Track 21: Too Many of my Friends are Criminals

Somehow, I woke up. I think I had woken up several times before, but I didn’t count that in the same way I don’t count getting up at 2 AM to get some water as waking up.

The first thing I felt when I woke up was how much it hurt. I moved, and I could feel bits of my skin catch on the fibers of the bedclothes I was on. “Oi.” I looked up to my side. There sat Eliza in a hospital gown, head, left arm, and various other body parts wrapped in gauze. The parts that were visible had either first or second-degree burns. “You awake, or are you going to just going to go back to sleep again?”

“I might,” I said. My lips were sticking together. I wondered if that had something to do with me being out for however long I was out.

Eliza smiled. “I’d hug you, but you wouldn’t thank me. Just so y’know, we’re in Worcester. They detonated some sort of plasma weapon in Saint Louis and a few of the little bits munted us.”

“I know,” I said. “I remember that part. I take it that they didn’t use one of those personal launchers?”

“They ‘ave personal ones?” Eliza asked.

“Trust me,” I said, “they’re nasty, but nowhere near what that thing was.”

“We think it was a bomber,” Hicks said, barging into the room. He was badly burned, but not as burned as Eliza. “We managed to shoot down a couple, we meaning us, the Canadians and the Mexicans. We even shot down and secured the one that nuked Saint Louis.”

“How do you know?” I asked.

“Every time the government can get a news broadcast over the Dragon’s Teeth propaganda they’ve been bragging about it,” Hicks said. “They have to. Fourteen cities destroyed by a new weapon, most of Europe and Asia completely dark, allies chickening out, what the hell else can they do?”

“Wait, wait, wait,” I said. “What? What’s going on? Is the government nationalizing industry? The people in charge-”

“Mosta your reps got murdered around the time we were burning,” Eliza said. “They nearly took DC, killed damn near everyone in the White House, includin’ the President, Vice-President, and Cabinet, then ran ‘round breaking things in Capitol Hill before your blokes were able to stop them.”

“The… the president’s dead?” I said.

“He’s not the only one,” Hicks said. “Greg’s dealing with your lawyer’s real boss, just so you know.”

“Oh God,” I said. “Please tell me Ken isn’t dead. Jen’s going to-”

“Going to what?” Jennifer Kagemoto asked as she and a few bodyguards walked in, her green eyes flashing angrily and her ponytail swaying. “As people have constantly been telling me there isn’t anything I can’t do. I lose dozens of people killing my father, I lose even more when the Jade Empire and the Irish start sniffing around with their little rat noses, and now the Dragon’s Teeth are killing my people? My unarmed people. They’re going in the book.”

“Is that a confession?” Hicks asked.

Jen turned around to glare at Hicks. “You’re the only cop in the Goddamn building not on painkillers, in a wheelchair, and/or on the take, the district court’s a fucking refugee center, and I am extremely perturbed. Shut your trap, you arrogant, hypocritical, myopic piece of shit.”

There was a knock on the window. I turned.

I had only seen the woman floating outside my fourth-story window once in the flesh. If her long braid didn’t fall out of her Viking-style helmet, it would be hard to tell her gender from underneath the heavy breastplate and fur cloak. Everyone in Massachusetts knew her name. Valkyrie, the Champion-type Parahuman from the Minutemen, the state’s largest super hero group. Through the thick window, I could hear her ask, “Mind if I come in?”

Jen glared.  “I don’t know if I can stop you.” Then, as an afterthought, she added, “Bitch.”

“I’m only going to force my way in if anyone’s in danger,” Valkyrie said. “But we need to talk.”

“About what?” Jen asked. “If you want in on the fixing, that’s about a few weeks too late.”

“We both know there’s more important things,” Valkyrie said. “If I was the one pulling the plug, I’d be looking for a fight, too.”

Jen snarled, drawing her twin Berettas and unloaded them into Valkyrie. Eliza and Hicks got down on the floor, and I tried to drill myself into the bed. The last time I’d been in a hospital bed, unable to move, with an unstable Jumper, it hadn’t exactly improved my recovery time. One of Jen’s thirty-two rounds (a guess, based  on my own less fancy Berettas) ricocheted  and hit me in the head.

“Please stop,” Valkyrie said, “before you actually kill someone.”

I couldn’t see Jen’s reaction because I was busy clutching my bleeding temple and swearing, but I could hear the fear and struggle in Jen’s voice as she holstered her pistols. “So, what did you want?”

Valkyrie climbed through the window. “In case you haven’t heard, the Minutemen aren’t on the job anymore.”

