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 25: The Takeover

“Eric,” I said, after Valkyrie had finally left, “any particular reason why you showed up? I’ve noticed that everyone was… vague with our friendly neighborhood super hero.”

“Of course,” Eric said. “We don’t really want to talk about NIU with her around, you understand.”

“Or why you’re here,” I suggested. Eric had mentioned something about personal vendettas against the Dragon’s Teeth, but apart from the two white people who weren’t Cross and some of the Middle Easterners, I had a sneaking suspicion that most of the people were from countries that the Dragon’s Teeth didn’t consider strategically important. Apart from some border clashes with Egypt, most of the African countries were relatively Deet-free and many of the South-East and Central Asian countries like Vietnam, Taiwan, Burma and the Philippines were only being menaced by the Teeth in China and India and annoyed by refugees instead of dealing with full-scale invasion.

“Well,” Eric said, “we are mostly here to observe and report. Some of us are going to attempt to blend in among the populace if the Dragon’s Teeth come in full force. Others are going to attempt to keep you alive and this facility out of Dragon’s Teeth hands.”

“Makes sense,” I said, “But-”

“That first goal is going to be very hard,” Eric said, completely po-faced. “You seem to like getting yourself into stupid situations.”

“Fuck you,” I said, punching him in the arm. “I’ve been good recently.”

“Yes,” Eric said. “Very well-behaved. In fact, diplomats will be using your behavior in Japan as an etiquette guide.”

“That was an accident.”

Eric laughed. “Then if I ever get fine china, remind me to always give you paper plates, my friend. In fact, if that is your idea of an innocent mistake, I should probably stay a couple kilometers away from you just to avoid your blast radius.”

“Very funny,” I said, trying not to consider the costs of my “mistakes.” “But seriously, there isn’t any hidden agendas? Nothing you’re hiding from me?”

“No, Killer,” Eric said. He smiled. I was not reassured.

Over the next few weeks, I showed Eric and the rest of the people how to work the guns I’d developed. Eric, Ray-Gun, and MC Disaster figured a way to use the Fuckup effectively at the firing range. Eric would fire the gun and clear the inevitable malfunctions. When a belt ran out of ammo, he’d pull the cocking lever for the belt on the other side. Meanwhile, Ray-Gun and MC were on either side, ready with extra belts and spare barrels. Thus, when on a bipod or tripod (and ignoring the many, many malfunctions,) the Fuckup could fire near continuously, because it could be reloaded while firing. When they weren’t doing maintenance or reloading, Ray-Gun and MC Disaster would help Doc and the Monk provide covering fire.

Meanwhile, the news seemed to be getting better and better. Canadian forces were massing to the north, with the occasional reinforcements from Austrailia, New Zealand, and various exiled Asians, and to the south, most of the Latin American nations were moving troops to the US-Mexican border. As I was watching a report about the overseas reinforcements, MC Disaster said, “We shouldn’t expect too many.”

I turned to him. “There’s a reason they captured all those ships instead of sinking them,” MC said. “They’re patrolling the seas, sinking anything bigger than a rubber dinghy and capturing oil derricks to use as lookout towers. We almost got sunk by destroyers several times.”

“Dragon’s Teeth or scared and confused runners?”

MC grimaced. “Hard to tell. The Dragon’s Teeth don’t keep their flags up. Either way, we think our subs looked too much like the kind of subs the Dragon’s Teeth look like on radar.”

“By the way,” I said, “any news on where the other people are?”

“What other people?” MC asked.

“The people you came in with,” I said. “There were like, twenty or thirty so operators you came in with. I mean, there still are, but a few are different.” MC suddenly began studying his palms like he was trying to see the future. “Look,” I said, annoyed, “I accept that you’re going to be doing recon. I can help. But if you’re going behind my back, and I don’t know what you’re doing, and you do something big enough to draw attention, then I’m going to have to give you up. If you let me help you, we can avoid that.”

“As long as the Dragon’s Teeth don’t occupy this place,” MC said carefully, “we won’t be attracting attention. Until then, our silence is your protection.”

“Why’s that?” I asked.

“The Dragon’s Teeth wants you alive,” MC said. “If they take this city, we want them to take you. If they give you some liberty, then we want you to be an asset.”

“And if they break me or Eliza,” I said, “then you all are compromised.”

“Who says it’s just us?” MC asked.

I turned back to the TV. A reporter was in Boston Common, facing the State House, talking about something or other. In the background, for some reason, I noticed that some cops with long guns were walking to the left, like there had been a non-urgent disturbance of some sort.

Then, there was a crashing sound, and a vehicle that, from the distance the camera was at, looked like an Escalade or similar SUV, raced into view, running down the cops before they could eve raise their guns. “Oh my God!” The reporter said. “You just saw this, a car accident outside Beacon Hill, hitting multiple police-”

Then five more SUVs also raced in from the same direction and seven from the opposite one. All thirteen changed color from various civilian colors to an urban camo pattern. Simultaneously, a turret raised from where a sunroof would be on a normal SUV, and Picts began dismounting. I noticed that they had supplemented their Deet-issued weapons with various captured guns.

