Track 21: Project Skywalker

After asking my question, there was nothing but silence. May was looking curiously at everyone. Smith looked sullen. Everyone else seemed tired, but it was hard to tell in the low light.

“I wouldn’t lean on the wall,” Kyle said. As soon as he said that, the platform began to rise. When it did, I realized that the walls were staying put. From outside, there was a muffled thump from what I assumed was a rocket hitting the steel door. The walls didn’t even shake. “No worries,” Kyle said. “That door is a titanium-uranium alloy. They’ll need a lot more of those before they even make a dent.”

“I’m actually more worried about the big picture,” I said. “For instance, why are there non-Jumpers capable of teleportation? And why are they dressed up like Nazis?”

“Taylor,” Kyle asked, “would you care to explain to Nathan what the Grenzefrontier is?” Smith just shook his head. Kyle shrugged. “Shame. You know it better than anyone here.” He then began to talk to me again. “Anyway, you know how Hitler was obsessed with giving humans Parahuman powers, tech, and expansionism? And how he was allied with the home of the Jumper?”

“He didn’t…” I said, completely incredulous.

“He didn’t,” Kyle said.

“Thank God,” I said. “Apart from how bad it would be if he survived, the whole idea of…”

“But at least a hundred thousand of his followers did,” Kyle said. “Around the end of World War Two, Hitler managed to get a teleporter device working and sent some people his raceologists determined to be a hundred percent Aryan to a planet called New Nuremberg.”

“I’m sorry…” I said, “But how did they find a Goldilocks planet and make a teleporter? It wasn’t until fairly recently that we even discovered a Goldilocks planet, and, even with modern technology, we can’t even mimic Jumpers, let alone surpass them.”

“Publicly, yes,” Kyle said. “Privately… I’ve heard that’s the first thing the IDRF did and that several other countries have developed them.”

“See,” May said, “you were right. They are Nazis from another planet.”

“Shut up, I was being sarcastic!” I said. “Still, I’ve got one question. What did Smith mean when he said, ‘we have no idea what’s coming?’”

“You know,” Richard said, walking over to Smith, “I’m also interested in what Taylor meant.” He then grabbed Smith’s tie. “You’ve been dropping hints about something called the Dragon’s Teeth ever since we met. I’d be interested to know just what they are.”

For some reason, I was looking at Smith’s hands. That’s when I saw that he was holding something and there was liquid leaking off his wrists. I wondered what it was. Then Smith said, “Shame you’ll never find out, traitor.”

That’s when it clicked. I unholstered my Sig, but Smith’s arms were already moving. It was too late to shout a warning, so I fired. I was still too late. Smith had shoved something directly into Richard’s neck, a little bit below his jaw.

Everyone, including Richard, stopped and stared. A great deal of blood was flowing from the wound. Somewhat in shock, Richard let go of Smith. Smith, despite the fact that his brains were decorating the opposite wall, didn’t let go of the glass shard. When it fell out of Richard’s neck, the blood began to spray. Jared screamed as he got sprayed, but May was running before Smith hit the floor. This all happened in two seconds.

“Shit,” May said, looking over Richard’s body. “His carotid artery is completely severed. Smith knew exactly what he was doing.”

“What about Smith?” I asked, nervous as to how close May was to him.

“Considering the fact that roughly…” May paused, looking at the stain on the wall, “…twenty percent of his gray matter is now a wall decoration, I’d say he’s dead and his brain is gone. Two Star Trek references in one.”

“Damn it!” Kyle said, kicking the wall. Then he grunted in pain. “The entire point of this fucking operation was to bring Taylor and Graff in alive! Not kill them!”

“So, what next?” I asked.

“We get to Project Skywalker,” Kyle said, “and we just take it easy until this all blows over.”

“And Project Skywalker is?” I asked.

“The way it was put to me,” Kyle said, “was that whatever device they’re using to teleport from their planet and back is the Death Star, and whatever these guys are working is basically the torpedo. If this doesn’t work, apparently there’s an aircraft carrier really close by.”

“And what happens then?” I asked. “The only thing they can do is bomb us to pieces.”

“Which is why the President is currently in Switzerland on important business,” Kyle said. “Not that these assholes know that.”

“But they know about this… thing we’re building?” I asked.

“Yeah,” Kyle said. “Oh, just so you know, you shouldn’t ask how it works. They’ll just get more suspicious.”

I was about to ask why. Then I realized that I had just shot someone who had information they really needed. “Yeah,” I said. “Not a problem.”

Finally, we got to the top floor. This was a six-story building surrounded by a bunch of three-story buildings, so it should have moved much faster, in my opinion. When we got out of the elevator, Gupta and Mendes were waiting for us. They both were in tactical armor, so it was kind of hard to tell it was them underneath the Kevlar, gas masks, and sunglasses. Gupta carried a SPAS-12, and Mendes had a P-90. Both had pistols strapped to their hips, probably the Campus Police standard issue Five-seveN.

“Jesus Christ,” Mendes said, looking at all the blood, “what the fuck happened to you guys?”

“May and I got caught outside,” I said. “When Kyle saved us, Smith got suspicious. He then proceeded to fuck everything up for us. Hence why two of Kyle’s crew is dead and Smith’s brains are outside his head.”

“We don’t have time for this,” Gupta said. “All of you, into Secure Experimentation.”

I grabbed the bag and the assault rifle and followed everyone else.  We were heading down the hallway. I stopped, however, to look out the window. “Hey!” Gupta said, “Move it or lose it!”

May, however, was curious. “What do you see?”

Down in front of the building was a large group of people in green uniforms. In the center, there were two lines of soldiers carrying something on their shoulders. These lines were somewhat offset. They were all looking directly at the window. Right next to them, an officer had his hand raised. Before I could shout a warning, he brought it down in a chopping motion.

The first rocket hit the window. The explosion knocked me back on my butt, and I could see the window bow in slightly. Another rocket hit the window. “Go prone!” Kyle yelled.

“This way!” Mendes yelled, as he took off running.

“Or not,” Kyle said as everyone began running. As we ducked into a room, I turned to see that the window was only slightly cracked. At least six anti-tank rockets had hit it.

“What the fuck is that window made of?” I asked. We were in a small antechamber. The door Mendes had opened was mostly standard, if a little more solidly built then I was used to. In front of us was a legitimate vault door that was slowly opening. “That glass took six hits, and it only cracked a bit.”

“I wanna know what’s in those rockets,” Mendes responded. “I was there when they were testing it. They fired a couple Javelins into it, and it just kind of flexed.”

“Well,” Kyle said, “either way, it’s going to break. Any plans to deal with that?”

“We just roll down the shutters,” Mendes said. “If the Braxton Glass doesn’t stop them, titanium-uranium alloy should.”

“Uhhh…” May said, pointing down, “what’s that green dot? And what’s that counter for?” We looked down at the ground. Just as May had said, there was a green dot moving around in a circle. Connected to it by a line was a box with a countdown that displayed what seemed to be hours, minutes, seconds and milliseconds. Currently, we had about twenty-four hours.

“That…” Mendes said, “…means someone is drilling their way in here. Probably something laser-based, judging by how it’s going in circles. The computer thinks we’ve got twenty-four hours.”

There was a jump. Suddenly, it said twenty. Then it jumped up to twenty-five. “Needless to say,” Mendes said, “I don’t trust the computer.”

From inside, we heard a voice call, “Mendes, Gupta, get the students in here.” We were hurried into a large vault that appeared much smaller due to the huge machine inside. Two other students were working on computers connected to it, and a third was running around, fixing various mechanical problems. In the far right corner, two more Campus Security officers in combat gear were surrounding what appeared to be a captain. The captain spoke again. “I take it you noticed one of our problems?”

“Yes,” Mendes said. “Do you need us to do anything about it?”

“They’re on Level Five. Hook up with the rest of Beta and take it out.” As Mendes and Gupta went off, he said, “You five, can you fight?”

“They can,” May said, “but I’m more of a medic.”

“Good,” the captain said. “There’s going to be trouble. How much depends on how fast these people can get their shit together.”

“Hey,” one of the engineering students said, “This stuff we’re doing? Literally nothing like it has ever been done before in the history of mankind. What you’re doing is the equivalent of asking someone in 1950 to devise a way to go to the moon in six months. It can be done, it’s just a little difficult.”

I couldn’t ask them anything, so I turned to Kyle. “Hey, Kyle, can I have my nine back?” I asked as I set down the bag of ammo.

“Sure,” he said. He reached into his waistband to hand me back my Berretta. I took my pistol back, and began to search for nine millimeter ammo. I figured it had to be in there somewhere because most pistols, including Kyle’s, took it. I quickly found a box and began to refill my two magazines.

“You know,” Kyle said, “that looks like a good idea.” He sat down by me. I noticed that he had brought Richard’s shotgun and pistol as well as his own weapons. Jared joined us as well. After I had refilled my Berretta (there wasn’t any ammo for my Sig) I checked to see why I had run out of ammo for the M-4 clone. It turns out I hadn’t. The quadrastacked mag had shit itself.

A couple minutes into my attempt to fix it, Kyle said, “They do that. Don’t bother.” It was then that I had noticed that no one had spoken for quite a bit.

“You ok?” I asked. “Never mind, stupid question. A bunch of your friends just got shot.”

There was a moment of silence, then Kyle said, “Dragging Richard and Camilla into this was one thing, but Brad…”

“Cap,” Jared said, “It’s ok. He was prepared…”

“It isn’t just Brad!” Kyle said. “Jared, we came in here with five other guys from the team. It was my job to keep them safe, and only you and Brad made it through fucking Hell Semester. I should never have brought you guys along.”

“Well,” Jared said, “you couldn’t stop us, man. Fuck, man, what were we supposed to do? Let the guy who led the team to finals three times in a row go on to face Nazis by himself?” He patted Kyle on the shoulder. “We knew the risks, and decided to take them. Also, if we hadn’t gone with you, things probably would be much worse.”

“Hey,” the captain said, “you four, come over here.” Kyle, Jared, Camilla and I all walked over to where the Captain was standing. He was looking down at a monitor of CCTVs. Most of them were static. “We’ve got another problem,” he said. “We’ve taken out the laser, but a group of the enemy have used the distraction to get up to this floor. They’re cutting us off from our people on the fifth floor. Can you remove them?”

Camilla pulled back the bolt on her AK to check that there was ammo. “How many are there?”

“Not sure,” the captain said. “But I’ve managed to seal off the other ways they can get in here.”

“So, all of them?” Camilla asked. “Not a problem, then.”

“I’m game,” I said, slapping a thirty-round mag into the M-4. “Kyle, Jared? You two in?”

“Sure,” Jared said, “It’s time for some payback.”

“Dude,” Kyle said, “be careful, ok?”

Jared and Kyle looked at each other for a moment. Kyle seemed to be begging Jared not to do something stupid. Jared smiled. “Sure man. I will.”

“Ok,” the captain said, “I’ll open the vault door. Head down the hall and take a left. That’s where the last entrance to this level is. The shutters are all down now, so you shouldn’t have anyone shoot at you from outside. There’s another stairwell on the opposite side of the building, but those stairs have been sealed off.”

We waited as the vault slowly opened, the sound of gunfire and explosions slowly seeping in from outside. When it was finally done, we filed out, checking our corners. When we were almost to the corner, I whispered, “How about we throw in a flashbang?” I held it up to show it was a viable option.

Kyle nodded. “Ok,” he muttered, “then we rush the bastards. Jared, cover our rear.”

I pulled the pin on the flashbang and rolled it down the hall and around the corner. When we heard the thump of it going off, Camilla, Kyle and I ran around the corner. We saw a group of four Nazis staggering back and blinking. Behind them, the door to the stairwell was open. The sound of gunfire echoed from it.

We opened fire. I got one, Kyle got another, and Camilla got the other two. As I was tossing a second flashbang into the stairwell, a fifth came out of the stairwell. Camilla got him too, her AK rounds passing through him and into the door. The flashbang went off as he fell, backlighting him for a split second.

