The Oasis is Burning

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4.6 - Lost/Found

The citywide curfew is a strange beast. One pictures the heavy hand of martial law tightening around the throat of the living city, the flow of the streets dying out as waves of jackbooted thugs punish those dastardly criminals who flout the law by heinously staying out after dark. Sometimes, that’s exactly what you get, but you’re just as likely to see something akin to what you’d see in any town on a good drinking holiday - more cruisers and more people being stopped by the cops.

The fact is that even with the aid of the military and/or a decadently bloated public safety budget, your typical police state lacks the ability to fully lock down all but the smallest of towns. In a city of this size you’re looking at 10% coverage, and that’s with careful tactical placement. Modern surveillance equipment can magnify the reach of the state, but the most technologically savvy despot still needs a lot of manpower to deal out just punishment. In practice, anyone with the cunning to avoid the chokepoints (read: anyone with the brainpower to stay away from places where they’d definitely get caught) can wander surprisingly far without butting heads with the law.

It’s fear that makes the whole charade work. Getting caught out after curfew means facing down a squad of masked, black-clad men with submachine guns who speak exclusively in threats and profanity. It doesn’t matter that the odds against seeing that are so long. No one wants to experience that once, and no one who’s dealt with it wants to experience it again. That’s another thing that makes journalists a crazy breed - I’ve dealt with foul-mouthed trigger-happy thugs with badges on a few occasions and I just keep coming back for more.

My own trek down a series of ill-lit side streets was actually a mellow and calming experience that resulted in fewer encounters with scary assholes than my daytime adventurers. But once I was within striking distance of the Eldridge I realized that Darius wasn’t 100% accurate in his assessment of OSIS tactics. There were fewer grunts no question, but there were still enough, all stationed in nice bright areas where a creeping journalist would be very easy prey. My options were limited - try and sneak through the downtown area to my temporary digs in the warehouse district; find a discreet spider hole in some part and wait for the situation to improve; or present myself to the authorities at the Eldridge, explain the situation, and hope that they don’t beat me too much in the head area.

I had about two seconds to ponder the state of affairs when I backed into someone in the darkness. That’s never a good thing in a situation like that. Best case, you’ve bumped into a homeless guy or some lost tourists or a ditch weed dealer who’s made some questionable life decisions. Worst case scenario, you’re now facing down a pack of angry cops. Absolute worst case scenario, you’ve bumped into someone scarier than the cops who’s just given himself a good reason to carve your face off.

Blind instinct took over. The butterfly knife was in my hand in an instant, faster than I thought my fingers could move. Sadly, the impressive wrist-snap open that I’d practiced so many times while watching knife trick videos suddenly failed me, and I found myself clutching a weapon still folded up in a nice relatively safe package. In retrospect, that was probably a lucky break. If that had been a cop, coming up with a knife would have given him and his brothers in blue license to put about thirty holes in me.

This specimen was decidedly less ballsy. “Shit, whoa! I’m not armed! You don’t have to do that!”

“Harmon?” I almost didn’t recognize him, not without the vaporizer glued to his face and not with the black hoodie (emblazoned with some kind of squid logo that I know I’d seen in the area) covering what was no doubt an outfit of a vintage older than him. I slid the knife back into his hiding place. “Don’t you know there’s a curfew on?”

“Atticus! Holy shit, I thought I was dead!” Harmon pulled back his hood. He’d looked better, and it wasn’t just the sickly lighting. “Have you seen Joanna? I really, really need to speak with her.”

“Saw her this morning when she ran off to reclaim her shop.”

“The shop’s still locked up under guard.” Harmon made an exaggerated grimace like he was in pain. “But hey, I’ve got something I can show you.”

“Probably not the best time, Harmon.”

“No, it’s perfect! It’ll only be a minute.” Harmon scampered over to a mass of rust and duct tape that would technically qualify as a car. “Come on!”

