Track 24: Deet Barz

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.

 

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Track 23: SHOT THROUGH THE LUNG

I was about to respond to John when a burst of gunfire hit the Z4. I turned to see that the driver had climbed out the window while I had been dealing with the flanking force. She was lying on her side and seemed to be in shot. “Are you shot?” I asked. She shook her head. “Ok,” I said, “if you can, run. Stay low, take the exit, and keep moving until you find shelter.”

She nodded, but just as she was about to get up, a burst of gunfire hit her car again. She screamed and put her head down. “JOHN!” I yelled. “COVERING FIRE!” We both opened up, hitting where we thought the shooter was coming from. “RUN!” I yelled to the woman. She didn’t need any more urging.

Finding places to aim that wouldn’t hit civilians but would hit whoever was shooting at us was a hard task. The entire road was filled with civilian vehicles, and our attackers didn’t seem to be hesitant to use them as cover. Combined with the fog and rain, identifying targets was pretty much impossible.

“John,” I said, “cover the other side of the road. We need to…” I was interrupted as a massive explosion rocked the overpass we were on. I turned to look at it. Apparently, the flanking force had more explosives than just the one rocket launcher. A small car had found this out the hard way when it had smashed into the back of it.

“Jesus!” John said. On cue, there was a series of smaller secondary explosions. The overpass shook a disturbingly large amount for something that was suspending us high above a concrete surface.

“Make sure no more of those things sneak up behind us to fuck us in the ass,” I said. “I’m going to Bushido and Kuniochi. We need a perimeter and we need it now.”

“Oh hell yeah,” John said. “Get one of them to help me cover the rear.”

I nodded and moved to the sound of Ballpeens firing, making sure to stay in cover. The traffic was backed up farther than I could see. Of course, due to it being a foggy, rainy night, that wasn’t very far. Plus, an eighteen-wheeler had skidded over, forming a sort of blockade. It rose out of the mist like an alien structure. I switched my scope to its thermal mode. There was no other way to see anything except vague muzzle flashes.

As I headed forward, I tried to ignore the crashed cars. The dead were fine, I had seen dead people enough times to realize they didn’t matter anymore, at least during combat situations. The living and obviously fine civilians were emotionally gratifying but tactically worrying. After all, the “uniform” our attackers were wearing was only slightly different from civilian clothing, or some idiot could pick up an abandoned firearm and play hero.

The worst part was the people who were dying. I don’t want to scar you with the details, but if you’re a paramedic with a lot of car accidents in your territory, you can probably fill in the details.

I turned around a station wagon. A man in business casual, raid vest, and a surgical mask was bent over another man in the same uniform lying face-down in the rain-soaked road. The second man had several holes in his back, holes I recognized as exit wounds from a Maccabee’s six-and-a-half millimeter cartridge. He seemed to have dragged himself behind the car, despite the fact that most of one of his lungs was now outside his body. Blood flowed across the tarmac.

The subject checking the downed hostile noticed me at the same time. His Type 89-F was pointed in the air. He lowered it to point at me, but I had already been aiming at him. I fired, twice at his chest and once at his head. I spared a brief moment to look at the blood trail. It led to some kind of M-4 clone (probably an HK 416 or 417) abandoned behind a coupe. I then moved forward and kicked the Type 89 away from the two subjects and moved on.

Eventually, I found one of the hackers crouched behind a car. “Bushido?” I asked as I got behind the vehicle. “That you?”

“Close enough,” the hacker said. “Have you seen my twin?”

It took me a moment to realize that s/he was referring to the person in the matching costume and not a relative. “No,” I said. “I was hoping you’d seen him.”

“Fuck.”

I agreed with Kuniochi. This was not good. I looked up and saw an even worse thing. Four men, three with belt-fed weaponry and one with what looked to be a six-shot grenade launcher were closing in. If they had seen us, I wouldn’t be able to raise my gun in time. “GET DOWN!” I yelled.

Three machineguns began to tear into the car in short, controlled bursts leaving no time for me to pop my head. I had followed my own advice and got behind the wheel underneath the engine block. The problem was that meant Kuniochi had to hide behind a door. I also realized that there was someone inside. Several bullets smashed through the flimsy metal and knocked Kuniochi on her back. Also, a few of the shards of glass were blood-stained.

Before I could worry about Kuniochi, she had raised her Ballpeen and began firing through the thin metal. “DIE!” She yelled. “FUCK THE FUCK OFF!”

“JESUS CHRIST!” I yelled as she began dry-firing, obviously wondering why her gun had stopped working. “STOP WASTING YOUR AMMO, AND TRY TO MAKE DECENT ONE-LINERS!”

My yelling was cut off by a grenade exploding on the roof of the car right in front of me. The shrapnel cut into my face. I was momentarily thankful for buying the scratch-resistant lenses for my glasses. Without them, I would have been blinded! Then the blood started leaking into my right eye.

Meanwhile, the machinegunners behind us were still firing. One bullet came so close that it passed through the sleeve of my sweater, so close it burned me. With a yell of pain, I lifted my arm to my face, just in time to block more shrapnel. The good news was my throat had been saved and my Maccabee took the brunt. The bad news is that my arm was now bleeding profusely and the only thing I owned that could hide injuries with was ruined.

Meanwhile, the car that doubled as our only source of cover was being ripped to shreds. A subject with a shotgun came into view. I fired, he fired. My shoulder was suddenly lacerated. He fell back, a few new holes in his chest. As this happened, a grenade flew through the now-fully shattered windows of our car and landed smack-dab in the center of the one I was facing. From inside that car I began to hear screaming.

I then noticed that the MGs had gone silent. I popped out of cover, still able to hold my gun. There, standing on a panel van, M3 in one hand and Vector in the other, was Jen. Well, she was in costume, so technically Hinomoto Oniko. She was obviously tired, despite the fact that she was wearing a mask and I could barely see her. She jumped down and began walking towards us.

“Damn!” I looked over to around where shotgun-subject had taken a pop. It was Bushido. “This is getting intense.”

Jen’s masked face turned to look at Bushido. “How the hell,” she asked, directing the question to both him and Kuniochi, “did you two think it was a good idea to split up?” I noticed that the visor on Kuniochi’s helmet was cracked. Either car doors were more bullet-resistant than I thought, or her visor was really tough.

“Good question,” I said, “but let’s save that for the after-action report, shall we?” I noticed that I was grabbing my arm. I pulled it away and noticed my hand was now soaked in blood. Ignoring it and the sting from rain falling into my wound, I began to use it to gesture. “Right now, we need to fall back and shore up the perimeter. We’ve left John alone too long.”

We began to head back to the where the Escalade was. I was falling behind, letting Bushido and Kuniochi take point. I should have been moving faster, considering that I was starting to hear gunfire again. Jen noticed this and fell back.

“Are you alright?” she asked.

“Kuniochi got shot in the face,” I said. “I’d be more worried about her.”

“I have access to her diagnostics,” Jen said. “Perks of our armor. Her brain scan is normal and she doesn’t seem to have whiplash. You, however are wincing like a puppy with a broken leg whenever rain hits your shoulder. That concerns me.”

“I’m good,” I said. “I’m fine.” Jen made a little “I see” noise. “Hey,” I said, “you should have seen me when I took a rifle grenade at Hell Semester.” Jen was unconvinced.

