Outside El Paso, another convoy of Pamela Edison Pharmaceuticals is driving down the road. An 18-wheel truck followed by a military truck in the front and another in the back filled with hired young soldiers who just joined Clear Skies. They look out into the distance with weak nerves, making it difficult to hold their automatic weapons. In the back, a new man is checking to see if his side arm is clean and it is in the truck behind the 18-wheeler. The driver looks at his passenger looking out the window and then at the man cleaning his gun.
The driver says, “Hey rookie, that gun came from the armory. I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t give you something that was defective.” The man cleaning his gun says, “You never know man and the name is Tom. Thomas Lennon from Brooklyn and you?” The driver says, “Ryan Tittle from Alabama.” Tom laughs and says, “Oh man I know you must be popular in your neighborhood. Didn’t your state try to join the Restricted Zones a few years ago?” Ryan says, “Yeah but because of the treaty and all we couldn’t so those who wanted nothing to do with the Union left for the nearest Restricted Zone. As far as being popular if it was back in the old days, I would’ve been scared for my life but now that everything looks the same, nobody notices. What you’ll really like is when we get to the towns, a lot of these places still fly Old Glory.”
Tom says, “No shit! That’s a hell of a fine over on our sign.” Ryan says, “Yeah no kidding. My brother lost bonus money because he made the mistake of flying our English flags during the World Cup. Man he was so pissed but when your team is winning and so drunk that you fall down while taking a piss, you’ll make mistakes. Thankfully I make more than enough money on this job so I gave him enough to help him out. Now he keeps everything inside for nobody to see. Good guy but he makes bad decisions sometimes and mentioning my name helps him out sometime.”
Tom says, “Is this why you applied for this job? To get out of the cities and explore the Restricted Zones?” Ryan says, “Yeah after everything that went down between the Union and the un-conformist, the Union kept building and modernizing everything but the Restricted Zones always stayed the same. I like spending 12 hours dropping off supplies between the towns on our routes and seeing the sights. Family owned businesses, forests and clearings as far as the eye can see. It’s a nice change on the eyes instead of looking at buildings everywhere you turn. Not to mention it’s the only area in the United States where you’ll see flags flying all over the place every day.”
Tom says, “You almost make it sound like we’re unpatriotic. We fly Old Glory on top of our condominiums and such.” Ryan says, “Oh no, no I don’t me that my man. I’m just saying even though this country isn’t what it used to be, these people fly the flag out every day were as we can only fly it on national holiday. You know, the whole nothing can offend anyone law.” Tom laughs and says, “You mean the Internal Peace Act? The law that nothing can be shown in public expressing any religion, offensive language, etc.” Ryan says, “Yeah and foreign nationalities. These are very proud people and for some reason, something’s going on in these parts and they may be the cause of it. We’re getting close to the first town so keep your eyes out ok Tom?” Tom nods his head and holsters his weapons.
While his head is down, the next thing he sees is the floor moving and he feels his body hitting the side of the truck it’s knocked off the road. His truck flips and they hang upside down, Tom screams for Ryan but Ryan slouches over revealing his head wound. Tom believes he’s dead as he hears the sound of more crashing metal with gunfire being heard a period at a time. The horns of the truck and other Humvee are going off and then silenced. Tom gets right side up as the door pops open and a man with a semi-automatic rifle points his gun at him and says, “Get the fuck out now!”
Tom crawls out with a cut on his cheek and feeling a sharp pain in his left hand. He looks up and the man with the assault rifle is wearing casual clothing and a bandana covering his face. The man says, “Stop looking at my face and keep your head down.” Tom does as he’s told and sees how the other mercenaries and the doctors in the trucks are laying down. There’s a dozen of them standing in a straight line watching over all of them, most of them carrying the same assault rifles the man next to Tom is carrying.
The doctors are soaked with blood and urine, paralyzed in fear but the soldiers are holding their own. The men are high fiving each other thinking they’ve done a job well done except for one of them all the way down at the end. Tom tilts his head up gently and sees a man with a pistol and a skull mask covering his face. The man in the skull mask looks at Tom and Tom quickly looks back down but he was noticed. The man in the skull mask says, “Oh no it’s too late to be playing possum now my friend. Pick his ass up. We have ourselves a winner here so let’s let him know what he’s won today.”
Tom is pulled up and he looks at the man in the skull mask. He stares Tom in the eyes and says, “Your curiosity is what’s going to save you today. The rest of these cons here are going to die and you want to know what? Because we’re the Exos and we do what we want around these parts. As for me, tell everyone you see who I am and who I am is… The Skull.” A hysterical laugh is heard by the men and they all turn to see the last one standing guard at the end of the line. The Skull looks at the others and they have no clue what’s so funny about what he just said. The Skull says, “Hey Albert is that your fat ass laughing? I didn’t even say anything?”
