Track 1: Welcome to the Occupation

My beat-up Subaru station wagon drove down 495 from Worcester to Boston. It probably was one of more well-maintained things on the road.

For instance, my body was still recovering from the various burns that I had sustained in the Dragon’s Teeth plasma bomb out west. They still hurt and itched, and my back wasn’t doing too well from where a Dragon’s Teeth Berserker had thrown me through a desk. Also, my leg, which had been injured in a training session, had been acting up recently as well.

The few other civilian vehicles on the road were also pretty messed up. Unlike my Subie, there were only a few cars on the road that didn’t have shattered windows or smashed bodywork. Many had their frames bent so badly that I was sure they shouldn’t be driving. Every so often, I would see a car that had finally stopped working somewhere in the process of being pulled off to the side of the road where Dragon’s Teeth spider droids would dismantle it. Sometimes, I would see them broken down, either on the side of the road or in one of the lanes, other times I would see Dragon’s Teeth vehicles pulling them onto the vehicular graveyards on the sides of the road, and other times I would see spider droids breaking them down and putting the bits in dumpsters. Most often I would see the graveyards off to the sides of the highway, a relic of America’s former status of a nation of drivers.

The vehicles I saw the most were under the control of the Dragon’s Teeth. Over a year ago, these psychic clone soldiers had invaded most of the world. Russia, China, both Koreas, all of Europe and a triangle between Turkey, Israel and Iran had all been taken over as well as the United States. Almost every naval vessel had been sunk or captured, as well as most of the shipping. The US and several other major food-producing nations had most of their harvest destroyed, livestock slaughtered or accidentally released, and many of their farmers murdered, so starvation was rampant. Luckily, there were a lot less mouths to feed.

The Dragon’s Teeth had been, according to their new leader, created and controlled by a group called the Jason Project. They had apparently planned on liquidating a larger chunk of the population of captured nations and pushing onwards. That was also evidenced by the bombed-out buildings I’d pass. The East Coast had been one of the last places to fall, and, when it looked like Canada and South America may have saved us, the fighting had been intense.

Eventually, I got into Cambridge. The Dragon’s Teeth had set up a regional HQ in what had been the Harvard campus. Somehow, that hadn’t been destroyed. Most of the other buildings had been leveled and a few were still burning from plasma weaponry.

The depopulation of Cambridge was made painfully clear by my ability to find a parking space. I parked in front of what had once been a store, but was now bits of crumbling frame and a crater made out of charred construction material and glass. Another casualty of the Dragon’s Teeth’s plasma-based weaponry.

Several Legionnaires, Dragon’s Teeth soldiers with Roman-inspired armor, began checking under my car with little wheelie mirrors. An Arachne spider droid also was using a chemical sniffer to check for explosives. Eventually, one Legionnaire signaled for me to get out of the car. I did and they quickly frisked and scanned me. Then one Legionnaire motioned for me to follow.

The Harvard campus had significantly improved from the last time I had been there. Six months ago, I had been locked up in those dorms and had seen the various methods of punishment the Dragon’s Teeth had employed. During the first week, they had been hanging two or three people to each streetlight and lining people up against the wall every four hours around the clock. By the second week, executions had almost completely stopped. That didn’t mean that people weren’t still dying. Starvation and crime were starting to kill hundreds, and the Jason Project apparently had no idea how to deal with that other than killing. Most of the Dragon’s Teeth, however, were tired of killing.

The person I was about to see, however, just wanted to kill one more person. When I got into the room, I saw that Olaf was still massive as usual. The man, with his baby face, pale skin, and huge body, was using a desk as a chair. Dragon’s Teeth Berserkers were so huge that most chairs were ridiculously tiny. Olaf had also removed his exosuit to avoid shattering the desk. I remembered how he had thrown me through one a little over a year ago. Olaf didn’t like me.

“Nathan,” he said, looking at me coldly, “how’s the factory going?”

“As well as can be expected,” I said. I looked out into the courtyard below. “I thought Alma said no more executions.” In the courtyard below, a dozen or so men in ratty clothes were being lined up against the wall.

“She said no more civilians,” Olaf corrected. “Those guys are JTF2. Canada’s been violating the cease fire a lot recently.” As a peal of gunfire rang out, he said, “I think the reinstated cops have been helping them, but the Death Mother wants hard evidence before I liquidate them. Anyway, we’ve been getting off-track.”

“The factory is at capacity,” I said. “In fact, it’s going over-capacity. I’m pushing the machinery to its limit. By the by, you should know that when it breaks down, and it’s a miracle it hasn’t broken down yet, the only one who can fix it is Andy Sebaldi. And he’s in Australia.”

“And are you sure that all the weapons are going to Dragon’s Teeth forces? No clandestine deliveries to any resistance forces?”

“What resistance forces?” I asked. “If there are any resistance forces, none of them have made a move to contact me. Besides, I’m not stupid. I know you have a bunch of my friends.”

“The Dragon’s Teeth high command is turning over a new leaf,” Olaf said in a bored, sarcastic tone of voice, rolling his eyes dramatically. “We’re shocked, shocked, that you would make such accusations.”

“Let me rephrase that,” I said, “I know you have my friends. And I know Alma doesn’t have as tight a leash on you guys as she’d like me to believe.” After a pause, I added, “you know, I’m still not sure how many of my friends survived. I haven’t talked to them in several months, either.”

“And what are you going to do about it?” Olaf asked. “Right now, I’m just surprised you’ve been able to sober up enough to drive down here.”


“I can see you shaking,” he said disgustedly, “and I have some contacts among you people. What have to be the last few bottles of Jack Daniels from here to Worcester came into your possession and you’ve been moving on to the Johnny Walker and Knob Creek. Just keep making guns, and we’ll keep your friends alive.”

“Maybe,” I said, a rage burning inside, “this is a sign I need something else. A carrot.”

“My carrot is that I follow orders,” Olaf said, “and I act within the Geneva Convention.”

“You wanna see my stick?” I asked. “I can go home, get loaded as fuck, and break every single assembly line except the ones that make food and medicine. God knows everyone needs those two, and I won’t increase starvation just to get back at you.”

“I thought you said you didn’t know how those machines worked,” Olaf said, as if he had caught me in a lie.

“I have no clue how to repair serious problems,” I said, “but I spent several years learning how to break things. Then, after I’m done, I might just kill myself. That sounds like fun.” I began counting on my fingers. “The Picts will be pissed off because my redesigned of the 416 will stop, the Zulus will be pissed because they like the armaments I make, Alma will be pissed because I’m dead and that fouls up her plans, and the Legionnaires will be pissed because Alma’s pissed.” Olaf’s eyes narrowed. “And,” I said, on a roll, “even if none of that matters, I still win because I’ve turned off one more stream of resupply for you.” I sat down on a chair, breathing heavily.

In the silence that followed, Olaf’s head twitched. Finally he said, “You’ve got a very good understanding of how things work.”

“I doubt it’s any better than most of the countries you haven’t taken over,” I said. “You’re not as mysterious or unknowable as you think you are. And your position isn’t sustainable. You’ve taken a beating and overextended yourself. There’s no way you haven’t, and the other countries players are going to catch up.”

Olaf cocked his head. “Are you saying we should have kept going? Because that’s what I’ve been saying.”

