‘Higher! Higher! Look at that boy go!’
The magnate was excited. His hands quivered as they gripped the controls, greedy like a little child’s. The engineer glimpsed the film of sweat glinting in the sun as they jolted and swerved, steering the aircraft through the sky.
He shielded his eyes and looked up. There, harnessed in by the mechanised wings he had created, his son hung in the air. The boy’s eyes looked wide and alert, trying to anticipate the direction the pilot would send him in next. His hands clung tight to the padded shoulder straps.
“A marvel, Didi – it’s a marvel!”
The magnate was positively ecstatic, bouncing on his toes. He was a short man – not much above the boy when he was stood on the ground, even with the thick slab soles which the inventor knew he had specially made for his shoes to reclaim a few precious inches. He himself had designed the prototype for what would become a fleet of deceptive footwear, stacks of padding cunningly disguised as sleek leather. Had he been alone, he would have allowed himself a smile.
He shielded his eyes from the sun again and peered upwards. Aycar was wheeling in a dizzying spiral of loop the loops, wheeling through the bright blue sky like a firework let off by mistake.
He gave a yell and dived at the controls.
The small crowd of aides gathered close by barked out and launched themselves forwards.
The magnate held them off – but he snatched away the controls, looking at Didi with a mix of hurt and outrage.
The engineer’s breath stilled in his chest. ‘My apologies, sir – but it’s only a prototype, and I am worried any…over exertion might damage it.’
The magnate stared at him with his cold piercing blue eyes, and for a second, the engineer thought he was done for. Then the face softened, and he eased the controls. Overhead, the endless spinning stopped.
‘Of course. Your son. Please, Didi – forgive me.’
The whirling figure in the air stopped dead, suspended in mid air; began to buzz along on a gentle plateau path. The engineer forced a smile, dipped his head slightly, stepped back.
Across the gardens, the rigging was going up for that evening’s entertainment. The magnate was a great patron of the arts and adored the stories of old. The piece under construction for tonight was Prometheus – through a magnificent fireworks display and a vibrant set he had commissioned a retelling of the story of how the gentle giant came to bring fire to man and give him inspiration of the arts – and to suffer ultimately the punishment of god (this final chapter however had not yet been sanctioned by the benefactor for performance, and the writer was somewhere on the grounds at that very moment, tearing his hair out waiting for an audience when the magnate deigned to give it to him).
Didi’s throat felt dry. He peered up at Aycar. Beetling along at about 20 feet, the boy seemed to flash him a smile, and wink. He relaxed a little. Aycar was a smart boy.
‘You must offer to try out the new device, son – that way he will know it is not a trick”
His son had smiled, even shook his hand as if he was trying to act like a man.
“I won’t let you down papa.”
His breath felt faint in his chest – it seemed difficult to draw up quite enough air to sustain himself each time.
“This is our ticket out of here, son. If Argan commissions this model, we can make as many as we like without suspicion and get away from here forever.’
A trusting boy. A faithful boy. He would have made his mother proud. The life of before seemed so long ago now that the engineer could barely remember what it was to love and how it felt not to yearn to be anywhere but here.
The magnate was whooping with joy. “You are a genius, Didi – Didi, you are my perfect genius!”
The sun was rising high in the sky. It burned bright and hot this summer, as if it bore the earth a grudge. Swooping gently on high, his son laughed in the aether. The magnate smiled.
“He is enjoying himself, no?”
Didi (which he never called himself in his head) smiled obligingly. Over on the far side of the lawn, the rigging was being drawn up across the stage. There was the mesh and the mess of cabling running riot. A vast floodlight had been erected at the side of the stage, which was pooling white heat upon the boards in preparation for Promoetheus’ later theft.
‘You’re doing alright up there, Aycar?’ called the pilot. ‘Now, let’s see what you can do.’
The magnate thrust his palm against the joystick and the wings contraption went droning off in a broad circle across the croquet pitch.
‘He’s a good boy, your son.’
‘He is, sir.’
‘He is a credit to you.’
‘I am proud, sir.’
The joystick was turned. The wings buzzed off in another direction; and the magnate turned, looked square at him, and smiled an almost kindly smile.
‘I know you are Didi – I know you are.’
The buzz became a shrill zipping sound as the wings picked up speed – there was a shout from the boy – the aides too, whipping up a cry of caution, or dismay – ‘Sir, the stage!’ – the magnate switched his attention to his hovering toy once more – but it was too late. A shout of horror from the engineer – a scream from the boy – shrieks from those onstage standing by the giant floodlight – as there was a flash, a crackle, and the sound of an explosion, before the bulb burst into flames. The silhouette of a body contorted upon it blazed for a second before the light blew and the body became a black mass of charred flesh, affixed with wings.
Silence then. The magnate’s hands, still clutching the controls, dropped to his sides. He looked crestfallen. His aides looked at one another in shock.
Very slowly, the magnate walked the short distance to his engineer. He pressed the controls into his hands, and spoke very low and soft.
‘Such a shame – still, I’m sure the next model will be faultless.’
With a peremptory pat on the shoulder, he started back across the grass.
‘My but that sun is hot today…’
He wiped his forehead, then, calling an aide to lean upon, he stooped down to take off one shoe, then the other. His socks he left flopping out like limp tongues. He let out a sigh of sheer visceral release.
‘So sweet – the ground beneath one’s feet.’
As he padded back towards the great house, barefoot in his immaculate suit, he called across his shoulder – “You’re a genius Didi, you really are. You must never leave me. What would I do without you?”
The giant bulb simmered across the lawn, and in the glare of the summer heat, the smell began to waft over on the breeze.