Track 16: Tonight’s All Right for Fighting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And the explosives?” Krieger asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Takashi and Craig are here.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes?” Brosnan asked, turning around.

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

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

 

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Track 24: The End (Of the arc, not the serial)

Recovery was quicker than I expected. Within a few days all our external scars, scrapes and burns were fully healed, even John’s. The cracked ribs that Nari and I had suffered, however, would heal at the normal rate. “We could just seal it up with surgical glue,” a doctor explained, “but that would involve cutting you up. Unless you want to do the operation…”

“No need,” I said hurriedly. “It should be cleared up by the time I get back, right?”

At that point, my ribs had healed enough so that I could walk and talk. The problem, however, was standing up. Whenever I tried to use my core muscles, it felt like my chest was caught in a vice. In other words, it had improved a lot.

Eventually, everyone was out of the hospital and installed in the lodgings they would live at next semester. John and I got a double near the Sun Tzu campus center right across the hall from where Kyle was. Sunny and Nari, meanwhile, were staying at a small house near the docks. My parents weren’t expecting me back until three weeks after school ended, so that meant I had very little to do.

Meanwhile, the nightmares had come back and they were worse than ever. Every time I closed my eyes, I would see the people who had died around me from former teachers who had died of cancer to those I had killed.

Mostly, it was the ones I had killed. They chased me, hounded me, screamed and clawed at me, their bodies bearing the wounds that had ended their lives. The wounds I had inflicted.

They couldn’t end me the way I had ended them, and that enraged them. Instead, they surrounded me and listed off my crimes. I tried to ignore them and rationalize what I had done. Amir, the Al-Qaeda leader had tried to kill me. The people who had ambushed me at the Hell Semester final were sent by the school. Besides, I heard that they were rapists, weren’t they? And everything that happened in Korea, that was self-defense as well, wasn’t it?

Still, it rang hollow, especially considering the South Korean cops. I doubt it would be reasonable to place the blame entirely on the remnants of the recon team, but that had been a complete shit show. I didn’t go to North Korea to fight South Korean cops, but between mercs with itchy trigger fingers and overzealous cops, I had added another dozen people to my body count, none of whom deserved to die.

John got out of the hospital a week and a half before we were supposed to go home. To celebrate, Sunny had invited us over to her house. A former professor she had worked with had brought a kid over, so Nari was off having a sleepover while the adults, from what I understood, drank themselves silly.

“Welcome!” Sunny said as I wheeled John in. “I’m sorry if it’s a little bare-bones. I haven’t had much time to get it furnished.“ We were in a small living room with stairs leading upstairs, with the door directly in front of the staircase. The room itself had bare plaster walls, except for one section which Sunny and Nari apparently had started to paint. There were three couches, one of which was only half-assembled, and a box in a u-shape around a coffee table. They were facing a large TV and window. Apart from that, the only other decoration the room had was a locking bar.

“Not a problem,” I said, scanning the room for a place to put John. Eventually, I decided to just park him in front of the coffee table. That was, after all, where Sunny had put the food.

Apparently, apart from the main dining hall and the staff/faculty food co-op, the only food options you had were a pizza place or a Chinese place. Sunny had apparently gotten large orders from both.

In the grand tradition of take-out ordered by college students, it wasn’t great, but it was better than cafeteria food. Also, in accordance to collegiate tradition, was the monumental amount of alchohol available. After I, personally, had three slices of peperoni pizza, four skewers of beef teriyaki, several chicken wings and three shots of whiskey, Kyle made his announcement.

“Well,” he said, getting up, “I’d better be getting back to my room. I’m leaving tomorrow.”

“You’re what?” I asked. “I thought that…”

“You two,” Kyle said, indicating John and me, “are the ones keeping things secret from your family. My grandpa knows what I’m doing. I was only staying long enough to make sure John got out.”

“Well… see you when school starts, I guess,” I said.

Kyle paused for a moment, staring past us. Finally he said, “I might not be coming back.” He looked at our stunned faces. “What, you’re surprised? You guys are all smart people, you’ve seen what this place is like. I thought you’d take your first chance to get out.”

“I understand,” I admitted, “but I think I can actually use this knowledge to change things. I mean, seriously, what the hell else am I going to do? Make videogames? Flip fucking burgers?” I took a sip of my fourth whiskey. “Listen, there’s a world out there that needs saving. And we have been put in the right place to save it.”

Kyle looked at me sadly. “Look at you,” he said, shaking his head. “They fucking got to you, you dumbass. You might not work for them, now or fucking ever, but you’re drunk off your ass and thinking you’re Darth fucking Vader.” He staggered over to the door, possibly more drunk than I was. When he was about to leave, he said, “I hope you wake up before you hit rock bottom, Killer.”

With that, he walked out into the night. After the door slammed shut, I stared at it for a little while. John and I left soon after. Despite the argument, I had a refreshing, dreamless sleep. It was almost worth the pounding headache.

