Turn off that light!

(An Excerpt from "Metatropolis")

by Steven Thorn


The Starspikes are so tall that, from space, they must appear as a beard of icicles descending from the round face of the Earth. Of course, they are not so tall. Still, the mirrored, three-sided spikes ascend so high that, on clear days ball lightning gathers around their tips, curious sparkling entities that discharge to earth in a violent flash that runs the length of the spike.

And when the big storms that scour the surface of the Earth rush over, the tips of the spikes score irridescent streaks in the soft underbelly of the cloud. On these stormy days, the mirrored sides of the spikes boil with the storm's reflected swirling darkness.

When lightning strikes amongst the forest of spikes, its momentary illumination is re-reflected and multiplied, so that hours later, in the stillness after the passing of the storm, before the aurora's tempestuousnes envelopes the evening with its spectral shimmerings, the lightning can still be seen, dancing amongst the spikes.

Rigelspike is launching today. It is more than the lightning of storms past, trapped within that gold-tinted sliver, that today draws our eyes toward it.

The mirrors of this city (for it is now merely that; there is no longer any escape velocity to defy the Earth's thickening gravity) seemingly ascend further into the sky with each passing week. Of course, this too is illusion. Maybe it is only our own increasing burden that makes the spikes seem, on a calm autumn day like today, so much more towering.

Though fractured on the surfaces of the Starspikes -- each reflecting back the sky coloured by its own hues, creating a jagged and multiple horizon -- the blue-space-and-cloud mottle, reduced and captured there, is ordered, too.

* * *

It's curious: Each workday I ascend those structures and descend their outer surfaces, yet from here, on the edge of the ruined metropolis where we Grounders live, they seem so alien, so unfamiliar. I'm not really suited to my employ as a window washer; I think too much about falling. That doesn't scare me, though. I see the gulls and the pigeons still defying gravity, wheeling in the strange, high places betwen Starspikes. They traverse those empty geometries so easily; I sometimes imagine that I would, too.

Up there the air hums, the noise of traffic below is little more than background static, and when the wind that precedes a storm soughs in, its currents pull, and I feel the Starspike sway.

I watch myself in those enormous lying mirrors, and watch my self's image blur with soapy water when I sponge, and materialize with such disturbing clarity when I squeegee.

At certain conjunctions of space and light I glimpse my tertiary, my quartenary, and higher orders of selves transformed and reflected back -- so that occasionally I wonder if, in fact, that distant person deep within the glass is not some other yellow-coveralled and capped window washer, who merely delights in mimicry of me.

No, it is not the prospect of falling to the ground, that toy landscape, that scares me, but falling into myself in that infinite space.... That fear grips me and sends my imagination reeling, so I must stare and stare into myself, into glimpses of those deeper selves, to ride out that vertiginous fear.

Up there, the clouds drift by so close I could easily be seduced by their materiality to step out, but only into the glass.

* * *

I prefer not to wear a harness when I'm out in the cradle, though Silverman, my supervisor, insists I must -- guild rules and insurance clauses. Nor am I supposed to work alone. But Silverman has, in his twenty years of cleaning and remirroring the spikes, developed an assortment of voyueristic liaisons, which he relishes in describing to me. So, as soon as he has seen me buckled into my harness and left such a perverse meeting, I unbuckle and hang precariously over the cradle rail, laughing and crying out in sheer defiance. Such are the petty amusements we perform in defiance of gravity, to assert our freedom.

On chill mornings I often drive the cradle directly where the sun blazes in the glass, and revel there in ecstatic luminance, suspended in my harness. Such enlightenment -- when I blink open my watering eyes and glimpse my reflected self within that blazing orb, Icarus triumphant in heliolatry -- is beyond understanding.

Once, while driving the cradle horizontally across a spike for just such an exultant self-apotheosis, the sun exploded outwards, and a chair fell in a rain of glittering shards. A man quickly followed, and I noticed his smile. The hole left in that infinity was a jagged edged blackness.

On certain shrouded days, when my primary reflection is little more than a ghost, I can see the adumbrate figures behind the glass. So empty, the orderly to-ings and fro-ings of these shades, trapped by mirrors and screens and glass in the line of sight hierarchy that makes a spike a functional organism -- broken only when they notice me noticing them, and they pull faces and perform curious motionings to see how well I see them. Of course, I act oblivious to their gestures, and they find themselves, observed by their hierarchical superior, acting the fool. These are the only times, it seems, that they pause, as I do, to reflect.

But today, no doubt many of them are reflecting. The Pinnacle of Rigelspike has commanded an attempt to launch. The last such attempt occurred seventeen years ago, when I was three. My family deserted Proximaspike and became Grounders only that morning.

To my three-year-old eyes, it was a beautiful thing to see: that sliver, reflecting the yellow dawn, lift itself up above the other spikes so that it blazed golden in the sun, and then explode in a downpour of prismatic daggers.

Of course, gravity has grown so much heavier since then.

* * *

So we Grounders, in our brightly coloured coveralls and caps, watch from the edge of the deserted Metatropolis. And a young family, deserting Rigelspike, their meagre possessions packed in an electric car, crosses the cement field toward us -- beyond the black-and-yellow- striped checkpoint, without looking back.

They arrive at our small celebration.

"Hi, I'm Daniel Windows," I say. "Welcome back to Earth."

"Why are you crying, Daniel Windows?" their child asks me.

"These mirrors are a curious, sad wounding of time, and of space. For everything that is beautiful and futile, and everything that is tragic and purposeful. For these mirrors, aspiring to the night. Don't you see? My eyes are laughing also."

And we watch Rigelspike rise trembling into the blue. And there is as much laughter as tears in their eyes, but only wonder in the eyes of their child. *


Story copyright ©1995-1996 by Steven Thorn <thorn@macconn.mpx.com.au>

Illustration copyright © 1995-1996 by Ray Villarosa <rvillarosa@aol.com>


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