A Skypunk Story
The Seventh Dimension of Agna'arakon IV: Owen Rendall vs the Red Pirates
It was dawn, and all the Pilots were preparing for the daily launch. The airguards ran about atop the narrow scaffolding, high above clean white cloudscapes, carrying equipment to the Pilots and helping them suit up. Overhead, twenty-three Stormrunners dangled from the belly of the Great Ark, wings folded like giant metal moths, prepared to drop from the belly of the colossal city and into the clutches of death at a moment's notice. Ever-vigilant. Ever-protecting. Ever-prepared to fight off the Red Pirate raids that occurred daily now.
'Another red sky today,
Another storm on its way.'
Owen Rendall jotted a poem into his little beige notebook, like his psychologist had suggested some years ago. She said that, by putting his immediate thoughts and emotions onto paper, with structure, he would be able to better understand himself and sort out the turmoil in his life.
A week later, an ExSec camera caught her jumping The Edge.
Owen had been working in ExSec at the time, and he choked when he saw the tape. She had sneaked past security and to the Exterior, where few precautions were taken against falling into the sky below. She calmly approached to the high banister dividing the Great Ark from the nothing and easily scaled it. On the other side, she hung for a moment and gazed directly into the eye of the spying ExSec camera. It wasn't the first time Owen had noticed how beautiful she was, with her neatly cropped hair, fair skin, and gray eyes full of caring worry. Owen felt her stare into his soul through the glass eye of a camera, learning more in that instant than she had after two years of being his psychiatrist.
She flashed a smile, winked at the camera, and then was gone – swept up by the swirling white clouds.
That all happened years ago, though. Owen seldom gave it much thought anymore. He scratched out the last line of his poem and wrote beside it:
'Another storm come this way.'
Sounded more poetic.
The Pilots were ready for drop-off now, all seated within the Stormrunners.
Gauges, rudders, flaps, pressure...all go.
An airguard standing on the scaffolding waved a signal to Stormrunner 001. A loud hiss filled the air as the airlock disengaged from the craft. Then, one by one, the locks holding it in place released. For a split second, it was suspended in mid-air. Then, in a flash, it fell away from the ceiling, wings opening.
And it was gone – swept up by the swirling white clouds.
Owen didn't think of her at all anymore. He swore he didn't.
But his heart still ached for the sky.
One by one the process repeated with the remaining Stormrunners until all had vanished into the clouds below. A few orphan kids had gathered on the scaffolding to watch the launch. Almost all of them were illegitimate children, abandoned by parents who feared for their reputation should such a child be discovered.
One of them was Hers.
The orphans gathered every day to watch the launch – an escape from the taunts of other children. Flight; the ultimate freedom.
They were the few who would become Pilots.
When the last Stormrunner dropped off, one of the children – an older boy, about 14 – leaned against the rail and strained to peer into the clouds for some sign of the vessel.
“Hey, I think I see it!”
“That's just a cloud.”
“No, not that!”
“Oh wait, I think I – AAAAHH!!!”
The child's weight was too much for the thin metal guardrail, and it buckled beneath him. He tumbled towards the vast sea of nothingness beneath. His arm twisted, caught between the railing. pouring blood into the open sky below and keeping him from following suit. He let loose an agonized scream, wailing and thrashing in a desperate attempt to save himself.
“Help! Somebody, help!” The other orphans cried for help, all too weak to lift the boy on their own. The airguards were all too far away to reach him before the rail gave way and set him free into the abyss.
Owen Rendall had been sitting right next to the children the whole time, watching the launch along with them, as he did every day. They never spoke to one another, but they knew that they were the same. Owen was what they would someday become, and the children were a reminder of what Owen once was. Before he was a Pilot. Before he was stricken down by a crippling stroke. Before she died. Owen had been just like them.
Now, though, confined to his chair, he was helpless to help them. What could he do? He couldn't even stand. Then he looked into the boy's eyes and saw again that reflection of his past self. The airguards were still a ways away, and the rail was weakening with each passing second.
This damned chair was no limit.
The sky was the limit.
Owen wheeled himself over to the section of broken railing and braced himself against it with his left arm. He motioned for the boy to use his good arm to grab the scaffolding. The boy, crying, complied. Then, with his right arm, Owen wrenched the twisted railing, releasing the boy's arm.
Another agonized scream.
Still bracing himself against the railing, Owen grabbed the boy's good arm and heaved him up onto the scaffolding. In pulling the boy, though, Owen's chair began to roll towards the abyss.
He felt the movement but did nothing to fight it.
He looked at the boy – the child he had been secretly watching over for the past fourteen years, since the day she jumped the Edge.
The boy returned his gaze, and through the tears of pain recognized his father.
One of the other children noticed Owen's slow roll towards the edge -
“Hey, mister -”
Owen flashed a smile, winked, and was gone – over the edge, swept up by the swirling white clouds.
He thought about Her every day.
You got a better name?