Track 16: The Person on the News

“So,” Hicks said, rubbing his temples, “why, exactly, was this friend of a friend digging in national wildlife reservation at three am on a Monday?”

Before I could answer, Ken Watanabe, the Boston lawyer that Jen had sent us, cut in. “Mr. Hicks,” he said in his mostly Texas accent (with a creeping intrusion of Boston Townie,) “I fail to see how this is relevant to the conversation in any way.” Ken Watanabe was a slightly comical man with Asian facial features, short stature, and a penchant for cowboy clothing mixed with expensive suits. He was also Jennifer Kagemoto’s lawyer, which made me wonder how ridiculous he actually was.

“I’m just wondering,” Hicks said, “because that particular reservation isn’t open to the public at that point.”

“And that,” Watanabe said, “is why our friends wish to remain anonymous. Y’all are gonna harass them over minor infractions, despite the fact that they’ve been very helpful to us.”

“Much as I doubt that’s they were doing was minor,” Agent Barton said.

“Without any evidence,” Watanabe muttered under his breath.

“We have more important things to do,” Barton said, pointedly ignoring Watanabe. “And we need to contact these people. There’s a lot of very disturbing things that they’ve seen and we need to find a way to collect and collate the information, assuming it isn’t too late already.”

“I understand the gravity of the situation,” Watanabe said, “but I need to do what’s best for my client. That’s my job.”

“Maybe,” I said, “we should take a break?” We weren’t in an interrogation room, thankfully. Instead, we were in a little suite of apartments in what appeared to be a hotel. However, something about the perky female receptionist who’d had one hand under the desk when we’d checked in and the man at the bar who drank nothing but water seemed to suggest that the clientele wasn’t exactly normal.

“Yeah,” Hicks said. “Sounds like a good idea.”

“Ok,” I said to Watanabe as soon as Hicks and Barton were gone, “How likely is it that Hicks is going to nail someone if I give him the opportunity?”

“Hundred percent,” Watanabe said. “Maybe not immediately, but it’s in his nature. Barton’s too. You want to protect your friends-”

“Who are also yer clients,” Eliza said. “Or do business with yer clients.”

“That has no bearing on the situation,” Watanabe said. “If you’ll excuse me, I need to make a few phone calls.”

“Sure thing,” I said. He stood up, we shook hands. “I’ll see you later, I guess.” As soon as he had left, I said, “He’s going to call Jen, isn’t he?”

“Possibly not,” Eliza said. “They’re probably bugging him.”

“Like he doesn’t know that,” I said. We considered our problem. “Calling Jen was a mistake, wasn’t it?”

“Well,” Eliza said, starting to count off options, “we could’ve decided not to ‘ave a lawyer. That’d be just as dumb. We could have hired another lawyer and stonewalled, but time’s of the essence. We also don’t know any other lawyers in this country. We might be able to hire a lawyer for a second opinion, but I got a sneakin’ suspicion ‘e’ll end up with a bullet in the back of his head. Also, we don’t know any bloody lawyers in this bloody country.”

After a few silent moments of me considering Eliza’s wisdom, I said, “Fuck, you’re right.” Eliza mad a noise of agreement, then there were a few more moments of silence. Finally, I said, “So, you want to watch the news?”

“No,” Eliza said, “but it’d probably be better than worrying about what the hell will happen next.”

We turned on the news and began watching one of the major networks. There were several stories about missing journalists, a new defensive pact including US, Mexico, Canada, and several other countries, and a few scientists talking about how close a space object was getting and arguing whether or not it was a spaceship that contained life or an asteroid. Of course, the thing they mostly talked about was how Hawaii was under Dragon’s Teeth control and how nobody had heard anything about it since the invasion. I estimated ninety percent of the conversation was pure speculation.

Then, during a piece on the seedy world of super hero/super villain fight betting and fixing (I noticed that some Massachusetts heroes were mentioned, much to my distaste) when it was announced. “We interrupt this segment for an important message,” one of the anchors said. “We’re just getting word that two fleets of warships are heading towards the US coast. We now have footage.”

When it came on, my heart sank. “Shit,” I said. “I recognize those ships.”

“Yeah,” Eliza said. “Those carriers and landing ships were at Pearl Harbor, weren’t they? And there’s some English, Australian and Indian ships as well.”

“No,” I said. “I mean, I’m sure you’re right, but that ship the camera person is getting close to? That’s a ship that was at that Russian port.” I squinted. “And yep, those are Deets on deck. You can sail away now, camera person. I really don’t want to see you die.”

The anchors, who had seen the Dragon’s Teeth a second after me, and realized what they were only a few seconds later, had the exact reaction. As they clamored and begged for the sailor with the shitty phone and a streaming service to get closer, I began to realize I hated them. Then the close-in weapons system opened up. Despite being a hundred and fifty meters away from the ship, the roar from what appeared to be three six-barreled 20mm turrets was loud enough to cause the microphone on the camera to crackle. I saw a brief glimpse of red tracers, the deck splintering and the water going from calm green to roiling, frenzied-piranha white, then the feed cut.

One of the anchors said, “We apologize for the disturbing footage. We.. we will be back after the break.” As the camera switched to an overhead view, I heard what I assumed the producer shouting and the anchor say, “Dammit, I know! I know Rob! But I can’t. I just can’t.”

Then the door opened. In walked Hicks and Barton. “We’re leaving.” Barton said. “Now.”

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Track 15: Calm Before the Storm

I hadn’t even been mulling over Alma’s statement a minute when Eliza came back in. She was paler than usual and she sat down heavily. “What happened?” I asked.

“It’s fallen,” Eliza said.

“Really?” I asked. “I mean, I know Hawaii probably wasn’t prepared, but…”

“No, not Hawaii,” Eliza said, “The UK.” We shut up, me mostly because I was stunned. “Though Hawaii probably’s going down soon.”

“What do you mean, ‘England’s fallen?’” I asked. “England doesn’t just fall. They aren’t fucking Denmark.”

“I bloody know, mate,” Eliza said. “But they’ve got our silos, Buckingham’s in their control, and pretty much every major city and military base from Edinburgh to London’s got a nice ol’ infestation of Drake.”

