We left the office and headed to one of the dorm rooms in the Harvard quad. On the way, we passed the executed JTF2 operators. I had been hearing some things about Canada and how they were dealing with the fallout of the Dragon’s Teeth War. Mexico was being cautious; after all, they had their troubles before the war. Canada, meanwhile, had taken two strategic plasma forces when they had advanced south before retreating. The first thing they had done after signing the armistice was make a compact with New Zealand and Australia that was very much like what had been the EU, except they also were uniting under a join military structure.
“So,” I said, “You planning on taking the fight to Canada?”
“No,” Olaf said. “We’re using the Swiss strategy.” When I shot him a quizzical look, he said, “Switzerland was one the only European country to resist longer than a few months. After we defeated this country, we decided that if they didn’t want to submit to the Death Mother, we didn’t have to feed them. The problem is, their population was too bloated to be maintained without assistance and they’d forgotten how to grow their own food. Besides, their soil is pretty much completely barren. We didn’t say it, but their choices were to join with us, starve to death, or find… other means of sustenance.” He turned to me and smiled. “They just agreed to join us last week.”
“Of course,” Olaf said. “Shame that we are reconsidering using the tactic.”
“Well,” I said, “considering it’s technically genocide, I’m glad you aren’t doing that.”
“It’s the only way to win,” Olaf said. “The Jacob’s Project put us on this path, and we have to complete it or die. We can change course slightly so the Death Mother isn’t too pained, but I will put the lives of my brothers over her comfort.”
“Alternatively,” I said, “you could always leave Earth and go back to whatever planet you came from.” We had entered one of the dorms just as I said this. Dragon’s Teeth lounged in the various tasteful chairs and their boots had scuffed the fine wood floor. Guns rested against richly paneled walls, wood tables and leather chairs. If the Dragon’s Teeth ever left, it would take a fortune to restore it.
Two Legionnaires in full body armor frog-marched a pale, red-haired woman with green eyes and fox ears down the stairs. She stared at me hesitantly, and looked back and forth from me to Olaf, as if she wasn’t sure I was real. It was Eliza.
“Eliza,” I said. “You ok? Have you heard from the others?”
“They say they put me in isolation a week ago,” she said slowly, as if she’d forgotten how to speak. “but they lie ‘bout that. ‘Aven’t heard from any of them since.” She paused. “Where were you?”
“I was in solitary for probably about six months,” I said. “Then they let me out.”
“I think it was only a few days we held you,” Olaf said.
“Fucking liar,” I said. “The leaves were falling when you brought me in, they were blooming when you brought me back out. Where are the rest of them?”
“I have a deal for you,” Olaf said. “When the UN makes its little inspection, you can get everyone back. All at once. Just be cooperative.”
“When?” I asked. “I want a concrete time frame.”
“I was thinking that the first stop on our tour would be to release some prisoners,” Olaf said. “They see how well we’ve kept prisoners, and that we’re reintegrating them into society.”
“Such as it is.”
Olaf rolled his eyes. “Such as it is. We will fix much of this by the time they arrive.”
Eliza was looking at us questioningly, so for her benefit, I said, “Mass starvation and multiple outbreaks aren’t something you can fix in… how long? A month? A week?”
“Sounds like fun,” Eliza said, some of her normal sardonic behavior coming back in. “Can I go back to isolation?”
“He’s getting full rations,” Olaf said, “despite being an ungrateful little shit. And if you really want to go back to isolation…” Eliza’s face went even paler and she began to tremble. “Thought not,” Olaf said. “It’s amazing how normal humans think brutality is the end-all be-all to horrible things. The success rate for making people talk just by locking them in a room with no human contact or knowledge of the outside world astounds people.”
“The UN inspectors will realize its torture,” I said, “and they will ding you for it.”
“Ooooh, scary,” Olaf said.
The room went yellow and things began to blur. “I am going to ding you.” I didn’t need to see all the Dragon’s Teeth drop to their knees to know it was Alma. The creepy leader of the Teeth was pretty much a ghost at this point. “Olaf,” she said, her monotone voice more dangerous than usual, “of all clone commanders, you seem to be the one having the most difficulty adapting. It’s almost like you prefer the old ways, if not the old commanders.”
“The old ways are satisfying,” Olaf said.
“The old ways are going to kill millions,” Alma said. “I only allowed Switzerland because it was a back door into Europe. Never again. If you fail the UN inspection, I will send you back to Thebes. Are we understood?”
“Nobody’s going to pass,” Olaf said. “No matter what we do. And eventually, you’ll need me. So everything you’re doing here is pointless.”
“You have your orders, Commander,” Alma said. “Follow them.”
Olaf glared at her for a moment. Then he said, “Yes. Ma’am.”
Alma turned to me. “I have something to tell you, Nathan.”
“No, you don’t,” I said. “I think we’re done talking after you let him” I jerked my head over to Olaf, “run roughshod over my home for about a year. Now if you’ll excuse me-”
“Mayu Nakashima is not accounted for.”
“What?” I asked. “How can she not be accounted for?” If there was one thing that could be worse than the Teeth, it was Mayu Nakashima finding what she was looking for.
“We don’t know,” Alma said.
“If she’s in the US, and if I were her, I wouldn’t be anywhere else, she’s somehow managed to avoid thousands of checkpoints manned by highly trained individuals equipped with tech she couldn’t have thought up while she was in stasis,” Olaf said. “She’s been… a pain.”
“Let me guess,” I said. “she’s killed a few more Berserkers than I have?” Olaf glowered.
“We decided,” Alma said, “that it was safer to have her go after you than have her head straight to Mubashir. That’s why we’re releasing Eliza.”
“Wait,” Eliza said, “I can barely bloody walk, and you’re asking me to do 24/7 protection on someone? I mean, I’ll do it, but ‘e’s a fuckin’ goner.”
“She won’t kill him,” Alma said. “She needs him to get to Mubashir.” Mubashir Mubarak (also known as Moob) was the thing that could make Mayu worse than the Dragon’s Teeth. He had powers that could reshape reality and seemed to control him rather than the other way around. He could avoid unleashing them, but Mayu might have a way to change that.
“She won’t mean to kill ‘im, but she’ll flip for ‘alf a bloody second an’ he’ll be chokin’ on ‘is own blood!” Eliza yelled, incensed. “Did you fuckin’ see ‘er when she went for ‘im in Hawaii?”
“I know you didn’t,” Alma said. “And I know that when I can make contact with her, her mind is becoming rapidly more organized.”
“Wait,” I said, a sinking feeling in my stomach, “you can’t find her with you power? And she’s becoming functional but still trying to find Moob?”
“It’s her only way of focus, I think,” Alma said. “Her obsessiveness is letting her do incredible things. I just have a suspicion that if someone doesn’t let her down gently, she’ll snap. Or she’ll somehow shape Mubashir into what she thinks he should be.”
“You can’t pay me enough to get close to her,” I said. “Being around her, no matter what my history with her is, is pretty much an end run at this stage. The likely scenario, no matter what safeguards you put in place, no matter how much progress she’s made, is that she will kill me. She’ll find out I don’t know where Mubashir is, or she’ll snap like Eliza said, or you’ll send the Teeth to try and rescue me, and I will die. And I’d be fine with that, but you decided to release Eliza just in time for… for this. Fuck you.”
Alma stared at me for a long time. “You,” she said, “are not the only one with a death sentence. I am trying to fix that, but I need help.”
I sighed. “I know, something worse is coming.” I looked at Eliza. If I pushed this, she would probably be sent back to solitary. “Fuck. I have no choice, don’t I?”