Peter, Kora and Eun had gathered in Peter’s bedroom. They were studying a slide he’d projected onto the left-hand wall (the one that had the least amount of fist-marks in it). It displayed a detailed diagram of ANOS’s west wing—the quadrant that contained the warp gate. Entrances, exits, and security personnel were marked with bright red Xs.
Bitefighter had popped in for the planning sesh; the Bite Mobile’s central display pad shone with a tiny hologram of the extradimensional rapscallion in a thinking man’s posture—left arm bent across his torso, left hand cupping his right elbow, right hand stair-cased over his mouth. His right eyebrow was crooked up, and his right ear had followed suit.
Eun directed her laser pointer at the cafeteria’s trash hangar. “So this is where we enter, right? You said the only people there are transport guys and trash personn—”
“Dude!” Peter looked excitedly from Eun to Kora. “We’re a trio of brave-ass kids that’re about to break into an evil science facility! This is right outta Stranger Things! Do you guys understand how awesome this is? I mean—”
Eun slapped him upside the head. “Peter. We’re not in a TV show.”
“Yeah I guess you’re right.” He conceded, visibly deflating. He paused for a moment…then threw a wild, triumphant swing at no one in particular. “This is way better than television! Intelligent bikes, interdimensional mushroom trips, a barbarian king in a cheer captain’s body? Are you fucking kidding me?” He gave them both a shit-eating smile.
The girls regarded him with strained patience.
“Focus,” Kora said.
“Whatever,” he muttered, crossing his arms and settling back in his seat. “Y’all need to get laid. Seriously.”
“Not an issue—I’ve been fucking Leona senseless,” Kora replied distractedly. “There’s a rec center a couple blocks west; if anyone asks us what we’re doing in ANOS, we can always pretend we’re dumb teenagers. ‘Sorry officer…we were hanging at the rec center, went for a walk, and then we got lost when we went for a walk’ ”
“We were trying to find a Denny’s or something,” Eun offered. “We’re out-of-towners, visiting some relatives. They’ll know we’re bullshitting, but if we play it right, they’ll assume we’re stupid kids, trying to lie our way out of a sticky situation.”
“Exactly,” Kora nodded at Eun. “Let their preconceptions work against them.”
Peter was still reeling from Kora’s initial statement. “Did you just say that you and Leona are—”
“Going box-munching crazy,” Kora affirmed. “When we’re not plowing each other with state-of-the-art robo-cocks.”
“Oh my God,” he whispered. A blob of drool formed on the corner of his mouth. “That…is so…fucking…”
“Peter.” Kora’s eyes narrowed in distaste. “Carnal relations aren’t that a big deal.”
“Uh…right,” he managed. For a second he looked torn…then the question slipped out before his brain could filter it: “Do you think you could make a video of—”
Eun upended her glass onto Peter’s crotch. He jumped out of his seat and let out a loud yelp. “FUCK!” Then he ran to his laundry basket and snatched up a fresh pair of jeans and boxers. “Might want to turn away,” he muttered, yanking down his pants, “unless you’re wearing eye protection. Wouldn’t want to blind you by accident. I’m pretty fucking—”
Eun rolled her eyes. “The bigger danger is getting sucked into that black hole you call a ‘crotch.’ We wouldn’t be able survive the gravitational forces.”
“Very fucking funny.” Peter grunted. He zipped up his jeans and secured the top button through its loop with a quick, angry push. “Can we please get back to the issue at hand?” He nodded at the slide. “Once we’re inside, we need to move fast. People are gonna wonder what the hell is up with a trio of short, skinny custodians. Memorize our route in case we get lost. I’ll have the map loaded on my phone, but still…just in case.”
“Zen zaps?” Kora asked.
He pointed at a tupperware tub atop his desk. Its sides were lined with a black plastic bag. Its center held a four-inch cake of mycelium-coated birdseed: nutrition for the mushrooms that coated its surface.