“But…” I said, “but how? Yesterday they were on the other side of the channel!”

“Probably has something to do with their gateways,” Eliza said. “But yeah, that was record time for them. From what we can gather, they put a huge amount into this one. Seemed to be a higher ratio of Dragon’s Teeth to defenders than normal. And they were a lot less concerned with civilian casualties.”

“Jesus…” I said. “What the hell?”

“I know,” Eliza said. “D’you think they’re gonna stop there?”

“No,” I said. “I wish I could say they would, but I’d be willing to bet I’m going to figure out first-hand what you’re experiencing soon.”

“Oh, by the way,” I said, “I lost my phone.”

Eliza groaned. “Jesus Christ, now those bastards have a direct line on everyone in your contacts.”

“Yeah,” I said. “Can I borrow your phone to give them a heads up?”

“Better do that,” Eliza said.

As I was texting everyone possibly affected, I said, “By the way, you remember Alma Hebert?”

“My creepy first year roommate?” Eliza asked. “Yeah, definitely.” She shivered theatrically. “You know she hung around with Ulfric? Saw ‘em together multiple times. Guess they were off in the same ways.”

“She’s the Death Goddess,” I said.

“Fuckin’ ‘ell,” Eliza said.

“And I think that Ulfric might be Dragon’s Teeth, now that I think about it,” I said. “I actually saw a few guys that looked a hell of a lot like him.”

“I refer you to my previous statement,” Eliza said. Then she groaned. “Gah, how the fuck didn’t anyone realize this?”

“I get the feeling that there wasn’t much coordination between the guys who made the Dragon’s Teeth,” I said. “The Jason Project, that’s what they’re called…”

“‘Course they are,” Eliza said,

“…Couldn’t really be in regular contact with the President at the beginning, plus there was plausible deniability and then they went rogue.”

Eliza laughed. “Fuckin’ typical, innit? Goddamn conga line of betrayal. The President hires some people to make monsters to take over the world for ‘im, they make the monsters and decide they don’t need to follow orders. Then the monsters start tryin’ to revolt.” She paused. “‘Ow’d you figure out that Alma was…?”

“She contacted me with her psychic powers,” I said.

Eliza groaned something about “not signing up for this” and threw her head back in exasperation.

“My life,” I said, “is just so incredibly strange right now.”

“Warn the people your weirdness might rub off on, weird boy,” Eliza said.

“Getting on it right now,” I said.

John Marshall was the first person I called. He had been my fellow UNIX infiltrator (well, one of four, but he had been the one I had made contact with in Hell Semester) and we had been close for a while. The problem was that John wanted out, and I may or may not be an addict. When he went to North Korea, he had ended up getting shot in a firefight with South Korean police. Then there was Japan, and John had decided he was out.

After listening to my explanation, he said, voice dangerous, “So, basically, because of you, I might have been doxed by the Dragon’s Teeth?”

“Potentially,” I said. “In my defense, this was not my fault.”

“You had my number in your phone,” John said, “despite the fact that you knew people could hack it. But yeah, completely not your fault.” He then hung up. You can’t really slam a cPhone, but if he could, he would have.

“Well fuck you too,” I said. Then I called Eric. Eric, Ray-Gun, the Monk, MC Disaster, and Doc were some former African child soldiers I’d met in Hell Semester. My knowledge of their days back home was sketchy. For instance, I wasn’t entirely sure which country they were even from. I did, however, know that they’d done something to piss off a local warlord.

“Thank you my friend,” Eric said after I had filled him in. “I will tell the rest of my crew.”

“Thanks,” I said. “I’ll call Cross next.” Croccifixio “Cross” Castellan was another buddy from Hell Semester. He was from New York and was the son of some sort of mobster.

“Excuse me a moment,” Eric said, then yelled away from the phone, “Cross! Stop fucking Doc in the ass for a few minutes! Nathan needs to tell you something!” Turning back to me, he said, “He got back here a few hours after we cleaned up from the Dragon’s Teeth attack. Whenever he and Doc want to have sex, they kick everyone else out.”

From inside the room, I heard Cross yell, “Fuck you! We weren’t doing anything!”

“I will refrain from your kind offer for the moment,” Eric said.

“I didn’t mean to interrupt whatever it is you’re doing there…” I began, but I heard the door open and Eric hand off the phone to Cross. “Hey Cross,” I said.

“‘Sup?” Cross asked.

“So I lost my cPhone and it had your cPhone number on it,” I said, “Plus a Deet got a good look at it. Now it’s sitting in the FBI Honolulu office, waiting for invading Dragon’s Teeth to find it.”

“How the fuck did… never mind, I don’t want to know,” Cross said. “Those assholes just show up everywhere. That’s why my dad sent me to school. We’ve been hearing shit in New York for months now.”

“Really?” I asked. “How come I haven’t heard anything?”

“Look,” Cross said, “I don’t mean to diss newspapers, but they don’t spend hours talking to bums and crackheads unless they have some bullshit ‘human interest story.’ They don’t poke around abandoned buildings and bumfuck-nowhere wilderness looking for stories. People I know? They’re interacting with those people and going to those places every fucking day.”

“And what are they noticing?” I asked.

“Activity.” Cross said. “One guy of ours was burying a corpse in his favorite spot. Then he struck this hunk of prime rib. Few feet beneath that? Fucking junkie with a hole through her heart that looked burned around the edges. That’s how it started.”

“Yeah,” I said, “those injuries sound like something only Dragon’s Teeth can make.”

“Basically, they’re setting something up,” Cross said, “and the junkies and bums are accidentally stumbling on it ‘cause they’re looking for places to sleep for the night or get high. We’re hesitant to tell the cops ‘cause, y’know…”

“Why were you digging a hole there?” I finished. “Why were you talking to that guy?”

“Exactly,” Cross said. “We don’t want to tell the police because that’s gonna fuck things up. Even if leaving things as-is will fuck things up worse.”

