembering something by the way the normally mischievous gleam in her eyes had disappeared.

Just as I was about to agree, a voice said, “I take it that means you’ll want something to drink to start off?” We turned around to see a very trim Asian student with plastic-rimmed glasses and over-gelled hair arranged in a peak. He was wearing a tuxedo and an apron, obviously part of his uniform. Something about his attitude suggested that he definitely wasn’t an AMS, Rogue or Shadowhaven student. It was probably that when we turned to stare at him, he flinched. “Sorry,” he said hurriedly, “kind of a stupid joke…”

“But accurate,” Eliza said, obviously forcing some of her normal cheer into her voice. “If you’ve got any scotch, I’d like a double.” I noticed that her ears were still drooping.

I probably wasn’t looking very happy myself. Remembering the certificate included two free drinks, I added, “I’ll have your best bourbon.” Suddenly realizing our waiter hadn’t introduced himself, I asked, “By the way, what’s your name?”

“Oh!” our server said, suddenly realizing his mistake. “Hi! My name is Timothy, and I’ll be your server this evening. Would you like to order some drinks to start off your meal?” I noticed that when flustered, he had gone from a neutral, if somewhat clinical American accent to a slight Chinese accent. Still, his English was very good.

Eliza, however, was probably too busy laughing at Timothy’s mistake to notice his accent shift. Eventually, after Eliza stopped chuckling, we made our order again. This time, we were more specific about the kind of booze we wanted.

After Timothy was done taking our drink orders, he asked, “Hey, weren’t you one of the guys who killed Eric and James Roberts?”

I pointed at myself, a feeling of dread. Timothy nodded. “When was this?” I asked.

“Last semester,” Timothy said, “during the break-in at the hospital’s Secure Records section.”

“First off,” I said, “I might not have killed him. There was another person with me. Secondly…”

“I know,” Timothy said, a note of unrepentant glee in his voice. “But you might have killed him, so I should probably thank you. The guys were in my Project Management and Accounting classes. Even the other Nazi sympathizers hated them.” He then pocketed his pen and pad. “Anyway, your drinks will be right out.” He then hurried off, nearly skipping for joy.

“Bit of a sociopath, isn’t ‘e?” Eliza remarked when he was out of earshot.

I nodded. I was a little disturbed at how happy he was two people he had known personally were dead. Still, when he came back with our drinks, I noted that ours were filled to the brim, while our neighbors who ordered shots only had theirs filled three-quarters of the way. Timothy sure knew how to suck up.

Conversation was mostly light between Eliza and me. We did exchange drinks for a few sips just to see if we could tell the difference. We could. Timothy, however, made sure that they were filled up. When I mentioned that my certificate only covered three drinks, Timothy assured us that it was on the house. We still switched to water, me after my fourth shot, Eliza after her fifth. Needless to say, when some old acquaintances of mine came in, we were feeling pretty good.

“…so, those clients Krieger got us want five prototypes,” I was saying to Eliza as Timothy removed the plate my steak had been on. “They also want…” I paused. The group that had been drinking shots had left and the tables they’d occupied had been split apart. Sitting at one of them were Agents Takashi and Brosnan. As I stared, Brosnan raised his glass in a mock toast, a patronizing smirk on his face.

Champagne, I thought. The bastards are drinking champagne while people are beating each other to death only a few kilometers away. As soon as I thought that, though, I reminded myself, Hey, the only reason you’re here is because you’ve just eaten the most expensive steak you’ve ever laid eyes on. Don’t judge.

“What’s wrong?” Eliza asked. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

“Takashi and Craig are here.”

“‘Oo?” Eliza asked, cocking her head. Then, her ear closest to where Takashi and Craig were sitting twitched. “Wait, they’re the blokes near us oo’re drinkin’ bubbly and laughin’ it up, right?”

“Well,” I said, noticing Takashi now was directing a murderous stare at me, “Takashi’s not exactly happy.”

“Are… are they the guys ‘oo got you to…” Eliza began, “…to… to, y’know…? Then bleedin’ stiffed you?”

I nodded, desperately trying to keep myself from causing a scene. Takashi, however, was under no such restrictions. He stood out of his chair with such force that it fell over. In response, Eliza’s triple claws shot out of her hands. Before she could launch herself at Takashi, I grabbed her wrists, nearly setting my hair on fire from the candle.

“Eliza,” I said, staring into her pale, shaking face, “it’s not worth it.” The look on Eliza’s face was downright murderous. According to what I knew about Lupines (and Eliza in particular,) when the claws came out, that meant violence was extremely likely.