“So,” I said, turning to MC, “assuming they’re not in Worcester already, how much do you want to bet they won’t be here by October?”

MC laughed. “That’s three weeks away. They’re going to be here by Friday.”


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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 15: Calm Before the Storm

I hadn’t even been mulling over Alma’s statement a minute when Eliza came back in. She was paler than usual and she sat down heavily. “What happened?” I asked.

“It’s fallen,” Eliza said.

“Really?” I asked. “I mean, I know Hawaii probably wasn’t prepared, but…”

“No, not Hawaii,” Eliza said, “The UK.” We shut up, me mostly because I was stunned. “Though Hawaii probably’s going down soon.”

“What do you mean, ‘England’s fallen?’” I asked. “England doesn’t just fall. They aren’t fucking Denmark.”

“I bloody know, mate,” Eliza said. “But they’ve got our silos, Buckingham’s in their control, and pretty much every major city and military base from Edinburgh to London’s got a nice ol’ infestation of Drake.”

“But…” I said, “but how? Yesterday they were on the other side of the channel!”

“Probably has something to do with their gateways,” Eliza said. “But yeah, that was record time for them. From what we can gather, they put a huge amount into this one. Seemed to be a higher ratio of Dragon’s Teeth to defenders than normal. And they were a lot less concerned with civilian casualties.”

“Jesus…” I said. “What the hell?”

“I know,” Eliza said. “D’you think they’re gonna stop there?”

“No,” I said. “I wish I could say they would, but I’d be willing to bet I’m going to figure out first-hand what you’re experiencing soon.”

“Oh, by the way,” I said, “I lost my phone.”

Eliza groaned. “Jesus Christ, now those bastards have a direct line on everyone in your contacts.”

“Yeah,” I said. “Can I borrow your phone to give them a heads up?”

“Better do that,” Eliza said.

As I was texting everyone possibly affected, I said, “By the way, you remember Alma Hebert?”

“My creepy first year roommate?” Eliza asked. “Yeah, definitely.” She shivered theatrically. “You know she hung around with Ulfric? Saw ‘em together multiple times. Guess they were off in the same ways.”

“She’s the Death Goddess,” I said.

“Fuckin’ ‘ell,” Eliza said.

“And I think that Ulfric might be Dragon’s Teeth, now that I think about it,” I said. “I actually saw a few guys that looked a hell of a lot like him.”

“I refer you to my previous statement,” Eliza said. Then she groaned. “Gah, how the fuck didn’t anyone realize this?”

“I get the feeling that there wasn’t much coordination between the guys who made the Dragon’s Teeth,” I said. “The Jason Project, that’s what they’re called…”

“‘Course they are,” Eliza said,

“…Couldn’t really be in regular contact with the President at the beginning, plus there was plausible deniability and then they went rogue.”

Eliza laughed. “Fuckin’ typical, innit? Goddamn conga line of betrayal. The President hires some people to make monsters to take over the world for ‘im, they make the monsters and decide they don’t need to follow orders. Then the monsters start tryin’ to revolt.” She paused. “‘Ow’d you figure out that Alma was…?”

“She contacted me with her psychic powers,” I said.

Eliza groaned something about “not signing up for this” and threw her head back in exasperation.

“My life,” I said, “is just so incredibly strange right now.”

“Warn the people your weirdness might rub off on, weird boy,” Eliza said.

“Getting on it right now,” I said.

John Marshall was the first person I called. He had been my fellow UNIX infiltrator (well, one of four, but he had been the one I had made contact with in Hell Semester) and we had been close for a while. The problem was that John wanted out, and I may or may not be an addict. When he went to North Korea, he had ended up getting shot in a firefight with South Korean police. Then there was Japan, and John had decided he was out.

After listening to my explanation, he said, voice dangerous, “So, basically, because of you, I might have been doxed by the Dragon’s Teeth?”

“Potentially,” I said. “In my defense, this was not my fault.”

“You had my number in your phone,” John said, “despite the fact that you knew people could hack it. But yeah, completely not your fault.” He then hung up. You can’t really slam a cPhone, but if he could, he would have.

“Well fuck you too,” I said. Then I called Eric. Eric, Ray-Gun, the Monk, MC Disaster, and Doc were some former African child soldiers I’d met in Hell Semester. My knowledge of their days back home was sketchy. For instance, I wasn’t entirely sure which country they were even from. I did, however, know that they’d done something to piss off a local warlord.

“Thank you my friend,” Eric said after I had filled him in. “I will tell the rest of my crew.”

“Thanks,” I said. “I’ll call Cross next.” Croccifixio “Cross” Castellan was another buddy from Hell Semester. He was from New York and was the son of some sort of mobster.

