Track 6: In the Middle of the Night

“I swear,” Eliza said for the seventh time as we trundled along in a Bearcat to the airfield, the sound of helicopters overhead, “I meant to tell you but I was freaked out that they were listening in! I mean, when Krieger butted in on my conversation with Father…”

I listened politely. Again. So did Krieger and the CampSec officers. “Eliza,” I said for the seventh time, “it’s ok.”

“I should have told you,” Eliza said, “but…”

“You told me eventually,” I said. Then I remembered something. “Actually, there’s something I need to tell you.”

“What?” Eliza asked.

“Um, you know that person you had me protect?” I asked.

“Oh good God, the little psycho didn’t contact you, did she?”

“No,” I said, “I just gave a friend a heads-up that she’s coming to see someone.”

Eliza sighed. “Please tell me that…”

“I didn’t tell him about why,” I said. “But he can pass it on to the people who…”

“Oh fuckin’ Christ, Nate,” she said. “D’you really think that… that…” she sputtered, shifting from glaring angrily at me to looking at Krieger suspiciously.

“It’s a lot better than them not realizing she’s coming,” I said. “I mean, can you imagine what happens if she gets…”

“Am I right in thinking that you are talking about Mubashir, Agent Hicks and this mysterious woman from Japan?” Krieger asked.

“You’d be right in thinkin’ we aren’t talking to you,” Eliza said. She then sighed and muttered, “Suppose they’d find out ‘bout Moob sooner or later. Anyway, ‘ow’s this handoff gonna go?”

“Very simple,” Krieger said. “We drive you two to the airfield, your dad picks you lot up, and maybe I have a little chat with him.”

“About what?” I asked.

“Well,” Krieger said, “I’d like to be left alone, obviously. I’d prefer not to have a lot a bunch of gobshites deciding to kill my students. If he can help with that, I’d be very happy. Also, there’s some things I want to ask him about this island. Things that the Blackmoor-Wards specialize in.”

“What do you think the Blackmoor-Wards specialize in?” I asked. “Because you’ve got a pretty good knowledge of spy stuff.”

“There’s stuff on this island,” Krieger said, “that just isn’t right. Not natural, I mean, and from what I can tell, it was a little weird here before Howell ever stepped foot on this island.”

I was about to say how I thought that was stupid. Then I realized that this was an island that, despite appearing insignificant geographically, strategically, and politically, had been somehow important enough for the Japanese to occupy during WWII and the US to expend enough shells and bombs to crater the landscape. During Hell Semester, I had made use of these craters frequently, as well as been bedeviled by them. To top it off, I had even heard stories of people accidentally setting off unexploded ordnance. That battle had occurred in the early forties, and NIU had been founded in the eighties. I closed my mouth.

“If there is something ‘ere,” Eliza said, “Father won’t tell you.”

“Well, I’m sure your dad has his-“ Krieger began.

“Father,” Eliza corrected. Her eyes misted up a bit. “Me dad died a while ago.” She then continued on, more annoyed. “Also, apparently, ‘e won’t tell me or Char what’s up with this bloody island either.” That was disturbing. He had told Eliza and Charlotte some highly sensitive information in the past. Like that they’d broken UNIX codes and I was working for them.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Krieger said.

Suddenly, a voice crackled over the radio on Krieger’s shoulder. “‘Allo, boss,” a staticky voice with a French accent said, “are you there, over?”

“Yeah,” Krieger said. “I copy. What is it, Hollande?”

“Kowaleski and Obiozor are reporting some strange heat signatures around the airfield and Kassem is reporting something triggering the pressure sensors. Should we abort?”

“No!” Krieger almost shouted. Then he calmed down. “I mean, we’ve got a buncha bloody Brits thinking of wiping us off the face of the Earth over these two. Tell them we’ve got some guests and we need to do the swap a lot faster than we were planning. Maybe send a couple Bearcats to investigate. Krieger out.”

“Got it, boss.” As the French CampSec officer signed off, I could hear the whine of jet engines. The Bearcat stopped for a moment, I heard the sound of a metal grate open, we drove forwards a short ways, then we stopped again.

“Right,” Krieger said, getting up. “Here’s our stop. Oh, before I forget.” He reached under his seat and pulled out a bag. “Your weapons.”

As Krieger and the CampSec guards left the Bearcat, Eliza and I opened the bag. Inside was a Berretta 92 Inox, a two-tone SIG-Sauer P229, a chrome CZ-75, holsters for all the pistols, a G3KA4 modified with rails, vertical foregrip, EOTech hybrid sight, and several magazines for each weapon.  “Holy shit,” I said, quickly moving to get my holsters on my belt and my pistols in my holsters, “I forgot I kept my G3 here.”

“You’ll notice,” Eliza said, smacking a magazine into her pistol and chambering a round, “that you have three different guns, one of ‘em bloody ‘uge, and I’ve only got one pistol.”

“You realize,” I said, “that you’re the one who always carries around a FAL, right?” I grabbed a G3 mag, realized I couldn’t put it in my pants pocket, so I shoved it in my sweater. I was only able to fit three in each, plus one in the gun. That was three G3 mags I couldn’t carry with me. I sighed, and slung it over my shoulder by its broken strap. Then I headed outside to wait with Eliza.

When I got out, I saw we were at the airfield. Lights were illuminating the approach as well as the landing strip and hangars. Parked outside the gate to the airstrip were two Bearcats disgorging heavily armed CampSec troops. A third Bearcat was slowly driving off across the moonscape of overgrown craters, a floodlight on its turret dissolving the night like acid. Beyond that moonscape was the forest. Not even the floodlights made a dent in it

Surrounding the airfield was a tall chain link fence topped with barbed wire and reinforced with sandbags and Jersey barriers. Groups of four patrolled, the interior and there were a series of towers with either floodlights, heavy machineguns, or snipers. I noticed that the ones with floodlights weren’t manned.

“OI, NATE!” I turned around. Despite Eliza yelling, she was being drowned out. The sound of the jet engine was much closer. She was standing near Krieger and surrounded by the CampSec that had been on the Bearcat. “DID YOU LOAD YOUR…”

The jet noises were getting so loud my ear drums felt like they could implode any second. I looked up. Hovering above us and slowly descending was what looked like a private jet modified with VTOL capability. Assuming Eliza wanted me to load my pistols, I did so.

When I looked up again, the VTOL had descended dramatically. The distinctive angel wing pattern of flares lit up the night and the smoke trail of a rocket had whisked past the plane, barely missing it. Meanwhile, many were flinging themselves to the floor and shouting for others to do the same.

Of course, I didn’t realize any of that at the time. I just stared at the plane gormlessly. It wasn’t until a familiar bluish-white light flashed behind me with the accompanying heat surge that I realized what was going on. We were under attack, most likely by the Dragon’s Teeth, and they’d brought one of their bouncy balls of plasma death.

Before I could get down, something grabbed me and forced some sort of cloth to my face. I instinctively held my breath, but still got a whiff of whatever it was coated with and began to feel woozy. As I struggled, I saw a CampSec officer who had been lying near me get up and open fire. I noticed that she was using her scope (which appeared to be a thermal one) and yelling something into her throat mic. Her fire was also very calm. Two shots to my right, then she shifted her aim and fired one to my left. Each set caused a man in futuristic armor to fizzle into existence and fall down, bleeding. I recognized the uniforms. They were Ninja, Dragon’s Teeth units that could literally go invisible. They have shimmery outlines if you shine a light on them and are paying attention, but the best way to spot them is to use thermal imaging. That must have been what the bulky scope on the CampSec guard’s SCAR-H was.

She was aiming for the one holding me when suddenly her head was sliced off mid-neck. Steam smoked off.

Meanwhile, I had drew my P229 from the holster on my left hip, pushed it against where I thought the head of the Ninja was, and pulled the trigger. The Ninja shuddered, tightening his grip temporarily, then collapsed. I followed a second later as leads shot out from an invisible point and hit me in the chest. There was a crackling noise and I blacked out.

I came to, I’m not sure how long, Eliza throwing me over her shoulders like a sack of potatoes and fucking booking it to the now-landed VTOL, Krieger yelling encouragement. Or at least running as fast as she could with a hundred and eighty pounds of dead weight on her back.

I took the opportunity to look around and saw that things were kind of fucked. Several of the watch towers were burning and sagging from the intense head of the Dragon’s Teeth plasma weaponry. Streams of tracer fire raked the cratered area of the field around the airstrip and the forest. Then a rocket arced up from the ground back towards the place in the sky the deluge of gunfire was coming from.