The rest of the week was uneventful. We’d occasionally see the summer students, including our friends Eric, Ray-Gun, MC Disaster, The Monk, and Doc. It was reasonably fun, but soon it was time to make the journey home.

As we stepped out the plane, I asked John, “You ready for this?” Two men with dark hair, glasses and suits were waiting by an equally dark car. They were our UNIX handlers, Agents Brosnan and Takashi. Our job was to give them the intel we had collected… and that The President had approved.

“I’m not sure…” John said. “Shouldn’t we…”

“If you want to,” I said, “go ahead.” He didn’t. He just stood there as Brosnan and Takashi walked over to us.

“You’re late,” Takashi said in annoyance. His Japanese accent was even stronger than usual, too. He must have been even more agitated than usual. “Four weeks late, in fact. Where have you been? And don’t say an internship. We know…”

“I hate to interrupt,” Brosnan said, in his crisp British accent, “but now is neither the time nor the place.” He ushered us to the car. “We’ll drop you off first at your agreed location, Mr. Jacobs.”

The car ride was mostly done in silence. I noticed, however, that Brosnan was checking the mirrors quite a bit. Something about his attitude indicated that he was spooked. I was annoyed. The third party I had contacted knew where we’d meet. They shouldn’t have been watching.

Eventually, we stopped at a parking lot near the Main Street of my town. The smells of the various restaurants permeated the air, despite the fact that it was too early for most of them to be open.

As Agent Brosnan closed the car door, he said, “This car was quite nice. However, it is rather odd how every single rental service at Logan Airport insisted we upgrade to a black Chrysler 300. Shame our mysterious benefactor couldn’t give us a red one.” His attitude and voice was completely casual, but you could tell he smelled a rat. In fact, his “stretching” seemed to be just an excuse to see if he could spot anyone staking us out. Seeing as we had parked right next to a lime green Cadillac Escalade (or as my mom calls them, Excessalades) with spinning rims, we were reasonably shielded from prying eyes.

“So,” Agent Takashi asked, “what, if anything, did you bring us?”

I smiled. Finally, I’d either confirm some allegations The President had leveled or I’d finally fulfil the job I went to NIU to do. “You know that situation in North Korea?” I asked, bringing up a thumb drive. “I was there.”

Agent Takashi kicked the side of the car in frustration. Agent Brosnan just shrugged. “That could be valuable, but it wasn’t exactly what we asked you for. In fact, I fail to see what it has to do with NIU, even tangentially.”

“Did you know that the Dragon’s Teeth are a clone army?” I asked. “A legitimate army, with air and vehicle support, based on highly advanced technology?”

“The clone part, yes,” Brosnan said casually, “but what it has to do with…”

“Seriously?” I asked. Suddenly, the plan was changing. Instead of selling UNIX out, I’d work with them to find out who made the Deets. They just had to pass one test. “Ok, let me break it down for you guys: the Deets have cloaking technology, battery-powered APCs, genetic engineering and maybe even the same teleportation tech the Grenzefrontier have. Where the hell else could you get a team of people with that kind of knowledge?”

“There could be many ways,” Agent Brosnan said. “After all, in this state, you do have a supervillain who makes planes that can turn into bipedal walkers.”

Around the word “turn,” Agent Takashi butted in. “It doesn’t matter,” he said. “The point is, if you actually want to get paid, you should look into some actual student projects. I hear you know the creator of surgical glue and Power Sludge. Getting those formulas would be helpful.”

So that was how it was going to be. Fine, I could deal. I was prepared. All that had happened was that I had confirmed what The President had said. We weren’t supposed to be looking for Force Three threats or whatever bullshit we had been sold. Instead, if we weren’t supposed to die during Hell Semester, we were supposed to be stealing tech secrets.

I could let that go. John apparently couldn’t. “So,” he said, his voice barely containing his rage, “we’re supposed to steal tech from people just trying to get through school so you don’t have to pay for it later?”

“It would be better than doing amateur missions to places that don’t concern you,” Agent Takashi said, snatching the flash drive out of my hand. “Honestly, I fail to see how your pathetic little field trip could have…”

That pissed me off. The cold rage that had been simmering inside me since I had seen the officious assholes broke. I slammed my fist as hard as I could into Takashi’s arrogant face.

The satisfaction of hurting the piece of shit was short-lived. In a blink, my head slammed back into the Escalade’s mid-side window, a hand grasped tight around my neck and the barrel of a pistol pushed right into my eye. From the other side of the car, John’s eyes widened.

“You just assaulted a UNIX officer,” Takashi almost whispered. “Give me one reason I shouldn’t pull the trigger.”

“Can I give a few reasons why you shouldn’t pop my boy?” We all turned to see the source of the voice. There, in the middle of a group of young people in green, was my old classmate from the Maynard Public School System, Jaime Washington. He looked the same as when I last saw him: slightly shorter than me, brown skin, brown eyes, and curly black hair.

