I fell onto the ground, face first. As I struggled to breathe, I heard John, Bushido and Kuniochi open up. I then heard Jen say “Shit…” Hands gripped me, turning me on my side. “Well, at least it went clean through. What the hell did they shoot at you?”
I tried to list off a few suggestions like armor-piercing .338 Lapua, but instead, all that came out was a gasping sound. “Shut up, you idiot,” Jen said, moving into my field of view. “You have a collapsed lung.” She turned her head. “Anyone have some saran wrap?”
“Why the fuck would we have saran wrap?” one of the hackers asked.
“It’s in Nate’s pack,” John said. “Hurry up, I’m pretty sure that chopper is coming back.”
“Right,” Jen said, fiddling with my pack, “Ok. Tatsu, Dokutsu, get to that garage and get us a car. Preferably one that was made before the Nineties and has a lot of floorspace. Bushido, help me get him into cover.”
The act of picking me up caused me such an intense amount of pain that I blacked out. When I came to, my vest and pack were off and I was behind a car. Someone had lifted my shirt up and the entry wound in my back had been wrapped up with saran wrap like a sandwich. There was also the sound of a chopper overhead and John firing. I then heard the crack of a gunshot and John cry out in pain. Then there was the sound of something large and metal snapping apart. The chopper then began to sound a bit strange, and something large hit the ground.
“Listen,” Jen said, her masked face suddenly looming into mine. Behind me, I heard the chopper crash. “I’m about to shove a metal straw into a hole in your chest. It may hurt.”
Funnily enough, the actual insertion of the tube wasn’t the painful part. Yeah, it hurt, but Jen’s attempts to secure it in place with surgical glue hurt a lot more. I suddenly realized that she was turning me into a human blow-up doll.
“Yo, Driver!” Kuniochi asked, “You ok, man?”
“Fucker got me in the arm,” John said. “Guy’s in a fucking helicopter going what, a hundred twenty miles an hour? Plus the little shit’s three or four stories up. And he goes fucking two for two.” There was a pause, during which I assumed John was trying to get up. “Fffuck that hurts…” he groaned.
“He sounds fine,” Jen said. “Bushido, throw him a bandage.” She turned back to me. “Damn it, this thing is too small.” She laughed. “If I was a terrible person, I could make a lot of penis jokes right now.”
I groaned, as I had been thinking of those as well and knew that none of them could be good. If the groaning hadn’t hurt like hell, I would have attempted an emergency “That’s what she said.” Instead, I kind of passed out again.
I woke up in a room filled with mist. Richard was bracing a door with his back. Someone was also there, holding the door. He turned, and I recognized him as Jeong by his charred face. “He’s here,” Jeong whispered.
“The fuck?” Richard said. “How does that work?”
“I don’t know,” hissed Jeong, “Also, shut up! Do you want them to hear you?”
“What’s going on?” I asked. I looked around. “Oh fuck me, am I dead?” That, honestly, was the most logical explanation to what I was seeing. Richard and Jeong, after all, were both dead and I doubted they had ever met in life.
“Unless you know something we don’t,” Richard said, “I doubt it. You’re probably just asleep.”
“We are,” Jeong said, “but you might have noticed we’re a bit more active.”
“About that,” I said, “I mean, the ‘knowing something you don’t’ thing… I was recently kind of shot in the lung. It’s being treated, but…”
“God fucking dammit!” Richard said, hitting the wall in frustration.
“Shut. Up.” Jeong growled. He then turned back to me and said, “Listen, Nate, there’s been something weird going on. People who are dying… aren’t going away anymore. It’s hard to explain. We definitely are dying, but some of us can visit.”
“Well,” I said, remembering the previous visits from supposedly dead people I’d experienced, “I’ve noticed that.” I paused. “Does knowing someone make it easier to appear in front of them?”
“Slightly,” Richard said. “The bigger factor, though, is whether or not Dragon’s Teeth are around. Knowing you is like having better tires. Having Dragon’s Teeth around is like having a bigger engine.”
“But I first saw you when you were in Worcester!” I said, “The Dragon’s Teeth were only in North Korea at the time. And if they weren’t, they’d be preparing for Russia or India or France…”
Richard laughed. “Well, apparently they had at least two hundred to send to Worcester.”
“Wait, wait, wait,” I said, “There were two hundred Dragon’s Teeth soldiers in Worcester? They could spare that much for a city of that little tactical and strategic importance in a country they weren’t even planning on invading?”