“Really?” Jen asked, her voice brightening a bit. “What happened?”

“Some,” Valkyrie said, “are heading off to Canada. Others are joining some national groups who’re taking advantage of the cease fire to do God-knows-what to stop the Dragon’s Teeth. I’m trying to put together some capes to do something more productive.”

“And you’re desperate to come to me for help,” Jen said. “Why?”

“Because people like you know things about this state I’ll never figure out in a million years,” Valkyrie said.

“You could ask the FBI,” Hicks said. “And we’re not unstable.”

“If I thought the FBI knew the things she did or had a tenth of the capabilities it did six months ago,” Valkyrie said, “I would be talking to Massachusetts’ Field Director. Hell, if he was still alive, I’d be talking to him. But he’s dead and ninety percent of you are on traffic detail now.” She pointed to Jen. “We need people like her, Agent Hicks.”

Jen’s eyes narrowed at Valkyrie. “I’ll think about it.”

“That’s all I ask,” Valkyrie said.

As the hero started to leave, Jen called out, an exceedingly fake smile on her face, “By the way, it would be nice if you’d keep me informed as to who’ll be in this little club.”

After the hero flew off, Hicks said, “I don’t like it.”

“What part?” Jen asked sweetly. “The part where the country’s burning or the part where someone admitted that your agency is completely ineffective? Because honestly, I’m not really happy about either as a tax payer.”

“So, in other bits of news about resistance,” I said, trying to stop things from getting heated, “has anyone taken me up on my offer for weapon upgrades? I know from personal experience that the current stuff the US has can’t penetrate the standard Legionary armor that well.” That had been a bit of an overstatement. They had fallen down from my G3, albeit after what felt like twice the normal amount of bullets at half the average range. Berserkers, infantry with even heavier armor, were an even tougher nut to crack.

“Do you know how much it takes to replace a standard piece of equipment?” Hicks asked. “Even if we were able to just magically buy them all-”

“Not magically,” I said. “I just want the materials.”

“Yeah,” Hicks said rolling his eyes. “I’m no economist and I wasn’t a quartermaster, but I know enough about logistics to know that little request’s going to be an absolute nightmare.” I had no solution for that. “Then, you have to deal with training every soldier how to use the damn things.”

Yes! There was a problem I’d actually designed the weapons to side-step. “That shouldn’t be a problem,” I hurriedly said. “The Maccabee and the Ballpeen mostly use bits of the AK and AR-15 platform, so-”

“So they’re basically neither,” Hicks said.

“Well,” I said, “I suppose you could look at it that way.”

“And I have five bucks that the internals are nothing like an M16,” Hicks said.

If I was Nari, I would have immediately veered off that previous point and dissed the mechanical forbearers of our weapons and creators thereof. Instead, all I could say was, “They’re a lot better than what we have currently.”

“Whatever,” Hicks said, getting up to leave. “We literally don’t have enough resources to put you in prison, and I doubt we’d have a leg to stand on, seeing that you haven’t done anything in a country that’s in a position to extradite. Stay here until you’re healed or whatever, then give your bed up to the next poor bastard who needs it.” Judging by the tone of his voice, if there weren’t a lot of people in line right now, there would be soon enough.

Still, the Maccabee assault rifle, the Ballpeen SMG, and the Uilon Mangchi pistol could all pierce Dragon’s Teeth body armor of all kinds according to our computer simulations. The as-of-yet unnamed dual-belt-fed machinegun I’d made could do the same, except you could hold down the trigger for a lot longer. The sniper/anti-material rifle Nari had made could theoretically combined the anti-armor capabilities with something like a Barret M82 (but increased to possibly pierce Charon armor) and the range and accuracy of a more traditional sniper rifle. These could make a serious difference.

Jen had waited a bit while Hicks left. When he finally did, she turned back to me and said, “Such a shame. Those guns were quite excellent from what I saw.”

“Mm,” I said noncommittally. While in Japan, I had found out that Jen had managed to get a few crates through her police contacts. She only had seen the Uilon Mangchis, Maccabees, and Ballpeens, thanks to helping me test them and using some to shoot our way out of a nest of angry cultists.

“Imagine,” she said, “what would happen if you found people who could use them. People who were very, very good at blending into the woodwork.”

 

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Track 20: Gods of Hellfire

The next stage of the journey was getting into another military cargo plane. We’d be flying to Kansas City. Then, depending on the amount of groundfire, we’d either drive to Saint Louis or get back on the plane. Seeing as the choices were either C130, military Humvee, or MRAP, I didn’t really have a preference.

