This is a little longer, but I wanted it shut down this weekend. That, of course, is not the same as “over.” Few stories are ever over.
The construction of this is a bit different as I’ve made a change to my storytelling.
This was fun; perhaps too much fun, though. What next?
Akaiame stood on the ground before one of the many ways into the shell that was the seven stories of Building #3. It was the north-most of the three. No one lived there.
Well, one did.
A glance at the sky showed the sun just before noon.
Not that that means anything, she thought. In my second week here, I now know that the sun is a lie and clocks outright deceivers. Still: plenty of time for what I want to do here!
The morning after my day with Snaran, I moved into my own room. It might have been a closet, once, but someone had knocked a hole into the adjoining bathroom: a sink & toilet with running water from the aqueduct!
The ground floor seemed to be mostly given over to pallets. She found a large, empty shaft of what had been a freight elevator. Ah! Stairs up next to it! There were several crates that didn’t seem to be particularly accidentally placed at their base, but they were easy to move. Akaiame pushed them to give herself enough room and started up.
First floor. Still mostly just open space with some lathes and drill presses here and there. Along the walls were what might have been offices. She set about looking for a way up.
The next morning, taking a pear from a basket in the room in #2 where they ate, she walked west, thinking about work. I’m not very big… and I don’t have the muscle mass the boys have… she continued without stopping through the working factory area, returning the waves but deeming a smile too much. Going into the town, she saw a few Feathers she didn’t know – girls from Old Home – and nothing like a ‘Help Wanted’ sign. Setting her face to the north, she passed the clothing shop and stopped at another plaza. On the far side, opposite her, was a massive double-gate, set into the Wall. A way out.
There the stairs were! But occluded by the walls on either side, very dark. Looking up was more dark. Akaiame ruffled her wings and climbed.
Definitely dark here on floor two. I can see where the large, broken-out windows are, but someone’s tried to cover them up with tarps and sheets. No more than three steps had her barking her left shin on a piece of metal.
“Ouch!” She shouted as her wings spread in protest.
And she perceived the room. Where she faced, Akaiame now knew where everything was… like a picture in her mind. She turned ninety degrees to her right and extended her wings.
“HEY!” She yelled.
I can take pictures with sound?!
‘Borrowing’ another fruit the next day, Nike’s friend, Nozh, stopped her on the way out and gave her a piece of parchment. More of the gold lettering she didn’t read.
“You’re summoned by the Federation; they sorta run this place,” he’d replied.
“Yeah, Nike mentioned them.” Akaiame glanced at the page and back. “What if I don’t go?”
“I… don’t know!” He looked aghast. “No one’s never not!”
She’d crossed the bridge and plodded southwest. She saw Nike’s café off to the right. She arrived at the crossroads and looked up at the Hill of Winds: about ten rusty wind turbines turned slowly in the easterly breeze. Akaiame took the road that let to the tall hills to the northeast.
Someone was crying. It was up on the hill, so the wind was against her, but that was crying.
She left the path and began up the Hill of Winds. The crying grew louder near the top… there! Sitting just away from a turbine was a girl of no more than ten. Her shabby light grey dress and worn sandals jarring compared to her perfect charcoal wings and her shimmering, silver hair.
Akaiame knelt next to her.
“You okay, little girl?”
She looked up and Akaiame gasped: her irises were silver!
“He… he’s gone!” The little one cried.
“Who’s gone,” she asked, lost.
“My brother!” At that word Akaiame doubled-over from the pain in her gut. “He left me!”
“L… left you?!” She managed, both sick and angry. Why? “Where?”
The little girl stood and pointed towards the dark wood to the southwest. Without a word, she started crying again as she took off running.
“Brother…!” She yelled.
Akaiame made to stand to chase after her, but at that shout collapsed face-first into the tall grass.
Must… get… up…!
