I woke up to a thump. At first, I thought it was part of my dream, but the muffled shouts that followed wouldn’t be allowed in this place. I opened my eye and felt dry flesh pull along the glass of the other. GuardFred was staring back at me as his blood pooled beneath him and his eyes lost their light.
“Ah,” I thought to myself. “He thumped.”
I sat up with a jerk and tried to find the woman. I knew it had to be her. She had killed the others, and she was after me. Poor, inoffensive GuardFred had died because I knew too much.
I couldn’t see anything. There were too many shadows, not enough light. A face appeared, smaller and lower than I had expected to see. It looked like a boy or girl from the street, something of that sort. Was that actually the murderer?
“Do you really start so young?” I asked.
The kid looked at me, face squished and furrowed with confusion. She looked up into the shadows behind her, just above her head.
“She won’t. I did,” the shadows replied. The woman I had been expecting.
“Ok, then. You got me. Please just be fast about it. Death is preferable to being in this place any longer.”
The woman sighed and began wiping her knife on GuardFred’s jacket.
“What makes you think I want to kill you?” she asked.
“I know too much about them, about their desire to keep us trapped up here, whether or not it kills us all. I know how to stop them, and if you knew everything I do about their plans, you would want to stop them too,” I responded, suddenly angry. I was startled when the woman started laughing.
“What’s so funny?”
“I don’t want to kill you for that. I need you for that. There’s a machine inside this building. Only you know it. I need you to make it bring us to the earth.”
“Because they won’t like that. I also want to kill them. By stabbing them. But also by freeing everyone from this place.” She gestured at the kid behind her, “So she doesn’t have to become me.”
“Why would she ever become you?”
“I was not so different from her once. You meet people. No one should ever have to be me.”
She picked up GuardFred’s keys and unlocked my cell. I looked at her warily.
“I don’t believe you.” I stood and retreated to the back of the small room.
She smiled, all broken pieces and rotting gums. “Good. You’d be stupid to. We don’t need stupid. Maybe this,” she tossed me two pieces of glinting metal, “will change your mind.”
Fumbling with my eye socket, I removed the glass ball and turned it around. With these two, it was the last piece. I had them all now, all of the fractured landing gear.
The street rat sighed and tapped my arm. “Honestly, are you going to sit there all frigging day?”
The room with the machinery was long, narrow and dark. There was a long and rusty-looking metal lever along one side, sticking out of a mess of gears on the wall. On the opposite wall, about 25 feet away, I saw the grouping of hollows in the wall that I had been told of my entire life— the place for the pieces. It was the failsafe. The way to the ground. Home.
I was suddenly glad that the others were here. While I could put the pieces in the correct way, the others would have to pull the lever at the right time.
My hands shook as I tried to hold all the pieces. Fumbling, always fumbling.
Behind me, the street rat kicked the metal wall. “I wonder what the ground will be like. Mom always said there were cats. Not like the ones here, all fat off pigeons. But that’s probably not true. Dirt, though. Actual ground stuff.”
The woman sighed. “My sister always talked about tigers. I think that was some kind of flakey cat, I think, or maybe a type of frosted food. I can never remember.”
The pieces I had been struggling with clicked quietly together.
I turned to the two of them and held it up.
“Tigers or not, we’re going home.”
I continued to shake as I laid each piece in its appropriate hollow and listened to the sound that meant the gears inside had been engaged. When everything was set, I shouted to the killer to turn the lever.
I could imagine the city. Everything was shaking, clattering and clamoring. I felt my stomach lurch and my balance go away.
In the city, a shopkeeper with a small bladder fell head first off of his chamber pot. Street rats scavenging for scraps in the gutters ran out of the way as whole buildings cracked and peeled. A botanist in her glass roost stopped rooting in the fake soil and stared up at the suddenly ascending clouds. A butcher in a backroom of the city looked at a dead detective and smiled. Somewhere, members of our glorious oligarchy clung to the structures of their houses and watched their power slip away.
I could imagine the ground. A lake, filled in and forgotten. The perfect shape for our forgotten city in the clouds.
I hoped that my ancestors had told the truth and that this world would be better than our last.