“Neanna,” he breathed, looking back at her. She trudged through the ash-snow, her cloak pulled about her shoulders, head down, and hair covered white with ash. Then looking over at Faraday, he said, “How long to that building? We don’t have time for any detours, Faraday. We need to get my friend out of the light.”
“We’ll make it in time,” Faraday said, “we are on the edges of the city now. It’s not far.”
“How far?” Zach pushed.
The Seek-Wasp swooped out of the sky, its wings buzzing. “Seven-point-three miles,” it hummed.
“Seven miles!” William howled. “We’ll never make it in time.”
With his face as expressionless as a shop mannequin, Faraday
stuck two of his rubbery-looking fingers into his mouth and made the most ear-splitting of whistles. Instantly the air was alive with the sound of beating wings. Zach looked in the direction of the noise and his legs began to wobble. To his amazement, three giant butterflies fluttered from the sky and hovered a few feet above the ash-covered ground. Neanna rubbed her eyes as if they were deceiving her somehow. Zach looked at them more closely, and could see they weren’t in fact real butterflies, but machines that looked like they were. Their bodies were flat like surfboards, and covered in a fine coating of silky, black hair. From either side protruded two large, metal wings that beat majestically up and down. On them had been painted the most intricate of patterns, more beautiful than the markings he had ever seen on butterflies in his own world.
Without hesitation, Faraday leapt on board one of them, bent forward, and snatched hold of what appeared to be a set of reins. He pulled on them, and the butterfly-machine swooped through the air in a wide arc and came to hover just above Zach and his friends.
“Get on!” Faraday said, pointing to the other two butterflies which hovered just above the ground.
“How high does it go?” William yelped, fear in his voice.
“I don’t understand?” Faraday said back.
“He doesn’t like flying,” Zach said, remembering how scared William had been on the aeroplane back in Earth. Zach climbed on board one of the metal butterflies and gripped the reins in his fists. Then glancing down at Neanna and holding out his hand towards her, he said, “Come on,
Neanna, you don’t have a lot of time before the sun is...”
Before Zach had had a chance to finish, Neanna had blinked, and was standing behind Zach, her arms thrown tightly about his waist. Then to everyone’s surprise, Bom was clambering on board the remaining flying machine.
“What exactly are these creatures?” he mumbled, reaching for the reins.
“They are called the Butter-Flyers,” Faraday said, pulling back on the reins so the creature swopped around in the air again. The Butter-Flyer cried out, but not in pain. The sound it made was like that of tiny children laughing, enjoying some secret.
“Another one of those entangled contraptions,” Bom sighed.
Then looking down at William, he said, “C’mon.”
William stood in the ash, his long, brown dreadlocks twisting in the wind like a headful of snakes, and shook his head.
“You need to man-up!” Bom roared.
“You can talk,” William snarled, brandishing his teeth at him.
Zach looked down at his friend and smiled. He thought it strange how someone so big, so powerful - a werewolf - could be afraid of flying.
William glanced up at him, his bulbous glasses glowing red. “And what are you smirking at, Zachary Black?”
“Nothing,” Zach shrugged, trying to mask his smile.“Please,” Neanna said from over Zach’s shoulder. “Do it for me, William.”
Yelping like a scared puppy, William leapt onto the Butter-Flyer and flung his thick, hairy arms around Bom’s neck.
“Let go, you stupid wolf!” Bom shouted. “You’ll strangle me!”
William lessened his hold, but not much.
With some trepidation, Zach took hold of Neanna’s hand, and this time, she didn’t let go.
“Ready?” Faraday asked the others as he hovered about in the air above them. Then he was gone, soaring away towards the smouldering remains of Clockwork City.
Zach pulled on the Butter-Flyer’s reins and the creature – machine – made that soft, playful noise. It tilted to one side and Neanna tightened her grip on Zach.
“Are you sure this thing is safe?” William howled as Captain Bom banked his Butter-Flyer to the right, then left.
“How should I know?” Bom roared, and then shot away after Faraday.
Zach glanced over his shoulder at Neanna, as their Butter-Flyer fluttered up into the air. The wind tugged at their hair and clothes as they swept through the sky right behind the Seek-Wasp that raced ahead of them all. With his arms still firmly wrapped around Bom’s waist, William dared to look down at the city way below. And as he did, he was startled to see through his telescope-like lenses, a never-ending stream of abandoned beet-wagons snaking away in every direction. It was like the people who had once lived in the city below had fled.
