The Oasis is Burning

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3.1 - Ignition

The shockwave hit a little before eight in the morning, strong enough to leave the windows trembling. The sound of the blast was more muffled, akin to a massive fireworks display going off nearby, but that wouldn’t have produced enough pressure to move the bed. It was enough to knock me clear of my stressed and kinetic sleep, snapping me out of bed so fast that it was a second or two before I realized that I was even standing. I threw on some mismatched clothes, grabbed my bag and sprinted from the room into God-knows-what waiting downstairs. Some of the journos were already up, but none of them were in any hurry to investigate, more interested in their California omeletes than in whatever fresh hell was going on down the street.

At the head of the journo table was Fred Tomasson, enjoying a concoction of eggs and fish and a bottle of organic juice. “Atticus! Wasn’t expecting to see you up early enough to join us.”

“Jesus, man! Didn’t you hear the explosion?”

“Of course I did. You must be wondering why we aren’t running off to investigate?”

“It occurred to me, yes.”

Fred wiped his mouth and turned his chair to face me, striking his best Ward Cleaver pose. “Atticus, there’s a lot you have to learn about being a correspondent in the 21st century. Things have changed a lot since I started out. Maybe one of the younger journalists could explain this?”

“I’ll field it.” One of the other journos, a straw-thin man whose nerves must have already been half shot judging by the way his voice wavered, pulled back from his omelete and chimed in. “The first hours of any crisis are very confusing, so it’s best to keep one’s distance and wait for the real facts to shake themselves out.”

“And if anything newsworthy happens during that first hour or two, we’re going to catch it anyway,” added a portly heliophobe seated across from Fred. “All of our organizations maintain a network of citizen journalists, many of whom live very close to the action. We’re probably getting photographs and video as we speak, and once it’s confirmed we can analyze it and integrate it into our own reporting.”

“Another example of technology disrupting old notions and making the world even wider.” Fred took a luxuriant swig of his juice. “But really, it’s not just philosophy or ethics that are preventing us from heading out. The OSIS patrols have locked this area down, and they’ve requested that no one interfere.”

“So you’re staying here because the authorities told you to?” I said.

“None of us are lawbreakers,” said Fred. “No one here wants to get arrested or worse. So why not have a bite and wait for the street to clear out? Breakfast is on me. They’ve got an eggs Benedict variant that they make with trout. You should try it.”

“I’ll consider it.”

“And also consider a change of clothes.”

I’m not sure why I packed a floral print shirt at all, but that was what I’d decided to throw on in my mad dash out of the room. Not the most dignified article but it did have its perks for the rogue journo. One, it’s comfortable. Two, it affords ample freedom of movement. Three, it can be readily discarded if it becomes damaged. Minus, you could see this thing in the dead of night. Plus, it’s an effective disguise as it’s the least intimidating, least suspicious garment ever made with the possible exception of the muumuu.

Ignoring the advice of the highly dignified group behind me, I strolled right through the front door of the hotel. The street wasn’t quite a war zone, but it certainly had the mystique and charm of a city on the verge of invasion. OSIS grunts were running frantically up and down the street, weapons at the ready. Some of these guys looked like they’d never fired their guns at all and were terrified that the damn things might go off at any second. The more put-together goons were running down SOP - locking down the street, harassing bystanders, screaming obscenities, threatening to turn the sidewalk into an abattoir.

The one who was on me was an fiercely ugly shrimp who was wearing his Napoleon complex where everyone could see it. “Get back inside. Now, motherfucker.” There was more, but I caught more spittle than words through his locked jaw.

“I’m a journalist. I’ll go back inside if someone tells me what just happened.”

“I won’t ask again. Back inside.”

He didn’t wait for a response. The butt of his submachine gun caught me just under the ribs. The bile shot up in my throat but I managed to hold it back. Then the violent twerp had me by the hair, yanking my head down and then half-dragging me towards the door. The butt of the MP5 delivered one more love tap to my back and I found myself kissing the floor in the lobby. The twerp didn’t say another word, not even to curse me, letting the beating deliver the message.

“Can’t say I didn’t warn you.” My head was still doing loops but I’m sure the mockery was from Tomasson.

“Yes you did.” I clung to the wall and pulled myself upright.

“I’m sure that killed your appetite, but my deal still stands.”

“I think I’m just going to lie down for a while, thanks.”

The desk clerk, sensing that the jackasses watching weren’t going to help, ran to give me a hand. “Geez, are you okay? That was awful.”

“I’ve had worse, believe it or not.”

“Probably have a hard time getting a doctor to come down, but I’ll put in the call.”

“Eh, I don’t feel anything vital broken.” I could hear the jackals struggling to hold back their giggles. “One thing. Can I get a bottle of something sent up to my room?”

“I can do that. You’re sure a drink is what you want?”

“Well, you see the guy with the moustache?”

The woman grimaced. “You know that asshole?”

“Yeah. We’re having a little one-on-one later to chat about the situation on the ground, swap sources, that kind of thing. It’s a lot easier to do that over a glass of something good. You have any good scotch?”

“I think we have a bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue, but it’s like 250 dollars.”

“That’s okay, he’s got an expense account. Have the send up the bottle with two glasses and an ice bucket, and have the guys give themselves a twenty percent. And...” I fished a twenty out of my bag. “...this is for being very nice and also for pretending you don’t know what I’m doing.”

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