Track 28: Massachusetts Is Beautiful This Time of Year

For some of us, our work took on a new urgency after that. Others became despondent. From what I could tell though, nobody left. After all, where was there to go? Most of their friends and family were either dead, far out of reach, or in the room with them.

For the first time in a long time, I thought about my family. I suddenly realized that I had no idea if they were alive or not. I didn’t even know whether or not Maynard was part of the area that had been taken. Normally, it was just a thirty-minute drive by highway. Now it was probably a world away, through Dragon’s Teeth patrols, ruined roads, blasted landscape, destroyed houses, wrecked and abandoned vehicles, and corpses.

Until the invasion, I may have been one of the most knowledgeable people on the subject of Teeth weapons and tactics. I knew what could, no, what would happen if you were hit by their weapons. Hell, a near-miss from their personal plasma weaponry had inflicted some of the most horrific damage I’d ever seen on a human being. If it hit my parents or my sister…

I excused myself quickly. I knew why I hadn’t been thinking about it. I couldn’t bear it. I was a coward. I was distant from the world I was thought I was helping. What the hell was I doing? Did I really think that any of this was doing anything? I was just a dumb kid from Maynard who was good at killing people on occasion.

As soon as I found a room, Eliza found me. “Oi, Nate,” she said softly. “You alright, mate?”

“Where’s my family?” I asked, turning to look at her.

Eliza looked thoughtful. After a long while she said, “I think we both know. But there’s really only one way to be sure.”

“Yeah,” I said. “And I don’t think that I can go out looking for them. If they’re in Dragon’s Teeth territory, well.” I gestured to my wheelchair. “I can’t exactly ask you to push me the entire way.”

“Or you could just call, you git,” Eliza said, pointing to a landline on the wall.

“The cell towers are all dead,” I said morosely. “And the landlines are cut.”

“You sure?” Eliza asked. “Your ‘ouse still ‘as a landline, doesn’t it?” She grabbed my chair and wheeled me to the phone. “Call ‘em. Apologize for being a wanker and not calling ‘em sooner or I’ll dump you outta the chair, lock you in the room, and leave you to your own devices.”

“Ok,” I said, taking the corded phone off its cradle and punching in the number. “I’ll do it.” Putting the phone to my ear, I heard the reassuring dial tone. Eliza was right, the phones were still working.

But when I finished punching in the number, a gruff, professional voice said, “We’re sorry, but due to recent events many numbers have been disconnected. This number,” the next phrase was in a different military voice, “is located in an area that has been confirmed destroyed.” The first voice began speaking again. “If you have any questions, please contact General Paulson’s office at-”

I didn’t hear the rest of the voice. I hung up, rather than listen about how I should contact a dead army officer. “Apparently,” I said dully, “My home… my family lives in an area that ‘has been confirmed destroyed.’” I broke down sobbing.

“Well,” Eliza said, “you can-”

“Avenge them?” I asked. “Really? And what happens if the reason they’re dead is that they were in a US barrage?” Eliza looked shocked. “It. Doesn’t. Matter. What matters is that I was out doing something utterly stupid instead of being with them.” Before Eliza could respond, I quickly added, “It isn’t your fault or Charlotte’s. It’s mine. I believed I could save the world. At any point on this whole crazy ride, I could have said, ‘you know what, I’m just a dumb kid in over my head,’ and left. And at most points, I could have done it and no one would have thought any less of me.”

“Nate,” Eliza said, “Do you want to leave?”

“Now?” I asked. “No. I might have a way out of this, but nobody else here does.” I sighed and laughed. “We’re fucked, but we can at least die standing. Or sitting,” I added, remembering my chair.

Eliza smiled and hugged me. “I’m glad you’re here.” Her hug tightened. “And I’m glad you want to be here.”

Hugging her back, my voice breaking with tears, I said, “I’m glad you’re here, too.” Getting my voice under control, I tried to add in a flippant tone, “Shame we don’t have a view of the trees. Massachusetts is beautiful this time of year.”

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Track 27: Twilight’s Last Gleaming

“How long before they get here?” I asked.

Jen was set down on a comfy piece of floor. “I have no idea. It could be a few weeks. It could be a few hours. It all depends on how long the guard can hold out.” She paused, looking like she was about to burst into tears. Then she asked hopefully, “Do you think there will be reinforcements? I haven’t heard anything in days.”

I then realized that I hadn’t heard anything from beyond Massachusetts in days. “I…” I began.

Eric cut me off. “I am sure everything will be all right,” he said. “There is no way they have enough firepower. They have taken on China, the EU, Russia, India, and much of the Middle East. They have to break.”

Jen glared at Eric. “I know when I’m being lied to,” she said. “You aren’t telling me the whole story.”

“We haven’t heard from the Canadians in days,” I said.

“I have,” Eric admitted. “We got a report from NIU observers. They dropped two plasma bombs on the Canucks advancing on us, but the Canadians seem to be still advancing.”

Most people made noises of surprise, but Eliza laughed. “Those mad bastards! It was the same in the first World War, those mad men would charge inna clouds of mustard gas and machinegun nests an’ win.”

“What’s the likelihood of them winning now?” Cross asked.

“Zero,” she said. “But hopefully it either makes those motherless freaks think twice ‘bout moving farther or teaches the Canucks something useful about fighting them.”

“So I came back just to watch them roll over everything?” Cross asked. “When the hell are we going to stand and fight?” He then walked over and kicked a wall. I heard a crack that was probably his toe. “FUCK!”

“Not everything,” I said. “We’re the speed bump.”

“I don’t want New York to be a speed bump!”  Cross yelled.

“Well too late,” Jen said. “From what I heard, it already was, and it wasn’t as good a speed bump as Boston.”

“Oi,” Eliza said, “I’ll fuckin’ cut you gibbons if you make it a stupid regional thing, swear on me mum.”

“But there are things we can do,” I said. “Things that don’t involve strapping C4 to ourselves and throwing ourselves under a Charon.”

