Track 30: End of the End

I moved back to the cameras. It wasn’t long until I saw the first US soldiers come down the street. The first wave were in trucks and they passed by. Some of those trucks had their canvas covers burned off and I could see that they were carrying heavily injured troops who were too messed up to fight. The next wave were the able-bodied and walking wounded. If you could move by leaning against a more able-bodied buddy or being dragged along by the hand, you were in this wave.

I opened the doors facing them. “Hey everybody,” I said over the loudspeakers. “Incoming US troops, please use the doors facing you. Also, if some of the guys who can stand could pull security. And people inside the factory, please do not shoot at the guys in multicam. That’d be great.”

I felt a gloved hand on my shoulder. I turned around and saw Jen in her terrifying Hinomoto Oniko getup. “Make sure you check them all to make sure they aren’t wearing masks, though,” she said, her voice eerily distorted by her mask. “I don’t want to get blindsided again.”

She then leaned against the wall and began checking her weapons. I noticed that she had added two Uilon Mangchis and a Ballpeen to her arsenal as well as her usual twin Beretta 92 Elites and Kriss Vector. “You should have made more ammo,” she said. “If my experience is correct about this, we should only have enough for a day or two of constant fighting.”

I was about to say some things. Such as, “Assuming we last that long,” or ask her why she had jumped in behind me. Instead, I said, “In case I don’t see you again, uh, good luck?” I held out my hand.

Jen let the Ballpeen fall loose in its sling and grabbed my hand. “Good luck.” Then she cocked her head to the side. “Do you have a weapon? You might need one.”

I reached under the desk and pulled out a Maccabee and laid it in my lap, careful to keep the barrel pointed away from Jen. “Nice thing about these guys is that they’ve got almost no recoil,” I said. “I can pretty much spray and pray without having to put my brakes on.”

“That’ll be useful,” Jen said. “I have to…” she made a vague gesture with her hand, then left.

I went back to the monitor. Outside, there was a small stream of soldiers coming in. If things kept up, we literally would not be able to hold any more people in a few hours. Inside, we were already feeling the strain. Gangsters with no military training were doing their best to make tired, stressed, and heavily armed soldiers form an orderly cue so their faces could be pinched. I was surprised that nobody had shot each other yet.

I looked back at the screens viewing the outside. In front of the factory, I could see various fighting vehicles slowly backing down the various streets, firing all the way. Several of these streets had larger vehicles firing over the tops of smaller ones. Then the cameras facing the Teeth’s axis of attack went blank for a bit and the others suffered a drop in quality. What I could see of the firing vehicles showed that there had been a huge blue-white flash. When the video came back on, I could see smoke from farther up the street.

I turned on the intercom. “Get those new arrivals processed quicker. They’re fucking coming.”

I watched the columns of armored vehicles slowly got worn down. I didn’t really have a great angle on them, but I knew that every time there was a bright flash of light and the cameras went out, the odds were extremely high that another tank had been destroyed or disabled.

“Come on, come on, come on” I murmured repeatedly looking at the various internal cameras where the triage was happening and the rush of incoming soldiers. We didn’t have time for this. The whole army was closing in on us and we had a line going out the door. At least it was starting to move quickly.

There was a knock on the door outside. I looked at the camera viewing the hall. A US soldier, his various recent burns and cuts prominent against his black skin. I saw only one side of him due to the camera angle, and one hand appeared to be clawed and he seemed to be favoring the leg I could see. I opened the door, turned to shake his hand and said, “I’m Nathan Jacobs and Jesus Christ you need medical attention!”

The camera view hadn’t really prepared me for the mass of cuts and burns on the poor man. The pant leg on the side I couldn’t see was in tatters, with the leg itself having multiple cuts, burns, and bits of shrapnel stuck in it. I could also tell why his hand was clawed: a rod of metal had gone through it. I’d seen his face from the camera feed, but that had been distorted. The burns and cuts were even more pronounced and I could see the bits of shrapnel now.

“With all due respect, sir,” the soldier said, his eyes bloodshot from what was probably a lack of sleep, “Y’all look like shit as well.” He pulled out a stray bit of shrapnel that had lodged right next to his eye, then took my hand. I tried not to recoil or flinch, seeing as how it was the same hand that had that had removed the metal chunk. “I’m Captain Aaron Castle, and near as I can tell, I’m the ranking officer in this shit show. How long you keeping the doors open?”

“As long as those tanks are holding,” I said. “As soon as I see them stop holding the lines, or as soon as the people out in front get in, I close the doors and turn on the auto-turrets.”

“Can the turrets identify friendlies?” he asked.

“No,” I said. “When they’re on, everything in pre-designated killzones is a valid target. But it’ll be way better than them just pushing on into the building.”

“I don’t dispute that,” Castle said, “but I’d prefer that all my boys make it in.”

“I want them all to make it inside,” I said, “I too want to be able to sleep at night, if we survive this. But if we want to be a speedbump, we cannot let Dragon’s Teeth into the building. We also need to consider the fact that all the food and ammo you guys are bringing in is all that they’re going to get. They also are going to have to worry about the fact that the Teeth can cut the water at any time.”

Castle looked at me in disgust. “Are you suggesting it might be beneficial to leave men out there to die?”

