We eventually decided the best thing to do would be to search the Korean vehicles, then see if any of the Dragon’s Teeth APCs still worked. In the tank, we discovered among the charred remains of the crew a working radio. Combined with the Dragon’s Teeth APC that was randomly changing from pitch black to forest camo, and John said we could get it working.
“You know,” John said, as he was hotwiring the tank’s radio into the APC, “we need to think up a cool nickname for these guys.” He had taken the dashboard off with a knife and was fitting cables together. “How about Deets?”
“Whatever,” I said. “Are you done yet?”
As if in response to my question, the radio crackled to life. John smirked smugly. “That answer your question?”
Before I could answer, Jeong cut in, “They’re saying that they managed to halt the Deets off at Yonan!”
“Where’s that?” John asked.
“From the sound of it,” Sunny said, “all we have to do is turn around and follow this road. If we do that, it should take us to a relatively quiet area.”
“I can direct you there,” Jeong said, getting into the co-pilot’s seat.
As he did so, I noticed that the co-pilot’s seat had a joystick and a computer screen of some sort. “You know,” I said, pointing to the joystick, “I think that may be the turret control.”
“Nice,” Jeong said. “Where’s the radio? I want to listen in on these guys.”
“They don’t have one,” John said. “Anyway, let’s get moving.”
We began to drive away, moving along the road at a decent pace. The engine must have been electric, because the vehicle didn’t make a sound. Eventually, the scenery on the side of the road became less hilly and more farm-like. We could also see the occasional ruined vehicle.
I busied myself taking pictures of the interior. It was made of the same black synthetic as the Deet guns and very Spartan, even going so far as to eschew seats, instead having handlebars on the ceiling. That probably meant it could double as a transport for materiel. Judging by the rails on the floor, seats were an option, as well as medical beds. More slots on the wall indicated that medical equipment could be stored on the wall. On the rear ramp, in medium-sized white letters, was written “Vmk-4 Charon Multi-Roll Combat Vehicle.” Someone was a little overconfident. Seriously, your weapon has to be pretty damn impressive to get away with naming it after the mythological figure who took the dead to the underworld.
I was distracted by Sunny. “So,” she asked, “John, you, Kyle and Killer were in the Freshman class this year. What the hell happened in Hell Semester this year?”
John shrugged. “I honestly have no clue,” he said. “For all I know, this was just another Hell Semester. Maybe me and Nate surviving was unexpected, but… What’s so funny?”
Sunny and Jeong were both laughing. “Listen,” Jeong said, after he was done laughing, “an over-privileged American or two playing hero is expected, but to have people like The Black Death, Ricardo Montana, Camila Reyes, and The Found Boys all in the same year? Those guys were legends before they even got here and there are at least a dozen more I haven’t even mentioned.”
“Ok,” I said, “I knew Ricardo, and I sort of met Camila during the Grenzefrontier invasion, but I haven’t heard of the others.”
“The Black Death,” Sunny said, “was the daughter of moderate Hutus in Rwanda. Her parents died trying to bring justice to some of the more sadistic actors in the genocide. She… kind of snapped, and walked into the plains with some water, food, a machete, a few kitchen knives, and her dad’s SMLE. Over the next few years, Interahamwe and Impuzamugambi began dying. Official figures say her kill count is at least double Simo Häyhä’s, and most people say that’s low-balling it. Killer, you stood on a platform with her a couple times. Her name is…”
“Oro Okoro,” I said. “John and I did more than stand on a platform with her.” It wasn’t bragging. It was more like shock. “I mean, I knew she was cold, but I had no idea… I ate with her.”
“You also impressed her,” Jeong said. “You also impressed The Found Boys. I guess crawling through assault rifle fire and forty-mil can even impress people who ripped off Kony.”
“Hey,” I said, “they were some of the few people at that fucking hell hole who didn’t hate my guts. I thought I’d pay them back. You’d do something similar for a friend, right?”
“What about Mr. Giggles?” Sunny asked. “That guy didn’t even exist before he wound up at NIU, then he starts killing people in groups of fifteen with his bare hands. How did anyone survive him?”
Ulfric Trollbjorn, also known as “Mr. Giggles,” was a baby-faced mountain of a man with a constant smile and a penchant for violence. I had given him his nickname because he almost never spoke, instead he had a high-pitched giggle that he’d emit. That, combined with his inhuman strength, love of killing, and, more terrifyingly, his uncanny ability to read people, and he was one of the most feared people in our year.
“That,” Kyle said, “is very easy. He gets bored. That’s how I survived. There were eight others, I just played dead while he pulled one of them apart like a wishbone.” I instantly gained new respect for Kyle. The only other person I had known to survive Ulfric was Bai Feng. Funnily enough, she might have been one of the people mentioned next.
“Man,” Jeong said, “When we were there, it was just Joseph. We didn’t have ferals who grew up training with the SAS, weird Chinese cultists, homicidal giants or popcorn-selling sociopaths.” He paused. “Actually, we did have some weird cult guys who were always recruiting and Spacey the Moon Jew, but apart from that, it was mostly just your average collection of criminals, psychos and terrorists.”
“Wait,” I said, “Joseph already had a rep before coming?”
