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Authors: Brenda Cooper

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BOOK: Wings of Creation
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We stood and watched him go. Dianne put a hand on my shoulder. “Well done.”

“Thank you.” I had been bred to be a diplomat, and I wasn’t exactly sure I’d done the best possible thing, but I hadn’t given all of my own power away. Maybe the middle didn’t really work, and being strong worked better.

I hadn’t expected to need strength so quickly.


JOSEPH: WAKING ON A WORLD

 

 

 

F
or the first time in years, the light of a sun poured in on my closed eyelids and drew a promise of heat across my skin. Alicia sat on the edge of the bed in her underwear and a thin shirt, her face bright with joy as she gazed out the window. When she saw my eyes open, she leaned over and kissed me, squeezing my hand before jumping up to stand at the windowsill. “Come look, honey. It’s the most beautiful place in the world.” She paused. “That makes no sense. Every place is the world to itself. It is the most beautiful place in the universe.”

I joined her, close enough to smell sleep on her skin. Outside the window, fliers danced in the air, flocking in groups of three or five or even twenty. Some seemed to have places to go, and others to fly for joy. The ground was splashed everywhere with the bright colors of flowers, like the Grass Plains three days after the first spring rain. I heard birds, and here and there, butterflies moved almost in precision.

It was beautiful, in the way Marcus’s garden on Silver’s Home was beautiful, except the scale was entirely different. In spite of the harmony of the view, it made my skin crawl. I couldn’t really get at why, but the words that came out of my mouth were, “Jenna was more interesting before her eye and her arm were fixed.”

Alicia turned and gave me a funny look. “What do you mean by that?”

“I don’t know. I guess Lopali looks too pretty, like a painting instead
of a real thing.” I pointed down at the grass below the window, where small mammals grazed in a herd of about ten. “Look—those animals aren’t afraid of anything. They’re not even watching for predators.”

“So it’s a safe place.”

“Maybe.”

“I think you just want to find something wrong.”

I shook my head. “Maybe I just dreamed badly. Let’s eat.”

Alicia went with me to take Sasha out. The dog pranced about with her tail waving in the air. She looked better than she had all trip. So maybe I shouldn’t feel so out of sorts. Maybe it was because I remained shielded per Marcus’s instructions, and I missed the chaotic fullness of data. Or maybe I was feeling the pettier results of having become used to the role of ship’s captain until we ran back into Marcus, who still saw me as student. Whatever the reason, I chafed.

Alicia must have felt my mood. She paced, then took my hand and led me to a tree, leaning me back against it and delivering a thoroughly improper kiss that echoed in my belly. Then she cocked her head and smiled. “Relax. I know you’d rather be on a ship, but this is better. There’s a lot to see here. We can start today.”

I didn’t want to ruin that moment by reminding her that my day had been planned. I turned her around, so her back nestled against my chest, and rubbed her shoulders and nuzzled her hair, wallowing in the smell and feel of her, skin and girl and excitement.

By the time hunger drove us back inside, Jenna, Marcus, and Tiala sat at the table, laughing and joking with each other. Marcus cocked an eyebrow at me, a half grin on his face. “Sleeping in on the first day of work?”

It wasn’t the first day of work. He’d had me in private classes on biology and chemistry and nano and genetics and politics since the day he found us at Jillian May. “The fliers’ unborn won’t mind giving me an hour of sleep, all the better to think about their problems with.” I poured a cup of col from the pitcher on the table, and made a face when I tasted it. One of Marcus’s favorites, bitter and a little like licorice root. “You’d have woken me up if you needed me.”

“We’re leaving soon.”

Alicia looked over at Marcus. “Can I go? I can help him.”

He gave her an appraising look. She wasn’t his favorite influence on me, but I’d thought he’d come to terms with her some on the way here. His voice gave nothing away as he said, “No, I need Kayleen and Chelo.”

She looked like she wanted to give him a few choice words before she seemed to notice the pleased look on his face and the silly, “got you” grin of his. Then she just cocked her head at him, waiting.

He nodded and said, “You have a surprise coming any moment.”

“Huh?”

