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I Am Chaos

Artwork © Paul Hair, 2016.
Here is a short story I originally published on April 7, 2016 at Liberty Island Magazine. I’m no longer a part of Liberty Island, so I’m republishing it here at Liberate Liberty. Enjoy!

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Caitlin had wanted to go straight home after work. She was exhausted. First she had to go to the Queens office. Then she had to go to the off-site meeting with the potential client. And then her boss wanted her back at the Manhattan office to work on a project the other team was failing to complete. But she had already agreed to go out to eat with the others. And once she got to the restaurant she was glad she hadn’t come up with an excuse to skip out on it.

The dining area of the trendy New York restaurant was on the second floor, with the lights lowered for mood. Their table sat in the middle of the floor space but they could still easily see the well-lit streets below them thanks to the floor to window ceilings of the restaurant. Caitlin had selected a salad along with a vegetarian entrée. She had really wanted steak but she didn’t want to deal with how the group would react if they saw her eating meat.

Derrick sat to her right, stroking his soul patch, the only part of his facial hair that could possibly be said to be fully grown, with the rest of what passed for a beard being very thin and sparse. Trent sat next to him and already had food on his stomach. And Trent already had his stomach on the table. Brindin was next. And beside him was Mi followed by Yolanda who also sat next to Caitlin.

“So I’m taking this established superhero, see, and I’m evolving him for the twenty-first century,” Derrick said, explaining his latest work as a writer for Sedition Sequential Art, the leading comic book company in the U.S. “Everyone is so used to General Truth being some sort of stooge for the American government or big business, and I wanted to reimagine that for modern times. He now really lives up to his name.”

“Dude, that sounds so awesome. And it’s about time,” Brindin told him. Brindin was a young psychologist but was becoming a highly recommended one in the city.

“We’re going to diversify the title as well,” Derrick told his black friend. “No more old white guys.”

The group voiced its approval and Caitlin smiled at Derrick, looking at him in his thin tie and dark blazer. He was always so confident. A waitress brought out a large tray and tray holder for another group of diners. She set up the tray holder with one hand and then put the tray on it. Caitlin smelled the food and quickly looked over her shoulder at two different cuts of meat with separate entrees. She was suddenly glad she had gone with the vegetarian meal tonight.

“So are there going to be any non-binary people in it as well or does diversity only go so far?” Yolanda said, staring hard at Derrick while she swirled the wine in her glass.

Derrick’s head was angled towards his plate but he glanced up at her with a bit of a smile. “Oh, we definitely have that covered. And if you think white people are going to freak out over General Truth no longer fighting for a fascist government and big business, they will go absolutely nuts over some of the other changes I have in store for him.”

“Excellent!” Yolanda said as the others laughed. She reached over to Mi and grabbed her bare knee, and Mi looked back and giggled.

Trent snorted sharply two or three times and then cleared his throat very loudly several times after that. “You wouldn’t believe how hard it was to get the Sedition bigshots to sign off on it,” he said as he wiped some food off his mouth with his thumb. Sedition Sequential Art also employed him as a writer. Caitlin looked down at his shirt. He got the food at his mouth but still hadn’t found the stuff on his shirt.

“The nation is inevitably headed in a progressive direction and yet it still took us some time to convince them to let us do this. Of course, once they saw what I’ve done with Macadam—cleared out the old one by making him a bumbling fool so we could replace him with a new, black one—they knew we were going to be able to make it work,” Trent told them. He reached for his glass of wine and bumped it, causing it to tip towards Caitlin. She gasped and jumped but it never fell. Trent then grabbed it and eyeballed her for a moment before taking a gulp.

“Yeah, it’s great what you been doing with Macadam. But it’s funny the first bit of diversity had to be a black man taking on the mantle of Macadam,” Brindin said to Trent. “What’s next? Are you going to have a Native American become the new Red Buckshot?”

