Z365 – 021 – General

“I’m General Howard Mason. US Army, retired,” blares the megaphone.

It takes me a few seconds to focus on the distinguished-looking elder gentleman the voice belongs to—as distinguished as one can look in an army field uniform that looks great on young, fit people, a little less so thirty years and a few beers and fried chickens later. It’s that air of authority he carries himself with, I’m sure. I only vaguely notice that I’m responding positively to it, which irks me. I was raised better than to trust anyone simply because he’s assuming command. Apparently, the night I’ve had changes things.

I cast a sideways glance at my acerbic companion. He’s frowning, seemingly too in sync with my thoughts again for my own good.

Something tickles my memory as my tired, frazzled thoughts skip beyond the immediate self-flagellation. Mason. As in Hottie Mason. Could it be coincidence? I’m sure that if anyone still had a telephone book around, I’d find several pages of Masons, in this part of the city alone. And yet.

I scan the soldiers doing a good job fading into the background although there must be a good fifty of them around. None of them looks familiar, but I have to admit, I’m not sure I could pick out that particular cutie pie from a lineup. My nemesis, of course, I’d spot immediately out of a million.

Under different circumstances, I’d sincerely ask myself what the fuck is wrong with me.

Thankfully, the general starts talking before I have to.

“I know you all must be scared, but it’s of vital importance for everyone to remain calm.”

His tone commands I do exactly that. Sadly, the continual feedback the megaphone produces utterly ruins the effect. A woman standing close to me winces. Beyond her, I see a couple of the sungazers draw up short, looking around disoriented. 

Oh shit.

I cut down on that impulse. If anything, the two men look like they are coming out of a daze. That’s a good thing, right? They still don’t seem aggressive, or entirely aware for that matter. I’d love to know what has them so dazed and confused. Or maybe not. Last night feels like a distant nightmare but also one I’ll never forget. 

I refuse to be the curiosity-killed-the-cat feline.

Just to be sure, I step around my intrepid companion, putting one more body between me and them.

If the asshole notices, he doesn’t comment on it, still focused in disdain on the general as he is.

Maybe I should ask for his name? If we keep bumping into each other, I might as well ask.

Meanwhile, the general drones on a litany that sounds straight out of a movie.

“We have the situation under control.” No, they don’t. And who is “we” anyway? All I can see are twice the number of soldiers as civilians, confusion on all faces the thing we have in common. Actually, the civilians are the group that’s looking less doubtful, if I ignore the asshole next to me, which in this case I won’t. As annoying as he is—and as antagonistic toward me—he’s smart.

“We have established this camp here as a temporary relief effort,” the general continues. “We will start processing you now. Please line up so we can take your information.”

Wait, what? 

I don’t like the sound of that; not at all. My companion’s frown deepens.

And yet, we are the only two who remain rooted in the spot as the crowd around us comes surging forward—if at a moderate pace—pressing toward the tents.

The asshole notices me alternating my disbelief between him and what is going on around us.

“How about we don’t?” he mutters, more in response to the general’s omnipotent usage of the term than his attempt to actively include me, I’m sure.

I feel myself smile for a second as I watch as the first people—three men and a woman—disappear into the tent.

When I return my attention to him, he’s gone, not a trace of him left.

Yeah, I think I’ll just stick with “asshole” for now. It fits too well.

(If you want to catch up before reading on, here’s the link to chapter 1!)

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