I then had the frustrating experience of being able to feel Eliza talk, but not be able to make out the words. I then suddenly realized I couldn’t hear anything. I could feel Eliza speak, I could feel the backwash of the choppers, but I literally couldn’t hear anything except an annoying ringing in my ears. I guess shooting off one of my pistols had finally deafened me.

Then there was a resounding thump-thump-thump as rockets streamed from the sky onto the ground below. A Hind and a Blackhawk helicopter sporting glow-in-the-dark NIU logos flew directly over our heads, both strafing the ground.

Soon we reached the VTOL. A group of people dressed in fatigues and carrying M4 clones ushered Eliza up the ramp. Once inside, she collapsed.

I rolled off her. “Eliza,” I said, somewhat loudly in case she was deafened, “What you did was amazing. Thank you.” Then I lapsed into unconsciousness.

 

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Track 5: Kidney Stones and Confessions

It was a testament to the deposed Anthony Carter Newton-Howell that he could still sound casual after having been strapped naked to a table for several days. I’m not going to lie, it was also intimidating as hell.

“You’re really not in a position to be making threats,” Krieger said coldly. Behind me, I could hear the rustling of paper.

“Did that sound like a threat?” the President asked innocently. “Nathan, if I’m threatening you I apologize.” Something about the tone of his voice made it clear that it was an insult, but a reasonable person would have some doubts.

We were then interrupted by Zemylachka loudly eating a breakfast sandwich. She had to be deliberately eating the thing as loudly as possible. I recognized the paper bag. It was from Galahad’s Café. They made good food, but even so, the happy noises Zemylachka was making was probably faked.

“Can you stop that?” the President asked.

“Shtop what?” Zemylachka asked, her mouth full of breakfast sandwich.

“Really?” the President asked. “I thought you were more sophisticated than this. You’re just being kind of a dick now.”

“Insults?” Zemylachka asked, after swallowing loudly. “And I was going to give you something to eat if you cooperated.”

“Really?” the President asked suspiciously. “I mean, the goal is to kill me, right? Oh, by the way, assuming you get creative, this’ll probably work in three to six months.”

“But we have so much to learn!” Zemylachka said. I shivered at how she said that. “You could help us a bit.”

“So that’s why this is taking so long,” the President said as Zemylachka moved to kneel beside him. “You know, a lot can change in six months. For instance, I could be a free man having lunch at five-star restaurants in Zurich.”

“Or,” Zemylachka said after loudly swallowing some of her breakfast sandwich, “you could seriously reevaluate your endurance. For instance, how often do you test your ability to go without food?”

“I’m a scientist,” the President said. Krieger and Zemylachka looked at each other and laughed out loud at this. “Ok, I know about science. I think I’m good. I’m not going to break easily.”

“You won’t last a day, you love luxury too much,” Zemylachka said. “Look at your house.”

“Which bloody one?” Krieger asked. “I’ve seen the one on the Volga, the apartment in London, the one in Shanghai…”

“How…?” the President asked. “You shouldn’t know about those.”

“You might want to talk,” Zemylachka said. “Life will get much more comfortable if you cooperate.”

“For instance,” I said, “did you create the Dragon’s Teeth?”

The President stared at me for a second in disbelief. “Are… are you sure you don’t know the answer? You know about the Interdimensional Research Facility, you’d have to be dumber than even I think you are to not know about my hoarding of technology, you just heard those two idiots talk about how rich I am, and you know how much talent I can access here. What do you think?”

I suddenly remembered Kyle Rockford. He was a transgendered man who had gone to NIU with me. His grandfather had taught at NIU and gotten some advanced gene therapy to help him transition. Then the person who had invented the treatment had gone missing. I also remembered Mubashir mentioning the reason Al Qaeda had been on-campus was that the President let them train for a reduced price or free in exchange for favors. Other groups had the same deal, and, according to Moob, the favors usually involved delaying scientific progress made by NIU graduates. “Speaking of the tech hoarding,” I said, suddenly angry, “how many could have been saved, how many lives could have been improved, if you hadn’t gone around ruining your graduates so they couldn’t work?”

The President shrugged. “Millions. Billions. Who cares? It’s a rounding error compared to what the Dragon’s Teeth can save.”

“The Dragon’s Teeth,” I said, “are out of control.”

“You sure?” the President asked. “I mean, I may have lost control of the people I delegated them to, but-“

Krieger and I spoke at the same time. “Sounds like you’ve lost control,” he said.

I, meanwhile, said, “They’re plotting an uprising!”

The President turned to me. “What makes you say that?” he asked, mildly interested.

“I’ve heard them in Korea, remember?” I said. “Their Death Goddess.” The President opened his mouth and I said, “Yes, I know you think that the Final Prophecy is bullshit, I don’t blame you.” Zemylachka and Krieger looked confused, so I added, “Basically, a God or Goddess of Death, a reality-warping entity, some supernatural beings ‘from the sky,’ and their minions are going to duke it out according to a prophecy from the 1500’s. And the thing about the Death Goddess…” I took a deep breath. This was going to sound crazy. “I saw her. Or at least how she or it’s connected to the Dragon’s Teeth.”

“How…?” the President asked, looking at me like I was crazy.

“Dead people took me to see…” I struggled, looking for the words, “the psionic representation of their bond, I guess? It was beautiful, but I had no idea what I was looking at.”

“Do… do you want to see someone?” Zemylachka asked. “Someone who specializes in…” From her tone of voice, it sounded like she was looking for

“Mental wellbeing?” Kreiger supplied helpfully. He then turned back to the President. “Anyway, before we get too distracted, what are you saving everyone from? And how are you planning on getting things under control?”

“The immediate threat?” the President asked. “You’ll meet them in about, oh, a few months. Personally, I’d let the Dragon’s Teeth take over, then let them do their job. Unless they’ve gone truly psychotic, they’re going to fight the bigger fish.”

“And then what?” Kreiger asked.

“You know,” the President said, “I think I’ll save some of that for another time.”

“You aren’t exactly in a position-” Krieger began.

“No, no, no,” Zemylachka said. “Is fine, is fine, I think. Interrogation, even torture, is like therapy.” She reached into the bag and brought out a breakfast sandwich and placed in on the President’s chest. She then reached in and brought out an IV bag. “After I ensure more productive sessions, I will feed you your treat.”

As she stuck the bag into him, I asked, “So, what is that?”

“Yeah,” the President said. “I’m a little interested as well.”

“Some calcium, some oxalate, bit of uric acid,” Zemylachka said. “Harmless, really.”

“Oh my God,” I said, suddenly realizing what she was doing. “You… you’re giving him artificial kidney stones.” In case you’ve never had one, if they get big enough, they’re painful. I’d never experienced one, but I had heard a medically-minded friend talk about them once. “You’re a monster.”

Zemylachka rolled her eyes. “Of course I am. Have you not been paying attention?”

 

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Track 4: You Got Me Up in a Cage

The battle to take the campus had, from what I could tell from the various safe areas I had been stored in, been chaotic and brutal. Nobody, especially Campus Security, could tell who was on what side. To top it off, some of the students, staff and faculty appeared to have taken the opportunity to settle old grudges and/or enrich themselves.

Two days later, the campus was secure again. The last burst of gunfire had been very methodical and it was around this time Krieger came to collect me. “‘Allo, Boyke!” he said, popping his head into the room. “Would you like to talk with a deposed despot?”

As he walked into the room, two people filed in. I recognized both of them. One, a blond woman a little older than I was (I think her name was Edda Stauffenberg,) I only knew of because she had been in Hell Semester the year after me. She wore a blouse, grey slacks and a black Kevlar vest loaded with grenades and ammo and carried a G36C. One of the few clues to the fact that she hadn’t started her NIU career in Shadowhaven was that her hair hung loosely down beyond her shoulders.

The other I recognized as Oro Okoro. We had been in Hell Semester together and, while not close, we had both been in a certain short-lived club. She had gotten her dark hair cut short and wore yellow-brown fatigues and a similar vest. She carried a pump action shotgun and had her SMLE slung over her shoulder. I also noticed that all my visitors had a blue ribbon with a red stripe around the center tied across their right arms.

“I’d much prefer it if I could go home,” I said.

“You can go home,” Krieger said, “I just need you to confirm a few things. Then you, your girlfriend, and your pet FBI officer can go home.”

I clammed up. Early on, they had given me my cPhone back. I had called Eliza first, of course. She sounded glad to hear from me, then things had gotten awkward. As soon as she had hung up, I had called Agent Hicks, an FBI agent. I had an urgent need to contact him, and I needed that conversation to be unheard by Krieger. Hoping that they had only gotten the number and conversation length, I opened my mouth, trying to play dumb.