“Yeah,” Jeong said. “Almost everyone who had been to an orientation knew him as the guy who had saved the Pres’s life in Jamaica. We were pretty tight with him back then.”
“Were?” John asked. “What happened?”
“I can guess,” Kyle said. “He got assigned The President as an advisor, right?” When everyone asked how he’d know that at once, he said, “My grandad was one of the first professors hired. He also was one of the first to retire, but he still goes back to the island to hang out with the faculty.”
“Well,” Sunny said, “I wish we had known how things worked because Joe kind of… drifted away.” She shook her head. “You think that serving through Hell Semester would bond you forever, but life at NIU tends to drive people apart.”
“I can understand that,” John said. “I mean, not that I’ve experienced it or anything.” Something told me that wasn’t quite the truth. I shrugged it off. I had enough to worry about at the moment.
I stopped paying attention to the conversation for a while as the APC trundled along. I missed my family back home, but had no real way of relating to them. I missed my friends back at school and wondered if I would see them again, or if I would end up dead. Hell, I missed being able to change my underwear. Any college student will tell you that after a day, they feel completely gross. I was going to be in them for weeks, potentially.
As I ruminated on this, I noticed that Joseph was starting to open his eyes for brief periods of time. On the one hand, that was good. We needed all the people on this expedition awake and alive. On the other, Joseph was a liability before he got gassed. Now, he had been exposed to a substance that had ruined the mind of some poor sod. If Joseph woke up again, he could be mentally unfit to lead, and still constitutionally incapable of stepping down.
Instead, I turned back to my investigations of the vehicle. I suddenly noticed a box that I hadn’t seen before. I took off the lid and found some more assault rifles, plus what looked to be submachineguns and quick-change barrels for the rifles.
“Now these,” I said, “are interesting. Can someone film me?” Kyle nodded and pulled out his cPhone. When he began recording, I pulled out a rifle and each of the two types of magazine: drum and banana clip. “The mags seem to be quad-stacked. Not sure how reliable that is. You’ve got a choice between…” aiming the gun down and away from everyone else, I slid in the drum. It went in easily, with barely any noise despite the force with which I had loaded it. The ammo counter below the red dot sight instantly went from 0 to 100. “…one hundred round drums or…” I looked for a magazine release. Bizarrely, it was a button in front of the trigger guard, indicated by a white diagram. I pressed it and the magazine shot out.
“Whoa!” I said, surprised at how it had been repelled out. “Anyway, the banana has…” I slipped the curved magazine in and checked the readout. “…sixty rounds of caseless ammunition of an unknown caliber. Safety and fire selection are M-16 style. All controls are ambidextrous. Plus, there’s the grenade launcher, which I’m pretty sure is detachable.” I gave the barrel a twist. “These barrels can also be changed for different roles as well, maybe even during a battle.”
“Can I see?” Sunny asked.
“Sure,” I said, handing it to her. “Next up is the SMG. Judging by the double charging handles, this is also caseless. It seems to be similar in size and shape to an MP-5K with an MP-5 style telescoping stock and a folding foregrip, but it has a much more squareish shape. Again, like its big brother, it has M-16 style fire selector and no provision for iron sights, just a detachable reflex scope.” I rooted around in the box for magazines and inserted one. “Only seems to have room for sixty-round magazines. In yet another similarity to their big brother, they’re quadrastacked.”
I considered it for a minute. “I’m half-tempted to leave our guns here and take some Deet weapons.”
“I don’t know,” Kyle said. “They’re weird as fuck, use unreliable feed methods, and have an inherently fragile kind of sight. Might be best to leave them.”
As he said this, we went over a bump. Suddenly, Joseph, who had been lying on the floor, opened his eyes. For a moment, there was silence. Then he sat up and pulled out a silenced Mk. 23, a look of panic in his eyes. He quickly aimed it at me, the red light from the laser pointer making me blink.
“Joseph…” Sunny said.
In response, Joseph turned to face her and Kyle, still terrified. Then he relaxed. “Sorry, Sunny,” he said. ”I thought…”
He trailed off, looking a little lost. “Doesn’t matter. It’s good to see you again. What happened?” He paused, slowly getting to his feet. He looked really unsteady and I noticed that his eyes were bloodshot. “Where are we?” This next question seemed particularly hostile and suspicious.
“We’re on the way to Yonang,” Jeong said. “The fighting’s apparently gone house to house. We thought we’d do a bit of recon, see what’s going on.” At this point, I realized that voices on the radio were still chattering away and I could hear gunfire and explosions in the distance.
“That is acceptable,” Joseph said. “What are we in?”
“Huh?” Jeong asked.
“What. Are. We. Riding. In?” Joseph’s tone of voice was now barely controlled. I noticed he still gripped his huge pistol, and it was with such a tight grip that the veins in his hands were bulging.
“A Dragon’s Teeth APC,” Jeong said. “We thought…”
“Stop the vehicle,” Joseph said.
“We’re almost to Yonang,” Jeong said. “If we wait five…”
“STOP THE FUCKING CAR, MON!” Joseph yelled, pressing the barrel of his Mk. 23 into the side of Jeong’s head. This was not good.