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(1) Aswad

I lay in a field outside the city. The field was on a slight hill so that you could see the whole city below—the whole metropolis, all seven million people. There was a suburb with a similar view to the south—the opposite direction to the field—where the Victorian houses rose up a hill and from the rear drawing rooms, with their white wooden balconies, you could look at the city below. This is the only way to see a city, from an eyrie—a fortified nest. Then you’ll appreciate the lights.

I sat up, for you can never lie down too long in a field—the uneven rocks and the clods begin to intrude into your skin, the insects crawl over you. It was at that moment, as I peered at the city through the heat shimmer and the wheat stalks, that a little lone black jet appeared above. As with all men, I always look up at a low-flying aircraft: I look at helicopters and passenger jets—I especially look at the occasional military jet. I used to collect the books as a child, sprawl over the technical details; the limited production sub-variants from McDonnell Douglas—the prototype jet-propelled nightbomber with a boxy radar array that could reach NYC but never did.

I didn’t recognise the black jet, and that was rare—in those days unique prototypes were in short supply. Oh, it was very black—a real obsidian dagger in the blue blue summer sky, not even an errant cirrus for it to cut through. Preternatural blackness. I watched as it banked towards the city, as the white spray trailed behind it—a deep manoeuvre with the shark’s slow sure lethality. I was fortunate that day, for a week later I stepped through empty streets and smelt sweet smoke from improvised crematoria—and nobody ever knew where all those little jets, over all the world’s cities, came from or went to; although I know they will come again.

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