We quickly ran through the bodies. Inside, there were three able-bodied, but deafened and blinded Nazis on the landing, and one who was unconscious and bandaged. I was first. I fired three two to five round bursts, causing the uninjured ones to fall down. Behind me, I heard Kyle fire a shotgun blast into the left corner, and Camilla fire a burst down the stairs. Then her AK clicked. Then she swore in Spanish. I looked to my right.

Down the stairs, on the halfway landing between the two floors, was a group of six Nazis, plus a few Nazi corpses. Most were still dazed, but one was aiming his STG straight at me. Before he could pull the trigger, there was a series of pops. From the fifth floor landing, I could see the distinctive muzzle flash of a Five-seveN pistol. Shortly later, I could see three Campus Security officers rushing the remaining Nazis. The one on point carried a riot shield and a Five-seveN, the second one had a P-90, and the rear one had a SCAR-H with an underbarrel XM-LSS. The remaining Nazis in the stairwell quickly fell down, blood and bullet holes marring the wall behind them.

However, I was distracted by the sound of one of the semi-auto Mausers coming from behind. I quickly headed out the door and saw Jared lying in a pool of his own blood. From farther down, I could see a Nazi lying down on the floor, also bleeding out.

I ran over to Jared. I was relieved to see that his eyes were open and he was still breathing, although it was very shallow. “Shit,” I said. “Ok, Jared, I’m going to get you out of here, man. Just hang…”

There was the sound of submachinegun fire. Then, somehow, I was on the floor and my stomach felt numb. I touched my stomach. There was a shooting pain, and when I looked at my fingers. They were covered in blood. I dropped them. From behind me, I heard someone burst out of the stairwell and fire an AK. The person at the other end responded in kind. I heard Camilla grunt and a crash.

As I heard more footsteps and gunfire, my vision began to blur. My last thought before going black was Damn it! It’s been months since I’ve blacked out. I was really hoping to break that trend… Then darkness took me.

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Track 20: Counter-Attack

“So Jew-boy, why’d you enroll at lovely Nowhere Island University?” With one question, Richard had just raised so many questions. Was he the fourth UNIX infiltrator? Did that mean UNIX had known Nazis would attack Nowhere Island and had neglected to warn the other three agents stationed there? More pressingly, did this mean May and I could live?

Well, there was only one way to find out. “Would you believe,” I said jokingly, “that I thought I was applying to NYU?” As I finished, I noticed that Richard made a twirling motion with his shotgun. As he did so, Kyle’s crew raised their guns and stopped leaning on the walls.

One of the Nazis in front of Kyle and Richard rolled his eyes. “He obviously isn’t joining. All he’s doing is telling…”

“What a coincidence,” Richard interrupted, adjusting his aim so he was now aiming at the Nazi who had just spoken. “Me too.” As he did so, Kyle and his crew also adjusted their aim as well. They fired almost simultaneously.

Behind me, I heard some voices in German making concerned queries. Then there were sharp bursts of AK fire. “Clear!” I heard a female voice with a Mexican accent say. I turned around to see a person of ambiguous gender lift up a ski mask with one hand to reveal a feminine Hispanic face.

“Camilla,” Kyle said, somewhat exasperated, “put the mask back on. We haven’t blown our cover yet.” Suddenly a radio crackled, a voice in German angrily enquiring something. Kyle holstered his Browning and got off May. “Please be quiet for a moment. Also, if you could police your brass? That’d be great.”

He then raised the radio to his ear. “Yes?” He asked. “Ah, Colonel Graff! Yeah we actually managed to capture two of them.” He paused as the Colonel on the other end asked a question. “Yeah,” Kyle said, “there were actually three of them… Sorry, but Sergeant Heinz went in first. We only got the second one because he ran out of ammo killing them… The other one’s a Triple A med student. She was unarmed and we figured she’d be of more use alive.” The officer muttered a bit more. Suddenly, Kyle’s eyes grew wide.

“You breached the advanced engineering labs?” he said, his eyes wide with panic, but his voice happy. “Great! We’ll see you there.”

After making sure the radio was completely off, he turned to the rest of us. “We need to move,” he said. “Now. Killer, I’m going to put handcuffs on you and May, but they’re fake, ok?”

“What the hell just happened?” May asked, coughing a bit. “Whose team are you even on?”

“That’s easy,” I said, “their own. But I guess they are working for the university in this case, right?”

“Yeah,” Richard said condescendingly, as he tossed me a pair of handcuffs. “Now be a good boy and put on the bracelets.”

Kyle, noticing the way I was staring murderously at Richard, quickly said, “Please. It’ll make life a lot easier for us. And Richard? Don’t be a dick.” I inspected the handcuffs and saw that there was a button on them that allowed them to be instantly opened.

“So, mind briefing me on what’s going on?” I asked.

“Later,” Kyle said. “Just pretend to be a prisoner for now, ok?” I sighed. I didn’t have any choice. For whatever reason, Kyle had decided to keep me alive. My best guess is that he had a plan for me, but if I didn’t cooperate now, he’d have to kill me. After all, the Colonel was expecting him to arrive with two prisoners.

“Sure,” I said, putting on the cuffs. I was actually curious to see how this all went down. I watched as everyone collected their brass and my Berretta. After they were done, Kyle signaled for us to begin marching away quickly.

We moved away quickly, Richard and Kyle on point, the two I didn’t recognize frog-marching me and Camila bringing up the rear. We moved through the streets, avoiding the ever increasing number of Nazi patrols, but identifying ourselves when we couldn’t avoid them. As we moved, I could hear the sound of gunfire. If I had to guess, it was coming mostly from the airport and Campus Security Headquarters.

Finally, we got to advanced engineering. In front of the building, a group of Nazis were just beginning to enter the building. Four Nazis, plus a dark-haired man in a business suit were standing outside watching them go in. One of them was wearing an officer’s cap instead of a helmet. I assumed that meant he was Colonel Graff. The four began walking over to us. The dark haired student took out a radio and began to listen intently.

“Mr. Rockford,” the person I assumed to be Colonel Graff said as he approached us, “you’re late.”

“Sorry, sir,” Kyle said, “we just had a bit of trouble.”

“Yes,” the person in the business suit said, turning around. I noticed he had a very posh British accent, and a somewhat smug demeanor. Also, his large, circular glasses were somewhat thin, like they were more for effect than vision correction. His attitude was also extremely smug. “Some of our scouts just found Heinz’s squad. I think their findings would interest you quite a bit.”

At this moment, a series of explosions rocked the building. A few of Colonel Graff’s men turned at the sound. That was all the time Kyle, Richard, and my other “captors” needed. Two of Graff’s men were cut down by M-4 fire and another fell back from the crack of Richard’s shotgun. Meanwhile, Kyle had drawn an M-1 Garand he had slung over his back and pointed it at Colonel Graff.

“Colonel Graff, Mr. Smith,” Kyle said pleasantly, “President Anthony Newton-Howell would like to speak with you.”

As I pressed the release buttons on my fake cuffs, I noted the pale expression on Smith’s face. I also realized that he must have been that Taylor Smith guy who May hated. I should have been paying attention to Graff. He pulled out what looked like a Browning with the magazine in front of the pistol grip, but before he could aim it, Kyle fired twice.

“God damn it!” Kyle almost yelled. He turned to Smith. “You,” he said, “down on the ground!” Smith, still pale as a sheet, made a confused noise.

“If he doesn’t get down,” Richard asked, “can I shoot him in the balls?”

“You traitors…” Smith said, getting down on his knees. “Do you understand what you’ve done?” I noticed that he was getting louder as he talked. I also noticed that Kyle was stalking towards him. “This is for the benefit of the world! Not only are we restoring the proper order, but…”

Kyle cut him off by smashing the side of Smith’s head with his rifle butt. As he bent down to apply zip ties to Smith’s wrists, he said, “My Grandfather spent his whole life fighting people like you, but I didn’t need him to learn that people like you are shit. Don’t even bother talking to me.”

“You have no idea what’s coming, do you?” Smith asked, laughing.

“Brad!” Kyle said, still not returning to his calm self.

“Yeah, Cap?” the guy behind me asked. He seemed like he was a football player before enrolling. Made sense, since Kyle was a former football player who had brought a few of his friends over with him. Also explained why Brad called him Cap.

“Take charge of this piece of shit,” Kyle spat out. He then turned to me and May. “You two, get some weapons.”

I pulled out my Sig. Kyle’s eyes widened. Apparently, he hadn’t realized I had it on me. May, meanwhile, looked somewhat uncomfortable. Understandable for a pacifist. Luckily for her, we heard a bunch of voices in German coming from down the street.

“We need to move.” Camilla said. “Now.”

“Ok,” Kyle said, “everyone inside.” We followed Richard and Kyle into the building. To the left of the hallway, there was a security booth. Kyle ran to the door and typed some numbers on the keypad. The door opened. “Everyone,” Kyle said, “get in!”

We didn’t waste any time. We still weren’t fast enough. I was the third-to-last person in. Brad was behind me, pushing Smith in front of him. He was almost in the room when there was a burst of gunfire. He collapsed.

Before Smith could run away, I pulled him in and pistol-whipped him for good measure. He fell into the room face-first. Meanwhile, gunfire began slamming into the desk and bullet-resistant glass. Ignoring it, I reached out to grab the rifle Brad had dropped. As I did so, I caught sight of a group of four Nazis coming in through the door. A bullet whizzed by my head just as I grabbed the rifle. I quickly got back into cover.

Meanwhile, Kyle was talking on a phone he had pulled off the desk. “This is Dagger,” he said, his voice barely masking the nervousness he felt. “We need Bravo Passage to open up, and we need it now.”

“Kyle…” his other pre-NIU friend said, “the glass is starting to crack…”

“Thank you Jared,” Kyle said, putting his hand to the receiver, then went back to the phone. “Skywalker, you there? We need to get up the passage right now. I’ve got three persons of interest I need to get to safety. Please open the passageway!”

A section of bullet-resistant glass shattered, raining shards down on me, Smith and May. There’s a reason I never call anything bullet-proof. Not wanting to see how long the desk and wall would last, I leaned out and began to return fire. I managed to put a two-round burst in one of them before they focused on me.

Richard, for his part, moved over to where the window had been blown out and began to fire from behind this new position. “Nice going, Jew-boy,” he said, ducking to return fire.

“My name,” I said, leaning out to fire a few more bursts, “is Nathan.” The remaining two Nazis dropped dead. “Fucking use it.”

“Really?” Camilla asked exasperatedly from the far end of the booth. “You can stop pretending to be an asshole, Richard.” To punctuate her statement, a rocket hit the bullet-resistant glass between her and the closest person to her. When the smoke and flames cleared, they revealed a shocked expression on her face.

“They’re coming from stairwell two!” Jared yelled and began returning fire.

“Good news,” Kyle said. “They’re sending down the elevator. We just have to hold out a little longer, ok?”

I looked out from behind the door to see a bunch of Nazis coming in through the main entrance. Luckily for me, there was no cover for them. I was suddenly distracted by the roar of a machinegun and the sound of bullets hitting the desk and the windows. Jared fell back, clutching his ear and screaming in pain.

“We’ve got a machinegun!” Camilla yelled. “Stairwell two! We need to leave!”

Before I turned back to deal with the steadily increasing amount of people coming in through the main entrance, I saw May crawl over to Jared, probably getting cut up on a lot of broken glass. Eventually, I heard Jared begin to return fire. When another glass window shattered, Kyle also began shooting.

That was good, because the M-4 clone I had taken from Brad was out of ammo. I quickly leaned out and began dragging him back in. When he was back, I noticed that he was carrying a bullet-riddled backpack. I also noticed that a bullet had entered the back of his head. When he was in, I opened the backpack. I quickly saw that it was ammo and grenades. A few of the mags near the near the rear were damaged by gunfire, but a lot of it was intact… including two quadrastacked mags.

“Anyone need a refill?” I asked.

“I’m good,” Jared said. “For now.”

“Same here,” Kyle said.

“I’ve only got two mags left,” Camilla said. “And that’s counting the one in my gun.” There was a click.” “Wait,” Camilla amended, “make that one.”

I reached into the backpack and pulled out two AK mags. “Here ya go,” I said, sliding them down the floor to her. “Also, grenades for everyone.” I began rolling the explosives down to people. Once everyone who was fighting had three grenades, I grabbed one of the quadrastacked magazines. Tossing the empty one away, I began fitting the sixty-round behemoth into my gun.

