Rain fell to the ground, hard, dense, and cold. It brought down more and more mid-autumn leaves, filling the air with their fragrance. Tips of most branches were already bare by then, gaining the appearance of gaunt, gnarled fingers, reaching towards the sky. The only bright green patches were those of soft moss. Sheen of moisture covered every possible surface - the silvery bark of great beeches and their fallen foliage the colour of copper, thin blades of sedge, metallic fragments of a machine damaged well beyond repair or even recognition. There was a scent of something burning in the air even though the day had been too wet for children to go out, build fireplaces, and make fires to roast potatoes or sausages the same way their parents and the parents of their parents used to.
An ejected seat lay nearby.
Late October rain also soaked the purple fabric of a tattered uniform, matting few strawberry-blond tresses, which escaped from under a pointy-eared mask lacerated in several places. Beneath a pair of opaque, green eyepieces two eyes opened, their blue-grey irises the same colour as the stormy sky above the quiet forest.
Berg Katse sat up and tried to recall the events which lead up to this unpleasant wake-up of his, feeling as if he had been hit by a missile. Which he most likely was, judging from the wreckage. Making sure there was no one else around, he touched his head gingerly, feeling for any depressions. There were none. On the contrary, pain pulsated through a big bump right above his temple. Unpleasant but not life threatening.
Having gotten the check-up for skull fractures out of his way, he concentrated his attention on the rest of his body, and where his head was lucky, his ribs were less so. At least three were broken. Multiple shrapnels also penetrated the skin of his torso, the worst one being a huge, jagged piece of plexiglass from what used to be the canopy, embedded deep in the flesh under his clavicle. He knew all the rules of first aid, including the ones concerning the presence of foreign objects in wounds and how you are not supposed to touch them. Then again, he also knew that the Science Ninja Team couldn’t be too far off, and if he wanted to escape, he couldn’t afford to have anything hinder his progress. He couldn’t quite recall the impact, but he would bet all the money he ever embezzled that those damn birds knew exactly what happened and that they were closing in on him.
If he wasn’t in their crosshairs already.
Hissing with pain, he tore the piece of plastic out and pressed his hand against the wound to stem the bleeding. Then he steeled himself and got up on his feet. A bit too quickly though. The whole world spun, black spots obscured his vision and swaying under a spell of vertigo, he fell back on the leaves, stunned for a couple of seconds. His mouth opened, but his fear of being discovered was greater than the need to scream, and so no sound escaped his throat. On his knees and elbow, he was overcome with cough. He did his best to stifle it with the back of his hand. When he pulled away, the dark crimson of the glove was covered by even darker stains.
So at least one of his lungs was damaged as well.
Swearing through gritted teeth, he tried to stand up again, this time without any rush. His legs felt like jelly and there was definitely something wrong with tendons in his right foot. On the brighter side he was still standing even after he made the first step.
Right. That’s the spirit. Pull your shit together. In a couple of days, this will be nothing but a bad memory you’ll forget while sipping Chianti in Geneva.
Step by step he moved away from the scene of the crash, making sure he wasn’t leaving any trails. Fortunately, although the rain soaked him to skin and froze him to bone, it also washed away any blood he might’ve been leaving. As soon as he left the wreckage behind, turning to the left behind a group of particularly big rocks, he could hear a distant thunder of engines. This chilled him more than any amount of rain and he tried to speed up, though he realised that walking too fast would only worsen his condition.
Driven by fear, he found a surprising amount of endurance, and next time he stopped it was only three hours later, when he arrived at the foot of strangely shaped towers of wind-beaten granite, composed of many flat slabs. He could see some caves there. Despite having and desperate urge to go farther and faster, his body couldn’t possibly move more than six more feet. He found himself a shallow recess that went three feet underground and curled inside like a cat. Pulling his scorched, torn cloak tighter around his shoulders to chase away the chills, he fell asleep in the matter of seconds.
All the pain which might have been suppressed by adrenaline and shock returned with a vengeance when he came to. What woke him was the steady hum and sticky coldness of rain. Whilst asleep, he somehow rolled out from his cramped hideout and his body let him know quite assertively that it was too damaged for acrobatics like that.
Returning back under the great rock, he pulled out his transmitter and tried several frequencies. First his personal red line, then the encrypted Gallactor-only one, then the “normal” emergency one. Finally, in frustration, he aimlessly turned the knob there and back in hopes to get anything but that accursed white noise. Fair enough – that small device had been through the wringer, but he still hoped to reach someone. Anyone.
Biting his lip, he hid it back in his belt instead of throwing it away like he wanted. After all, there was still a chance that he might be able to fix it later on.
Once the futility of his attempts to get in touch with civilisation sank into his mind, he became aware of his tremendous solitude. The forest was dark and untamed, trees of all sizes obscuring his vision. Tangles of bramble were unusually thick, and tufts of yellowing sedge and fern too tall for comfort. Dark shapes seemed to hide behind each one of them and although he knew that it’s just trunks of fallen trees and lichen-covered boulders, he still had a persistent feeling of being watched.