“What makes you think they aren’t planning on invading the US?” Jeong asked.
My blood ran cold. “How… how many are currently in this city?” I asked.
“Before you started blowing shit up?” Richard said. “More.” I felt myself go gray. “But after you rescued Jen? The Japs started looking for shit and finding it. Mexican Cartels, Yakuza, Russain Mafia, Triads, petty street criminals, spies, radical Islamitists, radical Parahumans, Commies… Even a few Dragon’s Teeth.”
“So,” I said, “I may have stopped an invasion of Japan?” I suddenly began to feel a lot better about the chaos I’d been causing. Maybe I’d even gotten a good chunk of them killed.
“That’s not what we need to talk about,” Jeong interrupted. “The thing is, the Deets have this… network. In their minds. We, that is, us dead people, think it’s been pulling our souls into it somehow.” I must have made a pretty impressed holy shit face because Jeong said, “Yeah. There’s a lot to unpack in that statement. There seems to be two networks: one goes in a pretty clear path. Soldiers are on the bottom, more senior people are at the top.”
“And the other?” I asked.
“It’s a web,” Richard said. “Every Dragon’s Teeth soldier is equal, every Dragon’s Teeth soldier is connected to every other one. It’s beautiful.” He shook his head. “The other’s just straight lines with dull colors, but this one… I’ve never seen anything like it. The lines bend and twist beautifully, they grow and shrink, and there’s colors I didn’t even know existed…”
“But there are still patterns to this one,” Jeong said. “Look.” The walls except for the door suddenly… disappeared? Began to display?… what seemed to be a ring of white light, but on closer inspection were many small lights, each a different color with yet with billions of still differing colors connecting them to each other dot.
As I looked, I noticed that the dots and their connecting bits were… warped. They seemed to be leaning towards a secondary ring. This secondary ring formed a ring of pure white light with only one of the colored dots. In the center was pure darkness. I suddenly realized I was looking at a black hole.
“Jesus…” I said when I had somehow made sense of what I was seeing. “That’s… that’s the complex psionic network.” Complex seemed to be too tame a word to describe what I was seeing. The same could be said of words like awesome or beautiful. Yet something about the vision seemed to be self-explanatory. I mean, the image before me was somehow explaining itself like a teacher carrying out a lesson. However, there was one thing I did not get.
“What’s the big black thing?” I asked, pointing to the black hole.
“That,” Jeong said, “is where they throw the souls of people who aren’t Dragon’s Teeth.”
“They seem to worship it,” Richard said. “They’re a fucking cult. They say it speaks to them.”
“Where is it?” I asked. “Like, geographically?” They turned to look at each other. “I mean, each of those dots of light is a Dragon’s Teeth soldier. You can figure out where they are. Can’t you do the same thing with that?”
“We think…” Jeong said, “that whatever it is, it spends most of its time at NIU.”
“Excuse me?” I said. “How can… how can anyone live there with… with… whatever the fuck that is? And it moves? Something like that should cause cities to… to…”
“To what?” Richard asked. “You have even less of an idea of what it is then we do.”
“To be fair,” Jeong said, “that… thing seems to have some sort of quantum physics type thing where it can be in multiple places at once. Its bulk just seems to usually be centered in NIU.”
I remained silent for a long time, considering the implications of that. Was it something The President had made, or had he somehow bitten off more than he could chew? Of course, considering the size of that thing, those two were by no means mutually exclusive.
I was interrupted by Richard saying, “Uh, hey y’all, we seem to be getting closer.” He was right. We were hurtling towards the main ring of light at incredible speeds.
“We need to leave,” Jeong said. He opened the door, and he and Richard filed through. “Come on, Killer,” he said, “We’ve spent way too long here.”
I got up and followed, but I bounced off an invisible wall. We stared in horror. “Go,” I finally said.
“Wait,” Richard said, “You need…”
“I might be dead,” I said. “I might not wake up. Go.”
“He’s right,” Jeong said. “We need to leave.” Just before he closed the door, he said, “Good luck.”
Not even a second had passed before it burst open. I flew back. As I struggled to get to my feet, the armored figure of the Berserker I had killed in Korea walked in. Just as I was getting to my feet, he kicked my chest. I felt ribs shatter and my lung collapse again. He then grabbed me by my throat and lifted me so I was looking him right in his glowing eye.
“Don’t worry,” he said, “it’s all over now.”
My eyes opened as I let loose a scream. “Shit!” I heard someone say. “His lung is going to collapse again.” Then my lung collapsed again.