Authors: Clare Bell
Copyright © 1989 by Clare Bell.
Published by E-Reads. All rights reserved.
The woman looked mockingly at her needle gun. “What does your little snake offer? Death?” She shook back her hair in a wild tangle and laughed with a low hooting sound. “I have had my flesh torn from my body by spirits and I have lived to walk again. I have died many times. What is another death?”
As she spoke, the shaman pulled a flute from her robe and cast it at Kesbe’s feet. It broke into fragments that began to move, scuttling and seething in a mass on the trail. Scorpions! Kesbe’s finger convulsed on the trigger of her gun, burying several darts in the ground even as she leaped back.
Her mind screamed disbelief. No such thing as magic existed in her world. Again she seemd to hear the voice of her grandfateher. “You are no longer in your world…”
My editor, Jim Frenkel, for guidance, encouragement and editorial craftsmanship.
My agent, Richard Curtis, for bringing this book to a safe landing. Octavia Butler, who gave me the courage to try.
Kevin J. Anderson, who read and criticized this in record time.
M. Coleman Easton, who doesn’t mind if life gets cluttered up with aronans and other imaginary beasties.
From her pilot’s seat in the cockpit, Kesbe Temiya watched Oneway’s landscape unroll at a steady speed of one hundred fifty miles per hour below
blunt nose. Waves of green and purple forest washed over rolling hills and up the slopes of nearby ranges until the rocky peaks broke free, rearing high into the air. Chains of lakes shimmered and flashed sunlight.
shadow, looking like a miniature copy of the plane itself, raced across valleys, leaped up cliffs and crossed river gorges.
Kesbe thought the leg over the Barranca Madre would take her at most a few hours. The trip so far had been uneventful, if you could use such a word to describe the task of flying an antique Terran twin-engine C-47 transport across a thousand miles of canyonland on a planet such as Oneway.
The planet’s inhabitants called their world Oneway, perhaps because the few people who came went one direction into its back-country. They either survived and learned to love the isolated existence, or they just plain disappeared. Very few returned.
Her gaze rested for a moment on her hands, holding the control yoke of the old Douglas. They were the hands of a Pueblo Indian woman, the same adobe color as the pots her ancestors had shaped Blunt-fingered and strong, the hands were shaped by generations of grinding corn.
She smiled to herself. The few times she had used the
or grinding stone, she had abraded her knuckles and torn her fingernails. Her hands knew different skills for she had been schooled in the white man’s way After high school had come college and space-pilot training. She thought spaceflight would be the answer to the strange longing that sometimes seized her. It wasn’t. She often wondered why.
As Kesbe banked the aircraft for a shallow turn toward the Sasquasoha Plateau, the shifting interplay of light and shadow on the windshield caught her reflection and slid it across the glass. She saw a set oval face with enough sculpting of the cheekbones to override the Pueblo women’s tendency to be moon-faced Her lips were full and her nose strong, although, as someone had once said, too blunt for beauty.
She wore her coarse black hair loose with a bandanna to keep it out of her face. Over her coverall, she had a black leather flight-jacket and, to satisfy her sense of the theatrical, a white silk aviator’s scarf.
Below her now lay the dusty brown expanse of the Sasquasoha Plateau, rising at a slight incline until it met the rim of the Barranca Madre. Wanting to gain altitude before she crossed the Barranca, Kesbe pushed the twin throttles forward as she got into her seat and trimmed the plane for a slight climb.
She peered toward a mass of boiling cumulus forty miles ahead off her right wingtip. That was the storm cell she’d seen building on the SATNAV weather display and she planned to divert around it. The C-47’s engines rose to a treble note as the plane gained altitude. Kesbe deliberately overshot nine thousand feet by three hundred fifty and then nosed
down, turning the gain in altitude into additional speed.
Now the Sasquasoha Plateau became rougher, the gashes in its barren surface warning of the approach of the great wound in Oneway’s skin that was the Mother Canyon, the Barranca Madre itself. Letting the autopilot have control for a minute, she knelt in her seat, peering over the plane’s nose.
Buttes, spires and cliffs reared from impossible depths to assault the sky. Even ten thousand
feet seemed dangerously low, though the charts assured her that no formation in the Barranca Madre exceeded seven. The canyon had a vastness that hit between her shoulders, making her shiver. A gigantic jumble of torn and upthrust rock, it lay, a barrier across the horizon.