She was about to say something when the stray bullet hit her in the chest. Her armor was so good she only staggered a bit, but we both got to cover. I looked to see that it had come from several white panel vans that were now forming a barricade between us and the nearest exit.

Before I could switch to X-ray or sonar mode on my scope, the line of vans rocked, nearly crushing the people behind them. Dokutsu then got out, firing his Desert Eagle at the vans. He stomped his foot, and one of the vans flipped. Tatsu hurried out after him. She leaned back then forward, like the big bad wolf about to huff and puff.

The idea was probably the same because a cone of fire shot from where I assumed Tatsu’s mouth would be, explaining her lack of gas mask. The fire engulfed the vans and, I assumed, the fuel tanks as well because they began to explode.

“Come ON!” Jen yelled. “We need to get out of here!”

We advanced towards the exit ramp and the burning wrecks. No subjects popped out from the burning wrecks, but we still had someone cover them just in case as we headed down the ramp.

“Look,” Tatsu said pointing to a nearby building as we got to the base of the off-ramp. “That looks like a parking garage. We should be able to find some transportation in there.”

“Good,” Jen said. “We needed to have left half an hour ago.”

“Hey,” John said as we sprinted towards the building, “do you hear that?”

I listened. The whump-whump-whump of helicopter blades was getting louder and louder. “Shit,” I said. “Chopper. Here’s hoping that it just passes…”

There was a thwip and I felt something like a bee sting. Before I could even work out what had happened, I was face down, in extreme pain, and was having trouble breathing. Whatever had just happened was not good.

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Track 22: Zero to One Hundred

“Shit!” I said. This wasn’t an accident. The Toyota Sienna that had side-swiped us had clear windows, so I could see the frightened family inside. The hadn’t meant to side-swipe us. If what had happened to us was any indication, they didn’t have any choice. “I think this is a cyber-attack.”

“No shit, Sherlock!” Andrew or Lydia said.

“You’re the hackers!” I said. “Do someth…!” Another car, a BMW Z4, side-swiped us, knocking the minivan into traffic. Two other cars hit the minivan, one right after another, leaving it a crumpled mess. The driver of the Z4, a woman in a fancy evening gown, may have been saved by her airbag, but her passenger, a man in a suit, hadn’t been wearing a seatbelt. He’d gone through the window and smashed his head against the side of the Escalade. I felt the walls of the Escalade hit my leg.

“Already on it!” one of the hackers yelled. “The fix should be taking effect…”

I looked up to see an old Toyota pickup barreling towards me.

“…About…”

It was hard to tell in the dark and at a distance, but I think the driver looked just as terrified as I did. He was obviously trying to turn, but the car wasn’t responding.

“…Now!”

At the last second, the pickup swerved. He missed us and the Z4, but was T-boned by a delivery van. Then a Subaru hit his bed. Cars were beginning to stop. Then the lights began to turn off. Soon, the only sources of lights were headlights. Someone or something had cut the power.

“Did you just hack the city’s power grid?” I asked the hackers.

“Don’t sound too impressed,” one of them said, grunting in pain. “We bought a… agh! A backdoor from some Russians… or people pretending to be Russians. All we had to do is… ahhh-ah-ah-ah… type in the zip code and all the power in the area shuts off. Cameras… traffic lights… they also fuck off.”

“You ok?” I asked.

“Didn’t…” the hacker said, “…didn’t put in the pads on my armor. Seatbelt just cracked my sternum.”

Resisting the urge to berate the hacker for not bringing the pads, I asked, “Can everyone move? We need to get moving.”

“I’ll…” Jen said weakly, “I’ll be a minute. My head…” There was some fumbling, then a wretching sound.

“Aw, gross!” one of the hackers said.

“We are trapped by the console,” Hirosama/Dokutsu said. “However, this is the exact reason we sewed some granite plates into the frame. “I should be able to get us free, but it will take time. Also…” That sounded ominous.

“Also…” Kaori/Tatsu said, obviously in intense pain, “…I seem to have a compound fracture. If someone could get me a cast, I could cauterize and set it while we work.”

“I got you,” John said, reaching into his pack. He took out a pack with a red cross and handed it over the middle seat. “Hey, someone pass this up to Tatsu.”

“While they’re doing that,” I said, “we need to set up a perimeter. Kuniochi, Bushido, you head out first, I’ll follow you. John get a neck brace on just to be safe, then follow us out. Jen, don’t come out unless you’re sure you’re fine.”

“Oh, don’t worry about that,” Jen said. Her voice was unfiltered, so she’d probably taken off her mask. Then she vomited again.

“Door’s jammed shut,” one of the hackers said.

“Is it blocked?” Jen asked, annoyed.

“No.”

“Then blow the fucking charges.”

“Wait!” I said. “Before you exit the vehicle, I want you two to understand how we’re going to behave. We are going to show our weapons, but we will not aim them at civilians unless we suspect they’re not, or that they’re going to play hero. We’re going to be firm and only as loud as needed to be heard. I don’t want any dead civvies, and if you follow these rules there won’t be any. You understand?”

“Got it,” one of the hackers said, cocking the Maccabee. “Don’t fuck up the normies.”

Before I could express concern that I had given a 4chan troll automatic weaponry and told them to do one of the hardest jobs a soldier could do, the door blew open. The two hackers exited the vehicle and instantly began shouting curses and threats.

“They’re going to start shooting civilians any second, aren’t they?” John asked as he fixed his collar in place. I nodded. John sighed. “Fuck me, right?”

I exited the Escalade, unfolding my stock as I jumped out the hole where the door used to be. “What,” I asked dangerously, “did I say about controlling the civilians?” I paused, and saw that they both were pointing their guns at a man cowering by the crashed minivan, their lasers and lights illuminating him. I didn’t need to see them to know that their fingers were in their triggers. I did see that the man wasn’t holding anything and was obviously being as compliant as he could. “And what the fuck did I say about pointing weapons at civillians?”

“Uh…” one said, “…I’m thinking ‘don’t point weapons at civilians?’”

“For future reference,” I said, “Only point your weapon at a civilian if you can’t see their hands or if they enter this zone.” I indicated a semi-circular area around the Escalade. “If they start to get too close, use hand signals as well as words. Only pull your weapon if they get within twenty steps or have some sort of weapon. If you see a gun, call it in.”

“Follow those steps to the fucking letter,” John said, coming out towards us, “Or I’ll shoot you myself.” He looked at the man Bushido and Kuniochi had been terrorizing. “What’s his deal?” The man in question was sobbing and pleading. He may have been crying, but it was hard to tell in the rain.

“We don’t know,” one of the two hackers said. “We can’t speak Japanese, he can’t speak English.”

“I think I recognize him,” I said. “He was driving his family somewhere in that minivan.” I pointed to the crumpled minivan. The darkness, rain, fog and flickering headlights shining right at us made it hard to tell, but the driver’s side was empty and the door was open. The front windscreen shattered and bloodstained and the frame made it seem miraculous that anyone inside was even alive, let alone walking.

“Shit…” John said.

“I know,” I said. John began to move to help the man, but before he did, I said, “Hey, do you have a spare flashlight? I want to check to confirm the lack of hostiles and help any civvies as much as I can. Figure if the cops get us that would count for something, right?” Plus, there was the matter of the Geneva Convention and basic morality. John saw the logic and handed me a flashlight.

