The Dragon’s Teeth assault had completely stalled. For several hours, nothing they were doing was allowing to get much closer to the factory. But the longer I watched, the more convinced I was that they weren’t trying that hard. If they really had wanted to do us in, that airstrike would have hit the factory. Something was up.
“‘E was a fuckin’ idiot.” I turned around. Eliza was still curled up in a fetal position, hugging her knees, still crying, but a look of rage was across her face. “Fucker could ‘ave not done that. I didn’t ‘ave to kill ‘im.”
“If it makes you feel better,” I said, “technically, it was Doc who killed him.”
“What’d make me feel better,” snarled Eliza, “is if that fucker ‘adn’t tried to break in.” She added as an afterthought. “Besides, even Lupines can only take so much punishment. Odds are ‘e wouldn’t’a last the night without some serious ‘elp.”
We sat in silence for a while longer. Finally, Eliza asked, “So, ‘ow’re things goin’ out there?”
“Well,” I said, “the factory appears to be surrounded. There’s Dragon’s Teeth on all sides, and the buildings that didn’t get blown up seem to have snipers in them.” I watched as a soldier on the roof of the factory above us fell down, shot from above and behind. Several more soldiers, gangsters, and militia fell before they realized where it was coming from. “And they, or he, appears to be doing a really good job. The guns in the front of the factory are pretty much out. Also, for some reason, I don’t see any vehicles.”
“Really?” Eliza said suspiciously. “Why’s that?”
“I don’t know,” I said, “and the more I think about it, the more it bothers me. Most benign reason I can think of is that they’re sending troops somewhere else. Problem with that theory is that they’ve literally got millions of people in this area alone and I’ve got a feeling that they don’t have too many civilians to take care of.”
“Still think they’re gonna come in through the basement,” Eliza said, somewhat petulantly.
I considered that for a moment. “Shit, you’re right,” I said. “I just hope it isn’t too late.”
“No it isn’t,” Eliza said, pointing at some of the cameras that viewed the dark, empty construction area. Nothing was there, except for some construction supplies. “Nothin’ there ‘cept…”
“Eliza?” I asked as she trailed off. “Something wrong?”
“That bucket there,” she said. “It tips over one second, then the next…”
I followed her finger. A metal bucket full of what might have been paint kept tipping itself over every few seconds and spilling, then righting itself again. “We’ve been looped.” We said it at the same time.
“Everyone!” I said through the intercom, “they’re coming through the basement! They’re coming through the basement!” I then began the process of rebooting the security computer. “Why are they doing this?” I asked as I waited for the systems to power up again. “I mean, we haven’t been instantly splattered by an airstrike or artillery bombardment? Not that I’m complaining, though. It just seems like they could have ended it easily enough.”
“Well,” Eliza said, “they went to some right long lengths to get t’you didn’t they? Fuckin’ breakin’ inna an FBI buildin’ an’ tryin’ t’do a raid on Nowhere Island. Alma’s got a bit of an interest in you. I’d even wager that this would be the least risky operation to get you she’s carried out. Hell, there might ‘ave even been a few attempts to nab you that we don’t even know ‘bout ‘cause they got busted.”
I thought about that for a second. “Well,” I finally said, completely annoyed, “I now really fucking wish that I had some method of communicating with them. Could have possibly bought some fucking time.” I slammed the desk as hard as I could. “God fucking damn it! Agh!”
Then the monitors came back on and my swearing and inarticulate yelling was silenced. The new kind of Dragon’s Teeth was making a combined offensive throughout the facility with some familiar faces. Both the new Deets and the Picts were clearing rooms like the supernaturally-enhanced badasses they were, flash-bangs and frags causing enough distraction for the nimble cloned operators to burst in and shoot the tired defenders in the face with near-impunity.
Also, the Berserkers were back. They kicked through most walls like they were the Kool-Aid man, flung the defenders around like rag dolls, and used their captured machine guns like normal people used Uzis. A few even had bigger, thicker ballistic shields, adding to their seeming invulnerability and what appeared to be backpack-fed miniguns.
Most of the defenders fought bravely. The result was like a less-organized version of the opening of the first Star Wars movie, and they were the rebels fighting the storm troopers. The two biggest differences were that the Dragon’s Teeth had a lot better armor and that many of the defenders the Deets encountered were looking the other way. Only pockets of defenders were able to hold their ground for any length of time.
The result was pretty much a massacre. Every soldier or gangster who decided to fight back ended up dead, and the tide of black and grey armor slowly began moving up the floors. As I watched, my heart broke. I had done so many horrible things. I had lied. I had murdered. I had made it easier for others to murder. All in the name of stopping nebulous bad things. And now, despite everything I’d done, I was watching what was possibly the last group of organized resistance to the Dragon’s Teeth in America evaporating like morning dew. Like they’d never even existed.