Once I had done that and had begun to put the backpack on me, I heard Jared yell, “Catch, you shit-faces!” A few seconds later, I heard screams. I looked up. Stairwell two was in flames. A Nazi with an SMG came running out, desperately trying to pat the fire out. I sent a silent thanks to God that the grenades in Brandon’s backpack hadn’t exploded.

Suddenly, a large steel panel behind us began to roll open. “Elevator’s here!” Kyle yelled. “Move it or lose it!”

“Get in,” I yelled, cocking Brad’s M-4. “I’ll cover you!”

“Richard,” Kyle said, “You’re almost out. Get Smith in the elevator!” I looked behind me. There was Smith, lying face up. Richard began to move over to drag him into the elevator.

Ignoring the thought that something was wrong about Smith, I leaned out of cover to begin sustained fire on the people entering the building. I had kind of lost track of things when Kyle called out, “Killer! Get in, we’re leaving!”

I turned to see that everyone else was in the elevator, and the steel panel that had been hiding it was slowly sliding closed. I got up, firing as I went. Once I was inside, the M-4 clicked. I got out of the way so Camilla could take my place suppressing the incoming Nazis.

When the steel door finally closed, I dropped the M-4 and asked, “So. Anyone care to tell me what the actual fuck is going on?”

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Track 14: Rest Up

February was when things started to get into a routine, albeit one with ever-escalating academic stakes. There was at least one paper assigned per class, not counting the math class. The teacher there just decided to pile on the homework. Between schoolwork, my job at The Drunken Mercenary and the exercise schedule I had to keep up, I would get back to my dorm and cry myself to sleep. It was one of the hardest things I had ever done, with Hell Semester barely beating it out. Due to some miracle of God, I was getting Bs and As.

The nice thing was that the weather was improving. After the one week where classes had been canceled, the snow’s constant barrage had begun to back off. Then, for one day, the temperature jumped up. Now, occasionally, the snow would become rain. One day, it even stopped! People went out into the streets, marveling at the fact that there was no precipitation, assuming fog didn’t count as precipitation. Of course, no one could see the sun.

It was soon after that my driving lessons started. The problem was three-fold. First off, the weather, as stated above, was crap. The second problem was that the instructors were training us on both automatic and manual transmission cars. Finally, I had failed my driver’s test back home. All of this, plus my workload, stress, and mounting paranoia, should have made my driving lessons miserable.

Instead, I was having fun. I had an excuse to empty my mind of all the various things that were happening to me. I guess it was because I had to focus on what I was doing or die, sort of like how I hadn’t once had a nightmare during Hell Semester. It was better than drinking, and I was having trouble playing my favorite games.

Not everyone had my stance on driving lessons. John, the lucky bastard, didn’t have to take them because he had taken his test back home. He even was a TA for the instructors. Thankfully, he was pretty cool about it.

Cross and Eliza also hadn’t passed their tests yet. “God,” Eliza moaned, “why is this happening to me again? Wasn’t three times enough?” It was at dinner in Newton-Howell, and Eliza was having her second meltdown.

Most of us were doing our best to comfort her. We had all broken down at some point this semester. At least I had. The day before, I was doing my laundry when I had realized how much work I still had to do. It took ten minutes, then I had to remove clothes from the laundry.

“You failed three times?” Cross asked. “Seriously, it wasn’t that hard.” He had just come into the dining room from his first lesson. He had never driven before, due to being a New Yorker.

“Well,” Charlotte said, “technically she only failed once. I really thought she’d get it the third time, until the lightning struck.” Eliza sobbed.

Suddenly, Jen appeared directly behind Cross. “Did she almost run over a friend? Because Cross almost hit May.”

Cross’s eyes widened. Meanwhile, Eliza gave Charlotte a pleading stare. “No!” Charlotte said, obviously lying. “She never ran over or into anything.”

“Anyway,” Jen said, “she doesn’t seem to be eating with us tonight. Does she have classes?”

“I think so,” I said. “She tends to like eating with us whenever possible. I’m not sure she has anyone else to eat with. Kinda sad.”

“‘Ow’s it sad?” Eliza asked.

“Well,” I said, “despite being pretty brilliant at med stuff, she never seems to hang with any of the other med people. I mean, we’re pretty cool, but I get the impression that she’d rather be hanging with people in her major.”

“She has an intriguing perspective on things,” Jen said. “I like her. Shame she doesn’t like me.”

“Really?” John said. He hadn’t been paying attention for most of the conversation, just texting on his cPhone. “May seems to be a little oblivious and, well, is as accepting of what we did during Hell Semester as a pacifist can be.”

Jen shrugged. “Wish I knew.”

Suddenly my phone rang. “It’s May,” I said. “She’s asking if she wants us to meet at the morgue around 11:30. I can make it because work’s canceled tonight.”

“Really?” Cross asked. “How is The Drunken Mercenary closed?”

“Someone dared Ulfric to break the window with his bare hands,” I said. “He did. Also, the toilet broke. Like seriously broke.”

“Jesus,” Cross said. “There go my plans for tonight. I’m in.”

“I’m not,” Jen said, shivering a bit. “That building’s jump-shielded.”

“What’s so bad about jump-shielding?” I asked.

Jennifer’s light brown eyes lost their usual twinkle. Instead, they became somewhat haunted. “Have you ever been locked in a coffin and buried alive?” she asked. “I haven’t, but that’s the closest I can come to describing jump shielding.”

“Well,” John said, “that doesn’t sound fun.” He stretched a bit. “Anyway, I’m in. I need a break. That fucking English paper is killing me.”

“Yeah,” I said, “and I need to not look at math.”

Unusually, John and I were the last of the group to leave. “Hey, Nate,” John asked as he finished swallowing his brownie, “can I ask you something?”

“Sure,” I said.

For a moment, he was quiet, and debating what to say. Then he asked, “What do you think of Bai?”

“I’m a little scared of her,” I said. “After all, the first time I talked to her was… awkward, to say the least.” On our first meeting, after Eliza had deduced I was a spy, she had spent the conversation silently trying to figure out whether to hurt me until I talked or to just kill me.

“But…” John said, “can she be trusted?”

“Eliza trusts her,” I said. “I don’t know her well enough to make that call.” Suddenly, a suspicion hit me. “Any reason you’re asking?” I asked. Images of her stalking him suddenly passed through my mind.

“She kind of invited me to this place called The Back-Home Bar and Grill,” he said. “I’m thinking of going.”

“Who else is going?”

“Just me,” he said, somewhat smugly. “If you’ll excuse me, I got some stuff to pick up at the library.” He got up, smiling a bit.

Well I’ll be damned, I thought, John and Bai… Didn’t expect them together.

A few hours later, we were walking into the medical building. The foyer was very nice for a reception area and well-secured. The Campus Security Guard on duty buzzed us inside without much fuss. “You’re here to see little scarface, ja?” He said approvingly as we checked in. I noticed that the nickname could apply to him, as he bore the telltale marks of going hand-to-hand with a Lupine. “She’s down in the basement, room B010.”

When the elevator dinged open, Charlotte said, “My, this is a gloomy place.”

“Gloomy” was kind of underselling it in my opinion. The walls and floors were clean enough, but the lighting was somehow simultaneously harsh and dim. They were also in mesh housings, so a creepy spider web pattern appeared in the blue light. These shafts were not wide enough to touch each other completely, making the place look like a horror movie set.

It only took a few seconds to find B010. Those few seconds were actually pretty creepy. We knocked on the door, a steel monstrosity with a camera built in. We waited for a few moments. Then it slid open.

There stood May in scrubs and an upturned visor, her eyes bleary. “Sorry,” she mumbled, “just was doing some stuff. Come on in.”

We all filed in. “Totally fine!” John said. “Anyway, what are you doing? It’s pretty late.” We were in a small locker/office area that was much better lit.

“I’m wondering,” May said, eyeing us suspiciously, “what you guys are doing here.”

Cross, voicing the sudden dread we all felt, said, “But you were the one to invite us here… weren’t you?”

“Did my message to you say ‘sent from my cPhone?’” May asked. “Because that got stolen a few days ago.”

“The question is,” Eliza said, “‘Oo benefits from putting us all in one place? And why do they want us ‘ere?” We considered this for a moment. Then Eliza added, “Probably not healthy for us, innit, though?”

We all moved away from the door. Cross, John, and Eliza began to reach under their coats and Charlotte began to fiddle with her pocket book’s zipper. Then we heard a muffled thump.

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Track 8: Back to the School Where It Began

My schedule was somehow very grueling.  I mean, it was nowhere near as bad as Hell Semester, but the amount of work still surprised me. First were Mondays. I had to go to an English class around ten AM, which was located in the main academic building by the Newell-Howard Student Center. At first, I thought it was a good, relaxing class. We just had to read something as a class and do some introductions. Then the teacher gave us a five-paragraph essay about where we came from to write. “We only have one class a week,” she said.

Next, I had my radio show at three. The way radio shows worked was you first applied to Freshman Radio. They said that they would then put you in room with at least one other person for an hour at a time, and the two of you would have to try and keep your listeners entertained during that time.

When I got in to the Freshman Radio office around two forty-five (it was located on the second floor of Newell-Howard,) I was surprised to see it had a small waiting area with a window overlooking the cafeteria. There was only one other person, a young baby-faced white guy with slightly wavy dark hair and tiny glasses. He was looking at a laptop and typing stuff. I sat down in a red vinyl chair. He was about average height sitting down, but I could tell that if he stood up, he would be taller than almost anyone.

As soon as I sat down, someone came in from the radio room. “Hey, guys,” the newcomer said, “are Nathan Jacobs and Andrew Sebaldi here?” He was black, and, judging by his weight, was definitely not a Shadowhaven or an AMS student. We were required to spend a certain amount of time in the gym, and most of us (me and my roommates included) did daily exercises. This guy had a lot of baby fat on him. He then turned towards me. When he saw me, his eyes widened a bit. “Oh… Didn’t… didn’t, uh, see you there.”

“Are you talking about me?” laptop guy asked.

“Both of you,” the newcomer said. “Follow me, please.” He led us back behind the hallway. “Sorry about this,” he said, “we’ve still got a bunch of people coming in. A few planes were delayed in Alaska and Chile. Me and my partner had to cover two extra shifts. Follow me”

He then led us out into a hallway. There were two rooms, with a window in to each of them. Inside each of them were a computer monitor, microphones, headphones and a control board. The far one had a guy talking into a microphone. The guy we were with led us into the closer one and gave us a quick rundown of how to turn on music (the computer had iTunes on it and we could also plug in an MP3 player,) mics, and to switch to the other booth when we were done.

“Ok,” he said, “you guys got it?” We nodded. “Good. You have nine minutes, plus when our song finishes. Once it’s done, you’re going to read the station ID on that piece of paper, introduce yourself, and your show name. Excuse me.”

He walked out. We put on our headphones. Through them, we could hear the current show. “Hi,” my partner said after they were on, turning towards me and extending his hand, “I’m Andy.”

“Nate,” I said, taking his hand. He had a firm handshake.

“So,” Andy asked, “do you have an idea for a show name? Because I honestly have no idea.”

“How about Flounder?” I suggested.

“Flounder?”

“Yeah,” I said. “Because we have no idea what we’re doing.”

“Works for me.” Andy said with a shrug. “So, where you from?”

“Massachusetts,” I said. “I’m from a town called Maynard…”

“I heard of that place,” he said. “DEC was headquartered there, right? Then it became Digital. There’s still some tech companies there, right?”

“Yeah,” I said. “My Dad worked there.”

“Cool,” Andy said. “My parents worked all sorts of places. New York, Boston, Austin, Silicon Valley… they were tech people as well.”

“So, let me guess,” I said, “you’re an art major.” He laughed. “Ok,” I said, “serious guess: you’re in the CompSci school.”

He nodded. “You too, right?”

“Academy of Military Science, actually,” I said. “It’s kind of hard to believe, I know. Sometimes, I don’t eve believe it.”

“Really?” Andy said. “I thought that they wouldn’t let people with glasses join.”