“By the way,” Krieger said, ending that plan before it could even start, “I liked Mubashir. Is there anything I can do to help him from this Nakashima person?” I tried to keep my emotions from showing. Mubashir Mubarak was a former Al-Qaeda terrorist who had been recruited against his will. He had finally escaped when he was revealed to be a) a mole for the CIA and b) a godlike entity. Mayu Nakashima, meanwhile, was an assassin who had been trapped for half a millennium in a hell dimension because several secret societies had prophesized Mubashir being, well, God. Now she was looking for him. “It sounds like a very interesting story,” Krieger said. “Would you care to tell me why a Japanese person is after an Al-Qaeda operative?”

“No,” I said, keeping my response short and truthful. “Anyway, how’s Eliza doing?”

“She doesn’t trust us,” Oro said. “She’s already tried to break out twice.” She was obviously bothered, and who could blame her? Eliza had been closer to her than I was, and possibly anyone else since her parents had been killed.

“Not surprising,” I said. “You are holding us at gunpoint. Plus, Eliza has a few trust issues at the moment.”

“We’ve contacted her father,” Krieger said, “and he’ll pick both of yeh up as soon as you help me with this one little thing.”

“Ok, fine,” I said. “Lead the way.”

Krieger nodded. Edda rapped a pattern on the doorframe with her fist. “Paris!” she called out.

“London!” a voice responded. We then walked out into the hall. There were several more people guarding the hall. I recognized two. Camilla Reyes was another fellow Hell Semester graduate from Mexico and there was a young brown-haired guy with a Ruger Mini who I remembered being in Edda’s year at Hell Semester.

“Right, boys and girls!” Krieger said cheerily. “Let’s go!”

We then began to head out into the island’s sweltering summer heat. Because everyone there was from AMS/Shadowhaven, it was a very good close protection setup. “So,” I said as we got out of the building, “how’s the purge going?”

“Not well,” Krieger said. “We’ve had to kill too many otherwise good people.” He shook his head and sighed. “The thing is, we don’t have the facilities for containing some of the President’s scarier supporters. Nowhere Island’s for keepin’ people out, not keepin’ ‘em in. And if a few of these people get out, too many people would end up dying.” He looked at me. “I did this to stop students from dyin’, boyke. To stop Hell Semester. If I let some psycho or loyalist live and they go around killin’ students, then what the fuck did I do any of it for?”

“Ah,” I said. “I see.” We walked a while longer. I saw a Bearcat (an armored car used by CampSec) that had been disabled. By “disabled,” I meant that it had been hit with some sort of anti-tank weapon that had smashed craters into the troop bay and engine compartment. I could see bloodstains where people would have been sitting through the holes. It had then careened into a building. “Tough fight, huh?” I asked.

Oro nodded. “A few loyalist CampSec officers were put in Bearcats. They did a number on us until we were able to take the anti-tank weapons.”

“How many did you lose?” I asked.

“Too many, man,” Edda’s buddy from Hell Semester said in an earnest Southern accent. “Bastards cut us up pretty bad.” He shuddered. “They were right to, though, after what we did to the HQ.”

“And what did you do to the HQ?” I asked.

“Pumped it up with gas,” another person in the escort group said, “then locked the door.” Judging by how guilty they looked, I assumed it wasn’t something that killed instantly. I wondered how many of the CampSec guards in there were really loyalists and how many were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

“Where are we going?” I asked.

“President’s mansion,” Krieger said. “We’re keeping him in one of his personal laboratories. Apparently, the bastard was a scientist.”

The mansion, located in the heart of the campus, was one of the few buildings relatively untouched by the fight. Instead, Campus Security officers and AMS/Shadowhaven faculty were busy ripping it to shreds. I mean that literally, through the double doors I could see people with sledgehammers, pneumatic battering rams and chainsaws ripping out the walls. Also, carts with electronics and paper files were being collected in the lobby.

“Ah! Karl!” A large, bald man with a Russian accent came out to greet Krieger. I recognized him. It was Dmitri Popov, the owner of the AMS/Shadowhaven haunt called the Drunken Mercenary. I had tended bar for him. “We are doing quite well as you can see. Bastard’s got all these hidey-holes. What do you want to do with the money and valuables we find?”

“If we want to keep this shit running,” Krieger said, “we’re going to put it all in the treasury somehow. Anything more, ask the board.”

“They’re going to make you President of this fucking place, you know?” Dmitri said.

“They can bloody well try,” Krieger growled. “And I’m not going to do that thing where I turn ‘em down twice before I accept. I want to teach, and if they won’t leave me alone, I’ll quit and go find a Uni where I can without bein’ harassed.” He turned around, remembering our guard was still with us, and said, “You lot, wait outside before you hear any more you ain’t supposed to.”

Popov laughed at the last bit and ushered us further in. “Everyone knows that they’re going to ask you.” Krieger muttered something under his breath. When we were further in, Popov murmured, “And seriously, you are the right person for the job.”

“There’s others,” Krieger said, “and I’ll only take the job if I’ve bleedin’ got to do this again.”

“Fair enough,” Popov said. “But you realize, even if you don’t take the big job, you can’t just be a normal teacher. You brought a coalition together and if it falls apart too soon, before we stabilize it, people could die.”

We walked further into the mansion. Eventually we got to a small sitting room in the basement. Krieger walked to a gap in the wall that revealed an elevator. Hinges and splintered remains suggested that the elevator had once been disguised by a book case. Popov, meanwhile, walked over to a liquor cabinet. “Here,” he said, handing me a glass bottle of a clear liquid. “You’ll be needing this. Rosie’s preparing him.”

“Key word, preparing!” We turned around to see Professor Zemylachka hurrying towards us. “This process, it will take very long to break him. Potentially weeks, months even. Now is not the time.”

“We might not have that time,” Krieger said. “This is supposed to kill him, after all. Added to that, these Dragon’s Teeth blighters might not give us weeks before they come a-knocking.”

“Fine!” Zemylachka said. “We rush it like amateurs.” We all got into the elevator, except Popov. “Dmitri,” Zemylachka said, “are you coming?”

“I saw it once,” he said, “don’t need to see it again.” The door of the elevator closed shut, then Krieger punched in a code and down we went.

After the silent elevator trip, the door opened onto a long hallway. It was brightly lit, painted a dark blue or gray, and had a clean-room feel to it.

“So,” I said, “can I ask how we’re killing the President?”

“Well,” Zemylachka said, “regeneration like that requires large amount of energy, yes?” I nodded. “So, we simply limit access to energy.” With that, she pressed a button. A door opened with the hiss of a rapid change of pressure. Disturbingly, the escaping air blew

Inside was a sort of med lab. Medical equipment and computers were arrayed around the room. In the center was an operating table with a bunch of scanners aimed at it. In the bed, strapped to the bars by his wrists and ankles with handcuffs and several belts securing him, lying naked in his own bodily waste, was the former President.

“You know Nate,” he said conversationally, raising his head, “I’m starting to think you weren’t entirely truthful when we had our little conversation.”

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Track 3: The Coup

The President was true to his word. We really were holding some kind of trial. It was large auditorium, with chairs removed around the front-center. The remaining chairs were arranged in a C-shape, most facing towards the stage, a few near the front were facing the gap. In that gap were two lecterns facing the stage, upon which the President sat on a fancy leather swivel chair behind a heavy wooden desk, smiling down at me with a quiet satisfaction. Behind him stood Gupta and Mendez One lectern was unoccupied. The other one had Professor Karl Krieger at it. He turned around and smiled at me.

As he did, I noticed he wore handcuffs that forced his wrists to touch. They were painted a dull black, but as usual, his light brown eyes and bushy mane of hair and wild beard made him look like a demented lion. He was smiling like he was genuinely happy to see me. “Boyke!” he said happily, his accent as South African as ever. “Been busy, yeah?”

“Yeah,” I said, slightly guilty. I hadn’t completely betrayed him, but what I did was still treachery. No matter how much I reminded myself how crazy Krieger was and how there was a chance he was even worse than the President. It felt hollow.

“I take it you talked?” Krieger asked. “I was… wondering.”

“Oh he sang,” the President said. “Like a canary.”