Against my last ounce of good judgment, I walked over to Harmon’s rust bucket. After a few seconds of jimmying, the trunk spat out an exaggerated squeak and popped open a few inches. There was a box of beer bottles just visible through the crack, all filled with some viscous liquid and stoppered with dirty rags. Harmon struggled harder against the lid, and when it finally opened all the way, I found myself standing in front of an anarchist’s war laboratory. Behind the Molotov cocktails were larger incendiaries made from milk jugs and filled with even fouler looking materials, and next to those were some unhealthy masses of wire bound tightly around anonymous boxes.

Harmon’s mad grin mingled well with the deep rings under his eyes. “I’ve been reading up about direct action like you said. What do you think?”

I’ve known a lot of heavy drug users in my time, enough to spot the signs that someone’s helped himself to an extra dose and crossed the threshold. It wasn’t anything obvious in this case - Harmon wasn’t drooling or twitching or sniffing or grinding his teeth. It was just that his demeanor was off. This wasn’t the half-dead cynic I’d seen before. Maybe it was just enthusiasm, but I’ve never met anyone who could maintain that degree of enthusiasm for so long without chemical assistance.

“It’s an impressive collection of chaos, Harmon. How long did it take to put together?”

“About eighteen hours. You know, with the curfew I haven’t had much to do, and I haven’t been sleeping too much. You see, I ran out -” Harmon froze for a second or two like he was listening for something a long ways away, then picked up where he stopped. “I ran out of Vision two days ago. Well, I didn’t really run out, someone stole it from me. I think. Anyway, I’ve been trying to get more from Joanna...any chance you have some on you?”

“Sorry. I think I’ve got a joint or two left.”

“Hmm...no, mainstream herbs do nothing for me. Anyway, ever since I stopped smoking, I found all this energy I never knew I had, so I decided to break into...I don’t remember what building it was, but I helped myself to some supplies.” Harmon picked up one of the Molotov cocktails, cradling it like it was a trophy. “And now I’m going to make you eat your words, you and the UFJ and those fuckers in Topeka and all of them.”

“Interesting line of gibberish. What’s the plan?”

“The most obvious plan in the world. I’m going to drive to the Electoral Integrity Center and burn that son of a bitch to the ground! Let’s see them steal the vote without their computers!”

“That might be hard to do, what with the roads all sealed off.”

Harmon looked crestfallen and I thought he was going to cry, but he snapped out of it in a heartbeat. “...Well, there’s plenty of monuments to corruption around here that I can burn. City hall. The courthouse. How about the stadium? Let’s see Jameson give his big speech without a venue!”

I wrenched the Molotov cocktail out of Harmon’s hands and put it back in the trunk. “I think you need some sleep.”

“I do need some sleep, but that’s easier said -” Harmon froze again. “- than done. That’s the other thing about the Vision, I’ve got all this energy and I can’t turn it off. But also? When I was smoking the Vision, I had all these crazy dreams. So much better than that mass market crap they put on TV. But after that first night without it, after I woke up, the dreams didn’t quite go away. I probably need to see a doctor.”

“Fantastic idea, Harmon.”

“Yeah, a doctor. First we burn something, then a doctor.”

I grabbed Harmon by the shoulder. “Maybe we should reverse that. Joanna’s probably in the warehouse district. If we can get over there without being shot, you can work this out with her. Then we can figure out what to destroy by fire.”

“Bless you,” said Harmon. “But how do we get across Mass with all those OSIS cops?”

“That’s a very good question.”

I never had a chance to answer that question. A ring of blinding lights shot out of the darkness all around us. There were at least four or five of them, probably more (not that counting was my priority). Harmon didn’t wait long enough to find out who our guests were - he scrambled off in a random direction, bouncing off one of the figures. It was an opportunity, just enough to let me withdraw into the darkness.

“Freeze!” More lights hit me. There wasn’t enough light to see who these assholes were, but the firearm barrels trained in my direction told me everything I needed to know.

I dropped to my knees, hands behind my head. “All right, I surrender. No need to open fire.”

One of the lights hit me square in the eyes and everything went white. “He’s one of them. We’re taking this one with us.” And then they were on me, a multitude of hands restraining me, snatching my bag, putting cuffs on me and a very charming black bag over my head.

All that I remember after that was motion. No words, no threats or little jabs to the ribs. Just motion.

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