However, other people did. “I just think,” Watanabe said, “that going by plane is a really, really bad idea. If we get shot down like we did last time, I don’t think we’re going to be as lucky.”

“And driving’ll be better?” Eliza asked. “Sorry, mate, but the only dif between travelin’ by air and travelin’ by car’s that we’re going to be in the car for longer, and longer travel time means more chances for fuckery.”

“Doesn’t matter what you think,” Hicks said laconically. “Air National Guard wants us off their plane. We’re going to hitch a ride with a supply convoy, then play it by ear.”

Kansas City was chaos when we touched down. On the approach, Barton looked out the window and said, “Look at all the cars…” We crowded around. Below was Interstate Route 70. There was a long line of cars that seemed solid from Utah to Maryland on one side and completely devoid of traffic except for a convoy of tanks on trailers and two-ton trucks on the other.

When we landed on the terminal, we were greeted by four National Guard troopers wearing thermal goggles. After checking everyone to make sure they weren’t wearing masks (which, of course, involved being held at gunpoint) and that there were no stowaways, we were bundled into an MRAP and transported to the FBI office. This office was more heavily guarded. SWAT operators and Guardsmen were stationed around the building with every Guardsman and many SWAT operators equipped with some kind of thermal vision. We were pinched on the forehead multiple times. I also noticed that everyone there seemed to mainlining caffeine and many people I assumed were FBI agents were wearing traffic vests.

Eventually, we were taken to the building cafeteria. “Here,” the guide of the minute, a female FBI agent slightly older than Agent Hick, said. “Rest. I’m going to get coffee, then I’m going to direct traffic for another twelve hours.”

“But you’re on the anti-fraud task force,” Agent Barton said. “Shouldn’t you be chasing down the profiteers?”

Our guide shook her head and laughed ruefully. “Ha. I wish. We’ve already had a bunch of locals get shot because of panicky assholes and Dragon’s Teeth fifth columnists. We’re going insane trying to keep these people moving. Wish they’d stay where they were.”

“They’re afraid the Dragon’s Teeth are going to get them,” Barton said. “If my family were there, I’d be trying to get them out as well.”

“Yeah,” Hicks said, “but they aren’t helping.”

“Amen,” our guide said walking off. “Especially when they run people over trying to keep them out of the Army lane.”

“Jesus Christ,” Eliza said. “‘S’all gone mad, innit? The ‘ell ‘appened?”

“I guess we got used to having the most advanced tech and the baddest motherfuckers,” I said.

“We still have the Marines,” Hicks said. Eliza and I exchanged glances. “You ever fought with Marines?” Hicks asked.

“Look,” I said, “I know you were in the Corps, but right now, our only hope is that the Dragon’s Teeth has miscalculated and we’re the one they didn’t throw enough bodies at. They’ve got better guns, better training, and I’m not sure they’re mentally capable of giving up.”

“Are you saying we should give up?” Hicks asked.

“The exact opposite,” I said. “I’m saying we have to bleed them. The basic law of physics says that they can’t keep what they’re doing up forever. The more resources they spend taking us down, the less they can spend elsewhere. If the world has any chance of beating them, this country, and every country they invade, needs to either become Stalingrad or the Khyber Pass.”

“And if we can’t?” Barton asked. “If we don’t have the resources or the will?”

“I think,” I said, “it’s possible for the Dragon’s Teeth to take this country. Staying in it will be another thing. And it’s not just this country that’ll fight back after being taken. I can’t imagine the British just going quietly into the good night, the French resistance probably formed an hour before the surrender came in, and I can’t imagine any former colony being too thrilled about giving up their independence. The Dragon’s Teeth have legitimately taken on an impossible task.”

“So the key thing’s bein’ alive to point and laugh when they fall flat on their fuckin’ faces?” Eliza asked.

“Basically, yeah,” I said.

We rested in the cafeteria as best we could. Eventually, I noticed that a bunch of people in costumes were coming in as well to get food, coffee and rest as well as FBI agents, police, and National Guard officers. When I pointed it out to Hicks, he said, “Local heroes and a few villains have been in the thick of it since it broke out. This is pretty much the only place that isn’t complete chaos at the moment.”

“Really?” I said. “Because every thirty minutes it sounds like they’re trying to repel a determined attack.”

“They are,” Barton said. “The invisible ones have made several attempts to get into the building.”

“When we get to safety,” I said, privately doubting that was even possible at this point, “what are you going to do with me?”

“Ask you not to leave the country,” Hicks said. “Then probably go out and direct traffic. I honestly have no idea.”