“Anyone who passes Hell Semester can join,” I said.

“Kind of egalitarian of them.”

“Hell Semester is designed to kill fifty percent of the people who enroll.”

Andy’s eyes widened. “Well,” he said, “I did not know that. Did anyone you know…?”

I shrugged. “I was lucky. I made friends and was able to learn the necessary skills to survive quickly. It was tough, but I did it.”

Suddenly, the light that told us we were on came on and there was silence over the headphones. Quickly, I turned on our mics. “Hello,” I said, while trying to find a song, “you are tuned into 87.3 FM and/or 87.3 HD. I’m Nate Jacobs…”

“And I’m Andy Sebaldi,” Andy said. I flashed him a thumbs up.

“And this…” I said, “…is Flounder.” The show went well. I found that we had a weird mesh of music tastes. For instance, I had started the show off with “Lifestyles of the Rich and the Famous” by Good Charlotte. I also had selected a lot of stuff from bands like Fall Out Boy, The Kongos, and Green Day. Andy had picked out a lot of slower stuff like Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins as well as some classic rock and punk like The Clash and The Beatles.

I also had some nice chats with him, both on and off air. We’d play two songs, then switch to talking bits. During my conversations with him, I found out several things about him. First off, he was very smart. He was a sophomore, despite the fact he was a sixteen-year-old who looked fourteen. He was majoring in Artificial Intelligence and his advisor was pressuring him to dual-major in Factory Systems as well because how he had used the school’s 3D-printer to make his own personal 3D-printer. Then he used that to make an assembly line in his bedroom.

I also learned he was a bit like May. He had this tendency to go into long rants about various things. They weren’t as charming as May’s, but they were much easier to tune out if they got annoying. All in all, even if he wasn’t useful, he was still a nice guy to get to know.

I shook myself at that thought. If he was a good guy, then I should definitely keep him out of what I was doing. After all, I was doing this to protect people. If I dragged someone into this, hell, if I hung out with people too much, there was no guarantee I could keep them safe.

However, if I didn’t make aggressive moves, someone here could make a death ray and wipe out New York or do a million other things that caused innocent people to die.

As we were relieved, I was still debating myself. Noticing my ruminations, but misinterpreting my reasons, Andy asked, “You got the back-to-school blues?”

“Something like that,” I said.

“The nerds of the island have a cure,” Andy said. “We’re holding a party on Friday at Graham’s Game Bar. It’s sort of like a nerdy nightclub. There’s going to be a LAN party, so if you play LOL, Counter-Strike, or Starcraft 2, you should bring your computer. Bring any friends you want.”

“Sure,” I said. “I’m probably going to have supper with them now.”

True to my word, I did. I actually met up with John, Cross, and Eric and his gang. I told them about Andy’s offer.

“Do you think that they’ll have anyone who can hook me up with sixties Marvel comics?” Ray-Gun asked. He was one of Eric’s crew, and he had apparently gotten his nickname from his fascination with Silver Age American comics. His favorite was Jim Steranko’s run on Nick Fury, Agent of SHEILD. I wasn’t sure if he had the complete set.

I shrugged. “Possible.”

“Do you think the girls would be interested?” John asked.

“Depends on which girls,” I said. “Maybe Eliza and her roommates would be interested. May probably wouldn’t want to get out, but I think it would be good for her.” Suddenly, there was a beep from my pocket.

“Shit,” I said, looking at my cPhone, “I’ve got class. Sociology. See you.”

“We will see you later,” Eric said, “and we will also make sure to listen to your show in the future.”

“Do you guys have radios?” I asked, getting up.

“They’re built into our phones,” Ray-Gun said. “These things are cooler than the Star Trek communicator.”

Sociology was really cool. The first class mostly went over the syllabus and addressed the various things that sociology covered. As my teacher explained, sociology is the study of how people interact. It may be a soft science, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t useful. In fact, it was actually fascinating. For instance, did you know that Karl Marx actually contributed a lot to sociology? The conflict theory is basically the idea that history is shaped by two ideological forces clashing together. I’m not exactly a full subscriber to it, but it makes a lot more sense than Communism.

Homework was very simple. Read a few chapters so we could have a discussion on it. That was the same for Philosophy of Government (another place where Mr. Marx showed up) and Military History, both Tuesday and Thursday classes. Our instructor for Military History reminded all us Freshman AMS and Shadowhaven students that we’d have to meet with our advisors by the month. I made a mental note to do that, then continued to take notes with my notebook.

Math, however, was brutal. John and Eric were in the class as well, and we were dismayed when the first thing our teacher did was to give us a test. After that, we were given a large amount of homework.

“Well,” I said, to John, “there goes Wednesday.”

“I know,” he said. “Plus, we’ve got this again on Thursday.” He paused, then said, “Fuck me, right?”

“Hopefully the night shift at The Drunken Mercenary won’t be too bad,” I said.

It was awful. The only person there that I knew was Mary Riley, and she was too busy breaking up fights. During the three days I worked there, I noticed a pattern. When I got in, it would be mildly rushed. When ten rolled around, the bar would become less crowded, but more rowdy. By the time midnight rolled around, we’d have to break up at least two bar fights. Once in a while, we’d even need the help of Campus Security. Then, around twelve thirty, it would suddenly begin to wind down, leaving only one or two people slumped in their drinks. Then we’d begin the process of closing up shop.

Mary explained the situation to me the first night as we closed. “Hell Semester gives people a taste of action,” she said. “A lot of people get addicted to it. This area is a place where they can get that feeling of adrenalin that you only get from fights. The rules are even relaxed for fighting here. However, actual weapons are a big no-no here.”

I didn’t really appreciate that until the morning. It was almost three and we were still closing up. I then went up and staggered into bed. I suddenly realized that I’d have to do that tomorrow and the day after. I think I cried myself to sleep.

Friday, after three days of math and bartending, I ended up going to a class that promised to be fun: Weapon Refreshment. The Patton Building, where the dedicated AMS and Shadowhaven classes took place, was quite the walk away. I had the class with Eliza, Eric, John, Cross, and Bai. Since it started at one, we all decided to walk down together. Since the class was at one, we decided to head down to the nearest student center, Sun Tzu to eat lunch at eleven.

We met up outside Squire Hall, our weapons in long cases. Eliza was a bit late. After she finally got down, I said, “So, who here thinks they can run all the way to Sun Tzu?”

Eliza laughed. “It isn’t about if we can all make it,” she said, “It’s about ‘oo gets their last.” She began running. “‘Cause that wanker has to buy us all coffee at Charlemange’s!”

“You’re on!” I yelled. It turned out to be a bad idea, at least for John. He lost by about five seconds and Eliza, Cross and Eric teased him mercilessly. I was happier than John because I almost beat Eliza, surprising everyone.

Eventually, though, Bai got tired of people teasing John. “You know,” she said, “John may have come in last, but at least he was not out of breath, Cross.”

After we sat down to enjoy our food (apparently, the Sun Tzu’s menu was Asian-style and the building was sort of styled off the Forbidden Palace,) I decided to invite Eliza and Bai to the party.

“So,” I said to the two girls, “There’s this party at a place called Graham’s Game Bar. I heard about it because my radio show co-host invited me to it. The rest of the guys and May are coming. We’re going to get supper here, then head over. Do you guys want to come?”

“I’m not sure…” Bai said.

“Don’t worry,” Eliza said, “Give me a few minutes with ‘er, and she’ll be coming. Should I bring Char and Jen?”

“Depends,” I said. “If you can contact them before we go…”

“They’re actually ‘aving Pistol Marksmanship,” Eliza said. “They should be finishin’ up by the time we get there.”

When we got there, they actually were all still there. I checked my phone. Class actually should be starting now. I looked in through the door that led into the shooting gallery. I could still see that the previous class was watching several people. I looked up and saw Richard Forrest Taylor the Third, and a group of his flunkies coming towards us. I recognized one of them. Kyle, I believe his name was. I also recognized that most, if not all, of Richard’s group used to be Kyle’s group.

“Oh look,” Richard said, his twang evident, “it’s the Jew.”

I sighed. “Really, Richard? You’re going to do this here?” Out of the corner I saw Eliza stiffen. I also saw Eric, Cross and John stiffen a bit. Eric, in particular, had reached into the duffel bag he was carrying. Bai just seemed confused.

“Yeah,” Kyle said, “this isn’t really the place, man.” Something about how Kyle was acting made me question whether or not it really was Richard’s group or if it was Kyle’s. This suspicion became stronger when Richard actually backed down. I made a mental note of it, and went back to looking through the door.

I had been watching for a few minutes when I heard Richard mutter something. I wasn’t really sure what he said. Eliza, however, was. Before I could even consider what Richard had said, I heard a wet schlick sound. I turned to see Eliza’s bone claws had ejected.

For the first time, I realized why she didn’t use them more often. To eject them, she had to dislocate her knuckles and pierce the skin between her fingers and the claws themselves were wet with her own blood.

Her expression was also quite something to behold. Her green eyes flashed dangerously and her ears were flattened. Her skin, usually somewhat fair under her freckles, was now a chalky white. “You wot, mate?” she asked, her voice dangerously quiet.

I turned to look at Richard and his group, as well as some other people in the class just joining us. One of Kyle’s friends, I noticed, had rolled his eyes. However, it was Richard I was interested in. Specifically, the fact that the left side of his pants seemed to be sagging.

I almost had a reason as to why that could be, when Richard derailed my train of thought. Smiling smugly, he said, “I see those ears of yours can’t tell you if what I’m saying’s any of your business.”

“You were talkin’ shit ‘bout me mate,” Eliza said. “That makes it my business.” Suddenly I realized what was probably pulling part of Richard’s pants down. Before I could warn Eliza, she had begun to rant. “‘Specially if it’s some bedsheet wearing bitch ‘oo’s acting ‘igh and mighty while perverting noble ideals ‘e barely understands.”

The smile slid off Richard’s face as he reached for something on his left hip. “Shut up, you mutie whore!” He snarled. When his hand came up, I was unsurprised to see that he was holding an M1911.

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Track 16: A Mad Rush

“So what you’re saying,” Bai said over the radio as we moved towards the direction where we thought Eric would be, “Is that if you kill enough of them, they won’t attack the main camp?”

“Pretty much,” I said. “We’ll also need some reinforcements.”

Gunfire echoed over the radio, announcing Eric’s entrance into the conversation. “Yes. Back-up would be very welcome.”

The radio crackled to life. “We’re on our way,” a cockney-accented voice said grimly. I started.

“Eliza?” I asked. “Did Bai send you?”

“I actually did not realize she was gone…” Bai noted dryly.

“Did you really think I’d bleedin’ sit about while… while there was a fight?” Eliza asked. “Where’s it at?”

“They are slowly forcing us to the inner bend.” Eric said, with no gunfire in the background. “It doesn’t seem like they have any idea what they are doing.”

Just as soon as he finished, I burst through a bush. I found myself in a clearing. About two hundred meters away, a group of six people were standing, all of them armed.

Instinctively, I dropped to my knee, raised my gun, and yelled, “Contact!” One of them heard me and turned around, but I had already fired. I had made sure to switch the G-3 to semi-auto so I didn’t waste ammo. It jumped a little with a sound halfway between a thud and a pop, and the sudden burst of heat was hot enough to hurt my hand.

The guy who had seen me turned around just in time to see one of his friends’ head snap back. The remaining five enemies raised their guns, but I had already shifted my focus to another. Two shots from the G-3 and he (or maybe she, I couldn’t tell at that range) stumbled back and fell.

I turned and aimed at another target. However, before I could get a good bead on him, the first of the enemies had begun to fire. I jumped a bit in shock, so my shot hit him in the shoulder, instead of his chest. He spun around and fell from the force of the bullet. In the meantime, bullets began kicking up around me. The snow around me began to kick up as rounds began to hit. I fired three more shots, taking down another guy before they finally managed to hit me.

The bullet slammed into my flack jacket, knocking the wind out of me and causing me to fall over. I thought about getting up, then realized they had stopped shooting. They thought I was dead. I decided not to disabuse them of that notion.