“You’re a smart man,” I said. “I’m not going to insult your intelligence by pretending that’s not exactly what I’m saying. But there aren’t a lot of options other than that.” I paused, then asked, “Serious question: do you know what happens when you try surrendering to these people? Because I legitimately don’t know.”

Castle looked at me, his eyes narrowed. “At this point,” I said, “I’d be willing to surrender, and I think most people in the building would be as well. Alternatively, we could use the people pulling security duty as guinea pigs. Have them surrender, and use that as a delaying tactic.”

Castle shook his head. “No,” he said. “We aren’t surrendering. We’ve lost too many people to give up now.”

“I understand,” I said. “You should go back down and try to organize your men. Ideally, they’ll all be inside.” I smile reassuringly, and the Captain nodded and turned around. When the door closed, I make sure the heavy metal door is locked. Then I pull down the ballistic curtain.

As I said to Captain castle, ideally, every single US soldier will be inside the factory when the Dragon’s Teeth begins their assault.

Of course, the world hadn’t been ideal for a long time.


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Track 29: The Lights Go Out

From what I understood, Andrew and Lydia had managed to decrypt the army’s radio feed. When I asked them if they should tell the army how easy it was to crack their encryption, Andrew shrugged. “We told one of the Rangers we fought with in Boston about it. He laughed and said that they knew and everyone we had who could come up with a new code was dead or captured.”

“Yeah,” Lydia added, “didn’t you realize we were all fucked, Killer?”

“I did,” I said sheepishly, “I just didn’t know how bad.”

Everyone who was off-duty was listening to the Bluetooth speakers that Lydia and Andrew were using to listen in on the army. Normally, the chatter wouldn’t be interesting. Just some guys occasionally saying all clear. Yet we were all waiting for the time when they’d start seeing something else.

I looked around. The only other two people I saw that I recognized were Cross and Doc, holding hands and looking ill with worry about what was coming. I didn’t blame them.

“Hey, Andrew, Lydia,” I said, “Can you guys broadcast as well as receive? If things start to get hairy for them, they should know that the door is open.”

“Not a problem,” Andrew said. He then fiddled with a laptop for a bit, then said, “US forces, US forces, this is what remains of Bandits one through four. We got ourselves a nice little place. You need to crash, we got a place, over.”

I was somewhat surprised to hear General Connolly himself respond. “This is Alamo Actual. I’ve heard about you guys, Bandit. The 75th spoke highly of you.”

“I wouldn’t be putting those guys in past-tense yet, sir,” Andrew said. “They were pretty bad themselves.”

“Maybe,” Connolly said. “But they’re not going to come help us. Anyway, I take it you’re at a certain weapons factory?”

“Hell yeah,” Andrew said.

“I’ll pass on the information. If you are who I think you are, we got your message. In the meantime, stay off the net. They’ll contact you.”

“Huh,” Lydia said. “We actually have a smart person in charge. That’s always nice.”

I nodded. Still, this was a guy who’d said he’d spent a lot of time behind a desk taking a tired, tiny force up against potentially millions of the greatest army ever seen. I shook my head at thinking this. We could have the greatest commander and a week to prepare, but we’d still be fucked. Hell, maybe if the US government had known that the Teeth had this level of power back before I’d gone to North Korea, we still might be in the same situation.

Around four in the morning, we began hearing the first bits of fighting. “This is Echo Niner. We’re seeing movement on the other side of Lake Quinsigamond. Looking to confirm it is Drake, over.”

“Roger that,” General Connolly responded. “Be advised, though we cannot provide fire support at this time. Alamo out.”

Lake Quinsigamond. That was close, maybe even inside city limits. Of course, the Teeth were everywhere now. There were millions of them versus thousands of us.

“Watershed Nine here,” another voice said in a low whisper. “We’re at a junction between State Routes Twelve, One-Ten, and One-Forty. Teeth are massing right in front of us to move into West Boylston. Requesting Watershed Nine blow the One-Forty bridge across the Thomas Basin as we start our ambush. Over.”

“Negative, Watershed Niner,” Connolly said, “Wait until Drake begins crossing the bridge. Watershed Ten-”

The general was interrupted by an urgent voice. “This is Watershed Ten. We’re observing Dragon’s Teeth spec ops scaling the bridge supports. Your orders, sir?”

“Engage with snipers,” Connolly replied. “Keep them off the supports as long as possible. Watershed Niner, go weapons free. Repeat, Watershed Ten and Niner are weapons free.”

“Roger that,” Watershed Ten said. The last word Ten said was cut off by two roars, one of static, the other on Watershed Ten’s end. Watershed Ten then said, his once-clear voice now severely distorted by static, “Well, I think Watershed Nine is compromised. Multiple plasma bursts impacting at what appears to be their command center and apparently Charons are now amphibious. We’re opening fire with the Abrams and Javelins as we speak, over.” Despite the horrible sound quality, I could sort of make out the loud cracks of big guns.

“Roger that,” Connolly said. “Give ‘em hell, Watershed.”

Suddenly, a panicked voice came over the radio. “This is Echo Niner! Dragon’s Teeth heavy vehicles are crossing Quinsigamond and our charges are non-functioning. Repeat, charges are a no-go, the bridge will not fall. Orders, sir?”