“Please don’t joke about that,” Jen said.

“For instance,” I went on, “there’s still a few rifles. We have…”

“No there aren’t,” Eliza said. “What weapons you ‘aven’t given to our guests and random reprobates amounts to about five bloody Mjolnirs and four NFs. There’s some ammo, but it’ll run out pretty quickly, splittin’ it up among all of us.”

“We made thousands of them,” I said. “We can’t have sold all.”

“You did,” Jen said. “My contacts at the BPD were complaining because your waiting list was backed up for decades and they’d wanted to keep those toys you made for themselves.”

“They are quite good,” Eric said in agreement. “Shame that they sold so quickly.”

I thought of these guns, all distributed to police departments across the country and a few around the world. Apart from maybe my very, very sketchy first customer, I had reason to believe that not a single military or counter-terror unit had come into possession of my products and I had no intention of selling on the civilian market. All those firearms, in the hands of people with no prayer of using them effectively. I hadn’t even managed to get it adopted by the FBI.

“Hey,” I asked, “Did the Chinese manage to put their version of the Maccabee into production?”

“I think they’d just gotten the assembly rolling,” Jen said. “The problem was, the province it was located in was the first to be hit.”

“Maybe they’ve developed a taste for your guns,” John said. “I remember you saying something about them trying to get you.”

“There were other reasons,” I said. “Anyway, let’s get everyone settled.” I then wheeled around to the garage, desperately trying not to think about the incoming wave of Teeth.

The inspection didn’t reveal anything good. We couldn’t fit the seventy assorted gangsters, mostly Kagemoto grunts, but some from other gangs, for any real length of time without running into food problems. We also had only enough ammo for a day of fighting at most, and no weapons designed to take down the various nasty vehicles they had. Still, I wasn’t going to sit down.

We were preparing the defenses, with me talking to Jen’s pet code geeks, Lydia and Andrew, about ways to improve the automated defense systems, when someone turned on a radio.

For a moment, there was static. Then, with AM quality, a soft-spoken voice came over the speaker. “My name,” he said, “Is Brigadier General James Connolly of the US Marines. From what I can tell, I am the highest ranking US officer left alive and at liberty.”

By that point, everyone in the room had stopped talking. From outside, I could hear trucks drive by, broadcasting the message and people, possibly soldiers, shouting something. I wondered if everyone in what remained of the US was listening.

“I am broadcasting on several shortwave and local radio channels,” General Connolly continued, his voice shaking. “The Canadian forces sent to assist my position have been pushed back. This is not because they are cowards, it is because that they were asked to do the impossible. They have done the impossible three times now, and I cannot in good conscience ask them to do it a fourth.”

At this there was a murmur of shock. Everyone, even me, had somehow believed that this would not be the end. That the Canadians would come and save us, or the Latin-American coalition.

“I am broadcasting to all who can hear me,” the General continued, “so that those who still remain under my care can attain an honest assessment of the situation and those out in the rest of the world will know of what in all likelihood will be our last stand.

“In July, the United States had over three hundred million people living in it, spread out over three point eight million square miles. For those outside my country, that’s roughly nine point eight million square kilometers. Worcester County, where I have made my base, was not seen as a significant part of it in any sense. Around eight hundred thousand people living in four thousand square kilometers.

“Now, we of the US are facing our darkest hour. Some of you may not know the extent to which this military has failed its people. We have no planes. Only a handful of artillery and vehicles remain. If they let us live, we will run out of food and water within a few weeks.

“Even more egregious, a week before the first major Dragon’s Teeth push into China, they managed to capture our nuclear weapons and we did not inform you. We have reason to believe that all thermonuclear devices and most other chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction are in their hands.”

That news caused my stomach to drop. Of course they had them. If they didn’t have all the nukes, someone would have used them. Who the hell would hesitate to nuke faceless soldiers murdering their way across your own country? Other people didn’t take it so well.

The General continued on. “Right now, I control two thousand five hundred of the four thousand square kilometers of Worcester County. I have over three million charges, most of them unarmed refugees.

“Outside my defensive perimeter is an enemy that has been confirmed to kill innocents, mostly the sick and the elderly. They have done so with a high-tech, organized barbarity that pales to anything we’ve ever seen. This force is poised on the doorstep, ready to strike.

“It was the duty of the United States Armed Forces to stop this kind of threat. I think it is fair to say that we have failed utterly. Many, both in and out of my country, have looked to us to face this threat. If we had done everything we could, there would be no shame in that. But we haven’t. Our failure goes back decades, if not to the foundation of this country.

“A few months ago, we were the greatest country in the world. Instead of sharing that greatness with the rest of the world, we instead took the best from other countries while giving the minimum in return. We promised so much, and in the end, all we have to give is this.

“To those remaining under my command and protection, I would encourage you to fight. We still have a chance to make a difference. If you want to run or surrender, I would not recommend it as the Dragon’s Teeth have rarely taken prisoners. If neither option sounds appealing, the only other I can think of is spending time with those you care about. Thank you all, and God bless America.”

With that, the radio switched to a slow, mournful rendition of the Star Spangled Banner. For a few seconds, there was a silence. Then Eliza loudly proclaimed, “Fuckin’ ‘ell that was an awful speech!”


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Track 26: The Battle of Boston

Everything was horrific. Throughout the few remaining places that the US was holding on, Dragon’s Teeth were making fifth-column maneuvers and poking their noses in via traditional methods.

It was all I could do to keep from running off down Route 90 to do something. Hell, it took most of the NIU students still there to stop me. As Eliza said multiple times, “Oi, what the ‘ell’re you going to do, y’fuckin’ cripple? Ram them with yer bloody chair?”

The news was mostly bad. Valkyrie would come back for rests looking bloody and various gangsters would send for more weapons and ammo or repairs. When they left, I noticed that some of the NIU students would catch a ride.

