CLOUDCUTTER • by Bill Ward

The day I got my fifth brain Dandrys walked me over to the platform and told me I would see something I ought to try to understand.

“Just watch the ceiling Charlie,” he said, his weak voice piping up from dying lungs. “Watch and remember that it happens once a year, like clockwork.”

So I looked at the layer of brown clouds that slither their way over the sky, the whole sky, and so those clouds are called the ceiling. The day I got my man hands I remember throwing a ball up into those clouds and watching it disappear–a few stray puffs knocked out by the force of impact–then pop out again a second later. I was using my third brain then, and a game like that could occupy me for hours while Dandrys busied himself in the scrap.

“When will it happen?” I asked. My man voice was similar to Dandrys’ own, but healthy and whole-sounding. Dandrys told me to be patient, but he checked his chronometer every few minutes, too.
I took my eyes off the ceiling and looked around, seeing the scrap yard as if for the first time. It was stacked in layers of time, Dandrys told me, like the old mountains. I’ve never seen beyond its borders. Even in the dark I could see the occasional glint of stray toplight striking one of its far outcroppings in the distance.

“Now. Look!” Dandrys reached to touch my back. His hand stayed to smooth my fur, which I no longer liked the feel of now that I had my fifth brain and thought as men did.

The ceiling above us bubbled, like the froth from a punctured battery, and the brown clouds parted in places as if sliced at from above. Through those rents I saw a uniform field of pastel blue. “What…?” I meant to ask, but had lost my voice in wondering.

“The Great Current. Once a year, now, it rushes past. It’s high above us, above the clouds, and it pushes some back. Just enough to see, Charlie. Just enough to remember.” Dandrys and I watched the tiny rips in the ceiling as night came and we marveled as the blue dimmed into a spray of diamonds on black, and he told tales of the old time.

That night I flew above the ceiling. I was sucked up through the gash cut by the high current, and soared in a bright world of toplight blue. I did not move as I normally do, as Charlie does, but hung in the fibers of the air with broad arms and pushed forward mightily with my feet. I cannot remember a more beautiful thing.

“Your fifth brain can dream, Charlie; you are a man now.” Dandrys smiled and patted my head. I then asked why our bodies differed but Dandrys said it did not matter, and told me to come with him to work.

Cloudcutter was huge and slick like a drop of water, and Dandrys was busy removing its wings. He told me it was an aero, and that once men had moved above the ceiling and sought to know why the clouds had sickened and fallen to menace us so close to the ground. Once whole fleets ranged the skies in a search for the reason, but fewer and fewer were able as time wound down. Cloudcutter had been one of the last.

“And will it fly again?” I asked.

“It will as best we’re able. We have a year’s work ahead of us, and now you can help me.”

And we started by removing its wings, great steel fins that flexed and bucked as we cut them from Cloudcutter’s body. At the platform Dandrys had collected the wings of other aeros, large and small, blunt and slender, those worn with age and those preserved as new. With chucks and pulleys and wheels we heaved them into place upon a great horizontal bar and fused them there with plasma fire. At each end of the bar the great arms of lifters waited in folded silence. This was the work of a year.

The work was hard on Dandrys, and he shrunk and slowed before my eyes. One day I caught him as he slipped from a gantry where we worked side by side, caught him before he fell, and I learned fear then. That day I realized that my hands were surer than his own, my contrivances of steel better than his failing flesh.

“Do you still dream, Charlie?” he asked me shortly before he died.

“I remember,” I said and he nodded, knowing that I had arrived at the truth. In the mirror while I puzzled at my difference I had noticed the symbol on the black plastic casing of my fifth brain. It was the symbol of Cloudcutter.

“Even as the last of us died on the ground our machines scanned the air above, always searching, always loyal. We did not fail from lack of friends.” Dandrys reached to stroke my fur and I let him. “The current comes soon. Be ready.” These words were his last.

The lifters roared into action and belched the dead gases of life eons gone, and the wings rose up in jerky, screeching stages. The crossbeam was strong. The vertical jags of the many wings did not fall. They meet the ceiling and bit the brown clouds like teeth. I rolled a tongue over my own sharp teeth and waited, glancing at Dandrys’ chronometer on my hairy arm.

The Great Current swelled above the scrap lands, and its bottom edge caught the disembodied wings and flowed and sped around their edges like oil over glass, and the ceiling opened. Over the platform the dirty clouds parted wider than ever before and the great river of the sky flowed above me, and I drank in the beauty of the blue and dreamed my dreams of flight.

Bill Ward is a freelance writer out of Baltimore, Maryland. He has sold fiction to Murky Depths, Flashing Swords, Every Day Fiction, Darwin’s Evolutions, Kaleidotrope and the anthologies The Return of the Sword, The Age of Blood & Snow, and Desolate Places. In addition Bill has written background material and serial fiction for fantasy and science fiction games, has done editing for small press ventures, and is co-editor of the Magic & Mechanica Anthology from Ricasso Press. To read his fiction or check out his weekly book reviews please visit

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