As if on cue, a flier glided up near the house and back-winged perfectly, coming quite close to the window. I admired his wings, so black they looked purple, and the way he moved like a precision machine. A flash of dark eyes and pale face, a glimpse of white teeth in a smile, and then he lifted himself up and disappeared from view.

Marcus pushed a button and a section of the roof slid open. The flier came through the hole in the ceiling, slowly and elegantly, and stopped close to the kitchen table. A light sweat ringed his lips and eyes, and his breathing sounded faster than ours but not labored. He looked—mischievous—as if flying in here gave him a guilty pleasure. A risk-taker like Alicia? Did the fliers have such a thing?

Marcus grinned. “Alicia, meet your flying instructor, Tsawo.”

Alicia stood and held out a hand, her face and body so infused with excitement it made me want to take her back upstairs and lock her in—maybe both to keep her safe and because she was looking at this Tsawo with as much pleasure as she ever looked at me. But then, everything about my emotions seemed off today, so I probably saw things that weren’t there.

Tsawo’s first words to her didn’t help me out any, though. “You are very beautiful. I have never seen eyes that color.”

Alicia blushed. I winced, waited for her to blather something about his wings, but she just said, “Thank you,” and then looked at Marcus and me. “Can Induan come?”

Marcus shook his head. “Dianne needs her.”

Alicia pursed her lips in brief disappointment, but when she looked back at Tsawo it was gone. I had a sudden vision of her with her invisibility mod on, so that a set of wings flew by themselves,
and had to cover a smile. Maybe Tsawo was in for more than he bargained for.

“What do I need?” she asked.

“Just tie your hair back and be comfortable.”

She nearly floated up the stairs.

“How will you teach her?” I asked.

“We have wings designed for regular humans. Within a day or two, we can teach her to use them, and then she’ll be able to fly by herself.”

I hadn’t seen any of these. Not last night, and not out of the window this morning. You’d think that at least the failed fliers we’d seen at the feast would use them. “What do they look like? Are they safe?”
Since you don’t need them, will you be a good teacher, and keep her safe?

“They don’t look like our wings, of course. They attach to your arms and legs, and across and up and down your back. Don’t worry, it’s almost pleasant.” He grinned. “People come to Lopali from all the worlds. Mostly, they come to fly. Our atmosphere makes this possible. For example, for humans to fly on Silver’s Home takes equipment that is nearly as large as a person, and bulky, or it takes engines. Here, you don’t need either.”

Liam and Kayleen appeared with the children, each carrying one. “Who let in all the cold air?” Kayleen asked, eyeing the open ceiling.

“It’s time to get up anyway,” Marcus said.

Kayleen noticed Tsawo. She gasped briefly and stood still, holding onto Jherrel. They both stared, wide-eyed, before Jherrel smiled.

Caro, cupped in Liam’s arms, leaned in toward Tsawo. “Pretty. Can I have wings like that? Will you teach me to fly?”

Tsawo gave her an odd look, and took a step back. “I don’t think we have wings your size.” Didn’t they have normal babies here? Kayleen put Jherrel down. He’d lost his baby fat and his head was above my knees. He took a few steps forward and then stopped, eyeing the flier suspiciously. Tsawo looked equally wary, but both were saved from the other as Alicia reappeared, her heavy black hair tamed into a single thick braid and secured with a violet ribbon that matched her eyes. She started toward the door, but I stopped her and gave her a kiss, whispering, “Good luck. Be careful.”

She nodded, and returned my kiss absently. Then she stopped and gave Marcus a grateful look. “Thank you.”

He looked pleased that she’d stopped to acknowledge him, but by then all of her attention had returned to the flier.

Tsawo gave her simple directions to someplace called Fliers’ Field.

She took off through the door and he rose out of the open ceiling without saying anything else to us. After he left, Marcus closed the roof.

I looked around for Sasha, and found her wedged into a corner with her head hunched between her shoulders and the ruff along her back sticking up. Even after I called her, it took her a few tries to get up the courage to come to me. I leaned down and whispered in her ear, “You didn’t like him either, did you?”

“She’ll get used to the fliers,” Marcus said. “They’re just new to her.”

“Are you sure it was a good idea to send Alicia off with one?” I asked him.

“She needs a constructive way to stay out of your hair. It’s a skill she needs and wants, and one we’ll probably be able to use. It would be good for us to have a few competent fliers. You and Chelo will get flying lessons a little later.”

