Breakfast was a happy meal in the tiny apartment. Although the three of them could barely fit around the table they always managed to eat and laugh together. First up from the wreckage was twelve-year-old Tanith, who stuck a pink tongue out at her father.
“You are outnumbered Dad, so just give up.”
Tom waved a lazy arm. “School, child. At least you are outnumbered there.”
Tanith grabbed her school bag.
“I need a coat, Mum?”
“Not today. But tomorrow you will want your high boots…”
The door banged behind their beloved child and both parents watched indulgently as her coltishly long-legged figure leapt gracefully onto the private walkway that would take her to school.
“Do we do wrong not the have a sibling for her?” Anna wondered softly.
Thomas smiled his kind and reassuring smile.
“She is happy, well adjusted, and loved. So no.”
Anna briefly touched his face then got up and stretched until her bones cracked. “It’s going to be a long day. Overtime. I’m called to the centre of the Dome to do a sunset. Spectacular of course. One of the wives is having a barbecue (whatever that might be) and a beautiful sunset is essential to the endeavour.”
“You be careful then. I know what the rich are like..”
“Oh. I’m not pretty enough or young enough. And they badly want this sunset.”
She picked up her work bag and sauntered off.
He watched her with a little worry at the back of his eyes before clearing up the slip of a kitchen and setting out to his own place of work.
Much later in the day, Anna’s identification was being carefully checked before she was permitted to leave the central walkway. She was escorted to the weather station by a couple of respectful security operatives who were darkly suited, but with suspiciously bulging armpits.
“What is it precisely that you do madonna?” The question was phrased politely, but Anna was in no doubt that her reply was essential to her wellbeing.
“I’m a sky painter sir. The astral plain above our heads is merely the underside of the Dome. We control the weather, and we control how the ‘sky’ looks. Normal skies are computer programs. And I write the algorithms. For special occasions I can create a skyscape live.”
They still looked a bit pensive.
“Can you show us?”
She nodded. “See that perfectly plain blue sky over the purple-leaf trees.”
Anna tuned her light brushes to the frequency for just that square of sky and began the exquisite dance that is sky painting. What she did not see was how her work lit her small, plain face and how the beauty of her movement was enough to steal the breath. By the time she had finished, the men were enchanted – both by the artist and by the tiny skyscape she had created just for them. The larger of them bowed his head.
“I think I am your slave forever madonna.”
Anna blushed. “I thank you sir. It is enough that my work is enjoyed.”
The guards allowed her access to the slave computers, and took their station either side of the doors. At the appointed time, Anna began her dance, painting the sky over one very wealthy woman’s garden with a golden glow and a falling orb of flaming red. She had just about brought the ‘sun’ below the horizon, when she was jolted from her dance by flashing lights and screaming klaxons. The two guards barrelled into the room.
“What is it, madonna?”
“Cyber attack. Something is attacking the weather computers.”
“What can we do?”
“You can let me into the room where the master computer lives.”
The two men exchanged a look and the older nodded an infinitesimal nod. Each man pressed his palm to a plate high above the doors, then inserted a slim metal rod he wore on a chain around his neck into the slots barely visible beneath the palm plates. The doors shushed open and Anna dashed in. She put her own palm on a plate beside the darkened touch screen. It lit and she input her personal codes.
“Hurry up computer,” she muttered.
Then, in front of the astonished eyes of an increasing number of panicked security operatives, the most secret of human/computer interactions, the interface, begun. Anna began to glow with an unearthly bluish glimmer, and every nerve pathway and synapse in her body was outlined with crackling light.
The voice that spoke from the doorway was well-bred and accustomed to being obeyed.
“We don’t know monsignor, the alarms started to scream and we deemed it prudent to allow the sky painter who was working here access to the weather computer.”
The tall aristocrat came forward and peered shortsightedly into the computer room. He nodded briskly. “You did right. The computer was under cyber attack. Somebody had to go in. The operative is interfaced. All we can now do is hope for her safety and guard her physical body.”
“Is she in danger?” One of the original pair of security operatives spoke with great daring.
“Very probably. But we can do nothing except keep guard.”
From ‘The Sky Painter’ one of the incredible short stories in pulling the rug iii by Jane Jago
Leave a Reply