As they approached, I heard them start arguing and swearing in their native languages. The guy I had shot in the arm was screaming. Someone yelled at him, “It is not so serious. Stop being a baby!”

As they argued louder, I began to recognize their language as French. Finally, they began heading towards me. In the meantime, I wondered what Doc, Monk, and John were doing. The arguing group approached me while I wondered. There were only two left mobile. The injured guy had stopped screaming and started bitching.

His friends, however, kept getting closer. Since I was lying on my back, I couldn’t see them. If I sat up, there would be the chance of them shooting me. Needless to say, I really didn’t want to test my luck any more than I had already.

That being said, they were way too close to comfort. I was just about to sit up and see if I could pop them when gunfire erupted. First there was a simultaneous burst of FAL and AK fire. Then the wounded guy yelled “Merde! Merde merde merde!” Then a single FAL shot. Then silence.

I sat up. “Took you guys long enough.”

To my left, Doc’s incredulous voice came. “Killer?” He asked. “You’re alive?”

“Yeah,” I said, getting up stiffly. “I’m alive. Man, that hurt. Feels like Ulfric punched me in the sternum.” As I got up, I looked around. Doc and The Monk had flanked around slightly, entering through a part of the clearing that wasn’t overgrown. They were on opposite sides of me, guns still at the ready. In front of me were two corpses. I tried to ignore the growing pools of blood around them.

“I am as surprised as I am glad you are well,” The Monk commented, laconic as usual. “I thought you had to have been turned into mincemeat, due to all the gunfire.”

“Yeah,” I said, still trying to avert my eyes from the two corpses. “I got lucky. They only hit me once. My armor stopped the round and knocked me down.” I heard a rustling and whipped around and raised my gun. John, who had just come out of the bushes raised his hands.

“Whoah, whoah, whoah!” He said. “Easy, Nate!”

I lowered my gun. “Jeez, John,” I said, “you fucking scared me.”

John looked over my shoulder. “Is that your handiwork?”

I turned back to where the enemy group had been. “Three of them. Plus one non-fatal.”

“Damn, Killer!” Doc said.

The Monk, however, was continuing to move forwards to where the enemy group had been before I had started firing. “Yes,” he said. “I don’t think that one is dead. He is too lucky.”

Before I could comment on this, a cell phone rang, its tone that of a first-gen Star Trek communicator. In response the not-dead guy sat up and pulled out a pistol. The Monk and I opened fire. He ended up firing a single shot, but I swear to God he ended hitting himself in the leg. The phone was still ringing.

“Let’s make sure he’s dead this time.” The Monk said.

“Agreed.” I said. We then began to edge closer, Doc and John covering us. Eventually, the phone stopped ringing when we got to the guy. I bent down, ignoring the other bodies and checked his pulse. After I was satisfied he was dead, I began to search through his pockets.

“You are very good at this, Killer.” The Monk commented, just a little impressed. “Are you sure you’ve never done this before?”

“Shh… Thanks,” I said, somehow avoiding telling him to shut up as I rifled through his pockets. I avoided the ones that had bullet holes in them. The blood was already freezing, and getting my hands wet could be a death sentence. “Huh,” I said, trying to change the subject, “these guys don’t seem to have brought along any body armor.” I then pulled out a package of hot chocolate mix. “Or anything useful.”

“I cannot speak for the hot chocolate,” The Monk said, “but this armor slows you down and can imbue a false sense of invulnerability.”

“Or maybe they just watched too many movies where the minion’s body armor did nothing,” I said, pulling out a few clips of ammo and a lot of hot chocolate mix and tea bags. “I mean, I know enough to suspect that our side isn’t exactly on its A-game, but I’m pretty sure these guys are too stupid to know they suck.” Then my hand came in contact with something hard and plastic. “Found the phone!” I said.

I pulled it out. It was, as I figured, a smart phone. It wasn’t a brand I was familiar with, but it was open to a map of the surrounding area. On it was a dot labeled “You are here!” and a bunch of other dots were moving around. At the top of my screen, it said. “Find My Friends.” The guy with the phone must not have wanted to take his gloves off to operate the phone, so he had set it so it wouldn’t automatically lock.

“Well,” I said, “this is either a trap or these people are really stupid.”

The Monk cocked his head. After I explained it to him, he shrugged. “Either way, we’ll know where to look for Eric. If they are trying to surround him, they will all be heading towards a central point.”

“Shit, you’re right,” I said. “You’re a genius, man.”

After a quick conference and salvaging what we could and informing our radio contacts of what we had found, we were in hot pursuit of where we thought Eric’s team might be. It took a long time and I kept having to do all sorts of stuff to keep my fingers and toes from becoming too numb. I was beginning to understand why the AK idiot from earlier had been shooting his gun off so much. It had kept his hands warm.

Finally, we began to hear gunfire. “Eric!” Doc said into his walkie-talkie. “We’re hearing gunfire! We think it is you and your new friends.”

“Well, then hurry up!” Eric said. The gunfire that came over the radio matched up pretty well with what we were hearing in the distance.

We picked up the pace, moving closer to the sounds of fighting. We avoided going through any bushes, seeing what happened last time. Our opponents, on the other hand, had not learned that particular lesson. A group of ten came through some bushes right in front of us.We unloaded in response. Not a single one of them was able to get a shot off.

My G-3 (ok, my stolen G-3) ran dry pretty quickly. I instinctively remembered that I had put the stolen pistol in my left pocket, so I pointed my G-3 at the ground, reached my left hand into my pocket and pulled out the P229. I wasn’t sure how accurate I was, but since I was in a panic and firing with my offhand, it probably was terrible. However, I was intrigued at how quickly I had been able to do it. I was reasonably sure I had been able to do it faster than just reloading my G-3.

Once the firing had stopped, John asked, “Are we done here?” He reloaded what I was pretty sure was an M-4 as he spoke. Everyone else was reloading as well.

“Don’t know,” I said as I covered them with my pistol. “Hopefully.”

The radio crackled. “Hey guys,” Eric said frantically, “I just heard gunfire to the rear of my position. Please tell me that was one of you guys!”

“This is Monk,” Monk said. “We ran into the enemy. They are now dead. Also, I believe that if we keep heading straight, we should be at your position soon.”

“Oh good,” Eric said, sighing in relief. “We are surrounded on three sides.” After a pause, he said, “It would be nice if you could bring some ammo. We are running dangerously low, and may need to resort to our surprise.”

Doc chimed in. “If we take a bit of extra time, we can collect some.”

Eric paused. “Do it.” He finally said.  “Unless you are already carrying a huge amount of ammo.”

“Ok,” Doc said, “You heard Eric! Finish reloading, then gather every bit of ammo you can!”

We did so, taking turns covering each other as we stuffed our backpacks packs full of ammunition, and even a few medical supplies. Thankfully, this group had decided to bring as much as possible. We were pretty loaded down, but we still ran pretty fast. After all, our friends needed us.

After about five minutes we saw a group of people on a small hill hiding behind some rapidly splintering trees and, oddly enough, snow barricades. “HEY!” I called out, with what little breath I had left, “ERIC! WE’RE HERE!”

Eric turned around and then yelled, “BEHIND YOU!”

We all turned around. There, coming right towards us, were about ten enemy troops carrying assault rifles and SMGs. They also heard Eric yell, so they raised their weapons.

The area we were in was built in a weird way.  It was shaped in an oddly funnel-like manner on the side we were on. To the left and right was thick vegetation, with a path through to the center. This made it possible to take cover or at least find concealment. However, for me, it took a second to get to behind a suitably thick tree. Thanks to the bullets impacting into the snow all around me, though, the journey felt like it took hours.

I took a peek out from behind my tree for about half a second. John was on the other side of me and a few trees ahead. Beyond that, where the vegetation was less thick, was the flanking group. I only peeked out for a short time because a bunch of bullets hit tree and ground around it, causing splinters and bits of snow to fly around.

From behind, I heard Doc yell, “John! Are you all right?”

“Yeah!” John said.

“When I give the word,” Doc continued, “The rest of us are going to provide cover fire. When you hear a break in the enemy’s firing, you run like hell! Understand?”

“Hell yeah!” John said. “Then I wait until you give the signal, then cover the next guy, right?”

“Correct!” Suddenly, there was a break in the fire. Doc instantly yelled, “COVERING FIRE! NOW!”

I leaned out, brought up my G-3, and took aim. A couple of soldiers were already pretty close, so I triple-tapped one of them.

He fell back, his partner turned to see where the bullet had come from. Before either of us could fire, the snow behind him was kicked up by bullets and sprayed red with blood. I didn’t know if it was from Doc, John, or The Monk, and I didn’t really care. I just looked up from my scope to see if there were any other priority targets.

The second I did so, I saw John begin to run. Then there was a crack and he stumbled like someone had punched him in the small of the back. He continued running. I then noticed that someone was kneeling and pulling the bolt back on a rifle with a telescopic scope of some kind. “Sniper!” I yelled.

The sniper, possibly hearing me shout out “Sniper!” aimed and fired at me. He obviously hadn’t had much time to aim, because the bullet kind of skimmed the side of my Kevlar vest. I aimed, and fired. He fell, but I didn’t see sign of a hit, so I shot at him again. He rolled out of the way, causing me to miss all three times. For the rest of my clip, I made sure to keep an eye on where he was, but it was hard. Eventually, the bastard finally popped his head out again. He fired, I’m not sure at who. I fired twice. One shot hit, causing the asshole to jerk back. The other caused my gun to click. I watched through the scope to see the little prick go back into cover and to confirm that I had hit him. When he moved, I saw a lot of blood in the snow. Good. No one snipes my friends.

Over the radio, I heard John’s voice say, “Ok, guys, I’m up.”

“You’ll be happy to know I got the guy who sniped you,” I said while I reloaded, surprising myself how calm I sounded. “He’s still alive, but I don’t think he’s going to be shooting anyone for a while.”

“Oh.” John said, not sure what to do with this information. “Cool, I guess.” He paused, then added, “Thanks.”

Doc cut in via the radio. “Ok, Killer, you go next. Are you good to go?”

“I’m… I’m ready.” Yeah, considering how satisfied I was at making another human being bleed, I was pretty far away from being “good.”

“Ok,” Doc said, “Suppressing fire… NOW!” The three of us leaned out, Doc and The Monk to shoot anything that wasn’t on our team, me to get a good idea of when to run like hell. When I did, I felt like there were fewer people there than there should have been. I shrugged, took a few potshots, and ran like hell.

I was almost to the top of the hill when it happened. I was running so hard I was kind of leaning down which probably what saved my life. There was a crack, and something hit me in the head. Eric yelled “Sniper!” and began shooting at somewhere in the front of the crater.

I just kept running, despite the fact that a warm, sticky fluid was leaking into my eyes. It was so blinding that I didn’t realize the hill was actually a giant-ass crater. I only realized this by tripping over the rim and sliding down face-first.

John ran over to me and flipped me over. “Shit, dude, you fucking got shot again!”

Cross, who was busy engaging targets on the top of the rim, yelled down, “What the fuck do you mean, ‘again?’”

“Yeah, I kind of figured,” I said, taking my helmet off and shrugging off my backpack, searching for the bandages. “Can you help me bandage this up before it soaks my uniform and freezes?”

“Sure, man!” John said, moving to help search my pack. I had to stop to wipe the blood out of my eyes.

A voice crackled through my earbud. “Hey Killer,” Doc said, “What are the enemy doing?”

“Yes,” Eric said, “That is a good question.”

I whipped out the stolen phone to check. My face turned into one of utter horror. “Get in here NOW! I repeat, get the fuck in here!” I yelled. On the screen, all the “friends” were gathering a good distance away. All of them.

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Track 15: They Shot Their Own Eyes Out, Honest!

I quickly hooked up with the rest of my group. Cross, Doc, The Monk, MC Disaster and Ray-Gun were busy setting up camp, with tents in a roughly circular formation. “Where’s Eric?” I asked.

“Right behind you, Killer,” he said. I turned around to see a slightly annoyed Eric. “I’ve been looking for you.”

“Oh?” I said.

“It’s just,” he said, “that you seem to be very close to the center of all this. Would you mind telling me what’s going on?”

“Yeah,” I said, “about that. Well, last night, Salim and Richard were on patrol with me.”