“No,” I said, “I’m saying you’re lucky you stopped when you did. It’s only a matter of time before the first mass uprising happens. It’s only a matter of time before the first IEDs are planted. And I know that they’ve already started sniping at you guys already. You’re going to spend the rest of your lives putting down partisans, no matter what I do.”

“I think the world is going to be too busy starving to be fighting,” Olaf said, “but I might welcome that. It’ll solve the food distribution problem.”

I laughed. “Oh my God,” I said, trying to breathe, “the Jacob Project had no idea how to lead. We’re all going to die. We’re all going to slowly starve to death because they forgot people need food and people to grow it!”

“I’m glad you find this amusing,” Olaf said. “But that reminds me, we need to produce more Power Sludge.”

“The reason those lines are running at eighty percent,” I said, “is because if we fuck those up, that source of food disappears. I am not risking that.”

“That’s too bad,” Olaf said, “because we’ve killed most of the farmers.”

I leaned back. “Then congratulations,” I said, “The Jacob Project has killed us. We’re fucked. Farming is hard.”

“In other news,” Olaf said, trying not to seem worried, “The UN, or what’s left of it, is requesting they send in a monitoring detachment to prevent human rights abuses.”

“That should be fun,” I said. “You guys are pretty much designed to commit war crimes and they can’t do jack shit.”

“So you aren’t going to help?”

“What am I going to do to help?” I asked. “If I tell them what angels you are, all that’s going to do is just make them not trust me. You guys used psychoactive gases and left millions of witnesses, that has to be about thirty-six war crimes per person exposed or something.”

“That’s not the point,” Olaf said. “The remaining nations know that we’ve radically changed doctrine. They want to know that it’s moving in the right direction. There’s also secondary concerns, like non-proliferation, environmental protection, and economic recovery.”

“Did they say it was secondary?” I asked. “Because all of this seems like they’d be primary.” Environmental concerns, to me at least, seemed like it could be a huge concern. After all, the most powerful remaining member of the UN was Canada. Canada was near the northern ice caps. Based on how Christmas this year was a chilly seventy degrees Fahrenheit, those ice caps must be decreasing at a rather alarming rate.

“No,” Olaf said, now obviously concerned. After a while, he asked, “Would you like to meet with the people who’ve been captured?”

“That is what I’ve spent the past few months lobbying for,” I said.


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Track 33: This is the End

I take a deep breath and say to the Berserkers, “If I surrender, will you let everyone else surrender as well?”

“Take a look,” the Berserker said. “I know your cameras are up.” I did, and quickly notice that the defenders who aren’t fighting back, the injured, the tired, and the ambushed, were being zip-tied and secured. “If I had it my way,” the Berserker talking to me said, “I’d drop a tactical plasma bomb on you and piss on the ashes. But the Death Mother wants you alive. Oh, and don’t think about fighting back. Your little rip-off guns may work on the other Believers, but not on our armor.”

I looked at the fight again. Sure enough, they were doing fairly well except against the normally armored Deet soldiers, but were bouncing off the Berserkers like spit balls. It didn’t really affect my decision. I was done. I turned to the intercom once again, and said, “Ok, the Teeth have offered a deal. Basically, unconditional surrender. Do what you want with it.”

I then turned to Eliza. “Well, we might as well give up.”

She stood up and began to roll up the Kevlar panel. “I don’t think of it as giving up,” she said, her voice so quiet I could barely hear. “I think of it as living to fight another day.”

She then opened the heavy security door, revealing the massive frames of two Berserkers. They were too big to fit through the door, so the stepped aside and gestured for us to come out. I pushed myself out, and Eliza, after realizing I was moving out under my own power, exited before me.

The Berserkers quickly searched us and took any weapons they found. Then, one threw Eliza over his back and another did the same to me and the group began heading downstairs. When we got to the basement, I saw all the injured and captured defenders were brought down there. The one carrying Eliza threw her on the floor, but the one carrying me continued to walk off.

“OI!” Eliza said, getting up, “THE ‘ELL YOU TAKING ‘IM?” The Berserker, in response, kicked her in the stomach and stood on her.

“Hey!” I yelled. “What the fuck?”

The two Berserkers carrying me just continued on. We went through the sewers, eventually, after a good long while of walking, coming up around the train station. That station was now crawling with Charons, vehicles that seemed specifically designed to imitate Chrysler Escalades, and a new tank that looked like one of those WWI landships, except bigger. The vast majority of Dragon’s Teeth were Legionaires, and I could see that they, at least, were still mostly carrying their Pilum bullpup rifles and Gladius SMGs. Their distinctive Roman-inspired armor was either in a pixelated urban pattern, or a shiny chrome-like color polished to mirror finish. I saw a few armors change color.

There were a few of the new type of Dragon’s Teeth in what I now saw was African-inspired armor, and I noticed that many of them carried Pilum and Gladius as well, but they seemed to use my weapons when they could get their hands on them. I also saw Picts in their darker than black armor inspired by Gaelic designs, and to a man they had ditched their primary weapons for AK and AR-pattern weapons with the occasional MP5, MPX or FAL.

I was taken up into an office. The only other Berserkers I had seen were standing by the door, three on each side. Two had miniguns and ballistic shields and their Norse-inspired armor was bulkier and appeared to have a more powerful exoskeleton system than the others. The other four seemed to have taken their machineguns from dead US soldiers. Unlike the other Dragon’s Teeth soldiers who had only looked at me in passing, these guys had their glowing red eyes locked on me.

Inside the room, was a wooden desk and several bits of creature comfort. I knew this because the Berserker threw me down onto the desk, shattering it. A picture of what had to be the children of the office’s owner fell onto my face, and an LCD monitor clattered to the ground. Underneath my back, I could feel wooden splinters lacerating my back and a smashed plastic keyboard. My back hurt like hell. Above me, the fluorescent lights set in cheap, ugly asbestos ceiling tiles vibrated and other lights danced, mocking the pounding in my head.

“Please try and escape,” the Berserker said. I looked at him. He was wearing the bigger armor, but his ballistic shield was missing and his minigun was holstered on a backpack-like device. He then kneeled down and leaned in close so his huge mask was almost touching my face. “The Death Mother might want you alive, but I want you dead. You and your little team were the first infantry unit to kill one of us with small arms, and then you scrapped my mission to Japan.” All I could do in response was groan in pain.

He stood up suddenly. “Excuse me. I need to talk someone. Hopefully, I’ll be able to give him a retirement present.” He then left the room. His exiting through and closing of the door was surprisingly graceful for someone who had to exit at sort of an angle while ducking. His boots, however, caused the entire room to shake and dust to fall off the walls.

I, on the other hand, was dealing with what had to be a concussion. My back was also in such bad shape to the point that I was surprised to be feeling my legs. Even if I wanted to leave (which I didn’t,) it would have taken a superhuman effort just to sit up. I rolled off the desk, hoping to be able to find some painkillers in the shattered drawers, but instead spent the next several minutes crying in pain.

To distract myself from the pain, I began to wonder what kind of person had used the office. Not whether or not they were alive, no. That was too depressing. Instead, I tried to guess what kind of person they were. For instance, did they get that original Star Wars poster because they became a fan when they were a kid like I had, or did they watch it in theaters? Or, as the other posters indicated, did he just like to collect advertisements and propaganda? What was that award with the statue of a train in recognition of? Those certificates, were they for graduation? Awards? Something else? When I tried to get a better look at the framed pieces of paper, pain shot up and down my spine.