She had difficulty persuading herself that she had come to Oneway just to deliver this old plane to her buyer. Yes, Tony Mabena had a big installation and all the facilities to keep and maintain the Douglas C-47. He even had his own oil well and refinery to produce the type of fuel burned by these Pratt and Whitney engines. But so did other would-be purchasers on other planets. That alien potentate on Stingjewel, for example, might have paid even more for the old bird than Mabena offered.
Then why did I come to Oneway
? she asked herself. Unable to find an answer that wasn’t too painful, she gave up.
After an hour of straight flight at ten thousand feet, the terrain below
nose was still canyon wilderness, but the sky had changed. The storm cell on the SATNAV weather display was now a line of thundershowers sweeping across the Barranca Madre. The front forced her to alter course farther west.
Kesbe flew close in along the sides of cliffs and spires, preferring stationary hazards to the moving threat of the storm front looming off her right wing. Fearing that the weather system could move fast enough to trap her against the higher formations, she throttled
up to one-sixty. At last the terrain opened up into a long valley with low buttes and shelf plateaus. There she could give the front a wide berth. Blue sky beckoned ahead.
She caught sight of a speck moving across the panorama ahead and below
nose. She judged it to be about a thousand feet below her. It did not fly in a purposeful line, but floated in lazy curves and wide circles. Kesbe grabbed her electronic binocular, wondering if another craft shared the skies with her or whether the flier was an animal.
The image in the viewer’s scan field confirmed her impression that this was not a small craft. As soon as the raster stabilized, she saw the outline of tapered wings attached to a slender body. A bird-like tail fanned from the rear. She could see a long narrow head sweep back and forth.
Kesbe tracked it with her viewer, using the built-in range finder to determine distance and size. The creature was larger than she might have estimated, with a two-meter length from snout to rear, not including tail. The wingspan was more than twice that: five and a half meters. At the midline, just ahead of the wings, she saw a dark shape she couldn’t identify.
Its wings were held stiff and outstretched, though Kesbe could see them shift to correct for wind deviations. The wings themselves appeared scaled like an insect’s wing, but the scales became larger and more elongated toward the tip until they resembled a bird’s flight feathers.
The wings disappeared in a blur of high-speed motion as the creature shot forward out of viewer range. When Kesbe glimpsed the animal again, it was once more in soaring flight. Its wingtips trembled with the rush of wind through the pinnate scales and its antennae blew back in a graceful arc.
Again she trained her viewer on the flier and dialed up her magnification. The dark form that had seemed part of the animal resolved itself into the head, shoulders and back of a small human rider.
The flier’s delicate head turned sideways, as if it had detected the presence of the plane above. Kesbe caught the iridescence of sunlight on a compound eye. Then the wings blurred again and the creature was gone.
Kesbe felt a sharp pang of longing as she put her viewer down. The flier was a delicate blend of bird, insect and something elusive, almost mythical. Yet it was real and in those few moments
when she had captured its image in her viewer, she felt that she had been given a rare and precious gift.
And with the gift, a mystery. None of Oneway’s native species had been domesticated, at least not that she knew. Yet, unless the imaging electronics in her viewer were faulty, she had glimpsed a rider aboard the animal.
I’ll ask Tony Mabena about it when I land at his installation on the other side of thd Barranca
, she decided. She thought she would put aside any more speculations until then, but the image of the creature stayed with her. Somehow the sight of it had upset her preconceptions of Oneway as a world whose native animal life lacked the variety and beauty of Earth’s.
Why did I come here? she asked herself again. Why did I decide to bring Gooney to a planet in the same sector where the Blue Star colonists might have been lost
In her memory she heard the gentle rasp of her grandfather’s voice.
It is your heritage calling, Kesbeyella, The sundered flesh oj the Pueblo seeks to be rejoined
No, Bajeloga. You said that the schism happened two hundred and twenty years ago, when your grandfather’s grandfather was an infant. Those of the Pueblo tribes who fled Earth for haven on another world were not your kin or mine. Our forebears were too sophisticated, too much a part of the white culture, to believe in the simple prophesy of the Blue Star Kachina
And what did any prophesy or ancient migration have to do with a headstrong girl who had spat on the wall of an adobe house and left the village, knowing that if she stayed, her dreams would suffocate and her self along with them?
