All Science Ninja Team Gatchaman characters belong to Tatsunoko Productions.
It’s not that difficult to understand.
He thought to himself while picking a padlock with his trembling hands.
It’s not so fucking difficult.
And yet the lock just wouldn’t come open.
Why can’t they understand? Are they that much retarded?
His frustration grew with each second as he swore at ‘them’ without bothering to clarify just who exactly did he mean.
All I want is peace for God’s sake!
With a soft click the lock came undone. Suppressing a whoop of victory, he quickly uncoiled the chain, opened the gate, and reattached the lock once he snuck in. He had no idea how was he going to get out again, but there were more pressing things on his mind, like, say, the roar of jet engines nearby and all the potential witnesses.
It was likely that no one entered the compound for decades. His heart almost stopped when he couldn’t get the second door open, but several thrusts of his shoulder later it gave in with an ear-pulling screech. As soon as the gap allowed it he slipped though as swiftly as he could, closed the door by falling on it with his back, and pulled down both safety latches. Then he put his ear against it to listen for any strange noises. Naturally he couldn’t hear anything at all. The door was, like any blast door of this type, built out of layers of lead and steal, with the probable addition of a concrete core. That’s why it was so hard to open it in the first place.
Finding himself in darkness so perfect it was almost palpable, he pulled a thin AA battery-shaped tube out of his pocket and pushed its top. A surprisingly strong cone of bluish light tore through the blackness and few seconds later he flipped the light-switch. Its box was made of black Bakelite he had never seen outside of museums. Fortunately the electricity grid seemed to be in working order. At least as far as he could see, and he couldn’t see very far at all. He stood at the end of a hallway, which turned sharply to the left and sank lower underground and out of his sigh. It was a good start. Too bad there was no wood to knock on.
The operation turned into another great big mess, though, sadly, it probably wasn’t that surprising. Again the mecha got destroyed, and though he avoided getting another bashing, it was by the skin of his teeth. His escape jets and pods never had any defences and range to speak of due to the capacity of their tanks and limitations of engines. And most aren’t exactly aerodynamic. They really are only good enough to escape whatever wreckage they’re escaping from and land safely, if not comfortably. Who knows where the nearest base is. Galactor’s reach isn’t very big in mainland Europe. It might take hours for a back-up team to reach him.
That said, this mission might have been a mess, but this cloud had a silver lining as well. There were two operations executed simultaneously. The flashier one was to fly over to Washington D.C., level the IMF with the ground, gloat a bit, and then RTB. Well, the mecha made it to the District of Columbia, however as it prepared to carpet-bomb the building, the Science Ninja Team somehow snuck on board and somehow managed to seal all the bomb bays. Then they high-jacked the whole thing and flew it over the Atlantic, setting off their own charges. Just before the whole thing went to pieces, he managed to free the escape jet and keep it in the air for long enough to reach Europe with the ninjas firmly on his trail. He boarded a TGV and went all the way to Frankfurt, where he got onto the next possible train to go further east, where his movements would be harder to track. Unfortunately the ninjas followed him all even there with that damn warship of theirs closely following the train. They were in one of the cars the whole time and he only noticed them some half an hour before he got off. They would’ve caught him as well, if it wasn’t for his expert disguise skills.
The second operation took place almost on the other side of the globe. His Devil Stars took control of several transporters and seized their load. True, Galactor would be much closer to its goal with the IMF in pieces and the subsequent media frenzy, but having thirty intercontinental ballistic missiles Topol-M with nuclear warheads was a job well done as well. Usually the acquisition of Topols would call for a mecha-supported mission on its own, however seeing that the IMF was a much grander target, and therefore much more likely to get the attention of both UN and ISO, it would take hours for everyone to realise what happened behind their backs. And then it would be too late. By now the Topols were safely underground in the Dyatlov base.
I’m still going to get it for all the lost equipment and stuff, but I can worry about that once I’m back at Karakoram.
