Under the Shield
by Stephen Kotowych
The claustrophobic sound of breathing filled Peter Trevelyan's gas mask as he
surveyed the subway platform. Bodies lay everywhere, even on the stairs and
hanging over the platform's edge, shrouded in a yellow-green fog of chlorine gas.
What a horrible way to die, thought Trevelyan as he stepped carefully so as to not
disturb the corpses. He'd investigated more anarchist attacks in the four years
since Tunguska than he cared to remember, including gassings. These people had
died in agony, their lungs bleeding and destroyed.
Tsar Nicolas's agents in New York were growing bold in attacking a subway
station. The creeping mist had been delivered through the ventilation system,
descending on a platform packed with rush-hour commuters.
Fulton Street Station was in the Financial District, so most of the dead were
businessmen, but there was also an old woman who lay in a bloody heap by the
stairs, trampled to death in the pandemonium. And a mother who'd thrown herself
over her two sons, vainly trying to shelter them from the gas. The younger boy
still clutched one of those new stuffed bears; the ones named for President
Something odd caught Trevelyan's eye: at the far end of the station a single body, a
woman, sat upright on a bench. He made his way to her.
She was dark-haired, no more than twenty. He tugged at the long hose and canister
of his gas hood, pulling the canvas taut to get a better view through the hood's
round, glass eyes.
Wearing a flower-print dress under a beige overcoat, she'd been pretty. Her body
sat facing the downtown tracks, her head tilted down and to the side, looking
peaceful. Trevelyan might have thought she were asleep if he didn't know better.
All the other bodies were on the ground. Why hadn't she joined the stampede?
Who sits calmly on a bench through an agonizing death?
Trevelyan waved his arms to get the attention of the photographer and motioned
for a picture of the dead girl. As the flash bulb fired, Trevelyan wondered who the
freelancer was this time. City cops usually contracted crime-scene photography to
whoever slipped them a twenty first. It was even-money whether the photo would
be in the morning papers before it was on his desk at the Bureau.
He checked the dead girl's pockets for identification, finding none. One did yield a
small, crumpled paper bag with a smeared purple stamp. Peering inside by
flashlight, Trevelyan made out a few pinches of grit. Birdseed? No purse
accompanied the body -- her ID may have been in there, wherever it had ended up.
Pulling at the long gold chain around her neck revealed a golden crucifix hidden
within her dress. He fingered the three crossbeams of the Orthodox cross for a
moment and then placed it carefully back within the woman's dress.