I decided to turn back to the desk. Well, apparently this guy had some chronic pain. First drawer had a bottle of prescription-grade ibuprofen. The bottle said “Take one every 12 hours,” but I took two. They did nothing.

For fifteen or so minutes, I waited for them to kick in. I also waited for my head to stop spinning like a dreidel. The sound of a landing VTOL didn’t really help matters. At least the telepathic communications and electric motors made the Teeth relatively quiet for a military. Then I heard shouting and stomping.

The door flung open and a man stomped in. “Your rules of engagement don’t allow the taking of prisoners! And you’re only allowed to use weapons provided by the Jason Project! What the hell is going on, Commander Olaf?” He then paused, and asked, “and why is that person still alive?”

A Berserker, possibly the one who had brought me up, said, “Orders. Wish I could kill him, make it nice and violent.” I could almost hear him shrug as he said that.

“Wait…” the man said, “Who ordered you?”

The Berserker, or Commander Olaf as he was apparently known, laughed. “You know who.”

“Capsaicin Umbra,” the strange man said in clear voice that was doing a very good, but not quite convincing, impression of someone who wasn’t panicking.

“What,” Olaf said, with a barely contained chuckle, “do you think she was doing for the past ten years? Do you really think Ulfric or any of the others leaving was an accident? She was weakening our triggers.”

“Olaf,” the Jason Project member said, “You can’t trust Subject One-Four-Eight. She… she…”

“She’s been in my head since before you started your brainwashing,” Olaf said. “Comforting me and my brothers. Even the dead. Even people who we’ve been forced to kill for your stupid little quest to destroy the world or whatever.”

“We aren’t destroying the world,” the Jason Project member said, “we’re saving it.”

In response, Olaf sighed. “You’re lucky that She ordered the retribution to be painless.”

“Wait! No no-!”

There was a crack of a pistol, and the Jason Project member began screaming. “Whoops,” Olaf said. “That round didn’t go where I wanted it to. Too bad, we’re low on ammo and I don’t really want to waste another bullet.” I heard the thump of Olaf walking to the window sill. Eventually, I could see Olaf’s armored body appear in my field of view. He took his helmet off with a hiss and turned around. “Shame I couldn’t do that to you.”

Seeing his face finally confirmed something I had suspected for a while now. “Ulfric’s a Berserker, too, isn’t he?” I asked. “That guy I knew at NIU. He looked a lot like you, except with crazy eyes.” The square, baby face, the gray eyes, the brutally short hair… Physically, he looked exactly like Ulfric. However, there was something more… there about him, if that makes sense. If he ripped off someone’s head, I wouldn’t be wondering if he knew what had done.

“Exactly like me, I’d bet,” Olaf said. “Luckily he’s…” Suddenly his face went extremely pale.

“He’s here, isn’t he?” I asked. Olaf, meanwhile, began to pace nervously. “Hey, Olaf?” I asked. “You ok?”

“Yes,” he said. “But not for long.”

The door smashed open. A large whirlwind of blue NIU hoodie, black cargo pants, and combat boots ran around and smashed Olaf through the window. The figure let Olaf dangle through the window for what had to feel to the victim like an eternity, the newcomer’s other fist raised, ready to smash into Olaf’s face. I couldn’t see either one’s face or even much of Olaf’s body, and I definitely couldn’t make out any psionic conversations. Eventually, the figure I assumed to be Ulfric pulled in Olaf and threw him away one-handed like garbage. Olaf seemed to be thankful nothing worse had happened.

Ulfric, meanwhile, turned around to survey the scene with a look of horror on his face. I must have looked like shit and the Jason Project member was now moaning horribly. “Please…” he whimpered, “help me…”

Ulfric’s look of horror turned to one of disgust when he saw the Jason Project member. He then turned to me and picked me up like a baby. I screamed and groaned as my back moved. Ulfric, with his typical grace, managed to get us out the door without bumping my head. As we walked down the stairs, he said, “Sorry.”

“You seem… better than you were,” I said.

“Still have trouble talking,” he said. “Because of my meds. I’m more alert. More aware.” He paused, then said, “I hate it.”

“Why?” I asked.

“I have to live with the stuff I do when I have a ‘good’ day,” he said. “And I realize the stuff I don’t have.”

I suddenly was reminded of what I had seen in Japan. The hallucination of what seemed to be a representation of the Dragon’s Teeth hive mind. Thousands, maybe even millions, of lights, in colors I couldn’t even comprehend surrounding a black hole. And close to the black hole, was a speck of light separate from all the others. “Hey, Ulfric?” I asked. “Are you, you know, connected to the rest of the Dragon’s Teeth?”

He stared at me for a while. “Sort of,” he said. I noticed that as we walked, the various Dragon’s Teeth recoiled from him. Again, I was reminded of the hive mind. He eventually set me down among injured Dragon’s Teeth and began to wander off, leaving me alone in a room full of dying clones and clone medics.

The room turned yellow and things began to swim. I turned around to see Alma looking out over the casualties. “I failed,” she said. “These are good people, compelled to do horrible, horrible things from birth.”

“So,” I said, “I take it the Jason Project weren’t good people?”

“Well,” Alma said, “I might not be the best person to ask. They did kidnap and technically kill me.”

“Technically kill you?” I asked.

“I was the anchor for their entire psionic network,” Alma said, looking out over the injured soldiers. “I think that’s why I survived. I was split among all the clones. All my children. I remember every single one of them and I keep their souls in me.” She shrugged. “I guess it’s not really scientific, but it’s the best way to describe it.”

“Any other non-Dragon’s Teeth souls get sucked up?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said. “Everyone’s. It’s hard. So many people die in pain and rage, and I can feel all of it, the bad bits especially. Someday I’m going to either become numb or insane. Or maybe I’ll finally just stop existing.” She turned to look at me, and I heard a bit of hope in her dead monotone. “It’s physically impossible to last forever, right? I’m not a god?”

For some reason, the idea of her being hopeful that she’d die chilled me to the bone. It also reminded me of how Mubashir believed his powers were a punishment. To avoid thinking about it, I asked, “So, what do you want from me?”

“Not just you,” Alma said. “There are probably only one or two things that only you can do, but you might be able to convince your friends of some things.

“First, I don’t want any more of my children to die. You aren’t fully in control of that, I know, but you and your friends could do enough damage to be… mildly tragic.”

“We don’t seem to be able to do that much,” I said.

“You gave them enough hope to keep fighting,” she said. “And now I have to spend all eternity with people who died killing each other, feeling the pain they felt at the moment of their death.” I looked away uncomfortably. “All you did,” Alma said, her voice breaking with sadness, “is cause a thimbleful more suffering.” She composed herself and then, in her normal monotone, said, “I’d prefer to minimize that. You understand, right?”

“And I’d prefer that the Dragon’s Teeth hadn’t wrecked everything,” I said, “but here we are.”

“Do you think that I didn’t try to stop that?” Alma asked, her skin-crawling monotone becoming more and more icy. “Do you think I like feeling the eternal torment of everyone who died in this useless war?” She looked slightly upwards, as if looking through the building. “Something is coming. It’s going to kill even more people. Stay out of my way or I might get tired of you being alive. Understand?”