Gagging, she stood and began to move after the flash of silver and grey at the base of the other side of the Hill. A rock caught Akaiame’s foot and she rolled the rest of the way down, shouting in pain every time she rolled over her wings.
“That… sucked…” Akaiame pushed herself up just to see the little one vanish into the woods.
“Wait…!” She croaked, running after her.
The woods were dark, but not impenetrable. Akaiame couldn’t see the girl but could follow her crying. It seemed to be just a little lighter ahead…
Akaiame ran out of the wood. Into moonlight. She froze. It smelled like rain.
I hate this place! Where did she go…?
There was a flash of moonlight on the ground moving towards some stone ruins just ahead. The Wall loomed, black and ominous, beyond.
“Wait!” Akaiame yelled, starting after her. Tell me about your brother, she cried!
The silver one threaded through the ruins towards a dais up three steps and maybe two yards across.
“Please, let me – ”
There was a crack of lightning, but was it from the sky or the Wall?! Akaiame stumbled again, blinking her eyes…
The girl was gone.
No… that lightning…no…!
Akaiame staggered forward reaching the dais where she’d last seen –
There was a dirty grey dress, two worn sandals…
And one halo.
Akaiame slumped to her knees. It began to rain.
“Brother…” she muttered.
Once she’d found the ladder she quickly clambered up it. She pushed aside the thin plywood and narrowed her eyes at the light. Were those… ghosts?
No, not ghosts. It bothered her she knew what ghosts were, but not how she knew.
Anything that was taller than it was wide on this third floor was covered by a white sheet. The effect might have been disconcerting to a typical Young Feather, especially after the darkness of the floor below, but…
“Not to a hard-headed jerk like me!”
Her eyes now adjusted to the light, she looked for the next set of stairs.
“Brother!” She yelled, pushing herself up from the bed.
Bed? She looked about.
The layout was similar to the room Nike’d placed her after her hatching, but here it was lighter, warmer… more…
“Feminine,” she muttered, rubbing her eyes with her left hand.
“Oh! You’re awake!”
Some young woman spoke from behind her. Akaiame sat up and turned around, the sheet falling away from her as she did.
The young woman had short hair – red? no, call it dishwater blonde, Akaiame thought – and kind eyes. She wore a white dress with orange bands about the short sleeves. There were a few faint black blotches on her wings.
“I’m sorry!” She said, averting her eyes from Akaiame’s nakedness. “I’ll get you – ”
“Don’t be stupid; I’m fine. Where’re my clothes?”
She watched the other blanch at that.
Such a bother!
“Thank you for taking care of me.” She pulled the sheet up to cover her breasts. “Are my clothes somewhere about?”
“Yes!” The other replied. “We washed and dried them! Oh! I’m Rakka, by the way!”
“’Washed and dried…’?” And… where am I? It was raining… lightning…
“THAT GIRL!” Akaiame shouted at Rakka. “The one with the silver hair and eyes! Where is she?!”
“You saw Silver? Please tell me: where is she? We’re all so worried about her!”
Akaiame stopped. This was not going to be simple.
They sat outside on the sundeck just off the room Akaiame had awakened in. Rakka had just poured her a second cup of tea after listening to her story.
“At least she’s with her brother, now!” Rakka said with a tiny smile.
Akaiame’s tea cup fell from her mouth to the table with a crash.
Akaiame walked northeast from Old Home. At the crossroads she looked left, towards the high hills; towards the Federation.
“Piss on you people.” She said. She wanted to go home.
‘Day of Flight,’ Rakka explained. ‘Gold and Silver were siblings in their cocoon,’ she said. ‘Inseparable’ was the word the kind young woman used.
I had a brother, too! I miss him, too!
She tossed her head, looking about.
I hate this place!
She followed the river in reverse of what she’d done yesterday.
A very nervous Snaran stood on the bridge, halfway across.
“Um…” She began.
Oh. Another piece of parchment.