“Excuse me a moment,” Eric said, then yelled away from the phone, “Cross! Stop fucking Doc in the ass for a few minutes! Nathan needs to tell you something!” Turning back to me, he said, “He got back here a few hours after we cleaned up from the Dragon’s Teeth attack. Whenever he and Doc want to have sex, they kick everyone else out.”

From inside the room, I heard Cross yell, “Fuck you! We weren’t doing anything!”

“I will refrain from your kind offer for the moment,” Eric said.

“I didn’t mean to interrupt whatever it is you’re doing there…” I began, but I heard the door open and Eric hand off the phone to Cross. “Hey Cross,” I said.

“‘Sup?” Cross asked.

“So I lost my cPhone and it had your cPhone number on it,” I said, “Plus a Deet got a good look at it. Now it’s sitting in the FBI Honolulu office, waiting for invading Dragon’s Teeth to find it.”

“How the fuck did… never mind, I don’t want to know,” Cross said. “Those assholes just show up everywhere. That’s why my dad sent me to school. We’ve been hearing shit in New York for months now.”

“Really?” I asked. “How come I haven’t heard anything?”

“Look,” Cross said, “I don’t mean to diss newspapers, but they don’t spend hours talking to bums and crackheads unless they have some bullshit ‘human interest story.’ They don’t poke around abandoned buildings and bumfuck-nowhere wilderness looking for stories. People I know? They’re interacting with those people and going to those places every fucking day.”

“And what are they noticing?” I asked.

“Activity.” Cross said. “One guy of ours was burying a corpse in his favorite spot. Then he struck this hunk of prime rib. Few feet beneath that? Fucking junkie with a hole through her heart that looked burned around the edges. That’s how it started.”

“Yeah,” I said, “those injuries sound like something only Dragon’s Teeth can make.”

“Basically, they’re setting something up,” Cross said, “and the junkies and bums are accidentally stumbling on it ‘cause they’re looking for places to sleep for the night or get high. We’re hesitant to tell the cops ‘cause, y’know…”

“Why were you digging a hole there?” I finished. “Why were you talking to that guy?”

“Exactly,” Cross said. “We don’t want to tell the police because that’s gonna fuck things up. Even if leaving things as-is will fuck things up worse.”

“What about the super heroes?” I asked. “I mean, isn’t this the kind of stuff that-”

“Nate,” Cross said, “here’s a tip: capes don’t give a fucking shit. Maybe some of the noobs do, but most of these ‘heroes’ are just in it for the fame and… and the fucking, I dunno, Sprite deals. You should know. You live in Boston.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked.

“Vast majority of those guys,” Cross said, “fix their fights. Your girl Jen was probably the last to fix hers.”

“Why?” I asked.

“I dunno,” Cross said. “Probably because she needed the cash like all the rest.”

“No,” I said, “why didn’t she think of it first?”

“Jen’s weird,” Cross said. “Smart, good at business, but weird.”

“Speaking of Jen,” I said, “I actually need to call her about this.”

“Yeah,” Cross said, “You definitely should start in on that.”

As soon as I hung up, I had an idea. “Hey, Eliza,” I said. “You know how I don’t know that much about lawyers?”

“Yeah?” she asked, her eyebrow raising suspiciously.

“I think I know who does.”

“Fucking Christ,” Eliza said. “It’s Jen, isn’t it?”

“Do you trust Hicks not to arrest us as soon as we touch down in LA?” I asked. “I mean, I like the guy, but he’s a cop.”

“Fuck no,” Eliza said. She sighed. “Call her, I guess.”


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Track 1: When the World Comes Down

My name is Nathan Jacobs. And I’ve fucked up.

The first thing you need to understand is my jobs. I can make some firearms (in fact, I’ve got my own firearm company), but mostly I’m the guy who shoots them. The problem, it seems, is figuring who I should work for.

My first employer was the United Nations Investigations, eXtranormal (or UNIX for short.) In fact, those guys were the reason I was in this mess. If not for them, I would have gone to a normal college. Instead, I decided to go to Nowhere Island University to be a soldier and spy. The school taught me how to fight and kill in the most brutal way possible, and UNIX wanted me to spy on them.

Or at least that’s what UNIX claimed it wanted me to do. I should have been suspicious when my handlers didn’t give me any specific objectives or prior training, and I shouldn’t have been shocked when it turned out that I and one other student I’d been sent in with had been sent there to die. The goal was to prevent UNIX from finding the other two spies. In some perverse twist of fate, the two agents who were supposed to make it were compromised. One had gotten killed by literal space Nazis and the other… Hell, I saw what happened to him and I still don’t know what happened to him. Long story short, the other guy supposed to survive had his cover blown to his “buddies” and he had to get some CIA protection. In between, weird shit happened.

Oh, and did I mention the weird shit? Yeah, I actually got to witness a certain clone army rise up in North Korea. If you’re reading this far enough in the future to not know what the Dragon’s Teeth are… good. That means something’s eventually gone right. I also had to deal with other Parahumans and a disturbingly relevant prophecy about the world ending (and the people who believed in it a little too much.)