I wanted to apologize, but the truth was, what was happening wasn’t even my fault. I’d done everything I could. This massacre would have happened without me. That was somehow worse. I never would have been in this situation if I didn’t think I could save the world.
Suddenly, I heard Jen’s voice. “Nathan, Eliza, we need to get you out of here,” she said.
I didn’t turn from the scenes of death that were occurring, but Eliza said, “I’m down. ‘Ow are we going to do that?” If I cared, I would have asked roughly the same thing in the exact same defeated, critical tone. Maybe with a different accent, I’d admit, but the meaning would be pretty similar.
“We… we…” Jen said, trying to find something to say.
“Y’can’t teleport anyone but yourself,” Eliza said in a dull, defeated voice, “we’ve got no helicopters, we’re surrounded, walled in, an’ the enemy’s cocked up any chance of goin’ out through a tunnel. I’d like to run. Really, I would. But we can’t.”
As Eliza was saying this, I noticed that Andrew and Lydia were leapfrogging down a corridor away from some Picts, firing Maccabees wildly. As soon as Eliza had said, “but we can’t,” a group of the new type of Dragon’s Teeth had turned a corridor and shot the two in the back. Jen must have seen it too, because I heard her gasp.
I turned around and saw that she was bleeding. The vest on top of her Oniko costume had been penetrated slightly, and she was down to only her Berettas. One of the glowing eyes of her mask had been knocked out and bits of shrapnel had cut her costume in the non-armored bits. She was leaning against the wall, possibly because of the cuts on her legs.
Yet she stood and ripped off her mask. “I,” she said, her face pale with pain and voice shaky but defiant, “am not leaving anyone. I’ve let too many people I love die. I will get you out of here. No more dead friends.”
“Nice sentiment and all luv,” Eliza said, forcing some of her humor back into her voice, “but we’re already dead. Jus’ walkin ‘round a bit mor’n usual, is all.”
“No,” Jen said, starting to cry, “there’s a way for you to get out, there has to be, there-”
“Jen,” I said, “Eliza’s right. Unless there’s some other Jumpers here I don’t know about, you’re the only one who can escape.” I took a deep breath. This next part was going to be hard. “Look, this has gone to hell. I got into this whole…” I wracked my brain for a second, trying to find a word to describe the hopeless horror of the situation, “mess to ‘save the world.’ Well, right now there’s only one person I can save.”
“Don’t you dare play hero on me,” Jen said. “I know what you are.”
“You’re right,” I said. “I was never a hero. I was kind of a self-important piece of shit. And I can’t really take off after you, because, well.” I gestured helplessly to my wheelchair. “So there’s no benefit to saving me. Or dying with me. I do have one realistic request.” I took a deep breath. “Run.”
“Wouldn’t you want to save Eliza?” Jen asked.
“‘E said reasonable,” Eliza said.
“Look,” I said, “I’ve saved nobody in this stupid war. So please, if only to serve my ego, run away. I don’t care if you run away and rejoin the fight five minutes later, or if you run so far away that the Dragon’s Teeth never find you. I just want to know that you last five minutes longer than I do.” Jen looked like she was about to argue for a second. “Jen,” I said as softly as I could due to the gunfire, “please. There’s nothing for you here and I’m tired of all this waste.”
“Fine.” Jen said, her voice cracking. “I’ll-I’ll go. I just…”
For a second, she looked like she was going to burst into tears. Then she jumped.
I almost burst into tears myself. I had lost one… well, maybe Jen wasn’t exactly a friend, but she had been a contact for a long time. I had known her since Freshman year at NIU and now she was gone. But she was alive. Hopefully for a long time.
“Well,” Eliza said, “d’you think we saved ‘er, or is she going to come back with the cavalry?”
“There is no cavalry,” I said.
Eliza nodded. “Point,” she conceded. She got up and gave me a hug. “But a girl can dream, can’t she?”
I returned the hug as best I could, despite the awkward angle and my wheelchair. “I honestly think everyone should dream. Especially in a situation like this, it’s probably healthier than the other option.” I patted the Maccabee on my lap.
“There’s a lot of options healthier’n blowin’ your own brains out,” Eliza said disapprovingly.
Then there was a knock on the door. From the intercom, a familiar voice said, “Mr. Jacobs. We’d like to have a conversation with you.”
I looked at the camera feed outside the security room. There stood ten Dragon’s Teeth Berserkers in full armor, all armed with either machineguns taken from dead US troops or ballistic shields and miniguns. Those were just the ones I could count.
“So Eliza,” I said, “do we want to die fighting or see if we can save a few more people?”
“See if we can save a few more people,” Eliza said with a shrug. “Why not? If whatever plan you have doesn’t work, there’s always the die fighting.”
In other news, we have a Discord server now. In case that floats your boat.