He went down the hallway, wondering which country he actually managed to land in. Back then, when he was being pursued through the trains, he didn’t have any time to look for names of places flashing through the darkness.
After passing through a second, thinner set of blast doors he found a plastic notice-board displaying the shelter rules. They were written in two languages. Some vaguely eastern-European one and Russian. He had no trouble with reading the Cyrillic, but the first one was a bit tougher. In the end he decided it must be Czech, judging by some special postalveolar consonants. If he read it slowly enough, he could decipher the meaning.
Rules for non-existent people.
As he looked down the corridor, he fancied he could see eternity. There was a room after room after room, though instead of being actual rooms, it was just many identical segments the hallway was partitioned into. All doors were open, everything was quiet and still. There was a faint smell of dust, turpentine and petroleum in the air. It reminded him of old warehouses of disabled military equipment. Well, that’s what the place was, in a fashion. A shelter, which had been abandoned for well over sixty years.
He shuddered with cold. Since it was so deep under the surface, the temperature in the shelter was pretty low. It called for much warmer clothing than the shirt and jeans he purloined from a sleeping co-passenger along with the rest of his luggage. He had to slip under the train and crawl all the way to the goods wagon where he could change, folding his uniform in a small bundle and stuffing it into the poor sod’s now-empty bag. Up on the surface he had to be careful, but there were no witnesses here, and so, to ward off at least a fraction of the cold, he pulled the cloak out and wrapped it around his shoulders.
On his right hand side the wall was lined by many racks, all of them occupied by neatly folded protective clothing and gas masks. Their transparent plexiglass eye-pieces were reflecting his silhouette. It almost seemed like they were expecting him to do or to say something. They reminded him of rows of theatre visitors, slaughtered seconds before the grand finale.
In a way this shelter was like a desert at night. Vast; since he didn’t know how big exactly it was. It felt very vast. And sterile and cold.
What he liked about those places was, that usually he didn’t have to suffer human presence in there. Nevertheless things happened, and while infrequently, they had a maddening tendency to do so when it was least suitable. Like that time when he just finished his Change, and all his bones and sinews and muscles were oh so very sore, and he couldn’t take any painkillers as his metabolism was crazy fast and if those meds would actually work, they might’ve very well stopped his heart. So he and a small, trusty troop of Devil Stars went to the nearest town to get a supply of booze and perhaps some opium for when his body would adopt a normal biorhythm again. That town was under Galactor control. It was their outpost used mainly for refuelling and restocking on water. Nothing ever happened in there, the inhabitants rendered lethargic under the cruel glare of the sun, however this time there was a group of youths, who decided that all the water and fuel and whatnot should belong to the community. Never mind that it was Galactor who built roads there and who gave about half of the people respectable jobs.
It was regrettable, but all those boys had to be moved down by submachine guns. Regrettable, for he didn’t like to stir up trouble where things worked just the way they should. One look and he knew that things would never run as smoothly as before. He could see the horror and disbelief in onlookers’ eyes. Yellowish white sand and buildings had been sprayed by crimson. It was kill or be killed. No time to dissuade anyone from anything. No space for negotiations. They were in an awkward situation. Nobody said a word. He was the esteemed leader of Galactor and the weapons skills of his retinue have just been demonstrated, so no lone-woman-shrieking-people-panicking situation occurred. Everyone just froze. He himself was too surprised to actually know what to say or how to act, so he just pretended nothing notable happened and went to get his booze. But the stench of blood forever marred the peace he used to feel in that tiny little town.
Yes, it always seemed to be human presence which ruined things. Or more precisely, impulsive, violent human tendencies. He was long since resigned to the fact that his nature and the nature of humankind would always clash. Most people were brutish, loud and violent, while he was a man of peace. All he wanted was peace and stability.
Unfortunately his intentions were always misunderstood.
They didn’t understand.
