Friday, 5 October 2012

The Dogs Of War

Cat crouched low to the ground, peered around the corner, and loosed off a burst. The butt of the rifle slapped his shoulder in recoil, and spent cartridge cases went flying into the street. Smoke from the burning buildings made his eyes water despite the goggles.

“Cover me,” he called over his shoulder. “I’m going to try to make the other side.”

Something smacked into the wall just above his head. Chips of brick and plaster bounced off his Kevlar body armour. Cursing, he threw himself back, almost falling over in his haste.

“Damn bastards don’t know when they’re beaten,” he said.

Tiny Marc laughed, his huge frame shaking so hard that the rocket propelled grenades in his backpack clanked against each other. “It’s just this last building,” he said. “Fighting on isn’t going to do them any good.”

Very cautiously, Cat edged a mirror past the corner to get another look at last remaining enemy stronghold. The tall, cylindrical building was burning in three or four places, but he could still see the enemy’s flag flying on top, its white and yellow emblem clearly visible. His throat tightened with anger.

“What are they still fighting for?” he asked. “Don’t they know they haven’t got a hope now?”

“Money,” Jean-Baptiste said. “As long as the money flows through the taps, they’ll fight, even if it’s just one building.”

“Shut up,” Cat told him sourly. “Last building or not, we still have to beat them.” A machine gun rattled and tracers streaked down the street at head height. “They aren’t going out of their way to make things easy for us, either.”

“Look,” Jean-Baptiste said, pointing. A small figure was hurrying past on the other side of the street in a shambling trot, dodging shell holes. It ducked behind the charred remains of the truck Tiny Marc had destroyed earlier. The truck had been carrying food, and might have been able to supply the enemy. It had therefore, they’d decided, been a legitimate target, and Marc had wrecked it with one well-placed rocket. The hurrying figure emerged again, clutching two dusty loaves of bread to its chest.

“Civilian,” Cat said. “Not worth a bullet.” They watched the woman run down the narrow alley opposite, still clutching her bread.

“Civilians,” Marc said. “I hate ‘em. Useless people.”

“Without them we’d be out of a job,” Jean-Baptiste reminded him.

“Here comes the artillery,” Semmler said, from his position further back. “Dupree must have got through after all.”

 A pickup truck mounting a light cannon wheeled into position at the end of the street. Its shells slammed into the blue-and-white concrete of the enemy building. The machine-gun fell silent. The pickup truck kept firing, hosing the lower floors of the building with metal-jacketed death.

“Let’s go,” Cat snapped, and signalled a frontal charge. Tiny Marc stepped into the street, the RPG launcher at his shoulder, and his rocket propelled grenade streaked to the sandbagged entrance of the building. With a colossal explosion, part of the doorway fell in.

They charged, running through the smoke, stopping momentarily to fire and then charging again, past the wrecked truck and over the scattered sandbags, into the building. Scrambling up the stairs, shooting past every corner, hurling grenades into rooms as they passed. The walls trembled from the explosions.

And then, quite suddenly, it was over. The remnants of the enemy, who had fought so hard for so long, surrendered. Their last troops descended the stairs, hands held high.

“Set them to putting out the fire,” Semmler suggested.

“Not unless you pay us,” the leader of the prisoners snapped. “We’re security contractors, hired to fight, not put out fires.”

“Never mind.” Cat said. “Next campaign, we might be on the same side. What’s your outfit?”

“Argus. And yours?”

“Blockwater, of course,” Cat said proudly. “The best of the best. But you put up a great fight.”

“Here come your employers,” the Argus man said, peering over Cat’s shoulder. He turned to see a retinue of men in suits climbing up the stairs. One was carrying a flag.

“Gentlemen,” he said on seeing Cat and the others. “I must congratulate you. It was a hard campaign, and expensive, but you fulfilled all expectations.”

“We always do.” Cat glanced at the Argus man and back. “Blockwater always delivers results. That’s why your firm hired us, sir.”

“Yes.” Triumphantly, the man in the suit shook out the flag with the twin golden arches and posed so that one of the others could take a photograph.

“Once again,” he declared exultantly, “McRonalds has beaten Sunway to control the burger market of the free world!”

(With no apologies whatsoever to Frederick Forsythe, for whom my disdain is unfathomable)

Copyright B Purkayastha 2012

Faerie Story

There was once a fairy who wanted very much to meet a child.

The fairy lived at the bottom of the garden behind the Big House, where the child lived, too. And every afternoon when the boy came out to play, the fairy would watch him from the safety of a flower, and wish with all her little heart that he would come to her. But he was never alone, because he was what his mother called a “delicate child”, and was always accompanied by one adult or another. So even if he came close on occasion, the fairy couldn’t do anything but hide, and she found this intensely frustrating.

Months passed in this way, until the fairy had almost given up hope. And yet the boy grew more and more rosy-cheeked and bright-eyed, and scampered across the grass with such energy that the fairy’s eyes grew misty just to look at him.  He looked, she thought, utterly delicious.

Meanwhile, the fairy began to overhear talk among the adults when they came to the garden; talk which led her to understand that the family would soon be moving, and she was stricken to the heart at the thought that she would never get to come into contact with the boy. She grew so depressed that she began to wilt a little, and her wings began to droop and lose their lustre.

At last the day arrived when the house was filled with bustle, and the moving men came with their big van and began to take out furniture. The fairy, tears dripping from her large and expressive eyes, perched on top of her flower and watched the activity, thinking now that she would never be able to meet the boy again.

Suddenly, the back door eased open and the boy came into the garden, alone for once since his parents and everyone else was busy directing the packing and moving. He stood looking around, the set of his shoulders so forlorn that the fairy wanted to rush to him. But all she could do was sit on her flower and wait for him to wander her way.

At first it looked like she would be disappointed once again. The boy walked listlessly here and there, touching a tree here, plucking a blade of grass there, and once or twice he made as if to go back inside, only to turn back again. At last, with almost incredulous joy, she saw that he was moving in her direction, and she pushed herself up on her flower to make sure he’d see her.

He did.

It was with an amazingly delicate touch that he picked her off the flower, and held her cradled in his hands, peering at her with his wonderful limpid eyes, which she had so long admired from a distance. Then, wordlessly, he lowered his cheek to her mouth, so she could kiss him.

It was the chance she’d been waiting for.

Her proboscis darted out, propelled by its extensor muscles, the knife-like styluses at its end slicing through his skin like paper. She poured her digestive juices into him, quickly reducing his insides to a liquid soup which she sucked up until there was nothing left. Leaving the husk to fall on the grass, she climbed down the flower stalk and began burying herself in the ground, to have some peace and quiet while she digested her meal.

Just as she was drifting off to sleep, she heard voices in the distance, calling the boy.

When the screaming started, she burped contentedly, listening.

"Such a sweet little boy," she murmured to herself.

Copyright B Purkayastha 2012