I don’t know what it is about a disaster that makes some people think all the rules go out the window. Of course I recognize that DC has fallen into a general state of anarchy in recent months, but that hardly excuses many of the excesses and degredation Israel and I have seen in the weeks since our deployment. Say what you want about the influence of bioengineered psychotrophic drugs and the stratification of a post-breakdown society, but some things just aren’t okay no matter what the situation.

On our way to the National Archives, where we’d heard a gang calling itself “America’s True Sons” had set up shop, we heard the unmistakable sound of someone trying to sound inspiring and motivating from behind a gas mask. If you haven’t seen them around, these junkies hook bottles of compressed Green Poison to their surplus-store gas masks and huff toxins right from the source as a way to amp themselves up for combat or violence. It works to dampen pain and to set them into a blind frenzy, so long as they keep breathing it. I try not to judge, but I can’t imagine a situation where I’d see a cannister of well-labeled poison and think “I want to breathe that in as high a concentration as I can get.” Regardless, it was obvious that someone was trying to make a grand speech, talking themselves up into doing something violent.

Taking position behind a burned-out car, I glanced toward the surely once-nice fountain where the bravado echoed from. A lone gasser paced on its rim, gesturing wildly with pointed fingers and clenched fists as he continued to ramble. Even closer we couldn’t make sense of his words, but his intent was clear. Two people had been forced to kneel before him, bound and hoodwinked. It was going to be an execution. Izzy tapped me on the shoulder and moved up carefully, swinging wide around a newsstand to provide the best firing angles. He made quick hand gestures signaling that there were only four hostiles. The way the leather-clad speaker was ranting I would have figured he was speaking to a dozen or more underlings. Then again, maybe in his gas-addled mind he was.

We’ve fallen into a good routine—he gets in close and waits for me to pick a target. When he hears my shot, it’s time for him to open up. I don’t envy him carrying around two full belts of LMG ammo as we hike around the metro area, but he said he liked the weight of the big gun—a little suppressive fire goes a very long way, and while he’s chewing up the landscape hostiles scramble to find better positioning, usually right into my crosshairs. Luckily he does switch out for his sidearm when we need to take a more stealthy approach, but with the number of gangs in the area our “going in quiet” often turns into “here they come” in a hurry.

With a silent countdown we timed our shots; I disabled the would-be executioner and he tagged one of the enrapt audience members. He kept his bursts short and concentrated—the last thing we wanted would be to hurt the friendlies. While sprinting for cover, one of the gang struggled to attach another tank of poison to his mask while another, perhaps more quick-thinking, pulled a grenade. The pin came out, he cooked it for two seconds—obviously not his first time holding explosives—and then the projectile landed at his feet as I put a round through his shoulder. He probably yelled out in surprise before the incindiary went off, but I was too focused on the remaining gangers to pay attention.

“Damn, that guy’s dead,” one of the hostages remarked as we untied their hands, kicking at the executioner. I can’t imagine seeing bodies was a familiar experience for him, even in the midst of the societal strife inflicted on DC, but I’m sure he was happy the tables got turned.

Israel and I lead the refugees to the nearest control point, a barricaded intersection with a constant armed presence, and wished them well. They’d be fine, so long as they stayed out of gasser hands from that point forward. Checking our ammo reserves—plenty full—we resumed our course to the National Archives, wary of crafty gangers using the rooftops as scouting blinds.

Header image taken from a series of street art murals created by the anonymous artist Banksy, c.2002