They soared over deserted streets and buildings that had collapsed into mountains of smouldering rubble. Giant drifts of ash leant against what few gutted buildings still stood. Most of what William saw through his glasses looked like little more than a burning wasteland. Eventually they left the deserted city behind and swooped over pastures and fields covered in a blanket of grey ash. Banks of hills lay ahead and as Bom guided the Butter-Flyer over them; to Williams’s amazement, he saw and heard of the strangest creatures he had ever seen. Neanna saw them, too.
“What are they?” she shouted over the roar of the wind.
Zach looked down and nearly lost the grip of his reins. The huge, brown animals herded across the fields, their shaggy-looking coats being tugged by the wind, and their hooves sending up clouds of dust. But just like the other creatures Zach had encountered in the Outer-Rim, these bears had been entangled with machinery. Although their bodies were covered in hair, their giant heads looked to be constructed of some shiny, silver metal. And it wasn’t only mechanical bears that Zach could see in the milky shafts of sunlight which where shining over the hilltops. He could see what looked like giraffes with necks that were made out of an intricate column of cogs and pistons, just like Faraday’s face. There were zebras with clockwork legs, and a family of elephants breathing fire from their tusks.
“I don’t really know what those creatures are,” Zach told Neanna, but in his heart he knew they were the creatures Der Cribbot had smuggled through the doorways from Earth, and had become entangled with the technology he had brought with them. At first Der Cribbot had sounded like some kind of conservationist, wanting to help protect animals, but he had just created monsters.
Faraday pulled back on the reins attached to the Butter-Flyer machine and he began to descend back towards the ground. As Zach steered his Butter-Flyer through the sky, it banked sharply to the right. Bom was just ahead, and as his banked, William tightened his grip around Bom’s neck and closed his eyes. He remained like that until he heard Bom gasp, “You can let go of me now.”
William cautiously opened his eyes and peered down at the ground, which was now only a couple of feet beneath him. Zach’s Butter-Flyer machine had come to a halt and sat hovering just above a set of wooden gates, which led to a large, sprawling farmhouse. Zach recognised it from the holographic image that the Seek-Wasp had conjured in the desert.
Bom let go of the reins and said, “Are you gonna let go of me, wolf-boy, or what?”
Brandishing his teeth at Bom, William leapt the few feet to the ground, sending up a shower of ash with his huge claws.
“You can let go, too. That’s if you want to – I don’t mind you holding onto me,” Zach said, peering over his shoulder at Neanna, who had now totally immersed herself beneath her cloak.
“Don’t flatter yourself,” she half-joked from beneath her cloak and let go of Zach. She then blinked towards the farmhouse door.
The farmhouse, with its white-covered roof and stone walls, reminded Zach of a picture you might see on the front of a Christmas card. But the stone house didn’t look welcoming. There was no warm, orange glow of firelight shining through the windows. No snowman – Ashman – in the front garden to welcome guests. It sat dark and empty-looking at the end of the front garden path.
Faraday stepped from his Butter-Flyer machine and joined the others at the front gate. He pulled the silver coloured disc from his pocket again, flipped open the lid, and held it up in the air. The Seek-Wasp zipped back and forth one last time and then dived into the device. With a quick snap of his wrist, Faraday closed the lid on the Seek-Wasp and placed it back into his pocket.
“I told you we would make it in time,” he said, looking at Zach. Again his voice was so expressionless. Faraday swung the gate open and made his way up the ash-covered path towards the house where Neanna stood, cloak draped about her.
“Be careful!” Bom warned him.
William pushed his shoulder against the door, but it didn’t budge. It was locked tight. Rolling up the sleeve of his flight suit, Faraday removed the skin covering his right arm and handed it to Bom.
“Hold that for me,” he said.
Bom took it between two fingers and Faraday’s skin swung in the wind like a latex glove. Zach and his friends watched as Faraday’s metal fingers withdrew into his fist of cogs. There was a whizzing and grinding noise, as what looked like some ancient can opener appeared where his fingers had been just moments before. Holding his hand against the wooden door, he cut a hole in it with a cutting tool protruding from his hand. Splinters of wood showered from his fist. When the hole was big enough, he placed his free arm into it. With the side of his face flat against the outside of the door, he felt for the lock on the other side. There was a clicking sound, then withdrawing his arm, he pushed the door open. Taking his skin from Bom, he covered his hand again as if it were a glove, and stepped inside the house.