“Dark, dark my light, and darker my desire. My soul, like some heat-maddened summer fly, Keeps buzzing at the sill. Which I is I?” – Theodore Roethke
Neriko went through the door and out into the street and headed toward the gas vents and the dockyard. There he stopped in front of the largest of the hangars and looked down at a massive steel lid that was screwed into the rock and covered a gas-spewing shaft. A thick pipe went from it and into the hangar through the wall. Neriko saw a side door and entered. The sound of heavy machinery echoed from the high metal ceiling and walls: pistons thumped, cogs rattled, pipes hissed. The workers operating the machines looked up at him as he let the evening sun fall in through the opened door onto the oil-splattered floor. He closed the door and stood and absorbed it all for a while as if the dirty sight was a work of art and the cacophonous wall of sound, music. Neriko stopped a man pushing a trolley loaded with gas bottles and asked if Aton still worked there.
Yes, The man said and pointed at a windowed room atop a spiral staircase. There was the silhouette of a man in the window. It disappeared, and the door swung open, and the man walked out onto the top of the staircase and grabbed the railing.
Neriko! He called out and smiled. He motioned for Neriko to come up the staircase and went back in through the door. The room had a desk and two chairs. Nothing more. The men sat down and looked at each other in anticipation.
The stories I have heard about you, Aton said…
Half are lies, and the rest are exaggerations, Neriko interrupted before Aton could finish his sentence.
Did you get stuck in some windlass? Aton asked as he looked at Neriko’s arm.
Neriko hesitated and answered, Yes.
Where have you been all these years? Aton asked.
All the places we dreamt about as children, Neriko said. I followed the river to the sea, and then I went to City of Slaves. There I visited the Dreamers’ Den, if you’ve heard about it. Then I robbed Vault 7.
Fuck you, Aton said. You’re full of shit.
No, I’m not, Neriko said with a laugh and sat back in the chair.
You know, Aton continued, If it hadn’t been for that airship of yours, I wouldn’t believe you. That day your guy came here wanting to talk to me about a job and showed me the drawings of that fucking beast; I thought he was fucking with me. I didn’t take him seriously at first, but when he showed me the ten thousand credits he wanted to pay us upfront, I knew he was serious. Fuck me, he was serious. You know Neriko, we had to put every other airship we were building on hold until we had her finished. Our supply of gas is still low after we emptied it to make her fly. Well, fuck that. How did you get into Vault 7? That’s the important question.
I never entered Vault 7, Neriko said. I made the bankers give me what I wanted. You see, City of Slaves has high walls and heavy cannons, elite soldiers, and all kinds of war machines with no equal in the known world. However, that doesn’t stop an airship from raining fire upon them. There’s one thing that we here on Red Rock can do better than everyone else: build flying machines. We had total air superiority against their rudimentary airships. Turns out you can’t build them good without electronics. For five days, they kept trying to extinguish the fires before the people made the bankers give me the credits from Vault 7. They had to choose between that or revolution, the bankers. Thus, they had no choice.
How much? Aton asked.
I don’t know, but we tried to count them and stopped about halfway through. Somewhere around one billion in total, I believe. Good thing their currency doesn’t weigh much. We would’ve been fucked if they used gemstones as the Kingdom. Anyhow, that’s not why I came here, Aton; I came to ask if you have reconsidered joining me. I need a man I can trust. A man of my own people. Someone who knows me well and can see to that my head is screwed on right. I’ve been questioning that lately, Neriko said under his breath as he looked at his hands.
You know I would if things would be otherwise, but I’ve my family to care for, and I can’t leave them here and go flying around the world, Aton said.
Flying around the world, Neriko muttered, still looking at his hands. Do you think that’s what I’m doing, Aton? Flying around the world? This isn’t about me; this is about something much bigger. It’s about all of us—all of the world. We have it good here in Cloudhome. We’re sheltered from the cruel world outside and fed by the vents and the forest. You can’t imagine how it is out there: all the wars and the famines, the gods playing their cruel games, the slaves living their lives never seeing the light of the sun, the rich stand on the shoulders of the poor not caring if they live or die as long as they can reap the rewards of their labor, the threat of the Old Ones always hanging like a shadow over it all. I want to stop it before it is too late, and I believe I can. That’s what I need you for, Aton. I need you to help me save the world… or at least make it into a better place.
Aton looked at Neriko and said, That’s not what I meant; you’ve always been an idealist, Neriko, and a good person. Do you remember when we were children foraging in the forest? At the end of the day, you wanted us all to put the berries and mushrooms we had found into the same basket before giving them to the leader. Even though you were one of those who always had gathered the most. From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs, you used to say. That’s the kind of person you are, Neriko, and I know that. I can’t promise anything, but I’ll speak to my wife, and when you return here next time, I might join your cause.
The two men rose and embraced each other before saying goodbye. Then they embraced each other again. It was dark outside when Neriko left the hangar and the dockyard. Darker was the Radiance’s shadow as it engulfed the city. As it blocked out the moonlight. Neriko followed the main street through Cloudhome to the elevator. Osnar and the crowd were long gone. He stood for a while, breathing, thinking, looking out over the ledge and the rolling sea of clouds hiding Mistwood beneath them. Then he looked up at the sky and the moon and whispered to himself before entering the elevator and closed the doors. That was the last time his feet touched the red rock of his homeland.