I recoiled at the anger. Alma turned back to me. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have snapped. But I’ve worked hard to get to the point where I can have coup.”

“Honestly,” I said, “you can do whatever you want. You have the power.”

“That’s another thing,” she said. “I’m too powerful. I’m losing my connection with the rest of humanity. That’s the reason I went to NIU. The rest of the people I know, except maybe Ulfric, treat me like either a god or a monster.” She paused. “Never mind. The last member of the Jacob Project has been accounted for.”

“They really were terrible, weren’t they?” I asked.

“Most of them, yes,” Alma said. “There were a few exceptions, but we’re getting off-topic. The thing is, I need an anchor.”

“An anchor.”

“Someone, or several someones, to talk to. To listen to. To make sure I’m not becoming too divorced from reality. Who better than some of my former classmates from NIU?”

“And am I the first?” I asked. “I’m flattered.”

“No, I asked Eliza first.” She then said, “There’s also another person who might need help. Mubashir Mubarak. In terms of power, he’s the closest thing to me. He’ll need help eventually, and he might go to you.”

“And why don’t you go help him yourself?” I asked. “You’re probably the only one who can understand him.”

“I already have too much power,” Alma said, “and you want me to cozy up with Mubashir? Besides, I don’t think he’d take too kindly to me just suddenly appearing.”

“Point taken,” I said. “But what about Mayu? And what’s this horrible thing that’s coming?”

“You don’t need to worry,” Alma said, “let me worry about that.”

And then she left and the room went back to normal.

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Track 32: Last of the BLUFOR

The Dragon’s Teeth assault had completely stalled. For several hours, nothing they were doing was allowing to get much closer to the factory. But the longer I watched, the more convinced I was that they weren’t trying that hard. If they really had wanted to do us in, that airstrike would have hit the factory. Something was up.

“‘E was a fuckin’ idiot.” I turned around. Eliza was still curled up in a fetal position, hugging her knees, still crying, but a look of rage was across her face. “Fucker could ‘ave not done that. I didn’t ‘ave to kill ‘im.”

“If it makes you feel better,” I said, “technically, it was Doc who killed him.”

“What’d make me feel better,” snarled Eliza, “is if that fucker ‘adn’t tried to break in.” She added as an afterthought. “Besides, even Lupines can only take so much punishment. Odds are ‘e wouldn’t’a last the night without some serious ‘elp.”

We sat in silence for a while longer. Finally, Eliza asked, “So, ‘ow’re things goin’ out there?”

“Well,” I said, “the factory appears to be surrounded. There’s Dragon’s Teeth on all sides, and the buildings that didn’t get blown up seem to have snipers in them.” I watched as a soldier on the roof of the factory above us fell down, shot from above and behind. Several more soldiers, gangsters, and militia fell before they realized where it was coming from. “And they, or he, appears to be doing a really good job. The guns in the front of the factory are pretty much out. Also, for some reason, I don’t see any vehicles.”

“Really?” Eliza said suspiciously. “Why’s that?”

“I don’t know,” I said, “and the more I think about it, the more it bothers me. Most benign reason I can think of is that they’re sending troops somewhere else. Problem with that theory is that they’ve literally got millions of people in this area alone and I’ve got a feeling that they don’t have too many civilians to take care of.”

“Still think they’re gonna come in through the basement,” Eliza said, somewhat petulantly.

I considered that for a moment. “Shit, you’re right,” I said. “I just hope it isn’t too late.”

“No it isn’t,” Eliza said, pointing at some of the cameras that viewed the dark, empty construction area. Nothing was there, except for some construction supplies. “Nothin’ there ‘cept…”

“Eliza?” I asked as she trailed off. “Something wrong?”

“That bucket there,” she said. “It tips over one second, then the next…”

I followed her finger. A metal bucket full of what might have been paint kept tipping itself over every few seconds and spilling, then righting itself again. “We’ve been looped.” We said it at the same time.

“Everyone!” I said through the intercom, “they’re coming through the basement! They’re coming through the basement!” I then began the process of rebooting the security computer. “Why are they doing this?” I asked as I waited for the systems to power up again. “I mean, we haven’t been instantly splattered by an airstrike or artillery bombardment? Not that I’m complaining, though. It just seems like they could have ended it easily enough.”

“Well,” Eliza said, “they went to some right long lengths to get t’you didn’t they? Fuckin’ breakin’ inna an FBI buildin’ an’ tryin’ t’do a raid on Nowhere Island. Alma’s got a bit of an interest in you. I’d even wager that this would be the least risky operation to get you she’s carried out. Hell, there might ‘ave even been a few attempts to nab you that we don’t even know ‘bout ‘cause they got busted.”

I thought about that for a second. “Well,” I finally said, completely annoyed, “I now really fucking wish that I had some method of communicating with them. Could have possibly bought some fucking time.” I slammed the desk as hard as I could. “God fucking damn it! Agh!”

Then the monitors came back on and my swearing and inarticulate yelling was silenced. The new kind of Dragon’s Teeth was making a combined offensive throughout the facility with some familiar faces. Both the new Deets and the Picts were clearing rooms like the supernaturally-enhanced badasses they were, flash-bangs and frags causing enough distraction for the nimble cloned operators to burst in and shoot the tired defenders in the face with near-impunity.

Also, the Berserkers were back. They kicked through most walls like they were the Kool-Aid man, flung the defenders around like rag dolls, and used their captured machine guns like normal people used Uzis. A few even had bigger, thicker ballistic shields, adding to their seeming invulnerability and what appeared to be backpack-fed miniguns.

Most of the defenders fought bravely. The result was like a less-organized version of the opening of the first Star Wars movie, and they were the rebels fighting the storm troopers. The two biggest differences were that the Dragon’s Teeth had a lot better armor and that many of the defenders the Deets encountered were looking the other way. Only pockets of defenders were able to hold their ground for any length of time.

The result was pretty much a massacre. Every soldier or gangster who decided to fight back ended up dead, and the tide of black and grey armor slowly began moving up the floors. As I watched, my heart broke. I had done so many horrible things. I had lied. I had murdered. I had made it easier for others to murder. All in the name of stopping nebulous bad things.  And now, despite everything I’d done, I was watching what was possibly the last group of organized resistance to the Dragon’s Teeth in America evaporating like morning dew. Like they’d never even existed.

I wanted to apologize, but the truth was, what was happening wasn’t even my fault. I’d done everything I could. This massacre would have happened without me. That was somehow worse. I never would have been in this situation if I didn’t think I could save the world.

Suddenly, I heard Jen’s voice. “Nathan, Eliza, we need to get you out of here,” she said.

I didn’t turn from the scenes of death that were occurring, but Eliza said, “I’m down. ‘Ow are we going to do that?” If I cared, I would have asked roughly the same thing in the exact same defeated, critical tone. Maybe with a different accent, I’d admit, but the meaning would be pretty similar.

“We… we…” Jen said, trying to find something to say.

“Y’can’t teleport anyone but yourself,” Eliza said in a dull, defeated voice, “we’ve got no helicopters, we’re surrounded, walled in, an’ the enemy’s cocked up any chance of goin’ out through a tunnel. I’d like to run. Really, I would. But we can’t.”