As I walked down the central path to the unoccupied lectern, I noticed that everyone was watching me like I was the key witness in a courtroom drama. In the parts of the circle facing the stage, there were a mix of professors, students, and off-duty Campus Security. In the seats left to of the lecterns, a group of older, more important faculty members sat just beyond Krieger. In the seats to the right, closest to the empty lectern I noticed what looked to be most of the AMS and Shadowhaven faculty handcuffed and held at gunpoint by Professor Johnathan Blunt, the leader of AMS, and six CampSec guards with patrol uniforms and either SPAS-12 shotguns or P90 submachineguns. I also noticed that there were two guards by the only doors. They were both armed with black SCAR-L assault rifles. Besides them was what appeared to be a weapons rack.

On my way down, I passed Eliza. She gave me a thumbs-up sign and smiled, but she seemed nervous. She wasn’t the only one. Everyone seemed on edge. Especially the small group of AMS/Shadowhaven students who had entered NIU the year after me who were sitting in the back.

“Naturally,” Krieger said, responding to the President. “You have quite the way of convincing people, at least initially, Mr. Howell. Quite something, really.”

As I got closer, I noticed something else. The Rogue faculty seemed somewhat split. Fifty percent seemed to be on the chairs facing the imprisoned AMS/Shadowhaven faculty, one percent was mixed in, along with some other faculty and staff who obviously weren’t from any of the three groups. Suddenly, it hit me. The President was initiating a purge of the AMS and Shadowhaven faculty. After all, they were the biggest physical threat apart from Campus Security. Despite their tiny size, the combined firepower of Shadowhaven and AMS could potentially topple Campus Security. The only other school that could even hope to match their combat experience were the Rogues. As for the other schools, well, I actually had a chance to fight some of the Business majors in Hell Semester. If I wanted someone to take out AMS/Shadowhaven, I would sooner give guns to the least physically active students from the Turing Computer Science School.

When I finally got to the lectern, I saw Professor Antionette and Professor Rosalia Zemylachka, the leader of Shadowhaven, kneeling on the ground. Behind each, a CampSec guard stood, aiming their service pistols at their heads. Professor Antionette was nervous. Professor Zemylachka looked impassive, despite having a cut lip, forehead, and multiple bruises on her face.

“So,” the President said as I got to the lectern, “shall we begin?”

“Certainly,” I said.

“First off,” the President said, “could you state your name for the record and how you know the defendant?”

“My name is Nathan Jacobs,” I said. “I’m a student at the Academy of Military Science and I met Professor Karl Krieger at Hell Semester as my section’s sergeant. After completing that, he became my advisor.”

The President nodded. “I notice,” he said, “that you haven’t visited him as often as required. Is there a reason for this?”

“May I answer this?” Krieger asked.

“No,” the President said. “For obvious reasons.”

“He hasn’t told you everything,” Krieger said. “In fact, our lad hasn’t told you the juiciest parts. For instance, what did he tell you about me infiltrating Campus Security?”

“He…” the President began, arrogant as usual. Then his face changed to one of utter horror. “Fuck m-”

Before he could finish, Gupta and Mendez fired in unison. Well, not exactly in unison. Gupta’s shot from her Five-seveN passed cleanly through the President’s skull, with only a small spray of blood, bone and gray matter. The velocity of the round was such that the President’s head didn’t even move. Barely a millisecond passed when the first of the .45 ACP slugs from Mendez’s FNX-45 Tactical slammed into the President’s head. It exited from between the President’s eyes, causing to his face to explode like a watermelon struck with a hammer.

I didn’t see the second round. I had ducked behind the podium as soon as I saw the President’s head burst open. I looked to where Krieger was. He was also hiding behind his podium and laughing. Behind him the supposedly “loyal” faculty was busy killing each other. Apparently, some of the Rogue professors had smuggled in garrotes and ceramic blades and seemed to be massacring the others in a methodical manner.

From the section the captive faculty members were being kept, I could hear gunfire. Turning around, I expected to see them being massacred by CampSec and Professor Blunt. Instead, it seemed most of the CampSec officers and Professor Blunt were turning traitor. What I assumed to be the loyal guards had been almost immediately gunned down and the ones who’d thrown in with Krieger were now split between freeing the captives and moving towards the audience. The guards for Professors Zemylachka and Antionette were on the ground. The ones guarding Zemylachka had bled out, one guarding of the ones guarding Professor Antionette was catatonic, and the final one was desperately trying to stop Zemylachka from stabbing him.

Behind me, most of the audience was either panicking or getting as low as possible. I did notice, however, that some of the AMS and Shadowhaven students I had seen earlier were heading towards the entrance. One of the guards had slung her SCAR-L over her shoulder and was opening a weapons case. Meanwhile, her partner had executed two CampSec officers in patrol uniforms coming to investigate the sounds with one shot each.

After the initial purge had died down, the members of the coup began to free the prisoners and control the audience. Calm shouts of “Stay in your seats and put your hands over your heads!” began to echo throughout the chamber. From outside the room, I could hear gunshots. Whatever the plan for the coup was, it was just getting started.

Professor Blunt walked over to Krieger, Gupta and Mendez jumping off the stage to join them. After Blunt unlocked Krieger’s cuffs, he handed Krieger a custom silver or chrome-plated 1911.  I recognized it from Hell Semester, specifically when Krieger had pointed it in my face when I was goofing off during practice for disarming people. “Here, you crazy bastard,” Blunt said. “Figured you’d want this.”

“Yeah,” Krieger said, “Might be bit helpful.” He grinned and turned to Mendez and Gupta. “Still, did you see the look on Anthony’s face? Been dying to wipe that smug grin off since the nineties?”

“Must have been something,” a voice from the stage said. We turned around to see the President shakily standing up. “Shame I didn’t have a mirror.”

In response, Professor Blunt, Mendez, and Gupta unloaded their weapons into him. After the President collapsed, I thought I heard him weakly gasp, “Not… gonna work, guys.”

Krieger, suddenly very calm, said, “Well, I guess we’ll have to go with plan B.”

Professor Zemylachka, who had finished butchering the remaining guard and stealthily approached us, said, “I think I have a few ideas.” I turned to look at her blood-spattered face. She seemed disturbingly eager.

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Track 16: Tonight’s All Right for Fighting

After the awkwardness of Nari and May having to be in the same room for the tutoring session, I went to Krieger’s office to brief him on what I was using the various materials for. He was only available this weekend because he was teaching Hell Semester again. Luckily, Krieger is kind of a work machine and was able to meet me at his office.

The office was in Sun Tzu, which meant less walking. I knocked on the office door.

“It’s unlocked, boyke,” a South African-accented voice said behind me. “Just walk on in.”

I turned around. There, looking as lion-like as ever, was Professor Karl Krieger, his mane-like beard a little less well-kempt than usual. He had changed out of his drill sergeant uniform and was wearing cargo pants, Hell Semester t-shirt, and a raincoat. Judging by how dry the raincoat was, he had been waiting for me.

“Actually,” remembering about Mendez and Gupta, “I was thinking we could talk outside.”

Krieger raised an eyebrow. “Of course,” he said. “It being such a lovely day and all.” To punctuate this, there was a clap of thunder. Also, since we were on the top floor, we could hear the sound of rain pattering down on the roof.

As we entered the elevator, Krieger asked, “So, why were you requesting so much raw material? And why was much of it explosive?”

“Nari Lee and I are entering the firearm business,” I said. “May Riley and Andy Sebaldi are also in on it, May very reluctantly.”

“And the explosives?” Krieger asked.

“We’re making our own ammo,” I said. “I… saw a need for something that can reliably penetrate Dragon’s Teeth armor when we were in Korea. Our weaponry wasn’t quite up to par.”

“And your plans on advertising and distribution?” Krieger asked.

“Well,” I said as the elevator dinged open, “there was a contest for a new FBI firearm because…”

“Because .40 S&W was having trouble penetrating exotic armor,” Krieger said, rolling his eyes. “I heard. I also heard that you need a recommendation to get in. You also need to be able to produce a hundred for testing purposes, plus ten thousand rounds to put through each gun for testing purposes.”

“Oh,” I said. That was one plan down the drain. As we headed towards the door, I added, “the first part, I have no idea how to do. The second part, well, that’s why we have Andy.”

“Even if you did get a pistol out,” Krieger said, “and the Dragon’s Teeth invade, the program is limited deployment. Only a few agents will get assigned one, mostly Parahuman investigations, HRT and FBI SWAT. And even then, you realize it’s just a pistol?”

“I was kind of hoping that would lead to others adopting it,” I said. “And also building a following that I could sell the SMG and assault rifle I’m designing to.”

“Still,” Krieger said, “those are just personal weapons. They might kill a few of the foot soldiers, but how are you going to deal with their vehicles? I recall you were also quite impressed with them as well.”

