Nari and I were waiting at the airport a little after lunch for Andy and May to get back exactly one week later. The rain had slowly begun to be replaced by snow the entire week. Needless to say, we were waiting in the hangar.
“Did you finish the rifle bullet prototype?” Nari asked. We had been sitting around the terminal for quite a while.
“Yeah,” I said. “That part was pretty easy. Just make the rifle bullet, except longer.” I opened a bag. “I’ve got two alternate butt plates made and I’ve started on the rifle receiver.”
Nari looked at them. “Well,” she said, “one of them looks rather easy.” The one she was talking about was just a metal plate to fit around the two halves of the receiver. The only detailing it had was the holes at the top and bottom for the studs to attach and a loop for a sling.
“Yeah,” I said, “but the other’s going to be a pain. Not only did I decide to have it be collapsible, not only did I decide it had to take M-4 stocks, not only did I decide to have it be side-folding, but I decided it would fold to either side.”
Nari picked that one out of the bag. “I have seen standard M-4 stocks,” she said. “This is not one.”
“Well,” I said, “I decided to add an adjustable cheek rest. You can take that part off and put an M-4 stock on it.”
“Why do you need an adjustable cheek rest?” Nari asked.
“Some of it’s a shooter comfort thing,” I said, “some of it is so we don’t have to pay money in licensing fees or so we don’t have to buy externally for parts. Some of it is to fulfil a market niche that isn’t being filled. Most of it is because I thought I was getting too much sleep.”
“I know the feeling,” Nari said earnestly. “I haven’t been here very long, I’ll admit, but I love being here. Sure, the politics seem even more pointless than North Korea, but I can do whatever I want!” She smiled. “The things I have to do are easy enough to finish quickly, but challenging enough to be fun, and when I get done, I can do things like make these guns and guitar things.”
“Really?” I asked, not mentioning that my work was done less for the joy of working and more to save the world. “Are you making guitars?”
“Well,” Nari said, “I made a guitar and an amp. Now I’m learning how to play. I have to learn how to actually play before I really know what a good guitar is.”
“Well,” I said, “that’s good to hear.”
“Plus,” Nari said, “Our outdoor test was pretty successful.” She was right. We had set up some targets up in the forest and given the current generation Uilon Mangchi and the Ballpeen prototypes to our usual testers. The response had been very positive. No jams or misfires caused by inclement weather, and the weapons were easy to use while on the move.
“The only goddamned problem,” Cross shouted outside an abandoned bunker after he and Doc had “cleared” it of targets, “is that the damned things are too loud.”
“Yes,” Doc said, also shouting, “the ear protection we brought was insufficient, especially where it can echo. The muzzle flash is also very bright. I do not like it.”
“You kidding?” Cross said, “Nothing says ‘Get the fuck down!’ like a nice big muzzle flash. Anything that reminds people whose boss gets my vote.”
“Yes,” Doc said, “but you can do that with an AK. You can do that with an M-16. Yet they don’t give away your position better than a flare when you shoot them. Using these are suicide in an ambush.”
Back in the present, Nari must have been thinking the same thing. “I examined out the Pilum. Thank you for lend it, by the way.”
“Not a problem,” I said. “After all, I’m making money from the project as well.”
“Anyway,” Nari continued, “The flash hider can be replicated without too much cost. However, it turns out the barrel actually doubles as a sound suppressor. Not as efficient as a normal one, but still effective enough.”
“How?” I asked. “I mean, it has to be, it’s too quiet otherwise, but the barrel’s too thin to be a suppressor.”
“I don’t know,” Nari said, her face setting in a determined frown as she talked, “but whatever they’ve done, I can’t figure it out. It’s all internal and extremely tiny. But I’ll figure it out. And I will replicate it.” She paused. “Unless its nanotech. Then we’ll have to make a workaround.”
“Even if it isn’t nanotech,” I said, “the process sounds like it will be way too complex for Andy’s machines. I guess we’ll have to reduce noise the traditional way.” Suddenly, I heard the whine of a jet engine. “Well, I guess May and Andy are back.”
Nari perked up. “Good. Hopefully, they bring news of our glorious financial accomplishments. Also, May said she could get me some guitar-related books.”
“Does that mean you and May have made up?” I asked.
Nari shrugged. “I’m not sure,” she answered. “We do talk occasionally, but never about my work.” She sighed. “I do still like her. When she isn’t being wrong, she is quite kind and knows all the good music.”
“I see,” I said, noting her Megadeath t-shirt. “I would have thought she’d introduce you to more rap and less heavy metal.”
“We have undertaken our glorious journey into the heart of all things metal together,” Nari said. “I am more open to the sounds of self-styled demon slayers, she is more interested in the lyricism of the proletariat as they rise up against their oppressor.” She looked up to see the plane’s nose had just started to enter the hangar. “Good. They are almost here.”