“Well, uh, it’s not like that at all,” Trent quickly replied, setting down his wine and devoting his full attention to Brindin. “You know, after General Truth, uh, Macadam is kind of the flagship character for Sedition. So it’s not like . . .”

“Nah. I’m just messing with you, man,” Brindin said with a smile. Trent looked at him for a moment and then started smiling too.

“Oh. Yeah. I knew that.”

Caitlin looked at him as he smiled some more at Brindin. And then he hunched just a bit more in his chair as he went back to eating.

“Hey, Derrick, we want to hear more about what you’re doing with General Truth,” Mi said. “And the changes you’re making to him,” she added as she leaned towards Yolanda.

Caitlin wanted to hear more about that too. General Truth always had been more interesting than Macadam, who was just a street-level superhero and who never really fit into epic, earth-impacting stories.

Derrick deliberately looked around and then leaned in towards the group. “Okay, but you have to promise to keep this to yourself. It’ll be about three months before it goes on sale.” They all promised to keep quiet about it. Derrick spoke a lit bit quieter now but still plenty loud for all them to hear as they leaned in too.

“As you know, everyone writing about superheroes really had to up their game once superhumans became a reality. So we spent some time thinking about what we wanted to do and how we could make it as exciting as possible. And here’s the story arc we came up with.

“It begins with General Truth as everyone is used to him. He’s working for the government and protecting corporations and the rich. But we quickly find he’s becoming disillusioned with that—with all the xenophobia and bigotry that now just defines America,” Derrick told them. “He’s grown tired of how we’re always warring against dark-skinned people. And he’s grown tired of all the heteronormative patriarchy. And so he finally decides to turn against it. He starts fighting for the 99% and the new generation.”

Caitlin smiled and ever so slowly continued eating as she listened to him. She hadn’t heard anyone use “the 99%” in some time. But other than that Derrick was definitely on the right path to making General Truth more relevant and interesting than he had been in a long time. Maybe superheroes and comic books could still survive despite all the people who said they now were obsolete.

“There’s a particularly intense scene—right after he’s made the final decision to leave behind his old life—where General Truth runs into one of his old friends. And this is big, because it’s a major character who works for the government, and you’ll be shocked when you see who it is. And Truth has to get information from him,” Derrick continued as Caitlin and the rest listened. “He ends up capturing this friend and he takes him to a secret location—you know, just like the government does with rendition—and he does whatever is necessary to get that information from him.”

“You mean, like torture?” Mi asked.

Derrick leaned back in his chair. “All I’ll say is that he doesn’t do anything the U.S. hasn’t done to people in Guantanamo and other places.” The group laughed.

“So tell us more. What happens next?” Yolanda asked.

“Well, he gets the information he needs from his former friend,” Derrick said. “And what he learns is the American government is about to do something horrible. He goes off and stops it, and unapologetically takes out a lot of those bad guys in doing so. They wanted war and he gives it to them.”

“If there are so many bad guys in General Truth’s life then maybe he needs more women,” Yolanda said.

Mi agreed and Caitlin nodded her head.

“Interesting you should say that,” Derrick said after sipping some wine. “Because the story arc is where we’re going to start addressing toxic masculinity and that will lead to the series diversifying.”

“We want people to understand just how evil the whole system of patriarchy is,” Trent said while chewing food. “The world doesn’t just have a white person problem; it has to address the male problem as well.”

“That’s why we’re also having female artists exclusively on the new General Truth,” Derrick told them.

“Macadam already has that,” Trent said. Derrick didn’t wait for him to finish that sentence before continuing.

“You’re going to love who the first female artist is,” he said.

“Who is it?” Mi asked.

“Nope. You’re going to have to wait and see on that one.”

“Oh, come on! You can’t tease us and then not tell us who it is!” Mi insisted.

Caitlin and the others wanted to know and some of them pleaded along with Mi.

