The Oasis is Burning

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7.3 - Invasion

There’s little in the modern world more conspicuous than driving a car down a series of completely deserted roads. It’s the kind of slightly but pervasively disconcerting situation that makes one wonder if he’s committing some offense through this perfectly ordinary act. Paranoia sets in over time, and one begins spotting cops behind every lamppost - or an assault vehicle loaded with fascist goons, as the case may be. The fact that those streets were empty should have been comforting given that it meant that the bad guys were blocks away, but I was prepped for the ambush - if not the Briggs, then the militants of Arcadius’s radical faction, eager to get mobile and take out some traitors.

So we took a circuitous route, avoiding bottlenecks and blind turns and anyplace else where we might be vulnerable. A drive that should have taken ten minutes took close to thirty, but we had gas and time to burn and better safe than sorry. The scenic route also gave me a chance to see what the town looked like post-carnage, and I’ll tell you, a week makes all the difference. The people who survived the initial clashes were in hiding - the college kids and daytime drunks and street teams and transients and buskers and yuppies and the rest of the people who populated the sidewalks were all tucked away in basements and shelters. Even the neighborhoods that were untouched by the Briggs were shrouded in that same doomed stillness. The sound of the armored vehicles roaming around the downtown area was the only thing that reminded me that the world hadn’t ended.

The tour of the apocalypse ended at the safe house, our first procured car tucked away on a desolate side street. Darius and I both got out, but Darius seemed reluctant to take the twenty steps into the house.

I glanced at him from over the hood of the car. “You have something else to do?”

“Something feels wrong.” Darius stared up the street. “I don’t think it’s safe.”

“As opposed to the safety of hanging out on the street with crazy armed bigots roaming around?”

Darius pulled out the gun he’d received from Agent Mason. “I’ll be in soon, just want to check out the area a little bit.”

“All right. Knock when you open the door. ‘Brutally killed by tiny Chinese girl’ wouldn’t make for a very dignified obituary.” And for once I opted to follow my own advice, giving a gentle rap on the door. “Atticus here. Mother may I come in?”

“Don’t be a wiseass all the time,” was the response. “Come in.”

I’d hoped that the others would have used their free time to do something productive, like paint over those goddamn bunnies. Then again, there was something soothing about the environs after watching all the bloodshed. Maybe the soft brats were on to something.

Sara flicked her latest cigarette aside. “You have something for us?”

“Indeed. A piece of crap blue four-door currently sitting under a bunch of overgrown trees just off the main street.” I cracked my knuckles. “So we’re one-quarter done.”

“More like half,” said Joanna, glaring at Sara. “Someone didn’t mention that her car was sitting safely in a garage on campus.”

“‘Safely’ is a strong word. I know where it was, but OSIS might have impounded it, the Briggs are probably guarding the place...” Sara sighed. “...We’ll go get it later.”

“Then we’re nearly done,” said Caspar. “We can probably cram everyone into three cars. Not comfortable, but then we won’t be on the -”

That’s when the door flew in and hit me square in the back and I tasted the ground. There was a tangled cacophony of footsteps behind me and I could see Caspar and Liang Qiang going for their weapons. I suspected that this wasn’t Darius making an overenthusiastic entrance. I rolled over to one side and saw five men standing over me at the entrance - some black, some white, all of them packing rifles and submachine guns. And in the center of the pack, finger on the trigger of his hand-held head abolisher, was Arcadius Brinkley.

“Good afternoon everyone, and no need for alarm, we are not here to kill you.” Arcadius grinned at Caspar. “Put ’em down. We got you outnumbered, we got you outgunned.”

There were a few seconds of silence as Caspar contemplated the odds, then placed his shotgun on the table in front of him. The girl was more reluctant, but there wouldn’t be a repeat of our run-in with the Briggs - she dropped her pistols on the table next to the shotgun.

“Very smart,” said Arcadius through his ever-widening smile. “Now, to reiterate, I am not here to kill anyone.”

“A lot of home invaders say that,” said Sara.

“Would it help if I laid out my intentions all nice and open? The first reason I’m here is to check up on my little precious over there.” Arcadius winked at Shayla who couldn’t even look at him. “But more important...wait, this is probably my imagination running wild, but I get the feeling that there’s someone missing here.”

“Yeah, motherfucker.” There was the sound of a safety being clicked off at Darius appeared in the doorway, his procured pistol pressed against the back of Arcadius’s head. The other men reacted but no one wanted to make any sudden moves, not with a gun at their leader’s head and not with uncontrolled weapons in the room.

“Is that Darius?” said Arcadius with a lot less tension than I’d have imagined. “What’s up?”

“My father is dead,” said Darius. “And someone’s going to pay for it.”

“Me?” Arcadius laughed. “I’m sorry to hear about your dad, but he was killed by those rednecks. I had nothing to do with it, didn’t even see the guy again after that chat we all had.”