She had been fifteen then, flush with youth, excitement and a letter of acceptance from the space pilot training center on Titan. She paraded her joy before her people and was mocked for it. But perhaps it was not the mockery itself that stabbed so deep, but the feeling of despair and dissolution that overwhelmed those whose ancestors had chosen to stay on Earth and remain in the mesa villages. It was the feeling of a tradition dying and welcoming that death It had tainted even the once-great ceremonial at Niman Kachina, when she and her grandfather had gone that day…
No, I can’t think of that now. I swore I would never go back and I kept that promise. But why can’t I forget the tales he told about the people who had the strength to raise up their dream once again on another world? Perhaps I can’t believe that they really failed
Perhaps if she saw with her own eyes the harsh canyon, the bleak and empty plateaus of that world, she would be able to abandon the childhood fantasies created by her grandfather’s tales.
Although the flier she had glimpsed in Oneway’s skies could have come right from a child’s imagination. Reality was being curiously un-cooperative about helping her punish herself.
Even if Oneway was the right world, she thought gloomily, could any survivors from the Blue Star colony meet the expectations of the child she had been? Either way, the dream would have to die. She did not know which death would be the less painful.
She thought of Bajeloga and his stories, tales she no longer wanted to remember. Of Spider Woman, Coyote the Trickster, the Humpbacked Flute Player, Sivutotvi the Dragonfly, and many others. No longer were these tales just Hopi. The stories of many other Pueblo tribes had joined them, brought by the remnants of the Zuni, Havasupai, Rio Grande tribes and others who had settled on the mesas under the wing of the Hopi. And Bajeloga had a way of speaking that made everything he said live in her mind for days or years afterward.
She glanced across at the copilot’s seat. If it weren’t for the asteroid mining accident less than a Terran standard year ago, her grandfather would be sitting there, his face covered with joyous wrinkles. Despite the arthritis in his knees, the old Havasu-Hopi had scrubbed his share of the
corrosion from the old Douglas’ aluminum fuselage and re-riveted loose panels. It was he who gave Kesbe the inspiration to keep working, even when the task of resurrecting a three-hundred-year-old ice-encased aircraft seemed insurmountable.
Bajeloga, Morning Bird Man, you are still with me. In the sound of these ancient engines, in the smell of this old cockpit, you are still with me
She knew what Bajeloga thought of the modern laserthrust craft that now dominated atmospheric and space transport. Fly? They don’t fly, she remembered him snorting. Nothing really flies any more. She shared his opinion. The laser shuttles screamed up through the atmosphere and burned into re-entry with only a repulser beam to catch and ease them down. They flew like an overpowered brick. A sleek streamlined brick, but a brick, nevertheless.
, at least, had honest wings. Ninety-five feet worth. Bajeloga would have been honored to fly as copilot. He had the skill, for he had been among the last pilots to be trained before the old aerodynamic low-altitude craft were displaced by laser-thrust shuttles,
Kesbe had begun training as a spacecraft pilot, only to find that the vehicles she was preparing to fly were so intensively automated as to make a human pilot nearly redundant. You’ll be relegated to the status of a back-up system, Bajeloga had warned her, and she found to her dismay that he was right. But instead of giving up her dream, she sought it elsewhere in the old and nearly forgotten aircraft of Earth’s past. Somehow she had managed to cobble together a living out of restoring ancient craft, flying them and selling them to collectors and eccentrics on many worlds.
was the largest and most difficult project she and her grandfather had attempted. There were other people involved with the project. There had to be. Returning a C-47 to flying status was a task that could not be done by two people, even with the aid of advanced machining and fabricating technology. Knowledge was missing, information that lay in the hands of a few people so devoted to preserving DC-3 and C-47 aircraft that they had formed an organization to keep several planes in long-term storage. Every fifty years, the “time-capsule” aircraft were rolled out and flown, until they could no longer be made airworthy.
Kesbe remembered the many faces, the many hands of those who had labored on
. Some were contract workers, others volunteers who were fascinated by the old Douglas. But she and Bajeloga were the core of the team, guiding and pushing the others, working determinedly to see a DC-3 aloft once again.
Now…Kesbe looked away, not wanting to see that only her flightbag occupied the right-hand seat.
She droned along on a course parallel to the storm line, keeping a wary eye right. Something on the left caught her attention. Above the shoulder of a nearby peak, clouds were massing and Kesbe knew she was witnessing the birth of another weather system. It evolved with incredible speed, progressing from scattered wisps of cumulus to a puffy white cloud-castle in a matter of moments.