Ryu ran his hand gently over the seat. The leather was of exceptional quality. It gave out a soft warm glow. Whoever owned the car had a great deal of money and impeccable taste. It was craftsmanship of the highest order. The stitching, which must have been done meticulously by hand, was completely uniform, tightening the tan leather into place here and there with beautiful grey thread. No doubt it would have been a time consuming job. A lot of effort, all aiming to ensure that the passenger had the most comfortable journey possible. Ryu imagined the satisfaction that the worker must have got from finishing the upholstery to this standard. It must have taken years of training to become this skilled at upholstery. He wondered whether it’d been a struggle to become as brilliant as the craftsman clearly was, whether he’d spent long arduous days toiling and long nights despairing over his work, or whether he’d shown a talent for the craft from the offset. Perhaps he came from a long lineage of similar craftsmen and the talent had somehow seeped into the family’s DNA like swallows’ emigration routes across the oceans towards the tropics.
The sound of the bird’s huge wings interrupted Ryu’s thoughts. The strange creature was still following them, or maybe leading the way. Try as he might it was impossible to tell whether the bird was beyond them or behind. Perhaps they were both tracking the same shared migration routes themselves, neither leading the other, instead tracing those invisible maps across the earth. Ryu peered out of the window at the relentless passing scenery - the landscape always still, ever changing. A barren vista, bare of trees, clear of urbanisation, empty of sprawl. It felt like a journey into man’s past. The ride was smooth and silent but he was unsure of whether there could be any road to follow through this remote region. No doubt the car also had superior suspension. He tried to remember getting into the vehicle but his mind was blank. Nothing. He would have liked to ask the driver about it, but each time he tried a peaceful entropy gripped all of his limbs and numbed his tongue, and in the end he gave into the journey and the regular beating of the wings and tried to settle his mind. Reaching down, Ryu ran his hand over the hole in his stomach with something like idle curiosity. Peculiarly he felt little pain. He traced the edges, still covered in that sticky ooze, and felt a surge of embarrassment that he might sully the beautiful back seat. He glanced at the doors either side of him that he must have surely used to climb into the car. The more he groped through his mind for the moment when the journey began, the more it eluded him. Every time he thought the memory was coming, it vanished, like a child trying to catch a bubble. He tried to piece together the elements he did remember - Warren Square lined with people, a comic book drifting in the breeze, flipped to a page by the wind and sullied by a muddy footprint. A superhero clad in red. Fist aimed towards the sky. Ryu wondered if the page would ever be read again. Other memories too - the taste of hot coffee, the smell of warm biscuits, and against the murmuring of the crowd, nearer to him, a child’s laughter and the crackle of a radio reporting on some far-away war. Was it being lost or won? Ryu couldn’t remember. In war there are always losers.
The sniper must have been a craftsman just like the man who made these seats, Ryu thought. Calm. Focused. Meticulous. A man who had the patience to practise until his hand was steady and his aim unerring. With all of those people around, just a single shot and he was hit. A subtle change in the world. A craftsman’s index finger curls half an inch nearer to his palm. A stitch in a seat. A bullet in a man. A subtle change perhaps, but a change nevertheless. Ryu remembered the echoing crack of the shot, the strange bird swept up by the disturbance and the near simultaneous realisation that something was wrong with his stomach. Somehow pieces were missing from the jigsaw. He had just one more snapshot. The bird swooping overhead - bright red crest and flecked yellow markings edging its huge black wings - an ancient behemoth - and his urge to follow it, a long buried, shared pre-triassic longing for flight.
The car barreled on and Ryu fought the lethargy to pat his trouser pockets. In one he found some gum, a lighter, and a pack of cigarettes, in the other an old mobile handset. He pressed the phone’s power button and lit the last crumpled cigarette while he waited for the phone to switch on. For one blissful moment he lost himself in the cigarette, breathing the smoke in and out in time with the sound of those powerful wings. A brief moment without thought. An alert sounded from beside him and he tapped the phone to reveal a lone text message, just two words long. It read “Target eliminated”.