“I would like to buy some wings. Some wings to plug into my side, feathers if you like, to grow out my hide.”
The shopkeeper’s eyes glowed red until Jak stepped back, back until he was at the door. Outside, the city glowed, red as well, and sirens glared as butterflies flipped through the sky. “Oh, I do so wish I could fly,” said Jak as he walked the red, where butterflies lived and the city sighed.
As he turned a corner, an ocean rose in salute, a perpendicular offensive against the steel of the city’s roots. Up it went, the water and the fish too, until they were leaping skyward, the fish and the water, too. “Oh, if you can fly, big ocean, why oh why can’t I?”
“Relax, little robot,” said a voice coming from up high. There on a lamppost, a robot bird with no wings sat with a big sigh. “You ask me why I sigh, or soon you will, but I have been given to fly, and now sit still.”
“But who took your wings?” asked Jak.
“Well the mountains tumbled when these butterflies came. Do you remember that day? Do you recall that rain? All that colour as the butterflies absconded with the sky. Now they are everywhere, and birds like me, we no longer have stories of flight to share. But when I was a young bird, robot-made, I flew to the mountains and discerned where our circuits are laid. There you should go, little robot sad, and maybe you will find your wings, my wistful lad.”
And so Jak took his goodbye and walked to the edge of the city, something he had never tried. And as he faced the plains and the mountains’ bones, they said: Jak, are you so uncontent that you make this trip alone? “I certainly do,” he said to himself, as he walked alone past the final city fence.
“I wish I had my dog, though,” he did at one point say, but no, for there was no spot, not a single place, for him to plug in his dog.
“Oh, hello,” said a voice, as gears whirred, gears that only turn if there is ‘tricity to make itself heard. A dragon, or a whale, reared to height, before this little robot that simply wanted to take flight.
“Are you a dragon or a whale?” he asked the creature.
“Neither, both, does it really matter, little robot? It matters not much if you are a whale or a dragon – or both – and either of the two, if you are hungrier than most.”
“Do you mean to eat me?” cried Jak.
The dragon-whale peered at the little robot, who was smaller than most, a mere trinket in the face of a dragon-whale that was hungrier than most. “What are you doing here?”
“I was advised, you see, by a bird without wings, that our circuits are energized on that mountain in the scree. I wish only that I could fly, like a whale or a dragon you see, or do I have that wrong and either or both are only interested in eating me? Please don’t, for my name is Jak and I a morsel, and actually, much much less than that.”
The dragon-whale closed its bulbous big eyes. “Come with me, then. Up the mountain we’ll go and see, but beware, the thing you are looking for is hard to find and might not even be.” And so they went, the land sloping high, the little robot and the dragon-whale dragging its scaly hide. Below them, the city dwelt, the city that was overwhelmed by butterflies, their wings light as felt. Up they went, as their feet on the earth’s bones clopped, and next to them were cables of ‘tricity that stretched from the city to the mountain top.
And when Jak arrived, what he saw, he saw on the whole, the mountain falling down the other side. And on that terrible downwards slope, there turned a wheel, made of silver and grey, a lattice spun of the most exquisite steel. “But I’ve never seen a wheel like this before,” he said to the dragon-whale. “How does it turn? What is it for?”
“Little robot, tiny lad, morsel too small to make my stomach glad – this is a wheel that is moved by the breeze, and puts ‘tricity in those cables that feeds you and also feeds me. This is the secret of that city of robots and now butterfly wings, that all our power comes from this wheel made of this wonderful and most exquisite steel.”
“But how do I fly?” asked Jak, full of despair. The mountain was quiet, here in the wind’s lair. He’d dreamt of taking off, of being in the clouds, a young robot who grew wings as he hovered aloft. But here was a simple secret, of steel and ‘tricity, that made him ache and fall to his robot knees.
“Jump onto the wheel,” suggested the dragon-whale. “It’s something I’ve contemplated and wondered about aloud, if such a tactic could throw me into the clouds. But I’m a dragon-whale, too big for such oddities. I hope that it’s a flying little robot in the clouds that soon I’ll see.”
“Jump into the wheel?” asked Jak, unsure of his place.
“Yes, do it quick,” said the dragon-whale, squinting its face. “The breeze is livening up, the sun is bright. And if you’re brave – you might go far, and find the wings you crave. Now now, it’s an opportunity that must not be missed. Off with you sir, a dragon-whale must surely insist.”
And the dragon-whale picked up that robot and threw him through the air, where he spun and hollered for all the mountain to hear. Down went Jak, a spiraling chunk of silver, a little boy bot falling between here and the other thing called thither. He tumbled at the wheel, ready to be broken, but the winds caught him up and threw him at the clouds – the clouds that spun in chunks of white, ready to receive the robot within their sight. And as he flew, and as he went, Jak felt a feather touch his hand. A wing popped out from his side, a piece of felt coming out his hide. Then another popped out, a butterfly wing, in the colours of the mountain and golden cloud rings. So Jak flew, catching the breeze. The mountain was below him, the dragon-whale too, and it seemed to him that they both cheered as he, a little robot lad, finally flew.
Back over the mountain he went, gliding on the breeze with his wings made of felt. The city of robots unraveled below him, glistening in the sun, the colour of steel and many butterfly wings. Down he went, arcing over the ocean as it rose, water and silver fish rising, for what purpose he did not know. But he went to meet that surge, and touched the waves as they crested, foamed, and finally curved. “It’s beautiful,” he thought, as he turned once more, for it was not the water, but the city he truly sought.
And then he spotted, in the street, a little dog looking for a place to eat. “I’m coming, little dog without a spot,” he said to his friend, as he bent his wings towards the ground. And that day, robots in the city looked up, and there they saw not a butterfly but an unexpected thing – for there flew Jak, carried as he was on his lithe little wings.
I know, I know. But sometimes you just have to have a bit of fun, and to experiment. Or, to put it another way, spread your wings a little.
The story to which this is a sequel is contained here, where we are introduced to Jak and his little dog.