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 was 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 was in attendance. 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 and his right ear were crooked up.
Eun directed her laser pointer at the central trash hangar. “So this is where we enter, right? You said the only people here are transport guys and trash personn—”
“Dude!” Peter looked excitedly from Eun to Kora. “Three brave-ass kids that’re about to break into an evil-ass science facility! This is right outta Stranger Things! Do you not get how awesome this is?”
Eun slapped him upside the head. “Peter. This isn’t television.”
“Yeah…yeah, I guess you’re right,” he conceded, rubbing the back of his skull. He paused for a moment, then threw a wild 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. “You need to get laid. Both of you.”
“Not an issue—I’ve been fucking Leona senseless,” Kora replied distractedly (the more time she spent on Earth, the more comfortable she’d become with its inflections and speech patterns) “There’s a rec center a couple blocks west; if anyone asks what we’re doing in ANOS, we can always pretend we’re dumb teenagers. ‘Sorry officer. We were hanging out at the rec center, then we went for a walk and got lost.’ ”
“We were trying to find a Denny’s or something,” Eun added. “If we play it right, they’ll think we’re stupid kids and nothing more.”
“Exactly,” Kora nodded. “Let their preconceptions work against them.”
Peter was still reeling from Kora’s initial statement. “You and Leona…”
“Are going box-munching crazy,” she 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…HOT.”
“Peter.” Kora’s eyes narrowed in distaste. “Carnal relations are a natural part of life.”
“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 of water onto Peter’s crotch. He jumped out of his seat, let out a loud yelp—“FUCK!”—and snatched up a fresh pair of jeans and boxers from a nearby laundry basket. “Turn away,” he muttered, yanking down his pants, “unless you’re wearing eye protection. Wouldn’t want to blind you—I’m pretty fucking huge.”
Eun rolled her eyes. “The only danger here is being sucked into that black hole you call a ‘cock.’ ”
“Very fucking funny.” He zipped up his jeans, pushed the button through its loop, and looked at the slide. “Once we’re in, we need to move fast. People are gonna wonder what the hell is up with a trio of short, skinny custodians. I’ll have a map loaded on my phone, but memorize our route, just in case.”
“Zen zaps?” Kora asked.
He pointed at a tupperware bin atop his desk. Its sides were lined with a black plastic bag, and 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.”
“That it?” Eun looked from Kora to Peter. “Break in, find the gateway, and cast the spell of translation?”
“Yeah, according to the Timekeeper,” Peter said. “I asked for 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 countered. “He’s got other stuff to do besides—”
“You’re just hot for his nuts.” Peter smirked.
Eun shrugged. “So? He’s off-the-charts fuckable.”
“Bet my dick’s bigger,” Peter groused.
Eun scoffed. “No way in hell.”
“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.
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, Kora. Born and bred.” She wiped a tear off her cheek. “Aaahhh…that was good.”
“A comedian…” Kora cast a speculative glance up at the ceiling. “Never thought much of jesters or minstrels, but still…hmm…”
Peter cleared his throat. “Everyone’s clear on what to do, right?”
Eun nodded. “I’m good.”
“Me too,” Kora said.
“Two days.” Peter’s face turned somber. “Two days, then we break into ANOS.”
The three teens Zipcar’d up to the James Woods’ Recreational 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 it carefully off the hood. Yesterday, Bitefighter had written PARK ME AT THE REC CENTER on his holographic whiteboard. When Peter asked him why, BF had lain down and gone to sleep.
The three teenagers were dressed in gray jumpsuits. When they’d first put them on, Peter had excitedly noted their resemblance to the Ghostbusters. Eun had pointed out there were no Asian Ghostbusters, which had triggered Peter’s rage and caused him to denounce the entire franchise. The whole series was a motherfucking joke; 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 start trying butt stuff, then they’d invite their friends into the mix, ’cause ménage-a-trois was where it was at, bitches, 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.
“You guys ready?”
The girls nodded.
“Good. Let’s do this.
The guards on duty were bored and listless.
Peter had gone through their dossiers. He knew that 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 teens didn’t run into ANOS’s Special Response Unit, they would be okay.
The guard in the trash hangar 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, 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’d score some heroin from a local dealer. Not much—just enough to help him sleep.
According to his file, Sabo had retired after a twenty-year career. He’d had options (on paper, at least) but two decades of uniform-bound mentality had strapped him into an invisible straitjacket. In the military, there were guys who could do anything, and guys who couldn’t do anything else. Sabo fit into the latter category. All the other guards were in the same boat.
Two weeks ago, Peter had hacked into the VA and changed Sabo’s meds, his disability rating, and a host of other stuff. It wasn’t just Sabo—Peter had fucked with every security guy, sending them all into a mild tizzy. Instead of focusing on manning their posts, they’d drawn together during work hours, bitching loudly about how the goddamn VA was falling flat on its face. Big surprise, right? In the service, family and pay was a fucking priority, but on the outside, it was the exact opposite. Fuck the politicians and their top-tier healthcare, fuck the promises from whoever was sitting in the oval office and their dysfunctional collection of congressional jerkoffs. Fuck everybody. They all let you down, with the exception of Jack goddamn 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 understood. Sympathized, even. 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 the guards had. Now, he—and they—were getting fucked by the powers that be.
As the three teens passed by Sabo, he muttered, “heyhowyadoing” and continued staring at his phone, shaking his head in abject disgust. Goddamn VA, fucking things up again? Come the fuck on!
The teens entered the trash room, where wheeled dumpsters had been arranged in a sloppy semicircle. Eun stopped and looked around in mild puzzlement.
“What?” Kora asked.
“This is a top-tier research facility. If it suffered a breach, people could die. They know that—they have to. But everything here is just so…so messy. So sloppy. It’s like they couldn’t care less.” Judging by her wrinkled features, Eun was perplexed and annoyed.
Peter threw her a devilish grin. “People don’t wanna think about their garbage; they’d rather toss it out and forget about it.” His voice lowered. “This place is like an unguarded asshole. Bam!” He made a circle with his left hand and thrust his right fist through its center. “Here we come, ready to cow-punch these fuckers right in their poopchutes. Guess they should’ve taken the time to wipe, because—”
Eun shook her head, disgusted. “Don’t be gross. What’s next?”
He took out his phone and clicked its screen. “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 repetition of boring-ass footage.” He grinned again. “Classic. They should put that in the next season of Stranger Things.”
“This isn’t TV,” 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, glancing to either side with a skeeved-out look. “Being in ANOS creeps me out.”
Peter took the high road; he refrained from cracking an anal sex quip. He reached into his pocket, grabbed a handful of zen zaps, and maowed ’em down. “Eat your shrooms.”
When it came to tripping, Kora and Eun weren’t nearly 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.
Kora chomped dutifully away. Eun winced as she gulped hers down. “Where to?” she asked, wishing she’d brought a soda to help wash them down.
Peter snapped his fingers, sending their perception Slideways. “This way.” He walked through a drifting nest of fractals and took a left. Eun and Kora followed close behind.