We waited until the plane’s loading ramp opened. Andy and May began walking out, a look of extreme tiredness on their faces. “Oh, there you are,” May said upon seeing Nari and me. She and Andy staggered over to us, dragging their luggage. They looked somewhat zombiefied. “The good news is we were totally, one hundred percent successful. The bad news is that we need to sleep for several hours before we deal with Tim.”
“Don’t worry about him,” I said. “He’s got some kind of stomach virus. Or nerves. He had to leave us when…”
“We don’t need to know,” Andy said. “Anyway, did you guys get any transportation back to campus? The weather looks like complete crap.”
“They told us they’d have a shuttle waiting for you guys when you got back,” I said. “It should be right outside. You guys want me to carry anything?”
“Thanks,” May said, “but we’re good. We’ll tell you about our plans when we get to Andy’s room.”
After we had got there, May and Andy dropped their suitcase among the half-dismantled automated assembly lines and fell down on the bed. While they leant against each other and the wall, Nari and I stood among the industrial detritus, unsure of what to do with ourselves. Eventually, I asked, “So… do you want us to leave?”
“We can brief you, you don’t have to go,” May muttered. Her eyes were closed, and if they were open, they would have been directed mostly into Andy’s armpit.
“Are you sure?” I asked. “You guys seem like you’re pretty done.”
“Yeah,” Andy said, “but we’ve got one last thing to do.” With what seemed to me to be a massive effort, he opened his eyes. “First off, the FDA approved May’s surgical glue for a trial distribution. It’s going to be limited scale, but we’re still going to have to move out of my dorm room and that lab we’re borrowing.”
“That’s cool,” I said, “Timothy would be pleased to hear about that kind of growth.”
“Power sludge needs more trials,” May said absent-mindedly into Andy’s armpit. He giggled. Apparently, he was ticklish there. “They think it works a lil’ too well…”
“I wonder what the cowards think could go wrong,” Nari said.
“Addiction,” May muttered, “withdrawal…” I laughed at that. They’d obviously never tasted the stuff. “And more importantly, cancer. Cancer everywhere.”
At that last point, remembering my first conversation with May, and how she wasn’t sure how safe Power Sludge was, I said, “Wait, do they have evidence for that last bit? Because I ate only that for an entire semester.”
“So did I,” May said sleepily. “And so did everyone in Hell Semester against my wishes.” She yawned. “Guess we’ll find out in five to twenty years.”
“But they don’t know?” I asked. “They haven’t confirmed it?”
“They just kept naming possible side-effects because the effects are so dramatic,” May said, and I could see herself sort of collapse in on herself. “They didn’t just stop with cancer, they think it could cause everything from indigestion to multiple organ failure.” She looked up at me. “Please… Nate, you have to believe me… I never wanted to give Power Sludge to anyone. Least of all the Hell Semester recruits.”
“Hey,” I said, “I’ll let you know if I start feeling funny. Until then, is there anything that rules out everyone who’s ever eaten it being completely ok? I mean, asides from being dumb enough to enroll at NIU?”
“No,” May said, “and that’s the thing that gets me. I don’t know if the people who’ve used my inventions are going to one day start getting sick.” She sighed. “Anyway, moving on to other things I’m involved with that are probably going to kill people, we had a meeting with the FBI director for procurement. At his office. Which was in the J. Edgar Hoover building.”
“So,” Nari asked, “is that a good thing or a bad thing?”
“Well,” May said, “he confirmed that the clients Krieger found are on the level. Also, we’re in the competition for the new FBI sidearm. For better or worse.”
“Definitely for better,” Nari said. “We have made the most powerful pistol the world has seen. Anything that points our weapons at The Dragon’s Teeth and other enemies of all peaceful peoples can only be seen as a good thing.”
“I thought you didn’t care enough about propaganda to translate it,” I said sardonically.
Nari shrugged. “I learned. It is an effective way to communicate.”
“We just have one more announcement,” Andy said. “Then we’d kind of like you get out so we can sleep.”
“Not a problem,” I said. “I actually have some things to be doing.”
“Me too,” Nari said. “I have some work to do, and Sunny is planning on having a movie night at her place. I think we are watching something involving over-muscled men with guns kill people. They sound like propaganda films from home… except they are American.”
“Is one of them called Die Hard?” I asked. “Or Rambo? Or Commando? Because those are kind of classics when it…”
“Hey,” May said, “focus.”
“Anyway,” Andy said, “we’ve told you how the glue’s going to require us to move to the main factory, right? And you know that this factory is slightly farther away than Washington is, right?” Nari and I nodded. Andy, seeing that, continued. “Also, if we get the FBI contract, we’re going to need to set up that space for production of the Uilon Mangchi and the Ballpeen as well. This is gonna require a lot of my time, and probably a lot of May’s as well.”
“When are you going to do your schoolwork?” Nari asked. I didn’t bother to ask any questions. I could already guess where this was going. There was no way they’d be able to continue their education and run a business as ambitious as Olympus Incorporated.
“We aren’t,” Andy said. “We’re going to be taking a leave of absence. We’re leaving Nowhere Island University.”