Jen was the first one to come back for ammo. As soon as her harried men began loading ammo into vans, she stalked towards me. “NATE!” she yelled.

“Yes?” I asked, glad Eliza wasn’t there. Something told me that if Eliza had seen someone yell at me, there would be blood.

“Where the hell,” Jen snarled, “is your little play buddy?”

“Mai?” I said, confused. “Wouldn’t you know her better than I would?”

Jen ignored that. “The little backstabbing bitch disappeared twenty-four hours before the Teeth appeared, and she took her friends with her. Oh, and guess where the Teeth established their beachhead? Chinatown! Her part of Chinatown!”

For four days, from what Eric, the gangsters and the news was telling, the Dragon’s Teeth was trapped in a small triangle formed by the Route 90 underpass to the south, Columbus Avenue and the Common to the West, the blocks around by the Orpheum to the North, and Harbor to the East. The thing that had stopped them were heroic efforts by Jen’s people, Boston Police on patrol, and Valkyrie to stop their initial surge. Then more law enforcement and elements of the Massachusetts National Guard and the 75th US Army Rangers had come in quickly.

The Rangers, in particular, had relished the fight. Some of their number apparently still remembered Gothic Serpent and had remembered the lessons Habar Gidir had taught them about urban combat. Gleefully working with surprisingly well-equipped gangsters, who by that point, were streaming in from all over Boston and beyond, they began repurposing their inferior vehicles as barricades. Dumpsters, trucks, Humvees and commandeered civilian vehicles were hurriedly moved into huge piles and occasionally booby-trapped, and angry men with guns placed in nearby buildings.

Surprisingly, this is where how light the Dragon’s Teeth vehicles turned against them. A Bradley or a Stryker would have been heavy enough to ram many of the barricades, but the Charons just dented them, leaving them sitting ducks for LAWs, Javelin missiles, Barret .50 calibers, M2 machineguns, cannon fire, and every other bit of nastiness the US Military could throw at them.

Other cities weren’t as lucky. New York had pretty much lost Long Island, Baltimore, DC, and everything south of the Potomac had finally fallen, and the Teeth seemed to be making a good effort at cutting the remaining US territory in half.

The Canadians, however, didn’t seem like they were going to take any more Deet shit. Their armies began crossing into contested Buffalo, and making their way into Teeth-held territory like Michigan and Washington State. Massive battles were going on in Detroit, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and a town I’d never heard of called Blaine, Washington. Others began heading down via 91 and 93to Boston, only to be intercepted by the Teeth coming out of nowhere. Shortly after, the Latin-American coalition began pushing up across the southern border. Part of their line had stopped around Texarkana, but most were taking massive casualties in skirmishes.

After four days, however, they got out of the triangle in Boston and halted the Canadians and Latin Americans. Slowly, they began taking more and more of Boston. From what I understood, there was a new type of Dragon’s Teeth clone that seemed to be bred for extended periods of close-quarters combat. Within nine days, they had managed to get up to Route 93, cutting off most of the Rangers and irregulars in the North End.

Meanwhile, civilians were dying in droves. The Dragon’s Teeth did not seem to care about who was in their sights, they just were shooting. Of course, the gangs and concerned citizens were probably not helping, but when Valkyrie came back she put paid to that idea.

“I went into their territory,” she said. “They’re deliberately executing elderly and sickly. I’ve seen it. They took a bunch of old and sick people out by the Harborwalk, shot them in the back, and kicked them into the Bay. That may have been an anomaly, but the way they go after fleeing civilians, well, there’s only so much heat of the moment can justify.”

“So they’re committing genocide,” I said. “Good to know.” I sent a prayer I didn’t know how to make in hopes that the Dragon’s Teeth didn’t get out of Boston.

That prayer wasn’t answered. As the days got colder, the Dragon’s Teeth got bolder. By the end of September, they had taken over most of Boston except the North End where the Rangers were making a desperate last-stand. The only thing that was stopping them was that their new tanks (which were more like WWI landships than anything sensible and equipped with their plasma balls) were too big to get into the tight streets. Meanwhile, by the first of October, surrounding towns like Cambridge, Sommerville, and Jamaica Plains were turning into a cross between Kursk and Stalingrad.

Yet it was all over by the time they had got to Logan Airport. October third, through a combination of Charons modified to drive on the Green and Silver lines and some boats that seemed made specifically for this purpose, the Dragon’s Teeth crossed the harbor. By the fifth, it had been secured and Dragon’s Teeth aircraft based there were making air superiority and close air support runs from Southern Connecticut and parts of New York to Vermont, Maine, and New Hampshire.

Valkyrie and Jen were supposed to meet with us for a few hours of shuteye that day. They didn’t. The living quarters were so empty now that it was just Eric’s crew, Cross, Oro, and two of the students I didn’t recognize. Since most radio and TV went down due to Dragon’s Teeth bombing and many social networking sites had been dead since California had fallen, we had simply lost all communication with the outside world.

When I asked Eric the next day if we could contact the people he’d brought with him, he shook his head. “No,” he said. “They’re only supposed to send things in tight bursts back to NIU. We don’t want them getting caught.”

In the meantime, we spent the next few days listening to planes and helicopters fly overhead and bombs fall. We were pretty close to a highway on and off ramp so we’d also see and hear vehicles moving by at all hours of the day. I noticed that all civilian traffic had stopped. There hadn’t been a travel ban that I’d heard, so I assumed that everyone had given up trying to get to safety.

Then on the seventh, late in the day as the sun was going down, a column of battered civilian SUVs pulled up in front of the factory. I had been watching the cameras, but lights flashed in case I missed it.

I pressed the intercom, “Heads up, everyone,” I said. “We’ve got a civvie convoy. It looks pretty beat up I don’t trust anything right now.” Then, from the lead SUV, someone in Samurai-inspired armor and a white face mask with demon horns and glowing eyes got out. “It seems like Jen, but appearences can be deceiving.”