I shook my head. “Someone else will have to deal with that.”

Krieger laughed. When he was done, he said, “You’re learning, boyke! In the meantime, I have some friends who have… an understanding with the FBI. They could use an armor-piercing pistol, caseless or otherwise.”

I looked around. No one was coming. “In other news,” I said, just loud enough to be heard above the rain, “if you’re still annoyed by the way things are going, Officers Gupta and Mendez might be sympathetic.” When I saw Krieger nod, I raised my voice. “In other news, I feel kind of bad for dragging you out here. Do you want me to get you a drink?”

Krieger accepted, and we got something called a Caribou Lou. Let me just say, if you like rum, pineapple juice, and getting pretty sloshed, you’ll like a Caribou Lou.

The next week wasn’t anything special. I had schoolwork, of course, and I was busy trying to make the SMG. Meanwhile, Andy was finding a place to put his assembly lines other than Sunny’s basement. He was also working with Krieger to get the first order completed.

It went on like this until Fight Night came. As I was putting on the suit I had brought (by the way, thanks, dad for making me bring it,) my cPhone beeped. I picked it up, seeing it was a phone call from Eliza. “Hello,” I said.

“I just realized,” Eliza said breathlessly, “it’s Fight Night, innit? And you work at The Drunken Mercenary. You can’t make it, can you? Oh God, I’m a right…”

“Eliza,” I said, interrupting her, “The Drunken Mercenary closes on Fight Night.”

“Really?” Eliza asked incredulously. “Why the bloody ‘ell’d they do that?”

“I asked Dmitri the exact same thing,” I said. “Apparently, the first Fight Night after it opened, a few fights broke out and there were pretty serious casualties. Think about it: you’re wasted and someone from Britain gets his head bashed in by Ulfric. Then you hear some… I don’t know, French people laughing at it. What would you do?”

Eliza paused for a bit. Finally, very grudgingly, she admitted, “…I’d fuckin’ cut ‘em up.”

“Apparently,” I said, “what finally caused The Drunken Merc to close on Fight Night was the Fight Night Riot of ’94. All I know was that it had something to do with the Rwandan and Bosnian Genocide and it… got ugly after that. Plus some Parahumans decided that they didn’t like other Parahumans and…”

“Say no more,” Eliza said. “I’ll just fix me makeup, then I’ll meet you there.”

The Veranda was on the border between Rogue and Business territory. A good decision, as the Rogues and Business majors were typically the only ones who could afford to eat there regularly. As I walked, I noticed that a lot of businesses, specifically the ones that distributed alcohol, were closed. Also, Campus Security was out in force around the AMS/Shadowhaven areas. I saw four Bearcats and several checkpoints manned by Security officers in combat gear. The last time I had seen Security carry such heavy equipment carried openly was when the Grenzefrontier had invaded the campus.

When I finally got into the building the Veranda was located, I saw Eliza was waiting by the elevator. She was wearing a beautiful dress that was a bright, soothing green to match her eyes. She was also tottering a bit on heels, and she seemed a bit nervous. Behind her, guarding the elevator, were two female Campus Security Officers. They weren’t in full combat gear, but they both had slightly heavier vests on, and one had a SPAS-12 and the other had a P-90.

“Oh, there you are!” she said, moving towards me as fast as her heels would allow. “Finally! These blokes ‘ere were gettin’ a bit nervous!” One of the guards, a somewhat tanned-looking woman carrying the P-90, waved awkwardly. She looked away when Eliza embraced me. “Apart from that, you’re actually a little early. I was just nervous because, well, I’ve never done anythin’ like this before.”

“Me neither,” I admitted. “I’m glad I’m doing it with you.” We stood there standing awkwardly. “Uh…” I said, motioning towards the elevator, “do you…”

“Yeah…” Eliza said. “Yeah! Let’s go do that.”

“If you’re going to go up there,” the guard with the SPAS-12 said, her voice tinged with amusement, “we’ll have to check you for weapons. This is the only place on campus tonight serving alcohol, so you can’t be armed here tonight.”

After surrendering our weapons (I had my Berretta and my SIG, Eliza had a CZ-75,) we took the elevator up to The Veranda. Oddly enough, it was quite empty. I guess, since the Veranda didn’t have any TVs, people just stocked up on booze and watched Fight Night with friends.

Speaking of The Veranda’s interior, it reminded me a lot of how the Blackmoor-Ward looked. It was, in short, expensive. Everything, from the scented candles on the tables and the romantic lighting, to the intricately carved, yet surprisingly comfortable chairs, screamed that it was expensive as it was tasteful.

The most wonderful thing about the restaurant, though, was the view. It was located on the top two floors of one of the taller buildings on campus, with only the hospital being taller. The Veranda made use of its prime location by having glass exterior walls and ceilings, giving the diner an amazing panoramic view of the island. The effect was lessened on us due to the torrential rain reducing visibility, but from where we were seated, I swear I could see the outline of the Hell Semester Barracks in the distance and the lights they were using to illuminate Fight Night.

“Fucked up, innit, mate?” Eliza asked, following my gaze. Her ears were flattened, and I could tell she was remembering something by the way the normally mischievous gleam in her eyes had disappeared.

Just as I was about to agree, a voice said, “I take it that means you’ll want something to drink to start off?” We turned around to see a very trim Asian student with plastic-rimmed glasses and over-gelled hair arranged in a peak. He was wearing a tuxedo and an apron, obviously part of his uniform. Something about his attitude suggested that he definitely wasn’t an AMS, Rogue or Shadowhaven student. It was probably that when we turned to stare at him, he flinched. “Sorry,” he said hurriedly, “kind of a stupid joke…”

“But accurate,” Eliza said, obviously forcing some of her normal cheer into her voice. “If you’ve got any scotch, I’d like a double.” I noticed that her ears were still drooping.

I probably wasn’t looking very happy myself. Remembering the certificate included two free drinks, I added, “I’ll have your best bourbon.” Suddenly realizing our waiter hadn’t introduced himself, I asked, “By the way, what’s your name?”

“Oh!” our server said, suddenly realizing his mistake. “Hi! My name is Timothy, and I’ll be your server this evening. Would you like to order some drinks to start off your meal?” I noticed that when flustered, he had gone from a neutral, if somewhat clinical American accent to a slight Chinese accent. Still, his English was very good.

Eliza, however, was probably too busy laughing at Timothy’s mistake to notice his accent shift. Eventually, after Eliza stopped chuckling, we made our order again. This time, we were more specific about the kind of booze we wanted.

After Timothy was done taking our drink orders, he asked, “Hey, weren’t you one of the guys who killed Eric and James Roberts?”

I pointed at myself, a feeling of dread. Timothy nodded. “When was this?” I asked.

“Last semester,” Timothy said, “during the break-in at the hospital’s Secure Records section.”

“First off,” I said, “I might not have killed him. There was another person with me. Secondly…”

“I know,” Timothy said, a note of unrepentant glee in his voice. “But you might have killed him, so I should probably thank you. The guys were in my Project Management and Accounting classes. Even the other Nazi sympathizers hated them.” He then pocketed his pen and pad. “Anyway, your drinks will be right out.” He then hurried off, nearly skipping for joy.

“Bit of a sociopath, isn’t ‘e?” Eliza remarked when he was out of earshot.

I nodded. I was a little disturbed at how happy he was two people he had known personally were dead. Still, when he came back with our drinks, I noted that ours were filled to the brim, while our neighbors who ordered shots only had theirs filled three-quarters of the way. Timothy sure knew how to suck up.

Conversation was mostly light between Eliza and me. We did exchange drinks for a few sips just to see if we could tell the difference. We could. Timothy, however, made sure that they were filled up. When I mentioned that my certificate only covered three drinks, Timothy assured us that it was on the house. We still switched to water, me after my fourth shot, Eliza after her fifth. Needless to say, when some old acquaintances of mine came in, we were feeling pretty good.

“…so, those clients Krieger got us want five prototypes,” I was saying to Eliza as Timothy removed the plate my steak had been on. “They also want…” I paused. The group that had been drinking shots had left and the tables they’d occupied had been split apart. Sitting at one of them were Agents Takashi and Brosnan. As I stared, Brosnan raised his glass in a mock toast, a patronizing smirk on his face.

Champagne, I thought. The bastards are drinking champagne while people are beating each other to death only a few kilometers away. As soon as I thought that, though, I reminded myself, Hey, the only reason you’re here is because you’ve just eaten the most expensive steak you’ve ever laid eyes on. Don’t judge.

“What’s wrong?” Eliza asked. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

“Takashi and Craig are here.”