“Make them bottle up,” Connolly said. “We need to do as much damage as we can.”

It went on like that for hours as the Dragon’s Teeth began to tighten the noose on all sides. I tried to get to sleep, but I was slowly hearing more and more gunfire and explosions. The last US artillery began firing. Everything they had left: shrapnel rounds, high explosive, incendiary even poison gas was launched, judging by the chatter. The only thing they weren’t deploying were the biological and nuclear weapons. I wondered if they were avoiding releasing something like super Ebola because they weren’t that desperate or if the Dragon’s Teeth had secured our bio weapons like they had with the nuclear stuff. Or even worse, they could be deploying them right now and I’d survive the battle only to come down with a flesh-eating virus that would slowly and painfully eat me alive over the course of years.

More and more, the Teeth seemed to be getting closer. We’d even hear jets fly by over the building on occasion. Judging by how quiet they were and considering how the war had gone, they had to be Dragon’s Teeth. Judging by the sound of gunfire and explosions and the radio chatter, the Teeth were trying to use a mix of artillery, air strikes, and human wave tactics to break through a series of positions on Interstate Route 290.

It was working. The blocking maneuver was working wonderfully, but the people manning it were only holding on because of a huge amount of mustard gas and conventional shells being dropped. The various soldiers manning the ambushes were tiring, and the howitzers were running out.

Finally, a tired female voice came in over the radio. “This is Hotel. We’re dry, and down to only one MLRS, anyway.”

“Roger that,” Connolly said. “Can you get back to position Alamo?”

“Maybe,” Hotel said, as suddenly there was the sound of an explosion close by. “Wait, no. We’re cut off. Good luck. Hotel out.”

The defenses all over began dissolving. I finally knew what so many others had felt across the globe as the Teeth had slowly, inexorably pushed out their nation’s last remaining troops in the area. The Teeth had taken the seas, the skies, and utterly humiliated and annihilated the three great super powers and any player that could have potentially stepped in to fill the void. Still, I hadn’t given up some strange irrational hope that some hero would blow up the thing shooting light into the sky or kill the bad guy or even that God Himself would come down and lay the hurt on these motherfuckers.

Then the retreat began. After what seemed like hours of chaos, Connolly contacted us. “This is Alamo. Bandit, you guys ready to take in some strays?”

“Yes sir,” Andrew said. “We are one hundred percent ready.”

“I hope that’s true,” Connolly said, “because it looks like the main axis of Drake’s attack could bear down on you.”


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Track 28: Massachusetts Is Beautiful This Time of Year

For some of us, our work took on a new urgency after that. Others became despondent. From what I could tell though, nobody left. After all, where was there to go? Most of their friends and family were either dead, far out of reach, or in the room with them.

For the first time in a long time, I thought about my family. I suddenly realized that I had no idea if they were alive or not. I didn’t even know whether or not Maynard was part of the area that had been taken. Normally, it was just a thirty-minute drive by highway. Now it was probably a world away, through Dragon’s Teeth patrols, ruined roads, blasted landscape, destroyed houses, wrecked and abandoned vehicles, and corpses.

Until the invasion, I may have been one of the most knowledgeable people on the subject of Teeth weapons and tactics. I knew what could, no, what would happen if you were hit by their weapons. Hell, a near-miss from their personal plasma weaponry had inflicted some of the most horrific damage I’d ever seen on a human being. If it hit my parents or my sister…

I excused myself quickly. I knew why I hadn’t been thinking about it. I couldn’t bear it. I was a coward. I was distant from the world I was thought I was helping. What the hell was I doing? Did I really think that any of this was doing anything? I was just a dumb kid from Maynard who was good at killing people on occasion.

As soon as I found a room, Eliza found me. “Oi, Nate,” she said softly. “You alright, mate?”

“Where’s my family?” I asked, turning to look at her.

Eliza looked thoughtful. After a long while she said, “I think we both know. But there’s really only one way to be sure.”

“Yeah,” I said. “And I don’t think that I can go out looking for them. If they’re in Dragon’s Teeth territory, well.” I gestured to my wheelchair. “I can’t exactly ask you to push me the entire way.”

“Or you could just call, you git,” Eliza said, pointing to a landline on the wall.

“The cell towers are all dead,” I said morosely. “And the landlines are cut.”

“You sure?” Eliza asked. “Your ‘ouse still ‘as a landline, doesn’t it?” She grabbed my chair and wheeled me to the phone. “Call ‘em. Apologize for being a wanker and not calling ‘em sooner or I’ll dump you outta the chair, lock you in the room, and leave you to your own devices.”

“Ok,” I said, taking the corded phone off its cradle and punching in the number. “I’ll do it.” Putting the phone to my ear, I heard the reassuring dial tone. Eliza was right, the phones were still working.

But when I finished punching in the number, a gruff, professional voice said, “We’re sorry, but due to recent events many numbers have been disconnected. This number,” the next phrase was in a different military voice, “is located in an area that has been confirmed destroyed.” The first voice began speaking again. “If you have any questions, please contact General Paulson’s office at-”

I didn’t hear the rest of the voice. I hung up, rather than listen about how I should contact a dead army officer. “Apparently,” I said dully, “My home… my family lives in an area that ‘has been confirmed destroyed.’” I broke down sobbing.

