The dent in the kevlar was roughly the size and shape of a five rupee coin. It was also nearly a crack, and placed where it was, two inches inches below the heart, would be fatal if not for the added fortifications to the chest and rib areas. Even if the shell didn’t find its way past the midnight-shaded armor, the risk of trauma injury was too high. Through the frayed latex, he rubbed the almost-hole thoughtfully with a gloved finger while considering the plan of attack.
He was on the nineteenth floor, by the window. He couldn’t help looking outside, at the sea and the monument beside it. It would have been a lovely night, but for the stench of gunpowder and corpses, and a fog of despair cloaking the Gateway. He took a step inside, his eyes adjusting to the darkness. His boot immediately stepped into something wet, a macabre puddle splashing viscous fluid onto steel-toe.
He fished out a candle-sized stick and snapped it roughly with his teeth, even as his left hand undid a length of cord. The bright neon-yellow glow from the stick instantly illuminated the scene: first his teeth, and then the room. The first body lay two feet away from him, next to the writing desk, whole except for the head. He closed his eyes for a second. Not in silent prayer, but, his fingers flicking a button near his temple, to turn up the infra-red. There’s only that much neon can do, he thought wryly, tucking the yellow stick into his belt, alongside the oval buckle.
He stepped forward towards the bed and looked at the other body. Female, in her fifties. In the red tint of the eyewear, the neon of the stick and the pool of crimson she was lying in, her cotton nightgown was the colour of death: noone could tell what it originally used to be. Powder blue, he sighed, rebuking himself for watching all that sensationalist news coverage. ‘War,’ the bastards on TV called it, giving these nutjobs such a spotlight. An empty Kalashnikov shell clattered near his feet. And there were footsteps outside the door.
He stopped cold, as did the steps. The corridor was dark as tar, and in one swift jerk of the wrist, the yellow tube flew out of the window like a boomerang, right into the jaws of the ravenous city. There hadn’t been any firing for several minutes, making the prevailing silence a dominatingly still one. Convinced he heard a safety-catch being taken off, he crouched to the ground. His breathing slowed, as, he imagined, did his potential assailant’s. He let the cord slip out of his hand as he inched towards the door, slow as the blood seeping through the carpet. He reached near the door and calculated possible scenarios, all featuring the element of surprise. His hand crawled up to the doorknob, gloved fingers wrapping around the brass, when suddenly the door was thrown open, and his left hand pinned to the wall.
His right hand moved quickly towards a switchblade in the belt, but a boot caught him in the jaw. He looked up into the shaking nozzle of a machine gun held by a sweating young Sikh in black-cat outfit. He let out a sigh of relief even as the commando swallowed hard, looking in all the world like he’d seen a phantasm. ‘Who.. Who…?’ The lad stammered as he smiled and reassured him. ‘Yes. And I’m on your side,’ he said in broken Hindi. Usually it took more convincing, but here the soldier withdrew the gun and yanked him to his feet, giving him an awed once-over. He stopped the youngster from apologising, and shook his hand as the still-shaken boy briefed him on the current situation.
They stood in the corridor and waited. There had been sounds in the room five doors down from them, he was told. He handed the soldier his blades, explaining how much more effective than a gun they prove to be, in a compromised-space situation. Young Hartej listened intently, before suddenly glaring and hushing him. There was a crack behind him and he whirled around, barely in time to see a silhouette appear in the corridor unleashing white sparks of machinegun fire in their direction.
His jaw dislocated as soon as he hit the ground. The crack would have been loud in the silence instants ago, but was muted by the current crossfire. He’d been shoved roughly to the ground by Hartej, who was now literally on top of him, covering him on all fours as the firing got louder. He could feel the young man’s shoulder recoil shudderingly even as his arm stayed unwaveringly steady. The infra-red let him see another silhouette pop out behind the first one which was now falling, and he tried to warn the soldier. It was unnecessary, the youngster having already tossed a grenade with flawless accuracy.
It was over. He had never felt more helpless in combat. Or more relieved. Save for the crackle of walkie-talkies confirming the final target, silence resumed. Only this time, it didn’t feel like the air was holding its breath, but like it had finally exhaled.
He rubbed his paining chin as he stood alongside Hartej at the same nineteenth floor window. The soldier tried to stop him, but, ignoring many protestations, he stripped off his belt, gloves and the rest of his blades and handed them to the boy. Then he insisted young Hartej sign a slip of paper. ‘A reciept?’ the confused Sikh asked. ‘An autograph,’ he smiled. He told him that there would surely be more blood, and more sickening, cowardly attacks on the innocent, but that he wouldn’t be needed around. ‘You guys have it covered.’
He jumped even as Hartej gasped. He leaped from the nineteenth floor, eagerly ogling the magnificent, impossible city as he plummeted past the windows. He waited a good ten floors before unfolding his titanium-dipped fiber wings and gliding to a shadowy landing. Gotham needed him, India didn’t. And he really must come back in civvies sometime.
Unpublished. Written November 29, 2008.
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