|2044-04-21 Looking At The Stars|
|Location||A small town. India|
Rohan could barely walk.
He’d taken a bullet to his knee in Kashmir, years ago. A messy, ugly wound that shattered his kneecap, and left shrapnel and shards of bone scattered in the joint. It’d taken three operations to put him back to rights and he’d owed the cost of them to Garuda for two years, and still he limped on cold mornings. On the bright side, there weren’t that many cold mornings in India.
It was when he first began to understand his own mortality. Scars—and he had a lot of those—were cool. Stories to tell in a bar, or to a lover when he shrugged off his shirt. Sometimes he made those stories up. But a bum knee—that was just embarrassing. Inconvenient. Old.
He didn’t know if Lincoln’s goons knew he had a bad knee, or it was just a lucky shot. Bullet right to an old scar on the side of his bad knee, and he’d collapsed with the searing godawful pain of it, his vision going red, and his dirt bike veering him into a ditch, and trapping him in a tangle of metal. He had just enough consciousness to reach for the minds nearest to him and clumsily wipe all memories of him and his crash, leaving a graceless gap, before he gave up and waited to die. Die in a ditch in India, in the middle of who-knows-where.
He didn’t know if his memory wipe had been enough. At least twice, Lincoln had sent goons after him who were shielded. Lincoln knew what he could do. That was why he used him in the first place.
When he opened his eyes again, it was dark. Dark and cool, as cool as his version of India got. He must have passed out. His head swam, and the air reeked of blood, copper-bright, but, for now, he was still alive.
With a deep breath and an immense effort, he tried to get up, fighting the weight of the dirt bike across his body—and fell back, with a deep groan. The stars swam before his eyes. We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars, he thought woozily, some remnant of an English education from so long ago.
It would be easy to die here.
Cease upon the midnight with no pain—damnit. They said when you died, your life flashed in front of your eyes. Apparently with him it was just his fucking literature classes.
Something drove him onward. Something forced him to, slowly, motion by motion, breath by breath, push aside the dirt bike and drag himself out of his ditch. Maybe it was the memory of Sky, who he’d left in a warehouse and who he needed to find again. Maybe it was just that Ainsworths were damned stubborn.
The dirt bike was a loss, even if he had been able to lift it. The frame was twisted and bent, and there was no response to his touch on the throttle. The left leg of his jeans was sodden with blood from the knee downward, uncomfortably damp, and he didn’t want to think about whatever other injuries he might have from the crash. He was too woozy to catalogue them.
But he was still alive and he still had the lump of bills in his pocket. Actual rupees, cold hard cash. They were still used in parts of the country. So he’d wiped a mind or two to get them. It was a matter of life and death.
He couldn’t get at his own funds. They were tracking him online, too. An attempt to get to his email had result in a pistol to his head five minutes later. They were quick, too.
So there he was, cut off from his money, Sky, everything he had been.
Maybe he should have died after all.
His knee was numb now, instead of hurting. Given it collapsed beneath him when he tried, shakily, to stand, that was probably a bad sign.
“You can’t hate me this much, Lincoln,” he muttered to himself as he tore a strip off his t-shirt and bound his knee with it. It took him entirely too long to do this, and he had to stop and rest twice to regain control of his hands. It was stupid. For Lincoln, that is. A man with that much of a business to run, even if it was drugs, couldn’t really waste that many resources chasing an old enemy halfway across India.
Then again, maybe Lincoln just had that many resources to waste. That was not a good thought to think.
Bangladesh. He was trying to make it to Bangladesh. He didn’t know anything about Bangladesh. He’d never been there. He didn’t know anyone there. It was a little too close to China for his taste. But he had to get out of fucking India, and he didn’t fancy his chances at the Pakistan border. Besides, the ‘stans weren’t great news in general.
Maybe once he got there, he’d be safe.
He could get at his money. He could email Sky.
When he tested his bound knee, it held up, just barely. He began to lurch along the street, dragging one leg and leaving a trail of blood even the gooniest goon could spot.
Maybe his memory wipe worked more than well enough. Maybe he could be safe now.
Somewhere to rest. He needed somewhere to rest and lie low for a night that wasn’t the ditch, beneath his twisted dirt bike. He didn’t know the name of this fucking town, but it was big enough to have some nightlife, light spilling out into the street. He dragged himself down the street, making not for the busy bars where a blood-soaked Englishman would cause comment (he might have passed for a local, looks-wise, but no matter how fluent his Hindi, northern accents were hell to lose), but for the small building at the end of the block with faint fluttering light.
Maybe it was locked. Maybe someone was there who’d help. Hell, good as anything now.
The journey down the street took a small geological age, step by dragging step. Lights blurred in his eyes. His blood trail was fainter now. He wasn’t sure if that was a good thing, either.
The door gave away at his unsteady hand.
Fucking hell, it was a church.
There were churches in India. This entire country spanned many peoples, many languages, many religions. Rohan knew this. He’d never bothered to step into one.
He assumed a church in India would be exotic—to him. Not exotic to the locals. But there was stained windows, dark with night, and polished wood, and candles, and an altar gleaming with gold. The air was rich with the scent of incense and wood. For a moment it was all familiar—too painfully familiar.
And, for a pained breath, he was back at the little stone church, five hundred years old, where his grandparents had worshipped. With a view of the dales, so green they’d break your heart, and flocks of lowing sheep, and the great clouds that rippled across the sky, casting stippled shadows, Stone walls and hedgerows and the bricks of cities and the scent of curry in his mum’s restaurant and the faces of his family.
And Rohan Ainsworth came perilously close to tears.
The world went black around the edges, and Rohan dipped precariously to one side. He caught hold of a pew, and when he managed to straighten up again, he realized something.
He was in the wrong place.
Not the church. India. Garuda. Running for his life from a drug kingpin.
It wasn’t right. He shouldn’t be here.
He’d been in the wrong place for eighteen years.
“What happened to me, mate?” he asked of the suffering Christ over the altar. His carven face wavered in Rohan’s darkening vision, and there was no answer.
There was a bank of votive candles near the door, most burnt out in pools of wax and dark wicks drifting acrid smoke. Rohan stuffed a wad of his stolen rupees into the box, and lit a candle with trembling fingers.
He thought of all the lost and the broken, those far from home, battered by life, rejected by those who loved them. Those dying in ditches, staring at the stars.
And, almost despite himself, he prayed. For someone to care. Someone to find the lost and hold them as they slept. For someone to close the eyes of those staring, dead in ditches.
He swayed. The world was going dark again. His leg gave out beneath him, and he collapsed on the floor, and waited for someone to find him.They couldn’t kill him in a church, after all.