It was a testament to the deposed Anthony Carter Newton-Howell that he could still sound casual after having been strapped naked to a table for several days. I’m not going to lie, it was also intimidating as hell.
“You’re really not in a position to be making threats,” Krieger said coldly. Behind me, I could hear the rustling of paper.
“Did that sound like a threat?” the President asked innocently. “Nathan, if I’m threatening you I apologize.” Something about the tone of his voice made it clear that it was an insult, but a reasonable person would have some doubts.
We were then interrupted by Zemylachka loudly eating a breakfast sandwich. She had to be deliberately eating the thing as loudly as possible. I recognized the paper bag. It was from Galahad’s Café. They made good food, but even so, the happy noises Zemylachka was making was probably faked.
“Can you stop that?” the President asked.
“Shtop what?” Zemylachka asked, her mouth full of breakfast sandwich.
“Really?” the President asked. “I thought you were more sophisticated than this. You’re just being kind of a dick now.”
“Insults?” Zemylachka asked, after swallowing loudly. “And I was going to give you something to eat if you cooperated.”
“Really?” the President asked suspiciously. “I mean, the goal is to kill me, right? Oh, by the way, assuming you get creative, this’ll probably work in three to six months.”
“But we have so much to learn!” Zemylachka said. I shivered at how she said that. “You could help us a bit.”
“So that’s why this is taking so long,” the President said as Zemylachka moved to kneel beside him. “You know, a lot can change in six months. For instance, I could be a free man having lunch at five-star restaurants in Zurich.”
“Or,” Zemylachka said after loudly swallowing some of her breakfast sandwich, “you could seriously reevaluate your endurance. For instance, how often do you test your ability to go without food?”
“I’m a scientist,” the President said. Krieger and Zemylachka looked at each other and laughed out loud at this. “Ok, I know about science. I think I’m good. I’m not going to break easily.”
“You won’t last a day, you love luxury too much,” Zemylachka said. “Look at your house.”
“Which bloody one?” Krieger asked. “I’ve seen the one on the Volga, the apartment in London, the one in Shanghai…”
“How…?” the President asked. “You shouldn’t know about those.”
“You might want to talk,” Zemylachka said. “Life will get much more comfortable if you cooperate.”
“For instance,” I said, “did you create the Dragon’s Teeth?”
The President stared at me for a second in disbelief. “Are… are you sure you don’t know the answer? You know about the Interdimensional Research Facility, you’d have to be dumber than even I think you are to not know about my hoarding of technology, you just heard those two idiots talk about how rich I am, and you know how much talent I can access here. What do you think?”
I suddenly remembered Kyle Rockford. He was a transgendered man who had gone to NIU with me. His grandfather had taught at NIU and gotten some advanced gene therapy to help him transition. Then the person who had invented the treatment had gone missing. I also remembered Mubashir mentioning the reason Al Qaeda had been on-campus was that the President let them train for a reduced price or free in exchange for favors. Other groups had the same deal, and, according to Moob, the favors usually involved delaying scientific progress made by NIU graduates. “Speaking of the tech hoarding,” I said, suddenly angry, “how many could have been saved, how many lives could have been improved, if you hadn’t gone around ruining your graduates so they couldn’t work?”
The President shrugged. “Millions. Billions. Who cares? It’s a rounding error compared to what the Dragon’s Teeth can save.”
“The Dragon’s Teeth,” I said, “are out of control.”
“You sure?” the President asked. “I mean, I may have lost control of the people I delegated them to, but-“
Krieger and I spoke at the same time. “Sounds like you’ve lost control,” he said.
I, meanwhile, said, “They’re plotting an uprising!”
The President turned to me. “What makes you say that?” he asked, mildly interested.
“I’ve heard them in Korea, remember?” I said. “Their Death Goddess.” The President opened his mouth and I said, “Yes, I know you think that the Final Prophecy is bullshit, I don’t blame you.” Zemylachka and Krieger looked confused, so I added, “Basically, a God or Goddess of Death, a reality-warping entity, some supernatural beings ‘from the sky,’ and their minions are going to duke it out according to a prophecy from the 1500’s. And the thing about the Death Goddess…” I took a deep breath. This was going to sound crazy. “I saw her. Or at least how she or it’s connected to the Dragon’s Teeth.”
“How…?” the President asked, looking at me like I was crazy.
“Dead people took me to see…” I struggled, looking for the words, “the psionic representation of their bond, I guess? It was beautiful, but I had no idea what I was looking at.”
“Do… do you want to see someone?” Zemylachka asked. “Someone who specializes in…” From her tone of voice, it sounded like she was looking for
“Mental wellbeing?” Kreiger supplied helpfully. He then turned back to the President. “Anyway, before we get too distracted, what are you saving everyone from? And how are you planning on getting things under control?”
“The immediate threat?” the President asked. “You’ll meet them in about, oh, a few months. Personally, I’d let the Dragon’s Teeth take over, then let them do their job. Unless they’ve gone truly psychotic, they’re going to fight the bigger fish.”
“And then what?” Kreiger asked.
“You know,” the President said, “I think I’ll save some of that for another time.”
“You aren’t exactly in a position-” Krieger began.
“No, no, no,” Zemylachka said. “Is fine, is fine, I think. Interrogation, even torture, is like therapy.” She reached into the bag and brought out a breakfast sandwich and placed in on the President’s chest. She then reached in and brought out an IV bag. “After I ensure more productive sessions, I will feed you your treat.”
As she stuck the bag into him, I asked, “So, what is that?”
“Yeah,” the President said. “I’m a little interested as well.”
“Some calcium, some oxalate, bit of uric acid,” Zemylachka said. “Harmless, really.”
“Oh my God,” I said, suddenly realizing what she was doing. “You… you’re giving him artificial kidney stones.” In case you’ve never had one, if they get big enough, they’re painful. I’d never experienced one, but I had heard a medically-minded friend talk about them once. “You’re a monster.”
Zemylachka rolled her eyes. “Of course I am. Have you not been paying attention?”