The Oasis is Burning

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3.4 - Papers Please

Every crisis is an opportunity for someone, and Governor Goldstreet wasted no time in jumping on the terrorism gravy train. Perhaps he was making up for his cool and casual response to the rubber fire that was the state’s financial situation. He wasn’t going to wait weeks to make a statement this time - no, now it was time for Goldie to cinch up his marching boots, grab his General Patton Memorial crop and get shit done. The curfew, which called for detainment for anyone caught outside after 8:00 without permission and after 10:00 for anyone under any circumstances, was a predictable response. The new restrictions on transit in and out of the city was novel. OSIS had already been searching commercial vehicles, but under Goldie’s indefinitely ordained rules, you needed a permission slip from the principal if you wanted to leave town. No one really questioned whether Goldie even had the authority to do it, everyone just rolled with it.

There were a few lesser policies that everyone ignored because they weren’t spicy enough. A lot of people made hay over Goldie’s announcement that he was temporarily increasing funding for OSIS. The obvious question that everyone asked was where he planned on getting the money. The state was broke; it had a credit rating worse than mine; it was facing a massive income shortfall that Goldie was trying to address by selling off the schools to private interests and using the profits to bribe companies into coming back. But money wasn’t the only resource lacking - Goldie was also struggling to find eager young stormtroopers to fill out the ranks of his OSIS army. That was why the fine print of his OSIS proposal noted that the new funds could also be distributed to what the state called “irregular external peacekeepers.”

It was a gooey and bloodless term clearly engineered to fall beneath notice. Without uttering any names, Governor Goldstreet had authorized the state to backchannel funds to Leroy Brigg. To most people, that name is one they remember only from a story regarding the pieces of some of his enemies that washed up on the banks of the Missouri River. People more familiar with him are not nearly as trusting.

But maybe it doesn’t matter which group of cranium-stunted assholes are running the show. If someone were to split your skull open with the butt of a handgun, would you give a thought (provided enough of your brains were left intact to manage a thought) about the ideology of the son of a bitch who cracked you? These OSIS goons are certainly more aware of appearances than the Briggs, they’re less overt in their bigotry and more capable of controlling their violent impulses. Beyond that, a healthy chunk of them seem to be rage-struck sadists who joined up with Goldie and Karlyle because it let them recapture the joy of that first wedgie.

I spent the afternoon in South Park watching these fine young professionals do their thing and that was enough to confirm all of the above. You’d think it would have been a tense situation for a half-drunk idiot with a grubby Hawaiian shirt, a lit roach in his lips and a bag full of various and sundry illegal goods at his side. You’d think that, but after a few sidelong stares the patrols simply ignored me. In fairness there was a certain logic to this - Why waste time rousting a junkie journalist who’s not hurting anyone when there are so many minorities to shake down? Not one black face made it through the park area without being hassled, not the little kids or old men, not alone on in groups or even the ones paired with less threatingly-complected folks. Hell, the couple pissed them off even more, that shrimpy white kid proving his extra special radicalism by his willingness to bang a terrorist like that.

The clincher was a group that passed sometime in the late afternoon, a girl and two young men who looked like students. The girl I recognized - Shayla, the one I’d found laying down tags earlier. Going by the shapely bulges in her backpack she wasn’t quite finished for the day. The other two were new and didn’t seem like the militant radical type, though I’m sure that my civilian eyes were simply not capable of seeing the threat in two skinny unarmed teenagers. Two OSIS grunts flagged them down for a quick inquisition, one of them - a big ugly mutt with a set of nasty half-rotten teeth - taking on a battle-ready stance just in case he needed to put down an impromptu insurgency from this terrifying crew.

Meanwhile, the mutt’s buddy - who was obviously a much more fun-loving bro - had Shayla against a nearby car for a patdown. I can imagine how he worded the incident report later - while carrying out a procedurally sound search of the persons of the suspects, the black female suspect (obviously driven by anti-police rage) abruptly lashed out, at which point the other suspects attempted to interfere and had to be restrained. To my civilian eyes, it looked like the pervert was groping Shayla, she responded like any woman would and the other two voiced their perfectly understandable outrage. That sort of false thinking is why nobody lets me carry a submachine gun in public.

Actually, Shayla put up with a lot more than I’d have expected. She complied from the start and didn’t react as the slobbering ape ran his hand over her thighs. The ass squeezing was a step too far. “What are you doing? Quit it!”

“Ma’am, remain calm or we’ll have to restrain you.” The perv gave her another goose, just his procedurally sound way of reminding her who was in charge.