In the factory, I could hear everyone else grabbing and loading weapons. On the screen, I saw the person dressed like Jen staggering towards the intercom. “Nathan,” she said, her voice ragged. “Open up. Open up.”

“How do I know-”

“On our time in Japan,” she said, “I hugged you when you came to check on me before the meetup with the Yakuza. I told you that everyone I love dies because I fail them.”

I turned around, half expecting Eliza to be there holding a gun and a bland expression on her face. She was. “Well,” she said, her voice very modulated, “that’s probably ‘er, innit?”

“Nothing else happened between us,” I said. “It didn’t go any farther than-”

“That isn’t what I’m pissed about!” Eliza snapped. I began to speak, but Eliza cut me off. “And no, it isn’t because y’didn’t tell me, but it bloody well isn’t helping.” She sighed and gestured to the screen. “Let ‘er in. We can talk about this later.”

I called it in to the intercom and let the cars in, then went to meet up with Jen. Eliza was very insistent on pushing my wheelchair. When we came in sight of Jen, she was being carried by Eric and the blond woman with the G36.

Despite her unearthly white mask with glowing blue eyes, I could tell she was exhausted. She turned to me and said, “They’ve broken through.”

My stomach dropped.

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Track 24: Old Friends

From that day forward, I had pretty much decided that leaving the factory was a bad idea. Eliza managed to get my Subaru from the apartment and into the parking lot. I didn’t know how she did it in the midst of all the panicked people.

Speaking of the refugee situation, it seemed to be untenable. People were running east and north in a panicked rush while the armed forces desperately tried to organize. Israel, Iran, and Turkey had gone under, as well as many NATO nations and other allies. The Dragon’s Teeth controlled the air and the sea. What forces we had abroad were either isolated or fighting for their lives. Many people had either given up or were trying to get to Canada.

In fact, in a strange twist of fate, Canada, Mexico, and the other American nations looked like one of the US’s few chances of salvation. When I could turn on the news, all they’d talk about was the coalition that was being assembled and the counterattack they’d lead. I didn’t buy it. The Dragon’s Teeth were probably digging in, and it’d take a lot more than a three-to-one ratio to dislodge them.

Valkyrie was doing the distribution for the weapons and ammo. Occasionally, I’d ask if the people we were equipping were doing what they were supposed to or if they’d started killing each other. Her usual response was, “As far as I can tell? Neither.” Then she’d go back to helping the people load whatever van they’d brought in, and Eliza and I would go back to watching them to make sure they didn’t take anything they weren’t supposed to or go anywhere we didn’t want them. After they were gone, we’d then go back to making the place habitable.

It was one of the times in between visits from crooks converted to teamster duty that we heard the intercom by door sound. I went to the security panel. There, pushing his face into the lens of the intercom camera so much it fish-eyed, was John Marshall’s short beard and close-cropped hair. From another view, I could see he was with Kyle Rockford, a somewhat unassuming, if generically star-quarterback-looking guy waiting behind him. Behind them was an old 90’s era Acura coupe packed full of luggage.

“Nate!” John was saying, somewhat frustrated. “Come on, I know you’re in there.”

“Sorry,” I said, picking up the mic as I wheeled over, trying not to spill the laundry basket full of clean clothes. “I was just trying to get some housecleaning done.”

“Oi!” I heard Eliza shout from somewhere in facility, “‘oo’s  thaAAAGH!” She was cut off by metallic clattering. Then there was a stream of creative cursing.

“I see Eliza’s here as well?” Kyle asked.

“Yeah,” I said. “Let me see if I can help, then-”

“No!” Eliza said. “You’re in a bloody wheelchair, y’can’t ‘elp! You let ‘em in like-” There was a thunk that sounded like something metal had hit something fleshy, then the clang of it falling onto the floor. Eliza screamed, more in frustration then in pain.

“Are you all right?” I asked.

“I’m FINE!” Eliza said.

After I had let Kyle and John in, we came in to the room Eliza had been attacked in. She was putting pipes back into a cupboard, muttering angrily. “Fuckin’ bloody pipes, bloody cabinets, bloody yanks and their bullshite washing machines. Bollocks, bollocks, bollocks!” With a scream, she kicked the wall.

“She’s trying to set up a washer and drier in here,” I said. “I’ve been helping where I can.”

“You can help?” Kyle said. “I’m surprised that you can move on your own.”

That reminded me, I was due for painkillers. But now was not the time to mention that. “It’s no biggie,” I said. “What are you guys doing here?”

“I live in the Midwest.” Kyle said. “Or lived in the Midwest. Then the Teeth rolled in and started shooting everyone.” He’d obviously intended to stop there, but he just had to continue. As he did, his voice became more and more choked up and he began to cry. “They burned most of the houses and dragged people out to the center of town. I managed to hide, but my grandad… he told them I’d died in Iraq when they asked about who I was in the picture… I heard him say it.” By this point he was in tears and had collapsed on the floor. “They shot him,” he said, so choked up from tears I could barely understand. “And while he was dying, they poured gas or something and set the house on fire. I hid in the bomb shelter and then…”

It was there that language failed him. He sobbed and began rocking back and forth. I wheeled over to him and patted him on the shoulder. “Hey,” I said softly. “We’re here. What do you want to do?” I kept repeating that last sentence over and over again until he calmed down.

When he did, he said, in a gasping, post-crying jag voice, “I want to honor my grandparents’ memory. I want to do what I can to stop them.”

“Damn,” I said. “I’m not sure I can help with that. Will killing the bastards suffice?”

John looked at me. “You don’t have a plan?”

“Did you expect us to?” I asked. “Look, you know my area of expertise. Hell, you share at least eighty percent of my skillset. The military isn’t buying my guns, and even if they were, well, what use are small arms going to be against tanks and aircraft?”

“Oi,” Eliza said, looking at me, “D’you need anti-depressants as well as painkillers?”

“Probably,” I said. “Or, like, a bottle of Jack or something.”