Every masterpiece had to originate from suffering, physical or mental. Michelangelo went almost blind when painting the ceiling of the Sistine chapel, Beethoven went deaf, Toulouse-Lautrec suffered from pycnodysostosis, Nietzsche had syphilis, Hawking had the Lou Gehrig’s disease, and then there was the mile-long list of all the artists and thinkers who had various mental disorders. It was true that everyone would have to suffer for a bit. Some more than others. But it was all for the sake of his masterpiece - a planet without wars. A united planet, playing its harmonious music under his baton.
It was only fair.
After all nobody knew better of the suffering of this world. He had seen dozens of famines and epidemics, resulting from corrupt officials unwilling to share their ridiculously huge wealth. Genocides, war rapes, and uses of thousands of unwitting human test subjects screaming day and night just so those officials would retain and multiply that wealth. And it wasn’t just them. They were only the most obvious ones. Unfairness happens every day from the dawn of mankind to its dusk. Even things as simple as a poor mother, stealing food from another family so that she could feed her own children. Was that wrong? Of course not. Was it wrong that a father decided to take his rifle and rob a bank because his daughter was dying of terminal heart disease and he didn’t have enough money for surgery? Of course not.
So he came to understand, after much thinking, that as long as there were things in the world like love, affection, loyalty, or friendship, people will always favour their loved ones over strangers no matter how unfair it might be.
Which renders democracy useless.
People couldn’t be allowed to rule themselves any longer. A strong person was needed to take the stage.
He grabbed one of the gas masks and looked into its eyes. It felt cold against his skin. It didn’t appear to belong to humans. Those huge eye-pieces and a hose attached to the mouth reminded him of something. At first he thought it was that famous Scream of Munch’s, but that didn’t feel quite right. No, it was like a ceremonial mask depicting a demon. Its transparent eyes were reflecting his silhouette. He tightened his grip on it but a sudden flash of pain made him wince.
The mask fell to the ground.
It could be called pain only because it came so unexpected. It didn’t actually hurt. A red line emerged on his index finger. Small droplets of crimson quickly built up, combining into a much bigger one. He put the finger to his lips and licked the blood away while giving the mask a look of accusation. As it hit the floor, something poked out. A long shard of glass.
Why the hell is there broken glass inside of a gas mask?
He wondered absent-mindedly, but then something made him jump even more.
A loud noise, coming from above. Shrill, pained scraping of a heavy door, which hasn’t been oiled in too many years.
He bit his lip. They followed him all the way here. He had to hide. Fortunately this environment was as unfamiliar to them as it was to him, so he should be able to conceal himself. Hopefully they wouldn’t think too much about the lights turned on. But first it was crucial to find a good hiding spot.
Quickly passing the infirmary, its wooden door painted steely grey, he continued deeper in the shelter. Infirmary would be a great place, if it wasn’t for its proximity to the entrance. He wanted to hide a little bit further, so he could get himself acquainted with the layout and maybe find a map, if lady luck decided to jump over to his side for a while. All he could do was to tuck himself away for a short while just to escape his enemies’ keen eyes and ears.
He decided to follow the partitioned hallway for the time being.
Being well-versed in all things related to bombs, he could vividly imagine what it would’ve been like, had the shelter been actually used. This ‘hallway’ was where the living quarters of the survivors were. Those few benches, surviving despite the amazing humidity of the place, were where they would’ve slept. That’s why every four segments had a sink and two toilets. People would have to stay in these cramped conditions for long stretches of time and it was more than likely that there would be several times more refuges than what the shelter was designed for. With the knowledge that their homes and livelihoods had been destroyed, with a complete lack of privacy and comfort, with children crying and screaming, with shortages on cigarettes and alcohol, how long would they be able to maintain their common sense?
Not long, unless there was a sufficiently level-headed and experienced person in charge.
