Tag Archives: not as big as some though

The Sunrise.

29 Oct

The marker was filled with bullet holes and graffiti, a few grey numbers were all that remained of the original sign. Below it a field of brilliant white, like some strange crop swaying in the morning wind. Garth was finally close enough to see what they really were. Birds, thousands of them. Their corpses lined the road as far as the central gate, the remaining feathers like an eider down protecting the city against the approaching night.

There was no need for the compass now, the great pillars of onyx and obsidian were unmistakable. He dismounted from his horse and went through his remaining possessions. There was still food left in the canvas sack he’d brought. He took some bread, enough to fill his pockets, and with a whistle tapped his horse. She looked at him for the last time and turned back the way she came. She would be home in time for the harvest, they would have need of her there.

Cass got up that morning waiting for something to see. She craned her neck past the towers stacked together like a chessboard into the baby-blue crosses that latticed the city. She barely noticed when she bumped into people on the walkways, and the armoured cars flashed their lights as they swerved around her. Her earbud feed was standard issue, the 15-minute news updates and opt-in subscriptions went unnoticed. On her way to school she memorized the bridges and walkways and made notes on where the waystations were at their lowest. At the thirty-fourth intersection the stop sign had been pulled clean from its base, and one edge had been jammed between two metal plates between factories. Cass walked towards it slowly, glancing from side to side as she waited for somebody to stop her. She peered through the gap between the panels and found a tiny fire there- real fire, made from scrap and moving of its own free will.   A few small figures were silhouetted around the flame, and Cass watched as they laughed and waved their arms. She didn’t understand what she was seeing. One of the figures seemed to be pretending to run, pointing out obstacles along the way. She laughed, and six turned to her in unison. It was then she realised that they were talking directly to each other.

Garth woke at night, gasping for air like a drowning man. He’d been warned that his dreams would be confusing and difficult to understand, but this was unlike anything he could have prepared for. The sheer speed of them was terrifying, thousands of images of shining machines each with unimaginable functions, the voices of a dozen incomprehensible languages shouting all at once. The fire he’d made still smouldered at his feet, the only movement he could see was the rustle of feathers in the faint wind. He was still exhausted from the journey, but exhaustion seemed preferable to returning to a world of nightmares. He took a stick from the fire, and tore a strip of cloth from his shirt and wrapped it around his hand for protection. He set off down the highway, hoping to reach the gate by morning.

Cass sat beneath the winding girders, watching rusty sludge wrap around the enormous architraves and hiss as the beams moved into position. It would soon be midday, and if she wasn’t blank in time for transition she’d only have a few minutes of freedom before she was discovered again. Her left arm began to burn as the tattoos she’d made struggled against her flesh, anticipating the impending reset. She’d practiced the steps with the others hundreds of times, laughing as they mimed the jumps between the girders, squealed as one of them took a wrong step and was burned alive by the billion-watt shields. The counter ticked across her knuckles, the numbers shifting to black as they reached the one minute mark. Cass crouched in position, one eye watching for any nearby guards. With 27 seconds left to go the shifting beams began the midday roar. The hideous scrape of metal on metal vibrated through her teeth, and her eyes felt as though they were filling with blood.

She could see a few people through the wavering gaps in the panels, but none were affected by the noise- their earbuds cancelled out all unpleasant sounds. Cass considered putting hers back in just for a moment, to live for a minute without the terrible screeching. But if she did so, even for a second, the guards would pick up her signal and it would all be for nothing. 23 seconds remained , and as she’d planned a brilliant white fin like a  scythe shot out in front of her. She jumped.

The sun rose across the pillars and caught their reflection, the brightness made dots on his eyes dance like the night sky. He knelt down on the faded bitumen and prayed, whispering promises to the guardians who had protected him from the unknown terrors that lay beyond the great highway. Garth rose slowly, his eyes still adjusting to the brilliance of the city. He adjusted his clothes and brushed the dirt from his knees. It was here that he would discover if the guardians had heard his prayers and deemed him worthy. He stood like a soldier and waited, but there was nothing. The sacrifice!

In his error, he had selfishly sent the horse home instead of offering it to the guardians. While an extra animal to share the workload would help the others survive winter, it was clear that it was intended to secure his passage. He could not bear the thought of returning home in shame, to suffer the embarrassment of seeing his family’s faces as he left with a precious animal for the second time.  Garth trembled as he walked towards the light, his arms outstretched to the morning sunlight. He stared into the sun,  and as the tears began streaming down his face his saw through the glare for the first time. There was an orb of flickering silver and gold, of colours he had only heard about in stories. He clenched his fists as he inched towards the city. His nails dug deep into his palms, and his arms filled with a metallic warmth as the first drop of blood hit the ground. Two, three, six, twelve- he squeezed harder until he was no longer there, all that remained was the sun in his eyes and the pain his hands. The guardians will see, he thought, they will witness my dedication, my command and self-possession. I will leave myself behind to be whole for them. Blackness crept in the corners of his eyes, eating away at the horizon until all that remained was a guiding pinpoint. His legs fell away beneath him, the thin beam flew wildly from his vision and snapped away into nothing.