“So,” John said, cutting in, “what are you doing?” At my blank look, he said, “You know, about the Dragon’s Teeth.”

“What can I do?” I asked. “At some point, they’re going to start advancing again, and when I do that, I guess I can kill a few of them. Until then, I’ve done all I could and boy, was it not enough.”

“Have you been drinking?” John asked.

“John,” I said, “I’m taking industrial levels of Ox, even though it barely lets me function. If my grape juice is a little elderly, I’d fucking die.”

John nodded. “Ok, fair enough. You got anything to eat?”

“Power Sludge,” I said. “And no, there aren’t any restaurants open that we can reasonably get to.”

The thing I quickly noticed was that certain things we had done to get the place habitable for Eliza and me carried over. The two completely useless fridges, for instance, would probably hold enough food for all of us and the washer and drier (when we got them set up) was more than capable of handling all our demands. Other things like beds were harder to deal with. Eliza and I were sharing a twin-sized mattress, for instance. John and Kyle did not want to share a bed with us or each other.

Around the start of September, Valkyrie came back. The factory was functioning as a living space and occasionally we’d be able to get food that wasn’t awful synthetic glop that looked suspiciously like vomit. That didn’t mean it was great food. So when we let Valkyrie come in through a window, we were all happy to see she was carrying several boxes of pizza.

“Valkyrie!” I said happily. “Where’d you get that?”

“I may be on the up and up,” Valkyrie said, setting down the pizzas, “but that doesn’t mean I don’t have connections. I literally got what might be the last takeout pizzas in Worcester. Plus,” she unhooked a bag from her arm, “some big sodas.”

We began to dig in. After a few slices of cheese pizza (there was only cheese pizza,) I asked, “So, how’s the arm distribution going?”

“Reasonably well,” Valkyrie said. “They haven’t started killing each other and there hasn’t been too much extortion of refugees.”

“Always nice,” John said. Reasonably, he didn’t exactly approve of giving people like Jen scarily effective firearms, many of which were easy to conceal. Yet he didn’t really see any alternatives. Basically, we were in agreement.

“Any sightings of Deets?” Kyle asked. “I’m… a little conflicted on how soon I want to see these guys again.”

Valkyrie shrugged. “Not sure. Jen’s looking, and I’m reasonably sure she’s telling the truth. The others could be, or they could be in the process of cutting deals with them.”

“Any you suspect in particular?” I asked. Valkyrie looked hesitant. “If you say Mai’s playing both ends against the middle, I won’t bite your head off,” I said. “Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if Jen was playing us. Disappointed, but surprised.”

“You’re right,” Valkyrie said. “Jen will try to use this to get ahead, but she’ll just try to screw the other leaders so that when things calm down she’ll be in a better position. Mai, meanwhile, is going to disappear as soon as the Teeth get into town.”

“Dealt with these fuck eggs a lot, ‘aven’t you?” Eliza asked.

“Oh yes,” Valkyrie said as Kyle and John giggled at “fuck eggs.” “I swear, ninety percent of my job involves talking to these guys and asking them stuff like ‘what did you assholes do now?’ over and over.”

There was a buzz. “Someone’s at the door,” I said, moving to get it.

“Oi,” Eliza said. “You fuckin’ stay there.” She got up muttering darkly about invalids who thought they were well. We sat there as she talked to the person happily. I drank some soda. John and Kyle had their hands on their guns. Valkyrie calmly ate her pizza.

Eventually, Eliza came back into the room, smiling. “Guess ‘oo’s ‘ere!” She said. “Eric an’ ‘is mates!”

“Who?” Valkyrie asked.

“We’ll bring them in,” John said, “you can meet them then.”

They all left hurriedly. Valkyrie raised her eyebrows. “Eric’s a former child soldier from Africa,” I said. “He’s very friendly, but he and the rest of his group would prefer you not ask about their past.” Valkyrie nodded, examining me, as if calculating how much more damage would be done.

When Eric came in, it wasn’t just with Doc, MC Disaster, Ray-Gun and the Monk. Oro and Cross were also there, as well as a lot of other students from NIU’s AMS and Shadowhaven programs. All of them seemed to have some sort of concealed weaponry, judging by the bulges in their clothes, and many of them were chattering excitedly. A few began to reveal their weapons (mostly assault rifles and pistols, but there were also some SMGs, shotguns, sniper rifles, anti-tank rockets, grenade launchers, and belt-fed machine guns,) and unloading them.

“Valkyrie brought us pizza,” John said, “but I don’t think there’ll be enough.”

“Do not worry, my friend,” Eric said, pointing to a Hispanic woman chatting with Eliza and carrying several boxes, “Camilla is also bringing gifts.” He pointed to an Asian man carrying several bags of what appeared to be Mexican food. “So is Bunrouen.”

After I had watched the room slowly became covered in weapon parts, ammo, grenades, what appeared to be bricks of C4 or worse, and people eating junk food and drinking soda and alcohol, I nervously turned to look back at Valkyrie.

Her face did not express amusement.


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Track 23:Is It Just Me?

I don’t really remember what I said about my time fighting the Dragon’s Teeth. I just remember that nobody’s expression changed. I’ll admit, I was just dryly presenting the facts of my visit to Korea and some of their attempts after, but still, the facts should have been pretty riveting. I didn’t know why they were staring at me until one of the mobsters, an elderly man in a suit that was probably expensive, raised his hand.

“So,” he asked in a Boston accent when I called him, “you just go on a stroll to North Korea?”

“As I said,” I mentioned, “I was paid.”

“But you didn’t say by who,” the mobster said. “I kinda wanna know.”

“Is it important?” I asked. “Because if you want to talk to him, he’s not available.” The mobster didn’t say anything in response, but he did tent his hands and stare at me suspiciously. I suddenly realized that he wasn’t the only one. “Look,” I said, in response to his unanswered question, “there’s just some things that are too big for you. Accept it and move on.”