“‘Oo?” Eliza asked, cocking her head. Then, her ear closest to where Takashi and Craig were sitting twitched. “Wait, they’re the blokes near us oo’re drinkin’ bubbly and laughin’ it up, right?”

“Well,” I said, noticing Takashi now was directing a murderous stare at me, “Takashi’s not exactly happy.”

“Are… are they the guys ‘oo got you to…” Eliza began, “…to… to, y’know…? Then bleedin’ stiffed you?”

I nodded, desperately trying to keep myself from causing a scene. Takashi, however, was under no such restrictions. He stood out of his chair with such force that it fell over. In response, Eliza’s triple claws shot out of her hands. Before she could launch herself at Takashi, I grabbed her wrists, nearly setting my hair on fire from the candle.

“Eliza,” I said, staring into her pale, shaking face, “it’s not worth it.” The look on Eliza’s face was downright murderous. According to what I knew about Lupines (and Eliza in particular,) when the claws came out, that meant violence was extremely likely.

From his table, I could hear Brosnan call out warningly, “Takashi…”

Takashi, meanwhile had appeared at our table, and he was livid. “You…” he said.

I ignored him and kept staring straight into Eliza’s eyes. While Takashi’s expression was a little scary, Eliza was utterly terrifying. Her face completely white with rage, she was trembling with the rage only a berserk Lupine could muster, and blood was dripping from her extended claws onto the expensive white tablecloth. Her attention rested evenly between me and Takashi, ready to spring into action if he made a move.

“Eliza, look at me,” I said. “He isn’t worth it.”

“Do you know every person you killed?” Takashi asked, his voice quivering.

“Takashi!” Craig yelled. “Don’t aggravate the bloody Lupine!”

“Eliza,” I said, still ignoring Takashi, “repeat after me: he isn’t worth it.” I’m not even sure she could even understand me at that point. From my grip on her wrists, I could feel her vibrate with rage.

“Your little playdate in North Korea,” Takashi said, “somehow managed to kill a few of my close friends.”

At the word playdate, I almost let go of Eliza’s wrists. Yet somehow, I instead found the self-restraint to say, “He’s. Not. Worth. It.”

“Do you want to know how I know?” Takashi asked. Behind him, I could see his partner get up and begin to move slowly towards us, making obvious effort to appear non-threatening. Takashi was as oblivious to this as he was to the berserk Lupine. “I know this because the nine-year-old girl they were supposed to bring back miraculously ends up in your custody. She’s also carrying my best friend’s side-arm in footage you provided to us!”

That explained the team that wasn’t NIU, North Korean or Dragon’s Teeth. They were UNIX, and they were there for Nari. John was right. Ironically, he had figured it out when Takashi had shoved the barrel of his pistol into my eye.

At the moment, I had bigger problems to worry about. Takashi’s impassioned shout hadn’t just attracted the eyes of all the diners, but it had also pushed Eliza too far. She began to struggle violently to break free of my grasp. I knew the first thing she would do would be to rip Takashi to shreds. After that, I had no idea what she’d do, other than that it would most likely be extremely violent. The last time I had seen her even close to this, she had literally spilled someone’s guts. I had the pleasant experience of being in the same ambulance as that victim. Eliza had been much calmer in that situation.

Before she could break free, Brosnan grabbed his partner and flung him away from us. “YOU BLOODY GIT!” he yelled. “YOU FUCKING SHITSTAIN!”

“What fu…?” Takashi asked. He made a loud squeak instead of finishing his curse because Brosnan had kicked him in the balls.

“You fucking moron!” Brosnan shouted. “Now, I have to hurt you, or a Lupine goes on a bloody rampage.” Takashi yelped as Brosnan’s foot connected again. Brosnan continued, “You should know better than anyone what a Lupine can do when pissed, especially a Fighter-type female!” He stomped on Takashi. Hard. “You endangered a room full of civillians over a fucking vendetta.” He reached down and pulled Takashi up. “Get out of here. And be thankful I’ve not yet washed my hands of you.”

Takashi began to walk off, his suit rumpled and his nose and lips bleeding. For a second, it looked like he was going to say something, then he thought better. Eliza watched him leave. I was glad to note that the color was returning to her face.

After Takashi had left, Brosnan turned to us. “I apologize for the interruption,” he said. “Please, have a pleasant evening.”

“Oi,” Eliza said as Brosnan turned to leave. She was whispering in an out-of-breath, yet scarily controlled whisper.

“Yes?” Brosnan asked, turning around.

“Control your partner,” Eliza said, still in that quiet, yet dangerous voice. “Or next time, I will.”

“Of course.” Brosnan said. “I can assure you, of the two of us, it is not my partner you need to worry about.” He bowed and walked off.

 

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Track 6: Back in the NIU Groove

As I fell, I lost my grip on my Berretta, causing it to clatter to the ground. I quickly grabbed it and turned around, looking to see what I had tripped over.

Lying next to me, wearing a blue sweater, was an olive-skinned man with close-cropped hair. He groaned, and tried to get to his feet. “Mubashir?” I asked. “Is that you?” Mubashir Mubarak was one of the other three NIU infiltrators who accompanied me into this rat’s nest. His mission was a little different than mine: not only was he working for UNIX, but I also believed he was working with the CIA or someone to infiltrate Al-Qaeda.

As I watched him struggle to get up, I noticed that something was leaking from his eyes and nose. It took me a bit to realize that he was bleeding. “Jacobs?” he asked when he was finally able to look up, his voice confused. “What are you doing in my room?”

As he stared into my eyes, I saw that his pupils were different sizes. “This isn’t your room,” I said, the horror in my gut changing flavor. Moob’s boss, Salim, had it out for me. If we were caught together, it would be a death sentence for Mubashir. On the other hand, Mubashir was showing obvious signs of a concussion. If I let him walk off, there was a chance he would just fall down and never get back up again.

While I was considering this, Mubashir began looking around. “You’re right…” he said, “but where are we?”

“We’re…” I began, then looked around. We were still in NIU, but in a part I had never seen before. Over a white picket fence, I could see what I assumed to be Sun Tzu. Between Sun Tzu and the picket fence was a chain link fence.

I began looking around more carefully. Behind us was a white colonial-style house, like the kind back home. The house and backyard area we were in was well-maintained. To the left was a green house of a different style and what looked to be a convenience store. To the right was a blue house and some kind of office building.

“…Well, I’m not sure,” I said as I got up. “Maybe it’s the Kill Street. That’s pretty far from where I was when…” I shuddered. Not only had I been… assaulted by some Lovecraftian shit, I had somehow teleported here. Also, judging by the sun, it was a little after noon, yet I had no blank spots that explained the time skip.

“The what?”

“I kind of heard older students talk about it,” I said. “It’s basically urban/suburban combat training.” I turned my attention back to Mubashir. “You ok, man?”

I had good reason to ask. His efforts to get to his feet only made him look drunk, plus he was shivering like the temperature was sub-arctic. Also, while I couldn’t be sure because the rate was so low, I had the sneaking suspicion that the bleeding from his eyes and nose was still happening.

“I need to be,” he said, in a tone as frightened as it was dazed. “I… I have to get back. I’ve been blacking out like this too much…”

“Wait,” I asked suddenly, “you’ve been blacking out and ending up in strange places on a regular basis?”

“I…” Mubashir was about to say something, then his eyes drifted to my hand. I suddenly realized that it was still clutching my Berretta. “…I need to go,” Mubashir said. He then ran off.

“Talk to a doctor!” I yelled after him as he disappeared around the house. After a few seconds, I added under my breath, “fucking dumbass.”

The next step was to find out the time. That was easy, if disconcerting. I pulled out my phone. For a second, it said the time was 7:35 AM, which was about the time the weird shit had started going down. Then, after it finished reconnecting to the internet, it updated to 2:24 PM. I had lost seven hours.

The next step was to get out. That was just as easy. Since I didn’t want to attract any more negative attention to Mubashir than his bleeding eyes, frequent blackouts and disorientation normally would, I decided to scale the chain link fence. It was only after I had got down on the other side that I realized how much more healthy all the running around made me. That was the one good thing about being in the AMS: I may have already been shot, I may be mentally disintegrating, and I may have potentially been attacked by an Elder God, but at least I wouldn’t die from being overweight.

The rest of the day was a mess of wondering whether or not what had happened that morning was real. Either way, I probably should tell someone. It was just… I wasn’t sure if anyone I knew could do anything about it.

