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The Wings of Leonardo

By Timothy Trimble All Rights Reserved ©

Scifi / Fantasy


What if Leonardo daVinci was able to get a glimpse of what his creations would become? Would this have affected the outcome? Pondering this prompted me to write this short story.

The Wings of Leonardo

Francesco stood on the very edge of the cliff, his arms spread wide, and his eyes open as wide as the distant sun above the horizon. The winds from the ocean washed over him with a constant intensity. He imagined his feet being lifted off the surface of the earth, becoming one with the wind, able to soar among the seagulls, which seemed to laugh at this wingless human — stuck to the ground. He leaned slightly forward, letting the wind hold him back from the grip of gravity.

Leonardo grabbed Francesco by the back of his shirt, pulling him away from the precarious edge of the cliff. “Are you crazy?” Leonardo exclaimed. “If there was a pause in the wind you would surely be splattered on the rocks below, like the droppings from one of those birds.”

“I could feel it, Leonardo,” Francesco replied excitedly. “I know we were meant to fly. It’s in my blood. I can feel it in the depths of my heart,” he stated while pounding on his chest.

“Yes, yes,” Leonardo responded, placing his hand on Francesco’s shoulder. “I know how much you want to do this, but it’s not ready! I still have much work to do, and with the tasks assigned to me by Cesare…,” he shook his head. “I just don’t know when I’ll find the time.” He hated to discourage Francesco, but he needed to check the future validity of his new invention before allowing it to be used.

Francesco shrugged his shoulders. “Yes, my head knows that you are right. My heart, however, wishes to fly,” he sighed. “This is why you are good for me Leonardo. You keep me grounded when my head is in the clouds,” he laughed.

Leonardo laughed along. “Come, come, my young seagull apprentice. We must return to Milan, for there is much work to be done.” Quietly, he added out of earshot of Francesco, “Plus I need the forces of a good storm to allow me to see where this is going.” 

Leonardo double checked the terrain around him to make sure there were no curious onlookers to see him at his work. He hated to be out in the open like this, but he knew it was the only way to get his machine to show him what was to come. He knew a storm was brewing by the feel of the air and how his research papers felt. It was a mad rush to gather up his equipment, pack the horse, and ride out to the country. He knew his feeble excuse to Francesco would have to be explained at some point.

He did not fully understand why his vision machine worked the way it did. All he knew is with the right combination of magnetism, lenses, and the electric rays which were attracted to his iron stakes, connected by his thinly wound ropes — he would be able to peer into the future, to see what was yet to come. After many experiments, trials, and errors — he was able to figure out when in the future he could gaze, based on the number of iron stakes, their positions in the ground, and the ropes connecting them to his machine.

He waited patiently as the winds increased and the dark clouds raced overhead. The stakes were in the ground — distant enough to draw the rays away from him, yet close enough to push the energy into his machine. The pouring rain provided the link along the ropes to his device. The contraption of metal, magnets, and lenses, bound with leather and wood, was so heavy he had to devise a tripod to keep it steady. He took one more look at the sky and then he placed his face into the opening of the device. He pulled a black cape over the top of his head and the device, to prevent the light of the electric rays from blinding his view of the future. Then he waited.

As Leonardo waited, he pondered over the many times he was able to get a view of what was to come. The first time he was able to see the man made wall for storing up water. This aided him greatly when he was drawing the plans for providing water to the city of Florence all year long. Cesare was very pleased, he thought with a smile. However, the time he saw the man made bird was truly amazing. He would never forget the image of the winged structure as it flew across the sky. So straight and so rigid was its path, that Leonardo struggled for months to try and comprehend how such a device could stay aloft without the constant movement of the wings. He hoped that his own flying machine would be the beginning.

The sound of thunder roared from a electric ray strike just over the hills. Leonardo stared into the opening of the device, hoping a blink of his eyes would not cause him to miss a glimmer of the future. He could feel the energy in the air. The smell of ozone was crisp in his nostrils. His heart began to race with excitement and anticipation. He dared not to move or look outside of the cloak for fear of what he might miss. He was aiming for 400 to 500 years in the future this time. Farther than he had ventured to gaze before. To gaze any farther he would need more iron stakes and a second horse to carry them.

The crack of the electric ray was intense. Leonardo jumped slightly from the sudden noise. He could feel the hairs on his skin dance in the perspiration from the humidity. He could hear the sizzle of the electricity as it fluttered through the air, providing the necessary energy for the magnetic fluctuations and distortions into the future. He stared intently into the lenses as the darkness turned into tunnels of light. The tunnels spun wildly and merged into a single point of light, which expanded to fill the lenses. Leonardo moaned with excitement as he watched the light turn into a distant view of clear sky. He could see tall structures extending high into the sky. Higher than any structure that he had seen before. He tried to peer into the sky above the buildings.