“Because I have a weapons factory,” I said. “And I make guns specifically designed to defeat Dragon’s Teeth armor.”

“Are you asking me for a deal?” Hicks asked.

“If the courts are still functioning,” I said, “talk to my lawyer. If they aren’t, well, I might as well give them away. Just give me the raw materials, and I’ll give you weapons and ammo.”

“I cannot promise you anything,” Hicks said.

Eventually, we got a ride. An army truck was heading East to pick up supplies and could give us and a bunch of wounded a ride to Saint Louis. We were pressed in towards the front of the cab with the injured soldiers near the front. In the center, there was enough room for stretchers. You could put two side by side and three top to bottom. The people on them were either suffering from hallucinogenic gas, horrifically burned but stable, or both. The other injuries included amputations, burns, paralysis, neurological damage, deafness, and blindness. They could sit on a bench in a bouncy truck for long hours without dying, but that was about the closest to physically being combat-ready they could be. A few were physically and mentally capable of holding a P90, MP5, MP5K, Tommy gun, or M3 that had been broken out of the reserves.  This made them feel like they could still fight.

I felt sick looking at them. The hodgepodge of museum pieces, military police weapons, and conscripted law enforcement equipment wasn’t given to them to assuage their ego. It had to be because they felt that there was no one else to guard the transports and even something as plentiful and basic as an assault rifle was desperately needed elsewhere. So here we were, with men almost literally scraped off the battlefield in pieces with a hastily assembled mish-mash of inadequate weaponry. If Dragon’s Teeth attacked us, a trained marksman at the top of their game with an MP5 or P90 might be able to hit them at two hundred meters reliably, but even a P90’s 5.7mm ammo wouldn’t have a prayer of piercing their armor. The charitable explanation was they weren’t there to stop the Teeth, but instead panicky, angry civilians who might think we’d be carrying supplies.

It happened almost as soon as Saint Louis came into view. I felt everything fall away from me. My seat, the truck, everything. Suddenly, I, and what seemed to be everyone else on Interstate 70, were now standing in infinite whiteness.

“Greetings!” a voice thundered. Towering above us was a giant. His race appeared to be Mediterranean or Arabic, but something told me he was Dragon’s Teeth. “I, Nero Mortus, am the commander of the Dragon’s Teeth in the Central US Heartland. By the bidding of my creators, I am told to give you a message. Surrender. What has already happened is child’s play. What shall happen next is a demonstration. If you have not surrendered after this, we shall continue to unleash hellfire upon you. You have been warned”

Instantly, I was back in the truck. I was lying on my legs, I ached all over, especially around my lap belt like I had been knocked around, and there was a strange dusty smell. Everyone else had been thrown around. The two medics, who hadn’t been seat-belted, were the worst off. One had landed against the backflap of the truck, her neck at a strange angle. The other had several compound fractures on one arm. His screams and the bones poking out through his formerly green fatigues were nightmarish to say the least. Several of the more damaged soldiers seemed to have external and internal wounds re-opened. From the cab, I could hear someone panicking.

“We need to get out of here,” I said, fumbling with my seat belt.

“No. Safest place to be in an accident is a car,” Barton said. “If we get hit again-”

“Agent Barton,” I said, looking pleadingly into his eyes, “as the person with the most knowledge on the Dragon’s Teeth, I am begging you to help me get everyone out of this truck.”

“Why?” Hicks asked.

“Instinct,” I said. I truly had no idea why I thought this. I had no idea what about that hallucination told me that staying in the truck was a bad idea, I just knew.

Not even taking a moment to consider my reasoning, Hicks barked out, “You heard the kid! Everybody out of the damn truck!”

“And if you’re able to walk,” I said, “we need all the civvies out of their cars and off the highway!”

Where we were was not ideal. We were in what was essentially a dirt field. Around us were the crop fields that you typically associate with the heartland, but we were in the only barren one for what had to be hundreds of miles. For what seemed to be hundreds of miles of highway, cars, trucks and armored vehicles had crashed. Most had been going under five miles an hour, so most people were realatively unhurt. Further from where we were, I saw an obvious exception where a Bradley APC with a smashed turret had run over several civilian vehicles.

The only people in the truck who were physically capable of aiding the evacuation were Hicks, Barton, Watanabe, one of the drivers, and me. Luckily, most of the nearby civilians and five Marines in a nearby Humvee were able to help. The marines hadn’t needed our prompting, their leader, an elderly colonel, had the exact same idea as I did. “Move those people farther from the road!” I yelled as I helped an elderly woman out of a Jeep and over all the cars.