Two relatively thin pipes appeared on the wall to his right and it seemed like a good idea to follow them. They lead him away from the partitioned hallway, through several rooms containing big black water filters, to a ballroom-sized hall filled with an insane number of pipes of all sized and huge, bone-white cisterns with rusty stains. Something must’ve happened in the past, for the floor was flooded with about thirty centimetres of water. He climbed up on one of the closer cisterns, careful not to open his cut, and lay down on his back.
Abandoned or not, he could hear water coursing under that metallic shell. He came to the conclusion that although uninhabited, this shelter was still maintained. The majority of the power-grid looked pretty recent and there were even several shiny new circuit-breaker boxes. The city most likely paid someone to keep the place from falling apart, as the cost of shutting it down would be higher than the pittance they gave that poor loser.
He put his ear against the cistern, savouring the sound of water.
The cut on his finger throbbed.
It was very important not to get discouraged.
What was winning or losing few battles to the course of war? His opponents will fall asleep on their laurel wreaths sooner or later. The fact that they were ‘winning’ meant nothing. To the majority of mankind those victories were completely hollow. Gatchaman and the others might shoot down a mecha or two, but men will still grab guns and slaughter each other. The ISO might uncover bombs in their facilities and disarm them, but scores of women will still have to sell themselves on the streets in a drug-induced haze. The U.N. might uncover government conspiracies and boycott the produce of Galactor-affiliated countries, but thousands of people will die in spite of that from diseases perfectly curable by today’s medicine.
No one will help anyone else, unless that person’s face is plastered all over the internet. They have the means but they won’t use them because of sheer bureaucracy. And they call me the evil one. But what I ought to be called is a me-
His train of thought was suddenly disturbed by the sound of quickly approaching footsteps. He slid down the cistern and hid behind the metalwork anchoring it to a concrete pedestal. It was the best thing he could do, although all those pipes severely limited his field of vision.
They were onto him.
They must’ve been.
According to the sounds, they went straight for his hideout. There was a splash of water. They were there. He held his breath as sweat rolled down his back. He risked a quick peek from behind the cistern. All he could see were shadows on the wall. The light somehow warped them, turning them into huge, beaked monstrosities. He returned to his former position, his fist clenched, eyes shut, ears pricked for any sounds of their approach.
Any second his head would be bashed in, crushed against the cistern. Or a feather shuriken would sever his jugular. The sound of his own heart worked against him. Those shadows were so terrifying, he feared their owners could even smell his fear. He wished desperately he had his pills. How long was it since he took them? Too long. His chest felt heavy and constricted, and though he was well aware that this was all in his head, the sensation felt too real. Slowly raising his hand, he put the index finger to his lips and bit it. The taste of blood filled his mouth.
I’m bleeding now. I’m in pain now. That’s enough for this episode, isn’t it? I won’t be hurt and made to bleed even more, won’t I?
He wanted to say, though he wasn’t exactly sure to whom.
And somehow it worked. Footsteps were leaving. He waited another few minutes in case it was just a ruse, and then he slowly, slooowly crept from behind the cistern. All the pressure from his chest was released in one great sigh. His relief was so big, he forgot all about his bleeding finger. They didn’t find him. They didn’t hurt him.
Like a cat on the prowl he made his way to the wall, keeping as close to the ground as possible, and then, with his back pressed against the cold white plaster, he tiptoed towards the entrance. No matter how hard he tried, his shoes were making soft scraping sounds against the dusty floor, and so he took them off and put them in the bag.
Now came the moment of risk.
If they would spot him in the corridor, there was no way to escape. The reservoir room was a cul-de-sac. During his cautious advancing his eyes were fixed onto the distant door, where the water treatment section branched away from the partitioned hallway. Luckily all worries prove to be unfounded, at least for the time being. His hand touched the cold door frame without anyone giving out a war-cry and hurling himself at him, however as he peeked to the right, he saw shadows at the far end. They were moving away. He swiftly pulled back, counted to sixty just to be sure, and then ran in the opposite direction.