People around the room murmured in a mixture of amusement and shock. Jen seemed to be trying to suppress a headache. Mai was writing in her notebook. Both their retinues seemed somewhat impressed. Valkyrie seemed… annoyed. “Kid,” the mobster said, “Do you, or your friends, know who the fuck I am?”

“I personally don’t,” I said. “But I can tell you right now, you’ll be a lot happier not asking questions about my life’s story.”

“Ok,” the mob boss said, standing up. “I guess I can deal without your guns.” He left. His retinue and several other representatives from other gangs followed.

Another man raised his hand. He was also dressed in a suit, but he seemed to be one of the guards. “So how do we know you ain’t a fed?” He asked. He also had a Boston accent.

“If I was a fed,” I said, “I’d be directing traffic.”

“Did Agent Barton tell you that, or did Agent Hicks?” the junior gangster asked. Instantly, a bunch of the assembled crooks began clamoring. Some walked out, some in more of a panic than others. Others began reaching for their waistbands. “Yeah, that’s right!” the junior gangster said. “Burnie McWheels over there’s been traveling cross-country with clean feds and is being sponsored by a clean cape!”

Valkyrie slammed her axe on the floor again, creating another gust of wind. Judging by the crack it made “Do you want to mouth off, or do you want to listen?” Valkyrie asked.

The room was silenced. The person the mouthy mobster was guarding, a positively ancient man, said, “I think what Junior is trying to say is that he’d like to leave before the cops come.”

“Then go,” Valkyrie said. “Unless things have radically changed, the cops aren’t coming, so you have all the time in the world.” The people who left, which was a good chunk, didn’t seem to believe her. Hell, even the few remaining didn’t seem that keen.

Once the people who were leaving were gone, one of the few remaining mobsters finally asked, “So, how do we know that you aren’t going to favor your two exes with the weapon distribution?”

I looked at Valkyrie for help. She rolled her eyes. “He’s the manufacturer. I’ll work out distribution with you at later.”

“Thank you,” I said. I did not want to know where these guns would end up. I definitely didn’t want to know what these people would do with them.

One of the only black people in the room raised his hands. When I nodded, he said, “So, y’all givin’ us guns, but those guys have fucking tanks and shit. I am not sending my boys into a meat grinder.”

I picked up the rifle Nari had made. “This,” I said, “is the Mjolnir. It fires a 10.4mm bullet. It’s a hybrid of long distance precision and anti-material rifle. It can probably penetrate five or six millimeters of seltsamemetall, which is probably what the Charon uses for armor.”

“And how many inches thick is their armor?” he asked.

“Well,” I said, “the doors seem to be about four or five millimeters and the windows are pretty big so you can probably shatter them easily.” The gang leader raised his eyebrows. “The average body seems to be ten millimeters.”

“Yeah, we dead,” he said, rolling his eyes. But he didn’t leave.

Mai then raised her hand. “Yes, Mai?” I asked, a sinking feeling in my stomach.

“Well,” Mai said, “there are some people who can’t be trusted to act in good faith. What’s to stop them from making a move?”

Someone from the Kagemoto camp must have muttered something because Lang turned towards them and angrily asked, “The fuck you say?”

“Hey!” Valkyrie said as Kaori and Hirosama stepped in front of Lang. I noticed that Jaime and Bao were also moving in. “Do I need to separate you?”

“No ma’am,” Mai said calmly. “My people will behave.”

“So will mine,” Jen said sweetly, “but I have to wonder what Miss Lau’s definition of behave is. After all, a few weeks ago, her people were killing my people unprovoked.”

“Shit, girl,” Jaime said, “We had no idea which people were yours and which people were your dad’s. Think we did you a favor.”

“Oh really?” Hirosama asked. “Why, then, were some of Mark Kagemoto’s people given World War Two surplus? Why did some take to dressing in green?”

“Enough!” Valkyrie shouted.

“Guess they know what a winner looks like,” Jaime said with a smirk.

“I said-”

“Hey, Jaime,” Kaori asked, flames dancing from her fingers. “How’s your mother?”

“You fucking bi-” Jaime said, reaching for his waistband. I could see the cylindrical grip of a Broomhandle Mauser. Meanwhile, Hirosama was going for his Glock, Lang had his hand on a green polymer grip for a pistol, and Bao was pulling a sawed-off from seemingly out of nowhere.

“OI!” Eliza yelled, bringing up her Ballpeen, flicking off the safety, and turning on the laser in one smooth motion. “You fuckin’ pull a piece in ‘ere an’ I’ll pop you in your ‘ead, swear on me mum!”

“Eliza…” Jen said holding her hands up. I noticed she’d opened her shirt to reveal her two chrome Berettas.

“You know what?” the gang leader who’d asked how to deal with tanks said angrily, “Y’all should kick those motherfuckers outta here. The got Uzis, they got AKs, they got ARs, they got belt-fed shit. Hell, they even got capes. Meanwhile, my boys can barely scrape together some pistols and shotties. They don’t need any more shit.” The rest of the remaining criminals murmured in agreement.

“Listen, you little shits,” Jen said, “I don’t remember you having trouble a few weeks ago. Stop playing the underdog, and pay attention to what’s coming.” She stood up. “I don’t have to deal with this bullshit. The Kagemotos will guard their territory.” Her glare travelled around the room. “From everyone. Even if we have to throw rocks.” Before anyone could comment, she stormed out, her two bodyguards following close behind.

There was a moment of awkward silence. Mai stood up. “Nate,” she said, “I’m sorry, but I don’t feel like we can make a deal in this environment. If you would like to make a deal with competent people, you know where to contact us.” She smiled and walked out, her entourage pausing for posturing.


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Track 22: Slippery People

“So,” Eliza said as we stood outside the brick perimeter wall to the factory, “is this really going to kill us if we don’t put in the correct codes?”