“Larson! Daniels!” the colonel yelled in a voice that had obviously been subjected to a pack of cigarettes a day for the past forty years, as he, Hicks, and the second-highest ranking Marine (a corporal) were passing young children out of a school bus and over cars, “I want an air raid trench! Give that lawyer with the stupid hat an entrenching tool and make him useful!”

Then, from the direction of Saint Louis, there was a flash of bluish-white light and the temperature had to have increased from ninety degrees Fahrenheit to a hundred and twenty. I knew what that meant. “WE’RE OUT OF TIME!” I screamed. “OFF THE ROAD! OFF THE ROAD!”

Everyone panicked. People started running, the temperature kept rising, and the light got brighter. “DON’T GO INTO THE CORNFIELDS!” I yelled, dragging the old woman towards the barren field. “STAY ON THE DIRT! STAY ON THE-”

Then there was a roaring sound and the wheat field behind the dirt farm we were on went up in blue flame. A wave of heat hit me hit me like I’d opened an oven that had been broiling for an hour People screamed in terror and everyone began panicking.

“Young man,” the old woman I was helping along said, “please, save your-”

Then blinding bluish-white light and intense heat washed over us.

 

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Track 18: 21st Century Warfare

We hunkered down as the dust trails came closer, the black shapes still hard to identify. Looking at the plane, I could see movement. The Marines must have seen or heard what I assumed to be Charons and were moving into firing positions. They must have known that four or five men with assault rifles didn’t stand a chance against four conventional APCs, let alone ones made out of whatever super space substance the Dragon’s Teeth.

Meanwhile, the civilians, FBI agents, and the pilots were taking off running. Some were heading towards us, which was smart. We had hiked up a hill that should have been impassable to wheeled vehicles like the Charon. The others were running along the relatively flat ground. That wouldn’t work. Charons could theoretically beat most sports cars on the track.

Their speed was demonstrated pretty quickly, appropriately enough. The vehicles came into range and the Marines began to open up. Unsurprisingly, they were ineffective and most of the vehicles simply ignored them. One cut off the people heading down the flat area. Twelve Dragon’s Teeth Legionnaires exited the vehicle and began controlling the runners. Two sped up to cut off the people heading up the mountain. When the dust cleared, I could see that they’d parked close enough that I could see that they’d parked perpendicular to us and opened their doors facing us, revealing their clinically white interior. Legionaries, in their Roman-inspired armor, were getting out and controlling the crowd. The last Charon, meanwhile, had slammed on its brakes, smashing into a Marine and enveloping itself in dust. When that dust cleared, it revealed six newly deployed Legionnaires who then proceeded to kill the remaining Marines. Then the Charon sped off to ride heard on the passengers from the plane trying to escape via the flat lands.

Meanwhile, we were lying down prone on the ground behind rocks and cacti. “Do you think they can hear us?” Watanabe whispered. Despite being about three hundred meters away from the soldiers, everyone else shushed him.

We watched as the Legionaries slowly herded the groups back towards the plane, occasionally firing off rounds. As they did, Eliza whispered, “Does anyone else ‘ear motors?”

“No,” I said. “Where are they coming from?”

Eliza pointed in a direction that was about thirty degrees off from where the Charons had come from. “‘Eavy vehicles, comin’ from over there. ‘Bout four, and they sound different from Charons. They’re goin’ slower an’ they’re usin’ petrol or diesel engines ‘steada electric.” She then turned and pointed behind us. “And some SUVs, plus a few other trucks. Bit more of them.”

“Hopefully that’s the National Guard,” I said. Then, from the first area Eliza had pointed, there was a gout of fire from a cannon’s muzzle flash and an equally impressive crack.  Something, probably a 105mm HEAT shell, smashed through the side doors of one Charon and kicked up a spray of dust. “Yep,” I said, watching the four Stryker Mobile Gun Systems (basically slower, less technologically-advanced versions of Charons with bigger guns) crest the hill, “it’s the National Guard.”

The Charon that had been was able to speed off in a cloud of dust. What I could see of it showed that, since the HEAT round had hit its doors, the damage was only cosmetic. Another Charon, however, wasn’t so lucky. I saw a HEAT round smash down right in front of it. Whatever the Charons were made out of must have been extremely lightweight, because it flipped over onto its roof, its gun turret jammed into the Arizona sand, rendering the vehicle disabled. It was a humiliating injury.