“Yes,” Leonardo shouted as he caught a glimpse of what he was expecting. It would be the evolved result of his new invention. He watched as a single man made bird of straight wings fly over the top of the buildings. It passed by quickly. He was disappointed in the short duration of the view when suddenly he saw a flock of the large birds appear. They were flying in the shape of a large V. As hard as he tried, he was not able to count their numbers. One formation then two appeared. More came and passed over the buildings. Tiny seeds began to fall from the man made birds. Leonardo gasped at the number of seeds that appeared. Hundreds he guessed. The view of the sky was suddenly blocked by the appearance of stone and materials from the buildings. Smoke appeared and cleared, and appeared again. Leonardo struggled to see the cause of the distortion.

Once again the smoke appeared and disappeared. He saw the buildings become torn and shattered. The image started to fade as the charge from the electric ray dissipated from his device.
A small electric ray reached out from the clouds above and struck the iron stakes. Leonardo praised God above for his extended time with the future. The image grew full in the lenses as Leonardo held his breath, for fear that his movement would take the future away. He watched as more seeds fell from the great birds in the sky. More smoke, flames, and shattered buildings appeared as Leonardo began to cry with the realization of what he was watching.

The man made birds were weapons! Weapons of mass destruction so great, it put the idea of his own wooden cannon house to shame. The birds dropped hundreds, or maybe thousands, of their cannon balls upon the city of the future. As the image started to fade, Leonardo caught one last look at something that shook his very being.

A woman appeared in the center of the image. Her clothes tattered and ragged. Blood ran alongside the tears streaming from her eyes. In her arms was a young child, limp and lifeless. She seemed to be looking right at Leonardo through the image, pleading for his help, to make the pain go away. The image slowly faded into blackness.

He violently kicked at the tripod support for his machine, causing the bulk of the device to fall to the ground, the lenses shattering on impact. Leonardo stood and tore the black cape from the device and flung it behind him. He looked up into the pouring rain, hoping the intensity would wash away the image and the pain that it brought. He fell to his knees and cried as the vision of the child lingered in his mind. 

Several days after Leonardo’s use of the vision machine, Francesco bounded into the large workshop with the excited anticipation of a new adventure. “It’s launch day, Leonardo,” he stated as he looked around the workshop. He found Leonardo sitting at the great hearth, his back to Francesco. The flames of the hearth were larger than normal, creating an erie glow around Leonardo’s silhouette.

Leonardo didn’t answer.

Francesco stepped over to the drawing table that Leonardo used for all of his designs. The drawings of the flying machine were no longer there. The inkwell was still moist with fresh ink and several quills sat on an old scratch parchment off to one side. Francesco could tell Leonardo had been drawing again.

“You’ve been up all night?” he asked.

“Yes, my young apprentice,” he replied without moving. “I’m afraid we are not going to fly today.”

Francesco was dumbfounded. So much time and effort had gone into designing and building the flying machine. The winds were good and they had planned on testing it today. He ran across the room to the stables door and stopped at the opening. The flying machine was gone! His heart sank and tears welled up in his eyes. He knew Leonardo was prone to his own eccentricities but this was a major blow to scientific progress. He turned to face Leonardo. “But why, Leonardo?” he exclaimed. “I don’t understand.”

“The design was flawed,” Leonardo answered. “It was not natural.” He stood up with a rolled up parchment in one hand. He held it out for Francesco.

Francesco stepped over and took the roll from Leonardo. He rolled it out and held it in the air, letting the glow from the flames dance behind the drawing. The design was completely different from what he had seen before. Instead of the straight wings covered with stretched leather, these were more in the shape of an actual bird. Gone was the long round body for holding a man. All that was left was a harness with controls for moving the wings.

“This does look more like a bird,” Francesco stated. “You were so committed to the other design. We spent months working on it, building the frame, stretching the leather. Is it all gone?” Francesco asked, gazing at Leonardo.

“It made for a nice fire,” Leonardo spread his hands at the hearth. His look was very distant, yet at peace.

“This is so different than the other. Are you sure that this will work? What was wrong with the other?” Francesco was intent on knowing why all his recent work had gone up in flames.

“It was not natural,” Leonardo restated. “I feared that it would lead to a unnatural progression of events.” He gazed at the fire in the hearth without really noticing the flames.

“Events?” Francesco asked. He was totally confused. He knew the capabilities of Leonardo were far beyond what he could do. Leonardo was the master builder, the architect, the Cardinal’s personal designer.

Leonardo looked back at Francesco. “It was a design that was not meant to be!” he stated boldly. “If we are to create and design machines for mankind to use, then we have a responsibility. A responsibility to follow the natural progression as God intended. The other design would have lead to unnatural events which would have endangered our entire existence!” Leonardo gazed back at the fire. He looked as if he had aged another 10 years in just a few moments. The weight of the world was upon him.

Francesco was confused but also amazed. Here in front of him was the greatness of a man so intelligent, so creative, the likes of him the world had never seen before. Yet, he was just a man, burdened by the weight of his own creations. He pondered how just a man, could have such vision for the future? Francesco shook his head in amazement.

“This design,” Francesco stated while holding the drawing up in the air, “when do we begin?”

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