“According to Andy,” I said, “that’s an option that he doesn’t think is on. We didn’t want people taking things that didn’t belong to them and Andy wanted to test out some autonomous defenses. We honestly didn’t think something this bad would happen, but we decided what the hell. Have multiple layers of security in case of apocalypse. Right now, though, the shaped charges aren’t active, so all that should happen is the cops get called.”

“But you aren’t a hundred percent sure,” Eliza said.

“No, I’m not.” Between that knowledge and my painkillers wearing off, my hands were shaking as I typed in the code. “Hey, hey!” I said as there was a buzzing sound that cause Eliza to jump. “First try!”

The door opened to reveal a long hallway. Mounted on the ceiling was our prototype machinegun set into a prototype automated mount. “Fuckin’ ‘ell, Nate,” Eliza said as she pushed me in my wheelchair down the hall, “Please tell me the damn thing’s human-controlled.”

“Well,” I said, “with Andy, May, and Nari out of the country, and with most of our staff being former military and law enforcement people who signed back up, we couldn’t really have them be remote controlled. Don’t worry, that one isn’t on at this level.”

“Great.” Eliza said. “It’s so nice t’know that at least one death trap isn’t functional.” I decided, at that point, not to tell her about the auto-turret behind us. Or the claymores and C-4 built into the walls. Or the Punji sticks in the grates below us. Only the turret was active anyway.

Before the door swung shut, we heard a soft thump. Eliza turned around. “Oi,” she said. “I think Valkyrie’s ‘ere.”

“Let here in,” I said. “It’ll be good to talk to her before the others get here.”

Eliza mad a grunt of affirmation and opened the door. “Thanks,” I heard Valkyrie say. “I’ve heard things that make me… hesitant about just barging in here.”

“Yeah,” I said, “probably for the best. Let’s just get in so I can set the security to a more appropriate level.”

“Just so you know,” Valkyrie said, walking besides us, “there are several dead Dragon’s Teeth soldiers in the courtyard around the building.”

“I thought they might try and infiltrate the building,” I said. “After all, they did make several attempts to catch me. I think they might want me and one of my engineering partners because we can make better weapons than they can.” Valkyrie raised an eyebrow. “Really,” I said. “They can’t make rifles for shit. Vehicles are a different story. There’s other reasons, but I’m not going to get into them.”

“Maybe we should get the bodies out of the way,” Eliza said.

“Let’s turn off the turrets first,” I said. “Those things are set to motion and they can’t really tell the difference between good guys and innocent bystanders yet.”

“Why are they in a city of almost two hundred thousand?” Valkyrie asked.

“They’re facing inwards,” I said defensively.

“I swear,” Valkyrie said, “one of these days, I’m going to be here to give you an ass whooping.”

“‘E means well,” Eliza said.

“That’s what makes it so frustrating,” Valkyrie said. “With people like Minute Man, you expect them to be pieces of shit-”

“Wait,” I said, “Minute Man’s a piece of shit?” Minute Man was a hero who’d been in the cape scene since the eighties. He’d been the leader of the group by the same name and done the whole save kittens in tree and kiss babies thing for the entire time.

“Yes,” Valkyrie said. “You just have to look for it. Of course, the fucker’s gone to Canada, so you’ll just have to take my word for it. But he’s a piece of shit, and only in it for himself. What’s frustrating are the people who are doing awful shit for others, or seem like they want to be good but it never works out.”

I considered her words as I began to fiddle with the security systems. I wondered if she was, other than me, she was referring to anyone I knew. Eventually, I got the systems tuned to an acceptable level (and discovered that most of the active turrets were out) and Valkyrie was able to fly the bodies to an Army command outpost nearby for disposal and analysis.

When she came back, I said, “So, how are we going to control the murderous criminals once they get their highly advanced firearms? I mean, I think this could be a good idea, but we have to take into consideration that they might be more interested in killing each other or in intimidating civillians than killing Dragon’s Teeth.”

“Could you put in some way of disabling them?” Valkyrie asked.

“No,” I said. “There’s a whole litany of reasons. Like if I could turn off the guns, so could the Dragon’s Teeth, for starters. Or I, or whoever I get to design this magic switch, could make it so that the gun accidentally turns off in the middle of a firefight. In any case, putting in a backdoor or remote off switch defeats the purpose. There’s also how long it would take to design and retool the factory, which is actually something I can’t do unless I get Andy back here. Whatever solution we come up with, it has to be social or political. Either that, or we have to decide that the worst thing they could possibly do will be offset by the thing they’re most likely to do.”

“That is a question really only you can answer,” Valkyrie said. “We’re not hearing anything from the captured areas.”

“Which is pretty disturbing,” Eliza said.

I considered this. If Alma was telling the truth, the Teeth might be under new management soon. Also, the one time I had been behind Dragon’s Teeth lines had been during a test phase. That could mean what happened in Korea wouldn’t happen again. On the other hand, even though I hadn’t encountered any mass graves there, I had only seen two civilians. One had been in the company of UNIX agents. The other had been Nari. Genocide seemed to be a very real possibility.

“Is there a way of distributing them so that they can’t access them until the Teeth show up?” I asked. Then I answered my own question. “No. They move too fast.” I took a deep breath. “The best case explanation for I saw in North Korea was that the DPRK and the Dragon’s Teeth had been supernaturally good at evacuating civilians. I don’t think that explanation is likely.”

An alarm buzzed. “Well,” Valkyrie said, “they’re here.”

“Let me check,” I said, getting out of my wheelchair.

“OI!” Eliza said. “Don’t you fuckin’ get out of that.” She walked over to the monitor. “It’s not just Jen. ‘Parently, all the other fuckin’ reprobates showed up as well and they’re ‘avin’ a chat.”

“So should we bring them in here to kill themselves or let them get it out of their systems?” I asked.

“Don’t even joke about that,” Valkyrie said.

“Sorry,” I said. “You two go bring them in, I’ll go over this stuff some more.” Eliza picked up a Ballpeen on her way out. “Leave that here.” I said.

