From that day forward, I had pretty much decided that leaving the factory was a bad idea. Eliza managed to get my Subaru from the apartment and into the parking lot. I didn’t know how she did it in the midst of all the panicked people.
Speaking of the refugee situation, it seemed to be untenable. People were running east and north in a panicked rush while the armed forces desperately tried to organize. Israel, Iran, and Turkey had gone under, as well as many NATO nations and other allies. The Dragon’s Teeth controlled the air and the sea. What forces we had abroad were either isolated or fighting for their lives. Many people had either given up or were trying to get to Canada.
In fact, in a strange twist of fate, Canada, Mexico, and the other American nations looked like one of the US’s few chances of salvation. When I could turn on the news, all they’d talk about was the coalition that was being assembled and the counterattack they’d lead. I didn’t buy it. The Dragon’s Teeth were probably digging in, and it’d take a lot more than a three-to-one ratio to dislodge them.
Valkyrie was doing the distribution for the weapons and ammo. Occasionally, I’d ask if the people we were equipping were doing what they were supposed to or if they’d started killing each other. Her usual response was, “As far as I can tell? Neither.” Then she’d go back to helping the people load whatever van they’d brought in, and Eliza and I would go back to watching them to make sure they didn’t take anything they weren’t supposed to or go anywhere we didn’t want them. After they were gone, we’d then go back to making the place habitable.
It was one of the times in between visits from crooks converted to teamster duty that we heard the intercom by door sound. I went to the security panel. There, pushing his face into the lens of the intercom camera so much it fish-eyed, was John Marshall’s short beard and close-cropped hair. From another view, I could see he was with Kyle Rockford, a somewhat unassuming, if generically star-quarterback-looking guy waiting behind him. Behind them was an old 90’s era Acura coupe packed full of luggage.
“Nate!” John was saying, somewhat frustrated. “Come on, I know you’re in there.”
“Sorry,” I said, picking up the mic as I wheeled over, trying not to spill the laundry basket full of clean clothes. “I was just trying to get some housecleaning done.”
“Oi!” I heard Eliza shout from somewhere in facility, “‘oo’s thaAAAGH!” She was cut off by metallic clattering. Then there was a stream of creative cursing.
“I see Eliza’s here as well?” Kyle asked.
“Yeah,” I said. “Let me see if I can help, then-”
“No!” Eliza said. “You’re in a bloody wheelchair, y’can’t ‘elp! You let ‘em in like-” There was a thunk that sounded like something metal had hit something fleshy, then the clang of it falling onto the floor. Eliza screamed, more in frustration then in pain.
“Are you all right?” I asked.
“I’m FINE!” Eliza said.
After I had let Kyle and John in, we came in to the room Eliza had been attacked in. She was putting pipes back into a cupboard, muttering angrily. “Fuckin’ bloody pipes, bloody cabinets, bloody yanks and their bullshite washing machines. Bollocks, bollocks, bollocks!” With a scream, she kicked the wall.
“She’s trying to set up a washer and drier in here,” I said. “I’ve been helping where I can.”
“You can help?” Kyle said. “I’m surprised that you can move on your own.”
That reminded me, I was due for painkillers. But now was not the time to mention that. “It’s no biggie,” I said. “What are you guys doing here?”
“I live in the Midwest.” Kyle said. “Or lived in the Midwest. Then the Teeth rolled in and started shooting everyone.” He’d obviously intended to stop there, but he just had to continue. As he did, his voice became more and more choked up and he began to cry. “They burned most of the houses and dragged people out to the center of town. I managed to hide, but my grandad… he told them I’d died in Iraq when they asked about who I was in the picture… I heard him say it.” By this point he was in tears and had collapsed on the floor. “They shot him,” he said, so choked up from tears I could barely understand. “And while he was dying, they poured gas or something and set the house on fire. I hid in the bomb shelter and then…”
It was there that language failed him. He sobbed and began rocking back and forth. I wheeled over to him and patted him on the shoulder. “Hey,” I said softly. “We’re here. What do you want to do?” I kept repeating that last sentence over and over again until he calmed down.
When he did, he said, in a gasping, post-crying jag voice, “I want to honor my grandparents’ memory. I want to do what I can to stop them.”
“Damn,” I said. “I’m not sure I can help with that. Will killing the bastards suffice?”
John looked at me. “You don’t have a plan?”
“Did you expect us to?” I asked. “Look, you know my area of expertise. Hell, you share at least eighty percent of my skillset. The military isn’t buying my guns, and even if they were, well, what use are small arms going to be against tanks and aircraft?”
“Oi,” Eliza said, looking at me, “D’you need anti-depressants as well as painkillers?”
“Probably,” I said. “Or, like, a bottle of Jack or something.”
“So,” John said, cutting in, “what are you doing?” At my blank look, he said, “You know, about the Dragon’s Teeth.”