I mostly spent the time before the meeting doing school shopping. One of the first things, I have to admit, was buy some whiskey, one that was, apparently, tinged with honey. It was to be my reward for meeting up with Krieger. Once I had met with him, I was going to go straight back to my room and start imbibing.

I got to the Drunken Mercenary exactly ten minutes ahead of schedule. I couldn’t help but smile. The Drunken Mercenary was built into a dorm for fresh meat (or AMS/Shadowhaven students who hadn’t passed Hell Semester.) Once Hell Semester was over, the survivors would move into this dorm. Most of it was the same semi-modern style as all the other buildings on the island, but The Drunken Mercenary did its best to replicate an old tavern. An old-time sign hung over a Medieval-looking door that served as the bar’s entrance. Behind the blacked-out window was the trappings of an old European pub, plus a few pool and poker tables and a few TVs that invariably were tuned to soccer, or, as the people watching called it, football.

“Nathan!” A booming Russian voice called out. I turned to seem my boss, Dmitri Arkadyvich Popov, a tall, muscular Russian with a shaved head. “Why so early?”

“Just thought that if I could get here early, I could leave earlier,” I said.

“You poor fool,” Dmitri said as he got his keys out. “Now you will be waiting as well.” He then pushed open the door and I followed him into the bar.

Before he could turn on the lights, someone sitting by the door between the Drunken Mercenary and the dorm part of the building beat him to it. “You’re late, Dmitri,” a hard, female voice with a Russian accent said.

I turned to see a middle-aged woman with dark hair sitting at one of the tables. I recognized her instantly: Professor Zemylachka, the head of the Shadowhaven school. Dimitri laughed. “Rosie,” he said, “one of these days, your ninja horseshit will get you shot.”

“You’ll forgive me,” Professor Zemylachka said wryly, “if I’m not too frightened by that. Would you get me a drink?”

“Nathan,” Dmitri said, “you want to get some practice bartending?”

“Sure,” I said. “By the way, what are my hours going to look like?”

“I was thinking you could get your old times, plus Friday,” Dmitri said as I moved behind the bar.

“Sounds good,” I said, “all my classes are during late mornings or early afternoons.” I picked up a cup. “Hey, Professor, what do you want?”

“May I have the good stuff?” Professor Zemylachka asked.

“Is she a personal friend?” Dmitri asked.

“No sir,” I said, rolling my eyes. “Sorry, Ma’am. Rules are rules.” The rule in question was that when I was behind the bar, I had to run it like a kleptocrat, only unlocking the cabinet that contained the non-shitty alcohol for personal friends. Everyone else got a brand of beer from America that was famous for its lack of quality, cheap Russian vodka, and some unidentifiable liquid stuffed in a jam jar and disturbingly labeled “For Assholes. Free.”

Professor Zemylachka laughed. “What about Mr. Popov?” she asked.

I considered, then said, “He just pays the bills.”

The head of Shadowhaven laughed. Dmitri, weirdly enough, told me, “Good job. Remember, you are master of the bar.”

“What about me, boyke?” a growly voice asked.

I looked up. Leaning against the window, I saw Professor Krieger leaning on the wall next to the door leading out to the street. As usual, his light brown eyes were sparkling with insanity. Someone who didn’t know better would think that someone that big couldn’t sneak in like that.

I, however, had seen bigger be stealthier. “Sorry,” I said, “best I can give you is a twenty-five percent discount on the cat piss.” I indicated the tap to indicate what I meant.

“I’m hurt, Boyke.”

“You should be honored,” Dmitri said. “I only let people give discounts when they want to impress someone or negotiate with them, especially one that good.”

“Oh,” Krieger said. “In that case, I’m honored. A pitcher of cat pee for me and my friends.”

I got busy preparing the awful substance for them. Just as I was about done, Kyle Rockford walked in. One of the four survivors (not counting Nari) of the North Korean recon mission, he was recruited by Krieger and advised by Professor Zemylachka. He also had led a sting mission against Grenzefrontier sympathizers at NIU at the behest of The President.

That mission had come to a bloody end at the end of last semester. His team, mostly teammates from his high school who had apparently stood by him when he came out as trans, had all ended up dead. Needless to say, by the time of the North Korean expedition, he was kind of soured on the whole “being a spy” thing. In fact, I was surprised to see him back here.

“Oh no,” he said. “How long have they been talking to you?”

“Kyle,” I asked, somewhat confusedly as he walked over to me, “what are you talking about?”

“Listen,” he said, “Nate, you’re a decent person. Leave now while you can still live with yourself.”

“Are you threatening another student?” Professor Zemylachka asked.

“We both know full well what I’m saying,” Kyle said, turning to her angrily. He turned back to me. “Seriously, man,” he said, “I’m not threatening, I’m begging. They want to do the impossible.”

“And that is…?” I asked.

“We feel the school is not living up to its potential as a learning environment,” Kreiger said. “Some of our fellow faculty in the more… pacifistic programs have tried to make changes as well. Their approaches have met with failure as their methods required them to work with people who had vested interest in keeping things the same. As such, they failed.”

Things were now disturbingly clear. The faculty of AMS and Shadowhaven were planning an armed revolt. “I see…” I said.

“Nate,” Kyle said, “I came back to get as many people out as possible.” He dropped his voice to a whisper. “Their plan… remember those people at Hell Semester final? Remember how North Korea looked when we got there? That’s what’s going to happen.”

I paused. Then I asked Krieger, “Are your plans for change… playing into your strengths?”

“It depends,” he said. “We have some reasonable demands. Less brutal Hell Semester, students having more control over their own work, having punishments being less arbitrary… things of that nature.”

“And when would this be?” I asked.

“Now, boyke,” Krieger said, “you should know that we can’t really tell you anything more until you’re in.”

“And if I don’t join?” I asked.

“Depends on who else you tell,” Kreiger said. “We can keep disagreements civil if you can.”

I considered. Finally, I said, “I’ll have to think about this.”

Kyle’s face fell. Krieger smiled. “Take your time, boyke,” he said. “After all, we still have a lot of time.”

 

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Track 5: Get a Job

Eventually, Sunny came to get Nari. “I’m sorry,” Sunny apologized to May and me. “She’s supposed to tell me before she walks off.”

“Totally fine,” May said as Sunny began to yell at Nari in Korean. “She’s actually a… You aren’t listening to me, are you?”

Meanwhile, the clerk yelled, “Yes! Yes! Take her away before she breaks something please!”

Eventually, Nari and Sunny left. As she hurried Nari off, Sunny said, “Well, Nathan, I hope to see you soon!”

“See you too,” I said, waving as she left. When she was gone, I asked May, “So, you want to get breakfast?”

May shrugged. “Sure,” she said.

Breakfast was enjoyable, and I managed to seal the deal for investing in May and Andy’s company. It wasn’t a controlling share by any stretch, but I’d have a say in the major decisions and a percentage of the profits. I also learned that Andy and May had gotten… close over the summer. Mary, however, had kind of drifted off due to an argument.

“And you,” May said, doing that weird thing where she was suddenly drifting back to someone else, “also had quite the summer as well.” Damn. I was hoping she’d forget about that. She then got very quiet and watched me intensely. I could swear she was gambling on the awkwardness of the conversation forcing me to speak.

“John and I had…” I searched for the words, “… a job from The President.”

“Yeah,” May said, “you told me that. Now give me details.” She looked like she wanted to pester me with questions, but she continued with her version of the silent treatment.

“Ok,” I said, giving in and lowering my voice, “We went to North Korea to find out what the hell was going on.” When I saw that May had heard this (she gasped and covered her hands with her mouth,) I began speaking normally. People in crowded areas don’t usually pay attention to what strangers are saying, especially if they’re acting normal. My hope was that people thought May’s reaction was just her hearing some juicy gossip that didn’t concern them. Of course, that was kind of the truth.

“Basically,” I continued, “we were able to get in and out before the big reveal.”

“Before…” May said, somewhat in awe, “…before Drake came out?” Unsurprisingly, the genius caught on fast. Bonus points for making the Dragon’s Teeth sound like some closeted gay mutual acquaintance instead of an army threatening everything we loved.

“Yeah,” I said. “He let us go, but he kicked our ass. Anyway, if I wanted to get something analyzed on the quiet…”

May gave me an exasperated look. “Let me guess, The President doesn’t know about this.”

“He actually kind of does,” I said.

“What do you mean, ‘Kind of?’” May asked. Abruptly, her voice became dangerous. I had seen her like this only a few times. Every single one of these times, scary people would suddenly become scared of her. “I’d like specifics.”