“What about the super heroes?” I asked. “I mean, isn’t this the kind of stuff that-”

“Nate,” Cross said, “here’s a tip: capes don’t give a fucking shit. Maybe some of the noobs do, but most of these ‘heroes’ are just in it for the fame and… and the fucking, I dunno, Sprite deals. You should know. You live in Boston.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked.

“Vast majority of those guys,” Cross said, “fix their fights. Your girl Jen was probably the last to fix hers.”

“Why?” I asked.

“I dunno,” Cross said. “Probably because she needed the cash like all the rest.”

“No,” I said, “why didn’t she think of it first?”

“Jen’s weird,” Cross said. “Smart, good at business, but weird.”

“Speaking of Jen,” I said, “I actually need to call her about this.”

“Yeah,” Cross said, “You definitely should start in on that.”

As soon as I hung up, I had an idea. “Hey, Eliza,” I said. “You know how I don’t know that much about lawyers?”

“Yeah?” she asked, her eyebrow raising suspiciously.

“I think I know who does.”

“Fucking Christ,” Eliza said. “It’s Jen, isn’t it?”

“Do you trust Hicks not to arrest us as soon as we touch down in LA?” I asked. “I mean, I like the guy, but he’s a cop.”

“Fuck no,” Eliza said. She sighed. “Call her, I guess.”


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Track 14: Whispers

Around three hours into our flight to California, Eliza left the room to get something to eat. “I’ll be back as soon as I can,” she said.

“Don’t worry,” I said, “I’ll be fine. Or as fine as someone with a concussion can be.” Eliza looked at me hesitantly, then left.

Then everything became strangely sepia-toned and the edges of things began to flow like waves, like still-wet ink. Outside, the view of the sea was replaced with a familiar display of millions of lights, each a different color. The door opened and in walked two familiar people.

“Nathan,” Alma Hebert said. “It’s been a long time, hasn’t it?”

“Yeah,” I said, making contact with Alma’s dead gray eyes, but occasionally I looked at the huge man who’d come in with her. Ulfric Trollbjorn’s tall and sturdy frame was so huge he had to duck and twist to get through the door. Since he was wearing a long-sleeved shirt and long pants, I couldn’t see his muscles, but I’d remembered them. They were big enough to be intimidating, but small enough for him to be as much dancer or runner as weightlifter. “It’s been a while, hasn’t it?”

“You know, don’t you?” Alma asked. As I stared at her, I noticed that occasionally there was a bit of a flicker where she went from appearing to be a healthy (if extremely pale) teenager/young adult to a more skeletal figure.

“I’m not entirely sure what you’re talking about,” I said. Alma looked at me like I was an idiot. Then I remembered where I had seen those colored lights before. “Fuck. You’re their death goddess, aren’t you?”

“Yes,” Alma said. “The question is, what are you going to do about it?”

“Right now,” I said, “nothing. This is a hallucination, right? Nothing I can do here.”

“Hallucination is a good enough term to describe what this is for your purposes, I suppose,” Alma said. “And, as near as I can tell, there’s a decent chance you’re right about not being able to do anything here.”

“Only decent?” I asked.

“The people at the IDRF,” Alma began slowly, as if not really being able to believe what she was saying, “the best and brightest Nowhere Island University had to offer in all their fields ruled physical methods pretty early. From what I can understand, though, this state can cause psionic backlash if I’m not-”

“What do you mean, ‘ruled out physical methods?’” I asked.

I was suddenly struck by a literal cold rage. The cold burned me and the impact of the literal waves of emotion radiating from Alma could be measured by my stomach turning. “They killed me,” Alma said, her voice even more monotone somehow. There was also a tightness about her face. “Starved me to death, then dropped my corpse into an incinerator. One of their few acts of mercy.”

She stopped. “Sorry, but I had a bad time with them. The question is, are you going to help?”

“Is this about the Architect?” I asked. “Because I’m not going to help you knock off one of the other thirds of the Final Prophecy.”

Alma was visibly confused. “What prophecy?” she asked.

I laughed. I couldn’t help it. It was wild, hysterical laughter. Ulfric and Alma stared at me like I had just gone insane. Honestly, though, I’d probably lost it around Freshman year and people were just now realizing. “You really don’t know?” I asked. “Five hundred years, this has been around, and you’re telling me that you don’t even know what the hell I’m talking about?”

“No,” Alma said.

“Apparently,” I said, “there’s three people or entities that are coming. They’re going to have this big fight, and in the process, the whole world gets fucked. You’re number two.”

“I’m not trying to end the world,” Alma said, “I’m trying to save it. If the prophecy says anything else-”

“I believe you,” I said, “but your Dragon’s Teeth buddies? Those hallucinations that people around the world are getting? That doesn’t make you seem benign.”

“I’ve made mistakes,” Alma said, “but it’ll be worth it. If you’re smart, you’ll see someday.”

“Is this where you tell me I’m either with you or against you?” I asked.

“No,” Alma said. “This is where I tell you what I need. I need Mubashir.”

“How do you…? Why?”

“I’m psychic,” Alma said. “You, Mubashir, and his Al-Qaeda buddies walked into the Sun Tzu boy’s locker room. The Al-Qaeda terrorists are still there to this day.”

“Wait,” I said, “they’re… alive?” I remembered how those Al-Qaeda operatives had been twisted into tasteful, Arabic-inspired decorations.

“In a sense,” Alma said and shivered. “I can still feel them. One of the reasons I’m leaving NIU.”

“And why do you want Mubashir?” I asked.

“They’re coming,” Alma said. “There’s a reason the President created the Jason Project. Originally, I was just going to kill him, but when I got here, I found he couldn’t sleep. He’s spent his life running from something. That’s why he’s created the Jason Project, UNIX, the University… plans within plans, contingencies for contingencies… He’s scared, so I’m terrified.”

She leaned closer and touched my hand. It was as cold as a corpse’s “I need Mubashir. If I’m not strong enough, the world could end.” She got up and headed towards the door. Ulfric held it open for her. When she was at it, she turned towards me and said, “All you need to do to help save the world is make one introduction.”

“Is this where you pretend to walk out?” I asked.

“No,” Alma said. “I have things to do and I’m pretty sure you won’t help me. Yet.” Then both Ulfric and her walked down the hall, the world slowly fading back to normal. Her voice floated back to me, distorted and echoing. “Don’t worry, I’ll know when you change your mind.”