“I arrived just in time” a voice said through the inky fog. ” You will not survive here much longer”. Garth strained to open his eyes, and staring back at him was a pointed green face with glassy yellow eyes.

The fin shot upwards, the outer limb of one of the great mechanisms which repositioned the city’s energy grid to take full advantage of the sun’s power. From the ground it seemed to take forever to reach its destination, but in person it was a different matter. She hadn’t expected it to be so fast. Cass could feel he organs rushing forward through her body, straining against her thin outreach. Bile began to rise in her throat, and it was all she could do not to black out from the strain. She kept her eyes focused on the lights of the command tower, once she had reached the topmost level she would be beyond sensor range. From there she could find a flyer and be free once and for all. It had never been done before, she would be the first. The others would surely hear of her success, and her victory would inspire them to do the same. All she had to was just hold on.

She lay flat across the ivory surface, the pressure prevented her from moving even if she wanted to, kept her safe from the other grids and panels which swept dangerously close. Thoughts of decapitation filled her mind, she imagined her friends watching from below only to have her frightened skull dropped into their lap. Beyond the roar of the wind a terrible grinding began as the solar array began to reform, the vast triangular panels began to tessellate to a solid mass. The heat soon became unbearable. Her hands erupted in sores and her veins threatened to explode from her arms. The fin began to buckle, the strain of all the extra weight was now keenly felt as it began to slow. It was further than she had predicted but there would be no second chance. Consumed by sweat and fear, she pulled herself from the fin’s surface. With the strain of  an ancient tree, its roots screaming for the comfort of the soil, she felt every section of her spine crackle as she stood. Cass held out her arms to balance. Uneasy at first, she gained speed as quickly as the ground allowed, her feet pushing indentations into the white of the apparatus.

She hopped from one panel to another, the cracks threatening to engulf her at every turn. The tower was less than a hundred metres away. Cass had no choice but to use the panels to get there and as much as she tried she couldn’t always find the edges in time. Her shoes melted from the heat of the panels, the fast-eroding plastics pulling at her heels as she ran. The observation deck was within reach, and she found it deserted as she stepped on the blessedly cool platform.

Exhausted beyond all comprehension, she climbed the ladder on the central pylon . If she never got any further, she would at least have had a moment to feel the wind, real wind, on her face. The soles of her feet were almost completely torn away, each rung agonising and slow. She reached for the guiding beam, the light so many times before, the one that guided ships from other cities to the docking bays. Cass strained to reach it from the ladder, to finally touch the open sky. Her hand stopped. She locked her knees into the sides of the ladder and tried with both hands. She couldn’t move them more than a few centimetres. Cass tried again, harder this time, but nothing. She looked above her and saw a smear of blood across the midday sky. The entire city was enclosed. There was nothing left in her. She let go of the ladder, and watched with a smile as the sky fell away.

He awoke to a gentle rocking and for a moment he felt as though he was home again, safe in the arms of his mother and father. The face that he saw was not theirs, but one made of tiny interlocking emerald plates like a dragonfly’s wing. Garth struggled against the creature’s embrace, but its arms of hardened glass resisted his attempts at escape. The creature stopped and loosened its grip, and tumbled to his feet. For the first time he felt the pressure of the buildings around him. He had lost the position of the sun, so dense were the structures around him. Hundreds of towers leaned over him as though they were the guardians themselves, Showers of glass fell from the sky at unguessable intervals, great holes in the sides of towers threatened to absorb him entirely, and everywhere viscous pools of strange black liquid sat dormant.  Garth had no idea of the function of almost everything he saw, but he knew that one of them contained his final destination.

“Who are you?” Garth’s voice was thick and dry with misuse, it had been many weeks since he’d last spoken with anyone. The creature stood straight, the plates of his face gleaming like a jewel.

“I’m Mister Cricket, your official companion. I am here to guide you. Do you know why you have been selected?”

“Yes. I am Garth of the eastern estates. I have been selected from the markings of my hand, as is our tradition.” Garth displayed his left hand, the faint symbols pulsed with the signs they had come to interpret as the end of their time. ” Have the guardians sent you?”