Well, at least I know it’s not Gatchaman. After all I’m still in once piece. But I’ve got to get out of these damn backwaters.
He pulled out a thin Kevlar box from under his belt and opened it. Inside were two rows of liquid-filled capsules. Taking one and hiding the rest, he put it in his mouth and bit it, letting the contents pour out on his tongue. The pain was immediately washed away, though he had to sacrifice some if his mind’s clarity. Things somehow mattered less. He just wanted to sit down and sleep again. Good thing he had an effective counter-measure. He forced his weary mind to imagine how it would feel if to be captured and forced to stand trial. To face the concentrated hate, disgust and glee of seven billion people. If he would even live that long.
But as long as he had the mask, this fabrication known as ‘Berg Katse’ to hide behind, he would be free. No one would have a face to direct their hate on and flesh to tear apart.
And no one knows that I exist. I could die here and no one would ever know I was here.
Shut up. This isn’t the time to get all philosophical.
Isn’t it? But you know you can’t escape this ‘me’. Because ‘me’ is ‘me’.
As I said. Shut up or soon you won’t be able to brood about stupid things like that.
Stupid things? As you wish. But I’m never too far away.
Yeah, well, whatever.
Making sure he can move without any pain, he started to climb the granite tower. Thanks to the special fabric of his gloves it wasn’t too difficult and he didn’t even need any protrusions to grab onto. All he had to do was press his hands against the rock and climb. Good thing he created things with more practical use than Whisker or the Jellyfish Lens. Thinking of them he smiled bitterly. Sousai let him know of his displeasure when they lost both of them. And not just them.
My life is one loss after another, isn’t it?
He bit his lip hard enough for the metallic taste of blood to mix into the sweetish taste of the drug. More seeped out from his re-opened wound. He tried to concentrate on climbing.
The sight he saw once he reached the top was definitely something to behold. A multicoloured ocean of trees, stretching as far as he could see, undulating up steep ridges and down narrow valleys submerged in shadow. Here and there a rivulet or a brook reflected the bleak light of the day, their currents raised by the incessant rain. Many hillcrests were crowned by towers and walls similar to the one he just sat on. Surely the sight would be quite breathtaking if he was a hiker, not the survivor of a rather violent crash. Not a person on the run from the law.
He let his eyes travel over the scenery, hoping to find some place, a village, a hamlet, to take refuge in for long enough to steal some supplies and a radio. He also tried to ignore the clearing in the forest, created by his crashed escape pod. Some of the trees were still smoking. Another sign that he had to leave as soon as possible. Thankfully no sign of the GodPhoenix.
Hope was just about to leave him when suddenly he saw a light. A couple, actually. They were quite faint, shining through the rain and haze on the side a long lake. It was a building, and a big one at that. Maybe some kind of a station. Perhaps for monitoring the state of local waters. Surely its staff was used to live in the middle of nowhere, far away from the crime of a city. Surely they wouldn’t be suspicious of an injured person. Surely those good people would try to assist him in any way possible.
He started to climb down again.
Right. I’m a geologist. I took my jeep to shoot pictures of some granite formations, when suddenly there was a landslide. That’s when I got hurt. I need some bandages and antiseptics. And I need to phone my boss to let him know of my situation.
Finding this explanation to be the most believable one, he undressed and pulled his clothes inside out, rolling his boots down below the knee, pulling both layers which made up his cloak apart and connecting them so the purple and red was on the inside and dull forest green on the outside. When he gathered his hair to tie it in a ponytail, he noticed a slowly spreading crimson patch on his chest.
Damn. I completely forgot about that.
He cut off a bit of his cloak and kept it pressed against the wound to staunch the bleeding. Not that it helped much. The fabric turned red alarmingly quickly. Seeing how serious the situation was, he rushed in the direction of those lights. The rain, in the meanwhile, grew from a fairly gentle shower to the hammering of a billion freezing bullets. To add to the misery, by the time the building finally came into his view, the effects of the drug were as good as gone. He could’ve taken a second capsule, however he had to look the act he was about to play.
The building in question was a huge, Bauhaus-style mansion. Whitewashed walls, dark windows. This was no research station he thought he would find. He could see curtains, lines for drying clothes, and a small house for birds. That was suspicious. Such a big family residence in the middle of nowhere?
He limped up the stairs onto a rather spacious terrace overlooking the lake, and made his way to the front door. There was no post box, he noticed. No name tag either. At least he found a doorbell. He pressed it twice, though in reality he wanted to slam his fist against it until every single inhabitant knew of his arrival.
The door opened. A small girl peered from behind it. She wore a grey dress and there was a white bow tied under her neck. A girl like a doll. He opened his mouth, wanting to ask her to call her parents. Wanting to tell anyone who cared to listen that he was just a geologist who got himself in a nasty accident. That he was a victim. And that in no way would he ever point a gun at them and pull the trigger. The story he came up with flashed through his mind as his legs gave in and he collapsed to the ground. The last thing he saw before he lost consciousness was the red patch on his front, now taking up most of his chest-area. The sound of the rain grew ever fainter until it disappeared altogether.