And as they pleaded, Caitlin’s eyes caught a glimpse of the entrance to the dining area of the restaurant. She saw a man in a brightly colored clown wig—the kind that looks like a rainbow afro—walk in and approach the maître d’. His face had streaks of red and black on it, and he wore large eyeglasses with thick rims. He even had a neck lanyard attacked at each temple tip of the glasses. Oddly enough, he also wore a nicely fitted suit.

Caitlin didn’t know what to make of it. She thought that perhaps the man was looking for some other place in the building or was hired by someone to come there as some sort of joke. And then the man in the clown wig and thick-rimmed eyeglasses pulled something out from his suit jacket. He pointed it at the maître d’ and Caitlin heard a loud crack.

The maître d’ fell backwards as heads turned towards the sound. Caitlin watched as more strangely dressed men—all in suits and different sorts of clownish hair, makeup and glasses—burst into the dining area behind the first man. And she saw that they all brandished guns.

The men started shooting. Caitlin saw two of them shoot four wait staff members. Others fired into the ceiling and yelled. People started screaming and panicking, and for a moment Caitlin sat stunned in her chair.

“Get down!” Derrick yelled at her, grabbing her arm from his position underneath the table with the rest of the group.

He yanked her hard enough to pull her out of the chair so that she fell on the floor, grazing her head against the table in the process. She landed on her shoulder and winced as Derrick dragged her beneath the table where he helped pull her into a crouching position with the others.

Mi had her fingers in her ears, flinching with every new burst of gunfire. Yolanda grasped her arm and looked around with tears welling up in her wide eyes. The restaurant tablecloths only draped about halfway to the floor. Brindin was trying to pull the one over them down further on the side near the dining area entrance, although that made little difference at this point as the attackers had now spread to all parts of the room. They continued firing in the air and murdering some people at random.

“We need to stay together under here and try to be as small as possible!” Derrick screamed at them.

Meanwhile, Trent kept trying to get farther and farther under the table, so much so that he was pushing into Caitlin and started shoving her out into the open.

“Please let us live. Please let us live,” he kept repeating.

“Trent, stop pushing her!” Yolanda yelled at him while Caitlin squirmed to keep him from pushing her out from under the table.

“What are you doing, man?” Brindin said to him. He pushed Trent back from the direct center. Derrick grabbed Caitlin’s arm and dragged her closer to the group. She crouched there again, reaching up to feel the bruise on her head where it had hit the table when Derrick had pulled her out of her chair and onto the floor.

The main assault continued for a bit more and then the gunfire stopped. Caitlin could now hear people crying and screaming, along with other murmurs and noises you’d expect during an attack. And then someone spoke using what sounded like a public address system.

“Ladies and gentlemen, you have the privilege of being the in-person audience to my introduction to the world.” Suddenly, the tablecloth that Brindin had pulled down on the side towards the entrance was ripped away, and Caitlin watched as food, dinnerware, and other objects flew off it. One of the henchmen with his clown wig, eyeglasses, and gun crouched down and looked under the table.

“No use hiding,” he told Caitlin and the others as he pointed his weapon at them. “Could be interpreted as you trying to plot against us. And you don’t want to know what we do to people who try to do that.”

“Please, please, please!” Trent begged as he crawled out from under the table and looked at the man. Caitlin had never seen him move so fast. “We’ll do anything you say!”

The man motioned for them all to get out from underneath the table. They crawled and then sat on the floor as the man instructed them, seeing the other henchmen were forcing everyone else to do the same. A second henchman joined the first one in guarding them.

Caitlin could now see that their leader was speaking through a handheld megaphone. Definitely in his early twenties. He was near the entrance with a few of his other men while the rest of them were evenly dispersed through the rest of the dining area, weapons at the ready and everyone herded into groups and areas which they could easily control.