Right behind him was another person I was familiar with. Lang was a lean, wolf-like man with a predatory gleam in his eye. I had met him at what essentially was a party for the Massachusetts underworld. Cross, who was the kind of person who knew these things, identified him as one of the top people in a brutal gang called The Jade Empire. On the other side of Jaime was a woman who looked like a gender-swapped version of Lang. These twins were taking everything in casually. They were professionals like me.

The others, including Jaime, were not. They were overconfident thugs who didn’t seem to know what they were facing. They just seemed to know they outnumbered the opposition. Oddly enough, except for the fact that they were all young men wearing green, they were very diverse. A few were Asian, a few were Latino, a few were black, and a few were white. All were dressed like wannabe gangsters or wannabe rappers.

“You… know him?” Agent Brosnan asked.

“I went to high school with him,” Jaime said. “I ain’t about to let him get shot by some flexing cops. Especially ones with no authority.”

At this point, Agent Brosnan realized how many of his impromptu audience was reaching at their waistbands. He reached into his waistband. Instantly there was the sound of guns being drawn and cocked. I couldn’t see most of them, due to Agent Brosnan’s back being in the way. However, I could see that most were cheap pistols… except for the one guy who had brought a TEC-9.

“Are those legal?” Agent Brosnan asked.

“More legal than a UNIX agent abducting a US citizen on US soil,” Lang said, his Chinese accent apparent. I noticed Lang, his sister, and Jaime hadn’t drawn any weapons. Takashi protested, but Lang cut him off. “I know my country’s laws. UNIX can’t make arrests. Even if you did, you just used excessive force. If you pay for damages to my… employee’s car, we can forget all about this.”

“Go to hell,” Agent Takashi snarled. “I’m taking this ungrateful little shit…”

“Agent Takashi,” Agent Brosnan said sharply, “you are a hairs breadth from causing an international incident in a sensitive country. Control yourself.” The grip around my throat released, and the pistol removed itself from my eye. Despite my burning chest and my throbbing head, I didn’t give Takashi the pleasure of watching me slump to the ground.

Agent Brosnan, meanwhile, offered something to Jaime. “I apologize for my partner. Mr. Jacobs just got… emotional about losing his scholarship. In turn, Agent Takashi got emotional about being assaulted. I hope this is enough.”

Jaime looked at Lang. Lang said, “It should be enough.” He waved them away. “You may leave.” Agent Takashi looked like he might pull his pistol again, but he walked around to the passenger side of the car. Before the car could start, Lang suddenly said, “Oh, just one more thing!”

Agent Brosnan looked up. “Yes?” he asked.

“UNIX can have the rest of the world, for now.” Lang said, his friendly tone masking a threat. “But Mass? Especially this little corner of it? This is ours. Consider yourself Persona Non-Grata in Maynard from now on.”

“Shame,” Agent Brosnan said conversationally. “I really liked the pubs here.” He closed the door of his rental car and drove off.

After they were gone, John and Jaime both hurried over to me. Lang and his sister hung back, watching us. The rest of the cavalry began celebrating and bragging. “You ok?” Jaime asked. “You fucking destroyed that shatterproof window, man.”

“His eyes don’t seem dilated,” John said.

“I’m going to kill that asshole,” I growled. “I fucking bled for him and calls me an amateur. Motherfucker.”

“Yep, he’s fine,” John said, rolling his eyes. “I’ll help him get home.”

“You sure?” Jaime asked. “I got a ride.” He patted the green monstrosity on its chrome piping. I like green, even lime green, but on an Escalade? Especially one with all that chrome? It was an automotive and aesthetic monstrosity.

I considered it, but John shook his head. “I’ll catch up with you later, man,” I said, picking up my backpack. Luckily, I had brought it and my suitcase out of the car with me. Otherwise, I doubted I’d have ever seen it again.

“Well,” Jaime said, “I’ll catch up with you. Facebook me or something, a’ight, Nate?”

When we had finally gotten away, John suddenly asked, “Hey, Nate,” he asked, “did you notice what kind of pistol Takashi was using?”

“Sorry,” I said, “it was kind of covering my eye. Why do you ask?”

“It was an M&P,” John said. “Know anyone else we’ve seen recently who’s used one?”

I was about to say no, then I remembered. The mystery people we had met and killed in North Korea. I considered this. “Well,” I said, “I guess we weren’t as amateur as they thought, were we?”

John sighed. “You’ve seriously ran out of fucks, haven’t you?”

I hadn’t. Time would prove that, but at that moment, I wasn’t exactly about to mourn the deaths of UNIX Agents who had fired on me. Mentally, I added the entire organization to my hit list and began to consider just what I was going to tell my parents.

 

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Volume 3 is dead. We killed it. Here is the Post Mortem.