Track 4: You Got Me Up in a Cage

The battle to take the campus had, from what I could tell from the various safe areas I had been stored in, been chaotic and brutal. Nobody, especially Campus Security, could tell who was on what side. To top it off, some of the students, staff and faculty appeared to have taken the opportunity to settle old grudges and/or enrich themselves.

Two days later, the campus was secure again. The last burst of gunfire had been very methodical and it was around this time Krieger came to collect me. “‘Allo, Boyke!” he said, popping his head into the room. “Would you like to talk with a deposed despot?”

As he walked into the room, two people filed in. I recognized both of them. One, a blond woman a little older than I was (I think her name was Edda Stauffenberg,) I only knew of because she had been in Hell Semester the year after me. She wore a blouse, grey slacks and a black Kevlar vest loaded with grenades and ammo and carried a G36C. One of the few clues to the fact that she hadn’t started her NIU career in Shadowhaven was that her hair hung loosely down beyond her shoulders.

The other I recognized as Oro Okoro. We had been in Hell Semester together and, while not close, we had both been in a certain short-lived club. She had gotten her dark hair cut short and wore yellow-brown fatigues and a similar vest. She carried a pump action shotgun and had her SMLE slung over her shoulder. I also noticed that all my visitors had a blue ribbon with a red stripe around the center tied across their right arms.

“I’d much prefer it if I could go home,” I said.

“You can go home,” Krieger said, “I just need you to confirm a few things. Then you, your girlfriend, and your pet FBI officer can go home.”

I clammed up. Early on, they had given me my cPhone back. I had called Eliza first, of course. She sounded glad to hear from me, then things had gotten awkward. As soon as she had hung up, I had called Agent Hicks, an FBI agent. I had an urgent need to contact him, and I needed that conversation to be unheard by Krieger. Hoping that they had only gotten the number and conversation length, I opened my mouth, trying to play dumb.

“By the way,” Krieger said, ending that plan before it could even start, “I liked Mubashir. Is there anything I can do to help him from this Nakashima person?” I tried to keep my emotions from showing. Mubashir Mubarak was a former Al-Qaeda terrorist who had been recruited against his will. He had finally escaped when he was revealed to be a) a mole for the CIA and b) a godlike entity. Mayu Nakashima, meanwhile, was an assassin who had been trapped for half a millennium in a hell dimension because several secret societies had prophesized Mubashir being, well, God. Now she was looking for him. “It sounds like a very interesting story,” Krieger said. “Would you care to tell me why a Japanese person is after an Al-Qaeda operative?”

“No,” I said, keeping my response short and truthful. “Anyway, how’s Eliza doing?”

“She doesn’t trust us,” Oro said. “She’s already tried to break out twice.” She was obviously bothered, and who could blame her? Eliza had been closer to her than I was, and possibly anyone else since her parents had been killed.

“Not surprising,” I said. “You are holding us at gunpoint. Plus, Eliza has a few trust issues at the moment.”

“We’ve contacted her father,” Krieger said, “and he’ll pick both of yeh up as soon as you help me with this one little thing.”

“Ok, fine,” I said. “Lead the way.”

Krieger nodded. Edda rapped a pattern on the doorframe with her fist. “Paris!” she called out.

“London!” a voice responded. We then walked out into the hall. There were several more people guarding the hall. I recognized two. Camilla Reyes was another fellow Hell Semester graduate from Mexico and there was a young brown-haired guy with a Ruger Mini who I remembered being in Edda’s year at Hell Semester.

“Right, boys and girls!” Krieger said cheerily. “Let’s go!”

We then began to head out into the island’s sweltering summer heat. Because everyone there was from AMS/Shadowhaven, it was a very good close protection setup. “So,” I said as we got out of the building, “how’s the purge going?”

“Not well,” Krieger said. “We’ve had to kill too many otherwise good people.” He shook his head and sighed. “The thing is, we don’t have the facilities for containing some of the President’s scarier supporters. Nowhere Island’s for keepin’ people out, not keepin’ ‘em in. And if a few of these people get out, too many people would end up dying.” He looked at me. “I did this to stop students from dyin’, boyke. To stop Hell Semester. If I let some psycho or loyalist live and they go around killin’ students, then what the fuck did I do any of it for?”

“Ah,” I said. “I see.” We walked a while longer. I saw a Bearcat (an armored car used by CampSec) that had been disabled. By “disabled,” I meant that it had been hit with some sort of anti-tank weapon that had smashed craters into the troop bay and engine compartment. I could see bloodstains where people would have been sitting through the holes. It had then careened into a building. “Tough fight, huh?” I asked.