There was a period of time I had been listlessly working for myself. Mostly that involved poking my nose into places I shouldn’t. Then, at the start of summer, I was approached by Charlotte Blackmoor-Ward and her adopted sister Eliza Henderson. They wanted a friend (the other UNIX infiltrator, his name is John Marshall) and me to go to Japan with them to get talk to some people called the Defenders of Fuji.

Things went horribly wrong. We’d found that they had sent a group of assassins to act as personal bodyguards to a coming entity known as the Architect into a pocket dimension in response to a prophecy made five hundred years ago. Only one of these assassins, known as Heralds, had come back. Somehow, Charlotte had heard that the Defenders were attempting to kill their last Herald.

As soon as John and I had gotten the first part of the escape done, we found ourselves cut off from Charlotte and stuck with the Herald. It turns out that the Herald, Mayu Nakashima, had not had a good time in the pocket dimension. In fact, she was a more than a little psychotic.

Hounded by the Defenders, we had no choice but to turn to fellow NIU classmate and Oni-themed, Boston-based supervillain named Jennifer Kagemoto and her team of super-powered gangsters. She hadn’t brought out the best in Mayu, and Mayu, beneath her creepy mask of cheer, sometimes seemed to be insulted by Jen’s existence. Eventually, after a severe incident between her and Jen and discovering that John and I knew the Architect (he was the other UNIX spy) and kept that from her, she ditched us. Then the Defenders attacked and I ended up shot.

After briefly being captured by the Defenders, confronting an unhinged Mayu, I had been rescued by John, Eliza and the SAS. Whisked away in an experimental jet VTOL called a Fairey Nightdragon, I was informed by Eliza that the safest place for me (and least embarrassing place for Her Majesty’s Government) was NIU.

In the meantime, the Dragon’s Teeth had stepped out of their stronghold in North Korea and simultaneously attacked multiple countries. France, home of UNIX headquarters, had held out for five days despite massive military, law enforcement and civilian casualties. Russia’s forces were being smashed faster than they could be assembled and, with a recent massacre at the Duma and additional assassinations at the start of the invasion, their civilian government was essentially non-existent. India was on the verge of collapse, Pakistan was subsumed. Germany had already been weakened by fighting an influx of space Nazis and had decided Dragon’s Teeth occupation was better than Nazi occupation. Turkey had been trounced by the Dragon’s Teeth and Kurdish allies. China had been shaken by a blatantly Dragon’s Teeth-backed Tibetean uprising and multiple units of Dragon’s Teeth appearing at random throughout the country. A Dragon’s Teeth breakout from North Korea had tied down a good chunk of the Chinese army and simultaneously taken South Korea. Even worse, the number of countries being invaded by the Dragon’s Teeth or reporting fifth-column movements from a technologically advanced force was growing by the day.

Due to my recovery from the collapsed lung I had sustained in Japan, I was mostly confined to bed rest with only the news for company. It was summer, so the student-run channels were down and all I had was the satellite news channels and the internet. Of course, that’s like saying I had run out of some weird local potato chip some kids were making using their mom’s kitchen and only had a free lifetime supply of Lay’s left. Needless to say, I was kind of depressed. At least I was well enough now to pace.

Oddly enough, there were guards outside my door. When I had gotten done from my surgery, I had asked Eliza about it. Her tired face had suddenly become suspicious. “You know,” she said, “I’m not quite sure.”

The thing about Eliza is that she’s a Lupine, a kind of Parahuman. Physically, Lupines have increased senses of smell, bone claws in their hands (and, in most female cases, feet, but Eliza’s an exception,) and some, like Eliza have dog-like ears. They also have extremely strong protective instincts. I could see those instincts go into overdrive, her green eyes narrowing and her red, fox-like ears flattening.

Hurriedly, I said, “I’m sure it’s nothing.”

“And you said you could handle Japan…” Eliza said.

“HEY!” I said, suddenly pissed. “I thought we were going to talk to some people. Have a nice vacation. But no! No. Instead, your sister-”

“Oi,” Eliza said warningly, “watch what-“

I continued over her, genuinely pissed. “-changes all the fucking parameters and sends John and me off in a random direction with a collection of nutjobs! I’m sorry, but she fucked up. Now, innocent people are dead because of her and a complete nut is headed straight for what just may potentially be the most powerful being in the entire universe.”

Eliza stood up, her face a mask of white. “I saved your life, Nate,” she whispered, always terrifying in a cockney accent. “All I ask is that you don’t fuckin’ talk shit about my sister.”

I remembered how Eliza, John and an SAS operator had burst into the room I was being held and how Mayu had held a gun to my head. When Mayu had demanded the location of the Architect, Eliza had admitted he was being held by the CIA. Then Mayu had escaped. “Saving me,” I said, “wasn’t helpful.”

“Go fuck yourself,” Eliza said. She stalked out of the room and the next few times I saw her, she barely talked to me.