As soon as he saw those barrels of petroleum he knew he was in the generator room; and indeed – there it was. A manual-operated generator, all grey and steely, except for the turbine which had been painted blue. On the wall, next to a brand-new light switch, there was a very old-fashioned lever which reeked of nostalgia. Embossed on it were big letters, spelling out the words ‘Original Sigma Pumpy’. Made in Czechoslovakia. He had heard of the company before, though he couldn’t remember when. He knew they had been around since the late nineteenth century and nowadays they built mainly pumping devices and compressors. It was strangely encouraging to see that not everything in the world was Made in China.
Yes, once Galactor would take over the world, he would make sure to shatter each and every monopoly. Well, except for his own, naturally. Once a company operated without fear of competition, they had a nasty habit of focusing on fixing prices rather than improving produce. Poor quality control and obsolete technologies could severely harm his cause. Besides, with their companies competing against each other, their CEOs would be much too busy planning their industrial espionages to try and gang up on him.
Everything would have to be perfectly maintained to the last detail. Like a generator, for example. Any impurities would be brushed away to oblivion with as much force as necessary. There would always have to be sacrifices made in order to keep the system running smoothly. People expected that. Even when there wouldn’t be anyone left to raise his or her fist against him… there would always have to be sacrifices made. For the sake of uniting people. For the sake of peace.
Next to the generator room were the air-filtration facilities. Inside were many black pipes completely devoid of dust, connected to khaki-coloured filters. At the far end of the long room was even a human-powered one. There was another door, a big red plate marking it as the entrance to the emergency exit. Unfortunately it was locked and the door was too tough to break in. On the wall there was a number of black and brown boxes with glass gauges showing such information like the states of coarse and fine filters, suction resistance and oxygen levels. What he found particularly disturbing was a perfectly drafted table, describing how much oxygen would certain numbers of people use up. He couldn’t help but imagine what would happen once it would run out. The scene, unfolding in front of his mind’s eye, belonged to the animated movie Watership Down. Suffocating rabbits, clawing at each other. Surely things like that happened in certain corners of Earth.
Which was why there had to be global peace.
As he was unable to find any peace in the air-filtration facilities, he moved on, arriving in one of the ‘better’ rooms for sheltered civilians. Better, as in smaller, furnished with a small stove and a square table with a formica desk. Every possible surface had been buried under mountains of protective clothing, special cots for babies (Caution! Before inserting the infant, tear off the cover paper from the inner and outer layer of the diffuse filter), portable Geiger meters in khaki satchels, a disturbingly accurate model of an arm afflicted with radiation poisoning (and he knew from experience how accurate it was), boxes upon boxes of sodium dichloroisocyanurate for water disinfection (1 tablet on 750ml, shake thoroughly and wait for at least ½hr before drinking), and many, many other things.
Seeing that mountain of nuclear-war-related objects, he frowned. He didn’t like A-bombs one bit. Too unpredictable. Too large-scale. When it came to disposing of enemies, nothing was as efficient as a sniper rifle. And if he really wanted to make an impression, then ballistic missiles or laser beams. The damage could be easily contained and he wouldn’t be left with a spreading patch of dead earth and poisoned resources.
Which didn’t mean that Galactor would shy away from nuclear weapons testing.
He had seen the victims. He even suffered a radiation poisoning of his own. It happened when he was much younger. Starting ten days before the blast he was given tablets of calcium and iodine to eat with every meal, so now, years later, he had to question how much of it was an accident and how much just another test, performed to gauge his healing factor. The people who were with him at the time formed an amazingly diverse group. Infants and elderly, Europeans, Africans, Asians, extraordinarily intelligent as well as mentally disabled.
He sat down, overwhelmed by the unexpected strength of that memory.
Everyone’s clothes had been burned to their skin.
