The world was a riot of explosions and screams, the air thick with smoke. Everything in immediate sight was burning or broken. Behind the barrier of two crashed, bullet-riddled cars, I grinned at Ilyas, reached out to grab his hand.
"What did I say?" I asked him over the howling of the riot.
"No promises," Ilyas replied with a matching, crazed grin, eyes wide, teeth blood-smeared.
"No promises," I echoed.
As one we pulled the pins on our grenades, stood, and lobbed them with all our might towards the advancing, faceless, Peace Corps. Neither of us looked away as the bombs exploded with a whistling percussive sound, sending electricity snapping like a hungry animal at them.
The first two lines convulsed and collapsed, the messages scrolling across their black helmets—"You are in violation of order No. 431. Resistance is illegal. Stand down, or lethal force will be taken."—glitching into a scramble of red, flickering symbols.
The third line advanced ruthlessly, climbing over their fallen compatriots. They were automatons, and as such didn't have any fiddly emotions like mercy or grief or horror to waylay them.
It was mine and Ilyas's last stand. We were out of weapons, we were separated from our troop, and my busted ankle wouldn't get me far. Ilyas wouldn't leave me; I knew better than to insult him by asking him to, knew better than to waste what time we had yelling at him.
The Crops raised their guns at us. The people around us, civilians and rebels alike, screamed and scattered, or kept throwing bombs and flares or bricks, whatever they had at hand, kept shooting them.
Ilyas and I didn't bother.
We weren't resisting any more, but that didn't matter. The message the Corps carried, like so much else about the laws in the world we lived in, was a lie, meant to reassure those who complied that they would be safe, that they were on right side, while everyone who fought for freedom and justice was in the wrong and had earned their fate of imprisonment and execution.
"No promises," I murmured. Ilyas's hand squeezed mine tight.
The Corps pulled their triggers.
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