The room changed completely back to normal and suddenly I realized the tactic Alma was using on me. It was the same one that UNIX had used to get me to go to NIU. It was the same one Charlotte had used me to go to Japan. Then and there, I made the decision to not to give in. Every time I’d given into self-importance, I’d just brought more misery on myself.

Still, deep down, I wondered if Alma had  some other way of convincing me. Or if she even needed to.


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Track 13: Boot to the Head

“Hey,” I asked an FBI HRT operator as I was being rolled away on a stretcher, “how long was I out?” I sounded a bit congested, and something was leaking from my nose. As if from a muffled distance, I could hear people shouting orders or screaming in utter terror.

“You weren’t,” the operator said, somewhat concerned.

“Oh,” I said. “Is that my blood and vomit all over my shirt?”

“Most of the blood belonged to your friend,” another operator said.

“Oh, good,” I said. Then a light went off. “Just so you’re not angry, I don’t think he liked me either.”

“We figured.”

I was going to ask him why they blew me up. Then wondered if they just didn’t care. If they’d come to my conclusion about the bombs being a (probable) bluff, they’d have to choose between my life and being able to say they’d eliminated all hostiles in under an hour. I didn’t like it, but I understood.

Amongst the other people yelling, I heard a familiar voice say, “Be calm? Fuck you, mate!”

“Eliza!” I said, somewhat muzzily. “You’re still here.”

There was a bit of commotion. I could hear Eliza yelling angrily, and the operators telling her to stay back. Then other voices came in and the operators backed off. I couldn’t really tell what was happening, because everything sounded too echoey and everything was too blurry. Eventually, I was able to focus on Eliza. “…Nate. Oi, Nate. Say something, bloody ‘ell.”

“Hey,” I said, looking up at her concerned face, shrouded a bit by a rebreather. “How are things?”

Meanwhile, I could hear what sounded like Agent Hicks yelling at an operator. “…only lead in the Nakashima case, and you decide to blow him up? And potentially set off a bomb?”

“Oh,” Eliza said, with forced cheer, “pretty swell. Just still handcuffed, dealing with FBI assholes, the usual.”

“Branch director’s orders,” the operator responded to Hicks. “Look at how crazy everything is. We can’t have a hostage situation in an FBI building.”

“Yeah,” I said, “things are pretty insane. Getting stopped by the FBI, dealing with Mayu again…”

“And you blew up a suspect we were supposed to protect,” Barton said. “We were screwed either way, but word of this getting out could be more damaging.”

“Fucking Mayu,” Eliza said. “‘Eard all about that. You were right, should ‘ave blown ‘er bloody ‘ead off when I ‘ad the chance.”

“I think,” I said, “I think that the people who took me were Dragon’s Teeth.”

Everyone turned to stare at me. “How would you know?” an operator asked me.

“If you believe him,” Hicks said, “He’s one of the few people to have fought them and lived.”

“And do we believe him?” an operator asked.

“Evidence points to him being right,” Barton said.

“And my gut says he’s right,” Hicks said.

“I think,” I said, this talk about the Dragon’s Teeth bringing back a vague feeling, “I think that Pict was stalling.”

“Yeah,” Hicks said, “he didn’t want to get blown up.”

“That’s not it,” one of the operators said. “These guys… they left one of their buddies behind. When we finally got into the room, he’d blown his own brains out with a shotgun rather than get taken alive.”

“Invasion, maybe?” I suggested. “I mean, they’ve got a teleporter.”

“They can’t,” the operator said. “They have to be stretched too thin.”

“Do they?” Barton asked.

“What are you guys talking about?” an authoritative female voice asked. “And why are these prisoners still here? That guy looks like he should be in the hospital.”

“Mrs. Patchett,” an operator said. “These two think the Dragon’s Teeth might be responsible for the second attack and that it may be a prelude to something bigger.”

Patchett considered this for a moment, and even I could tell she was getting more worried. She then took out her phone, a Blackberry, and began calling. “What is it?” Barton asked.

“The Third Fleet has two carrier strike groups and its expeditionary strike group moored in Pearl Harbor,” Patchett said. “If they wanted, they could re-enact the Japanese attack there, except worse.”

“This just keeps getting better and better,” Barton said. “Look, if this guy is even half the expert on the Dragon’s Teeth that he claims he is-”

“I just thought them multiple times,” I said. “I’m not an expert!”

“You copied their weapons, you great tit!” Eliza said incredulously.

“Then we need to get him out of here.”

“More importantly,” Hicks said, “the Dragon’s Teeth want him. That’s good enough for me to want to get him to a safe house.”

Patchett held up a hand as her call went through. “Ralph, this is Linda. I need you to put all military posts on high alert, lock down all bases and break out all the thermal imaging devices you have. The Dragon’s Teeth are making a move, and I think… They’re here already? …Put some guards around the ships. It seems like… Yes, I know they’re over there, but that could be a diversion. Be careful, I’ll call you again when things calm down.”

“Let me guess,” Hicks said, “they’re here.”

“Yes,” Patchett said. “They’re here, and they’re digging in in the less populated areas of the island.” She shook her head. “I don’t like it.”

“Yeah,” Hicks said, “me either.”

I tried to think. It was harder than normal. Understandable, considering that I had been blown up recently. Patchett and Hicks were both in agreement that something else was coming, and maybe Barton too, and I knew they were right. But why did I think that? I shrugged and got on. Maybe I could sleep.

I must have done so, because Eliza was shaking me awake. “Nate!” she said, “Oi, Nate. We need you to walk.”

We were back in the hangar with the Blackmoor-Ward jet. FBI HRT and SAS operators were staring at each other warily. I also notice that at one corner of the hangar were a collection of dead bodies wearing high-tech body armor. From inside the plane, I could hear Lord Blackmoor-Ward, Barton, and Hicks talking about something.

I got up. Instantly, I felt sick to my stomach and began to sway. “Right,” Eliza said, putting my arm around her shoulder, “off we go.” She was trying to be confident, but could tell it was just an act. The trip up the stairs were extremely nerve-wracking. I almost tripped and vomited many times during what seemed to me to be a nine-hour trip.

