I think all of us grow up with tales of great rebellions led by characters who are larger than life. Charismatic revolutionaries with words as sharp as their swords, ideas that penetrate deeper than any bullet. More often than not, those stories are fabrications – either partially or entirely. But you can’t discount the fact that these stories take root in the hearts of the downtrodden. Everyone likes to root for an underdog. Not everyone likes how underdogs have to manipulate things to win.
Heroes aren’t flawless. Even legendary figures at one point did something underhanded. When history is written by the victor, these things are brushed aside, considered irrelevant to the overall story. But in the happening of things, the lines between the good and the honourable become blurred.
My ancestors, blinded by their loyalty and their code, refused to use their abilities in any function besides a defensive one. Bending light to peer around corners or to conceal themselves when wounded. They knew the potential it would have offensively, and let themselves be bound by right and wrong. I promised myself that I would be bound by no-one.
Escaping the scene of the Vice President’s demise was not as simple as my abilities would have you assume. Bending light, while useful, consumes a lot of energy. Energy I had already expended on the initial assault. In addition, bending visible light doesn’t account for the heat that the body gives off. The Arlandrian Special Forces had got wise to my abilities; figured that technical science could defend them from magical alteration. And they were right, at least partially. But I had years of training, knew the cities like the back of my hand and had all the escape routes planned.
A narrow alleyway to the south was too small for vehicles, and had a fire escape up the side of some apartments to the roof. I could head west then across the rooftops, blending in against the night sky and conserving my energy. That was the route I took. I figured by the time I reached the edge of the tallest blockhouse in the row, they’d be looking for an Arlandrian soldier, not a third party. Their little internal dispute was on its way to boiling over. All I did was turn up the gas.
As I reached the edge of the building, I changed my clothing. Pulled on a mask – a layer of fake skin I had to apply to my face and body. A wig made from actual hair topped the whole thing off. Obviously, none of these things would stand up to close assessment, but it was enough to be able to move freely. I made my way down through the residential area via the internal staircase. My bag was one I’d pilfered earlier, the markings related to some Arlandrian sports team.
The sun was just about rising to the east, the sky mostly a dark purple, interspersed with oranges and pinks towards the sun. Cool October air filtered through the streets, and I pulled the jacket I was wearing around me, the change of clothes not helpful in retaining the heat I had built up.
Two blocks from the apartment building, I stopped at a public phone booth. There wasn’t much reason for people to use them anymore, what with the advent of handheld phones, but there was a benefit to using them – no digital records, no traces. Maybe they could file back through if they really wanted, but it was the dead of night and near enough to a bar for it to be logical that someone would use it.
I dropped in a quarter and dialled the number of an apartment seven blocks away. The phone rang three times before someone answered, that was standard. Too late meant trouble. Too early meant more trouble. Never meant the worst kind of trouble.
“Hello? Who’s this?” The voice was male, middle aged. Flat and nasal. Much like the man himself, we used to say. “Have you checked your watch lately?”
I rolled my eyes in mock contempt and leaned against the glass of the phone booth. The question was code. “Who wears watches when they go drinking?” As was my answer.
“Gentlemen, primarily,” he replied – that one meant he had actually been asleep when I called. “I suppose you’ll be wanting a lift then?”
I stood up and turned my back to the road as a Military Police vehicle rushed past, lights flashing but siren muted. They were travelling too fast to get a glimpse of my face anyway. “Yeah, if that’s okay? Sorry, dad.”
There was a long sigh and the sound of metal jangling. “I’ll head out now. Meet you by the park? South side, please – I don’t want to have to go all the way around.”
“Got it, dad. See you soon.” I ended the call and stepped out of the phone booth. Casually flipped the hood on the jacket and tried to conceal as much of my face with the wig as possible. The sun was casting long shadows across the street, and illuminating everything in a warm orange glow. I quickly crossed into the north side of the park, not turning as the rumble of an armoured personnel carrier entered my ears. I followed the central pathway of the park, knowing that the dog walkers usually preferred to meander along the grass. That was to my benefit. I turned south, crossed the bridge and then made it over the grass. Vaulted the wall and sat on the edge like a delinquent teenager. I was no actress, but I could definitely loiter.
The car arrived, and I dismounted – intentionally landing awkwardly. I pretended to hobble off across the road and climbed into the passenger side of the black sedan. The middle-aged man had his hands gripped tightly on the wheel, and glanced sideways at me as I got in. As the heavy door slammed shut, he moved off. “Is it done?”
“Yeah. The night is over, but the real fun has just begun.”