“You didn’t make you meeting,” Snaran began. “They – ”
“Don’t know,” Akaiame said, taking the sheet from her. She crushed it into a ball and tossed it into the river. Snaran gaped.
“And don’t care. I won’t be here that long.”
Akaiame pushed passed her.
Whomever was at the top must had been counting on the one-two punch of the dark and the fake ghosts. The next stairs were just around the corner.
Empty. The fourth floor was completely empty.
Good. That’s what I was, too.
She’d stayed on her bedroll in her room until late in the morning. She’d heard everyone leave for their work. She could not bear the idea of being around anyone else; she could not bear the idea of living without her brother.
Her stomach growled.
She sat up and headed into her bathroom.
Downstairs and into Building #2, there were no fruit in the mess.
“Crap.” She said.
“There’s this from yesterday.”
Nike poked her in the middle of her back with something.
As she turned he pushed it towards her mouth.
A long, narrow baked bread. The outside was tough, but after tearing that away, the interior was still soft.
It was about two feet long. Akaiame ate half in seconds.
“Got time this morning?”
“Tom in fis plash ish dum!” She said around the bread with her dry mouth.
Nike went to a table along the wall and poured water from a pitcher to a glass. He turned and handed it to Akaiame.
She gulped its contents down and resumed work on the bread.
“I’m not needed at work until just after noon.” He spoke looking past her shoulder at the light outside. “It’s a Trade Fair Day.”
Akaiame had eyes only for the bread.
“That means the Main Gate will be open.”
She spat what bread was in her mouth onto the floor and lunged at the pitcher. After drinking directly from that…
The stairwell was broken. A dark hole of indeterminate distance opened at her feet. Ahead, attached at the top but not the bottom, an out of place ship’s ladder moved a few inches back and forth in the noon breeze.
You asshole, she thought of the one atop this building.
She jumped forward, her large wings beating down at the same moment.
Catching the ladder halfway, she scurried up it.
Climbing out onto the fifth floor she saw a tiny corridor leading about ten yards ahead. There was no access to the outside, so it should be dark. However, the walls themselves were a bright white… bright enough to easily see. She continued forward to what appeared to be a door… with a keypad.
Above the keypad were over two dozen pieces of paper. They all had ink squiggles on them.
Just like the notes from that Federation! I can’t read anything!
Nike had escorted her to the second, northern plaza. Akaiame had been amazed at how everyone, both human and Feather, had known and acknowledged him. No matter what her urgency to get to the Gate, he’d taken time to speak with everyone who spoke with him.
“Difficult, isn’t it?” He said so only she could hear.
He moved them right so the morning sun would not get in their eyes. There were odd… sounds… from the Gate and Wall.
“Being nice to others.”
“Humpf!” She snorted. “Everyone likes you!”
“Everyone likes this lie I’ve made. It’s why I’m still here.”
Nike pulled her tightly next to him, just under the apricot tree.
“My lies; not their desire,” he whispered, “is why I’m still here.”
“You… your Day of Flight…?” Akaiame had learned much in her morning with Rakka.
“Not happening.” There was a huge metallic *crack!* followed by a metal-on-metal squeal as the Gate opened.
It wasn’t blinding, but it hurt to look at. There were about a dozen carts shepherded by three times as many people coming into the plaza. Akaiame kept her eyes on what was beyond the Gate. She could not see the ground, but the sky was a breathtaking blue she’d never imagined.
The Gate shut behind them.
“Has anyone ever thought of taking them hostage and demanding to be let out?”
She was pleased on a number of different levels to feel Nike’s body shaking with laughter against hers.
“No, not until now! There are about forty of them and us two… shall we try?”
Akaiame pushed her wings wide to lean her head back and stare up to his eyes.
“So it’s you and me against their world? Sounds like one on one!”
Kiss me, she begged!