My first stop was the van we had hit. The man inside, a young Japanese man about my age, was breathing into a paper bag. Shining the light inside with one hand, I knocked on the window with the other. “Sir,” I asked, “are you alright?”  He shook his head, then locked the door. He must have noticed that I was carrying an assault rifle. I sighed and moved on to the Z4.

As I did, I heard Kuniochi and Bushido securing the perimeter in a much more professional manner. Good. That meant we had a chance of not hurting civvies.

That is, assuming any had survived the crash. The BMW had thrown its passenger through the windscreen and into the side of the Escalade. Judging by how much of his brains were showing, the funny angle of his neck, and the stains on the side of the now white Escalade, he was dead. If he was still alive by some miracle, he’d be dead soon. My guess was that he hadn’t been wearing a seatbelt. The hood of the car was crumpled like an egg carton that had been stepped on and all the windows had been cracked to hell and back by the impact. Through the spider web of cracks that had turned the windows snow white, I saw the driver move.

I ran to the driver’s side and knocked away what was left of the window. “Ma’am?” I asked the woman. “Are you OK?” She was slumped over her airbag. Her evening dress and much of the interior of her car was surprisingly clean, her gauzy blue-green dress with sequins only slightly ruffled and the gray and black leather of the interior mostly spotless. “Ma’am.”

She turned and looked at me. Her nose was broken and bleeding, her lips were cut, one of her formerly perfect teeth was loose, and her blood was causing her makeup to run. It was hard to tell because one of her eyes was swelling up, but I think the pupils were different sizes. Bits of safety glass glinted in her hair as she moved. “Kouta?” she asked, her voice slurred.

Shit. That was probably the person she had been driving with. “No.” I said. “Do you speak English?”

“H…hai… I mean yes,” she said. “I speak English. I can speak English.”

Ok, that would be useful. Then I saw her attention drifting to where her passenger had impacted. “Hey!” I said sharply. “Look at me. Look at me.” She did. “Can you get the door open?” This served two purposes. The first was that if she looked at her passenger, she’d most likely be a gibbering wreck for the next few hours. If I hadn’t gone through Hell Semester, I’d be wondering how she could even function right now. The other reason was that I wasn’t sure if she would be safe in there. I needed her out of the car in case it was a time bomb.

She began pushing the door. As she did, I heard one of the people in the Bushido costumes shout, “Hey, I’m seeing movement further up!”

“Listen,” I said to the woman, “I’m going to check something out. If I’m not back when you get out of there, I want you to move behind the wheel near the engine. That will keep you safe for a little while. Do you understand?” She nodded. I continued. “If you hear gunfire, leave through the window and run towards the exit ramp.” I looked at her feet. She was wearing six-inch heels. “Do you have any shoes without heels?”

She nodded. “I do. They don’t really go with my dress…”

“Doesn’t matter,” I said, “if things go bad, and if you can run in those shoes, they may just save your life.” I looked for the exit. It was about fifty meters away. “You may need to sprint fifty meters. You won’t be able to do that in heels.” She nodded. “I’m going to be meeting with my friends. They…”

“Oh shit!” I heard one of the hackers yell. “Gun! Gun! Guh…!”

Maccabees and Ballpeens have distinctive sounds due to the extremely unconventional ammo and mechanism they use. Mostly, it’s just loud, louder than any other gun in their respective categories. The first burst wasn’t a Maccabee or Ballpeen. It was hard to tell who shot second, but I could tell that Lydia and Andrew were engaging multiple hostiles.

“Shit,” I said. “Listen, you need to crawl out of here and run. Use the other side.” I turned to head to the gunfire, turning the flashlight off and putting it in my vest’s webbing. “JOHN!” I yelled, “FINISH UP AND GET OVER HERE!”

On the side of the highway moving in the other direction, I saw a van pull up and start to disgorge people. I moved to the trunk, raised my gun and switched to thermal vision. That was the only way I would be able to see the subjects. They were armed. Of course they were.

“WAIT!” I yelled. “GET DOWN! CONTACT LEFT! CONTACT LEFT! CONTACT LEFT!” I began firing, trying to suppress them.

I was too late. One of the subjects had pulled out a rocket launcher and fired, causing him to light up on my scope. I saw John a few meters away from the minivan backlit by an explosion. He was firing his Maccabee at the van as well. The sound of his bursts of automatic fire and my semi-auto shots were much louder than their weapons. The enemy also discovered very quickly that hiding behind the walls of a van did nothing against someone with a Maccabee and X-ray/sonar scope.

John eventually got back to the Z4. By that point, the subjects in the minivan were either dead or thoroughly suppressed. “So,” he said, still aiming his gun at the now fully perforated van, his see-through magazine showing it was still mostly full, “things are going well, aren’t they?”

 

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Track 21: Life in the Fast Lane

“So,” I asked Jen, “what’s the smokescreen you’re planning on using?” We were driving down the highway, Jen, Andrew, and Lydia in the middle row. Mayu, John, and I were in the middle. Hirosama was driving and Kaori was on the passenger side. John and I were scanning the road for threats. I didn’t know if he felt it too, but I had a bad feeling.

“Well,” Jen said, “apparently, the vast majority of known spy satellites have a certain flaw. Let’s say someone launches a fairly sloppy hacking attempt on them.”

“Which I just did,” Lydia (at least I think it was Lydia, the costume made it very hard to tell.) “Well, it’s more like a DDoS on all the ones that will cover Japan for the next eight hours…”

“Anyway,” Jen said, cutting her off, “when the hack…”

“Technically, attempt at unauthorized access,” Andrew (at least, I’m pretty sure it was Andrew) interrupted.

“Whatever!” Jen’s outburst made Andrew and Lydia shut up. “When the thing happens, the satellite shuts down. Quite the equalizer, right? And all you really need is a way to contact the satellite.”

“Is that something you used your botnet for?” Mayu asked excitedly.

“Oh hell yeah!” Andy (or Lydia) said. “That’s exactly what that’s for!” He or she laughed. “Can you imagine? Billions of dollars’ worth of government equipment brought down by smart appliances.”

“Yes,” I said dryly. “I honestly can imagine some of these governments dropping a smart bomb on some poor bastard’s home because his toaster is spamming a spy satellite with dank memes.” This truly was the dumbest future.

“Oh don’t be such a killjoy,” Jen said as Lydia and Andrew laughed. “Oh, and Bushido? Kuniochi? In the future, please remember: a magician doesn’t reveal their secrets. Except to their patrons, of course.” Lydia and Andrew got the message and shut up.

We drove along for a little while in silence. Mayu then asked, “So… what is a smart home?”

“Basically,” John said, “it’s a way of connecting various appliances and utilities to the internet. If you want your heating system or AC to be off while you’re at work, but you want your house to be the perfect temperature when you walk in the door? That’s part of a smart home. Want to be able to unlock your door if your parents show up when you’re at work? That’s part of a smart home. Want to have a camera system connected to the internet? That’s part of a smart home. The problem is, these systems are currently kind of a patchwork, fuck up a lot, and are really, really easy to hack. I actually took a class about how to kill people just by using their own smart home.”

“So…” Mayu asked, “is Kage fortress a smart home?”

I considered this for a moment. “Yes. But probably a lot more elegant and secure than most, if you listen to Hiro.”

“Just like a government spy satellite is more elegant and secure than a home security system?” Mayu asked?

I nodded, wondering where Mayu was going with this. She just continued to sit there, smiling her fixed smile. We drove in silence for a while longer.