Doc and Cross laughed. Eric, through chortles, asked, “How did you three not kill each other?”

“Apart from them knowing they’d be kicked out of school and tortured to death if I died? Ulfric wanted us to play nice.”

John’s eyes widened. “Ulfric was the peacekeeper?”

“Weird, right?” I said.

Everyone who wasn’t laughing or as chill as The Monk answered with a resounding “YES!”

“Anyway,” I said, “when we weren’t being stalked by someone’s dream-self, we were talking about what the assholes in charge were going to do next. Both me and Salim agreed that it’d be something big.” I paused. “So what do you guys need me to do?”

“Just unpack your stuff,” Eric said, “and make sure to eat one of your packets of power sludge. Apparently, if you don’t eat it after your run, you’ll end up collapsing like a sack of bricks.”

“Ok,” I said. “Probably gonna give me cancer in a few years, but what the hell.” I reached into my backpack until I found some. “Holy shit,” I said, “they come in a squeeze pouch! That’d be awesome if it wasn’t so disgusting!”

“Finish it up and set up, Killer,” Doc said. “We need this camp done pretty soon.” As he finished, I saw a snowflake land on his nose, contrasting with his dark skin.

By the time the camp was set up, it had begun to snow in earnest. When Eliza came to get Eric, I could barely see them from my tent, despite it being only a few feet away. When I poked my head out, I barely got a glimpse of Eliza’s red hair as she led Eric away. I immediately closed the tent flap to stop the warmth from leaking out.

The tent was actually heated. There was a battery of some description and some heating devices. I wasn’t sure how it worked, but it said that it would keep the tent at sixty degrees for the next forty-eight hours. I was wondering how technologically advanced it all was, then I saw the NIU logo on the controls. So it was probably very advanced.

After a while, Eric came knocking at the door of my tent. Combined with the howling wind that occasionally pierced the tent, and it was nearly the straw that broke the camel’s back. I opened the flap. “What is it?” I asked. I had to shout to be heard above the wind.

Eric shouted back, “We’ve got first watch in the forest. Grab some water, a radio, your power sludge, and your training rifle. We are going hunting!”

“You realize we’re the ones being hunted?” I asked.

Eric laughed. “You are partly right, Killer,” he said, “but if the people hunting us make a single mistake, they become our prey.”

We kitted up. We started off trying to make small talk, but it was almost impossible over the sound of the wind. Our radios had mono earbuds, but we didn’t want to drain the batteries unless we had to.

The trek itself was long and arduous. The worst part was going through the large space of open land, also known as the majority of the journey. There were a few forward posts being constructed, basically some snow walls surrounding some tents, but they were just a somewhat nice place to stop before we had to go out into the biting cold.

It got better after we finally got to the forest. Not that much better, but we were at least shielded from the worst of the wind. “O-ok,” Eric, shivering with cold, “D-d-doc, take our zen f-f-friend, Killer, and John.”

“W-why don’t I get a nickname?” John asked.

“B-b-because you’re b-boring.” Eric said. “A-anyway, D-doc, your g-group g-goes up on that side and get a good v-view on the airport. We’ll travel up by the running p-path in case anyone comes from that direction. O-okay?”

“Got it,” I said.

Everyone shot me dirty looks. “A-aren’t you cold?” Cross asked acidly.

“Yes.” I said. “I’m even colder now that I’ve stopped moving.” The dirty looks changed to shock and… something else. “Did I mention I fucking hate the cold?”

“R-right!” The Monk said. “L-l-let’s get moving!”

Everyone quickly agreed. As Doc led us on into the forest, I suddenly realized: they were afraid. “Hey guys?” I said after a while, “Sorry about snapping. Didn’t mean to scare you guys like that.”

“Don’t w-worry about i-it, man,” John said, his teeth chattering. “W-we’re all a little cranky.”

“Still shouldn’t have…” We were cut off by a staccato clatter. “Was that an AK?” I asked.

“Into the underbrush!” Doc said. “Get into concealment now!”

“I take that as a yes,” John said.

We hurried to follow his orders. John and I were about twenty meters behind Doc and The Monk. We waited for a bit. The cold bit into me. I heard Doc’s whispered voice through the walkie-talkie. “Command, this is control, we have possible contact to the Northeast. Repeat, contact coming in from the Northeast.”

“Understood, patrol,” I heard Bai say. “Do you see them?”

“No,” Doc whispered back, “but they have at least one Kalashnikov.”

“Understood, patrol,” Bai said. “Stay alert and see if you can ambush them.”

“Right,” Doc said, somewhat sarcastically.

We waited for a long time. Occasionally, I’d hear the AK chatter in the distance. Finally, I began to hear voices in the distances. They seemed to be all laughing and chatting like they were at some kind of party. Eventually, I could see one person through the bush I was hiding in pass by. He was carrying a G-3K, which is basically a tiny assault rifle in the same caliber as the FAL. This particular one had one of those flippy optics behind a reflex sight.

Suddenly, the AK chattered again. The guy with the G-3K whipped around and from behind him another person yelled in shock. “Jesus!” G-3 guy said, “Stop doing that!”

From behind G-3 guy, I could hear someone laughing. “Stop fucking laughing, man!” G-3 guy said. “The professors told us we should be using the nonlethals, not this shit! Besides, you keep giving away our position!”

From the earpiece, I heard Doc whisper, “Go.” I lifted the training rifle and began to run forwards.

“Man, it’s more fun this… LOOK OUT” The guy who had been laughing suddenly noticed that I had burst out of the bushes. Or maybe he noticed someone else. It was probably me because G-3 guy turned towards me. He almost shot me when John burst out of his bush and yelled, “Behind you!” This was all the distraction I needed. The wooden butt of my training rifle smashed into his jaw with a crack. He dropped his carbine, and clutched his cheek.

He himself didn’t drop. He did turn around from the force of my blow, so I clubbed him in the back causing him to drop to his knees. He fell this time. I threw the training rifle away and picked up the G-3K and aimed it at the hapless guy. “Hands on your head!” I said.

His hands strayed away from his hip, probably because he noticed that John was pointing his training rifle at him, but not that it was fake. This motion made me notice that he carried a pistol on his left side. I reached over, carefully avoiding his legs and keeping my new-found gun aiming at him but not touching him, and grabbed it out of its holster. After stepping away from the guy, I took a quick look at the pistol. It was a vaguely Browning-ish shape with a silver slide embossed with the words P229. I flipped on the safety (which was kind of awkward to do left handed) and shoved it into a pocket in the coat. “Clear!” I shouted, returning my left hand to gripping the carbine.

Only then did I turn around. What I saw made me stop and stare. “Doc! Monk! What the fuck? Seriously, what the actual fuck?”

John turned around to look at where Doc and The Monk were. Doc’s snow-camo Kevlar vest had been splashed with blood and he was bent over and checking a shape in the snow while carrying a black AK. The Monk was choking a third guy with the sling of a FAL, the sling wrapped around the poor guy’s neck.

“Monk, that’s enough!” I shouted.

The Monk shrugged, reached down to FAL guy’s hip, pulled out a large silver pistol, pushed it to FAL guy’s head, and pulled the trigger. The guy I had beaten up flinched at the crack and the side of FAL guy’s head opposite the gun suddenly burst out. He stopped struggling.

“Now it’s enough,” The Monk said, somehow laconic, despite having to yell above the wind. He stowed the gun in a pocket, and in a single fluid motion unwrapped the sling from FAL guy’s neck. When the corpse collapsed, he began to root through it.

Meanwhile, Doc had finished with his victim and was walking towards us, AK hugged to his chest and pointed down at the ground. He also had a belt slung over his shoulder. “I t-t-take it y-you are not g-g-going to let us shoot this guy, huh, K-killer?”

“Yeah,” I said, “because I’m really not a fan of killing unarmed prisoners!”

“Whoah,” John said, “c-c-calm down N-nate.”

“Wait,” our prisoner said, “your name’s Killer?”

“Only if you want to piss me off,” I said, turning back to him to say this. I then turned back to Doc. “Come on, let’s do a good deed. Besides, he might be able to give us some info.”

Doc walked over to John and passed the belt to him. “Here,” he said. “That dumbass had two pistols. I only need one. Might as well have a real gun instead of a large stick.”

Our prisoner stared at Doc like he figured something out. “You killed him,” he said dumbly.

Doc shrugged. “Probably.” Seeing our prisoner’s scandalized look, he glared. “Oh, like he was some kind of angel. He was walking around with an AK!” To drive his point home, he gestured wildly with said AK. “What was he going to do if he saw me, give me some coffee and a biscuit?”

“W-we w-w-weren’t… we didn’t want to k-kill you!” Our prisoner said desperately. “We weren’t s-s-seeking you out! J-just trying to s-scout out the, t-t-the forest!”

“So,” I said, “what on Earth made you guys think this was a good idea?”

“W-w-well, the t-t-teachers said we had t-to u-use the non-l-leathals on you or get expelled. Just soak a few of you with t-t-the water to simulate live-fire exercise or something.”

“Wait,” I said, “you were planning on soaking us?”

“W-well, not us in particular, but most of us h-have these m-modified g-grenade launchers th-that shoot w-water balloons. All that happens is you get s-s-soaked. S-see? No harm!”

I was now curious as to how this would work. Non-lethal weaponry was cool. “Wouldn’t that be like shooting ice balls at us?”

“N-no! No!” Our prisoner waved his hands at us. “Th-th-the balloons k-keep it liquid u-until…” His eyes widened.

“Until w-what?” Doc asked. He adjusted his newly-acquired AK to point casually at our captive. “It all s-sounds very interesting.”

“…Until the balloon bursts apart.”

That was not good. Our coats were very warm, but not very waterproof. They could stop water from a few squirt gun hits, but if there was a lot of water…

“So what you’re saying,” I said flatly, “is that these are weapons designed to cause us to freeze to death.” The idea was horrid. Our winter uniforms getting hit, the water soaking into and freezing inside the fabric… It was sadistic.

“I-i-it’s n-not like it’s…” our prisoner stuttered.

“D-d-did anyone a-ask your opinion?” Doc asked menacingly.

The Monk, who had wandered nonchalantly over by this point, put his hand on Doc’s shoulder. “Peace,” he said. They both laughed. Must have been some sort of in-joke.

I shrugged, figuring I could ask later about that later. Instead, I turned towards our prisoner. “So how many people are we dealing with here?”

“About a h-hundred and f-f-fifty. We’re all a-armed.”

“Shit.” John said. “We’re fucked.” He potentially was right. If they decided to just charge into camp, and if they decided to stick around instead of just soaking us, it would be a massacre. They had guns, and if they showed any shred of common sense, no amount of hand-to-hand skill could beat that. If they just decided to shell us with water balloons, we would end up all freezing from hypothermia. Unless…

“Alright,” I said to our prisoner, “time for you to go.”

“That’s it?” He asked.

“L-leave your a-ammo and your radio.” Doc said. He turned his head slightly to me and said, “C-c-can’t have him c-c-calling for help or y-you r-r-running out o-of a-amo.”

I nodded. Our prisoner undid his belt and pulled out several twenty-round magazines for the G-3K. The last thing he pulled out was a cell phone of some kind. After he was done, he stood up, looking at us for further instructions.

“G-get t-the fuck outta here,” John said with a nod of his head. Our former prisoner didn’t have to be told twice. He ran away from us and his deceased friends, occasionally tripping in the snow.

“We need to call this in,” I said.

Doc nodded. He picked up the radio, and pushed the talk button. “This is Doc. Eric, Bai, come in.”

“We read you,” I heard Bai say.

Suddenly, the chatter of gunfire came through the radio, as well as Eric’s voice. “Kind of busy!” he said. The gunfire stopped when his radio switched off.

“So,” I said, through my walkie-talkie, “Eric, would you believe we’re up against a hundred and fifty armed assholes?”

“Can confirm!” he said, gunfire in the background. “They are all coming towards us!”

“We’ll get there as soon as we can.” I said, “I’ve got an idea, but I can tell it to you on our way over.”

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Track 13: Stop Snowing!