“Well,” Eliza said, “you can-”

“Avenge them?” I asked. “Really? And what happens if the reason they’re dead is that they were in a US barrage?” Eliza looked shocked. “It. Doesn’t. Matter. What matters is that I was out doing something utterly stupid instead of being with them.” Before Eliza could respond, I quickly added, “It isn’t your fault or Charlotte’s. It’s mine. I believed I could save the world. At any point on this whole crazy ride, I could have said, ‘you know what, I’m just a dumb kid in over my head,’ and left. And at most points, I could have done it and no one would have thought any less of me.”

“Nate,” Eliza said, “Do you want to leave?”

“Now?” I asked. “No. I might have a way out of this, but nobody else here does.” I sighed and laughed. “We’re fucked, but we can at least die standing. Or sitting,” I added, remembering my chair.

Eliza smiled and hugged me. “I’m glad you’re here.” Her hug tightened. “And I’m glad you want to be here.”

Hugging her back, my voice breaking with tears, I said, “I’m glad you’re here, too.” Getting my voice under control, I tried to add in a flippant tone, “Shame we don’t have a view of the trees. Massachusetts is beautiful this time of year.”

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Track 27: Twilight’s Last Gleaming

“How long before they get here?” I asked.

Jen was set down on a comfy piece of floor. “I have no idea. It could be a few weeks. It could be a few hours. It all depends on how long the guard can hold out.” She paused, looking like she was about to burst into tears. Then she asked hopefully, “Do you think there will be reinforcements? I haven’t heard anything in days.”

I then realized that I hadn’t heard anything from beyond Massachusetts in days. “I…” I began.

Eric cut me off. “I am sure everything will be all right,” he said. “There is no way they have enough firepower. They have taken on China, the EU, Russia, India, and much of the Middle East. They have to break.”

Jen glared at Eric. “I know when I’m being lied to,” she said. “You aren’t telling me the whole story.”

“We haven’t heard from the Canadians in days,” I said.

“I have,” Eric admitted. “We got a report from NIU observers. They dropped two plasma bombs on the Canucks advancing on us, but the Canadians seem to be still advancing.”

Most people made noises of surprise, but Eliza laughed. “Those mad bastards! It was the same in the first World War, those mad men would charge inna clouds of mustard gas and machinegun nests an’ win.”

“What’s the likelihood of them winning now?” Cross asked.

“Zero,” she said. “But hopefully it either makes those motherless freaks think twice ‘bout moving farther or teaches the Canucks something useful about fighting them.”

“So I came back just to watch them roll over everything?” Cross asked. “When the hell are we going to stand and fight?” He then walked over and kicked a wall. I heard a crack that was probably his toe. “FUCK!”

“Not everything,” I said. “We’re the speed bump.”

“I don’t want New York to be a speed bump!”  Cross yelled.

“Well too late,” Jen said. “From what I heard, it already was, and it wasn’t as good a speed bump as Boston.”

“Oi,” Eliza said, “I’ll fuckin’ cut you gibbons if you make it a stupid regional thing, swear on me mum.”

“But there are things we can do,” I said. “Things that don’t involve strapping C4 to ourselves and throwing ourselves under a Charon.”

“Please don’t joke about that,” Jen said.

“For instance,” I went on, “there’s still a few rifles. We have…”

“No there aren’t,” Eliza said. “What weapons you ‘aven’t given to our guests and random reprobates amounts to about five bloody Mjolnirs and four NFs. There’s some ammo, but it’ll run out pretty quickly, splittin’ it up among all of us.”

“We made thousands of them,” I said. “We can’t have sold all.”

“You did,” Jen said. “My contacts at the BPD were complaining because your waiting list was backed up for decades and they’d wanted to keep those toys you made for themselves.”

“They are quite good,” Eric said in agreement. “Shame that they sold so quickly.”

I thought of these guns, all distributed to police departments across the country and a few around the world. Apart from maybe my very, very sketchy first customer, I had reason to believe that not a single military or counter-terror unit had come into possession of my products and I had no intention of selling on the civilian market. All those firearms, in the hands of people with no prayer of using them effectively. I hadn’t even managed to get it adopted by the FBI.

“Hey,” I asked, “Did the Chinese manage to put their version of the Maccabee into production?”

“I think they’d just gotten the assembly rolling,” Jen said. “The problem was, the province it was located in was the first to be hit.”

“Maybe they’ve developed a taste for your guns,” John said. “I remember you saying something about them trying to get you.”

“There were other reasons,” I said. “Anyway, let’s get everyone settled.” I then wheeled around to the garage, desperately trying not to think about the incoming wave of Teeth.

The inspection didn’t reveal anything good. We couldn’t fit the seventy assorted gangsters, mostly Kagemoto grunts, but some from other gangs, for any real length of time without running into food problems. We also had only enough ammo for a day of fighting at most, and no weapons designed to take down the various nasty vehicles they had. Still, I wasn’t going to sit down.

We were preparing the defenses, with me talking to Jen’s pet code geeks, Lydia and Andrew, about ways to improve the automated defense systems, when someone turned on a radio.

For a moment, there was static. Then, with AM quality, a soft-spoken voice came over the speaker. “My name,” he said, “Is Brigadier General James Connolly of the US Marines. From what I can tell, I am the highest ranking US officer left alive and at liberty.”