It was now July. I had been in recovery for two weeks. Eliza would come back in occasionally, but things were a lot chillier with both of us not wanting to admit. She also seemed a lot more suspicious of the guards. “Somethin’s wrong,” she said one visit when I asked how things were going. “Bloody entire campus is on lockdown. No messages in or out, and nobody’s tellin’ me what the bleedin’ fuck’s ‘appenin’.”

“Well,” I said, “at least we’ve got those SAS guys with-”

“They left,” Eliza said. Seeing my incredulous look, she laughed. “Nate, Look at what’s goin’ on back on the Continent. Clone bastards runnin’ around like they own the place, givin’ us the eye from across the channel… They need ‘em over there a ‘ell of a lot more. Especially since we’ve got the nice, highly trained NIU Campus Security to look after us.” She laughed bitterly. “Fuckin’ ‘ell, we’re screwed.”

Meanwhile, I was slowly recovering. I was eventually able to get out of bed and walk around. I’d even stopped taking painkillers and removed my IV. It was such a nice feeling to not be hooked up to a tube, except for the occasional twinge in my chest. My head was so much clearer.

Then one day, I woke up from a nap to find that one of the security cameras was disabled. It was single-directional and, when functional, was set up to give me and potential occupants privacy without sacrificing security while it swiveled on its perch. Now, however, it stood stock still, its normally solid green light now blinking red.

Being a helpful person, I looked outside to tell the CampSec guards that the camera was acting funny. They weren’t there. This was suspicious, to say the least.

The armrest on the bed I’d mostly been confined to had several buttons. Most were off-white or black buttons that controlled the TV. One, a green button with a phone symbol, was for calling the nurse’s station in a non-urgent manner. A yellow button with a needle was there if you were hooked up to some intravenous painkillers (which I no longer was, thank God) and you wanted to get comfortably numb. The other was a red button with an exclamation point. That one you pressed if you were dying.

I pressed the call button. “Hey,” I said, “can anyone tell me where the security guards are?” I waited. Then waited some more. And more. Nothing.

I was about to get up and investigate when a man in scrubs came in. He was an older, tanned man who looked extremely suave. I recognized him, but not from the hospital or medical program. While I was trying to place him, I asked, “Hey, just so you know, the call button isn’t working.”

“Oh yeah,” he said, “that’s been happening a lot recently.” I tried to suppress a frown. It hadn’t happened to me once. “Don’t worry about it. Anyway, I need to medicate you.  Mind if I just poke this into your tube?” He held up a needle with a clear liquid in it.

This guy was not assigned to me in the hospital, and I doubted he was even a doctor. This was an assassination attempt. The camera being off, the guards leaving, the call button not working… the evidence pointed to one thing and one thing only. Turning myself so he couldn’t see me do it, I pressed the big red button.

I had never pressed the big red button before. I had foolishly figured that I could press it and then manipulate the impostor into a position where I could get the drop on him. Instead, alarms on my bed, in the room, down the hall and at the nurse’s station began to blare and flash blue. A gruff, pre-recorded male voice, began saying “BLUE ALERT! PATIENT IN DISTRESS!” and what I assumed to be the same thing translated into Spanish, Arabic, and Chinese over and over again. In the hallway, I could see that the floor had big blue arrows pulsing down the hallway, ending with a bigger one pointing right at the door to my room.

The impostor doctor turned around to look at the arrows. Then he turned to see me getting out of bed, no IV on my arm. There was a dawning look of comprehension on his face as he moved to stab me with the needle.

Luckily, I caught his arm as I slammed into him. We both fell on the floor, but he twisted at the last minute so that we were on our sides instead of me being on top, me pinning his other arm beneath my body. Then he began to slowly inch the needle towards me, despite my grip on his arm.

If someone pulls an automatic pistol on you in a fistfight, a good idea is to grab it by the slide and force them to fire prematurely. That way, they’ll have to spend precious milliseconds trying to pull the slide back in order to cock the gun. There’s a similar principle when an opponent has a needle. You push the plunger before he stabs you. That way, whatever chemicals are in the needle can’t get into your bloodstream. I decided to use that method instead of just trying to avoid being stabbed. It wouldn’t fully render the needle useless (after all, it was still a sharp object and, knowing NIU and the people who worked there, the liquid could be so toxic that even amounts invisible to the naked eye could kill me in fifteen minutes,) but it would be a good idea.

The problem was that I depressed the plunger too quickly, not realizing where the needle was pointing. The liquid squirted out the needle in an arc and landed in my beard, moustache and on my lip. That was not good.

The man, meanwhile, continued to force the needle towards me. I let go of the plunger and was now gripping his wrist with both hands.

Then, out of nowhere, a brown combat boot slammed into the fake doctor’s arm. There was a snap, the man screamed, his arm bent where it wasn’t supposed to and the needle fell away.