When we had been revived from the gas, we had been forced into disinfectant showers. We cooperated only because we were still woozy from the gas and were outnumbered, outgunned and out-trained. We got new, clean uniforms and the people like me who took a drink of the gray-green stuff got some pills.

“What do they do?” I asked.

“They make ye vomit,” the medic handing them out said. He was Irish (or maybe Scottish, again, I’m terrible at identifying accents from the British Isles.) I raised an eyebrow. “Basically,” the medic said, “it’s a choice between barfing constantly now or shitting and barfing blood and bits of yer digestive track later.”

“Ok,” I said, more than a little horrified, “I guess I’ll take these… how many times a day?”

“Two pills now,” he said, “then continue it for every meal until you run out.” I took two pills. I started barfing halfway to the barracks. Well, technically, it wasn’t barfing because usually nothing was coming up, and when I did get something out, it would be stomach acid. It got so bad that I had to lean on Eric and Doc for support.

When we were in front of our barracks, Eliza asked, “Oi, what’s happened? You were in there longer than anyone else. And why’s Nate in such rough shape?”

A guard behind us said, “No talking!” I heard someone spit in response. We kept moving back to the barracks. I got into bed, head leaning over the side so I wouldn’t vomit onto the floor, then promptly passed out. Then woke up approximately two seconds later because I was dry-heaving.

The next few days were spent in a very similar state, with people dragging me out of bed occasionally to get something to eat and drink. I’m not sure how long this went on, maybe not even a day, maybe a week. Because of the whole constantly vomiting thing, I was kind of going a little insane from lack of sleep. After a while, I got to the point where I wasn’t sure what was real and what was my unhinged imagination. If I had to guess, whenever the few bits I do remember involved vengeful talking wolves, famous singers with hook hands trying to kill me, or the penis-stealing magical girl were times when I was completely out of my mind.

Then, one meal, I looked in the bottle of pills and realized that there were none left. I remember everyone at the table sighing with relief. I then went back to my bunk and passed out. I didn’t dream, just enjoyed the sleep.

When I woke up, Sergeant Krieger was staring at me. “God damn it…” I moaned. “Can I wait, like, a week to deal with you? Or at least until I’ve had a few more hours of sleep?”

“You hurt me, Boyke,” Krieger said. “You hurt me right deep.”

I debated doubling down, offering an apology, or remaining silent. I chose to remain silent. I really didn’t want to push my luck by being snarky or hostile, and a fake apology (which was the only type of apology I was capable of giving at that point) can piss people off more than a real one.

After a pause, Sergeant Krieger asked, “Aren’t you a little bit curious about why I’m here?”

I looked around. “A little,” I said. “I’m more curious about where Ray-Gun is. After all, you’re sitting in his bed.” It wasn’t just Ray-Gun who was missing. All the rest of the crew was gone as well. I wondered if this was pre-arranged. I also wondered where Eliza was.

“They’re just talking to security,” Krieger said casually, “they’ve got a few enemies, and we want to ensure them that they’re safe. They shouldn’t be back for a while.” It was pre-arranged. The entire point of this camp was to kill off the weak. I looked over his shoulder to see if Eliza was there.

Krieger noticed it. “Are you looking for someone, boyke?”

“Eliza Henderson,” I said. I figured it wouldn’t hurt to tell him something he already knew. In fact, why not tell him something he might not know? “She has the tendency to… follow me. I’m almost as scared of her as I am of you.”

“Really?” Krieger asked. “How am I scary, boyke?”

“You’re just like her,” I said. “You seem to have some interest in me. That, in and of itself isn’t worrying. The amount of attention you pay to me, however is… paranoia-inducing.”

“You know,” Krieger said, “it was my dream to see one of you fresh meat walk into this grinder and come out of it ahead of some of the scariest motherfuckers in the world.”

Was?” I asked.

Krieger laughed. “You know, most of the people here are actually not fresh meat? Almost all have had some kind of combat training before coming to this program. It also would be easier to list the people like you who haven’t killed anyone before this camp. And you…” here he leaned in close, “you’re the freshest meat of them all, aren’t you boyke?”

“I’ve taken Tae Kwon-do for ten years!” I protested.

“Aye,” he said, “that you have. But I think we both know that a green belt and a few sparring sessions is nothing compared to an actual fight.”

I nodded. “If by actual fight, you mean trying to kill someone, then yeah.” I was about to add how most people hadn’t, then considered what I had seen since I got here. Maybe being forced between dying and hurting was a lot more common than I thought.

“Even a playground fight’s much different than your sparring,” Krieger said. “In your sparring sessions, you get in trouble if you hurt someone. You wear pads to protect everyone involved. In a playground fight, or any other real fight, it’s all about hurting the other person.” He seemed genuinely impressed. “Do you know how hard it is to go from a life like yours, trying to never hurt another person, to straight up bashing another person’s head in with a rock?”

“Disturbingly easy,” I said. “I did it, remember?”

Krieger laughed heartily. “So that’s why they call you Killer, eh? You’re fucking cold, boyke.”

“Don’t call me that!” I snarled.

Krieger’s smile disappeared, but the glint of madness in his eyes grew brighter. “You want me to stop, Killer?” His voice was very dangerous, but still conversational.

Yes.”

Krieger considered me for a moment, then said, “Then make me.” After a pause he added, “Killer.”

I sized him up and down. I considered going for his throat. A blow there might shut him up. However, if it didn’t work, he was bigger, faster, stronger, more experienced, and quite possibly smarter than me. Therefore, he could probably beat me to a pulp and not even draw the Colt, knife, or taser strapped to his hip. “In this situation?” I asked. “Not likely.”

“See?” Krieger asked. “You’ve only been doing this since September, and already you’re better than some people who’ve been doing this since they came in. You think Salim would have bothered to size me up before he went for my throat?”

“My mother will be so proud,” I said sarcastically.

“However,” Krieger said, “there is one question I have for you: Why are you here?”

I stared at him blankly. “You mean,” I asked, “why am I at NIU?”

Krieger nodded. “Yes. What do you hope to achieve? What is your goal in life?” I didn’t respond, so he added, “I know most people can’t be specific, but it helps to be honest. Telling someone what you want, or admitting you don’t know what you want can help you get it.”

I shrugged. “Guess I got super hero syndrome,” I said. “When I started, I had this idea that I’d be ‘saving the world’ once I got out of here. Now… I’m not sure if I took the right path. I can’t see myself doing any good using the stuff this program taught me. Problem is, I’m reasonably sure I’ve made too many enemies to leave the program and return home.”

Krieger nodded. “You’re right in that you can’t go back to your old self,” he said. “But you’re wrong in that you can’t do good work. For instance, we’ve had plenty of our graduates join agencies like Interpol and the Society of Genocide Relief. Hell, UNIX was founded by NIU graduates!”

I almost gave myself away there. Or maybe he already knew. UNIX didn’t just have alumni, it was created by them! “I…” I said, “I didn’t know that.”

“If you want my advice, though,” Krieger said, “you shouldn’t hitch your wagon to just one group. You might be glad to have the option of saying no.” He got up, then added, “Oh, you might not have heard, but you guys are on break until Saturday. After that, we’ll start you guys on night patrol.”

He got up and adjusted his winter jacket. It was weird that I hadn’t noticed that before. I was wondering why he had one when he opened the door. As soon as Krieger opened the door, a howling wind and a huge amount of snow blew in to the room. He staggered out, the wind trying to push him back into the barracks. Wonderful.

A bit latter, Eliza came in, her face red from the biting cold and a hood pulled over her head. She walked directly over to me. “Nate!” she said, “You’re up! Think you’re gonna live, then?” She was flashing her trademark grin and her tone was as mischievous as usual, but for some reason I thought I detected a hint of actual concern.

“Potentially,” I said. “I doubt I’ll be vomiting up pieces of my stomach, but I kind of just lied to Sergeant Krieger.”

“Oh really?” Her smile became a bit forced at this. She leaned on Eric and Ray-Gun’s bunk and took off her hood. I hadn’t seen her for a long time, so this was the first I’d gotten a good look at her real ears. Instead of human ears, they were more cat or dog-like. They were facing towards me, so I could only see that the borders were black, and the very tips were white. Eliza continued, asking, “And what, pray tell, is your reason for lying to Krieger?”

“Basically,” I said as quietly as I could without whispering, “if I was a hundred-percent honest when answering his questions, he’d learn about my employer, my partners, and a group of seven people I’m supremely scared of.”

“Ah. I see.” Eliza looked somewhat terrified.

“To be fair,” I said, “it was more of a congratulatory pep-talk. Apparently, he’s always wanted to train some person with no history of violence into a brutal death machine, and I’ve done pretty well except for some motivational issues.”

“Is that all ‘e wanted?” Eliza asked.

“There was some stuff about what I missed, like guard duty and…”

“And what?” Eliza asked, cocking her head to the side.

“I think I’m way too paranoid,” I said, “but I think he knows who I work for, and he definitely knows more about them than me. It’s not anything tangible, or at least not anything I consciously recognized.” I paused, considering confessing that I was seriously worried that I was going insane. Instead, I asked, “So, how’s the weather?”

Eliza laughed. “Bloody awful. For some ungodly reason, it dropped from ten degrees to below freezing and started blizzarding. That’s Celsius, not whatever bleeding arbitrary bullshit you yanks use.”

“‘Blizzarding:’” I said, as I flipped open my compass/thermometer to get a rough “‘The act of working on something for four times as long as another competitor before announcing it, then delaying it multiple times.’” Eliza gave me a funny look. “Sorry,” I said. “Gamer humor. Anyway, apparently in Fahrenheit that’s a twenty-degree drop in… how many hours?”

“Four.” Eliza said wearily, her ears drooping.

“I can’t believe it was around eighty for a week after we got here,” I said. Eliza nodded in agreement.

From there, the conversation kind of died down. Neither of us really wanted to talk about the last event. Eliza came close to it when she accidentally mentioned that her section was entirely gone. I asked her if she wanted to talk about it. She said no. That pretty much killed the conversation.

I saw Eliza more than I used to over the next few weeks. It was still not a lot, seeing as she tended to like hanging out with Bai and Oro more than any of the people in my group. We also were very busy. In addition to all the craziness of gun and hand-to-hand combat, there was the fact that they were introducing grenades and rockets. I was lucky I went first for grenade throwing, because in the second group, some idiot nearly blew himself up. The girl who was standing next to him kind of laughed her ass off. Eliza’s response, when we were at dinner, was to say, “I want to be that girl when I grow up. If I was right next to some bloke who dropped his bleeding grenade right next to me, I’d shit myself.”

Luckily, I didn’t have night watch duty for a few weeks. I’d hear someone come back in at an awful hour, shivering from the cold and crawl into their bunk. Then there was also having to deal with the people you were patrolling with. John had the best story.

“So, how many of you guys saw the guy who knocked me out of the ring?” He asked, sitting down at breakfast one day.

Everyone shook their heads, except Cross. “That big fucker with the Jewfro? You know, the one with the unpronounceable Polish name?”

“Yeah, that’s the one!” John said. “I was on patrol with him tonight!”

We all laughed. “Seriously?” Doc asked. “The guy who almost broke your nose? Did he want to finish the job or something?”

“No, actually,” John said. “You wanna hear the crazy part?” Everyone answered with a resounding yes, but John hadn’t really waited. “The crazy part was that he was apologizing constantly! He was like offering to buy me drinks and stuff and I was like, ‘no dude, it’s cool, I totally get it!’”

“Really?” Doc asked.

“He is,” The Monk said, “as our American friends would say, a ‘chill dude.’”

“I sincerely hope,” I said, “that I get someone as chill as that guy.” At two in the morning, someone woke me up to tell me that I’d be patrolling with Richard, Salim and Ulfric. I grumbled in a mixture of dismay and annoyance as I pulled on as many layers as I could. The girl who had woken me up then went to go find Salim.

After we were both up, we trudged out into the courtyard. We both pretended to ignore each other while secretly preparing for a fight as we met up with Richard, Ulfric, Sergeant Burra, and a group of eight other students standing in the huge blizzard.

