Rust: Episode Eighteen
by Alan Augustson
05 June 2017

He dragged on the cigarette, eyes closed. It was proper, uncut tobacco and it hit like that rush of ozone just before a thunderstorm. Still, he was ill at ease. This was Pike’s first taste of the ‘good-cop’ routine, and Pike wasn’t sure which he liked less, this or ‘bad-cop’. Must be how they do it Inside, he thought.

“Look,” he finally spoke. “Ask me something. Tell me something. Fucking put a bullet in my head, for all I care. But this silent bullshit is worse.”

Burke shrugged. “Honestly, I wasn’t trying to torture you. I’m trying to make sense of everything. So Mr. McMonagal mentioned this ‘Army of the Damned’ to you. He said nothing about them, though?”

“He said he’d heard it somewhere, and it might just be a rumor.”

“That’s the problem with rumors. Repeat them enough and they become true.” Burke slowly paced, biting his thumbnail. “But, he didn’t mention it to me.”

“Maybe he learned of it after you two last spoke. Why not ask him?”

“Well, there’s the thing,” Burke chuckled. “I’ve actually never met the guy. He’s too high up the food chain to interrogate; police only get to talk to a CORE exec when the company requires it.”

Pike shook his head, exasperated. “I should have guessed CORE owned the police; they own everything else.”

“Money in general owns power,” Burke nodded. “If it’s ever been any other way I’ve yet to hear of it. So let’s come back to that, and talk about you for a minute. You have a soft spot for the kids, I’m told. Mostly the girls?”

Pike just raised his eyebrows in reply.

“No, I suppose that wasn’t a question. I’m just interested, is all,” Burke continued. “You’re sort of a homicidally insane white knight.”

“You’re probably right there. I don’t like what I… turn into, sometimes. Why should you care?”

“Shouldn’t someone?”

Pike looked dejected. “Maybe. It’s not this world, though. It’s not life; it’s not the way it is.”

“Not so,” Burke said, almost optimistically. “You care, obviously. Clearly others do, too. Could be one person; could be a lot of people. Could even be someone in the CORE hierarchy.”

Pike leveled his gaze at Burke. “Someone who you have orders to stop. How does that feel, I wonder?”

Burke sat and stewed. “All right, since we’re pals now. It feels like crap. I don’t like the way people have to live Outside, but I also know there’s not a goddamned thing I can do about it.”

“And so you choose to be a part of it. Help it happen. ‘Cause the only other choice is to be out there, fighting some asshole like me for your next meal.”

Burke just sat, sucking on his upper lip angrily.

“So let me ask you,” Pike went on. “You suspect that McMonagal character?”

“Do you?”

“No. You haven’t met him; I have. Another smug, self-satisfied suit who toys with us Outside trash because he can. And he’s probably living a lot better than you. Living too well to throw it away on my kind.”

Burke nodded. “And his Army of the Damned?”

“It exists. I don’t know who it is, but if I ever find them, I’m enlisting.”

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Social scientist, public policy analyst, emergency management consultant and author. U.S. Marine Corps veteran and former firefighter. Former candidate for U.S. Congress.

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