The Oasis is Burning

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8.3 - Pandemonium

Other journalists who have been through life-or-death situations tell me that it’s not uncommon to have strange or inappropriate thoughts in a crisis situation. Your brain starts fucking with you and there’s not much you can do but hope that the last thing that passes through your head isn’t that girl who punched your lights out because you tried to touch her ass at a 9th grade dance. As it turns out, my panicked thought was also about high school. I found myself flashing back on some shitty little story I tried to write back in the day, one that was very similar to the one I was living through. A bunch of weirdos and criminals were hiding out in some suburb and got pinned down by a pack of violent fanatics. And I was trying to remember how that story ended because I half-expected that I was about to live through it, at which point I remembered that I never finished that shitty little story. That’s a shame.

I could hear Arcadius and his men having a whispered conversation at the front of the room. “What the fuck do we do?”

“We can’t stay and fight. We gotta break through and get out.”

“If we go through the front they’ll cut us in half. There a back door?”

“Sure there is. We shoot it out until we get an opportunity to escape, then everyone in the car and we split.” Arcadius turned back to the room. “You can stay here if you want but we’re getting out. We all go out the back and try and push through the Briggs together. After that you’re on your own.”

Caspar rose to his feet. “Fine. Give us back our guns.”

Arcadius chuckled. “Sure. Give you a chance to shoot me in the back on the way out.”

“We’re outgunned as is, right?” said Caspar. “Do you want to be paranoid or do you want to try and even the odds?”

Arcadius pondered that one for an eyeblink or two, then slapped one of his men on the shoulder. “Get them their guns and ammo.”

“Does that include me?” said Darius.

“Hell no, that doesn’t include you. Give his piece to someone else, ah...” Arcadius pointed to Shayla. “How about you, princess? The thirty-two’s just about right for you.”

Shayla shook her head. “I won’t carry a gun! The only weapon I ever pack is a spray paint can, that’s all. I’m not carrying a gun.” There were tears in her voice.

“Fine, not you! Goddamn.” Arcadius tossed the compact pistol to me. “Here, that Fed gave it to you in the first place. High time you used it. Now let’s go! They could light the place up any time.”

That was when the first volley of machine gun fire hit the building. The spray of bullets scythed right a few inches over my head, taking out at least three of Caspar’s refugees who were too slow in hitting the ground. Arcadius’s men returned fire blindly through the wall as they darted for the rear exit. I fell to my belly and squirmed after them, squinting through the exploding drywall and the frantic mass of people all around me. I had the thirty-two in my hand but somehow the piece wasn’t giving me much comfort given the amount of lead coming through the wall.

The street outside was cast in an ominous red light from the road flares the Briggs had tossed onto the sidewalk and the staccato flash from rifles and submachine guns. The Briggs were just shadows at the edge of the flare light, but they had twice the men at least and that was before counting Cain. He looked more demon than man in the bloody light and his machine gun was singing a baleful tune. His expression was all teeth and tension and I knew that he’d found out about his leader and was repaying the world for the offense.

Arcadius and his men took cover as best they could and traded fire with the Briggs, but the matchup was clearly lopsided. Aside from numbers, the Briggs had also brought supplies to spare, while Arcadius and his men had only what they were carrying when they kicked in our door - one or two spare magazines tops, hardly enough for an extended gun battle. I’m no expert in tactics, but even at the time I knew that we were fucked unless we found a way out as quickly as possible.

We did have one wild card, or rather two - Caspar and Liang Qiang, our fair-weather soldiers. Maybe they were mad over the deaths of the students they’d been leading or it could be that facing death flipped some berserk switch, but both of them closed with Cain, getting an awful lot nearer to the towering psychopath than the surgeon general recommends. Liang peppered one of the Briggs with bullets and then took aim at Cain, but a second too late. Cain pulled a sizable handgun out of his weapon harness and shot Liang three times in the chest, dropping her dead to the ground. Caspar reloaded his shotgun and prepared to exact some revenge, but again the beast got the best of him - Cain whipped around and let off a few rounds, one of which caught Caspar in the shoulder. Caspar dragged himself back from the fray, wildly throwing shot in an attempt to cover his escape.

It was my turn to shine. I took careful aim (at least I think I did) and fired the thirty-two at Cain until the slide locked back. And when the light cleared from my vision, I saw that not a single round had hit Cain. Here’s a bit of advice: If you’re going to open fire on a heavily armed and emotionally unstable man who has a good reason to kill you, make sure you hit him. It took Cain looking right at me to remind me that I was still carrying the bag o’ flames from Leroy’s estate. I dug around for another Molotov cocktail, lit it on one of the road flares and winged it into the darkness. The bomb threw up a wall of flame between the Briggs and our sorry group, just the breather we needed to regroup.

Arcadius grabbed me by the shoulder. “Where did you guys put the first car you got?”

“It’s parked close by, but we can’t take it yet. They’ve got a Predator patrolling the area.”

“Fine. We grab Caspar before he bleeds out and he tells us how to get out safely. Now where’s the car?”

“It’s over...uh...”

The car was moving, Darius behind the wheel, Shayla riding shotgun. I ran over to the vehicle. “Stop, damn it!”

“Hop in!” screamed Shayla. “We’re getting out of town.”

“It’s too dangerous!” I yelled. “They’ve got drones watching the streets!”

“We don’t have time for this,” said Darius. “Atticus, you in or out?”

“Goddamn it, we need a few minutes to plot the escape! We can’t take off until -”

But I couldn’t finish my argument. Darius gunned the engine and they were off, soaring through the flames and the Briggs. Gunfire splintered the windows but he didn’t stop. Even though I knew what was coming I was still felt a sense of victory as I saw Darius and Shayla driving freely up the road, putting the chaos behind them. And then there was a faint whistle as something carved the atmosphere above us. The Briggs and the radicals all took cover but they weren’t the ones in the crosshairs this time. Everything went silent and then there was an explosion as the Hellfire missile found its mark.

The silence didn’t last long. Once the Briggs realized that they weren’t about to be cut to pieces by a killer RC plane, they resumed trying to kill us. Our side was running out of steam with terrifying speed. I dug into the bag but there was only one Molotov cocktail left. I lit the wick and waited for one of those bastards to try and cross the firewall.

But the next person I saw was Joanna, dragging a wounded Caspar and his shotgun away from the fray. “Looks like everything’s gone tits up.”

“No shit,” I said. “I met Harmon. He said it’ll be safe to escape when the sky turns orange.”

“Then we gotta get to Sara’s car,” said Joanna. “That’s the only way out. You still got the key?”

Then Arcadius butted in. “Atticus, we’re going to the garage. Is Caspar still alive?” Caspar responded with a spiteful groan. “Good, we’ll need him. Get whatever weapons are left and let’s go.”

“What about the others?” said Joanna.

“We’ll deal with that later!” Arcadius fired back at the Briggs but his revolver produced only an empty click. “Damn, gotta reload. Hurry it up, we don’t have time to talk about it!”

I sent the cocktail flying and took off after Arcadius, Joanna and Caspar following close behind. I wish I could say that the violence was behind us and that our escape was an easy one. I also wish I could say that nothing this shitty ever happened again, but wishing don't make it so.

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