Those horrible beta burns. How painful were they. And they itched so much. Itched and burned. It was maddening. Some of the people tried to peel those clothes away and in their frenzy took skin off as well. All they had was cooking oil and merbromin. Their only luck was that there were no flies around. Many of them developed pupura and almost half came down with a bad case of the runs. The air was filled by an incredible stench. He himself suffered a major freak-out when all his hair fell out. Not that he could do much, as he was so tired, he could only lie in the corner and hope someone would save him. Others were far worse off. They vomited blood and cried and moaned. And they all hated him, as it was obvious that he was in the best condition.
Two weeks later, after his innumerable voiceless pleas, he had been saved. He got his wish. The doctors, who carried him out on a gurney, told him that it was a success. Well, success for him. The others were all gunned down regardless of their health. He didn’t care. His chest was bursting with happiness. He had been saved. He had been saved. He… she… he… she… it was much too hard to keep track of that, but because of those constant Changes he spent the next seven months hospitalised deep underground in Karakoram.
And this was long after this shelter was built, he thought bitterly.
Why was he put through such a thing he didn’t know. At that time no one bothered with any explanation and years later, by the time he rose to the highest ranks, all the documentation had been destroyed. Sousai answered any question of his by
DON’T BOTHER ME WITH SUCH FOOLISH QUESTIONS, KATSE.
So he stopped searching altogether shortly after becoming Galactor’s leader.
And yet it sometimes happened. Those thoughts emerged when his mind was most vulnerable. When he was trying to fall asleep. Some people died of acute radiation poisoning decades after they were exposed. What if one day the fatigue would return? What if he would start to cough out blood?
Of course that was nonsense. He had his healing factor. Galactor employed some of the best doctors on the planet. No reason for him to be worried.
No reason at all.
He looked down on his hands. They were clenched so tightly his knuckles went white. The palm of his left hand was criss-crossed by crimson. He went to the nearest sink, turned the water on and after waiting several seconds (after all God knows how long has the water been in those pipes) he put his hand under the stream. It felt good. The coldness of it dragged him out of the past and into the present. He was hiding inside of an underground shelter. His enemies were nearby. Returning the same way he came was out of the question. He had to find an unlocked emergency exit which he could climb out of.
He had to escape and become the supreme leader of Earth.
He had to survive no matter what. No matter which means he would have to employ.
Survive, survive, survive.
There was no such thing as cowardice or heroism. There were only people who chose the path of Eros or Thanatos. Everything else was just pretty words.
All he wanted now was relief. Though he was focused on his current situation, the horrors of both past and present still held his heart in a tight grip. The next corridor didn’t make matters much easier. Its walls were all covered by various diagrams.
There were pictures, showing how to pack your evacuative baggage. (up to 50kg for adults, 25kg for children)
There were others, teaching people how to build makeshift shelters in their own homes.
Maps and symbols, showing how fallout tends to spread.
Advice on how to extricate yourself from under collapsed buildings by using nothing but common household utensils.
Improvised protective clothing. (He had to smirk when he saw that one – ski goggles, raincoats, wellies and plastic bags tied over your hands anyone?)
Damaging effects of radiation. (Which made him cringe)
The last one was a small plastic board on the door, telling him what kind of signal would be used for which kind of emergency. (Air raids, radiation, chemical)
He realised he had been scratching at his forearm for a while now. Looking down, he was startled to see blood, nevertheless there was no real need to worry, as he soon found out. The cut on his finger opened, that was all; but for a moment he thought he could see huge blisters oozing blood and puss. There was one of those sinks nearby, so he cleaned up a bit as he couldn’t walk around with his arm looking like that. Fortunately the skin was only slightly reddish from all that scratching. No burn scars anywhere. Of course there were injuries which went much deeper, lasted much longer, and were much more damaging and hard to get rid of.
Strange sounds in the distance reminded him that he was on the run from enemies, who outnumbered and out-equipped him. Those sounds were disturbing, for it wasn’t just footsteps anymore. There was something else mixed into them. Something he could only describe as flapping of wings. A cold chill went down his spine. No distance was big enough. He went further down the corridor, looking for the exit or at least a good hiding spot. Unfortunately those few rooms he passed were bereft of doors and devoid of any furniture.