“Got a fresh crop ready to go. We’ll have plenty of rocket fuel.”
“Is that it?” Eun looked doubtfully from Kora to Peter. “Break in, find the gateway, and cast the spell of translation?”
“According to the Timekeeper,” Peter said. “I’ve been trying to contact him and get more info, but he’s been super busy. All he said was: ‘get to the brain and figure it out.’ ” He shook his head. “What a dick.”
“He’s an interdimensional demigod,” Eun said. “He’s got other stuff to do besides—”
“You’re just hot for his nuts.” Peter smirked.
Eun shrugged. “So? The guy’s off-the-charts fuckable.”
“Bet I have a bigger dick,” Peter groused.
Eun scoffed. “Keep dreaming.”
“I miss mine.” Kora looked down at her crotch. “It was the size of a battle-mace.” She held their gaze for a long, hanging moment. Then, in a deadpan drone: “By that I mean it was unimaginably enormous.”
Peter and Eun erupted with laughter. “Kora’s…Kora’s…” Peter couldn’t finish.
Eun recovered first. “You may not know it, but you’re a comedian. Born and bred.” She wiped the tears off her cheeks. “Aaahhh…that was good.”
“A comedian…” Kora cast a speculative look up at the ceiling. “I never thought much of jesters or minstrels, but…still…hmm…”
Peter cleared his throat. “Everyone’s clear on what to do, right?”
“I’m good,” Eun nodded.
“Me too,” Kora said.
“Two days.” Peter’s eyes turned somber. “Two days, then we break into ANOS.”
On Thanksgiving afternoon, Peter, Kora, and Eun Zipcar’d up to the James Woods’ Community Center. It was closed for Thanksgiving, so theirs was the only automobile in the lot. Peter clambered onto the roof of the car, detached the Bite Mobile from its Yakima rack, and wheeled the bike off the hood.
Yesterday, Bitefighter had requested that they bring him along. He’d refused to explain why; he’d simply written PARK ME AT THE REC CENTER on his holographic whiteboard. Bitefighter hadn’t elaborated; when Peter asked him why, BF had gone back to sleep..
The three teenagers were dressed in gray jumpsuits. When they’d first put them on, Peter had excitedly noted that they looked like the Ghostbusters. Eun had pointed out there were never any Asian Ghostbusters, which had enraged Peter and caused him to denounce the entire franchise. He went on to declare that the whole goddamn series was a motherfucking joke, and that he was going to make a reboot where all four Ghostbusters were giant-cocked Koreans with blonde, blue-eyed girlfriends. At first, the girls would be super innocent and new to sex, then they’d get curious about butt stuff, then they’d invite their friends into the mix, ’cause ménage a trois was where it was at, baby, and then—
“Peter!” Eun slapped him, breaking him free of his sex-vengeance reverie. “No one cares!”
“Whatever,” he muttered, rubbing his cheek. He parked the Bite Mobile in the rec center’s bike rack, unlocked (as per Bitefighter’s instructions) and turned to Kora and Eun.
“You guys ready?”
The girls nodded.
“Then let’s do this.
As expected, the guards on duty were bored and listless. Peter had studied their dossiers. ANOS’s security people were—by and large—a collection of burn-outs. Former door-kickers from law enforcement or military who’d seen too much action. As long as the three of them didn’t run afoul of the Special Response Unit, they would be okay.
The guard leaning against the wall of the trash hangar bay was named John Sabo. Despite the action hero name, John didn’t have a whole lot going for him. He spent his modest salary on beer, fast food, subscriptions to porn sites (guy had taste—Brazzers topped his search history), and the occasional hooker. He received opioids and antidepressants on a monthly basis, courtesy of the VA, but if John needed a little extra kick, he would score some heroin from a local dealer. Not much—just enough to help him sleep.