“Good God!” Lord Blackmoor-Ward said as soon as he saw me. “That man is concussed! Why isn’t he in a hospital?” I noticed that he wasn’t looking that well himself. He was lying on one of the couches, his fancy silk suit completely burned away and bandages on his chest. I also noticed that there were several patches of burns on his skin, some quite intense. Another thing I noticed in the luxurious plane were two body bags strapped to the floor.

“The Dragon’s Teeth were able to infiltrate an FBI facility and would have walked out with him if a Jumper who can ignore anti-jump fields hadn’t attempted to assassinate him,” Barton said. “We need to get him to a secure facility to debrief.”

“I’m going with him,” Eliza said.

“You are?” I turned to see Charlotte, a look of shock on her face.

“Listen,” Eliza said, “You’re with the SAS and father. You don’t ‘ave a concussion.” She shot a suspicious glance at Hicks and Barton. “And you aren’t going to be interrogated day and fuckin’ night by relentless arseholes.”

“But what about you?” Charlotte asked.

“I’ll be fine,” Eliza said, “as long as I can stop this idiot from bein’ a fuckin’ idiot.”

“Eliza,” Lord Blackmoor-Ward said, staring at the two FBI agents on his plane, “would you please buckle Mr. Jacobs in one of the back rooms? We will have lift-off soon.”

Eliza nodded. “Right,” she said, helping me down the hallway. I was placed on a chair facing a window in a bedroom with a soft thump. Eliza moved to buckle me in, but I waved her off. A few minutes later, the plane was taxiing down the runway. Soon we were lifting off.

As we were flying by Pearl Harbor, Eliza said, “Oi, you see that?”

I followed her finger to see that she was pointing at some of the warships moored in the harbor. “See what?” I asked.

“There’s these flashes of light on the decks of a few,” Eliza said.

I looked closer, but by that point, we were already past the harbor and heading east to California.


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Track 12: Boom, Clap

The first thing the Pict did was dig around in my pocket, grab my cPhone, and silence it. “Can’t really deal with that at the moment,” he muttered, tossing it on sink. I winced. Yes, this phone was designed to take a .44 Magnum round or two to the screen and still function, but it was still a valuable piece of equipment.

“You know,” I gasped, worried that my lung had collapsed yet again, “that’s not going to hold them forever.” It was true. That M4 basically would only stop someone trying to kick the door down. If you got a battering ram or some breeching charges, the bathroom door would cease to be a door.

“It doesn’t have to,” the Pict said, pulling out two of the old, bulky flip phones, a more modern one, a Gameboy Color, a metal water bottle with a strange box attached, a few cable splitters, and a bunch of wires. He then began hooking them up on the table.

“That…” I said, “that’s not… You wouldn’t. You’ve put in too much effort.”

The Pict turned around and smiled. “Are you sure?” he asked.

“It’s not a bomb,” I said, as he began sticking the daisy-chained electronics into my vest. “Those… those are…” I took a deep, gasping breath. It burned. “Those are a bunch of obsolete… electronics you found at garage sales… and the last Radioshack on Earth.”

“It’s amazing,” the Pict said, standing back to admire his handy work, “what even people in caves can make explosives look like. Of course, I had some help.”

This wasn’t right. He couldn’t be doing this. He’d come so far trying to take me alive. “Motive…” I began. Shit. This wasn’t as bad as the collapsed lung, but I was still having trouble speaking. Maybe I had some sort of concussion as well.

“Spite.” Despite his goggles and gas mask, I could feel his look of disgust, even as his voice remained highly professional. “My motive is spite.”

“Makes sense,” I said. Before, I had been seventy-five percent positive he had been lying. Now I was only fifty-one percent sure. But the real question wasn’t whether I believed it. It was whether or not the various angry cops would even bother to check before blowing open the door with shaped charges and shooting everything inside.

As I considered this, the Pict  seemed to be checking his inventory. He took out a Sgian, a Glock, a SIG-Sauer, and 1911 of some kind and laid them on the sink counter as well as some spare magazines. Judging by the fact that he threw both the spare magazines and the Sgian in the trash with a noise of disgust, those mags were for the Sgian. He then took out a nightstick and several more shiny black spheres and placed them on the counter in an orderly manner as well.

Then I saw something move under the door. It was something I only used once or twice in CQB courses. They’re called snake cameras and they’re the coolest things ever. Basically, they’re a camera at one end of a skinny hose, with a viewing device on the other end.

The Pict saw it as well. “Like it?” he asked loudly so the people on the other side could hear, patting my shoulder. “It will blow this building to bits and disperse a hallucinogenic gas in a one hundred meter to twenty-kilometer radius, depending on atmospheric conditions. If you follow my directions, it won’t detonate.”

“What do you want?” a voice responded nervously.

“I want you to move your line back to the nearest intersection,” the Pict said, “and I want you to remove the snake cam. I will issue more demands at-” The phone rang. “Excuse me,” he said.

“Is that your boss?” the person on the other end asked. Honestly, seeing as the Picts had a psionic link, the likelihood of his boss calling him on my cellphone was astronomically low. Still the FBI couldn’t know either of those pieces of information, so his guess made sense.

“Leave the hallway,” the Pict said. “Now.” I heard boots quickly back off. The Pict waited a while, then stuck a small object underneath the door. I wondered if it was a booby trap or his own camera. He then went over to my phone and hung up again.

Immediately after he had set it down to check the stalls, it began to ring again. He yelled in frustration and began kicking open doors angrily. When he was done, he walked over to the phone and answered it sweetly with, “Hello, Mr. Jacobs is busy. Can I-” He was instantly cut off. “No, I’m very busy, and so is he. Please… no, I… no I’m not going to let talk to my hos-Mr. Jacobs. Yes, he’s in trouble. Now please…” For about five minutes, he just listened to the person on the other end. Finally, he sighed and said, “It’s for you.”

As he held it up to my ear, I wondered who it was. “Hello,” I said hesitantly.