By that point, everyone in the room had stopped talking. From outside, I could hear trucks drive by, broadcasting the message and people, possibly soldiers, shouting something. I wondered if everyone in what remained of the US was listening.

“I am broadcasting on several shortwave and local radio channels,” General Connolly continued, his voice shaking. “The Canadian forces sent to assist my position have been pushed back. This is not because they are cowards, it is because that they were asked to do the impossible. They have done the impossible three times now, and I cannot in good conscience ask them to do it a fourth.”

At this there was a murmur of shock. Everyone, even me, had somehow believed that this would not be the end. That the Canadians would come and save us, or the Latin-American coalition.

“I am broadcasting to all who can hear me,” the General continued, “so that those who still remain under my care can attain an honest assessment of the situation and those out in the rest of the world will know of what in all likelihood will be our last stand.

“In July, the United States had over three hundred million people living in it, spread out over three point eight million square miles. For those outside my country, that’s roughly nine point eight million square kilometers. Worcester County, where I have made my base, was not seen as a significant part of it in any sense. Around eight hundred thousand people living in four thousand square kilometers.

“Now, we of the US are facing our darkest hour. Some of you may not know the extent to which this military has failed its people. We have no planes. Only a handful of artillery and vehicles remain. If they let us live, we will run out of food and water within a few weeks.

“Even more egregious, a week before the first major Dragon’s Teeth push into China, they managed to capture our nuclear weapons and we did not inform you. We have reason to believe that all thermonuclear devices and most other chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction are in their hands.”

That news caused my stomach to drop. Of course they had them. If they didn’t have all the nukes, someone would have used them. Who the hell would hesitate to nuke faceless soldiers murdering their way across your own country? Other people didn’t take it so well.

The General continued on. “Right now, I control two thousand five hundred of the four thousand square kilometers of Worcester County. I have over three million charges, most of them unarmed refugees.

“Outside my defensive perimeter is an enemy that has been confirmed to kill innocents, mostly the sick and the elderly. They have done so with a high-tech, organized barbarity that pales to anything we’ve ever seen. This force is poised on the doorstep, ready to strike.

“It was the duty of the United States Armed Forces to stop this kind of threat. I think it is fair to say that we have failed utterly. Many, both in and out of my country, have looked to us to face this threat. If we had done everything we could, there would be no shame in that. But we haven’t. Our failure goes back decades, if not to the foundation of this country.

“A few months ago, we were the greatest country in the world. Instead of sharing that greatness with the rest of the world, we instead took the best from other countries while giving the minimum in return. We promised so much, and in the end, all we have to give is this.

“To those remaining under my command and protection, I would encourage you to fight. We still have a chance to make a difference. If you want to run or surrender, I would not recommend it as the Dragon’s Teeth have rarely taken prisoners. If neither option sounds appealing, the only other I can think of is spending time with those you care about. Thank you all, and God bless America.”

With that, the radio switched to a slow, mournful rendition of the Star Spangled Banner. For a few seconds, there was a silence. Then Eliza loudly proclaimed, “Fuckin’ ‘ell that was an awful speech!”


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Track 26: The Battle of Boston

Everything was horrific. Throughout the few remaining places that the US was holding on, Dragon’s Teeth were making fifth-column maneuvers and poking their noses in via traditional methods.

It was all I could do to keep from running off down Route 90 to do something. Hell, it took most of the NIU students still there to stop me. As Eliza said multiple times, “Oi, what the ‘ell’re you going to do, y’fuckin’ cripple? Ram them with yer bloody chair?”

The news was mostly bad. Valkyrie would come back for rests looking bloody and various gangsters would send for more weapons and ammo or repairs. When they left, I noticed that some of the NIU students would catch a ride.

Jen was the first one to come back for ammo. As soon as her harried men began loading ammo into vans, she stalked towards me. “NATE!” she yelled.

“Yes?” I asked, glad Eliza wasn’t there. Something told me that if Eliza had seen someone yell at me, there would be blood.

“Where the hell,” Jen snarled, “is your little play buddy?”

“Mai?” I said, confused. “Wouldn’t you know her better than I would?”

Jen ignored that. “The little backstabbing bitch disappeared twenty-four hours before the Teeth appeared, and she took her friends with her. Oh, and guess where the Teeth established their beachhead? Chinatown! Her part of Chinatown!”

For four days, from what Eric, the gangsters and the news was telling, the Dragon’s Teeth was trapped in a small triangle formed by the Route 90 underpass to the south, Columbus Avenue and the Common to the West, the blocks around by the Orpheum to the North, and Harbor to the East. The thing that had stopped them were heroic efforts by Jen’s people, Boston Police on patrol, and Valkyrie to stop their initial surge. Then more law enforcement and elements of the Massachusetts National Guard and the 75th US Army Rangers had come in quickly.

The Rangers, in particular, had relished the fight. Some of their number apparently still remembered Gothic Serpent and had remembered the lessons Habar Gidir had taught them about urban combat. Gleefully working with surprisingly well-equipped gangsters, who by that point, were streaming in from all over Boston and beyond, they began repurposing their inferior vehicles as barricades. Dumpsters, trucks, Humvees and commandeered civilian vehicles were hurriedly moved into huge piles and occasionally booby-trapped, and angry men with guns placed in nearby buildings.