One of the other young men, his hands still linked behind his head, did his best to come to Shayla’s rescue. “Lay off, you filthy fucking pig! She isn’t your property!”

The other grunt gave the kid a good shove with one hand as he drew his sidearm with the other. “Looks like we got a white knight, pardon the choice of words.” The mutt smiled with those hideous teeth. “You have a problem with the way my partner does his job?”

“No...sir,” said the kid, choking on every word.

“But you obviously do.” The mutt gestured with his sidearm, waving it right in the poor bastard’s face. “You cursed at him. Why did you curse at him? That wasn’t nice.”

The kid swallowed hard. “Well...he was feeling her up.”

“He was conducting a search. And you interfered.” The mutt forced the kid’s chin up with the barrel of the gun. “I get real fucking short with disrespectful assholes who interfere with our duties. What do you think?” He looked over at the other young man, who was too scared to speak. “Don’t look like you got too many supporters, do you?”

“I’m sorry I interfered,” said the kid. “It won’t ever happen again, I promise.”

“I’m not sure that’s enough. You’ve got a bad fucking attitude, and I don’t like that.” The mutt’s smile grew even wider. “Let’s start slow. Repeat after me: I have an attitude problem.”

“I have an attitude problem.” The kid sounded like he was about to cry.

The mutt rolled his finger around inside the trigger guard. “The authorities are there to help me.”

“The authorities are there to help me.”

“Only an asshole would interfere with the authorities.”

“Only an asshole would interfere with the authorities.”

“Thugs like the Union only make things worse.”

“...”

“Not answering?” The mutt rested his finger on the trigger. “There’s that attitude again.”

It seemed like a good time as any to step in. “Gonna shoot an unarmed black man in the middle of the day just off a busy street? Wouldn’t be my first choice of venue to commit a hate crime, but the state will probably back you up.”

“Excuse me.” The mutt looked over in my direction but kept the gun trained on his would-be victim. “You are interfering in OSIS business. Step back or we will detain you.”

“You’ve got a pretty good shot at getting acquitted, that is if this even goes to trial,” I said. “Internal affairs being the kind of thing that gets suspended in a police state. Hell, they might even give you a medal for taking down some of the UFJ’s finest shock troops.”

“I said back off, alkie, before this becomes a problem.” The mutt had forgotten about the kid at this point. The gun was back at his side and he was flailing his free hand at me.

“What you’ve got to worry about is vigilantism. With the curfew and business closing up and probably classes being cancelled, you’ve got a lot of people with nothing but time. You get a couple of them keeping tabs of you, taking pictures, networking. Maybe one of them knows a guy in records or has a hacker buddy who can find that sort of thing. It wouldn’t take more than a few days or a week to figure out your routine, your address, the home stall of whatever sheep you’re banging.”

“Shut the fuck up!”

“And then you’re out one night after the whole mess has died down and everyone outside of the UFJ has forgotten all about it. That’s when some sick son of a bitch comes up with a bottle of unleaded and a Zippo.”

The mutt paused while his brain struggled to process the imagery. “Are you threatening me?”

“No. I think it would be a tragedy if you were burned alive, and I think it would be a tragedy if you shot these folks to death in the street.”

There was another pause, then the mutt holstered his weapon and waved to his pervert buddy. “We’ve got better things to do. And you’re on notice.”

Shayla, still watching the OSIS grunts as they strolled into the distance, slid over to me with no small amount of caution. “We didn’t have anything to do with the bomb.”

“I know. Didn’t figure you’d trade in those spray cans for a rocket launcher.”

“Then it’s the breakaway militant types on campus? I mean, we’ve been trying to figure it out too.”

“Guy named Brinkley, or someone who claims to be Brinkley. You heard the name come up at your club meetings?”

“The only person we listen to is Professor Theo. Darius is...has an inside track with the Professor, if there was anyone else screwing around with the Union, he’d know.”

“I’m not so sure that the Prof is running things.”

Shayla was quiet for a few seconds, fidgeting and acting squirrely in general. “...Did you read the book? The one from the Professor?”

“Part of it. You know who this ‘Griot’ character is supposed to be apart from an artifact of mescaline?”

“You’re always so flippant.” Shayla sighed. “Thanks for saving us. I’m sure my friends would thank you, but we’re in a hurry. Gotta get in front of this bombing thing before Goldie puts us all on the most wanted list.”

“Not a problem. I love saving the lives of perfect strangers.”

Shayla and her companions were already hoofing it down a side street, so I doubt they heard that last part. That’s fine with me. I don’t want a reputation as some sort of hero, there are too many responsibilities and the benefits suck. Being a scoundrel suits me just fine, even if it will get me shot in the head one day.

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