The Oasis is Burning

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5.6 - The World

“I still say this is a bad idea.”

In my brief tenure in Lawrence, I learned a lot about Joanna Brawney. She has a sardonic sense of humor almost as glorious as my own. She can find hallucinogens pretty much anyplace on earth. She is not only fine with squalor, she might actually prefer it to splendor. And she has an extremely limited pool of trust. Joanna can trust two, maybe three people at a time - anyone beyond that is bait at best and a double agent at worst. Probably a useful survival skill in crazy times like those, but not always convenient.

It’s not like I had any real duty to Shayla, or felt any attachment to her. I guess it just seemed like it would be shitty to abandon someone who was only standing up for her rights.

And Shayla was more than eager to stick up for herself. “Hey, I didn’t cause this mess. It’s not my fault that there are armed psychos running around the city. I never carried anything more dangerous than a spray can!”

“Those psychos are looking for you,” muttered Joanna.

“They’re looking for everyone!” Shayla tapped me on the shoulder. “Atticus, you’ve dealt with these people. Tell her!”

I cleared my throat. “I can tell you three things. One, I just fled the scene of a homicide after spending the morning in official custody, so really, I’m the one putting the two of you in danger. Two, the danger thing is moot given that we can see the safe house from where we’re standing.”

I paused for a moment to let that sink in. The warring factions of Lawrence were busy reducing campus and large swaths of the city to unchained anarchy, but that madness hadn’t touched East Lawrence yet. The street leading to the warehouse was tranquil, without a heavily armed ideologue or quasi-fascist thug to be seen for blocks around.

“Fair enough,” said Joanna. “And the third thing?”

“Someone’s hanging around, and I don’t think it’s OSIS.”

Spotting a tail is one of those journalistic techniques I never quite mastered. The investigative guys I used to hang with loved to talk about being followed by the cops or corporate security or the Secret Police in countries where they still had that particular flavor of despotism. They’d give me advice on noticing unusual behavior, covertly tracking a person who’s tracking you, and losing the offending party in crowded joints. I could never quite get the hang of it, which is one reason I’ve been beaten up so many times.

Then again, it doesn’t take the awareness of an experienced CIA throatcutter to notice a person who ducks behind a tree every time you look around or walk a little slower. I’m bad at spotting tails, but this one was even worse at being a tail.

Joanna had noticed it too. “All right, come on out. We all know you’re here.”

By this point, all three of us were staring dead center at the tree concealing our would-be tracker, but she just wasn’t ready to come out. So I gave her an incentive. “Sara, we’ve got shit to do, so if you’re in a mood to play games then pick a shorter one.”

Sara stormed out from around the tree and marched up to me, having suddenly regained her boldness. “Goddamn it Atticus, I told you to get out of the city.”

“Hard to do that with a black bag over your head,” I said. “Oh, I should make some introductions. This is Sara, the disgraced journalist; Shayla, member of a dangerous radical organization; Joanna, the drug dealer.”

That made Sara nice and huffy. “Disgraced? Please. And that’s rich talk from someone who reported on a caucus high on ecstasy.”

“Mephedrone, and if you were there you would have taken it, too,” I said.

Sara shook her head. “Yeah, yeah. You just need to learn to take advice when it’s given to you.”

“Speaking of which, how exactly did you know that all this shit was coming?” I said.

“ don’t think I shot the bastard, do you?” Sara threw out her arms. “Everyone wanted to do it, this whole town is suspects. Why don’t you ask skinny over here about it? Her group’s the one that started all this.”

“I don’t know anything!” said Shayla. “All I know is art, that’s it.”

“Maybe we should continue this inside,” I said. “This ain’t exactly a pleasant evening stroll.”

“Wise plan. I’ll head in first, the guy knows me.” As Joanna passed me, she leaned in and whispered something like “Twice the trouble.”

Joanna crept up on the warehouse and nudged open the door. As before, the interior was dark save a few rays of fading light. The water jugs and personal items were still on display, though with some amount of organization (straightening up an abandoned warehouse/gallery being the kind of thing one does after being trapped inside long enough with nothing productive to do). The tarps had also been arranged into bunched-up curtains that looked like crude room dividers. I could hear voices, faint and vaguely familiar, coming from a distant corner. In a weird sense, I felt like I was home.

“Move and you’re dead.”

That was what I was missing - the barrels of a shotgun in my face. “Evening, Caspar.”

Caspar lowered the shotgun. “You again? Why’d you come back?” He looked over at Shayla and Sara, neither of whom quite saw the ambush coming. “And who the hell are they?”

“They can introduce themselves, I need to lay down.” I spotted my corner of the room, nestled in darkness behind a repurposed tarp and some sort of scaffold. “Is that my spot? You shouldn’t have.”

“Damn it, this isn’t a hostel!” Caspar tossed the shotgun against the wall with an uncomfortable amount of force. “I can’t take strangers in like that!”