Surprisingly, this is where how light the Dragon’s Teeth vehicles turned against them. A Bradley or a Stryker would have been heavy enough to ram many of the barricades, but the Charons just dented them, leaving them sitting ducks for LAWs, Javelin missiles, Barret .50 calibers, M2 machineguns, cannon fire, and every other bit of nastiness the US Military could throw at them.

Other cities weren’t as lucky. New York had pretty much lost Long Island, Baltimore, DC, and everything south of the Potomac had finally fallen, and the Teeth seemed to be making a good effort at cutting the remaining US territory in half.

The Canadians, however, didn’t seem like they were going to take any more Deet shit. Their armies began crossing into contested Buffalo, and making their way into Teeth-held territory like Michigan and Washington State. Massive battles were going on in Detroit, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and a town I’d never heard of called Blaine, Washington. Others began heading down via 91 and 93to Boston, only to be intercepted by the Teeth coming out of nowhere. Shortly after, the Latin-American coalition began pushing up across the southern border. Part of their line had stopped around Texarkana, but most were taking massive casualties in skirmishes.

After four days, however, they got out of the triangle in Boston and halted the Canadians and Latin Americans. Slowly, they began taking more and more of Boston. From what I understood, there was a new type of Dragon’s Teeth clone that seemed to be bred for extended periods of close-quarters combat. Within nine days, they had managed to get up to Route 93, cutting off most of the Rangers and irregulars in the North End.

Meanwhile, civilians were dying in droves. The Dragon’s Teeth did not seem to care about who was in their sights, they just were shooting. Of course, the gangs and concerned citizens were probably not helping, but when Valkyrie came back she put paid to that idea.

“I went into their territory,” she said. “They’re deliberately executing elderly and sickly. I’ve seen it. They took a bunch of old and sick people out by the Harborwalk, shot them in the back, and kicked them into the Bay. That may have been an anomaly, but the way they go after fleeing civilians, well, there’s only so much heat of the moment can justify.”

“So they’re committing genocide,” I said. “Good to know.” I sent a prayer I didn’t know how to make in hopes that the Dragon’s Teeth didn’t get out of Boston.

That prayer wasn’t answered. As the days got colder, the Dragon’s Teeth got bolder. By the end of September, they had taken over most of Boston except the North End where the Rangers were making a desperate last-stand. The only thing that was stopping them was that their new tanks (which were more like WWI landships than anything sensible and equipped with their plasma balls) were too big to get into the tight streets. Meanwhile, by the first of October, surrounding towns like Cambridge, Sommerville, and Jamaica Plains were turning into a cross between Kursk and Stalingrad.

Yet it was all over by the time they had got to Logan Airport. October third, through a combination of Charons modified to drive on the Green and Silver lines and some boats that seemed made specifically for this purpose, the Dragon’s Teeth crossed the harbor. By the fifth, it had been secured and Dragon’s Teeth aircraft based there were making air superiority and close air support runs from Southern Connecticut and parts of New York to Vermont, Maine, and New Hampshire.

Valkyrie and Jen were supposed to meet with us for a few hours of shuteye that day. They didn’t. The living quarters were so empty now that it was just Eric’s crew, Cross, Oro, and two of the students I didn’t recognize. Since most radio and TV went down due to Dragon’s Teeth bombing and many social networking sites had been dead since California had fallen, we had simply lost all communication with the outside world.

When I asked Eric the next day if we could contact the people he’d brought with him, he shook his head. “No,” he said. “They’re only supposed to send things in tight bursts back to NIU. We don’t want them getting caught.”

In the meantime, we spent the next few days listening to planes and helicopters fly overhead and bombs fall. We were pretty close to a highway on and off ramp so we’d also see and hear vehicles moving by at all hours of the day. I noticed that all civilian traffic had stopped. There hadn’t been a travel ban that I’d heard, so I assumed that everyone had given up trying to get to safety.

Then on the seventh, late in the day as the sun was going down, a column of battered civilian SUVs pulled up in front of the factory. I had been watching the cameras, but lights flashed in case I missed it.

I pressed the intercom, “Heads up, everyone,” I said. “We’ve got a civvie convoy. It looks pretty beat up I don’t trust anything right now.” Then, from the lead SUV, someone in Samurai-inspired armor and a white face mask with demon horns and glowing eyes got out. “It seems like Jen, but appearences can be deceiving.”

In the factory, I could hear everyone else grabbing and loading weapons. On the screen, I saw the person dressed like Jen staggering towards the intercom. “Nathan,” she said, her voice ragged. “Open up. Open up.”

“How do I know-”

“On our time in Japan,” she said, “I hugged you when you came to check on me before the meetup with the Yakuza. I told you that everyone I love dies because I fail them.”

I turned around, half expecting Eliza to be there holding a gun and a bland expression on her face. She was. “Well,” she said, her voice very modulated, “that’s probably ‘er, innit?”

“Nothing else happened between us,” I said. “It didn’t go any farther than-”

“That isn’t what I’m pissed about!” Eliza snapped. I began to speak, but Eliza cut me off. “And no, it isn’t because y’didn’t tell me, but it bloody well isn’t helping.” She sighed and gestured to the screen. “Let ‘er in. We can talk about this later.”