The Strykers, meanwhile, were pressing the attack. Every time a 105 fired, my chest would rattle like one of those big fireworks like the Fourth of July. The impacts of the shells were even more awesome. I felt like I was about to have a heart attack, it was so intense.

It would have been awe-inspiring if not for the fact that they weren’t hitting anything. A Stryker MGS is a platform with an anti-tank weapon given to people who are trained to hit broadsides of barns and not much else. They’re there to remove bunkers, fortified buildings of no strategic importance, and maybe a swarm of counter-attacking infantry. Expecting them to hit something as fast as a sports car is both unrealistic and unfair.

Charons, meanwhile, seemed to be designed for just this kind of situation. As soon as they took off, it became clear that any normal gunner couldn’t hit them without some sort of aim assist. Then they opened fire.

Their guns were around twenty or forty millimeters and fully automatic. The first time one of the Charons burped out some rounds, they exploded and bounced of one of the Strykers, causing the armor to crumple. The second time, they penetrated the armor of the cockpit and the vehicle swerved. Then another Stryker was hit, its front blowing out and its wheels collapsing. It coasted to a halt and lay there, smoke emitting from the holes.

Meanwhile, one Stryker got a miraculous hit on a Charon. The HEAT round must have impacted on the side-front, because the Charon’s rear raised up and it did an odd sort of pirouette on one of its front tires, its rear ramp falling open.

The two remaining Charons pulled up alongside their remaining attackers and released stunning broadsides. One Stryker had its front end seemingly melt from a long burst of the Charon’s autocannon. The last remaining Stryker, however, must have taken a round to its magazine or fuel tank. The darkening area was illuminated by multiple explosions from the stricken vehicle. It was then engulfed in flame and kept rolling, carried by momentum.

The Charons, seemingly unperturbed by the loss of half their team, slowly returned to patrol around the crashed plane. They’d been hit pretty hard, but I had to admit one was only due to surprise and another loss was completely due to either unearthly skill or a freak accident. Meanwhile, the soldiers they had disgorged were just finishing up herding the last few crash survivors back into the downed plane.

Then, from behind us, the missiles came. I’m assuming they were Javelin missiles, but I don’t really care. I just love the way they fucked up the Charons. Each one disappeared in a cloud of smoke and dust. One emerged, coasting along, smoke billowing out from a hole in the top, its front windscreens shattered and blood staining the hood and its turret spinning wildly. The other just stayed in its little cloud, explosions sending bits and pieces of it flying as its magazine exploded in a chain reaction.

I turned around. Soldiers, either National Guard or regular Army, were cresting the hill. They began firing their M16s, M249s, and M14s down into the somewhat clumped up Legionnaires. The Dragon’s Teeth should have been slaughtered.

Instead, that first wave of soldiers were mostly wiped out. They were good, but a lot of their shots missed. Again, at that range, in that light, with mostly just iron sights, it was understandable. And the shots that did hit were mostly stopped by the Legionnaires’ armor. The Legionnaires, meanwhile, had fancy optics, what was probably intense training, selective breeding, and genetic enhancements out the wazoo. They were slaughtering the first few to come over the hill.

Then two Stryker ICVs (like the Stryker MGS, but carries infantry and has machineguns instead of a cannon) and three Humvees crested the hill in V-formation. Three of the Humvees and the Strykers were equipped with M2 .50 caliber machineguns which seemed to be pretty good at knocking down Legionnaires in a way that made them unable to get up. The middle Humvee had an Mk. 19 automatic grenade launcher which didn’t seem to be as effective, but made me feel a lot better. Then, there was the sound of a 105 firing, and a group of Legionnaires disappeared in a cloud of dust and smoke. Apparently, there was a Stryker MGS out there that wasn’t as dead as the Charon operators would have liked.

Soon, there was little left of the forty-eight Legionnaires except corpses. Between the small-arms fire from the troops, the heavy machinegun fire from the supporting vehicles, and the formerly resting Stryker, the Legionnaires had been defeated. Barely. If half of those Charons hadn’t been taken out by the initial Stryker assault, or if the Javelins had missed, there would be a lot more US soldiers bleeding out on the sand and a lot less Dragon’s Teeth.

The soldiers advanced cautiously. Every time one of the Legionnaires twitched, the soldiers would open up again, raking the area with firepower. Eventually, their line advanced so far that one stepped on Watanabe. The soldier’s first reaction was to nearly blow Watanabe’s head off with an M16. Watanabe’s reaction was to let out a strangled cry.

“Jesus Christ!” the soldier said. “What the hell?” I noticed the soldier was wearing a gas mask. That explained why the Dragon’s Teeth wasn’t spamming hallucinogenic gas like they normally did.