Eventually, Jen said, “So, apparently the Defenders have figured out how to miniaturize Anti-Jump fields.”

“Really?” John asked. “How do you know?”

“Because,” Jen said, “they were using them. Don’t worry, they aren’t really that good, I was still able to jump. It just took a lot out of me. That reminds me… did we bring the drone?”

“The one with the anti-Anti-Jump field?” one of the people in the Bushido costumes asked. “Got it right here.” There was a sound of a belt being patted. “Your pet genius did it again.”

“I thought you were her pet geniuses,” I said.

“And I thought you had learned to stop asking questions,” Jen responded. “Really, Nate, you have too many habits that will get you killed.” I took the somewhat subtle hint and shut the fuck up.

A long silence followed. During that time, Kaori turned on the BBC. It quickly became apparent that Russia wasn’t the only one having to deal with a sudden influx of what sounded to be Dragon’s Teeth. The partial list seemed to be Germany, Russia, France, South Korea, India and Pakistan. Then, there was the news that Belgium had already fallen. Other countries were also reporting terrorist attacks. It all seemed so unreal.

Mayu was the one to break the awkward silence. “Oh! I’ve been meaning to ask you this, Kagemoto-sama!” she said. She reached into a pocket on her skirt and handed Jen a folded piece of paper. “Does the person I drew look familiar?”

Jen took the paper. “Huh. He looks a lot like Mubashir.”

I tensed. So did John. Mayu must have noticed, but she gave no sign of it. “I am curious,” she said, “where did you meet Mubashir? Was it at this fabled Nowhere Island University?”

“How the hell did you even hear about that?” Jen asked.

“Jacobs-san and Marshall-san both had the logo on their jackets when I first met them,” Mayu said, referring to our hoodies. “The logo is also on the back of their phones, and the phones of Blackmoor-Ward-ojou and Henderson-san. My relative met with me briefly and noted that he was trained there. Or did you mean how did I know who Mubashir is?” Her voice had the same bubbly cheeriness, but I could hear a bit of bitterness underneath.

“Mayu,” I said, “Is now really the time to be talking about this?”

“Considering what’s on the radio,” Mayu asked, her mask of perpetual cheerfulness slipping, “it’s almost too late to talk about it.”

“What is this we’re talking about?” Jen asked.

“Remember how you told me not to ask questions?” I shot back. “You’re not allowed to know, you don’t need to know, and honestly, you don’t want to know.”

“I’m sorry,” Jen said, “I just thought the fact that, you know, being right in the middle of whatever you’re doing would give me some right to know what’s going on.”

“Trust me,” John replied, “this entire thing is so stupid. You don’t want to know.”

“Look,” I said to Mayu, “this is stupid. If you think I’m going to stop you and Charlotte from going after Mubashir, even now, I wouldn’t do anything that could stop you.”

“But if you could,” Mayu said, “you would, wouldn’t you?”

I considered this. “I would want to make sure you realized that Moob’s human,” I said eventually. “Not some sort of weapon or tool.” Mayu was about to say something, but I added, “I’d also want you to talk to some sort of psychologist. You know, make sure you’re in a good place. That sounds reasonable, doesn’t it?” Actually, considering Mayu’s outburst earlier today, Charlotte would probably find that reasonable as well. Maybe I could get what I wanted after all.

May’s already near-albino complexion somehow went even whiter and her eyes widened. She began gripping her rifle much tighter, as if she was trying to hang on for dear life. “Of-of course, Jacobs-san,” she said. I noticed her breathing was labored. I suddenly realized she was having a panic attack. “Completely reasonable.” She laughed, obviously trying to make me think she was fine. It didn’t work. She then turned to face the road ahead. “Completely reasonable.”

There was more silence. Mayu wasn’t relaxing. The road we were driving on was a raised highway. Lydia had apparently checked it ahead of time for roadblocks and there weren’t any. The traffic was at that point where it was as heavy as it could be without slowing down, and there was a bit of a mist and some rain. Occasionally, we had heard helicopters fly overhead. However, there had been one for the past few minutes that had been hovering directly over us. I was starting to get a little suspicious.

Just before I was about to voice my suspicions, I suddenly felt like I had been buried. Jen let out a gasp and Mayu’s grip on her HK 417 somehow got even tighter. “Shit!” either or Lydia or Andrew said, “anti-jumpfield!”

“Launch. The. Drone.” Jen said through gritted teeth.

“We can’t,” Lydia or Andrew said. “The car’s going too fast and the traffic’s too heavy. The wind’ll make it impossible to launch, and a car could hit it.”

“We have a problem,” Kaori said.

“I noticed,” Jen growled, holding her head. Then she snarled at her two techs, pain evident in her voice, “Launch it anyway.”

“It would only be a temporary…”

“The brakes are disabled!” Kaori yelled.

“What?” Jen asked. “Turn off the engine! Use the e-brake!”

“I can’t!” Kaori said, obviously panicking. “The car just keeps accelerating!”

“Heh,” Mayu said, her fixed grin morphing into something malevolent. “Sayonara, baka.” Even I knew what that meant, but before I could do anything, she jumped. Only thin air remained behind: no weapons, no equipment, just air. The seatbelt retracted immediately after.

“Mayu’s gone!” I said. “She just jumped out of here!”

I looked back just in time to see the stop indicator lights of the van in front of us turn red. “Kaori, turn!” Someone yelled that. It may have been me. It may have been someone else. Either way, it was too late. As soon as the last consonant was uttered, we hit the van. Before we had any time to react, something slammed into us from the rear.

We all took some time to recover. I turned to look at John. He was bent forward, blinking in shock. The roof of the Escalade had caved in to dope slap him. “Holy shit,” I said. I turned to the rear. The thing that had hit us was an eighteen-wheeler. “Holy shit,” I said again.

“Yeah, I know, right?” John said. He looked just as freaked out as I felt.

Then the helicopter above us smashed into a building nearby.

“Ok,” I said as everyone groaned, “everyone, sound off. Tell me what your status is.”

“We’re a little…” someone from the middle row began.

Then the minivan hit us.

 

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Track 20: We Have Big Gun

We headed towards Jen, our guns still up, but our fingers resting on the guards instead of the triggers. “Don’t worry,” Jen said, “they’re all dead.” She closed her eyes. “They’re all dead. Now, excuse me, I need to rest.”

“First off,” I said, “I’ll believe that when I fucking see it. And second, they’re not done. I bet we’re going to see a follow-up strike pretty soon.”

That woke Jen up. “You’re right. Fuck. Ok, we need to get our stuff. Meanwhile, I’m going to get Andrew and Lydia to give us some cover. Then I’m going to get my game face on.”

We headed into the room that sort of doubled as a main entrance/mud room for farm hands to take off their boots. Immediately, I saw a biker with several holes in his center mass lying against the wall, a surprised look on his face. Near his hand lay a Maccabee, one of the assault rifles that had been made by Nari and me. Seeing as that was a hell of a lot better than what I currently had, I bent down to pick it up. In the background, we could hear a TV.

When I did, I noticed that it had several attachments that weren’t factory-standard. In fact, they were the first third-party add-ons for the Maccabee and the Ballpeen. The magazine, for instance, was a prototype octa-stacked magazine, identifiable by the cartoon octopus. The scope was a combination video/x-ray/sonar/thermal/ultraviolet scope. I knew for a fact that there were only twenty prototypes and fifty production models in existence. “Jen,” I said, my voice dangerous, “what the hell is all this shit on my gun?”