I called it in to the intercom and let the cars in, then went to meet up with Jen. Eliza was very insistent on pushing my wheelchair. When we came in sight of Jen, she was being carried by Eric and the blond woman with the G36.

Despite her unearthly white mask with glowing blue eyes, I could tell she was exhausted. She turned to me and said, “They’ve broken through.”

My stomach dropped.

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Track 25: The Takeover

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

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

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

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

“Makes sense,” I said, “But-”

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

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

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

“That was an accident.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What other people?” MC asked.

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

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

“Why’s that?” I asked.

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

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

“Who says it’s just us?” MC asked.

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

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

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

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

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


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Track 24: Old Friends

From that day forward, I had pretty much decided that leaving the factory was a bad idea. Eliza managed to get my Subaru from the apartment and into the parking lot. I didn’t know how she did it in the midst of all the panicked people.

Speaking of the refugee situation, it seemed to be untenable. People were running east and north in a panicked rush while the armed forces desperately tried to organize. Israel, Iran, and Turkey had gone under, as well as many NATO nations and other allies. The Dragon’s Teeth controlled the air and the sea. What forces we had abroad were either isolated or fighting for their lives. Many people had either given up or were trying to get to Canada.

In fact, in a strange twist of fate, Canada, Mexico, and the other American nations looked like one of the US’s few chances of salvation. When I could turn on the news, all they’d talk about was the coalition that was being assembled and the counterattack they’d lead. I didn’t buy it. The Dragon’s Teeth were probably digging in, and it’d take a lot more than a three-to-one ratio to dislodge them.

Valkyrie was doing the distribution for the weapons and ammo. Occasionally, I’d ask if the people we were equipping were doing what they were supposed to or if they’d started killing each other. Her usual response was, “As far as I can tell? Neither.” Then she’d go back to helping the people load whatever van they’d brought in, and Eliza and I would go back to watching them to make sure they didn’t take anything they weren’t supposed to or go anywhere we didn’t want them. After they were gone, we’d then go back to making the place habitable.

It was one of the times in between visits from crooks converted to teamster duty that we heard the intercom by door sound. I went to the security panel. There, pushing his face into the lens of the intercom camera so much it fish-eyed, was John Marshall’s short beard and close-cropped hair. From another view, I could see he was with Kyle Rockford, a somewhat unassuming, if generically star-quarterback-looking guy waiting behind him. Behind them was an old 90’s era Acura coupe packed full of luggage.

“Nate!” John was saying, somewhat frustrated. “Come on, I know you’re in there.”

“Sorry,” I said, picking up the mic as I wheeled over, trying not to spill the laundry basket full of clean clothes. “I was just trying to get some housecleaning done.”

“Oi!” I heard Eliza shout from somewhere in facility, “‘oo’s  thaAAAGH!” She was cut off by metallic clattering. Then there was a stream of creative cursing.

“I see Eliza’s here as well?” Kyle asked.

“Yeah,” I said. “Let me see if I can help, then-”

“No!” Eliza said. “You’re in a bloody wheelchair, y’can’t ‘elp! You let ‘em in like-” There was a thunk that sounded like something metal had hit something fleshy, then the clang of it falling onto the floor. Eliza screamed, more in frustration then in pain.

“Are you all right?” I asked.

“I’m FINE!” Eliza said.

After I had let Kyle and John in, we came in to the room Eliza had been attacked in. She was putting pipes back into a cupboard, muttering angrily. “Fuckin’ bloody pipes, bloody cabinets, bloody yanks and their bullshite washing machines. Bollocks, bollocks, bollocks!” With a scream, she kicked the wall.

“She’s trying to set up a washer and drier in here,” I said. “I’ve been helping where I can.”

“You can help?” Kyle said. “I’m surprised that you can move on your own.”

That reminded me, I was due for painkillers. But now was not the time to mention that. “It’s no biggie,” I said. “What are you guys doing here?”

“I live in the Midwest.” Kyle said. “Or lived in the Midwest. Then the Teeth rolled in and started shooting everyone.” He’d obviously intended to stop there, but he just had to continue. As he did, his voice became more and more choked up and he began to cry. “They burned most of the houses and dragged people out to the center of town. I managed to hide, but my grandad… he told them I’d died in Iraq when they asked about who I was in the picture… I heard him say it.” By this point he was in tears and had collapsed on the floor. “They shot him,” he said, so choked up from tears I could barely understand. “And while he was dying, they poured gas or something and set the house on fire. I hid in the bomb shelter and then…”

It was there that language failed him. He sobbed and began rocking back and forth. I wheeled over to him and patted him on the shoulder. “Hey,” I said softly. “We’re here. What do you want to do?” I kept repeating that last sentence over and over again until he calmed down.

When he did, he said, in a gasping, post-crying jag voice, “I want to honor my grandparents’ memory. I want to do what I can to stop them.”

“Damn,” I said. “I’m not sure I can help with that. Will killing the bastards suffice?”

John looked at me. “You don’t have a plan?”

“Did you expect us to?” I asked. “Look, you know my area of expertise. Hell, you share at least eighty percent of my skillset. The military isn’t buying my guns, and even if they were, well, what use are small arms going to be against tanks and aircraft?”