“Indeed. The guardians designed and constructed my form many years ago. It was their hope that this housing would make the transition less frightening. Are you afraid?”

“I am not afraid. Will you take me to my destination?” Garth, like all the other children of his village, had been taught how to converse with the guardians since the time they could speak.

“You are very brave, Garth. Many who have expressed fear choose to walk, to revisit their city for a final time. However, for those who are brave I have the ability to fly. Would that be more to your liking?”

Garth nodded once.

“Very well. Then I shall carry you” Mister Cricket adjusted his battered top hat and coat-tails, and Garth stood in awe as four gleaming wings sprouted from his back. He took him up in his arms, and together they rose above the city.

Cass awoke, and for the first time in her life regretted that she could. She was strapped down in a hospital bed, but this was unnecessary, her limbs were so damaged that she could not have lifted them even if she wanted to.  All she could was stare. At the other end of her room a woman was waiting for her, dressed immaculately in a charcoal suit. As she realised Cass was conscious she began a slow round of applause.

“You are extraordinary dear, truly extraordinary. If nothing else you should be proud of your efforts. It isn’t every girl that attracts our attention the way you have.” Cass wanted to jump from the bed and tear at her throat, force her to let her out, but all she could do was watch. ” We were particularly impressed with the tattoos you designed, they aren’t like anything we have on file. Brilliant really, you modified the earbuds tracking connections as a sub-dermal implant, all to avoid the very thing it was designed for.”

The woman sat on Cass’ bed and placed one hand on her leg. She looked into her eyes, trying her best to be comforting.

“I want you to know that in different circumstances, your plan would’ve worked. Those towers are undermanned as it is, and if we didn’t have to keep the shield on permanently then you may well have found a way out. I sympathise. Really, I do. I’ve been employed by the guardians for nearly 15 years and I can’t stand it here. The noise, the crowds, it gets too much sometimes.

Your arrival came at a very bad point in our conflict Cassandra. It can’t have escaped your attention that things have been getting worse these past few months, and we simply don’t have the resources to look after everyone as well as we would like to. They’ve been asking for test subjects, people they can study, and if we don’t keep everyone safe then they’ll just take anyone who isn’t protected. As much as you might hate us, we don’t wish that upon anyone.

I’m here because I want to thank you. This idea will save us countless hours in tracking down all the lost children, and freeing up those resources might be enough to win the war. If we do that, they’ll have to return home, and once they’re gone we can let down the shields and we’ll all have new air to breather. Real air. So in the end, you’re going to save everyone. Isn’t that something?”

Cass tried to form a smile but there wasn’t enough feeling left in her face to tell if it had worked. The woman took a needle from her jacket pocket, and injected the liquid into Cass’ drip. As he eyes sank back into her skull she wondered what it would be like to feel the breeze on her face.

Mister Cricket hovered through a gap in one of the tallest buildings, and with Garth in his arms they flew inside the dusty room. He let Garth stand, and he saw the bed with its crisp blue sheets awaiting him. There was a second bed there, the same size as his own. It was covered with a surface like Mister Cricket’s skin but see through. A beam had shattered a hole in her cocoon, the surface covered in glass shards and untouched piles of dust.  He used a piece of his cloth to wipe it away, and beneath the grime appeared a girl’s face. She was around the same age as he was, and her arms and legs were encased in what looked like enormous spider webs. Her face was covered in scars, but even through the glass and injuries he could tell that she was beautiful.

“Your journey ends here.” said Mister Cricket as he bowed his head. “You must make the transition before nightfall or I will no longer be able to assist you”.

Garth lay down on the bed, still staring at the girl on the bed beside him. He wondered what estate she was from, whether her transition had been painful, if the guardians had accepted her. Mister Cricket placed a hand on his shoulder, and from his crystal palm a thin needle shot out and injected Garth’s arm. It felt warm and calming, everyone in the village was going to survive.

“Don’t try and resist the medication Garth, the transition will take effect soon enough. I must go now, for there will be others who need me. You were very brave today.”

“Thank you Mister Cricket, I hope the guardians will accept me.”

“I’m sure they will. Goodbye Garth”. Mister Cricket adjusted his hat and tails and flew off into the sunset. Garth lay still, feeling the medicine spread around his body. His fingers and toes seemed to disappear, then his legs and arms. It didn’t matter. He closed his eyes, and as the feeling reached his heart he saw a brilliant white light appear from the darkness. He wept for joy. The guardians had accepted him, and he would soon join the others in the afterlife. His last thought was the enduring comfort of knowing that he had done the right thing.