Hicks, thinking fast, held up his ID. “It’s ok,” he said, “we’re FBI.”

More soldiers came over, training rifles on us. When there were about two or three soldiers for every one of us, one shone a light in our faces and checked Hicks’ ID. Another pinched our foreheads with his thumb and forefinger and pulled, obviously checking for masks. “You’ve been having infiltrators, too, huh?” Barton asked.

“How’d you find out about the masks?” one soldier asked.

“Some bastards with them,” Hicks said in annoyance, “managed to get into the Honolulu field office by wearing them and flashing US Marshall badges.” After a pause, Hicks said, “In retrospect, we kind of deserved that.”

“You guys can write up the after-action reports later, sir,” one of the soldiers said. “In the meantime, please stay here.”

We spent a while under guard while the Guardsmen advanced on the plane. I noticed that behind the armed Strykers and Humvees were two unarmed Strykers and two green Bearcat armored cars. The Bearcats sped past and approached the plane, running over the downed Legionnaires. I wasn’t sure whether or not that was on purpose. Some of the SWAT officers entered the plane, most stayed out and began checking the dead Dragon’s Teeth.

Then, the two unarmed Strykers moved in. One pulled up to the plane and the SWAT officers began bringing the civilians into the vehicles. The other collected the dead and injured Guardsmen, then pulled up next to the still-functioning Stryker MGS and began evacuating the people from it.

“So what happens now?” I asked.

“We get you guys back to base,” a Guardsman said, “and hope no more shit goes wrong.”

 

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Track 17: Badlands

“So,” I asked, as we boarded a military plane, “why are we leaving?” Several families and individuals, maybe other people in witness protection, maybe families of military brass, and some soldiers and FBI agents were also crammed in with us.

“Did you see the traffic on the way?” Barton asked.

“Kind of hard to miss it,” Eliza said. “We were bloody in it on the way to the police station.”

“Exactly,” Barton said. “It’s going to get a lot worse. Everybody on the west coast is going to want to get to the east coast.”

“Which is going to be a problem,” Hicks said, “because the army’s going to want to get here as fast as possible.”

“Yeah,” Barton said, a haunted look in his eyes, “that’ll be a nightmare.”

“So,” Watanabe asked, seemingly trying to hold back his barf, “where are you going to keep my clients?”

“Can I make a suggestion?” I asked. Hicks made a grunting noise and nodded, which I assumed he’d listen, if not follow it. “My company’s factory has been experimenting with automated defenses for a while.”

“That shouldn’t be necessary,” Hicks said. “But New England might be a good place to lay low.”

“What if they win?” Watanabe asked, instantly sucking all the air out of the room. “There’s a good chance that the Dragon’s Teeth will win. They’ve already steamrollered most of Europe, including France, Germany and England. Russia won’t last the month. China’s already admitted it’s lost more people than it can replace, and India isn’t looking too good either.”

“Well,” I said eventually, “that’s actually somewhat reassuring. Hopefully, they’re spent. I mean, do you have any idea how much manpower all this is taking? Since the US spends more money on defense than Russia and China combined, we might be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.” That seemed to cheer up Watanabe and some of the people we were flying with.

“Do you really believe that?” Eliza asked in a disbelieving monotone.

“I don’t believe my theory is impossible,” I said, hedging. “I mean, it makes sense, doesn’t it?” The people became less consoled. A baby started crying. Even Hicks looked a little sick, and something told me it wasn’t because of the plane ride.

Watanabe, head in his hands, said, “Nathan, you realize you aren’t in a courtroom and can’t be sued for perjury as such?”

I shrugged. “Not like I can lie now. Anyone know where we are?”

“Probably around the Grand Canyon,” Hicks said. “Unless the Dragon’s Teeth are trickier than we thought, we-”

Suddenly, there was a loud thump and the sound of screeching metal. The plane began to fall out of the sky as warning lights blared. I would have said something snarky, but I didn’t think anyone could hear me above the new ambient noise. Also, most of the younger children were screaming now. Now was neither the time nor the place.

The plane, after what seemed like a millennia of plummeting to the ground, finally hit the ground with a crunch. One person, a weaseley man who’d been screaming louder than any of the children, hadn’t been buckled in and hit the ceiling of the plane with his head. As the plane skidded along, he turned into a projectile, narrowly missing a family, slamming his spine into someone’s knee, and breaking his neck when his head hit a soldier’s plate at a weird angle. Meanwhile, people were getting shaken up and loose items were being tossed around. I, like many other people, had my head slam into the wall. Then, while I was trying to get my bearings, a soldier’s M4 flew into my face so hard I could feel that the receiver and handguard left an imprint.