As Eliza was saying this, I noticed that Andrew and Lydia were leapfrogging down a corridor away from some Picts, firing Maccabees wildly. As soon as Eliza had said, “but we can’t,” a group of the new type of Dragon’s Teeth had turned a corridor and shot the two in the back. Jen must have seen it too, because I heard her gasp.

I turned around and saw that she was bleeding. The vest on top of her Oniko costume had been penetrated slightly, and she was down to only her Berettas. One of the glowing eyes of her mask had been knocked out and bits of shrapnel had cut her costume in the non-armored bits. She was leaning against the wall, possibly because of the cuts on her legs.

Yet she stood and ripped off her mask. “I,” she said, her face pale with pain and voice shaky but defiant, “am not leaving anyone. I’ve let too many people I love die. I will get you out of here. No more dead friends.”

“Nice sentiment and all luv,” Eliza said, forcing some of her humor back into her voice, “but we’re already dead. Jus’ walkin ‘round a bit mor’n usual, is all.”

“No,” Jen said, starting to cry, “there’s a way for you to get out, there has to be, there-”

“Jen,” I said, “Eliza’s right. Unless there’s some other Jumpers here I don’t know about, you’re the only one who can escape.” I took a deep breath. This next part was going to be hard. “Look, this has gone to hell. I got into this whole…” I wracked my brain for a second, trying to find a word to describe the hopeless horror of the situation, “mess to ‘save the world.’ Well, right now there’s only one person I can save.”

“Don’t you dare play hero on me,” Jen said. “I know what you are.”

“You’re right,” I said. “I was never a hero. I was kind of a self-important piece of shit. And I can’t really take off after you, because, well.” I gestured helplessly to my wheelchair. “So there’s no benefit to saving me. Or dying with me. I do have one realistic request.” I took a deep breath. “Run.”

“Wouldn’t you want to save Eliza?” Jen asked.

“‘E said reasonable,” Eliza said.

“Look,” I said, “I’ve saved nobody in this stupid war. So please, if only to serve my ego, run away. I don’t care if you run away and rejoin the fight five minutes later, or if you run so far away that the Dragon’s Teeth never find you. I just want to know that you last five minutes longer than I do.” Jen looked like she was about to argue for a second. “Jen,” I said as softly as I could due to the gunfire, “please. There’s nothing for you here and I’m tired of all this waste.”

“Fine.” Jen said, her voice cracking. “I’ll-I’ll go. I just…”

For a second, she looked like she was going to burst into tears. Then she jumped.

I almost burst into tears myself. I had lost one… well, maybe Jen wasn’t exactly a friend, but she had been a contact for a long time. I had known her since Freshman year at NIU and now she was gone. But she was alive. Hopefully for a long time.

“Well,” Eliza said, “d’you think we saved ‘er, or is she going to come back with the cavalry?”

“There is no cavalry,” I said.

Eliza nodded. “Point,” she conceded. She got up and gave me a hug. “But a girl can dream, can’t she?”

I returned the hug as best I could, despite the awkward angle and my wheelchair. “I honestly think everyone should dream. Especially in a situation like this, it’s probably healthier than the other option.” I patted the Maccabee on my lap.

“There’s a lot of options healthier’n blowin’ your own brains out,” Eliza said disapprovingly.

Then there was a knock on the door. From the intercom, a familiar voice said, “Mr. Jacobs. We’d like to have a conversation with you.”

I looked at the camera feed outside the security room. There stood ten Dragon’s Teeth Berserkers in full armor, all armed with either machineguns taken from dead US troops or ballistic shields and miniguns. Those were just the ones I could count.

“So Eliza,” I said, “do we want to die fighting or see if we can save a few more people?”

“See if we can save a few more people,” Eliza said with a shrug. “Why not? If whatever plan you have doesn’t work, there’s always the die fighting.”


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Track 31: In the town known as Worcester, MA

For what seemed to be several hours but was probably not even a half an hour, I watched the incoming stream of soldiers trying to get into the factory. The vehicles were still holding the line, but barely.

“Where the fuck are all these people coming from?” I muttered under my breath.

I heard a knock on the door. On the camera, it revealed it to be Eliza. “I’m kind of locked down at the moment,” I said into the intercom. I made sure it was only directed into the speaker outside the door to the security room.

“Good,” Eliza said back into the intercom. “That’s where you need to be. I take it yer ready to push the button?”

“Yeah,” I said. “I am.”

“I like it even less than you do,” Eliza said, “but those tanks won’t ‘old forever. Also, I’m worried about the basement. Buncha pipes and conduits leadin’ in, right?”

“Create a detail for that if you want,” I said, “but I’m not too worried about that. We’ve got bigger problems than-”

There was a roar that reminded me of one of my last years in high school. Behind my school, they had been building a replacement for my old crappy school and part of that process involved breaking ground using explosives. Those explosives, up until recently, had been the second-most powerful weapons I had experienced. Only the Teeth’s plasma weaponry had impressed me more than the humble excavation tool that had caused that tarp behind my school to lift up, propelled by literal tons of dirt and rock.

This sound, however, was like someone had dropped dozens of bombs hundreds of times more powerful in rapid succession. The shock wave was so intense that it felt like my heart would burst and I was nearly thrown out of my chair. Ears ringing, I turned back to the monitor to check what had happened.

The exterior cameras facing the areas the tanks had been defending were useless. Either they were displaying an error message, or they were showing an odd swirling gray mist. Upon looking on the ones viewing the rooms where the soldiers were being triaged, I learned it was dust. Dust that was still pouring in, causing everyone who breathed it in to break down and cough. Dust that was sticking to clothes and skin. I wondered what it was from, then realized with horror: it was from the buildings outside the factory that, along with the tanks, had been blocking the advance of the Dragon’s Teeth.

I slammed the button to the intercom for a general announcement. “GET INSIDE!” I yelled. “EVERYONE, GET INSIDE NOW!”

Then, one of the Dragon’s Teeth planes must have flown too low, because all the dust was blown away. There, advancing over rubble that used to be several blocks of city street and methodically killing US Armed Forces stragglers, were what had to be Dragon’s Teeth soldiers. They seemed to be a new type, with a different kind of armor and were moving along in groups of three, with one in front holding a riot shield and two in back using the one in front as cover.

I frowned. The weapons they were holding didn’t seem to be the typical Pilum bullpup assault rifle or Gladius SMG used by the mainline Legionnaires. I zoomed in. “The bastards…” I muttered as I saw some reach into a hastily restored Sherman tank to remove a crew member.

Some of the ones hiding behind the riot shields were carrying M249s, M240s, or M60s. But most were carrying Maccabees. It was difficult, but I could tell by the fact that the M4-like rifles were oddly thick around the magazines and ambidextrous AK-style charging handles. The ones with the shields were either carrying Maccabees or Ballpeens with flat butt plates that had slings around their shoulders.

They’re using my weapons, I thought in shock. The bastards are in my country, killing my fellow citizens with weapons I made.

Between the shock of seeing my weapons in the hands of the enemy and disorientation from the bomb, I was too stunned to do anything. I watched as the few remaining US soldiers outside the factory capable of doing anything started to fire at the advancing Teeth. Their fire did very little, with many bullets bouncing off the ballistic shields and sometimes even the helmets of the advancing Teeth. Many more shots missed. It was a miracle, in my opinion, that any of the US soldiers had hit them.

