Just A Feeling
Armistice Wells knew he was going to die today. He just had that feeling. His hand shook as he wrote the second, and final, note that he wrapped around the energy gun he always kept on him now, more for peace of mind than anything. His fingers shook as he tied the piece of string to secure the note onto his gun.
He sighed and strapped the gun securely into his harness, making sure not to accidentally hit any of the cables that kept his wings currently folded neatly on his back. He had always wanted to be a flier, and he was lucky, because his father had been one, and that’s how it worked. It ran in your family. He didn’t know of anyone who was a flier who didn’t love it. Armistice knew he would be unhappy in any other job. Flying was the one thing that made sense when you were on the top of the world – or at least the top of your world, where you lived, the only one that mattered. From the top, on a clear day you could see for miles in all directions across the United American Empire. When he was younger, he used to love to sit within the barriers, right up against the guard rail that protected you from the sheer drop, six tall levels, with the seventh hidden underground, and watch the airships glide by in the distance like swollen cocoons. He loved to watch them dock at the piers, one on each of the four sides of the city, and watch them unload their goods, like the sailors he read about. From the top of the city, he could just see a sliver of silver on the horizon that indicated the ocean.
But now, fifty years later, the airships had lost their appeal; they were nothing special, just an everyday occurrence. But flying never had. He loved the adrenaline rush of taking a running leap off the edge into nothingness, and letting the wings open up and out lifting you, with steam powered assistance if necessary, and then drifting downwards, to deliver your messages to the people below, in the Middle.
Armistice had loved his life, and his job, until he was snatched away from it all, like a butterfly caught in a net. He had believed once you were a flier, you were one forever. But the Elders at the ArcHive had different ideas. They said there were too many messengers, and that keeping the ArcHive going was more important, that it was above all else.
Armistice had seen the ArcHive buildings, of course. They dominated the middle of the topmost level of the city, where he lived. They were just like their name sake – a cluster of domes, like the hive of an insect, but inside was housed the history of the Empire. Not just the general histories – the wars, the Emperors, the Coalition, but the histories of every single living, breathing person, as they lived, their lives were recorded. Years ago it had been noted down in books by automatons, who would never tire, never cramp, never complain, and could download the information that was streamed from the tiny chips embedded in every person, the moment they were born, that recorded their lives, their experiences, as they lived. But the ArcHive quickly began to fill up with large, paper volumes. But then the Computing Machines were invented and information was transferred almost magically onto them, and whole volumes were saved onto paper thin discs that were shelved next to the ancient leather bound books.
Armistice had just about begun his run towards the edge of the building that didn’t have a barrier, the jumping off point for winged messengers, when a hand landed on his shoulder. He turned and looked into the hooded face of a robed Elder. He recognized him as being from the ArcHive. “We need your help,” the man said sombrely, managing somehow to turn Armistice away from his running path.
“Why me?” Armistice said, confusion creasing his features. His wings were still lowered across his back. He only had to press a single button to eject them outwards.
“The Fate of the Empire lies in our hands, and we need help to keep it going. If we do not have a history, we do not have a nation, we do not have anything.”
“But-” Armistice’s wings rustled in a slight breeze.
The robed figured interrupted him. “The Master Elder has instructed me to bring you to us. You need to help us maintain the records. Maintain the scribe-bots, and keep them functioning, ensure records are filed correctly.”
“But I’m not a New Alchemist! I don’t know how to fix anything!” He lied. He did know how to fix one thing – his wings. But he was taught how to do that by his Father, as he was by his. His wings were literally and figuratively his life. He had to make sure they were in perfect condition. To neglect them meant death.
“We will show you how to fix the bots when they break, how to file the records in their places. We will show you everything you need to know.” The man in the white Monk’s robe said. “Look,” the Elder said, pointing to one of Armistice’s colleagues who had positioned himself at the end of the launch lane, and started pumping his legs like pistons, and at the last moment, loosed his wings which arced upwards gracefully just as his feet left the edge of the top. “You see? There are too many of you.” Beyond the man that had just become airborne, Armistice could see other winged men in white flying, floating and fluttering in the sky – and this was just on the one side of the city – there were three others.
Shoulders slumped, and head drooping, looking everything like an Angel being ejected from Heaven, Armistice Wells was forced into serving the ArcHive.
He shook his head, as he walked along the barrier fence, his fingers rising and falling up and down the wrought iron spikes that topped each post. He looked longingly out over the edge of his world, at his old life, as he did every morning on his way to the ArcHive. He couldn’t believe it had been five years. Five long years. Five years of trying to escape. Doing little things, controversial things, to show the Elders he was unnecessary, that he could be released from their net back into his old life. He could feel their eyes on him as he walked up and down the rows of shelves that filled the honeycomb rooms, and when he called a scribe bot over to him, to inspect it, after observing its behaviour or its work. He could hear the whispers of the Elders behind his back, and could see them shaking their hooded heads out of the corner of his eyes as they pointed at the wings he still wore every day despite not being able to fly to deliver necessities to the lower levels of the city.
Armistice had just reached the last post before the flying gap when a hand fell heavy on his shoulder. He didn’t turn to see who it was. He already knew.
“You disobey us,” the soft, unthreatening voice said. “In small ways, you shirk your duties; you flaunt your supposed superiority. You still do not understand the importance of what you do, of what we are all doing. Without it-“
“Without it we are nothing.” Armistice finished the sentence. “Yes, I know, so you keep saying.” He could see how important they thought they were, with the whitewashed honeycomb building taking up a huge piece of real-estate in the finite space that the enclosed tower city had.
There was silence. It dragged on so long that Armistice turned to look at the Elder who had been speaking with him, a question on his lips.
Suddenly he was flying again, but not of his own volition. The wind whipped past him, cold and biting. The surprise of this change of circumstance delayed his reaction. He hadn’t prepared himself. His hands fumbled for the button to release his wings. The rush of the wind past him as he fell brought tears to his eyes. He smiled widely. Armistice had had a feeling in his bones.