“He knows,” I said, now irrationally fearing for my life, “that I’m keeping some souvenirs from my trip and he has an inkling of what I might do with them. If it makes you feel better, you can check with him about it. I just don’t want other parties getting ahold of the lab results.”

May suddenly got apologetic. “Sorry for snapping, Nate,” she said, reverting back to her usual bouncy self, “I just get kind of… irrational when I think…”

“Hey,” I said, cutting her off, “first rule of this place: trust nobody. Not even me.” Her eyes widened. I must have reverted back to my battlefield persona, the one that had earned me the nickname “Killer.”

Slightly guilty that I had scared her, I continued on. “Anyway, I can get the samples to you any time.”

“Yeah,” May said. “Well, uh… I’ve… I’ve got some stuff to do.” She got up to put her plates in the washing queue.

“We should meet again,” I said. “Maybe do a study group?”

“Maybe,” she said. “Anything I’d be able to help with?”

“Not sure,” I said. “Do you know anything about physics, calc and bio?”

“Nate,” she said, “you do realize that those are the hardest classes you can take as an AMS student, right?”

“Well,” I said, “I’ll deal with that when I get to it. Anyway, be seeing you.” Suddenly, my phone rang. “Oh,” I said. I was expecting Eliza. Instead, I saw an unwelcome name on my cPhone’s touch screen.

As soon as I accepted the call, an unpleasantly familiar voice with a South African accent asked, “So boyke, how would you like to meet with yer advisor before he goes off to Hell Semester?”

The voice belonged to Karl Krieger, my Hell Semester drill sergeant and student advisor. He was a white man from South Africa who had (based on his word and pictures in his office) gone from nerdly Nelson Mandela devotee to mad, lion-like mercenary and drill sergeant at NIU. Something had happened to him and now, every time I looked into his brown eyes, I could see a scary mixture of intelligence and insanity. Still, he wasn’t anywhere near the scariest or craziest person on the island. He also claimed to have good intentions (i.e. overthrowing the President) but anyone could talk the talk.

I sighed. It was probably going to be mandatory to meet with him. “Is it going to have to be tonight?” I asked. “I was going to have dinner with… a friend.”

“Ah, you can put it off a night if it is who I think it is,” Krieger said. “But if you want to do your scholarly duty and get your bartending job back, meet me at the Drunken Russian at eight.”

I sighed. “Fine,” I said. “I’ll be there.”

“Very good, Killer,” Krieger said, “I’ll be waiting at The Drunken Mercenary along with Dmitri and a few others around eight. See you there.” He then hung up.

I groaned. Well, I thought to myself, at least I might be able to meet up with her for lunch. I’ll call her.

I had already finished my food, so I began to head off as I called Eliza. I wasn’t really going anywhere, instead taking a leaf out of May’s book. It was the last day of freedom before the semester started, and the only day at NIU I had experienced that wasn’t raining, snowing, unreasonably hot, terrifyingly cold, or some combination. I was going to make the most of it.

“‘Ello, Nate,” Eliza’s voice came from over the phone. “What’s happenin’?”

“My advisor called,” I said. “I need to meet up with him by eight. Does that affect our plans to meet up…?”

“Yeah… about that…” Eliza said. “I already ‘ave some stuff on the table. Oro ‘n Bai kind of asked if I could go supply shoppin’ with ‘em. I ‘aven’t seen them since the term ended and… and Bai found out ‘bout what ‘appened with John.”

Oddly enough, the line to her was getting kind of fuzzy. Normally, a cPhone on NIU’s network produced the kind of quality audiophiles paid out the nose to get. Now it sounded like one of those radios on the movies, the kind that was constantly crackling.

Putting that thought out of my mind, I said, “Let me guess: Bai blames me for John getting shot.” That was bad. Not only was Bai John’s girlfriend, but she was a trained martial artist who had just started to learn how to shoot guns.

“What was that?” Eliza asked, the distortion from the connection barely making her intelligible. I had to repeat myself three times.

“Oh, that makes sense, doesn’t it?” Eliza said. “God the connection is…” She was cut off by a hiss of static. “…ing Vodafone is better’n this shite,” Eliza said, not realizing she had been cut off. “Anyway, yeah, Bai ain’t exactly pleased. She ‘eard about it through some medics, so she knows exactly how bad ‘e was.”

While I had been walking, I had somehow got to the wall that separated the campus from the rest of the island. Part of the reason for this was to keep some of the students in softer fields from walking out into an island dotted with mines and unexploded ordnance, especially while AMS and Shadowhaven students were using live ammo. Like the majority of the man-made structures on the island, the wall was made of red brick and mortar…

…Except for a brief moment (barely even a second) when it hadn’t. Instead, it had been a yellow-colored material, the kind you saw a lot in pictures of the Middle East.

“Oi!” Eliza said into the phone, “Nate! You haven’t said anything in ages.”

“Sorry,” I said, “I thought I saw something.”

“What do you mean?” Eliza asked.

“I’m not sure,” I said, leaning in to the brick wall. At the time, I could swear I was going crazy, but the brick looked different. Before, I could swear the bricks had more variation, mostly due to weathering. Now, I was somewhat freaked out because I swore each one looked exactly the same. The coloring, the pattern NIU’s freak weather system had worn them down… all the same, or at least repeating with disturbing regularity.

“Is someone there?” Eliza asked. “Where are you? I can…”

Somewhere, I heard that Lupines, the kind of Parahuman that Eliza was, had heightened protective instincts. I believed that. “It’s ok,” I said. “It was probably my imagination.” Either that, or the SIG-Sauer and the Berreta tucked under my hoodie wouldn’t do that much good. “And if it wasn’t…”

My reassurance/outright lie was cut off by a God-awful screech of feedback from the phone, which formed a horrendous harmony with Eliza’s scream of pain. “Eliza!” I shouted. “Are you ok?”

“Sorry, Nate,” Eliza said weakly. “If this shite’s gonna continue…”

I nodded. Her foxlike ears are incredibly sensitive. If my ears were ringing, I could only imagine how she felt after that spike of feedback. “Totally fine,” I said. “Talk to you later, I guess.”

“Bye, Nate,” Eliza said. Then the line went dead. I looked at it. On the phone screen, there was a dropped call message on display. Oddly enough, the phone’s battery was rapidly changing. It was jumping from various numbers at random, being at a hundred percent one millisecond to being at one percent the next and anywhere in between. When the screen started flickering, I turned it off out of fear it would be damaged.

Suddenly, I heard someone speaking in what, to my ears, sounded like Arabic or a similar language. At first, I thought it was behind me. Suddenly aware of how alone I was, how few of my friends spoke Arabic, and how many Al-Qaeda people who attended NIU that I had pissed off during Hell Semester, I turned around, whipping out my M92.

As I faced the direction I thought I heard the voice coming from, the weak morning sun glinting off my Berretta’s chrome barrel, I suddenly became very afraid. Not because I had come face to face with a dozen terrorists with AKs (though that would be terrifying,) but because I couldn’t see anyone coming.

Suddenly, the voice began whispering and moving all around me, like it was right next to me and moving in a circle. I began spinning, trying to find a target. When I realized that sometimes it sounded like my tormentor’s mouth was between my gun and my face, I decided I needed a new strategy. Namely, running the fuck away.

That’s when I heard the voice start to become voices. They were all the same voice, but they were coming from dozens, hundreds, maybe even thousands of directions from all around me. I ran.

My plan was to make it to the main street. If I could get there, maybe this… thing would decide it didn’t want witnesses and leave me alone. Or maybe it would kill everyone else anyway. Or maybe I had finally gone crazy.

Now, the thing is, in order to pass Hell Semester and stay in the AMS/Shadowhaven programs, you need to be a good runner. So when the main street wasn’t getting any closer despite me running as hard as I could, I began to worry. Instead, I seemed to be slowly going backwards. Needless to say, this didn’t cause me to stop panicking.

To make matters worse, I suddenly felt hands feeling my body. Normally, this would be creepy enough. But these hands weren’t normal. To start, there was at least a pair of hands for every voice.

But the worst thing? They weren’t kept out by my skin. These hands caressed my tongue, prodded my throat from the inside and out, fondled things in my stomach, messing with my eyes, and pushing at the back of my throat, making me vomit.

When the hands began to violate me in more traditional ways as well as starting to feel up more important organs like my lungs and heart, and the distance between safety and whatever the fuck this was starting to increase rapidly, I decided to do something crazy. I made a ninety-degree turn and booked it.

Instantly, the hands stopped and I was moving forwards. I laughed. I was blind, covered in vomit and aching from how I had been handled, but I was free. Then I crashed into something.

 

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