The Iron Man (Short Story)

iron man flamethrower tiberium sun command and conquer

It looked like an army had destroyed the area.  A whole cluster of slums burned down, along with the people sleeping inside. Whatever it was, it struck in the dead of the night and swiftly turned homes and lives into ashes.

It was chaos. The fire was blindingly white; most people suffocated to death after their shelters collapsed on them. Those who were lucky enough to escape could only run a few steps into the open before their skin melted off the flesh and they collapsed in a heap.  Man or woman, child or adult, abled or disabled; not a single person survived and there were no witnesses. It was a massacre of the worst kind.

The municipal authorities declared that an electrical short circuit started the fire and closed the matter. The police cited a lack of witnesses as the reason that the case had hit a dead-end. Politicians couldn’t capitalize on it, as there was no one alive to ask for compensation. The incident dominated the local news for about a week, but the coverage fizzled out when a celebrity made a controversial statement about a political issue and ended up hogging all the media attention.

The horror was just beginning to fade in public consciousness when it happened again. Another slum pocket, this time a bigger one, turned to smoke and ash before anyone trapped in the hell could comprehend why their eyelids were melting over their eyes.  It was a repeat of the earlier incident with one little exception- there was a witness. A little boy who had woken up to relieve himself on the nearby railway tracks saw exactly what had happened.

He recounted the events of the night in gory detail to the cops. He talked in short phrases, telling a story of how his mother had accompanied him to the tracks, how they saw a large man in a metal suit carrying a gun that sprayed white fire, how his mother ran back to save his sister and never returned. He kept pausing in-between to ask if his mother is okay. The cops lied that she was recovering in a hospital, when in reality they had found the scorched remains of a woman tightly clutching a child.
Even the boy’s memory of what happened that night only painted an incomplete picture. How could a genocidal madman in a metal suit, whom the media had christened “Iron Man”, move around freely with only the darkness to cover him? The media blamed the cops of being uninterested in the protection of citizens. The cops blamed their lack of manpower, technology and firearms on politicians. The politicians blamed it on terrorists and the opposition. Amidst all the hoopla, there was no solution being formulated to prevent this from ever happening again. It was only the people who lived in nearby slums; those who were at risk of losing their lives and loved ones next, who took up arms and started keeping all-night vigils.

But the next victims weren’t powerless, helpless commonfolk. Now, it was the turn of the big dogs. The same fiery fate befell those at the highest ranks of power. Inspectors, commissioners, ministers and even the head of the state, were all turned into molten heaps of skin and flesh. Next were the big corporate honchos, burned to death, trapped in their ultra-luxury cars. It seemed that there was no one who could stop the Iron Man from destroying his targets.    

The entire city had collectively turned paranoid. No one had any clue about what this mysterious beast was or what it wanted. Some though it was a demon, sent to punish the sinners. Thousands of volunteers came together to conduct patrols throughout the day. Ragardless, the Iron Man struck again. Some slum-dwellers who had seen him coming from a small distance away raised a commotion, but it was practically of no use. Gathering in a mob only made it easier for them to be killed in one random spray of fire. Once again, there were no survivors.

Some volunteers and cops were on patrol rushed to the spot when they heard screams accompanied by rising smoke. They couldn’t believe their eyes when they saw the Iron Man slowly lumbering away from the inferno. They reached for their guns and opened fire. The killer’s suit was bulletproof but it’s bulk limited the wearer’s mobility. One of cops sprinted ahead and positioned himself in front of the metallic beast.  One perfectly-aimed shot at the helmet's weakest point- the eye guard- slayed the devil.  The cops quickly approached the body and took off the helmet. All they saw was an unremarkable-looking man with a bullethole in his right eye. Backup arrived and searched the area thoroughly for accomplices. They found a van which contained only 3 things- a spare flamethrower, few gallons of homemade fuel and a piece of paper containing a message. These were the contents of that note:

Dear World,
If you have found this note, it means I am dead. Who I am is not important. What matters is what I do and why I do it.

I was born a man, but now I am a force of nature.  I was given a form and put in this place for a purpose. I understood that purpose only recently.

This city has turned to shit and it’s my mission to save its people. I have a plan: start from the bottom and move upwards, slowly cleansing this city of the pests and parasites that are sucking the life out of it.

First, go for the lower classes. The sub-humans who drive down the value of human life with their huge numbers. Fools who have no option but to work till their body fails and then be replaced by their own children who have no education, no dignity and no hope of ever escaping the cycle of exploitation.  They are too stupid to see the pointlessness of their own existence, which is why I must wash them away with my cleansing fire. I act not out of hate, but out of respect for human life.

Once I wipe out the cockroaches, it’s time to slaughter the pigs. The businessmen who profit from the stupidity and misery of unsuspecting slaves. Greedy leeches who pay their workers just enough so that they don’t try to start a revolution. And the politicians who work with them to keep the people stupid and hungry. The oligarchs who took the reigns from previous oppressors and now want to pass it to their undeserving children. Corrupt wolves in sheep masks who will let no one except their own tribe rise. And yet they have the balls to ask for votes from those same people whose faces they press their boots on, with promises they never intend to fulfill. They all deserve to burn for their sins.

It’s now or never. If I don’t do it, no one will.