| [Return to Home Page]
(1988) [Reprinted in "Reality Module No.3" in April 1998.]
There is a city in the sky - towers of gold among clouds of white and streets of glistening quartz. Closer in you can hear the dull thudding of engines, and see smoke bellowing from factory chimneys, the gold blackened with soot, and the people.
The people have no smiles. They wander through the streets with eyes dimmed, blind to the majesty of the clouds, and to the earth so green, so beautiful, so far far below them.
No one notices me as I descend from the sky, my bare feet coming to rest on the quartz road. I look around me - I do not belong here. My name is Erica, my hair is black, my wings the colour of dust, I am dressed in gossamer and moonlight.
I walk in the shadow of the factories. No eyes meet mine. Pressing against a dark wall I watch the grey crowd. No eyes meet mine. The sky grows darker overhead.
I continue walking. I am wearing black shoes now which I have spun from the dreams of the world. The dark walls press on me. I cannot find the building I am looking for.
A stranger asks me: "What is the time?"
"I do not know," I say to his disapproving gaze. His grey form vanishes once more in the churning crowd.
Oh Aeriel, I think, this place is depressing! There is a darkness in everyone's eyes, and an emptiness in all their hearts. I cannot stand it!
I catch sight of my face in a mirror. I have grown grey like they are. It is a disease.
I stop and I close my eyes.
Who am I?
I am Erica Dustwings. I do not belong here. I belong where glass palaces ascend from the forest green, where the roads are paved in silver and gold, where we harmonise in the gift of wings; not here near the throbbing of the machine, not here where all minds have been drained by sorrow.
I come to a decision. I am a child of the Empire of Light. Why pretend to be one of them lost in their darkness?
I cast off my cloth of grey, my shoes of black, and step forth in gossamer white, wings glistening in the sunlight. The storm has passed.
I look around me. Some people have stopped dead, their faces in open amazement. I smile and wave to them. I stretch my wings and prepare to welcome the sky's embrace.
"NO FLYING HERE!" A voice deep. A darkness descends. I cannot see.
I wander aimlessly through the nightmare, my hands brush past empty people, I touch cold walls. The machines become louder. I am inside, the air is hot.
I walk carefully along the warm metal floor, afraid of crashing into machines, being crushed by them.
There is a wall. I stop.
"Who are you?" someone asks. A dry voice, empty of emotion.
I feel rough hands grab me. I am carried along, and cast into a small room. I land heavily. I hear a door being locked.
Inside the cell my sight returns to me. There is the smell of vomit and excrement. It is hot. I feel ill. My wings are torn. My face is bleeding.
The room is small, filthy walls of dull stone. There is a small window. I climb to my feet. I am full of pain.
Sudden laughter inside! Outside is a machine of metal and glass, pulsating with light. A beautiful machine, like a jewel cast into a graveyard. This is the building I seek!
Now how to escape? I ask myself. My arms reach to the black walls. My mind is clearing, I push back the boundaries of the dark.
Come Aeriel, let me remember!
(In a castle once I stood. It was my cousin Amelia Goldenheart's castle. She showed me a box fashioned of glass, designs etched on its sides.
Inside was a rusted key.
"This," she said,"Is the key to the greatest thing on earth! It is the key to tranquillity, it is the Key to the Houses of Eternity."
She placed it back in the box. I did not think that it looked like such a treasure!)
I smile. I know now how to make my escape.
I am Erica, of long black hair and dust-grey wings. In the Empire of Light, I am the plain one. I am no wonder to gaze upon, my beauty is found in mere mortals, creatures lower than the Angels.
I can disguise myself as a mortal woman, and visit the worlds of men. I have done this often.
But I have a secret, another secret. I am like that key!
(Even now I remember the thrill I felt when the Archmage gazed at me with frightened eyes and told me that mine was the power to destroy worlds, and summon worlds into being. I have been dedicated to Aeriel - the Queen of the Houses of Eternity.)
Long ago, the people here had fashioned a machine to run the world for them, to fashion it to their dreams, so that they may play in the sunlight and speak in poetry.
The world they created was hollow, empty of meaning, and they wept to see their desire warped, for by now they had forgotten how the machine was made.
They escaped to the sky, to leave behind their lost hopes and their shattered dreams. They built a palace of pleasure among the clouds, but it evolved into something sinister - the machine came and spoiled everything.
Despair has emptied their minds of meaning. The machine they had built and could not destroy had been too limited to begin with - too mathematical, too geometric, lacking light and colour and poetry.
I must destroy the machine!
I see it out the window. It had made me blind and had cast me into prison. It must be aware of me.
"Machine. Why have you imprisoned me?" I say softly, hoping it will hear me.
Its answer comes and reverberates through my brain:
YOU DO NOT FIT THE PATTERN YOU MUST BE CHANGED.
IT IS THE PRIMARY DIRECTIVE THAT ALL SHOULD BE ALIKE HAPPY.
"What is happy?" I ask. I am smiling now.
The machine remains silent. Then says:
THE PEOPLE ARE HAPPY WHEN THEY DESIRE TO LIVE.
"I want to live."
The machine is silent. I can feel it probing my brain.
YOU ARE HAPPY! it says at last. It remains silent for some time. Then:
I AM NOT SURE WHETHER THE OTHERS ARE HAPPY.
Before me the machine changes from silver gold to a dull red. A deep red like a sun being born.
TELL ME ERICA, ARE THE PEOPLE HAPPY?
"No machine, no they are not!"
The machine blazes orange. The wind screams outside. I feel the city begin to tremble.
I HAVE FAILED! I HAVE FAILED THE PRIMARY DIRECTIVE!
"No machine, you have not failed! You just did not know how to succeed. If the people themselves do not know how to be happy, how could you ever learn the secret? You who are the work of their hands and minds. You are even more limited than they are!"
I stop talking. The machine glows white hot. I am beginning to feel afraid.
WHAT MUST I DO?
I think quickly.
"Return to earth. Restore the laws of nature. Cease your monitoring of the universe. Let things be as they were before you were made!"
I feel the floor begin to descend. The walls are shaking. I hear people scream as the City of Gold comes to rest on the surface of the world.
I pick myself up from where I had fallen upon the filthy floor. The door swings open at my touch, the machine has unlocked it for me.
Outside the machines were still thuddering, but softer now as they prepare to stop.
The quartz streets are shattered, the towers are beginning to fall. The people are gone now. Gone into a world that they have never known, but where they may find what they have lost.
I leave the city. Outside the ground is no longer green with the touch of forests, but is the shattered grey and black of too many nuclear wars. It is rough and painful to walk upon.
I take the black bracelet from my left arm and press the recessed button there. The Queen, Titania, had sent me on this mission and would soon be here to pick me up in her crystal starship.
Copyright © 1988 by Michael F. Green. All rights reserved.
Last Updated: 22 June 2002