“I am chaos,” the young man in the clown hair and thick glasses told his captive audience. “But you may call me, ‘Josh,’ because I like joshing around.” He paused and then forced out a fake laugh for all to hear. “And I’m going to spread my joshing throughout all of New York, the center of the fundamentally racist and evil nation called the United States of America.”

Caitlin sat between Derrick and Trent. Trent was still muttering pleas for the thugs not to kill them and she became acutely aware of the stench of his sweat. She turned her head away from him and caught a glimpse of Derrick who looked as afraid as Trent was.

“I’ve watched all my life as ‘order’ has allowed the rich, and the corrupt, and the white patriarchy to thrive without any consequences,” Josh continued. “Well, that’s not entirely true,” he added with a chuckle. “There haven’t been any consequences for them, but there have been plenty of consequences for the rest of us. And we’re going to change all that. We’re gonna show this city what the power of chaos can do! We’re gonna rip off all the masks and force everyone to see what everyone is really like! And that’s how we’re gonna bring a little justice and democracy to the United States of KKK!”

His henchmen cheered and then Josh handed the megaphone to one of them while he walked out of view. The hostages began mumbling anew.

“Okay. Okay. We all need to stay calm,” Derrick said to Caitlin and the rest of the group, his voice breaking while he also gasped for breath. “We have to do exactly as they tell us so we can get out of here alive.”

“Yeah. Yeah,” Brindin said. Yolanda and Mi agreed while furiously nodding their heads.

“This can’t be happening!” Trent yipped. “What did we ever do to deserve this? We’re not part of those people Josh is talking about!”

Caitlin noticed the henchmen who had ordered them out from under the table approach them again. “What’s all this chatting going on over here? You planning to be heroes?”

Derrick’s eyes became wide. “Oh, no, sir! No! We were saying that we need to do everything you tell us to do. You gotta believe us!”

Caitlin looked at him as he kneeled and looked up at the henchman. She moved just slightly away from him towards the awful-smelling Trent.

“What are you doing?” the second henchman laughingly said to the first one as he approached them.

“Just having some fun,” the first one replied.

Caitlin wrinkled her nose at Trent, who was sitting on his backside, his legs straight out in front of him and his hands behind him on the floor holding him up. He rocked slightly as he continued whimpering. Caitlin saw sweating continually rolling down his pasty face.

The henchmen walked a few paces away from them again and back to their posts. Caitlin crawled away from Derrick and Trent. “What are you doing? Just stay where you are!” Derrick said to her as loud as he dared. He grabbed at the sleeve of her dress but she shook him off. She kept crawling until she was nearer to Brindin, Yolanda, and Mi.

“Stop moving around,” Brindin told her as he sat crossed-legged.

Caitlin took up a new position near Yolanda and Mi, her legs pulled back to the side of her. She grabbed the bottom of her dress with one hand and pulled it down as far as she could before she came to a rest. She looked over at Yolanda and Mi as they sat next to one another holding hands.

Yolanda wiped tears from her eyes. “Do you think they’re going to kill us?” she asked Caitlin.

Before Caitlin could answer they saw Josh enter again and take the megaphone from the henchman at the front of the room. But before he could start talking again, a man and woman arose from the hostages and started walking towards him. Henchmen intercepted them but Josh stopped them. “No. Let these two brave people come forward and speak.”

The henchmen backed off and the man and woman walked a little bit closer to Josh. They started speaking, loud enough that Caitlin could hear all of what they said.

“We know you’re in pain—you’re hurting,” the woman said. “And we understand that, and we’re both doing everything we can to right all the wrongs you mentioned.”

Josh looked at her and then the man for just a moment before slinging the megaphone onto one shoulder and walking towards them. “And just how do you think you’re doing that?” he asked as his walk turned into a strut.

“I- I work for an organization called the North American & International Symposium,” the man said, his hands at his side as he rubbed his fingers over his palms. “You might have heard of us. We’re one of the biggest public policy organizations in the U.S.”

