Short Story – The Circus in the Sky

I realised recently I have written an awful lot of what I would call “anti-genre” stories; stories that show my love of a genre (usually mecha) by subverting or undermining it. Stories where the limits of heroism are shown up, where the everyman hero is just an everyman or the expected relationships fall through. They are fascinating to write, but I wanted to try and write something more sincere, more loving and which shows what I really like about the genre in itself, not what I want it to be.

This is such a piece; it’s my interpretation of a scene that’s been used throughout the genre’s history from Orguss to Gargantia, from War in the Pocket to Eureka Seven. The title, as genre fans may recognise, is a reference to the Itano Circus, the signature combat choreography of Ichiro Itano.

From the roof of the school, which is pointed like a ship sailing off the coast of the island, you can see a lot of the archipelago. Some of it close-up, close enough that if you’re fit you can swim it, and some just as specks or smudges on the sun-washed horizon. It’s a hopeful view which is kind of fitting, really, given our school’s motto is Hope is like Light.

School is over for the weekend, but I haven’t left the campus yet. There are a few things that still need doing, things that I’ll admit wouldn’t need doing if I was slightly less in trouble. To be blunt I’m supposed to be doing the cleaning. I’m not, but I should be. Instead, knowing that the teachers have all gone home and there’s nobody about, I’m sitting on the roof watching the water. I mean, what have I got to go home to? Responsibilities and all that. Parents off on the survey ships, neighbours worried about my eating properly, and four walls to look at. Better to stay here and have a bit of stolen solitude, or that’s what I tell myself. I’ll work at my own pace, get it done before it’s dark, and then walk the long way home along the coast road. After all, I’ve done the classrooms and it’s just the corridors left to do.

You don’t get bored in paradise, that’s what they say. You can look out over the same coast and the same islands and always see something that seems new and beautiful. Today it’s the Pillar of Heaven, the space elevator that is just about visible on the horizon as a shaft of silver light like a perpetual sunbeam. If I were closer I would be able to see the Lily, the terminal at its foot that’s a flower of metal arches all done up to shine bright as the tower itself does. A train of cars is just setting off, visible even from here as an even brighter speck on the gleaming fixture, and I wonder what’s going to happen to the people on board. Where they’re going, what their business up at the Midsummer Station is.

Enough rest. I need to work. It’s later than I thought, that much is clear. The sun has dimmed to golden-yellow as it’s beginning its last fits of life for today, and I quite want to be able to see the last bits of sunset sinking below the horizon from my favourite spot on this island – the little bus shelter on the coast road where it loops round and you can see the wind-farms out in the bay in front of you. They’ll be turning slowly in the sea breeze, cutting up the pink-gold-orange-red sunset into watery silhouettes on the ocean. The water will burn a deep orange, and it will be the most wonderful sight in the world. Then as the sun dips further it will deepen sky and sea to a turbulent purple and I’ll begin my walk home under weird blue skies, the space stations above me casting new constellations into the night.

Just the corridors to do. They don’t take long. A cursory brush over with a damp mop, then with a dry one. Two days will pass, two days of dust and perhaps the uneven footsteps of the cleaners or some weekend visitor, and it will be like I was never there.

My weekend has begun. I’m going to have to run to catch the sunset, but it will be worth it. It’s always worth it.

I get to the bus stop just as the sunset is at its peak, a dazzling brass sky reflected in the ocean. Catching my breath from the unwanted exertion I’ve had to do, I slump into the hard wooden bench and just watch the turbines turn. It’s, I want to say, as lovely as I know it to be. But something is different.

Contrails blur the sky, shimmering loops and knots in the air dancing around each other and thin beams stabbing between them. This is new. A battle. The war, perhaps, that people talk about as if it only happens to other people. It’s far away, halfway between the horizon and the Pillar. Just visible as specks. I see dozens of new trails split off from one of the streaks in the sky, looping and spinning and then bursting like summer festival fireworks into circular starbursts. Missiles, clearly. As they trace a line of blooms across the sky I see one of the contrails arc high always moments ahead of each blast, a pilot pulling harsh evasion as death pursues them. There’s a moment of almost stationary hesitation as it turns on the spot and then another beam lances backwards towards whoever fired that salvo. There’s another airburst, another firework. This one rich and riven with the spikes of secondary detonations, the sort of thing that would be the big rocket to finish a display. Again dozens of smaller trails scatter from the aftermath, but this time they pepper the sea’s surface like harsh hail. Someone just died.

I can’t help but watch this. There’s something safe about sitting here, not even knowing whose war I am watching, just seeing a dehumanised fairy-dance of lights and fireworks in the sky. Someone is winning, I think. The interlacing trails are becoming more disparate, more unified. There isn’t a back-and-forth so much as now a driven, determined hunt of scattered remnants. I couldn’t tell you how long it’s been, but the sun is now well below the horizon and all you can see in the blue moonlight are the flashes and beams, pink and green and then red and smoky with fire as people die. It looks to be as good as over. Suddenly the firing stops, and I pick myself up to go home. As I do, one last fit of movement catches my eye. Several streaks are breaking away from the combat’s location and flying full tilt towards me. Beams flying toward you are a weird sight, warped by perspective and visible as almost like summer storm clouds in lurid artificial colours, particles shimmering around them. Above my head there’s a rush of wind and I see three silhouettes in the sky, the slim darts of more aircraft entering the dogfight. The next one, the next fairy-dance, will be right above the wind-farm where I spend my evenings watching the sunset. Without thinking twice I run, not even sure where I can go. The fight over the ocean took place over what must have been a huge area. This next will cover the island in the same hot metal hail. I don’t know who is fighting, or why, or who I should be supporting. I don’t know why people are dying. I’ve spent my life so far in a strange limbo, news washing over me as I walk and watch sunsets and read books.

I can’t run any more. I’m halfway home or so, in one of the many long roads that wind between fields which are now weirdly windswept. I have to stop, catch my breath again. This time I can hear the sky screaming as aircraft – more accurately those unusual, impossible shapes of fighting-armours held aloft by delta-wings – dart closer together then further apart. The beams, concert-stadium lasers when miles distant, are now northern lights brightening the fields with horrible colours and a sound I can’t even describe. The missiles aren’t quaint fireworks, they launch with a drumroll of thuds followed in quick succession by the crack of engines igniting and then explode like the worst thunder imaginable.

Mercifully the battle is short. One side clearly deserves to win. As silence falls again it is the hollow, deaf silence that you feel after an evening in the smoky, shouty confines of a nightclub or concert. The air oppressive and reeking of smoke and ozone. My hearing begins to return and I realise it was never actually silent. There’s the crackling of flames, the pinging and creaking of cooling and heating metal, all the aural minutiae that signify something has gone horribly wrong. Rounding another corner in the road I see something in the field, a severed Armour torso with one arm hanging limply and broken. A rifle – bigger than two men – is embedded in the earth. I feel like something draws me toward the wreck. A need to see first-hand what I have been watching.

It is a burned thing, black soot masking grey paint and the edges of some of the panels still glowing orange-red. But it is intact, that much is clear. A red light is flashing beneath a patina of dirt and I wipe it clean instinctively and as I do with a strange hiss the whole egg-like body opens up to reveal an unmoving man whose face is a mask of blood. I have to do something. He’s alive, that becomes clear when I take a pulse. Carefully removing a broken helmet I realise he’s bleeding from a cut above his eye, but not actually seriously hurt.

He has silver hair and a fresh, boyish face now I’ve cleaned it of his own blood. He’s handsome. Deeply unconscious, likely to sleep a long time but mercifully not forever.

I should help him.



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