“G’evening, everyone!” Burra said, her voice much more chipper than should be allowed at that time. “So, I assume you all know which groups you’re in?” Everyone nodded and vocalized an affirmative. “Right then,” Burra continued on, “Group one, you lot get the inner perimeter. Your job is to go around on the inside here and check the buildings for break-ins and damage. Also, if you see any bloke out of bed, call it in on the radios we’ll give you. We’ll then get a drill sergeant to come help you secure the person. Just make sure you maintain visual contact.”

She then turned to the next group. “Now, group two gets the cushy gig. You lot get to wait by the barrels outside the main gate. No one gets in or out. Also, make sure the fires in the barrels stay lit. They’ll keep you nice and toasty, I here.”

She turned to Ulfric, Richard, Salim, and me. “That leaves you sorry bastards,” she said sympathetically. “You’ve got to go out and patrol the outer perimeter. Call if you see anyone besides yourselves out, would you?”

“Wait,” I said, “the outer perimeter? The place where there are unexploded mines?”

Burra shrugged apologetically. “The mines aren’t so much the problem if you keep within three hundred meters to the wall. Even then, you’ll probably be fine. It’s the bloody cold that’ll get you. It’s actually a couple degrees cooler out there than it is in the camp’s interior.” I assumed that she was speaking in Celsius. That would be a bigger drop than Farenheit.

She pointed to a cart filled with radios. “Here’s the radios. Take them and make sure they’re set to channel two.” After the radio check, she said, “Good job. Now off you pop!”

We popped off. Group two relieved the previous group at the entrance and we began heading off on our appointed rounds. I was in the front, Salim and Richard behind me, and Ulfric bringing up the rear. Needless to say, I was worried. I wondered if (or more specifically when) Salim and Richard would stab me in the back. That had to be the reason they were standing behind me, right? And then there was Ulfric.

“Ok,” I said, “before we turn that corner, I need to know who’s planning on killing me tonight. You know, just for the sake of my paranoia.”

“Not tonight,” Salim said. “I am a patient man. I can wait until the university no longer protects you. Until then… I can wait.”

“Maybe I’ll do it,” Richard said. “If Salim doesn’t squeal I…” He then made a squeaking noise. Salim and I turned to look at him.

Ulfric had reached out and grabbed Richard by the shoulder. He leaned in to Richard’s ear and said, with a slight southern twang, “I like Nathan.” After he was sure the message had gotten across, he let go of Richard’s shoulders.

“Thanks, Ulfric,” I said, my voice cracking. Ulfric giggled in response.

We continued walking for a long time. The cold bit at us and the silence gnawed at the backs of our minds. I had it especially bad because I was worried that Richard or Salim might stick a knife in to my back before Ulfric could stop them. Or Ulfric would decide that he was bored and painting portals to hell in our blood, marrow and grey matter would be fun.

Apparently the silence was getting to other people as well. After starting the second lap, Richard finally broke down. “Ok,” he asked, “are we just going to just ignore each other?”

“Well,” I said, “seeing as we how we all hate each other, I don’t think we’d have the most relaxing or educational conversation.”

“As always,” Salim said acidly, “You westerners fail to grasp even the most basic aspects of life. Conversation is not supposed to relax or teach, it is there to pass the time.”

“And as always,” Richard said, “you Arabs act like god speaks to you personally.”

“Hey, assholes,” I said, “can we not act like we’re getting high off the smell of our own shit? Salim, Richard may be an asshole, but he’s right about how much of a prick you are. Richard, you also described yourself in that statement. Get the fuck over yourself.”

We past Group 2. They were huddled around the fire in the barrel. They pointed at us and laughed as we walked by. They were speaking some far-east sounding language. We ignored them. A little while later, Richard spoke up again.

“So why are you here, Nathan?” he asked.

“Because I’m a fucking moron!” I shouted over the snow and wind.

“Thought Jews were supposed to be smart,” he said in a self-satisfied, sneering way. God, I wanted to punch him.

“If you know everything,” I asked, “why are you here?” It took all I had from adding asshole. I was kind of proud of myself I didn’t.

“Partly because my dad made me,” Richard said. “Partly because there’s a bigger problem that need to be dealt with.”

“What, bigger than Jews and black people walking about unmolested?” I asked. “Must be transsexuals.”

For someone Richard laughed. “No,” he said. “Trust me, you’re going to be really surprised at who’s in this little fight of mine, and what side they’re on.”

There was a pause for a moment while we processed that statement. “That was almost as evasive as my answer,” I said. “Congratulations.”

“And that’s all you’re going to get,” Richard said.

“I think” Salim said, “I will share more than you two.” He paused. “Aside from the elderly and people here, have you known anyone to die? Violently?”

“No,” I said.

“Yes,” Richard said.

“Who?” Salim asked.

“My sister,” Richard said. “I was there when it happened.” His voice was very flat.

“I am sorry to hear that,” Salim said. “When did it happen?”

“Last year,” he said. “I saw it happen.” He paused. “I thought this was about you. Why don’t you tell us whatever sob story you have?”

Salim shrugged. “I was getting there.” He then began to tell his story, an air of false geniality masking seething anger. “When I was sixteen, I was still living in my village. I never really wanted to leave, you understand? All my family and friends lived there.”

I nodded. While I had always wanted leave home, I could understand not wanting to leave somewhere where everyone you ever knew lived.

“I remember the day everything changed,” Salim said. “It should have been a good day. A wedding.” His voice lost all pretense of friendliness. “I guess someone forgot to tell your government that. They must have seen the guns my family was going to shoot off or something, so they had a drone launch a missile into the crowd.”

“Oh,” I said. What else could I say.

“They saw that there were still people moving,” he said, “so they fired a few more. I was one of three survivors, and I was the one the least scarred. That was when I decided that I would not rest until you Americans learned terror. You too will learn the pain of losing everyone you care about seemingly at random and the terror of knowing it can happen again at any moment.”

Before anyone else could formulate a response, Ulfric giggled and said something in Arabic. We all turned to face him. Salim said something in response, possibly the Arabic version of “Say that again.” Ulfric said something different in Arabic.

In response, Salim threw himself at Ulfric, screaming in Arabic. Ulfric just grabbed Salim by the face and held him at arm’s length, muttering bits of Arabic between his signature high-pitched giggles.

“Jesus,” Richard said “what the fuck’d you say to him, Ulfric?”

Ulfric, his accent now Middle Eastern, said, “He was set free, now he’s like me! Violent and happy as can be. Trouble is, he doesn’t want to admit the truth, you see.” He giggled again, maybe at the cleverness of his own rhyme, maybe because he thought he was right, maybe because he was picturing squeezing and crushing Salim’s head (I had seen him do it before on his highlight reel,) or hell, he could just be giggling because that’s what Ulfric does. I didn’t know, and honestly I didn’t want to find out.

“HE’S A LIAR!” Salim yelled. “HE’S WRONG! HE’S SICK!”

“Do you want to hear why I’m here?” Ulfric asked.

“Not at the moment,” I said. “Richard, help me hold him back.”

“Got it,” Richard said. We each grabbed one of Salim’s arms and began to drag him away from Ulfric. Salim began kicking and squirming.

During this time, I was forced to look in Ulfric’s face. I didn’t like that, because his face… it’s not ugly, quite the opposite in fact, but there’s something about him that’s just off. Maybe it’s how childish he seems. Maybe it was the constant smile. Whatever it was, I didn’t like it. I especially didn’t like it when Ulfric’s smile grew wider. “I’m here because of all the funny people.” He then let go of Salim’s face.

This surprised me and Richard, giving Salim the opportunity to wrench free with a blood-curdling scream and launch himself at Ulfric. Ulfric then grabbed Salim by the coat and flung him a few yards into the wall. Salim’s torso and head slammed into it, then he slid down a few feet.

Richard and I looked from to Salim, to Ulfric, then finally each other. Ulfric just giggled. I think Salim may have groaned, but the wind drowned it out. After a while, I said, “So it looks like they’re done. I’ll go check on Salim.”

“You do that,” Richard said as he eyed Ulfric warily.

I walked over to Salim. As got closer, I could see his eyes were opened, but unfocused. I shone my flashlight in his eyes. They were different sizes.

“Sssstop it…” he slurred.

“Salim,” I said, “I’m going to have to ask you a few questions.” He nodded. “Ok,” I continued, “How many fingers am I holding up?”

“That can’t be right…” he said, staring at my hand.

“How many fingers am I holding up?” I asked again, now scared.

“Eight?” I was holding up three, and only showing him one hand.

“Ok,” I said, “what did we have for breakfast?”

“The same thing we have every day,” Salim said, “that disgusting sludge.”

“Ok,” I said, “close enough.” I reached out my hand. “Come on, let’s get you moving. Don’t want to freeze to death, do you?” It was probably ten below in Farenheit (or -23 Celsius.) I doubt Salim could survive long if we just left him.

“Hey, Jacobs…” I heard Richard say, “I think I see someone.”

I turned around. Richard was pointing his flashlight at a point in the distance. I got up, telling Salim, “Wait here, don’t go to sleep.” I squinted as I walked to where Richard was standing. It took me a while, but I eventually could make out a pale figure with long dark hair in the snow.

“Yeah,” I said to Richard, “I see it too. I’m going to call this clusterfuck in. Unless you want to?”

“Go ahead,” Richard said.

I raised my radio, and looked back at the figure. It was now closer. “Sergeant Burra, come in. Repeat, Sergeant Burra, come in.”

“‘Allo, soldier,” Sergeant Burra’s cheery Australian accent came in over the radio. I could barely here her over the radio. “What’s up?”

“We’re kind of in a weird situation,” I said, keeping my eyes fixed on the figure in the distance. “Ulfric and Salim got in a fight, and now Salim is concussed.”

“God’s still looking out for the fools, I see.”

“That isn’t all,” I said. “We’ve got visual contact with a person. Definitely brunette, possibly female Caucasian.”

“How close is she to your position?”

I checked. We were at the shooting range, a little ways away from where the shooters were supposed to stand. The contact was halfway between the wall and the shooter location. “About a hundred fifty to two hundred meters,” I said.

“Huh,” Sergeant Burra said. “That’s unusual. The contact usually keeps about three hundred meters back. Anyway, Spooky’s never hurt anyone so far. Carry on.”

“Yeah,” I said, “but has Spooky ever been closer than three hundred meters before?”

There was silence on the other end for a long time. Finally, Sergeant Burra said, “Continue on your rounds. If there is any change, contact me. Burra out.”

We looked at each other. Finally, Richard said, “I’ll get Salim. You can deal with Spooky.”

I glanced at Ulfric for some reason. A weird, dreamy look was coming over his face. I looked back at Spooky. Spooky was now seventy-five meters away. Now that she was much closer, I could see that Spooky’s hair wasn’t moving, despite the howling wind.

“Richard…” I called out, not taking my eyes off Spooky, “You got Salim yet?”

“Working on it!” he yelled back.

I took out my walky-talky again, and said, “Contact now seventy-five meters, repeat contact is now at seventy-five meters!”
The only response was static. I was now completely freaked. I was also losing feeling in my extremities. “Richard,” I yelled, “We need to go now!” I was now afraid to turn away. Every time I did, Spooky was significantly closer. Maybe she was like that sub-atomic particle that exists in multiple places at once when you don’t look at it.

Maybe Spooky had read my mind, because she (at least, I’m pretty sure Spooky was a she) started walking towards me. I raised my radio, and began yelling, “Contact is coming towards me! Send back-up now! Repeat, send back-up now!”

I began backing away. The snow suddenly picked up and changed directions, and I blinked. That was all the time it took for Spooky to disappear. I turned around clockwise, the hairs on the back of my neck standing up. Ulfric was still standing with a zoned-out look on his face, and Richard was trying to get Salim up.

When I finished a full rotation, Spooky was back.

Right in front of my face.

She was definitely a she, and she was extremely pale with a weird bluish tinge. Her body looked mildly mummified, but her eyes were somehow still functional. We stared at each other for a moment, her blankly, me in complete terror.

“You don’t trust anyone, do you?” She asked, her voice hoarse and monotone. I shook my head. “Very smart of you,” she said. As I watched, she turned into dust and blew away.

I picked up the radio. “This is Jacobs,” I said. “Boy, do I have a story for you guys.”

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