Then everything in the cabin became very, very still. After a prolonged silence, the children began crying, adults began panicking, and the FBI agents and soldiers who had their shit together began trying to restore order. Naturally, Barton and Hicks were part of that last category.

After our two FBI friends had wandered off, Watanabe asked, “You going to help them?”

“No,” I said dully, as a massive headache set in.

“Yeah,” Eliza slurred as she clutched the back of her head, blood leaking through her fingertips, “we’re just going to sit down ‘ere for a bit an’ let the professionals do their job for a bloody change.”

As we were talking, one of the pilots stumbled out of the cabin. I think he might have been the captain. “Listen up!” he yelled. We all turned to look at him. “You’ve probably figured it out already, but that wasn’t mechanical failure. We’ve called in to the Arizona Air National Guard, and it seems that something’s attempting to shoot down planes between the Sierra Nevada and the Rockies. We’re one of the unlucky ones they hit.”

“Who are ‘they?’” someone asked.

“We’re unsure,” the captain said. “Still, all we need to do is sit tight and wait for the National Guard to pick us up.” I rolled my eyes at the lie. If multiple planes were going down, then there was no chance it was anything other than Dragon’s Teeth. The only question I had was how? If it was via air-to-air, I had no idea how it had gotten here. If it was surface-to-air, then we could be in serious trouble.

“Hey, Hicks?” I asked

“What is it?” He asked softly, having just been comforting a sobbing child. For once I was glad I was in the mercenary and weapons business. There weren’t many screaming children, at least not the way I did it.

“Shouldn’t someone go scout around a bit?” I asked. “Just… to make sure things are alright? You know, get a good idea of where we are.”

Hicks considered this for a moment, then said, “Yeah, that’d be a good idea.” He got up, and, indicating the child and her mom, said, “Take care of them, ok?” He then left me alone for a few minutes of awkward conversation. I eventually ended up having to talk about how I appeared so calm. That involved lying about how I was still loopy from my head injuries and instead saying something about how panic wouldn’t help.

Eventually, Hicks came back. “You were pretty good,” he said.

“Yeah,” I said. I thought I was talking utter shit. “Anyway, what’s the situation?”

“Marines are going to form a perimeter,” Hicks said. “I’d like us to go up a hill, get a better look.”

“Ok,” I said.

The ramp at the rear of the plane opened and we began to leave the plane. The Marines headed out first, their weapons loaded, but hanging from their slings. Hicks, Barton, Eliza, Watanabe, and I continued up a hill. By the time we were at the first lip, the sun was starting to set. From there, we could see that several over planes had come down in the area. We seemed to be the only survivors.

“So,” Watanabe asked, completely out of breath, “what… what’s happening?” As he talked, we could hear an airplane flying overhead. I turned to look at it. At the height it was flying, I couldn’t really tell what kind of plane it was, other than some kind of jet. It looked big, but again, I couldn’t really tell from the ground.

“Good question,” Hicks said. “The people on-site don’t seem to-”

“Wait,” I said, pointing to the plane, “why’s that plane falling?”

“Oh fuck,” Eliza said. “That’s what I ‘eard.” I turned to her, and she said, answering my unasked question, “I ‘eard a bit of brrrt sound. Must’ve been gunfire.” She then pointed at the sky. “Think it was air-to-air. Look.”

I followed her finger. She was pointing to the plane’s contrails. There, much fainter, ran a parallel line. At a certain point, the falling jet’s contrails began to dip, but the other set continued on. As I studied it, I heard a large thump. Turning to the source, I saw a cloud of dust and debris rise up from behind a mountain. A few seconds later, I felt some clumps of dirt hit me and saw large chunks of metal fall within a few hundred meters of the plane we’d been on.

“So,” I said. “That was air-to-air with one plane being invisible.”

“Yeah,” Eliza said. “That’s… disturbing, innit? I mean, where the ‘ell did that come from? Either it’s got a big enough range and a fast enough engine to fly all the way out from the Pacific to shoot down a single jet liner, or it’s launched from somewhere much closer.”

“I hope it’s from one of the carriers in the Pacific,” I said. “Because if it’s land-based, there’s a much higher chance of us getting company soon.”

“Does that answer your question?” Watanabe asked, pointing. In the distance, heading towards the downed plane, were several trails of dust. Squinting, I could see what appeared to be solid darkness speeding towards the planes.

 

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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 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 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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