“Nate.” Ah. It was May Riley, friend and business partner. She made medicine, I made guns. “Where the fuck have you been?”

“I’m sorry,” I said, “things got kind of messy in Japan.”

“Yeah,” May said. “FBI messy! Nari, Andy and I are in fucking Australia and an FBI officer just had a talk with us. About you. I didn’t even know they could do law stuff internationally!”

“Yeah,” I said, “they kind of can. Hey, why are you in Australia?”

“We got a bunch of emergency contracts after you left,” May said. “We’ve been setting up medical and weapons contracts all across the Pacific. I’ve been bouncing from Japan to Australia to Vietnam and back for weeks.” She paused, then said accusingly. “You’re distracting me.”

“And myself,” I said. “And I apologize.”

“Get on with it,” May said.

“I’m actually in a bathroom in the Honolulu FBI building-”

“How many people did you kill this time?” May asked in exasperation.

“It’s fair to ask that,” I said, “but I actually haven’t killed anyone in weeks.”

“I shouldn’t be pleasantly surprised,” May said. “Why are you there and not an interrogation room?”

I leaned towards the Pict. “Hey,” I asked, “how much can I tell my friend?”

“Who’s your friend?” he asked. I didn’t answer. There were reasons they might want to go after May, Andy and Nari. Chief among them was that they were all pretty much geniuses with very applicable skills for someone planning an invasion. The Pict, realizing how long it was taking me to respond, took the phone away from my head. “Conversation’s over,” he said.

We then spent several hours with me just kneeling there and the Pict just pacing around. Eventually, I asked him, “Shouldn’t they be asking for demands?”

“Maybe,” he said. “They might be looking into my threat.”

“Is it real?” I asked.

“What do you think?” he asked.

“Honestly,” I said, “I’m not sure. It seems more like you’re delaying. After all, you’re Dragon’s Teeth. For all I know, you could have an invasion force ready to-”

“Quiet,” he said suddenly. “I hear something.”

“Hear what?” I asked. “All I can hear is this ringing sound.”

“I forgot,” he said. “You’re baseline. You don’t have reinforced eardrums.” He picked up one of the pistols, the 1911, and walked over to the wall. “Someone will need hearing aids.”

I craned my neck to see him put his head to the wall. “Look at the door,” he said.

“Why?” I asked.

“Look at the door.”

I rolled my eyes and looked towards the door. “Ok,” I said, “I’m looking towards the door. Can you tell me what you hear?”

“Oh.” The Pict suddenly seemed very resigned. “Well I guess-” Then, for either a brief moment that felt like an eternity or an eternity that felt like a brief moment, the ringing became everything. Well, the ringing and pain.


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Track 11: War Picts

Before I could get a good look at what was going on (or as good a look as I could, given the circumstances,) the Pict guarding me bodyslammed me further into the elevator wall as soon as the gunfire started, controlling me and shielding me from any incoming bullets. The sound of pistol and shotgun fire was almost literally deafening.

The engagement only lasted a few seconds. Then there was a longer period where I just stood there, pressed into the wall by my captor, my ears ringing. Slowly, I could hear screaming. That confirmed that they’d been using their hallucinogenic gas. I’d never been hit with it, but I’d seen its effects. The people I’d seen it used on had, at best been, stricken by paranoid hallucinations for a few hours, and at worst, been stuck like that permanently or committed suicide. It was invisible, odorless, and could fill large areas instantly, but thankfully (probably by design) it was easily defeated.

Before I could be thankful for the gas mask, I was dragged out of the elevator. Apparently, the rest of the Picts had left already, and a few had even salvaged weapons, amounting to an M4 with reflex sights, an MP5/10, and a black shotgun, probably a Remington. I noticed that several of the Pict operators were doubled up, and one was limping slightly. Two were out of sight, but they were probably still up.

The FBI agents hadn’t fared as well. We were in what appeared to be some sort of bullpen, with desks scattered all around a large room. The ones who had intercepted us near the elevator had mostly been shot in the head. Judging by the doubled-over Dragon’s Teeth, they had followed standard law enforcement training and aimed for the Picts’ chests. That had come up against Dragon’s Teeth armor. Meanwhile, the Picts had been aiming for headshots, probably because Sgians were shit at penetrating anything thicker than skin. I’d killed a squad because it had been close-quarters and they had been aiming at my armor’s plate. They had Sgians and an SMG using the same ammo, I had a G3 firing 7.62×51.

Then I heard a large thump, so loud I felt my internals vibrate like it was the Fourth of July. I turned around as best I could. Out of the corner of my eyes, I could see that the two Picts had been standing by a door. That door had now been mashed into what seemed to be a jail cell door. One of the Picts let out a yell of frustration and kicked the wall when he saw the results.

Then there was another thump, this one less loud and less chest-rattling. Before I could even turn to the source, I saw the Pict who had kicked the wall in frustration jerk back and slump against the wall as what sounded like an M4 opened up.

My Pict handler bodyslammed me into the ground, but not before I saw some men in body armor, gas masks and dark green fatigues file into the room, shooting M4s and MP5/10s. Judging by how well they were equipped and the fact that they just happened to be on site, these had to be either FBI SWAT or HRT.

From my position on the ground, I could hear the Picts return fire. The Glocks they had were particularly pathetic. Then there was a huge explosion. Several somethings slammed into the wall behind us. I turned and saw that an FBI SWAT operator had been thrown like a ragdoll into the elevator behind me, his pants looking more like a skirt and one leg severed at the calf. The shooting stopped pretty soon after that.

Even though it seemed safe now, the Pict was still pinning me. As the other Picts began moving around, occasionally executing a SWAT operator who wasn’t dead enough for their liking, I realized that the Pict pinning me was actually extremely light. Now wasn’t the time to resist, but it might come in handy.

When I was dragged to my feet again, the Picts had more firepower. Now, most of the seven had M4s and MP5/10s to supplement their Glocks and Sgians. Even the Pict who I had seen go down had an M4. They had also taken off their dress shirts and suit coats, revealing flexible bullet-proof vests, skinny, muscular arms, and more tattoos. They’d also donned what appeared to be sunglasses at first glance, but on second look seemed to be some kind of imaging device. Normally, I would say it would either be thermal or UV, but with the Dragon’s Teeth I couldn’t be sure.