“Look, I get it, but you’d rather leave us all on the street to be killed?” Joanna gestured back at Sara and Shayla. “I’m not pleased that Atticus has us dragging these lost puppies around with us, but leaving them out there with the wolves is a little cold.”

“Respectable point, but it puts us in a rough situation. I suppose we can hide the lot of you, but you’ve got to follow the rules to - don’t do that in here!” Caspar jabbed his finger at Sara, who was fumbling with a nearly empty pack of cigarettes.

“Fine. Geez, you guys are anal about smoking.” Sara fished out a cig. “I’ll take it outside.”

“The hell you will. No one leaves.” Caspar stepped to the door. “We’ve been monitoring some broadcasts. the state is quiet, but Leroy Brigg’s been on a tear all day, and some of the folks spotted his thugs on Mass. That shitstorm at the stadium made them bold. They’ll be skulking around here by tomorrow, I’m sure.”

“So that’s Brigg’s charming baritone I’m hearing?” I said. “Hadn’t considered what his interpretation of today’s events might be.”

“You can listen for yourself, if you’ve got the pain tolerance,” said Caspar. “He’s been going on about the future for the past hour and a half.”

Caspar grabbed a Pardner off some unseen shelf and placed it in front of me. The others joined me - Sara out of journalistic obligation, Shayla for her own safety, and Joanna out of some masochistic curiosity.

And Leroy was in fine voice, with that self-assurance that comes only from being so far beyond the event horizon of psychopathy that morality means whatever you think it means.

LEROY: ...and that is the lesson that the elites learned on this, the most perfect of days. This was supposed to be their grand triumph, the day on which they announced that their conquest of the Republic was complete and irrevocable, and instead...oh friends, listeners, I struggle to find words to express my joy, my boundless optimism. I don’t know who it was who dealt this blow, I don’t know if he counted himself among our community or if he was guided by his own force of will and sense of justice, but either way, he is a hero.

Joshua Jameson was fabulously wealthy, wealthy beyond any of our dreams. But do you know how wealthy? The latest estimate put his holdings at over $92 billion. Ninety-two - and that’s only what we know about. That’s the legal money, that’s not counting his dealings with the underworld factions on at least two continents, dealing which were no small part of his influence. $92 billion. And what did it take to stop him? Fifty cents worth of brass and copper and lead and powder. That and one man with the will to steady his hand and pull the trigger.

Jameson’s power was an illusion. We let him have that power, and what did he do with it? I have sources, friends, that tell me that Jameson was conspiring to seize even more power from you by giving himself the right to cast you out of the democratic process. You made him wealthy, he tried to turn you into a slave, until one hero took his power back.

And that’s all it takes, friends. These politicians, these academics and researchers, these CEOs and presidents of the board, these priests and clerics, these soft-headed interest leaders with their lists of grievances - they only have the power that you give them. You always have the ability to take it back, and now is the time to exercise that ability. Friends, listeners, now is the time to show them how little power they have, to punish them for their hubris and their tyranny, to remind them that they live at our discretion.

Joshua Jameson was only the start. I have in front of me a list of four men who are directly implicated in the anarchy that holds the city of Lawrence in its grip. Governor Merton Goldstreet. Secretary of State Karlyle Augustus. University of Kansas professor and UFJ agitator Theophilus Jagunjagun. Radical leftist terrorist and UFJ agitator Arcadius Brinkley. Remember, it is neither a crime nor a sin to do what must be done to secure your own power. The only sin is inaction.

Sara drew back in shock. “Did he just greenlight the governor?”

Shayla wasn’t nearly as restrained. “Oh my God, Theo! That means Darius is in danger! I have to warn them!”

“No one leaves!” barked Caspar. “The Briggs are combing this city for anyone they think is a threat, and that’s everyone here. We’re in lockdown as of now. No lights, no loud noises, nothing to give away our presence. We keep our heads low for a day or two and then assess the situation, see if its safe to get out of town.”

“I don’t know why you’re so worried. Shanghai Oakley can deal with those mooks.” Joanna looked around the room. “Where is she, anyway?”

“Keeping watch,” said Caspar. “Liang Qiang doesn’t appreciate those jokes.”

“They’re compliments, no need to get mad.” said Joanna.

“Well, I’m absolutely beat,” I said. “Joanna, quick word?”

Caspar had kept the dismal corner aside just for us. “Let me guess,” whispered Joanna. “OSIS poached your stash, didn’t they?”

“No pillow talk first? Not very romantic.”

Joanna palmed over a tiny baggie containing a few tabs of Adderall. “That’s all I got. Don’t come whining if you use it all up.”

“I’ll make it last.”



“You think we’re getting out of this alive?”

“You much of a gambler?”

Joanna grinned. “Yeah, I don’t like the odds, either.”

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