“Oh God, Nathan, are you going full tech bro on me?” Jen asked, then patronizingly added, “You realize that once you sold your weapons to the Boston PD, you don’t get a say in what happens to them any…”

She was cut off by the sound of gunfire. We turned around, raising our weapons. That’s when I realized that the idiot who had chosen this gun had elected to put on the twenty-four inch barrel instead of the normal sixteen inch barrel, its heavier brother of equal length, or the nine inch barrel that was, you know, actually designed for this situation. I found this out because the barrel had literally caught on the doorframe.

“Wait,” Jen said, just as I had gotten the barrel unhooked from the door frame, “that’s from the TV.”

“Let’s check it out,” I said, “just to make sure.” I honestly kind of wanted it to be a continuation of the firefight. If it was, that meant I wouldn’t have to watch how I had almost single-handedly sent two peaceful cities into a panic over terrorism. Still, we moved towards the sound of the gunfire.

As we did, I suddenly realized that it couldn’t have been me. First off, it was still going on. There had only been one engagement I had had that could have been going on this long, and no cameras could have recorded it. There were also too many explosions. Plus, there seemed to be a Japanese reporter covering it live, with a lot of people yelling and screaming in what sounded to be Russian. That definitely ruled out something I had done, as I had never had fired a shot in front of a TV crew, and certainly had never been to Russia.

When we got into the TV room, I stopped and stared. Of course, the three other bikers who had been guarding us were all dead. One had been blown up with a well-placed grenade. The other two had been taking down with expertly placed bursts from an assault rifle. Two Ballpeen SMGs and one Maccabee plus assorted magazines and ammo boxes lay on a table far out of reach from the three dead men.

However, the thing that stuck out the most to me was what the images on TV depicted. Despite the fact that it had taken a few rounds of shrapnel, I could still see what looked to be a naval base under heavy attack. The reporter, a wild eyed Asian woman in a skirt suit and heels, was crouched behind some sandbags and desperately describing the situation in Japanese. To the left were a variety of drab concrete buildings. To the right, a destroyer was moored to the dock. Up the road, there was a hastily constructed barricade of sandbags and barbed wire manned by what looked to be Russian soldiers. They were supported by two BMPs (basically, Russian tank-like things designed to carry troops and kill infantry) and the guns on the destroyer. We didn’t have a clear view of what they were fighting. I did know that whatever it was, it was bad enough that multiple shots from the destroyer’s cannon hadn’t destroyed it.

The camera panned to people farther down the docks, showing that several subs, destroyers, and even an aircraft carrier were moored at the dock. It then zoomed in on people close by, desperately trying to get destroyer free. There were also others trying to get on board the carrier, some sailors, some soldiers, even a few civilians. I guessed similar scenes were happening at every ship. It panned back down the docks, showing that more barricades were being prepared.

The camera was then violently jerked to look at a group of Russian soldiers. The leader of the group, who I noted with a shock was younger than I was, said something in Russian that I assumed translated to “What the fuck are you still doing here? Get on the Goddamned boat!” The reporter, switching to what seemed to be broken Russian tried to protest.

Suddenly, there was a flash of light and the camera went dead. After a few seconds, the view switched from static to a pair of stunned anchors. I looked around. Kaori, Lydia, Hirosama, Andrew, and Mayu had come down while we had been watching. I noticed that both Lydia and Andrew were dressed like a villain called Bushido. I briefly wondered if that explained his long disappearance a while back and his newfound ability to be in multiple places at once. I had to admit, I was impressed at how the future biker samurai costume had been adjusted to mask Lydia and Andrew’s physical differences. I also noticed that Mayu had a black eye, a cut and puffy lip and several bruises from the beating Jen had given her, yet still was smiling her standard smile.

Hirosama and Kaori were also in costume as well. I suppose that I should call them Tatsu and Dokustsu, now that they were in costume. Both costumes were dark red and samurai-inspired like Jen’s, but the Dokusutsu costume had a seemingly eyeless hood and intricate conical hat done up to look like flame. The Tatsu costume had a dragon mask that left the mouth exposed and no gloves. A gas mask hung from around her neck.

Before I could ask about the costumes, Jen said, “Alright, the Defenders aren’t going to be spending their time watching the news, so neither should we. Bushido, Kuniochi, how long will it take to set up the smokescreen?”

One of the two people in the Bushido costume (I honestly couldn’t tell which one was Andrew and which one was Lydia, that’s how good their costumes were at disguising them) took out a laptop with an antenna attached and said, “Ten minutes or never, if something goes freakishly wrong.” The villain’s voice was extremely distorted.

The other said, “In most cases, it shouldn’t take more than three minutes.”

“Good,” Jen said. “Tatsu, Dokusutsu, get the car disguised and ready. Keep an eye out. Our consultants think there may be a second round.”

“Hai, Kagemoto-sama,” Tatsu and Dokusutsu both said in unison, bowing. They quickly moved off.

Jen turned to me and John. “You two, take Mayu and see if you can find anything useful. I’ll be up in the room, putting my war face on.”

“Do you want us to get our clothes?” I asked.

Jen, already almost out of the room, cocked her head, thinking about it. “No,” she said. “we have a safe house in mind. It should be secure long enough for us to change into civvies, then head to the Embassy.” She then began to head off. “In the meantime, your names while in disguise will be Killer and Driver.”

“Ok,” I said, “John… Driver, whatever, you and Mayu, go get any firearms, explosives, body armor, backpacks, and face masks you can find in the room. I’ll consolidate anything useful from the bikers and breachers.”

As John and Mayu moved out, I asked the two costumed hackers who had just pushed off a corpse from one of the couches and sat down to type, “You guys have any spare gloves?”

“Yeah,” the one who wasn’t typing said. S/he opened a pouch on their belt and pulled a handful of rubber gloves. “Sometimes I wear these over my costume gloves because they’ve got some pretty unique fibers in them. Not usually a problem, but sometimes I like to play it extra safe.”

“Makes sense,” I said as I pulled the gloves on. “By the way, what kind of weaponry do you two have?”

“I got a Glock 33,” the one who’d given me the gloves said, patting a holster. “Lydia’s got a Glock 29. We’ve also got a few party favors.”

“Anything else?” I asked.

“Why would we need anything else?” the one sitting at the laptop asked. This time I was able to identify her as Lydia.

I sighed, leaning my Maccabee against the other couch. I walked over to the Ballpeen with the sniper barrel. As I changed it to the ultra-short barrel, I said, “Your Glocks are going to be able to kind of penetrate Level I and Level II body armor. The problem is these guys tend to wear Level III and IV body armor. Those are designed to take multiple AK rounds.” I finally got the more appropriate barrel in. “This guy, however, is designed to defeat standard Dragon’s Teeth Legionary armor at pistol range, which I’d guess to be Level VII.” I tossed the weapon to the person I assumed to be Andrew. “Safety’s on. It works a lot like an M4, but the magazine release is a pistol release and you cock it and check it like an AK.”

Andrew caught it. When he did, he accidentally pressed the trigger on the foregrip that turned on the laser and light. This one had been set to solid laser on trigger. “Yo, this is awesome!” Andrew said, laughing like a kid finding a cool feature on an old toy for the first time. He flipped down the grip and began playing with the light and laser settings. I noticed his finger was on the gun’s trigger as well as the laser/light’s trigger.