“Can I have a flying lesson, too?” Caro asked.

Marcus shook his head. “When you’re bigger.”

Caro gave him her most serious look. “But I want to be big now.”

He gave her back an equally imposing face. “Of course you do. You can keep growing all day, but it will take more than that.”

Caro stamped her long feet and glared at Marcus. He looked over at Liam. “You’ll have to watch the children. I need Kayleen, Chelo, and Joseph.”

Liam groaned. I may have gone from captain to student, but he’d gone from being the heir to the leader of a band of roving scientists to a babysitter. I’d have to talk to Marcus later about how to best use everyone. Surely Liam’s skills as a roamer would help us. Alicia’s, too, for that matter. There must be things that needed observing.

Like Tsawo.

10 
ALICIA: FLYING LESSONS

 

 

 

F
ollowing Tsawo’s hurried directions, I threaded through the dawn-dark trees that surrounded the guest houses until I found a wide, flat path. A shadow fell across it: Tsawo showing me where to go. He flew so his shadow led me. At first it was slow, but when I caught his shadow he sped up, and when I caught it again he sped up again. Eventually I ran all-out, almost floating across the ground with the long strides possible on this light world, his wing shadow just too far ahead for me to catch. The morning air, still damp with dew, cooled my skin as blood thrummed through my body and my strides lengthened.

A flier! A flier with me! And to run without a circle of metal around me, without anyone but Tsawo watching. Maybe Induan was right and I had Space Ship Shock. Whatever it was, I felt fully, gloriously alive for the first time since Induan and I saved the babies from the mercenaries.

What would Tsawo be like? He was sexy and wild and winged. That excited me, too. Perhaps that’s what I liked—powerful men. Like Joseph. Like Tsawo. I nearly stumbled. Best not to get confused. I added speed, and for a moment I outran the flier’s shadow, and then he caught me and started slowing down, so my own strides shrank to keep me near his shadow.

The grass beside the path shortened and changed color, as if I’d just run into a park. I noticed three long low buildings to the right of
me, and a wider road that ended beside the buildings. Small humped hills scattered across the shorter grass, and here and there round circles had been made with bright green grass. Thin strips of red and yellow flowers created straight lines on the field. Designed to be seen from the air!

Tsawo put on a burst of energy and changed direction above me, turning me off the path and onto the ground, putting the sun forty-five degrees to my back. Then he came down, his shadow and feet joining as he landed a few meters in front of me, laughing with exertion. The look on his face suggested he knew how polished his landing was, and how it awed me to see him put down so smoothly. I was breathing too hard from the run to say anything, but I gave him a thumbs-up, figuring that was pretty universal.

He grinned, gasping, too, although not as noisily as me. “You’re fast!”

I used the back of my hand to wipe sweat from my forehead. “Could you have flown faster?”

“Only for a while.” He laughed, and I heard a hint of jealousy in his voice.

“You’d like to run like me, wouldn’t you?”

“Who wouldn’t? Welcome to Fliers’ Field. We’ll see if you can fly as well as you can run.”

“I want to fly like you do.”

He raised an eyebrow, studying me, not responding.

“Really. I want to have wings. I want to know about the mod.”

Now he shook his head. “You are clearly made to run like I am made to fly. As well switch a cloud with a river.”

“A river is water, and so is a cloud.”

“Perhaps, but the river is too heavy to fly without evaporating first.” Now there was laughter in his voice—not cruel, but not companionable either. Perhaps he thought I was a child.

“I am willing to try.”

He started toward one of the long low buildings, gesturing for me to follow. “Most who try what you’re asking evaporate, and never become clouds. I wasn’t hired to change your form, but just to teach you to fly.”

I decided to wait and ask him later, after I proved I could fly with fake wings. He opened the door. Inside, row on row of olive and off-white and brown contraptions hung on pegs. He pointed at them. “Your wings await.”

Oh. “There aren’t any pretty ones?”

“You can make something better after you pass some tests. We want to spot students from a distance.”

“Will it take long?”

“It usually takes years. But maybe if you fly as fast as you run, it won’t be so bad.”

BOOK: Wings of Creation
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