There was a sharp TOK! as a wood staff hit the ground. An oddly dressed man – ceramic mask, tan hood and robes; why were his wings inside those leather –
“That’s the Communicator, the head of the Federation, that you did such a stellar job irritating, yesterday!” Nike whispered into her right ear, his lips just touching –
Akaiame’s shuddered response came from deep inside her.
“A girl…! My brother…!”
“Your – !” Nike began.
“The town and the Tooga will now trade!” The Communicator called. “The unwelcome must leave!”
He lifted his staff and pointed directly at Akaiame. Every eye in the plaza followed.
“You. Must leave!”
For just a moment, it was as if she saw the world through a red filter. That faded as she stepped forward to speak.
“I am!” A few townspeople murmured as she raised her extraordinary wings.
“I am! Leaving!”
Akaiame managed to keep her head and wings up until just past the bridge.
“I hate it here!” She said from her hands and knees.
“So… leave.” A voice whispered from the trees at the right.
Her head came up. Who was…?
“The Gate… or the Sluice…”
“Will kill you. The Wall will kill you.”
“I can dig – ”
“The Federation will see and stop you.”
Akaiame stood up.
“Do you have a way out, coward-voice?!” She shouted at the trees.
No one spoke for some time.
“How?” She whispered.
“Come to the top of Three; tomorrow night. A storm’s coming.”
“What does that mean?”
“What does – ?” Akaiame could tell there was no one there.
Her eyes swam with tears. I’m so close… so…
That one. She’d started at the top left and had been looking down and right. That one: far left and halfway down. She didn’t know what to call it, but she could read it.
‘What colour is a green orange?’
Her hands shook as she held them over the keypad… a surfeit of symbols.
She carefully picked out her answer.
She tapped ‘Enter.’
Akaiame and her wings shook as the bolts clacked and the door swung open.
Coming up the steps in the twilight was one thing. Time, again! Catching the cobweb across her mouth was another. When she tried to brush it out –
Touching the spider the size of her hand made her scream.
She was sitting on a broken bench outside of the three main buildings of Abandoned Factory. Akaiame had been there for what she thought was only a few minutes, but noticed the voices of the other Charcoal Feathers as they came home. Voice that all seemed to mention her.
“I’ve not done anything wrong!” She lifted her head to yell at them, almost all teen boys.
“You! You of all people! Why don’t you rebel? Stand up for yourselves?!”
The movement past her stopped.
“What the – ” The word came to her. “Hell are you afraid of?!”
Everyone but her covered their ears. It was as if the Wall had rung.
“We… we all have hope!” Szikra began.
“Good for you!” Akaiame stood. “I’m taking action!”
She was past the Room for Hatchlings and nearly to hers when she saw him.
Not now! Please not now! I’ll never get out of here if he…!
“Quite the little speech,” Nike said. He lit the cigarette in his mouth and took it and turned it around for her.
She took it.
He made another appear from his hand and lit that one. He leaned left. Akaiame leaned right. The interior of the ‘Factory seemed cold, tonight.
“Yeah,” she finally replied. She pointed at his wings.
“I learned a term yesterday, from an overly nice kid at Old Home.” A drag off her smoke.
“And what was that?” Nike exhaled through his nose.
“That…” She took the cigarette from her mouth and looked at it. “I prefer filterless.”
Akaiame stared at Nike.
“What does that mean and how do I know it?!”
“Don’t know,” he shrugged.
She took a huge drag.
“For another, I’ll tell you a story… about my brother.”
Nike had been reaching for his pocket for smokes. His lighter fell to the ground.
“You remember… you really remember?”
“Naah.” With a last pull Akaiame tossed the butt to the ground. “But… I FEEL!”
“Here.” Nike shook the pack. Akaiame took the one furthest out. She put it between her lips and leaned forward.
He lit it.
A puff in her mouth she pulled into her lungs. She let it out; slow.
“You know, I love you?”
Akaiame took another pull.
“Let me tell you what I saw… no… better! What I saw and felt!” She gestured past him towards her new room. He nodded and let her lead.