“Oh,” Josh said, his eyebrows raising as he nodded his head. “So you’re one of those traditionalist snobs who hates the little man.”

“No! No! No!” the man insisted as he put his hands up in front of him and took a step backwards. The woman loudly objected too.

“My name is Elise Peasall, and I work for the Institute for Progressive Advancement. We are the ideological opposite of NA&IS—of the public policy group he works for,” she said while gesturing at the man. “We fight for the little guy. But Linus does too. I promise you he isn’t anything like the rest of the traditionalists.”

“Linus?” Josh said. “Linus Thayer?”

“Yes! Yes!” Linus said, his hands still held up in front of him as he pleaded with Josh.

“Yeah. I heard of you,” Josh told him. “You’re the one who wrote that article on what a bunch of scum the average white person is.”

“Yes! Yes!” Linus said again. “So you see, some of us are finally starting to find common ground with progressives like Elise. We’re finally able to agree on who’s responsible for all the racism, xenophobia, homophobia, sexism, and misery in America! We want to fix the things you want to fix!”

Josh looked at him for a moment and then started fake laughing. Linus and Elise looked at one another.

“Look, we can help you. We know you want to do the right thing,” Elise said to Josh. “We know you want to be a better man—all of you want to be better men,” she said as she looked at the henchmen. “And we can help you with that. We’re already getting out the message about all the wrongs that have driven you to this.”

Josh stopped laughing and he looked at her square in the eye. “Don’t you get it? This is what being a better man is to me,” he said while jabbing a thumb at his chest. Then he grabbed the pistol he had in the shoulder holster he was wearing and shot Linus straight between the eyes.

Linus fell backwards and Elise screamed along with the rest of the room. Josh and his henchmen roared.

Caitlin shrieked but could still hear Derrick and Trent shriek louder while Brindin, Mi, and Yolanda all screamed and cried as well. The hysteria grew worse when Josh shot Elise in the stomach. Then he walked straight up to her as she lay curled up and screaming on the floor. He slowly leveled his gun at her face and pulled the trigger, killing her as well.

“That should’ve worked! That should’ve worked!” Derrick screamed. Caitlin, Brindin, Mi, and Yolanda looked at him with wide eyes as tears streamed down their faces. Trent had his hands tightly smashed against his ears and now rocked back and forth even more wildly while droning to himself, “I don’t want to die! I don’t want to die!” over and over.

“No one else try to do anything more! Just do what they say!” Derrick shouted. And even as frightened as she was, Caitlin still had enough of her senses to wonder why he was shouting that at them when they clearly had no intention of trying anything other than crying and screaming.

Josh put the pistol back in his shoulder holster and put the megaphone to his mouth again. “I don’t know why you all are screaming. The fun is just beginning. I will turn this city into chaos over the next few months until anarchy reigns. Those of you who brought misery on the rest of us will finally pay a price, and everyone will finally see the true nature of all of humanity. And if anyone tries to kill me, they’ll emphasize my point that America is an evil nation—murdering those it tortures and drives into madness.” He paused, looked around, and laughed before continuing. “I can see that some of you are wondering if the authorities are going to come and save you before we decide to leave. I can assure you, they won’t. We made sure we figured out their response time and we will be long gone before—”

Caitlin heard the sound of window glass breaking—not shattering—and then the henchmen standing guard over her and her friends suddenly dropped to the floor. She just barely registered that the other henchmen near the windows seemed to be doing the same when the ceiling over Josh exploded. People screamed anew as a man landed hard on the floor in front of Josh. A bright light exploded from him and Caitlin heard the roar of thunder. And when the light died down enough she saw the man leap forward to Josh, who looked absolutely aghast. The man punched him straight in his slack-jawed mouth. And the man truly did punch Josh in his mouth—literally, his fist went into Josh’s mouth, shattering teeth and breaking his jaw. Josh’s eyes bulged out and the upper part of his head went backwards so fast that his eyeglasses flew off his head. As his head came apart Caitlin watched in horror as it also started coming off his neck as the man followed through and finished his punch. She turned her eyes away at that point.