I looked up as the impostor was dragged away from me. I looked up. I recognized the two people dragging him off. Ray-Gun and Eric were people I had met in Hell Semester, part of a group of child soldiers from Africa. When I had first met them, they had still appeared malnourished. As a white middle-class kid from the US, meeting and befriending (well, let’s be honest, I didn’t befriend them, they took pity on and befriended me) these scrawny black kids had sort of made me realize some stuff. For instance, this game I was playing had the highest stakes. And everyone else playing played to win.

“Thought you could come in and just kill our friend, huh, you bastard?” Eric asked, putting the man in a choke hold. Ray-Gun, meanwhile had pulled out a MAC Mle 1950, a 9mm 1911 clone with distinctive bronze-colored slide, and was holding it to the impostor’s head. “Talk! Who put you up to this? Howell? Krieger? Antionette? Or did you decide to do it on your own?”

As I wiped off the poison from my lips, I reflected how bad things had just become. “Howell” was President Anthony Carter Newton-Howell, the President of NIU and who I had reason to believe could influence the world outside the campus to a terrifying degree. “Krieger” was Professor (or Sergeant during Hell Semester) Karl Krieger, a South African nutcase who taught for the Academy of Military Science who was intent on removing the President via what I assumed to be lethal means. From what I could gather, he was suborning CampSec and Shadowhaven/AMS students. “Antionette” was Louise Antionette, the head of the Rogues Academy, another sub-school, this one focused on infiltration and espionage. I had no idea why she’d want me dead, but program heads tended to build up a lot of loyalty and favors. Basically, three of the four people mentioned could order a variety of highly trained assassins to kill me.

The fake doctor’s response to being put in an arm bar and having a gun put to his head was to smile in a way that bared his teeth and bite down on something. There was a crunch. Shortly after, he began to foam at the mouth and thrash about. His smile became more rigid and I smelled pee and fecal matter.

The seizures stopped almost as soon as they began. Eric let the body drop. “Eugh,” he said disgustedly, “the bastard shit on me!”

Before we could talk, we heard someone scream. We turned around to see nurse, a muscular man who was probably a student, covering his mouth to stifle a scream. Beside him was a Campus Security officer in patrol gear. The officer drew his sidearm (either a FN FiveseveN or a FN FNX-45 Tactical) and yelled “Drop your weapons! Hands on your heads!”


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Ok, good news! I’m back! I still have a bunch of stuff going on, so I might not be back for long. Hopefully, though, the first volume of NIU will be available for people to buy within about a month.

Track 15: Shot Through the Heart

Apparently, Eliza and I weren’t the only ones to see that vision. According to an email I read, a lot of other people on the island had seen the same thing and the TV in Sun Tzu had a report about psionically sensitive people seeing strange visions all over the world. I was worried, but I realized that there was nothing about it I could do. Instead, I spent all my spare time trying to do rough sketches of the next weapons.

Finally, it was time to go to the study group/weapons test. Saturday morning, I actually had managed to sleep until seven. Considering when I usually got to bed and how little time I actually spent sleeping, it was unsurprising that I was usually tired. I considered going back to sleep, then considered the nightmares I was likely to get. After those lovely thoughts, I began the process of getting ready without disturbing John.

After I got in, I noticed that he had gotten dressed while I was doing the same, plus showering and brushing teeth. “Did I wake you up?” I asked.

“No,” he said, “not really. Besides, I can sleep through all sorts of crap.”

“Also,” I said, “sorry about the other night with Eliza. I…”

“Hey,” John said, “it was much better than what you walked into when Bai was here. Besides, she kind of lives on the floor above us.”

“Really?” I asked.

“Yeah,” John said. “She rooms with Oro, but it’s functionally a single. Don’t ask where Oro goes, Bai never asks and I’d bet anything she wouldn’t tell if she knew.” He gestured at the door with his toothbrush. “Anyway…”

“Certainly,” I said.

Eventually he came back. For once, we actually talked a bit, mostly about classes. It was weird. Ever since we had gotten back to the island, we had stopped talking to each other. It was weird.

I thought back to what Eliza had said about Charlotte blaming herself for whatever happened in England over vacation. “John,” I asked, “do you blame me for what happened in Korea?”

“Which part?” he asked.

“Uh… the part where you got shot.”

“Ah.” John said nervously. “That part.”

There was a long, awkward pause. Finally, he said, “I don’t really blame anyone for what happened. I mean, I could blame you, but you never really forced me or even ordered me into that particular situation. I could blame the guy who actually shot me, but he was completely in the right to do so. I could blame myself, but honestly those things happen.”

“That’s good to hear,” I said.

“Is there a reason you asked?” John asked.

“It’s just…” I said, “…things have been weird between us since then, you know?”

“Yeah.” John said. There was another pause, then he blurted out, “It’s just… you’d do it again. Meanwhile, I’m convinced the next time I do something like this, I could die. I will die.”

“You don’t have to continue doing this,” I said. “You’re not on a tour of duty, and there’s plenty of other people who can do this.”