“Hey,” I said, putting my souvenir guns on the couch opposite the villains, “keep that shit pointed in a safe direction.” The safety was still on, I knew for a fact that there wasn’t a round in the chamber (I had checked before I switched barrels like a safe person,) and I had removed the magazine (Again, part of good barrel-changing discipline.) Still, trigger discipline says a lot about whether or not you should work with a person.

“Sorry,” he said. Even though his voice was extremely distorted, he still sounded sheepish. I began to replace the barrel on my Maccabee with a more appropriate 14-inch heavy-barrel. Meanwhile, Andrew sat next to Lydia, suitably cowed. “Hey,” Andrew asked when I had put in a standard sixty-round mag, “any other cool stuff you can show me?”

Smiling, I began to explain him the various advantages of the gun, such as its MP-5 style stock, how the magazines worked, and how to change barrels. I was just explaining the advantages of a tactical sling when John and Mayu came back in, their arms full of weapons. John had wrapped his bundle in plate carriers, Mayu had hers in two backpacks.

“Nice,” I said, “but we can’t take all of them and I don’t want prints.”

“Of course,” Jen said, walking into the room, now in her Hinomoto Oniko costume. “That’s why we’re going to burn the building down when we leave.”

“Fair enough,” John said, handing me a ski mask and my pistols.

As I put my mask on, I told John, “Thanks. By the way, I want you to take one the other Maccabee and put it into a SAW configuration. You’ll be the closest thing we’ve got to a machinegunner out there and I do not want to be trapped out there without some suppressive fire.”

“Gotcha,” John said. “I also brought some medkits.”

We then took the guns we needed. John and I just took the Maccabees, our personal guns, and the body armor we had worn when we’d rescued Jen. Andrew and Lydia took the Ballpeens and a Benelli M3. Jen took her Kriss Vector and the M3 Grease Gun. Mayu retained her pink VP-70 and took an HK 417 with an underbarrel M-26 and EOTech holographic reflex sight, a Walther PPK, the shitty pistol I had hoped to abandon, the PM-9 I had taken from Jen’s rescue, and a relatively undamaged plate carrier that had obviously come from one of the Defenders that was loaded with grenades of various types. I noticed that Mayu had somehow managed to conceal her selected pistols extremely well.

When we were done, Jen said, “Ok. Let’s get to the car.”

“Are we really going to be taking the Escalade?” I asked. “Isn’t that a little obvious?”

I was pretty sure Jen smiled under the mask as she gestured for us to follow her. We did. When we got to a barn, I saw the Escalade. It had changed color from black to white and I’m pretty sure the license plates were different as well. “What do you think?” Jen asked.

Mayu immediately began teleporting around the car like an anime character, gushing in Japanese. “First off,” I said, “It’s still a big luxury American SUV in a country that hates SUVs. Secondly… should Mayu be able to jump that much?”

“You know…” Jen said, “I’m in the 99th percentile of Jumpers in terms of teleportation. That kind of strain would kill me.” Mayu stopped her jumping and giggled nervously. She didn’t even look strained. “Then again, everything about her is somewhat impossible.”

 

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Track 19: We’ve Got a Fast Car

“Is she dead?” I asked John.

“Yeah,” he said. “She’s pretty dead.”

“Just so you know,” I said, “I’ve seen at least two other people. Have you seen any others?”

“Well,” John said, “she’s the sixth person I’ve killed in this dump.” He sighed. “Still, there might be more I haven’t seen. You want a better gun?”

He was talking about the revolver I had picked up. “Definitely,” I said, “but I’m not leaving this guy behind for them to get prints off.” John reached down and gave me the gun from the dead woman. It was a Walther PPK with a tiny silencer. As he did so, I asked, “Do you have an escape plan?”

“Well,” he said, “either someone threw out a perfectly good Skyline or we’re stealing it.”

“Either way,” I said, “I’m down with that. Lead the way.” True to his word, an orange 2002 Nissan Skyline GTR was waiting for us, almost hidden among the garbage. The way it was hiding seemed almost deliberate.

“Hey, John,” I said, “can you pop the trunk? Just to satisfy my curiousity.” He did. Inside the trunk, underneath the garish spoiler, someone had managed to stuff several suitcases. I popped one open.

“What is it?” John asked.

“Either someone is clandestinely lending their neighbor a lot of sugar,” I said, “or we’ve stumbled upon an LSD buy.” I considered the case for a moment. “You know, we should probably leave the briefcases.”

John walked over and looked at the case. “I mean, it could be cocaine,” he said hopefully. “That’s less expensive, less likely to get them annoyed if we interrupt their deal. I mean, we’re gonna let them keep their controlled substance either way, but…”

“Nah,” I said, “It’s more cubed. Not powdery enough.” I looked at the car. “Besides, this is a nice car. It’s probably part of the deal.”

“I realize it’s a sweet car,” John said. “They should have realized it’s a sweet car and guarded it. Plus, they can get it back if they can find where we ditch it.”

“There’re three other cases in the trunk,” I said. “Want to bet there’s more LSD in it?”

John screwed up his face, estimating grams of LSD in a suitcase, then converting to dollars, then using that and other data to calculate ability and willingness to track us back to the US and do horrible things to us and our families. Finally, he said, “Fuck it. We’ve met scarier and pissed them off worse, and I’ve always wanted to drive a Skyline.”

“Fair enough,” I said. “Let’s get the fuck outta here.”

We then removed all the suitcases of LSD and made a quick check for other valuables. Then John hotwired the car and began negotiating the labyrinth of refuse. When he finally hit the road, he gunned the motor. The acceleration pinned me back in my seat.

“Hey John,” I said as the needles on the speedometer and tachometer rapidly rose, “maybe slow it down, ok? This shit feels like a fucking cop magnet and I do not want to get pulled over.”

“Well…” John said, “remember when you asked how they were planning on dealing with Mayu?”

“Yeah?” I asked.

“I keep coming back to what she said,” John said. “You know, about killing Mayu.”

“She wasn’t informed about it,” I said, “in fact, her exact words were ‘I’m not informed about it.’”

“Yeah,” John said, “That means either they don’t have a plan or it’s already in motion. Plus… I don’t know. It seemed like she knew something she wasn’t supposed to say.”

I opened my mouth, considered the logic and John’s uncanny ability to open his mouth when things were about to go wrong. “Can this go any faster?” I asked.

“Physically?” John said. “Yes. In practical terms, no.” He sighed. “I mean, who doesn’t want to go a hundred fifty miles per hour?”

We continued on the road. Eventually, we got to a large town or small city halfway between our hideout and the dump we had left half a dozen corpses in. Suddenly, traffic slowed to a crawl. We had gone from about forty five miles per hour to five. A long line of cars blocked our path.

“Should we find an alternate route?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” John said. “I only gave a slight skim of the map. I got alternate routes, but I don’t have alternate alternate routes. Plus, I have no clue where the blockage is.”

“Fair enough,” I said. There seemed to be a blockage somewhere, causing traffic to only flow in one direction.

We continued inching down the road at a painfully slow pace. Meanwhile, I don’t know why, I was looking at the roofs of the two-to-four-story buildings we were going by. Suddenly, I saw something jump between the roofs. “Hey John,” I asked, “Did you see…?”