People continued screaming, not realizing what the new violence was all about. Caitlin’s friends were among the hysterical people, but this time she was not. She peeked back at the front of the room, trying to avoid looking directly at the torn-apart Josh, even as she couldn’t help but notice the man who had punched him trying to shake the remainder of Josh’s decapitated head off his fist. When that didn’t work, the man used a blast of energy from that same hand to vaporize the remainder of Josh’s head. Caitlin looked elsewhere and saw the smoking remains of the other henchmen who had been away from the windows and closer to the front of the restaurant. She realized that the blasts of light and roar of thunder she saw and heard had been the man eliminating them with superhuman energy blasts. And she finally realized who he was.

Caitlin had heard of Adam White, of course. Everyone had learned of him after what he had done to the President of the United States years ago when the president had tried overthrowing the nation with his illegal alien invasion force. But even after that, Adam had remained a rarely seen figure in public, and a myth had somewhat developed around him.

Adam began speaking—trying to calm everyone down—even as Caitlin hadn’t been listening to his exact words since she was still comprehending everything that just had happened . . . and because she was stunned that someone had actually saved their lives. Other government personnel were now swarming into the room, cautiously tending to the hostages and giving instructions.

She looked at Derrick who was rubbing tears away from his face. Trent continued rocking and mumbling. Brindin was just sitting there on the ground, his knees raised and elbows resting on them as he held his head with both hands. Mi and Yolanda cried and hugged one another.

Caitlin noticed trails of blood running towards her and at first she thought one of them was bleeding. But then she noticed that the blood was coming from the two henchmen that had fallen to the ground when she heard the window glass breaking. She looked at them and finally noticed that one was shot in the forehead and the other had been shot through his glasses and into his eye.

She stood up, instinctively smoothing out her dress as she did so. The others saw her, and everyone but Trent followed her lead.

“Trent, get up,” Mi said to him. She tapped him on the shoulder but he kept rocking and muttering.

“Come on, Trent. Get up,” Yolanda said to him. “Let’s get out of here,” she said as she tried grabbing his arm and pulling him up. Brindin helped her and they finally got their friend to his feet.

The six of them slowly started walking towards the exit, moving around spilled food, broken dinnerware, turned over chairs and tables, other debris, and, of course, dead bodies. Caitlin tried breathing through her mouth as much as possible, with all the different smells combining to create a stench.

She looked towards the entrance where Adam still was. He had picked up the glasses that fell off Josh’s head after he had punched him. Adam held the thick-framed glasses by the edges with one hand, the lanyard still hanging from them. They’d have to walk directly past him to leave the building. She pushed her shoulders back just a bit and felt her heart beat just a bit faster.

They had to wait in a line at the entrance/exit, with their rescuers making sure everyone who was leaving didn’t need immediate attention. The continued sounds of crying and distress started to fade from Caitlin’s ears as she was now close enough to get a good look at him.

Adam stood well over six feet tall. Caitlin didn’t know exactly how much but Derrick was six feet and Adam seemed so much bigger than him. He had closely cut white—not blond and not graying—hair. He was muscular, and she could even see some of that definition through his all-black uniform. She had expected that he’d be wearing a long-sleeve shirt but he wore a short-sleeved shirt instead, with his hairy arms exposed and his hands covered by black, tactical gloves. He spoke every now and then, giving orders to subordinates and acknowledging the gratitude of some of the patrons as they left. It was a deep, smooth voice. He was clean-shaven and the dominant presence in the room.

Caitlin flushed and she looked away, turning her head so that she caught a glimpse of Derrick. His excuse for a beard was matted with what she guessed were spittle and tears. His shirt was untucked and he had his hands in his pockets, leaving the task of ensuring that Trent remained on his feet solely to Brindin and Yolanda. They moved forward in the line and each step they got closer to Adam the more Derrick’s shoulders slumped. Brindin’s did too. All three of the males looked at the ground.