The Dragon’s Teeth, meanwhile, were moving with inhuman speed and returning fire with equally impressive accuracy. In the rare circumstances that one of them was dropped by the fire from the US soldiers, his buddies would step over his body and continue onwards. I suddenly realized that the soldiers still outside the factory were screwed, and the Dragon’s Teeth were entering optimum range. I pushed the button.

The doors slammed shut. A soldier had been trying to get through the pedestrian entrance and was crushed by the iron blast door. Their buddy just ahead turned around and began screaming causing other soldiers to turn around. On the vehicle entrance, some soldiers had been dragging in wounded. Some were still outside, and began banging on the door only to be cut down by Dragon’s Teeth fire or to get down. I was unsure which. One soldier who had been dragged by his or her fellows (the body armor most of them were wearing and shitty image quality made telling gender hard) had their legs caught by the falling door. The people dragging the wounded soldier in were now trying to free them.

Meanwhile, the auto-turrets had come up. The perimeter around the doors had mostly contracted into the turret’s minimum range. Mostly. A few soldiers outside that small bubble were instantly chewed up by the dumb devices.

Luckily, the Dragon’s Teeth took the brunt of the robotic wrath. A short burst into Dragon’s Teeth clone with a riot shield would seemingly penetrate the shield, its wielder, and, if the burst was long enough, the armor of the other two Teeth in the triad.

I looked out into the hellish landscape outside the factory that I had helped to create in several ways. Buried, maimed, and dead littered all the debris from the bombs. The ringing in my ears from the bombs was slowly dying away and I could hear footsteps and voices outside the door of the security room as people began running to firing positions inside the factory walls. In the cameras looking inside the factory, I could see soldiers and gangsters running to firing positions, checking for masks, or trying to find a place to put the dead and wounded so they at least wouldn’t get trampled. Thanks to what I’m convinced was a Deet carpet-bombing, I think there were a few more potential murder holes than there would have been otherwise.

I realized that the explosion had shaken a huge amount of dust loose from the tiles above me. I brushed myself off, which irritated my burned skin. I then began to wonder what else I was missing. My chest was still aching from the blasts, and I wondered how anyone was still moving.

Due to a combination of finally being able to catch my breath and the ringing in my ears dying down, I finally noticed that some of the thumping was coming from the door to my security room. I looked through the camera just in time to see Captain Castle get slammed against the wall by Eliza.

“Hey, Eric,” I said into the intercom, “Eliza’s having a dispute with one of our guests. Can I have some assistance here?” There was another thump as Castle slammed Eliza back into the door to the security room, and another when he headbutted her. Seeing as there was no way anyone would have been able to make out that what with the explosions and gunfire, I added, “Can you please hurry?”

Castle got Eliza into a headlock somehow, then hammered on the button. “Jacobs, you piece of shit!” he yelled. “Open the fucking gate or I break her GAH!”

Eliza had simultaneously bit Castle’s arm and brought her foot down on the Captain’s shin, causing it to bend where a human leg definitely should not be bending. She then ripped out of his grasp and threw him back against the door with a thud.

At that point, I genuinely expected him to go down. Instead, from the side I could see, three bone claws popped out of his hand and he somehow lunged towards Eliza. In response, Eliza popped her own claws. Shit, I thought. He’s a Lupine as well. This will only end badly.

There was a brief flurry of violence in which I couldn’t see anything. I could see the results. Both combatants had been flung back against their respective walls, Eliza bleeding from the face and Castle clutching his stomach with one hand. Eliza yelled something, but I could barely make out a sound through the reinforced wall and the gunfire.

Castle ignored her and took a step forwards. Then, from the blurry camera feed, I saw him stumble back and I could hear several gunshots striking metal. Whoever was firing at him quickly shifted aim and the result was a massive red hole in his forehead.

Eliza slumped to the ground as Doc and Eric came into view. Eric went over to Eliza while Doc kept his gun trained on Castle’s corpse. Satisfied that the threat was over, I wheeled to the door and began the process of opening it. When it opened, something squishy fell on my legs. It was Captain Castle’s head. I looked down. His stomach was ripped to shreds.

“I’m sorry, Nate,” Eliza said, her eyes filled with tears. Well, eye. One of them was completely gouged out from Castle’s swipe. “I tried to get ‘im to reason wi’ me an’ then ‘e took a swing an’ things just snowballed. I didn’t…! I didn’t mean…!”

I knew. It wasn’t her fault. Two Lupines, one trying to enter the room where the person who had killed all his men was sitting, the other, who wanted to defend said person in the room. I personally was surprised that Doc had arrived in time to end the fight.

The Monk, Ray-Gun and Cross had joined me, Eliza, Eric and Doc. I only barely noticed them. “We have to do something,” I said. “We have to hide the body. How…?”

Cross took  off his jacket and threw it over Castle’s head. “We’re putting bodies out in the back. Most people aren’t back there anyway. Plus he’s just one more body. Easiest stiff disposal job I ever did. You and Eliza just go back in there. Is there a cleaning cupboard?” He then looked down the hall. “There it is. You got a key?”

“It’s got a number pad,” I said. “Four, five, seven, nine.”

“Got it,” Cross said. “We’ll fix this shit up. You and Eliza stay in there.”

Once Eliza was shepherded into the room, I turned my attention back to monitoring the hell I had created.

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Track 30: End of the End

I moved back to the cameras. It wasn’t long until I saw the first US soldiers come down the street. The first wave were in trucks and they passed by. Some of those trucks had their canvas covers burned off and I could see that they were carrying heavily injured troops who were too messed up to fight. The next wave were the able-bodied and walking wounded. If you could move by leaning against a more able-bodied buddy or being dragged along by the hand, you were in this wave.

I opened the doors facing them. “Hey everybody,” I said over the loudspeakers. “Incoming US troops, please use the doors facing you. Also, if some of the guys who can stand could pull security. And people inside the factory, please do not shoot at the guys in multicam. That’d be great.”

I felt a gloved hand on my shoulder. I turned around and saw Jen in her terrifying Hinomoto Oniko getup. “Make sure you check them all to make sure they aren’t wearing masks, though,” she said, her voice eerily distorted by her mask. “I don’t want to get blindsided again.”

She then leaned against the wall and began checking her weapons. I noticed that she had added two Uilon Mangchis and a Ballpeen to her arsenal as well as her usual twin Beretta 92 Elites and Kriss Vector. “You should have made more ammo,” she said. “If my experience is correct about this, we should only have enough for a day or two of constant fighting.”

I was about to say some things. Such as, “Assuming we last that long,” or ask her why she had jumped in behind me. Instead, I said, “In case I don’t see you again, uh, good luck?” I held out my hand.

Jen let the Ballpeen fall loose in its sling and grabbed my hand. “Good luck.” Then she cocked her head to the side. “Do you have a weapon? You might need one.”

I reached under the desk and pulled out a Maccabee and laid it in my lap, careful to keep the barrel pointed away from Jen. “Nice thing about these guys is that they’ve got almost no recoil,” I said. “I can pretty much spray and pray without having to put my brakes on.”

“That’ll be useful,” Jen said. “I have to…” she made a vague gesture with her hand, then left.

I went back to the monitor. Outside, there was a small stream of soldiers coming in. If things kept up, we literally would not be able to hold any more people in a few hours. Inside, we were already feeling the strain. Gangsters with no military training were doing their best to make tired, stressed, and heavily armed soldiers form an orderly cue so their faces could be pinched. I was surprised that nobody had shot each other yet.

