Into the Storm stands alone and without apologies, but it was intended as the opening of a longer story. Here Michael and Lydia have a relationship that is set but unstable. The strength of the story comes from the tensions generated. If you want to know where all this might have gone, you will find a postscript here.
Into the Storm
Lydia spread her pinions as the pylon shivered beneath her. Dizzy with height, she swallowed back familiar bile and squeezed her eyes shut for one last moment of selfness.
“You are the eyes of my soul.”
She ignored Michael’s voice in her head and drew on all her strength to quell the shivering of her muscles. Thunderheads piled up in the west, clouds tumbling over one another in their haste to eat up the prairie. She retreated from confrontation to a safe, quiet corner of her mind, denying self and opening her mind to Michael while he waited with leashed impatience. The pylon swaying beneath her became as a great ocean swelling. With her quietude established she whispered, “Now, Michael,” and he filled her.
Spreading their wings to the coming storm, he pumped quickly twice, rising from the pylon and settling again. Accustoming himself to her body. She rode on the left shoulder of his mind, bright eyed and frightened, but ready. Her gift to him; a pledge of her love. It filled him as he filled her and the gestalt threw tremblings through their shared body.
The storm was striding across the prairie, a juggernaut of cloud with lightning for eyes and skirts of rain.
He spread their wings again and brought them forcibly downward. They cleared the pylon railing and fell, spreading their wings wide to catch the updraft. Upward then, with a beating of wings augmented by the rising tide of air. His mental picture – Daedalus rising with wings rooted in his flesh. Hers – a frail human suspended from synthetic wings, powered by servos and the rising wind.
Two hundred meters they rose as Michael churned the air with wings meant for soaring. Then he rolled gently left and volplaned toward the city below. Even in the heat of summer he would find an updraft there. The sky was impossibly blue, the sun hot on their wings in these last moments before the storm broke. They caught the updraft and circled the city – a jumble of glass, concrete and solar collectors. She retreated from seeing, concentrating instead on the steady beat of her arms as Michael swung them through the fastest rising currents. Michael was an artist at this; he had only fallen once.
He was neglecting his body. She sent her consciousness down the shivering wire of thought that bound them together, found him breathing slowly, his heart rhythm slow but steady, and returned. Cutting figure-eights against the sky above the city, Michael gained altitude, but she had almost waited too long. She sensed his impatience and shielded her memory so that he would not catch a picture of her clinging in terror to the ladder between the fourth and fifth levels while a gust shivered the pylon. Had the monitor seen her then, he would have ordered her off the tower. What would Michael think if her weakness denied him his one chance at ecstasy?
In word and deed, he demanded nothing of her, but when his soul cried out, she was bound.
She sensed his apprehension at their lack of altitude, and his hesitation, for this was her body that he piloted. Restraining her fears, she whispered, “Go ahead,” and felt the warm rush of his unspoken gratitude.
He banked away from the city, out over the open grain fields, fought the first gusts and rolled to enter the storm.
They passed through a veil of rain into the heart of the thunder. The sudden wind tore her hair to shreds and the crackling static turned it into a puffball of startled tendrils. She felt the current, like her fear, and the lightning cut the clouds above and below them. Michael arched their back in exultation as he caught the first rising wind, but it died quickly and they were plunged downward.
She felt his fear as a sudden beast leaping from the bush; not like her own familiar companion.
“Michael!” Her voice and presence drew him back from the memory of that mad plunge when his skill and power had not been sufficient to match the storm. That was then; this was now. And as quickly as she spoke, he mastered his fear and thrust it away like a secret shame. He threw their arms wide to catch the air and beat their wings unmercifully to escape the downdraft. She felt the pain in her arms and shoulders, and cried out.
Their descent eased as he shunted them sideways toward an interface. She thought that she could sense the ground just below them, but he kept their eyes skyward. Then they passed through shuddering turbulence into a cell of rising air. Gently at first, then with gut-wrenching acceleration, the winds tossed them upward and she felt Michael’s animal cry of delight escape her lips.
How far upward? The altimeter spun at the edge of their vision, but Michael refused to look at it. There was no altitude for Michael short of the ultimate. Through the roof.
But not this time. They passed upward through the layers where lightning bolts play tag and on out of the rain, through the sleety layers where hail is born and into the eternal gray night of the upper storm. There Michael turned them in a lazy arc, resting and reading the instruments as he prepared for the slingshot.
These were the moments she treasured. Here, fear could take its silken claws from her throat for a moment. Floating high, serene and spent; knowing that what had passed would never come again, yet knowing that in the moments and years to come, it would repeat in endless variation. Sated.
In her languor she sent tendrils of half formed thoughts in caresses of shared selfhood through Michael’s mind. Now they were intrusions, but he would remember and treasure them in the days to come. This she knew in their great sharing.
It seemed a small thing to give him, when she longed to ease his burning. But that was denied by his shattered body.
He chose adjacent cells with care and dove into the well of a downdraft. They fell with wings spread just enough to catch the falling air and throw them toward the earth. Past the hail, past the lightning, and into the rain. Outspeeding the raindrops so that they smashed against her face like upward falling rain.
100 klicks, 200 klicks; speeds not to be measured on instruments; not for an artist; a master. Not for a man who had only fallen – once. He sensed their speed in the groaning of her titanium pinions and the growing strain on her arms.
She closed her eyes against the pain to come.
He arched their back and spread wings against their fall, arcing them upward and sideways through the turbulence of the interface and into a rising cell. The servos took the strain, but they communicated a portion of it to her. Pain, the instructor, the feedback; the pain would become unbearable before the fabric of her wings failed. Just before.
They shared the pain, but pain had become his world and this was his rising above it. His exultation. And it was her gift to him that she lent her body to this, for to her the pain was only pain, and she cried out against it.
Then they were climbing faster than ever, from the momentum gained in their plummet. She drew her pain in and made it a private thing that Michael could not feel. Later another, softer Michael would feel remorse for her pain. With hands and mouth, for his lower body was paralyzed, and with full knowledge that his own burning could never be satisfied, he would ravish her, putting all of his frustrations into her ecstasy. That he gave her freely, as she gave him this.
That was the Michael of endless nights and bitter days; but now, for one long moment of exultation, he was the Michael that had been, before misjudgment and arrogance had hurled his body to the ground.
Now, he soared.
Through the roof he called it. Augmented by the momentum gained in falling, propelled by the even beating of mechanical wings and buoyed by the rising cell of air, he took her through the rains and the lightnings and the pit-cold region where hail is born, upward through the thinning edges of the storm to where the air is still and the sun still shines. Through the roof.
With the last erg of upward force expended, Michael rolled over to float above the storm. From here the thunderheads were pearly white; billowing fields and valleys of cloud as peaceful as the sleep of childhood. They looked as if a man could walk across them to the end of the world. The sky was the dark blue of high altitude and the gray ring around the sun was itself encircled by a rainbow.
Hovering like some great eagle, above the tumult of the storm, with their height disguised by the carpet of clouds, her fear left her and her joy began.
For long minutes they glided, and she felt Michael slipping away. His ecstasy had ended. To dive again into the storm would be foolhardy; whatever Michael’s vitality, it was Lydia’s body they rode and she had reached her limit.
She felt his hesitation and knew his temptation. Just one more thrust into the clouds; just one more plunge to ecstasy and death.
She knew this and said nothing; and in her calm he found the courage to turn away from the storm and glide downward, carrying with him his tired and precious burden. finis