The man at the end takes off his bandana revealing a tall and slightly chubby guy with white face paint and a bold red W in the middle of his forehead matching his red lipstick and red eye shadow. Tom notices the features such as his dark hair combed over, the length of his hair is down to his shoulders and a straight deep diagonal scar on his right cheek. The man says, “I’m sorry but for you to wear a bad ass mask like that and give yourself a crappy name like that… well that’s nothing short of boring. Oh and I wouldn’t consider myself fat, more like having an intimate relationship with gravity.”
The Skull looks at the man and says, “Who are you and what the fuck did you do with Albert?” The man cocks his rifle and says, “Well I found you guys just before you were about to make your run and Albert also has a relationship of his own so I decided to switch with him. Whether or not he’s still awake I don’t know. As far as who I am well I’m just a crazy son of a bitch who joined the A.R.A. at a young age and now here I am kicking wanna be asses. You can call me Wacko.” The Skull laughs and says, “And you’re going to judge me on my name calling?”
Wacko says, “Well I wanted to be called F.I.T.H. which stands for fucked in the head but nobody wanted to go along with it so Wacko it was.” He gives a cynical smile and the rest of the men point their guns at him. Wacko aims his rifle at them and The Skull says, “Well Wacko, you must be fucked in the head to mess with me. Why should my boys not put a thousand holes in you right now?” Wacko says, “Two reasons and the first reason is you don’t have enough bullets to put a thousand holes in me. The second reason is before you left your camp, Albert was kind enough to tell me where you kept your weapons so I took the firing pins out.”
The men look at their guns and the Skull pulls out his pistol and says, “I know mine still…” Wacko shoots The Skull in the head, his blood goes all over Tom. Tom’s heart stops as he goes into shock after seeing the back of The Skull’s head smash into his face. He turns around to wipe his eyes while coughing and trying to stop the shaking in his knees. The rest of the men scatter after seeing the skull dead, dropping their weapons in front of the mercenaries.
While walking up to Tom, Wacko says, “That’s why I love un-conformists, because they are dumb as shit and will believe anything. I never touched their rifles. On behave of the A.R.A. I would like to apologize for this and would like to assure you all that we are doing everything to assure the safety of Union convoys. Please be sure to take your own weapons and personal properties with you because anything you leave behind will belong to the A.R.A.”
He gets to Tom and offers him a dirty blue rag that he had in his right back pocket. Tom slowly takes it from him while keeping his eyes on Wacko because after everything that’s just happened, he can’t stop smiling. After wiping his face, he offers it back to him but Wacko looks at his nametag and says, “That’s ok Tom, you can keep it. My pockets are going to be full with taking all of these guns back. Looks like one of your wheels are out of commission so I’ll take the truck fill with our supplies and deliver them to the towns myself. You can take the pickup truck they used to hit you guys. Sorry again for all of this but the A.R.A is on top of the situation.”
The doctors and soldiers get up; the doctors rush to the pickup truck and the soldiers retrieve their guns but leave the rifles as Wacko requested. Tom says, “If you’re part of the A.R.A. the why are you out here alone?” Wacko puts his arm around Tom and Tom flinches at first then Wacko says, “Well as lovable as my appearance may be, not many people tend to want the attention of a man with clown makeup on his persons. So when there’s time for a patrol, I tend to go alone and since we’ve been getting reports of Union convoys being attacked, I decided to investigate the matter.”
Tom says, “So the rebels aren’t behind the attacks?” Wacko shakes his head and says, “Nope. As much as we don’t like you guys, we honor our commitments and don’t want to do something that could lead to war. It’s a rough time for us right now since we’ve had a death in the family.”
Tom says, “I know, General Bradley’s death hit the Union yesterday. President Mason is talking about having a day in his honor.” Wacko says, “Is he now? Well that’s nice but then again it be nice if he brought back all the other holidays we use to honor.” Tom says, “President Mason did what was necessary to make the country strong again and it worked.” Wacko just smiles at Tom as the mercenaries are ready to go and says, “And people consider me crazy.”
He turns his back on Tom and heads for the other supply truck down the road. Tom jumps in the back with the rest of the mercenaries. They drive off seeing Wacko collect the rifles and throw them into the truck, Wacko looks at them fade into the distance and waves a rifle at them. Tom looks at the mercenaries in the back with them all beat up and sore from their injuries.One of them looks at Tom and says, “Man, that guy really is fucked in the head. If there are more like him out here, then I rather just stay in the city.” Tom looks back and begins to wonder what Wacko told him. Why are un-conformists attacking convoys and whose behind it if it isn’t the A.R.A?