He sped up, his fast walk turning into a scamper since by their sound his enemies were closing in on him yet again. Twenty more metres and he arrived at a fork. He had three options. Either he could continue running straight ahead and reach the food storage, or he could turn right and end up at the headquarters, or he could turn left and ascend several stairs. Where this road would lead him was hard to tell. It was pitch-black in there and to add to its ominousness, someone put up a bright yellow sign, saying
Or, in other words, CONTAMINATION, DEAD END.
Once again, following a foolish hope that if he would chose the worst possibility, things would be forced to change for the better, he passed the sign and plunged into the darkness.
The dim cold light of the fluorescent tubes behind his back was no match for it. He couldn’t see anything at all, while when he turned around, the other side looked threateningly bright. It was very unpleasant to see it like that. His enemies could arrive there any second. They would see him immediately. The hunt would start. There would be no hope.
Imagining that scenario, his throat went dry. He wished he had some sort of a weapon. All he had were explosives, and he wasn’t quite comfortable using them in such a constricted space. Who knew how well the shelter resisted the tooth of time. If only there was anything left over from the Cold War. Even one of those outdated little Sa.25 submachine guns. Anything. Anything to make him feel safer. All he could do was to go deeper and hope he wouldn’t be discovered.
Suddenly the flapping was there again. Flapping and footsteps and strange scraping sounds, as if something sharp (talons? Swords?) was being dragged on the concrete floor.
His breathing shallow and pulse reaching new heights, he pulled the bag with his clothes up in his arm, dug his left hand into it, disregarding the fact that he would most likely stain his uniform with blood, and groped around desperately for his explosives-containing belt. Next second he crashed into something, painfully bruising his hip. He stifled his gasp and ran his hands across the object. Long, metallic, and with a sliding door, it had to be some kind of a cabinet. There was no time to spare. He opened it. Shoved the contents in the back, squeezed himself inside and closed it again without leaving even the slightest gap.
After almost a minute he could hear them. They were getting closer and closer. He squeezed the bag and buried his face into its burlap fabric. His hearing became almost freakishly sharp. He could hear their breath, their heartbeats, the rustling of their uniform’s fabric.
The flapping of their wings.
The snapping of their beaks.
The clacking of their talons.
They weren’t running anymore. Those footsteps were much slower. Deliberate. They were searching. Fumbling.
Hey, most birds are diurnal, right? Then I should be fine in here!
He thought to himself, giggling into the bag, trying to prevent himself from erupting into laughter.
Oh yeah. Wasn’t there an owl or something with them? Or was it a pheasant? Or an ostrich? Wait, what are they anyway? Eagle… Condor… Swan… uh… Swallow? Or Kingfisher? Nah, Swallow. He’s got that tail… thing. But what the fuck, Nambu? A blue and red Condor? An Eagle, which is white, red and blue? Seriously, Nambu? Seriously? What’s his birthday? Fourth of July? And why is he Gatchaman anyway? Why isn’t he, like, Washiman? Or Eagleman? Oh God… Eagleman… I’mma gonna bash you with my eggs. Bird Freedom Eeeeeegs!
His shoulders started to shake from the suppressed laughter.
And it feels like the whole wide world is raining down on you
Brought to you courtesy of the red white and blue
Lyrics of a song he once heard finally put an end to his amusement. Suddenly he had nothing worthwhile to think about. In fact, his head became completely empty. He wasn’t even afraid anymore. He was just lying inside of a cabinet with his face buried in a burlap bag, while outside, few metres away from him, red, white and blue was searching frantically to make the whole world rain down on him. The thought made him feel very pitiful indeed.
If only there were no people like that. The shelter would actually be quite a pleasant place to be in. It offered a release from the summer swelters, and peace and quiet from the city’s hustle and bustle. Yes, if only the whole world was as peaceful and quiet as this.