Caitlin turned her head again and now got an even closer look at the carnage near the front of the room, including the remains of the formerly haughty “Josh.” She almost looked away immediately but something forced her to linger on him for a bit longer. He had seemed so full of confidence the entire time right up to the last few seconds of his life when Adam had torn his head from his shoulders.

She also saw some of the dead henchmen Adam had terminated. One of his energy blasts had eliminated most of one man’s chest and all of his jaw, with the corpse’s eyes frozen open in what looked like an expression of horror but couldn’t have possibly been since the blast had been so quick.

And Caitlin also saw the dead Linus Thayer and Elise Peasall. Both also had frozen looks of horror on their face and Caitlin believed those genuine. And then an odd thought crossed her mind. She wondered how angry Linus would have been that a white man had rescued the rest of them.

When they passed Adam, Caitlin looked at him and smiled. Adam smiled back.

Mi and Yolanda stared and smiled at Adam too, with both them thanking him even as Mi had her arms around Yolanda’s waist. “You’re welcome,” he said to them both. Caitlin swore she heard both of them softly squeal.

The government personnel briefly checked on the group of six when they reached the front of the line. Caitlin showed them the bruise on her head and they told her the medical personnel outside would check on it. Then they instructed them on where to go. They also told them they would need to speak with additional security personnel outside who would take all their statements on what happened in the restaurant.

Caitlin was grateful as the first breeze of the dark, evening air hit her, gently blowing her long hair and dress, and whisking away all the terrible smells from inside the restaurant. The night air also must have helped Trent regain his senses.

“Look, I’m fine. Just fine. You can let go,” he said to Brindin and Yolanda, rather brusquely pulling his arms from each of them.

“Hey, sorry I helped,” Brindin said, throwing his hands up and away from Trent.

“I didn’t have any fun either,” Yolanda told him. They both stared at him but Trent wouldn’t meet their eyes.

“Can you believe what just happened?” Derrick said as he ran a hand through his hair and then started scrubbing his facial hair to straighten it out. Caitlin hated how he always did that. Seriously, any time she was with him he’d do that at least once an hour.

Caitlin opened her mouth but Trent spoke first. “I know. That punk Adam just put all our lives at risk.”

Caitlin’s mouth fell open even more as she looked at Trent.

“Exactly!” Derrick said. “He goes in there and murders every one of them, endangering all of us in the process.”

Caitlin’s head swung back to Derrick, looking at him as she closed her mouth and clenched her fists.

“What are you talking about?” Mi asked as she stuck her hands on her hips. “He saved us all.”

“Let me ask you something,” Derrick said as he took a few steps closer to Mi. Mi took a few steps closer to him, and Yolanda watched. “What would’ve happened if just one of those bullets had missed those henchmen? One of us could’ve been killed. Or what would’ve happened if White would’ve crushed one of us with all the debris he sent flying from the ceiling when he made that ‘dramatic’ entrance? Or if he happened to hit one of us when he was carelessly firing energy blasts all over the place?”

“But he didn’t! He’s a professional and I’m sure he knew what he was doing!” Mi shot back.

Derrick threw up his hands and limp wrists, and Caitlin saw him roll his eyes. “That covers everything, doesn’t it? ‘I’m a professional.’”

“Leave her alone, Derrick,” Yolanda said as she walked up to Mi’s side.

“Hey, she started it when I was pointing out the facts,” Derrick told her.

“Take it easy,” Brindin told him. “I get what you’re saying but relax. Mi’s just glad we made it out alive.”

“What do you mean you get what he’s saying?” Mi said to Brindin.

“Those guys are just outlaws with badges,” Brindin told her. “They’re thrill junkies who lie about the fact that they’re in it for themselves by calling themselves ‘heroes.’”