Oro nodded. “A few loyalist CampSec officers were put in Bearcats. They did a number on us until we were able to take the anti-tank weapons.”

“How many did you lose?” I asked.

“Too many, man,” Edda’s buddy from Hell Semester said in an earnest Southern accent. “Bastards cut us up pretty bad.” He shuddered. “They were right to, though, after what we did to the HQ.”

“And what did you do to the HQ?” I asked.

“Pumped it up with gas,” another person in the escort group said, “then locked the door.” Judging by how guilty they looked, I assumed it wasn’t something that killed instantly. I wondered how many of the CampSec guards in there were really loyalists and how many were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

“Where are we going?” I asked.

“President’s mansion,” Krieger said. “We’re keeping him in one of his personal laboratories. Apparently, the bastard was a scientist.”

The mansion, located in the heart of the campus, was one of the few buildings relatively untouched by the fight. Instead, Campus Security officers and AMS/Shadowhaven faculty were busy ripping it to shreds. I mean that literally, through the double doors I could see people with sledgehammers, pneumatic battering rams and chainsaws ripping out the walls. Also, carts with electronics and paper files were being collected in the lobby.

“Ah! Karl!” A large, bald man with a Russian accent came out to greet Krieger. I recognized him. It was Dmitri Popov, the owner of the AMS/Shadowhaven haunt called the Drunken Mercenary. I had tended bar for him. “We are doing quite well as you can see. Bastard’s got all these hidey-holes. What do you want to do with the money and valuables we find?”

“If we want to keep this shit running,” Krieger said, “we’re going to put it all in the treasury somehow. Anything more, ask the board.”

“They’re going to make you President of this fucking place, you know?” Dmitri said.

“They can bloody well try,” Krieger growled. “And I’m not going to do that thing where I turn ‘em down twice before I accept. I want to teach, and if they won’t leave me alone, I’ll quit and go find a Uni where I can without bein’ harassed.” He turned around, remembering our guard was still with us, and said, “You lot, wait outside before you hear any more you ain’t supposed to.”

Popov laughed at the last bit and ushered us further in. “Everyone knows that they’re going to ask you.” Krieger muttered something under his breath. When we were further in, Popov murmured, “And seriously, you are the right person for the job.”

“There’s others,” Krieger said, “and I’ll only take the job if I’ve bleedin’ got to do this again.”

“Fair enough,” Popov said. “But you realize, even if you don’t take the big job, you can’t just be a normal teacher. You brought a coalition together and if it falls apart too soon, before we stabilize it, people could die.”

We walked further into the mansion. Eventually we got to a small sitting room in the basement. Krieger walked to a gap in the wall that revealed an elevator. Hinges and splintered remains suggested that the elevator had once been disguised by a book case. Popov, meanwhile, walked over to a liquor cabinet. “Here,” he said, handing me a glass bottle of a clear liquid. “You’ll be needing this. Rosie’s preparing him.”

“Key word, preparing!” We turned around to see Professor Zemylachka hurrying towards us. “This process, it will take very long to break him. Potentially weeks, months even. Now is not the time.”

“We might not have that time,” Krieger said. “This is supposed to kill him, after all. Added to that, these Dragon’s Teeth blighters might not give us weeks before they come a-knocking.”

“Fine!” Zemylachka said. “We rush it like amateurs.” We all got into the elevator, except Popov. “Dmitri,” Zemylachka said, “are you coming?”

“I saw it once,” he said, “don’t need to see it again.” The door of the elevator closed shut, then Krieger punched in a code and down we went.

After the silent elevator trip, the door opened onto a long hallway. It was brightly lit, painted a dark blue or gray, and had a clean-room feel to it.

“So,” I said, “can I ask how we’re killing the President?”

“Well,” Zemylachka said, “regeneration like that requires large amount of energy, yes?” I nodded. “So, we simply limit access to energy.” With that, she pressed a button. A door opened with the hiss of a rapid change of pressure. Disturbingly, the escaping air blew

Inside was a sort of med lab. Medical equipment and computers were arrayed around the room. In the center was an operating table with a bunch of scanners aimed at it. In the bed, strapped to the bars by his wrists and ankles with handcuffs and several belts securing him, lying naked in his own bodily waste, was the former President.

“You know Nate,” he said conversationally, raising his head, “I’m starting to think you weren’t entirely truthful when we had our little conversation.”

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