It’ll take some more mechas and bombs, but I’ll make it come true. Definitely. People aren’t meant to govern themselves. They need someone sufficiently educated and intelligent. Some will disagree, of course. But it’s always the minorities who are the most vocal ones. Those can be exterminated. It’s too risky to keep them even in labour camps. It’s for the good of everyone. It’s for the sake of world peace.
Next thing he knew the noises came from much further away. They were leaving. All of them. He knew it. He didn’t know how, but he did. Waiting for another few minutes, he crept out and found himself, to his surprise, strangely refreshed. Sure, he was still a bit anxious, but now he was focused, with his feet planted firmly on the concrete below. Without taking even one look back he stepped further in the darkness.
…and hit his forehead on a door.
Pulling his tiny flashlight out of his pocket and switched it on. Just as he hoped, there was a plate on the door. White words on red plate specified it as, his heart skipped a beat, an emergency exit. He grasped the hand and pushed it down. The door was open. Closing it softly behind his back, he stepped into an extremely narrow hallway about one metre wide. It went straight ahead and after about forty metres it made a sharp, upward turn. There were sturdy iron steps there, embedded in the concrete wall. Throwing the bag over his shoulder when he reached them, he put his shoes on and commenced with the climb.
It felt rather like climbing through a chimney. He guessed he must’ve ascended about sixty metres when he finally saw a light. The ‘chimney’ opened into another corridor, which was, for a change, mercifully short. At its end was a room designated as the Back-Pressure Hall. There was a single door there. One of the heavy blast ones. He pushed the latch up and hit it with his shoulder.
He was out.
The warm summer night breeze brushed against his cheeks, ruffling his hair. All that separated him from freedom was an iron gate with an easily picked padlock and his cloak. He hid the cloak and picked the lock.
One, two, three steps, and he was out in the street.
But what was this?
All the buildings had been levelled with the ground. Everything was black and charred, trees resembling burnt matches. There was stench of rotting flesh and excrements in the air. A shrill sound of sirens shook the ground. There was no other sound except this. Cars had been flipped over, buildings, which survived the blast, were decorated with black silhouettes of evaporated people. Then the sirens disappeared and everything was quiet, oh so quiet, so deathly still it had to be just a façade.
He blinked and rubbed his eyes.
There it was again.
He had been wrong.
He was standing on a cobblestone-paved road, surrounded by fairly old and ornate buildings. There was a couple of cars parked around, neon signs shone through a night which wasn’t dark. Light pollution changed darkness into a strange orangey-purplish colour so familiar to anyone living in a big city. There was a handful of people, most of them stumbling, laughing, singing or vomiting. What he saw before was just an illusion, for this place and the whole country had never seen an atomic blast. There were no dead anywhere. And no enemies. He was just a nameless stranger in a nameless city.
Heaving a great sigh of relief, he went to the nearest ATM, withdrew some money, and found himself a food seller which was still open. One kebab and five vodkas later he left, giving the staff a generous tip, and grabbing his cell-phone, he dialled the second number in his list. Someone picked up without saying even a word. They were just listening.
“This is Bravo Kilo zero one. Requesting pick-up at… uh… latitude 50°43r42;N and longitude 15°4r42;E. Do you copy?”
“Roger that. We are on our way, sir. Over and out.”
He sighed again and took a deep swig from the bottle of wine he bought. Finding himself a good, quiet spot, he climbed up on a wall and massaged his shoulder. The knowledge that this adventure was as good as over filled him with more elation than any alcohol ever could. It has gotten very late. There were no people around and the streets, submerged in an orange glow of sodium discharge lamps, felt soothing and vaguely familiar. He could hear a plane engine above his head, but judging by the sound it was nothing but a late night passenger plane.
Yes, this was how it ought to be.
No fighting. No injured. No casualties. No antagonists. There was peace, peace everywhere. He drank some more wine and dangled his feet. This was the environment he belonged into and strove for. The calm, the happiness in his head, and warmth in his chest. After all, he was a man of peace.