The interesting thing was that they seemed to be preparing the one who’d been shot for a final stand. He was sitting in the corner on a chair, his vest a mess of fibers. The desk had the shotgun and several pistols, and he gingerly gripped an MP5/10.

Then I noticed that there were a bunch of small spheres taped to the floor near me, connected by wires. I then remembered that the gas bomb that the Picts had thrown had been a small black sphere. “Oh shit,” I said, “are you going to blow through the floor?”

The “blow through the floor” part was cut off by the bombs going off. Dust flew up, covering everything. Then I felt myself being pushed towards the hole. “No no no no no!” I yelled. It became a scream as I was lifted up and tossed in.

I fell, with my ankle going in a weird way due to my angle and the scattered debris. Then my knee hit a large chunk of concrete and my hand hit another chunk. Then I hit my head on a rock. My eyes burning from the dust and my head swimming from the pain and the bump it had recently taken, I tried to gain an idea of what was going on.

Judging by the moans of pain and swearing, there were people there. As the dust cleared, I noticed that buried underneath the debris was a man in a suit and gas mask. Using my good hand, I got to my knees. Farther around the room, outside of what was apparently the kill zone, several FBI agents were drawing their guns. I could barely make them out through the still-floating dust, but one close by saw me instantly.

“Hey!” he yelled, drawing his Glock, his voice muffled by his gas mask, “Put your-”

He was cut off by the Picts above us opening fire. One had targeted him, and the agent fell, dropping his gun. I crawled towards it as fast as I could. Around me, the FBI agents were dropping like flies as they fired blindly into the hole in the ceiling. We must have been in some kind of command post.

Speaking of things dropping, I could hear the Picts joining us. One was even running straight towards me. I sped up, despite the pain that shot through my injured hand and knee every time I moved. Finally, I got to the discarded Glock. I flipped around and aimed to see a Pict almost on top. I fired, the Pict kicked. The Glock went skittering away, and the Pict fell, his crotch landing on my face.

Before I could complain or wonder about the sticky wet stuff on my face, the Pict rolled off me. I looked and saw he was clutching his leg with both hands. As one of his buddies knelt besides him knelt down and fired an MP5/10, the injured Pict drew out his Sgian with a blood-soaked hand, put it in his mouth, and pulled the trigger.

Several other Picts descended on him. The dead Pict was stripped of his vest, weapons, and ammo. Others forced me to my feet. I screamed as I put weight on my bad leg. One Pict, hatred evident behind his professional tone, said, “You’ll live.” Then, they forced the jacket on me so that it doubled as a straightjacket. To add to that, a Pict hooked the sling of an M4 so that if I wasn’t pointing the way they wanted, I’d get choked. Also, the vertical foregrip was digging into my shoulder like crazy. I was then spun around and force-marched towards the stairwell, along with most of the other Picts.

Every step was painful and slow. I could hear firing both ahead and behind me, and it echoed in the stairwell, causing my ears to ring. When we came to the bottom floor, I saw that one of the Picts was firing through the door between the bars that had just gone up, return fire bouncing off the heavy door he was using as a shield. Two with MP5/10s were setting bombs on the wall.

They did not wait for any more to join them before blowing the wall. As the three other Picts filed through and the gunfire became more intense for a brief moment, I wondered if the other two had died.

Then we were through the wall, moving as fast as we could through the hallways. My Pict handler was going so far as to lift me up with his other hand. Occasionally, we would come up against FBI agents. A few times, the gun that would cut them down would be the one right next to my ear. Eventually we turned a corner. There was the lobby. Outside were dozens of cop cars and police officers. It seemed like almost every single one of them had some sort of long gun like a shotgun, rifle or SMG. And they were all trained on us.


The Picts did not drop their weapons. But they didn’t fire either. Then one moved his hand towards a pocket.

Instantly, what felt like every cop in the entire state of Hawaii opened on us. I saw at least one Pict go down instantly before my handler dragged me away, the intensity of fire so great that not even his body armor could keep up. A few bullets even hit my chest. It felt like I had been hit by multiple trucks.

I was frog-marched down the hallway. I was forced into the cleanest public bathroom I had ever seen, the Pict using me as a battering ram to open the push-open door. The rifle’s sling was unhooked from my neck, and I fell, landing on my bad knee and injured hand. If I hadn’t been somewhat asphyxiated, I would have screamed. Instead, I gasped for breath. I then looked up to see that the Pict shoving the M4 through the handle of the door.

He looked at me. It was the same one who’d shoved me into the elevator wall, and he wasn’t happy with me at all. I was suddenly very conscious of how much trouble I was in. Then my phone rang.

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Track 10: In the Den

I had gotten my hands in front of me when I suddenly realized Mayu wasn’t taking the opportunity to kill me. Instead, she seemed to be sobbing. I paused, unsure what to do. The table seriously blocked my view. I couldn’t tell if Hicks was fine or if he was dead. I also couldn’t tell if Mayu really was this unstable or if she was trying to lure me out from behind the table.

By the time I had realized that it was probably that Mayu might actually be too emotionally incapacitated to kill me, she had staggered zombie-like into my field of view, the Glock hanging loosely at her side. She raised it to her head and I could see that the grip was slick with blood. My breath caught in my throat. Before I could figure out how I felt about that, she adjusted the gun to aim directly at my heart. Then she shifted back to her head.

This process repeated several times, ending with the gun pointed at my chest. “Well,” she said, “I’m sorry it didn’t work out. I thought you wanted this. I thought you wanted to help people.”

“Mayu,” I said, “I do. But there’s something wrong with you.”

“There’s nothing wrong with me,” she said.

“Really?” I asked. “Then why aren’t I dead?”

At this, Mayu’s eyes widened and her hands began to shake. I had her. If I could just find the right words, maybe nobody would have to die today.

Then the door burst open. I turned just in time to see two men in suits open fire. One fell, a bullet in his head. The other advanced into the room. “Target has left the area,” he said. I noticed that he had a Visitor tag and a US Marshal’s badge on a chain around his neck. Also of note was that he wore cowboy boots that probably added a few inches to his height. “We have survivors.”