“Keep talking, fool. Make those last words count.”

Arcadius laughed again. “Last words? That gun of yours can’t shoot.”

“I got a new one.”

Arcadius glanced down at me. “It ain’t a BB gun,” I said.

“You don’t say,” said Arcadius. “So where’d you get the piece?”

“Got it from a Fed,” said Darius. “I’m supposed to kill someone important, but I penciled you in first.”

Arcadius quit laughing. “Is he serious?”

“Sure is,” I said. “I was there when the stiff in the trenchcoat handed it off.”

Arcadius smiled again, but this time it was the restrained grin of a man who had either just figured it out or was about to spin some fine well-tailored bullshit. “Interesting. I never imagined the FBI would be that clever.”

“The fuck are you talking about?” said Darius.

“Use some brainpower,” said Arcadius. “Where do you think that piece came from? It was probably a drop - you know, something he picked up on a case. Maybe he took it off a dealer’s bodyguard, or an armed, a terrorist. Not a real terrorist, just some wannabe. You gotta know how many people in this country are ready to accept a black man as a terrorist.”

“Shut up.”

“So he gets this gun off a baby terrorist, probably a community piece that’s been circulating for a while, and whatever dumb son of a bitch gets pinched holding it goes down for it all. You know how many bodies are on that gun? Witnesses maybe, or cops? A black terrorist cop-killer, they will wall you into that cell.”

“I told you to shut up.” Darius’s hand was trembling.

“The other thing about criminals is that they like to fuck around with their weapons. You know, some dealers tamper with the safety and trigger mechanisms, give it a hair trigger. An extra tenth of a second can save your life on the street, but it makes the goddamn things really finicky. They’ll just go off for no reason at all.”

By this point, Darius had his eyes off Arcadius and on the gun. There was apprehension in those eyes, or maybe just disgust, but either way it was enough. One of Arcadius’s men slapped the gun out of Darius’s hand and an instant later Arcadius swung his elbow back and caught Darius right in the jaw. As Darius reeled from the blow, Arcadius grabbed him and tossed him to the ground between his men and the rest of us. Darius looked like he didn’t have a goddamn clue what just happened, a feeling that I couldn’t help but share.

Arcadius scooped the gun off the floor. “A thirty-two? An FBI agent gave you this little kid gun to kill me?”

“Actually, we were supposed to kill Brigg,” I said.

“Son of a bitch, guess the Feds do go after a bad guy every now and then.” Arcadius handed the gun to one of his men. “So why pull it on me? I didn’t kill Theo. It was that fascist asshole Brigg who greenlighted him.”

“Brigg never would have found him if it wasn’t for you,” growled Darius. “You baited those killers and led them to our house!”

“Are you outside your mind?” said Arcadius. “So what, a bunch of fucking skinheads start chasing me and find your dad, and it’s my fault? They would have found him. Ain’t nothing pisses off that type like an educated black man. They would have moved mountains to put him in the ground.”

“In other words, a hell of a lot more than you did to save him,” muttered Sara.

Arcadius stared at Sara. “What was that?”

“I said that you’re a fucking coward,” said Sara. “Running around talking about revolution and quoting Malcolm and waving that stainless steel compensator around and the first chance you get to actually use it and you run and hide and let someone else take the bullet.”

Arcadius gritted his teeth and wagged his finger at her, but he held back whatever he was going to say. “...As I said, the real reason I came here was for you.” And then he pointed at me.

“I’m getting that a lot lately,” I said.

“Yes, you are.” Arcadius started counting off on his fingers. “Joshua Jameson wanted to talk to you, Professor Jagunjagun, Governor Goldie, and now that psycho Brigg all think you’re the shit, so I really had to see what it was all about. And now I learn that you’re a car thief? Damn, Atticus, you got some secret talents.”

“Some people have great pitch, I’m good with a crowbar.”

“Yes, you are,” said Arcadius. “I have to figure that if you’re rounding up these cars, then someone here has a way out of town. And I’ll tell you, things aren’t going according to plan, so I think we’re just going to hitch a ride.”

“It’ll be a tight fit, we’d only planned to bring so many assholes.”

“You’ll make room.” Atticus patted one of his men on the shoulder. “Now this here is Rick, and he’s your new best friend. I’ve got a guy securing the front who goes by Tyrell. He’s your other new best friend. These two are going to take you out on the town to find more cars.”

“Half your associates have records. None of them can hotwire a car?”

“Of course they can, but I need someone I can trust. And I trust you.” Arcadius put the barrel of his revolver under my chin. “Because you’re smart enough not to pull anything. You know what would happen.”

That was the second time in my life I had a revolver barrel at my head. As it turns out, a larger gun doesn’t make it scarier. Any piece will get that point across.

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