“No,” she said, pulling out a forty-round magazine she’d taken from somewhere and inserting it into the well in the grip. “I ain’t lettin’ those fuckers shoot one of us ‘cause we weren’t prepared.”

I sighed as Eliza and Valkyrie walked off. As usual, the painkillers weren’t being too effective today. Funnily enough, I hadn’t felt like a piece of steak that had been in the oven too long until after I’d been scooped off that fallow field in whatever bucket had been handy. I looked at the shitty phone I’d salvaged, a budget model from the early two thousands. It was two hours until the next time I could take the super-addictive narcotic that didn’t do anything.

Valkyrie and Eliza brought in the first group. “You should wait until they all get here,” Valkyrie said. “I’ll go out front to buzz them in.”

“This isn’t all of them?” Eliza whispered. I had to agree with her somewhat fearful tone of voice. There were at least fifteen people in the conference area I’d picked out. I consoled myself in that they’d divided themselves into groups of two or three and were too busy regarding each other warily to consider rushing the sample table. I decided then and there that I’d skip the portion of the event where I’d bring the group down to the firing range, partly because I genuinely didn’t feel safe doing that, mostly because we were already halfway to the point where I’d either have to limit range time or get more product.

Something I learned about Massachusetts organized crime was that it seemed to be well-heeled and very white. Most of the people spoke like they were from either the North End, the South End, Worcester, or Russia. There was one group of black people, and two groups of Latino people. They were the only groups that approached friendly, but even I could tell there was a bit of restrained edge to their greetings.

Then the two elephants entered the room. Separated by Valkyrie, and looking like they would kill each other were the representatives from the Jade Empire and the Kagemoto family.

The Kagemoto family probably had the tiniest base in Massachusetts. They were genuine Yakuza and, from what I’d heard, only managed to maintain their pool of hardened gunmen by importing people from Japan. Jen was there, of course, flanked by Hirosama and Kaori Murakami, a husband and wife team of Parahuman enforcers who worked under the names Dokutsu and Tatsu. Jen wore a red Boston Red Sox sweater and blue jeans, while the Murakamis looked as intimidating as usual in their sharp suits and tinted shades. As usual, despite being smaller, Kaori’s burns were more intimidating than her husband’s acne scars.

The Jade Empire was a different story. Three of the four representatives were Asian, which, despite the gang being inspired by the Chinese Triads, was unusual for the group. Most of the people were bored, middle-class suburban kids, low-income people in their twenties, or Brazilian immigrants. Jaime Washington followed this rule. He was one of the few black kids from my hometown and had somehow gotten into the Jade Empire early on and now seemed pretty high up in the hierarchy. Lang and Bao Zi were exceptions. The Lupine brother and sister pair were from China. I’d only heard that they were Lupines as they didn’t have the dog ears like Eliza did, but they had a certain confidence to their movement that indicated powers. Those three people wore green: Bao Zi wore a green waist-length peacoat, black vinyl skirt, high-heeled boots, and green aviator sunglasses, Lang wore a Celtics jersey and matching track pants with long gold chain, and Jaime was wearing a green hoodie opened up to reaveal a Kendrick Lamar t-shirt and baggy jeans.

The fourth Jade Empire member was someone I never thought to see, but should have expected. Mai Lau was a small Asian girl who had been a few years behind me in school. She had somehow come into a large amount of money and, in retrospect, her fortune and business ventures had grown with the rise of the Jade Empire. She was the only one in her party not exchanging murderous looks with the Kagemotos. In fact, she was dressed in an orange Maynard High School tee, jeans, and sneakers. She was even carrying a notebook like she was going to class again. Then she saw that I was there. Her eyes widened in shock as she met mine.

Jen noticed her reaction and began staring from Mai to me and back. Mai noticed this, and her face became more guarded. It was at this point that the rest of the room noticed the new arrivals and the atmosphere somehow became even more tense.

“Alright,” Valkyrie said, “Kagemotos over there, Jade Empire over there.” The places she pointed to were on opposite ends of the room. The two groups made some last attempts at posturing, then moved to their assigned locations. Valkyrie took turns glaring at them until she was satisfied they wouldn’t kill each other, then made her way back to us. “Do you know them?” she asked me under her breath when she arrived.

“Good question,” Eliza said in a neutral tone.

“I went to NIU with Jennifer Kagemoto,” I said. “Mai Lau was from high school, we only knew each other from theater class and a play or two.”

“Is that all?” Valkyrie asked.

“For Mai, yes.” I said. I turned to look Eliza in the eye. “I swear to God, yes.” I turned back to Valkyrie. “Jen, well, you’ve dealt with her. Jen makes everything complicated.” I considered this for a moment. “By the way, why the hell is Mai here?”

“She’s the Jade Emperor,” Valkyrie said. “When Jen killed her father a few weeks ago, she made a grab for Kagemoto territory. When Jen consolidated control, part of her retaliation was to dox Mai. She won’t admit it, but everyone knows Jen did it.”

“I take it that isn’t the first time they’ve fought?” I asked.

“Sort of,” Valkyrie said. “Mai’s been hidden pretty well. I think Jen only knew it a few minutes before the rest of us. Also, Jen hadn’t really had much control over the Kagemotos before she did her takeover. I think things got more intense.”

I sighed and buried my face in my hands. “Jesus fucking Christ, why the hell couldn’t this be easy?” I raised my head and said, “Well, you might as well give your speech.”

Valkyrie considered me with narrowed eyes for a moment. Then she turned around and slammed the pommel of her axe on the floor a few times. A gust of wind blew throughout the room each time the pommel hit. “Everyone!” she said. “I know each and every one of you are, to some extent, in this for money. We all know that there’s a new and very disruptive force that wants to take over pretty much everything. I thought, before I made my proposition, you’d want to hear from one of the few people with first-hand knowledge of them.” She stepped back and gestured to me.


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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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