“I did notice that Adam punched Josh in the mouth instead of hitting him with an energy blast like he did with the others,” Yolanda said. “Why did he have to brutally kill him like that? It’s like he wanted to hurt him.”

“Right? And if he could get that close to him, why didn’t he just subdue him?” Derrick said. “And what took them so long to respond? How many people did they allow Josh to murder because they wanted to make that ‘cool’ entrance? We shouldn’t be grateful for them right now. We should be mad!”

Caitlin watched without saying anything. At first Mi seemed a little hesitant but soon she had joined in on convincing herself that Adam and the others who had rescued them were the real bad guys. Caitlin stayed silent the entire time, but none of them seemed to notice.

“And did you notice there were no black guys on White’s team?” Brindin asked. “What’s up with that racism?”

Then they all started jawing about that. And Caitlin continued being silent. She looked at the line for the medical personnel they were standing in, wondering how long it would take to get to them so they could then go give statements to the authorities.

“You know, if it weren’t for people like White and all those other warmongers who are trying to compensate for something, people like Josh wouldn’t be driven to do what they do,” Trent loudly said, his hands stuffed into his enormous pants. Caitlin looked at him once and then turned away her head. “Think of all the violence and tensions they encourage in society.”

“And don’t forget the poverty,” Derrick said. “The government is paying them—a lot of money, I bet. And that means it’s money the government can’t use to help the poor. Not that the U.S. would want to do that anyway.”

Brindin, Mi, and Yolanda agreed with Derrick and Trent. “You should write a comic book miniseries about this—about what just happened to us and what the real story is,” Yolanda said to Derrick. Mi and Brindin agreed.

“You know what? We really could,” Derrick said. “We could call it, ‘I Am Chaos,’ and it would be about how White and those thrill-seekers are unaccountable creators of chaos.”

“That would be so awesome,” Trent said. “Do you know how many books we’d sell?”

“Ah, but no. It wouldn’t work,” Derrick said while shaking his head. “Too many people are closed-minded and they’d take it as us being ‘ungrateful’ for White and those goons ‘rescuing’ us.”

“It doesn’t mean we can’t start pointing out how divisive he is, and how he’s coarsening the culture with all his lone cowboy nonsense,” Brindin said. “Obviously I’ve haven’t had the chance to examine him, but he’s displaying multiple traits suggesting some severe psychological problems. We should pursue that.”

The group, minus Caitlin, praised Brindin. And then Derrick and Trent started talking about how they could create a comic book series where a group of captured bad guys are forced into working for the government. And while they do that work, they uncover how truly insane and deviant an Adam White-like character who oversees them is. “Yeah. Yeah. That could really work,” Derrick said. “We won’t be able to tell an exact story about what just happened without everyone crying about us being ‘ungrateful,’ but we can create a story with a White stand-in that shows how bad he is. That would challenge everyone on the concept of good and evil, and show how the U.S. government and fascists like White make seemingly terrible people sympathetic by comparison.”

Caitlin stayed with the other five until medical personnel interviewed them. She didn’t say a word as they all talked up Derrick and Trent’s new comic book miniseries idea. Once they made it to the front of the line, the medical personnel treated the bruise on her head and also examined the shoulder she injured when Derrick yanked her out of her chair and she landed on it. They didn’t find anything other than bruising but suggested she see her family doctor about it.

After that, the federal authorities took statements from them on what happened with Josh and his thugs. “Goodnight. Hope to see you soon,” the others said to each other as they parted ways. Caitlin returned their pleasantries but she didn’t really mean them. She thought about all that had happened today and into the evening, amazed that she had made it to the end of the day alive.

And as she thought about whether she should take a day off from work tomorrow, she also thought about how she was going to live going forward. She decided that, at the very least, she would try to broaden her circle of acquaintances. Caitlin thought that meeting people who didn’t hate the guy who had just saved her life would be a good place to start.

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