From his table, I could hear Brosnan call out warningly, “Takashi…”

Takashi, meanwhile had appeared at our table, and he was livid. “You…” he said.

I ignored him and kept staring straight into Eliza’s eyes. While Takashi’s expression was a little scary, Eliza was utterly terrifying. Her face completely white with rage, she was trembling with the rage only a berserk Lupine could muster, and blood was dripping from her extended claws onto the expensive white tablecloth. Her attention rested evenly between me and Takashi, ready to spring into action if he made a move.

“Eliza, look at me,” I said. “He isn’t worth it.”

“Do you know every person you killed?” Takashi asked, his voice quivering.

“Takashi!” Craig yelled. “Don’t aggravate the bloody Lupine!”

“Eliza,” I said, still ignoring Takashi, “repeat after me: he isn’t worth it.” I’m not even sure she could even understand me at that point. From my grip on her wrists, I could feel her vibrate with rage.

“Your little playdate in North Korea,” Takashi said, “somehow managed to kill a few of my close friends.”

At the word playdate, I almost let go of Eliza’s wrists. Yet somehow, I instead found the self-restraint to say, “He’s. Not. Worth. It.”

“Do you want to know how I know?” Takashi asked. Behind him, I could see his partner get up and begin to move slowly towards us, making obvious effort to appear non-threatening. Takashi was as oblivious to this as he was to the berserk Lupine. “I know this because the nine-year-old girl they were supposed to bring back miraculously ends up in your custody. She’s also carrying my best friend’s side-arm in footage you provided to us!”

That explained the team that wasn’t NIU, North Korean or Dragon’s Teeth. They were UNIX, and they were there for Nari. John was right. Ironically, he had figured it out when Takashi had shoved the barrel of his pistol into my eye.

At the moment, I had bigger problems to worry about. Takashi’s impassioned shout hadn’t just attracted the eyes of all the diners, but it had also pushed Eliza too far. She began to struggle violently to break free of my grasp. I knew the first thing she would do would be to rip Takashi to shreds. After that, I had no idea what she’d do, other than that it would most likely be extremely violent. The last time I had seen her even close to this, she had literally spilled someone’s guts. I had the pleasant experience of being in the same ambulance as that victim. Eliza had been much calmer in that situation.

Before she could break free, Brosnan grabbed his partner and flung him away from us. “YOU BLOODY GIT!” he yelled. “YOU FUCKING SHITSTAIN!”

“What fu…?” Takashi asked. He made a loud squeak instead of finishing his curse because Brosnan had kicked him in the balls.

“You fucking moron!” Brosnan shouted. “Now, I have to hurt you, or a Lupine goes on a bloody rampage.” Takashi yelped as Brosnan’s foot connected again. Brosnan continued, “You should know better than anyone what a Lupine can do when pissed, especially a Fighter-type female!” He stomped on Takashi. Hard. “You endangered a room full of civillians over a fucking vendetta.” He reached down and pulled Takashi up. “Get out of here. And be thankful I’ve not yet washed my hands of you.”

Takashi began to walk off, his suit rumpled and his nose and lips bleeding. For a second, it looked like he was going to say something, then he thought better. Eliza watched him leave. I was glad to note that the color was returning to her face.

After Takashi had left, Brosnan turned to us. “I apologize for the interruption,” he said. “Please, have a pleasant evening.”

“Oi,” Eliza said as Brosnan turned to leave. She was whispering in an out-of-breath, yet scarily controlled whisper.

“Yes?” Brosnan asked, turning around.

“Control your partner,” Eliza said, still in that quiet, yet dangerous voice. “Or next time, I will.”

“Of course.” Brosnan said. “I can assure you, of the two of us, it is not my partner you need to worry about.” He bowed and walked off.

 

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t4nky

Ok, so in this post, I’m going to mention two things, one past but indicative of the future, the other definitely in the future. All of these are good things for me, but might be distracting for NIU. Hopefully, I can manage all of these.

The first thing is I have written an article for someone else, and decided I liked it. On the one hand, it was somewhat time-consuming and wasn’t exactly my best work (my article on Greenlight was much better.) To top it off, there was no real traffic boost from that. On the other, it was fun. It also made me think about the way I write.

Therefore, I’ve already got plans to do this again. I’ve already got another idea for an article for Bitch Flicks, and maybe I can submit something to The Escapist as well. Hell, with the Escapist, I might actually get…

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