Her hands were covered in gore. She’d at least four bites and two stings. Perhaps this was an unanticipated way out…?
Using her sound-pictures she’d found the traps that kept fresh food for the spiders. Once they’d realized this food fought back the rest had retreated to the corners of their webs. But the examples it took…
“Crap! I feel so funky!”
Shaking her arms did nothing and bringing her hands to her face would have been a disaster. Fortunately the way up was totally obvious. She stood just below it.
“Expected everyone who made it this far to freaked out by your pets, did you?!” She shouted up at the two yard diameter hole.
“Did it ever occur to you that anyone willing to come this far was already willing to die?!”
“Did it ever occur to you that if I made it this far, I’m already dead?!”
Akaiame opened her mouth again.
“Yes…” Came from somewhere above. She could see stars though the hole.
To deal with the spiders she’d found a three foot length of plywood with a sharpened tip. It would do.
“You want out?” It was a masculine voice, whispered.
“More than anything.”
In thinking of her reply, the pain came back. This time she only hunched forward a bit… but the loss… the emptiness…
“I want… I want to see my brother!”
“Why?” Same question same tone.
Akaiame retched and spat.
“… to say I’m sorry… I love him…”
“Come up.” The man’s voice said.
“Come up. We go.”
Akaiame stood and looked at the hole above her. A real smile went from her mouth to her eyes.
“Thank you for these!”
With a huge downbeat, her unnatural wings had her up through the hole in one smooth motion. She flared and landed just next too…
Next too… some kind of catapult rail; pointed due east, into the winds. The rail was pointed up, in the direxion of the Wall. She turned slowly to her left.
The shape on the rail she saw first. But the figure next to it…
A Charcoal Feather. Male. His skin was as grey as his droopy, mangy wings. His hands shook slightly, but he’d the eyes of either a prophet or the insane.
“Welcome, Red Rain.” He managed in his raspy voice. “Do you want to find your brother?”
“Ahh!” She cried, hurting as he said that. He waved with his left…
… at the glider. Sitting at the base of the rail, ready to launch.
It looked unstable.
“Will it work?” Akaiame asked, catching her breath.
“How are you so sure?”
“If it wouldn’t, why did He send that?” Engineer pointed over her shoulder.
Akaiame turned to the east…
A supercell storm. A half dozen lightning bolts already rained down each second. It probably contained several tornadoes.
She turned back.
Engineer ignored her. He was walking around to the other side of the glider.
“When I began to build this, I knew I had to build it for two.”
He kicked some wooden chocks out.
“Thought that was stupid. But ideas come into our heads here. From the future. From the past.”
He looked into her eyes as he kicked the chocks out on this side. The glider shuddered, desiring freedom.
He climbed up the side and put himself into the pilot’s seat. He leaned out at her.
“I shall speak the truth to you, Miss, as I’ve done since I was put here… to no avail.”
There was so much regret in his voice, Akaiame thought.
“I thought my second would be Nike. He can’t get out. Looks as if you’re the one.”
He gestured with his left hand for her to board.
“But! But if it’s Nike…! I can go get him – ”
“Fifteen seconds ‘till flight. Get aboard!”
The grinding of her teeth audible to the both of them, she ducked under the starboard wing and stepped up onto it, dropping into the rear seat.
“I hate – !”
“DON’T” Engineer called. “If you do, we shan’t make it over the Wall!”
Why was he holding a brick?
He tossed it at a large metal plate near the base of the rail. There was a clack as a restraint was freed.
“What was – ?” Akaiame began.
They jerked forward, accelerating quickly.
With a rush, they were off Building #3, gaining lift from the gusts from the east.
Akaiame bit her lip as she looked ahead.
Headed directly into the supercell.
“Wall!” Engineer shouted.
She looked down. They’d just cleared the Wall.
She smiled just as their little airframe shook.
Akaiame neither heard nor felt the lightning when it struck.