He’d left the service after twenty-year career. After he’d gotten out, he’d had options (on paper, anyway) but two decades of uniform-bound mentality had strapped his mind into an invisible straitjacket. In the military, there were guys who could do anything…and guys who couldn’t do anything but serve. Sabo fit in the latter category. Working at ANOS was simply the beginning of a long, predictable decline. Every other guard was in the same boat, more or less.
Two weeks ago, Peter had hacked into the VA and wreaked havoc. He’d changed Sabo’s meds, his disability rating, and a host of other things. It wasn’t just Sabo—Peter had done it to every security guy, sending them all into a mild tizzy. Instead of focusing on manning their posts, they’d drawn together during their shifts, bitching loudly about how the goddamn VA was falling flat on its face. Big surprise, right? In the service, they made family and pay a fucking priority, because if you fucked those up, then a man couldn’t concentrate on doing his job. In the outside, it was the exact opposite. Fuck the politicians and their top-tier healthcare, fuck the promises from whichever jerkoff was serving in the oval office, hell—fuck everybody. They all let you down, with the exception of Jack fucking Daniels. (Well, Jack let you down, but at least he was honest about it; he didn’t lead you on like those pricks in DC.)
Peter was well aware of their discontent. He even sympathized with them. He didn’t consider himself a soldier or patriot, but he’d put his nuts on the line for the betterment of everyone, just like they had. Now, they—and he—were getting fucked by the powers that be.
As the three teens walked past Sabo, he just muttered a “heyhowyadoing” and continued staring at his glowing iPhone and shaking his head in abject disgust. Goddamn VA, fucking things up again? Come the fuck on!
The teens made their way into the trash room, where wheeled dumpsters had been arranged in a sloppy semicircle, ready to be pushed outside for pickup.
Eun stopped and looked around.
“What is it?” Kora asked.
“This is a top-tier research facility. If it was breached by criminals or pranksters, people could die, but everything’s just so…it’s so messy. So haphazard.” Judging by her wrinkled features, Eun was perplexed and annoyed.
“I know, right?” Peter threw her a devilish grin. “People don’t wanna think about trash; they’d rather toss it out and completely forget it.” His voice lowered. “It’s like an unguarded asshole. Bam!” He made a circle with the fingers on his left hand and thrust his right fist through the hole, “And now here we come, ready to cowpunch these fuckers right up their poopchutes. Guess they should’ve taken the time to wipe, because—”
Eun shook her head, disgusted, but for a different reason this time. “Peter, don’t be gross. What’s next?”
He took out his phone and started clicking its surface. “Oldie but a goodie. Gonna run some all-is-good video loops on their security cams…” He finished with a decisive tap of his index finger. “Boom. For the next two hours, the cams’ll show an endless loop of boring-ass footage.” He grinned again. “Classic. They should put that in the next season of Stranger Things.”
“This isn’t a TV show,” Eun reminded him. “Come on—what’s next? Let’s get to the brain and get the hell out of here.” She crossed her arms and looked to her left and right with a skeeved-out expression. “Being in ANOS creeps me out.”
Peter took the high road; he refrained from cracking an anal sex quip. “Pretty simple, so far as I can tell. Make it to the warp drive and have her cast a spell of translation.” He nodded at Kora.
“Something tells me it’s not gonna be that easy,” Eun said doubtfully.
“O ye of little faith.” Peter reached into his pocket, grabbed a handful of zen zaps, and maowed ’em down. “Eat your shrooms. Lets get this party started.”
Kora and Eun reached into their pockets and withdrew a handful of zaps. When it came to tripping, they weren’t half as eager as Peter, but the Timekeeper had stated that mushrooms were “the key to your salvation,” so they’d all agreed to dose after they’d breached the facility.
Eun winced as she gulped hers down. “Where to?” she asked, wishing she had brought a soda along to help wash them down.
Peter snapped his fingers, sending their perception Slideways. “Right this way.” He walked through a drifting nest of fractals and took a left. Eun and Kora followed hot on his heels.