“The roadblock ahead?” John asked. “Yes, I do.” I looked ahead. “Roadblock” was less the word to describe it and more “massive perimeter around a specific building.” JSDF soldiers and various light vehicles surrounded what appeared to be a small campus. They looked on edge, and were all dressed for chemical warfare. They also were checking the various vehicles that were passing quite thoroughly, looking at licenses and registrations, opening trunks, and wheeling mirrors under the chasis. I also saw a few of them dragging Jersey barriers, sandbags, and crewed weapons and laying them in defensive positions.

“I actually did not notice that,” I said. “But no, I was talking about the thing on the roof. I thought I saw something get up and then vanish.” I considered the vast array of military equipment before us. “You know,” I said, “we are at a turn we could easily take. Let’s do it and skip… whatever this is.”

“But no one else is turning,” John said. “It might look suspicious or there…” He was cut off by a burst of gunfire. The soldiers in front of the facility turned around to face it or went prone. They all started shouting. “Was that an M-249?” John asked.

Then there was a massive explosion. A large part of the building’s exterior bulged like a boil, then burst in a mass of debris and fire. The force sent some bricks, office supplies, and what looked to be body parts at least as far as we were. I knew this because a keyboard and two staplers hit the windshield right in front of my face like a shotgun blast and something big and heavy landed on the roof, leaving a dent. Other cars suffered similar damage. Burning paper, cloth, and insulation fell like snow. Understandably, there was screaming.

One of those people was me. “FUCKING DRIVE, JOHN!” I yelled as the smaller stuff sailed towards my face. Before I had said his name, John had already slammed the gas.

We sped the rest of the way. John also decided to go onto the highway, and damn any possible checkpoints. “The fuck was that?” John asked. We had been silent for a long time, due to both of us panicking and we were close to the safe house.

“Not us,” I said. “Not Jen’s merry band of maniacs, not our hosts, and I kinda doubt that the Defenders of Fuji or Charlotte’s people would want to blow that up.” I paused, considering everything that had happened on this trip. “You know,” I said, “unless the JSDF screwed up massively, I think there might be another game of James Bond being played here.”

John groaned. “Hey,” I said to him, “whatever they’re doing … isn’t our problem. Doesn’t that make you feel better?”

John considered this. “You know what? It does. It really does. But you know what makes me feel even better?” He pointed to a cornfield ahead of us. “That is where the safehouse is! In fact… oh fuck me.”

“What is it?” I asked.

“A white van just went straight into the cornfield,” John said angrily. “Fuck me, right?” As he said this, he made a sharp turn, driving us through five lanes of traffic and a median.

“John, what the fuck?” I asked, each syllable seemingly delivering a new near-death experience as cars clipped past us.

As we skidded onto the dirt road, John said, “Hey, we aren’t going home without Mayu. Also, as much as I hate her, Jen, and all of Jen’s creepy friends, leaving them to die is going to be the kind of thing that gives me nightmares.”

“Yeah, same here,” I said, “but maybe don’t drive like a fucking… like a fucking…” I searched desperately for something that appropriately conveyed how stupid that was. I gave up and just said, “You and whoever was driving that little compact came close to killing me today then a team of over eleven trained professionals!”

“Shit,” John said. Under the roar of the engine, we had both heard a thump that sounded like a hand grenade. The pop of gunfire began soon after that. “They’ve started. We need to…”

There was a large bang and our car began to spin like a top. When it finally came to a stop, John and I got out, drawing our weapons. “What happened?” I asked. “Are we under fire?”

John checked the front driver side tire. “I think we hit a rock. Tire blew out, we went into a spin.”

“Ok,” I said, “I guess this means we’re walking. Let’s move.”

We headed out quickly but cautiously, scanning the area for threats. At first, the gunfire was intense, but after that, it dropped off to scattered bursts with the occasional explosion. They became less and less frequent as we moved forwards. Eventually, they stopped altogether. That wasn’t a good sign.

We saw our enemy at the same time they saw us. The van was parked directly outside the house, and two operatives in body armor, helmets and ski masks were guarding it. Behind them, the farm house was burning slightly. As soon as the two operatives saw us, they raised their rifles. At that range, an idiot could reliably hit us with the rifles they had. Judging by how fast they were raising their weapons, they weren’t idiots. We, however, had pistols designed for concealability rather than range. Any attempt to hit them would be a dice roll at best.

Before any of us could fire, however, Jen suddenly appeared standing between the two men, pressing a Berretta to each of their heads. There were two pops and both the men fell dead. Jen gave them each an extra security shot just to make sure they were really dead. Then she slid down the side of the van.

John and I both looked at her in horror. Then we ran to her. When we got close, we noticed with relief that she had no injuries apart from what Mayu had given her earlier. However, she did look much more tired, plus she was visibly trembling. “Ah,” she said, smiling weakly, “Nathan. John. You would not believe the day I’ve had.”

 

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Track 16: Have Some Tea

“So,” I said as we walked by the second checkpoint, “Now do you admit I was right about leaving those things behind?” By “those things” I meant our weapons and armor.

John sighed. “Ok,” he said, “I admit it. We were almost screwed there. But we could have gone around it. Or we could have gone to the third-nearest consulate like I suggested.”

“Honestly,” I said, “I think we would have encountered some over-zealous police officers with metal detector wands there as well.”

“Yeah,” John said, “but at least I wouldn’t have had to deal with that asshole who patted me down for fifteen minutes. Seriously, if I wasn’t up to anything, I’d sue him for sexual harassment.”

“Well,” I said, looking at the free leather jacket with spiked shoulders I had been given, “we are dressed like bikers.”

The decision to go to a British consulate had been easy. The hard part had been choosing which one. We both agreed that the nearest one, considering we had just been on a murder spree in the city it was in, would be too hot for quite a while. John had wanted to go to the third-nearest one, but I thought it would be too far away. I had wanted to take the Escalade because it had tinted windows to protect us from prying eyes. John had wanted to take public transportation so we’d blend in. He also wanted us to at least bring some sort of weapon, whereas I thought that if we were going to take public transportation, we should avoid bringing anything that would set off a metal detector. Eventually, we had all gotten what we’d wanted and it had worked thus far.

“How much more further until we get to it?” I asked.

“Wait,” John said. He then pulled out a photograph, inspected it, then looked at a building a little down the street. “That’s it,” he said pointing to the building he had compared the photo to. “Should be it, just let me check the address.”

“I’m pretty sure you’re right,” I said. “I mean, it’s got a Union Jack and matching awning.”

“True,” John said, “but it could be some weird theme café.”

“The plan’s for you to wait outside until I come get you in case something goes wrong inside, right?” I said. “If it’s the wrong building, you’ll just see me a lot sooner than expected.”

John nodded. “Good luck, man.” As I walked away, he said, “You remember where the back-up point is, right?”

“Yeah, creepy dump. Hey, if it’s a weird café,” I said as I turning back to look at him, “you want me to get you a coffee or something?”

“Nah,” John said. “Save your money. You may need it for a payphone.” I laughed. “Hey,” John said, “don’t laugh. You might need one.”

“I know,” I said. And damn did I know it. However, I had a sneaking suspicion that if I needed a payphone in this country, I’d be well and truly fucked. I’d have to travel out to the boonies to find a place backwards enough to have them, and even then, there’d be a chance they’d have skipped payphones and gone straight to modern cellphones. Hell, I wasn’t even sure Japan had boonies.