I looked back at the screens viewing the outside. In front of the factory, I could see various fighting vehicles slowly backing down the various streets, firing all the way. Several of these streets had larger vehicles firing over the tops of smaller ones. Then the cameras facing the Teeth’s axis of attack went blank for a bit and the others suffered a drop in quality. What I could see of the firing vehicles showed that there had been a huge blue-white flash. When the video came back on, I could see smoke from farther up the street.

I turned on the intercom. “Get those new arrivals processed quicker. They’re fucking coming.”

I watched the columns of armored vehicles slowly got worn down. I didn’t really have a great angle on them, but I knew that every time there was a bright flash of light and the cameras went out, the odds were extremely high that another tank had been destroyed or disabled.

“Come on, come on, come on” I murmured repeatedly looking at the various internal cameras where the triage was happening and the rush of incoming soldiers. We didn’t have time for this. The whole army was closing in on us and we had a line going out the door. At least it was starting to move quickly.

There was a knock on the door outside. I looked at the camera viewing the hall. A US soldier, his various recent burns and cuts prominent against his black skin. I saw only one side of him due to the camera angle, and one hand appeared to be clawed and he seemed to be favoring the leg I could see. I opened the door, turned to shake his hand and said, “I’m Nathan Jacobs and Jesus Christ you need medical attention!”

The camera view hadn’t really prepared me for the mass of cuts and burns on the poor man. The pant leg on the side I couldn’t see was in tatters, with the leg itself having multiple cuts, burns, and bits of shrapnel stuck in it. I could also tell why his hand was clawed: a rod of metal had gone through it. I’d seen his face from the camera feed, but that had been distorted. The burns and cuts were even more pronounced and I could see the bits of shrapnel now.

“With all due respect, sir,” the soldier said, his eyes bloodshot from what was probably a lack of sleep, “Y’all look like shit as well.” He pulled out a stray bit of shrapnel that had lodged right next to his eye, then took my hand. I tried not to recoil or flinch, seeing as how it was the same hand that had that had removed the metal chunk. “I’m Captain Aaron Castle, and near as I can tell, I’m the ranking officer in this shit show. How long you keeping the doors open?”

“As long as those tanks are holding,” I said. “As soon as I see them stop holding the lines, or as soon as the people out in front get in, I close the doors and turn on the auto-turrets.”

“Can the turrets identify friendlies?” he asked.

“No,” I said. “When they’re on, everything in pre-designated killzones is a valid target. But it’ll be way better than them just pushing on into the building.”

“I don’t dispute that,” Castle said, “but I’d prefer that all my boys make it in.”

“I want them all to make it inside,” I said, “I too want to be able to sleep at night, if we survive this. But if we want to be a speedbump, we cannot let Dragon’s Teeth into the building. We also need to consider the fact that all the food and ammo you guys are bringing in is all that they’re going to get. They also are going to have to worry about the fact that the Teeth can cut the water at any time.”

Castle looked at me in disgust. “Are you suggesting it might be beneficial to leave men out there to die?”

“You’re a smart man,” I said. “I’m not going to insult your intelligence by pretending that’s not exactly what I’m saying. But there aren’t a lot of options other than that.” I paused, then asked, “Serious question: do you know what happens when you try surrendering to these people? Because I legitimately don’t know.”

Castle looked at me, his eyes narrowed. “At this point,” I said, “I’d be willing to surrender, and I think most people in the building would be as well. Alternatively, we could use the people pulling security duty as guinea pigs. Have them surrender, and use that as a delaying tactic.”

Castle shook his head. “No,” he said. “We aren’t surrendering. We’ve lost too many people to give up now.”

“I understand,” I said. “You should go back down and try to organize your men. Ideally, they’ll all be inside.” I smile reassuringly, and the Captain nodded and turned around. When the door closed, I make sure the heavy metal door is locked. Then I pull down the ballistic curtain.

As I said to Captain castle, ideally, every single US soldier will be inside the factory when the Dragon’s Teeth begins their assault.

Of course, the world hadn’t been ideal for a long time.


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Track 29: The Lights Go Out

From what I understood, Andrew and Lydia had managed to decrypt the army’s radio feed. When I asked them if they should tell the army how easy it was to crack their encryption, Andrew shrugged. “We told one of the Rangers we fought with in Boston about it. He laughed and said that they knew and everyone we had who could come up with a new code was dead or captured.”

“Yeah,” Lydia added, “didn’t you realize we were all fucked, Killer?”

“I did,” I said sheepishly, “I just didn’t know how bad.”

Everyone who was off-duty was listening to the Bluetooth speakers that Lydia and Andrew were using to listen in on the army. Normally, the chatter wouldn’t be interesting. Just some guys occasionally saying all clear. Yet we were all waiting for the time when they’d start seeing something else.

I looked around. The only other two people I saw that I recognized were Cross and Doc, holding hands and looking ill with worry about what was coming. I didn’t blame them.

“Hey, Andrew, Lydia,” I said, “Can you guys broadcast as well as receive? If things start to get hairy for them, they should know that the door is open.”

“Not a problem,” Andrew said. He then fiddled with a laptop for a bit, then said, “US forces, US forces, this is what remains of Bandits one through four. We got ourselves a nice little place. You need to crash, we got a place, over.”

I was somewhat surprised to hear General Connolly himself respond. “This is Alamo Actual. I’ve heard about you guys, Bandit. The 75th spoke highly of you.”

“I wouldn’t be putting those guys in past-tense yet, sir,” Andrew said. “They were pretty bad themselves.”

“Maybe,” Connolly said. “But they’re not going to come help us. Anyway, I take it you’re at a certain weapons factory?”

“Hell yeah,” Andrew said.

“I’ll pass on the information. If you are who I think you are, we got your message. In the meantime, stay off the net. They’ll contact you.”

“Huh,” Lydia said. “We actually have a smart person in charge. That’s always nice.”

I nodded. Still, this was a guy who’d said he’d spent a lot of time behind a desk taking a tired, tiny force up against potentially millions of the greatest army ever seen. I shook my head at thinking this. We could have the greatest commander and a week to prepare, but we’d still be fucked. Hell, maybe if the US government had known that the Teeth had this level of power back before I’d gone to North Korea, we still might be in the same situation.

Around four in the morning, we began hearing the first bits of fighting. “This is Echo Niner. We’re seeing movement on the other side of Lake Quinsigamond. Looking to confirm it is Drake, over.”

“Roger that,” General Connolly responded. “Be advised, though we cannot provide fire support at this time. Alamo out.”

Lake Quinsigamond. That was close, maybe even inside city limits. Of course, the Teeth were everywhere now. There were millions of them versus thousands of us.

“Watershed Nine here,” another voice said in a low whisper. “We’re at a junction between State Routes Twelve, One-Ten, and One-Forty. Teeth are massing right in front of us to move into West Boylston. Requesting Watershed Nine blow the One-Forty bridge across the Thomas Basin as we start our ambush. Over.”

“Negative, Watershed Niner,” Connolly said, “Wait until Drake begins crossing the bridge. Watershed Ten-”

The general was interrupted by an urgent voice. “This is Watershed Ten. We’re observing Dragon’s Teeth spec ops scaling the bridge supports. Your orders, sir?”

