Artillery whistles don’t make the most convenient alarm clocks, but you can be damn sure they’ll wake you up. That was the way the Arlandrian Civil War started for me; that telltale whistle, that banshee shriek that freezes even the best-trained soldiers right in their tracks. Typical then that I was laid in bed, still drunk as fuck, still on the verge of being sick.
It took me five minutes to get dressed, get my gear and get out of my apartment. Chances were it wouldn’t be standing for much longer. The stairs were like gelatine as I tried to make my way down them; I missed a step and a moment later I was curled foetal by the front door, everything hurt and nothing felt the right way up. Another explosion rattled the rafters above me, and the cascade of dust was all I needed to get back on my feet.
It’s strange how quickly you can sober up when you really need to. I checked my cellphone, desperately hoping that perhaps they hadn’t taken out the communications networks yet. Two bars out of five was good enough, and I forced my fingers steady as I typed in A-N-D-R and up came Andrew Harris, the only dude I knew who could have my back in this sort of situation.
“Andy, bro how’s it…” I started, before the answer machine cut me off with its robotic voice, its slanderous sound-bite tongue. The staccato words dug in harder than the straps of my rucksack, and that was saying something. My mind immediately jumped to the worst. He’s dead. He’s dead. Oh my God, he’s fucking dead; what the hell do I do?
I told myself I was being ridiculous; I had half a mind to slap some sense into me but right now it was a waste of time and a waste of energy. An Arlandrian Army vehicle turned onto the road and I ducked into an alleyway. I didn’t know whose side they were on but I’d be screwed if it wasn’t mine. Oil and sweat and grease filtered through the air like miasma as the truck rolled by, no doubt planning on supplying the front lines with more cannon fodder.
Polyphonic tones cut through the air and I almost had a heart attack. It was Harris, and the noises I heard were those of turbojet engines and loud speakers and crowds. How had he managed to get to the airport so quickly?
“Darke, my main man! ‘Sup brother?” He was jovial as always. Hell, the guy could have a gun to his head and he’d still have a smile on his face. That was just the way he rolled, and it had won him his childhood sweetheart and a lot of friends. “I’m at the airport, if you can’t tell by the deafening roar of BT-22’s and small children. I got your name on the list for a flight out to Maiden’s Bay, but you gotta promise me you’ll be here in the next two hours!”
In theory, that wasn’t going to be a problem. But theory was quickly consigned to the history books when you had a rifle up your ass. Hypothetically speaking. “I’ll do my best, but if I don’t make it, don’t worry. You know me; I ain’t getting my ass handed to me on a platter without giving the chef a piece of my mind, y’know what I’m saying?”
Harris laughed as though I’d told the best joke he’d ever heard. “I feel you man, I feel you. Look, if you don’t make it out, and my place isn’t completely totalled, there’s a safe in the basement. Code’s 14-13-25 and it’s packed to the goddamn nines with all the gear you’d need for some straight-up fighting. Was meant for the mob, but I don’t think they’ll mind too much if you borrow it.”
I smirked as I pushed my way through the discarded trash cans of a desolate alley. Harris and me, we’d pulled some pretty big jobs to supplement our incomes, so to speak. The mob was always looking for gun runners, especially if they were exclusive. The triads and the Russians, they had their sources, sources that incredibly survived the supposedly impossible trip from the mainland. But the mob had nothing – at least until they met The Wizard, i.e. Harris’s ridiculous alter ego who appeared to be a cross between an overdressed pimp and a sorcerer.
The Wizard was the mob’s one stop shop for firearms, pickups and sometimes drugs. We had about twenty people at the height of the operation, and they were nearly all disposable. Recovering addicts we leashed in the blink of an eye, low scale crims who couldn’t afford to bribe the cops, that sort of thing. A few years in and fifty thousand Arlandrian in the vault and we packed it all in, made sure that even the mob wouldn’t have any bad blood against us.
“Thanks for the offer, I might take you up on it if I mess this up,” I replied as I ducked between two cars. The telltale rumble and creak of a main battle tank passed without incident. “I’m coming up on Greenberg and Lake, and making good progress.”
“Shit bro, don’t –” I dropped the cellphone as I left the alleyway, an instant reaction. What had once been a moderately busy intersection in midtown was now a goddamn firing range, and I’d just drawn everyone’s attention to me because of a stupid phone call. As I turned on my heel, everything slowed down to quarter speed, my heartbeat like the drone of a drum in my ears. Splinters rained about me as bullets passed through head-high fences, and while my mind screamed peril all I could do was run. It was all my mind could focus on.
I scaled the fence at the end of the alley and dropped over onto Bridge Street, which turned out to be another stupid idea. Two tanks were sat to my left and the thud of the hammer of their machine guns was more than enough to clarify that they weren’t friendly. There was only one option, and if I survived it, it was going to be a miracle.
A gap in the gunfire came and I ran. Not away from or towards the tanks, but perpendicular to them, towards the edge of the bridge and the river below. With my entire life from the past five years in the bags on my back, I jumped, and immediately the icy water was everywhere. Step two of this imperfect escape plan was to try not to drown; but as always that was much easier said than done.