John cocked his head. “You really believe that?” he asked skeptically. “That we can sit back?” I hesitated. John sighed. “I thought so. Fuck me, right?”

Suddenly, our phones beeped. We both reached for them. It was Nari, sending out a mass text. Apparently, she was out in front of Sun Tzu. “You want to head out?” I asked John.

“Sure,” he said. “I kind of want to see how this gun you’ve been working on handles.”

“Actually,” I said as I unlocked my gun safe, “these ones are models that Nari’s improved.” I reached in and pulled out the prototype. “This is the one I made.” I held it for a moment, then put it in my pocket after making sure it was on safe. “Might be useful to give people an idea of how much its improved.”

“I call first dibs,” John said.

We walked down to Sun Tzu together, meeting Cross, Bai, Oro, and Eric’s crew on the way down. Ray-Gun, in particular was particularly bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Cross, however, was quite grumpy.

“Listen, Ray,” he said as we got out of the elevator, “I know you like high-tech stuff, but I haven’t even had breakfast yet. Or my morning coffee. I need you to get the fuck outta my face with your tobacco and your chipperness for five seconds.”

“I’m sorry you are such a sad individual,” Ray-Gun said, waving his still-burning cigarette around expressively, “but I cannot control my excitement, and I have no wish to.”

“You are lucky,” MC Disaster said quietly. “At least they aren’t laser or plasma-based. Then he’d never shut up.”

The banter continued like this for the few seconds it took us to leave our dorm and see Nari, May, Sunny, and Andy waiting by the entrance to Sun Tzu. Sunny and Andy looked drained. May looked like her usual hyper self, albeit somewhat annoyed. Nari, meanwhile, looked like she had stolen the energy from the other three. She was also holding an ABS case and a cloth bag.

“Good,” Nari said upon seeing us, “you have made it.” She then turned around and beckoned imperiously. “Come on,” she said. “The range is only open for a limited time.”

Sunny, noticing that some of us (Cross) weren’t exactly thrilled to be ordered around by a ten-year-old, said, “Sorry. She’s a little…”

Eric interrupted by asking Nari, “So, my Queen,” he asked jovially, “what do you wish of your court today?” He had moved up besides Nari, and as he said this he made a parody of an obsequious bow.

“Don’t encourage her,” Sunny said, shooting Eric a venomous expression.

Nari, suddenly realizing what she had done, cringed slightly. “Sorry…” she said.

“Besides,” Andy said jokingly, “if anyone’s queen, it’d be May.”

Normally, May would either jokingly accept the title or cede it out of embarrassment, but today, she just made a noncommittal noise of recognition. Everyone else continued on as normal, but Andy and I noticed. I’m pretty sure that Nari noticed as well, but Eric was keeping her busy.

Eventually, Nari lead us into the room she had reserved. First, she opened the case to reveal six of the new pistols with two magazines each. These pistols were identified by stickers on the grip and barrel made by a label maker. As Andy had said, their aesthetic had been radically changed to a hybrid of the Berreta M-92’s long, double-cut slide and Desert Eagle’s triangular shape. The only bits of my original design that remained were the FNP-style sight mounts and the barrel that extended beyond the slide. Then she opened the bag to reveal that it had two plastic bags.

While she was doing that, I said, “Hey, Nari, John wanted to test out the first prototype, so I brought it along.”

“Did you bring magazines for it?” she asked. “I had to rework the magazines slightly. It wasn’t that big of a change.”

“Here you go,” I said, handing her the pistol and a spare mag.

She set the weapon on top of the newer versions. “Attention, please!” she called out. When she had everyone’s attention, she said, “In the case are prototypes of the Uilon Mangchi. Most of them are the second prototype, but one is the first. Do not get their magazines mixed up! Generation one has a different magazine than generation two, and I need to collect data on how they work.” When she saw that everyone had gotten this information, she continued, “In the white plastic bag, I have put tungsten-core rounds. In the other, I have bullets made out of a new compound taken from Grenzefrontier troops called seltsamemetall. Please make a note of which type of ammo you use and which gun you’re using on the sheets on the station, as well as any malfunctions. Mr. Jacobs, would you please instruct our guests in the operation of these weapons?”

Luckily, the controls on the first generation were the same as the ones on the second, which made things much quicker. The problem was that as soon as I had walked everyone through the process of loading, unloading and putting the Uilon Mangchi on safety, there was a knock on the door.

I opened it. There, smiling brightly, was Eliza. Behind her were Jennifer and Charlotte. “Sorry I’m late!” Eliza said. “What’d I miss?”

“Well…” I said, somewhat sheepishly, “kinda everything.”

Nari looked over my shoulder. “I know the mutant,” she said, “sorry… I mean Lupine. But I do not remember meeting the other two.”

“Charlotte is Eliza’s adopted sister,” I said. “Jennifer is… Jennifer.” Jennifer laughed in amusement at this. It was the kind of laugh that wasn’t supposed to remind you she was a supervillain, but did anyway. “They’re both in the Rogue program.”