I walked up to the door. Judging by the tinted glass and the sign on it that said “Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth’s Royal Embassy,” it was probably the right place. I flashed John a thumbs-up and then opened the abnormally heavy door. Inside were two metal detectors leaving me no way choice but to walk through. They were manned by a Japanese police officer with an Akita Inu and two Brits in what seemed to be fatigues and Level IIIA body armor. Beyond them was a tasteful waiting room with prominent framed pictures of the Queen and what I assumed to be the Prime Minister and the ambassador to Japan. There were some other framed pictures including posters for British Invasion bands and famous paintings of even more famous British naval victories, all tastefully laid out but not as prominently placed or as expensively framed.

“…the bird’s puttin’ about the fookin’ Statue of Liberty,” one of the guards said in a Scottish accent, “an’ fook all’s ‘appening. An’ like some kinda mastermind, I says to ‘er, ‘the fook you still doin’ ‘ere, lass? There’s nought ‘ere!’ And then, just as I said that, she finds the bloody forklifts. She gets innae one o’ the things and starts rooning people down an’ she says to me, ‘An’ you said there’s nought ‘ere, ya idjit!”

With that, the three guards burst out laughing. The Scottish guard was about to say something else, but before he could start telling another story, I said, “Hi. I’m doing business with Charlotte Blackmoor-Ward. I can’t find her and I think she…”

“Oh fuckin’ ‘ell,” the other guard in fatigues said in a Cockney accent. “One of you.”

“Errr, excuse me?” I said. Everyone else seemed to be as confused. Even the Akita cocked its head and whimpered in confusion.

“Yeah, Purvis, what’re you on about?” the Scottish guard asked.

“When you get as many hours in Embassy detail as I do,” Purvis said, “you get to know the signs. Only the bloody loonies ask for a Blackmoor-Ward. Like ‘ow the Yanks get someone every few weeks askin’ about Area 51.”

“Well,” I said as patiently as I could, “there’s a first time for everything. I’m not crazy, and I do need to see Charlotte.”

Purvis rolled his eyes. “Alright,” he said, “I’ll humor you and see if anyone wants to talk to you.” He turned to head towards a reception desk. Over his shoulder, he called out to his fellow workers, “don’t let ‘im come any farther in unless I give ‘im the ok.”

When he got to the phone, he said, “Got someone down ‘ere, a bloody Two-Twenty-One…. No, not spouting off bollocks, just wants to see… What’s he look like? Got a beard and glasses… Yeah. Yeah.” He suddenly looked at the phone in surprise. “Really? I mean, of course, sir.” He looked up from the phone and said, “Right, you. Go up to the elevator. Third floor, Military Attaché’s office.”

“Thank you,” I said with some accidental venom. I walked into the elevator near to the left, my breath catching as I walked by the scanners. The police officer and his very big dog noticed, but said nothing. As I walked to the elevator, I took a quick note of map of the fire exits by the elevator. Apart from the elevator, there seemed to be only one staircase and exits were only on the ground floor. Luckily, the stairs would take me to the rear of the building.

I shook my head to clear those thoughts as the doors slid opened with a ding. No, I wasn’t going to need to run out of here. This was a secure building. The Defenders of Fuji would have to have someone on the inside to get in here on short notice. Or they’d have to use enough force to attract the attention of local police. I was safe.

The doors soon opened again and I found myself literally right across from the Military Attaché’s office. According to the plaque, his name was Lieutenant Simon Windbrooke. Before I could knock on it, the door swung open revealing a very high-strung man in a green suit with military bits. “Ah, Mr. Jacobs!” he said in an accent Eliza would refer to as “posh as fuck.” “Or is it Mr. Marshall? Either way, I have heard quite a bit about you.” He then laughed. It was the most annoying sound I’d ever heard in my entire life.

“Yeah,” I said. “Uh, I’m sure you realize that the stuff I’m involved in is kinda sensitive.” I paused, waiting for him to take my meaning. “Soooo, can I come in?”

“Ah, yes, of course,” Lieutenant Windbrooke said. “My apologies, I do believe I’ve left my manners in England.” He then gave a laugh somehow even more annoying laugh. “Do come in, I’ve brewed a cup of tea for you.”

He then ushered me into his office. Apparently, there were two rooms: his real office further in and a nicely furnished, if more than a little cramped, area he could meet with guests. On the wooden table was an electric kettle and a cup of tea. “Come now,” Windbrooke said steering me into the seat facing the teacup. “Drink up, drink up. You must have had quite a rough time of it, if what I’ve been hearing is true.”

I sat down. As I did, I noticed that Windbrooke had maneuvered himself into my blindspot. “So,” I said, carefully stirring my tea, “what have you been hearing about me?”

“Oh, Charlotte’s been worried sick about you two, dear boy,” Windbrooke said. “What with you being stuck with that vicious psychopath. Come on, drink  up.”

“Which one?” I said jokingly, after lifting the teacup but not drinking it.

“Why, Mayu Nakashima, of course!” Windbrooke said. “Girl’s been trained as an assassin, trapped in some alternate dimension, brainwashed about some mad god or other, and come back to find the plan she’s been programmed to carry out is obsolete. It’s a wonder she’s not a raving loony at this point.” He then suspiciously asked, “Who else would I be talking about?”

I tensed. Before, I had just had nagging doubts about Windbrooke. Like why there was only one teacup that he kept insisting I drink, and how it had been prepared before I had even walked in. Now, for some reason, he knew about the Architect and Mayu, but didn’t seem to realize that I was with Jen and her entourage. If Charlotte had been the one briefing him, he would know about Jen and would have no idea about the Architect or Mayu’s… thing about him.

Still stirring the tea, I asked, “So, how long have the Defenders had you on their payroll?”

An arm circled around my throat. The shock caused me to spill some tea on my leg. It was painful, but it gave me an idea. “It would have been so much easier,” Windbrooke hissed, “if you had AGGGH!”

He staggered back, clutching his face where I’d splashed hot tea in it. Before he could recover, I had gotten up and turned around. Making use of the momentum, I smashed the teacup into his face like brass knuckles. “Drunk my tea?” I asked. I then stabbed him in the neck with the remaining bits of porcelain still attached to the handle. “You first, I insist.”

As I watched him fall bleeding to the floor, I felt an odd mix of self-disgust and pride. Contrary to what you see in films, I’d never had an opportunity to drop a one-liner like that. I tossed the piece of china away, flung off the stupid biker jacket, then checked myself for blood. Luckily, it had only gotten on my face. As I dabbed at my face, I considered my options.

First thing I ruled out was going downstairs to explain what had happened to the two Consulate guards and the cop. At best, I’d be delivered to Charlotte wearing handcuffs. At worst, one or all of them could be working for the Defenders. That meant my best bet would be to get out of there by the rear staircase and hope none of the three decided to go on patrol. After that, I’d get John and start putting distance between us and the Consulate. Which direction, however, was the big question. I decided that I could answer that when I got to John.

Calmly, but purposefully, I left the office and headed for the stairs. Checking to make sure the stairwell door wasn’t set up to trip the fire alarm, I pushed it open. Before I went down, I looked down and listened to make sure no one was coming up. It was clear, so I headed down. As I headed down the stairs, I thanked God nothing else had gone wrong.

That’s precisely when everything else went wrong.

 

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