“What can I do?” I asked. “At some point, they’re going to start advancing again, and when I do that, I guess I can kill a few of them. Until then, I’ve done all I could and boy, was it not enough.”
“Have you been drinking?” John asked.
“John,” I said, “I’m taking industrial levels of Ox, even though it barely lets me function. If my grape juice is a little elderly, I’d fucking die.”
John nodded. “Ok, fair enough. You got anything to eat?”
“Power Sludge,” I said. “And no, there aren’t any restaurants open that we can reasonably get to.”
The thing I quickly noticed was that certain things we had done to get the place habitable for Eliza and me carried over. The two completely useless fridges, for instance, would probably hold enough food for all of us and the washer and drier (when we got them set up) was more than capable of handling all our demands. Other things like beds were harder to deal with. Eliza and I were sharing a twin-sized mattress, for instance. John and Kyle did not want to share a bed with us or each other.
Around the start of September, Valkyrie came back. The factory was functioning as a living space and occasionally we’d be able to get food that wasn’t awful synthetic glop that looked suspiciously like vomit. That didn’t mean it was great food. So when we let Valkyrie come in through a window, we were all happy to see she was carrying several boxes of pizza.
“Valkyrie!” I said happily. “Where’d you get that?”
“I may be on the up and up,” Valkyrie said, setting down the pizzas, “but that doesn’t mean I don’t have connections. I literally got what might be the last takeout pizzas in Worcester. Plus,” she unhooked a bag from her arm, “some big sodas.”
We began to dig in. After a few slices of cheese pizza (there was only cheese pizza,) I asked, “So, how’s the arm distribution going?”
“Reasonably well,” Valkyrie said. “They haven’t started killing each other and there hasn’t been too much extortion of refugees.”
“Always nice,” John said. Reasonably, he didn’t exactly approve of giving people like Jen scarily effective firearms, many of which were easy to conceal. Yet he didn’t really see any alternatives. Basically, we were in agreement.
“Any sightings of Deets?” Kyle asked. “I’m… a little conflicted on how soon I want to see these guys again.”
Valkyrie shrugged. “Not sure. Jen’s looking, and I’m reasonably sure she’s telling the truth. The others could be, or they could be in the process of cutting deals with them.”
“Any you suspect in particular?” I asked. Valkyrie looked hesitant. “If you say Mai’s playing both ends against the middle, I won’t bite your head off,” I said. “Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if Jen was playing us. Disappointed, but surprised.”
“You’re right,” Valkyrie said. “Jen will try to use this to get ahead, but she’ll just try to screw the other leaders so that when things calm down she’ll be in a better position. Mai, meanwhile, is going to disappear as soon as the Teeth get into town.”
“Dealt with these fuck eggs a lot, ‘aven’t you?” Eliza asked.
“Oh yes,” Valkyrie said as Kyle and John giggled at “fuck eggs.” “I swear, ninety percent of my job involves talking to these guys and asking them stuff like ‘what did you assholes do now?’ over and over.”
There was a buzz. “Someone’s at the door,” I said, moving to get it.
“Oi,” Eliza said. “You fuckin’ stay there.” She got up muttering darkly about invalids who thought they were well. We sat there as she talked to the person happily. I drank some soda. John and Kyle had their hands on their guns. Valkyrie calmly ate her pizza.
Eventually, Eliza came back into the room, smiling. “Guess ‘oo’s ‘ere!” She said. “Eric an’ ‘is mates!”
“Who?” Valkyrie asked.
“We’ll bring them in,” John said, “you can meet them then.”
They all left hurriedly. Valkyrie raised her eyebrows. “Eric’s a former child soldier from Africa,” I said. “He’s very friendly, but he and the rest of his group would prefer you not ask about their past.” Valkyrie nodded, examining me, as if calculating how much more damage would be done.
When Eric came in, it wasn’t just with Doc, MC Disaster, Ray-Gun and the Monk. Oro and Cross were also there, as well as a lot of other students from NIU’s AMS and Shadowhaven programs. All of them seemed to have some sort of concealed weaponry, judging by the bulges in their clothes, and many of them were chattering excitedly. A few began to reveal their weapons (mostly assault rifles and pistols, but there were also some SMGs, shotguns, sniper rifles, anti-tank rockets, grenade launchers, and belt-fed machine guns,) and unloading them.
“Valkyrie brought us pizza,” John said, “but I don’t think there’ll be enough.”
“Do not worry, my friend,” Eric said, pointing to a Hispanic woman chatting with Eliza and carrying several boxes, “Camilla is also bringing gifts.” He pointed to an Asian man carrying several bags of what appeared to be Mexican food. “So is Bunrouen.”
After I had watched the room slowly became covered in weapon parts, ammo, grenades, what appeared to be bricks of C4 or worse, and people eating junk food and drinking soda and alcohol, I nervously turned to look back at Valkyrie.
Her face did not express amusement.