I’m not sure why I mentioned that last bit, but I could feel Nari light up behind me. “Excellent!” she said. “I think we could use a law enforcement or enthusiast perspective on our weaponry.”

“I’m a little more than…” Jennifer began.

At the same time, May said, “I would prefer to avoid the civ…”

“Details, details,” Nari said. I turned around to see her literally wave off my concern. “Brief them on the details of operation and data gathering, Mr. Jacobs. After the first round, join us for the shareholders meeting.”

After running through everything again, I sat back and watched the first wave go. Everyone with the second generation prototype got the hang of it pretty quick. John, who was using the first generation, got the operation down pretty quick. After he finished his forty rounds (by which time all the other shooters had finished theirs,) he said, “If the fucking thing didn’t keep jamming or feel like I was firing a magnum, I’d say it was really good. It has some really nice penetration on it, which would have come in handy in Korea.” I nodded, remembering the abnormally strong armor of the Dragon’s Teeth. Hell, I had even had trouble penetrating the South Korean SWAT officer’s hard body armor with pistol rounds. 6.5mm seemed to solve that last problem pretty handily, though.

The Monk spoke up. “The newer version has greatly improved on the recoil, but I still do not like it. I also dislike the trigger. It seems a little heavy.” He paused to consider. “Then again, the recoil is comparable to your SIG, so I suppose someone might like it.” As he spoke, I noticed Nari was scribbling in a notebook.

MC Disaster spoke up again, making it a personal record for speaking in a day. “My thoughts are very similar. I quite like the power, I can tolerate the recoil, and I dislike the trigger pull. However, to determine if I would carry it into battle, I’d have to spend a lot more range time with it.” He considered the gun for a moment. Finally, he asked, “Does it really have to look this hideous?”

“Personally,” Jen said, “I quite adore the looks. Also the clip…”

“Magazine,” several people said at once, including Nari.

“Whatever,” Jen said, rolling her eyes. “I like it. I just want to empty it a bit faster. It would also be nice to do it one-handed. That means a slight recoil reduction and a decreased trigger pull.”

“Me too,” Cross said. “But don’t reduce the trigger pull too much, ok?”

“It isn’t a revolver or a bolt-action,” Oro said. “That’s probably why I don’t like it. It is very accurate for an automatic.”

After a few minutes of somewhat contradictory advice and several near-arguments from the first seven shooters, Nari finally said, “I think that’s enough for now.” She grabbed me by the arm. “Please, continue shooting. Meanwhile, the board will have a meeting.”

“Speaking of that,” Bai asked, “what is your company called?”

“Olympus,” May said. “Olympus Incorporated.”

When we got out, I said, “Pretty cool name. Did you come up with it, May?”

“Yeah,” she said. “I’m also thinking we should name the divisions differently. You and Nari get the weaponry division, Mars Arsenal. You’ll also have a split between thirty percent of the profits of Mars Arsenal. How does that sound?”

“Pretty good,” I said. “What’s your division called?”

“I’ve got Hephaestus Industrial Solutions,” Andy said. “May has Caduceus Medical. Speaking of Caduceus, wanna tell them the good news?”

“Sure,” May said. “Basically, the changes to the student invention policy means I can get a grant from The President. Plus, his contacts are railroading Power Sludge and my surgical glue through the FDA. If things go as planned, Andy and I might be leaving the school in a few weeks. We even a site picked out in Massachusetts.”

“You don’t sound very happy,” Nari said.

May sighed. “There’s an FBI contest. Apparently, .40 S&W isn’t cutting it for dealing with Parahumans and criminals armed with advanced tech.”

“And?” Nari asked. “Isn’t that not a good thing?”

May took a deep breath. “Weapons entered in this kind of competition tend to sell very well with civilians…”

“Which is what we want, correct?” Nari said. “These weapons are deliberately designed to defeat The Dragon’s Teeth. If they invade, we want as many people armed with these as possible.”

May exploded. “And what do you think people are going to be doing with them in the meantime?” Nari flinched, but May continued.  “Yeah, sure, we’ll get rich, selling weapons to people like Cross and Jennifer as well as the cops, then selling medical supplies when they’re done killing each other. But people will still be killing each other before The Dragon’s Teeth show up. I don’t want to be responsible for that!”

Suddenly, May stopped, realizing that Nari was starting to tear up. “I’m sorry,” May said hurriedly, “I didn’t mean…”

“The Dragon’s Teeth,” Nari said, straining to speak through her tears, “are massacring everyone in my country. I don’t want to be responsible for them to do the same to another country. Whatever Cross and Jennifer and people like them are capable of is a rounding error compared to what I’ve seen from those monsters.” She then began to walk off. “I’m going to the bathroom. I’ll be back.”

“Well,” May said after Nari was out of sight, “not only am I a hypocrite, I guess I’m also a complete bitch.” She began to walk away. “I’m going back to my dorm. When Nari comes back, tell her I’m sorry.”


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