“Engage with snipers,” Connolly replied. “Keep them off the supports as long as possible. Watershed Niner, go weapons free. Repeat, Watershed Ten and Niner are weapons free.”

“Roger that,” Watershed Ten said. The last word Ten said was cut off by two roars, one of static, the other on Watershed Ten’s end. Watershed Ten then said, his once-clear voice now severely distorted by static, “Well, I think Watershed Nine is compromised. Multiple plasma bursts impacting at what appears to be their command center and apparently Charons are now amphibious. We’re opening fire with the Abrams and Javelins as we speak, over.” Despite the horrible sound quality, I could sort of make out the loud cracks of big guns.

“Roger that,” Connolly said. “Give ‘em hell, Watershed.”

Suddenly, a panicked voice came over the radio. “This is Echo Niner! Dragon’s Teeth heavy vehicles are crossing Quinsigamond and our charges are non-functioning. Repeat, charges are a no-go, the bridge will not fall. Orders, sir?”

“Make them bottle up,” Connolly said. “We need to do as much damage as we can.”

It went on like that for hours as the Dragon’s Teeth began to tighten the noose on all sides. I tried to get to sleep, but I was slowly hearing more and more gunfire and explosions. The last US artillery began firing. Everything they had left: shrapnel rounds, high explosive, incendiary even poison gas was launched, judging by the chatter. The only thing they weren’t deploying were the biological and nuclear weapons. I wondered if they were avoiding releasing something like super Ebola because they weren’t that desperate or if the Dragon’s Teeth had secured our bio weapons like they had with the nuclear stuff. Or even worse, they could be deploying them right now and I’d survive the battle only to come down with a flesh-eating virus that would slowly and painfully eat me alive over the course of years.

More and more, the Teeth seemed to be getting closer. We’d even hear jets fly by over the building on occasion. Judging by how quiet they were and considering how the war had gone, they had to be Dragon’s Teeth. Judging by the sound of gunfire and explosions and the radio chatter, the Teeth were trying to use a mix of artillery, air strikes, and human wave tactics to break through a series of positions on Interstate Route 290.

It was working. The blocking maneuver was working wonderfully, but the people manning it were only holding on because of a huge amount of mustard gas and conventional shells being dropped. The various soldiers manning the ambushes were tiring, and the howitzers were running out.

Finally, a tired female voice came in over the radio. “This is Hotel. We’re dry, and down to only one MLRS, anyway.”

“Roger that,” Connolly said. “Can you get back to position Alamo?”

“Maybe,” Hotel said, as suddenly there was the sound of an explosion close by. “Wait, no. We’re cut off. Good luck. Hotel out.”

The defenses all over began dissolving. I finally knew what so many others had felt across the globe as the Teeth had slowly, inexorably pushed out their nation’s last remaining troops in the area. The Teeth had taken the seas, the skies, and utterly humiliated and annihilated the three great super powers and any player that could have potentially stepped in to fill the void. Still, I hadn’t given up some strange irrational hope that some hero would blow up the thing shooting light into the sky or kill the bad guy or even that God Himself would come down and lay the hurt on these motherfuckers.

Then the retreat began. After what seemed like hours of chaos, Connolly contacted us. “This is Alamo. Bandit, you guys ready to take in some strays?”

“Yes sir,” Andrew said. “We are one hundred percent ready.”

“I hope that’s true,” Connolly said, “because it looks like the main axis of Drake’s attack could bear down on you.”


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Track 28: Massachusetts Is Beautiful This Time of Year

For some of us, our work took on a new urgency after that. Others became despondent. From what I could tell though, nobody left. After all, where was there to go? Most of their friends and family were either dead, far out of reach, or in the room with them.

For the first time in a long time, I thought about my family. I suddenly realized that I had no idea if they were alive or not. I didn’t even know whether or not Maynard was part of the area that had been taken. Normally, it was just a thirty-minute drive by highway. Now it was probably a world away, through Dragon’s Teeth patrols, ruined roads, blasted landscape, destroyed houses, wrecked and abandoned vehicles, and corpses.

Until the invasion, I may have been one of the most knowledgeable people on the subject of Teeth weapons and tactics. I knew what could, no, what would happen if you were hit by their weapons. Hell, a near-miss from their personal plasma weaponry had inflicted some of the most horrific damage I’d ever seen on a human being. If it hit my parents or my sister…

I excused myself quickly. I knew why I hadn’t been thinking about it. I couldn’t bear it. I was a coward. I was distant from the world I was thought I was helping. What the hell was I doing? Did I really think that any of this was doing anything? I was just a dumb kid from Maynard who was good at killing people on occasion.

As soon as I found a room, Eliza found me. “Oi, Nate,” she said softly. “You alright, mate?”

“Where’s my family?” I asked, turning to look at her.

Eliza looked thoughtful. After a long while she said, “I think we both know. But there’s really only one way to be sure.”

“Yeah,” I said. “And I don’t think that I can go out looking for them. If they’re in Dragon’s Teeth territory, well.” I gestured to my wheelchair. “I can’t exactly ask you to push me the entire way.”

“Or you could just call, you git,” Eliza said, pointing to a landline on the wall.

“The cell towers are all dead,” I said morosely. “And the landlines are cut.”

“You sure?” Eliza asked. “Your ‘ouse still ‘as a landline, doesn’t it?” She grabbed my chair and wheeled me to the phone. “Call ‘em. Apologize for being a wanker and not calling ‘em sooner or I’ll dump you outta the chair, lock you in the room, and leave you to your own devices.”

“Ok,” I said, taking the corded phone off its cradle and punching in the number. “I’ll do it.” Putting the phone to my ear, I heard the reassuring dial tone. Eliza was right, the phones were still working.

But when I finished punching in the number, a gruff, professional voice said, “We’re sorry, but due to recent events many numbers have been disconnected. This number,” the next phrase was in a different military voice, “is located in an area that has been confirmed destroyed.” The first voice began speaking again. “If you have any questions, please contact General Paulson’s office at-”

I didn’t hear the rest of the voice. I hung up, rather than listen about how I should contact a dead army officer. “Apparently,” I said dully, “My home… my family lives in an area that ‘has been confirmed destroyed.’” I broke down sobbing.

“Well,” Eliza said, “you can-”

“Avenge them?” I asked. “Really? And what happens if the reason they’re dead is that they were in a US barrage?” Eliza looked shocked. “It. Doesn’t. Matter. What matters is that I was out doing something utterly stupid instead of being with them.” Before Eliza could respond, I quickly added, “It isn’t your fault or Charlotte’s. It’s mine. I believed I could save the world. At any point on this whole crazy ride, I could have said, ‘you know what, I’m just a dumb kid in over my head,’ and left. And at most points, I could have done it and no one would have thought any less of me.”

“Nate,” Eliza said, “Do you want to leave?”

“Now?” I asked. “No. I might have a way out of this, but nobody else here does.” I sighed and laughed. “We’re fucked, but we can at least die standing. Or sitting,” I added, remembering my chair.

Eliza smiled and hugged me. “I’m glad you’re here.” Her hug tightened. “And I’m glad you want to be here.”

Hugging her back, my voice breaking with tears, I said, “I’m glad you’re here, too.” Getting my voice under control, I tried to add in a flippant tone, “Shame we don’t have a view of the trees. Massachusetts is beautiful this time of year.”

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