The temperature was topping off at 115 degrees. The fiercely engorged sun turned the desert into an inescapable oven. Shady spots were at a premium, and desperate men fought over any shadow that could provide some refuge from the flesh roasting rays.
Those squeezed out we’re like losers in a macabre game of musical chairs. They staggered around in the sand as the air gradually wrung out ever last drop from their wilting bodies. Some begged for just a moment in the shade while others deliriously dug through the rotting refuse piling up in the burning sands with their bare hands for a discarded bottle that might have even a few precious drops of water.
The miserable gathering was oblivious to the gunship hovering in the distance quietly surveying it with an electronic eye. The pilot's sights and the war machines were merged in the digital heads-up display that filtered human beings into featureless heat signatures. The man in the cockpit watched these move around in the gun sights with ambivalence. He caressed the soft curve of the firing button and gently bobbed his head to a song he remembered hearing that morning.
“You are clear to engage,” the radio crackled.
“Roger that,” confirmed the pilot. “Engaging target.”
He pressed the button, the clattering of the ship’s guns was followed by a hot white flash on the screen that sent the vaguely human shapes scattering in all directions.
The hissing round tore through the canopy and splattered a molten liquid that burned a pale white. The flames quickly consumed the field tent. The collapsing roof dripped fire on the panicked men surrounded by the growing flames.
They ran from the inferno screaming while the flames devoured them alive. Many tried smothering the flames by rolling around on the sun-baked sands, but the fire was inextinguishable and would only stop when it hard run out of flesh to consume. The aerial strike had the desired effect, and the panicked fighters fled from the camp and dispersed into the desert to be swallowed by the sand. On that que, a small but highly trained and well-equipped strike force breached the entrance of Paul’s lightly concealed bunker.
The squad was lead by LT Masterson who had plenty of experience carrying out these kinds of surgical raids, and so far he was not impressed by the young Paul’s ability to lead and organize an army.
Guards emerged with their hands in the air and were quickly dispatched with a short burst from Masterson’s submachine gun. Paul was the only one they were going to take alive. They quickly made their way to Paul’s command center at the very heart of the subterranean complex. They piled up at the door, and the breach charge was set. There was a flash, and a puff of gray smoke and the door was blown open. The squad charged into the room and found Paul lying against the wall hyperventilating.
The self-styled command center was designed in the image of the Hollywood set. Dozens of monitors were wired to intricate command systems that did little else besides receive a live feed from a few drones and a system of cameras that had a view of nothing but the abandoned camp that was just a landfill.
Masterson stared hard at the whimpering 22-year-old warlord and sighed. “Mr. Riser,” he said lowering his weapon. “I’m 1st Lieutenant Masterson we’re here to take you back to New York.”
Paul whipped the tears from his eyes. “I’m not going back home!” he screeched like a defiant child.
“I’m sorry, but those are my orders,” Masterson said cooly. “Get your stuff there’s a helicopter waiting outside.”
“No!” Paul screamed. “I won’t surrender to you fuckin pigs,” he sniffled.
Masterson was unshaken by the insult. “If you want to rebel kid get a tattoo but war is not your game.”
“You’re just my dad’s bitches,” seethed Paul. “You don’t even care you’re protecting corruption because of your just bitches for guys like my dad!”
“Paul I’m trying to be amicable here. Your father already froze your accounts. I can leave you here, but without money, I think you’re gonna have a hard time convincing anyone to fight for you. Now if you want I can give you a nice little shot, and you’ll be back in Manhattan before you even wake up.”
Paul was quivering, his cheeks burned red, and his eyes glistened with tears. “Fine, I’m fuckin going!” He shouted. He scrambled to his feet. “Motherfuckers,” he muttered as he was lead out of the room.
“Fuck if only those guys out there knew who they were dying for,” Masterson sighed.
At 22 Paul Reiser had the dubious distinction of being the youngest self-styled warlord to ever terrorize the American continent and with his Masters from Stanford, he may have also been best educated at that. He was born into this world with an endowment that gave him exceptional power. In hopeless times fighters come cheap, but even their desperation couldn’t forge them into real soldiers, and Paul’s youthful angst wasn't enough to trade their lives for. The angry young man hadn’t ignited an armed revolution he had only thrown a very expensive and destructive tantrum and what he shattered in his rage had been the lives of others. y