"NO!" The screech went up like a cat bawling from amongst a swarm of rats. From my perch I could see Flora George battle her way back through the rioters, arms flailing like a maniac's. "That's my baby, that's my baby!"
"Stop everything right now," I shouted, wielding the whimpering child above my head like an axe about to come down on society. "Or I will kill the child!"
A wave of silence moved like a stampeding elephant, before the street erupted again.
Their cries caressed my thoughts, adrenaline flooded into my bloodstream. I shut my eyes for a moment as a peaceful smile tugged one corner of my mouth to the side. It was beautiful. Gosh, it made me feel almost as excited and as satisfied as making love to a woman, and I craved more of it. But what was it? Fear?
No. No, I knew it wasn't fear.
I lowered the baby, holding it directly in my line of vision, and stared hard into its puffy red face, and all the world fell away, swallowing up the squabbling rabble below as it went. Good Lord. Weren't babies supposed to be so beautiful and innocent that it melted your very soul? This one's eyes seemed too small between its swollen, pink cheeks, and its three teeth were crooked and even chipped in places. How an infant managed to chip a tooth, I didn't know, but it indicated a sturdy young child who'd been through as much hardship as I had at its age. And with Flora as a mother, a life any better than one of poverty and filth was unlikely unless you were enduring and you collected your battle scars with a steel heart.
Christ. Was I admiring a baby?
Seeing how Flora had kept her delicate, aesthetically appeasing face over the years, it wasn't likely that he'd gotten his looks from his mother. Which meant that Flora must have married a hound.
A dreadful humming assaulted my ears as I shook myself from my meditation on the child's ugly face. The darkening sky was suddenly alive with aircrafts, and city guards in steel masks were swooping precariously close to the chimney.
"Stop!" I yelled, my voice absorbed by the drone of engines and propellers. I lifted Ugly (which I'd immediately settled on as a temporary name for the baby) over my head suggestively, hoping that would give the pilots the message.
They kept coming. Ugly bawled, hands flailing about, as though searching absently for his mother's breast, unsettled by the loud noises. My grip around his soft waist tightened. It was a fear that we apparently shared, loud noises. Though I suspected we had the same thoughts about the prospect of falling to our deaths, I reckoned, as the chimney seemed to zoom upwards, penetrating the clouds, as the ground fell away below us until it was gone, until I could no longer see it -
Whoa, Christ, the ground was falling away below us.
I clung to Ugly as though he were incredibly buoyant and the only thing keeping me from plummeting and disappearing between the chimneys. I raised my head, eyes straining to open against the air that rushed past and whistled and echoed deep inside my ears.
Something flicked me in the face and I flinched. A scarf. It was secured around the neck of a figure with his back to me. A face twisted around to face me.
"Don't worry, fellow, we've got you!" it shouted at me over the roaring wind. A tight black helmet hugged the man's skull, and a set of large black lenses disguised his eyes and half of his face, bound to his head by a thick strip of leather. The scarf hit me in the face again, and I hugged Ugly closer to me, like a child clutching a toy.
"What's -?" I started to ask, when a large black flying insect went against my breath, hit the back of my throat with considerable speed, and forced me to double over in a repulsed, spluttering knot.
The pilot chuckled loudly and heartily to himself. "You should keep your mouth shut, I reckon!"
If I crouched behind the pilot's chair, little Ugly and I were sheltered from the face-shredding wind. I bit my lip as I studied his face once more, mind racing with thoughts of what was in store for us.
"Please!" I called out, hoping the pilot would hear me. "Don't lock me away. Surely some - community service or something would do?" Listen to yourself, I thought. Ten seconds ago, you thought yourself the King of the World, and then some. Now you're grovelling for some unpaid work to avoid being taken to prison.
The pilot laughed again. "Don't piss yourself, fellow! I'm not with those bloodsucking elitists who call themselves the police!"
"Then who are you?!" I demanded.
"Too hard to explain at this altitude - just sit tight, fellow!"