“Oi,” Eliza said, looking at me, “D’you need anti-depressants as well as painkillers?”

“Probably,” I said. “Or, like, a bottle of Jack or something.”

“So,” John said, cutting in, “what are you doing?” At my blank look, he said, “You know, about the Dragon’s Teeth.”

“What can I do?” I asked. “At some point, they’re going to start advancing again, and when I do that, I guess I can kill a few of them. Until then, I’ve done all I could and boy, was it not enough.”

“Have you been drinking?” John asked.

“John,” I said, “I’m taking industrial levels of Ox, even though it barely lets me function. If my grape juice is a little elderly, I’d fucking die.”

John nodded. “Ok, fair enough. You got anything to eat?”

“Power Sludge,” I said. “And no, there aren’t any restaurants open that we can reasonably get to.”

The thing I quickly noticed was that certain things we had done to get the place habitable for Eliza and me carried over. The two completely useless fridges, for instance, would probably hold enough food for all of us and the washer and drier (when we got them set up) was more than capable of handling all our demands. Other things like beds were harder to deal with. Eliza and I were sharing a twin-sized mattress, for instance. John and Kyle did not want to share a bed with us or each other.

Around the start of September, Valkyrie came back. The factory was functioning as a living space and occasionally we’d be able to get food that wasn’t awful synthetic glop that looked suspiciously like vomit. That didn’t mean it was great food. So when we let Valkyrie come in through a window, we were all happy to see she was carrying several boxes of pizza.

“Valkyrie!” I said happily. “Where’d you get that?”

“I may be on the up and up,” Valkyrie said, setting down the pizzas, “but that doesn’t mean I don’t have connections. I literally got what might be the last takeout pizzas in Worcester. Plus,” she unhooked a bag from her arm, “some big sodas.”

We began to dig in. After a few slices of cheese pizza (there was only cheese pizza,) I asked, “So, how’s the arm distribution going?”

“Reasonably well,” Valkyrie said. “They haven’t started killing each other and there hasn’t been too much extortion of refugees.”

“Always nice,” John said. Reasonably, he didn’t exactly approve of giving people like Jen scarily effective firearms, many of which were easy to conceal. Yet he didn’t really see any alternatives. Basically, we were in agreement.

“Any sightings of Deets?” Kyle asked. “I’m… a little conflicted on how soon I want to see these guys again.”

Valkyrie shrugged. “Not sure. Jen’s looking, and I’m reasonably sure she’s telling the truth. The others could be, or they could be in the process of cutting deals with them.”

“Any you suspect in particular?” I asked. Valkyrie looked hesitant. “If you say Mai’s playing both ends against the middle, I won’t bite your head off,” I said. “Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if Jen was playing us. Disappointed, but surprised.”

“You’re right,” Valkyrie said. “Jen will try to use this to get ahead, but she’ll just try to screw the other leaders so that when things calm down she’ll be in a better position. Mai, meanwhile, is going to disappear as soon as the Teeth get into town.”

“Dealt with these fuck eggs a lot, ‘aven’t you?” Eliza asked.

“Oh yes,” Valkyrie said as Kyle and John giggled at “fuck eggs.” “I swear, ninety percent of my job involves talking to these guys and asking them stuff like ‘what did you assholes do now?’ over and over.”

There was a buzz. “Someone’s at the door,” I said, moving to get it.

“Oi,” Eliza said. “You fuckin’ stay there.” She got up muttering darkly about invalids who thought they were well. We sat there as she talked to the person happily. I drank some soda. John and Kyle had their hands on their guns. Valkyrie calmly ate her pizza.

Eventually, Eliza came back into the room, smiling. “Guess ‘oo’s ‘ere!” She said. “Eric an’ ‘is mates!”

“Who?” Valkyrie asked.

“We’ll bring them in,” John said, “you can meet them then.”

They all left hurriedly. Valkyrie raised her eyebrows. “Eric’s a former child soldier from Africa,” I said. “He’s very friendly, but he and the rest of his group would prefer you not ask about their past.” Valkyrie nodded, examining me, as if calculating how much more damage would be done.

When Eric came in, it wasn’t just with Doc, MC Disaster, Ray-Gun and the Monk. Oro and Cross were also there, as well as a lot of other students from NIU’s AMS and Shadowhaven programs. All of them seemed to have some sort of concealed weaponry, judging by the bulges in their clothes, and many of them were chattering excitedly. A few began to reveal their weapons (mostly assault rifles and pistols, but there were also some SMGs, shotguns, sniper rifles, anti-tank rockets, grenade launchers, and belt-fed machine guns,) and unloading them.

“Valkyrie brought us pizza,” John said, “but I don’t think there’ll be enough.”

“Do not worry, my friend,” Eric said, pointing to a Hispanic woman chatting with Eliza and carrying several boxes, “Camilla is also bringing gifts.” He pointed to an Asian man carrying several bags of what appeared to be Mexican food. “So is Bunrouen.”

After I had watched the room slowly became covered in weapon parts, ammo, grenades, what appeared to be bricks of C4 or worse, and people eating junk food and drinking soda and alcohol, I nervously turned to look back at Valkyrie.

Her face did not express amusement.


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