“Shit!” a man said, running into the room, this one without a badge. “What the hell happened?”

“Someone tried to kill the person we’re trying to take into custody,” the marshal said as he grabbed me by the arm, lifting me up. “You do have a mole, and we need to get our suspect out of here.”

As he lifted me, Hicks suddenly said, “Hey.” I turned to look at him. His face was extremely bloody and his eyes were slightly unfocused. As the most recent arrival tried to bandage him, Hicks stared at the US Marshall for a moment, taking him in from head to toe. Then he looked at the dead Marshal. He then turned to me and said, “Be careful, kid.”

I nodded, a little confused. Why was Hicks wishing me luck? I’d severely screwed him over, and here were a bunch of US Marshals coming in to whisk me away to a place where he probably couldn’t arrest me. Maybe the concussion was talking.

“Please accompany me,” the marshal said, still grabbing arm. He didn’t have to pull very hard. I was actually very curious as to what was going on.

Out in the hallway, I immediately noticed six men. When I turned around, there was a seventh. Of them, only one wasn’t wearing a visitor tag and a US Marshal badge. Except for the person I assumed to be the FBI escort, there seemed to be something similar about them. Not their height, they were all the same size. Their faces and hair colors were all different as well.

“We need to get him out of here,” a Marshal said. “This building is not secure.”

“We’ve got time,” the FBI agent said. “Nakashima’s a lone wolf. We should go to the security station on this level and-”

“We need to leave,” the Marshal said. “If her information is open-source, we might have more incoming.”

“Like what?” the FBI agent asked.

“We have reason to believe that the Dragon’s Teeth wants to apprehend him.” Once I heard this, it made sense. After all, they had made a serious attempt to take me alive at the NIU airfield. Then, I instantly began to wonder why they wanted me and how the US Marshals knew that and the FBI didn’t.

“Well,” the agent said, “can we compromise and stop off at the people in the National Security Branch? Maybe tell them how you know?”

“Affirmative,” a Marshal said. “But all we can really do is put them in contact with those who do.”

“Ok,” the FBI agent said. “I’ll lead the way.” He began to walk off. When we finally got to an elevator and all crowded into it,  the FBI agent commented, “Never worked with marshals before. You guys are really formal.”

The one who had been leading me by the arm suddenly clenched it. “We are just-” four started at once. Then they cast a few looks around and one said, “We’re just a little new with working with our counterparts as well. We are being a little extra professional to make a good impression.”

“Ok,” the FBI agent said. Then his phone beeped, indicating a text message. “Wait, I gotta take…”

The FBI agent was by the door controls and I was in the corner at the opposite end. He was mostly blocked by the six Marshals so I couldn’t see what the text said. I could, however, see that everyone had adopted “oh shit” expressions. The FBI agent even managed to say it partly before one of the Marshals pulled out a strange pistol and executed him with a shot to the back of the head. There was no exit wound, and I couldn’t see the entry wound. I could, however, smell something sweet and spicy, as well as burning hair and flesh.

I recognized the pistol instantly. The immediate giveaway was the lack of noise. The thing that movies don’t really tell you about guns is how loud they are, even with silencers. Even a nine millimeter pistol with a good silencer would probably alert everyone within fifty meters that a gun had been fired. A rifle like an AK or an AR might have deafened everyone in such cramped conditions, even with a silencer. They just might think it had been from a lot further away.

This pistol, known as a Sgian, was so quiet I could barely hear it, even in these cramped spaces. It was very rare. So rare that there was only one group that I or anyone else to my knowledge had seen use it. They were called the Picts, and they were an elite group of Dragon’s Teeth soldiers. That, combined with the dead FBI agent, meant that these weren’t US Marshals.

This was confirmed a few seconds later when they began pulling off their faces and hands. Underneath were the same neutral faces, red hair and green eyes… but wildly different tattoos.

I had never personally seen under a Dragon’s Teeth helmet, but I had managed to get some documents that, among other things, analyzed the tattoos the Deets decorated themselves with. I was still surprised. Several had Mexican Day of the Dead-style skulls tattooed over their faces. Some had Celtic trees of life on their cheeks or back of their neck with the lines made out of a mix of Japanese and Chinese characters, Gaelic writing, and Latin. Those words appeared other places as well, often seeming like a translation. All the work was done in either white or black ink, with the white ink reserved for the skulls.

There were exceptions to how the body art was only in white and black ink. I noticed that some had raised scars that seemed to be names or numbers. There was also a color portrait of a naked skeletal woman with dark hair on the back of one of their necks. Unlike many pictures of naked women, these seemed to have more in common with pictures of Jesus. It was very Day of the Dead, but there were also some elements of old Japanese paintings before they had started using perspective.

I was suddenly slammed against the wall, a pocket gas mask of some sort forced over my face. A Pict suddenly loomed into my face, his face tattooed with a skull mask. On the center of his forehead, in the center of a yellow circle, was another Japanese/Day of the Dead-style image of the woman, except this time she was clothed in a dark robe, had six arms, and was comforting a severely injured Pict. Once he had made sure my mask was on, he moved back.

From my position, I couldn’t really see the person pinning me, but I could kind of see the elevator door and a few other Picts if I strained. They had all gotten their gas masks on. That could only mean they were planning on using a chemical weapon, and I had a pretty good idea on what that was. They also had drawn what either were captured Glocks or Dragon’s Teeth weapons designed to look like Glocks. One Pict, shielded from view from those outside the elevator, even had a small black spherical object.

Suddenly, the elevator doors opened with a ding. Outside, I could see at least two FBI agents crouching behind desks, Glocks aimed at us. They weren’t wearing gas masks. The Pict operator body slammed me further into the elevator wall, both controlling my movements and shielding me from any incoming fire.

At the same time, I heard agents call out things like “Drop your guns!” “Hands on your heads” or “Release the hostage or we will open fire!”

“Shoot them!” I yelled. “Shoot them now!”

Then somebody, I’m not sure who, complied with my request and everything went to hell.


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